LOS ANGELES—The widow of a sheriff’s sergeant who was shot to death while responding to a call of a burglar and the mother of a murder victim who was dumped off a cliff in Azusa Canyon are calling on the public to support a recall effort for Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón.
“George Gascón, your days are numbered,” Tania Owen, the widow of Sgt. Steve Owen, said during a news conference on May 26 outside the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles. “We will have a new election next year and someone else who is for the victims will be the head of the District Attorney’s Office.”
Owen, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective who is a co-chair of the recall campaign, called it a grassroots effort by victims and law enforcement.
“It is up to us to come out here and fight aggressively against George Gascón,” Owen said, noting that the recall effort needs to have signatures from more than 500,000 registered voters in Los Angeles County to qualify for the ballot.
The signature-gathering kickoff came just over a week after her husband’s killer, Trenton Trevon Lovell, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole following his guilty plea to murder and other charges after the district attorney’s office opted not to seek the death penalty against him.
Gascón has drawn criticism from crime victims and some prosecutors over a series of directives issued the day he was sworn into office last December, that include not seeking the death penalty, not seeking sentence enhancements in most cases, and keeping cases involving juveniles out of adult court.
In a statement issued on Gascón’s behalf, Mark Gonzalez, chair of the Los Angeles County Democratic Party, called the recall bid “just another Trumpian effort backed by right-wing mega-donors and those who intend to undermine the will of the voters” and said it “will not stand.”
Desiree Andrade, the campaign’s organizer and spokesperson, said she was “disgusted that George Gascón and his spokespeople dismiss this recall effort as partisan or political” and called it a “fight for what’s right and what’s wrong.”
“They are once again ignoring and belittling us victims,” said Andrade, who said her son, Julian, was “brutally tortured and murdered” three years ago. “Crime does not see Democrats. Crime does not see Republicans. Crime does not see Independents. A crime is a crime.”
She called it an effort to seek justice for her son, other crime victims, and future victims and to keep Los Angeles County safe from violent crimes.
Andrade said her son’s five alleged killers had been facing either life in prison or the death penalty before Gascón was elected.
“When I learned about what was going to happen, I felt let down by the justice system, and me—being a mother—I knew I needed to fight,” she said. “I was my son’s voice. This is not justice. … The sad truth is that he [Gascón] has re-victimized me and my family. He has total, utter disregard for us victims.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva—who has been at odds with Gascón—was among the first to sign the recall petition.
Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, former Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, and former Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine are also among those supporting the recall.
The city councils of least 15 of Los Angeles County’s 88 cities have passed votes of no confidence against Gascón, including Beverly Hills, Redondo Beach, Manhattan Beach, Diamond Bar, Santa Clarita, and Lancaster.
Gascón has said that he has a “mandate from the public.”
In a March 17 Zoom call coinciding with his first 100 days in office, Gascón said his changes were “based on data and science that will enhance the safety for our community while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration,” and he vowed that the efforts are “just beginning.”
In the call, Gascón also said “the death penalty does not make us safer. It is morally wrong and fiscally irresponsible,” adding that the death penalty requires the families of murder victims to wait through decades of appeals and forces them to relive the trauma “for a sentence that will never be imposed” in a state in which Gov. Gavin Newsom has declared a moratorium on executions.
Gascón has also said research suggests “excessive sentences don’t enhance safety but do exacerbate recidivism, leading to more victims of crime.”
In an interview with NBC News anchor Lester Holt, Gascón said, “As a prosecutor, you’re not the lawyer for one person. You are the people’s lawyer. And not only do I have to be concerned with today’s victims and this victim in front of me, but I have to be concerned with victims of the future. I have to be concerned with the victimization of a community. I have to be concerned with how do we use public resources, because every time that we are sending people to prisons, we’re taking resources away.”
He noted that he had formed a victims’ advisory board, and that “as the national polls and even an LA County recent poll tell us, they have sort of made the transition from the ‘eye for an eye’ to one of, ‘I want the system to deal with my trauma. I want the offender to be held accountable, but I want some rehabilitation, because I want to avoid recidivism.’”
Andrade and Owen countered that they believe in rehabilitation, with Andrade saying that she does not believe reform means releasing or reducing sentences for violent criminals.
“I have not encountered one victim or victim’s family that does not want the ultimate punishment for the one that has destroyed their life,” the campaign’s organizer said, adding that Gascón has “put criminals before victims.”