LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Opposition to the policies of new Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón is growing.
Some families of victims and victims’ advocates have criticized Gascón, a former police chief, for being too soft on crime following his elimination of criminal enhancement provisions.
Ryan Verna, a retired LAPD homicide detective, said Gascón’s office is handling his father’s murder case and he’s concerned he won’t see justice.
Verna’s father, LAPD motor officer Paul Verna, was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1983 during a traffic stop.
Verna says he recently got a call from the D.A.’s office about one of the men convicted for the murder.
“I’m ashamed he wore the same uniform that I did for so many years,” Verna said. “He basically told me he’s going to have to go into court and argue to dismiss the special circumstances in furtherance of justice. My question is what justice is that?”
Verna is not alone in opposition to Gascón’s special directives.
Upon taking office, Gascón’s announced that prosecutors would no longer pursue the death penalty, try juveniles as adults, seek cash bail for misdemeanor and non-violent crimes, or add gang and other enhancements to criminal complaints.
Verna’s biggest fear is what this will mean in the case of his father’s killer.
“Ultimately he’s going to figure out a way to either (a) plead it out and it will be a time served situation, or (b), just dismiss it,” Verna said.
D.A. Gascón later amended his directive to allow sentencing enhancements in cases like hate crimes, crimes against children and the elderly and other crimes that meet certain criteria.
However, the union representing L.A. County prosecutors says that’s not enough. They filed a civil lawsuit challenging the D.A.’s directives and some sentencing enhancements. Prosecutors say the moves violate state law.
Michele Hanisee, the president of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, says they now have the support of the California District Attorney’s Association.
“We want a judge to tell us, look, tell us to follow the law or follow the directives, but we can’t do both,” Hanisee said. “It’s hard to tell a victim of crime hey, we’re not gonna seek the maximum punishment, we’re going to seek far less punishment than what is required by the law, we’re not even going to follow the law because these policy directives say we have to give every benefit to the person who victimized you.”
The district attorney’s office sent us a statement in response to the lawsuit, saying:
“Their vision of safety has been rejected by the voters time and time again because their approach has not been shown to enhance safety… but has been shown to destroy budgets, create enormous racial disparities, and exacerbate homelessness and recidivism rates that have led to more victims of crime.”
Former L.A. County District Attorney Steve Cooley is now one of several former prosecutors representing, pro bono, victims and families impacted by Gascón’s directives.
Cooley is representing the family of L.A. County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, who was brutally killed while responding to a burglary call.
“Victims are one of the most important components of the criminal justice system. They’ve suffered the most. They should be cared for by their district attorney. This district attorney ignores, ignores their right,” Cooley said.