Two Veteran LA Prosecutors Removed from High Profile Unit

27September 2022

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón transferred two senior prosecutors — known for high-profile and complex murder cases that drew international attention — and moved them to positions typically held by less experienced deputies, in an action the attorneys say was retaliation for their criticism of Gascón.

John McKinney, who handled the murder of rapper Nipsey Hussle, and John Lewin, who prosecuted New York real estate scion Robert Durst and developed a national reputation for pursuing circumstantial cold case homicides, said they were told this week they would now be handling routine cases in Inglewood and East LA.

Both have publicly criticized Gascón’s reform policies and supported the effort to recall Gascón from office.

“In my case, it was done to retaliate against me for my criticism of the DA’s competence and fidelity to the law,” McKinney told NBC.

“I do not think that my retaliatory transfer is an accident,” Lewin said.

“I was clearly transferred because very early on I chose to speak up in internal memos, in discussions within the office, and in the press and social media, regarding the disastrous nature of many of George Gascón’s policies,” Lewin said.

The DA’s office denied the transfers were demotions, and did not respond to a question about whether or not the transfers were politically motivated or retaliatory.

“The office routinely conducts personnel transfers. This transfer list included nearly 50 employees including new DDA hires,” the DA’s office emailed in a statement from Gascón’s special advisor Tiffiny Blacknell.

“No employees were demoted during this process,” she said in the statement, which is printed in its entirety at the end of this article.

Until this week Lewin and McKinney worked out of the DA’s Major Crimes unit, which was considered one of the most prestigious assignments in the office and has handled many of the county’s most headline-grabbing, including the death of Michael Jackson and the prosecution of serial killers.

McKinney, who has 23 years of experience, said he was pulled from his assignment as he was preparing for trial in the murder of Brianna Kupfer, the UCLA graduate student stabbed to death while working in a furniture store on La Brea Boulevard earlier this year.

“The Kupfer case will be reassigned,” McKinney said. “It’s terrible because I filed the case from the inception and handled all the court appearances. I developed a good rapport with the family, which will be wasted.”

Lewin said he’d spent decades developing a unique expertise in prosecuting difficult circumstantial murder cases, in particular those deemed cold cases by police.

“I have been successful in every case I have handled,” he said.

“To be transferred to an area court that doesn’t take advantage of any of the skills that I’ve developed, does a disservice to the people of Los Angeles County who I have worked hard to protect for the past 28 years.”

At least 10 high-ranking members of the district attorney’s staff have filed lawsuits against the county and Gascón alleging they were removed from their positions because they voiced disagreement with some of Gascón’s policies.

Those lawsuits include former DA bureau directors Maria Ramirez and Victor Rodriguez. They sued in March after they said they objected to reforms they believed violated the law and their ethical obligations as attorneys.

Full DA’s office statement from Special Advisor Tiffiny Blacknell:

“The office routinely conducts personnel transfers. This transfer list included nearly 50 employees including new DDA hires. No employees were demoted during this process. We take issue with the insinuation that only the people currently assigned to the Major Crimes Division are capable of doing challenging work. That’s blatantly false. We have extraordinary lawyers in every branch of this department with the experience, knowledge and skill set to handle major crime prosecutions. All of our lawyers should have the opportunity to enter special units to further develop and enhance their skill set. Furthermore, the Major Crimes Division (MCD) handles high profile cases, not necessarily those that are more complex. There are plenty of challenging cases that are not handled by the MCD. All victims deserve to have a highly skilled prosecutor to prosecute the person who caused them harm, not just the ones that make the evening news.“

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