Jonathan Hatami | L.A., We Can Do So Much Better

SCV Voices: Jonathan Hatami
SCV Voices: Jonathan Hatami

It has now been over a year since George Gascón became the DA of Los Angeles. And, in just that short time, homicides have risen to a 15-year high. 

We see smash-and-grab burglaries, follow-home robberies, violent crime and gun violence on an almost daily basis. The unhoused crisis is only getting worse, and Gascón’s policies have only exacerbated this tragedy. Gascón promised reforms. However, what we got were blanket policies that helped no one, false claims of “data and science,” slogans and hollow promises, the abandonment of victims and survivors, and increased crime and violence in all our communities. 

Thirty-three cities representing more than 2 million people, including Santa Clarita, which was the first, have now voted “no confidence” in the elected DA. The reason – George flat-out refuses to prosecute crime even though he is the “Top Prosecutor.” Further, these votes are unprecedented. 

This has never happened to an elected L.A. County DA. I have spoken at many of these council meetings traveling across the entire county. I answered questions. I talked to the people. I addressed the council members’ concerns. And, if you didn’t know, Gascón wouldn’t even attend one of these meetings and defend his policies or even address community members who were victimized. That is a failure of leadership. 

Gascón clearly is not a leader, but he’s also not even a real DA either. He’s just another politician, with no real-life or prosecutorial experience, who cares more about himself than the people of Los Angeles, who he is supposed to be serving and protecting.  

Gascón continues to say, “crime is overwhelmingly not on the rise.” And recently he said that because of the “sheer volume” of homicides in Los Angeles, he just couldn’t meet with all the families of murdered children and loved ones. Yes, he said those things. I know, it sounds unbelievable. But this is the real George Gascón. 

If the elected DA refuses to even talk with community members or victims and survivors, he doesn’t deserve to be our DA. Our city and county are so great, we can have reforms, public safety, and an empathetic DA. It should never be one or the other. We can have a DA who cares, who has experience, and who is willing to work hard and always meet with the family members of murdered loved ones. A good DA can balance public safety, following the law, fighting for victims and survivors, and implementing much-needed criminal justice reforms. Only a partisan politician like George sees things as absolutes.  

I do, however, want to take you back to Dec. 7, 2020, the first day of the reign of George Gascón. But I want to start off by telling you that 97.9% of his own deputy district attorneys, including myself, recently voted to recall him. Only 12 DDA’s in the entire office, the largest prosecutorial office in the world, support him. 

Think about that. Before that vote, we asked Gascón to come and address his employees. His answer, like usual, was – “No.” 

So, on Dec. 7, Gascón implemented a vast number of blanket policies, memoranda and radical criminal justice changes and “reforms.” There was no media coverage, no recall campaign, and no rallies — there was just the DDA’s. These policies included the complete eradication of hate crimes, no great bodily injury allegation for a child whose arms or ribs were broken by abuse, no strike priors, no gang or gun allegation for a loved one murdered by a gang member armed with a gun, $0 bail for most crimes including child abuse and domestic violence, and special circumstances and transferring juveniles to adult court under any circumstances were completely erased. 

DDA’s were even forbidden from attending parole hearings and every policy change was retroactive. Gascón ordered the DDA’s to contact all the victims, survivors and family members on every single pre-existing case (cases that had been in the courts for years) and tell them on the phone that their case or their loved one’s case was now completely gutted because Gascón said so. 

Gascón didn’t do this himself, he made the DDA’s do it, and he didn’t do this based upon the facts, the law, the individual case, talking to the victim, or even by actually looking at the case files, he did this based upon “data and science” and his statement that releasing murderers and rapists early and not charging allegations and enhancements was actually going to make us “safer.”  

Those calls were horrendous. They were sad. They were inhumane. Just think if you were a mother on the other line, and the murderer of your child was being prosecuted by our office. You were depending on us for justice. You felt confident. Your case had been in the system for years. You knew all the charges and allegations. You knew we were fighting for your child. Then along came George, and in one day, without talking to you or even having the decency to look at your case, he gutted your child’s entire case, he made the DDA call you and tell you this, and he cared more about your child’s murderer than you and your child? 

That is George Gascón.      

If a DDA didn’t do what George wanted, he had the defense attorneys report you. Intimidation and harassment were rampant. But I fought back. It was actually one week after George implemented his policies, Dec. 15, 2020, that I publicly sided with the law, with children, with victims and survivors, and with doing the right thing. You see, I handle child torture and murder cases. It really doesn’t matter to me what a DA tells me to do. I took an oath. It is always about the evidence and the law. I am always going to do the right thing even if that means losing my job. I didn’t need a recall, a vote, the media, or permission to lead. Fighting for children is my life and no matter what George says, I work for the people, not an elected politician. 

Thankfully, lawsuits were filed, recalls were started, the media started covering the issues, and here we are. Gascón’s policies even emboldened Pearl Fernandez to request her sentence be reduced. And just so everyone is clear, Gascón’s blanket policies also state that DDA’s are to submit if a defendant requests their sentence to be reduced. We are even supposed to strike any special circumstance even if a defendant is convicted of such in a jury trial in any resentencing motion. And, no, I didn’t comply with that inhumane and illegal order either. Unlike Gascón, a prosecutor’s job does not end at sentencing. It never has.   

Gascón has recently walked back many of his day-1 directives. But don’t be fooled, Los Angeles. George doesn’t care about you. He cares what the media thinks, and he doesn’t want to lose his job. A DA should always do the right thing. Core morals, values and beliefs don’t “evolve” and “change” in minutes’ time because of media pressure or because of a small group of outspoken community members. Some so-called “leaders” like Gascón pander to this outspoken small group of people who I think have not experienced the criminal justice system the way I and many victims and survivors have. 

My mother was run over by an off-duty drunk police officer and was hospitalized for months, I am a child abuse survivor, and I handle cases involving tortured and murdered children. However, I completely understand the concept of being unjustly accused – I’m a prosecutor. I’ve seen it firsthand. But I also understand the powerlessness that a crime victim feels, a crime victim who had done absolutely nothing wrong, and suddenly is subject to a heinous and criminal act. The defendant makes a choice to commit a crime, the victim has no choice. A victim is just victimized.  

George and his small group of supporters stopped saying, “what about the victim, what about public safety,” and started saying “it’s all about the suspect, the criminal, the defendant.” There needs to be a balance regarding following the law, public safety and reasonable reforms that help all of our communities, including the defendant and juvenile. When we talk about rehabilitation and diversion, it needs to be programs that actually make a difference and will have a positive effect on the defendant, the juvenile, the community and justice for all. Not just terms, word salad, political slogans, or blanket policy decrees. 

Someone who actually cares. A real DA.  

Jonathan Hatami is a 16-year veteran child abuse prosecutor in the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office, and has been a Santa Clarita resident for more than 35 years.

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