Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is publicly backing the recall effort against newly-elected controversial District Attorney George Gascón.
Victims rights advocates launched a campaign to oust Gascón last weekend, organizing a “victims vigil” and rally in downtown L.A.
Sheriff Villanueva appeared at the event wearing street clothes and voiced his support for the drive.
“When we say it’s okay to not only join a criminal street gang, but engage in crime in furtherance of that criminal enterprise, and they face no consequence, we have a problem,” Villanueva told attendees. “His name is George Gascón.”
Under DA George Gascon’s directives, the suspect could have most of the special circumstances dismissed and may have a chance at being paroled. pic.twitter.com/GclE7bckmn
— Alex Villanueva (@LACoSheriff) March 5, 2021
On KFI’s “Gary and Shannon Show” earlier this week, Sheriff Villanueva said his participation was “not a personal issue,” adding that he represented “public safety.”
“I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m a grandfather, and I’m a resident of L.A. County, and I just have to speak on behalf of victims and speak on behalf of everyone,” Villanueva explained. “The criminal justice system does not exist solely to satisfy the needs of criminal offenders. It is designed to satisfy the entire community, and most particularly, victims of crime. They need to know they’re protected, that their assailant is not going through a revolving door right back on the streets, and that’s not going to be accomplished under George Gascón’s wish list.”
Gascón reportedly described Sheriff Villanueva as “morally bankrupt” after he endorsed the recall campaign.
War of words brewing between LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva & LA DA George Gascon. Sheriff has endorsed the effort to recall Gascon & says Gascon’s policies spit in face of crime victims & embolden criminals. Today, Gascon called Sheriff “morally bankrupt”.
Not fans of each other.
— Bill Melugin (@BillFOXLA) March 1, 2021
Gascón has been under fire since he issued a set of special directives after taking the oath of office on December 7. Gascón’s orders included ending cash bail, stopping charging juveniles as adults, and banning prosecutors from seeking sentence enhancements while requiring they be withdrawn from pending matters. He later amended that policy after a public outcry, telling deputy district attorneys that they could file enhancements in a limited range of circumstances, including hate-motived crimes, child and elder abuse cases, sex abuse, and human sex trafficking. Still, a judge later issued a preliminary injunction temporarily barring Gascón from directing prosecutors to drop sentencing enhancement in active cases, concluding the order violated California law. Gascón has said his legal team would appeal the court’s decision, adding his office “will adjust its policies to be consistent with the ruling.”
There are more than 100 enhancements in California’s penal code.
“All of these sentencing enhancements are there for a reason: it’s to keep communities safe, to keep the really, really bad people in jail as long as possible, and that is public safety,” Sheriff Villanueva told “The Gary and Shannon Show.” “And this guy is absolutely not advocating on behalf of public safety.”
Villanueva said under Gascón’s policies, hardened criminals would likely use juvenile gang members to commit offenses because “they know there’s almost no consequences at all.”
“They are just going to have juveniles doing adult extortion of businesses and community members, and the D.A. is going to be laughing while the victims are suffering, and I cannot support that,” he said.
Gascón has repeatedly cited research that he says indicates sentence enhancements do not deter crime but are a primary driver of mass incarceration that disproportionately impacts people of color.
– Have never been shown to enhance public safety
– Are a primary driver of mass incarceration
– Fall disproportionately on communities of color
In short, enhancements are unjust & unnecessary.
— George Gascón (@GeorgeGascon) March 4, 2021
He did not campaign on eliminating most sentencing enhancements, and his plan to do so, along with other elements of his progressive agenda, was met with immediate resistance. The new directives sparked a revolt from local law enforcement groups and several deputy district attorneys within Gascón’s office. Victims’ families and prosecutors connected with media outlets, and their stories helped create support for a recall effort.
“He promised a softer and gentler criminal justice system that would reduce incarceration rates for minor offenders and place increased focus on mental health and addiction issues that plague our communities,” the website promoting the recall says. “But the moment he was sworn in as District Attorney, George Gascón instituted a series of directives to prosecutors in his command that have nothing to do with a progressive approach to prosecution and have everything to do with a radical agenda that ignores victims, disregards the law and endangers the lives and livelihoods of all Angelenos.”
“He didn’t tell voters that a defendant’s prior criminal history have no impact on how a pending case against that defendant would be treated,” it continues.
The recall group, called “Victims of Violent Crime for the Recall of District Attorney Gascon,” is chaired by former L.A. City Councilman Dennis Zine, who, like Gascón, previously worked for the LAPD. Zine co-hosted a radio show in 2015 with Randy Economy, senior advisor to the ongoing campaign to recall California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom.
The Gascón recall group’s honorary chairs are former L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and Tania Owen, the widow of L.A. County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, who was killed execution-style in the line of duty in 2016. She is described on the website as a “survivor/victims’ rights activist.” According to the Los Angeles Times, “Owen said the prosecutor handling her husband’s murder case called her the day Gascón was sworn in and said the office would no longer be seeking the death penalty, life without parole or any sentencing enhancements.”
“Quite honestly, it was a gut punch,” Ms. Owen told The Times. “As soon as I heard that, I said absolutely not. This will not happen on my watch.”
The recall campaign’s honorary co-chairs include former L.A. County D.A. Steve Cooley, Fresno County (CA) D.A. Lisa Smittcamp, and Kern County (CA) D.A. Cynthia Zimmer.
In a statement, D.A. Gascón addressed concerns of victims’ families.
“The pain and trauma of losing a loved one is immeasurable and I recognize and respect that some victims want me to impose the maximum punishment in their case,” he said. “Our system of justice can’t continue to rely on policies that create more victims tomorrow simply because some victims want the maximum punishment imposed in their case today.”
As the L.A. Times reported, “an elected county official must be in office for 90 days before a recall petition can be filed,” which means the process cannot officially begin until Monday, March 8. County officials must approve the wording of the recall petition. Then the campaign will have 160 days to gather “upwards of 580,000 signatures,” The Times reports. If enough signatures are certified, organizers say the recall vote likely would not happen until 2022.
Related: George Gascón, L.A.’s New Progressive D.A., Becomes Target Of Recall Effort