Los Angeles DA George Gascón: Menace to Society

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

Los Angeles cannot be rid of district attorney George Gascón quickly enough. Two weeks after charging seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse with manslaughter in the case of a man who died from an overdose of methamphetamine, he now comes after two Torrance police officers for a shooting in which they had been cleared — with abundant justification — by his predecessor. Like the case involving the CHP, the one against the Torrance officers is unwinnable for the prosecution or would be in a just world.


But it is not a just world, and nowhere is it more unjust than in those jurisdictions where so-called “progressive” prosecutors like Gascón have been installed. In these cities, the rights of criminals are prioritized above those of crime victims and far, far above those of police officers. An unethical prosecutor, especially when abetted by dishonest news reporting, can get a jury to believe almost anything.

On Dec. 9, 2018, Torrance police officers Matthew Concannon and Anthony Chavez responded to a report of a stolen car being driven in that city. The car’s owner, who had reported it stolen to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, had the strange luck of seeing his own Honda Civic being driven down the street right in front of him.

At the wheel of the stolen Honda was Christopher Mitchell, 23, who pulled into the parking lot of a supermarket and parked. The uniformed officers stopped their marked patrol car behind the Honda and approached, one on each side of the car.

The Honda’s windows were tinted, preventing the officers from seeing inside. Officer Concannon opened the driver’s door, illuminated Mitchell with a flashlight, and ordered him to put his hands on the steering wheel.

Both officers were able to see what appeared to be the butt of a firearm between Mitchell’s legs. Concannon ordered Mitchell to get out of the car, at which time Mitchell dropped his hands toward the weapon and leaned forward. Concannon fired one round from his service pistol, and Chavez fired two. There was a delay in rendering medical aid to Mitchell as it was determined that a SWAT team and an armored vehicle should be used to approach him. Paramedics declared him dead at the scene. The weapon between his legs was found to be a pellet rifle from which the stock had been removed.


As is standard procedure in all officer-involved shootings in Los Angeles County, a team of deputy district attorneys and D.A. investigators responded to the scene and conducted an independent investigation of the Mitchell shooting. On Oct. 9, 2019, the D.A.’s office, under Gascón’s predecessor Jackie Lacey, released the findings of that investigation, which were that the officers had “acted lawfully in self-defense when they used deadly force against Christopher Deandre Mitchell.”

And so the matter was settled. Settled, that is, until Gascón was elected in 2020. The Mitchell shooting was one of a handful Gascón promised to re-examine upon taking office, and now, more than four years after Mitchell’s death, he brings charges against the officers, whose list of defense witnesses may well include those current or former members of Gascón’s own office who investigated the matter at the time.

As is their wont, the Los Angeles Times employed a bit of journalistic sleight of hand in reporting on the officers’ indictment. “Two Torrance police officers linked to a racist text messaging scandal,” begins the story, “have been indicted in the 2018 shooting death of a Black man who was holding an air rifle, according to defense attorneys for one of the officers.”

Yes, a number of Torrance officers are under investigation for having sent racist and otherwise offensive text messages to one another, but you have to read to the 14th paragraph of the story to learn that the Timesdid not find evidence that Concannon and Chavez sent racist messages” and that they were merely included in the text thread (emphasis added).


It’s interesting to note that the Times failed to link to the Torrance Police Department’s “Critical Incident Community Briefing,” which includes body camera footage from both officers, as well as the 911 call from the Honda’s owner. Also conspicuously absent from the Times story is a link to the D.A.’s report, the reading of which may lead one to a conclusion different from that which the L.A. Times would wish.

The video and the report include photographs of Mitchell’s pellet rifle, which without close inspection is indistinguishable from an actual firearm. The video also includes information on Mitchell’s list of criminal convictions, opulent for a man of 23, including those for auto theft and possession of a firearm. (His criminal history is irrelevant in judging the lawfulness of the shooting, but knowledge of it is helpful in countering the claims of those who would have him remembered as a saintly figure.)

Both the Times and George Gascón are hoping to shape public perception of the officers through guilt by association. But even if Concannon and Chavez were proved to be as racist as the Times would have its readers believe, it wouldn’t matter in an honest evaluation of their actions in the Mitchell shooting. In the U.S. Supreme Court case of Graham v. Connor (1989), a bedrock case on police use of force, the Court held that “[a]n officer’s evil intentions will not make a Fourth Amendment violation out of an objectively reasonable use of force; nor will an officer’s good intentions make an objectively unreasonable use of force constitutional.”


The Mitchell shooting, as former D.A. Lacey concluded, as any disinterested person familiar with the law would conclude, was clearly constitutional. In confronting Mitchell, the officers were dealing with a man driving a stolen car while armed with a weapon toward which his hands moved before he was shot. The fact that the weapon was a pellet gun could not have been apparent to the officers, and as the Court instructed in Graham, “The ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

What new evidence suggesting that the officers should bear criminal culpability in the Mitchell shooting has emerged in the years since Jackie Lacey cleared them? None. Yet George Gascón now relies on his own hindsight, distorted by racial grievance and an animus for police officers, to bring a case against them. The very first of the American Bar Association’s “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor” admonishes that “[t]he prosecutor in a criminal case shall refrain from prosecuting a charge that the prosecutor knows is not supported by probable cause.”

This is one such case, and shame on Gascón for pursuing it.


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