LA County DA challengers address homelessness, death penalty during debate

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Two candidates running to be Los Angeles County's top prosecutor faced off Wednesday during a debate that incumbent Jackie Lacey did not take part in.

Former San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and former public defender Rachel Rossi addressed issues that included jail reform, gang enhancements, homelessness, among other topics during the debate held at the California African American Museum.

Lacey did not take part in the debate, citing a scheduling conflict, according to debate organizers. The debate comes one day after L.A. County Democrats voted to overwhelmingly endorse Gascón.

MORE: LA County Democrats endorse George Gascón for district attorney over incumbent Jackie Lacey
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The Los Angeles County Democratic Party endorsed George Gascón over incumbent Jackie Lacey in the race for the county's next district attorney.

The race for county district attorney is being described as one of the most important in the country.

"District attorneys have the power to decide who to prosecute, what punishments to seek, whether to seek the death penalty or not," said Stephen F. Rohde of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "This is a powerful office."

Both candidates said they will not pursue the death penalty and ensure police accountability.

"We need civil rights, experienced attorneys who are working to prosecute law enforcement," Rossi said.

"One of the things that I would do is create a civil rights division within the D.A.'s office," Gascón said. "I know that's a very unusual concept."

Gascón is the former San Francisco District Attorney known for progressive policies and was also assistant chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Rossi is a former public defender and counsel to the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee.

"I'm running because I have a brand new vision that stems from my experience seeing the other side of the criminal justice system," Rossi said.

A coalition of organizations like ACLU SoCal, Black Lives Matter-LA and Loyola Law School's Project for the Innocent sponsored the debate.
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