George Gascón was born in Havana, Cuba, on March 12, 1954. In 1967 he and his family immigrated to the United States and settled in Bell, California. Gascón went on to serve in the U.S. Army from 1972-75, during which time he worked his way up to the level of Sergeant. He then earned a BA degree in history from California State University at Long Beach, and he joined the Los Angeles Police Department as a patrol officer in 1978.
After a three-year stint with the LAPD, Gascón worked in business management from 1981-87 while serving also as a reserve officer in the LAPD’s Hollenbeck Division. In 1987 he returned to the Police Department as a full-time officer and was subsequently promoted to Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, Commander, Deputy Chief (in 2002), and Assistant Chief (in 2003). Gascón also earned a J.D. degree from Western State College of Law in 1996.
In 2009, San Francisco’s then-mayor, Gavin Newsom, appointed Gascón as Chief of the San Francisco Police Department. Two years later, Newsom named Gascón to replace Kamala Harris as San Francisco District Attorney, after Harris became Attorney General of California.
In 2018 Gascón announced that he would retroactively apply the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — a 2016 voter initiative that legalized cannabis in California — to expunge the misdemeanor convictions and reduced felony convictions of more than 9,000 past drug offenders statewide. “It was the morally right thing to do,” Gascón explained.
In a December 2019 op-ed, former San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Nancy Tung, who had worked as a staffer in Gascón’s DA office, wrote that Gascon’s approach toward crime had been disastrous for the city:
“Reputationally, San Francisco is now widely regarded as the place where you can commit a crime and get away with it. And when you have a weak DA like George Gascón, it’s no wonder San Francisco has gone by the wayside, crooks commute into San Francisco to commit crime, and why many were celebrating his departure…. George Gascón wreaked havoc on the San Francisco DA’s Office and the City as a whole.”
In his 2020 campaign against the incumbent District Attorney of Los Angeles County, Jackie Lacey, Gascón received $12 million in support, mostly from wealthy donors who favored criminal-justice reform. Billionaire George Soros led the way with $2.25 million in donations, while philanthropist Patty Quillin and her husband, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, contributed more than $2 million. Other high-profile backers included the anti-capitalist Working Families Party, the Los Angeles public defenders’ union, Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Senator Kamala Harris, California Governor Gavin Newsom, and Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors. Moreover, the Black Lives Matter organization mobilized many of its supporters to work on behalf of Gascón’s campaign.
Following Gascón’s election victory, Black Lives Matter member and BLD PWR founder Kendrick Sampson said in a statement: “This is an important win to show that people can and will hold even the most powerful DA in the country accountable.”
After Gascón won the general election on November 3, 2020, his first major meeting as District Attorney-elect was with Black Lives Matter organizers. In a statement that he issued on November 6, Gascón alluded to a number of African Americans who had died in altercations with police officers in recent months – most notably George Floyd in Minneapolis — and said: “If we can use these very tragic, horrendous events to change the course of history in this country, I think that we will be honoring their lives.”
On December 7, 2020 — the day he was sworn into office as DA of Los Angeles — Gascón wrote Los Angeles police officers an open letter in which he: (a) accused them of engaging in “unconstitutional policing” practices that had “severely hindered the standing and safety of us all”; (b) announced his intent to reopen several police shooting cases that his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, had declined to prosecute; (c) articulated his support for Black Lives Matter; and (d) expressed support for diverting funds away from police departments and toward community-based health and social-service programs that could serve as alternatives to jail and prosecution.
Also in the days and weeks following his election, Gascón:
Further emphasizing his desire to help criminal illegal aliens avoid arrest and deportation, Gascón said:
“Local criminal justice actors must be careful not to become part of a pipeline to deportation in a dysfunctional immigration system…. Immigration status can have a disproportionate adverse impact on noncitizen defendants because of federal immigration law implications. A core duty of prosecutors is to ensure that the punishment fits the crime. As such, it is incumbent upon the prosecutor to be aware of and mitigate collateral consequences, particularly when they are more severe than the punishment for the crime itself.”
In his early days as DA, Gascón issued a number of highly significant Special Directives. Some examples:
Special Directive 20-06 is titled “Pretrial Release Policy.” Founded on the premise that cash bail creates a “two-tiered system of justice” (depending on defendants’ financial resources) and leads to much “unnecessary incarceration,” this directive ignores the fact that Californians voted to keep the cash bail system intact. It bars prosecutors from requesting cash bail for any misdemeanor or nonviolent felony, regardless of the nature of the defendant’s criminal record. It bars prosecutors from opposing a defense counsel’s motion to remove or modify conditions of release. It forbids prosecutors from objecting to a defendant’s release. And it applies retroactively to anyone already incarcerated in Los Angeles County on cash bail. Says the directive: “The negative consequences of cash bail have fallen unequally on the shoulders of low-income communities of color in Los Angeles County…. The US Constitution guarantees every person – regardless of race, class or origin – the right to be presumed innocent during the pretrial phase of a criminal proceeding.”
Special Directive 20-07 is titled “Misdemeanor Case Management.” Exhorting society to “reimagine public safety,” this directive lists 13 separate misdemeanor crimes that “shall be declined or dismissed before arraignment and without conditions,” unless certain “exceptions” or other “factors” can be shown to exist. Further, the directive states that “these charges do not constitute an exhaustive list,” and it instructs each prosecutor in Gascón’s office to “exercise his discretion” in identifying additional charges that may fall within “the spirit” of this directive. The 13 crimes that are explicitly named are: trespassing; disturbing the peace; driving without a valid license; driving on a suspended license; criminal threats; drug & paraphernalia possession; minor in possession of alcohol; drinking in public; under the influence of a controlled substance; public intoxication; loitering; loitering to commit prostitution; and resisting arrest.
Special Directive 20-08 is called “Sentencing Enhancements/Allegations.” It eliminates most sentencing enhancements, special circumstances, cases eligible for life-without-parole sentences, and capital punishment. As Cully Stimson explains in The Daily Signal:
“Over the years, the California Legislature has passed dozens of sentencing enhancements to crimes, and has laws protecting specific classes of individuals, such as children, women, the elderly, and others. In 1994, the Legislature passed the Three Strikes Law, which gave prosecutors the ability to seek a life sentence for anyone who committed a qualifying offense and had two qualifying prior convictions. The Legislature also passed laws detailing the gruesome special circumstances of the most violent cases that would make a criminal eligible for life without parole or the death penalty. Gascón’s directive prohibits prosecutors from filing sentence enhancements, sentence allegations, or Three Strikes in all cases, and forces them to withdraw the same from all pending cases. Despite the fact that enhancements, special allegations, and Three Strikes keep violent, career felons off the streets for decades, thus protecting society from the worst of the worst, Special Directive 20-08 undercuts the California Legislature’s laws, and outright bans their use.”
Special Directive 20-09 is titled “Youth Justice.” Its objective is to prevent anyone younger than 18 from ever being prosecuted in adult court, regardless of their offense. Moreover, the directive mandates the withdrawal of all pending motions to transfer youth to adult court, and it bars the prosecution of nearly all young people accused of misdemeanors. For young criminal defendants who are illegal aliens, prosecutors are instructed to try to “avoid immigration consequences” and are prohibited from objecting when defense attorneys seek to seal a defendant’s criminal record.
Special Directive 20-10 is called the “Habeas Corpus Litigation Unit.” It calls for the creation of an HCLU panel whose mission is to look for cases of “injustice,” including “racial injustice,” regardless of whether or not there were any violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights. The directive stipulates that the HCLU “shall not, as a policy, defend every conviction or raise every conceivable procedural challenge with equal fervor.” Pointing out the implications of this policy, The Daily Signal writes:
“So after line prosecutors engage in pre-trial litigation for weeks or months, disclose the information to defense counsel that is required by law, go to trial, and earn a conviction, lawyers in their own office now have marching orders not to defend the conviction, [to] look for “racial injustice” (at least in Gascón’s eyes), and ‘remedy’ the situation by moving to vacate the conviction, agreeing to a retrial, or seeking some other pro-defendant scheme.”
Special Directive 20-11 is titled “Death Penalty Policy.” Founded on the premise that “a sentence of death is never an appropriate resolution in any case,” this directive prohibits prosecutors from ever seeking the death penalty for any murderer, including in all pending cases, and it ignores the fact that both the California Legislature and the California electorate voted repeatedly in favor of capital punishment for defendants convicted of qualifying offenses. The directive also requires prosecutors to review, with “the goal of removing the death sentence,” all prior death sentences issued in Los Angeles County.
Special Directive 20-12 is titled “Victim Services.” It directs the victim services’ section of the DA office to contact families of individuals killed not only by civilian murderers, but also by police officers in the line of duty, and to provide “support services including funeral, burial and mental health services immediately following the death regardless of the state of the investigation or charging decision.” As The Daily Signal observes: “In other words, if a police officer is attacked by an armed violent felon who shoots at the police officer, and the police officer fires back in self-defense and kills the assailant, the district attorney’s office will now be required to help the deceased felon’s family pay for the funeral, at taxpayer expense.”
Special Directive 20-13 is titled the “Conviction Integrity Unit.” The directive stipulates that prosecutors in the Conviction Integrity Unit reserve the right to review any case in the “interest of justice” — as in cases where a prosecution or conviction was allegedly “tainted by racial discrimination,” even if a court previously rejected a defendant’s claim that racial discrimination had occurred.
Special Directive 20-14 is titled “Resentencing.” It requires prosecutors to “reevaluate and consider for resentencing people who have already served 15 years in prison.” For pending cases that have sentence enhancements, it requires prosecutors to “join in the Defendant’s motion to strike all alleged sentence enhancements.” In all cases where a defendant — even if convicted of manslaughter or murder — is eligible for resentencing or “recall of a sentence,” prosecutors are barred from opposing the resentencing or sentence recall. The directive also establishes a Resentencing Unit tasked with conducting a “comprehensive review” of past cases where a defendant may have received a sentence “inconsistent” with the newly implemented policies and objectives of Gascón’s office. Moreover, the directive states that prosecutors not only are prohibited from attending parole hearings, but are required to provide a written statement of support for the parole of any convict who has served his mandatory minimum prison sentence.
When Gascón made an appearance in Pomona, California on December 18, 2020, the family of the late Joshua Rodriguez, a 21-year-old Californian who had been murdered in 2015, confronted Gascón to protest his intention to eliminate any chance that the young man’s killers could receive no-parole life sentences in prison. When Rodriguez’s mother shouted at Gascón, the latter said: “It’s unfortunate that we have people who do not have enough education so they can keep their mouth shut for a moment so we can talk.” In response, the mother said: “My son can never speak again because he was murdered — kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. My son matters.” “They killed my son, tortured him!” the woman screamed as Gascón subsequently walked away. “And what are you gonna do about it? Nothing!”
On December 30, 2020, the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) of Los Angeles County sued Gascón over his recent orders to reduce sentence enhancements for certain crimes. “As detailed in the lawsuit, [Gascón’s] directives violate California law, which imposes a mandatory duty on prosecutors to plead and prove strike priors,” the ADDA explained in a statement. “Dismissals of those priors can only be based on individual circumstances, not a blanket policy. Similarly, special circumstance allegations that will result in a life without parole sentence cannot be dismissed under the section cited by the directive.”
In February 2021, Gascón announced that he was cutting all ties with the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA) because he objected to the fact that its board of directors was composed exclusively of white members. “The absence of a single person of color on CDAA’s 17-member board is blinding,” Gascón wrote in a letter to the organization’s president. “This is the leadership that sets the direction for an organization of elected prosecutors, all of whom disproportionately prosecute communities of color at a time when the nation is facing a reckoning over systemic racism, and in a state with a plurality of minorities, no less.” In a statement to Fox News, CDAA president Vern Pierson replied: “Mr. Gascón cannot resign because he has not been a member of CDAA since October 2019, when he quit his job as DA of San Francisco. On the ethnicity issue, his remarks are disingenuous, as he ran against the first sitting Los Angeles District Attorney who was both a woman and an African American. Incidentally, she was a CDAA board officer and in line to become president…. This appears to be a publicity stunt to divert attention from [Gascón’s] favoring criminals at the expense of victims and growing calls for his recall.”
Further Reading: “George Gascon Has Said ‘We Need To Turn Our Court System Upside Down.’ Now He’s Running To Be LA’s Next DA” (by Frank Stoltze, 10-28-2019); “He Said No to Naysayers” (by Richard Winton, 6-4-2004).
Newly-Elected L.A. District Attorney Despises the Police
By Joseph Klein