Former San Francisco DA taking on L.A. DA in battle over criminal justice reform

by Chris Reed | December 1, 2019 4:47 pm

George Gascon says Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey favors discredited tough–on-crime policies.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s race is shaping up as the highest-profile 2020 local election in the nation with a criminal justice reform crusader resigning as San Francisco’s DA so he can run against the Los Angeles DA who has been a much more conventional prosecutor in her seven years on the job.

George Gascon, a former L.A. beat cop and assistant police chief, has relocated to Los Angeles in anticipation of the March primary. Gascon has supported reforms that have reduced penalties for many crimes and made it easier for prisoners to win parole and convicts to expunge their records. He is expected to get millions from George Soros, the billionaire progressive who has backed reformers in DA races in San Diego, Queens and Pittsburgh in recent years, winning in only the latter city.

Jackie Lacey, a former L.A. beat cop, has supported some reforms, such as the recent decision to throw out tickets given to poor homeless people that essentially make them go to jail when they seek government help. She has the backing of police unions and virtually the entire California Democratic establishment – including San Francisco Mayor London Breed.

But Lacey has repeatedly upset some minority leaders and civil rights activists by declining to ever seek criminal charges when law enforcement officers are credibly accused of abusive behavior.

A 2015 case in which an officer fatally shot an unarmed African-American homeless man in the back in Venice continues to anger activists and baffle even some in law enforcement. Surveillance video showed[1] Officer Leonard Proctor, who is also black, had lied about victim Brendon Glenn reaching for his partner’s gun.

Lacey rejected police chief’s call to charge own officer

The details of the case were so egregious that then-Police Chief Charlie Beck urged that Proctor face manslaughter charges – the first time he had ever called for the DA to prosecute anyone at LAPD. But no charges of any kind were brought by Lacey, who in 2018 said she didn’t believe[2] she had a provable case against Proctor.

But as Breed’s endorsement of Lacey suggests, Gascon remains a controversial figure in San Francisco. A front-page story[3] in the Oct. 31 Chronicle looked at how a progressive prosecutor could make so many enemies in such a progressive city. The newspaper noted that he had faced criticism from both sides of the police conduct debate – bashed by police unions when he investigated police shootings, but also bashed by activists for failing to prosecute officers for some high-profile fatal shootings.

And Breed was only one of many San Franciscans who believed that Gascon’s tolerant policies toward street crime had both fueled homelessness and led to San Francisco becoming[4] the large city with highest property-crime rate[5] in the U.S. The Chronicle has reported that there are arrests in only 2 percent or less of car break-ins.

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera has also endorsed Lacey. In a statement, Herrera described Lacey as “the only candidate for L.A. County District Attorney who has the background, proven track record, and vision needed to continue creating positive change.”

Gascon is not the only DA candidate challenging Lacey from the left. Prosecutors Richard Ceballos and Joseph Iniguez are also running. Ceballos has hired the same political consultant who helped the poorly funded campaign of Sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva stun[6] incumbent Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell in November 2018.

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