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Top Gascón aide fears physical harm if civil service hearing is open to public

San Gabriel Valley Tribune logo San Gabriel Valley Tribune 8/11/2022 Scott Schwebke, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, West Covina, Calif.

Aug. 10—A controversial top aide to District Attorney George Gascón wants a Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission hearing closed to the public and her testimony sealed because she fears for her safety, according to a declaration obtained by the Southern California News Group.

Tiffiny Blacknell, who is Gascón's chief spokesperson, says in the 17-page declaration filed last week that she faces more harassment and threats if the hearing into nepotism and favoritism complaints lodged by the Association of Deputy District Attorneys remains public.

"This harassment is tangible, imminent and could hinder me from testifying to the best of my abilities if these proceedings are not closed," she said in the declaration.

Samuel Reyes, a hearing officer for the Civil Services Commission, denied Blacknell's request during proceedings Wednesday, Aug. 10, saying he is not authorized to close the hearings.

Attorney Shawn Thomas who is representing the District Attorney's Office, filed a motion last week seeking to have Civil Service Commission proceedings closed involving Blacknell and respondents Shelan Joseph, Alisa Blair, John Perroni, Nancy Theberge and Gregory Apt, who were deputy public defenders before they were hired by Gascón.

The hearings should be closed and testimony sealed to prevent disturbance by spectators and witness intimidation, the motion says.

The District Attorney's Office said late Wednesday that closing the hearings to the public is imperative.

"The District Attorney is requesting closed proceeding due to Ms. Blair and Mrs. Blacknell continuing to undergo harassment involving threats of violence," the office said in a statement. "As recently as last Friday, threats of violence have been lodged against them. Additionally, vitriolic social media comments about Mrs. Blacknell are promoting sexual violence including that she would enjoy being gang raped. The violence against these individuals has not been limited to words alone, in fact, Ms. Joseph's home was targeted in an attack close in time to her appearance in the press. Ms. Joseph has likewise received harassing emails. Within hours of the motion to close the proceedings being filed it was leaked and posted on social media. In response, people quickly suggested that protestors go to the home of Alisa Blair and Tiffiny Blacknell. We take the threats of violence towards our staff very seriously. Protecting the safety and well-being of our employees is our top concern."

Blacknell could not immediately be reached.

During Wednesday's hearing, Thomas accused Elizabeth J. Gibbons, an attorney representing the ADDA, of leaking a "secret declaration" to the media. However, he did not say whether that declaration was from Blacknell or another respondent.

"Again, we would renew our request to close these proceedings, because it does not seem that Ms. Gibbons, frankly, can be trusted to comply with your orders on this matter," Thomas told Reyes.

Gibbons denied leaking a sealed declaration and said she did not discuss the matter with any journalists.

"The information exists beyond the four corners of this hearing," she said. "It has existed beyond the four corners of this hearing for six months before this hearing ever started. I had nothing to do with the release of that information."

The ADDA, which is the bargaining organization for nonsupervisory deputy district attorneys, has filed at least 11 appeals with the Civil Service Commission on behalf of prosecutors who were on promotion eligibility lists and passed over by Gascón in favor of hiring Blacknell and Joseph, along with Blair, who recently left the District Attorney's Office.

At the time of their appointments, Blair, Blacknell and Joseph were not qualified to take a competitive examination to become a Grade III or IV deputy district attorney and did not have the required two years of experience at a lower employment grade, according to the ADDA

Blacknell said in her declaration that since transferring from the Public Defender's Office to the District Attorney's Office she has been subjected to "harassment, attempted intimidation, and threats of physical harm" by members of the public, the media and county employees.

She added that in early 2021, former Deputy District Attorney Marc Debbaudt posted pictures of her and her children on his Facebook account in an attempt to intimidate her. "I have also been referenced repeatedly by name in pieces by right-wing media outlets online, in print, in podcasts, and on the radio," Blacknell said.

Gibbons said in a motion that the request to close the Civil Service Commission hearings is an attempt to keep secret from public scrutiny Gascón's selection and appointment of unqualified political supporters to hold positions of "great impact and importance."

The motion says Blacknell's purported concerns about public safety are unsupported by facts and noted she has posted on her public social media accounts "racist invectives that speak to a violent ideation for racial relations she seems to favor."

"She has, on her public social media, referred to police officers as barbarians, has suggested that the Los Angeles Police Department is an "occupying army," and has expressed the sentiment that the racial strife that claws at our society should be resolved by violence," the motion states.

Information was not immediately available regarding when Blacknell will testify during the ongoing commission hearings

This story has been updated to include a statement from the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office.

(c)2022 San Gabriel Valley Tribune, West Covina, Calif. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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