LOS ANGELES – District Attorney George Gascon may be facing resistance within his own office to his plans to dismiss gang and other allegations designed to lead to longer sentences.
A former Los Angeles County prosecutor — who now represents the family of a man killed in a crash by a driver allegedly under the influence of nitrous oxide — is fighting moves by Gascon to drop great bodily injury allegations in that case and at least one other.
Attorney Sam Dordulian contends that there is “bedlam” in the D.A.’s office, and prosecutors are reeling from Gascon’s announcement that he would dismiss sentencing enhancements and institute a sweeping set of policy changes, including eliminating cash bail.
“I remain friends with a lot of current DDAs who are all stunned by these special directives,” Dordulian told City News Service. “Everyone I have talked to vehemently disagrees with his special directives. The problem is, they are threatened to comply with these directives or face sanctions or termination.”
Individual objections to dismissing allegations in other cases have been reported, but it is hard to say how many prosecutors stand opposed to the new administration’s moves and how many support Gascon’s reforms.
The president of the union representing deputy district attorneys said she could not comment at this time, and it is clear that some attorneys fear reprisals.
Gascon’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on potential trouble in its ranks.
Dordulian said the D.A’s office moved to dismiss great bodily injury allegations against defendant Austin Hunter Redden on Friday, but the judge denied the request, ruling that to do so would not be in furtherance of justice.
However, the prosecutor retains the option to file an amended complaint that drops the allegations, making an end run around the judge, who indicated he would not object, according to Dordulian.
Redden is charged with second-degree murder and driving under the influence in the death of 20-year-old Jacob Scianni. The defendant is also facing two great bodily injury allegations related to two other people injured in the crash, as well as an allegation of multiple victims. He could face life in prison if convicted as originally charged.
On May 13, 2019, Redden was allegedly speeding along Rosecrans Avenue in Norwalk when he lost control of an SUV that crashed into a parked tow truck, rolling the SUV onto its roof. Scianni, a passenger in the back seat, was thrown from the SUV and died at the scene. Andrea Aleman-Sandoval and Diego Angel Castillo, both 19-year-old Whittier residents, were injured. One was in a coma and suffered a traumatic brain injury, according to Dordulian.
At the time of the crash, Redden was on probation for a prior DUI conviction in Los Angeles County and had an open DUI charge pending, according to various public records.
Scianni’s family, which hasn’t filed any civil action thus far, believes that if Redden had been held accountable in the first case, rather than given probation, Scianni might still be alive. And if Redden is allowed to walk away this time with a plea deal, they fear the consequences will be horrible.
“I feel like the permissiveness that this kid has been given, either by his parents or by the justice system in the past, is what has led to Jacob’s death,” Michelle Scianni, Jacob’s aunt and godmother, told CNS during a call following a news conference with Dordulian.
Dordulian noted that Redden was warned when sentenced to probation that he would face murder charges if he killed someone while driving intoxicated, which didn’t stop him from allegedly driving under the influence in Orange County.
“He’s never been really held accountable for anything,” Scianni said. “He’s not learning his lesson. I’m telling you, if he gets out he’s going to do it again.”
Jacob’s girlfriend, Briana Marcos, said she was incensed by Redden’s lack of remorse at an earlier hearing.
“This guy showed no remorse. He had a smirk and a smile on his face,” Marcos said. “This guy had no worries.”
Dordulian said that at this point, he is working pro bono to plead with the courts to follow existing law in this and other cases, including an assault on a 6-month-old infant whose skull was fractured and who two years later is blind and unable to speak, or eat or sit on her own.
The attorney says he is not opposed to reform in principle, but to what he characterizes as Gascon’s across-the-board application of his more lenient policies, without regard for the circumstances of any particular crime.
The former prosecutor is calling on California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to step in and remind Gascon that he is not a legislator and is obliged to carry out the laws on the books.
“Punishing someone for their conduct is part of what we do under the penal code. It’s about the sense of giving justice to those who were wronged,” Dordulian said.
Without such intervention, someone who commits an armed robbery in Los Angeles will be sentenced much more leniently than someone in Orange, Ventura or Riverside counties, the attorney noted.
Meanwhile, the new D.A. is also getting some pressure even from those who praise his reforms. On Monday, Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable President Earl Ofari Hutchinson and Jonathan Moseley, president of the National Action Network West, demanded a meeting and called for transparency in implementing Gascon’s changes.
“Gascon’s promises of sweeping reforms in the D.A.’s office are welcome and applauded,” Hutchinson and Moseley said in a joint statement. “However, civil rights leaders will press Gascon for full transparency and a firm timetable for implementing the reforms.”