SFPD chief as new district attorney surprises many 

Outgoing Mayor Gavin Newsom tapped police Chief George Gascón to replace Kamala Harris as district attorney Sunday, in a surprise selection that apparently materialized just a day earlier.

By selecting the chief as one of his last official acts in office, Newsom instantly transformed the upcoming race to fill the district attorney vacancy created by the election of Harris as California attorney general. Gascón, who said he plans to run for a full four-year term in November’s election, is now the most well-known figure in the field of likely candidates.

Gascón did not address the ways in which his administration might differ from Harris’ — but, unlike his predecessor, he said the death penalty would be an option for his department.

“I’m not going to get philosophical, but I’m not opposed to it,” he said.

Newsom said he made his decision because one of the biggest problems in city law enforcement “is that the Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office haven’t gotten along for about 30 years.” The mayor also said he trusts that Gascón will support San Francisco’s sanctuary policy for undocumented immigrants and is the right person to handle major issues such as the fallout from the crime-lab scandal.

Gascón said he supported his predecessor’s decision to turn the lab investigation over to the state to prevent any conflict of interest. As chief, Gascón initiated related reforms that require disclosure from police officers whenever their misconduct could affect an ongoing prosecution.

Newsom said he had not even considered Gascón until Saturday afternoon, when the two men discussed possible candidates for the job. At one point, someone suggested that maybe Gascón should fill the post. The mayor said it was around 2 p.m. when he asked Gascón if he wanted the position, and he only had until 5 p.m. to decide.

“With God as my witness, he was not on my mind until late [Saturday] night,” Newsom said. “Gascón was not on anybody’s list, including my own.”

Gascón said he decided he was actually interested in the job after his wife told him to follow his heart.

“It all took me by surprise,” the outgoing chief said at a well-attended swearing-in ceremony at City Hall. City Attorney Dennis Herrera, Public Defender Jeff Adachi, several supervisors and many other city officials stood behind him in support.

“You didn’t know this,” Newsom said before making his announcement, “our police chief happens to be a lawyer.”

Gascón passed the California bar in June 1996 after graduating from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton. He said he worked for a year and a half after that, mostly on civil suits such as bankruptcy and labor cases.

But not everyone was pleased with the selection.

Police Officers Association officials said they were stunned by the news, which they heard about only after Gascón called Sunday morning to tell them he was being considered for the job and then later informed them he was taking it.

“He’s only been here 13 months and now he’s leaving to take another job?” said Kevin Martin, vice president of the police union. “We’re all pretty displeased by this move and very concerned about the future of the department.”

kkelkar@sfexaminer.com

Examiner columnist Ken Garcia contributed to this report.

From beat cop to top prosecutor

1978: Became Los Angeles police officer
1981: Left force for business career
1987: Returned to LAPD, rising up through ranks to become assistant police chief and director of Office of Operations
1996: Passed California bar
1996-98: Worked on civil cases
2006: Named police chief in Mesa, Ariz.
2009: Appointed San Francisco police chief
Saturday: Asked if he would consider position as S.F. district attorney
Sunday: Named S.F. district attorney

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Kamala Kelkar

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