ABC's Los Angeles Affiliate Bows to Threats From Gascon's Office, Substitutes Critical Article With Puff Piece

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File

Last night I reported that, according to court transcripts from a December 15 proceeding, LA District Attorney George Gascon attempted, through his special advisor Mario Trujillo, to offer a “sweetheart” plea deal to Rudy Dominguez, a gang member charged with murdering one man and shooting another during a drive-by (neither of the victims were gang members). Trujillo didn’t talk to the prosecutor assigned to the case, but instead spoke to the then-assigned Deputy Public Defender, Tiffany Blacknell – who is a member of Gascon’s Public Policy Committee and who, according to multiple sources, is about to jump to Gascon’s staff as his Director of Community Relations.

Yes, there are a lot of connections to keep up with. In any event, it appears that Blacknell is in the process of transferring her caseload to other Deputy Public Defenders, as DPD Traci Blackburn appeared for Dominguez on December 15. It was at the end of that hearing that the shocking plea offer came to light.

A reporter from ABC’s Los Angeles affiliate was in the courtroom on Monday, December 28 and interviewed family members of the murder victim, Fernando Rojo Jr. That interview was posted, with a full transcript beneath, around 8 PM on December 28 with the title, “Victim’s family accuses Gascon’s office of sweetheart deal with suspect.”

Since the video no longer exists online – having been deleted by ABC – the transcript reads:

A local family of a murder victim is accusing the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office of making a sweetheart plea deal with a suspect in their case.

Fernando Rojo Jr. was killed in a 2016 drive-by shooting while standing on his porch. Rudy Dominguez, the suspected getaway driver, was facing the possibility of life without parole.

Rojo’s family members now claim the District Attorney’s office made a deal with Dominguez for a shorter seven-year sentence. They also said a judge denied that plea deal.

“It just seems like the criminals are getting a slap on the wrist while our family members are getting a slap in the face. Not only are we being victimized by our family member being murdered in the street, when it comes to getting justice, we’re the ones being victims now,” said Amy Rojo, Fernando’s sister-in-law.

This all stems from new justice reforms put in place by newly elected District Attorney George Gascon.

The reforms no longer allow gang enhancement charges which would make a prisoner’s sentence longer. In this particular case, the district attorney’s office says they tried to get special circumstance allegations dismissed but it was denied on two different occasions.

I was sent the link about an hour after it published. I clicked, but was greeted by a “Page Not Found.” Fortunately, the story was up long enough for Google to have cached a version of it.

Why would ABC take down such a story so quickly? They were the first local station to publish a video of a DDA critical of George Gascon, that being DDA Jonathan Hatami, so it couldn’t be that they were afraid of blacklash from Gascon’s office, right? Right?

So I did a little digging, and as of Monday night ABC was claiming it was an “internal error” with the website that they were working on. Then, multiple sources in the law enforcement community told me – anonymously, understandably – that Gascon’s office wasn’t happy with multiple Los Angeles media outlets for simply reporting on things happening within Gascon’s office and within the criminal justice system, and that those outlets were being strong-armed by Gascon’s spokesman and threatened with a denial of access.

Imagine my surprise when ABC’s “fix” to the “internal error” turned out to be a 20-minute softball interview with the man himself, George Gascon, a “very important” guest. Naturally, the interviewer wasn’t the same intrepid female reporter who had the audacity to publish a factual, community interest interview – one which could bring malfeasance to light – with a crime victim’s family; instead, the interviewer was a white man. The uppity woman needed to be punished for daring to do her job. (The gender and race of either reporter means nothing to me; I’m simply pointing it out because that’s the lens through which Gascon says we should view things.)

The title of the substituted article, “LA County DA George Gascon discusses sentencing enhancements, money bail in interview with ABC7,” definitely has a more Gascon-positive tone than the original, although the URL for the substitute indicates an even more brown-nosing title had been considered: “LA County DA Discusses His Sweeping Reforms in Interview.” Could that have been a title suggested by Gascon’s publicity people? That wouldn’t be surprising; by listening to the questions in the interview it’s apparent that either they were suggested by Gascon’s staff or provided to Gascon ahead of time. (Note: I am not suggesting anything untoward was done by the interviewer. It seems he did the best he could in incredibly awkward and difficult circumstances.)

The reporter did ask Gascon about some of the controversies that are swirling, including judges and DDA’s who don’t agree with his policies. Gascon, true to form, accused those who don’t agree of having a vested interest in maintaining the mass incarceration status quo in the country. As to crime victims who are loudly protesting his criminals-first policies, well, they just don’t understand that Gascon’s client is “the People,” and that he, Gascon, knows what resolution is best for “the People.” He really is astounding to watch.

And the news director at ABC-7 sold out the journalistic integrity of the entire station at the hint of a threat from a smarmy toady for the District Attorney. Despicable.