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Firing of LAHSA Worker Was Retaliatory, Newly Released Communications Suggest

On January 24, Councilmember O’Farrell’s Chief of Staff was e-mailed Ashley Bennett’s business card. On February 3, Bennett was fired.

About 10 people stand with protest signs concerning housing outside of Councilmember Mitch O'Farrell's office in Los Angeles District 13.
A spokesperson for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell told the LA Times in February that “the councilman did not lodge any complaints about [Bennett] participating in the protests.” (PHOTO: Ashley Bennett)

The firing of Ashley Bennett from her job at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA) was almost certainly retaliatory, according to Council District 13 staff e-mails published over the weekend by the Michael Kohlhaas blog.

Bennett was terminated from LAHSA February 3rd. A spokesman for Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell told the Los Angeles Times in February that neither the councilman nor his staff had made any complaints about Bennett’s participation in eviction defense protests at Echo Park Lake.

Bennett, however, stated in a February open letter published on KNOCK.LA that O’Farrell called Heidi Marston, then Interim Director of LAHSA, and demanded disciplinary action be taken against Bennett because she was “instigating anarchy in the park.” The emails published on the Michael Kohlhaas blog establish that O’Farrell’s office had a standing interest in Bennett: as early as January 9th, Chief LA Park Ranger Joe Losorelli was reporting to O’Farrell staffer Marisol Rodriguez about her.

The release of the e-mails follows the publication of an open letter by Kristy Lovich, a former LAHSA supervisor who was similarly fired following her circulation of a petition to end LAHSA’s partnership with the Los Angeles Police Department, in which she states that LAHSA Acting Director of Access & Engagement Victor Hinderliter told her that “O’Farrell made a personal call to Heidi [Marston] requesting Ashley [Bennett]’s termination.”

Directly prior to her firing, Bennett had been organizing with unhoused community leaders at Echo Park Lake who were facing eviction by the city of Los Angeles. On January 24th, Echo Park Lake residents wrote an open letter to O’Farrell, pledging to keep the park clean and safe and requesting that cops and park employees stop harassing, criminalizing, and intimidating the community.

The newly released documents show that the same day, January 24th, Losorelli again e-mailed Rodriguez, attached Bennett’s business card, and wrote: “This is the LASHA [sic] person (Ashley Bennet [sic]) that shows up at Echo Park all the time and provides false info to the homeless. Instead of working with us, she tells the folks in the park that they don’t need to comply with the LAPD or the rangers. She tells the homeless that the city has no resources to help them. She has played a big part in steering [sic] up the crowd. Bennet was there today saying that she was not representing LASHA and was there on her own time; of course causing problems.”

Video footage from Echo Park Lake contradicts Losorelli’s claim. In it, a park ranger tells houseless community members to ask LAHSA for housing. Bennett steps in and explains that there is no available LAHSA housing, which means there is nowhere for the folks living at the park to go.

A few hours after the Losorelli email, Rodriguez sent an otherwise empty e-mail containing a scan of Bennett’s business card to O’Farrell’s Chief of Staff Jeanne Min. Bennett was fired two weeks later.

(Disclosure: Ashley Bennett is a founding member of Ground Game LA, which is affiliated with KNOCK.LA.)