Patrons enjoying an outdoor meal at Il Pastaio restaurant on March 4th in Beverly Hills were terrified, as it would be for any of us. A targeted attack during a quiet lunchtime in a peaceful community had taken place before their eyes. A man was robbed of his watch and a bystander woman was shot and seriously injured.
The City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills Police Department responded as citizens who care about public safety would hope. BHPD has been present, has addressed the community worries and fears, and has made a commitment to “take every possible measure to ensure (their) safety and security.”
This sounds positive, right? But, that’s not the only story. What’s at stake is far more frightening than the alarming armed robbery and shooting carried out in broad daylight.
Justice won’t feel so just if and when this case gets presented to George Gascón and his Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Why? Because Gascón’s policies command prosecutors to take every possible measure to avoid full prosecution, avoid holding criminals on bail, limit incarceration, minimize punishment, and of course, ignore the victims.
Gascón’s policies order prosecutors to pursue the lowest possible charges.
That recent armed robbery in Beverly Hills mirrors an alarming rising crime phenomenon taking place throughout Los Angeles county. According to Crosstown, a data-driven community news site, in the first two months of the year, police fielded reports of 570 shots fired, up 88% from the 303 at the same time in 2020. That has resulted in a corresponding surge of shooting victims. Through Feb. 27, according to Los Angeles Police Department data, 267 people had been hit by gunfire, up from 111 in the same period last year. That is a 141% increase.
When people hear about heinous crimes, they immediately want to know, “What will happen to these guys if and when they get caught?” People want to know that there is accountability, responsibility, and punishment. Gascón’s policies order prosecutors to pursue the lowest possible charges; prior convictions, and/or strike enhancements are likely off the table. Same for any gun enhancements. It’s unlikely anyone from the prosecutor’s office will meet with the victims to discuss what’s happening and why.
Let me break this down for you. The prosecutor assigned to the Beverly Hills case will focus on what charges can be proven based upon the evidence and state law. In this case, the facts suggest this is a robbery that should be charged with the enhancement for use of a gun. There may be several counts based on the number of victims or other factors, but let’s say for the sake of argument there is only one victim and one count of armed robbery. The DA could charge this as a simple robbery where the potential jail time would be a maximum of five years. Most prosecutors, wanting to make sure that the defendant would be held accountable, would include the special enhancement of using a gun, which gives a possible exposure of ten or twenty additional years in prison. And if the person is a repeat offender and this was a second or third strike offense, California law requires the possibility of additional prison time. In other words, this should be a prison case. And while it still might be under Gascon, it will be for the lowest possible result, begging the question, “How does this happen?”
there’s never been a better time to be a criminal. District Attorney George Gascón is sending the message that crime does indeed pay.
The process by which prosecutors and defense attorneys resolve cases is through the exchange of information that warrants either a more aggravated sentence or a mitigated sentence. If the defendant deserves leniency there are many lawful and ethical ways to get there. If there is a mental health issue, full prosecution can ensure that the issue is considered. Prosecuting cases ethically allows for all circumstances to be considered and allows for justice to be served. It does not need to be all or nothing or a zero-sum game. There are cases where alternatives to incarceration must and should be considered but there are also cases where incarceration must and should happen. This robbery with seriously injured and shooting victims is clearly one of those.
Sadly, Gascón’s policies have stripped prosecutors of their ability to do their job according to the law and have forced them to pursue unethical arguments that they genuinely do not believe serves justice. By not filing enhancements, the potential exposure (prison time) is off the table. Uncharged enhancements greatly reduce any potential penalty. This means the starting point of settling cases will be significantly less than the starting point if there were gun enhancements and/or strikes. Under Gascón’s directives (with no gun charges and no strikes), the Beverly Hills case looks like one ripe for probation. Does that seem fair?
Gascón’s policies are wreaking havoc on the criminal justice system that will be felt by the citizens of Los Angeles long after he is no longer District Attorney.
People ask me all the time, “How is this possible? This is not what I thought when I voted for progress and reform.” Many people, myself included, believe criminal justice reform is necessary. Thoughtful, meaningful reform. Reform based on real science and the reality of crime in Los Angeles County, not fake science that Gascón and his cronies loosely toss around to justify their positions. Gascón’s policies are wreaking havoc on the criminal justice system that will be felt by the citizens of Los Angeles long after he is no longer District Attorney.
Yes, there’s never been a better time to be a criminal. District Attorney George Gascón is sending the message that crime does indeed pay. The systematic dismantling of the criminal justice system means that, eventually, police departments may stop responding to some crimes, and worried calls to hard-working detectives will be met with a response of “Sorry there’s nothing we can do. The DA is not going to do anything anyway.”
The armed robbery and shooting at Il Pastaio was a terrible crime. The policies of Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón are worse.
Robin Sax is former LA County Deputy District Attorney, mental health coach and an author and mediator.