Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon was surrounded by several of his contemporaries from other states Wednesday while he defended his progressive policies amid a second recall attempt to oust him amid a crime wave of shootings and brazen robberies.
Gascon has taken heat since coming into office last year over his rollback of tough-on-crime measures, including seeking the death penalty, charging juvenile suspects as adults and the leveling of criminal enhancements, which can significantly increase prison sentences.
“We have set a path for ourselves and turned around the criminal legal system in the country in a way that will be more humane, more equitable and above all, will create a safer environment for all of us,” he said during a news conference while flanked by other DAs, including Kim Foxx of Cook County, Illinois and Rachel Rollins, the Suffolk County district attorney for Massachusetts who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate hours earlier to be the state’s next U.S. Attorney.
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“Before I took office, the legal system here offered victims one solution after someone causes harm: A long sentence,” Gascon continued. “We operated towards victims like a factory making widgets.”
Gascon’s most ardent critics include Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, some of his own prosecutors and crime victims who accuse him of abandoning his responsibility to prosecute criminals.
“That press conference was an embarrassment – George Gascon is completely tone deaf to the impact his policies are having on victims and public safety,” said Desiree Andrade, co-chair of the Recall DA George Gascon campaign.
Andrade’s son, Julien, 20, was killed in 2018 and his body was thrown off a cliff. Under Gascon’s sweeping reforms, special circumstances charges against the three suspects were dropped, meaning they could be eligible for parole after serving 25 years in prison instead of a life sentence without parole.
Veteran Los Angeles County prosecutor Johnathan Hatami cited the killing of two teenagers in less than 24 hours in a tweet blasting Gascon.
“In less than 24 hours, two children have been killed by gunfire,” he wrote Wednesday. “Instead of holding press conferences with out-of-state prosecutors celebrating “accomplishments,” we need a DA of the People who is going to stand up and say enough is enough! Public safety should be mission #1.”
During his remarks, Gascon chided a legal system he said allows easy access to firearms to those who should not possess weapons and repeatedly incarcerates people without giving them the necessary resources to succeed outside of prison. He specifically cited suspected Michigan high school shooter Ethan Crumbley and Aariel Maynor, a convicted felon who was arrested with an AR-15 rifle shortly after allegedly killing Jacqueline Avant in her Beverly Hills home last week.
“There are communities that are saying they’ve had enough of punishing our way out of mental illness and substance use disorder and individuals who are struggling with poverty,” said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution and a former prosecutor in Los Angeles. “They’ve had enough of allowing our nation to be a place that incarcerates at a rate second to no other place in the world… of a criminal legal system that’s on auto-pilot of more and more excessive and punitive responses that have simply wasted generations.”
In order to address crime, there must be a focus on the root causes, Gascon said, while noting that his office has a 51% prosecution rate of felony cases, similar to 2019 when former DA Jackie Lacey was the county’s top prosecutor.
Rollins said her office found that the decision not to prosecute low-level crimes was consistent with public safety and reduced future criminal involvement.
“All the people behind me when we speak, we have data. We have scientists. We had PhDs,” she said. “The people on the other side just yell things with nothing to support what they say and people are running with it.”
The criticism against Gascon comes amid a wave of shootings and robberies by gangs of thieves targeting retail stores and individuals on the street and home invasions. Gascon, who critics say has remained silent about the increase in violence, noted that homicides were up that crime was down overall.
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Before he began the news conference, he held a moment of silence for Avant and Alexander Alvarado, a 12-year-old boy was who shot and killed in Los Angeles while sitting in a car on Monday. During that same shooting, a woman in the car was injured and a girl, 9, was hit by a stay bullet while near a school.