Wednesday, October 22, 2014
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


LAPD Lets Kids Be Superheros, Ghouls, Princesses and More….Zev’s New Mental Health Diversion Program…The Madness of 10-Year-Olds Tried as Adults…& Ben Bradlee R.I.P.

October 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday afternoon, members of the Pacific Division of the Los Angeles Police Department
handed out dreams and fantasies to several hundred local kids in the form of free Halloween costumes.

Both the LAPD and the LA County Sheriff’s Department do gift giveaways for needy families at Christmas, but handing out free Halloween outfits to kids from surrounding low income neighborhoods is a bit more unusual.

However, the department’s Pacific Division was offered a huge stash of children’s costumes by a long-time costume emporium owner named Bonnie Mihalic, who was retiring and said she wanted to do something for the community. So the LAPD folks grabbed the opportunity.

Fast forward to Tuesday afternoon at 3:30 pm when a whole lot of kids ranging in age from toddlers to 14-year-olds showed up with their parents at one of the two giveaway locations for the chance to pick out their very own fantasy get-ups—and maybe a nice scary mask.

LAPD Officer Marcela Garcia was one of the dozen department members who, together with a cluster of police cadets (plus the staffs of the Mar Vista Family Center and the Mar Vista Gardens Boys and Girls Club, where the giveaways took place) helped kids find the ensembles of their dreams.

“It was unbelievable,” said Garcia when we spoke just after the two events had wrapped up. “We had 300 children at the Mar Vista Family Center alone!”

And each of the kids at both locations got a costume, she said—with some left over to be further distributed before Oct. 31. Kids could chose from Disney and fairy tale figures, super heroes, ninjas, film and TV characters, princesses, monsters, famous wrestlers, and lots, lots more.

“The pre-teen boys really liked the scary costumes,” Garcia said. “Things like the ghost in the movie Scream. When they’d find what they wanted and try on their masks, they’d turn to us and make roaring or growling sounds. It was great!”

The fact that each kid got to wander around and select exactly the costume that he or she wanted–without worrying about monetary considerations— seemed to be particularly exhilarating for all concerned.

The officer remembered one four-year-old who was over-the moon about finding the right Cinderella costume. “She was so excited. She said, ‘Mom, I’m going to be a princess!’”

Garcia, who has been a Senior Lead Officer at Pacific Division for the past four years, said she grew up in East LA in a low-income neighborhood where most parents didn’t have the budget for frivolities like costume buying. As a consequence, she understood the kids’ delight in a personal way.

So what kind of costume would Officer Garcia have wanted out of Tuesday’s array, if she had come to a similar event as a child?

Garcia didn’t need to think at all before answering. “If I could go back in time, there was an Alice in Wonderland costume here that would have been the one. I was a big fan of both that book and the movie as a child. I loved the adventures that Alice had.”

Garcia also confided that she’d known she wanted to be in law enforcement since she was seven-years-old. That was the year a female LAPD police officer came in uniform to her elementary school’s career day. “From that day on I knew…”

The recollection points to why Garcia is strongly in favor of department-sponsored community events like this one. “When we get to engage with community members on a completely different level and get a look into their lives and concerns…When we see each other just as people…It can make a big difference.”

Yep. We agree.


ON HIS WAY OFF THE (SUPERVISORIAL) STAGE, ZEV YAROSLAVSKY INSTITUTES A PILOT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PROGRAM

As his tenure as an LA County Supervisor is drawing to a close, Zev Yaroslavsky has put into place a promising pilot program that will allow mentally ill and/or homeless lawbreakers who commit certain non-serious crimes to be diverted into a residential treatment program rather than jail.

When it begins, up to 50 adults in Zev’s 3rd District who agree to participate in the program will be released to San Fernando Valley Community Mental Health Center. The idea is that the participants will get treatment and other forms of support, which will in turn help them eventually transition back to a more stable life in their communities—rather than merely cycle in and out of confinement in the LA County jail system.

Stephanie Stephens of California Healthline has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

That cycle so familiar to many Californians with mental illnesses may soon be interrupted thanks to the new Third District Diversion and Alternative Sentencing Program in Los Angeles County.

Designed for adults who are chronically homeless, seriously mentally ill, and who commit specific misdemeanor and low-level felony crimes, the demonstration project could help reduce recidivism by as much as two-thirds, Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said.

Similar diversion programs have produced promising results in other metropolitan areas — Bexar County (San Antonio), Texas and Miami-Dade County in Florida, for example — fueling hopes for change here, according to L.A. program supporters.

“Clearly, treating mental illness in jail does not produce the best results,” Yaroslavsky said. “At present we put offenders into the mental health unit of the jail — it’s the largest mental health facility in the state. We provide mental health treatment and custodial care for approximately 3,500 people each day.”

Various county government officials, as well as judges and attorneys, signed a 38-page memorandum of understanding to outline the program on Sept. 14.

“We have involved all the agencies in the community that intersect around this problem, and we’ve spelled out all their responsibilities,” Yaroslavsky said.

This is all very, very good news. Next, of course, we need to institute a countywide program—preferably as soon as possible. But it’s a start.


ABOUT THAT 10-YEAR OLD WHO IS BEING TRIED FOR MURDER AS AN ADULT

Okay, we consciously avoided reporting on this story because, we reasoned, it was merely one more horrible tale—among many such horrible tales—of a kid being tried as an adult, and it wasn’t happening in California.

But frankly it is impossible to ignore the matter of the 10-year-old Pennsylvania boy who is being charged with adult murder after he confessed to slugging 90-year old Helen Novak multiple times and then choking her with a cane—all because she yelled at him. (The victim, Ms. Novak, was being cared for by the 10-year-old’s grandfather.)

It deserves our attention because it demonstrates so starkly how dysfunctional our system has become when it deals with juveniles who commit serious crimes. We treat children as children in every other legal instance—except in the criminal justice system.

The rural Pennsylvania 10-year-old is one of the youngest in the U.S. ever to face an adult criminal homicide conviction.

In their most recent update on the story, CBS News consulted juvenile justice expert, Marsha Levick, who had scathing things to say about what PA is doing. Here’s a clip:

(Note: CBS refers to the boy as TK to avoid revealing his identity since he’s a minor, although many other news outlets have used his name.)

“It’s ridiculous. …The idea of prescribing criminal responsibility to a 10-year-old defies all logic,” Marsha Levick, deputy director and chief counsel of the Juvenile Law Center, a public interest law firm, told 48 Hours’ Crimesider.

“The Supreme Court has recognized that teens and adolescents hold lesser culpability. Their brains are obviously still developing and they’re developmentally immature. Multiply that for a 10-year-old.”

[SNIP]

The boy’s attorney, Bernard Brown, says his client doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation.

Brown told CBS affiliate WYOU that when he visited the boy at the Wayne County Correctional Facility last week, the boy compared his prison jumpsuit to “a Halloween costume he would probably never wear.”

Brown declined to request bail for the 10-year-old last week, saying his family isn’t ready to have him released into their custody.

Brown said the boy’s family believes he is being treated well at the county prison, where he is being housed alone in a cell and kept away from the general population. He said the boy was being provided coloring books.

But Levick, of the Juvenile Law Center, says the last place T.K. belongs is in a county jail.

“He’s effectively in isolation. He’s being denied the opportunity for regular interaction, denied education, denied the opportunity for reasonable activity. That, in of itself, will be harmful to him,” Levick says.

And last week, one of the better articles on the boy and his charges was by Christopher Moraff writing for the Daily Beast, who pointed to some of the psychological limitations of a child of TK’s age. Here’s a clip:

Legal experts say trying children as adults is not only bad policy, but it raises serious competency and due process issues. Research sponsored in 2003 by the MacArthur Foundation found that more than a third of incarcerated juveniles between the ages of 11 and 13 exhibited poor reasoning about trial-related matters, and children under 14 are less likely to focus on the long-term consequences of their decisions.

“Deficiencies in risk perception and future orientation, as well as immature attitudes toward authority figures, may undermine competent decision-making in ways that standard assessments of competence to stand trial do not capture,” the authors conclude.

A new study published in the journal Law and Human Behavior finds that juvenile criminal suspects either incriminate themselves or give full confessions in two-thirds of all interrogations.

Often a suspect’s parent is their only advocate. And usually, they are ill-equipped to provide sound legal guidance.

“Parents throw away their kids’ rights too easily, not realizing that kids will often not tell the truth when adults are questioning,” said Schwartz.

Indeed, court documents show that Kurilla was brought to the Pennsylvania State Police barracks by his mother, who pretty much confessed for him. Then, after informing police that he had mental difficulties and “lied a lot,” she waived his right to an attorney and requested that troopers interview him alone.

It was then, during private questioning, that the boy reportedly said: “I killed that lady.” Still later, during a joint interview with his mother, the officer in charge of the interrogation notes that Kurilla “appeared to be having trouble answering the questions.”

According to Terrie Morgan-Besecker—a reporter for The Scranton Times Tribune who has been closely following the case— Kurilla’s attorney, Bernard Brown, called the manner in which the boy was questioned “concerning” and is planning to challenge the confession.

This child, who turned 10 this summer, is indeed in dire need of help. But if he has any hope of getting it, he must be treated as child, not as an adult. That the law says otherwise simply demonstrates the how disastrously broken our juvenile justice system has become.


AND HERE’S TO LEGENDARY EDITOR BEN BRADLEE… R.I.P.

Ben Bradlee, who died Tuesday at 93, transformed the Washington Post and, with his stewardship of the paper’s Watergate coverage and the publication of information contained in the Pentagon Papers, changed journalism and arguably the direction of the nation.

Here’s a clip from the story that appeared on the Post’s front page on Wednesday morning.

Benjamin C. Bradlee, who presided over The Washington Post newsroom for 26 years and guided The Post’s transformation into one of the world’s leading newspapers, died Oct. 21 at his home in Washington of natural causes. He was 93.

From the moment he took over The Post newsroom in 1965, Mr. Bradlee sought to create an important newspaper that would go far beyond the traditional model of a metropolitan daily. He achieved that goal by combining compelling news stories based on aggressive reporting with engaging feature pieces of a kind previously associated with the best magazines. His charm and gift for leadership helped him hire and inspire a talented staff and eventually made him the most celebrated newspaper editor of his era.

The most compelling story of Mr. Bradlee’s tenure, almost certainly the one of greatest consequence, was Watergate, a political scandal touched off by The Post’s reporting that ended in the only resignation of a president in U.S. history.

But Mr. Bradlee’s most important decision, made with Katharine Graham, The Post’s publisher, may have been to print stories based on the Pentagon Papers, a secret Pentagon history of the Vietnam War. The Nixon administration went to court to try to quash those stories, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the decision of the New York Times and The Post to publish them.

President Obama recalled Mr. Bradlee’s legacy on Tuesday night in a statement that said: “For Benjamin Bradlee, journalism was more than a profession — it was a public good vital to our democracy. A true newspaperman, he transformed the Washington Post into one of the country’s finest newspapers, and with him at the helm, a growing army of reporters published the Pentagon Papers, exposed Watergate, and told stories that needed to be told — stories that helped us understand our world and one another a little bit better. The standard he set — a standard for honest, objective, meticulous reporting — encouraged so many others to enter the profession. And that standard is why, last year, I was proud to honor Ben with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Today, we offer our thoughts and prayers to Ben’s family, and all who were fortunate to share in what truly was a good life.”

[SNIP]

Mr. Bradlee’s patrician good looks, gravelly voice, profane vocabulary and zest for journalism and for life all contributed to the charismatic personality that dominated and shaped The Post. Modern American newspaper editors rarely achieve much fame, but Mr. Bradlee became a celebrity and loved the status. Jason Robards played him in the movie “All the President’s Men,” based on Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s book about Watergate. Two books Mr. Bradlee wrote — “Conversations With Kennedy” and his memoir, “A Good Life” — were bestsellers. His craggy face became a familiar sight on television. In public and in private, he always played his part with theatrical enthusiasm.

“He was a presence, a force,” Woodward recalled of Mr. Bradlee’s role during the Watergate period, 1972 to 1974. “And he was a doubter, a skeptic — ‘Do we have it yet?’ ‘Have we proved it?’ ” Decades later, Woodward remembered the words that he most hated to hear from Mr. Bradlee then: “You don’t have it yet, kid.”

Mr. Bradlee loved the Watergate story, not least because it gave the newspaper “impact,” his favorite word in his first years as editor. He wanted the paper to be noticed. In his personal vernacular — a vivid, blasphemous argot that combined the swearwords he mastered in the Navy during World War II with the impeccable enunciation of a blue-blooded Bostonian — a great story was “a real tube-ripper.”

This meant a story was so hot that Post readers would rip the paper out of the tubes into which the paperboy delivered it. A bad story was “mego” — the acronym for “my eyes glaze over” — applied to anything that bored him. Maximizing the number of tube-rippers and minimizing mego was the Bradlee strategy.

Mr. Bradlee’s tactics were also simple: “Hire people smarter than you are” and encourage them to bloom. His energy and his mystique were infectious….

Read on. It’s a long and rich and compelling storyabout a long and rich and compelling life.

Posted in American voices, Board of Supervisors, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, mental health, Mental Illness | No Comments »

Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

School Discipline, LAPD Chief’s Difficult Decision About Controversial Detective, Prop 47, and Vote!

October 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES A CLOSER LOOK AT SCHOOL DISCIPLINE PRACTICES

This past weekend, in a show called “Is This Working?” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story about school discipline—two different methods in particular—and whether or not they work for kids.

The TAL episode begins by exploring racial disparity in school suspensions and expulsions for infractions like “disrespect” and “willful defiance,” and the school-to-prison pipeline.

Reporter Chana Joffe-Walt talks with writer Tunette Powell and her sons JJ (5) and Joah (4), who have received eight suspensions between them (and whose story we shared here).

And in the second half of the program, host Ira Glass and Joffe-Walt tell of two completely different endeavors to change the way schools discipline kids.

The first is a system of charter schools tailored to poor and minority kids. The charter schools first started popping up around 20 years ago, and boasted strict, methodical discipline coupled with long school days, and a slogan telling kids to “sweat the small stuff.”

The first generation of kids to enter these schools are now adults, and one of these students, Rousseau Mieze, shares his experiences, good and bad, with TAL. For instance, he was suspended on his second day for celebrating a perfect score on a math test, and was frequently disciplined thereafter for talking out of turn. Half of the first class dropped out before the end of the school year, but Rousseau went on to graduate college and is now a teacher at charter school that applies similar discipline methods.

Conversely, another discipline movement has been slowly sweeping through schools across the nation: restorative justice, a model based on healing and conflict resolution between students and their teachers and peers.

The full episode is quite good and worth listening to, even if you are familiar with school discipline issues.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK FACES TRICKY DECISION ABOUT DETECTIVE’S FATE

While speaking at an LAPD training class, Detective Frank Lynga went on a vulgar tirade that included, among other things, calling black civil rights attorney Carl Douglas a “little Ewok,” saying a female captain was “swapped around,” and calling a certain lieutenant a “moron.”

Now Chief Charlie Beck must choose whether to merely punish Lynga, or fire him, as a department board of rights panel has recommended. And it’s a complicated decision because whichever way Beck moves, there will be constituencies who are upset. It is further complicated by the fact that Chief Beck did not fire officer Shaun Hillman who allegedly pulled a gun on a man and used a racial slur during a bar fight (which critics presume was because of his high profile uncle, a former LAPD deputy chief).

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have this complex story. Here’s a clip:

Frank Lyga claimed that he drove his Jeep in the carpool lane at 100 mph, called a prominent black civil rights attorney an “ewok,” quipped that a female LAPD captain had been “swapped around a bunch of times” and described a lieutenant as a “moron.”

Then he recalled his fatal 1997 shooting of a fellow officer, an incident that sparked racial tensions within the department because Lyga is white and the slain officer was black.

“I could have killed a whole truckload of them, and I would have been happy doing it,” Lyga recounted telling an attorney representing the officer’s family.

Nearly a year after Lyga gave his controversial training lecture, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck must choose whether to follow a disciplinary panel’s recommendation issued this week to fire the detective or reduce his punishment and let him keep his job.

The decision presents the chief with one of his biggest tests since his August reappointment to a second five-year term and is likely to reignite criticism of how he handles officers’ discipline. Beck has clashed with his civilian bosses and rank-and-file officers on the issue, with some accusing him of being inconsistent.

On Friday, black civil rights advocates called on Beck to fire Lyga, saying that the narcotics detective’s comments were racist and sexist and should not be tolerated. Meanwhile, Lyga’s supporters say that he is genuinely remorseful, and note that Beck recently rejected another disciplinary panel’s recommendations to fire a well-connected officer who was caught uttering a racial slur.

“This is a police chief’s nightmare,” said Merrick Bobb, a policing oversight expert.


FURTHER PROP 47 READING: ENDORSEMENTS AND CRITICISMS FROM NEWSPAPERS AND JUSTICE SYSTEM LEADERS

A former Santa Barbara County Superior Court judge, George Eskin, urges voters to pass prop 47. In an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent, Eskin, who is also a former assistant DA in SB and Ventura, says that “wobblers”—charges that could be designated as either misdemeanors or felonies—are often filed as felonies by DAs and are later reduced to misdemeanors, creating a needlessly expensive legal process. Here’s a clip from his case for Prop 47:

I was a prosecutor and a defense attorney for 35 years before serving a decade as a judge on the Santa Barbara County Superior Court. In these experiences, I have seen how far we have strayed from sound criminal sentencing policies.

This is especially true of low-level offenses, many of which can be prosecuted as either a felony or a misdemeanor. District attorneys decide which classification to file, and a judge has no authority to influence their decision. DAs routinely file these cases as felonies, even though they are likely to conclude with a misdemeanor disposition.

The end result of this costly process, a misdemeanor conviction, does not justify the financial expense and the valuable resources invested by police, prosecutors, and the courts, and the ability to investigate, prosecute, and adjudicate serious and violent crimes is compromised.

And even if a felony conviction stands for these nonviolent offenses, the “felon” label will serve as an impediment to future employment and education opportunities, not to mention the obvious loss of employment and interruption of education and family life while someone is on trial or incarcerated.

UT San Diego, however, is urging voters not to pass 47, saying that while the state’s prison population and recidivism rates do need to be reduced, and our “tough-on-crime” policies did not work, Prop 47 will not solve these problems. Here’s a clip:

Stealing any handgun worth less than $950, now a felony, would automatically be a misdemeanor — and nearly all stolen handguns are worth less than $950; the language is so loose it would even make possession of date-rape drugs a misdemeanor; and the provisions for shoplifting and bad checks could cost retailers and consumers millions.

Finally, the prison money that would be saved and diverted to treatment programs, schools and crime victims — Lansdowne estimated it at $100 million to $200 million — is peanuts for a state the size of California. Which means thousands of criminals would be back on the streets where they would still not get treatment for their mental health disorders or their addictions.

Another former Superior Court judge, Harlan Grossman, who is also a former prosecutor and an FBI agent, in an op-ed for the Contra Costa Times, calls the measure “long overdue” and says it will help the state meet prison population reduction goals as well as save much-needed court resources to use on more serious criminal cases. Here are some clips:

Realignment significantly reduced overcrowding in our state prisons, but the number of inmates has been creeping back up over the past two years.

Without some additional sentencing changes, we will fall short of the goal of prioritizing jail and prison space while also making our justice system more equitable and fair. Fortunately, Proposition 47 could move us forward toward that goal.

[SNIP]

Another benefit of making these offenses misdemeanors is that it should lead to a quicker resolution of these cases, freeing up scarce resources to address the more serious offenses that threaten the safety of our communities.

KPCC has a short and sweet Prop 47 FAQ list with bullet points on what the measure would do, if passed, and why it’s different from current laws.


REGISTER! VOTE!

By the way, today, October 20, is the cut-off to register to vote in the November 4 election. Go register! Quick! You can fill out the online application here.

Posted in LAPD, race and class, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

State Urged to Intervene at Two More LA High Schools, Kern County School Discipline Lawsuit, Prop 47′s LA Savings, and PPOA Interviews McDonnell

October 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TWO MORE LA HIGH SCHOOLS NOT GIVING KIDS NEEDED CLASSES, STATE CALLED ON TO STEP IN

On the same day that beleaguered LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy announced his resignation, the ACLU and Public Counsel filed a report at Alameda County Superior Court urged the state to intervene at two more LAUSD schools—Dorsey and Fremont—for failing to educate students.

Last week, Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered LAUSD to work with the state to come up with a plan to fix Jefferson High School’s scheduling system that was giving kids filler classes and sending them home early with minimal instruction. (Read that story, here.) On Tuesday, the state board of education approved the school district’s $1.1 million plan to fix the Jefferson crisis.

Jefferson and Fremont high schools are named in a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU and Public Counsel, Cruz v. California, challenging the state’s failure to provide an adequate education to kids attending nine schools in LA, Compton, Contra Costa, and Oakland.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the new action. Here’s a clip:

Judge George Hernandez Jr. ordered state and local officials to intervene at Jefferson High School on Oct. 8. Less than a week later, Los Angeles Unified officials presented a plan to reschedule students, add more classes and lengthen the school day a half hour so students could catch up on lost time.

The state board on Tuesday approved $1.1 million to pay for the fixes.

The ACLU and Public Counsel found students Dorsey and Fremont high schools are also enrolled in courses they already passed, working as aides or going home early rather than being challenged academically.

In a status report filed in Alameda County Superior Court Thursday, attorneys argued Los Angeles Unified officials haven’t done enough to identify students losing learning time and haven’t clearly stated how they’ll fix the problem.

“Plaintiffs are further investigating the remaining high schools in this litigation and will be taking steps to seek prompt relief for all students at these schools, who like students at Jefferson, have been and continue to be deprived of instruction time due to assignment to course periods with no content or failure to finalize an appropriate master schedule in advance of the school year,” according to the filing.


AND OVER IN KERN COUNTY…A LAWSUIT AGAINST HARSH DISCIPLINE FOR MINORITY KIDS

Last year, we shared Susan Ferriss of Center for Public Integrity’s stories about Latino kids (many English-learners) and black kids in Kern County receiving disproportionate punishment and transfers to remote alternative schools and independent study.

Late last week, a lawsuit against Kern County School District was filed on behalf of a number of the kids in Ferriss’ stories. The suit says the district declined to fix racially disparate practices in accordance with California’s new discipline reforms.

Kern is also accused of misreporting expulsions as transfers, as well as “tricking” and “coercing” parents into waiving kids’ due process rights, allowing the school to immediately transfer disciplined students to alternative schools.

The suit was filed by a number of non-profit and advocate groups including, California Rural Legal Assistance and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund [MALDEF].

Here’s a clip from Susan Ferriss’ latest story on the issue:

…the suit accuses the Kern High School District of failing to comply with new state discipline policies and adopt alternative practices designed to diffuse problems without resorting to kicking kids out.

The suit also accuses the district of labeling students that its regular campuses kick out as “involuntary” or “voluntary transfers” instead of expulsions that must be reported to state and federal databases.

The suit notes that the district — under scrutiny after media reports — did cut its expulsions from 2,040 in 2011 to 256 students in 2013. But the groups argue that enrollment has not declined at alternative schools because of continuing transfers of students that parents — many of them limited English speakers — agree to authorize without fully understanding other options.

The district, the suit alleges, “has implemented a ‘waiver’ system, under which students and parents are convinced through intimidation, coerced or tricked into waiving the due process protections accompanying formal discipline and accepting immediate placement in alternative schools.”

The suit also argues that stark ethnic disparities persist among kids officially expelled from Kern’s high schools.

During the 2012-2013 school year, according to the suit, 67 percent of black students who were expelled were kicked out for infractions that did not include physical injury, possession of drugs or weapons. Only 42 percent of white students expelled were removed for similarly less serious infractions.


MORE PROP 47 STATISTICS ON COUNTY SAVINGS, AND MORE

The Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice has issued a new report on estimated savings and jail population reductions each California county can expect if Prop 47 passes next month. (If you’ve forgotten, Prop 47 would reclassify certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors, incurring punishments like probation and treatment, or a max of one year in jail, instead of more lengthy prison sentences.)

The CJCJ brief says Los Angeles would likely save between $100-$175 million, free between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds, and affect nearly 10,000 offenders.

For further Prop 47 reading, the San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has more on the measure’s proponents, which include three three county district attorneys, Newt Gingrich, and a retired SD Police Chief, as well as opponents, which include other DAs and peace officer associations.


PPOA INTERVIEWS LA SHERIFF CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

A new 33 minute interview by Brian Moriguchi, the president of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), with Los Angeles Sheriff-hopeful, LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell, addresses questions about issues like civilian oversight, leadership, transparency, and field deputy positions. The interview is the first installment in a three-part interview with McDonnell. Watch the entire first video above.

Posted in ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LASD, LAUSD, Sentencing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Innocent Man Freed Amid “A Legacy of Disgrace”….LA Times Pushes for Recordings of Cop Interrogations…..”Chip” Murray Slams Tanaka…Charges Filed Against LA Mom for Kid’s Gun at School

October 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



A CASE OF INNOCENCE, TEENAGERS MAKING FALSE CONFESSIONS AND “A LEGACY OF DISGRACE”

On Wednesday, David McCallum, a 45-year-old Brooklyn man, was freed after spending 29 years locked up for a kidnapping and murder that it has now been found he did not commit, although he and his friend confessed to the crime when they were both 16.

“I was beaten by the officers and I was coerced into making a confession,” McCallum told a parole board in 2012.

When announcing that McCallum and his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, had been cleared of the killing, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said grimly, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

McCallum called his release “bittersweet” because “I’m walking out alone.” His friend Stucky, while also cleared, had died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.

Oren Yanev of the New York Daily News broke the story of McCallum’s impending release on Tuesday, and had more on the story Wednesday.

Here’s a clip:

Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.

[Brooklyn District Attorney] Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.

McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.

McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.

“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.

“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.

Eventually Michelen, along with some of McCallum’s other supporters, did approach the DA’s office with evidence that DNA obtained from a car used in the abduction matched another suspect who had been questioned in 1985 without the defense ever being notified.

McCallum and Stuckey make ten exonerations for Thompson’s office since the Brooklyn DA took office in January— with two of those exonerations issued posthumously.

The video above is a trailer for a documentary about the efforts of famous exoneree, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, along with the filmmaker and his father, to free McCallum.


LA TIMES SAYS CALIFORNIA LAW NEEDED TO REQUIRE VIDEO RECORDING OF ALL INTERROGATIONS FOR SERIOUS FELONIES

David McCallum, in the story above, was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, not California, but the issue of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions potentially affects every state in the union.

The LA Times editorial board wants California to pass a law requiring video recordings of all interrogations for serious felonies.

Here’s a clip from their editorial on the topic:

The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.

There’s a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco. (Los Angeles does not.) Federal agents in the Department of Justice began doing so in July. The benefits are clear and laudable: a chance to reduce wrongful convictions, protect police from contrived allegations of abuse or malfeasance and save the expense of defending bad cases.

California has considered this before. The Legislature passed such laws in 2005 and 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them because of his fear of constraining police.

[SNIP]

Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.

But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.


REV. “CHIP” MURRAY WRITES THAT PAUL TANAKA SHOULD NOT BE SHERIFF

Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray has written an unusually strongly-worded Op Ed for the Los Angeles Sentinel outlining why he feels that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka should not be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Murray, as you may or may not remember, was the Vice Chair of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence, the blue ribbon panel appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of systemic abuse within the county’s jail system and to recommend reforms.

Now he serves as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC. Yet, he is best known as former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) who in his 27 years at the pulpit, transformed a small congregation of 250 people into a powerhouse 18,000 person church recognized throughout the nation.

Murray writes that he and his fellow CCJV commissioners found their year long process to be “deeply troubling,” which led to his reason for writing the Op Ed.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

…During those hours of testimony, time and time again we were pointed back to the integral role of then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who we heard had little interest in curtailing years of abuse, failed to hold deputies accountable, encouraged LASD personnel to “work in the grey” — on the border of right and wrong — and undercut managers who tried to reign in abuses. Indeed, our report concluded that “the troubling role of [then]-Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored.”

Now, Mr. Tanaka is running for Sheriff and asking the public to ignore or forget the leadership role he had in overseeing the violence and corruption that the Commission uncovered and for which he was eventually forced out of LASD.

While I am not ordinarily vocal in political races, the race for the next Sheriff is too important for me sit on the sidelines. This election is about the future of the LASD and how we treat the men and women of our community and in custody.

[SNIP]

The report issued by the CCJV concluded in no uncertain terms that “Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails.” Our report described in detail how Tanaka “discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct,” “vetoed efforts” to address the problem of deputy cliques and “encouraged and permitted deputies to circumvent the chain of command.” The report also recounted a system of patronage within LASD that Tanaka created: “many department members believe promotions and assignments are based on loyalty to the Undersheriff” (Tanaka) and “campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka furthered the perception of patronage.” This demonstrably poor judgment and misdirected leadership has continued beyond his tenure at LASD; in his race for Sheriff, Tanaka has accepted a large number of campaign donations from current and former employees of the Sheriff’s Department…..

[SNIP]

All in all, Mr. Tanaka’s “leadership” has resulted in the indictment of over 20 former LASD members, federal convictions and prison sentences of seven of those individuals, and legal costs to the County based on civil lawsuits likely to exceed 200 million dollars. And Mr. Tanaka himself remains the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.


LA CITY ATTORNEY FILES CHARGES AGAINST MOM WHEN SON BRINGS LOADED GUN TO SCHOOL

On May 13 of this year, a 17-year-old at a Van Nuys continuation high school got into a fight with another boy on campus. The next day, he reportedly brought a loaded 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school, along with an extra magazine in his backpack, and showed the gun to a friend. School police heard about the weapon recovered the gun and ammo from the kid’s backpack.

The following day, when police executed a warrant at the kid’s home, they reportedly found four other unsecured firearms that belonged to the boy’s mother in places like a bedroom drawer and inside a kitchen cabinet.

On Wednesday of this week, LA’s City Attorney charged the student’s mother with four criminal counts: allowing a child to carry a firearm off premises, allowing a child to take a gun to school, permitting a child to be in a dangerous situation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor—counts that each could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

City Attorney Mike Feuer called a press conference to announce charges against Leah Wilcken, 41, for failing to safely secure a semi-automatic handgun that her 17-year-old son took to Will Rodgers Continuation School in May.

“It has to be the case that when a parent sends their child to school, they do not fear that another child is going to have a weapon on campus,” Feuer said.

Feuer described the charges as the first ever filed in Los Angeles against a parent whose child took a gun to school. But KPCC found records of a 1995 case in which former City Attorney James K. Hahn filed similar charges against a Panorama City woman after her 9-year-old daughter took a gun to her elementary school and fired it on the playground.

California law requires weapons to be safely stored. Anyone who keeps a loaded firearm where children under 18 years can obtain it is required to store the firearm in a locked container or with a locking device that keeps it from functioning, according to state law….

According to the Kate Mather and Richard Winton of the LA Times, who also reported the story, an attorney who is a representative of the NRA thought the “charges seem inappropriate.”

Posted in 2014 election, elections, FBI, guns, Innocence, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

ABC 7 Obtains Evidence From LASD Obstruction Trial…In Depth on California’s Sex Trafficked Children…3 Roads Out of Foster Care….& More

October 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


ABC7 SHOWS WHAT THE JURY HEARD & SAWA IN LASD OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIALS

The video that shows Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long confronting FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home and threatening her with arrest in September 2011, (even though they never intended to arrest her) was one of the pieces of evidence that resulted in felony convictions for the two sergeants and for four other former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (All six are expected to surrender for their respective prison terms on January 4.)

ABC7 News has obtained that video plus various other recordings and documents that were considered crucial to the jury’s guilty verdict.

Here are a couple of clips from the excellent expanded web version of Tuesday night’s story by investigative producer Lisa Bartley.

By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Special Operations Group” had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well.

“Locate target and establish lifestyle,” reads the surveillance order for Agent Lam.

Surveillance logs on Agent Marx turned up nothing more nefarious than the young agent picking up after her medium-sized brown and white dog. The surveillance team notes in its report that the dog went “#2″.

It’s highly unusual for a local law enforcement agency to investigate and conduct surveillance on FBI agents, but this is an incredibly unusual case. Seven former deputies, sergeants and lieutenants stand convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for their roles in trying to block a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in L.A. County Jails.

[LARGE SNIP]

Lying to the FBI is a crime, as Sgt. Craig would soon find out. Marx was not “a named suspect in a felony complaint” and Craig knew he could not arrest the FBI agent for her role in the FBI’s undercover operation at Men’s Central Jail. The FBI sting included smuggling a contraband cell phone into inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown through a corrupt sheriff’s deputy who accepted a cash bribe from an undercover FBI agent.

Craig did not have probable cause to arrest Marx because the contraband phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI investigation. No less than the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office had told then-Sheriff Lee Baca that himself more than a month before the threat to arrest Agent Marx.

The federal judge who oversaw all three trials delivered a harsh rebuke to six of the defendants at their sentencing last month.

Judge Percy Anderson: “Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff’s Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse.”

The story also features other evidence such as the audio of Sgt. Long lying to Agent Marx’s FBI supervisor, Special Agent Carlos Narro, when he called to inquire about the arrest threat. (Then, after hanging up, Long appears to laugh with a sort of gloating amusement at Narro’s reaction, as the recorder was still rolling.)

In addition, there are examples of former Lt. Stephen Leavins and Sgt. Craig attempting to convince various witnesses not to cooperate with the FBI—AKA witness tampering.

For the jury—as those of us sitting in the courtroom who heard these and other recording snippets played over and over—the evidence could not help but be very potent.

ABC7′s Bartley has still more, which you can find here.


GONE GIRLS: LA MAG LOOKS AT SEX TRAFFICKING OF CALIFORNIA’S CHILDREN

In the US, California has become a tragic growth area for sex trafficking of children. Out of the nation’s thirteen high intensity child prostitution areas, as identified by the FBI, three of those thirteen are located in California—namely in San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego metropolitan areas.

In the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, Mike Kessler has a terrific, in depth, and very painful story about those who are fighting to help the young victims of repeated rape for the profit of others.

We’ve excerpted Kessler’s important story below.

The sex trafficking of minors, we’ve come—or maybe want—to believe, is limited to developing nations, where wretched poverty leaves girls with few options. But too many children in Los Angeles County know that the sex trade has no borders. They can be runaways fresh off the Greyhound, immigrants from places like Southeast Asia and eastern Europe, aspiring “models” whose “managers” have them convinced that sexual favors are standard operating procedure. Uncovering the sale of children is difficult at best. While some authorities suspect that boys are sexually exploited as often as girls, nobody knows for sure. Boys are rarely pimped, which isn’t the case for girls. And what little law enforcement agencies can track usually happens on the street, at the behest of pimps, albeit in areas that society tends to ignore. In L.A. County that means poor black and Latino neighborhoods such as Watts, Lynwood, Compton, and parts of Long Beach, along with Van Nuys and Pacoima in the San Fernando Valley. “This is the demographic that’s most afflicted,” Kathleen Kim, a professor at Loyola Marymount University’s law school, a member of L.A.’s police commission, and an expert on human trafficking, told me. “It’s a problem among marginalized children.” According to the district attorney’s office, 29 confirmed cases of child sex trafficking were reported in L.A. County in the first quarter of this year. That’s roughly 120 minors sold for sex annually, but, authorities agree, the statistics fall short of reality when there are so many ways to hide the crime.

LAPD Lieutenant Andre Dawson is a 32-year department veteran who, for the past four years, has run an eight-person team dedicated to slowing the commercial sexual exploitation of children, whom he once thought of us prostitutes. Now he sees the kids as the victims they are.

Fifty-six and a year away from retirement, Dawson is six feet three inches, bald, and handsome, with a graying mustache. When I met him on a recent Friday evening, he was sharply dressed in a black Kangol cap, chunky glasses, a collarless white shirt, and dark designer jeans. In his cubicle he keeps binders documenting the lengths to which pimps go to lay claim to the children they sell. There’s a photo of a girl’s chest, the words “King Snipe’s Bitch” tattooed on it. King Snipe, or Leroy Bragg, is in prison now. Girls are stamped in dark ink with their pimp’s nickname, “Cream,” an acronym for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me.” One bears his name on her cheek. The girl was 14 and pregnant at the time she was branded. The burn mark on a different young woman’s back was from an iron applied by her pimp, Dawson said. He brought out a twist of lime-colored wires that was two feet long and as thick as three fingers, duct tape binding them together. “We call this ‘the green monster,’ ” he said. “It’s what one of these pimps used to discipline his girls. He beat one of them so bad, he pulled the skin off of her back.”

Once the sun went down, Dawson draped a Kevlar vest over my torso and drove me through “the tracks,” stretches of city streets where money is exchanged for sex. They’re also known collectively as “the blade,” owing to the risks one takes when walking them. Threading his SUV through the crush of downtown traffic, he recounted how he used to regard the kids he arrested as willing participants. They were defiant toward police, he said. Invariably the girls protected their pimps and went back to the streets. But as he talked to child advocates, he came to the realization that most of the kids lacked the emotional maturity to know they were being abused. “The chain is around the brain,” he said, passing the big airplane by the science museum at Fig and Expo. “The more I work with this population, the more I understand that 12- and 13-year-old girls don’t just call each other up and say, ‘Hey, let’s go out prostituting.’ They’re not just using bad judgment. They’re doing it because they’re desperate for love or money or both. They think they’re getting what they can’t get somewhere else.” Even more tragic, Dawson said, is that “these girls think the pimp hasn’t done anything wrong.”

While poverty, parentlessness, and crushingly low self-esteem are all factors, there’s another reason so many kids wind up in “the game,” or, as some call it, “the life”: Dawson estimates “nine-and-a-half or ten out of ten” of the girls he encounters were victims of sexual abuse that began long before they turned their first trick. I asked him how many adult prostitutes he encounters started when they were underage. “Ninety-nine percent,” he said. “It’s all they’ve known.”

Kessler met up with LA County Supervisor Don Knabe in Washington D.C. when Knabe—who says he has grandchildren the age of some of the sex trafficking victims—was working to shake loose federal dollars to fund some of LA County’s programs, like LA’s STAR Court (that WLA posted about here), that prevent underage girls from being bought and sold for sex. The supervisor brought with him a trafficking survivor, who predictably had more of an affect on the D.C. crowd at a press conference on the topic, than the gathered politicians.

Knabe has been a vocal supporter of California legislation introduced by Republican state senator Bob Huff, of Diamond Bar, and Democrat Ted Lieu, of Torrance. Their “War on Child Sex Trafficking” package consists of bills that would make it easier for law enforcement agencies to obtain wiretap warrants on suspected pimps and list pimping as an official gang activity, since pimps often have gang affiliations and sentences can be stiffened for crimes committed by members. Consequently Governor Jerry Brown this year created a CSEC budget of $5 million, which will go toward training and services; next year that budget will jump to $14 million. At the federal level Knabe has been a point man for Democratic Representative Karen Bass, whose district encompasses several South L.A. County neighborhoods, and for Texas Republican Congressman Ted Poe, both of whom are pushing tough-on-trafficking legislation.

Knabe had brought Jessica Midkiff, the survivor I’d met at the diner in L.A., to D.C. for the press conference. After the supervisor spoke, she took the microphone and addressed the 30 or so reporters in the room. Choking back her nervousness, she said, “I was exploited beginning at the age of 11 and was arrested several times across the United States before the age of 21. For a lot of young women like me, trauma began at an early age. Before the commercial sexual exploitation, abuse was a major factor in most of our childhoods. In my case, I was raped, beaten, and mentally abused from 3 to 11 years old by a number of men.” She made no effort to conceal the blot of ink on her neck, the indecipherable result of one pimp’s tattoo being covered by another’s over the course of a decade. She spoke of the violence and coercion, the desperation and loneliness that victims suffer, the cruelty of pimps and the ubiquity of johns. “Our buyers can be members of law enforcement, doctors, lawyers, and business owners,” Jessica said. “Why would anybody believe us?” One of her johns, she added, was an administrator at a school she attended “who followed, stalked, and harassed me to get into his car” when he was “in his forties and I was only 14 years old.”

During the Q&A afterward, a reporter asked what Jessica or her pimps charged for their services. She demurred at first. Asked again a few minutes later, she reluctantly said, “It starts at 50 dollars and moves its way up to a couple hundred and even thousands. The younger the child, the higher the cost.”

There’s lots more to the story, so be sure to read on.


THREE BROTHERS & THREE VERY DIFFERENT TALES OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On a Sunday in 2006, three brothers escaped from the home of their alcoholic, abusive grandmother. (Their mother was a drug addict so they no longer lived with her.) A month later, social services showed up at their sister’s door and took the three boys—Matt, 14, Terrick, 12, and Joseph, 11—into the foster care system. A social worker told them they would not be separated. The promise turned out not to be true.

Brian Rinker of the Chronicle of Social Change looks at the experiences and subsequent paths of each of the three boys, and what those paths say about the foster care system in California.

Here’s a clip:

They stashed a black plastic garbage bag full of clothes next to a dumpster outside their grandmother’s apartment in Whittier, California, and wore extra socks, shirts and pants underneath their church outfits. Their older sister, 23, would pick them up at a nearby Burger King. From there, according to the brothers, she would whisk them away and raise them as her own.

So instead of stepping onto that church bus as they had done every week past, the Bakhit brothers walked to Burger King praying that whatever lay ahead was better than what they left behind.

Matt, the eldest, was the mastermind. At 14, a wrestler and high school freshman, Matt said living in the strict, abusive home stifled his maturity. How could he grow into a man?

“My grandma, over any little thing, would pull my pants down and whoop me with a belt,” Matt, now 22, said in an interview.

But freedom from his abusive grandmother didn’t mean an end to his and his brothers’ hardships.

Child protection intervened less than a month later at their sister’s San Diego home. The brothers remember a social worker telling them they would not be separated. They packed their belongings once again into plastic bags and piled into the social worker’s car. The brothers cried.

Despite the promise, 20 minutes later the social worker dropped Matt off at a foster home. Terrick and Joseph were taken to the Polinsky Children’s Center, a 24-hour emergency shelter in San Diego for kids without a home, or as Joseph calls it, “purgatory.”

[BIG SNIP]

The tale of the brothers Bakhit exemplifies the strengths and weaknesses of a foster care system struggling to care for thousands of abused and neglected children. The same system that nurtured Joseph also alienated Matt, and lost Terrick to the juvenile justice system, which cut him from foster care and cast him out on the streets: broke, hungry and with nowhere to go.

[SNIP]

Despite a traumatic childhood, Joseph, the youngest, now 19, grew up a success by most standards. He graduated as valedictorian from San Pasqual Academy, a residential school for foster youth. The academy gave him a car: a black 2008 Toyota Scion XD.

When he got accepted to UC Berkeley, scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth paid his full ride. And because of a 2010 law extending foster care to age 21, he gets a $838 check every month until age 21.

Now in his second year of college, Joseph works at a dorm cafeteria and is engaged to his high school sweetheart.

Terrick and Matt’s experience was totally different.

By the time Joseph graduated from high school, Terrick and Matt were homeless on the streets of downtown San Diego….

Read on.


AZ PRISONS & JAILS CAN NO LONGER PEPPER SPRAY SCHIZOPHRENICS FOR ANY OLD REASON…AND OTHER SETTLEMENT TERMS

Across the nation, 45 percent of those in solitary confinement are mentally ill, notes Shane Bauer, of Mother Jones Magazine in a story about a class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Prison Law Office, and by inmates at 10 of Arizona’s state prisons, which reached a settlement Tuesday with the Arizona Department of Corrections today to improve health care—including mental health care—and solitary confinement conditions in Arizona’s prisons.

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story about the settlement:

The lawsuit, which has been going on for two years, won concessions that would seem to be common sense. Prison guards, for example, now can’t pepper spray severely mentally ill prisoners unless they are preventing serious injury or escape. And while these types of inmates were previously let out of their solitary cells for just six hours a week, the settlement requires Arizona to let them out for at least 19 hours a week. With some exceptions for the most dangerous, this time will now be shared with other prisoners, and will include mental health treatment and other programming.

People like this—–the schizophrenic, the psychotic, the suicidal—–are not a small portion of the 80,000 people we have in solitary confinement in the US today. According the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 45 percent of people in solitary have severe mental illnesses. The country’s three largest mental health care providers are jails.

Tim Hull of the Courthouse News also has a story on Tuesday’s settlement that even requires Arizona to pay $5 million in attorneys’ fees.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, crime and punishment, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 37 Comments »

LA Elementary School Kids Still Without Libraries, Interrogating Kids, LA Times on LAPD “Ghost Cars,” and Jim McDonnell’s New Radio Ad

October 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LIBRARIES STAFFING ISSUES EVEN WORSE AFTER BOOSTED FUNDING

Despite increased money for staffing libraries this year, the number of trained aides running LAUSD elementary school libraries has actually decreased by 20%, leaving around 100,000 LA kids without access to a school library. The problem, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says, is that it is very difficult to find specially trained staff willing to work just three hours per day.

(WLA has been following this issue for a while, now. Backstory can be found here.)

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has the story. Here’s a clip:

During budget hearings last spring, Superintendent John Deasy promised to spend $6 million to bring back the 192 library aides who would help open shuttered elementary libraries across the district this school year.

In 2011 budget cuts, Deasy and the school board laid off half of the district’s library aides and reduced the hours of many who were left. Without trained staff, schools can’t run a library under state law.

“Students don’t learn literacy skills (in the library). They learn that through trained teachers,” Deasy told KPCC in 2011, after the cuts were announced.

But despite a commitment to rehire staff, the number of elementary library aides have decreased by about 20 percent since last fall.

District officials said its difficult to recruit workers to work just three hours a day, five days a week – the schedule of many library aides.


PROBLEMS WITH USING ADULT INTERROGATION METHODS ON KIDS

The NY Times’ Jan Hoffman has an interesting story on interrogation techniques and why they elicit false confessions from teenagers. Hoffman points to a recent study of 57 interrogations of teens across the country. None of the teens exercised their constitutional rights: they did not remain silent, they did not leave, and they did not ask for a lawyer. Around 37% fully confessed, and 33% incriminated themselves.

Other research shows that kids do not fully understand their rights, and are easily worn down by persuasive interrogators trying to scare out a confession.

(For other WLA posts about problematic interrogation practices and false confessions, go here, here, and here.)

Here’s a clip from Hoffman’s story:

Teenagers, studies show, are not developmentally ready to make critical decisions that have long-term impacts.

“Adolescents are more oriented to the present, so they are less likely than adults to be thinking about the future consequences of what they’re saying,” said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University who writes about teenagers in the justice system and was not involved in this study.

Teenagers, he added, are also less likely than adults to know that the police can lie during interrogations.

“The police often promise kids things in the present. ‘If you just tell me you did it, you can go see your mom,’ ” he continued. “And because the brain’s reward systems are hypersensitive during adolescence, that immediate reward of confessing will trump the thinking of, ‘What will happen when I come back to court in a month?’ ”

Moreover, research shows that teenagers aged 15 and younger will unwittingly comply with authority figures. They are very suggestible, so that during an interrogation, they are more likely than adults to change their answers in response to interviewers.


LA TIMES: FALSE DATA REPORTING SYMPTOMS OF LARGER LAPD ISSUES?

Within the last three months, two reports have emerged revealing false data reporting within the LAPD. The first, an August LA Times report, found nearly 1,200 violent crimes misclassified as minor crimes, resulting in lower city crime rates.

Then, on Friday, an Office of Inspector General report found that department supervisors were boosting patrol numbers by deploying “ghost cars,” reporting officers as out on patrol who were actually filling out paperwork or performing other duties.

An LA Times editorial says that either the LAPD administration is unaware of what’s going on at the ground-level, or they are enforcing a culture in which department supervisors can only achieve goals by fixing the numbers. The editorial says the department needs to be held responsible for the false data reporting, but that the police commission should also examine why these errors are occurring.

Here’s a clip:

The Inspector General’s revelation is troubling for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s dishonest. False data lead city leaders and the public to believe the streets are more heavily patrolled than they really are. That undermines our sense of how safe we are, and also influences policy decisions on, for example, whether the city should hire more civilians for administrative tasks or keep hiring officers. And if supervisors can justify lying about staffing levels in order to keep the bosses happy, what other transgressions or omissions will they allow?

Most worrisome is that this is the second report in recent months to conclude that the LAPD has been relying on bad data and inaccurate reporting. A Times investigation in August found that the department understated violent crime in the city by misclassifying nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a one-year period. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck chalked that up to human error, although department insiders said deliberate miscoding had become common as captains and other supervisors were — again — under intense pressure to meet crime-reduction targets set by the brass.


NEW RADIO CAMPAIGN BY “FRIENDS OF MCDONNELL”

The independent expenditure committee, Friends of McDonnell for Sheriff 2014, has launched a $250,000 radio campaign on LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell’s behalf.

In the 60 second ad, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey calls on listeners to vote McDonnell for Los Angeles Sheriff. Here’s the transcript:

This is Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. There is no better choice for Los Angeles County Sheriff than Jim McDonnell. Jim is recognized as a leader in law enforcement leader. He has decades of experience with LAPD and as Chief of the Long Beach Police Department.

I respect and endorse Jim because he has integrity, independence, and has served on the front line of law enforcement. Proven leadership is why Jim McDonnell is endorsed by four previous DA’s.

Jim McDonnell is endorsed by all 5 County Supervisors and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Every daily newspaper in Los Angeles County has also endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff. I know Jim McDonnell can get the job done as Sheriff. I have seen him in action.

Whether you vote by absentee ballot or at the polls, be sure to vote for Jim McDonnell for L.A. County Sheriff.

While Paul Tanaka is technically still in the race, he has been rather quiet in his campaigning, opting to speak at smaller events, and posting a couple of videos on his social media pages (including a video of former sheriff contender Pat Gomez endorsing him).

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, LAUSD, Paul Tanaka | 14 Comments »

OIG: LAPD Deployed “Ghost Cars” to Boost Patrol Numbers, Asset Forfeiture $$, Black Teens’ 21 Times Higer Risk of Death by Officer, and LA’s New Poet Laureate

October 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INSPECTOR GENERAL FINDS LAPD MET PATROL GOALS BY SENDING OUT “GHOST CARS”

An investigation by the LAPD’s Office of the Inspector General found department supervisors falsified documents to augment the recorded number of cars on patrol to meet policy requirements. Department commanders in at least 5 of 21 divisions sent out “ghost cars” while the officers recorded as on patrol were actually completing paperwork or performing other duties, according to the report released Friday.

The LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher has more on the investigation. Here’s a clip:

To keep call response times down throughout the city, department policy requires at least one car to patrol each of the department’s roughly 200 geographic areas at all times. A workforce constrained by budget cuts and pressure to report positive statistics may have pushed commanders to manipulate information, some say.

“In the broadest sense, perceptions become reality,” Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said in an interview. “People perceive there are a lot of police in the street, but they would act differently if there’s only one car patrolling their neighborhood.”

Department spokesman Cmdr. Andrew Smith declined to comment until the full Police Commission addresses the report at its Tuesday meeting.

The investigation found that the officers’ patrol cars, which were reported to be responding to emergency calls, were actually parked at the stations or otherwise not on patrol. They are known as “ghost cars.”

[SNIP]

“It appears that the area personnel provided inaccurate accounts of actual patrol strength to [headquarters], and not to the public,” the report by Inspector General Alex Bustamante stated, “for the express purpose of meeting the patrol plan mandate.”

Bustamante’s report details one officer who was assigned to work patrol, but instead worked the equipment room checking out items such as microphones, rifles and car keys. Another spent six hours writing reports and conducting follow-up investigations in the station, despite his official status as patrolling. The report doesn’t list officers’ divisions or names, to protect whistleblowers’ confidentiality.


LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES USE SEIZED ASSETS AS FUNDING, BUY WEAPONS, GEAR, AND MORE

A new Washington Post investigation found that since 2008, local law enforcement agencies across the US have used billions of dollars obtained through civil asset forfeiture to buy things like weapons, gear, vehicles, a $637 coffee maker, and a clown. (No, we’re not kidding about the clown.)

The Post’s Robert O’Harrow Jr. and Steven Rich analyzed tens of thousands of expenditure reports submitted to the DOJ through the Equitable Sharing Program which allows law enforcement agencies to use the money they take from citizens. The investigation found that 81% of the $2.5 billion reported was taken from people who were never charged with a crime. But because people have to jump through hoops to prove they legally acquired the money or property that officers took from them, they do not often win it back.

(You can read our earlier posts about asset forfeiture here, here, and here.)

Here are some clips:

The details are contained in thousands of annual reports submitted by local and state agencies to the Justice Department’s Equitable Sharing Program, an initiative that allows local and state police to keep up to 80 percent of the assets they seize. The Washington Post obtained 43,000 of the reports dating from 2008 through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The documents offer a sweeping look at how police departments and drug task forces across the country are benefiting from laws that allow them to take cash and property without proving a crime has occurred. The law was meant to decimate drug organizations, but The Post found that it has been used as a routine source of funding for law enforcement at every level.

“In tight budget periods, and even in times of budget surpluses, using asset forfeiture dollars to purchase equipment and training to stay current with the ever-changing trends in crime fighting helps serve and protect the citizens,” said Prince George’s County, Md., police spokeswoman Julie Parker.

Of the nearly $2.5 billion in spending reported in the forms, 81 percent came from cash and property seizures in which no indictment was filed, according to an analysis by The Post. Owners must prove that their money or property was acquired legally in order to get it back.

The police purchases comprise a rich mix of the practical and the high-tech, including an array of gear that has helped some departments militarize their operations: Humvees, automatic weapons, gas grenades, night-vision scopes and sniper gear. Many departments acquired electronic surveillance equipment, including automated license-plate readers and systems that track cellphones.

The spending also included a $5 million helicopter for Los Angeles police; a mobile command bus worth more than $1 million in Prince George’s County; an armored personnel carrier costing $227,000 in Douglasville, Ga., population 32,000; $5,300 worth of “challenge coin” medallions in Brunswick County, N.C.; $4,600 for a Sheriff’s Award Banquet by the Doña Ana County (N.M.) Sheriff’s Department; and a $637 coffee maker for the Randall County Sheriff’s Department in Amarillo, Tex.

Sparkles the Clown was hired for $225 by Chief Jeff Buck in Reminderville, Ohio, to improve community relations. But Buck said the seizure money has been crucial to sustaining long-term investigations that have put thousands of drug traffickers in prison.

“The money I spent on Sparkles the Clown is a very, very minute portion of the forfeited money that I spend in fighting the war on drugs,” he told The Post.

About 5,400 departments and drug task forces have participated in the Equitable Sharing Program since 2008. Justice spokesman Peter Carr said the program is an effective weapon to fight crime but should not be considered “an alternative funding source for state and local law enforcement.”


PROPUBLICA: BLACK TEENS FACE MUCH HIGHER RISK OF BEING FATALLY SHOT BY OFFICERS THAN WHITE TEENS

ProPublica’s Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones, and Eric Sagara analyzed federal data on fatal “officer-involved” shootings of young males up to the age of 19. The analysis, which included 1,217 deadly shootings between 2010 and 2012 (as well as a larger pool of 12,000 incidents from as far back as 1980), revealed black teens faced a risk of being killed by officers that was 21 times greater than white teens.

Here’s a clip from the ProPublica analysis:

The 1,217 deadly police shootings from 2010 to 2012 captured in the federal data show that blacks, age 15 to 19, were killed at a rate of 31.17 per million, while just 1.47 per million white males in that age range died at the hands of police.

One way of appreciating that stark disparity, ProPublica’s analysis shows, is to calculate how many more whites over those three years would have had to have been killed for them to have been at equal risk. The number is jarring – 185, more than one per week.

ProPublica’s risk analysis on young males killed by police certainly seems to support what has been an article of faith in the African American community for decades: Blacks are being killed at disturbing rates when set against the rest of the American population.

Our examination involved detailed accounts of more than 12,000 police homicides stretching from 1980 to 2012 contained in the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report. The data, annually self-reported by hundreds of police departments across the country, confirms some assumptions, runs counter to others, and adds nuance to a wide range of questions about the use of deadly police force.

Colin Loftin, University at Albany professor and co-director of the Violence Research Group, said the FBI data is a minimum count of homicides by police, and that it is impossible to precisely measure what puts people at risk of homicide by police without more and better records. Still, what the data shows about the race of victims and officers, and the circumstances of killings, are “certainly relevant,” Loftin said.

[SNIP]

The data, for instance, is terribly incomplete. Vast numbers of the country’s 17,000 police departments don’t file fatal police shooting reports at all, and many have filed reports for some years but not others. Florida departments haven’t filed reports since 1997 and New York City last reported in 2007. Information contained in the individual reports can also be flawed. Still, lots of the reporting police departments are in larger cities, and at least 1000 police departments filed a report or reports over the 33 years.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ NAMED LOS ANGELES POET LAUREATE

Last week, Luis Rodriguez, an iconic LA poet, novelist, memoirist, teacher, publisher, and advocate, best known for his memoir, Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in LA, was named Los Angeles’ second ever poet laureate.

(We at WLA think this is a wonderful thing, and we’ll have more on the story later in the week.)

LA Weekly’s Jennifer Swann has more on our new poet laureate. Here’s a clip:

As L.A.’s poet laureate, Rodriguez will serve a two-year term in which he’ll act as “the official ambassador of L.A.’s vibrant creative scene,” a sort of spokesman for the written word, according to a statement issued by the mayor’s office. It’s a natural fit for Rodriguez, who’s already been filling that role on his own, as the founder of Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural, a nonprofit bookstore and cultural center that fosters art, literary and music workshops in the largely Latino community of Sylmar.

In his new position, the best-selling author of the memoirs Always Running, La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. and It Calls You Back is expected to host a series of readings, workshops and classes at the L.A. Public Library, which sponsors the poet laureate program, along with the Department of Cultural Affairs. The program is aimed at educating inner-city kids with limited access to poetry.

Posted in LAPD, racial justice, War on Drugs, writers and writing | 35 Comments »

San Antonio’s Mental Health Diversion, Judge Michael Nash Seeks Child Welfare Czar Position, DEA Steals Woman’s Identity, and Combatting Child Sex Trafficking in LA

October 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SAN ANTONIO SETS EXAMPLE OF HOW TO TURN AROUND OVER-INCARCERATION OF MENTALLY ILL

LA County is facing a federal consent decree over jail conditions and treatment of the mentally ill, and at the state level, a US District Judge ordered California to improve policies regarding the handling of mentally ill inmates languishing in solitary confinement.

And the problem isn’t just here, it’s happening across the country (save for a few special cases): more than half of everyone behind bars in the US has mental health problems.

One of those exceptions is San Antonio, Texas, where 95% of officers have completed specialized Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. People with mental illnesses help train officers on how to treat them. Officers take mentally ill people in crisis to treatment centers instead of jail. The program has saved the city a whopping $50 million.

ACLU Center for Justice Senior Counsel Kara Dansky has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Approximately 95 percent of police officers in San Antonio have gone through Crisis Intervention Training (CIT), a program that teaches them how to spot the symptoms of mental illness and how to safely and effectively interact with someone struggling with a mental health crisis.

People with mental illnesses, including Michelle, work with the police officers to teach them how they should be treated. Michelle helps to train them. Even though it’s not the ideal solution, some people call the police when having a mental health crisis. Instead of putting people in handcuffs and taking them to jail, officers in San Antonio take them to a center staffed with mental health professionals.

In the new short film series, “OverCriminalized,” we interviewed several members of the San Antonio police force. They report that they are much more confident and comfortable dealing with mental health crises after going through the training. Most importantly, since the implementation, none of the CIT teams have used extreme force.

But it’s not just about how to police; it’s about the entire goal of these interactions. People struggling with mental illness are no longer taken to a jail cell by way of lengthy and expensive stops in the ER. This program has saved the city about $50 million dollars.

It’s good to celebrate what’s happened in San Antonio. But we need to step back and ask how the city got into this problem in the first place. The answer is that for decades, this county has been shoving social problems like mental illness and drug addiction into a criminal justice system ill equipped to solve them. This mass criminalization has led to way too many people behind bars, often for too long and for reasons that have no business being crimes in the first place. Communities of color have been hardest hit.


HEAD OF JUVENILE COURT JUDGE MICHAEL NASH WANTS TO BE APPOINTED LA’S NEW CHILD WELFARE CZAR

LA County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash says he wants to be LA’s new Child Welfare Czar. (We at WLA think this is a fantastic idea.)

During his time as head of the juvenile court system, Nash has worked to bring public accountability to the children’s court system and the Department of Children and Family Services.

It is yet unclear when the new czar will be named, but LA County’s transition team is working to give the new leader a head start when they are finally appointed.

Daniel Heimpel broke the story in his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, Nash told The Chronicle of Social Change that he had indeed thrown his hat in the ring, telling recruiters that he wanted the job.

He said that moving from the courts to a highly politicized office was like, “going from the frying pan into the fire.” But years of experience weighing the complexities of child maltreatment and foster care made it almost impossible for him to resist. “Sadly that’s the way it is,” he added with a chuckle.

Dilys Garcia, who heads Los Angeles County’s Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) program and works out of Nash’s courthouse, was both sad to see Nash leave the court, and hopeful about his prospects for leading the new office.

“He has been an inspiration to people in the child welfare field,” Garcia said. “Even at the darkest moment he finds a beacon of light to point to. His leaving is going to be a big loss, but I think it would be terrific if he ended up in this new role as child protection czar.”


AN IDENTITY STOLEN “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” …AND THE DEHUMANIZATION OF DRUG OFFENDERS

Buzzfeed’s Chris Hamby has an alarming story about a woman whose identity was stolen by the DEA in an attempt to communicate with other drug crime suspects with whom she was associated. A DEA agent used photos found on Sondra Arquiett’s cell phone, including a photo of her wearing only a bra and underwear, and another one with her young son and niece, to create a fake Facebook page while Arquiett was locked up awaiting trial.

Here’s a clip from the Buzzfeed report:

The Justice Department is claiming, in a little-noticed court filing, that a federal agent had the right to impersonate a young woman online by creating a Facebook page in her name without her knowledge. Government lawyers also are defending the agent’s right to scour the woman’s seized cellphone and to post photographs — including racy pictures of her and even one of her young son and niece — to the phony social media account, which the agent was using to communicate with suspected criminals.

The woman, Sondra Arquiett, who then went by the name Sondra Prince, first learned her identity had been commandeered in 2010 when a friend asked about the pictures she was posting on her Facebook page. There she was, for anyone with an account to see — posing on the hood of a BMW, legs spread, or, in another, wearing only skimpy attire. She was surprised; she hadn’t even set up a Facebook page . . .

The account was actually set up by U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Timothy Sinnigen.

Not long before, law enforcement officers had arrested Arquiett, alleging she was part of a drug ring. A judge, weighing evidence that the single mom was a bit player who accepted responsibility, ultimately sentenced Arquiett to probation. But while she was awaiting trial, Sinnigen created the fake Facebook page using Arquiett’s real name, posted photos from her seized cell phone, and communicated with at least one wanted fugitive — all without her knowledge.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this story points to the dehumanization of drug offenders (by law enforcement and politicians) that has been occurring for decades now.

Here’s a clip from Balko’s commentary:

The DOJ filing was in response to Arquiett’s lawsuit. Consider what the federal government is arguing here. It’s arguing that if you’re arrested for a drug crime, including a crime unserious enough to merit a sentence of probation, the government retains the power to (a) steal your identity, (b) use that identity for drug policing, thus making your name and face known to potentially dangerous criminals, (c) interact with those criminals while posing as you, which could subject you to reprisals from those criminals, (d) expose photos of your family, including children, to those criminals, and (e) do all of this without your consent, and with no regard for your safety or public reputation.

The mindset that would allow government officials to not only engage in this sort of behavior, but to then fight in court to preserve their power to continue it is the same mindset that, for example, allows drug cops to compel juveniles and young women to become drug informants, with little regard for their safety — and to then make no apologies when those informants are murdered.


COMMISSIONER CATHERINE PRATT’S EFFORTS TO HELP YOUNG GIRLS CAUGHT UP IN SEX TRAFFICKING

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has an interesting story about Compton Juvenile Court Commissioner Catherine Pratt and the work she began three years ago to help teen girls involved in prostitution. Until recently, Los Angeles has treated these young girls as criminals, and locked them up, but Pratt and the Los Angeles County Supervisors are working to change that mindset, and instead treat young girls sold for sex as what they are—victims of child sex trafficking.

Pratt devotes Tuesdays to sex trafficking cases, and connects teens with education resources, mentor programs, and legal help. Pratt does her best to divert the girls in her court from juvenile detention and into foster care (the only alternative for these trafficked kids), but sometimes difficulties arise: girls run away from group homes, and return to the streets.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

The humble, affirming approach of Pratt’s Compton courtroom began as an experiment three years ago, when she applied for grant money to provide professional help for the young prostitutes and she set aside Tuesdays to focus exclusively on sex trafficking cases.

Advocates from at least three charities providing mentors, educational liaisons and lawyers sit in the jury box of Pratt’s courtroom to connect with youths as soon as the need arises.

Los Angeles County supervisors launched a plan this year that adopts Pratt’s ethos, and social workers, police officers and others are being trained to take a softer approach to the children involved in prostitution. They are instructed to treat these young prostitutes as victims rather than perpetrators.

[SNIP]

“I used to lecture them,” Pratt said. ” ‘You’re making bad choices. This is dangerous.’ I tried to explain to them how short the life span for people in prostitution is. And they were not at all interested. It really didn’t resonate with them at all.”

A personal relationship and trust have to be developed first, she said, and she measures her progress in the pictures, emails and poems that some of the youths send her.

Still, there is risk.

More than 60% of Los Angeles County’s children arrested for prostitution had previously come to the attention of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, and the foster care system’s group homes have become one of most frequent gateways to the sex trade because the children there have fewer family ties and pimps target them for recruitment.

But the foster care system is currently the county’s only alternative to juvenile detention facilities.

Posted in DCFS, DEA, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Judge Slams State With Restraining Order Over Jefferson High’s Scheduling Mess…Powerful Prosecutors…and More

October 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Alameda County Superior Court Judge George Hernandez Jr. has taken a good look
at the mess that is occurring at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School, and he is furious.

Here’s the deal: Due to a hideously malfunctioning computer system, Jefferson High—which has been one of LA County’s most troubled high schools off and on for years now— fell into morass of scheduling dysfunction before this school year began in August. Kids were assigned to incorrect classes—in many cases courses they’d already taken. Or worse they were given pretend classes that weren’t classes at all, hours called “Service” periods, or “College Class” or “Adult Class”—each of which turned out, incredibly to provide no instruction. In still other cases, kids were even simply sent home because no classes—even the faux courses—-were available.

Now here we are in October and, according to Judge Hernandez, the debacle is showing no sign of getting straightened out.

As it happens, Jefferson High was already one of nine “high-need schools” named in a class action lawsuit, Cruz v. California, filed this past spring by Public Counsel and the So Cal ACLU (with pro bono support from the law firms Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP).

Cruz v. California challenges “California’s failure to provide meaningful learning time to students” of these nine schools.

Thus, thankfully, when the scheduling crisis erupted, there was already a legal instrument in place to address it.

All this brings us to the very unhappy Judge Hernandez who issued a tersely-worded temporary restraining order on Wednesday demanding that, no later than next Tuesday, Oct. 14, the state and LAUSD must come up with a viable plan to get kids back in appropriate classes, and then have the plan and the needed resources in place by no later than November 3.

“Absent such intervention,” wrote the judge, “there is a significant likelihood that Jefferson students will continue to endure chaos and disruption due to ongoing scheduling issues and low morale, will not have the opportunity to enroll in courses needed to graduate or qualify for college admission, will fail courses or receive poor grades due circumstances beyond their control (including the scheduling fiasco and lack of remedial resources) and, as a result, will be less equipped to succeed in life, in the job market, and (if they are able to gain admission) in college.”

The judge wrote a lot more in that vein about the harm he believed had been done to Jefferson’s students who, he noted, were “disproportionately low income, minority, first generation students, foster children and/or English learners.”

(Here’s a link to the order itself.)

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs praised the judge’s speedy action, but slammed California’s Department of Education for its inattention.

“The State stood by for months while students at Jefferson sat in classes they had already passed, made copies instead of learning math, and were sent home midway through the school day,” said Kathryn Eidmann, staff attorney at Public Counsel. “Students, parents, and teachers deserve better. Today’s ruling recognizes that the State must ensure that all California students have a chance to graduate, attend college, and succeed.”

David Sapp, staff attorney at the So Cal ACLU, added that although the situation at Jefferson is extreme, “it’s also typical of students at schools that have been ignored by the state for too long. We need a new attitude from our state leaders that all students deserve the same opportunity to learn,” he said.

Indeed.


HOW PROSECUTORS CAME TO HAVE SO MUCH POWER

“The prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in America,” said then U.S. Attorney General Robert Jackson, in 1940.

In the intervening 74 years, prosecutors have gotten more powerful not less, with almost nothing in the way of legal consequences to rein in those prosecutors who choose to misuse their power.

The Economist Magazine has a good story that explores the matter of prosecutorial power.

Here are some clips:

Cameron Todd Willingham was accused of murdering his daughters in 1991 by setting fire to the family house. The main evidence against him was a forensic report on the fire, later shown to be bunk, and the testimony of a jailhouse informant who claimed to have heard him confess. He was executed in 2004.

The snitch who sent him to his death had been told that robbery charges pending against him would be reduced to a lesser offence if he co-operated. After the trial the prosecutor denied that any such deal had been struck, but a handwritten note discovered last year by the Innocence Project, a pressure group, suggests otherwise. In taped interviews, extracts of which were published by the Washington Post, the informant said he lied in court in return for efforts by the prosecutor to secure a reduced sentence and—-amazingly—-financial support from a local rancher.

A study by Northwestern University Law School’s Centre on Wrongful Convictions found that 46% of documented wrongful capital convictions between 1973 and 2004 could be traced to false testimony by snitches—making them the leading cause of wrongful convictions in death-penalty cases. The Innocence Project keeps a database of Americans convicted of serious crimes but then exonerated by DNA evidence. Of the 318 it lists, 57 involved informants—and 30 of the convicted had entered a guilty plea.

[LARGE SNIP]

It is not clear how often prosecutors themselves break the rules. According to a report by the Project on Government Oversight, an investigative outfit, compiled from data obtained from freedom of information requests, an internal-affairs office at the Department of Justice identified more than 650 instances of prosecutors violating the profession’s rules and ethical standards between 2002 and 2013. More than 400 of these were “at the more severe end of the scale”. The Justice Department argues that this level of misconduct is modest given the thousands of cases it handles.

Judge Kozinski worries, however, that there is “an epidemic” of Brady violations—when exculpatory evidence is hidden from defence lawyers by prosecutors. For example, in 2008 Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, was found guilty of corruption eight days before an election, which he narrowly lost. Afterwards, prosecutors were found to have withheld evidence that might have helped the defence. Mr Stevens’s conviction was vacated, but he died in a plane crash in 2010.

Prosecutors enjoy strong protections against criminal sanction and private litigation. Even in egregious cases, punishments are often little more than a slap on the wrist. Mr Stevens’s prosecutors, for example, were suspended from their jobs for 15 to 40 days, a penalty that was overturned on procedural grounds. Ken Anderson, a prosecutor who hid the existence of a bloody bandana that linked someone other than the defendant to a 1986 murder, was convicted of withholding evidence in 2013 but spent only five days behind bars—one for every five years served by the convicted defendant, Michael Morton.

Disquiet over prosecutorial power is growing. Several states now require third-party corroboration of a co-operator’s version of events or have barred testimony by co-operators with drug or mental-health problems. Judge Rakoff proposes two reforms: scrapping mandatory-minimum sentences and reducing the prosecutor’s role in plea-bargaining—for instance by bringing in a magistrate judge to act as a broker. He nevertheless sees the use of co-operators as a “necessary evil”, though many other countries frown upon it.

Prosecutors’ groups have urged Mr Holder not to push for softer mandatory-minimum sentences, arguing that these “are a critical tool in persuading defendants to co-operate”. Some defend the status quo on grounds of pragmatism: without co-operation deals and plea bargains, they argue, the system would buckle under the weight of extra trials. This week Jerry Brown, California’s governor, vetoed a bill that would have allowed judges to inform juries if prosecutors knowingly withhold exculpatory evidence.


WHY ARE SO MANY WOMEN IN PRISON IN AMERICA? IT’S THE DRUG WAR, STUPID!

I turns out that nearly a third of the women who are incarcerated worldwide, are locked up in U.S. jails or prisons according to the International Center for Prison Studies. (Of course, given our overall incarceration rate per capita, that should not be surprising.)

The Huffington Post’s Nina Bahadur has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

So, why does America imprison so many women? Mandatory sentencing minimums have led to prison overcrowding in general. An estimated two-thirds of women incarcerated in federal prisons are serving time for nonviolent, drug-related crimes.

Female prisoners are disproportionately women of color, and one study suggests that 44 percent of female prisoners in the U.S. don’t have a high school diploma or GED. Incarcerating women also plays a huge role in breaking up families — 64 percent of female state prisoners lived with and cared for their minor children before their imprisonment.

Posted in Education, Innocence, LAUSD, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

« Previous Entries