Associated Press: L.A. County DA faces blowback in first months of launching ambitious slate toward criminal justice reform
Minutes after George Gascón was sworn in as Los Angeles County district attorney, he fulfilled a promise to institute sweeping criminal justice reform, sending a lengthy memo ordering prosecutors to stop seeking longer prison sentences, among other changes.
To many of his deputies, it may as well have been a declaration of war. The union representing prosecutors quickly sued their new boss to block the policy.
More resistance followed. Other county district attorneys took the unusual step of criticizing Gascón’s policies as reckless and tried to take cases from his jurisdiction. Before completing his first 100 days in office, a campaign kicked off to recall him. It’s co-chaired by the widow of an officer killed in the line of duty who is furious Gascón won’t seek the death penalty.
“There’s a fundamental difference in philosophy in that he’s prioritizing the needs of the accused and ignoring the needs of public safety and the victims,” said Michele Hanisee, a deputy district attorney and president of the union representing rank-and-file prosecutors.
Gascón said anyone surprised with his policies wasn’t paying attention during last fall’s campaign, and labeled opponents old-school fearmongers.
“They continue to follow the playbook of the ‘80s and ’90s,” Gascón said. “It’s a simple message, right? Scare the heck out of people, and hopefully that will work for you.”
Gascón is part of a wave of progressive DAs elected in cities including Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and Austin, Texas. As the largest DA’s office in the country — with nearly 1,000 prosecutors and a jurisdiction with 10 million residents — LA is the highest-profile.
Other reform-minded DAs have encountered resistance from within their offices and police, but none has faced blowback like Gascón, said Daniel Medwed a law professor at Northeastern University in Boston.