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Jermaine Dickerson

Other Contra Costa County Exonerations
On April 20, 1998, a 15-year-old student at El Cerrito High School in El Cerrito, California, reported that she was sexually assaulted behind the school’s music building, but only after she gave other, conflicting, versions.

All of those accounts were false.

The girl, N.R., walked barefoot into an auto parts store and reported that she had been attacked by a group of girls who stole her belongings, including her shoes. She called her parents and while waiting to be picked up, a police car drove into the store’s parking lot. A store employee urged her to speak to the police, but she declined.

When N.R.’s father arrived, she said she had been targeted by three people who tried to abduct her. About an hour after she arrived home, she admitted to her father that she had lied. N.R. said she had been raped by 18-year-old Jermaine Dickerson, who was also a student at El Cerrito High School. She knew Dickerson because they were in the same physical education class.

Her father took N.R. to the police station where she identified Dickerson in a photographic lineup. She then went to the hospital where a rape kit was taken. A physical examination showed no internal injuries. A slight abrasion was detected on the outside of her vaginal area. DNA tests subsequently were conducted on N.R.’s clothing, as well as clothing obtained from Dickerson. A single sperm cell was found in the rape kit swab. The DNA tests excluded Dickerson as the source of the sperm. DNA tests performed on Dickerson’s clothing failed to identify any of N.R.’s DNA.

N.R. testified at a preliminary hearing that she and Dickerson engaged in small talk while at the bus stop near the school after classes ended for the day. She said Dickerson attempted to fondle her several times. She said Dickerson asked her to follow him back behind the school because he had something he wanted to show her. She said she followed him out of curiosity.

She said that when they came to a dirt area near the music building, they sat and talked briefly. But then, she said, he pushed her to the ground and forced himself on top of her. N.R. testified that when she tried to push out from under him, he pulled out a knife. Then, he put the knife away and raped her. She said that at some point, Dickerson forced himself inside of her three times before he stopped. She said she then got up, fixed her clothing, and walked down the hill.

N.R. testified that when she made it down the hill, Dickerson came up behind her. He snatched her chain from her neck, and stole her backpack and shoes, she said.

N.R. said she roamed around the area for several hours barefoot before going to the auto parts store.

On June 25, 1998, Dickerson was charged with sexual assault and robbery with an enhancement for use of a deadly weapon. On December 4, 1998, Dickerson pled no contest to the sexual assault charge and the enhancement and robbery charge were dismissed. He was sentenced to nine years in prison, but the sentence was suspended and he was placed on probation. He also was required to register as a sex offender.

On May 5, 2012, Dickerson’s wife and the mother of his three children sent a private message on Facebook to N.R. In the message, she said that Dickerson was still suffering from the consequences of the conviction. She encouraged N.R. to tell the truth.

In response, N.R. wrote back:

“I am very appreciative for you reaching out to me. I haven’t thought about any of this since it happened. Yes, i [sic] was really raped that day but i [sic] will handle this ASAP. My intentions were not to take someones [sic] life away and i [sic] truly regret the wrong doing i [sic] played a part in. Jermaine is a good person and did not deserve any of the hardship he has been through. I cant [sic] give him his life back but i [sic] can do my part in making things better. I was a very young and ignorant girl and i [sic] listened to the wrong people and someone innocent got hurt. I give my blessing to you and your family, i [sic] have a family too and couldnt [sic] imagine being in this predicament. You have presented your self [sic] as a strong woman.”

She also said via Facebook message that she was “truly apologetic and will make things as right as possible.”

In September 2020, Rebecca Brackman, an assistant Contra Costa County public defender, and investigator Justin Hill interviewed N.R. She said that she had in fact written the Facebook message. She said that she had been sexually assaulted by a former boyfriend who had pressured her to falsely accuse Dickerson.

On June 8, 2021, Brackman filed a motion to vacate Dickerson’s conviction. “Mr. Dickerson and his family have suffered under this false conviction for many years, and [N.R.] has suffered under the guilt of her intentional and false allegation,” the motion said. “Mr. Dickerson is still subject to community opprobrium because he is a lifetime sex offender.”

Subsequently, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Conviction Integrity Unit (CIU), headed by deputy district attorney Brian Feinberg, re-investigated the case. Following the investigation, the prosecution consented to the motion to vacate being granted. On September 24, 2021, the conviction was vacated, and the case was dismissed.

In June 2022, attorney Janice Bellucci filed a federal civil rights lawsuit on behalf of Dickerson against Contra Costa County and David Goldstein, the assistant public defender who represented Dickerson. The lawsuit accused Goldstein of pressuring Dickerson to plead guilty without telling Dickerson that DNA tests failed to link him to the alleged assault.

The lawsuit claimed that Goldstein “failed to prepare adequately for Mr. Dickerson’s defense at trial…by failing to interview alibi witnesses, failing to develop additional alibi evidence, and failing to prepare expert testimony regarding the exculpatory forensic evidence.”

Dickerson, the lawsuit said, had been expelled from the high school in February 1998—two months prior to the alleged rape—for possessing marijuana. Dickerson “never visited the campus of El Cerrito High School after being expelled,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit said that Dickerson told police that on the day N.R. said she was assaulted, he was visiting his brother in Richmond, California until about 3 p.m. when he took a rapid transit train from the Del Norte station to Berkeley where he met his girlfriend, Angel Carone. Dickerson told police he and Carone took the train to San Francisco where they spent the afternoon watching a movie.

Carone corroborated Dickerson in an interview with police. Moreover, a witness, Billy Drinkwater, told police that he saw Dickerson at the Del Norte station between 3 and 4 p.m.—about the time that N.R. said she was assaulted.

In addition, the lawsuit said that Goldstein knew that N.R.’s stepmother told police that N.R. “has made up stories in the past of why she has been late returning home.”

Despite this evidence, the lawsuit said, Goldstein counseled Dickerson to plead no contest because he would be released from jail immediately.

In 2012, according to the lawsuit, after an investigator interviewed N.R. and confirmed her recantation, Goldstein took no action, according to the lawsuit. In 2013, Goldstein told colleagues in the public defender’s office that no action should be taken on the case because of “the long odds of prevailing” on a motion to vacate Dickerson’s conviction. In an email to colleagues, Goldstein said “we are not obligated to represent the guy on this….it may be beyond our statutory duties as public defenders to represent him…we could be forced off by a zealous judge.” Goldstein also cited his “inability due to caseload constraints to take this on wholly myself.”

In 2015, Goldstein left the public defender’s office after he was appointed as a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge. The lawsuit said that in the ensuing years, Dickerson repeatedly sought help from the public defender’s office, but got nowhere until “a newly appointed senior official” in the office reached out and offered to file a motion to vacate Dickerson’s conviction.

In 2019, “after seven years of insistence” by Dickerson, the public defender’s office finally took action to vacate Dickerson’s conviction, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit sought $2.3 million in actual damages and $10 million in punitive damages. The lawsuit was dismissed in March 2023.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 3/14/2022
Last Updated: 5/25/2023
County:Contra Costa
Most Serious Crime:Child Sex Abuse
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:1998
Age at the date of reported crime:18
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No