Gascon Admits His ‘Youth Justice’ Policy Was a Mistake

Los Angeles County District Attorney Gascon is in damage control mode.

On February 20, 2022, in an effort to get ahead of horrific recordings of Hannah Tubbs, a former minor who was prosecuted in juvenile court on Gascon’s orders, Gascon issued the following Press Release: “[O]ur juvenile system in its current iteration does not provide adequate support to help [a former minor]…except through the adult system…The complex issues and facts of [this] particular case were unusual, and I should have treated them that way.”

Gascon’s epiphany that his blanket Youth Justice Policy was a mistake is little solace to the families of murder victims whose cases have been negatively impacted over the last 16 months.

On December 8, 2021, District Attorney Gascon highlighted several “accomplishments” from his first year in office which included: withdrawing 77 previously filed Motions to Transfer, recalling and resentencing 25 defendants who were previously convicted in criminal court and additional cases in which the office did not seek to transfer the minor to criminal court.

Most crimes committed by minors, even violent ones, are not eligible for prosecution in criminal court because the justice system favors rehabilitation for minors. (Welfare and Institutions Code 202).

The law, however, recognizes that the juvenile justice system is not the appropriate place for some 16- and 17-year-olds who commit exceptionally heinous and brutal crimes. This legal procedure for a minor to be prosecuted in criminal court is triggered by the prosecution filing a transfer motion. (Welfare and Institutions Code 707). This procedure provides a judicial safeguard to ensure that only those minors who can’t be rehabilitated in the juvenile system are transferred to criminal jurisdiction.

When Gascon took office he mandated that all transfer motions be withdrawn in cases that had been previously evaluated by experienced prosecutors. One of those horrific cases involved the murders of Jose Flores and Alfredo Carrera.

Gang members, including 16-year-old Dameon E., and 17-year-old Shanice D., gunned down Jose Flores — an astrophysics PhD candidate at UCI who had accepted a job with NASA, and his childhood best-friend, Alfredo Carrera, who was about to become a father for the first time.

The gang members were “doing work” for the gang – hunting for people in a rival gang’s territory. The families of Alfredo and Jose would vehemently disagree with Gascon’s word choice of “accomplishment,” when his policy ensured that the minors who executed their loved ones won’t serve more than 7 years in custody.

“Catastrophe,” “heartbreak” and “abandonment” more appropriately describe Gascon’s actions.

Gascon also boasted of 25 cases in which former minors serving prison sentences for violent crimes they committed were resentenced as juveniles. These former minors, all of whom are now in their 20s or 30s, were charged, convicted and sentenced in criminal court. But due to the change in the law they were sent back to juvenile court by the Court of Appeal, with directions to hold a retroactive transfer hearing. Gascon refused to conduct the hearing ordered by the Court of Appeal. The result is that at least 25 former minors who were convicted of gang murders, sometimes of multiple murders, were released back into our communities having served only a few years in custody. In all of these cases, the former minors were released into our communities without any assurances that they received rehabilitative services, nor any evaluation as to their current dangerousness. Some of these former minors had subsequent convictions for crimes of violence they committed while in custody – a fact known and ignored by District Attorney Gascon.

Also listed as an “accomplishment” were an additional 100 recent cases that were not transferred to criminal court as a result of Gascon’s blanket Youth Justice policy. Five of these 100 cases include the following egregious examples of a 16- or 17-year-old committing crimes that have been or are being prosecuted in juvenile court:

  • On December 1, 2020, 28-year-old mother Ky Alicia Thomas was shot and killed in Venice. One of the assailants is 17.
  • On February 17, 2021, 32-year-old Monique Munoz was killed by a 17-year-old son of wealthy entrepreneur who was driving a Lamborghini on a suspended license at speeds up to 106 mph.  He had been cited for speeding twice in 2020, including once for driving 72 miles per hour on surface streets.
  •  On May 26, 17-year-old Kenia Rivera was shot and killed by two juvenile gang members as she was walking down the street with her twin sister.
  • On August 12, 2021, 26-year-old Jayren Bradford was shot and killed outside the Shoe Palace by a 16-year-old. The entire shooting was caught on tape.
  •  On November 15, 2021, 19-year-old Cody Wilson was shot and killed by a 17-year-old in Pico Rivera.

Gascon’s “updated” Youth Justice Policy acknowledges that in exceptional circumstances and egregious cases, criminal jurisdiction may be appropriate for youth offenders. No kidding. This is exactly what the law says (Welfare and Institutions Code 707). Experienced prosecutors have been telling him that since the day he took office. Each case deserves to have the facts and circumstances evaluated independently.Gascon’s updated policy established a “panel” to evaluate juvenile cases. Unfortunately for victims and the public, this panel includes Alisa Blair, Gascon’s handpicked surrogate who transferred over from the public defender’s office. Blair assisted in developing Gascon’s initial Youth Justice Policy, which was written while she was still a deputy public defender.

Blair clearly doesn’t understand a prosecutor’s solemn obligation to uphold the law. On May 29, 2020, Blair tweeted “Burn that shit down. We must destroy in order to rebuild” during the civil unrest after the killing of George Floyd, potentially emboldening rioters and inciting violence. Even as a prosecutor, Blair appears to continue representing the interests of criminal defendants, while ignoring the rights of victims (California Constitution Article I, Section 28(b) and Penal Code 679).

The law clearly states that prosecutors are precluded from assisting in the defense of any person accused of a crime. (Government Code 26540 and 24100). Despite this, Blair had contact with the mother of convicted murderer Andrew Cachu’s. Cachu was just two months shy of his 18th birthday when he shot and killed 41-year-old Louis Amela outside a Palmdale restaurant in March of 2015. Although Cachu was convicted and sentenced in criminal court as the law at that time allowed, he is included in the number of cases that were back for resentencing in juvenile court. During a May 10, 2021 recorded jail phone call between the defendant and his mother, Cachu’s mother tells him, “Hi Mijo. You know who that was? …That’s Gascon’s special advisor…She’s the one I’ve been emailing back and forth… She looked at me like ‘Girl – I got you.”

In keeping with Gascon’s policies that she helped write, Blair requested to keep Cachu in the juvenile system. At the disposition hearing (similar to a criminal sentencing hearing), Blair declined to put on any evidence even after invited to do so by the judge. The court stated he believed Blair’s conduct was intentional, not negligent or inadvertent. Cachu was released after having served only 6 years in jail for a gang motivated armed robbery and murder because of Blair’s deliberate actions.

It was also Blair who was in the middle of the case where former minor Tubbs, represented by the public defender’s office, was sentenced to a juvenile facility for child molestation despite a substantial criminal history and very disturbing jail calls.

The reality of whether Gascon will allow any minors to be prosecuted in criminal court remains to be seen, especially with Blair’s continued involvement. For murder victims families who have personally experienced Gascon’s complete disregard for victims and their rights, his updated policies are too little, too late.

Kathleen Cady is one of several former prosecutors who are providing pro bono assistance to crime victims in response to Gascon’s policies.