Outspoken prosecutor who clashed with DA Gascón now target of internal investigation

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A prosecutor who clashed with Los Angeles County Dist. atty. George Gascón on a controversial case involving a transgender defendant is now the subject of an internal investigation and has also been accused of making abusive comments about the defendant.

The investigation into Shea Sanna, a deputy district attorney, stems from allegations that he misused county resources, disclosed confidential information and made inappropriate public statements, said Sanna’s attorney Greg Smith.

The allegations against Sanna, Smith said, were made in a vaguely worded letter from an outside law firm conducting the investigation. In an interview, Sanna said he “absolutely” believes the investigation is an attempt to retaliate against him, and Smith said he feared the move would have a “chilling effect” on other prosecutors critical of Gascón. .

But Sanna has also been accused of making insensitive comments about Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old transgender woman who sexually assaulted a 10-year-old girl in Palmdale in 2014 when she was 17, according to Alisa Blair, a former senior official under Gascón who resigned last week.

Tubbs was not arrested for the attack until 2020. At the time, Gascón had a policy of prohibiting his prosecutors from handing over juvenile suspects to the adult court, so Tubbs was allowed to plead guilty as a minor and was sentenced to two years of juvenile detention. facility. She has since been charged with the murder of a homeless man in Kern County.

Sanna, 34, was the prosecutor assigned to the 2014 assault case and vehemently argued that Tubbs should have been tried as an adult. He criticized Gascón as being gentle on crime.

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Sanna was reprimanded by a judge and a prosecutor for repeatedly referring to Tubbs during a December court hearing by the name she used when she identified herself as a man, according to court records and Blair.

After being reminded by a judge that Tubbs identifies as a woman, Sanna curtly replied, “Tubbs is a violent sex offender,” according to court transcripts.

Blair said Sanna continued to “mislead” Tubbs in the weeks following that court hearing.

“It became clear in the Hannah Tubbs case that his gender mismatch was intentional and not just a mistake based on the petition with a male name,” Blair said. “The judge admonished him. He did not correct himself.”

Blair said Deputy Dist. atty. Sharon Woo also chided Sanna for the comments, to no avail.

Sanna denied that Woo chided him, saying he believed it was correct to refer to Tubbs with masculine pronouns. He pointed to leaked jail calls that raised questions about whether Tubbs had lied about her gender identity in an effort to secure more favorable treatment or prison placement. After recordings of the phone calls were leaked in February, even Gascón wondered if Tubbs really identified as female.

Smith — who represents several prosecutors who claim they have been demoted or punished for opposing Gascón’s reform policies — expressed concern that Sanna was singled out for his critical statements about Gascón.

“My concern is that they may be using him as an example to scare other prosecutors into coming forward and making public statements negative to Gascón,” Smith said.

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It’s not clear whether the internal investigation into Sanna relates to comments he made about the Tubbs case. The union representing ordinary prosecutors filed a complaint on behalf of Sanna against unfair labor practices against the prosecutor’s office, arguing that the charges against him were so vague that he was unable to defend himself effectively.

Sanna, who is assigned to juvenile justice at the Antelope Valley Courthouse, has faced other recent allegations of making abusive comments about suspects.

In an email to DA officials, a lawyer accused him of calling black teens “hyenas” and expressing a desire to beat a teen defendant. The Times reviewed the email.

Sanna said the “hyena” comment was not racist and was taken out of context. He denied saying anything about hurting a minor.

The “hyena” comment was made last October, Sanna said. While playing video in court of three black defendants assaulting and robbing a person, who was also black, Sanna said he described the attackers as a “pack of hyenas”. He said multiple people witnessed the conversation and, to his knowledge, no one else questioned his comment as racist.

The comments were made during an informal discussion in the courtroom, according to both Sanna and the email, so there is no transcript.

The defense’s allegations against Sanna are under review by the prosecution, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who requested anonymity to discuss the case candidly. It was not clear whether it is part of the ongoing investigation being conducted by the outside law firm or a separate investigation.

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A spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office said she was unable to comment on “ongoing personnel investigations.”

Sanna has been highly critical of Gascón and Blair, both in social media and in interviews. On Twitter, he called his boss a “disgrace” and referred to some of his policies as “bulls-“. He has also claimed to have ties confirming that Blair intentionally “sabotaged” casesthough he never produced them.

The investigation into Sanna comes amid a spate of lawsuits alleging that Gascón used demotions and internal disciplinary action to punish his critics.

At least eight prosecutors have filed retaliatory cases against the prosecutor, alleging punitive demotions or denied promotions for challenging policies or decisions on cases. One of those cases has already cost the county a seven-figure sum after former high-ranking prosecutor Richard Doyle was reassigned after his refusal to dismiss a case ordered by Gascón. The case was settled for $1 million last year.

“Dist. atty. Gascón strongly rejects claims that he is using demotions or internal disciplinary matters to punish his critics. Such actions would be inappropriate and against the law and will not be tolerated or carried out by this agency,” said Tiffiny Blacknell, the agency’s chief spokeswoman. “Many employees were critical of DA Gascón before his election and many have continued their criticisms throughout his tenure. He has not singled out, demoted or disciplined any employee for their legitimate exercise of their expression.”

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