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  Richmond police chief, husband won’t face criminal charges in assault/threats probes, but their legal problems aren’t over
February 1, 2022

Richmond police chief, husband won't face criminal charges in assault/threats probes (

Richmond police chief, husband won’t face criminal charges in assault/threats probes, but their legal problems aren’t over

Hearing on firearm issue set for Friday

By NATE GARTRELL | | Bay Area News Group
PUBLISHED: January 26, 2022 at 4:22 p.m. | UPDATED: January 27, 2022 at 4:12 a.m.

RICHMOND — Prosecutors in two Bay Area counties have declined to file criminal charges against Richmond’s police chief and her husband, an Oakland police sergeant, who were accused of assaulting a family member and threatening her boyfriend, this news organization has learned.

Chief Bisa French, Richmond’s first Black woman police chief, poses for a photo in her office at the Richmond Police Department on Friday, July 24, 2020. (Dylan Bouscher/Bay Area News Group)

On Dec. 23, the Contra Costa District Attorney declined to file assault or false imprisonment charges against Richmond police Chief Bisa French and her husband, Oakland police Sgt. Lee French, citing lack of evidence. Six days later, the Solano County District Attorney declined to charge the Frenches in a criminal threats probe, court records show.

The decisions end criminal probes that started last October, when a close relative of the Frenches — a woman in her teens — filed a restraining order request alleging that they attacked her with “police holds” and other violence, and held her against her will during an argument at their home. The woman also alleged that Bisa and Lee French threatened her boyfriend’s mother in Vallejo.

Attorneys for Bisa and Lee French denied the accusations, but said the family strife centered on a 34-year-old Napa resident named Ojo McNair — aka Oho McNair and Joseph Goldman — who until last month was charged with pimping the Frenches’ relative. Those charges were thrown out by an Alameda County judge who ruled that prosecutors failed to meet the low legal standard to move the charges past a preliminary hearing.

But the legal problems for Bisa and Lee French do not end there: On Dec. 13, their attorney, Michael Rains, filed a motion seeking “clarification” on a stay-away order about whether the Frenches are allowed to possess firearms while the two-year court order is in effect. Attorneys for their relative filed an opposition motion arguing that not only should they relinquish their firearms, but that if they haven’t done so already, they’ve violated state law.

Rains did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the Solano and Contra Costa prosecutors’ decisions. Attorneys Seth Morris and Jenny Brandt, who represent the Frenches’ relative, said in a joint statement they are “disappointed but not surprised that our local prosecutors have declined to file criminal charges against local police officers.”

“We believe all people should be treated equally under the law, whether or not, and especially when, they wear the badge,” the statement says.

In a letter explaining the decision not to charge the Frenches, Contra Costa Chief Assistant District Attorney Simon O’Connell wrote that there was insufficient evidence, given neither side agrees on what happened.

“Conflicting accounts between the involved (parties), each of whom present as reliable historians regarding dynamic family meeting,” O’Connell wrote. “With no physical evidence, the occurrence of the incident rests solely upon verbal accounts given.”

Last year, Bisa French donated $200 to Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton’s reelection campaign, records show.

The firearms issue centers on the Oct. 25, 2021 court hearing where Bisa and Lee French agreed to stay away from the young woman for two years. Rains asked Judge Ksenia Tsenin to modify language in the order to prevent it from implementing restrictions on their firearm possession under the Federal Gun Control Act.

What resulted was a stay-away order that contains a portion, written in pen, that says the Frenches “are in possession of firearms in the course and scope of their employment and shall be allowed to possess those firearms in the course and scope of that employment.”

But Brandt and Morris’ motion says the order violates a portion of California’s Family Code that prohibits restrained persons from possessing guns without an evidentiary hearing that finds they’re not a threat, and specifically requires peace officers to undergo a a psychological evaluation first. They’ve also called into question why Bisa or Lee French need guns for their jobs, when both remain on administrative leave pending the outcome of internal investigations.

Rains countered in a legal reply that a simple stay-away order, as opposed to a restraining order, doesn’t require firearm relinquishment in the first place. He added that the Frenches agreed to a stay-away order specifically to avoid a “painful” evidentiary hearing that would force their relative to testify and either admit that McNair was pimping her, or lie about it.

Thus far, prosecutors have decided not to refile charges against McNair, though the initial dismissal gives them wiggle room to do so. In an interview with the television station KPIX last month, Rains said it would take “a miracle” for that to happen.

Tsenin is set to rule whether the Frenches were required to relinquish their firearms at a hearing on Friday. Should she rule against them, Rains wrote that the Frenches “find themselves in the position they have endeavored to avoid from the outset — to request a lengthy and no doubt contentious evidentiary hearing” where they plan to cross-examine their family member and “expose the numerous falsehoods” in her initial request for a restraining order.