By Eric W. Siddall
George Gascón’s retaliatory actions against a former San Francisco District Attorney employee, Hank McKenzie, led to a $400,000 payout by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Gascón was sued in federal court for retaliating against multiple whistleblowers after he learned that they reported him to officials for his continuous violation of federal law: illegally carrying a personal firearm on commercial flights.
It is illegal for a member of the public to carry a firearm onto a plane. Police officers, in limited circumstances, are permitted to carry a gun on commercial flights. The whistleblowers stated that Gascón inappropriately claimed he was a police officer to bypass security and carry his weapon onto commercial flights on hundreds of occasions. As evidenced by his own e-mails to staff, Gascón filled out forms used by police officers to carry weapons on commercial flights. However, Gascón was not an active police officer. He was a sitting District Attorney. Yet Gascón made this representation under penalty of perjury, which typically results in either a civil fine or criminal charges.
After the whistleblowers filed a complaint with TSA, Gascón acknowledged traveling armed onto commercial flights. However, he claimed he did not violate any rules, despite the fact that, according to whistleblowers, district attorney investigators repeatedly warned Gascón about the violation. Despite these warnings, the whistleblowers said he submitted the required forms signed under penalty of perjury.
Gascón ultimately acknowledged that he had traveled on commercial flights while armed and pledged to discontinue his past practices. According to news reports, Gascón went ballistic after learning of the TSA complaint, yelling at investigators at a training day that there was a “cancer” growing in the San Francisco District Attorney’s Investigator Bureau and that he intended to “cut it out.” He followed up by not only firing multiple whistleblowers, which led to the $400,000 McKenzie settlement, but he placed McKenzie on the department’s “Brady List” a year and a half after he was fired.
The Brady List tracks misconduct among law enforcement officials, and it effectively kills the career of anyone placed on it. Using the Brady system to retaliate against a political enemy – in this case, a San Francisco D.A. investigator – is a gross abuse of power. The circumstances regarding McKenzie’s placement on the Brady List against him fuels the suspicion that Gascón weaponized it, using a fraudulent pretext. Court documents filed in the lawsuit against Gascón included the January 8, 2019 letter from Gascón’s office informing McKenzie about the Brady investigation and cited the investigator’s ongoing federal civil suit against Gascón as a key reason it was proceeding.
Gascón’s attempt to silence dissent is troubling. It is also consistent with his recent statements. When discussing the fact that deputy district attorneys, like most public servants in Los Angeles County, enjoy civil service protection, Gascón stated: “Some people will be unhappy and like they’ll either become internal terrorists or they’ll leave. And I know certainly how to deal with both.”
Is dissent a cancer – or a form of terrorism? Gascón’s authoritarian-tinged sentiment is incompatible with the highest ideals of being a prosecutor-to do justice. His retaliatory actions suggest to all that their jobs are at risk if they witness, and report on, any of his wrongdoing. In short, his actions and words are a stark reminder of why civil service protection exist in the first place.
Eric Siddall is Vice President of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, the collective bargaining agent representing nearly 1,000 Deputy District Attorneys who work for the County of Los Angeles.