Jonathan Hatami | A Prosecutor’s Job Doesn’t End at Sentencing

Jon Hatami, prosecutor for the Complex Victims Unit at home. Dan Watson/The Signal
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One of the many directives that Los Angeles County District Attorney Gascón ordered on his first day in office was that deputy district attorneys were barred from attending parole hearings. Ignoring pleas from victims’ families, Gascón simply doubled down, declaring that “a prosecutor’s job ends at sentencing.” 

His inexperience and lack of duty as district attorney to the residents of Los Angeles County cannot be understated. Deputy district attorneys do not stop seeking justice once a defendant takes a plea or a verdict is reached. We are the voice of the people, and the voice for those who are left voiceless. 

Gascón bases his directives, including this one regarding parole hearings, not on facts or experience. They appear to be performative slogans meant exclusively to pander to the media. Gascón has never tried a single criminal case. He has never appeared at even one parole hearing as a deputy district attorney. He has never had to own the pain, suffering and fear of victims; he has never sat down with a victim in a lifer parole hearing as the deputy district attorney. 

So, how would he actually know that a prosecutor’s job ends at sentencing? He doesn’t. He is simply making things up as he goes.   

For the last 11 years, I have handled child murders, domestic violence cases and child sexual and physical abuse cases. In many of these cases, even ones with lengthy prison sentences, I have lost count of the number of times a survivor or parent of an abused or tortured child has contacted me years after sentencing because the perpetrator or defendant is violating the protective order, calling them from prison, or sending a threatening letter. 

Part of my job is listening to the victim, being a source of strength and comfort, and making sure the appropriate agencies handle the protective order violation. That includes calling local law enforcement so a report is made and contacting Corrections so the harassment stops. 

Victims routinely call me because they fear that the defendant is going to be released early. In their heart, they know the abuser is going to come back after them and they cannot sleep, cannot function, and cannot work. In my child abuse cases, where against all odds the children actually survive, the only thing keeping them sane is knowing their abuser cannot abuse them any longer. The ability to provide comfort, support and justice to my community gives me the courage and the strength to keep going. 

How could I possibly stop at sentencing, when they carry on? Gascón does not know any of these things; he has never been a real prosecutor.   

One of the most important reasons for a DDA to be present at a parole hearing is our ability to contradict an inmate’s version of the crime. The DDA is the only person who knows all the details. The victim’s family does not know; the criminal’s version is self-serving. Way too often, the clinicians and even board members would have no choice but to believe the child murderer, child rapist, or abuser’s version without being reminded of the actual facts and evidence. 

The truth does matter. And in cases where the victim is dead and there is no family, then who will represent the child who was tortured to death? Who will stand up for your grandmother who was raped and bludgeoned to death? Gascón says no one. 

Critically important, only the DDA can obtain the inmate’s risk assessment report and provide it to the family. The family is not permitted by law to obtain that report on their own. 

Without the report in hand, and without a DDA present, there is no one left to present or challenge this report for the family — allowing an inmate to tell the prison psychologist what he or she wants. 

There must be someone who ensures public safety, makes sure justice and truth prevail, and is the voice for the victims and survivors. That is the job of the prosecutor.

Duty goes beyond the simple role of accuracy in information. The crime victims and the victims’ family members are real people who have suffered the unimaginable. Gascón does not prioritize victims. He abandons them. His policies do not prevent future victimization. His policies revictimize the already victimized. His statistics are even untrue. The rate of inmates granted parole was approximately 37% in 2020, not 15%. His data and science are wrong.  

Gascón is indifferent to how horrifying it is for a family member or survivor to appear at a hearing, or to come face to face with the murderer or their molester and listen to him/her justify or deny their horrible crime. 

Often, victims sit there frozen, unable to speak; if there is no one there to fight for the victim and explain the truth and facts, then we allow that abuser to hurt the victim again. 

We are now the only DA’s office in the entire state of California that does not allow prosecutors to attend parole hearings. Gascón is ordering the deputy district attorneys to completely abandon victims and their family members. 

If the DA of Los Angeles is not going to fight for victims, then we must do it as a community. Please fight for justice and for our most vulnerable.   

Jon Hatami, a Santa Clarita Valley resident, is a deputy district attorney for Los Angeles County.

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