LOS ANGELES - Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey said she believes that the criticism she has received about being "too soft" when it comes to issues involving police misconduct is a "misconception."
“I think these cases are tough. They’re hard to file, they’re hard to analyze," Lacey told Araksya Karapetyan during a Good Day LA interview Thursday.
Critics of Lacey believe that the recent charging of a Los Angeles Police Department officer has to do with the death of George Floyd and Lacey's upcoming re-election race this November.
Lacey's office announced Tuesday that her office was charging LAPD officer Frank Hernandez, 49, with a felony count of assault under color of authority after he was captured on video repeatedly striking a trespassing suspect in Boyle Heights in late April.
"This isn’t the only excessive force case we’ve filed,” she said.
Lacey said that in her eight years as LA County's district attorney, her office has filed 23 excessive force cases.
According to Lacey's office, of the 23 police officers who have been charged with assault under color of authority, eight have been convicted either by plea or at trial; six have been acquitted; eight are still pending and one was dismissed because the defendant died while the case was pending.
In this most recent LAPD investigation, Lacey said her office filed the charges just days after receiving the case.
"The recent one was easier because there were several videotapes. The evidence was available to us at a relatively early stage and once we got the case... we looked at it, evaluated and filed it," said Lacey.
The district attorney said that she thinks it's important for people to understand how difficult it is to prosecute police officers. She discussed a recent article published by the San Fransisco Chronicle that dives into why it’s so hard to convict a cop of murder in police shootings.
“There have only been five successful prosecutions even though 110 officers have been charged in 15 years throughout the county," explained Lacey as she cited the numbers reported in the article. "If you look at my record though, I believe that we’ve been on the right side — we’ve prosecuted those cases that we could, and those cases where we didn’t have the evidence, we did not.”
The district attorney said that the cases she chooses to pursue are the ones that she believes can be won in court, based on California law.
“Any district attorney, any prosecutor is going to have to follow California law. People often say ‘we’ll just change the person who makes the decision’ — no," said Lacey. "They still have to follow California law."
Under California law, a peace officer can use deadly force when the officer reasonably believes, based on the totality of the circumstances, that their life or someone else’s life is in danger.
Judge Faith Jenkins, a former prosecutor and current judge on Fox’s Divorce court said we've seen too many cases over the years of police brutality that have resulted in the deaths of unarmed individuals.
"We've also seen a complete lack of accountability when it comes to police officers," she said.
Jerkins said she believes that it is incredibly difficult to convict police officers because of the "standard that we have in our American justice system and this great deference we give to police officers."
The judge said the deference given to police officers is “What would a reasonable person in their situation do and how would they react?"
"In most of these cases that we looked at, we’ve looked at officers who, their actions have been explained away because they had to make a quick decision, they have had to react in a moment’s notice, and jurors give them great deference – they don’t want to put themselves in a police officer’s shoes because they have inherently dangerous jobs,” Jerkins said.
Many jurors are “quite sympathetic to police officers because they’re reluctant to second-guess decisions made by somebody in a high-stress job, facing often significant danger,” David Sklansky, a Stanford law professor, former federal prosecutor and co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, told the Chronicle.
Lacey said that her office is now looking at how police misconduct cases are investigated.
“Maybe the agency who is involved shouldn’t investigate their own — maybe the sheriff should investigate LAPD and maybe LAPD should investigate the sheriff,” she said.
“In regards to the prosecutor’s role, we’re looking at different models, and we’re hopeful that we will be able to demonstrate to the public that there can be independence," said Lacey. "That we can provide transparency and that we can teach people how difficult and challenging these cases are.”
“I think all prosecutors take an oath to follow the law, to obey the constitution and to file those cases that we can actually prove without a reasonable doubt,” the district attorney said.