The Santa Clarita City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a vote of no confidence in District Attorney George Gascón, citing recent policy changes from the D.A.’s office as having a detrimental impact on public safety.
Although the City Council cited nine special directives and two amendments from the D.A.’s office as being problematic to the council, the council members specifically highlighted three particular directives and two amendments they took issue with: the elimination of cash bail for any misdemeanor, non-serious/non-violent felony offenses; certain misdemeanor charges being declined or dismissed before arraignment; and the elimination of sentencing enhancements, such as those for gang affiliation or firearm-related allegations.
The sentencing enhancement directive was ordered to be repealed by the Los Angeles County Superior Court on Feb. 8, but Gascón has expressed an interest in appealing this decision, according to city of Santa Clarita staff.
The council’s 5-0 vote of no confidence said that these unilateral directives “undermine the legislative and ballot process and risk safety of the general public.”
Although largely symbolic, the vote of no confidence is now set to be sent to the relevant county offices and organizations, and expresses the City Council’s formal disapproval of Gascón’s policies.
During the meeting on Tuesday, Deputy District Attorney Jonathan Hatami, a critic of Gascón’s for the past few months and a longtime Valencia resident, said that the policies adversely affect the safety of Santa Clarita residents.
For example, under the new directives, Hatami said, harassing patrons in the community, resisting deputies during an arrest, and domestic violence arrests can result in a suspect being released within 48 hours with no charge, and create an ongoing cycle of the suspect reoffending.
“Obviously these policies will lead to a diminished quality of life in the city of Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Valley,” said Hatami. “Also, the lack of punishment or deterrence eventually leads to those individuals committing probably more serious crimes, especially if they realize they’re not going to get in trouble for the smaller crimes.”
The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station has arrested more than 590 repeat offenders, a 9.5% increase when compared against last year, according to city staff.
Councilwoman Marsha McLean reiterated the story of Sgt. Steve Owen, an officer allegedly killed in an execution-style murder on Oct. 5, 2016. She called the new leniency for Trenton Lovell, the man accused of shooting Owen multiple times in the head while he lay on the ground, under Gascón’s new rules as “unconscionable.”
Councilwoman Laurene Weste said the steps taken by Gascón went too far, even if there may be some good intentions toward justice system reform.