Last Christmas was the worst for Patricia Hernandez.

Last Dec. 13, her daughter, Jonisha Mendoza, was found shot to death in a Reseda apartment. The homicide investigation into Mendoza’s death continues.

(F. Castro / SFVS)
Patricia Hernandez shows a photo of her daughter, Jonisha Mendoza, who was killed in Reseda on December 13. The suspect in the case was freed after three months while the investigation is pending.

Mendoza, a 32-year-old mother of three, did not live in the apartment. Her mother said it took investigators eight days to locate the person who lived in the home.

“[The resident] was out as a fugitive for eight days. Maybe she got rid of evidence,” Hernandez said.

Even worse, Hernandez said, the suspect (whose name she can’t reveal because the case is still pending) was released from jail three months after her detention for lack of evidence as police detectives continue to investigate.

“The detectives keep working, but (George) Gascon let her go,” said Hernandez, who wears a pin with a photo of her daughter close to her heart, as well as a face mask with her image.

‘We’re Dealing With Trauma”

In another case, Jennifer Solorzano blames the Los Angeles County District Attorney for a potentially lighter sentence for her boyfriend’s alleged murderer, Lonttaeveon McCallip.

Jonathan Lloyd McClinn, 30, died on Jan. 31, 2020, after being shot 12 times at close-range — including three gunshots to the head — in the 15800 block of Stagg Street in Van Nuys.

Solorzano said the DA’s office has not included enhancements in the charges against McCallip, such as the commission of a crime with a gun and being a gang member.

The result is that — if convicted — the alleged attacker could serve 15 years or less behind bars.

“It breaks my soul. We’re dealing with trauma,” said Solorzano, who wears a necklace with a pendant containing McClinn’s ashes.

“I dream of him and he’s dead in my dreams, so my heart hurts,” she said.

A Change.org petition with more than 7,300 signatures asks the DA’s office to “do right” by McClinn.

“We want to make sure District Attorney Gascon does right by Jonathan, and brings all necessary charges applicable against his murderer including the gang enhancement and gun enhancement. We hope that justice is brought and this vicious murderer pays for the crimes he committed in order to prevent anyone else from suffering the way he has caused us to,” the petition states.

On April 22, both Solorzano and Hernandez stood with other victims’ families outside the San Fernando Courthouse and denounced Gascon’s reforms, which they said are unlawful and continue to traumatize them.

Gascon Defends Reforms

Since being elected in November, Gascon — a former Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief — has instituted a number of “progressive” policies and directives meant to end mass incarceration and punitive crime laws that disproportionally impact Black and Latino communities.

In a statement marking his first 100 days in office, Gascon noted he has “abolished” the death penalty, ended the practice of prosecuting minors as adults and done away with enhancements in most cases that exacerbate recidivism.

Supporters praise Gascon for trying to overhaul a system that has placed minors behind bars for life without the possibility of ever being released, and trying to provide alternatives to incarceration for those convicted of lesser crimes. Groups like Black Lives Matter have spoken in his defense.

“I have instituted a series of reforms based on data and science that will enhance safety while reducing racial disparities and the misuse of incarceration,” Gascon said. “Our efforts to transform a dated approach that creates more crime, victims and inequities are just beginning.”

Gascon has promised more reforms, including the launch of a community-based group to review officer-involved fatalities and a pre-filing diversion program for the homeless who suffer from mental abuse or a mental disorder.

“We are doing all of this because the science and data tell us so,” Gascon said. “We can truly enhance public safety, increase equity, expand victim services and strengthen police accountability.”

But the reforms have not only angered victims’ families, but also Gascon’s own prosecutors, who argue the directives are letting criminals go free and without proper punishment. They also said even minors are capable of committing heinous crimes and should pay for them adequately.

Recall Effort Sought

A recall effort is underway with its supporters hoping to begin collecting signatures in May. They’ll need about 600,000 signatures (some 10% of registered county voters) to qualify for the ballot.

“Our rights are in jeopardy and under attack. DA Gascon is violating victims’ constitutional rights,” said Kathy Cady, a retired prosecutor with the county District Attorney’s Office.

Cady said she’s represented over 60 murder victims’ families since January who have come to her angry and worried “their cases are not being handled properly.”

“There are so many ways his policies are re-traumatizing victims,” Cady said. “We only want to seek justice and due process in every single case.”

Moses Castillo, a retired LAPD detective, said Gascon has “stripped away his attorneys’ ability to advocate for the victims.”

“These directives are unlawful and we need to vote him out,” Castillo added.

Also present during the event that was part of Victims’ Rights Week were Terry and Tony Lopez, whose son Anthony Lopez II was killed in Pacoima in January 2020.

The alleged murderer of their son, who was being initially prosecuted as an adult, is now being charged as a minor, which significantly lessens the length of his potential sentence.

“We want our justice while we’re still on this Earth,” Terry Lopez said, noting that all “victims’ lives matter.”

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