Investigation Forces Arizona Clemency Board Chairman to Resign
by Joe Watson
A Republican political consultant who was appointed by Governor Jan Brewer to head Arizona’s Board of Executive Clemency (Board) said he was “forced out” of the position after a discrimination complaint filed against him resulted in a state investigation.
Jesse Hernandez, who led a Latino group that ironically supported Arizona’s unconstitutional anti-immigrant law SB1070 before being chosen by Brewer as the chairman of the clemency board, stepped down on August 16, 2013 after the investigation found him guilty of inappropriate behavior, including sexual harassment and nepotism.
Hernandez’s appointment to the Board in April 2012, along with two other members, followed the termination of three of the Board’s five members who had clashed with Governor Brewer over clemency recommendations. [See: PLN, July 2013, p.1]. According to Duane Belcher, the Board’s then-chairman, Brewer overhauled the Board “to manipulate the outcome of clemency hearings.”
A heavily-redacted report from Arizona’s Department of Administration (ADA) said Hernandez gave his girlfriend, who was employed in the clemency office, a promotion and raise worth $21,340 a year even though she wasn’t qualified for the position. One media outlet suggested that the unidentified woman who filed a discrimination and retaliation complaint against Hernandez might have been his girlfriend.
The report also included allegations that Hernandez encouraged Board members and other employees to gossip about and “spy on each other”; that he was “promiscuous,” openly flirted with women and stared at their buttocks, telling one, “Sorry, I’m a guy, I have to look”; that he “routinely” called one employee a “heathen” because she didn’t attend church; and that he told another employee he needed to stop “shucking and jiving with the brothers.”
About a week prior to Hernandez’s ouster, fellow board member Melvin Thomas – who was appointed with Hernandez as part of Brewer’s clemency board shake-up – submitted his resignation, stating he could “no longer endure the way me and my fellow board members have been treated,” apparently referring to Hernandez’s behavior.
“There’s always a limit to what an individual or group of individuals are willing to do short of homicide,” Thomas said in an interview after Hernandez resigned. “There’s only one alternative as far as I’m concerned: I either stay [and] continue to put myself in that kind of situation or remove myself and not have to worry about that kind of situation.”
Specifically related to his duties concerning clemency applications, the ADA report said Hernandez held hearings for prisoners that weren’t in accordance with the law, and that he routinely called prisoners “scumbags.” He also refused to allow other board members to read clemency recommendations before submitting them to the governor’s office and reportedly treated those who attended hearings inappropriately.
The investigation also found that Hernandez accepted two basketball tickets from the New York Knicks’ Amar’e Stoudemire (formerly of the Phoenix Suns), whose half-brother is serving time in an Arizona state prison in connection with an armed robbery. When Stoudemire’s half-brother was considered for clemency, Hernandez twice postponed hearings despite victims having traveled 250 miles to attend.
Hernandez denied all of the allegations against him except that he had dated an employee. He told the Arizona Capitol Times that he was never given a chance to read the ADA report or formally respond to it. According to Hernandez, Governor Brewer’s chief of staff, Scott Smith, handed him a resignation letter and told him to sign it.
“I was forced out,” Hernandez said.
In 2014, Brewer’s last year in office, she granted just six commutations; of those, five were to prisoners who were released due to terminal medical conditions. That same year she denied 12 clemency recommendations from the Board. She was the first governor in almost 40 years to not issue a single pardon, denying all pardon recommendations during her tenure.
The current chair of the Arizona Board of Executive Clemency is Ellen Kirschbaum; other board members include Brian Livingston, Laura S. Steele (appointed by Brewer in February 2014), C.T. Wright (appointed in May 2014) and Susanne Osolin – a victims’ rights advocate whose son was murdered, appointed by Governor Doug Ducey in May 2015.
Sources: Associated Press, Phoenix New Times, www.azcapitoltimes.com, www.azcentral.com
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