Saturday, April 18, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Blogs We Like

LA Connections

Points of Interest

The BlogFather

Meta

Daily Reports


Crucial Bill to Give More Crossover Kids a Chance at Extended Foster Care Benefits Passes Out of Committee

April 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday of this week, a bill was passed out of committee
that, if passed by the full California legislature, would offer extended foster care benefits to groups of what are known as “crossover youth”—kids affected by both the juvenile justice and the foster care systems. An earlier bill (AB 12), that passed in 2010, gave many crossover youth the crucial three-years of extra help that research has shown can dramatically improve outcomes for kids as they begin to navigate adulthood without the help of stable families. But, due to quirks in the law, still other crossover youth were excluded from receiving the all-important extended benefits.

The new bill, SB 12, which was introduced by Sen. Jim Beale (D),, was the focus of a recent story by Daniel Heimpel, that was co-published by WitnessLA and the Chronicle of Social Change. The story, called Who is Watching Out for Angel, told of a now 20-year-old young woman who entered the foster care system through the doorway of juvenile probation when she was arrested following a fight with her mother, after years of reported abuse at home.

While Angel now hopes to qualify for extended care, the need for the bill was made particularly clear by two earlier stories written by Brian Rinker (here and here) for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Rinker wrote of three brothers who entered foster care together but were immediately split up, and each sent to different placements. Due a variety of circumstances, only the youngest brother, Joseph Bakhi, was eligible for extended care, while his two older brothers, Terrick and Matt, were not. The outcomes for each of the three brothers differed dramatically. Joseph attended UC Berkeley with scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth. In contrast, the other two brothers—Terrick and Matt—had no support after turning 18, either from family or from the state, and faced constant struggle, were at times homeless, and began battling with drug addition.

On Tuesday, Joseph Bakhi attended the committee hearing in support of his brother Terrick, who was hit particularly hard by the lack of support after he turned 18.

“I am a proud recipient of AB 12,” Joseph told Chronicle of Social Change reporter Sawssan Morrar. “And with assistance like this I could only imagine the difference in Terrick’s outcome. Issues like these are prevented by AB 12 and other resources, but the criteria to receive them are exclusive to kids that fall under dependency status.”

We will be following the progress of SB 12, as it makes its way through the legislative process.


Photo by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

LA Drug Court Reboot, $100 Million on Homelessness, DOJ to Monitor Calexico’s Police Dept., and the Struggle to Free the Innocent

April 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

GIVING LA’S DRUG COURTS NEW LIFE BY OPENING THEM UP TO MORE SERIOUS DRUG OFFENDERS

A new proposal from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office would expand the scope of the county’s half-empty drug courts to help people convicted of more serious drug-related crimes.

Before Proposition 47 reduced many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with certain drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses. Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposal and how it would work. Here’s a clip:

Treatment programs used for drug court participants have dropped from 85 percent full to about 65 percent full, Satriano said.

To turn the trend around, she said, the committee is considering a proposal to repurpose drug courts to service higher risk, higher need offenders who’s crimes are tied to their addictions. Things like theft and being a middle man in a drug deal could qualify, along with any non-violent, non-serious felony.

“We’re looking to broaden the eligibility to get into drug court, but at the same time, realizing that what we would also need to do is intensify the program,” said Mark Delgado, director of the county’s criminal justice coordinating committee.

He said the new program, if adopted, would involve three months of jail time for people accused of more serious crimes – as well as more rigorous drug treatment and testing requirements.


HOW MUCH LA CITY AGENCIES SPEND EACH YEAR INTERACTING WITH THE HOMELESS

Los Angeles spends more than $100 million on homelessness each year, an estimated $54-$87 million of which is spent on police interaction with the homeless, according to a report released Wednesday by City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer Miguel A. Santana. And of the money spent on law enforcement contact with the homeless population, arrests cost $46-$80 million.

Santana included sixteen different city agencies and departments in his study. One problem, according to the report, is that the departments rely heavily on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 19-person Emergency Response Team which only receives $330,000 from the city and serves the whole county.

The LA Times’ Gale Holland has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

“There appears to be no consistent process across city departments for dealing with the homeless or with homeless encampments,” he said.

The report said it was not possible now “to get a full measure of the costs” of homelessness for the city, or to monitor the effects of changes in homelessness over time in L.A.

[SNIP]

Responses by city departments are not designed to end homelessness by systematically connecting the homeless to assessment, services and housing, the report said.

In many departments, the report said, responses are ad hoc, designed to respond to a very specific challenge rather than working toward ending homelessness as a whole.

Santana recommended that the city increase funding for homeless outreach and case management, create a new homeless office and set up neighborhood hubs to support existing efforts to house and care for homeless people.


DOJ TO MONITOR AND MAKEOVER CALEXICO’S POLICE DEPARTMENT

The US Department of Justice announced this week that it will train and monitor Calexico, CA’s troubled police department. Last fall, the FBI launched an investigation into alleged officer misconduct. In October, the city fired its police chief and replaced him with former LAPD Assistant Chief Michael Bostic. The new chief said he quickly found that the investigations unit was not conducting any investigations, officers were not bothering to obtain search warrants, the department was spying on the City Council, and that department members were using assets seized from citizens to buy things like spy glasses.

Chief Bostic has asked the DOJ to step in and help him turn the Calexico Police Department around. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, will provide extensive training and will help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

KPBS’ Jean Guerrero has the story. Here’s a clip:

Bostic has fired six police officers since his arrival in Calexico last fall. He was appointed police chief as the FBI started its investigation.

Previously, Bostic was assistant police chief at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he led internal cleanups after police scandals such as the Rodney King beating. During his time there, the Department of Justice and US Attorney’s Office monitored the LAPD for seven years in response to a court order.

“In my mind it was a very beneficial process,” Bostic said. “So when I got to Calexico… I on my own called the DOJ and asked them to come in and assist me in rebuilding the police department.”

The Department of Justice will help the Calexico Police Department through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, bringing in a group of police chief consultants from major U.S. cities to share their expertise.

The training will be focused on the proper handling of evidence, booking procedures and improving community outreach.

In January, NPR’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath talked with reporter Jill Replogle, who had been covering the FBI investigation, about the corruption allegations and about the city’s outspoken and proactive new chief, Michael Bostic. (He was so vocal, in fact, that the police union decided to sue him.)

JILL REPLOGLE: The new police chief, who started in October, says that when he got there, there was no real police work going on. He says the investigations unit didn’t have any investigations going on. He found internal investigations scattered all over the place – a safe, in desk drawers, in somebody’s car. He found that the department had used a lot of money from seized assets to buy spy equipment like spy glasses and, you know, lapel cameras, things like that. And then when they’re looking through the footage, they find that they’re spying on City Council members. They also found that they had bought a bunch of equipment to break into buildings and cars, but they have no search warrants for those searches.

RATH: Now, that new police chief, Michael Bostic, who took over in October after his predecessor was fired - some of the most damning public allegations have actually come from him. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BOSTIC: They’re recording City Council members, and they’re using it for extortion. I can say that. That’s just true. That’s what they were doing.

RATH: Jill, it was an amazing moment. The police chief actually broke down and cried at one point he was so disturbed by the corruption allegations. And this guy’s a 34-year veteran of the LAPD.


WHY EVIDENCE OF A WRONGFUL CONVICTION DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN EXONERATION AND FREEDOM

The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen has a great longread about Davontae Sanford, a young man convicted of killing four people when he was fourteen. Despite an abundance of evidence pointing to Sanford’s innocence, including an air-tight confession by a hit-man, Sanford’s efforts toward exoneration have been blocked at nearly every turn, and he remains behind bars (and will likely stay there for years more). Cohen explores why exonerations are so hard-won. Here’s how it opens:

We know more every day about the ways wrongful convictions happen. An indigent defendant gets an incompetent attorney. Or prosecutors hide exculpatory information from the defense. Perhaps there is a false confession, coerced by sly detectives, or undue reliance on faulty eyewitness testimony or junk forensic science. Maybe a key witness turns out to be an unreliable informant, or the jury or judge is racially biased. Often, it is some combination of these factors that puts an innocent person behind bars, sometimes for life.

What gets far less notice, however, is how wrongful convictions stay that way, even after evidence of injustice appears to bubble to the surface. This is why the already well-chronicled saga of Davontae Sanford, a 14-year-old boy convicted of a 2007 quadruple murder in Michigan, is worth following closely again as it enters its latest and most bizarre phase.

Later today, Sanford’s lawyers will ask a Michigan judge to grant their client a new trial based on evidence and arguments that state judges and county prosecutors have never before addressed. The defense team essentially will be asking Michigan’s criminal justice system to finally make a choice between two confessions to the same crime; one by a boy whose story was contradicted by independent evidence, the other by a professional killer who accurately told the police where to find the murder weapon.

Posted in Department of Justice, District Attorney, FBI, Homelessness, Innocence, Rehabilitation, The Feds | No Comments »

Talking About Race & Justice on Sunday at the LA Times Festival of Books

April 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



CIVIL RIGHTS LAWYER & AUTHOR, BRYAN STEVENSON & AWARD-WINNING LA TIMES REPORTER JILL LEOVY, TALKING ABOUT THE COMPLEXITIES OF RACE, JUSTICE & POLICING AT LA TIMES BOOK FEST!

The LA Times Festival of Books is coming to the USC campus this weekend, April 18 & 19.

I bring this up, in part, because the LATFOB is an amazing event for anyone who loves to read—or has kids who love to read. It’s arguably the best book fair in the nation, and admission is free.

But for those of you who love to read AND are interested in the complex issues surrounding race and justice in America, I’m moderating a panel at 10:30 Sunday morning AT USC’S Town & Gown, that you really—no kidding—should not miss.

It features superstar lawyer Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, and award winning LA Times crime reporter, Jill Leovy, author of Ghettoside.

Here are the details:


BRYAN STEVENSON & JUST MERCY

As the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, Stevenson challenges excessive and unfair sentencing, aids kids prosecuted as adults, and takes on innocence cases for prisoners on death row. For instance, Anthony Ray Hinton, the man who was freed earlier this month after spending 30-years on death row, is one of Stevenson’s clients.

Stevenson has also argued five times before the U.S. Supreme court, winning two landmark rulings, both having to do with the issue of juvenile life sentences. (He will be arguing again this fall in front of SCOTUS this fall.)

With his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, Stevenson exposes and personalizes the injustice in the American justice system through his experience as an activist lawyer, and the result is both shattering and weirdly hope-producing.

Here’s what David Cole had to say about Just Mercy for the New York Review of Books:

Just Mercy is every bit as moving as To Kill a Mockingbird, and in some ways more so. Although it reads like a novel, it’s a true story and….demonstrates, as powerfully as any book on criminal justice that I’ve ever read, the extent to which brutality, unfairness, and racial bias continue to infect criminal law in the United States. But at the same time that Stevenson tells an utterly damning story of deep-seated and widespread injustice, he also recounts instances of human compassion, understanding, mercy, and justice that offer hope. …As a result, Just Mercy is a remarkable amalgam, at once a searing indictment of American criminal justice and a stirring testament to the salvation that fighting for the vulnerable sometimes yields.


JILL LEOVY & GHETTOSIDE

Jill Leovy is an award winning Los Angeles Times reporter who won a Pulitzer for her part in coverage the 1997 North Hollywood shoot out. IN addition to everything else she does, Leovy made a significant difference in Southern California reporting when, in 2007 she launched The Homicide Report, which was born after Leovy had been covering crime in LA’s poorest neighborhoods for some time and had become bothered by all the deaths that went completely unnoticed, except perhaps by friends and immediate family of those murdered. It was as if some lives—and their endings—simply mattered far more than others.

So Leovy talked the Times into an unusual project. She wanted to record every single murder in Los Angeles County for one year, reporting and writing what she could about these deaths as time and energy permitted. And so the Homicide Report was born. (And to the LAT credit, it is still running today.)

Leovy’s remarkable and absolutely essential book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, goes many steps further. In it, she writes about the disproportionate number of black men who are murdered in America, most of them killed by other black men. In Los Angeles, for example, out of 260 murders in a year, 112 of those were African American in a city where, where blacks are perhaps 9 percent.

Most of those murders, particularly if they occurred in South LA, go unsolved.

The heroes of Leovy’s book are some of the South LA parents who bear the most unbearable kind of pain, and a cluster of LAPD homicide detectives who move heaven and earth to solve the killings that most of the rest of the city would rather ignore.

Here, for example, is what David Kennedy, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College, wrote in the Washington Post:

“Ghettoside” should change our understanding of and the debate about what’s going on in our most troubled neighborhoods. They are not hopeless places filled with incurable problems. They are dealing as best they can with horrific conditions not of their making and mainly not under their control. The book should bring some much-needed balance to the current debate about what post-Ferguson policing should look like. It should show why making policing more effective — while, yes, doing far less collateral damage — is an absolute necessity for helping those neighborhoods find safety and justice.

Both Leovy’s and Stevenson’s books are extremely important, especially right now, but each reads with the propulsive speed of great fiction, in which the deepest human issues—and characters—stay with you most of all.

So, if you can, come to USC Sunday morning and listen. You won’t be disappointed, I promise.

Posted in race, race and class, racial justice | 4 Comments »

Mentally Ill and Locked-up Kids, State of the City, and Police Brutality

April 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BACKGROUND ON RAHEEM HOUSSEINI’S ILLUMINATING STORY ABOUT HOW MENTALLY ILL KIDS WIND UP IN JAIL

Here in California, there has been ample discussion about how adults with mental illnesses are winding up in jails and prisons instead of receiving appropriate treatment in their communities or in mental health facilities. (And in LA County, in particular, District Attorney Jackie Lacey is working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program.)

Sacramento-based reporter Raheem Hosseini found, almost by accident, that the same thing is happening to mentally ill kids in California, and wrote in-depth about the issue last November.

This week, Hosseini published a story-behind-the-story about how he came upon this troubling set of facts and the difficulties he faced in reporting on kids with mental illness in the juvenile justice system. Here’s a clip:

Interim chief probation officer Suzanne Collins spent her limited time summarizing her department’s mandate: supervising adult offenders once they exit custody; producing in-depth assessments for the courts to consider at sentencing; and housing juvenile delinquents. While describing this last mission, Collins made the off-hand comment about juvenile hall having turned into a “commitment facility” for mentally ill children with no other place to go. The session quickly moved onto other business. In my head, however, the bell had been rung.

I had become familiar with the shifting complexion of adult prisons and jails, where a third to half of inmates experience mental health issues, depending on who — and when — you asked. But I had done little reporting on the juvenile justice system, and I was surprised to hear such an alarming assertion dropped so casually.

Because, if true, this is where the prison pipeline began for children who needed help, not institutionalization.

It wasn’t until weeks later that I was able to schedule a tour of juvenile hall. The kids I briefly met, especially in the special needs unit, stuck with me. Who were they? What brought them here? And where would they go next?

I managed to pick story subjects with multiple, co-existing privacy obstacles: Minors (1) with mental illnesses (2) in the juvenile justice system (3).

How would I find them? And can a mentally ill minor even grant consent to their story being told? That’s a question I posed to a few of the speakers present at a week-long health reporting fellowship at the University of Southern California in February 2014. I got sympathetic shrugs in return.

When I started reporting, I immediately reached out to multiple youth justice foundations, advocacy groups and researchers to see if they could put me in touch with mentally ill incarcerated juveniles, former juveniles and their families. Many requests went unanswered; some referred me to other groups or individuals; most said they couldn’t put me in touch with anyone.

Meanwhile, locating hard data on mental health trends within the juvenile justice system proved almost as tricky…

Here’s a clip from Hosseini’s original story about how kids who really need mental health care get ensnared in the juvenile justice system (where they are over-prescribed antipsychotics) and what counties are doing, or are not doing, to rectify the situation:

Ashley Drake is trying to be something other than a cautionary tale. In a north Sacramento law enforcement office, the 22-year-old waits on a probation officer, the same one she’s had since childhood. It’s time again to reach for the straight and narrow.

She’s never had much help in that department.

Afflicted with bipolar disorder, clinical depression and avoidant personality disorder symptoms, Drake’s childhood is a blur of family discord, 10 juvenile hall detentions and 13 separate group home placements. Therapy, counseling and treatment? They never happened. Instead, she began self-medicating with hard drugs as an adolescent, and has since graduated to adult jails…

According to a comprehensive analysis completed in September for the Sacramento County Criminal Justice Cabinet, nearly 43 percent of the average daily juvenile hall population received mental health services this year, a 19-percent increase over 2000. Of the 84 children who were served, 52 received psychotropic drugs. The representation of medicated juveniles at the hall rose by 16 percent in comparison to 2004, when the population was larger and the number of medicated kids smaller—around 32—an examination of state and local data shows.

“About half of our juvenile hall is a mental health facility. And we don’t have adequate services to keep up with that,” says Arthur L. Bowie, supervising assistant public defender of the county’s juvenile division. “We’re making criminals out of them, instead of what they are.”

What they are, says Bowie and others, are victims of abusive homes and failed institutions. Institutionalized at a young age and too often deprived of proper psychiatric care, they’re groomed for lives on perpetual lockdown.

“Half these kids don’t belong in detention,” says deputy probation officer Gabo Ly, who supervises the special needs unit, where juvenile hall’s most emotionally and psychologically unstable are segregated. “But this is all we have.”

It’s a crisis in quiet, sapped of any grand political campaign or national outcry.

Read the rest.


LA MAYOR’S STATE OF THE CITY: COMMUNITY POLICING, TARGETING CRIME HOTSPOTS, FUNDING GRYD

At CSUN on Tuesday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti delivered his second annual State of the City address. The mayor announced a new 40-officer LAPD unit that will focus on community policing, as well as other activities (like coaching sports teams) that will build better relationships between cops and the neighborhoods they serve.

The LAPD will also hire 200 new Metropolitan Division officers to target high crime areas. (KPCC’S Frank Stoltze has more on this plan and why critics say it may harm the efforts of community policing.) Each police division will also receive a new specialized domestic violence unit.

Among other noteworthy changes, an extra $5.5 million in funding will go to the Gang Reduction Youth Development program, which allows for GRYD’s Summer Night Lights program to be extended to include non-summer Friday nights in some park locations.

KPCC’s Sharon McNary has more on the State of the City address. Here’s a clip from the mayor’s speech:

“We should all be very proud: we reduced overall crime at the end of last year to its lowest level per capita since 1949.

But our city’s violent crime numbers were up.

And as long as I’m your Mayor, I won’t duck bad news. I’m going to own it and I’m going to attack it.

Here’s how:

First, we’re nearly doubling the ranks of LAPD’s elite Metropolitan Division, so we can quickly saturate a neighborhood with additional officers when crime spikes.

Second, because domestic violence increased in our city last year, we’re also doubling the number of our Domestic Abuse Response Teams so there’s one in every LAPD division — and today, I am proud to announce that they will be on the streets by July first, six months ahead of schedule.

DART teams are civilians who roll out with police officers and give victims of domestic abuse the legal, medical, and emotional support they need to break the cycle of violence.

Third, we know that intervention works…when our Gang Reduction and Youth Development workers step in, guns are lowered and lives are saved.

Today, I’m pleased to share that the budget that I’m sending City Council next week will include five point five million dollars more for the GRYD program, so we can cover new territory and 50 percent more gang-related violent crime.


TA-NEHISI COATES: BEYOND POLICE REFORM, SITUATIONS FOR WHICH LAW ENFORCEMENT MAY NOT BE THE BEST SOLUTION

The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates says that instead of questioning whether a police use of force was within the law and department policy, we should question whether we should have sent the officer(s) out to deal with the situation that led to a use of force. Coates says we should ask, for instance, whether there are safer (for both officers and the public) and more peaceful ways to deal with a person who is skipping out on child support (instead of arrest), or to help someone in the throes of a mental health crisis. Here’s a clip:

There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.

When Walter Scott fled from the North Charleston police, he was not merely fleeing Thomas Slager, he was attempting to flee incarceration. He was doing this because we have decided that the criminal-justice system is the best tool for dealing with men who can’t, or won’t, support their children at a level that we deem satisfactory. Peel back the layers of most of the recent police shootings that have captured attention and you will find a broad societal problem that we have looked at, thrown our hands up, and said to the criminal-justice system, “You deal with this.”

Last week I was in Madison, Wisconsin, where I was informed of the killing of Tony Robinson by a police officer. Robinson was high on mushrooms. The police were summoned after he chased a car. The police killed him. A month earlier, I’d been thinking a lot about Anthony Hill, who was mentally ill. One day last month, Hill stripped off his clothes and started jumping off of his balcony. The police were called. They killed him.

[SNIP]

Police officers fight crime. Police officers are neither case-workers, nor teachers, nor mental-health professionals, nor drug counselors. One of the great hallmarks of the past forty years of American domestic policy is a broad disinterest in that difference. The problem of restoring police authority is not really a problem of police authority, but a problem of democratic authority. It is what happens when you decide to solve all your problems with a hammer. To ask, at this late date, why the police seem to have lost their minds is to ask why our hammers are so bad at installing air-conditioners.

STEVE LOPEZ: COPS GET TOO MUCH LEEWAY ON USE OF FORCE

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez says that while officers have to make extremely difficult, split-second decisions to protect their own safety and the safety of the public, deadly use of force incidents resulting from minor civilian misdeeds seem to occur too frequently. And, after questionable uses of force, officers are investigated by their own department, District Attorneys with close ties to local law enforcement agencies, and sympathetic juries. Here’s a clip:

The job is inherently dangerous, split-second decisions are hard to make under pressure, and sideline critics like me have the advantage of hindsight in second-guessing the use of deadly force.

But too often, it seems to me, we’re left trying to understand how a minor infraction or mere suspicion of criminal activity could have escalated into a deadly confrontation, and why police didn’t use better judgment.

[BIG SNIP]

It’s also time for police to refine the widespread broken-windows strategy — a full-bore crackdown on minor infractions to discourage serious crime — that can border on harassment and have deadly consequences, even if it does conveniently fill local treasuries with money from nuisance citations.

I’d like to put in a vote for the development and use of less lethal arms and ammo — such as a non-penetrating bullet now being tested in Ferguson, Mo. — that can incapacitate a suspect without killing him.

And it’s time to review deadly force policies and training.

Stephen Downing, a retired LAPD deputy chief, said he thinks a 1989 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on use of force has led to varying interpretations that give police too little guidance and too much latitude in determining when to shoot.

In training and practice, Downing said, the standard has been pushed “closer to what is justified by law as opposed to what is expected by the community. Thus, we see more and more, ‘He reached for his waistband’ rather than, ‘I opted to take cover, assess, develop a tactical alternative to use of deadly force and do all in my power to avoid taking a life.’”

And as for cops who negligently or maliciously cross the line, no more free passes. As Los Angeles attorney Walter Katz argued last week in a Harvard Law Review commentary, it’s time for independent investigations of police shootings, to help restore police accountability and public trust.


MAN SUING LAPD FOR ALLEGED BRUTALITY SAYS COPS ARE HARRASSING HIS FAMILY

Clinton Alford Jr., a 22-year-old man who filed a lawsuit last year against the LAPD for alleged excessive use of force, says officers are retaliating against him. Alford says officers drew guns on him during a traffic stop, have driven by his house heckling Alford and his family, and flown a helicopter so low above his home that the house shook.

Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

Flanked by his father and his attorney, Clinton Alford Jr. told reporters that officers have repeatedly driven past his South L.A. house. And helicopters have flown so close overhead that walls and windows shook.

The 22-year-old’s attorney, Caree Harper, said officers had “heckled” Alford and his family while driving past their home. Last week, she said, officers drew their guns on her client after stopping him for a traffic violation.

Harper said she planned to amend a federal civil rights lawsuit she filed on Alford’s behalf to include the allegations of retaliation by police.

“They want to catch him doing anything,” she said. “Even if he’s not doing anything.”

Cmdr. Andrew Smith, an LAPD spokesman, declined to discuss the Oct. 16 incident, citing an ongoing internal investigation and civil litigation.

“There’s already an internal affairs investigation into this matter,” he said. “If they have any other allegations of misconduct, we’re eager to hear them and have internal affairs investigate them fully.”

Posted in Eric Garcetti, jail, juvenile justice, LAPD, Mental Illness | 1 Comment »

LA County Supes Want to Know What’s REALLY Going on in County’s Juvenile Camps

April 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



FIRST THE AUDIT

Near the end of Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting during which budget talks took up most of the day, the board ordered an extensive fiscal audit of the county’s probation department, looking specifically into the areas in which probation deals with kids.

But, surprisingly, the supes didn’t stop there.

in addition to the audit, which was authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with the support of Supervisor Mike Antonovich, three of the supervisors made it clear they had concerns about probation’s juvenile camps that ran far deeper than what the proposed audit could address.

For example there was “the discrepancy.”

Ridley-Thomas was the first to bring up what he described as the “discrepancy” between the last month’s report stating that LA County’s juvenile probation camps were in “full compliance” with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, after six years of DOJ oversight, and the startling new report by the county’s auditor-controller released a week ago, which said something very different.

The auditor-controller’s report, said Ridley-Thomas, “suggests in no uncertain terms that probation did not maintain substantial compliance with six of the seven [DOJ] provisions randomly reviewed.”

(WitnessLA broke the news of the Auditor-Controller’s report last week.)

Ridley-Thomas wanted to know the cause of the discrepancy between the two reports, which he called fundamentally important.”I think we have to be clear about the quality of life in the camps as it relates to how those youngsters are faring.”

The camps had certainly improved, Ridley-Thomas acknowledged But it was “problematic” if the situation was being presented as “more improved than, in fact, it actually was. And that was the point of his concerns, he said. “We need a realtime accurate report.”

Supervisor Hilda Solis was up next and said that she too had some serious concerns about probation’s progress in the county’s long-troubled juvenile camps.

Solis told about when she herself had visited the camps, she saw kids who were being “in my opinion, punished” by being put in cells “similar to solitary confinement,” without “good provisions” or “appropriate clothing.” When Solis asked who was overseeing these kids, and how long the youth were supposed to be in these isolating cells, she said she did not get satisfactory answers.

In fact, in the conversations she had with the kids, Solis said, she got “completely different information,” than that she heard from probation staff.

So, although she supported the motion for the audit, she wanted assurances that the auditor-controller had the capabilities of really drilling down and taking to kids. If not, Solis said, she wasn’t sure the motion would get to what she felt was important for the board to know.

“I think it’s very important for us to get feedback from the actual population that we’re serving,” said Solis.

Ridley-Thomas agreed and said the’d amend to motion to reflect Solis’s concerns. “The youngsters who are under supervision have to be part of what is ultimately reported on.”

It was at that point that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl stepped in with an idea that she hoped would address everyone’s concerns.


QUALITATIVE & QUANTITATIVE

The auditor-controller could look at “quantitative issues,” she said (e.g. things like what percentage of juvenile camp staff went though this or that required training). And the board should “ask the auditor-controller to do what the auditor-controller does.” Hence the motion.

But the “qualitative” issues must be addressed another way. With this in mind, Keuhl proposed that when the board returns from its upcoming trip to Washington D.C., it should “figure further ways to take the place of the [D.O.J] monitors.” A place to start, she suggested, would be to “take a real look” at the Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study released last month (WLA reported on the study here)

Keuhl noted that the 155-page report addressed a number of “qualitative issues” like “keeping kids out of he system,” the need for substance abuse programs, mental health issues, education, “the issue of whether there’s solitary confinement or not, which I think many of us are very concerned about,” and so on.

“It’s a very good thing for the D.O.J. to say we’ve met certain goals. But it would be remiss for the five of us to say, ‘Okay, well, then we’re not going to take any further look at these qualitative issues.’” The board could be good partners on those issues, Keuhl.

Interestingly, while Probation Chief Jerry Powers had originally minimized the significance of the Auditor-Controller’s report about the juvenile camps areas of noncompliance, he now jumped in with his own proactive follow-up to Keuhl’s plan to address the so-called qualitative issues now that the D.O.J. had packed and gone.

Probation was in the final stages of doing the work necessary to bring in a “performance based standards” system that, Powers said, “includes confidential surveys of he kids in custody relative to the quality of food, do they feel safe, are they treated with respect…” Powers suggested that many of the things in these soon-to-launch ongoing surveys may be able to measure some of the issues that Solis brought up.

All in all, it was a remarkably reform-minded turn of events.

We will, obviously, be keeping track of how the issue of board oversight of juvenile probation continues to unfold.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors | 6 Comments »

LA County’s Proposed Budget…Feds Investigate SF Jail Abuse Allegations…CA Bill to Reduce Drivers License Suspensions…and Criminal Justice Questions for Presidential Candidates

April 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S REFORM-MINDED BUDGET PROPOSAL ALLOCATES MORE $$ TO MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION, JAIL SERVICES, FOSTER CARE

In a press conference Monday morning, the office of LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai released the 2015-16 budget proposal.

A spokesman for the CEO emphasized that the new budget is focused on “major programatic reforms, with new positions and funding” going toward “improvements in the criminal justice system, child protection, and improvements in health care delivery.”

Out of $26,923 billion, only an additional 10.2 million is going to mental health diversion, but it’s a big step in the right direction. In June, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is expected to present to the Board of Supervisors her task force’s report on creating a comprehensive mental health diversion plan for the county.

An even larger step is the $66.9 million to fund 542 additional child protection positions, in order to lighten social workers’ cases loads, a crucial move in the name of child safety. Over-stressed social workers are more likely to miss things.

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the proposed budget “provides critically needed resources to support ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to ensure the compassionate treatment of inmates in the nation’s largest jail system, while also continuing to develop smarter justice system approaches to those in our community suffering from mental illness.”

Public budget hearings are slated to begin in mid-May.

The LA County Supervisors are also scheduled to vote today on a motion to institute some additional oversight for probation in the form of an audit.


FBI JOINS THE GROUP OF AGENCIES PROBING REPORTS OF SF DEPUTIES FORCING INMATES TO FIGHT AND BETTING ON THEM

The FBI has initiated an investigation into allegations that four San Francisco deputies forced jail inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. SF District Attorney George Gascon, the SF Police Department, and the sheriff’s department have also launched investigations into the matter. (WLA will continue to track this story.)

KQED’s Alex Emslie has the updated story. Here are some clips:

The four deputies named at the center of an independent investigation initiated by [San Francisco Public Defender] Jeff Adachi remain on paid leave, [SF Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said. Their names are Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely. The law firm representing the deputies did not return a call seeking comment.

The federal inquiry officially started April 3. Special Agent Greg Wuthrich said the FBI investigation is at a very early stage.

“Civil rights allegations are definitely huge for the bureau,” Wuthrich said. “These kind of things, we take very seriously.”

[SNIP]

Adachi said in a statement that he is pleased with the FBI’s involvement and commended Mirkarimi for taking the unusual step of inviting the federal probe.

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty,” Adachi said. “I look forward to a thorough and fair investigation that includes determining whether additional deputies were aware of the abuse and complicit in their silence. To ensure this never happens again, there must be accountability — not only for the perpetrators, but for those who fail to speak up.”


CA BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON ALL-TOO-COMMON LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR NON-VIOLENT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A new bill by CA Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) aims to reduce the number of drivers whose licenses are suspended after failing to pay (often exorbitant) fines for non-violent traffic offenses.

SB 405 follows closely behind a report condemning California’s policing-for-profit system as not unlike the situation in Ferguson, MO. In both places, fines pile on top of fines when a driver is unable to pay a ticket, burying the person (often poor to begin with) under a mountain of debt. And often failure to pay these fines results in a suspended license, which prevents the person from driving to a job to earn money to pay the fines. One in six California drivers have had their licenses suspended, and according to a separate report, nearly half of people whose licenses are suspended lose their jobs.

The bill would reinstate drivers licenses lost due to non-violent traffic infractions, as long as the licensee then paid back the debt through the state’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

A New Way of Life Reentry Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children cosponsored the bill.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Hertzberg’s website:

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.


RADLEY BALKO: CRUCIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has a “quick and dirty” list of important criminal justice reform questions for all presidential candidates.

If you are wondering who has thrown their hat in, thus far, the NY Times has a nice little chart (updated as of yesterday, April 13).

Here are four from Balko’s list, but there are … more where these came from:

The Obama administration has made heavy use of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate patterns of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments. Would you continue this policy in your administration? To what extent is the federal government obligated to step in when local police and prosecutors are either habitually violating or failing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in their jurisdiction?

[SNIP]

Several media reports, advocacy groups and judicial opinions (including a recent opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) have described an epidemic of prosecutor misconduct across the country. Do you believe there is a widespread problem of prosecutor misconduct in America? Do you believe the federal government has a responsibility to address it?

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS, District Attorney, FBI, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, Public Defender | No Comments »

Sign Up for WitnessLA’s Brand New “California Justice Report!”

April 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

WOULD YOU LIKE TO GET CALIFORNIA’S MOST ESSENTIAL JUSTICE NEWS THE EASY WAY?

WitnessLA has just launched a Monday news round-up full of the week’s must read justice stories, plus the best of WitnessLA.

It is called The California Justice Report. And it comes via email.

So, if you want your weekly justice fix delivered to your personal mailbox, you can sign up here.

(Note: Although the sign-up asks for your name, only your email is mandatory.)

And if you’re looking for coffee to go with your Monday morning dose of news, while sadly we cannot ourselves provide the java, may we recommend Organic Grizzly Blend as the ideal beverage accompaniment. (No, we don’t get a kickback.  We just like the coffee, plus—by marvelous good fortune—it goes with our new CJR logo.)

Okay, then!  We’ll see you bright and early Monday morning!

Posted in CALIFORNIA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »

WHO IS WATCHING OUT FOR ANGEL? The Shadowy Intersection of Child Welfare and Juvenile Justice – by Daniel Heimpel

April 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon




EDITOR’S NOTE:
On Tuesday, the California Senate Judiciary Committee will debate a bill to widen access to extended foster care benefits for probation-involved foster kids who have landed in the juvenile justice world because of untenable situations at home.

The wonderful and important story below written by Daniel Heimpel—and co-produced by WitnessLA & the Chronicle of Social Change— explains in deeply human terms why this bill is so essential.

WHO IS WATCHING OUT FOR ANGEL?

A 20-year-old’s saga of abuse, incarceration and heartache illuminates the shadowy intersection of child welfare and juvenile justice.

by Daniel Heimpel


Like a picture in a magazine.

That’s how Angel’s mother Leah wanted their small townhouse in Pacifica, California, to look. Picture perfect.

Leah says that she got the idea of giving her 12-year-old daughter chores after Angel’s school sent home fliers describing the importance of teaching children how to “become successful adults.”

When her adolescent daughter failed to manage perfection—when Angel missed a task in her 16-point list of chores that ranged from cleaning the cat’s litter box to folding plastic grocery bags exactly four times over—Leah’s mood grew dark.

The punishments she meted out escalated from ridiculous, to humiliating, to grim.

“She would ground me from food,” Angel, says. “She would ground me from wearing normal clothes. I’d have to go to school in my pajamas. She would ground me from petting my cat. She would ground me from my room.”

Having given birth to Angel when she was herself just 16, Leah says that she didn’t ever learn how to be a parent. Then, when her own father died, and Angel was around 14, Leah stifled her grief with a mixture of alcohol and cocaine, which she admits affected her behavior.

Whatever the exact cause, when her daughter failed to maintain the order she was trying to bring to their home, Leah’s reactions were extreme. She would exile Angel to the communal laundry room of their housing complex. There, with the damp Pacific cold pushing in, cat vomit on the floor, the girl would be forced to sleep.

Worse still were the beatings. Sometimes, Angel says, her mother would hold her down, and use scissors to cut the clothes off her body.

One day when the girl was 15, the usual discord between Angel and her mother erupted. This time, however, the conflict took a direction that would set Angel adrift in the murky space between juvenile justice and foster care.

The row began in the evening over some dirt under the microwave that Angel had neglected to wipe up. This time Angel stormed out before the punishments could start.
When she came back, red-faced from climbing the hill to their home, her mother accused her of being drunk.

“She confiscated my book bag saying she was going to look for drugs in it,” Angel says. With her book bag, Leah also took the homework that Angel had to turn in the next day.

Angel was famous for leaving everything until the last minute, says her grandmother, Wendy.

“Talk about a fuse lit and the bomb explodes,” Wendy says. “The situation became very volatile.”

Angel kicked Leah’s door, frantic to get the book bag back.

Leah burst out, and attempted to ground Angel from her room again. “She started taking my door off the hinges. I tried to stop her, and was met with punches and kicks so I backed away.”

Leah’s version is different. Instead of demanding her schoolwork, Leah says that her daughter threatened her.

“’I don’t fantasize about drugs or sex,’” Leah remembers Angel saying, “’I fantasize about ways to kill you.’”

Both Angel and Leah agree about the way the fight ended. “I copped out and called the cops,” Leah says.

An hour later, two male police officers appeared at the front door. Angel told them that she was the victim, and tried to show them the hot red welts on her arms and legs from where her mother had hit her. “They averted their eyes so quickly,” Angel says, “as if they wanted to pretend I had never said anything.”

The cops took Angel to the Pacifica police station. From there, she was moved to San Mateo County “Youth Services Center,” a juvenile hall in Belmont, where she spent two-and-half months. Finally, Angel says, her attorney told her that if she took a plea deal, she would be released faster than if she waited around for trial. She pleaded guilty to charges of vandalism and battery and spent the next five months across the street in the Margaret J. Kemp Camp for girls.

When the five months were up, no one was sure where to send the girl. Leah admits that child protective services had investigated her because of reports of abuse and neglect filed by neighbors and Angel’s estranged father over the years, starting when Angel was a baby and Leah was still in her teens. Why child services never removed Angel from Leah’s care earlier is not clear. But when her relationship with her mother failed, and she was released from camp, it was probation’s turn to act as a parent.

And so it was that, in 2010, Angel became one of roughly 4,000 California children who to this day enter the juvenile justice system and are kept in group homes because they have nowhere to go or cannot be safely returned home to serve out the terms of their probation.


CALIFORNIA’S “SECOND SYSTEM”

California’s probation system is one of a number across the country that use federal foster care funds to take care of kids like Angel who enter juvenile justice but have no safe home to serve out their probation terms, so are placed in group homes. With the federal dollars come strings, along with memorandums of understanding spelling out for all 58 counties that their juvenile probation departments must provide case management like the foster care system would.

But probation isn’t foster care. It is a law enforcement agency, which means its go-to method for eliciting compliance from kids is often its power of arrest, a tactic that runs contrary to the goals of healing children from the emotional abuse that got so many of them caught up with the law in the first place.

Then there is the matter of what to do when this distinct subset of vulnerable probation youth reach age 18.

In the foster care system, it has long been recognized that to cut all aid at age 18 was to invite poor outcomes with disproportionately high numbers of foster youth experiencing homelessness, incarceration and diminished educational opportunity. When it comes to children who have had the double blow of experiencing foster care and the juvenile justice system, a famous 2011 study out of Los Angeles tracking these so-called “crossover youth” showed that their transitions into adulthood can be twice as perilous.

With the outcomes of foster youth in mind, in 2010 the California legislature passed Assembly Bill 12, which extended foster care benefits from age 18 to 21. In 2012, California began implementing AB 12, and kids like Angel, who entered foster care through probation’s door, were eligible.

While Angel describes her encounters with juvenile justice as painful and providing little discernible therapeutic value, they did afford her the opportunity for support past age 18.

“These young people are fleeing abuse and neglect,” says Amy Lemley, the policy director of the John Burton Foundation, and a leading advocate behind AB 12. “ They [probation foster youth] probably did something as a direct result of being maltreated, and that resulted in them entering the juvenile justice system. We have a secondary system for kids that act out because they were abused.”

While far from ideal, that “secondary system” provides a unique escape, unavailable in most states.

“In other places, the juvenile justice system is completely distinct,” Lemley says. “She [Angel] would have been shuttled into the criminal justice system and not be eligible for extended foster care.”

Pending legislation here in California could open up eligibility for extended foster care to even more young people who were involved in the probation system.

But advocates maintain that this is not a simple policy fix. Across the state, county probation departments are grappling with how best to help these emerging adults who are often suffering the long-term effects of childhoods riddled with traumatic events, including having spent large parts of their younger days in juvenile halls, camps or probation-run group homes.


THEN THE TRAILER CAUGHT FIRE

Shortly before Angel’s 16th birthday, the juvenile probation department in San Mateo County released her to the custody of her grandmother, who had finally agreed to take her. While this new living situation was far preferable to returning Angel to her mother, it was less than ideal.

Angel’s grandmother, Wendy, had always been an anxious and at times oblivious woman. (She confesses, for example, that she had no idea that her stepson had been sexually abusing Leah when she was a child.) With Angel sleeping on a couch in her cramped South San Francisco apartment, Wendy tried to set the “boundaries” in a sort of delayed atonement for her failings as a mother to Leah.

“She worried about my safety excessively and didn’t want me to end up like my mother: a teenage parent on drugs,” Angel says.

Angel admits she wasn’t an easy kid to handle. “I came to her after suffering years of trauma,” she says. “I was struggling to cope and I had a tremendous amount of repressed anger.”

Wendy’s efforts to keep the rebellious teenager in check, along with the terms of Angel’s probation, which included strict curfews, came to a head one night in January of 2013. Wendy had been up the whole of the previous night, sewing a Victorian-era styled dress for Angel to wear at a dance the following evening. Angel and her grandmother had bonded over tales of English aristocracy and stories of Wendy’s grandmother, who had been educated in London and spoke the “Queen’s English.”

“It was part of the family mythology we liked to connect with,” Wendy says.

But the sleepless night of sewing, along with the strain of a recent invasive medical procedure to remove varicose veins, caused Wendy’s temper to flare and the two fought. The rupture lasted for weeks. By March, Wendy says that Angel was increasingly elusive, staying away nights at a time. Finally one night, a worried Wendy remembers driving to the South San Francisco Police station with an 8.5 x 11 inch photo of Angel’s face, and pleading with police to find her granddaughter.

When the police did find Angel near a San Bruno shopping mall a few hours later, she was scared of being locked up again and gave the cops a fake name. Angel pleaded guilty to giving false identification to a police officer and was soon whisked back to San Mateo County juvenile hall, where she remained for the next two-and-a-half months.

“I thought it was very unfair,” Angel says. “I hadn’t done anything wrong, but was being treated like a criminal.”

When it was time for her release from San Mateo Juvenile Hall, Angel’s grandmother would no longer take her in, and her mother’s home still wasn’t a legal option. Thus county probation “placed” her in a group home on the grounds of the juvenile hall.

The group home, called the Excell Readiness Center, was in reality a flimsy prefab structure, where four boys and four girls were crammed into four tight bedrooms. Angel would spend the next 10 months there. She was due for release when she turned 18.

Weeks from her birthday, Angel met with her probation officer who gave her a cursory description of the extended foster care benefits available to her. According to Angel, it was one of only a handful of times she met with her P.O.

Days after the meeting, a dryer in Angel’s group home caught on fire.

“Smoke was pouring into my room from the hallway,” Angel says. “My entire room was full of it.”

As she and her trailer mates were evacuated, she remembered that one of the boys had once threatened to set the place on fire. “He actually did it,” Angel says.

After a long and cold night spent in one of the group home vans, the kids who had been consigned to the trailer were moved to the “receiving home” down the street where children removed from their homes because of safety concerns were kept until they could be placed in foster care. “Our clothes and hair still smelled of smoke when they woke us up,” Angel says.

Vernon Brown, the CEO of Aspiranet a large youth service provider that ran the readiness center until 2014, says that most of the kids were moved back to the structure within a couple of weeks.

But for Angel, the fire meant leaving probation’s care prematurely and going back to live with her grandmother prior to her 18th birthday. Wendy agreed to take her granddaughter back, under the condition that it would only be for a few weeks.

Once those weeks were up, as is the case for so many other probation-involved foster youth, the only thing certain in Angel’s life was uncertainty. She was not terribly clear about how to get the extended benefits her probation officer had outlined only briefly. And the idea of putting herself back into the county’s hands made her anxious.

So Angel struck out on her own.


WIDENING THE DOOR

In October of 2010, the year AB 12 was passed, 391 youth between age 18 and 20 were supervised by probation in group homes, according to data compiled by the Center for Social Services Research at UC Berkeley’s School of Social Welfare. By January of this year, the new law was showing impressive results. The number of 18 to 20-year-old probation youth had exploded by almost 400 percent to 1,485 young people.

But advocates contend that significant numbers of probation-involved foster youth are still being excluded from AB 12, so are pushing for new legislation to open access to kids who share similar experiences with Angel.

Among those young people still slipping between the cracks are those who have spent large stretches of time in the county’s care but are, by happenstance, released from probation group homes to the custody of a relative before they turn 18.

“They forget that the youth ever came from child welfare,” says Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director the Youth Law Center, and a central player behind a series of legislative pushes to improve AB 12 for probation-involved foster youth. “Sometimes the probation department is releasing them right back to the parent who child welfare removed them from. All the problems that initiated the child welfare referral still remain and are not resolved.”

Another group presently excluded are the otherwise AB 12 eligible kids who, for one reason or another, find themselves in a locked juvenile facility on their 18th birthday, at which point any extended benefits suddenly vanish.

In October of last year, The Chronicle of Social Change published a story following the lives of three brothers who had all been in foster care.

The youngest, Joseph Bakhit, was AB 12 eligible and is using the extended benefits to help him pursue a degree at UC Berkeley. The oldest, Matthew, was excluded because he was already 21 when the law was implemented. Terrick, the middle brother, was denied AB 12 benefits because he was locked up in San Diego County’s Camp Barrett on his 18th birthday. If he had been released to a group home the day before, or if the judge had written him an all-important “placement order,” he would have been eligible.

Without the benefits, Terrick has struggled to succeed, the most stable employment he has had was selling knives for Cutco.

State Senator Jim Beall, who had been one of the lead legislative proponents behind AB 12, was moved by the story of the Bakhit brothers, and the efforts of advocacy groups like the Youth Law Center, to introduce legislation that would expand extended foster care eligibility for probation-involved foster youth.

“When you take away benefits, it is telling the kid, ‘You’re not going to college,’” Beall says. “I fail to see the logic of taking away the benefits. We’re going to fix that. That is the intent of [Senate Bill] 12.”

SB 12, which will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 14, would also open up eligibility for a class of kids who, like Angel, had nowhere to go when the terms of their probation were up. But, while Angel was legally “placed” with grandmother Wendy, making her magically eligible, some are simply sent to live with a relative or other caretaker without a placement order, leaving them ineligible for the important three years of extended foster care benefits.

But the proposed legislation has powerful opponents, such as county probation department officials from up and down the state who say they are already struggling to deal with the influx of AB 12-eligible foster youth, so are opposed to widening the door for still more young people.

“We are having difficulty serving the foster youth we do have,” says Rosemary McCool, deputy director of the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC). “The current programs, in our view, aren’t sufficiently funded. We shouldn’t be expanding the population by any amount.”



PROBATION AS PARENT

As Beall and others battle with the CPOC over whether or not to fix the policy barriers for excluded crossover and probation youth, the big question affecting young people now in the system is this: Are probation departments equipped to effectively stand in for parents during AB 12 kids’ fitful transitions into adulthood?

California is a vast and diverse state, and some counties deal with the fates of their 18-year-old charges better than others. Contra Costa County is among those still struggling, according to an attorney with intimate knowledge of the county’s system.

Virginia Corrigan is both a deputy public defender in Contra Costa County and a lawyer working for the Youth Law Center through a fellowship offered by Baker & McKenzie LLP and Intel. As a P.D., Corrigan carries a caseload of more than 30 Contra Costa probation youth who are AB 12 eligible.

She says that while the county is good at getting kids into AB 12, probation lacks the institutional knowledge to effectively deal with housing and other critical services once the kids are in the system.

“Sometimes supervision of this population is foreign to probation,” Corrigan says.

The matter became clear to Corrigan on her very first case in 2013, when she spent weeks helping her young client fill out forms for housing services, and explaining how AB 12 worked.

“It ends up being a replacement for what a social worker would be doing,” she says. “My primary goal should be advocating for them in court,” not helping them with paperwork to get them a place to live.

Across the Bay in San Francisco, the county’s juvenile probation system is far more proactive. Instead of relying on its probation officers to handle the casework for AB 12-eligible probation youth, the department added two new social workers dedicated exclusively to working with that population. The workers were assigned to the Juvenile Collaborative Re-Entry Unit (JCRU), which was already helping the county’s probation youth as they transition back into their communities.

“We were very aware of the conflict of having probation officers supervise those youth,” says Allison Magee, the executive director of the San Francisco-based Zellerbach Family Foundation, who, while serving as deputy director of the city’s Juvenile Probation Department in 2012, came up with the idea of hiring social workers for AB 12 kids. “It frankly is confusing to both the child and the P.O., as the P.O. has mandated responsibilities that would become very blurry.”

Allen Nance, chief of San Francisco’s Probation Department, also considers the strategy important. “Unlike other departments across the state, we are one of the few, if not the only, that has chosen to staff these caseloads with social workers instead of probation officers.”

Rebecca Marcus is a San Francisco juvenile public defender with 24 current AB 12 kids on her caseload. Marcus sees AB 12 as a lifeline for young people who have few options when released from probation without a safe place to call home.

“I have had two kids within the past year who were AB 12 eligible, whose high school graduations I attended, who didn’t take advantage of the program and who were both killed in San Francisco,” she says.

The latest death, which occurred just a month ago in March, has clearly shaken the fast-talking public defender.

“AB 12 is a tool to help young people relocate out of wherever they live,” she says, pointing out that oftentimes these youngsters return to the same dangerous neighborhoods that led them into the system in the first place. This was the case, she says, with her 19-year-old client. “He had the ability through AB 12 to relocate. He did not, and was murdered in the middle of the day.”

Polina Abramson is one of San Francisco’s two AB 12 social workers who work to keep kids caught in risky personal circumstances in extended foster care. She says she has 19 such cases, five of which are “unfunded,” meaning that the young people are not meeting all of AB 12’s eligibility requirements. Her counterpart, Heather Bruemmer, has a caseload of 22.

In addition to that list, there are other kids who are eligible, says Abramson, but didn’t opt in immediately, thus winnowing down the three short years of benefits that AB 12 offers.

Abramson says she understands why 18-year-olds often want to strike out on their own, especially those whose last residence was a probation group home. But, she notes, they often come back.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that goes into surviving in the real world,” Abramson says. “Kids realize that they could actually benefit from having someone in their life and have support.”

When they do, Abramson and Newell are there to catch them. And P.D. Marcus is more than ready to make their case in court.

In Angel’s San Mateo County, the juvenile probation department says that there are only three probation youth accessing AB 12. Angel now wants to be the fourth.


GETTING BACK IN

It is just after 6:00 pm on Friday, March 27, and Angel is already an hour late for her meeting. She passes happy clusters of other young people, relieved to be taking their first breaths of the weekend on a cool spring evening in downtown Oakland.

Angel too is feeling happy. It is her 20th birthday, and it has already been a good day. She and grandma Wendy spent the afternoon together. The highlight: sharing high tea, English style, a nod to their mythologized aristocratic ancestor.

Angel chose not to see her mother today. In the five years of their separation, Leah has made a number of unsuccessful efforts to repair their relationship, like showing up unannounced on Angel’s 18th birthday, which frightened the newly minted adult, rather than delighting her. Other attempts by Leah to give her daughter gifts have resulted in Angel recoiling.

“My mother says that Angel treats every gift like a rattlesnake that is going to bite her,” Leah says when called for an interview on Angel’s 20th birthday.

Arriving slightly flushed at the eleventh floor offices of the California Youth Connection, Angel is greeted by six former foster youth and two staffers sitting around some tables pushed together for the weekly policy-intern meeting. They are there to discuss how education policy is effecting foster youth, but when Angel walks in they immediately begin singing “Happy Birthday.”

As it happens, Angel has something else to celebrate. Just the day before, she handed in paperwork to a San Mateo social worker that should allow her to opt back into AB 12. Since her 18th birthday, Angel has spent most of the past two years at a transitional housing program available to young people at risk of homelessness.

But Angel has often coped with less stable circumstances, couch surfing with acquaintances, even spending one difficult night warming herself next to a generator in a South San Francisco park.

Angel hopes for at least a period of real stability while she works to advance at San Francisco City College. But for now, riding high on her birthday, she dreams of visiting England and the manor where the popular PBS show “Downton Abbey” is shot.

If yesterday’s paperwork is approved, the “second system” that handles cases like hers will provide her with a residence and other benefits, at least until her next birthday.



Daniel Heimpel is the founder of Fostering Media Connections and the publisher of The Chronicle of Social Change.

WitnessLA and the Chronicle of Social Change collaborated in producing this story.

The story was made possible through the support of the Sierra Health Foundation,which has partnered with the California Endowment and the California Wellness Foundation to launch the Positive Youth Justice Initiative to reform the juvenile justice system in four California counties.


All photos (except for the family photo of Angel and her mother) are by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.


CORRECTION: We wrote Heather Bruemmer’s name inaccurately in the original draft of this story, but it has now been corrected.

Posted in Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

New Auditor-Controller Report Says LA County’s Juvie Probation Camps NOT in Compliance With DOJ Requirements

April 10th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



SO DOES “COMPLIANCE” MEAN, LIKE “COMPLIANCE?”

Last month we reported that LA County’s juvenile probation camps were in “full compliance” with the 73 reforms demanded by the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice, after six years of DOJ oversight.

At least, they were in compliance according to the DOJ monitors and according to probation’s own accounting. Having finally met the goals set out by the feds seemed like—and in many ways is—laudable progress.

The bad old days that brought the DOJ into the camps in the first place, were very bad indeed. And probation has worked hard to make improvements, for which they should be given lots of credit.


BUT THEN ANOTHER SHOE DROPPED….

On Monday April 6, however, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office put out their own report about the matter of probation’s compliance in the department’s 16 operational juvenile camps and facilities. WitnessLA has obtained that report.

So was probation in compliance according to A-C’s assessment?

The A-C’s answer: Uh, no.

Here’s the deal: At the direction of the LA County Board of Supervisors, the Auditor-Controller was following behind the federal monitors, double checking to see what was in compliance and what still needed work. The Auditor-Controller’s monitors were not looking at all the items on the DOJ’s check list. They were only keeping tabs on seven provisions of the feds’ list that had been some of the main sticking points near the end of the DOJ’s oversight.

And out of those seven how did probation do? According to the Auditor-Controller’s assessment: not very well.

“Probation did not maintain substantial compliance for six (86%) of the seven provisions reviewed. The areas of non-compliance noted in our review centered on Probation not ensuring their staff complete the ongoing training required by many of the provisions reviewed.

Among the areas where probation reportedly failed to fully comply are the following:


THE MATTER OF REHABILITATION

One of the most important areas in which the DOJ monitors asked for substantial change was article #17, which requires Probation to:

“…provide formal daily programming that incorporates education, recreation, and specialized rehabilitative and/or treatment programs for the minors and incorporate a points-driven behavior management program that addresses negative behavior and rewards positive behavior.”

Number 17 was considered so important because, as probation’s deputy chief, Felicia Cotton said when we talked last month, during the problematic years that so appalled the DOJ, and precipitated their oversight, there was very little that was rehabilitative going on at the camps.

“We used to use a system of custody and control,” Cotton told me. “That’s what it was all about.” And, she said, “…you had kids who rebelled against that kind of control, with not much to lose. And you can’t blame them. That’s not the best approach for angry, traumatized kids.”

Exactly. And, in response to DOJ pressure, probation did finally launch the various required rehabilitative programs,—with more programs still to come. But, according to the Auditor-Controller’s report, there are several problems with the programs’ implementation.

For one thing, the DOJ specified that the staff needed to make sure that the kids in camp actually attended the various classes and activities.

In ten out of the 15 camps that had the programs, the A-C’s report found little or no problem. But in four of the facilities in particular, 30 percent of the kids didn’t attend their classes, and another 36 percent of the kids only attended some of their classes. (They were required to attend 80 percent.)

The A-C monitors also reported that in five of the camps some of the staff reportedly failed to honor the reward system. For instance, they would wrongly reward kids. And in four of the camps, staff would delay rewards and “promotions” for the kids who had actually earned them.

This may sound petty, but for already traumatized kids who are angry and acting out, the adults absolutely must be consistent and trustworthy if any rehabilitation is going to take place.

When the adults can’t keep their collective word, the effect is psychologically corrosive, and you are guaranteed to have problems.


HANDLING KIDS WHO ARE SUICIDE RISKS

On the topic of suicidal kids, the A-C’s people noted that an average of 30 percent of the staff in the 16 camps/units didn’t complete the required training in suicide prevention that teaches them “how to prevent and respond to crises.”

Perhaps that lack of training and understanding accounts for why, later in the report, the A-C monitors noted that, at one camp, in 14 of the staff shifts reviewed, “the managers at one specialized unit did not insure that staff completed Safety Check Sheets for each eight-hour shift.” These were the check sheets that made certain staff were properly looking in on a kid with “persistent suicidal ideation” housed in a SHU—or isolation cell.

Elsewhere in the report, the monitors also found that, in two instances, kids were kept in the SHU for over 8 hours without appropriate documentation. Considering that, right now, the state legislature is considering a bill (SB 124) that would severely limit the use of solitary confinement for juveniles, hyper-vigilence regarding the proper use of the SHU in LA’s juvenile camps would seem to be a prudent course.


UNDERSTANDING KIDS WITH MENTAL ILLNESS AND DISABILITIES

According to the report, the camp staff did slightly better in attending the training designed to give them the “skills and information necessary to understand behaviors of, engage in appropriate interactions with, and respond to needs of youth with mental illness and developmental disabilities.”

Still, however, 20 percent of the staff, according to the A-C, did NOT attend the training.

Even more staff (23 percent or more) in 13 of the 16 facilities appeared to blow off—or not be offered—the required training that would have informed them of the proper “policies, practices, and procedures to define those circumstances in which staff must report allegations of child abuse or neglect to the appropriate external agencies.”

In other words, one fifth or more of the staff in a paramilitary organization that oversees the wellbeing of troubled kids did not manage to get the absolutely required training..

We hate to be harsh, but really. Those of us who have taught at either public or private universities—even as guest lecturers—know that if we haven’t completed the required sexual harassment training we cannot walk into a classroom. Period.

In the camps, the stakes are far higher, and the training is even more critical.

In the case of LA County’s juvenile probation facilities, changing what was a very problematic culture inside the camps that, for years, allowed real abuse to take place, is not an easy process. Training is a big part of making that change.


PROBATION’S REBUTTAL

Included in the Auditor-Controller’s report is a rebuttal from Probation Chief Jerry Powers, who writes that probation “does not agree” with four of the listed six problem areas.

Probation did agree with two of the report’s noncompliance items having to do with the failure of a big chunk of the staff to get required training. One of the “agreements” centered around training that helped staff members better understand “youth with mental illness and developmental disabilities.” Powers basically wrote that, while they weren’t in full compliance, they would be soon.

In the case of the required regular training to give staff “the knowledge and skills needed to effectively manage youth, including de-escalation techniques, crisis interuention, youth development, and supervision,” Powers said there was a scheduling conflict. (It’s more complicated, but that was the bottom line.) But probation will be catching up on the training this year.

As for the other four categories, probation said it is in compliance.

So who’s right? Hard to say. We have calls into both probation and the A-C’s office and didn’t hear back from either in time for publication.

However, at the end of the A-C’s report, in a rebuttal to the rebuttal, Auditor-Controller John Naimo had this to say:

“…we completed our review using the monitoring tools developed by Probation and the DOJ Monitor, and in accordance with the training Probation provided. ln addition, we provided Probation copies of our monitoring tools with the details of our audit results, and the Department did not provide documentation to invalidate our results.

“We also attempted to validate Probation’s results for a sample of provisions to determine why the results of our reviews were different. However, the Department did not maintain sufficient documentation to support the results of their reviews, which prevented us from identifying the cause of the differences.”


A MOTION BY SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS

This past Tuesday, a motion to launch a new fiscal audit of the probation department was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with support of Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

The motion, which is to be voted on by the board next week, proposes an audit that would look at, among other things:

*The current cost of operating the camps and halls including the cost per youth, annual maintenance costs and deferred building maintenance costs…”

*Recruitment, examination, hiring and promotional practices to determine whether the Department is effectively recruiting, retaining and promoting the most qualified staff for its operating needs”

*”The Department’s Request for Proposal procedures and its process for examining satisfactory compliance with the statements of work for contracted community-based organizations and agencies.”

When I spoke to Ridley-Thomas about his reason for the motion, he said that although he didn’t make the motion with the Auditor-Controller’s report in mind, he made it “with concern about these issues that the report raises in mind.”

UCLA’s Dr. Jorja Leap, who has been a part of various studies examining aspects of the juvenile camps, had something similar about the Auditor-Controller’s report:

“There is no sign off from vigilance,” Leap said. “It is to the county’s credit that they are carefully examining what occurs in probation camps in an ongoing manner. In particular, there needs to be a consideration of the mental health needs of all youth — something that continues to be sadly lacking!”

So there you have it: Progress has been made. But, perhaps not quite as much as probation hopes. And ongoing oversight would be wise.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

Video Shows San Bernardino Deputies Beating Man…Nurses Say Health Care in Alameda Jails is Broken…and Walter Scott

April 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HELICOPTER FOOTAGE SHOWS A GROUP OF SAN BERNARDINO DEPUTIES BEATING A MAN ON THE GROUND AFTER A HORSE CHASE

On Thursday, video captured from NBC’s NewsChopper4 appeared to show a small crowd of San Bernardino County deputies beating a reportedly unarmed man during an arrest.

The man, Francis Jared Pusok, 30, lead officers on an intense chase, by car, on foot, and finally, on a stolen horse. When deputies caught up with Pusok, the horse bucked, throwing Pusok to the ground. The man, still on the ground, then spread his arms out and then put them behind his back, after which, deputies appear to taser him. Then, the video shows a number of deputies gather around Pusok, punching, kicking, and kneeing the man dozens of times for more than two minutes.

Allegedly the man was then left lying on the ground for at least 45 minutes without medical attention. Pusok is now in a hospital being treated for unknown injuries.

San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon said he was “disturbed” by the video and quickly launched an internal investigation.

NBC’s Jason Kandel and Tony Shin have the story. Here are some clips:

In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times and punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head. The allegedly stolen horse stood idly nearby.

The man did not appear to move from his position lying on the ground for more than 45 minutes. He did not appear to receive medical attention while deputies stood around him during that time…

Three deputies were injured during the search. Two suffered dehydration and a third was injured when kicked by the horse. All three were taken to a hospital for treatment.

[SNIP]

Deputies said the Taser was ineffective due to his loose clothing and a use of force occurred.

“I can certainly understand the concerns in the community based on what they saw on the video,” McMahon told NBC4. “I’m disturbed by what I see in the video. But I don’t need to jump to conclusions at this point, until we do a complete and thorough investigation. If our deputy sheriff’s did something wrong, they’ll be put off work and they’ll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy.”


PRIVATE HEALTH CARE CO. NURSES IN ALAMEDA JAILS THREATEN TO STRIKE IF MEDICAL CONDITIONS DO NOT IMPROVE FOR INMATES

Nurses employed by a troubled private company in charge of health care in Alameda County jails say they will strike if the company doesn’t improve the substandard care provided to inmates.

The Corizon nurses are calling on the company to add more nurses to the rotation. One worker said the ratio can sometimes be as bad as 23 inmate patients to one nurse. She says, at most, the ratio is five patients to one nurse in regular hospitals. The nurses also say medical equipment is often broken or unsanitary.

The understaffing means that medication often goes out hours late, medical intakes are rushed, and sometimes inmates die due to lack of adequate and timely health care, according to the nurses.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is sending around a strike petition. If union members vote in favor of striking, the decision will be announced to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors.

Corizon is no stranger to lawsuits. In February, Corizon (and Alameda County) agreed to a record-breaking $8.3 million wrongful death settlement to the family of a jail inmate who was tasered to death by ten deputies while suffering from severe, untreated alcohol withdrawal.

As part of the settlement, Corizon agreed to stop hiring less expensive Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein has the story. Here are some clips:

Clara, who works as a Registered Nurse at the jail, described abysmal conditions including broken or dirty equipment, rushed procedures and severe understaffing.

For example, when inmates are first booked, nurses examine them and ask them about their full medical history. Clara said Corizon’s procedures in this phase, designed to save time and money, puts everyone at risk.

“The patients come in right off the street. They’re often under the influence of drugs. You don’t know what their mental state is,” she said. “They’ve got three nurses seeing three inmates at once in one little cramped room, maybe 15 by 15 feet. So there’s no confidentiality. One inmate is sitting so close he could touch the next one, and we’re asking them very personal questions, like if they’re HIV positive. HIPAA [privacy] laws are totally violated there.”


DEATH OF WALTER SCOTT: LAPD CHIEF SAYS SHOOTING WAS UNLAWFUL…WHAT NEWS REPORTS WOULD HAVE SAID IF THE INCIDENT HAD NOT BEEN TAPED…THE DASH CAM VIDEO…AND SC’S RACIAL HISTORY

On Thursday, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said that as far as he could tell, South Carolina officer Michael Slager’s fatal shooting of the allegedly unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott was “a criminal act.”

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips:

Beck said he would have similarly had the officer arrested based on the video by the bystander. But he also said he’d typically do a more detailed investigation before making such a judgment.

“I will tell you this, based on what I have seen, based on the video, it is a criminal act,” Beck said. “It is well beyond any policies of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

[SNIP]

Beck said such an incident impacts all officers, but it doesn’t diminish his pride in their willingness to take risks daily.

“To have somebody 3,000 miles away take away from that by a criminal act, it’s disheartening,” Beck said. “All of us suffer when somebody in the profession acts illegally.”


The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have penned a version of what they believe news reports would have looked like, had a bystander not videotaped the shooting. Here’s how it opens:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

The shooting was the 11th this year by a South Carolina police officer. The State Law Enforcement Division has begun an investigation into the incident.

Police identified the officer involved as Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager and the suspect as Walter Lamar Scott, 50, of Meadowlawn Drive in West Ashley. Slager, 33, served honorably in the military before joining the North Charleston Police Department more than five years ago. He has never been disciplined during his time on the force, his attorney said.

The incident occurred behind a pawn shop on Craig Street and Remount Road. Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. During the stop, police and witnesses say Scott fled the vehicle on foot. When Slager caught up with him a short distance from the street, Scott reportedly attempted to overpower Slager. Police say that during the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.


On Thursday, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released dash camera footage of the incident. The video shows the initial traffic stop for a broken tail light, which wasn’t captured by the anonymous bystander’s video.


And for some interesting context, the New Yorker’s Jack Hitt delves into South Carolina’s complicated racial history. Here’s a clip:

The police officer was fired and charged with murder. North Charleston’s mayor, Keith Summey, announced, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong” and said that police officers can’t hide a bad decision “behind the shield.” He said that the police force’s “thoughts and prayers are with the family.” North Charleston’s police chief, Eddie Driggers, said he was “sickened.” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who rose to office as a darling of the Tea Party, said that the shooting was “unacceptable.” Senator Lindsey Graham called the video “horrific.” Senator Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who grew up in North Charleston, called the shooting “senseless” and “avoidable.” The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, immediately took control of the investigation, and the F.B.I. has opened its own investigation, as well. The victim’s brother told the local paper, “We don’t advocate violence. We advocate change.”

I grew up in Charleston, and, as someone close to North Charleston’s mayor told me, “Before the sun was down, everyone was unified.”

It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass. And no doubt, the swiftness of the political and narrative unity in the shooting death of Scott owes much to the lessons of Ferguson. But South Carolina is not Missouri—its racial past, in fact, is more violent, but its attempts to move away from that history, while less known, have been more bold. The state’s history of violence against black men and women is excruciating to know, or to read. If you are unfamiliar, then Google “George Junius Stinney, Jr.,” “Julia and Frazier Baker,” the Hamburg massacre, or the Orangeburg massacre. That is South Carolina at its worst. But there is a streak of fair-mindedness in the state’s history—an ancient ideal that Mark Twain parodied as coming straight out of the chivalric fiction of Sir Walter Scott’s mist-filled novels of courtly knights. While reserved exclusively for whites for most of its history, this tendency appears from time to time and is always surprising, especially to outsiders.

All Charlestonians are required to know the story of their Civil War-era representative, James Petigru, the state’s only Unionist, who voted against secession. Charlestonians have made a centuries-long career out of tweaking the rest of the state for its rustic views. Petigru opposed withdrawing from the United States back then because, as it is often quoted, “South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.”

But even during the collapse of Reconstruction, when racist Democrats took back control of the state’s government from Republican politicians backed by federal troops, there was a streak of fair play in the reformed Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was elected governor in 1876, and who, in his inaugural speech, said, “It is due, not only to ourselves, but to the colored people of the State, that wise, just, and liberal measures should prevail in our legislation.” (To those writing rebuttal posts right now to argue that this was mere racist palaver, I will note that however rhetorical Hampton’s views were, those earliest attempts at sane post-bellum racial decency in South Carolina were relatively real efforts at moderation, despite the fact they were, absolutely, crushed underfoot by pro-lynching extremists, like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, who thought that Hampton was out of his mind.) In the mid-twentieth century, a famous Charleston judge named Julius Waties Waring sought to steer a number of criminal cases toward the ideal of fair play, including a hideous police beating of a black man and later a local desegregation case that would eventually merge with others to become Brown v. Board. A cross was burned in the judge’s yard, and he eventually fled the state.

Posted in Charlie Beck, jail, LAPD, law enforcement, medical care, racial justice, unions | No Comments »

« Previous Entries