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Sentencing Day Arrives for Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles County,
will be sentenced on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The arguments have been made and remade by the prosecution and the defense regarding what kind of sentence Judge Anderson ought to hand down to the man who was, for years, considered the real power behind the throne of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka’s legal team, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, asked (not surprisingly) that their client be given probation—arguing that, far from being the “ringleader” that the prosecution had portrayed him to be, Mr. Tanaka was completely peripheral to the crimes of which he was convicted.

(The former second in command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka personally directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to upend the FBI’s investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.)

Tanaka and his lawyers further argued that it was Sheriff Lee Baca who ran the show. Any crimes that were committed, they wrote, were “planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles.”

All the while, according to the defense, Tanaka was “…a fearless executive in the Department who fought to weed out problem deputies, not encourage them. The only culture he fostered was excellence and he made daily efforts to accomplish it.”

In response to this rosy portrait of defendant Tanaka, the prosecution— namely Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—reiterated in scathing detail the reasons why they have recommended a sentence of 60 months—or five years—in a federal lock-up:

Defendant Paul Tanaka’s defiance is on full display in his sentencing brief,” the prosecutors wrote. “Rather than accept the judgment of the jury based on the mountain of evidence against him, defendant attempts to shift the blame, minimize his role, and redefine himself. He takes no responsibility for his actions and shows no remorse….

“Despite his claims in his sentencing memorandum, “defendant is the same person who: (a) led the conspiracy that sought to obstruct an investigation into deputies physically abusing inmates; (b) protected rogue deputies who trampled on the rights of those they encountered inside the jail and on the streets; and (c) encouraged deputies everywhere to operate in the ‘gray area’ of the law.”

in the end, of course, it really only matters what Judge Anderson thinks.

Whatever the outcome, Monday promises to be a strange and historic day in the life of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and of the County of Los Angeles.

So….stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

LASD Deputies Shot in Bellflower—UPDATED…Personnel Files & the Oakland PD Scandal…CA DOJ Investigating San Bernardino Child Welfare System…and LAUSD’s Random Weapon Checks

June 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE: SUSPECT ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF SHOOTING DEPUTIES

On Friday morning, authorities arrested a male suspect who allegedly shot two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies while fleeing a DUI checkpoint Thursday night. The suspect reportedly shot a deputy who had followed him on motorcycle. The deputy returned fire. The suspect fled on foot, and fired several more rounds at responding deputies, hitting a second officer. Still in flight, the suspect shot at a third group of deputies, who also returned fire.

By Friday afternoon, the first deputy, who had been in surgery earlier in the day, was out of surgery and his condition listed as critical but stable.

The second deputy injured was awaiting surgery and is listed in fair condition.

We will continue to update as the story continues to unfold.


MANHUNT UNDERWAY AFTER LASD DEPUTIES INJURED IN BELLFLOWER SHOOTING

Two on-duty Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies were shot in the 900 block of Oak St. in Bellflower on Thursday night. Both were rushed to the hospital, their conditions unknown. The shooting took place around 10:30 Thursday night but as of 12:30 a.m.the suspect was still “outstanding,” according to a department spokes person.

More news is expected.


POSSIBLE CALIFORNIA BALLOT MEASURE TO SHINE LIGHT ON POLICE MISCONDUCT CASES FOLLOWING OAKLAND SCANDAL

California Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) says he’s considering sending a ballot measure before voters that would open up police personnel files to the public, as a wild sex scandal within the Oakland Police Department continues to develop. (A bill Leno authored to do just that—in cases of serious uses of force and sexual assault—died in the Senate Appropriations committee late last month, mere weeks before news of the OPD scandal broke.)

Leno won’t be able to reintroduce his bill, as he will be termed out of office this year. Leno says that the law enforcement lobby is so powerful, that it may not be possible to get it through the legislature, anyway. “The only way we may have to change these secrecy laws would be to go to the ballot,” Leno told KQED. He may try to get his proposal in front of voters in 2018, when the next California gubernatorial election will be held.

If you’ve missed the backstory, earlier this month, a young woman who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014. After the news broke about the OPD passing around a minor for sex, the police chief resigned. Six days later, Schaaf sacked the interim chief. A few days after that, sacked the second interim chief. Fed up, the Mayor placed the City Administrator in charge of the OPD, vowing to weed out “toxic, macho culture.”

KQED’s Ted Goldberg has the story. Here are some clips:

“It’s quite possible it cannot be done legislatively, that the power of the law enforcement lobby is so intense that it’s not going to move successfully through the Legislature,” Leno said in an interview. “The only way we may have to change these secrecy laws would be to go to the ballot.”

[SNIP]

During Mayor Libby Schaaf’s most recent news conference, announcing that yet another police chief was stepping down, she said 11 times that she was not able to release details about the investigations.

That has been frustrating to members of the Oakland City Council, who say they’ve been kept in the dark on the multiple investigations into some police officers who allegedly had sex with an underage girl and others who allegedly traded racist text messages.

“I think I can speak for the entire council of our frustration, not knowing what others know,” City Councilman Larry Reid, who represents East Oakland, told reporters recently. “We certainly understand that the police have these enormous rights given under the state law as it relates to law enforcement officers, but we would like to know something.”

Reid asked City Administrator Sabrina Landreth to find out from City Attorney Barbara Parker if the council can get more information about the investigations in closed session.

“We are having to rely on those of you who have to report the news on a daily basis for us to learn anything about what’s going on with our Police Department,” Reid said.


CALIFORNIA DOJ INVESTIGATING COVERUPS BY SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY CHILD WELFARE OFFICIALS OF DEATHS AND NEAR-FATAL ABUSE

On Wednesday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced that her office’s Bureau of Children’s Justice is in the middle of an investigation into San Bernardino County’s child welfare system after former social workers accused county officials of covering up deaths and serious abuse of kids in the child welfare system.

In fact, Harris said that the San Bernardino investigation was one of the key reasons the Bureau of Children’s Justice was established. Harris announced the investigation so that members of the public with any relevant information could contact the Bureau of Children’s Justice.

“Our children embody California’s future and deserve legal rights and equal opportunities to succeed,” Harris said in a statement. “I created the Bureau of Children’s Justice last year to shine a spotlight on accountability and enforcement gaps that put our children at risk and to protect vulnerable children like foster youth.”

Former social workers Eric Bahra and Mary Anna Whitehall have filed two lawsuits alleging retaliation for their whistleblowing.

The San Bernardino Sun’s Joe Nelson has more on the investigation. Here are some clips:

“We are looking more broadly than any one individual incident. We’re looking at the need for systemic reform and potential systemic breakdowns,” said Jill Habig, special counsel to the attorney general, on Wednesday. “The reason we’re disclosing this now is we’re at a point in the investigation where we need public engagement and input so we have a full, thorough and impartial investigation. We’re putting this out so people can contact us and provide information.”

The investigation was launched last year amid allegations by former social workers that top San Bernardino County officials covered up incidents in which children in the juvenile dependency system either died or were severely abused by their parents or foster parents. At least two lawsuits have been filed by former San Bernardino County social workers alleging whistleblower retaliation.

[SNIP]

Whitehall alleges in her lawsuit that she was placed on administrative leave six days after she and two other social workers filed motions in juvenile dependency court alleging the Department of Children and Family Services committed fraud upon the court in order to discredit Bahra, which ultimately led to his termination.

Specifically, top DCFS officials, Whitehall alleges, attempted to discredit Bahra by falsifying evidence in a July 2013 case in which Bahra and another social worker responded to a report of a dead infant at a San Bernardino residence. Bahra reported the home smelling of methamphetamine, and that four other children in the home showed signs of physical abuse. He recommended they be removed from the home and placed into foster homes. The social worker who accompanied Bahra that day, Melissa Pena, corroborated Bahra’s assessment.

But DCFS officials, Whitehall alleges, falsified evidence and told the court Bahra lied in his reports and breached confidentiality. They recommended the four surviving children be returned to their biological parents. By doing so, DCFS jeopardized the safety of the four children, Whitehall alleges.


THE CASE FOR ENDING RANDOM WEAPON CHECKS IN LAUSD SCHOOLS

At a meeting on Tuesday, a group of teachers, students, and parents called for an end to mandatory daily random weapon searches in Los Angeles Unified School District middle schools and high schools. The school board agreed to reconsider the policy, which was established in 1993, following a fatal shooting at Fairfax High School. The recent refusal of LA-area charter schools to adopt the weapon search policy rekindled the debate about the practice, which advocates say leads to racial profiling.

On KPCC’s Air Talk, Patt Morrison, standing in for host Larry Mantle, talks with David Holmquist, General Counsel for the LAUSD, and Christina de Jesus, President and CEO of Green Dot Public Schools California about the practice.

Holmquist credits the metal detector search policy as the reason the district has been free of school shootings since ’93. “Obviously, there haven’t been any incidents—major gun discharges—as a result of our policy, and we confiscated, over this past year, 440 different weapons,” Holmquist said. “Fifteen of them were guns.”

And addressing parents’ and teachers’ concerns that the practice leads to racial profiling, Holmquist said the district’s duty is “to all students, not just those that are feeling singled out.”

De Jesus said that students’ safety is a top priority for Green Dot, and that the search policy is not part of a system that keeps kids safe, and will also “uplift, empower, and inspire the youth in the communities…”

Holmquist said that if Green Dot doesn’t follow LAUSD protocol, their charters may be revoked.

Go listen to the episode.

Posted in BREAKING L.A. | 4 Comments »

Body Cams for LAPD…SCOTUS Decision on Evidence From Illegal Police Stops…and Bills

June 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the LA City Council approved a nearly $60 million plan to equip 7,000 Los Angeles police officers with body-worn cameras.

The city will enter into a five-year agreement with Taser International Inc. to the tune of $31.2 million in equipment (including 4,400 cameras) and services. Another $23.7 million will go to Sprint for phones and data, and 4.3 million will be earmarked for what the Public Safety Committee Report designates as “infrastructure.” (The LAPD will also use a $1 million grant from the US Department of Justice, $3.1 million in unspent fiscal year 2015-2016 program funding, and $7 million from the 2016-2017 adopted budget.)

Once the body cams are implemented, the LAPD will be the largest department in the nation to attach cameras to its officers. About 860 officers are already wearing cameras because of an earlier pilot program.

Four times per year, the LAPD will also be required to report back on the status of camera implementation, along with a cost-benefit analysis.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the body cam plan. Here’s a clip:

Originally, L.A. Mayor Garcetti had promised to have cameras on LAPD officers by the end of the year to improve accountability by both police and citizens, and provide evidence in criminal trials. City council members, however, balked at the price tag and approval was delayed six months.

A study commissioned by the council and unveiled Tuesday predicted eventual cost savings from body cameras. Justice and Security Strategies, the consultant commissioned for the report, said LAPD can expect to pay less in litigation costs after body cameras roll out, since they could absolve officers accused of misconduct, and deter use of force by officers.

The plan includes a $31 million contract with Taser International, which will supply the cameras, uploading equipment and storage. The rest of the money will go to things like extra LAPD staff to review and manage the footage.

Garcetti hailed the decision.

“Today’s action by the City Council is an investment in my vision of a Los Angeles Police Department that leads in transparency and accountability — values that protect officers and everyday Angelenos, and that are fundamental to policing in the 21st century,” Garcetti said in a statement. “This is a historic moment for the LAPD, and I am proud of the leadership shown by everyone who played a part in getting us to this day.”


US SUPREMES VOTE TO ALLOW EVIDENCE FOUND AFTER UNLAWFUL STOPS

In a 5-3 decision on Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers can use evidence obtained during illegal stops in courts, if the searches were conducted after the officers found out that the defendants had outstanding arrest warrants.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a scathing dissent, arguing that the ruling would disproportionately impact people of color. “This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong,” she wrote.

In the case, Utah v. Strieff, Salt Lake City narcoticts detective Douglas Fackrell unlawfully stopped Edward Strieff based on an anonymous tip about “narcotics activity.” The check Fackrell ran on Strieff turned up a warrant for a traffic violation. When Fackrell arrested and searched Strieff, he found meth and drug paraphernalia. The justices ruled that the drug evidence does not have to be suppressed, but can be used as evidence in court.

“The officer illegally stopped Strieff and immediately ran a warrant check,” said Sotomayor in her dissent. “The officer’s discovery of a warrant was not some intervening surprise that he could not have anticipated.”

Sotomayor pointed out that according to recent Department of Justice statistics, 16,000 of Ferguson, Missouri’s population of 21,000 had outstanding warrants.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg joined most of Sotomayor’s dissent, as well as Justice Elena Kagan’s separate dissent.

The New York Times’ Adam Liptak has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The question for the justices was whether the drugs must be suppressed given the unlawful stop or whether they could be used as evidence given the arrest warrant.

“Officer Fackrell was at most negligent,” Justice Thomas wrote, adding that “there is no evidence that Officer Fackrell’s illegal stop reflected flagrantly unlawful police misconduct.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, Stephen G. Breyer and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion.

In a dissent that cited W. E. B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Justice Sotomayor said the court had vastly expanded police power.

“The court today holds that the discovery of a warrant for an unpaid parking ticket will forgive a police officer’s violation of your Fourth Amendment rights,” she wrote. “Do not be soothed by the opinion’s technical language: This case allows the police to stop you on the street, demand your identification and check it for outstanding traffic warrants — even if you are doing nothing wrong.

“If the officer discovers a warrant for a fine you forgot to pay,” she continued, “courts will now excuse his illegal stop and will admit into evidence anything he happens to find by searching you after arresting you on the warrant.”

Justice Sotomayor added that many people were at risk. Federal and state databases show more than 7.8 million outstanding warrants, she wrote, “the vast majority of which appear to be for minor offenses.”


NOTEWORTHY CRIMINAL JUSTICE-RELATED CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

AB 2298, a bill to notify people included on California’s gang database, CalGang, passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee, and has been re-referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations. The bill passed through the Assembly earlier this month.

People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.

The bill also gives Californians the right to challenge their inclusion in the database, and removes people from the list who have been free of gang-related convictions for at least three years.

Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood.


KAMALA HARRIS BACKS BILL TO DRASTICALLY LIMIT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS, AND ANOTHER TO EXPAND VOTING RIGHTS

On Monday California Attorney General Kamala Harris announced her support of a bill that would ensure that eligible inmates with felony convictions keep their right to vote while in jail (but not prison), as well as while under county supervision (but not parole).

“The right to vote is fundamental to our democracy and society, and yet for too long we have stripped certain individuals of that right,” AG Harris said.

And on Tuesday, Harris endorsed a bill to place significant limits on when, why, and for how long California kids can be locked in solitary. The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

“Subjecting young people to prolonged periods of isolated confinement is cruel, inhumane and counterproductive to rehabilitation,” Harris said. “This unnecessary and punitive practice undermines the goal of helping this vulnerable young population become healthy and productive members of our society.”

Harris endorsed two other criminal justice reform bills aimed at reducing recidivism. The first, AB 1597, by Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey), would allow inmates who haven’t been sentenced yet to participate in rehabilitative programs and earn good time credits toward a future sentence. The inmates’ use of these tools would not be admissible as evidence of their guilt.

The second bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), would ensure that local detention facilities using video visitation would also allow a number of in-person visits for inmates, as well.

Posted in LAPD | 11 Comments »

California Funds Gun Research, LASD Mental Health Crisis Efforts, a Collaboration of Arts Groups in Juvie Camps, and Possible Settlement in Gabriel Fernandez Case

June 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FIVE MILLION ALLOCATED FOR GUN VIOLENCE RESEARCH CENTER AT A UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

A pot of $5 million dollars for a gun violence research center at a University of California campus was included in the $170 billion budget California lawmakers approved on Thursday. The center, which will likely be established at UC Davis, will work to gather evidence that can be the foundation for sound firearm violence prevention programs and policies.

The original bill was authored by CA Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis). “Acts of firearm violence like Sunday’s horrific mass shooting in Orlando leave us searching for answers. California made finding those answers a priority, taking leadership once again where Congress has failed,” Wolk said.

In 1996, Congress banned funding for gun-related research by the federal government, because—said the NRA—gun violence is not a disease, and does not fall under the Center for Disease Control’s domain as a public health issue. Supporters hope California will set an example for the rest of the country.

The research center garnered the unlikely support of Jay Dickey, an NRA member and former congressman who authored the amendment that killed federal funding for gun violence research at the CDC. “It is crazy for any state to expect its legislators to vote on gun violence legislation if they do not know that it will be effective in both protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners and reducing gun violence,” said Dickey in a joint statement with his former adversary, Mark Rosenberg, CEO of The Task Force for Global Health. “California is setting a very good example by supporting the research that will empower their legislators to protect both its citizens and their gun rights.”


LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S EFFORTS TO HAVE BETTER INTERACTIONS AND OUTCOMES WITH MENTALLY ILL

As the LA County Sheriff’s Department grapples with an increase in mental health emergency calls and use-of-force incidents involving the mentally ill, the department is working on ways to better serve the county’s mentally ill population (and keep them out of jail).

Between 2010 and 2015, the number of mental health-related calls to the LASD jumped by 55% from 11,660 calls to 18,061 calls. In 2014, 29% of uses of force by deputies on patrol involved someone with mental illness, and 47% of uses of force by deputies in jails involved a mentally ill person.

One focus is on increasing mental health crisis training for deputies. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to implement a new week-long training for department members, but must wait for the LA County Board of Supervisors to approve $2.8 million in funding to launch the project.

The sheriff’s department also deploys mental health crisis teams, each comprised of one officer and one mental health clinician. Unfortunately, the department only has eight teams, which are not all on duty at once, and are stretched extremely thin.

In a 2015 report on diverting the county’s mentally ill from jails into community treatment, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey suggested boosting the number of teams to 23. This, too, requires county funding. (WLA will be tracking these issues.)

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

The officer-and-clinician duos “take a step back and provide someone the space they need to feel safe. They take a slower approach,” said Mark Gale, criminal justice chair for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Los Angeles County Council.

But there is a chronic shortage of teams.

Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said staffing reductions prevent him from expanding his mental health teams beyond the single one on duty each shift.

In sheriff’s territory, there are only eight teams, with fewer on duty at a given time, for the more than 4,000 square miles patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department. Often, deputies don’t bother to call because it can take hours for a team to arrive.

Last year in Lakewood, a federal law enforcement officer tried to summon a team to help his mentally ill brother, but all were busy on other calls. Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot the brother when he refused to get out of his car and drove it towards them.

In Long Beach, though, when a woman who had been brandishing a hunting knife locked herself in a McDonald’s restroom, Long Beach Police Officer Chris Costa spent 10 minutes coaxing her to slide the knife under the door. The effort may have avoided a violent encounter with other officers, said Costa, who has worked as the law enforcement half of a mental health team for nearly two decades.

The LAPD’s mental health teams are relatively well-staffed but still have only been able to respond to about a third of mental health calls, said Det. Charles Dempsey, who heads the department’s mental evaluation unit.

With a recent expansion from eight to 17 teams on duty, Dempsey anticipates that up to 70% of mental health calls will now be answered by specialists.

In August 2015, an advisory board convened by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey produced a long list of recommendations to improve mental health care in the county, among them nearly tripling the number of sheriff’s mental evaluation teams to 23. Sheriff’s officials hope to reach that target by gradually obtaining more funding from the county, adding two additional teams this year and more in the future.

“Our struggle has been we don’t have enough teams to handle the need, especially for the geography we serve,” said Chief Stephen Johnson, who heads the new mental health initiative. “The ones we have don’t have the capacity to move around the county and really be a resource to deputies.”


ARTS GROUPS COME TOGETHER TO TEACH LOS ANGELES KIDS BEHIND BARS, PREPARE THEM FOR EMPLOYMENT

The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) is made up of nine organizations providing arts education to kids locked up in 10 LA County juvenile lock-ups. These interdisciplinary groups are teaching kids skills like acting, African drumming, screenwriting, poetry, and painting.

The collaborative group model helps the network members to have a larger impact and cover more ground. The goal is to help kids heal their trauma, break away from destructive trajectories, and gain marketable arts-related skills they can use upon their release.

The AIYN is part of a larger effort, called the Create Economy Create Autonomy Project that aims to boost access to arts-focused employment for formerly locked-up young people in Southern California. Among the participating groups are the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, InsideOUT Writers, The Actors’ Gang, and Street Poets.

AIYN’s governing council includes Homeboy Industries artist Fabian Debora, Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund, Janice Prober of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Melissa Denton of the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, among others. Poet Luis Rodriguez has a seat on the advisory council.

Twenty-year-old professional actor Johnny Ortiz got his first lessons in acting at age 15 through a ten-week program run by the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, held at Camp David Gonzalez, the juvenile probation camp in Calabasas where he was serving a sentence for robbery. Ortiz has since appeared on the shows “Southland” and “American Crime,” and McFarland, USA, a Disney Movie.

KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the network. Here’s a clip:

Growing up in Highland Park, Johnny Ortiz always wanted to be an actor, but he had no idea how to get started.

At the age of five, he recently recounted, he called 4-1-1, asking for advice. The operator gave him a phone number.

“I called the number but it was a false number,” he said. “I guess she just didn’t want to break my dreams, you know?”

Instead of chasing his acting dreams, Ortiz ended up joining a gang at 10 years old. At 15, after being charged with robbery, he landed in juvenile detention.

But it was there that Ortiz was finally exposed to formal acting classes.

Four years ago, the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company came to do a ten-week workshop at Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas. Through the program, inmates learn about performing and write their own plays. At the end of the workshop, professional actors come in and perform what they’ve written.

This experience made Ortiz even more determined to turn his life around and pursue acting once he got out. When he was released, he started volunteering and taking acting classes through the Boyle Heights theater CASA 0101. And eventually started booking gigs – including on the TNT show “Southland,” ABC’s “American Crime” and with Kevin Costner in the Disney film “McFarland, USA.”


POSSIBLE SETTLEMENT IN GABRIEL FERNANDES BRUTAL BEATING

A $2.63 million dollar settlement is expected in a lawsuit against LA County following the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and fatally beaten in 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite numerous reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused. Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including burns all over his body, broken ribs, and a fractured skull.

Attorneys will appear in court Monday at a hearing to dismiss the case, pending the settlement, although the LA County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted to approve the settlement.

Back in April, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against four social workers involved.

City News Service has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two county claims boards voted earlier this month to recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay $2.63 million to settle the claim. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted on the matter, but a Lancaster court hearing is set for Monday to dismiss the case pending settlement.

The plaintiff’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Family members of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez — including his father, two grandparents, siblings and four other relatives on his father’s side — filed two separate suits alleging that the departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services were culpable in the boy’s death, the result of alleged serial abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.

The boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, 32, and then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are charged with murder in Gabriel’s death and prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty against the two. Both are being held without bail and awaiting a pretrial hearing July 28.

Posted in guns | 22 Comments »

L.A.’s One-and-Only Native American Foster Mom – by Daniel Heimpel

June 21st, 2016 by witnessla


MEET L.A.’S ONE AND ONLY NATIVE AMERICAN FOSTER MOM

A look at the urgent need for foster families to give LA County’s Native American foster kids a place to belong.

by Daniel Heimpel


Lisa Smith and her two daughters peer out the front windows of their Diamond Bar, California, home.

“We were that anxious,” 49-year-old Smith says, recalling the afternoon in March.

They see a car pull up, and hurry to the curb. Inside are the two boys the family has been waiting for.

Smith immediately takes the younger boy, still a toddler, in her arms while her teenage daughter holds the hand of the older one.

Newly expanded, the family, alongside a pair of social workers, walks into the house and heads straight for the boys’ new room. For weeks, Smith, her husband and their three children have been stocking the bedroom with toys, baby clothes and the blankets that the Smith children slept in when they were little.

“This is home,” Smith tells the older boy. “These toys are yours forever.”

Smith cries with joy, overcome.

And while the transition is, on its face, easy, something about it concerns Smith.

The boys don’t ask when they will be going back home.

“They wanted to stay,” Smith explains. “And that’s hard – for them to not have that bond to where they came from.”

For Smith, the boys’ severance from their family strikes a chord. Like them, Smith grew up a member of the Cherokee Nation. She can track her roots back to the “Trail of Tears” in the 1830s, when thousands of her ancestors were marched west from their native lands. For Native children, foster care is often the final tug that forever breaks the strands of shared tribal culture.

Smith wants to turn back the clock, rebuild the boys’ lives and strengthen her tribe. That’s why, only weeks before this bittersweet moment, she decided to become Los Angeles County’s one-and-only Native American foster mom.

“Within, you carry that pride, and you carry that pride onto the next generation,” Smith says. “And that’s what I am hoping, that with the children, I can serve to let them know that you’re a part of something larger, part of our [Cherokee] family here and across the United States.”

But for Native American children who enter the foster care system, being placed with a Native foster parent is far from guaranteed. Mistrust, a lack of accountability and a decades-long dearth of initiative has led many child welfare jurisdictions, Los Angeles included, to remain wildly out of compliance with federal legislation aimed at keeping tribes and Native families intact.


TERMINATION & RELOCATION = FOSTER CARE

L.A. County is home to one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country. Members of the great tribes – Cherokee, Choctaw and Navajo – are part of a diverse 152,000-person community, which also includes the local Tongva, Tataviam and some southern Chumash peoples.

Many, like Smith’s family, came during the Termination and Relocation Era, which started in the late 1940s and ran through the 50s, when the U.S. Congress set out on an explicit policy to assimilate Native Americans by forcing them to relinquish their lands and sovereignty. Tribes’ assets were liquidated, and their children were removed into foster care at increasing rates.

Relocation entailed offers of jobs, housing, job training and cash awards to Native families in exchange for moving off their lands and into urban centers like Los Angeles. These promised supports often did not materialize. Smith’s relatives fell into poverty, forcing her grandmother to engage in prostitution to support the family.

Smith holds onto photos of her uncle, James Cantrell, picking cotton and pears in the San Joaquin Valley in 1949, one year after the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs officially launched its Relocation Program. She calls the photos “propaganda.”

“Who smiles when they’re picking cotton?” she asks sardonically.

For Smith’s family, and that of many other Native Americans, the dual policies of Termination and Relocation threatened to erase tribal bonds already frayed by successive waves of U.S. efforts to snuff out Native culture.

In Los Angeles and across the U.S., Native Americans, lured from their ancestral lands and the reservations they had been moved to, had to submit to the same laws that governed all Americans, including its child-protection policies.

In California and Los Angeles in particular, Native Americans soon found their children entering foster care at disproportionately high rates. According to the Children’s Data Network, a research institution housed within the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, nearly 9 percent of all 839 Native American children born in California in 2006 and 2007 would enter foster care by age 5, compared to 2.4 percent of white babies and 6.4 percent of black babies. The same held true in L.A. County, where 10.9 percent of Native children entered foster care by their fifth birthday, compared to 2 percent of white children and 7 percent of black children.


THE CHALLENGE OF RECRUITING NATIVE AMERICAN FOSTER PARENTS

Today, the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), which oversees the county’s foster care system, says that it cares for 169 Native American children, 120 of whom are handled by the so-called “American Indian Unit.” Despite being established in 1999, the 10-person team has long struggled to recruit and retain Native American foster parents like Lisa Smith.

This struggle is rooted in the understandable mistrust the Native American community has of government agencies, and inconsistent efforts by the non-native child welfare system to let Native Americans lead foster parent recruitment efforts.

“Historically, when you look at the nature of the relationship between government and American Indians in general, there’s a history of distrust there,” says Robert Rodriguez, the American Indian Unit’s supervisor. “And, so, it has been very difficult, I think, for us to break through the barrier, to get that trust from the community and for them to understand the process.”

Rodriguez, who is of Yaqui and Comanche descent, is sitting next to David White, the regional administrator who oversees the unit, who has no Native blood.

The two cannot recall DCFS recruiting any Native foster homes despite both having spent years in the American Indian Unit. In 2014 they decided things had to change, and stepped up their efforts. So when Smith agreed to care for the two Cherokee boys this past February, it was a big moment.

“We are very protective of her,” White says.

Smith says she had serious misgivings about working with a foster care system known for dismantling Native families.

“It took me some time before I trusted DCFS and the American Indian Unit,” she says. “I had to see that they were coming with the right intentions and the right way to make a difference for our children.”

For Sherry White, a Ho-Chunk Indian originally from Wisconsin, and a close confidant of Smith’s within Los Angeles’ vibrant Native community, mistrust of the system started at an early age. White was placed into foster care with a white family at the age of 2. She refers to her foster mom as “Suzy Homemaker” and her foster father as “Satan.”

After leaving care at 17 to attend college, White had two children of her own. In 1982, after a particularly cold Wisconsin winter, she packed her two boys up and moved to Los Angeles.

Her boys now men and she now 61, White is seeing the system from a new perspective, as the informal foster mom to a brother and sister who hail from the Lakota tribe. Despite her own terrible experience with the foster care system, she decided that she needed to get involved.

“When I think about our Native children being placed in non-Native homes, which is something that is happening to about 200 children in L.A. County because of the lack of Native foster homes, [it] gets me a little riled up inside,” White says. “If the families do not let the children know they are Native and can’t teach them their Native culture, their traditions, their language, we’ve lost our children.”

The children grow up knowing they’re different, knowing that there’s something special about them, and they may grow angry, [and] they don’t know why they’re angry because nobody’s taught them that they are special.”

While Smith’s decision to take in two Cherokee boys gives the American Indian unit a sense of pride, it also points to a foster care system both here and across the country that gives federally mandated protections of Native American foster children short shrift.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 2 Comments »

Former Sheriff Lee Baca’s Alzheimer’s Confirmed by Court Filings

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Court filings released today have confirmed the story that WitnessLA
broke last month, that former sheriff Lee Baca is suffering from early state Alzheimer’s.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing-related memo just released that this diagnosis should not prevent Baca from being sentenced to prison.

More soon.

Posted in LASD | 20 Comments »

Attorneys for Paul Tanaka Fight for Probation Only, Saying Former LA Sheriff Baca Was the Real “Ringleader”

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S THE BOSS?

“The truth is that the crimes charged in this case were planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles. None of this would have happened if Baca had simply cooperated with the FBI at the beginning.”

Last week we wrote about federal prosecutors’ argument that former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka should be sentenced to 60 months—or 5 years—in federal prison when he comes before U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on Monday.

Tanaka, as most readers know, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, on April 6, having to do with what the feds contend was Tanaka’s involvement in attempting to derail a federal investigation into abuse of jail inmates by sheriff’s deputies and other departmental wrongdoing. Judge Anderson is due to sentence Tanaka on June 27.

This week we have the defense’s argument about sentencing, in which Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward Jerome Haig, argue that their client should have no prison time, but only probation, that if anybody deserves a stretch in a federal lock-up, it is the former-undersheriff’s boss, former sheriff Lee Baca.

When the presented their sentencing memo two weeks ago, the prosecutors contended that the former undersheriff, more than the sheriff, was “in charge of” the obstructive operation, was “involved in all aspects of the obstruction,” and he “set the tone of the operation early and repeatedly with his ‘F**k the FBI’ statements.

“While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy,” they wrote, “the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning.
”

In their sentencing brief, the defense argues energetically otherwise. If there was any “ringleader,” they wrote, it was the four-time elected sheriff of Los Angeles County, Lee Baca.

“Baca himself told federal officials that he, Leroy Baca, called the shots on the Brown/cell phone incident.” The “boots on the ground” in the matter of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, writes the defense, were the six department members already convicted of obstruction, “who were simply following Baca’s orders.” These facts, they write, “could not be any clearer.”


BACA’S “ISSUES”

One of the most interesting moments in the defense’s sentencing brief comes when defense attorneys Steward and Haig compare the government’s suggested 5-year sentence for their client with the 0-6 month sentence to which the feds have agreed in their plea deal with Lee Baca.

“In their sentencing memo,” the defense writes irritably, “the government feigns concern about disparity in sentencing. And yet they offered and agreed to a deal, that if accepted by this Court, gives Leroy Baca the gift of no more than 6 months in jail, while they gleefully request 5 years for Mr. Tanaka.” (The ital. is ours.)

And then there is this: “The government may respond that Baca is different, as he has issues that were submitted to this Court under seal, and revealed to the defense. However, these alleged facts fly in the face of Leroy Baca’s speech and acceptance of honors from a local religious group last month.”

As for Baca’s “issues,” reference to which are under seal, but were “revealed to the defense,” we again presume that Steward and Haig are talking about the report that the former sheriff is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that his lawyers have argued that this purported diagnosis should figure into his sentencing. (WLA broke that story here.)

The defense then cites a lively interview Baca gave to the Jewish Journal after he was honored on May 29 by the local LA group, Congregation Bais Naftoli, for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

The defense seems to infer that if Judge Anderson buys Baca’s contention that he can do no prison time because he is too incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, then they’ve got some nice swamp property they’d like him to buy, or possibly a bridge….


SUBPOENAS AND THREATS

To bolster their contention, that Tanaka’s involvement was peripheral, that at most he was simply a conduit for the sheriff’s directives, the defense cites, among other things, a Sept. 26, 2011, letter from the former sheriff to then-U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. The letter was written after all the actions that caused the obstruction charges were already over, yet it is indeed a remarkable document.

In his correspondence, Baca expresses his state of pique over subpoenas for records the department has received from the FBI as part of the feds’ continuing investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. Baca objects to the subpoenas, and tells U.S. Attorney Birotte that the FBI is, in fact, unqualified to investigate brutality in the jails, that the LASD alone has the experience and the know-how to do such an investigation.

“Due to the FBI’s aforementioned incompetence in investigating alleged civil rights violations concerning force taken by deputy sheriffs,” Baca writes, he wants the US Attorney and his office to “ameliorate”—AKA dial back—support from the federal investigation into wrongdoing in his jails, and instead “support the Sheriff’’s Department’s investigation to it’s conclusion.”

And, just to make sure Birotte gets the picture that he better get with the program and dump the FBI’s probe into department wrongdoing, in favor of the LASD’s far superior work, Baca threatens to pull the sheriff’s department out of all the “many ongoing joint missions” in which the department participates with the FBI “due to the breach of trust that will take time and corrective action to heal.”

If you’d like to read the entire letter, you can find it right here.


ENTER: THE JUDGE

So what will Judge Anderson make of all this?

There is no way of knowing, of course. But perhaps the U.S. District Court Judge will decide that he does not need chose send either Baca or Tanaka to prison, that he can select Door No. 3, and give healthy prison sentences to both of the once allies, now enemies.

We will learn the answers to these sentencing questions on June 27, for Tanaka, and July 11, for Baca.

Oh, yes, and on July 5, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the appeal of the cases of former sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, and the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Stephan Leavins, and Gregory Thompson.

So stay tuned!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

Teenager at LA County Probation’s Sylmar Juvenile Hall Beaten on Video by Four Probation Officers as Supervisor Watches

June 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE BEATDOWN

On April 24, four Los Angeles County probation officers allegedly beat a non-combative 17-year-old probationer housed at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, while a fifth officer, a supervisor, looked on.

The supervisor, who appeared to be overseeing the beating, was reportedly the facility’s “Officer of the Day” meaning, he was like a watch commander at a police or sheriff’s station. He was the guy in charge of he whole place.

There were no civilians present at the beating incident, other than the kid himself, so it would have been the teenager’s word against five adult law enforcement officers, had it not been for one thing: A video camera was installed in the probationer’s room.

And, unlike the bad old days, back in 2010, when around scores of the Sylmar facility’s cameras were broken or otherwise mysteriously disabled, and had been for several years, things have improved considerably on the surveillance front in the county’s juvenile halls, and the camera in the boy’s room was in perfect working condition. Thus there is a video that captures the whole event, including quite a bit of what happened—and didn’t happen—before and after.

WitnessLA has obtained a copy of the 4:18 minute video and it makes for very disturbing viewing. We cannot post the video itself as it involves a minor. But, we have posted a series of intentionally blurry screenshots that at least give you a small idea of what the recording depicts.



WHAT THE VIDEO SHOWS

The four-plus minute video is taken from what appears to be a ceiling-mounted camera. In the beginning of the recording, only the supervising officer and the boy are present. He and the tall probationer are several feet apart and the supervisor appears to be instructing the kid. (The video is a bootleg of the original, thus has no sound.) The probationer does not appear to be behaving in any way that is aggressive, threatening or combative. But, presumably there is some verbal conflict between the two. As the supervisor talks, the man conspicuously rolls up the sleeves of his shirt in what several of our probation sources who have seen the video labeled a threatening gesture.

Eventually, the supervisor leaves the room. Before he exits altogether, additional words are exchanged, then the supervisor vanishes, closing the door and presumably locking it behind him. The boy, who has a cast on his right arm (that is reportedly unrelated to his time with the county), slumps against the wall, visibly upset. A few seconds later, he throws an object at the door. The object is large and soft like a blanket, mattress cover or most likely, the narrow cot mattress itself. (Update: We have since confirmed it is the mattress cover.)

Finally the kid flops down dejectedly on his cot, at the left side of the screen. He sits for a few seconds, then finds another object to throw at the door, this time a small, white object. (We initially heard the boy hurled a milk carton. But now we hear from a highly knowledgable source that actually the frustrated kid throw a balled-up piece of white paper.) In the case of both of the object tosses, there is no one else in the room, and the door is not only closed, it is locked (as are all such probationers’ rooms in the “SHU” area at Sylmar), thus the throwing is not an attempt to injure anyone, but an acting out of emotion.

Another twenty seconds pass. The door to the room opens. The supervisor reappears and walks into the room, at which point the boy stands up and shuffles to face away from the officer, either in response to a command, or for his own reasons.

Next, in reaction to a sound or to something that is said, the kid turns around to look at the officer, his body language still not at all threatening, coiled, or combative.

We see three additional probation officers enter the room. Five or six seconds after the boy’s turn, one of the new officers lunges at the kid from the rear with startling speed and force, slamming the boy face down to the cot, then dropping down on top of him.

We have recently learned that the cot is basically a rectangular cement block, which is reportedly only covered with a towel when the kid is slammed to its surface.**

The officer then appears to deliver a serious of fast hard slugs to the kid’s body. At the same time, the other two POs both pile on, wrestling, kneeing, and punching the tall boy.

A few seconds later still, a fourth juvenile hall staffer enters the room and piles on the boy along with the other three, each seeming to either strike or knee him or simply hold him down. The boy is still on his stomach, but now his head and upper torso are pushed off the cement cot and toward the floor.

The kid visibly struggles against the blows, seemly only trying to protect his body, although he is hard to see his actions fully, since the bodies of four large men cover his.

About 60 seconds into the beating, an adult in some kind of uniform, reportedly a second supervisor, comes briefly through the door, stares for a second or two at the beating-in-progress, then exits.

Finally, approximately 1:48 minutes into the thumping, and pummeling, it abruptly stops.

The attackers simply get up from their various positions on top of or kneeling over the kid’s body. They straighten their clothing, and exit the room, The supervisor holds the door open with his right hand as they leave, making a shooing gesture with his left hand. Then he goes out the door himself. And that is that.

Once the hands and bodies of the POs are removed, we can see that the kid’s lower body is still on the cot, stomach down, with his upper torso off the cot and draped toward the floor. Weirdly, whether it was simply due to the struggle, or was deliberate, the boy’s white shorts have fallen or been pulled down halfway to his knees meaning he is visibly naked from waist to mid-thigh.

As he raises himself slowly to a sitting position, he attempts to tug up his shorts, only partially succeeding. Finally he succeeds in moving to a sitting position on the cement cot, feet on the floor, facing the room’s door.

He puts his face in his hands. His back shakes briefly as if he may be sobbing. Then, after a brief swipe at his eyes, he clasps his hands in front of him, and sits quietly, his head down, as the video ends.

There is, of course, more to the video and, according to a department source who has seen the longer version, the boy eventually tries to get up off the cot and walk, but collapses due to the pain. Thus instead, he lies down on the cool floor, looking for relief.

We understand that a nurse came in to check on the boy some minutes after the five probation officers vanished from his room. Her entrance and time with the kid are on the extended version of the video, which we have not seen. Her ministrations were allegedly minimal. She swabbed the abrasions and swelling on his face, and the like. Then she reportedly left the room without a thorough check for injuries.

Later, however, the boy reportedly called for a staffer due to his pain. The second staffer sent him to the hospital where, in addition to bruising, reported black eyes, bruises, swelling and abrasions, it is learned that he has a badly and painfully sprained ankle.

According to our sources, once probation higher-ups learned of the incident, they made sure that the young man was moved to Central Juvenile Hall, rather than send him back to Sylmar, and also made sure he was seen by mental health professionals.

An investigation into the incident was launched right away.



WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

So what should we take from this awful incident?

For one thing, it is extremely troubling that a minimum of six probation officers, two of them supervisors, either knew about or directly participated in a beating that was not a consequence of an emergent situation. To the contrary, four adults administered the beat down with cold efficiency, as a supervisor looked on, presumably with approval since he allegedly is the person who set it in motion in the first place.

Furthermore, we have spoken to three sources who have seen the video. Two are highly experienced probation officers, the third is a juvenile advocate who has spent a great deal of of time inside the county’s probation camps and halls, and is no stranger to the difficulties of safely housing and helping law-breaking, often traumatized kids, many of whom have poor impulse control, some of whom can be quite dangerous.

All three told us that they were distressed by what they saw.

“I was appalled,” said one of our veteran probation sources who asked not to be named. “The kid was never acting in any way that was threatening. His body language suggests he is angry, but he’s also compliant. When staff walked in the room, there was no time when the kid was noncompliant. That’s what was appalling about it,” the source said. “It’s pretty bad.”

Another veteran probation department source, who has also seen the video, had similar comments about the alleged beating. “It was quick, brutal, and then ‘adios.’”

We should also note that, while we don’t know whether the kid in the video did or did not mouth off or act out in some way prior to the incident depicted, one thing we have heard from sources inside probation, is that the young man in question reportedly does not have a violent record, nor a lengthy one.

The incident is alarming on its face, but the fact that these appear to be premeditated actions in which five probation officers, one of them a supervisor, participated, and that those staff members apparently assumed they could get away with it, suggests that the actions on the video are not merely part of a single aberrant incident.

Instead, sources we spoke to admitted, the incident would seem to point to the existence of a disturbing culture within the juvenile probation staff that is far more problematic than we had hoped. Given the recent completion of the multi-year oversight by the department of justice, the settlement a few years ago of a gigantic, high profile class action lawsuit, and many genuine strides toward reform, with more in the works—we would assume that the ghastly scandals of the past are over, and that four people beating a non-threatening teenager would be off the table—unheard of.

Evidently not.



NOW WHAT?

Probation Chief, Cal Remington could say little about the incident, due to legal constraints. But he did tell us this: “We hold our staff to a very high standard. We have zero tolerance for mistreating the juveniles in our care. And while I can’t really comment on an ongoing investigation, this matter is being thoroughly investigated, and we take matters of this nature very, very seriously.”

The LA County Board of Supervisors reportedly learned about the alleged beating belatedly. But, a few weeks ago, they were given access to the video and several Supes have privately expressed extreme dismay. However, none whom we contacted wanted to go on record about the incident.

A spokesperson for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has confirmed that the Probation Department has presented a case “involving the alleged assault of a juvenile housed at Sylmar.” The case, she said, concerns “multiple individuals” and is “under review by prosecutors” in the DA’s Justice System Integrity Division.

In the meantime, multiple staff members are reportedly on administrative leave with pay, while the DA’s office reviews their cases.

This is all well and good, and hopefully the five people responsible for the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old on video will be appropriately held to answer, and will not be allowed to work anywhere near adolescents, now or in the future.

But what about the attitudes toward the law-breaking kids in our county’s care that the video arguably represents? By all accounts, we have good, reform-minded, and very skilled interim probation chief in Cal Remington, and presumably the powers-that-be will eventually find the right permanent chief to lead the state’s largest probation agency.

However, one person can only do so much, especially when an agency has been plagued by ghastly dysfunction as long as this one has—recent improvements, notwithstanding. For the foreseeable future, much of the day-to-day job of leading LA County Probation will involve juggling chain saws (metaphorically speaking).

We know that the Working Group for Probation Department Oversight is meeting regularly to, as they state on their website, “determine whether a new citizens’ commission should be established to comprehensively monitor the troubled agency,” as the Board of Supervisors have rightly requested.

We hate to be preemptive, as we understand the working group still has more work to do, but yes: monitoring body badly needed,. And make that a monitoring body with access to all relevant information so it has the ability to actually do its job. And by “relevant information” we mean, like, say videos of four adults overseen by a supervisor beating down a 17-year-old, who could be your kid, or grandkid, or could be mine.


**EDITOR’S NOTE: We have continued to update this story as we get more detailed information from sources familiar with what happened on April 24. For example, we originally were not sure if the cement cot was covered or not. We have since learned positively that the boy tossed his mattress at the door, and the only thing covering the cot at the time of the alleged beating incident was a towel.

Additionally, we have heard conflicting things about whether or not the kid’s jaw was fractured. So we’d rather leave it .

Posted in Juvenile Probation | 16 Comments »

The Oakland PD Sex Scandal Gets Even Weirder…and LA Foster Kids Housed Too Long at Temp Shelters

June 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

IN THE MIDDLE OF A SHOCKING OAKLAND POLICE SEX SCANDAL, MAYOR SACKS INTERIM PD CHIEF

On Wednesday, amid a major Oakland Police Department scandal involving 14 OPD officers and the alleged sexual exploitation of a minor, Mayor Libby Schaaf removed interim Chief Ben Fairow from office—just six days after the former chief resigned.

Mayor Schaaf said she received new information earlier in the week that convinced her to oust Fairow. Because of law enforcement personnel privacy laws, Mayor Schaaf did not reveal precisely why she removed Fairow. “I own the mistake I made,” Schaaf said. “The important thing is I’m trying to fix it and fix it quickly.”

If you’ve missed the Oakland sex scandal story elsewhere, here are the basics:

Last week, a teen who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014.

Guap only named one officer, Brendan O’Brien, who committed suicide last year. The young woman, whose mother works for the OPD as a dispatcher—says the officers kept her safe while she worked the streets, and kept her informed about undercover stings. In exchange, Guap says, she had sex with them.

Following O’Brien’s suicide, the OPD (quietly) launched investigations into sexual misconduct within the department. Two officers have resigned, and three more are on paid leave. The scandal isn’t contained within the OPD either: Guap says she had sex with officers from other departments, including San Francisco, Richmond, and Alameda.

Guap says many of the cops knew she was underage, and evencalled her “juve.”

DA inspector Rick Orozco was also placed on administrative leave, after Guap said she had an online friendship with the inspector (then a OPD captain) while she was still a minor. Guap says that at one point Orozco told her, “I would love your taco!”

Guap also says she talked with former OPD Chief Sean Whent’s wife, Julia, via Facebook last year, and that the woman knew she was “dating an officer.” Whent resigned last week.

Brendan O’Brien fatally shot himself on September 25, 2015. A year earlier, on June 16, 2014, O’Brien’s wife, Irma Huerta Lopez, died in the same apartment. According to the coroner’s report obtained by the East Bay Express, Huerta Lopez’s death was ruled a suicide, but both Huerta Lopez’s and O’Brien’s coroner’s reports call Lopez’s death suspicious. Lopez’s family believes O’Brien killed his wife, and that the OPD did not thoroughly investigate the death. In his suicide note, O’Brien reportedly wrote that he had been battling PTSD from his time as a marine, and due to the scrutiny from the OPD and Huerta Lopez’s family after her death. O’Brien’s note said he had been drinking a lot off duty and on duty.

Before the scandal broke, the OPD seemed to be getting closer to ending 13 years of federal oversight (which came about because of misconduct within the department).

On March 23, US District Judge Thelton Henderson pulled the plug on the OPD’s problematic internal investigation. Detectives violated procedures while investigating the sexual misconduct case, according to Henderson. The judge ordered Robert Warshaw, the court-appointed independent monitor to conduct the investigation, moving forward.

The new acting OPD chief Paul Figueroa is sort of an interim-interim, installed Wednesday for the very short term, until Schaaf can find an interim chief to serve while she searches for a permanent chief from outside the department.

The East Bay Express’s Darwin Bond Graham and Ali Winston have the full story, which at 5 pages is quite the longread, but well worth your time. Here’s how it opens:

Celeste Guap was only seventeen in February of last year when a pimp chased her down International Boulevard. She spotted an Oakland police car and approached for help. That’s when she met officer Brendan O’Brien.

“He saved me,” Guap said of the lanky ex-Marine, who joined the Oakland Police Department in 2013 after graduating from the 166th police academy.

Rather than detaining Guap as a victim of human trafficking and turning her over to guardians, she said O’Brien released her. “We flirted a little,” she recalled, adding that she told O’Brien her mother was a dispatcher in the department.

Two weeks later, Guap saw O’Brien on patrol again in East Oakland. He and his partner were making an arrest near a taco truck. She struck up a conversation and they exchanged numbers. Shortly afterward, O’Brien and the girl began “dating” — a word Guap used to describe their relationship.

Guap said she had sex with the Oakland police officer numerous times while she was a minor.

The OPD and other East Bay law-enforcement agencies have positioned themselves as national leaders in the fight against human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children. But O’Brien and other East Bay cops betrayed this reputation with their exploitation of Guap. Officers trafficked her among their ranks and used the minor for sex for half a year.

The scandal is unprecedented: According to multiple sources close to the department and the city of Oakland, and documents obtained by the Express, at least fourteen Oakland police officers, three Richmond police, four Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, and a federal officer took advantage of the teenager. (The Express is not publishing her real name because she was a minor when her abuse began.)

Three Oakland police officers committed statutory rape of Guap when she was under-age. By the state’s legal definition, they engaged in human trafficking. The victim says every law-enforcement agent who had sex with her knew she was a sex worker.


LA STRUGGLING TO STOP HOUSING FOSTER KIDS BEYOND TIME LIMIT AT TEMP SHELTERS

As part of a settlement in a lawsuit challenging “overstays” of foster children at two problematic Welcome Centers meant only to hold kids for one day after they are removed from their families, the LA County Department of Children and Family Services moved kids to four private temporary group homes with 72-hour stay limits.

The Youth Welcome Center and the Children’s Welcome Center—where kids were meant to stay for less than 24 hours, but instead became a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids—were closed back in February. Unfortunately, because of a severe lack of available foster families, kids are staying too long at the new emergency shelters. And at one point, when the shelters were full, children were moved back into the closed Welcome Centers.

Before it was shut down, the Youth Welcome Center, in particular, had become mired in controversy, with kids getting into brawls, staff complaining about not enough bathrooms for children’s needs and privacy, as well as rumors about younger residents being recruited for sex trafficking by older residents at the center.

At the state level, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems, by eliminating traditional group homes, and focusing on long-term placements with foster families. The changes are slated to go into effect by January 2017. But what will happen to LA County’s high-needs foster children when the long-term group homes vanish? In a story for WitnessLA, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism students Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid explored the issue in a story for WitnessLA.

Come 2017, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs. A certain number of those (STRTCs) will be geared toward helping kids involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Elizabeth Green has more on the complicated issue. Here’s a clip:

In 2014, roughly 7 percent of youth overstayed at the Youth Welcome Center, and 16 percent overstayed at the Children’s Welcome Center. At the new transitional shelters, there were 646 entries in March and April, and about 18 percent of those, or 118, were there for more than 72 hours, Montiel said.

Montiel stressed that comparing overstay rates between the two systems is comparing apples and oranges because now the definition of an overstay has changed. In addition to the new 72-hour limit, children are now staying at the facilities during the day while their social workers look for an appropriate foster home. Before, a youth may have left the Welcome Center for the day and the clock would have restarted upon their return.

But Montiel said the hardest-to-place children are still the ones most likely to stay past the new 72-hour limit.

“It remains difficult to find sufficient homes for those babies and infants, for those sibling groups, and for those teenagers that have challenges remaining in a stable home,” Montiel said. “And those difficulties are not going to change overnight.”

Even with the longer window of time, the overstay rate reinforces the need for more foster homes in which to place these children. Dr. Astrid Heger, a clinical pediatrician who helped create the two welcome centers, is familiar with the challenges of working with hard-to-place children. Her clinic continues to provide medical screenings to children during off-hours before they are taken to a placement.

“Overstays aren’t a result of 24 hours or 72 hours, they’re a result of not having enough places to put kids downstream,” Heger said.

Posted in law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Serving LA’s LGBT Foster Kids

June 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A UNIQUE PROGRAM IN LA COUNTY TEACHES FOSTER CARE PROVIDERS AND SOCIAL WORKERS ABOUT LGBT KIDS

Los Angeles County has implemented a first-of-its-kind training model to educate social workers and foster parents about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender kids, with the goal of reducing homophobia and giving LGBT foster kids a better chance at getting placed in accepting homes.

But LA County still struggles to find welcoming foster parents for LGBT kids in the child welfare system. Part of the problem is that social workers aren’t always aware that a child identifies as LGBT. Another problem is that the county is dealing with a major shortage of available foster families. LA County’s RISE program—created by the Los Angeles LGBT Center through a $13.3 million federal grant—aims to educate the foster parents that are out there, while providing support to struggling gay homeless and foster youth in need of caring homes.

In Los Angeles County, 20% of foster kids identify as (LGBT). To put that in perspective, LGBT young people represent just 7% of the nation’s general youth population.

Many LGBT former foster kids (and non-LGBT foster kids) end up homeless after they age out of the system. An estimated 40% of the 1.6 million homeless youth living in the US identify as LGBT. The majority of LGBT homeless teens are either rejected by their parents and forced out of their homes, have run away, faced abuse at home, or have aged out of the child welfare system, and without adequate support, have become homeless. LGBT teens are also more than twice as likely as heterosexual teens to attempt suicide.

Back in 2012, state legislators passed a law that orders care providers and foster parents to attend a yearly education session focused on LGBT children, their unique needs, and the difficulties they face. That training, however, is just 60 minutes a year.

The comprehensive Los Angeles program is still in its early stages, but has the potential to serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

KPCC’s Leo Duran has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Juana Zacharias is 18, and she’s like other teenage girls her age.

She loves make-up, has a closet overflowing with cute clothes and talks about how to date a Latina like her (“Just give us the password to your phone and a bag of hot Cheetos, we’ll be totally good.”)

But Juana isn’t like most girls – she’s trans. She is also a foster child who lives at a group home in Oxnard with five other kids.

She’s one of over 400,000 foster children in America. In Los Angeles, 20 percent of those kids identify as LGBT according to UCLA – which is double the rate of LGBT kids outside the foster care system.

Juana spent the last seven years in the system, herself, after her father passed away and her mother rejected her, moving from group home to group home.

“My first group home I didn’t identify as a transgender because I was scared,” she says. “All my girl clothes? I kind of made them into guy clothes.”

Experts say it would be better if foster children like Juana lived with foster parents.

“You need to go home to Thanksgiving. You need somebody to take you to the dentist or the airport,” says foster care expert Khush Cooper.

But kids like Juana had problems finding parents – sometimes even group homes – who are accepting.

“The probation officers even said to me it’s hard to find a placement for you because you’re transgender. A lot of people don’t want transgenders,” says Juana.

Los Angeles has been testing out ways to change that, but the future of those programs is uncertain.

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