San Franciscans query George Gascón’s legacy



Adriana Camarena abhors the concept George Gascón is being touted as a reformer within the nationally watched contest for management of the Los Angeles County district lawyer’s workplace.

The Bay Space organizer spent years main rallies in opposition to Gascón in San Francisco, and her voice rises with annoyance as she rattles off the names of males killed in controversial police shootings throughout Gascón’s time as district lawyer: Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, Amilcar Perez-Lopez, Alex Nieto.

Though every of the lads Camarena named was armed, their instances sparked public outcry and raised questions on Gascón’s dedication to holding police accountable after he didn’t prosecute the officers concerned. Camarena mentioned Los Angeles activists, who shortly embraced Gascón, must be extra skeptical of the so-called “godfather of progressive prosecutors.”

“I perceive why they need a change, however I’d say they aren’t going to get a change,” Camarena mentioned. “They’ll get any person who’s a profession officer who has nothing to indicate as a progressive prosecutor.”

A champion of other sentencing, diversion applications and decreasing jail populations, Gascón had a tenure in San Francisco that earned him reward and endorsements from legal justice reformers and nationwide progressive leaders, together with Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. However as Gascón tries to oust Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey in a race that many see as a flashpoint in a nationwide debate about legal justice, the affect of his insurance policies in San Francisco are below a microscope.

In San Francisco, quite a few activists, regulation enforcement officers and native leaders supply less-glowing critiques of Gascón. Mayor London Breed has endorsed Lacey, and the town’s police union is one of many in the state spending millions to derail Gascón’s campaign. A few of Gascón’s former constituents argue that his diversion applications for low-level offenders eliminated the specter of punishment, driving a historic surge in property crime and automobile break-ins. Others, like Camarena, mentioned his progressive popularity is extra fable than actuality.

Gascón insists that frustrations with him in San Francisco largely stem from resistance to his reform initiatives. Residents, he mentioned, have been poisoned in opposition to him by police unfairly blaming Proposition 47 — the landmark poll initiative he co-authored that decreased a number of felony crimes to misdemeanors in California — for the town’s struggles with auto burglaries, homelessness and drug use.

“It’s very, very exhausting when a neighborhood is being bombarded on daily basis by Officer Pleasant telling them the rationale we’ve got a homeless particular person on the nook … is due to Prop. 47,” he mentioned. “It’s a really highly effective PR machine that’s relentless.”

San Francisco’s property crime price jumped 37% throughout Gascón’s tenure, pushed largely by report numbers of automobile break-ins. In 2017, the town reported greater than 31,000 auto burglaries, the worst yr on report, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

A 2018 Public Coverage Institute of California report discovered a hyperlink between the passage of Proposition 47 and will increase in property crime and larceny. However one of many authors of that report, Magnus Lofstrom, cautioned in opposition to blaming all of San Francisco’s ills on Gascón’s signature coverage initiative. The town’s inhabitants rose considerably throughout Gascón’s tenure, and elevated tourism and wealth might have created extra alternative for auto burglars, Lofstrom mentioned. Moreover, San Francisco police not often, if ever, arrested suspects in automobile break-ins as they surged, the Chronicle reported.

Randy Shaw, head of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic in San Francisco, mentioned he supported Proposition 47 however believes Gascón’s insurance policies have been disastrous for the low-income neighborhood the place he has tried to provide help to the homeless for many years.

“He made no effort to take care of the drug and crime issues within the Tenderloin — none, zero. That may be beneficiant. He might need been worse than zero,” Shaw mentioned. “He discouraged the police, as a result of in some unspecified time in the future they determined, what’s the purpose in making these arrests, as a result of he isn’t going to prosecute them.”

Gascón’s prosecutors filed legal prices in about half the felonies and 40% of misdemeanors offered to his workplace from 2011 to 2019, data present. However Gascon and his allies argue that the submitting numbers present solely a partial portrait of his report.

The submitting charges don’t seize situations during which prosecutors went after defendants for a probation violation reasonably than pursuing a brand new cost, in keeping with Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the San Francisco district lawyer’s workplace. Taken along with filings, prosecutors “took motion” in 59% of felonies and 54% of misdemeanors, data present.

Such techniques infuriated cops, who mentioned they felt like they have been arresting the identical folks a number of occasions due to Gascón’s reluctance to open new instances.

“They’d dismiss the brand new case and file on the movement to revoke [probation],” mentioned Tony Montoya, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Assn. “Whenever you’re on probation, there’s purported to be some deterrent to proceed down the trail that obtained you on probation. Now, there wasn’t.”

Roughly 10% of all misdemeanors dropped at Gascón’s workplace throughout his tenure have been dealt with by a diversionary program known as Neighborhood Courts. Launched in 2012, this system aimed to carry low-level offenders accountable with out saddling them with a legal conviction.

Defendants in such instances would meet with neighborhood volunteers and be provided “directives” to make amends for his or her offense; these might embrace coming into a drug therapy program or finishing a neighborhood service routine. Because of this, the defendants would keep away from a conviction, which Gascón hoped would cut back the probability they might reoffend later in life.

He was additionally a frontrunner in a statewide motion to eradicate money bail, utilizing a threat analysis based mostly upon a number of components — together with a defendant’s legal report, employment standing and the severity of the offense with which they’d been charged — to find out the probability they would seem in court docket, as a substitute of constructing their pretrial launch depending on their monetary state of affairs.

Taken collectively, the efforts appear to have completed Gascón’s objective of slicing again on using prisons and jails. Information present that San Francisco’s common day by day jail inhabitants fell by about 27% throughout his tenure, from 1,746 in January 2011 to 1,271 in October 2019, when he resigned to challenge Lacey.

Brian Pearlman, who oversaw misdemeanor instances for the San Francisco public defender’s workplace throughout Gascón’s tenure, mentioned he believes the applications have been a lifeline for quite a few first-time offenders and drug-addicted defendants who wanted to see the within of a therapy middle reasonably than a jail cell.

“I noticed so many individuals who went by that course of lastly seeing that system caring for them. … I noticed lots of people work their approach out of the legal justice system into housing and assist,” he mentioned.

However Lorraine French says her life, too, was ceaselessly modified by Gascón’s progressive insurance policies. The 80-year-old holds him partially chargeable for the 2017 homicide of her youthful brother throughout a theft involving a person who had been granted pretrial launch below the chance evaluation software Gascón championed.

Lamonte Mims, who was already on probation when he was charged with gun possession that yr, was launched after an analysis discovered him to be a medium public security threat. Lorraine’s brother Edward was taking footage within the metropolis’s idyllic Twin Peaks space when he was shot and killed whereas Mims and a companion allegedly robbed him of his digital camera.

Mims was charged within the killing, although he didn’t pull the set off. Officials later said a data error led Mims to receive a lower “public-safety assessment” score than warranted, however the slaying raised questions in regards to the software used to guage him. French demanded a gathering with Gascón, throughout which the district lawyer provided his condolences however then started “screaming” at her as she challenged him in regards to the analysis’s position in her brother’s dying, she mentioned.

“When he began yelling at us, I mentioned, George … in case you can’t do your job, then stop,” French mentioned. “You selected to be the DA. We’ve the correct to query you.”

Gascón denied that he yelled at French. Though he stays horrified by what occurred within the Mims case, Gascón mentioned, one tragic outlier doesn’t invalidate the broad successes of this system. The identical evaluation software, based mostly on algorithm scores, is utilized in dozens of jurisdictions throughout the U.S., together with L.A. County, the place the courts final yr acquired a grant to launch a pilot program with the software.

“Identical to there are occasions when folks exit on bail and commit horrendous issues … an actual tragic occasion occurred when a younger man was launched with out bail, and he went on to homicide somebody, and that weighed very, very closely on me,” Gascón mentioned.

For some, frustration stems from Gascón’s rhetoric not lining up with outcomes. Though his workplace filed misconduct prices in opposition to dozens of cops, his refusal to prosecute police in deadly power instances has been criticized within the wake of nationwide protests over the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

The decision not to file charges against officers in the 2015 shooting of Woods, a 26-year-old stabbing suspect who was below the affect of methamphetamine, has hung heaviest over Gascón all through the marketing campaign. Bystander video appeared to indicate Woods, who was holding a knife, strolling away from officers when he was shot. Police say Woods ignored orders to drop his weapon earlier than officers opened fireplace.

On the time, Gascón mentioned the officers “would have been derelict of their obligation to guard the general public had they let Woods escape.” His determination was closely criticized by then-Public Defender Jeff Adachi and John Burris, the civil rights lawyer who represented Woods’ household.

About 5 months later, officers within the metropolis’s Mission District shot and killed Gongora Pat, a homeless man who advocates mentioned was struggling a psychological well being disaster. Police responded to experiences of Gongora Pat waving a knife however discovered him seated after they arrived on the scene. When he refused to adjust to orders to drop the weapon, an officer shot him with a beanbag spherical. Police allege that Gongora Pat then obtained up and marched towards an officer with the blade in his hand, and two of them fired a volley of deadly gunshots.

The encounter lasted lower than a minute, and lots of have criticized the officers for failing to de-escalate the state of affairs, claiming the choice to shoot a less-lethal spherical at Gongora Pat whereas he was on the bottom provoked the lethal incident. Gascón determined he couldn’t show past an inexpensive doubt that the officers have been criminally liable.

Gascón, who didn’t prosecute any officers in on-duty killings throughout his eight years in workplace, has argued that he was hamstrung in lots of taking pictures instances in San Francisco by state regulation that severely limits when police will be charged in lethal power instances. He supported a 2019 Assembly bill that raised the threshold requiring that police use deadly power solely when “vital” as a substitute of when “cheap.” Underneath the brand new regulation, Gascón says, he would have charged the officers who shot Woods.

“It’s a really comfy place for Gascón. That is what he all the time does,” mentioned Camarena, who was a spokeswoman for the Gongora Pat household. “It all the time looks like the ball is rarely in his court docket.”

Gascón maintains he’s extra certified than Lacey to confront officers who take lives unjustly, arguing that Lacey has declined to deliver prices in far more egregious cases involving unarmed people. A evaluation of San Francisco police data reveals that almost all of shootings during which Gascón declined to prosecute concerned suspects armed with weapons, knives or blunt objects.

Regardless of the result of the Woods case, Burris mentioned he believes Gascón is genuinely devoted to police reform in a approach most different prosecutors aren’t.

“I believe he needs to do it. I believe his philosophy definitely is there; his authorized philosophy and his dedication to social justice definitely appears to be there. I by no means doubted it,” he mentioned.

Hillary Ronen, a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, had been vital of Gascón’s report on police shootings however in the end endorsed him. Making enemies of activists and police unions shouldn’t be thought of a flaw on Gascón’s report, she mentioned, however reasonably must be seen as proof of his impartial streak.

“I labored very carefully with him and consider him to be a really real and good particular person,” she mentioned. “However I’ll let you know, he didn’t have a ton of excellent mates in San Francisco by the point he left.”