Zimmer shares passion for justice at RRWF

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Zimmer shares passion for justice at RRWFA passion for criminal justice, a concern about state mandates that undermine public safety, an observation of the overall decline in respect for authority and a 32-year career in prosecution has prompted Cynthia Zimmer to enter the upcoming race for Kern County District Attorney.

She recently outlined her priorities and experience for the members and guests of the Ridgecrest Republican Women, Federated.

Zimmer grew up in Coalinga, a town of 6,000. After graduating from college in Bakersfield, and earning a law degree from Loyola Marymount, she returned to her home turf in the San Joaquin Valley to serve in the Kern County D.A.’s office. She started out prosecuting misdemeanors, and worked her way up to her current level as supervising district attorney in charge of gang-related prosecution.

“The more experienced you are, the more complicated your assigned cases,” said Zimmer. However, few are promoted to handling a caseload of sex crimes and gang violence.

She said that although she has been to Ridgecrest for some cases, “you have one of the lowest crime rates in the county.”

She deals primarily with gang members, who commit the majority of violent acts.

“We take the Al Capone approach to justice,” she said. If a gang member commits any crime — from theft to fraud to domestic violence — they prosecute to the fullest extent of the law.

“Basically gang members are in the business of crime. They have the highest rate of recidivism, and they have to continue to commit crimes to stay in the gangs,” she said.

“They are difficult cases, but we are passionate about what we do. And we don’t give up.”

She described a “CSI effect,” which has given the public a perception that DNA evidence is always present and accessible. “People think it’s the savior of criminal justice — and it isn’t.”

Zimmer told her listeners that Billy Ray Johnson, a known affiliate of the Crips, terrorized women in East Bakersfield for months. He targeted single women with children, and would break into their homes and zip-tie the women and children, often abusing both.

Law enforcement was stymied through a lack of evidence — he always wore a mask, would take their phones, and would even shower the women afterward to get rid of the evidence.

“But he did finally make some mistakes,” she said. During final attack, he failed to adequately secure a 9-year-old girl, and failed to recognize her Disney princess phone as a threat.

“He thought it was a toy,” said Zimmer. The girl escaped her bonds and called 9-1-1.

“He found her. And we have a very chilling recording of their conversation.” At that same scene, he finally left behind DNA evidence.

“I was able to get a conviction,” said Zimmer. “He is now serving life without the possibility of parole plus 432 years. That was a year and a half working on the case every day. It took time for our victims to feel safe again in their own homes, but they were very happy with his conviction.”

If elected, she wants to continue to focus on convicting career criminals. “The best way to reduce crime rate is to ensure criminals are not on the streets.”

Another priority for her is finding a way to better protect the front lines of law enforcement. “Our peace officers are shot and killed all the time by people with issues, and it seems to be more and more accepted.

“I know we have some bad apples who are peace officers — I have personally prosecuted some of them,” she said.

“But who would go into that line of work right now — would you encourage a 20-year-old to enter peace officer academy if we can’t protect them?”

She told a story of a county officer whose squad car was parked in front of his home. Someone threw a Molotov cocktail at it, causing an explosion. “This happened in his front yard, while his children were in the home.”

She said that even though metropolitan areas of the county had the highest crime rate, she is concerned about neglecting rural communities.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people who feel like if they are not a part of Bakersfield, they don’t get the same level of protection or resources.”

She warned that trends at the state level have not improved the available resources, pointing to legislative and voter-approved actions such as AB 109, Prop 47 and Prop 57, which have released convicts back onto the streets and decriminalized entire classes of felonies. And there are more on the horizon, including initiatives to eliminate the bail bond system and the option of serving life in prison without parole.

“This is a law enforcement position,” she said. “And I’m proud to say that I have been endorsed by the Ridgecrest police officer’s association — that was the first police endorsement I got.”

Since then, Bakersfield, Arvin, Delano and Kern County associations have followed suit.

Despite the anticipation of a busy campaign season, Zimmer said she remained committed to continuing to prosecute the county’s most dangerous criminals.

“Part of the role of the District Attorney is to make decisions about who to prosecute. With that power, comes a great responsibility — you have to be fair and you have to know the appropriate thing to do,” she said.

“If you’re not in the courtroom, how would you know what that is?”

•••••

The Republican Women also heard an update from Sierra Sands Unified School District Trustee Amy Covert. See next week’s edition for additional reporting.

Story First Published: 2017-06-02