The Netflix CEO supported changes to the law that may have contributed to a death in the family of his partner. He may have been convinced to support weakening the criminal law by the media, but will this personal tragedy be enough to wake him up?
Reed Hastings and Jacqueline Avant
Reed Hastings’ first name is Wilmot, which means “little Wilhelm” in German. Hastings went to a fancy Boston private school, joined the Marines, washed out, and joined the Peace Corp. His favorite movie is Sophie’s Choice, which is an odd pick, to say the least. Hastings is famous for co-founding Netflix. He came up with the idea after losing a rental copy of Apollo 13.
Hastings is generous with his money. For example, he has donated $1,000,000 to Los Angeles Unified School District to help with COVID relief. In 2020 Hastings donated $1,000,000 to the Center for Policing Equity, a research center founded at UCLA. That group was founded by a professor who also founded the “California-based queer hip hop group Deep Dickollective.” That detail is irrelevant to his work at the CPE, but it does make me wonder if he is a serious person.
Hasting’s wife, Patty Quillin, is also charitable and political. She opposed Proposition 20 which would have toughened some laws against theft. “Issues surrounding social and racial justice animate her,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. She donated to San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. But that’s not the only District Attorney that Hastings’ family funded. Quillin also donated 1,253,000 to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon. Hastings donated $500,000 himself.
Jacqueline Avant Was Shot and Killed in Her Home
The Beverly Hills Police Department received a call at 2:23 a.m. about a home invasion. Someone came onto her property, shot at her security guard, and smashed a sliding glass door. Apparently the security guard did not return fire. The burglar entered the house and shot Avant in the stomach. Her husband, Clarence Avant, was home at the time. Jacqueline was alert and speaking when paramedics arrived, but later died. She was 81.
The Beverly Hills Police Department arrested a suspect, Ariel Maynor, and confiscated his AR-15 rifle. The 29-year-old’s vehicle was seen on surveillance videos driving eastbound out of the city after the shooting. Maynor was arrested after he apparently committed a second shooting and burglary just hours later. He invaded the home of a father and his 17-year-old daughter. LAPD’s Hollywood Division was alerted to a shooting and burglary call. They found Maynor in the back yard of the home with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the foot. The watch commander realized that the the two crimes might be connected and summoned Beverly Hills detectives.
Maynor is a parolee. He was released on September 1 after serving four years for second-degree robbery. He has previous convictions for robbery and grand theft. He is supposed to be under the supervision of the parole department. According to the Beverly Hills police, “it didn’t sound as if he was reporting to his parole agent at all.” Parole violations, such as failure to report to a parole agent, can return a felon to prison.
Jacqueline Avant is Not The Only One
Crime is up in Los Angeles. According to the LA Times:
Homicides are up 46.7% compared with 2019, while shooting victims are up 51.4%, according to police data. As of the end of November, there had been 359 homicides in L.A. in 2021, compared with 355 in all of 2020. There have not been more homicides in one year since 2008, which ended with 384.
That newspaper, whose editorializing on crime is slanted towards “progressive prosecutors,” ran an article titled, “Brazen Crimes Shake LA.” The authors note that “violent crime has jumped sharply in L.A.” The New York Post describes a “violent LA crime wave” and include a quote:
“It’s a s–t show over here,” said LAPD Det. Jamie McBride, a director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, a police union. “Bad guys are released quicker than we can finish the paper work, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.”
Why Does This Matter?
This matters to the family of Jacqueline Avant, who should not have been murdered in her own home, even at 81. But it also implicates the weakening of the justice system advocated by Hastings. Before Hastings and others poured money into the LADA race last year, the murderer of Mrs. Avant would have faced stiff penalties. But now, thanks in part to Mr. Hastings, he will not have to worry about these stiff penalties. Tragically, Mrs. Avant’s family will also not have the benefit of the laws our legislature put in place to prevent this type of murder from happening.
Prosecutors will have several charges to choose from. Before Hastings’ money got involved, prosecutors would have filed murder in the first degree, with the special circumstance of murder in the course of burglary. This would make Maynor eligible for death or life without parole. They could also choose leniency, although it’s not clear why they would. If they choose not to seek the special circumstance, Maynor would be eligible for parole in 25 years. This could be doubled due to his prior strikes to 50 years. Prosecutors could also extend his sentence for using an AR-15 by an additional life sentence with parole eligibility in 25 years. In other words, prosecutors could choose between death, life with no parole, or life with parole in 75 years.
The District Attorney’s Office files the charges and enhancements. If Maynor is convicted, the judge will sentence him, and can decide which of these to use. The important point is that the DA has to use these tools just to give the judge the option to take parole off the table. If the DA doesn’t file these charges, the judge cannot file them on her own, and Maynor may parole one day.
The problem is, LADA George Gascon is refusing to apply the special circumstance law in any case. And ironically this is exactly what Hastings wanted. Under Gascon, everybody is eligible for parole, including repeat violent felons, like Maynor. He believes that it is his right, not the legislature’s, to decide which laws get applied in Los Angeles County. For example, Gascon recently failed to apply the special circumstance enhancement to a man who shot and killed his four children and mother in law in Lancaster.
Maynor already got a break from the DA’s office under Gascon’s predecessor, Jackie Lacey. In 2018 he was convicted of robbery. Because of his record, he was ineligible for probation. The minimum he should have been eligible to receive was 2 years, the low term for robbery. This should have been doubled due to his prior strike. He also had a prior “serious felony” conviction, which adds an additional 5 years, bringing his total minimum exposure to 9 years. However, the DA’s office appears to have “struck” the serious felony conviction that would have added 5 years. Jacqueline Avant would be alive today if that 5 years had been imposed.
Reed Hastings and his wife support policies that enable killings of this type. Clearly, Maynor needed to do more time. Hastings, who seems like a man who means well, was sold a scam labeled “reform.” Many others are in the same boat. Compassion for our communities, especially communities of color, sometimes means being tough on crime. As long as some focus exclusively on compassion for convicted criminals, victims will continue to suffer. But our media diet, our income-segregated neighborhoods, and our politics mean that some people will never know how crime works in real life. It takes a tragedy among their friends and neighbors before they wake up. Hopefully Reed Hastings and his wife will wake up.
A columnist in the LA Times says, “Don’t Turn Jacqueline Avant’s Shooting Into a Political Football.” They interviewed a family friend of Jacqueline Avant’s, who said they were “cringing,” and continued, “we don’t want this to become a battle cry of the left or the right.” They did not explain why voters weren’t entitled to a vivid example of the consequences of their choices.
Nicole Avant, the daughter of the victim, hired an armed security guard. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement of the ability of local police to keep her safe.
A careful read of the LA Times coverage mentioned above shows the reporters did not keep their politics out of the article. Shootings and murders are up about 50% this year, but the authors did not describe the violence as a “crime wave.” Instead, they are quick to point out that crime has also jumped in other cities, and that maybe the pandemic is to blame, or “COVID-19 angst” or “a new holiday season upon which brick-and-mortar retailers are relying to stay afloat.” They do not speculate about whether recent dramatic changes to the criminal law are to blame. Instead, they speculate about “pandemic related policies that have allowed many nonviolent arrestees to be released without bail” instead of pointing out that the DA George Gascon’s policy is to never request bail. This is is almost shockingly dishonest. The DA has ordered his prosecutors not to request bail in virtually all cases. How can the reporters describe that as a “pandemic related policy?” This exactly the kind of bias that misleads people, because it not likely to be noticed by the general reader. The reporters also decided to describe the approach of Gascon as a “strong reform agenda,” instead of using a neutral term. They quote a business owner who wants the laws to be enforced in two paragraphs but give five paragraphs to BLM leader Melina Abdullah.