New LA County DA Ends Cash Bail on First Day in Office

New Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón takes the oath of office on Dec. 7, 2020. (Photo courtesy George Gascón)

LOS ANGELES (CN) — On his first day on the job as Los Angeles County’s top prosecutor, George Gascón says the district attorney’s office will no longer ask for cash bail for nonviolent felony charges, seek the death penalty or charge children as adults.

Gascón, the former San Francisco DA, unseated Jackie Lacey last month in a closely watched race that pitted an incumbent prosecutor against a reform challenger.

He was sworn in Monday and promised to “change course and implement a system of justice that will enhance our safety and humanity” as he takes the helm of one of the nation’s largest prosecutor’s offices.

“Today we are confronting the lie that stripping entire communities of their liberties somehow made us safer — and we’re doing it with science, research, and data,” Gascón said in a statement. “For decades those who profit off incarceration have used their enormous political influence — cloaked in the false veil of safety — to scare the public and our elected officials into backing racist policies that created more victims, destroyed budgets and shattered our moral compass. That lie and the harm it caused ends now.”

The turning tide promised by Gascón garnered an immediate reaction from law enforcement representatives. The LA Police Protective League, a union representing local police officers, called Gascón’s ending of cash bail “disturbing” and said pushing LA County into the progressive direction San Francisco followed would be “disastrous.”

“The new DA talks a good game, but his plans will do nothing but further victimize” LA County residents including people of color, the police union said in a statement.

The police union did not immediately respond to news that the DA’s office will form a board to review deadly police shootings going back to 2012, which is when Lacey first took office. The University of California, Irvine, criminal justice clinic said it assist the board.

Gascón, a Cuban-born immigrant, served as an assistant police chief with the LAPD and then police chief in Mesa, Arizona, before serving as police chief in San Francisco from 2009 to 2011.

He was appointed as San Francisco DA by then-Mayor Gavin Newsom to fill the vacancy left by Kamala Harris when she was elected as California attorney general.

Gascón’s pull toward LA County was in part encouraged by local activists who sought a candidate to challenge Lacey, including the Black Lives Matter-LA chapter.

The DA race played out amidst a backdrop of demands across the country for criminal justice reform over the murder of unarmed Black people.

For the last three years, local activists rallied outside Lacey’s downtown offices to demand an audience with her to discuss the killing of unarmed Black and brown civilians by police. Families whose loved ones were killed by police also wanted to know why the DA’s office was unwilling to bring charges against police over the shootings of unarmed people.

Under Lacey’s command, the DA office only brought charges against one police officer in the shooting death of a driver who fled during a traffic stop.

In a letter addressed to LA County police officers, Gascón said during his career as a police officer and then DA he’s “become a fierce advocate for good policing for largely the same reasons I seek to hold bad police accountable. It’s not simply because I believe Black Lives Matter, or because of the oath I will take today to uphold the Constitution and ensure equal justice under the law.”

He said problem officers severely hinder law enforcement’s standing in the community.

“We are all scarred by their misdeeds, leading many in our communities to perceive police as persecutors instead of protectors,” said Gascón.

In a tweet Gascón wrote, “40 years ago I walked my first beat as a young police officer. Today, I was sworn in as the 43rd District Attorney of Los Angeles.”

His campaign and win is widely viewed as an indictment of Lacey’s role as a prosecutor who did not change fast enough for a county of 10 million that sought a more progressive approach to criminal justice.

Lacey, the first Black prosecutor and first woman to hold the office, conceded the race to Gascón last month. He won roughly 2 million votes to Lacey’s 1.7 million, according to the county’s election results.

Along with doing away cash bail, Gascón said his office would ensure a better response to reach out to victims of sexual assault, will stop charging low-level offenses connected to poverty, addiction, mental illness and homelessness, according to a statement from his transition team.

His office will also emphasize resentencing for people convicted of nonviolent crimes and are deemed low risk or those with records of rehabilitation.

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