Late last week, theMercury News published 471 pages of court documents related to the Brock Turner case. In January of 2015, Turner attended a party near the Stanford campus. Later that evening, two graduate students came across him sexually assaulting an unconscious woman on a sidewalk. The two students were able to intervene and held Turner until police arrived. In March of 2016, Turner was found guilty on three felony counts of sexual assault.
Turner was sentenced to six months in jail based on the recommendation of his probation officer. Turner's short sentence, combined with his status as a privileged athlete at a prestigious school, has triggered intense scrutiny of the case—particularly because of Judge Aaron Persky's decision to heed the advice of Turner's probation officer, who advocated for Turner based on his young age and inexperience with drugs and alcohol. Turner wrote a letter to the court arguing that he had never "had any trouble with law enforcement" and that he'd "been shattered by the party culture and risk-taking behavior" that he "briefly experienced in my four months at school."
However, court papers reveal several inconsistencies about Turner's "brief experience" with partying and his police record.
Turner was arrested at Stanford for underage drinking on November 14, 2014—over a year before the assault. According to a supplementary police report, he attempted to flee from police but was caught with fake ID on him. Turner is currently awaiting trial for underage drinking. Both Judge Persky and the probation officer knew about this case, so it's unclear why they believed Turner when he said he was an inexperienced drinker.
In a pre-sentencing letter, Turner said, "Coming from a small town in Ohio, I had never really experienced celebrating or partying that involved alcohol." But text messages obtained from Turner's cellphone show that he drank and used marijuana in high school.
Only one texting conversation alluded to Turner drinking back in Ohio. His sister asked him on June 3, 2014, "Did you rage last night?" Turner replied, "Yeah kind of. It was hard to find a place to drink, but when we finally did we could only drink for like half an hour." His sister replied, "Haha enjoy it while it lasts, the finniest [sic] thing to look back on high school is having beer but no place to drink it. That will go away in college."
The text messages are also full of Turner's attempts to get pot and dabs, and some detail his experiences with acid. In many of Turner's weed-acquiring texts, he drops the n-word. "Do u have any herb," Turner asked a friend on August 21, 2014. When his friend responded in the affirmative, Turner replied, "Swag. Should I just meet y'all niggas there."
'Do u have any herb' Turner asked a friend. When his friend responded in the affirmative, Turner replied, 'Swag. Should I just meet y'all niggas there'.
Also found on Turner's phone were texts on the third party app GroupMe. Turner had sent a picture to a group chat, which prompted the response "WHOS TIT IS THIS" from swim teammate Justin Buck. The wording—TIT instead of TITS—is significant, because when Turner's victim was found, she had one breast exposed. The picture itself was deleted before police could see it, so it is impossible to tell if there was photographic evidence of Turner's crime.
Turner's probation report recommended three years of probation but no prison time, partly because Turner's risk of re-offending was deemed low based on a diagnostic test given to sex offenders called the Static 99-r. The report also took into consideration his youth and lack of prior convictions as reasons why Turner should not serve prison time.
While there is a growing movement online and in Santa Clara County to recall Judge Aaron Persky from his elected judgeship, the public outcry is making many in the legal community nervous. Several public defenders for juveniles and adults have expressed apprehension about outrage overriding judicial discretion.
"A judge following the probation recommendation is one of the more conservative things to do," says Sarah Spiegel, a public defender in California's Contra Costa County. Spiegel feels the efforts to recall Judge Persky are "really misjudged, because it's not solving anything for poor people of color." She worries the uproar at a short sentence will scare other judges away from considering alternatives to prison. "There's no outcry for recall when a young person of color is given a maximum sentence."
"It risks extreme sentences that will fall disproportionately on defendants without means," says a federal post-conviction attorney who prefers to remain anonymous. She says discussions within the defense community have been conflicted about the sentence. "A lot of people are having to juggle personal versus policy-minded feelings."