DA Gascón, Deputy Clash Over Dismissal Of Charges Against Protester

L.A. District Attorney George Gascón. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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In a highly unusual move, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney Tuesday defied an order from newly-elected DA George Gascón to drop charges against a man accused of attempting to wreck a train in Compton during a protest, according to the DA's spokesman.

Gascón — who had been on the job less than two days — found another deputy to seek dismissal of one felony count of unlawful obstruction of a railroad track and one felony count of train-wrecking against Emanuel Padilla, who was arrested at a protest against the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. The latter charge carries a maximum sentence of life without parole.

Unlike his predecessor Jackie Lacey, Gascón decided there wasn't enough evidence to support the charges, said DA spokesman Max Szabo.

The decision was made "in the interest of justice," Szabo said.

It's unknown whether the deputy DA who refused to drop the charges against Padilla is facing discipline. Szabo said he could not identify the prosecutor or discuss the case because it's a personnel matter. The union that represents deputy DA's did not return a call seeking comment.

A RELIEVED PROTESTER, A 'DISAPPOINTED' SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT

For Padilla, Gascón's decision was a huge relief.

"Obviously, it's a huge load off of my mind," said Padilla, 34, who lives in Hawthorne with his wife and makes toys for a living. He was released from jail Tuesday night, after spending 20 nights behind bars.

Padilla voted for Gascón and sees his release as proof the new DA is keeping his word to not always believe law enforcement's version of events.

The Sheriff's Department denounced Gascón's decision.

"The department is disappointed and perplexed that the charges were dropped despite the clear factual evidence, and a lawful arrest for actions which jeopardized the lives of our community members," it said in a statement.

This case is in some ways emblematic of the deep philosophical differences Gascón has with many of the prosecutors he now leads, and the police and Sheriff's deputies with whom he will work.

The unions that represent rank-and-file deputy district attorneys, LAPD officers and Sheriff's deputies strongly opposed Gascón during the November campaign, arguing he's soft on crime.

"There is a bit of a power struggle going on right now with the new district attorney," said Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson. "We knew this was coming."

A CASE WITH ROOTS IN THE GUARDADO SHOOTING

The Padilla case dates to Nov. 15, when he attended a protest in Compton over the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado by a Sheriff's deputy. In a report, the Sheriff's Department identified Padilla as having helped two women who allegedly tried to place a wire barricade on nearby train tracks, according to a source in the DA's office. The report said there was video evidence, added the source, who requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation.

Deputies arrested Padilla at another protest three days later outside Sheriff Alex Villanueva's house.

Padilla's attorney, Jorge Gonzalez, maintains the evidence did not support the charges.

Padilla says he's spent much of his time at police protests since the George Floyd killing, and that he was "radicalized" after being shot with pepper balls and smoke grenades at what he says was a peaceful Father's Day protest in Compton against the Guardado shooting.

Padilla is a plaintiff in a class action lawsuit against the Sheriff's Department, alleging deputies used excessive force against peaceful protesters over the summer. Gonzalez believes the department targeted Padilla for arrest as "retribution" for his activism.

Padilla would certainly be recognizable to deputies, according to Gonzalez, who said his client stands 6'5", weighs 250 pounds, and has long black hair and a long black beard.

The Sheriff's Department did not respond to a request for comment on the accusation.

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