As one of three members assigned to the LA County District Attorney’s complex child abuse unit Deputy District Attorney Jon Hatami prosecutes the most heinous and heartbreaking cases that come into the office. Between 2013 and 2018 Hatami was the lead prosecutor for one of the most infamous child abuse cases in Los Angeles history, the torture and murder of Gabriel Fernandez. After winning a conviction against Fernandez’s mother’s boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, Hatami revealed to reporters that one reason the case was so personal to him was because he had also been abused as a child.
The 49-year-old prosecutor said that as a child, he was physically and verbally abused by his father and kidnapped and shuttled across the country by his mother, leading to years of emotional instability.
And he believes that his experiences and years of self-reflection make him uniquely equipped to prosecute child abuse cases.
“It’s my truth,” says Hatami, who refers to himself an abuse survivor. “I know what it feels like to be powerless.”
While prosecuting Gabriel’s killers was emotionally draining for Hatami, knowing that he’d successfully spoken for Gabriel and obtained some measure of justice for him was gratifying.
Now Hatami is working to obtain justice for another child’s killer, but his hands are tied because of his new boss’s Special Directives. Hatami is the DDA prosecuting Akira Smith, who is accused of beating, torturing, and murdering her four-year-old daughter, Eternity, in August 2020. Smith had a long history of involvement with the Department of Child and Family Services and has two prior assault convictions (she stabbed her boyfriend in front of two of her children, tried to stab her sister, and punched her son in the face) and a DUI (she crashed with two of her children in the car).
If Hatami follows George Gascon’s directive about not filing “strikes” or enhancements against a defendant, those prior convictions and the extreme cruelty of the crime won’t figure into Smith’s sentencing. Instead of facing 62 years to life in prison without the possibility of parole, Smith would face a fraction of that time and could potentially be paroled. If George Gascon were still District Attorney at that time, a separate Special Directive prohibits DDA’s from even appearing at parole hearings, so it’s likely any petition for parole would be granted.
If Hatami follows his conscience and the law and refuses to drop the strikes or enhancements, he’s subject to “discipline” by Gascon. Hatami tearfully told LA’s ABC affiliate Tuesday he just wants to fight for the kids. Of the situation he and others in the office are facing, Hatami said:
“A lot of DDAs (deputy district attorneys) are really scared. They are sending people to court to monitor what we say. They are working with the public defenders and alternate public defenders to intimidate us and document what we do and what we say.
“I just don’t understand why we’re not trying to prosecute child murderers to the fullest extent of the law.
“I believe that there needs to be some reforms, however, those reforms need to be based upon the law. They also need to be based upon the protection of the public. They need to be based upon the protection of children. They need to be based upon the facts of each case.
“I don’t want to lose my job. Unless they run me out of here or they take away all my cases, I’m not going anywhere. And I’m going to fight for all the kids.”
Watch Hatami speak in the video below.