The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today approved District Attorney George Gascon’s request to appoint a special prosecutor to assist with cases of alleged police misconduct.
The supervisors offered no comment before voting on the matter.
Gascon plans to appoint former federal prosecutor Lawrence Middleton to a four-year term at a cost of no more than $1.5 million annually, according to his letter to the board.
While campaigning, Gascon promised to re-evaluate fatal officer-involved shooting cases that his predecessor, Jackie Lacey, declined to prosecute.
Lacey took office in December 2012. Nine days later, she cleared two Pasadena police officers in the officer-involved shooting death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade.
McDade, who was unarmed, was fatally shot on March 24, 2012. after a brief foot pursuit that began after a 911 caller lied to police, saying the teenager and a friend had robbed him at gunpoint at a nearby taco stand.
The officers that responded to the call, Matthew Griffin and Jeffrey Newlen, said they believed McDade was armed because he was grabbing his waistband as he ran.
The chase turned deadly as one officer chased McDade on foot and the other in his police cruiser.
According to court documents, Griffin began shooting after McDade turned towards him. Newlen said he assumed it was McDade shooting and also opened fire.
McDade was shot seven times. He was later pronounced dead at Huntington Hospital.
It was not immediately known if that case will be reviewed.
In his letter, Gascon said the appointment is needed “to promote public confidence in the decision-making process and the outcome of any such investigations” and would be “a positive step in rebuilding relationships in our community.”
Middleton has more than 30 years of experience as a trial lawyer and led several divisions or sections of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California, which consists of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara, and San Luis Obispo counties.
Middleton was part of the team of lawyers who prosecuted the federal case against four Los Angeles Police Department officers charged in the 1991 Rodney King beating. All four were acquitted of state charges of excessive force; two of the four were subsequently convicted of federal civil rights violations.
Though Gascon did not prosecute any officer-involved shootings during his nearly nine years as San Francisco’s district attorney, he has told critics that none of those cases involved unarmed suspects.
While campaigning against Lacey, Gascon promised to review several high-profile fatal shootings involving multiple police agencies, including:
- Gardena police officers’ shooting of Ricardo Zeferino, 34, who was suspected of stealing a bicycle in June 2013;
- the shooting of Hector Morejon, 19, by a Long Beach police officer investigating a trespassing and vandalism charge in April 2015;
- Torrance police officers’ shooting of Christopher Deandre Mitchell, 23, who was killed while sitting in a stolen car in a supermarket parking lot in December 2018; and
- the shooting of Brendon Glenn, a 29-year-old homeless man killed by an LAPD officer in Venice in May 2015, an incident that prompted then-Chief Charlie Beck to recommend criminal charges.
The move to appoint a special prosecutor comes as Gascon defends his moves to push through new policies that include no longer pursuing death sentences, not prosecuting juveniles as adults, and doing away with most sentencing enhancements.
Though praised by many criminal justice advocates, the changes have also prompted condemnation and legal action from the union that represents county prosecutors and some victims’ rights groups who say Gascon is undermining public safety.
An effort to recall Gascon has garnered the backing of former District Attorney Steve Cooley, former Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine, and former county Supervisor Michael Antonovich.
“No confidence”’ votes against Gascon have been approved by city councils in Beverly Hills and Santa Clarita.
Defending his priorities in a news conference called last week to review his first 100 days in office, Gascon said his new policies were “based on data and science that will enhance the safety for our community while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration.” He vowed that the changes are “just beginning.”
Referencing his plan to bring Middleton on as a special prosecutor, Gascon said he has asked all county law enforcement agencies to turn over lists of the names of officers with a “known history of dishonesty, bias, unreasonable force or any other conduct that may impact their credibility.”