By Cailin Garcia and Julian Verdon
LOS ANGELES – Even with nearly one million ballots to count, the highly contested race for Los Angeles District Attorney ended here Friday morning when incumbent Jackie Lacey conceded to reform candidate George Gascón.
The most recent update from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office has Gascón leading Lacey, with about 54 percent of the 3.5 million votes counted. About 791,000 have yet to be counted, including vote-by-mail ballots, conditional voter registration ballots, and provisional ballots cast at voting centers.
Last night, Lacey announced a press conference to discuss “the future of the office.
“I congratulate George Gascón and his team on their expected victory. There are still about 791,000 votes to count, but my consultants tell me that while I may close the gap between the two of us, I will not be able to make up enough based on the trending of the ballots to win this election,” Lacey told reporters.
Los Angeles County has the most extensive local prosecutor’s office in the nation. The race for LA District Attorney has been highly controversial since Gascón challenged the two-term incumbent Lacey, the first woman and African American to hold the office.
Gascón, a former beat cop and police chief, has been heavily criticized and opposed by law enforcement unions. His campaign promised sweeping reform within the office, especially regarding police brutality and racial inequality.
Gascón’s win has been celebrated by many activist groups, including Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, which hopes Gascón will bring significant changes to the Los Angeles DA’s Office.
Amid the Black Lives Matter movement, Lacey faced criticism from many activists who felt that she had not been aggressive enough in prosecuting police officers involved in civilian deaths. BLM Los Angeles has hosted weekly protests outside her office at the Hall of Justice for the past three years, chanting, “Jackie Lacey must go!” and “Bye, Jackie!”
She is also involved in a civil lawsuit filed by Black Lives Matter organizers due to an incident in which her husband, David Lacey, pointed a gun at protestors outside their Granada Hills home.
“I am so thankful to God for giving me this opportunity to serve Los Angeles County,” Lacey said in her concession speech.
Lacey began tearing up as she thanked those who supported her campaign. “To my mom, who constantly asked me, ‘Are you OK?’ And who reminded me during this contentious fight that no matter what happens, I made history,” Lacey said.
The audience applauded as Lacey finished her concession speech and walked out with her husband.
Gascón also released a statement on his victory. “I am so incredibly honored to stand here today before you to declare victory.”
Gascón later explained that he believed his record of reform in Arizona and San Francisco motivated him to reform his hometown of Los Angeles. After he thanked everyone for their support, he was open to media questions.
James Queally from the LA Times asked Gascón, “Now that the election is over, can you offer any specifics about how you might implement some of your large campaign promises? Be it reopening investigations into some fatal police shootings, which DA Lacey declined to prosecute, resentencing death row inmates, or the expanding the use of diversion programs in LA County.”
“I am very committed to those things that I talked about on the campaign. We will stop the death penalty immediately. We will begin to unwind current cases that are on the death penalty track. We will immediately stop prosecuting children as adults. I have committed to reopening some cases that involve law enforcement use of force,” said Gascón.
Frank Stoltze from KPCC radio asked how Gascón would appeal to the police and prosecutor unions that opposed him during the campaign and what he would do to convince them to go along with his agenda.
Gascón replied that he believed most men and women in uniform are good people who are committed to serving the community. He said he will not always agree with the prosecutors or the police, but he will listen to them. He also said that he would hold prosecutors and law enforcement accountable if they commit any criminal misconduct.
“I am committed to working with law enforcement,” said Gascón. “We are all on one team. The team is about providing community safety for all. So I look forward to working with police just as I look forward to working with men and women inside the [DA’s] office. Our community, the people that we serve, are really the people that are important at the end of the day.”
Claudia Peschutta at KNX News Radio said that Lacey lost in part due to her failure to prosecute police officers when it comes to fatal shootings. “What can critics expect from you on that front given the limitations of state law, and your office has to work with law enforcement on a daily basis?”
“I had my problems in San Francisco. The difference from my work in San Francisco and the work that was done here was the type of shooting we are talking about. We have had many cases where we had unarmed people here, and we have cases that have clear video that really indicates, at least at face value, a different role should have been taken,” replied Gascón.
In Gascón’s response, he alluded to his failure to prosecute police shootings in San Francisco. One famous case, Mario Woods, which inspired Colin Kaepernick’s activism, was notable.
Gascón has repeatedly said he would not prosecute the cops who killed Woods, saying the law restricted him from doing so. He and his campaign cited that many San Francisco cases involved an armed assailant, like Woods, who carried a knife. However, many assert that video footage shows Woods walked away from officers when they shot him.
Since those individuals were armed, Gascón said it made it too difficult to prosecute. However, Gascón says that the laws are different today. He can now bring accountability to those types of incidents.
Lacey made similar comments when asked about not prosecuting law enforcement, citing the difficulty of prosecuting police officers due to the laws.
Many view Gascón’s election to Los Angeles’ DA as a way to address the racial strife that the city has dealt with for decades. Gascón stressed that he wants to be everyone’s DA.
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