LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has issued a statement saying that one of his policies, which resulted in a transgender woman being ordered to serve two years in juvenile custody for sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl in a restaurant bathroom "may not" be an adequate amount of time behind bars.
The county's top prosecutor, who backed away Friday from two of his most criticized directives including one that eliminated the option of trying juveniles as adults for serious crimes, said in the statement that he became aware after Hannah Tubbs' sentencing about "extremely troubling statements she made about her case, the resolution of it and the young girl that she harmed."
Hannah Tubbs began identifying as female after being arrested in connection with a 2014 child molestation case, according to prosecutors. (Los Angeles County)
"While for most people, several years of jail time is adequate, it may not be for Ms. Tubbs," Gascón said of the 26-year-old defendant who was 17 at the time of the 2014 attack in Palmdale and whose case was handled in juvenile court as a result of a directive the district attorney issued the day he was sworn into office.
He noted that the defendant was arrested years after the crime "rather than the usual case, where a child is arrested close in time to their crime" and that Tubbs had "several charges in other counties after the juvenile offense but never received any services, which both her past behavior and that subsequent to her arrest demonstrates she clearly needs."
"If we knew about her disregard for the harm she caused, we would have handled this case differently. The complex issues and facts of her particular case were unusual and I should have treated them that way. This change in policy will allow us the space to do that moving forward," the district attorney said in his statement.
Gascón vowed in the December 2020 directive that the District Attorney's Office would "immediately END the practice of sending youths to the adult court system," but abruptly changed his position on that with a series of memos Friday to office staff including one in which he noted that "in exceptional circumstances, criminal jurisdiction may be appropriate for youth offenders" and that juveniles may be selectively transferred to the adult court system in the "most egregious cases that warrant a state prison commitment."
Supervisor Kathryn Barger called the outcome of Tubbs' case "unsatisfactory," saying in a Jan. 27 statement that the judge's hands were "tied ... due to the fact that the DA's office failed to file a motion to transfer Tubbs to adult criminal court, which is where she rightly belongs."
In the statement issued Sunday night, Gascón said the office has "now implemented policies to create a different pathway for outlier cases while simultaneously creating protections to prevent these exceptions from becoming the rule."
The district attorney said he remains committed to the "core values of our policies," but has seen "a small number of cases that presented real challenges."
He said his office is making "minor adjustments" to its policies on juveniles, along with life-without-parole sentences for adults in certain murder cases, to "allow for exceptions in the most extraordinary of cases."
Gascón wrote in the statement Sunday that a prosecutor must put a request in writing when they want to "deviate from our core principles" and that the request will go to a committee "staffed by my most trusted advisors, who must evaluate the case and approve any requests to pursue an exception." He wrote that it will ensure "that only in the rarest of cases, where our system has failed, will we diverge from our principles."
The day he was sworn in, Gascón issued a directive mandating that special-circumstance allegations resulting in a sentence of life without parole shall not be filed and should be withdrawn from pending cases on which they had already been filed.
He was met with quick resistance, with the association representing more than 800 deputy district attorneys in Los Angeles County filing a lawsuit in December 2020 challenging some of Gascón's directives, including the requirement that prosecutors seek the dismissal of special-circumstance allegations in murder cases that were pending. The association contended that the moves were "unlawful," and a number of judges in Los Angeles County refused to dismiss the allegations in cases that had been filed before Gascón took office.
A judge ruled mostly in favor of the Association of Deputy District Attorneys for Los Angeles County last February, but subsequently put the case on hold while Gascón appeals. A trial date is scheduled to be set for the case in April.
In one of the memos issued late Friday, Gascón noted that there "may be the rare occasion" in which special-circumstance allegations may be "necessary" that could result in a life prison term without parole in murder cases.
The policy changes come as the county's top prosecutor has come under fire from families of some crime victims, as well as Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, former Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck and some prosecutors from his own office.
Addressing the policy changes, the district attorney said in his statement Sunday, "Like every responsible office, we learn as we go, take feedback from the community and make necessary adjustments based on our experiences and the complex nature of this work. That is the responsible way to govern. I have always been open to learning and growing in this work."
Gascón is facing a renewed recall effort that was announced in December. Recall supporters are working to collect 566,857 signatures from registered Los Angeles County voters for submission to the county registrar's office by July 6. A similar effort in 2021 failed to gather enough signatures to qualify.
Gascón has repeatedly defended his policies, saying his stances were well-known during his campaign and his election signified public support of his agenda.
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