The day before an election framed in part around her perceived refusal to prosecute police officers for using unjust force, images of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey’s husband pointing a gun at unarmed protesters spread rapidly across news websites and television stations.
The confrontation was the final flare-up of a tense primary that had been marked by a contentious debate interrupted by protesters and pointed attacks between Lacey and her chief rivals over how the nation’s largest prosecutor’s office should be run.
By week’s end, Lacey’s share of the vote hovered just below the 50% plus one she needs to avoid a runoff. As L.A. County waits to see if she can clinch a third term, debates have sprung up among Lacey’s supporters and critics about whether or not the gun incident helped her at the polls, what consequences her husband might face and whether protesters went too far in picketing her home.
On Friday, longtime South L.A. activist Najee Ali held a press conference blasting Black Lives Matter leader Melina Abdullah for her actions at Lacey’s home while claiming the protest might help Lacey win reelection. Earlier in the week, he published a column in the Los Angeles Wave calling the protest “one of the dumbest and [most] irresponsible acts of activism in Los Angeles history.”
“Everybody is saying the same thing, that it helped folks come out for Lacey and support Lacey ’cause culturally, especially black men, we identify with having the right to protect our wives, children and families at our home,” Ali said in a separate interview.
The primary remains up in the air. There are roughly 678,000 votes left to tally, according to the L.A. County registrar. Though Lacey jumped out to a significant advantage among early mail-in ballots, her lead has slipped with almost every updated set of returns.
Several voters The Times spoke to Tuesday said the incident at Lacey’s home actually motivated them to vote for one of her challengers. Former San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascón had climbed to a 27% share of the vote as of the last tally, while former public defender Rachel Rossi has remained around 22%.
The legality of David Lacey’s actions remains unclear and the subject of an LAPD investigation, which Police Chief Michel Moore said is moving slowly due to a lack of cooperation from the potential victims.
Many activists have questioned why the LAPD did not immediately arrest David Lacey when he pointed a weapon at Abdullah and two others outside the couple’s Granada Hills home. Moore, however, said none of the protesters have spoken with investigators. The case remains under review by the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division and will eventually be referred to the California attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.
“We need their participation,” Moore said. “Our efforts to identify those involved and interview them has not been successful, other than we have identified individuals by their accounts on social media.”
In a video posted by Abdullah and viewed nearly 760,000 times on Twitter, David Lacey can be seen leaning through his doorway holding a handgun, his finger wrapped around the trigger.
“I will shoot you,” he says. “Get off my porch.”
The demonstrators cannot be seen in the video. Abdullah said about 30 people arrived at Jackie Lacey’s home before dawn to protest what they contend is her refusal to meet with activists and relatives of people killed in police shootings.
Abdullah confirmed she had yet to speak with Los Angeles Police Department investigators and questioned the sincerity of their review of David Lacey’s conduct.
“There was a card left at my home. My lawyer responded to the card. I don’t know if they’re reaching out to me to try to make an arrest of him, or if they are trying to intimidate me. I don’t know what they’re attempting to accomplish,” she said. “They have a phone number for me, it would be very easy to reach out.”
She also dismissed Ali’s criticisms, asserting that picketing Jackie Lacey’s home was a last resort.
“As she runs for a third term in office, it becomes imperative that she is held accountable,” Abdullah said. “Demonstrating at the homes of public officials is a tried and true strategy employed by groups ranging from labor unions to students.”
Abdullah’s relationship with the LAPD grew worse last year when the city tried to prosecute her on multiple criminal counts for actions she had taken at meetings of the city Police Commission, where she is often a critical voice. The Los Angeles city attorney’s office dropped all charges after protesters repeatedly packed downtown courtrooms in support of Abdullah.
Moore said the LAPD investigation is currently focused “primarily [on] an individual armed with a handgun and his actions at that doorway.” While the protesters’ actions could be considered mitigating factors, Moore did not say Abdullah or any other demonstrators were the subject of the criminal investigation.
David Lacey declined to comment through a representative for his wife’s reelection campaign. Both the campaign and a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office declined to identify his lawyer.
Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor, said a decision to charge David Lacey will depend on whether he had a genuine reason to fear for his wife’s safety or his own.
“You don’t have to be right in self-defense. You only have to be reasonable,” she said. “It may be that he really wasn’t at any risk at all, but it’s hard when the adrenaline is pumping, and you’re in your home and you’re scared, to make an absolutely rational decision.”
A number of facts weigh against him, she said. David Lacey had no reason to open the door, and the police were on the way, said Levenson, who also noted there has been no indication the protesters were armed. The fact that threats had been made against the district attorney during the election, however, could weigh in her husband’s favor when it comes to a charging decision, Levenson said.
During a Monday news conference, Jackie Lacey said she had received “threats, some of them death threats” while in office, but did not elaborate.
Shiara Davila-Morales, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, later confirmed Lacey had received “numerous documented threats … including a death threat” in recent weeks. Davila-Morales said the death threat was referred to an outside law enforcement agency but declined to identify the agency or provide details about the threat.
Late Friday, the Long Beach Police Department confirmed that the district attorney’s office notified police of a threat made against Lacey on “an online platform” in February.
Investigators with the department’s mental health unit identified the person, a 41-year-old Long Beach resident, and took him into custody without incident.
“The subject admitted to making the threat and after discussing the facts with the victim, it was determined that the most appropriate course of action was to release him to the care of a local hospital for further evaluation,” the department said in a statement. Investigators “do not believe the suspect intended to carry out the reported threat.”
Joe Henry, a senior investigator with the district attorney’s office who is part of Lacey’s security detail, said Friday the Long Beach man’s threat was deemed “credible” because he was a registered sex offender who had previously been convicted of a violent felony.
Though that incident was the lone specific death threat received during the election cycle, Henry said threats with various forms of hostile language, including claims people would deliver “their own kind of justice” to Lacey, had become more frequent as the primary heated up.
Times staff writer Leila Miller contributed to this report.