Some members of San Francisco’s Democratic Party are preparing a resolution in support of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald, 23, a Minneapolis transgender woman imprisoned for what defenders call an act of self-defense.
The local Democratic County Central Committee is exploring a statement of support for McDonald, or a call for the Department of Justice to investigate the case, according to DCCC member Gabriel Haaland. The party plans to vote on the proposal May 23.
According to the resolution draft, McDonald, who’s black, “was targeted in a vicious racist and transphobic attack” in Minneapolis in 2011. In the incident, she killed Dean Schmitz with a pair of scissors.
McDonald was charged with second-degree murder, and had faced at least 10 years in prison, but accepted a plea deal Wednesday, May 2 for a second-degree manslaughter charge and an expected maximum sentence of 41-months. Her sentencing hearing is set for June 4.
According to Hennepin County, Minnesota Attorney Michael Freeman’s office, the incident started when McDonald was walking with friends one night and a group outside a Minneapolis bar “began shouting racial and sexual insults.”
McDonald and her friends confronted Schmitz and the others “and a woman smashed a glass into McDonald’s face, cutting her,” prosecutors said in a news release.
Citing a witness, officials say Schmitz pulled McDonald “away from the resulting melee” and said, “You stabbed me.” McDonald said that she had, walked away, and threw away the scissors she’d been carrying, prosecutors stated.
In last week’s hearing before Hennepin County District Court Judge Daniel Moreno, McDonald gave up her right to use a defense that she stabbed Schmitz accidentally or in self-defense. She also acknowledged that Schmitz hadn’t had a weapon, “and McDonald admitted she handled the scissors in an unreasonable way,” officials with Freeman’s office stated.
McDonald told Moreno that the scissors ended up in Schmitz’s chest because he’d pulled her toward him. Prosecutors also said that McDonald dropped previous claims that someone else had stabbed Schmitz.
In its statement, Freeman’s office noted that it’s “received some criticism from the LGBTQ community regarding this case.”
Officials stated, “The role of prosecutors is to examine the facts provided by police investigators and determine if there is sufficient admissible evidence to bring a charge. Gender, race, sexual orientation and class are not part of the decision-making process. The charges filed took into account the evidence in this case; this outcome is an example of the criminal justice responding proportionately to a tragic situation. The plea of second-degree manslaughter is a just resolution.”
McDonald’s local supporters say that the judge in McDonald’s jury trial ruled against admitting evidence that included her attacker’s swastika tattoo and a “lengthy” record of convictions for assault and other crimes.
Groups including the San Francisco-based National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Transgender Law Center expressed concerns that McDonald “could be facing discriminatory charges based on her transgender identity,” but prosecutors ignored those ideas, according to the Democrats’ resolution draft.
Haaland, who’s transgender, circulated the proposal-in-progress this week. In an interview today (Friday, May 11), he said that he and other local supporters originally planned to call for McDonald’s pardon, but someone suggested to him that for McDonald to get a pardon, she’d have to meet certain conditions, and that “would be really awful for her to have to go through.” He didn’t say specifically what the criteria would be, but he said he’s never talked to McDonald, and “without more direct communication” with her, local activists “don’t feel like doing a resolution urging a pardon makes sense.”
Asked about what impact the resolution might have, Haaland said that organizations around the world are expressing concerns about the case.
“If you’re a judge you’re going to pay attention” to that when it comes to sentencing, said Haaland.
Chuck Laszewski, a spokesman for Freeman, said the San Francisco Democrats’ resolution probably wouldn’t make any difference in the sentencing, “since it’s a plea, and the outlines of the plea are pretty firm.”
Hersch Izek, the attorney representing McDonald, didn’t respond to an interview request Friday.