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Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon. (Photo: da.lacounty.gov)

DA Gascon Has Little to Show for Multi-Million Dollar Special Cop Prosecutor

Any bang for the buck?

By Thomas Buckley, April 28, 2023 2:30 am

Almost exactly two years after he was hired to do something, Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon’s multi-million-dollar special law enforcement prosecutor Lawrence Middleton finally did something.

Whether or not it was the right thing to do remains as yet unknown.

Gascon brought Middleton on in March, 2021, gave him a “not to exceed $1.5 million per year” contract and tasked him with looking at incidences of alleged police brutality and misconduct and illegal activity that heretofore has gone unprosecuted.

In March of this year, Middleton was able to get a grand jury to indict a pair of Torrance police officers on voluntary manslaughter charges in the 2018 shooting of Christopher Mitchell during a traffic stop. Former District Attorney Jackie Lacey had declined to pursue charges but Middleton reviewed the case and decided to move forward with a grand jury which led to recent indictments.

So far, however, the Torrance case appears to be the only incident Middleton has reviewed that has resulted in charges being filed.  Exactly how much Middleton, a former federal criminal prosecutor, has been paid is unclear as the DA’s office will not say how many hours – at $375 per hour – Middleton has billed for.

While the DA’s office “Justice System Integrity Division (JSID)” has brought a few cases forward, they probably shouldn’t have.  Critics have noted the JSID – which is separate from Middleton’s endeavor – is made up of a large number of former public defenders who are ideological allies of Gascon but bring little or no prosecutorial experience to the table.

In fact, one manslaughter case brought by the JSID ended in the officer acquitted at trial while a perjury case didn’t even get past a the “preliminary hearing” phase of the process.  Note – so few cases are tossed out at the preliminary hearing stage at least three LA deputy district attorneys with decades of combined experience said they could not recall it ever happening before.

Ironically, Gascon’s politically-motivated effort to go after bad cops could actually backfire on the community – if the incompetent JISD team comes across the case of an actual bad cop (they certainly exist) they may bungle it so badly the criminal cop walks free.

Middleton himself did not return requests for comment and LA DA spokesman Greg Risling was also not terribly helpful regarding Middleton’s work. When asked how many cases Middleton has re-opened, as his job is to look at past unprosecuted but investigated incidents, Risling replied with “What does re-opening mean exactly?”

The not-exactly-stellar results of this “hold police accountable” effort – one on which in no small part was the basis for Gascon’s 2020 election campaign – is not terribly surprising to Gascon’s critics.

“Gascon bought himself – with taxpayer money – a $5 million political insurance policy,” said Eric Siddall of the Los Angeles association of Deputy District Attorneys.

Siddall called Middleton a “highly respected, highly skilled” former prosecutor but said the concept behind his special office is purely for Gascon’s own personal and political benefit.

“It’s a typical Gascon tactic,” Siddall said.  “If a case goes forward, he’ll take the credit for it and if a case does not he can blame a third-party (Middleton) for it not going forward.”

For example, Gascon held a press conference extolling his office’s charging of Eugene Yu of Konnech Corporation last fall with the stealing of personal information of election workers; a few weeks later he dropped the charges (almost certainly for political reasons) and blamed a deputy district attorney for the problem.

“It’s straight out of Gascon’s playbook,” Siddall said.

More information on the specific Torrance case is expected to be released soon.

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