Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

Just four days after he was sworn in as Los Angeles County district attorney, George Gascon is coming under fire for apparently relaxing his position on hate crimes.

In the Torrance Courthouse on Dec. 11, a representative from Gascon’s office moved to dismiss the hate crime allegation against Gregory Edward Howell, who is charged with assault with a deadly weapon and vandalism in a road rage incident. Howell is accused of using a shovel to strike the car of a minority couple while gesturing with what appeared to be a Nazi salute and yelling, “White power!”

According to Special Directive 20-08, one of several directives issued by Gascon shortly after he was sworn in on Dec. 7, the DA’s Office is no longer filing and prosecuting special allegations and sentencing enhancements, including hate crime allegations.

Following objections by pro bono victim’s rights attorneys Adrian Roxas and Sandy Roxas, the court denied the DA’s motion to dismiss and ruled that the DA could not abandon the hate crime allegation simply because of the new directives.

“The victim and the witness’s lives were threatened and attacked because of the color of their skin,” the attorneys contended. “To dismiss the hate crime allegation is to deny the victims justice and fails to protect public safety.”

Sandy Roxas previously represented victims who were assaulted by Lena Hernandez at Del Amo in October 2019 and harassed at Wilson Park last July.

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz also took issue with Gascon’s directives. Koretz filed a resolution opposing Gascon’s directive to remove sentencing enhancements, particularly when prosecuting hate crimes.

Meanwhile, the district attorney is expected to file a new charging document without the hate crime allegations.

Gascon has issued a set of special directives designed to reduce recidivism and the number of people incarcerated.

“While many of his special directives are well-intentioned, I believe he missed the mark when he eliminated special enhancements for hate crimes being prosecuted in the county,” Koretz said. “Hate crimes of all kinds have increased significantly over recent years across the United States in general and in Los Angeles in particular.”

Research from the L.A. Human Rights Commission indicates that 2019 saw the highest number of violent hate crimes in the city in a decade, with crimes committed by avowed white supremacist jumping 38 percent.

Gascon’s directives contrast with his earlier statements made in the days leading up to the November election. “When crimes are motivated by hate… there is an added concern, and I have been very clear both as district attorney in San Francisco that hate-motivated crimes will be dealt with swiftly. I have no tolerance for hate-driven crimes in our community.”

Gascon has served as assistant chief of the LAPD, chief of police in Mesa, Ariz., and chief of police and district attorney in San Francisco. In November, he defeated incumbent District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

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