The politics of reforming justice in Los Angeles County
by David L. Horne, Ph.D | oped contributor
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon, elected in 2020 to replace disgraced District Attorney Jackie Lacey, is already falling victim to the same kind of heavily negative publicity (although for quite the opposite reasons) with which his predecessor had to contend.
D.A. Lacey had been accused of forever favoring police accounts of issues at hand, which regularly put those accused of criminal activity against an unfair system stacked against them. They could not expect equal justice since it was rarely, if ever, available under her leadership, her opponents argued.
In his short time in office, D.A. Gascon has gained the opposite reputation—that he is making the system too soft for lawbreakers, and thus eroding citizen respect for the protections offered by peacekeepers.
Already, by 2023, he has had over 35 city governments in Southern California to vote no confidence in his leadership. His numerous reforms are regularly blamed for the exploding public criminality in Los Angeles County.
Well, this article today is neither pro-Gascon nor anti-Gascon. Instead, it is about what may prove to be the anchor that drags him to the watery depths.
Most of us who’ve been here a while remember the L.A. cops’ Rampart saga of 1999-2000. The Los Angeles police department and city government had to defend themselves against more than 140 Rampart-related civil suits and had to pay out more than $125 million in claims, including over 15 million dollars specifically to Javier Ovando.
That was, and still is, the largest individual settlement, and collective award for police misconduct ever paid by L.A. in the city’s history.
Well, that record may soon be broken, and Mr. Gascon may even have his own golden opportunity to either rise far above the fray or disappear forever beneath the waves.
The situation of which I speak is the wild west news that in the otherwise inauspicious beachfront city of Torrance, Calif., in the South Bay district, there lurks a massive problem of racist, homophobic police gangs.
Just last week, the township had to pay out $750,000 to a man who had been accosted by Torrance police and had a large swastika painted inside his car by the officers while he was being ticketed and arrested (falsely it turned out).
In the investigation of the incident, authorities also found a massive treasure trove of officer text messages that demonstrated, as the victim’s lawyer said, “quite often the very people entrusted by our citizens to protect us from dangerous criminals are more dangerous than the criminals who they are supposed to be protecting us from.”
In the investigations surrounding the case, the texts of at least 12 Torrance police officers spewed what was called a large cache of “racist, antisemitic and homophobic comments”. That situation led to hundreds of pending cases in which those officers were to testify to be summarily dropped, with hundreds of earlier cases with convictions in which they had testified to be overturned.
It had been widely thought in Southern California that it was the Sheriff’s Department, under former Sheriff Alex Villanueva, that was home to a large enclave of gangster cops, including the requisite gang tattoos and coded language. Mr. Villanueva was not reelected in the last voting cycle. What has happened to the gangland sheriff’s deputies is unknown at present. But clearly, the perfidy was not just occurring in the Sheriff’s Office alone.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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