George Gascón was sworn in as Los Angeles County’s 43rd District Attorney Monday in a virtual ceremony at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration—and the new top prosecutor wasted no time ushering in reforms aimed at remaking the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office.
Doing away with cash bail, capital punishment, the use of sentencing enhancements, the charging of juveniles as adults, and prosecutions of most nonviolent misdemeanors, Gascón has set his new office apart from decades of traditional law-enforcement strategy in Los Angeles, which he called “a poster child for the failed tough-on-crime approach.”
Gascón, 66, rested his left hand on a copy of the Constitution held by his wife, former Univision news anchor Fabiola Kramsky, while Superior Court Judge Lucy Armendariz administered the oath of office. Shortly after the swearing in, Gascón credited his years as a cop walking the beat in South L.A. in the 1980s with helping to form his critique of the status quo 40 years later.
“Those in the profession of holding people accountable cannot themselves escape accountability,” Gascón said.
The former LAPD commander-turned San Francisco district attorney was lifted into office on the giant wave of public outrage that followed the brutal police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Gascón invoked the Floyd killing during his remarks on Monday when he said, “Those in the profession of holding people accountable cannot themselves escape accountability.”
Arguing for the need to “turn the tide of mass incarceration and start anew,” Gascón pledged to reevaluate any sentence to which time was added for factors like alleged gang affiliation or use of a firearm in a crime. He also wants to reevaluate sentences in cases where the inmate has served more than 20 years in state prison, demonstrated signs of rehabilitation, or was sentenced to adult prisons as a child.
He will also instruct prosecutors in his office to cease requesting cash bail for any misdemeanor, and non-serious or non-violent felony offense. On January 1, he will eliminate requests for money bail entirely. For defense attorneys with a defendant in custody who qualifies for pretrial release under the new detention policy, the DA will not oppose revisiting and withdrawing bail. Under the new rules, hundreds of defendants will be immediately eligible for release.
In response, the board of directors of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank-and-file LAPD officers, released a statement that reads: “As homicides, shooting victims and shots fired into occupied homes soar in Los Angeles, it’s disturbing that Gascon’s first act in office is to explore every avenue possible to release from jail those responsible for this bloodshed. These victims and law-abiding residents lost a voice today while criminals and gang members gained an ally in the prosecutor’s office.”
The new DA announced he will convene a civilian panel of policing experts, civil rights attorneys, and community members to review cases of police use of force covering the eight-year tenure of his predecessor, Jackie Lacey.
While the police reform movement backed Gascón, prosecutors and police opposed him, arguing that his ideas would cause an increase in crime. The Association of Los Angeles Deputy District Attorneys, which represents prosecutors in Gascón’s office, seems to have been taken by surprise by Gascón’s policy changes.
“The leadership has not reviewed the documents from the new DA, nor has the Board had an opportunity to discuss the proposal,” the group said in a statement to the Associated Press on Monday.
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