Controversial L.A. county prosecutor moves to eliminate gang crime unit: Report

Los Angeles County prosecutor George Gascon is making moves that will result in the eventual elimination of a gang crime unit within his office.

The specialized Hardcore Gang unit will be “decentralized” under a reorganization begun by Gascon, and several prosecutors will likely be transferred to other divisions,  sources told Fox News. Currently, the unit reportedly has roughly 700 open cases it is pursuing.

L.A. County prosecutorial branch offices will instead be assigned a “Special Trial Lawyer/Gang Coordinator” to help absorb the existing gang cases. And, sources told Fox News, there will be no new gang or gun charges filed.

Prosecutors and law enforcement officials immediately blasted the moves and predicted that they will make communities more violent.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva described Gascon’s ditching of the unit a “suicide pact” in a statement to FOX Los Angeles.

“While gang members are busy driving up LA County’s homicide rate, DA Gascon is now dismantling the Hardcore Gang Unit that works with local law enforcement,” he said. “This is not reform, this is beginning to look more like a suicide pact.” 

Prosecutors also expressed concerns.

“It is a sad day for LA. The Gang and Narcotics units have both been slashed in half,” said Los Angeles prosecutor Jonathan Hatami in a Wednesday tweet.” This will lead to more violence on our streets and more victims in our communities. And it puts public safety at greater risk.”

According to sources who spoke with Fox News, prosecutors currently working on gang-related cases will be tasked with establishing community liaisons with relevant police departments and other law enforcement in order to target specific gangs and gang members who are threats to their communities.

One source said that prosecutors in the gang unit were instructed to stand by for a phone call regarding their new assignments. If they are not amenable to transferring to the new unit, “a request for reconsideration will be honored,” Fox News reported.

“None of us will be asked to do anything we don’t want to do,” said the source.

Getting rid of the gang unit is just the latest in a series of oft-criticized and controversial moves by Gascon under the rubric of criminal justice reform.

The top prosecutor has also banned his underlings from going to parole board hearings to oppose inmate releases and has stopped efforts to charge juveniles as adults. He has instructed prosecutors not to seek the death penalty and has ended enhancements to charges that add years to sentences, such as the use of a gun in the commission of a crime.

Upon being inaugurated, Gascon, himself a former LAPD officer, said he had “profound intolerance” for dishonest cops.

“Those who engage in unconstitutional policing have severely hindered the standing and safety of us all,” he noted in an open letter to LAPD officers in December. “We are all scarred by their misdeeds, leading many in our communities to perceive police as persecutors instead of protectors.”

Last month, Gascon, 66, who immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba when he was 13, claimed to have withdrawn from the California District Attorneys Association because its board was all white.

But Vern Pierson, district attorney for El Dorado County in Placerville, Calif., accused Gascon of a publicity stunt because he said the L.A. prosecutor already resigned from the board the year before.

“On the ethnicity issue, his remarks are disingenuous, as he ran against the first sitting Los Angeles District Attorney who was both a woman and an African American. Incidentally, she was a CDAA board officer and in line to become president,” Pierson added.

“Shootings and other violent crimes are skyrocketing in LA. This appears to be a publicity stunt to divert attention from his favoring criminals at the expense of victims and growing calls for his recall,” he told BizPac Review.

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Jon Dougherty

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