Will Lightning Strike Twice? Lawyer Wants DA Summer Stephan Kicked Off Pacific Beach Riot Case

A Trump supporter stands on Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach as police cars are lined up on surrounding streets.
A Trump supporter stands on Mission Boulevard in Pacific Beach in January 2021 on day that saw violent clashes. Photo by Chris Stone

San Francisco attorney Curtis Briggs is attempting the legal equivalent of a Hail Mary pass.

Curtis Briggs’ motion to disqualify District Attorney Summer Stephan from PB riot case (PDF)

He wants to disqualify San Diego County’s district attorney from prosecuting his client in the January 2021 Pacific Beach riot — and place the man’s case in the state attorney general’s hands.

Briggs — younger brother of San Diego lawyer Cory Briggs — is defending Jeremy White, accused of being a black-clad “Antifa” member who clashed with Donald Trump supporters three days after the Capitol insurrection.

On Nov. 17, Briggs will try to persuade Judge Daniel Goldstein in downtown Superior Court that county DA Summer Stephan’s prosecution of White is unfair because she didn’t charge the right-wing protesters involved in that January 2021 melee.

“She prosecutes anti-fascists vigorously while systematically ignoring vicious acts by known right-wing extremists who perpetrate violence at protests,” Briggs said in a 242-page motion filed Oct. 30.

“Stephan has misled the public about the events giving rise to the prosecution of Mr. White and inexcusably deceived the Grand Jury by concealing the ‘victims’ associations with the American Guard, Proud Boys and Defend East County — sworn enemies of antifa,” he added. “No defendant in this case can be dealt with fairly by Stephan.”

On Friday, Stephan’s office responded to a request for comment.

“We will litigate this motion in court,” the office said.

The DA’s office also pushed back at claims of selective prosecution:

A majority of hate crimes prosecutions by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office are brought on white defendants with hate bias against people of color including the recent indictments of 17 Hells Angels members for assaulting three African American victims, the hate crime prosecution of the murderer of a Jewish woman at the Poway synagogue, the hate crime prosecution of two defendants for assaulting Black Lives Matter protesters in Imperial Beach, to name a few. The record would also show that the DA’s office has a higher rate of prosecution of hate crimes than the statewide average.

Summer Stephan faces a challenge from Curtis Briggs.
District Attorney Summer Stephan faces a challenge from San Francisco attorney Curtis Briggs. Times of San Diego photo illustration

His disqualification motion is rare, but Briggs doesn’t care.

He won such a bid before — and on similar grounds.

Briggs defended Black Lives Matter activist Tianna Arata, who during a July 21, 2020, march allegedly led 300 protesters onto Highway 101 in San Luis Obispo County, blocking all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour.

Arata, 20, was charged with 13 misdemeanors, but Briggs argued that SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow was biased against the BLM movement, noting his posted statements on social media and critical remarks in public.

Judge Matthew Guerrero agreed with Briggs and Arata, and barred Dow from prosecuting the case. Dow appealed but lost at the appellate level and ultimately at the state Supreme Court.

So what did state Attorney General Rob Bonta do?

Bonta “stepped in and dismissed all but one charge and then allowed her to do community service in exchange for a dismissal on the remaining charge,” Briggs told Times of San Diego.

The White case in Pacific Beach echoes Arata’s on the Central Coast.

“The SLO DA unfairly targeted BLM protesters and failed to charge several people who committed assaults against BLM protesters,” Briggs said. “Then [Dow’s] campaign sent an email soliciting donations so BLM prosecutions could continue. This was determined to be a conflict of interest.”

In May 2022, the grand jury returned an indictment charging White with conspiracy to commit a riot and assault by means of force likely to produce great bodily injury. White has pleaded not guilty.

In his motion to disqualify, Briggs says Stephan has been unable to separate her political platform against antifa from her duty to enforce the law evenhandedly.

“This has resulted in false allegations against Mr. White while she has formed a prosecutorial shield around a core group of right-wing hate groups that have been responsible for a string of brutal publicized attacks at San Diego protests, including the one for which Mr. White is falsely accused,” Briggs writes.

In an email exchange, I asked Briggs about the White case.

He calls Los Angeles County resident Jeremy Jonathan White “a beautiful human being who showed up at Pacific Beach that day to do the right thing for the community. He’s innocent, and a plea bargain is unjust. He deserves a ferocious trial defense and the truth about Stephan’s office will be told.”

Briggs says no co-defendant has been treated fairly by Stephan’s office “and they can all join the motion so they can benefit if it prevails.” (He expects others to join the motion.)

If he wins on the motion, Briggs said, Bonta’s office will assume the prosecution and will have all of the options available that Stephan has.

“He can dismiss the case, offer a plea or try the case,” Briggs said. “Personally, I hope they try the case so we can vindicate Mr. White at trial.”

I asked Briggs’ reaction to the District Attorney’s Office saying Stephan vigorously prosecutes white supremacists.

“Statistics lie, but video evidence does not,” Briggs replied. “In light of the abundance of video-recorded violence by The American Guard and Proud Boys, Stephan must immediately assure the citizens of San Diego that she will prosecute these criminals for hurting people. Until Stephan takes accountability, the community is unsafe.”

Later, Briggs sent a file of written testimonials for White after he was arrested in 2018 for felony vandalism — using kids’ chalk on the sidewalk at a courthouse vigil for the families of victims of police violence. (The case was dismissed.)

Briggs added:

Jeremy White has a long track record of genuine political activism in the Democratic Party. He’s marched for water rights, #MeToo, BLM, and much more. He was given an award by the United States Congress for his efforts in “chang[ing[ the political landscape of this country.”

Some people might wonder how Jeremy would transform from attending protests looking bit nerdy, wearing a T-shirt, thick-framed glasses and [using] a bullhorn, to someone who would eventually show up in San Diego wearing protective gear from head to toe.

The answer is that about two years before the … Pacific Beach incident, Jeremy had his back broken by police who brutally beat him at a BLM rally in Torrance. Jeremy learned the hard way that if you want to exercise your First Amendment, you have to protect yourself. He successfully sued and settled with Torrance police for a small sum of money and a policy change for more oversight.

Briggs’ motion is an encyclopedic history of recent right-wing violence as well as Stephans’ ties to right-wing supporters including former county GOP Chair Tony Krvaric (with alleged white supremacist ideologies) .

Jeremy White in file of character testimonials for Torrance case.
Jeremy White in file of character testimonials for Torrance case.

“Antifa was not a true threat to San Diego public safety,” the motion says. “Nevertheless, at the expense of the truth, this law-and-order candidate who would soon be the most powerful law enforcement official in San Diego, incorporated calculated deception on her own community.”

Briggs alleges that Stephan used fabricated photos of Soros and antifa together to “encourage greater financial support from her base while galvanizing undecided voters in her favor.” He cites numerous press accounts, including from Times of San Diego.

“Stephan is free to express her beliefs about antifa and to accept campaign donations from anyone she chooses,” Briggs said, “but as an elected prosecutor it becomes problematic when it begins to influence her charging decisions.”

Briggs’ motion says Stephan isn’t the only one with a conflict of interest — that such a taint “permeated her entire office.”

“The prosecutors assigned to this case serve directly under Stephan and she has broad authority to fire, hire and promote them,” he said. “The fact that neither of the assigned prosecutors, after reviewing the evidence in this case, have changed course from the false narrative that antifa is solely responsible for the violence on January 9, 2021, is also indicative of the office-wide conflict.”