Amid criticism over new directives, LA County DA George Gascon says defendants will be held accountable

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Thursday, December 17, 2020
Amid criticism, Gascon says defendants will face accountability
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L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon's sweeping policy changes are sparking outrage from many crime victims, but the new DA insists defendants will be punished.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- After only days in office, the controversy is growing over Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon's sweeping policy changes.

Some family members of crime victims are outraged over the reforms, including the family of a 10-year-old Lancaster boy who was tortured and murdered.

The aunt of Anthony Avalos shared emotional words at a news conference outside the Hall of Justice Wednesday.

"They need to be punished. I don't care. They need to go to prison for life, death penalty, it still won't be enough," said Maria Barron.

RELATED: Crime victims' families lash out at LA County DA George Gascon over new policies

The family is outraged at the changes proposed by Gascon.

"There's a hole in my heart Mr. Gascon that will never be filled because Anthony will always be missing," Barron said.

Gascon has issued a special directive that ends cash bail, the death penalty and sentencing enhancements in county prosecutions. Attorney Brian Claypool, who represents Barron, says these changes will increase the risk of violent crimes.

"Your new DA could care less about the safety of people. All he cares about is promoting his radical social experiment. He's placing his own political gain above public safety," Claypool said.

"I'm somewhat troubled by the misinformation and the fear mongering," said Gascon, who held his own news conference Wednesday with victims of crime who support his changes. He was defiant, saying criminals will be punished, but there will be no enhancements.

RELATED: LA County DA George Gascon's plan to reduce sentences sparks concern from his own prosecutors

"I eliminated sentencing enhancements because a sentence enhancement doesn't necessarily create more safety. In fact, they often create more recidivism," says Gascon.

A memo sent to deputy district attorneys was obtained by Eyewitness News. It instructs them not to file sentence enhancements because the office now believes the state penal code is unconstitutional.

"What we're doing is certainly not unlawful and not unethical, and prosecutors are sworn to follow the directions of the elected DA," Gascon said.

Deputy District Attorney John Hatami is critical of the new policy.

"I don't say anything and someone gets released and a child gets killed. Can I really live with myself?" asks Hatami.

Hatami has been at the forefront prosecuting child abusers and killers. He says he and others are worried about speaking out.

"They are documenting things that we say. They are working with the public defenders and alternate public defenders to intimidate us and document what we do and we say," according to Hatami.

There is an effort now to recall Gascon and a Facebook page that has gained 10,000 new members in the last week.