Out DDA Eric Siddall hopes to replace LA District Attorney Gascón

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall speaking at the Galileo Foundation summit on Faith & Philanthropy, held at the Paul VI Audience Hall in the Vatican in October 2022. (Photo Credit: Eric Siddall)

LOS ANGELES | Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Eric Siddall has thrown his hat into the ring in the upcoming election race for Los Angeles County District Attorney, setting the stage for a heated showdown against incumbent George Gascón. 

In a recent exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Blade, Siddall outlined his ambitious agenda, emphasizing a targeted approach to law enforcement, innovative solutions for homelessness, and a dedicated infrastructure for the mentally ill.

Siddall v. Gascón

Gascón, who has faced criticism and recall attempts for his approach to prosecuting crimes in Los Angeles County, is facing 11 challengers in the primary election, including some of his own prosecutors.

Siddall’s entry into the race comes with a bold critique of Gascón’s handling of violent crime in Los Angeles County, as outlined in his recent digital advertisement titled “Turn the Tide.”

In the ad, Siddall openly lambasts Gascón’s perceived failures in combating the city’s rising violence and pledging to implement robust measures to tackle crime and its underlying causes head-on. Siddall’s critique of Gascón reflects a growing dissatisfaction among residents and The Association of Deputy District Attorneys (ADDA) regarding public safety under DA Gascón’s leadership.

ADDA, representing over 750 Deputy District Attorneys, has taken legal action against Gascón, accusing him of a “systematic and deliberate failure” to adhere to the California Public Records Act (CPRA) and citing a lack of transparency and failure to provide necessary documents.

The lawsuit, filed last week, spans 88 pages and contends that Gascón has consistently declined to comply with the CPRA, citing improper and non-existent legal justifications.

Siddall, who is the only candidate endorsed by ADDA in the race against Gascón, emphasized the need for change within the District Attorney’s office.

“George Gascón’s lack of transparency and his refusal to comply with laws designed to give public access to the inner workings of government organizations are the antithesis of good government,” he told the Blade.

Siddall added that he will uphold transparency in the office if elected. He pledged to fully comply with the CPRA and provide complete transparency on controversial cases, particularly those involving the declination of officer-involved shootings reviewed by prosecutors.

“George Gascón continues to play fast and loose with rules created to promote good government,” Siddall said. “This latest lawsuit is further proof of his continuous contempt for transparency.”

The lawsuit filed by ADDA against Gascón signals a growing rift within the District Attorney’s office and reflects broader concerns about transparency and accountability in the criminal justice system.

Recent polling data indicates that Siddall’s candidacy presents a substantial challenge to Gascón’s incumbency, with Siddall emerging as a strong contender in a potential head-to-head matchup.

Law enforcement strategy  

Siddall’s plan, if elected, hinges on a three-pronged strategy. First and foremost, he aims to bolster the law enforcement arm of the DA’s office with the Violence Reduction Division. The Violence Reduction Division would focus on gathering intelligence to uncover the primary instigators behind criminal activities within specific areas. Siddall emphasized the importance of targeting key individuals responsible for orchestrating violent crime syndicates. 

“Prison is not meant for everyone,” Siddall stressed. “It is meant for people who are really the drivers of violence.”

He then highlighted the efficacy of arresting select gang leaders and key members, recounting his instrumental role in dismantling the notorious Blythe Street Gang, a criminal organization responsible for a spree of violence that plagued the San Fernando Valley from 2015 to 2018.

Siddall described the gang’s reign of terror, with 10 to 20 murders attributed to their nefarious activities during the three-year period. Determined to stem the tide of violence, Siddall spearheaded a task force aimed at neutralizing the gang’s leadership and most aggressive members, similar to attacking the queen of a hive rather than casting a wide net over the entire gang of 200+ members.

With strategic precision, Siddall and his team executed a series of arrests, honing in on the gang’s hierarchy and top 15 or so enforcers. The result was a significant disruption to the gang’s operations, effectively reducing violent crime rates in the area to nearly zero for years following the arrests. 

Siddall’s success in dismantling the Blythe Street Gang serves as a testament to his belief in the power of focused law enforcement strategies. By identifying and apprehending the key instigators of violence, He and his staff demonstrated that it is possible to disrupt criminal networks without resorting to mass arrests that often lead to disproportionate incarceration rates.

“Levels of violence increase when gang leadership becomes ambitious,” Siddall told The Blade. “But when you take away the muscle, the gang goes into hibernation.”

Addressing Los Angeles County’s Homelessness Crisis

Secondly, Siddall advocates for a more proactive approach to addressing homelessness, criticizing the incumbent DA’s lack of engagement on the issue. 

He also praised the groundbreaking work of Redondo Beach City Attorney Mike Webb, whose creation of a homeless court, as outlined by Assembly Bill 67, has garnered widespread acclaim for its effectiveness in providing comprehensive support to unhoused individuals facing nonviolent charges.

“It’s a less threatening environment,” Siddall pointed out noting: “It brings the justice system to the community.”

Sponsored by Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi , AB 67, aims to establish a Homeless Courts Pilot Program, offering comprehensive community-based services for chronically homeless individuals entangled with the criminal justice system. The bill is designed to operate until January 1, 2029, with administration overseen by the Judicial Council.

Key provisions include the dismissal of specified charges upon program completion, the provision of housing assistance, and support from a dedicated county representative. Eligible applicants, including cities and counties, must adhere to program requirements and submit detailed plans for grant funding.

Webb’s innovative approach involves setting up a monthly courthouse in a parking lot, surrounded by service providers, to offer immediate assistance to unhoused individuals facing nonviolent charges. Siddall envisions replicating this model county-wide, leveraging Assembly Bill 67 to establish Homeless Courts Pilot Programs in various cities and counties, providing crucial resources and diversion programs to prevent recidivism.

Highlighting the success of the Redondo Beach homeless court, Siddall stressed the importance of offering comprehensive support to individuals caught in the cycle of homelessness and nonviolent crime, ultimately aiming to transition them into stable housing and productive lives.

Siddall outlined the homeless court model’s key features, emphasizing immediate assistance and wrap-around services. With housing navigators, mental health care providers, addiction specialists, and public defenders on-site, the homeless court offers a holistic approach to addressing the complex needs of unhoused individuals. 

Siddall noted that one of the most significant barriers to stability for unhoused individuals is the lack of identification. The homeless court’s partnership with the California Department of Motor Vehicles streamlines the process, enabling individuals to obtain crucial identification documents expeditiously.

The success of the Redondo Beach homeless court is evident in its outcomes. According to recent data, a noteworthy 79% of homeless court defendants typically attend their court appearances, a rate that is deemed notably high. Furthermore, an impressive 57% of these defendants have been successfully relocated to temporary or permanent housing, indicating a substantial achievement in meeting the housing requirements of the unhoused populace.

Moreover, in Redondo Beach, the count of unhoused individuals witnessed a decline from 176 in 2020 to 99 in 2022, hinting at a plausible association between the adoption of homeless courts and a decrease in homelessness within the region.

Siddall affirmed that the Redondo Beach homeless court represents a positive paradigm shift in “our approach to homelessness and criminal justice.”

Siddall remarked that he stands behind the Tiny Home model as a means to provide safe, clean, and private temporary housing to individuals in need. 

Addressing challenges dealing with Mental Illness in the criminal justice system

Siddall aims to address the intersection of mental illness and criminal justice, advocating for the establishment of long-term infrastructure to accommodate individuals with mental health needs. 

Expressing concern over the lack of appropriate facilities for mentally ill individuals within the current system, Siddall proposes the creation of specialized lockdown facilities akin to state mental hospitals of the past. By separating violent offenders from those with mental illness, he aims to ensure the safety and well-being of both populations while providing necessary treatment and support.

Rehabilitation Over Incarceration

“I am not an abolitionist,” Siddall told the Blade. “There are certain people who need to be in prison. But there are other individuals who can be diverted. You can work to get them out of the system so that they do not become repeat customers.”

Siddall recounted one instance wherein he played a pivotal role in rehabilitating a gang member, showcasing the transformative potential of compassionate advocacy within the criminal justice system. 

Assigned to handle a surge in crimes within Nickerson Gardens, a sprawling public housing complex in Watts, Los Angeles, Siddall encountered a challenge involving gang affiliation. In this instance, Siddall faced a pivotal decision regarding a member of the Bounty Hunter Bloods gang.

Amidst the backdrop of one of Los Angeles’ most notorious gang-ridden areas, Siddall identified three individuals, two deeply entrenched in gang activities and a third less immersed. Recognizing the potential for rehabilitation, Siddall feared that incarcerating this third individual could perpetuate a cycle of criminal behavior, creating a “career criminal,” in the place of a rehabilitated citizen.

Opting for probation instead, Siddall and his team closely monitored the individual’s progress. Over time, their efforts paid off as the individual successfully distanced himself from gang life. He secured employment at UPS, established a family, and ultimately found success, a testament to Siddall’s belief in rehabilitation and second chances.

Siddall’s dedication to his client’s rehabilitation journey exemplifies the broader efforts to address underlying issues contributing to criminal behavior he told the Blade. 

Personal journey, from a family of immigrants

In addition to his policy proposals, Siddall opened up about his personal journey, citing his experiences as a gay father and a member of marginalized communities as driving forces behind his commitment to reforming the criminal justice system. Reflecting on his upbringing in a family of immigrants. 

Siddall’s family background, deeply rooted in public service by both parents, provides him with a unique perspective on the issues facing Los Angeles. Raised by a mother who served as a U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner and a father who worked as a deputy public defender, Siddall’s upbringing instilled in him a strong sense of justice and community responsibility throughout his 17-year career at the DA’s office. Siddall said he is further motivated after witnessing his mother’s pioneering role as a Latina lawyer throughout his childhood. Siddall emphasized the importance of empathy with his mother’s situation in his approach to justice.

“When you see how our system works and how few resources are spent in these marginalized communities, it makes you want to fight for a better future,” Siddall told the Blade, underscoring his dedication to advocating for disenfranchised communities.

Siddall’s platform also emphasizes his dedication to curbing gun violence, proposing the establishment of a specialized unit and fostering collaboration with federal agencies to enhance prosecution efforts. 

Stark alternative to the status quo

Siddall advocates for a balanced approach that prioritizes public safety while advocating for sustainable reforms. His campaign emphasizes reducing recidivism, ending mass incarceration, and addressing the root causes of crime without compromising safety. 

With a background in prosecuting violent criminals and advocating for responsible reforms, Siddall’s platform focuses on working with the Violence Reduction Division and collaborating with law enforcement agencies to target violent offenders. He also emphasizes the need for greater investment in mental health and addiction services, proposing a new county facility for treating violent individuals with mental health conditions. 

Siddall’s campaign has garnered support from the Association of Deputy District Attorneys, positioning him as a candidate committed to fighting crime, restoring public trust, and enacting responsible reforms for a safer and healthier Los Angeles County.

Siddall has tackled complex cases in underserved neighborhoods, emphasizing the defendant’s resilience and genuine remorse where warranted. His proactive approach to law enforcement has not only resulted in successful prosecutions but also advocated for sentence reductions in cases of genuine rehabilitation.

In contrast to Gascón’s approach to mental health and homelessness, Siddall advocates for a more proactive approach. 

As the race for District Attorney heats up, Siddall’s campaign presents a stark alternative to the status quo, promising a safer Los Angeles for all residents. With his track record, bold initiatives, and widespread support, Siddall says he embodies the values of integrity, fairness, and resilience, offering a path forward toward a brighter future for Los Angeles County and its residents.

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