In the years that Tim has been imprisoned, his pen has been one of his main outlets, and he has written letters, essays, and poems charting his path to freedom. In the following essay, Tim provides vivid details of the structural racism and police misconduct that have led to his false imprisonment.
When it comes to the intrinsic nature of politics, policing, and the criminal justice system, I instinctively think of systematic racism, corruption, collusion, and what is now being referred to as America’s “carceral continuum.” Although this carceral continuum dates back to 1619, I will skip a few centuries and start my story in the year 1999.
It was Easter Sunday. After leaving a small get together in the town of Lemoore, California with a group of friends, we were lit up from behind by red and blue cop lights as we approached what appeared to be a police roadblock. My first thought: “Damn! Here we go again with this Kings County harassment.” But before the car could even come to a complete stop, chaos had ensued. As I sat there, in shock, with an unlit cigarette in my mouth—I saw assault rifles being pointed at me from every direction. In the blink of an eye, I had gone from bobbing my head to Tupac’s All Eyez On Me to literally having all eyes on me.
The first thing I heard was “Freeze! Freeze! Freeze! Don’t move!” This was followed by a cacophony of threats and expletives that were all being hurled at the same time. One of the cops shouted through his bullhorn that if I so much as flinched, or made an attempt to light the cigarette that was in my mouth, that they would “Blow my fucking head off!” They directed me to exit the car with my hands in the air, walk backwards, and lay face down in the concrete. I was arrested and booked into the Kings County Jail in Hanford, California. It was only later that I was told that I was being charged with a murder that had transpired in Corcoran, California in 1996.
I was at a loss for words…I couldn’t believe that I was being charged for a crime that I didn’t commit. Although I was dumbfounded and distraught, all I could do was keep my faith and await my day in court. They threw me into a punitive isolation cell—but I didn’t let that or any of their harassment break my spirit. I was a man on a mission. That mission was to go to court, clear my name, and prove my innocence. However, I never got the chance to face those who had falsely accused me because before we could even get the case to a preliminary hearing the charges against me were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.
I spent eight months in a cell before the trumped up charges against me in Kings County were dismissed. However, even then, my nightmare wasn’t over. Instead of being sent home, an innocent man, I was transported to Tulare County where a completely different nightmare was to commence. Kings County law enforcement officials had been working with a career criminal by the name of Anthony Wolfe (a jailhouse informant who was trying to work his way out of serving a life sentence) to come up with a feasible suspect for the Pato’s Place murders. Kings County convinced Tulare County law enforcement officials to utilize Anthony Wolfe as a reliable snitch and witness. Unwilling to admit that they had mistakenly targeted me, they convinced the Tulare County officers to abandon pursuit of the suspects that they had already arrested for the Pato’s Place crimes and to focus their investigation on the “Young Brothers” of Hanford.
Again, I was dumbfounded and distraught as to why I was being charged with another crime that I did not commit. Yet, all I could do was sit again in a cell, plead my innocence, and await my day in court.
This time, it took over six years before my case finally made it to the trial. Those long years were more than enough time for me to become grossly familiar with the unethical, unprofessional, and corrupt practices that take place in Tulare County. While there are many details to expose about how I was framed for the murders, I want to start here by unpacking the dirty police practices that took place in the Tulare Police Department Evidence Room.
During the course of my trial, it was discovered that evidence had been tampered with, chain of custody had been broken, documents had been falsified, and exculpatory items of evidence had been “lost” or destroyed. This discovery by the defense attorneys resulted in the judge having to stop the trial and conduct what’s referred to as a “402 Evidentiary Hearing.” And although law enforcement officials got on the witness stand and admitted to having committed these acts once they had been caught, the judge refused to dismiss the case.
That leads us to Gary Coffman. Who is Gary Coffman? Gary Coffman is one of the Tulare Police Department Evidence Technicians who perjured himself on the witness stand and helped the Tulare County District Attorney’s Office secure a wrongful conviction against me. And unlike Tulare Police Department Evidence Technician Charles Taylor who admitted to his wrong doing while on the stand, Coffman tried to feign amnesia by going the “I don’t recall” route. He testified that the evidence logs that had been altered under his watch were the result of “sloppy handwriting and bad record keeping.”
Although we knew that Gary Coffman was a bad apple in a barrel of many, and although we had been crying foul since charges were first filed against us in 1999, it took years of long suffering, prayers, and a miracle of sorts before some of Tulare County’s corruption would come to light. The turning point was 2015—that’s when the tightly bound seams that held Tulare County’s corruption together finally began to unravel.
Unearthing Corruption: The Chain on events
In early 2015 there were growing complaints being thrown around by the Tulare County Public Defender’s Office that guns, drugs, money, and other items of evidence were missing in their client’s felony cases.
On or about May 28, 2015, it was announced by city officials that Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge was being placed on administrative leave due to an “internal personnel investigation.”
On or about October 6, 2015, the City of Tulare along with Tulare Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge released a joint statement announcing his resignation.
As early as November 20, 2015, the Tulare County Public Defender’s Office began filing motions to dismiss their client’s cases. These motions were filed for the same reasons that a motion to dismiss had been filed in my Capital murder trial, because items of evidence had been stolen, lost, or tampered with, and criminal cases had thereby been compromised.
Shortly after, an independent audit was contracted to a third-party company as part of guidelines for Tulare County to meet state law enforcement standards. The contract went to a company called Evidence Control Systems, Inc. The focus of the audit was on the Tulare Police Department Property Room.
In February, 2016, Evidence Control Systems issued a scathing 483-page report entitled Property Room Audit. The report revealed an absence of professionalism and accountability within the Tulare Police Department. It also pointed to credibility and liability issues that stretch back over twenty years. To quote a well-known legal observer, “The details of this Audit should not be a surprise to anyone who is familiar with the trial of People v. Timothy Young. Included here is the Property Room Audit Executive Summary, as well as the eye-opening information contained in the Property Room Case Audit Appendix.
On or about April 30, 2016 (one month after Evidence Control Systems had issued their scathing report,) Tulare Police Department Evidence Technician Gary Coffman is arrested for stealing from the evidence room, tampering with evidence, embezzlement, and drug and weapons possession.
On or about February 14, 2017, Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward issued a six-page press release announcing criminal charges against Gary Coffman.
Next: The Thin Blue Line Forms a Wall
Are you curious as to what happens to a corrupt evidence technician who has not only broken the law but who has also aided and abetted the District Attorney’s Office in attaining wrongful convictions against thousands of black, brown, and poor white people?! Are you curious as to how widespread the corruption may be?
Based on the horror stories that I’ve heard from defendants who’ve had cases out of Tulare county, as well as on my 7 year experience in their county jail, and my case discovery, trial record and pleadings, it is safe to say that Gary Coffman is not the only bad actor at play here. But because Coffman knows who all the other bad actors are, and because he knows where all the town secrets are buried—Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward went from a 14 count indictment against Coffman, to nothing more than a “wink” and a slap on the wrist.
*That “wink” came on January 10, 2018, when Tulare County Assistant DA, Kerri Lopez announced that Coffman’s sentencing (to county jail time) was being put on hold because he was being considered for a Veteran’s Court Diversion Program (to which after completion his case would be dismissed.) This wasn’t the unveiling of just one sweetheart deal—but two. And not only did these sweetheart deals have a “People v. Persky” stench to them, but they also reeked of countywide impropriety.
Which of the two sweetheart deals got doled out? Good question. Obviously it was the latter of the two, but interestingly enough, the “Free Tim Young” campaign was unable to find any follow up media reports pertaining to Coffman’s sentencing or case disposition. What was discovered, however, is that Coffman was never eligible for the Tulare County Veteran’s Court Program in the first place. The Program has seven case qualifiers, the most important one being that you cannot be charged with any violent or serious offenses. It is not clear as to how many of these qualifiers Coffman may, or may not have qualified for? But what is clear, however, is that he failed to meet the requirements for the most important one.
What does all of this mean? It means that Coffman has been allowed to sidestep the tentacles of the criminal justice system and that he is being protected by the gatekeepers of systemic racism. It means that he will be free to enjoy the perks of white privilege and white supremacy—while the people he helped to wrongfully convict are still wasting away in prison.
As I said in the beginning, when it comes to politics, policing, and the criminal justice system…one can’t help but think about America’s carceral continuum. And the fact that I am on Death Row while Gary Coffman is somewhere eating doughnuts is enough to make anyone chant their favorite NWA song, or to scream at the top of their lungs “defund the police!” But we have to do more than scream “defund the police.” We have to organize, mobilize, and find ways to overturn my wrongful conviction—and abolish the system that runs on this corruption.
The probe into the corrupt and questionable practices that took place within Tulare Police Department Property Room is open and on-going. The investigation will eventually extend to every dirty cop and D.A. Investigator who had open access and free reign of the Property Room. As more and more defendants and defense attorneys become aware of this probe, more and more horror stories will surface, and more and more cases will be brought before the court for dismissal, reversal or relief.
The game plan
Here are a few things you can do: You can contact the California Attorney General and demand police and prosecutorial accountability in Tulare County. You can also ask that a full scale investigation be lodged into the corruption stemming from the Tulare Police Department Property Room.
You can start a recall effort against the Tulare County Superior Court judge who oversaw the sentencing of Gary Coffman. You can also file a complaint against that judge through the California Commission on Judicial Performance.
You can contact the governor of the state of California and voice your concerns about my wrongful conviction. You can demand a pardon. You can also ask that he abolish the death penalty and that he make substantive changes to the criminal justice system.
Note: These actions can be repeated daily.
During my fight for freedom I have had several people inquire about the disposition of the Corcoran case? They read or they see the “pro police” propaganda that’s out there and they often get confused by all the lies and misconceptions. This writing, as well as the entire Case Overview section of my website is designed to counter those false narratives with facts—the kind of facts that law enforcement and media outlets won’t provide you! It is also to give the reader an accurate accounting of the Corcoran case, and to connect the dots and show how the cops used the Corcoran case to start what I call “the Central Valley witch hunt.”
Now that you have been informed, my hope is that you will get involved. If you wish to become an active member of the “Free Tim Young” campaign, sign up through the website. Information will be provided about legal needs, campaign needs, campaign events, strategies, and action plans. Remember: It only takes one person to make a difference!