The actions of a quick-thinking cleaning crew saved a bad situation from becoming potentially worse around 10:20 p.m. on the night before New Year’s Eve.
As two women went to clean the women’s restroom at Creekview Park on Park Street in Newhall, they found a strange man inside, who was gratifying himself with his pants down. He solicited the women to join him, according to a Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station arrest report.
The two immediately exited the restroom, locked the suspect inside and contacted the Sheriff’s Station, waiting outside until the suspect was taken into custody on suspicion of indecent exposure, according to an email from Deputy Natalie Arriaga, spokeswoman for the SCV Sheriff’s Station.
To say the suspect was known to Sheriff’s Station officials would be a fair statement. Carlton Searcy Cooper, 49, of Newhall, has been arrested more than nine times since January 2020, according to a list of repeat offenders that Sheriff’s Station officials circulated internally Dec. 7 and Sheriff’s Department arrest records.
The list was a subject of discussion this week with city officials, who are genuinely concerned about the Sheriff’s Department’s ability to address quality-of-life concerns due to a series of sweeping policy changes from the District Attorney’s Office, which officials say have already created serious problems with recidivism and leave local deputies “handcuffed” from addressing many of the issues they see as rising.
When asked about the list obtained by The Signal, which contains several hundred names of repeat offenders — with three suspects at the top who’ve been arrested at least a dozen times since last April — sheriff’s officials declined to comment and directed reporters to file a California Public Records Act request with [email protected]. (Editor’s note: Due to a deluge of such requests since Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s tenure, combined with staffing challenges associated with COVID-19, the department has been granted a statutory extension on fulfilling such requests. The current turnaround time is more than eight weeks. Similarly, any specific crime-data requests from beyond the past 30 days are being channeled through the department’s office that handles Public Records Act requests.)
But Santa Clarita officials were more than willing to express concern and frustration over the policy changes from the D.A.’s Office in a briefing with The Signal earlier this week.
Santa Clarita City Manager Ken Striplin and Mayor Bill Miranda both expressed ardent support for the Sheriff’s Department — and their relationship with the city’s de facto chief of police, SCV Sheriff’s Station Capt. Justin Diez — during a Monday meeting with The Signal’s editorial board.
The city worked cooperatively and proactively with law enforcement officials to continually garner recognition on “safest cities” lists over the years, including record low crime rates for 2018, 2019 and 2020, Striplin noted.
However, new policies from the county’s chief prosecutor have the city worried. L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón has limited the Sheriff’s Department deputies’ ability to address quality-of-life concerns, according to city officials, acknowledging the list of repeat offenders and how the city and Sheriff’s Station are looking to address the problems these policies have created any way possible, including the raising of awareness for their concerns.
City and sheriff’s officials began noticing the challenges which, at first, were created by COVID-19, and the need for sheriff’s officials to protect inmates from spreading COVID-19 among themselves, LASD staff and court officials, through a state-ordered directive issued by Judge Kevin Brazile, presiding judge over the Los Angeles County Superior Court system for 2020.
The rules were first ordered in March by the state’s Supreme Court, and have since been revised twice, most recently in October. (You can view the latest emergency bail schedule here: http://bit.ly/emergencybail.)
Initially, only about 19 misdemeanor and 30 felony charges qualified for bail, as well as repeat offenders — a provision that was removed in later revisions.
However, the larger concern for city officials on the record — and many law enforcement officers, as well as deputy district attorneys who’ve filed suit to stop the policy changes — is Gascón’s immediate expansion of the zero-bail policy, in addition to a number of other changes that are currently in litigation between the D.A. and a union for prosecutors who’ve openly challenged the changes from their new leader.
As the pandemic wore on, crime numbers actually dipped, according to Sheriff’s Department data shared from the city and available on LASD.org, but recidivism began to rise.
In fact, Striplin shared this week an instance of a suspect in a drug-related arrest whose situation could have ended up much worse, despite the best efforts of deputies.
“He comes to the station (as an arrestee), he’s on drugs, he’s kind of ‘acting up.’ He’s telling deputies, basically, ‘As soon as you release me, I’m going to go steal a car.’ Deputies, of course, can’t do anything. They can’t hold him there, there’s no bail. So they have to let him go,” Striplin noted, sharing the story from a recent pursuit.
“So they have to let them go … the guy literally leaves the Sheriff’s Station, walks across the street to (auto row in Valencia) and carjacks someone who’s sitting in line, trying to drop off their car for service, that takes the deputies on a high-speed pursuit until he’s arrested again. Those are situations, that … they just don’t make sense.”
Deputies, of course, were the first to identify the potential danger in the policy, which is where the repeat-offenders list originated. Law enforcement officials now have the list of suspects to check to see if they currently have an outstanding charge when they’re arrested again, in an effort to convince the bail commissioner that the suspect should have a bail set. Even when the suspect already has a court date for a different allegation, it’s about a 50-50 proposition that deputies will be successful in making their case for holding the suspect until trial, officials noted.
As the Sheriff’s Department started tracking arrestees, they began to notice something else: About 400 individuals accounted for 30% of all Sheriff’s Station arrests, more than 1,300 arrests — just from April to November.
Also of concern, 73 individuals were arrested for what the FBI classifies as Part I crimes, which include charges ranging from car theft to arson to rape and muder, 86 times.
Discussion of a recall
The concerns about Gascón’s policy changes have been wide-ranging and largely come from law enforcement officers, victims rights groups and prosecutors, for the moment, but the city is hoping to raise broader concern.
When asked about whether the city would be able to create its own prosecutorial unit to serve to seek justice for cases no longer prosecuted under Gascón’s command, the city noted any such move would have to be approved by Gascón, which is unlikely.
There’s also no financial benefit for such a move, as the cost likely would be in the millions.
The Association for Deputy District Attorneys unsuccessfully sought a court injunction to stop a number of Gascón’s directives, which include, among other things, reducing most charges for anyone under 18 and removing any sentencing enhancements for prior offenses or special allegations.
The next hearing date for the dispute over directives between the D.A. and his prosecutors union is set for Feb. 2.
Meanwhile tens of thousands of county residents have started a recall effort ahead of March 8, which is the 90-day statutory minimum someone has to be in office before a recall can be issued.
“The committee may now lawfully take donations in preparation for the recall effort set to begin March 8, 202(1),” read a statement from the group issued Jan. 13.
Those behind the recall effort lament that Gascón didn’t disclose to voters the planned implementation of “a series of irrational and dangerous policies,” according to a statement on recallgeorgegascon.com.
“The moment he was sworn in as district attorney, George Gascón instituted a series of directives to the prosecutors in his command that (has) nothing to do with a progressive approach to prosecution and have everything to do with a radical agenda that ignores victims, disregards the law and endangers the lives and livelihoods of all Angelenos,” reads the website.
City officials also expressed concern with the D.A.’s Office, and asked station officials to track the status of all cases filed to increase accountability.
“The degree of consequence for committing crimes, and I’m just going to say in Santa Clarita, because that’s what we’re talking about, has continued to be eroded,” Striplin said Monday, noting that 230 cases been presented by the Sheriff’s Station since October have been labeled as “decline to file,” meaning they won’t be prosecuted.
“So you think about some guy that got arrested 16 times,” Striplin said. “And now not only can that guy be arrested 16 times, but there’s no consequence for it.”