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Gascón drops charges against protestor accused of train-wrecking attempt

Emanuel Padilla was arrested following a protest last month outside Sheriff Alex Villanueva's home in La Habra Heights.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

Newly elected Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón on Tuesday dropped all charges against a protestor accused of attempting to wreck a train at the scene of a demonstration against the Sheriff’s Department.

Attorneys for the protestor — Emanuel Padilla, a 34-year-old toy designer from Hawthorne — had claimed that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and the district attorney’s office under former head Jackie Lacey had trumped up the charges and that the department was retaliating for Padilla’s activism.

Gascón directed a prosecutor to dismiss all charges against Padilla, but the prosecutor refused, according to Max Szabo, a spokesman for Gascón’s transition team. A different deputy district attorney ultimately stood in during a brief dismissal hearing late Tuesday in the Compton courthouse, Szabo said.

Szabo declined to comment further on the prosecutor’s refusal to dismiss the charges, saying it was a personnel matter.

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Padilla was charged last month with one felony count of a train-wrecking attempt, which carries a maximum sentence of life without parole, and one felony count of unlawful obstruction of a railroad track. He had pleaded not guilty and been denied bail.

The sheriff’s department alleged that the incident occurred Nov. 15 at the intersection of Compton Boulevard and Willlowbrook Avenue in Compton — the location of a largely peaceful protest organized to urge justice for Andres Guardado, an 18-year-old killed this summer by a sheriff’s deputy in Gardena.

Prosecutors under Lacey, whom Gascón replaced after winning the November election, had accused Padilla of helping to drag a metal cable across train tracks near the intersection, shortly before railroad crossing signals lit up and an alarm sounded, indicating that a train was coming.

Padilla was arrested three days after the incident, shortly after a small, peaceful protest near the home of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at which demonstrators called for the release of the names of deputies involved in the recent fatal shootings of Dijon Kizzee and Fred Williams III. The Sheriff’s Department has declined to say why Padilla was not arrested on the spot.

Padilla is a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit claiming that the Sheriff’s Department engaged in unlawful arrests and excessive use of force at racial justice protests this summer.

Gascón’s decision “signifies that we were 100% correct that Emanuel was targeted for being a protestor and being a vocal protestor,” said Yoni Hagos, Padilla’s co-counsel, of the dismissal of charges.

The Sheriff’s Department said it disagreed with the decision to drop the case.

“The Department is disappointed and perplexed that the charges were dropped, despite clear factual evidence and a lawful arrest for actions which jeopardized the lives of our community members,” spokesman Lt. John Satterfield said in a statement Tuesday.

A Thanksgiving potluck dinner outside Men’s Central Jail in support of Padilla was shut down when dozens of deputies in riot gear appeared. Several deputies were filmed with duct tape covering their name tags.

After the incident, Villanueva announced a change in department policy to allow deputies to hide their name tags to prevent protesters from posting the deputies’ personal information on social media.


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