By Joseph P. Charney
It was a blatant daylight robbery. Two Rollin ’30s gang members walked into an Italian restaurant in Beverly Hills on March 4th and robbed a diner at gunpoint of his $500,000 wristwatch. When a struggle ensued over the gun, a patron was accidentally wounded.
In the aftermath, the FBI approached the Beverly Hills PD offering assistance. The interim chief, Dominick Rivetti, welcomed the FBI’s help and the opportunity to have the U.S. Attorney’s office file the case when arrests were made. Three men were later arrested and indicted in early May by the Feds.
Law enforcement never doubted that county deputy district attorneys could secure verdicts against the gang of robbers. It was Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón’s Directives eliminating sentencing enhancements that drew that city towards a federal investigation. Beverly Hills concluded that a county filing would not lead to a sentence that would sufficiently punish the accused, secure justice for the victims, as well as deter others from committing such crimes. Although the defendants are known street gang members involved in a conspiracy to commit armed robbery, Gascón prohibits his deputies from filing gang sentencing enhancements. Although a gun used during the crime caused injury, Gascón prohibits the filing of the most serious gun enhancements. Both enhancements would have provided the Court the opportunity to add significantly more prison time when sentencing the three defendants.
It is no coincidence that on March 18 — just two weeks after the robbery — the Beverly Hills City Council approved a vote of no confidence in Gascón’s leadership of the DA’s office. The resolution stated Gascón’s controversial management — including his virtual ban on seeking enhanced sentencing — “may be viewed as placing the safety of the general public at risk.” Councilmember Lilli Bosse added: “When there’s no consequence to crime, then we are living in the Wild, Wild West.”
Enhancements are legislative responses to the dangers posed by guns, gangs and repeat offenders. Why would DA Gascón issue Directives that reduce a judge’s discretion to increase sentences in appropriate cases? The option to file enhancements doesn’t compel that they be pled. Why not determine if a particular enhancement is warranted on a case-by-case basis?
Gascón’s Directives only make sense when seen as an attempt to purge feelings of guilt and his embrace of a growing anti-police narrative. Gascón once said he “is haunted by the role he played in a system that disproportionally locked up African–Americans and Latinos”. He described how his perception of policing and the role of the police changed over the years. He went from believing “we were the guardians of our society” to recognizing “the poison of my own work, and how we were destroying communities.” He came to conclude that “the police were oppressors and that the criminal justice system was created to perpetuate this oppression.”
Did he help destroy communities? There is no evidence he arrested suspects without probable cause, created inaccurate police reports, or planted contraband. Gascón’s guilt and his decision to jettison enhancements and strike priors stem not from personal behavior, but rather his prior collaboration as a cop with a criminal justice system he now maintains is at its heart “racist.” His new Directives embrace this anti-law enforcement ideology, one that claims, without evidence, that the racial disparity evidenced by arrest and imprisonment is undeniable proof of “systemic racism” and “mass incarceration.” In neither case are these conclusions based on fact or analysis. Gascón, like his fellow ideologues, cherry picks disparities. They point to disproportionate numbers of Blacks incarcerated, but ignore the fact that Blacks disproportionately commit serious crimes and are disproportionately the victims. Gascón repeats the “mass incarceration” canard without defining what he perceives as the problem. Does he believe inmates in L.A. jails were rounded up without due process like Japanese-Americans placed in internment camps during WWII? Does he not recognize that 90 percent of inmates in the jail are accused or convicted of serious felonies? Does he define “mass-incarceration” as incarceration over a specific number, and that once that number is attained, all arrests and prosecutions of murderers, rapists, and child molesters should cease?
Street demonstrators are not answerable to the public when they chant anti-police slogans, claim institutional racism, or mass incarceration. Gascón, on the other hand, has the duty to back up rhetoric with evidence and not continue to undermine the public’s trust in the purpose and integrity of the criminal justice system. That trust is further eroded when Gascón promotes the idea that the criminal is also “the victim.”
Whatever ‘haunts” the present DA, the policies he has enacted have created a backlash as evidenced by the federal filing. It is evidenced by the more than thirteen Los Angeles County cities that have secured “no-confidence” votes, with more Cities to follow suit and potentially more requests for Federal filings. The majority of the public expects aggressive prosecution of violent crime as well as enforcement of misdemeanors that protects the quality of life in local communities. Los Angeles County is not the South circa 1950 where federal enforcement was needed to protect the rights of Black citizens. It must not become a place where federal enforcement is required to adequately prosecute violent street crime. Gascón’s deputies are more than capable of using all the statutory tools available to provide accurate and even-handed justice for the victims of crime. George Gascón should not let his personal demons undermine their ability to provide that justice.
Joseph P. Charney served as a Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney