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  • Raj Jayadev

Reynaldo and Nerely: A San Jose Participatory Defense Victory Story

Editor's note: Raj Jayadev from the De-Bug Participatory Defense Hub in San Jose, CA reflects on the incredible journey of Reynaldo and his daughter and PD organizer, Nerely, fighting for his freedom for over 6 years, ending with erasing his name off the white board.

Nerely and Reynaldo at the San Jose Participatory Defense meeting after Reynaldo erased his name

In 2018, an appellate case for Mr. Kenneth Humphrey changed the landscape of bail and pretrial detention in California. The ruling held that it was illegal to hold people in jail just because they could not afford a high bail amount. As an organization, De-Bug started going to arraignment court to hold judges accountable to the new standard, and support families who now had a new way to free their loved ones.


At one of those arraignments, we met the family of Reynaldo - who was being held on a 2 million dollar bail. His family started coming to the weekly participatory defense meetings to see how they can get him out. They worked with his public defender who held one of the first bail hearings in the county based on the new Humphrey ruling to argue for a bail reduction and release. The family provided information that showed the support he had if released in the form of a social biography packet, and the impact of a sustained pretrial incarceration if not released. Just days prior to Reynaldo’s bail hearing, the family and De-Bug organizers drove up to San Francisco to see Mr. Humphrey’s final hearing where he was released due to the law that his case changed.


Back in Santa Clara days later, remarkably, they won. Turned a 2 million dollar bail to a 5 thousand dollar bail with some supervision conditions to start.


Reynaldo and his daughter Nerely started attended participatory defense meetings regularly. The first hurdle was winning the bail hearing and getting him out of jail - but he was still facing extremely serious charges that, if convicted, would mean spending the rest of his life in prison.


They met with their public defender often on zoom and in person - which were study sessions on the discovery material - the statements, the timeline of events, the police reports. Reynaldo and his family constructed their own timelines based on their own knowledge, which exposed gaping contradictions in the police reports. The family and De-Bug even proved how the allegations were impossible based on the location where the supposed crimes occurred. This was presented visually through photos, and even auditorily through sound recording tests.


Six years passed. Had he not won the bail hearing, it would have been six years of Reynaldo in a county jail - during a particularly lethal period as COVID was literally killing people in that jail.


He was out of custody, but still having a life sentence hovering over him.  So, weekly meetings, with Reynaldo’s name on the board - “updates” and “to do’s” just like everyone else. Court date continuances, changes in prosecutors. With his attorney’s assistance, the supervisory conditions were eventually removed. He continued to work, run AA classes, be a father and grandfather. De-Bug and the family documented this life in a social biography video - which becomes a window into who he is as a person, what his life is like, and who is in that life. The video was given to the public defender to include in her arsenal of reasons why the DA should drop the charges.


Nerely’s children, who were toddlers at the time of her dad’s arrest, were now going to school, at the age of joining little league teams, doing homework at the back of De-Bug when their mom and grandfather were at participatory defense meetings. Nerely found she had a natural ability and connection to supporting families who were going through exactly what she was going through in advocating for her dad. She joined the De-Bug team that would go to arraignments daily - meeting families just as other De-Bug organizers once met her. She would help them make social biography packets for bail hearings, just as she had for her father. She started facilitating those weekly participatory defense meetings.


Reynaldo’s public defender remained committed to making sure he wasn’t convicted of charges he was completely innocent of. Even when she changed assignments she asked to keep his case.


Nearly seven years later from his first detention, he arrives at the make or break hearing - the court date to set the date for trial or end this case all together. He stands in court next to his public defender at the podium when his case is called. His daughter and family - the same family members De-Bug organizers met at arraignment those many years prior - are in the audience seats.


The DA announces he has reviewed all the material submitted by the defender - some which were created by the family and De-Bug, like the social biography video and sound test. He then says based on what he has seen, he is dismissing all charges.


After nearly seven years, Reynaldo walks out of court a free man.

Reynaldo erasing his name off the board after over 6 years of fighting his case

At his next participatory defense meeting, when his name is called from the list on the board, he will walk up to the board and erase his name. It is a ceremony at De-Bug, which means it is possible to win freedom, despite the time it takes, and the stakes against the person. Some newer family, who recently started coming to meetings, who is just starting their journey, who knows Reynaldo as another person who is going through what they too are going through, will watch and celebrate when the name his erased.


And they will imagine the day when they too will be erasing a name on that board.

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