Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon — who is under fire less than two weeks into his term from families of some crime victims for directives that are expected to result in lower sentences in many cases — said Wednesday he’s “troubled” by what he called “fear-mongering” and vowed that those who are prosecuted under his administration will face accountability.
With calls already underway for a recall attempt, the county’s newly seated top prosecutor defended his decision to ask for the dismissal of sentencing enhancements that can add extra time to defendants’ sentences and said there is “ample evidence sentencing enhancements do not necessarily make us any safer.”
Gascon — who said he had a “mandate from the public” and intended to “follow that mandate” — said he issued the directive with the support of “survivors,” families and others in the field “because it was the right thing to do.”
Gascon announced last week that his office would no longer pursue the death penalty, try juveniles as adults, seek cash bail for misdemeanor and non- serious, non-violent felonies, or add gang and other enhancements to criminal complaints.
“People that commit a crime and where it is appropriate for us to prosecute because we have the admissible evidence to move forward and we believe that the person has committed a crime, they are going to be facing accountability,” he said Wednesday. “And that accountability will be proportionate to the crime, and enhancements do not have anything to do with accountability.”
The district attorney — who was sworn in nine days ago — said he was honored to join the men and women in the District Attorney’s Office in “moving in a direction of reform, redemption, rehabilitation and trying to take our criminal justice system away from the very harmful impact of mass incarceration over the last several decades.”
“However, I do have to say I’m somewhat troubled by the misinformation and the fear-mongering that I have seen expressed over and over during the last few days,” Gascon said. “It’s not surprising to me, you know, that people have benefited from a system that has been impacting communities in so many negative ways without necessarily producing good results because they had a monetary interest. I know there are people in the criminal justice system across the board both in the private and the public sectors that have greatly benefited from mass incarceration …”
He noted that he has created an advisory board for crime survivors.
Without going into the details of one of the first high-profile criminal cases filed under his administration, the district attorney noted that a defendant charged in a “horrific case in Lancaster” could face “more than a half a century” behind bars if he’s convicted.
Gascon was referring to a double-murder case filed last week against Maurice Jewel Taylor Sr., who is accused of decapitating his 12-year-old son and 13-year-old daughter and showing the victims’ remains to his two younger sons.
The murder charges against Taylor do not include special circumstance allegations that could have made him eligible for the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole.
The district attorney said he has heard about the “hue and cry” about how the filing decision may “somehow provide less safety for our community in the case.”
“What would be the utility to take somebody that is probably going to spend the rest of his life in prison to continue to add years and waste taxpayers’ money on additional litigation,” he said.
In at least two cases over the past week, judges have refused to dismiss sentencing allegations that had been filed under two-term incumbent Jackie Lacey’s prior administration, and the issue is likely to arise in many other cases.
Two attorneys representing the families of crime victims have spoken out in recent days against the district attorney’s new directives.
“Did you know when you voted for the newly elected district attorney he was going to go to court and strike special circumstances to allow rapists and murderers to go back on the street early? Did he tell you that?” asked attorney Brian Claypool, who represents family members of two child murder victims.
Claypool noted his concern that the county’s top prosecutor may try to reverse the death sentence of Isauro Aguirre, who is on death row for the May 2013 killing of his girlfriend’s 8-year-old son, Gabriel Fernandez.
On his campaign website, Gascon vowed to work with “various stakeholders to get as many of the 229 people currently on death row from Los Angeles County resentenced to a sentence other than death.”
A former Los Angeles County prosecutor — who now represents the family of a man killed in a crash by a driver who was allegedly under the influence of nitrous oxide — is fighting moves by Gascon to drop great bodily injury allegations in that case and at least one other.
On Monday, attorney Sam Dordulian called for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to step in and remind Gascon that he is not a legislator and is obliged to carry out the laws on the books.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles City Councilman Paul Koretz filed a resolution in opposition of Gascon’s recent directive to remove sentence enhancements, particularly when prosecuting hate crimes.
“While many of his special directives are well-intentioned, I believe he missed the mark when he eliminated special enhancements for hate crimes being prosecuted in the county,” Koretz said.
On its Facebook page, the Torrance Police Officers’ Association noted that the “fallout” involving Gascon’s directive on sentencing enhancements is affecting “more cases being impacted with sentence and plea reductions” and line-level deputy district attorneys are “frustrated and unclear regarding execution of the directive, and concerned about retaliation if they fail to comply.”