Half of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office Hardcore Gang and Major Narcotics units have been “officially cut,” a source within the office told The Signal on Wednesday.
The source, who asked to remain unnamed out of fear of professional reprisal, said two meetings occurred Wednesday, one at 3 p.m. for the Major Narcotics unit and another at 4 p.m. for the Hardcore Gangs unit, in which it was announced that approximately 50 lawyers from each unit would be transferred to other branches, the source said.
In addition to losing half of their deputy district attorneys, the Hardcore Gang Unit and its approximately 700 cases — which include complex cases that involve murder and other high-profile gang-related crimes — will be “reimagined” and “renamed,” the source said. District Attorney George Gascón’s staff also said those DDAs who remain with the new unit will be asked to set up community liaison relationships to work with the relevant law enforcement agencies to target specific gangs and specific gangsters in an effort to reduce community violence, the source said.
The D.A.’s Office did not immediately respond to requests to comment on Wednesday. During a March 17 news conference, Gascón neither confirmed nor denied a plan to dissolve the two units, and his staff, when asked for further clarification, referred back to his statement that said he wished to modernize his staff’s approach to law enforcement.
“For so many drug dealers, especially ones who sell drugs to children, (this means) that it’s open season. They can pretty much do whatever they want,” the source said of the cuts. “And I would say that for gangs, and gangs like MS-13, they can now hurt individuals and there’s going to be no specialized unit that is going to help prosecute those cases.”
Speaking directly to The Signal on Wednesday, Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized Gascón’s decision, highlighting that the dismantling of the two units, which regularly work with law enforcement, comes at a time when homicide rates in L.A. County are on the rise.
“This can only serve to add gasoline to a raging fire of gang violence that threatens the safety of all,” Villanueva said. “This is not reform. It’s beginning to look more and more like a suicide pact.”
Speculation that the dissolution of the Hardcore Gang Unit would occur was reported by The Signal earlier this month. However, the addition of the Narcotics Unit to the cuts, and an April 2 dissolving date, had not been reported until the two units had their reported meetings with the D.A.’s upper management on Wednesday.
“We were all told to wait for phone calls about our ‘new assignments’ and that if we did not wish to remain in whatever the new unit is called or in our new assignment as a ‘special trial lawyer’ in branch, that our request for ‘reconsideration’ will be honored,” the source said.
The decisions to limit much of the manpower involved in these branches of the D.A.’s Office comes after months of criticism and court battles between the law enforcement community and Gascón. After stepping into office in December, Gascón signed a number of sweeping special orders that include ending pursuit of the death penalty, sentencing enhancements and cash bail for many offenses.
The source said that each attorney who will be transferred from the Hardcore Gang Unit could handle upwards of 20 cases each, and a narcotics deputy district attorney could handle a little less than that.