The Los Angeles County sheriff said Wednesday he’ll authorize staff members to stand with victims’ relatives at parole hearings to fill a void created by a new policy imposed by the county’s newly elected district attorney.
The announcement was made three days after NBC News reported that victims’ family members were furious about District Attorney George Gascon’s decision not to oppose the parole of Charles Manson follower and convicted murderer Bruce Davis.
It was part of a policy shift in which Los Angeles County prosecutors are now no longer attending parole hearings and will not oppose parole for any prisoner who has already served their mandatory minimum sentence.
In a letter to Gascon, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he “strongly believe(s)” that authorizing staff members to attend the parole hearings is “the right thing to do.”
“As you know, leaders will agree to disagree at times; however, we must continually work together to provide the best public safety possible and advocate for the rights of victims.”
Villanueva referenced Manson cases in explaining why he disagrees with Gascon’s new policy and will now let members of his office attend, when appropriate, virtual or in-person parole board hearings.
“Having a blanket rule that says we’re not going to any one, I don’t think it’s going to be a positive for representing the interests of victims at all,” he said in a Facebook Live address.
“The DA has elected not to appear in these and that is his prerogative for his agency,” Villanueva added. “However we are not going to abandon victims of crime. We are going to stand with them shoulder to shoulder and any help they need in this process, we will be there to represent them.”
Alex Bastian, a special advisor to Gascon, said the district attorney has directed the office's victim advocates to provide support during parole hearings.
"They are available to attend any hearing where victims want them present," Bastian said.
"Sheriff’s deputies, like prosecutors, do not have all the pertinent facts and evaluations at their disposal. The Parole Board does – and its sole purpose is to objectively determine whether someone is suitable for release.”
Manson, a California-based cult leader who died in prison in 2016, orchestrated a series of gruesome killings in August 1969. The murders were carried out by his followers, members of the so-called Manson family.
Following a virtual hearing on Jan. 22, the state parole board recommended parole for Davis, who was sentenced to life in prison for the killings of Gary Hinman and Donald “Shorty” Shea.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to deny Davis’s early release.
Hinman’s cousin, Kay Martley, previously told NBC News that she felt abandoned by prosecutors. “I had no one to speak for me,” she said.
Reached Wednesday, Martley said she was pleased by the sheriff’s move in support of victims, saying it showed that “someone paid attention and gave us validity."
“He knows it's going to make his job a lot harder if they are going to let these people out without any challenge from prosecutors,” she said.