- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Family members of two California police officers fatally shot to death this month spoke forcefully Tuesday against a November ballot initiative that would change California’s sentencing laws by giving corrections officials more control of when criminals are released.

Tania Owen, widow of slain Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, said Proposition 57 would endanger public safety and criticized Gov. Jerry Brown, the sponsor of the measure.

Tania Owen, a sheriff’s detective, said early releases could free many violent offenders such as the man charged with killing her husband.

“It’s a lie, it’s a farce,” she said at a news conference streamed online by law enforcement officials who oppose the initiative. “As far as I’m concerned, Gov. Brown, you are the great deceiver.”

David Owen, the brother of the slain sergeant, read a text message opposing Proposition 57 that he said was sent by his brother before he was fatally shot Oct. 5 while responding to a burglary call. Trenton Lovell, a paroled armed robber with a long arrest record, is charged with murder in the case.

The governor’s media office referred requests for comment to Dan Newman, a spokesman for Proposition 57 supporters. Newman said in an email that the initiative “will reduce crime by allowing the state to focus prison spending on keeping these dangerous inmates locked up and prevent a court order forcing us to arbitrarily release prisoners.”

Though the initiative is written to give officials wide latitude, Newman predicted that parole officials would refuse earlier release to sex offenders or “anyone who is a risk to public safety.”

“Opponents are spreading a lot of blatant misinformation, but the fact is absolutely no one will be automatically released,” he said.

The measure would allow “nonviolent” inmates to seek earlier parole hearings. They could seek parole after completing their base prison term, without enhancements that can add years to sentences.

Corrections officials also would be able to give earlier release credits even to inmates convicted of violent crimes. The measure would also strip prosecutors of the power to decide when juveniles should be tried as adults. Judges would make that decision after a hearing.

Brown, in a radio advertisement, says the measure would reduce crime and save money while keeping dangerous offenders locked up and encouraging inmates to rehabilitate themselves in prison.

David Kling, father of Palm Springs Officer Lesley Zerebny, who also slain this month, called the ad a lie at Tuesday’s news conference.

“What it is, is a criminal’s bill of rights,” said Kling, a former law enforcement officer whose daughter was killed along with her patrol partner, Jose “Gil” Gilbert Vega.

The Asian Law Caucus and Asian Prisoner Support Committee support the initiative, saying money now spent on prisons could better go to schools, mental health treatment and other social services.

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