LA District Attorney Gascón angers crime victims, prosecutors with sweeping policies

Prosecutors to seek restraining order against new LA DA for being soft on crime

The union representing Los Angeles County deputy district attorneys is expected to ask a judge to block their new boss George Gascon from easing up on sentences; William La Jeunesse reports.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón won over voters last year with promises of criminal justice reform and has largely stuck to his commitments, introducing sweeping changes that have been praised by some while simultaneously roiling detractors and his fellow chief prosecutors.

Since taking office in December, he’s has issued directives to halt bail requests, stop trying juveniles as adults, stop seeking the death penalty and banned prosecutors from seeking sentencing enhancements and from attending some parole hearings.

The move against enhancements — which can result in harsher punishments for crimes such as using a gun — has been particularly controversial.

In response to the dramatic reforms in the nation’s largest district attorney’s office, the union that represents Los Angeles County prosecutors filed a lawsuit against their boss, claiming the directives violate California state law.

“He can’t simply eliminate certain things just because he doesn’t like them or he thinks they’re bad policy,” Eric Siddall, vice president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County, told Fox News. “He’s the chief prosecutor for Los Angeles County. He’s not the state legislature. He’s not the state voter and he’s not the judiciary.”

The changes have hit home for the loved ones of crime victims. Tania Owen, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, lost her husband, Sgt. Steve Owen, a 29-year veteran of the force, when he was killed execution-style on Oct. 5, 2016, while responding to reports of a burglary.

She wants her husband’s accused killer, Trenton Lovell, to face the death penalty. Lovell was a parolee at the time of the murder. He is charged with first-degree murder. 

“He is not here for the victim,” Owen told Fox News. “He clearly lied to the people of Los Angeles because he ran on one thing that he knew would attract the attention of the public, which is this false rhetoric against law enforcement. It wasn’t until he became district attorney that he took off the sheep’s clothing and we saw the wolf.”

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon is sworn in as his wife Fabiola Kramsky holds a copy of the Constitution during a mostly-virtual ceremony in downtown Los Angeles on Dec. 7, 2020. Gascon, who co-authored a 2014 ballot measure to reduce some nonviolent felonies to misdemeanors, has promised more reforms to keep low-level offenders, drug users and those who are mentally ill out of jail and has said he won’t seek the death penalty. (Bryan Chan/County of Los Angeles via AP)

In 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom placed a moratorium on capital punishment. 

Retired Los Angeles police homicide detective Ryan Vera previously told Fox News he was concerned he won’t see justice in his father’s murder case. Paul Vera was fatally shot during a 1983 traffic stop.

Ryan Verna was recently informed that the special circumstances charges against one of the men convicted for the murder would be removed “in the furtherance of justice.”

“There’s a lack of respect for actual victims and survivors of these crimes,” he said. “I talk to friends that are still in law enforcement and right now gang members in Los Angeles, there’s no fear. They’re openly flying their gang colors because he’s not going to give sentencing enhancements for gang crimes so there’s no need to ever try to hide who you are.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has also voiced opposition to the new directives, tweeting several times: “I firmly believe we are not safer by putting the interests of offenders over the needs of victims of crime.”

“Eliminating consequences to violent crime has consequences of their own,” he said earlier this month. “Sentencing enhancements and special circumstances give prosecutors the leeway to craft an appropriate response to the facts of every case presented to them by law enforcement investigators.”

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Sgt. Steve Owen was a 29-year veteran of the force when he was killed while responding to a reported burglary.
(Courtesy of Tania Owen)

Gascón, the former district attorney for San Franciso and a former LAPD officer, was elected in a year that saw widespread protests against police brutality and racial injustice, accompanied by a sharp uptick in violent crime. He was backed by progressive groups like Black Lives Matter, which heavily criticized incumbent Jackie Lacey for not prosecuting police officers accused of misconduct.

At one point, Lacey’s husband pointed a gun at demonstrators outside her home during a tense confrontation.

Gascón’s promises centered around eliminating mass incarceration and addressing the number of people of color in prison. His progressive agenda resonated with voters who felt harsh penalties have done little to curb crime and gun violence.

The tough-on-crime approach has not worked, according to Tinisch Hollins, who lost two brothers to gun violence and is the associate director for Californians for Safety. However, fearmongering and a lack of information has prompted pushback on common-sense policies, she said. 

“If you’re not a criminal justice or legal expert, some of this sounds really frightening when you hear it,” she told Fox News. “Some of these reforms don’t mean that people aren’t going to be punished. It doesn’t mean that people are not going to go to jail or prison… for a long time. I think the way that it’s presented, it comes off as people are just going to be pardoned for every crime.”

She added that pouring billions of dollars into draconian criminal justice policies hasn’t worked and that the root causes of crime ought to be addressed. 

LA COUNTY DA GASCON’S PROSECUTORS ASK JUDGE TO BLOCK REFORMS THAT WOULD FORCE THEM TO ‘VIOLATE THE LAW’

In a Tuesday statement to Fox News, Gascón’s office said his reforms actually “enhance public safety” and “put victims first.”

“The new Special Directives put forward by District Attorney Gascón not only enhance public safety and increase equity, they also put victims first,” said Alex Bastian, special advisor to the district attorney’s office. “By moving towards a more objective, scientific, and data-driven approach when making our decisions, our system will get better results and prevent future victimization. Although some victims may disagree, the majority of victims very much favor these reforms. We respect everyone’s candor and will provide every victim all available services afforded to them under the law.”

In addition to activists, more than 65 current and former prosecutors back the reforms and recently filed an amicus brief in support of Gascón in response to the ADDA lawsuit.

San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan recently penned a letter to Gascón blasting his refusal to bring special charges against an accused cop killer suspected of armed robbery in her jurisdiction. An agreement between Stephan and Lacey’s administration allowed Los Angeles prosecutors to try the suspect on the more serious crime of fatally shooting a sheriff’s deputy with the understanding that he would face the maximum amount of prison time.

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Stephan eventually got the case back, but not before promising to not grant Gascón jurisdiction over crimes in her county without certain conditions. Several other prosecutors in California have followed suit. In an interview with Fox News, Stephan emphasized that what happens in Los Angeles County could have far-reaching implications across the state.

“What happens in LA affects all of California,” she said. “Los Angeles is the largest jurisdiction in the state and in the country. I am very concerned about any negative ripple effects from Los Angeles and I’m concerned about people committing crime sprees in San Diego and continue to LA where they’re going to not face the legal consequences.”

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