Appeals court reverses ex-Hayward cop's felony convictions
‘REPREHENSIBLE’ MISCONDUCT BY PROSECUTOR
By Nate Gartrell
In a decision that lambasted an Alameda County prosecutor's handling of the case, a California appeals court reversed the felony grand theft convictions for a former Hayward police officer who has already served a prison sentence.
In 2017, a jury convicted Michael Scott Beal of nine counts of felony grand theft, all related to money he got from a woman described by prosecutors as severely mentally ill and susceptible to cons. Beal adamantly maintained his innocence, but was sentenced to six years in prison with a potential 50 percent reduction for good behavior.
The First District Appellate Court's 38-page decision, issued Monday, reinforces something Beal proclaimed the day he was sentenced: that he was the victim of prosecutorial misconduct. The decision, signed by all three jus- tices, says that Deputy District Attorney Connie Campbell violated the state's professional standards for prosecutors.
"We conclude (Campbell) repeatedly used deceptive or reprehensible methods that, given their cumulative impact, denied (Beal) his right to a fair trial," the decision says. It later adds, "The fact that the reconstituted jury deliberated at least seven more days before reaching a guilty verdict underscores the closeness of this case.
A spokeswoman for the Alameda County District Attorney's declined to comment on the decision. It is unknown whether prosecutors will move to re-try Beal, but they do have that option.
Beal's attorney, Austin Thompson, praised the decision and said Beal's appellate attorney "did a great job of crystalizing complex facts and unwieldy procedural history in this case." "Given what the prosecutor's of- fice knows about the real facts of this case, it would be unfortunate if they again wasted public resources to retry it," Thompson said. "However, if they do, I hope this time we get a fair trial, which I'm confident would end in an acquittal." The court cited three main instances of misconduct, which occurred during Campbell's cross-examination of Beal. One was referring to him as a "dirty cop," another was suggesting that another judge at a prior hearing told Beal she thought he was lying. The third was insinuating the trial judge was biased toward Beal when Campbell asked him if he made friends with Alameda County judges during his career.
Because there was relatively little documentation in the case, much of the jury's decision came down to whether they believed Beal or his alleged victim's testimony more.
"As such, the prosecutor's misconduct cut to the very heart of this case: Was N.J. a quirky and cunning but no doubt shrewd investor or a mentally unstable and vulnerable victim of a manipulative cop?" the judges wrote.
Beal, a 27-year Hayward police veteran, was convicted of stealing $400,000-$500,000 from a woman who suffered from schizophrenia and other mental illness. She testified he lied to her - including by suggesting they get married - to swindle her out of the cash.
The defense maintained that the woman was more in control of the situation than the prosecution alleged. At one point during trial, the judge lambasted Campbell for describing her as "vulnerable" in front of the jury.
The woman became part of his life under questionable circumstances; she was panhandling and a sex worker when Beal - working as an undercover john - set her up for an arrest. Soon after, police used the arrest to leverage her as a confidential informant, but then Beal began paying her small amounts of money to run errands for him.
At the pinnacle of their relationship, Beal was accepting thousands of dollars from her in real estate investments, which the prosecution contended were a ruse.
Prosecutors with the California Attorney General's office, which handled the appeal, argued in court records that there was a mountain of evidence to support Beal's guilt and that Judge Thomas Rogers said at sentencing there was "no question that, in fact, (Beal) embezzled, he stole." But the appeals court judges countered that Rogers had voiced concerns throughout the trial that Campbell's actions were affecting the jury's impartiality. Contact Nate Gartrell at 925-779-7174.