By Kevin Harris
John Barrick has announced his candidacy for Ventura County District Attorney. Currently the Senior Prosecutor in the Homicide Unit of the Ventura County DA’s Office, Barrick will run against Erik Nasarenko – the well known incumbent who was appointed last year and who has served as Ventura County Mayor, and on the city council, for several terms.
The two candidates, however, approach crime and prosecutions from very different angles. While Nasarenko, a Democrat, has a softer, more rehabilitative approach, Barrick, a conservative, is a true, experienced and successful prosecutor of violent offenders, and said he lives by the motto, “crime victims come first.”
Following is an in-depth tele-interview that Citizens Journal reporter Kevin Harris conducted with John Barrick on May 9, 2022. While some content was edited for relevance and for space, every attempt was made to include any useful or interesting information.
(CJ) Can you tell me about your family, and what you love the most about living in Ventura County?
(BARRICK) “That’s a complicated answer. I grew up in Oxnard, and it wasn’t a great home life. We moved around a lot, and there were alcohol and substance abuse issues with my parents. We were poor, and going to college was never discussed. What we learned was how to survive day-to-day. So I knew I needed to get out of my house. But I knew I couldn’t leave until I graduated high school. I wanted to leave my house, but I wanted to be constructive when I did it, so I decided that going to college was the way to go.
(Barrick graduated CSUN with a BS in Film Production before accidentally discovering his love for law. He then attended Southwestern School of Law, where he passed his bar exam).
By the time I graduated from Southwestern, I was 34, and I had a 2-year- old daughter, and I didn’t want to raise her in LA. And it’s ironic… the county, in the end, where I wanted to raise her, was Ventura County. When you mature, you remember the good memories here, and sort of forget about the anger and frustration with your home life. I wanted to raise my daughter in Ventura County, so the job I applied to was in the Ventura County DA’s office. Fortunately I got it. And that’s how I ended up here. And ironically, where do I live today? I live in Oxnard. I do love Oxnard… the weather is great, the people are good, Ventura County is a great place to raise a family.”
(CJ) You have tried 69 cases during your 16 years as prosecutor – more than any other candidate for DA. Is there any one case that stands out the most for you? If so, why?
(BARRICK) “I would say there’s two. One was “The People vs Wilson Chouest” – That was a 1980 cold case. Wilson was a serial rapist and at the time he was serving a life sentence. (Two female murder/rape victims, both designated “Jane Doe,” were eventually tied to Wilson through DNA. One of those bodies was discovered at Westlake High School. After several different DA offices refused to take on the case, the Ventura County DA Office reluctantly accepted the case, which landed on Barrick’s desk).
We do the trial, Wilson is convicted. The jury was great. He gets two consecutive terms of life, without the possibility of parole. (This case was recently featured on A&E’s “Cold Case Files,” with the episode featuring Barrick).
The second case I like is “The People vs Myra Chavez.” Myra tortured and murdered her 3-year-old. No-body homicides are rare. I saw a stat recently that of all the homicide cases in the country, there’s only been about 500 no-body cases. This was a no-body toddler, which are exceedingly rare. The DA wasn’t even going to file charges in the case (too difficult to prove). I overheard a friend discussing the case and I took and interest in it. My office at first, was a little Leary of me proceeding with the case, but eventually they got behind me. We convicted Myra, and she got a total of 37 years to life.”
(CJ) Unlike most local and state politicians and lawmakers, you support having local gun shows. Can you talk a little more about that?
(BARRICK) “As a conservative I’m a proponent of the second amendment. When you look at the studies, and the National Institute of Justice just released one a few months ago, they talk about the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by those who obtained their guns illegally. And when I was reading this legislation that wants to outlaw gun shows at fairgrounds, reading the quotes from the politicians who support it, it occurred to me that it had nothing to do with gun safety. Gun shows only concern those who are interested in obtaining their guns legally. California has some of the toughest regulations for gun ownership in the country.
It occurred to me that the concerns that people who want to outlaw gun shows at fairgrounds has nothing to do with gun violence. It’s the people. They just don’t like the type of person who owns a gun. And I find that offensive as an American.”
(CJ) You seem to be onboard with the concept of “hate crimes” as their own, separate prosecutable category of violent crime. How is a violent crime where the perpetrator or victim is a member of one race or ethnicity over another different than other violent crimes, and are those crimes worthy of harsher sentences than other similar violent crimes?
(BARRICK) “I prosecuted hate crimes for six and a half years. One of the basic rights of the Constitution is that people are free to be who they are. To commit a crime against someone because they are a member of a perceived class, just because you don’t like that class, is about the most un-American thing you can do. If you’re going to commit a violent act against a person because you don’t like the color of their skin, then you should have harsher penalties.”
(CJ) Is it more un-American to kill someone because of their race than because of say, their political views?
(BARRICK) “I would say “yes,” especially considering the history of race in this country. I believe it would require a heightened sense of penalty.”
(CJ) You emphasize heavily that “crime victims come first,” which is certainly a refreshing position in a crime-lenient state like ours. But do you believe DAs can also play a role in preventing victims from being created in the first place? If so, what would that look like?
(BARRICK) “Yeah, I do. I think we can play a role. As a county DA, obviously my power is limited to my jurisdiction, but we could do more. As DAs, we have a duty to inform the public of what’s going on. There’s so much going on that has negatively affected crime victims and their rights, and yet if you ask the average person on the street, they have no idea.
The politicians in Sacramento live in a bubble where a limousine shuffles them from their gated community to their protected office in the capital building. And they don’t live in the real world and they have no interest in the real world. So they’re not going to know how their policies are affecting people if we don’t tell them. And how are the people going to know unless the elected officials at the local levels tell them. And that’s not what we’re seeing.
I think the biggest role that a DA can play is to let local politicians know that we want leaders who are going to fight for crime victims, and not keep passing criminal legislation that helps criminals – which is exactly what’s been happening for the last 11 years.”
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The California State Primary Election takes place on Tuesday, June 7, 2022.
Kevin Harris is a reporter, editor and journalist, previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists, and having worked for the LA Times and Newhall Signal. He is now also an author and videographer, and lives with his two children in Thousand Oaks.