Brock Turner spent less than a year of his life as a Californian, but the impact of his four months at Stanford University and 90 days in jail for a sexual assault committed there will last long beyond his return to suburban Dayton in coming days.
Reverberations of Turner’s conviction and sentencing in a January 2015 sexual assault have reached the highest level of California state government and threaten to unseat the judge who in June sentenced him to six months in jail for the assault of an intoxicated, unconscious woman.
Turner is scheduled for release Friday, three months early because of good behavior. Records obtained by the Dayton Daily News confirm Turner is allowed to return to his parents’ new residence in Greene County to serve his three-year probation.
The former Oakwood High School swimmer’s sentence ignited fury across the nation that drew the attention of millions, including Vice President Joe Biden, who wrote a letter to the woman Turner assaulted. In California, activists say they are intent on unseating a local judge by recall in November 2017.
And this week — in direct response to Turner’s sentencing by that judge, Santa Clara County Court Judge Aaron Persky — the California State Assembly unanimously passed a bill proponents say will ensure convicted sexual assailants serve prison time. The bill is expected to be signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, a Republican, told the Dayton Daily News no such law exists here, but he would be supportive of efforts to implement one.
“We don’t have really any particular law that says, like the California law, that in every case someone who commits a sexual assault should serve time,” DeWine said. “But I certainly would be in favor of that. It would seem to me to certainly make sense.”
California Assemblymember Evan Low, D-Sillicon Valley, said Turner “shouldn’t be let off with a slap on the wrist.”
“Judge Persky’s ruling was unjustifiable and morally wrong, however, under current state law, it was within his discretion,” Low said in a statement. “Current law actually incentivizes rapists to get their victims intoxicated before assaulting them.”
The effort has received broad support in California, with the exception of some, including the ACLU of California, which argued the bill would disproportionately impact minorities. Others aren’t convinced the law will do enough, because judges could still urge prosecutors to pursue a lesser charge.
Persky, himself a Stanford graduate now dogged by constant protests, requested to stop hearing criminal cases effective Sept. 6. He’s now working to fight a recall effort, which holds the potential to be the third successful recall in California history, according to the San Jose Mercury News.
“I believe strongly in judicial independence,” Persky wrote on his website, unable to mention Turner’s case due to state ethics guidelines. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not to appease politicians or ideologues. When your own rights and property are at stake, you want the judge to make a fair and lawful decision, free from political influence.”
Stanford Law Professor Michele Landis Dauber, a family friend of the victim who is leading the effort to remove Persky, said judicial independence is “an awesome power … and with it comes the responsibility to exercise that independence without bias.”
“We believe, and have produced, a strong evidentiary case that Judge Persky is in fact biased and that he has a long history of bias, particularly in sex crimes and violence against women in general,” Dauber told the Dayton Daily News. “He does not treat these crimes like the serious felonies they are and instead treats them as if they are relatively minor misdemeanors.”
“In particular, he seems to have a blind spot around the behavior of college athletes,” Dauber said, citing a case uncovered by Buzzfeed News in which Persky allowed 21-year-old football player Ikaika Gunderson, who pleaded no contest to a felony count of domestic violence, a delayed sentence in order to allow him to attend the University of Hawaii.
“He had no probation, he had no supervision, he was off in Hawaii with no supervision,” Dauber said. “Then he moved to the state of Washington,” where he was arrested for domestic violence.
“The message Judge Persky is sending to victims is, ‘don’t bother calling police because there is no justice for you,’” Dauber said. “And the message he’s sending to potential perpetrators is, ‘don’t worry, the justice system has your back.’”
The Dayton Daily News has reviewed hundreds of pages of documents concerning Brock Turner’s case and will continue to report on its local and national impact.