Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón asked the Board of Supervisors on Friday for permission to hire a special prosecutor to oversee police misconduct investigations, following a campaign where he promised to reconsider filing charges in a number of controversial police shootings where his predecessor declined to prosecute officers.
Gascón will seek to hire Lawrence S. Middleton, a former federal prosecutor who won convictions against the officers who beat Rodney King and once headed the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles. Middleton would be hired “to assist the D.A. in investigating, providing recommendations, and prosecuting cases of police misconduct at the direction of the D.A.,” according to the letter issued Friday.
In a statement, Gascón said Middleton’s role would include reviewing a quartet of controversial officer-involved shootings that former Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey declined to prosecute during her eight years in office. The cases that Gascón promised to reexamine included the 2015 shooting of an unarmed homeless man, Brendon Glenn, by an LAPD officer, a case in which even former police chief Charlie Beck had called on Lacey to file charges.
“The independence of these investigations along with accountability where wrongdoing has occurred is essential to rebuilding trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Gascón said in a statement. “Police cannot safely and effectively safeguard communities that do not trust them as the public will be less likely to report crimes.”
Middleton did not immediately respond to a call seeking comment. While the officers who beat King were acquitted in state court, they were convicted in federal court of violating his civil rights.
Reviews and prosecutions of police officer misconduct, including fatal uses of force, are normally overseen by the Justice System Integrity Division of the district attorney’s office. Middleton’s role is expected to largely involve cases that pre-date Gascón’s election, while JSID would continue to handle new incidents, according to a person with knowledge of Gascón’s thinking who requested anonymity to discuss a personnel matter candidly.
The other fatal use-of-force cases Gascón promised to review during his campaign include: the 2015 death of Hector Morejon, who was unarmed and shot in the back by a Long Beach police officer responding to a trespassing call; the 2013 shooting of Ricardo Diaz Zeferino by Gardena police; and the 2018 killing of Christopher Deandre Mitchell by Torrance police.
During a contentious campaign, Gascón and Lacey repeatedly sparred over one another’s record of holding police accountable in excessive force cases.
Gascón did not file charges against any officers during his two terms as San Francisco district attorney, but often argued that none of his cases involved unarmed suspects and that he was hamstrung by state law giving officers wide latitude to use fatal force, which he later fought to change. But following a summer of nationwide protests against police brutality following the controversial killings of several Black men and women across the U.S., questions about Lacey’s perceived reticence to charge officers in the shootings of unarmed people in L.A. seriously wounded her reelection campaign.
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