Photo of Human Resources Manager Cynthia Truong for AAPI Heritage Month.

Meet Cynthia Truong

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Cynthia Truong, who serves as Human Resources Manager for the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office.  Cynthia began her career with the County of San Diego in 2001 as a Child Support Officer and came to work at the DA’s Human Resources division in 2004. Cynthia manages the Human Resources Information Systems unit, including hiring, recruitments, performance evaluations, compensation, HRIS, payroll, retention, taxes, policies and procedures, etc.

In the past several years, Cynthia has also represented the DA’s Office at community events, especially in the Asian and Vietnamese American communities. “It is my great pleasure to serve as an ambassador for the DA’s Office to support our office’s community initiatives, as well as law enforcement organizations and events, including those hosted by the San Diego Police Department’s Multi-Cultural Community Relations Office and the San Diego Pan Pacific Law Enforcement Association (PANPAC).”

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“I was inspired by many important roles that our DA’s Office offers to the San Diego County community. It was an opportunity for me to join the office to make contributions to a fast pace, productive working environment to serve the public to apply equal justice under the law to protect our community and ensure that victims of crime are treated with compassion and respect.”

Why is AAPI Heritage Month important to you?

“AAPI month is important to me as it is not just to celebrate America’s diversity but also a time to learn about the history of our different culturesrecognizing the great contributions and influence of Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans to the culture, history, and achievements of the United States. This year, it especially important because of a sharp increase in anti-Asian discrimination since the start of the pandemic.

Welk Resorts Will Pay Up To $ 5.5 Million To Settle Consumer Protection Lawsuit

Convicted Murderer Mark Rogowski Seeking Parole

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that a parole hearing will occur tomorrow for Mark “Gator” Rogowski, 54, who was convicted of rape and murder in 1992. Rogowski is serving a sentence of 31 years-to-life for the murder of Jessica Bergsten.

Rogowski was a nationally known skateboard personality from Carlsbad who rose to prominence in the 1980s. On March 21, 1991, he raped and murdered 22-year old Jessica Bergsten and transported her body to a remote desert area, where her skeletal remains were found several weeks later.

The skater had previously been denied parole in 2011 and 2016 but was granted parole on his third try in December 2019, when a panel of parole hearing officers found that he was suitable for release. Governor Newsom disagreed and reversed the decision in April 2020. He is currently incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, where the hearing will be held.

“The family and friends of Jessica Bergsten deserve the continued promise of justice in this case,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Our office has a responsibility to argue strongly against releasing this violent defendant. We handle hundreds of parole hearings each year, doing our best when it’s appropriate to make sure dangerous criminals are not released and crime victims are given a voice.”

At the time of the murder, Rogowski’s girlfriend had broken up with him. In addition, skateboarding was changing from ramps to the street. Rogowski did not think he could do well on street skating and saw his lucrative career coming to an end. He was also upset over his relationship with Bergsten coming to an end. Rogowski hit Bergsten on the head with The Club (a steering wheel locking device), raped her and suffocated her in a surfboard bag. He confessed to the crime several weeks later.

Deputy District Attorney John Cross will appear on behalf of the People at tomorrow’s hearing to argue that Rogowski remains an unreasonable risk of danger to society. One of the victim’s family members will also attend the hearing and is expected to provide a victim impact statement regarding the effects of the crime upon their family and the unsuitability of the inmate for parole.

The hearing will take place tomorrow, May 27 at 10:30 a.m. in a closed session that is not accessible to the public.

Photo of Deputy DA Helen Kim for AAPI Heritage Month.

Meet DDA Helen Kim

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Deputy District Attorney Helen Kim, who is currently assigned to the felony unit in the North County branch.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“My family had lost our small business during the 1992 riots.  My parents did not know the language or the law, and as a young child, I witnessed my parents stand helplessly on the sidelines as their hopes and dreams were destroyed.  I realized this was a familiar story to many immigrant families.  I vowed to fight for victims who felt invisible and voiceless.  As a deputy district attorney, not only can I directly help those who have been victimized in a specific incident, but also indirectly protect future victims through legislation and case law.”

Why is AAPI Month important to you?

“AAPI month is important to me as it celebrates and honors AAPI who have contributed to the enrichment and progress of this country with sweat, tears, and sacrifice.  Racism against AAPI is not new, but with the recent rise of violence against Asian Americans, AAPI month is especially important to educate against stereotypes, promote diversity, and bring communities together.”

NACo 2021 Achievement Award Winner Logo.

Workplace Justice Unit wins Achievement Award

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office has been recognized with an Achievement Award for its new Workplace Justice Unit, from the National Association of Counties (NACo). The awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents. [TWEET THIS]

In February, the District Attorney’s Office launched its Workplace Justice Unit, which is dedicated to protecting workers’ rights, prosecuting criminal wage theft cases and stopping labor trafficking. In launching the unit, DA Stephan took into consideration community response and hosted a workplace justice panel in partnership with San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, to identify ways to better-protect workers across the county, many of whom come from minority and disadvantaged communities.

“We accept this national award on behalf of all workers and those who advocate on their behalf. We appreciate the advocates who have trusted our DA Workplace Justice team with the labor abuses committed on workers,” DA Summer Stephan said. “Wage theft and labor trafficking are serious problems that we are working to contain in partnership with the community. We’re not going to allow workers in San Diego County to be exploited by greedy employers who break the law to line their own pockets and this award confirms we are on the right track.”

The DA’s new Workplace Justice Unit is comprised of a dedicated prosecutor, DA investigator and paralegal. The Unit prosecutes unfair business practices, wage and hour violations, payroll tax evasion, wage theft and labor trafficking cases. As part of the formation of the Unit, the DA’s Insurance Fraud Division was re-named the Insurance Fraud and Workplace Justice Division.

To more effectively protect workers and seek equitable workplace justice, the DA’s Office is educating the public on worker rights through a wallet or palm card in English and Spanish and has created a public web page where anyone can obtain information about workplace justice and where victims of workplace crimes can report directly to the District Attorney’s Office. In addition, workers can also email or call the workplace justice hotline to make a report or report claims directly on the DA’s website.

Workplace Justice Wallet Card

Workplace Justice Wallet Card

NACo President Gary Moore said, “Over the past year, county officials and frontline employees have demonstrated bold, inspirational leadership. This year’s Achievement Award winning programs illustrate the innovative ways counties build healthy, safe and vibrant communities across America.”

Nationally, awards are given in 18 different categories that reflect the vast, comprehensive services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice and public safety, county administration, information technology, health, civic engagement and many more.

Started in 1970, NACo’s annual Achievement Awards program is designed to recognize county government innovations. Each nominee is judged on its own merits and not against other applications received. [TWEET THIS]

Photo of Staff Development Coordinator Kevin Chheng for AAPI Heritage Month.

Meet Staff Development Coordinator Kevin Chheng

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.
Meet Kevin Chheng, who works in the Human Resources Department of the District Attorney’s Office as a Staff Development Coordinator. In his role, Kevin administers and maintains the DA’s internal personnel database, he assists with personnel and administrative support services, payroll and he also coordinates student worker recruitment.
Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?
“The main reasons I wanted to work here is because our commitment to the community and being a part of an organization that not only serves and protects, but also values giving back to others is really important to me. This is a place committed to giving back to the community and where I know I can make an impact. There is a positive culture that always puts people first and creates an environment where I continue to be challenged and I am able to grow personally and professionally.”
Why is AAPI Month important to you?
“AAPI month is important because it celebrates our diversity and immigration rights in America. It also acknowledges the positive impact that Asian Americans have had here in United States. My cultural background plays a major part in my lifestyle, values, and beliefs. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) month is important to me because it’s an opportunity to celebrate my cultural heritage, as well as a time to educate each other. Taking the time to learn about different cultures can help us all understand and respect each other, especially during this time of fear and confusion. It can really be an eye-opener on how diverse the world is!”
Photo of DA Summer Stephan at news conference to announce Juvenile Diversion Initiative.

DA Rolls Out Innovative Juvenile Diversion Program

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan today announced an ambitious new juvenile justice reform initiative designed to keep juveniles out of the criminal justice system while addressing the underlying cause of harmful behavior. The Juvenile Diversion Initiative (JDI) is a countywide early intervention program that prioritizes diversion options for youth instead of filing criminal charges. The goal is to reduce the number of youth who enter the juvenile justice system, engage the community and stakeholders in the youth’s rehabilitation, and address the causes of the their unsafe behavior while at the same time fostering accountability to crime victims and community. [TWEET THIS]

Once in the diversion program, youth will participate with their family or caregiver and have access to services they may need that will help address contributing factors to their harmful behavior. Youth who successfully complete the program will leave with an understanding of the impact of their choices and will avoid permanent and negative outcomes related to the formal criminal justice system, including stigma, labeling and having a criminal record.

“The DA Juvenile Diversion Initiative is a leap forward in dismantling the school to prison pipeline and providing youth across our county a bridge to leading a healthy life, away from the criminal justice system,” said DA Summer Stephan. “If we can redirect juveniles from the very start, it spares them the negative effects of having a criminal record and gives them a better chance at success in the future. Providing them with culturally competent and restorative resources that address the root causes of the criminal behavior in the communities in which they live support the best outcome for our youth.”

For the first time, this new initiative will offer youth facing a misdemeanor or felony charge the option to participate in diversion before charges are filed as an alternative to prosecution and to avoid future negative outcomes associated with formal proceedings. An additional benefit of the diversion program is the anticipated reduction in formal court proceedings, which will free up limited resources and services for high-risk youth in need of more intensive rehabilitative services.

The DA’s Juvenile Diversion Initiative program is scheduled to begin this summer and will be available for youth between 12 and 18 years of age who commit non-serious offenses not covered under 707(b) of the California Welfare and Institutions Code. The program provides comprehensive therapeutic services, pro-social skill building opportunities, educational support as well as restorative justice community conferencing to ensure participants are supported and the needs of victims are addressed. Participation is a voluntary process, and upon completion the diverted youth will have the opportunity to have their arrest record sealed.

The District Attorney’s Office will work closely with the National Conflict Resolution Center (NCRC) to implement and administer the JDI program including subcontracting for intervention services with community providers and the private sector. The organization will collaborate with the community for ongoing support for youth by embedding restorative justice principles in community engagement and participation. NCRC will also provide restorative support to victims as part of the development of each participant’s case plan.

“We are grateful to the county for giving NCRC the opportunity to collaborate with the DA’s office to change the course of high-risk youth in our community through this innovative program,” said Steven Dinkin, president of the National Conflict Resolution Center. “Our team is uniquely qualified to administer the JDI program as NCRC has been at the forefront of restorative justice practices in the San Diego community for over a decade helping to provide alternative methods to conflict resolution rather than detention or incarceration.”

[Click here if you’re a community-based organization with services you believe might fit with the Juvenile Diversion Initiative.]

The DA’s Juvenile Division files an average of 1,900 criminal cases each year. It’s estimated that about 500 juveniles will be offered the opportunity to participate in the Juvenile Diversion Initiative annually.

Research shows a majority of youth who are arrested and charged with delinquent behavior do not become repeat offenders. Given this data, the DA’s Juvenile Diversion Initiative is designed to reduce the risk of criminal socialization by providing positive social interactions, instilling discipline, improving school engagement, and addressing the underlying causes of such behavior.

Over the past five years, the number of people in juvenile detention has been reduced without increasing crime thanks to a partnership with the Probation Department, Public Defender, law enforcement and the San Diego Superior Court. In 2015, there were 450 minors in juvenile detention and today there are less than 160, most of whom have committed a violent or serious offense. [TWEET THIS]

The District Attorney’s work in juvenile justice reform includes improved options for reporting student abuse or trauma in the home or at school, an increased focus on preventing school shootings and a human trafficking curriculum provided to schools.

Read more about juvenile justice-related reforms here.

Photo of Deputy DA Hung Bach and District Attorney Summer Stephan.

Meet Deputy DA Hung Bach

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Deputy District Attorney Hung Bach who is currently working at the Juvenile Branch and is also a board member and secretary of the National Asian Pacific Islanders Prosecutors Association.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“I have always wanted to ‘do the right thing’ in life, both inside and outside of the office, and both in my professional life and personal life.  Our office personifies ‘doing the right thing’ day in and day out – attaining justice by protecting our community, advocating for our victims, holding defendants accountable for their crimes, rehabilitating defendants, and preventing future crimes. I’m truly honored and humbled to be part of this office as we all strive to ‘do the right thing’ every day.

Why is AAPI Month important to you?

“AAPI Month is important to me because it reminds me of where I came from: My parents and relatives immigrated here during the midst of the Vietnam War. My family risked life and limb in order to live here in the United States, and I am forever grateful and in debt to my family. And because of that, I want to do right by them by working in this office and making them proud.  I never forget where I came from. In light of all of the hate crimes/incidents against the AAPI community, this month serves as a beacon of pride and unity for the AAPI community so that we can be proud of who we are and where we came from.”

Read more stories for AAPI Heritage Month:

Photo of DA Investigator Bao Luu in honor of AAPI Heritage Month.

Meet DA Investigator Bao Luu

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet DA Investigator Bao Luu, who has been part of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation (BOI) since 1993. He is a Commander who currently oversees BOI personnel assigned to the Family Protection Division and the Sex Crimes and Human Trafficking Division. Before joining the DA’s Office, he worked as a Deputy Sheriff and Police Detective with the goal of one day being a DA Investigator.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“When I was in the police academy in 1984, I had an instructor who was a DA Investigator taught a class.  During breaks, I spoke to him about his position and what DA Investigators do.  I was fascinated that there are law enforcement officers who work directly with prosecutors and, as a team, bring justice to those who are victimized.

I was a Theater major at UCSD, so I have always enjoyed interacting with people; law enforcement allowed me to interact with people in a way that could have a profound impact on their lives.  My favorite part of the job is that it allows me to use my creativity to solve a crime or prove a case.  Investigation and prosecution of a case take a collaboration of creativity to identify the suspect, gather evidence, identify victims and witnesses, and gain their cooperation.  I find the process exciting and challenging.”

Why is AAPI Month important to you?

“The AAPI community contributes to our society in so many different fields. I also want to celebrate and honor the struggle and sacrifices that families have made to leave their homeland due to wars or repressive governments to bring us here for a brighter future.”

Read more stories for AAPI Heritage Month:

Photo of Chief Deputy DA Jerrilyn Malana

Meet Chief Deputy DA Jerrilyn Malana

In honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, we are highlighting compelling stories from DA employees and what inspired them to pursue a career in public service.

Meet Jerrilyn Malana, who serves as Chief Deputy District Attorney for Human Resources at the San Diego County DA’s Office, where she is responsible for the overall management of the human resources function for the office.  With approximately 1,000 employees, we are the largest legal employer in the County of San Diego and she and her team of HR professionals handle a wide range of areas including administration, recruitment, hiring, retention, performance management, leaves, compensation, payroll, HRIS, staff training, employee programs, etc.  Jerrilyn also serves as the office liaison to County Counsel’s Office on civil matters, and on District Attorney Summer Stephan’s executive team.

Why did you decide to work at the DA’s Office?

“I joined the DA’s Office as an opportunity to enter public service after spending many years in the private sector.  Prior to the DA’s Office, I was a shareholder (partner) at a global employment law firm for nearly 17 years.  I represented Fortune 500 clients and local businesses in all types of employment-related litigation including claims for discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and wage & hour violations. My practice also included advice and training for employers to avoid employment-related claims.  However, throughout my career, I had made community service and giving back as priorities.  I viewed joining the DA’s Office as the perfect transition when I was looking to make a career change as the DA’s Office serves the public and has strong community outreach programs.  I had been very active with various bar associations and community organizations, and I had served as President of the San Diego County Bar Association.  So, over the years, I had the pleasure of meeting so many DDAs and learning more about the DA’s Office.  The mission and values of the DA’s Office really resonated with me.  I also knew that equity, diversity, and inclusion were priorities, and that was a great fit for me as I had been working on these issues in the legal profession for many years including with the State Bar of California.  Also, prior to becoming an attorney, I worked as an HR professional for several years.  So, joining the DA’s Office is really coming full circle for me.  I’m proud to support our dedicated and hardworking DA employees who serve the public and keep our communities safe.”

Why is AAPI Heritage Month important to you?

“AAPI Month is important to me as it celebrates the diverse history and contributions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the growth and success of our communities and our nation.  It also provides positive and uplifting “visibility” to our diverse AAPI community.  The AAPI community represents multiple countries, ethnicities, and backgrounds; and we don’t belong to a monolithic culture.  Our diversity is beautifully represented in our unique cultures which can be celebrated by sharing our history, language, food, music, traditions, and so much more.  Moreover, through storytelling, the AAPI community can both be seen and heard.  By raising such visibility paired with advocacy, we can help to dismantle AAPI stereotypes and create change, which is so important in our current social climate.”

Read more stories for AAPI Heritage Month:

Office Manager Convicted of 51 Felony Counts in Massive Patient Referral Scam

A New Sentence. A Second Opportunity.

As part of ongoing criminal justice reform initiatives, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced today that her office has ramped up efforts to review prison sentences, as authorized by a newer law, that may be unduly harsh and identify people who can safely be released from prison early and re-integrated back into the community. [TWEET THIS]

“Prosecutors have a duty to seek the truth and justice before, during, and after someone is convicted and that includes making sure that prison sentences are proportionate with the harm that the crime produced” DA Summer Stephan said. “This new law allows prosecutors to repair past inequities by looking back and correcting any unjust sentences and we are committed to doing while considering crime victims and public safety. It’s also important we continue to approach criminal justice reform initiatives like this lawfully and responsibly, making sure when someone is released, they’re set up to succeed when they come back to our communities.”

Recently, Rogelio Espinoza was the fourth defendant to be resentenced and released from custody. Espinoza, now 48, had been convicted of assault with a firearm and received a sentence of 29 years-to-life in prison. On April 27, a judge resentenced Espinoza to 13 years, allowing his immediate release from prison. Espinoza is the third person to be resentenced at the request of the District Attorney’s Office since a change in the law allowed DA’s to petition for resentencing.

The other person resentenced recently is Hector Contreras, 51, who was convicted of being a felon in possession of a firearm and originally received 27 years-to-life in prison. He was resentenced to three years at a hearing on March 15 and was released after having served 24 years in prison.

Monday, May 3, a judge will resentence James Riveria, 84, who was convicted of a series of residential burglaries series in Rancho Santa Fe. Riveria received a sentence of 140 years-to-life and has served 25 years in prison.

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office also announced it is partnering with the non-profit organization For the People to expand the number of cases it is considering for resentencing. To date, the prison sentences of more than 750 people have been identified for review. The DA’s newly reorganized Conviction and Sentence Review Unit (CASRU) is working with For the People to review these cases and others to determine if resentencing is appropriate in the interest of justice.This collaboration complements the District Attorney’s program, which was already in place and that accepts applications for sentencing review from incarcerated people themselves.

The increased focus on resentencing has been driven in part by recent changes in the law. Assembly Bill 2942 went into effect in 2019, allowing prosecutors to recommend resentencing and petition a judge to hear the matter. The San Diego District Attorney’s Office was the first in California to successfully use the new law. In 2019, 57-year-old Kent Williams was resentenced and released from prison. Williams had been sentenced to 50 years-to-life for burglary and car theft. Last year, Jonathan Simmons, 57, was released 21 years early after the DA’s Office, working with the Innocence Project on a resentencing petition. Simmons had been sentenced to 43 years-to-life for stabbing a homeless man in the neck during a drug deal.

The DA’s Office has filed additional petitions asking the court to resentence two additional individuals:

  • Gerald Jones, 44 plead guilty to a bank robbery with a firearm and agreed to a 30-year prison sentence. He has served about half of his term. Jones robbed a bank on Mission Gorge Road while wearing a Ronald Regan mask and armed with a gun.
  • Gary Kosta, 65 plead guilty to a commercial robbery series and received 50 years-to-life. He has served 24 years. Kosta robbed numerous businesses over the course of two months, simulating a weapon to gain cash from registers

As part of its commitment to reviewing sentences and to public safety, the District Attorney’s Office is also partnering with several local service providers and community leaders in San Diego County, including, San Diego Workforce Partnership, Second Chance, Pillars of the Community,  Community Development Corporation, Home Start, Family Health Centers of San Diego, Father Joe’s, Metro Community Ministries, Youth Empowerment, and Youth Aware, to assist with a smooth and successful transition from prison into the community for those whose release is granted by a judge. The DA’s CARE Center is involved as a re-entry specialist and the Public Defender, Sheriff’s Department and Parole will also play important roles in this endeavor.

DA Stephan embraced the opportunity to partner with For The People, believing that there are likely many incarcerated people who, in retrospect, were sentenced to more time than was necessary for their rehabilitation and debt to society. For The People provides a unique and specific expertise to District Attorney Offices to help them launch and implement DA-initiated resentencing policies through the advent of California’s DA Resentencing Law.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with DA Stephan, especially in light of the pandemic and the increased urgency to safely release people from prison and reunite them with their families” said Hillary Blout, Executive Director of For The People.

The office also receives recommendations for resentencing from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), applications from incarcerated people themselves, and referrals from the community. In some cases, Deputy DAs inside the office bring cases forward for resentencing.

DA Stephan has expanded and re-named her office’s Conviction Review Unit to include sentencing review, adding resources and relocating the unit under the DA’s Special Operations Division, ensuring increased separation and more independence.

The numbers of cases being considered continues to expand and go through the review process. After receiving a list recently of more than 750 cases from CDCR, the DA’s Office reviewed and narrowed it down to about 125. In partnership with For The People, we are starting with 40 cases for an in-depth review. Prior to the partnership with For the People, the DA’s Office had a running list of cases it was already reviewing, bringing the total number of cases currently under review to about 150.

The law recognizes that incarcerated people may have served sufficient time, have been adequately rehabilitated and, therefore, will be ready for a safe and law-abiding re-entry. In those cases, the District Attorney will recommend to a Judge under the law a recall and resentencing in the interest of justice. The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office welcomes applications for sentencing review and is committed to reviewing these requests in a fair, consistent, and transparent manner. [TWEET THIS]