Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials will attend parole hearings in the absence of prosecutors who aren’t allowed to show up under District Attorney George Gascón’s administration, according to Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
In a letter to Gascón Wednesday, the sheriff said that if deputy district attorneys will no longer be allowed to attend the hearings, “The LASD will do everything possible to give victims a voice at the table to address their concerns” despite “the lack of funding and resources in my department.”
Villanueva said department officials will attend virtual parole hearings or have investigators travel to in-person hearings, as well as continue to write letters in opposition to the administration’s policy.
The D.A.’s Office’s victim advocates are better suited to support victims during parole hearings than sheriff’s officials or prosecutors, according to Gascón Special Advisor Alex Bastian.
“When heart-wrenching crimes occur, victims and their families are changed forever. That is why District Attorney Gascón has directed our office’s victim advocates, who are trained to provide trauma-informed care, to support victims during parole hearings,” he said via email Wednesday. “They are available to attend any hearing where victims want them present. Sheriff’s deputies, like prosecutors, do not have all the pertinent facts and evaluations at their disposal. The Parole Board does – and its sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release.”
The newly elected district attorney issued a series of special directives Dec. 7, among them Special Directive 20-14, which orders that prosecutors “will not attend parole hearings” and will support granting parole to those who have served their mandatory minimum sentence.
The administration says that it will “continue to meet its obligation to notify and advise victims under California law, and is committed to a process of healing and restorative justice for all victims,” according to the directive.
Villanueva said reform is needed but does not agree with Gascón’s move to bar prosecutors from parole hearings and instead called the policy a “step backward,” during a live briefing Wednesday.
“We believe this is important to give a voice for the voiceless and keep our commitment in good standing in support of those who have been victimized by violent crime,” he said in the letter. “We both agree that reforms need to be made to increase the capacity to help those within our communities who are suffering from mental illness and substance abuse. That being said, I cannot understand why your office is barring prosecutors from attending parole hearings.”
Villanueva’s letter follows Tuesday’s court hearing between the union for county prosecutors against Gascón and a Jan. 21 letter county Supervisor Kathryn Barger sent to the Board of Parole Hearings, urging commission members to deny a parole request in the case of Ruben Beltran, who was convicted of sexual assault of a child and has been serving a sentence of 15 years to life since 2004.