Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón Wednesday defended the policies he has set in place during his first 100 days as the county’s top prosecutor amid backlash over his directives against seeking the death penalty and keeping cases involving juveniles out of adult courts.
In a Zoom call, Gascón said his changes were “based on data and science that will enhance the safety for our community while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration,” and he vowed that the efforts are “just beginning.”
The district attorney — who is facing a potential recall effort — noted that the office will no longer be seeking the death penalty in 17 active cases and that it has “ended the practice of prosecuting children as adults,” with the prosecution withdrawing 77 pending motions to transfer cases against “kids” from juvenile court to adult court.
“The death penalty does not make us safer. It is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible,” Gascón said, adding that the death penalty requires the families of murder victims to wait through decades of appeals and forces them to relive the trauma “for a sentence that will never be imposed” in a state in which Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a moratorium on executions.
The district attorney said sentencing enhancements are no longer being sought in most cases, noting that there has been a 71% drop in the filing of such enhancements between December 2020 and February, compared with the same period under former District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s administration a year earlier. He cited research that he said suggests “excessive sentences don’t enhance safety but do exacerbate recidivism, leading to more victims of crime.”
Gascón said an “extremely conservative” estimate suggests that would equate to more than 8,000 years of “unnecessary prison exposure time” with savings projected to be in the “tens of millions of dollars.”
The district attorney said his office has also convened its first crime victims’ advisory board, is working to expand the capacity of the office’s victims’ services division and is exploring technological solutions to be able to contact crime victims much more expeditiously.
The District Attorney’s Office is also seeking to retain Lawrence Middleton, a former federal prosecutor, to look at “some of the more egregious incidents of police use of force” and has asked all Los Angeles County law enforcement agencies to turn over lists of the names of officers with a “known history of dishonesty, bias, unreasonable force or any other conduct that may impact their credibility,” Gascón said.
The district attorney said he has also teamed up with the community and the Los Angeles Police Department to launch a pre-filing diversion effort focused on non-violent and non-serious offenses involving those who are homeless or suffer from substance use or a mental disorder. Qualifying defendants who complete diversion programs will not face charges, he said.
He said the changes are being driven “because the science and the data tells us to do so,” adding that “together we can truly enhance public safety, increase equity, expand victim services and strengthen police accountability.”
In a statement released shortly after Gascon’s announcement, the co-chair of the “Recall George Gascon” campaign countered that the district attorney has “transformed Los Angeles County’s top prosecutorial office into a public defender’s office that prioritizes protecting criminals over victims.”
“Gascon has made our most vulnerable communities less safe by eliminating sentencing enhancements for violent criminals, ending cash bail, and offering parole opportunities to cold-blooded murderers,” said Tania Owen, the widow of a Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant who was shot to death in Lancaster in 2016. “There is a direct correlation between Gascon’s policies and recent increases in crime in Los Angeles County.”
Former District Attorney Steve Cooley, Former Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine and former county Supervisor Michael Antonovich are among the former elected officials supporting the recall.
The recall effort needs valid signatures from 10% of registered voters in the county, or about 590,000 people, to qualify for the ballot.
Meanwhile, the Beverly Hills City Council on Tuesday — on a 3-2 vote — approved a resolution expressing “no confidence” in Gascón. Mayor Lester Friedman said the district attorney’s actions “are undermining the work of our women and men in law enforcement.”
The Santa Clarita City Council approved a similar no-confidence resolution last week.
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