Outspoken prosecutor who clashed with D.A. Gascón now target of internal investigation

A prosecutor associated with Los Angeles County Dist. atty George Gascón over a controversial case involving a transgender defendant is now the subject of an internal investigation and has also been accused of making offensive remarks about the defendant.

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

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 get revenge on him, and Smith said he fears the move could have a “chilling effect” on other prosecutors critical of Gascón.

But Sanna has also been accused of making insensitive remarks about Hannah Tubbs, a 26-year-old transgender woman who sexually abused 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 preventing his prosecutors from transferring juvenile defendants to an adult court, allowing Tubbs to plead guilty as a juvenile and receive a two-year juvenile sentence at the facility. She has since been charged with the murder of a homeless man in Kern County.

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

Sanna was rebuked by a judge and a chief prosecutor for repeatedly calling Tubbs by the name court records and Blair say she used when identifying herself as a man at a court hearing in December.

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

Blair said Sanna continually “misgendered” Tubbs in the weeks following that court hearing.

“In the Hannah Tubbs case, it became clear that his gender misrepresentation was intentional and not just an error based on the petition having a male name,” Blair said. “The judge admonished him. He didn’t correct himself.”

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

Sanna denied that Woo scolded him and said he believed it was correct to refer to Tubbs using masculine pronouns. He pointed to leaked prison phone calls that raised questions about whether Tubbs lied about her gender identity in order to get more favorable treatment or jail time. After leaked recordings of the calls in February, even Gascón questioned whether Tubbs really identified as female.

Smith – who represents several prosecutors who claim they were demoted or fined for opposing Gascon’s reform policies – expressed concern that Sanna was singled out for his critical remarks about Gascon.

“My concern is that they may use him as an example to discourage other prosecutors from coming forward and making public negative statements about Gascon,” Smith said.

It’s not clear if Sanna’s internal investigation includes comments he made on the Tubbs case. The union representing ordinary prosecutors filed an unfair labor practice complaint against prosecutors on Sanna’s behalf on Thursday, arguing the allegations against him were so vague that he could not defend himself effectively.

Sanna, who handles juvenile cases at the Antelope Valley Courthouse, recently faced other allegations of making offensive remarks about defendants.

In an email to DA officials, a defense attorney accused him of calling black teenagers “hyenas” and expressing a desire to hit a teenage defendant. The Times checked the email.

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

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

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

Defense attorney’s allegations against Sanna are being looked into by prosecutors, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who requested anonymity to discuss the case openly. It was not clear whether this is an ongoing investigation being conducted by the outside law firm or a separate investigation.

A spokeswoman for the public prosecutor’s office said she could not comment on “ongoing personnel investigations”.

Sanna has been very critical of Gascón and Blair both on social media and in interviews. On Twitter, he called his boss a “disgrace” and called some of his policies “bulls…”. He has also claimed that he has tapes confirming Blair intentionally “sabotaged” casesalthough he never produced them.

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

At least eight prosecutors have filed retaliatory lawsuits against the District Attorney, alleging that they were sentenced down or denied promotions for challenging policy or case decisions. One such case has already cost the county a seven-figure sum after former senior prosecutor Richard Doyle was transferred after refusing to dismiss a case on Gascon’s orders. The case was settled for $1 million last year.

“Remove atty Gascón firmly denies claims that he uses demotions or internal disciplinary procedures to punish his critics. Such actions would be inappropriate and contrary to the law and will not be condoned or practiced by this office,” said Tiffiny Blacknell, the office’s chief spokesperson. “Many staffers were critical of DA Gascón prior to his election, and many have continued their criticism throughout his tenure. He has not singled out, demoted or disciplined any employee for their legitimate opinions.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-08-05/prosecutor-in-controversial-hannah-tubbs-now-subject-of-l-a-d-a-s-office-investigation Outspoken prosecutor who clashed with D.A. Gascón now target of internal investigation

Alley Einstein

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