Los Angeles County District Attorney candidate Jonathan Hatami accepted a request to interview with 2UrbanGirls on the upcoming Primary Election scheduled for March 5, 2024.
Hatami currently works as a Deputy District Attorney in the DA’s office and is a vocal critic of current DA George Gascón and his policies that affect public safety in Los Angeles County.
2UG: When current DA Gascon took office he issued nine directives that prompted an outcry from deputy district attorneys. How do they impact residents and visitors in Los Angeles County?
JH: Yes, I am sadly familiar with all of George Gascón’s radical directives. I have been a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for the past 17 ½ years. When George Gascón became DA on December 7, 2020, he dictated numerous dangerous and radical blanket policies. He didn’t collaborate with law enforcement, any experienced prosecutors within the office, victim groups or any of his justice partners. As a result, crime has drastically increased over the past three years as compared to 2019 and victims, survivors, and their families have been completely abandoned.
I was the first Deputy District Attorney to step forward and publicly challenged Gascón’s radical blanket directives on December 15, 2020, on ABC Television, after he ordered me to remove strike priors in the case of a little 4-year-old girl named Eternity who had been tortured and murdered by her mother. I refused. I have been fighting against Gascón’s radical policies ever since.
The impact of Gascón’s blanket directives has been severe. We see it every day with increased smash-and-grab burglaries, organized retail theft, home invasion robberies and shootouts, follow-home robberies, repeated catch and release of criminals, violence on the Metro, police officer killings, and hate crimes. Angelenos are afraid to walk their dog, leave their place of employment at night and go to their car, go to the beach or park, use public transportation, wear jewelry or a watch, jog down the street with earbuds on, go shopping at the mall, or even take their children to school. It’s not fair or right.
Gascón bragged that he dropped more than 100 legally available enhancements when he became DA. He also said that he would make over 20,000 prison inmates eligible for early release. He further boasted that he removed 8,000 years off of sentences of convicted criminals. He also said on his website that “I will make our neighborhoods safer” because “I have reduced crime in every leadership position I’ve held.” Releasing criminals from prison early and not charging provable crimes and enhancements does not make our communities safer. It does the opposite. The primary role and duty of the DA is to protect the entire community within Los Angeles County. All children deserve a childhood free of crime and abuse. And all of us deserve to live in a safe home and neighborhood. This means, the DA must represent the entire public, not a specific political ideology, party, agenda, or belief. The elected DA must be a DA for all Angelenos. The DA must protect us, fight for justice for all of us, and fairly represent us, the people by following the law. That is something I vigorously intend to do as DA.
Unlike Gascón, if you commit a gang-related murder, and it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, we should charge the gang allegation. If you commit a violent crime with a firearm, we should charge the firearm allegation. If you commit a hate crime, we should charge the hate crime allegation. If you break a child’s arm or fracture a baby’s ribs, we should charge the Great Bodily Injury allegation. If you poison and kill a child with fentanyl, we should charge second degree murder. If you kill someone in a street takeover, we should charge second degree murder. If you go into a school and kill children, or go into a synagogue, church or mosque and kill innocent Angelenos, we should charge the special circumstance allegation. If your child was murdered and the killer eventually gets a parole hearing, we should go to the hearing and represent the public, fight for the family, and make sure safety and justice prevail.
A perfect example of how Gascón’s policies have impacted our community is the charging of special circumstances. According to LAist, “On his first day in office… Gascón said he would never seek a special circumstance allegation that could lead to a sentence of life without parole. He had argued everyone deserves a chance at parole, no matter the crime, and said life without parole sentences contribute to mass incarceration and racial disparities in the criminal justice system.” A year later, he changed his mind. That means so many victims and their families did not get the same justice others are getting now. Clearly you can’t trust anything Gascón says or does. On Dec 7, 2020, Gascón said seeking LWOP sentences was racist even if a defendant tortured and murdered a child, murdered multiple people, raped and murdered a child, or committed a hate crime murder. They miraculously are not racist anymore according to Gascón.
Individuals committing violent crimes should be held accountable, and that means prosecuting them fairly, justly and to the fullest extent that the law allows. Every victim and their family members deserve equal justice under the law. Gascón has stolen that from many Angelenos.
2UG: There is growing resentment to the unintended consequences of Prop 47. If you are elected, would you support efforts to repeal it?
JH: While Gascón was SFDA, he co-authored Prop 47 in 2014, which decriminalized many drug and theft crimes. It was actually titled the “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act.” The title was deceptive. There was nothing safe about Prop 47.
According to FBI data in 2017, the murder rate, violent crime rate and property crime rate all increased in San Francisco under Gascón. Look at what has eventually happened to San Francisco today. Gascón is now here destroying LA. Restaurant burglaries have increased 103% from 2019 to 2023. Retail thefts have increased 123% this year compared to last year. Commercial burglaries have increased 29% and commercial robberies have increased 19%. My number one priority will be public safety. Prop 47 has made all of us less safe. The title was deceptive and the consequences to our business community, our workers and employees and many innocent Angelenos have been unprecedented. We are all suffering.
We clearly need a bi-partisan bill to amend Prop 47 or even repeal it, bringing back Drug Court to help our Angelenos that are homeless and addicted to drugs and reduce the theft threshold from $950 back down to $400 for felonies. I have been endorsed by both Republicans and Democrats. And as DA, I can and will bring together a coalition of elected leaders who value public safety over partisan politics and amend or repeal Prop 47 to make it work for all Angelenos.
2UG: Close to three dozen cities have signed onto a lawsuit against the Zero Bail Policy. If elected, do you have the sole authority to reverse it?
JH: Twenty-nine cities have currently joined the lawsuit against the $0 bail policy. Does the elected DA have the sole authority to reverse the $0 bail policy implemented by the Superior Court – No.
Currently, we do have cash bail for all “violent” felonies in Los Angeles. So, whatever Gascón is telling the public, we have cash bail here in LA. What the Court has implemented is $0 bail for ALL “non-violent” felonies and ALL misdemeanors. I oppose a blanket $0 bail policy based just on the crime itself. I believe that the first priority of bail should always be public safety, not if you can afford bail. Currently, home burglaries, human trafficking, sexual battery, organized retail theft, smash-and-grab burglaries, and other crimes are magistrate review and presumptive $0 bail. That makes no sense. It’s unreasonable. As such, all defendants should go before a judge within 48 hours for ALL felonies and violent misdemeanors such as domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual battery. At the hearing, where there is a judge, a defense attorney and a prosecutor, the judge can determine if the defendant is safe to be released without bail. That means looking at the defendant’s actual crime, the defendant’s prior criminal history, if there is violence, the defendant’s failures to appear, taking into consideration the safety of the public and the victim, and looking at alternatives to custody that still provide public safety. We will be guided by public safety, fairness to all and victim’s rights. We will actually work each individual case.
As DA, I believe in collaborating with law enforcement, our 88 cities, our unincorporated areas, victim’s groups and other justice partners before implementing a bail policy that affects us all. Taking the time to get it right is important. I don’t believe in oppressive bail, but I also don’t believe in blanket $0 bail just based on a specific crime. As DA, we will file more bail deviation motions, work closely with our law enforcement partners and cities to make sure there isn’t the constant catch and release of criminals, and actually work each case on a case-by-case basis. The DA can not reverse the $0 bail policy, but the DA can do her or his job and make sure the community is as safe as it can be.
2UG: Complaints to the department’s Public Integrity Division have gone ignored which allows the statute of limitations to expire. If elected, would you ensure that complaints are thoroughly investigated and charges filed, if warranted?
JH: Of course.
The Public Integrity Division (PID) is extremely important to our community and the DA’s Office. Transparency and integrity are everything as a prosecutor. It means doing the right thing even when others don’t see what you are doing. It means that the LA DA’s office is the “People’s Office,” and the entire community has a right to be safe and know what their office is doing. We must be accountable to the people we took an oath to protect, and we must be transparent. That also means rooting out favoritism, public corruption, police misconduct, and political cronyism anywhere we see it.
Complaints by the public must be addressed timely and with compassion, empathy and understanding. All complaints regarding public corruption must and will be thoroughly and timely investigated under my administration.
2UG: Changes – Besides the aforementioned directives issued by Gascon, what other changes do you feel are needed in the department to address public safety issues in LA County?
JH: True public safety means immediately getting back to prosecuting violent crimes, following the law, seeking justice, supporting victims, and making the right decisions for the right reasons, with transparency and accountability, for each individual case. Reforms are not just a word or a phrase to me, they are actual and real. I have filed a Pitchess motion against the LASD. I have done pleas in order to help others who could have been deported from this country. I have worked with defendants who have had drug and alcohol issues. I have decided to have juveniles in very serious cases stay in juvenile court so they could be rehabilitated instead of adult court. I have had my own mother run over by a drunk off-duty LAPD officer. I have done the work and I have lived and real experiences. I don’t just talk about it like Gascón. Public safety means safety for all, which requires assessing each case individually, and applying the law fairly, not based upon my own beliefs and political ideologies.
I would establish a DDA unit working directly with the DEA and local law enforcement that specifically handles and charges fentanyl dealers and fentanyl deaths. If we have the evidence, we will charge fentanyl dealers who are killing our loved ones to the fullest extent of the law.
In addition, we will work with the community in establishing in-patient treatment facilities for anyone addicted to fentanyl. We are after the dealers, not the users.
I would establish a DDA unit working directly with the CHP and local law enforcement that specifically handles and charges persons killing others involved in street takeovers. If we have the evidence, we will charge street takeover murders who are killing our loved ones to the fullest extent of the law.
We will also seek to charge anyone organizing these street takeovers.
In addition, we will work with the community in establishing rehabilitative avenues for juveniles involved in street takeovers. Let’s prevent these deaths before they happen and give children safe avenues instead of dangerous street takeovers.
I will establish community DDA’s in each of the 88 cities that report to the specific city councils once a month and then those DDA’s will report to me in order to better serve each specific city and their public safety needs.
We will be open and honest. We will always work with the BOS, our law enforcement partners, community members and groups, and local elected officials in order to foster a teamwork approach to public safety. We will always have an open door to all, including the media. We will always answer to the public and never refuse a meeting. We will hold anyone who commits a crime, no matter a Republican or Democrat, elected official or not, rich or poor, media case or not, police officer or not, friend or not, fairly and justly accountable. The People’s Office. The People’s DA.
2UG: As a current member of the D.A.’s office, what is your perception of the morale of DDA’s and what they are seeking in a leader?
JH: The morale in the LADA’s office is the lowest I have seen it in my 17 ½ year career. Gascón has run the LADA’s office like a partisan politician. He doesn’t care about honesty, integrity, justice, accountability, or the law. We must hire more DDA’s. We are short almost 200 DDA’s. More DDA’s translates to better services for our community. We must treat everyone with respect and dignity. There are numerous hostile work environment lawsuits pending. We must make the office a great place to work and uplift our employees. We must respect and support our working families. Then, our DDA’s and support staff can better serve Los Angeles. We must foster diverse ideas that reflect our diverse community. The office can’t be run by a dictator. It must be run by the People’s DA. A People’s DA who has been a prosecutor, who has experience, and who can lead from the front and by example. We must have a common mission that above all, promotes public safety and supports the rights of victims.
I believe the office wants and needs a leader, not a bureaucrat or politician, an actual prosecutor, with lived experiences, that is willing to lead from the front and by example. That is me.
2UG: Finally, what is your vision for the department should you be elected?
JH: I spent almost my entire adult life serving the public, first in the Army and now a prosecutor in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office for the last 17 1/2 years. I’m currently assigned to the Complex Child Abuse unit, and I’m running against George Gascón to be your next Los Angeles County District Attorney. As of today, I’m handling 17 active child murder cases. I was the lead prosecutor in the case of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, an innocent little boy that was brutally tortured for over 8 months and eventually murdered by his mom and her boyfriend. The boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, was sentenced to death on June 7, 2018, and Pearl Fernandez was sentenced to Life Without the Possibility of Parole. My wife is a 16-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Even though she is a detective now, because LASD is short-staffed, she has always worked patrol at least 2-3 times per week. I want the mother of my children to come home safely. I want all our Deputies and Officers to come home safely. I worry about that every day.
We have a public safety crisis here in Los Angeles County. When George Gascón became DA on December 7, 2020, he implemented numerous dangerous and radical blanket policies. He didn’t collaborate with law enforcement, any of his experienced DDA’s, or any of his justice partners. As a result, crime has drastically increased over the last three years, especially property crimes. We are clearly not any safer. Gascón also completely abandoned victims of crime and their surviving family members. I am running for DA because I’m raising my children in this community, my wife and family live in this community, my friends and neighbors live in this community, and all of your children live in this community. Their safety is important to me. It’s everything. Gascón has completely failed to implement real reforms, provide public safety, and stand up and fight for justice for victims of crime. Angelenos are afraid to walk their dog, leave their place of employment at night and go to their car, go to the beach or park, use public transportation, wear jewelry or a watch, jog down the street with ear buds on, go shopping at the mall, or even take their children to school. It’s not fair or right. We must have a change. I’m running to prioritize public safety for all Angelenos.
The DA’s office will be changed almost 100% from how Gascón is running it under my administration. No blanket policies. Collaborate with law enforcement. Prioritize public safety. Case-by-case analysis of cases. File allegations and enhancements when provable. Supportive work environment. Support victims. Follow the law. File provable cases and prosecute felonies and misdemeanors. Prosecute fentanyl dealers and individuals involved in street takeovers. File the gang and gun allegations. Actually, do our job.
My platform: (1) follow the law as written; (2) support victim’s rights, victim advocacy and Marsy’s Law; (3) protect the public, children, families, and homes by prosecuting violent crimes; (4) assess every case on an individual case-by-case basis-no blanket policies; (5) most juveniles should be rehabilitated. However, transfers will be determined by a committee for murders, sexual assaults, hate crimes, attempted murders, child molest, gun violence crimes and other violent crimes; (6) Only seek death on most heinous cases, such as child torture and murder, mass murder, serial murderers, and murders of police officers, with a committee decision plus 100% evidence and defense input. LWOP is, by law, an appropriate alternative penalty for most, but not all, heinous cases; (7) mental health issues, addiction issues, and veteran’s issues will always be towards rehabilitation first by supporting veteran’s court, collaborative courts, and care courts; (8) we will never hire an employee who is not qualified, bias, or promotes hate; (9) DDA’s will be given more authority to work with the defense to settle cases appropriately, proportionately and fairly always considering the rights of the victims; (10) the office will be accountable to the community and transparent with an open-door policy to all; (11) we will attend parole hearing, provide safety to the public, and hold everyone to the same standard of law, care and justice; and, (12) fully prosecuting hate crimes and individuals preying upon our workers and committing wage theft.
Hatami is one of a dozen candidates seeking the office of Los Angeles County District Attorney.