Late last week, word came down that former Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig was having a second federal charge filed against him. The obstruction of justice charge was added to his existing charge of lying to federal investigators. Originally, Puig had agreed to plead guilty to the lying charge, but that agreement was withdrawn late last year and Puig’s attorneys plan to fight the charges.
In a press release issued on Monday, Puig’s attorneys announced they are “asking a judge to order federal authorities to turn over records concerning the investigative patterns of the prosecution team that led a five-year probe that resulted in two criminal charges against Puig.”
The filing in federal court accuses investigators of “implicit bias in how they treat Black witnesses, saying that the evidence produced thus far shows that they are inclined to view Black men as untruthful and uncooperative, while viewing non-Black persons exactly the opposite — despite evidence to the contrary.”
Puig’s legal team has enlisted the services of prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and other cases where people of color are killed or injured in racially motivated incidents. Crump said the racial element in Puig’s case drew him in.
“This case caught my attention because I see a clear racial bias in how they evaluated Mr. Puig’s credibility and treated him throughout this case. The government has charged him with what they claim are false statements and obstruction resulting from a single interview, when others who were actually involved in the gambling ring – who lied and destroyed evidence – were not so charged. Yasiel Puig was just a witness, and he was charged, reprimanded, and made an example of more than the non-Black men who were the actual targets of investigation. “
Puig’s team also claims the added obstruction charge is simply punishment for Puig asserting his right to plead not guilty and say government officials “have declined to meet with Puig’s legal team to consider the important systemic bias issues, or the exculpatory evidence demonstrating that Puig did not lie or obstruct their investigation.”
Crump says Puig has three factors working against him: his race, his nationality, and his language.
“I’m sick and tired of it and America should be, too,” Mr. Crump said. “This is exactly what President Biden’s appointees promised to tackle: implicit biases, biases that operate against people who are ‘other’ – like Black men, like people from other cultures, and who speak other languages. Yasiel Puig is all of those things.”
“Yet here in Los Angeles, California, a place that is supposedly a beacon of liberal values, the new U.S. Attorney won’t even take a meeting to discuss the implicit biases that affected the judgment of his team?” Crump asked. “The type of prejudice that happened in this case is insidious: a dual standard being applied to Black men, and then stonewalling from the government.”
According to the filing, Puig and other Black witnesses were treated “very differently from the non-Black individuals who were the focus of the investigation. Puig’s team claims the non-Black targets of the investigation, agents of illegal gambling operation Sand Island Sports, were “consistently treated respectfully by the government.” Moreover, those targets of the investigation were given “multiple interviews to clarify their statements,” a courtesy not extended to Puig and other Black witnesses, and “non-Black individuals who obviously lied were not charged with making false statements or obstruction of justice.”
“The government’s decision to disbelieve Mr. Puig, deny him any opportunity to prepare or to refresh his recollection, and then prosecute him, stems from a biased perspective of credibility and cooperation,” said Keri Curtis Axel, a partner at Waymaker LLP and a former Asst. U.S. Attorney, who filed the motion. “Simply put, the investigators’ implicit biases have hampered their judgment in deciding who is telling the truth, who is interfering with their investigation, and who is not.”
The filing asks Judge Dolly M. Gee to order the government to “produce records that include investigative techniques and practices, which would provide Puig the opportunity to pursue dismissal because of ‘selective prosecution,’ meaning that the government’s prosecutorial policy had both a discriminatory purpose and a discriminatory effect.”
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