Prosecutor in controversial Hannah Tubbs case suspended for ‘misgendering’ defendant

Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón sits in a chair.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón in his downtown office. A deputy prosecutor was suspended last week for five days stemming from remarks he made about the gender identity of a defendant charged in a 2014 sexual assault.
(Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

The outspoken prosecutor at the center of one of the most controversial cases of Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s first term in office has been suspended for remarks he made about the gender identity of a defendant.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Shea Sanna, who has long criticized the office’s handling of the Hannah Tubbs case, was suspended for five days without pay last week because he repeatedly referred to Tubbs, who is transgender, by male pronouns in meetings and during court hearings in early 2022, records show.

Sanna was also accused of “dead naming” Tubbs, meaning he referred to the defendant by her legal name rather than the name correlating to her preferred gender identity, though Tubbs was listed by her legal name in some court documents.


The Tubbs case saw Gascón take intense criticism for his blanket policy that barred prosecutors from trying juveniles as adults under any circumstances. Tubbs was 17 when she allegedly assaulted a 10-year-old girl in the bathroom of a Palmdale restaurant in 2014, but the crime went unsolved for years until Tubbs was linked through DNA.

Despite the fact that Tubbs was 26 and had amassed a criminal record that included arrests for battery and assault by the time she stood in a Los Angeles courtroom on sexual assault charges, Gascón stuck to his juvenile policy, resulting in the defendant facing a short jail sentence for the sex crime.

Sanna was one of many prosecutors and elected officials who blasted Gascón’s handling of the case. The district attorney later apologized for the way the case played out after leaked jail calls showed Tubbs referring to the child victim as “meat” and led Gascón to publicly question the validity of Tubbs’ gender identity claims.

“It’s unfortunate that she gamed the system,” Gascón said last year. “If I had to do it all over again, she would be prosecuted in adult court.”

Within weeks, Gascón modified his policy on juvenile prosecutions, creating a committee that could approve requests to seek to transfer teen defendants to adult court in extreme circumstances. The committee has approved three cases for transfer in the last year, records show, and one of those petitions was knocked down by a judge last week.

In an interview Tuesday, Sanna said he referred to Tubbs by male pronouns because he believed she was identifying as transgender in a bid for leniency and called the suspension retaliation for his criticism of Gascón.


“They’re trying to set me up to be terminated, and they’re trying to silence me,” Sanna said. “So if that’s their goal, I’m just going to talk more.”

The union representing rank-and-file prosecutors also filed an unfair labor practice on Sanna’s behalf last year.

Tiffiny Blacknell, a spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, said she could not comment on a personnel matter but noted the suspension was the result of an independent investigation into violations of the county’s policy of equity.

“The transgender community is frequently the target of violent attacks. They are also reluctant to come forward and report their attacks because of how they’re treated in the criminal legal system,” she said in a statement. “The LADA office takes seriously our responsibility to treat all people with respect and dignity no matter their gender identity.”

In a seven-page letter detailing Sanna’s discipline that was reviewed by The Times, the district attorney’s office said Sanna misgendered Tubbs on multiple occasions, including a case strategy meeting in January 2022 and repeatedly on Twitter.

“Through use of social media you continued to misgender and dead name this individual and used offensive and demeaning language regarding the individual’s personal transition process,” the letter read. “You took it upon yourself to arrive at conclusions as to the authenticity of the individual’s claim that they were transgender.”


During the January meeting, Sanna also alleged to supervisors that Tubbs had “used gender identity as a plot within the juvenile system.”

When Sanna was first placed under internal investigation last year, The Times also found records showing he’d been accused of making racist comments referring to Black teenagers as “hyenas” and expressed a desire to physically strike a teenager. Sanna said the comments were taken out of context. It remains unclear if those allegations are still under investigation.

In May, Kern County prosecutors charged Tubbs with a 2019 murder in Lake Isabella. That case is set for trial in late March, records show.