Millions have watched the video where Los Angeles police officers beat, tased, shot and killed Cameroonian immigrant Charly “Africa” Keunang in a brawl on March 1. Many overlooked a thin black woman who picked up the dropped baton of one of the officers.
Although she did not hit anyone in the struggle, 34-year-old Trishawn Cardessa Carey is facing life imprisonment for holding the baton.
Now, after pressure from an L.A. Times report on Thursday, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has “asked her managers to review the case,” The Daily Beast has learned.
Carey has been in custody since that day, charged with assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer and resisting arrest. Due to the California’s three-strike sentencing law, this offense has her facing 25 years to life in prison, as she is a repeat offender. She has nine prior convictions, two of which were serious or violent felonies.
For her lawyer, Milton Grimes, her criminal background has everything to do with her past and mental health.
“On a trip to Texas I picked up at the airport, The Raising of Hannibal Lecter,” Grimes told The Daily Beast on the phone from his office. “Once you read The Raising of Hannibal, you understand him and sympathize with him.”
Carey’s story is equally horrendous and heartbreaking. Grimes says that she was born a crack baby, weighing only 2 pounds. Her mother struggled with a crack addiction until recently. She forced Carey to prostitute herself at the age of 12.
She was put out of her mother’s house two years later, and continued in sex work as a means to survive. She also spent several visits in Patton State Hospital, and was diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression.
“She has a mental illness, and you can see the struggle of her trying to go to school and do programs and be involved and try to have a normal life somewhere in all of that,” says Grimes.
She spent a brief stint sharing an apartment with an abusive boyfriend in the four years leading up to her arrest, according to Cynthia Ruffin, the co-chair of the “Free Trishawn Carey” coalition.
“She suffers from PTSD from being an abused child, from being prostituted as a child and, subsequently, following that up with violent relationships,” Ruffin says. “She’s kind of in and out in terms of her mental health capacities. But people who knew her all talked about her being a really sweet woman who would share food with people and give cigarettes to people if they were feeling down.”
However, Carey’s mental health issues are not being met with what her campaign feels is adequate care since she’s been incarcerated. She was moved to the medical facility at Twin Towers Correctional Facility and received treatment for an oral abscess, head injury, and medication for her diabetes and incoherence. But Ruffin says Carey is kept in a room by herself with no outside privileges.
Unfortunately, this is not an unusual case. The homeless population in Los Angeles has risen to 44,359, according to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority—a jump of 12 percent since the last survey in 2013.
“Unfortunately, the vast majority of services are on Skid Row and people come believing they might get help—but when they come they find everything is at capacity. So they end up on the sidewalks, on the streets. Police arrest them and get them off the streets but there’s nowhere to go,” says Reverend Andy Bales, CEO of the Union Rescue Mission.
“I had a county jailer call me a few months ago and tell me, ‘We don’t know what to do. We don’t know how to handle this population. We’re letting gangbangers out to make room,’” Bales says. “It’s an epidemic, a crisis in Los Angeles, and calls for an all-out, all-hands-on-deck response.”
But, at least for Carey, there is hope. At her bail hearing on Tuesday, she was granted a bail reduction to $50,000 from $1 million.
“I have people from the community calling me asking how to donate money,” Grimes says. “I’m optimistic we will be able to get her out of jail.”
The fundraising through the coalition seeks to earn at least 6 percent of that amount, which would release Carey to a Los Angeles rehabilitation program called A New Way of Life Reentry Project. The founder, Susan Barton, has stated to the court that there is a bed awaiting her there.
With the District Attorney’s office taking a deeper look into the arrest, Carey and her attorney are hopeful that this could lead to a dismissal of all charges and a fresh start. Ruffin and her group’s supporters had been angling for District Attorney Jackie Lacey to put the case under review before the D.A.
Lacey had formally declined comment until Thursday night, when she finally stepped in.
“D.A. Jackie Lacey has asked her managers to review the case,” L.A. County D.A. Public Information Officer Greg Risling told The Daily Beast at about 5 p.m. PDT. “I was just informed of this.”
Lacey has extensively campaigned to divert people with mental health issues away from the penal system and into treatment. This case could mark the beginning of a wave of change for the lives of Los Angeles’ homeless.
“Maybe—for the first time in a long time—I have hope,” says Reverend Bales. “You don’t have anywhere to go from the bottom but up.