In 2012, Barack Obama, America’s first black president, sought certain reelection. In Los Angeles, many LGBTQ voters joined others in celebrating the historic election of Jackie Lacey as the first woman and first African American district attorney in LA County.
But others were leery of Lacey, a tough career prosecutor who joined the DA’s office in 1986 and spent 33 years rising through the ranks to become second-in-command to Republican DA Steve Cooley. The two proceeded to dismantle much of the progress made under liberal Democrat Gil Garcetti, including deflating the much-lauded hate crime prevention community network created under lesbian Deputy DA Carla Arranaga.
Lacey, too, has been lauded for creating a mental health division in the DA’s office. “Really the goal is to get treatment before someone has to call the police,” Lacey says in an Oct. 28, 2019 campaign ad that concludes: “Justice for all. That’s Jackie Lacey.”
But her critics say Lacey does not practice what she claims, that she’s stuck greasing the gears of old institutionalized racism. “Critics point out,” LAist notes, “that in the 22 cases in which Lacey has successfully sought the death penalty, 13 defendants were Latino, eight were black and one was Asian.”
She’s not all-in on cash bail reform or Prop 47, which reduced some non-violent felonies to misdemeanors. And while she recently announced the dismissal of 66,000 marijuana convictions, critics note that the move comes two years after California voters legalized pot as she faces a tough reelection.
Lacey is best known in the LGBTQ community for her failure to initially charge former West Hollywood resident Ed Buck after two black men — Gemmel Moore and Timothy Dean — died of meth overdoses in Buck’s apartment. After intense community pressure and allegations by young black man, Buck wound up in federal custody.
While wobbling on Buck raised her profile, Lacey has also been repeatedly criticized for failing to charge and prosecute law enforcement officers in numerous questionable fatalities, according to Black Lives Matter/LA and the families of black men fatally shot by police.
For instance, after LAPD Officer Clifford Proctor fatally shot unarmed homeless man Brendon Glenn, even LAPD Chief Charlie Beck called for his prosecution, which Lacey declined to pursue. The ACLU issued a statement saying, “if the evidence is clear enough for Chief Beck to take the extraordinary step of calling for prosecution of one of his officers, what more does Lacey need? Her decision suggests that no matter how egregious an officer’s conduct is, no matter the evidence she has before her, she does not intend to hold any officer accountable for unnecessarily and inexplicably shooting a member of the public.”
A seemingly frightened Lacey endured a contentious public meeting hosted by Stonewall Democratic Club last year, during which her critics asserted that she won’t prosecute police because she wants the financial and electoral support of law enforcement for her re-election bid.
“If that were true, then we would never file any case on an officer,” Lacey told the Los Angeles Blade in a phone interview last November. “In fact, if you look at our records, since I’ve been here, we have filed criminal cases on 80-plus officers for both on duty and off duty conduct, including one officer-involved shooting. With regard to the Venice case, it was not Chief Beck’s job to be the prosecutor in the case. He’s the police. He’s not the prosecutor.”
“We examined the evidence and we put out a pretty detailed report with videotape indicating that we thought differently,” Lacey continued. “There was a struggle…and he had to defend himself and that Brendan Mullen was reaching for his gun … So I disagree and I think that facts are on my side and victory will be on my side again.”
The protesters and the grieving families at the Stonewall meeting in West Hollywood Oct. 28, 2019 felt there was a real disconnect between their pain and the way Lacey operates, as if she will not prosecute a case unless she is convinced she can win.
It’s not that simple, Lacey said. “Our ethical duty under the law is to file cases that we believe 12 ordinary citizens from the community would find that they could convict the officer on that evidence. And it’s tough. And I do care.”
There was a sincerity in Lacey’s voice when she tried to convey that sentiment to her critics. But they didn’t believe her, loudly complaining that she refuses to publicly meet with them.
Lacey says she met privately in her office with mourning family members and with Jasmyne Cannick who “indicated that she had witnesses that would talk to us” about the Gemmel Moore case.
But she’s still haunted by a town hall meeting several years ago which she left when it got too raucous.
“I couldn’t talk. I was yelled at, criticized and after a while it seemed like no one really wanted a dialogue. No one really wanted to hear what I had to say,” she told the LA Blade.
“In the LA County district attorney’s office, we are progressive — look at the things that we’ve done with regard to training officers on how to deescalate situations with someone who has a mental illness,” Lacey said. “But we are bound to follow the law and no one, no matter who you put in this position, is going to break the law in order to please folks who are angry because then they would be abandoning their duties as constitutional officers.”
Lacey’s campaign did not respond to several requests for an interview for this story.