FIRST ON FOX: A Los Angeles man who received no jail time and mental health diversion for a 2021 stabbing that nearly killed a construction worker is now charged with the murder of his neighbor.
Stefen Sutherland, 31, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon in November 2020 after slashing a construction worker's neck because he was making noise, according to law enforcement sources.
A Los Angeles probation official warned that there was a risk of further violence and asked a judge to put him in prison. But District Attorney George Gascon's office sought mental health diversion instead for the crime, which critics say was under-charged to begin with as an assault rather than attempted murder.
On May 23, Sutherland allegedly shot Jennifer Gomez 19 times in her home. The two had previously clashed over noise complaints, according to sources close to the investigation.
In a statement, Gascon's office defended the suspect's slap on the wrist after the stabbing.
"The defendant in this case met the specific eligibility criteria for mental health diversion," a spokesman for Gascon said in a statement. "A court-appointed psychologist deemed him suitable for the treatment program, and our deputy district attorney agreed to the defense request for mental health diversion.
"The court approved the treatment plan and deemed the defendant safe for community treatment. The defendant participated for nearly two years in [the] treatment program without issue. We are saddened by the most recent allegations, and our hearts go out to the victim and those who loved them."
Gomez's parents set up a GoFundMe to help with her funeral expenses but have raised just over $300.
Sutherland could have faced an attempted murder charge, according to deputy district attorneys from within Gascon's office.
"One of the things Gascon does is manipulate things with the charging," said John Lewin, the prosecutor who put real estate heir turned murderer Robert Durst behind bars. "You make it a discount with assault with a deadly weapon, and you give him mental health diversion. It doesn’t look as bad as attempted murder."
But it's not just Gascon, according to Eric Siddall, vice president of the Los Angeles County Association of Deputy District Attorneys. It stems from a long history of failures by state and local elected officials, he said.
"By all estimation, this person actually did have a serious mental health condition, but you just can't put someone who stabbed someone back on the street," he told Fox News Digital. "That's not a solution. It's irresponsible."
To that end, a decade-old jail construction proposal would have created 3,000 beds for violent mental health patients that would allow them to be placed in diversion programs without being free to harm the public, he said.
The proposed facility would have been completed by April. It was the solution to replace an aging county jail concocted by a bipartisan commission. However, the plan was ultimately "torpedoed" by the county board of supervisors, the old jail was torn down and the county declined to build anything new.
"You can't really blame it all on Gascon," Siddall said. "The state government created a law that basically makes it impossible to stop someone from getting diversion, the state and county have failed to invest in any kind of facility for the mentally ill and prosecutors like Gascon … all three of those create a disaster where people get killed."
Gomez's slaying comes weeks after another diversion recipient was accused of murder.
Jade Simone Brookfield, 23, was arrested in April and charged with murder in the stabbing death of 40-year-old Dennis Banner during an argument in a street.
Brookfield's criminal history included multiple prior assault charges, including stabbing a woman in the chest in 2020.
Like Sutherland, she received mental health diversion as punishment before being accused of killing someone.
Sutherland is due back on court June 12. He was being held on $2 million bail.