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LA County DA George Gascón backtracks on lenient policies amid recall

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Embattled Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón announced revisions to one of his most controversial policies late Friday — but critics argue it’s more “smoke screens” from the reform-minded prosecutor who is facing a recall election.

The policy in question bans prosecutors from seeking life sentences and filing cases against juvenile offenders in adult court.

But a series of memos obtained by The Post, Gascón announced the creation of a new committee that would review motions filed by prosecutors requesting to transfer cases involving minors accused of murder, violent sexual assaults and other serious crimes out of the juvenile department and into adult court.

Prosecutors also can once again seek special enhancements for felony charges that would add additional prison sentences depending on the circumstance, such as a murder committed for the benefit of a gang.

A new committee made up of Gascón’s executive team also will review those cases before enhancements can be filed. Prosecutors can seek a maximum sentence of life without the possibility of parole “where it is deemed such filings are appropriate,” according to the new policy.

Gascon announced the formation of a committee that will review the prosecutor’s motions for transfer between the juvenile department and adult court, according to memos. Los Angeles Times via Getty Imag

In the memos, Gascón said he still would not seek the death penalty and would maintain his commitment to end mass incarceration, but added, “After listening to the community, victims and colleagues, I understand that there may be the rare occasion where the filing of special circumstance allegations may be necessary.”

Gascón also announced the formation of a Youth Justice Committee that would track “cases of concern” involving juvenile defendants accused of murder, aggravated violent sexual assaults and other egregious crimes.

The surprise moves came just two days after The Post reported on another memo where Gascón told prosecutors they must first obtain approval from their superiors before opposing a defense motion to transfer a juvenile case out of adult court.

Previously, deputy district attorneys were able to file their oppositions without checking with a superior. 

Deputy District Attorney Shea Sanna said the new memorandums will not change Gascón’s methods of controlling prosecutors and punishing those who speak out against his policies.

“This is all essentially to temper bad publicity that’s been coming out from earlier this week,” Sanna told The Post on Friday. “It’s just smoke screens because the people who will be in these committees that will review these cases are his hitmen who will continue to take out these cases. This will not change anything.”

Gascón received sharp criticism over the case of Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year old transgender woman convicted of molesting a 10-year old girl. Tubbs was sentenced in January to a juvenile treatment facility after Gascón decided not to file a motion to transfer the case to adult court.

Sanna, who was the lead prosecutor on the case until he was removed, alleged members of Gascón’s executive team, including special advisor Alisa Blair, told him not to go against Tubbs’ defense arguments and “sabotaged” the case.

According to the new directives, the Juvenile Alternative Charging Evaluation Committee in charge of reviewing all juvenile transfer motions will include Blair and Director of Specialized Prosecutions Larry Droeger.

Gascón’s Chief of Staff, Joseph F. Iniguez– who was busted for suspicion of public intoxication during a traffic stop in Azusa, Calif. on Dec. 11 — will be the third member of the new Juvenile Alternative Charging Evaluation Committee.

“The people who will be in those new committees are all his puppets,” Sanna said.

Joseph Iniguez, Gascon’s chief of staff, will serve as a member of the Juvenile Alternative Charging Evaluation Committee.Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Patrisse Cullors

Alex Bastian, Gascón’s special advisor, refused to comment on Sanna’s allegations but said the new policies do not mean the DA will back down from his commitment to criminal justice reform.

“The District Attorney is firmly committed to his principles,” Bastian said. “One of these underlying principles is to constantly refine what we are doing so that we can continue to enhance public safety in a thoughtful manner. That is what the DA has always done, and what he will continue to do. 

“We are now more than one year into his term, he has listened to community members, victims and colleagues. Based on everything we have learned we are rolling out these policy adjustments. We will stay true to our guiding principles and will continue to evaluate the work that we do to ensure that we are constantly evolving to further advance public safety.”

Gascón’s pivot from some of his reform policies comes at time when the second recall against him continues to gain momentum, with former backers like ex-Los Angeles Department Chief Charlie Beck pulling support.

Veteran LA County prosecutor Jonathan Hatami said despite the new policies, Gascón has lost the trust of many constituents, especially victims.

“We are supposed to believe that he has suddenly changed his entire belief overnight,” Hatami told The Post.

“He is a politician and he believes he will be recalled and lose his job,” he said. “I would love to believe that George Gascón wants to follow the law and fight for victims, but this is the same Gascón that refuses to meet with victims, refused to meet with deputy district attorneys and called the mother of a murdered child uneducated and to shut up.”

“He has heard the polls, he has seen the public safety crisis in LA, and he knows he’s in trouble with all Angelenos.”

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