The upcoming June 7 primary elections feature an appointed incumbent running against a longtime prosecutor running for Ventura County’s district attorney.
Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko has been in office for over a year now since he was appointed on January 27, 2021.
Nasarenko, 51, looks forward to continuing his time as district attorney if elected in the statewide elections. John Barrick, Senior Prosecutor in the homicide unit for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, is the only candidate running against Nasarenko.
“I’ve greatly enjoyed my time as the Ventura County District Attorney and look forward to continuing to lead the great men and women of the Ventura County DA’s office,” Nasarenko said to VIDA Newspaper. “My primary focus is making sure that we keep the county safe, and I believe strongly that we have.”
Barrick, 52, was born in Staten Island, New York, but moved to Los Angeles shortly after. After his parents’ divorce, he moved to Oxnard with his two siblings, as well as his stepsister, and his mother and stepfather.
“I grew up in Ventura County – in Oxnard. I am the first district attorney candidate to have grown up in Ventura County in decades,” Barrick said to VIDA Newspaper. “I don’t even know how long it’s been since we’ve had a candidate or a DA who actually grew up here.”
Nasarenko says that crime rates within the county are largely down in most cities and jurisdictions, which shows that Ventura County remains one of the safest counties in California.
Throughout his time in office, Nasarenko says he is very proud of specific initiatives – one of them being the establishment of the Notario Fraud Task Force.
“[It is] to investigate and rule out cases where charlatans pose as attorneys, take money from residents, and then provide absolutely zero services. It’s against the law to practice without being a licensed attorney, and thanks to the resources we’ve devoted to the task force, I believe we are preventing fraud as well as making sure that it doesn’t continue,” Nasarenko said.
The Ventura County DA is also proud of the expansion of outreach services that has been worked on for crime victims. “We purchased over the summer, thanks to the County of Ventura, the main Family Justice Center across from the Ventura County Medical Center. This provides services, support and much needed healing to our crime victims,” said Nasarenko.
Barrick says he realizes that the number of people of color who commit crimes, and who are incarcerated, is high, but he says that a high number of crime victims are also people of color.
“Why are people of color so often the victims of violent crime and why are there no politicians talking about that,” Barrick said. Barrick says that a way to work on this issue is through community outreach.
“I want to reach out to community outreach groups, not just city councils, actual people who are on the ground working with people who are disadvantaged and suffering. Let’s get some real solutions instead of solutions that just sound good,” Barrick said to VIDA Newspaper.
Barrick also feels that community outreach would help decrease the number of people who are incarcerated. He says that a lot of the problems with crime rates today have to do more with poverty than the color of someone’s skin.
“A lot of people who commit crimes are people who were poor or grew up poor. Maybe they’re not getting the same breaks as everybody else,” Barrick said. “Instead of addressing the problem after they’ve committed the crime, as a society we should be doing more to address the issues before the crime is committed.”
Nasarenko said that a domestic violence shelter will also be opening this summer, and The Family Justice Center will be expanding to Oxnard to provide needed support to residents. “We have identified a specific site in Oxnard… it will provide a location for the Oxnard Police Department Family Protection Unit. It will also provide a location for individuals who may be of Mixteco indigenous descent, as well as those who are farm workers or who live in the area and may be undocumented,” Nasarenko said to VIDA Newspaper. “We want this to be a one stop shop for everybody.”
Another initiative Nasarenko is proud of is the creation of the first mental health unit in the district attorney’s office. “I’m very thankful to Supervisor Carmen Ramirez, our board chair, as well as the board of supervisors who gave us the additional prosecutors for this unit,” he said.
Nasarenko also mentioned that a grant to test old sexual assault kits has recently been received from the federal government. “It will create the first ever cold case unit in the district attorney’s office,” he said.
To help reduce crime rates in minority groups, and in general, Nasarenko believes that restorative practices should begin with the youth.
Aside from Barrick’s work experience, he says that his life experience makes him fit for the position of district attorney. He says that he grew up poor and has also been a victim of crime.
“I’ve been threatened by gang members. I’ve had things taken from me, and when you’re poor and something gets taken from you it hurts,” Barrick said. “When you’re poor or lower middle class and something is taken from you…it really hurts, and you want justice.”
Barrick considers himself to be an aggressive prosecutor, but fair. “I want people to be held accountable, but once they serve [their sentence], we as a society need to develop programs and policies that allow people convicted of crimes to be integrated into society again. I think that is where criminal justice should really be focusing on,” Barrick said to VIDA Newspaper.
Barrick explained that a lot of the problem with crime also has to do with recidivism. “We’re not going to address recidivism by having lighter penalties and shorter stays in custody, which is actually going to increase the recidivism. The people engaging in misconduct are going to feel empowered by the lack of serious penalties,” Barrick said.
If elected, Barrick would too like to work on having the Ventura County District Attorney’s office reflect the community that it is serving. He believes it would make the county safer.
“Forty-three percent of the county is Hispanic. We don’t have nearly that percentage of DA’s who meet that, preferably Spanish speaking because a lot of our crime victims are Hispanic and Spanish speaking,” Barrick said. “I want to create a more diverse office, but I don’t want to just do it because it is a box to check on my campaign… I actually come from a very diverse family, so I actually mean it.”
Barrick has been working for the Ventura County District Attorney’s office since 2005 and has tried 68 cases in his 16 years as a prosecutor.
“I have by far more experience as a prosecutor [than any other candidate] both in trial, in types of cases prosecuted, seriousness of cases… cases that are far more complicated to prosecute,” Barrick said.
Something else that Nasarenko has focused on as the Ventura County District Attorney is making sure that there is community reflection in the office. “We have hired one of the most diverse groups of attorneys in our office’s history. We’ve hired 13 since I’ve been here, 9 of who are female” Nasarenko said. “We hired an African American female, who grew up in Oxnard and was formally an Oxnard police officer… We also brought in a Korean American from Cook County Chicago, who brings her AAPI traditions and values to our office, and we hired a prosecutor who is bilingual and grew up in Moorpark and is the first in his family to become an attorney, let alone go to college,” Nasarenko said to VIDA Newspaper.
Nasarenko says that when he thinks about where he is today, he thinks about his roots – the hard work of his parents, and grandparents. “I’m a product of immigrants, my parents both came to this country from Ukraine, and they fled the Second World War. They lived in refugee camps for over 5 years, and they came to this country like so many immigrants seeking a better life,” Nasarenko said. “They understood that hard work and education could help create that better life, and they instilled in me that work ethic as well as the inherent value of receiving a solid education.”
Nasarenko went to high school outside of downtown Los Angeles, near Boyle Heights – a largely immigrant community. “At the age of 16 it gave me an opportunity to connect to other ethnicities, different cultures, and really to understand how valuable diversity and broad-minded viewpoints are to shaping our society, and to both public safety and economic growth.”
Nasarenko was encouraged by his parents to apply to the district attorney’s office. “[My parents said] it is a beautiful community to raise a family. At the time, my daughter had just been born, she is 15 now. My wife and I, and our daughter went out here and we drove to different communities… and we just fell in love with it.”
Prior to his appointment, Erik served Ventura County as a Senior Deputy District Attorney. He also ran for the Ventura City Council in 2013 and was elected twice and served as Ventura’s Mayor as well.
“I feel as I’ve been able to give back to the county, and I’d very much be honored to continue to do so,” Nasarenko said. “[I have] proven leadership, a record of public safety accomplishments, and broad financial management experience.”