Prosecutor accuses Gascón of retaliation, unethical behavior for dropping felony case against protesters
LOS ANGELES - A veteran prosecutor of the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office is accusing D.A. George Gascón of retaliation and playing politics after he says he was reprimanded and punitively transferred for questioning Gascon’s order to drop a case against three anti-police protesters who were charged with attempting to wreck a train.
Now, FOX 11 has obtained surveillance video and a jail call recording from one of the defendants that raise questions about Gascón's decision to drop the entire case against all of the protesters on his first full day in office, and the prosecutor who was handling the case is going public with what he says happened behind the scenes.
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"You go into work every day, and you do the right thing, that’s what I did, and I got reprimanded for it," said Richard Doyle.
Doyle has been a prosecutor in the L.A. County DA’s office for the past 34 years and had no blemishes in his personnel file until last December when Gascón ruled him insubordinate his first week in office.
"To the office, I think it sent the message of, you follow my orders, or else," Doyle said.
At the time, Doyle was the head deputy district attorney in the Compton office and he was prosecuting this case against three anti-police protesters, Emanuel Padilla, Christopher Berg and Jasmine Lomax, all of whom had been charged with trying to derail a train at a protest near the Compton Sheriff’s Station on November 15.
"It was a strong case, it was a strong prosecution," Doyle said.
Doyle tells FOX 11 that a major part of the case was surveillance video from the Compton Sheriff’s Station that day, which FOX 11 has obtained from a source.
The video shows three sets of train tracks near the station, one Union Pacific line and two Metro lines.
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Down the street and out of frame, a protest is taking place against the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department over the deadly shooting of Andres Guardado.
At that protest, LASD deputies have set up yellow, steel wire barricades coated in plastic. As the protest ends, the video shows Berg and Lomax dragging the barricade across the train tracks.
Seconds later, Padilla can be seen following closely behind before trees obstruct the vision of him and the camera moves away from him.
As the camera pans to the right, Lomax can be seen still tugging on the barricade, which is anchored at the other end, before she eventually let go.
As Lomax and Berg walk away, Padilla can be seen emerging behind them, and they all leave the area. Moments later, deputies can be seen running towards the area, the barricade is removed from the tracks, and a Metro train passes by just fifteen seconds later.
"The surveillance video clearly shows that Lomax and Berg pick up the barricade and clearly drag it across," Doyle said. "So the evidence against them is incredibly strong just from the video."
However, the view of Padilla is mostly blocked in the video, which does not show him grabbing the barricade. But Doyle tells FOX 11, and according to the police report, that LASD detectives on scene did witness Padilla helping pull the barricade across the tracks while the video is obstructed.
"What you can’t see is the point in time when he grabs and continues to help them," Doyle said. "They let go of it, and he continues to pull it, and that’s blocked by trees." Doyle said that Padilla made incriminating comments when he was arrested by the LASD detectives at a protest at the Sheriff’s house three days later.
"He confessed to them that yes he was at the protest, yes he did drag the barricade across, but that it was not his intent to wreck a train," Doyle said. "He said he thought it could cause an electrical problem with the train."
Padilla, Lomax, and Berg were all later charged with felony attempted train wrecking, a charge that could carry life without parole, as well as a lesser felony count of unlawful obstruction of a railroad track, which carries a two to four-year sentence in county jail.
"We did get an expert from Union Pacific to testify that, yes, that obstacle could have caused a train to derail," Doyle said. "So it’s a very strong case, it’s corroborated all the way around."In the weeks after the charges, Black Lives Matter and anti-police activists were outraged by Padilla’s arrest, starting a social media campaign with the hashtag #FreeEman.
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Video posted by George Gascón shows him meeting with those activists on his first day in office on December 7.
The next day, just hours after Gascón was sworn in, Doyle tells FOX 11 that he got a phone call from Mario Trujillo, a close ally of Gascon who serves on his executive staff.
"He told me that the DA has authorized me, Mario Trujillo, to direct you to dismiss the Padilla case for further investigation," Doyle said. "And I said, Mario, I know the case very well, what further investigation does the DA want? And he said I don’t know. And I told him I’m not comfortable dismissing what I know to be a good case, a viable prosecution, without knowing the reason why, and he said, well can you just dismiss it today and we’ll find out the reasons later? And I said no."
Doyle provided FOX 11 with a copy of an email he says he received from Gascón a short time later that reads:
"I’ve authorized DDA Mario Trujillo to instruct you to dismiss the Padilla matter. It is my understanding you are refusing to do so, and Mr. Trujillo will be appearing in court this afternoon to dismiss the matter on my behalf."Trujillo then drove out to the Compton courthouse."I met him in the hallway, I gave him the file, we both went in," Doyle said. "I sat in the audience, and when the case was called he moved to dismiss it in the interest of justice, no discussion of further investigation."
FOX 11 asked Doyle what went through his mind when he heard that. "Well, I wanted to know how does this serve the interest of justice?"
Doyle said. "That Friday, I was personally served a letter of reprimand for essentially disobeying a direct order of the DA, it goes in your file permanently."
The next day, video posted to social media shows Padilla being released from jail with a large crowd welcoming him and cheering outside of Twin Towers.
As for Doyle, he says, three weeks later, he was transferred from the Compton office, where he supervised 66 people, to the much smaller environmental crimes division further from his home, where he now supervises nine people. "I interpreted it as retaliation and a punitive transfer," Doyle said.
FOX 11 asked Gascón's administration why the entire case was dropped against all three protesters, despite video evidence clearly showing two of them pulling the barricade onto the train tracks.
"The felony counts were dismissed in the interest of justice following a review of video evidence and inconsistencies in reports from the arresting agency," said Alex Bastian, a special advisor to Gascón.
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But FOX 11 has obtained some of Emanuel Padilla’s jail calls, recorded days before Gascón took office and dropped the entire case. In one call, Padilla is talking to his wife and an acquaintance about whether he should hire a high priced defense attorney, or if he should use his personal attorney, Jorge Gonzalez, a friend of Gascón’s who contributed $1,000 to Gascón’s race for DA, according to campaign finance records.
"In the meantime, Jorge might be able to get you out, the fact that he knows Gascón is pretty fu**ing big," the unknown acquaintance says."Yeah, agreed," Padilla replies.
[Unintelligible] what good is that gonna be in the end, it’s not the same as having Gascón’s ear, or having Jorge [Gonzalez] just fu**ing text him, cause he’s told me, I knew him before this, he’s shown me how he texts with him, so that’s like, uh, you know, having a good mechanic versus your best friend whose married to a mechanic at this point I think. He told me that he’s spoken to him, and when he brought it up to Gascón, Gascón said he had already started reading about what’s been happening because it’s been everywhere."
FOX 11 asked Doyle to respond to the recording. "Clearly, Mr. Padilla thinks that his attorney has the in with the DA and that he is going to benefit from it," Doyle said. "And with hindsight being 2020, that’s exactly what happened."
FOX 11 asked Gascón’s office if he was in touch with Jorge Gonzalez about the case before he took office, as the audio indicates, and if his relationship with Gonzalez had any bearing on the case. "No, and no," Bastian replied.
"The DA found out after the dismissal of the case that Mr. Gonzalez was an attorney for Mr. Padilla." But Gonazlez disputed that in a phone call with FOX 11 reporter Bill Melugin. Gonzalez said that yes, he did text with Gascón about the case before he took office, that Gascón told him he was aware of the case, and that he told Padilla that Gascón is a good guy who will likely give them a fair shot.
Gonzalez then accused LASD deputies of lying in their police reports, suggested they arrested Padilla for political reasons and said the video exonerates him, telling FOX 11 in-part:
"Mr. Doyle’s fanciful claims that I got the Padilla case dismissed because of my ties to DA Gascon are pure fantasy from someone who ignores fairness and wants to do the Sheriff’s bidding," Gonzalez said.
"My support of Gascón predated the Padilla case." "It wasn’t just Padilla that was dismissed, it was also Berg and Lomax, and the video clearly shows them doing it," Doyle said. "The Sheriff’s deputies who were there observing, who know Padilla and see what’s happening, the video corroborates what they say they saw because they said the women started pulling it across, and Padilla came up behind them and he grabbed on as well."
And LASD is defending the work of their detectives, telling FOX 11 in a statement:
"Padilla’s arrest was absolutely in no way connected to his participating in protests or any exercise of his first amendment rights," said Lt. John Satterfield. "The Department has been left disappointed and perplexed by the District Attorney’s bizarre decision, less than 24 hours after he was sworn into office, to drop all charges against these suspects. For reasons known only to the District Attorney, these facts may never reach the inside of a courtroom, or the eyes and ears of a jury."
Doyle tells FOX 11, even though the more serious charge carried a potential life in prison sentence, it’s not what he would have gone for. "I believe the evidence was there to prove either count," Doyle said. "But I would have expected the defense to come to me and try to negotiate something less. Would it be reasonable to settle that case for the second, lesser count, putting an obstruction on a railroad track? Yes, I think that would be a very reasonable disposition of that case."
Doyle said that he believes there was no legitimate, legal reason to drop the entire case against all three defendants, and he believes Gascón did it to send a message on his first day."To the public in large, it’s that they see, I’m on the side of the protesters, I promised that I would be this progressive DA, here’s evidence of it," Doyle said. "I’m not gonna go away without fighting, this is wrong."
Doyle has filed a grievance against the L.A. County DA’s office, alleging he was retaliated against by Gascón.
Gascón’s office told FOX 11 they can’t comment on the personnel issue.
On Wednesday morning, Gascón held a Zoom webinar with the media to discuss his first 100 days in office, where a spokesman screened all written questions to him and reporters weren’t able to ask any direct questions.
FOX 11 reporter Bill Melugin repeatedly submitted questions asking Gascón to explain why he dropped this entire case, but Gascón's spokesman refused to pass the questions along to him.