Prosecutor claims LA County DA Gascón ‘limiting charges’ against MS-13 gang member in brutal attack

LOS ANGELES, CA – A member of MS-13 was charged this week with assaulting a transgender woman Thursday in MacArthur Park, but the prosecutor says he was blocked from charging a gang enhancement under orders from the District Attorney.

Gabriel Orellana, 19, was charged with one count of battery likely to produce great bodily injury following his arrest for the assault.

The suspect, along with another man who has not yet been arrested or charged, allegedly approached the woman, and shouted derogatory remarks before knocking her to the ground and striking her repeatedly in the head and torso, according to Deputy District Attorney Richard Ceballos.

The woman was taken to a local hospital where she received stitches for open wounds.

Ceballos said that the crime should have been charged as a gang-related crime, but Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has ordered his prosecutors not to seek sentence enhancements.

Ceballos said:

“It was clearly a gang case. The gang allegation should have been filed. But I wasn’t allowed to do so.”

After being elected in December, Gascón prohibited the use of sentencing enhancements in most cases, which has drawn criticism from his own prosecutors and from victims’ rights advocates.

He has since reinstated enhancements “in cases involving the most vulnerable victims and in specified extraordinary circumstances.”

Orellana pleaded not guilty in court Monday. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April 6, according to District Attorney’s Office spokesman Ricardo Santiago.

LAPD officials have expressed concern about violence against transgender women at the park. The attack was the latest of at least four attacks against transgender women at MacArthur Park since August. MS-13 considers the park part of their territory.

Two days before the attack, the police held a “midnight stroll” with community leaders through the park, offering food and resources to transgender residents. LAPD Chief Michael Moore told the city’s civilian Police Commission last week:

“Midnight stroll has been a strategy that the department has worked with the transgender community for some years, typically much later in the evening and typically in the Hollywood area of our city.

“But given the outlandish attacks on two transgender women that occurred in the MacArthur Park area just months ago, and the underlying incidence of gang violence and intimidation in that community, we thought that it was appropriate to have that outreach and that engagement in that park.”

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LAPD Assistant Chief Beatrice Girmala, the department’s liaison with the LGBTA community, said she has been in several meetings with advocacy groups and service providers to gain ideas on how the department can address the violence.

Girmala said:

“They’re asking for the ability to be out in public, to not feel that every time they’re out there, no matter what time of day it is, that they are being judged or feeling vulnerable.

“(MS-13), they’re in and out of that park and probably saw what they would think is a target of some kind,” she said of the attacks. “That’s something we’re feeling and hearing from the community.”

Ceballos has been a vocal opponent of Gascón’s reforms. The 30-year prosecutor, who had a brief run for District Attorney before pulling out and endorsing Gascón, said he thought Gascón would take a more conservative approach. C

eballos said that did not happen:

“[Gascón acted] almost like, ‘I’m the savior, the messiah of LA’s criminal justice system and I’m going to do this without really consulting anyone.  That was probably one of the dumbest things he could have done.”

District Attorney Gascón has been under fire for a series of police reforms he unilaterally instituted after taking office.

In February, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant issued a preliminary injunction requested by the union that represents prosecutors to stop the DA from blocking sentencing enhancements in cases involving the Three Strike Law.

The judge said:

“The Special Directives violate the Three Strikes law by prohibiting prosecutors from pleading and proving prior convictions in new cases. Prosecutors have a ministerial duty to allege all prior convictions under the Three Strikes law.

“The Special Directives violate Respondents’ duty to prosecute violations of general laws under Government Code section 26500, which is mandatory, not discretionary.”

In a rare instance of support for a prosecutor, the American Civil Liberties Union defended Gascón’s reforms during court arguments, saying the enhancements are often used to force defendants into pleas bargains:

“Although most prosecutors review their cases and exercise their discretion to charge only the appropriate charges and enhancements, some overcharge their cases, piling on counts and enhancements.

“For example, prosecutors routinely file gang enhancements for the most mundane crimes committed by gang members even though the crime was not committed for the gang’s benefit. This practice of overcharging and routinely filing felonies is particularly prevalent in juvenile cases. Prosecutors routinely choose to charge the most egregious of charges that impact the most vulnerable of clients.”

The widow of LA County Sheriff’s Sgt. Steve Owen, who was murdered in 2016, now chairs a campaign to recall Gascón. Tania Owen, a retired officer, said:

“My husband for 29 years fought for victims’ rights to the point where he actually laid down his life for victims. I can tell you that no victim I ever encountered has ever said: ‘We don’t want these individuals held accountable and responsible to the full extent of the law.’”

California Penal Code 186.22 titled the “California Gang Sentencing Enhancement” makes it a crime to “participate in a street gang and to assist in any felony criminal conduct by the gang’s members.”

The enhancement states:

“Anyone who commits a felony for the benefit of a gang will receive a mandatory prison sentence . . . in addition and consecutive to the penalty s/he receives for the underlying felony.

“Depending on the circumstances of the offense, Penal Code 186.22(b) PC could mean an additional two (2) to fifteen (15) years, or even twenty-five (25)-years-to-life, in prison…even if you’re not a gang member, and even if you aren’t the individual who was most directly responsible for committing the underlying felony.”

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Author: Scott A. Davis

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