Los Angeles DA Gascón walking back soft criminal justice reforms as second recall momentum builds

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Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has walked back his lenient policies for “juveniles” charged with murder and violent sexual assault as he faces a second recall election.

Gascón took office in December 2020 and promptly limited the options for prosecutors. Along with banning the death penalty and life sentences without the possibility of parole, Gascón hindered prosecutors ability to try juveniles as adults.

This policy recently led to a 26-year-old biological male being sentenced to two years in a girls juvenile detention facility for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl prior to turning 18. The juvenile treatment in this case also prohibited the assailant from having to register as a sex offender.

Now, in memos obtained Friday by the Los Angeles Times, Gascón has announced the formation of committees to evaluate cases deemed “extraordinary” for guidance on seeking harsher penalties and moving juveniles to adult court.

“After listening to the community, victims, and colleagues,” Gascón stated in the memo, “I understand that there may be the rare occasion where the filing of special circumstance allegations may be necessary.”

This is far from a win for prosecutors though. Prior to Gascón they were able to transfer cases from court to court. Now they will have to seek approval from a team comprised of high-ranking prosecutors and members of Gascón’s team.

Those members include, Gascón’s chief of staff, Joseph Iniguez, Alisa Blair, his special adviser for policies on juvenile cases and the Director of Specialized Prosecutions, Larry Droeger, the Washington Examiner reported.

L.A. Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, a Child Abuse Prosecutor, has remained critical of Gascón throughout his brief tenure as County D.A. and summed up the reversal of the policy on Twitter.

“We are supposed to believe that he has suddenly changed his entire belief system overnight?” Hatami has also said. “He is a politician, and he believes he will be recalled and lose his job. Don’t be fooled, Los Angeles.”

As L.A. has been ravaged by violent crime, including more than 20 homicides, 60 rapes, and 1,300 aggravated assaults between January 16 and February 12, according to Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) data, criticism of Gascón has only ramped up.

Eric Siddall, vice president of a prosecutors union said, “Over the past year, George Gascón and his policies have wreaked havoc on the criminal justice system and made us all less safe. Now he’s abandoning his social experiment not because he’s learned anything or wants to make us safer, but because he knows that the politics aren’t in his favor.”

Even the former LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, who had been a supporter of Gascón despite his soft-on-crime polices, has removed his backing of the D.A.

Gascón is not the only D.A. of a major city to face criticism and lose support among his peers. NYC D.A. Alvin Bragg is facing similar backlash for the soft-on-crime policies he has pushed since taking office at the beginning of 2022.

The new recall for Gascón provides until July 6 for petitioners to collect signatures of 10 percent of registered voters amounting to 566,857.


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