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District Attorney Candidate Accused of Exploitation

Civil rights lawyer Pamela Price has put the Oakland police sex abuse scandal at the center of her campaign for Alameda County DA. But the victim in that case isn't supporting her candidacy.


Pamela Price.
  • Pamela Price.

East Bay progressives swooned last year when attorney Pamela Price announced that she would challenge incumbent Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley in the June 2018 election. Price, a longtime civil rights lawyer, has already garnered endorsements from prominent elected officials as well as movement leaders like Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza.

At campaign events, Price criticizes O'Malley's record, especially on the pressing issue of police accountability. She accuses O'Malley of being too soft on bad cops, arguing that her opponent doesn't proactively investigate police corruption, and when police are caught red-handed, O'Malley doesn't prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. To underscore this point, Price brings up the story of Jasmine Abuslin.

Better known as "Celeste Guap," Abuslin was sexually exploited by as many as two-dozen Bay Area cops a few years ago. Some of the abuse occurred when she was a minor. At a debate with O'Malley last September, Price said O'Malley allowed police officers to escape unpunished. Worst of all, Price said police commanders like former Oakland Police Chief Sean Whent got away with muzzling internal investigations into the matter. O'Malley never charged Whent nor any other OPD commander with obstruction of justice.

Price also reminds her supporters at campaign events that she and fellow civil rights attorney Charles Bonner were the ones who came to Abuslin's aid.

But the story of Price and Abuslin is far more complicated than that of a teen who was exploited by cops and an incumbent DA who allegedly looked the other way while Price and Bonner came to the rescue.

For one thing, Abuslin isn't supporting Price for district attorney. In fact, in a recent interview, Abuslin accused Price of exploiting her and acting out of greed. Abuslin said Price and Bonner even got her family to sign over intellectual property rights to her story.

She also alleges that Price held her incommunicado for several weeks in 2016 at a remote Lake County home owned by Bonner that was guarded by armed private security officers. Abuslin's parents say they were told by Price and the security guards to stay away. Abuslin's cellphone also went missing while in Price's possession, so she couldn't contact her family.

Later, Price and Bonner filed at least $114 million in legal claims against several Bay Area police departments. But Abuslin said she wasn't fully consulted about these legal actions and wasn't certain she wanted the lawsuits to move forward.

In a recent interview, Abuslin said she's grateful to Price and Bonner for getting her out of a Florida jail. But she said Price's behavior, especially later, caused a lot of friction and that she ended up feeling used rather than helped.

In an interview, Price responded by saying she's not surprised that Abuslin is upset. Price said everyone from the DA to the media to elected officials, and even her attorneys, failed the teenager in some way.

Price's involvement in the case began in September 2016. Abuslin had been flown by the Richmond Police Department to attend a drug rehab in Florida, but when she attempted to leave the center, she was arrested and charged with assault.

Price and Bonner hastily met with Abuslin's father, Henry Abuslin, in Richmond, where he signed a legal retainer. But the agreement, dated Sept. 4 — while Abuslin was still in jail — not only retained Price and Bonner as the teenager's attorneys related to her abuse by Bay Area police agencies, but it also gave the lawyers the right to represent her in potential future media deals, including books, TV, and film. It also provided Price and Bonner with an "exclusive and irrevocable" option to purchase the intellectual property rights to the teen's story, according to a copy of the retainer reviewed by the Express.

"I remember talking movie and book deals at the first meeting," said Jasmine Abuslin in a recent interview, referring to her earliest meetings with Price and Bonner. "I found it funny that it was so quick. I was like, 'Damn, can we get me out of jail first?'"

Price said this intellectual property rights clause in the contract was a standard feature included by Bonner. He did not return phone calls and an email seeking comment.

Later, when Price arrived in Florida, Abuslin described her as acting "very happy" and said that Price and Bonner would talk about the millions of dollars her legal claims were worth. According to Abuslin, Price and Bonner also had her sign papers that allowed them to obtain her property from the rehab center, including her cellphone. The cellphone later went missing.

"I remember asking for my stuff, but they kept making excuses that the phone was in other luggage, or they didn't have it with them at the moment," said Abuslin. Weeks later, back in California, Abuslin said she confronted Price about the cellphone: "She was like, 'I don't have it, sweetie. I lost it after the airport.'"

The missing cellphone meant that Abuslin couldn't communicate with her family and friends, but Price and Bonner told media at the time that Abuslin wanted her privacy.

There was, in fact, a media frenzy around the teenager's story. Price initially got involved in the case, she said, because much of the media coverage fixated on Abuslin and identified her as a "prostitute," when, in fact, she was a victim. Price said she wanted to intervene and cut off this narrative because she felt it was harmful to the teenager and distracting from the police corruption that should have been front and center.