District attorneys implementing liberal agendas in some of America’s biggest cities oversaw soaring homicide counts last year and are now being hit with lawsuits and recriminations from police agencies.
Angry police officers and their backers are doing all they can to boost a May primary challenge to Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who refuses to prosecute some gun possession and drug crimes.
A California court is scheduled to hear a lawsuit Tuesday filed by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys in Los Angeles against District Attorney George Gascon. The suit accuses Mr. Gascon of illegally blocking prosecutors from pursuing enhanced sentencing in violent crimes and other major criminal cases.
“It’s like we don’t have a prosecutor here, we have two public defenders,” Los Angeles ADDA President Michele Hanisee said.
Ms. Hanisee echoed complaints from police and prosecutors in Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis — all cities that witnessed record homicide rates in 2020 or enormous increases from the previous year’s tally.
The homicide sprees in those four cities occurred on the watch of district attorneys who came to power with the help of political action committees bankrolled by billionaire liberal activist George Soros, who increasingly devotes his largesse to municipal law-and-order races.
The millions of dollars that Mr. Soros’ PACs pumped into the races dwarfed spending in previous district attorney elections.
Proponents of liberal policies on crime-fighting argue homicide rates rose in dozens of U.S. cities, not just those with left-leaning district attorneys.
In Philadelphia, where Mr. Krasner refusal to prosecute certain crimes, the city saw 499 homicides last year, a 40% jump from 2019. It made 2020 the most violent year for the city in the past 30 years.
Los Angeles chalked up 349 killings, a 38% increase or 100 more homicides than the previous year.
The bloodshed has not abated: South Los Angeles had 59 shooting victims in the first two weeks of 2021, compared to seven the previous year, according to L.A. Police Chief Michel Moore.
Similarly, Chicago ended a three-year decline in homicides in 2020 when 774 people were slain, a jump of 50% from the 2019 body count.
St. Louis, where Soros-backed Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner was re-elected in November, set a homicide record last year with 262. That’s a homicide rate of 87 per 100,000 residents.
In San Francisco, where Mr. Soros’ PACs boosted District Attorney Chesa Boudin, homicides ticked up from 41 in 2019 to 47 last year.
The bloody figures stand in sharp contrast to declines in non-violent crimes during 2020, when coronavirus shutdowns crippled commerce and social life.
“A district attorney’s reluctance to prosecute low-level cases may make things even worse,” said Barry Latzer, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He said research points to the demonization of police and lax enforcement as likely crime accelerants.
In Philadelphia, furious current and former cops have formed a Protect Our Police PAC, which does not mince words at its “FireKrasner.com” webpage that debuted last week.
“District Attorney Larry Krasner has been a deadly disaster for Philadelphia,” the website declares. “His prosecutorial philosophy and radical policies have directly caused murder, violence and mayhem on the streets of Philadelphia, and many innocent victims have paid the ultimate price since he took office in 2018.”
Protect Our Police PAC President Nick Gerace said his group has been raising money and trying to find a competitive opponent for Mr. Krasner in the upcoming May primary, with the PAC’s polling showing he could be vulnerable.
“We were all asleep at the wheel while Soros came in and put these radical DAs in place,” Mr. Gerace said. “Now we have this radical in office, an ambulance chaser whose ideas align with Marxism. The bad guys aren’t slipping through the cracks here, the door is wide open.”
PACs funded almost exclusively by Mr. Soros contributed $1.45 million to Mr. Krasner’s campaign in 2017, according to campaign finance records.
Mr. Krasner’s office did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Within days of taking office, Mr. Krasner fired 31 veteran prosecutors and sent memos ordering his staff to decline various drug and prostitution charges. He argued that lighter prosecutorial touch and less incarceration would be better for Philadelphia.
“Yet Pennsylvania and Philadelphia are not safer as a result, due to wasting resources in corrections rather than investing in other measures that reduce crime,” the memo said.
“Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s over-incarceration have bankrupted investment in policing, public education, medical treatment of addiction, job training and economic development — which prevent crime more effectively than money invested in corrections.”
The memo said the new approach did not apply to homicides.
Last month, Mr. Krasner came under fierce scrutiny when a 25-year-old Temple University graduate was gunned down while walking his dog. The suspected gunman had a long felony rap sheet and was at large because his bail had been sharply reduced two weeks earlier.
Mr. Gerace and other critics said the student’s death was the price paid for Mr. Krasner’s blase attitude toward violent crime.
Mr. Krasner’s office said it neither sets bail nor requested reduced bail for the suspect.
The situation in Los Angeles, with assistant district attorneys accusing their boss of handcuffing them in court, is unheard of among prosecutors.
“I can’t recall ADAs suing the boss to complain that he won’t let them prosecute,” Mr. Latzer said. “I’m familiar with ADA complaints about overload with too many cases, but never that they were barred from pursuing a type of sentence — in this instance seeking sentencing enhancements apparently mandated by state law.”
The lawsuit filed in state court on Dec. 30 says Mr. Gascon prohibited deputy district attorneys from following state law regarding as many as seven sentence enhancements such as the “three strikes law” that adds more prison time for repeat offenders.
Mr. Gascon, who took office on Dec. 7, insisted the enhancements were optional.
His deputies argue the enhancements are required by statute and that the DA has taken “the alarming proposition that local district attorneys are vested with an unbounded executive power that is immune from judicial review, including the power to override legislative enactments and statewide voter initiatives,” according to motions filed last week.
“[Mr.] Gascón, like all executive branch officials in this state, is bound by legal duties that he is not free to cast aside at will – and certainly not because he perceives the social values reflected in his office policies to be more enlightened than the social values millions of California voters and the elected representatives of a co-equal branch of government enacted into law,” it said.
Although Mr. Gascon’s office did not reply to a request for comment, he released a statement on Dec. 30 saying he views sentence enhancements as “harsh tactics” that do not help the cause of justice.
“Enhancements and strike allegations have never been shown to enhance our safety,” the statement said. “For these reasons, as your elected district attorney, I have asked deputy district attorneys entering an appearance ‘for the people’ to end excessive sentencing practices.”
In support of their lawsuit, Ms. Hanisee pointed to a Jan. 8 ruling by a California appeals court that cited statutory language of “shall” with the three-strikes rule and said it is not a matter of “prosecutorial discretion.”
“Gascon is only paying lip service to victims here,” Ms. Hanisee said. “This is an existential, novel approach to prosecution that we can’t grasp.”
• James Varney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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