A veteran deputy district attorney filed a legal claim against Los Angeles County Wednesday, alleging he has been targeted for “hostile and defamatory language” by District Attorney George Gascon and his office spokesman.
Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami has been outspoken against Gascon’s reform directives, appearing at a New Year’s candlelight vigil for victims and making his views known on various television shows.
Hatami also is the prosecutor in the case of Jose Cuatro and Maria Juarez, a Palmdale couple charged with murder and torture involving the death of their 4-year-old son. He additionally was one of two prosecutors in the trial of Isauro Aguirre and Pearl Fernandez. Aguirre was sentenced to death and his girlfriend was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for her 8-year-old son Gabriel’s death.
Hatami’s claim, announced during a news conference Wednesday in front of the Hall of Justice, is a possible forerunner of a lawsuit.
A representative for the District Attorney’s Office issued a brief statement regarding the claim.
“The office is unable to comment on personnel matters and on potential pending litigation,” the statement read.
According to the claim, Gascon said during an Oct. 27 interview with the publication Crime Story, “Some people will be unhappy and … either become internal terrorists or they’ll leave. And I know certainly how to deal with both.”
The “racially infused” comment was directed at Hatami, who is part Iranian and whose father is Muslim, the claim alleges.
On Nov. 18, Gascon said in an interview on Spectrum News 1 that the only reasons Hatami sought the death penalty in the Gabriel Fernandez case was because Hatami’s ego had been hurt by Aguirre, that Aguirre had rubbed Hatami the wrong way, that Aguirre was not the “heavy” in the case, and that Aguirre had refused Hatami’s plea deal, according to the claim.
The comments were “knowingly false” and were directed at damaging Hatami’s reputation and fitness to carry out his duties, according to the claim.
On Dec. 11, Maxwell Szabo, the spokesman for Gascon’s transition team, tweeted, “The biggest threat to public safety is the cabal of rogue DAs and their friends in police unions,” according to the claim, which alleges the comment was directed at Hatami.
Six days later, Szabo stated on Fox 11, “It seems Mr. Hatami has made a profound discovery rather late in his career. Like any other workplace, if you don’t do what your boss tells you to do, you may be disciplined,” according to the claim.
Szabo went on to say, “Hatami’s delusional theories raise questions as to one’s fitness to practice law,” the claim states.
That same day, Hatami wrote Supervisor Kathryn Barger detailing the alleged harassment and defamatory conduct he was experiencing, but he did not hear anything in return, according to his claim.
“The county in no way intervened or gave an official public statement denouncing the defamatory language published by Gascon and Szabo,” the claim states. “The county also did not intervene to prevent and stop the hostile work environment created almost immediately after Gascon was sworn in as the Los Angeles County District Attorney in which DAs with long-standing reputations were harassed, intimidated, treated like snitches and retaliated against for speaking up about concerns over the legality of new directives.”
Hatami said he filed an internal grievance against Szabo and asked that the District Attorney’s Office make a public retraction of Szabo’s allegedly defamatory statements.
On Jan. 26, Hatami received a letter, sent on behalf of Gascon, that the investigation was closed, the claim states. The letter stated that even if the facts Hatami alleged were true, they were not “jurisdictional” to the County of Los Angeles Policy of Equity, which aims to protect the right of employees to be free from discrimination, unlawful harassment, retaliation and inappropriate conduct, according to the claim.
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