More than 37,000 people who have identified themselves as Los Angeles County-based victims of violent crimes and deputy district attorneys have created a group to recall District Attorney George Gascón, whose policies they say are too soft on crime.
After defeating former District Attorney Jackie Lacey in November’s general election, Gascón announced new changes in a series of special directives, which include ending pursuit of the death penalty, sentencing enhancements and cash bail for many offenses. The orders also indicated a shift away from charging minors as adults in all county prosecutions.
Gascón has said that tough-on-crime approaches “undermine rehabilitation, exacerbate racial and other inequities in our justice system and they decimate families and communities. They also are crowding jails and prisons and exacerbating the COVID pandemic behind bars.”
The group said they are working on accepting donations to formally commence the recall process as they cannot start until Gascón has been in office for 90 days.
“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 Tuesday.
Those behind the recall effort argue that while he campaigned on a criminal justice reform platform, he did not disclose to voters the planned implementation of “a series of irrational and dangerous policies,” reads 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.
Social justice reform is needed in L.A. County, but Gascón’s approach implements “a blanket policy for every single case without looking at all the facts” and created a “hostile” working environment, according to Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita resident and prosecutor for the high-profile murder trial involving the parents of 8-year-old Palmdale boy Gabriel Fernandez.
In a previous interview, Hatami confirmed that hundreds of deputy district attorneys were looking into filing a state bar complaint against Gascón.
Hatami joined families and victims of violent crimes during a Dec. 31 candlelight vigil in Los Angeles, where they called for justice for victims and spoke out against Gascón’s approach.
“Under these special directives, the D.A. wants to reconsider individuals who have served at least 15 years in state prison; that means murderers, serial rapists, very serious criminals,” Hatami said before attendees of the vigil. “He doesn’t want any DDAs to go to parole hearings. I don’t understand that.”
The district attorney’s new policies also require the dismissal of special circumstances allegations, meaning some inmates are now eligible to have their sentences reconsidered rather than face life without the possibility of parole.
Last month, Gascón told deputy district attorneys in a letter that he would change course and allow some sentence enhancements for crimes such as child and elder abuse allegations, human trafficking and hate crimes.
“After listening to the community, victims, and my deputy district attorneys, I have reevaluated Special Directive 20-08 and hereby amend it to allow enhanced sentences in cases involving the most vulnerable victims and in specified extraordinary circumstances,” read Gasón’s Dec. 18 letter.
Recall efforts come after an internal memo from the District Attorney’s Office was issued Tuesday indicating that the Gascón administration intended to review special-circumstance murder cases.
“On cases with special circumstance allegations, please have assigned deputies put over the cases for at least 30 days as the Office takes a closer look at special (circumstance) cases and determines how to proceed on these cases,” read the notice.
DDAs were then advised less than an hour later to not dismiss allegations “regardless of the stage of the proceeding or whether or not a decision was ever made regarding punishment,” according to the directives, which were obtained by The Signal. Shortly after, a correction was sent to reflect that there were no policy changes made and that the 30-day delay applies only to cases where pursuit of the death penalty was already decided by the Special Circumstances Committee in the previous administration.
In late December, the Los Angeles Association of Deputy District Attorneys filed a lawsuit against Gascón, calling his directives unlawful.