Los Angeles District Attorney: What The Results Tell Us So Far
Updated on March 6:
The contentious race to be L.A. County's next District Attorney remains in limbo, although updated returns suggest a November runoff is a possibility.
Incumbent DA Jackie Lacey took a large lead in early returns Tuesday night, as she seeks to remain in charge of the nation's largest prosecutor's office for a third term. As of Friday evening, Lacey's lead had dwindled somewhat, and she was hovering just 16 votes below the 50%-plus-one-vote threshold needed to avoid a runoff.
Former San Francisco DA George Gascón is in second with 27%, and former public defender Rachel Rossi is in third with 22%.
L.A. County Registrar Dean Logan estimates there are a few hundred thousand ballots left to count, so the outcome may remain unclear for some time.
Speaking with us at his election night party at a bar next to Union Station, Gascón said his campaign "definitely amplified a message that would not have occurred."
A few miles away at her party at an Echo Park restaurant, Rossi said no matter the outcome, she was gratified that her campaign "changed the face of what a DA could even look like in L.A. County, that we opened up people's imaginations a little bit about what a prosecutor can be and can stand for."
Lacey had a much different election night. She cancelled her campaign party for security reasons after an incident Monday in which her husband pulled a gun on Black Lives Matter protestors who showed up at her front door before dawn.
The DA spent the evening watching election returns at home. In a phone interview, she told us she feels good about her chances of winning a third term.
"I feel like the message I had of reasonable reforms ... resonated with voters," she said.
THE BIGGEST PRIZE IN A NATIONAL PUSH FOR REFORM
The race has attracted national attention; a progressive tide has swept reformists into office in DA races across the country, and L.A. County — home to the largest prosecutor's office in the U.S. — is the biggest prize so far.
Gascón and Rossi have portrayed Lacey as a traditional tough-on-crime prosecutor who is too resistant to modern reforms. Lacey has insisted she is a "reasonable reformer" committed to diverting people with mental health problems away from jail while championing crime victims.
She also points to her creation of a Conviction Review Unit to assess claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence.
Gascón has touted his support of a variety of reforms, including Prop 47, the statewide measure he co-authored that reduced a number of non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. He also backed Prop. 57, which made it easier for non-violent felons to get probation. Lacey opposed both; she argues that Prop. 47 led to an increase in property crime.
Gascón says Lacey has not done enough to combat the wide racial disparities in prosecutions. While he was San Francisco DA, Gascón created a tool to mask the race of the defendant in cases his office handled. Lacey says it's important to take into account things like racial income disparities, but argues that people end up in the criminal justice system because they "make bad decisions."
Gascón calls for the total abolition of cash bail. Lacey supports bail reform, but not its outright elimination. She supports the state law that would do away with cash bail in most situations (though that law is currently on hold pending the outcome of a November ballot initiative backed by the bail bonds industry that would kill it), while giving judges the opportunity to impose it in cases involving high-level misdemeanors or low-level felonies using a risk assessment tool.
THE DEATH PENALTY AND POLICE SHOOTINGS
Gascón and Lacey have clashed over the death penalty. She has continued to seek capital punishment in cases that she considers particularly egregious; Gascón has vowed to put an end to its use.
The incumbent has also taken a tremendous amount of heat from Black Lives Matter and other activists over her handling of police shootings. Lacey has only prosecuted one law enforcement officer for an on-duty shooting of a civilian. Critics — and Gascón — also denounced her decision not to charge an LAPD officer for fatally shooting an unarmed homeless man, Brendon Glenn, in Venice in 2015, even though then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck publicly called for the officer's prosecution.
Lacey says it's "very, very difficult" to successfully prosecute law enforcement officers for shootings.
"It's not that we are pro-police or anti police," she told us in an interview earlier this year. "It's that we're looking at the facts and following the law."
Lacey's troubles with Black Lives Matter nearly took a violent turn Monday as activists staged their pre-dawn anti-Lacey protest outside her home. When three of them knocked on her door to invite her out to talk to them, Lacey's husband answered with a handgun, threatening to shoot the protesters if they didn't leave.
I'm front of DA Jackie Lacey's house for that community meeting she promised with the @BLMLA crew. Rang her bell to invite her.— Melina Abdullah (@DocMellyMel) March 2, 2020
Her husband pulled a gun, cocked it, pointed it at my chest and said "I'll shoot you. I don't care who you are." @WP4BL @RealJusticePAC @shaunking pic.twitter.com/WtazUWSJIC
A few hours later, an emotional Lacey told a news conference her husband was "profoundly sorry," saying he had acted out of fear. She suggested that her ongoing troubles with Black Lives Matter contributed to his state of mind.
"I have received threats, some of them death threats," she said. "I have been followed, photographed with my family, confronted at an art museum, confronted at fundraisers, even at endorsement interviews, I've had people crash them and videotape them," Lacey said.
She noted that at the Jan. 29 candidates debate — which was disrupted several times by Black Lives Matter activists and others — one man rushed the stage before being corralled by security guards.
Lacey points out that Gascón didn't prosecute any police officers for shootings during his tenure as San Francisco DA.
Gascón has highlighted his creation in San Francisco of an independent unit made up of civil rights and defense lawyers to investigate police uses of force. He also says it might make sense to use an independent "special prosecutor" to review police shootings.
Both candidates support a new state law that tightens the legal definition of when an officer can use lethal force from when it's "reasonable" to when it's "necessary."
ED BUCK AND HARVEY WEINSTEIN
Lacey faced criticism for taking nearly two years to file charges against high-profile Democratic donor Ed Buck for the deaths of two black men from drug overdoses at his home.
The DA's office faced challenges investigating the Buck case, including an "inadmissible search and seizure," according to the Los Angeles Times.
Gascón questioned the timing of Lacey's announcement of sexual assault charges against disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein on Jan. 6, the same day that jury selection began in his New York trial.
Gascón noted it had been more than two years since the first accuser reported her allegations to the LAPD, and told Variety that bringing the charges "four weeks before absentee ballots come ... smacks of politics."
The DA said it had been "very challenging to get some [of Weinstein's alleged] victims to open up."
THE ENDORSEMENT AND MONEY BATTLE
Lacey won the endorsements of the mayors of L.A. and Long Beach, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, eight members of the House of Representatives, four of the five L.A. County supervisors and numerous other local and state politicians.
Gascón's backers include Sen. Kamala Harris, two members of the House, the California Democratic Party, the L.A. County Democratic Party and a number of local Democratic groups.
Law enforcement groups have lined up strongly behind Lacey, including the unions that represent the rank-and-file of the LAPD and the L.A. Sheriff's Department, as well as the Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA), the union that represents the prosecutors who work in the DA's office.
Those groups vehemently oppose Gascón's reformist agenda, arguing that it would lead to more crime.
In an editorial in the ADDA newsletter, Deputy DA Marc Debbaudt wrote that electing Gascón or Rossi would make L.A. "the greatest haven for criminals in the nation."
The race has generated a lot of spending: $4.3 million in contributions to independent committees supporting Lacey and Gascón.
Nearly all of the $2.2 million in contributions to outside committees backing Lacey has come from law enforcement unions, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis.
Two wealthy northern Californians who back criminal justice reform contributed three-quarters of the $2.1 million spent on outside groups that support Gascón, the Times found.
March 5, 10:30 a.m.: This article was updated to reflect the latest vote count.
March 6, 5:50 p.m.: This article was updated to reflect the latest vote count.
This article was originally published March 4 at 5:46 a.m.