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Democratic Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon is doubling down on the light sentence handed down to a teen hit-and-run driver who mowed down a mom and her infant as the two were walking down a Venice side street last summer – and the victim is calling him out.
“After reviewing the evidence, our office charged the minor with the most serious offenses possible under the law: two counts of felony assault & one count of felony leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury without exchanging information,” the embattled district attorney said Monday.
The victim, who has asked to be identified only by her first name Rachel, said in a blistering rebuttal that the charges “were very short of fair.”
Democratic Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascon claimed Monday that there is “misinformation circulating” regarding the light punishment of a teen who admitted to mowing down a mother and her infant. (Robyn Beck/AFP | Los Angeles County)
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“Not only did you not charge attempted murder that is provable by the driving pattern, you didn’t charge assault with a deadly weapon with a car because it would be a strike on the minor’s record,” she told Fox News Digital Monday in a message directed to the embattled DA. “Under your policies minors cannot receive charges that result in a strike offense. This is how you ensure that their records can be wiped clean when they turn 18. I guess that’s the magical number when people become decent human beings and contributing members of society. Anything before that apparently doesn’t matter.”
Critics with experience prosecuting hit-and-run cases also said stiffer charges were possible.
“Gascon’s statement is misleading for several reasons,” said Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor turned plaintiff’s lawyer who has experience trying hit-and-run cases in both criminal and civil courts.
“The defendant was charged with assault causing great bodily injury, which isn’t a ‘strike’ under California’s three strikes law, when he could have been charged with assault with a deadly weapon, which is a strike,” he told Fox News Digital Monday. “A vehicle can be a deadly weapon under California law.”
The suspect also could have faced multiple additional felony charges, he said, including driving under the influence and vehicle theft.
The driver, now 17, received a sentence of five to seven months in a juvenile probation camp, which authorities say is “less than a military school and a little bit tougher than a summer camp.” Gascon’s office described the punishment as “an appropriate resolution” Friday.
Surveillance video recorded the entire Aug. 6, 2021 hit-and-run incident in Venice, California. (Los Angeles)
LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CALLS OUT DA GASCON OVER CLAIM OF SUPPORT FOR ‘LIGHTWEIGHT’ SENTENCE IN MOM’S HIT-AND-RUN
“George is trying to explain his way out of not doing his job. It’s not working,” said Jonathan Hatami, a deputy district attorney who rose to prominence as the lead prosecutor in the Gabriel Fernandez case. “We all see through his false ‘data and science.’ The appropriate charges should have been two counts of PC 245(a)(1) Felony Assault with a Deadly Weapon to wit Automobile, one count of felony hit-and-run, and one count of felony unlawful taking of vehicle.”
All of those charges would have been possible under the word of the law, he told Fox News Digital.
“It’s not just up to the judge and probation what the sentence is,” he added. “The DA has a job to do regarding the appropriate sentence as well. And Gascon abandoned that responsibility also.”
Days after his office retracted a claim that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which had no connection to the case and was not the investigating agency, “agreed” to the charges, Gascon called reporting on his handling of the case “misinformation.” And he took issue with the victim’s description of the incident as an “attempted murder.”
After striking Rachel and her 8-month-old, the wrong-way driver collided with a pickup truck. (Los Angeles County)
“Gascon, you are right, there is misinformation being circulated and perpetuated by your office about the incident where my 8-month-old son and I were almost murdered by a felon,” Rachel told Fox News Digital Monday. “The minor was charged with the most serious offenses possible under your murderer-friendly policies. These policies are not California law.”
Video shows the suspect speeding the wrong way down a one-way backstreet, veering into the woman and her 8-month-old son in a stroller at around 8:40 a.m. on Aug. 6, 2021. After plowing through them, he appeared to speed off, only to crash head-on into a pickup truck that blocked his path.
“Contrary to what some have claimed, it is not ‘attempted murder’ under [California] law,” Gascon said. “To charge that offense, our office would have to be able to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, the minor specifically intended to kill the victims. There was no evidence of that.”
“The minor was charged with the most serious offenses possible under your murderer-friendly policies. These policies are not California law.”
— Rachel, hit-and-run victim
Lara Yeretsian, a Glendale-based criminal defense attorney with more than 25 years in the field, told Fox News Digital that the probation officer’s willingness to recommend the light sentence is significant.
“The probation officer had access to the reports and alleged facts in the case, the juvenile’s prior, and any mitigating or aggravating factors; but still recommended camp,” she said. “The probation officer had room to recommend a harsher sentence for these felony charges but chose not to…That together with the fact the judge went along with the recommendation carries a lot of weight — and lend support to the idea that this was a fair and reasonable resolution of the case.”
But while the burden of proof for more serious charges would be significant, Shea Sanna, another deputy district attorney, said it would be possible to meet the requirements given the video of the incident and multiple witnesses.
“Any competent prosecutor could prove attempted murder in this case. There’s a video, eyewitnesses testimony, and victims statements,” he tweeted. “Plus anyone with common sense knows intentionally accelerating a car into a mother and 8-month-old baby is likely to kill them.”
Police said they found drugs in the driver’s system and marijuana in the car, which was also stolen, according to an incident report obtained by Fox News.
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Additionally, the suspect was on probation at the time of the incident for felony poisoning after he spiked a girl’s drink at a high school in 2019, Fox News’ Bill Melugin reported Sunday.
Gascon’s office has come under fire for months for what critics say is a soft approach to prosecuting crime. and policies that protect criminals while double injuring their victims. He has maintained that his reforms are aimed at creating a fairer criminal justice system.
“While we’re in this process of clarifying facts for the public, you are correct that the bureau of victim services did reach out to me.,” Rachel said. “This happened on April 11, 2022, to discuss the reading of my victim impact statement that I wasn’t given the opportunity to deliver in person at the time of sentencing. April 2022 is 8 months after the incident. Is there any more misinformation you’d like to lay out there for me to correct?”
Gascon is facing a second recall effort, which has the support of deputy prosecutors in his own office. The petition surpassed 500,000 signatures earlier this week, and organizers say they need just 67,000 more by July 6 to secure a ballot.
“Unfortunately, this is consistent with Gascon’s soft treatment of teenage criminals, whether it is Hannah Tubbs or the millionaire’s son who killed Monique Munoz,” Rahmani said.
Michael Ruiz is a reporter for Fox News Digital. Story tips can be sent to [email protected] and on Twitter: @mikerreports