Deputy DA speaks out against Gascón’s policies, ‘hostile’ work environment

Jon Hatami, prosecutor for the Complex Victims Unit at home. Dan Watson/The Signal
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Under newly elected L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón’s policy changes, there would not have been justice in the Gabriel Fernandez case, according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita resident and prosecutor for the high-profile murder trial involving the parents of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy. 

Hatami has emerged as a vocal opponent of the new direction the DA’s Office is taking under Gascón.

“It would’ve gone much differently — 100%,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday, referring to the trial that received national attention after it was the subject of a several-part Netflix documentary. “We would have not been able to obtain justice for Gabriel under this current administration. There’s no way. That’s the problem.” 

In that case, Gabriel’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Her boyfriend Isauro Aguirre was sentenced to death. Hatami lamented Wednesday how neither punishment would be possible under the current administration.

After defeating former District Attorney Jackie Lacey in November’s general election, Gascón announced last week new changes in a series of special directives, which include ending the death penalty, cash bail for many offenses and sentencing enhancements, as well as shifting away from charging minors as adults in all county prosecutions.  

“I’m just looking forward to working together to making L.A. the greatest county in the country and the leader — not only of criminal justice reform, but the leader in creating safe and just communities,” said Gascón during his Dec. 7 swearing-in ceremony.

Hatami said social justice reform is needed, but said Gascón has implemented “a blanket policy for every single case without looking at all the facts” and created a “hostile” working environment.

“As we go on as a society, as a community, you do realize that there needs to be certain changes, and you want to try to implement those changes,” said Hatami. “But you should never create a hostile or a bad working environment for all the deputy district attorneys.”

Hatami, who has been working in the county D.A.’s office for more than a decade, said attorneys feel intimidated as they are monitored in the courts and are being threatened with retaliation for going on the court record and saying anything that could negatively be traced back to Gascón. 

“When we feel like we’re going to be retaliated against, when we feel like defense attorneys or public defenders are going to rat us out for doing something or saying something that we’re not supposed to say, it’s really uncomfortable in court when you’re trying to fight for victims and fight for really serious cases,” said Hatami. 

The D.A.’s office declined to comment on the matter Wednesday. The D.A.’s Association said in a previous statement on Gascón’s election that it would ensure that all deputy district attorneys “enjoy the robust civil service protections to which they are entitled and the rights and benefits for which we have bargained.”

Gascón has also received criticism from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. In an emailed statement, ALADS President Ron Hernandez said he would refrain from jumping to conclusions on the D.A.’s directives. 

“I only wish Mr. Gascón had done the same. As a former law enforcement officer, chief and district attorney, he should know that jumping to conclusions before collecting all pertinent information raises the risk of failing to execute your job properly,” said Hernandez. “My fear is the criticism that has followed him through his many positions has not resonated with him, and that all citizens of L.A. County will suffer the consequences.”

Although concerned about the repercussions for speaking out, Hatami said, “I believe in serving my community, and I’ll keep fighting for the kids until they run me out of this office.”

He added that hundreds of deputy district attorneys are looking into filing a state bar complaint against Gascón, and said additional steps should take place to end retaliation.

“If the (county) Board of Supervisors needs to step in, if the attorney general needs to step in, if somebody needs to step in and say listen, ‘You can’t force us to break the law’ … then they probably should step in.” 

Hatami said he is focused on protecting victims, but if county residents encouraged him to run for district attorney, he would. 

“If people came forward and wanted me to represent them, and wanted me to fight for them — if people want me to do that, I’d be willing to serve,” he said. 

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