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Day of Reckoning: The Strange and Memorable Afternoon When Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Pleaded Guilty to a Felony

February 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


BACA GOES TO COURT

On Wednesday afternoon, around five minutes before the 2:30 PM plea hearing was to begin in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his attorney, Michael Zweiback, walked down the left aisle of the courtroom, through the waist-high swinging door, to the defendant’s table where Baca carefully folded his lanky frame into a chair.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, who is chief of the federal district’s public corruption and civil rights section, and Lizabeth Rhodes, chief of general crimes, were already seated on the other side of the room at the prosecution’s table.

The purpose of the hearing was for Baca to formally plead guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when they questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during an April 12, 2013, round of questioning. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the LA County Jail.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Now the act of pleading guilty in open court was the next step in the process of executing the plea agreement with the feds that Baca signed on Monday in lieu of facing a federal indictment for his alleged part in obstructing the government’s probe into LASD wrongdoing.

The idea of a plea was reportedly floated by Baca’s attorneys months ago, according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office. But it was only in the last few days that the final language of the deal had been nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.

Baca was arraigned on the single charge on Wednesday morning, then at noon U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a hastily arranged press conference to announce the existence of the deal, an event that had the LA press corps wildly scrambling to get to the downtown federal building and up to the 7th floor conference room on time to report on what would become a national story.

And now, finally, there was the hearing in which the man who had, for years, arguably been California’s most popular elected official, would publicly plead to a felony, that in all likelihood would lead to time in a federal prison, albeit probably no more than six months.

The plea hearing was originally randomly assigned to another federal judge, but most people who had been following the multiple federal trials involving members of the LA Sheriff’s Department assumed that Judge Percy Anderson would manage to wrestle the proceeding into his own court room.

Anderson had been the jurist to preside over all three previous obstruction of justice trials, pertaining to the hiding of FBI informant and convicted bank robber Anthony Brown in what has come to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box, an ill-considered strategy directed from the department’s highest levels that has, to date, resulted in the conviction of seven former LASD members, along with prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. (These cases are all on appeal with the 9th circuit court of appeals). One more department member, former captain Tom Carey, was indicted last year pertaining to Pandora’s Box, but he too has made a deal, in his case, in exchange for truthful testimony at the upcoming trial of his fellow indictee, former LASD undersheriff and 2014 candidate for LA County Sheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s trial, scheduled to begin jury selection on March 22, was also originally assigned to another judge. But exactly no one was surprised when the highly intelligent and decidedly quirky Anderson managed to arm wrestle the sure-to-be-theatrical Tanaka proceedings into his courtroom as well.


THE PLEA

For the occasion of his plea hearing, Lee Baca wore a highly-tailored dark brown suit, a pale shirt, a gold and brown striped tie, and a melon pink silk handkerchief carefully arranged in his left breast pocket.

Both of Baca’s parents struggled with impoverished circumstances, but according to the former sheriff, his father always somehow managed to be a snappy dresser and Baca too came to find pleasure in nice clothing. On Wednesday, in addition to the good suit, he’d fastened a small decorative pin to his left lapel. The shiny thing was smaller than a quarter, but shaped like the bright LASD sheriff’s star he’d worn for 49 years, 15 of those years as the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

As Baca and everyone else sat waiting for Judge Anderson to make his appearance, the former sheriff’s expression was one of enforced calm that appeared as if it could easily fracture. As the minutes passed, he seemed less and less sure what to do with his hands, which he finally half-clasped out in front of himself, the tips of his long fingers touching, as if he was gently holding a thin glass ball the size of a navel orange between his palms.

At 2:33 PM, Judge Anderson arrived, and the formal hearing began. Making a plea of this sort is a highly ritualized affair in which the judge asks a series of questions, and the defendant replies briefly. For the next 30 plus minutes, Anderson performed his side of the ritual, making programmed inquiries that allowed his honor to determined that Baca was not presently drunk, or on drugs, or suffering from a mental illness, reacting to threats or coercion, or anything else that might keep him from understanding and freely making the decision at hand.

Judge Anderson explained that the plea would not be finalized until sentencing, which would take place a few months hence. Between then and now, Baca would meet with a representative from probation, who would then submit a report that recommended a sentence within the federal guidelines—specifically from 0 to 6 months in a federal prison– for the crime to which he was pleading. Once in receipt of the probation report, the prosecution would make its own recommendation that could be higher or lower than whatever probation suggested, but that—according to the terms of the plea deal—would remain within the 0-6 month parameter.

Only then would the judge make his decision as to what sentence he intended to impose.

But, Anderson said, leaning slightly forward for emphasis, according to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the court “is not bound by advisory guidelines,” but is able to impose a sentence that “could be greater or lessor than the guideline range,” up to a maximum of five years in prison, plus three years of post-prison oversight, and a cash fine of up to $250,000. Anderson said, in so many words, that the 0-6 sentence wasn’t a done deal, and that he would look at a multiplicity of factors before making his decision.

All the participants were aware, however, that according to the terms of the agreement signed Monday, if the judge’s sentence strayed from the 0-6 month guidelines, it would nullify the plea deal if either of the parties wished it.

And, in the course of the hearing, prosecutor Brandon Fox made it clear that if at any point in the process Baca was to bail from the deal, the government was fully prepared to proceed to a grand jury in order to indict the sheriff, and that the charges that came with an indictment—that the feds maintained they fully believed they could prove—would likely be more extensive than the single count to which he was now about to plead.

Toward the hearing’s end, Anderson recited some of the privileges Baca would lose, either temporarily or permanently, as a convicted felon: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, the right to own, carry or use a firearm…and more.

In response to the ongoing questions and statements, Baca and his attorney occasionally conferred when the former sheriff looked unsure, but in the end Baca acknowledged that he understood all that had been said, and the decision he was making.

Finally Judge Anderson asked the main question: How do you plead…?

In return, Lee Baca recited the necessary words: Guilty, your honor.

Despite the dark storms of scandal unleashed by Baca and Tanaka in recent years, it was an oddly unsettling phrase to hear coming out of the former sheriff’s mouth.

A date of May 16 was set for the sentencing hearing at which point, if all went well, Baca’s plea would be finalized and a sentence imposed.

And that was that.


FACING THE CAMERAS

After the courtroom emptied, a mass of reporters, photographers and TV camera people waited on the east side of the federal courthouse for Baca, his wife, and his lawyer to emerge, along with a couple of supportive personal friends. Baca had planned to read a short statement and then leave while his lawyer stayed to answer reporters’ questions. But before an increasingly grim looking Baca could read his prepared words, reporters closed in and some began shouting agressive questions at him featuring words like “corruption” and “disgraced.”

Evidently the noisy questioners hoped to provoke a soundbite, but instead Baca’s face began to collapse, and he yanked himself away from press and lawyers and all but ran to a waiting car, his friends and wife racing beside him.

Once Baca was gone, attorney Michael Zweiback answered questions, as promised: Was he worried about his client’s safety? asked one reporter.

“I leave that to the Board of Federal Prisons,” Zweiback replied.

He and his co-counsel, Zweiback told reporters, were hoping to persuade the court that Baca “does not deserve prison time, that he is currently involved in many, many projects in the community that are doing a lot of good…”

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley asked Zweiback to “explain the difference” between his client and the “other members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department” who were sentenced to multiple years in prison, ostensibly for following the orders of the former sheriff and the former undersheriff.

“I’ll let the U.S. Attorney’s Office speak to that,” said Zweiback smoothly. “I’m only responsible for representing the interest of my client. And he’s accepted responsibility for [the things for which] he needs to accept responsibility.” (Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)

Baca’s lawyer also reiterated that if Judge Anderson decided to hand down a sentence that was longer than what is specified in the guidelines, “that would nullify the plea agreement,” and the parties would go back to square one, which likely meant proceeding to trial.

In addition, Zweiback noted that, , as part of the sentencing process, Baca would do what is known as a plea colloquy, a public statement “to explain his side and to express is remorse for what he’s done. I do expect him to do that,” said the attorney.

Finally Zweiback handed out copies of the one page “statement” Baca had originally intended to deliver himself, prior to the shouting and fleeing. It consisted of two sentences written in what looked like 25 pt type:

I made a mistake and accept being held accountable.

I will always love the men and women of the Sheriff Department and serve human life no matter where and who they are.

It was signed with a looping signature: Lee Baca Retired Sheriff.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 7 Comments »

Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca Pleads to Felony Charge That Would Likely Involve Time in Lock-Up

February 10th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Early Wednesday morning the news began to leak that former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca
had agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of making false statement—or statements—to federal authorities when he was interviewed in 2013 about elements of the wide-ranging corruption and civil rights investigation into wrongdoing at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, which Baca had run for fifteen years.

In the plea agreement signed on February 8, and filed in federal court Wednesday morning, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during an April 12, 2013 round of questioning. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the LA County Jail.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Mr. Baca also denied participating in conversations about “keeping the FBI and inmate [ Anthony Brown, a federal informant] away from each other, according to the statement of facts in the plea agreement

According to federal officials, discussions with Baca’s attorney about a possible deal have been going on for the past few months while an investigation into Baca’s actions continued. The initial approach was made from Baca’s side.

The government has been investigating the sheriff for multiple years as part of a general investigation into corruption and wrongdoing inside the department he led, according to U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

“Today’s charge and plea agreement demonstrate that illegal behavior within the sheriff’s department went to the very top of the organization,” said Decker.

Throughout the investigation there were denials” of wrongdoing from Baca, she said.

“He had the opportunity to lead, but he did not lead.”

Baca is expected to enter his formal plea Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 PM in federal court.

More after the hearing.


Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 26 Comments »

OVER-CRIMINALIZATION: Why Are LA’s Foster Kids More Likely to Be Charged With Crimes?

February 10th, 2016 by witnessla


THE OVER-CRIMINALIZATION OF LA’S FOSTER CHILDREN

by Carrie Wang and Rachel Kohn

Monserrat Zarza was 15-years-old when she was assigned to a group home six months after entering the Los Angeles County foster care system. Group homes provide a placement option for hard-to-place children “with significant emotional or behavioral problems,” according to the state of California.

Being in an environment with several dozen other troubled kids was not what Zarza expected when she gathered the courage to pick up her phone and ask for help after a decade of physical and emotional abuse by her mother. She was hoping for a real family home. The idea of a group home scared her.

When Zarza first entered the system, she did live with a foster family for six months. During that period, Zarza’s biological mother told her that she wanted to commit suicide because of the investigation and scrutiny that Zarza had put her through. In reaction to her mother’s accusations and threats, Zarza said she began to abuse drugs to cope with all the trauma and stress she was feeling. That’s why she was discharged from her foster family and reassigned to the Penny Lane Group Home in North Hills, California, after social workers told her they could not find her another foster home.

Now 20, Zarza has tried to make the most of her life since leaving her mother. At Penny Lane, she enrolled in a program to sober up. She said she believed in the system — until one day the group home staff caught her roommate using drugs and called the police. Zarza stood and watched as police officers arrested her friend. She never saw the girl again.


ARRESTS AS BEHAVIOR CONTROL

The use of arrests to control the behavior of foster youth is reportedly an all-too-common practice in many group homes. Denise C. Herz, associate professor of criminal justice at California State University, Los Angeles, has analyzed data on crossover youth in Los Angeles County since 2007. (Crossover youth is a term for children who are victims of abuse or neglect who also enter the juvenile justice system.)

In her most recent report, released in May 2015, Herz found that 32 percent of the foster youth who were arrested were living in group homes. She also found in the 15-month study that African-American kids were greatly overrepresented among the crossover kids. Plus 36.6 percent of the crossover population were girls, as opposed to 20 percent in the general juvenile justice population.

Zarza said Herz’s study matched her experience. “When we had a problem, they [the staff in the group home] were supposed to help us get better.” Instead, when it came to her friend, she said, “they just threw the cops at her the first time they caught her using. They should have reached out to her drug counselor first. They should have confiscated the drugs and figured out another way instead of calling the police.”

Juvenile public defender Maureen Pacheco, who has been working with the juvenile justice system for 37 years, agreed that social workers in group homes tend to report youth too easily.

“Social workers see the delinquency court having this power to detain kids. It’s almost like a mother turning to a father and saying, ‘Punish him,’” Pacheco said. “So they look at the delinquency system as having the power to control these kids. And the control is they get locked up. They think of that as a traditional method of disciplining the kids.”

As an example, Pacheco pointed to a client whom we’ll call Robert to protect his anonymity. Robert lived in a large group home for seven years, she said, dealing with such problems as being adopted and unadopted multiple times. Recently, after tracking down his birth mother, Robert and his sister escaped from their group home to meet her. The experience has unleashed a flood of emotional issues for him.

Once during lunch, during an argument with a social worker, he mouthed off angrily, saying “I’m going to kill you” as he had a wrench in his hand. The social worker called the police, and Robert was put on probation for 17 months, and is still on probation today.

Pacheco said the boy had never been known to be violent, but had often expressed his distress using empty threats. “To me that means this is a kid who is expressing his anger, but he is not somebody who is going to be a danger,” she said. “But because they [the group home staff] have liability for other people in the group home, they almost have to overreact in order to not have a situation where other kids get hurt. It is very discouraging because the liability has become their number one concern, not the well-being of the kids,” she said.

“With my two teenage sons, there were times when they would say horrible things to each other and make threats to each other. In a private home you are not likely to say, ‘I am going to call the police and have you arrested.’ You realize it is normal teenager behavior,” said Pacheco.


‘THE SYSTEM DOESN’T PARENT’

Attorney Barbara Duey agrees with Pacheco. Duey, who is an attorney and crossover director for the Children’s Law Center of Los Angeles, said that because social workers often do not have the patience, time or training to adequately assess a kid’s emotional reaction in a high-stress situation, their first response is to pick up the phone and call the police when kids act out, as kids often do.

“The system doesn’t parent, the system just reacts,” she said.

“When I was growing up at home with my sister, we shared a bathroom. We got in fights all the time. If I picked up my hairbrush and threw it at her, and shattered the glass, I’m going to get grounded by my parents,” she said. “However, our kids get arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and vandalism if that same thing happens in a group home setting.”

According to Duey, the overreaction continues after police are called. When a foster youth is arrested while in the group home system, the offense with which he or she is charged is likely to be more serious than if the child is arrested outside the system. For example, the hairbrush toss could be categorized as assault with a deadly weapon. The youth in question would be taken to juvenile hall and the case would go to the District Attorney’s office.

“The next thing you know, they are in court facing felonies. It happens all the time,” Duey said.


SOCIAL WORKERS AREN’T FAMILY

One of the problems contributing to the overcriminalization of foster children, experts say, is the fact that social workers often have high caseloads and thus do not make good parents.

Zarza was rushed into a group home because her social worker was going to leave town in a week. The social worker promised Zarza she would only stay in the group home for at most three months, after which she would find Zarza another foster home.

“I was really scared at the beginning. I thought something bad was going to happen to me and I kept waiting for her to come back.” But the social worker did not return. “I ended up staying there for 1½ years,” Zarza said.

When the social workers in her group home were overwhelmed, they would often take out their frustration on her and other girls, according to Zarza.

One time, she said, when she asked one social worker for keys to open a closet of clean clothes because she planned to take a shower, the worker asked her to wait. When Zarza came back to ask a third time, the worker told her that she was a “failure.” That’s why Zarza was in a group home, the social worker said, and that was why she would be a loser for the rest of her life like all the other girls.

“I was really hurt because I wasn’t expecting to get insulted like that when I simply asked to get my belongings to take a shower,” Zarza said.

The Los Angeles Department of Family and Children’s Services is short on foster families, so when a family cannot be found for a child, many reportedly wind up in situations similar to Zarza’s.

Judge Michael Nash, the former presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court who was recently appointed director of Los Angeles County’s new Office of Child Protection, said the group home is the least preferred placement for children and youths because it is an unnatural setting.

“We see that kids in group homes cross over from child welfare to juvenile justice at a higher rate. We see that kids in group homes have lower education outcomes. We see that a higher number of the kids in group homes are receiving psychiatric medication,” he said.

According to Zarza, when she was in a group home, there were only four social workers in charge of 45 girls. The girls had no privacy and were only allowed to close their dorm doors for five minutes when they were changing. Some girls used this time as an excuse to pick fights. Zarza never adjusted to this living situation.

“I could never live a normal life like any other kid in my age,” she said.

Zarza had no one to turn to when she had problems within the group home. For over a year she and her friends filed grievance complaints but never heard back from anyone.

“It’s not like somebody’s there in your corner as your advocate like a parent would be,” Pacheco said.


‘WE ARE FAILING THEM’

The situation Zarza described is not an individual occurrence; it is a problem with the system, according to Pacheco.

“The delinquency system is treated as a dumping ground by the foster care system,” she said. “Social workers use the juvenile justice system when they are frustrated by kids’ noncompliance with the plan. They see the juvenile system as a place where they can lock the kid up. It is a tremendous problem.

“We are failing them,” Pacheco said.

Youth advocates hope that California’s Assembly Bill 403, passed last year, will help ensure that foster youths like Zarza are placed in a healthy living environment. The legislation, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, will replace group homes with short-term residential facilities designed to provide temporary support to kids with identified needs before returning them to a “family setting.”

During his time leading the Los Angeles Juvenile Court and as supervising judge of the Juvenile Dependency Court, Judge Nash wanted to find a way to ensure that the foster care system accurately focused on kids’ individual needs and that youths were not placed into group homes as a last resort. So he and his colleagues implemented a protocol in 2014 to improve the group home system.

“It [the protocol] says every time the agency wants to place a child in a group home, we need to get a report that tells us why a group home and why this group home,” said Nash. “What’s the specific case plan for the child in this group home? How long is it contemplated that this child will be in this group home?”

Nash admits it will take a while to see solid results from AB 403 and his group home protocol, but he is confident that both will ultimately help foster youths.

Pacheco said she would also like to see some revisions in the role of social workers who help and care for foster youths.

“Having a mentor who understands the system and helps them navigate the system” is important, she said. “Nobody is acting as a parent for the kids so having somebody who can at least advocate for them would be helpful.”

Zarza too is trying to make changes in the system. With this goal in mind, she has joined California Youth Connection to be an advocate for foster youths. She will age out of the system in a year, at 21, and said she wants to do all she can so that other youths in the system won’t experience the same pain she went through.

“I just want my past be my past, my present be present, and my future be different,” Zarza said.


This story is the first in a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The series is part of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


The photos of Monserrat Zarza are courtesy of her personal collection.

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

A Deal Is Struck! No Retrial for Two LA Sheriff’s Deputies Accused of Beating Jail Inmate, But Prison Sentences Likely

February 10th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



If all goes as expected,
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez will solidify a deal with federal prosecutors on Wednesday at a 9 AM hearing in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell. The deal specifies that the government will not retry the two deputies on the charge of assaulting Men’s Central Jail inmate, Bret Phillips, in a 2009 use of force incident.

Last week, the feds announced their intention to retry the twosome for the single charge.

The deal also clears the way for sentencing and the beginning of what is expected to be approximately a two-year-prison sentence for both Aguiar and Ramirez.

The two deputies were each convicted earlier this month of falsifying reports against Phillips, portraying him as the aggressor in a 2009 incident that resulted in the inmate being beaten with fists, sprayed with pepper spray, and struck multiple times with a flashlight, according to the deputies’ own accounts.

In return for the deal, Aguiar and Ramirez, along with their attorneys, Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, have agreed not to appeal the deputies’ convictions, or to in any other way challenge them.

On February 2, the same jury that voted to convict Aguiar and Ramirez of falsifying official reports, also acquitted the deputies on the charge of conspiring to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights.

Then on the remaining charge, Count 2, which was for the alleged beating of Phillips—who according to the government’s witnesses was nonresistant—ten jurors voted to convict, while two voted to acquit, producing a mistrial on the single count.

Last week, federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins announced they would retry the deputies on Count 2, and Monday there was a status hearing to prepare for the trial.

Then came the deal.

“This is a very good thing,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Williams, after the deal became public on Tuesday morning, “because it gives both parties finality”

Her co-counsel, U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins called it “a deal for the defendants but it’s justice for the community,” Williams said.

“It’s also a victory for the victim, and for the witnesses, because they don’t have to go through the trauma of testifying again.” Williams was referring to the prosecutions’ two primary eyewitnesses, a catholic prison chaplain and a prison inmate who had been in Men’s Central Jail at the time the incident in question occurred.

Despite the deal, the prosecutors are still permitted to argue for a sentence for each of the deputies of up to 27 months in prison, although Judge O’Connell could go higher or lower when she hands down sentences in April. The statutory maximum the judge could give the deputies is 20 years, although it is reportedly likely she will stay within the range of federal guidelines, which suggest prison sentences ranging from 21 to 27 months. If she does not, the terms of the newly struck deal allow either side to appeal the sentences.

However, when the prosecutors make their case in the sentencing phase, they can try to persuade the judge to lean to the high side of federal guidelines by bringing in such elements as the jurors’ vote of 10-2 in favor of conviction on Count 2, the assault charge. Akin to verdicts in a civil trial, when considering a sentence in a criminal trial, the judge is only required to evaluate a preponderance of evidence.

“I’m hoping [the deal] provides closure for everybody, while it still allows us to argue what we want to argue to the court,” said Williams.

WLA was unable to reach the defendants’ two attorneys for comment.

(Here’s more on the original two-week-long trial that went to the jury at the end of last month.)

The next of the government’s jail brutality cases involving Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies is expected to arrive in court in the spring of 2016.

And, of course, the trial of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka is scheduled to begin on March 22.

Posted in LASD | 6 Comments »

Homelessness in LA, a Heartbreaking South LA Shooting, Prison Yogis…and More

February 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A LOOK AT THE NUMBER$ AS LA COUNTY SUPES CONSIDER HOMELESSNESS PLAN ON TUESDAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to launch a comprehensive $100 million effort with the city of LA to help and house thousands of homeless residents. The plan focuses first on housing, then on providing mental health services and substance abuse treatment, increasing employment, and making sure people exiting jail don’t end up on the streets.

But is the problem too big for a $100 million plan? (Or even a $200 million plan, if we include the city’s funds?) According to a report from CEO Sachi Hamai, LA County spent just under $1 billion—$965 million, to be exact—on services for 150,000 of the county’s homeless during fiscal year 2014-2015. And 40% of that amount was spent on just 5% of the homeless population. Hamai will present the report, which includes recommendations for implementing the homelessness plan, to the board during the Tuesday meeting.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

This separate report looks at expenditures, totaling $965 million, made last fiscal year in the county departments of health services, mental health, public health, sheriff, probation and public social services to provide services, benefits and care to homeless individuals. The costs include direct services to individuals, costs for programs and administrative costs.

The report was done at the request of the county’s Homeless Initiative, which is directed by Phil Ansell.

“The report on county services and expenditures for homeless single adults last fiscal year confirms that the county already provides very extensive services for homeless single adults through the mainstream health, social service and criminal justice systems,” Ansell said in an interview.

“The nearly $1 billion expended by the county last year for this population underscores the urgency of taking effective action to combat homelessness as well as the opportunity to more effectively utilize current funding to help people exit homelessness rather than mitigate the consequences of their homelessness.”

The homeless count conducted last year showed that homelessness in the county increased 12 percent in two years. During that count, which is a snapshot of the number of people who were homeless in a given day, 44,359 people were identified as homeless. County departments said they served, through visits to clinics and emergency rooms, food stamp programs and jail bookings, 148,815 people who experienced homelessness for varying times last year.

The report sheds light on the kind of services the homeless population required last year.

More than half of the total spent were for health-related services, with 60 percent of the county’s health spending on homeless single adults for mental health treatment, according to the report.

One in 10 homeless adults were arrested by the Sheriff’s Department last year.

KPCC’s Jacob Margolis has a helpful (quick) list of five things to know about the city and county’s homelessness plans in advance of the Supes’ vote. Here’s a clip:

2. They’re embracing the Housing First model.

There has long been a debate about whether homeless people are “ready” to be successful in housing, and if they’ve earned it. Some have argued that people with drug problems or mental illnesses should be treated for those issues before they are offered anything more than a shelter bed. Others support the “Housing First” model, which argues that a person can not overcome drug dependency or mental illness until they have a safe, reliable home. The city and county have come to support “Housing First” and will put more dollars behind it.

3. The money’s still not there.

The county has already found about $100 million to put toward combatting homelessness in year one, but the city is still in search of their first $100 million. A city report recently found that the City of L.A. alone needs to spend $1.85 billion over 10 years to provide enough housing and services to properly address homelessness. L.A. officials have said they’ll need to find federal, state and county money to help them get there.


OP-ED: WHERE’S THE OUTRAGE AT THE SOUTH LA MURDER OF GERRIK THOMAS?

Late last month, 21-year-old Gerrik Thomas bought a soda at a market near his great-grandmother’s house in South LA. On his way home, he was accosted by two young black men driving by in a car. Instead of responding to the men, Gerrik, who was also black, called his mother to tell her what happened. Minutes later, Gerrik’s mother, Demicha Lofton-Thomas, received a call that her son had been fatally shot.

Gerrik, worked as a security guard near LAX and at LACMA, was enrolled in a nursing program at LA Trade Tech, and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Gerrik was well-liked, and known for his smile, which “would brighten a whole, gloomy day.”

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Michael Krikorian asks why Gerrik’s death, unlike fatal police encounters, received little news coverage and no attention from community leaders, hashtag activists, or politicians. “Is it that Thomas’ death is acceptable?” writes Krikorian. “Does it just come with the territory in South Los Angeles?”

Here’s a clip:

There will be no protest marches organized in Thomas’ memory. No downtown streets will be blocked; the entrances to the Harbor Freeway will remain open. No angry citizens will demand the arrest, trial and conviction of those responsible for his killing.

I get the outrage when a cop kills an unarmed civilian, I get the fury when a video shows what looks like an unnecessary, excessive police shooting. But what I don’t get is why Gerrik Thomas’ death barely signifies. Why isn’t his excessive and unnecessary killing a story? Why are the community, the hashtag leaders, the media and the politicians mostly silent?

I’ve been writing about gang killings in Los Angeles for well over 25 years, and I know these deaths are not acceptable to the families on Grape Street, on Success Avenue, on Brynhurst Avenue. Their pain is as deep as it gets. I know the answer is “no” to the question Reggie Sims, gang interventionist at Jordan Downs, asked about the lack of uproar over the killing of his son several years ago: “Just because he was shot by another black kid, that makes it OK?” I’ve heard that question from at least 100 different relatives of the slain.

By way of an uproar, I’ll tell you a bit about Gerrik Thomas.

If you ask 20 of his friends and family about him, every one will say something about his smile.

Some might describe the tattoo on his right forearm — “Demicha”— his mother’s name. Others will talk about how he took the bus to work as a security guard near the airport or at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. About how respectful he was. That he went to Daniel Webster Middle School and Crenshaw High. That he dreamed of being a doctor and was enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Tech to learn nursing. But all of them will bring up his smile.


PRISONERS LEARN YOGA, MEDITATION, MINDFULNESS TO INCREASE SELF-CONTROL, MANAGE STRESS, REDUCE CONFRONTATION, AND LOWER RECIDIVISM

Across the nation, including at California State Prisons, Solano and San Quentin, yoga programs give inmates a place to process their feelings, de-stress, and heal their traumas.

Inmates who participate in the classes say their meditation and yoga practice helps them deescalate confrontations with other prisoners and with staff. Program staff and prison officials hope that the yoga classes give inmates tools to deal with the stress of re-entry, once they’re released. A former inmate at says he continued his yoga practice outside the walls of San Quentin, and it helped him resolve a confrontation with a housemate in a positive way. “I told him I’ve been trying to learn how to resolve issues without the use of violence…I would try to work through it with him positively,” said Adam Verdoux.

Some prisons, including in Oregon and Maryland, are even putting inmates through yoga instructor training to give them employment opportunities post-release.

The Epoch Times’ Amelia Pang has more on the programs and why they are becoming increasingly popular as a relatively low-cost recidivism-reducing strategy. Here’s a clip:

For decades, science journals have documented how meditation can help reduce recidivism. Research shows that yoga and meditation can improve mood, impulse control, concentration, and decision-making skills.

The Prison Yoga Project, founded in 2002, was the first large-scale prison yoga organization of its kind. It has trained more than 1,200 volunteer prison yoga teachers in the United States, Mexico, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands.

Most of Fox’s incarcerated students in California are serving a life sentence with a possibility of parole; most were charged with murder.

“I’ve never felt threatened,” Fox said. “I make it very clear we’re here to create a higher consciousness. If that’s not something they’re interested in they won’t stay. I end up with good guys.”

Apparently there is a high demand for a higher consciousness.

There is a one-year wait list for yoga classes at San Quentin, one of the largest prisons in the nation.

More than 15,000 inmates have requested yoga guidebooks about the philosophical aspects of yoga, such as how to deal with trauma and how to resolve problems with non-violence.

The Prison Yoga Project has mailed more than 15,000 copies of its yoga guidebook to inmates free of charge. (The organization survives on small grants and teacher training fees).

Fox’s class consist of traditional yoga, meditation, conscious breathing, relaxation, and some basic movements. Since it’s tailored for the prison population, it differs from public yoga classes, which are predominately movement-based.

The end goal is for incarcerated men and women to continue peaceful meditation after their release.

“The odds of them enrolling into a yoga studio is very little. They have to find jobs, a place to live, rebuild their lives, reunite with family. Prison yoga is focused on giving them the tools to meditate on their own after leaving,” Fox said. “The greatest feedback I get from people is not about a particular pose they mastered, but that they can disengage from a potential conflict based on what they learned from meditation.”


LOS ANGELES IS ONE OF US ATTORNEY GENERAL LORETTA LYNCH’S STOPS ON HER NATIONAL COMMUNITY POLICING TOUR

In the next few months, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will travel to Los Angeles to highlight the LAPD as an example of successful community policing. (The LA trip date is still listed as to-be-determined, but AG Lynch kicks off her community policing tour in Miami-Dade on Feb 11.) The AG will focus specifically on the LAPD’s use of technology (like body-worn cameras) and social media to “fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy,” according to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s final report.

“One of my top priorities as Attorney General is strengthening relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve and protect,” said Lynch. “During the second phase of my Community Policing Tour, I will be highlighting some of the innovative efforts underway around the country to build trust, foster cooperation and enhance public safety.”

But not everyone is happy about the LAPD’s level of transparency and accountability.

Last week, in agreement with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s findings, the LA Police Commission said that the fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless man, Charlie “Africa” Keunang, was within department policy, and that a Burbank officer acted outside of department policy when he fatally shot a car chase suspect, Sergio Navas.

Acknowledging that the LAPD is unable to release certain information due to a restrictive state law, the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, an LA Times editorial expressed frustration that the commission had to meet and make those decisions in a closed-session meeting away from the public. Here’s a clip:

Maybe these were the correct decisions. We hope so. Certainly the commission, like the Police Chief, is making an effort to convey that it takes its responsibilities in such cases very, very seriously. But how can Angelenos know for sure whether the commission’s decisions were right or wrong? The details of the incidents were discussed and the decisions made in closed session. The wealth of information available to commissioners is unavailable to the public. Nor will the public be informed whether the officers are being fired or retained. In many cases, the public isn’t even entitled to learn the names of the officers involved in such shootings.

This is not due to some Los Angeles Police Department anti-transparency policy, but because of an overly restrictive state law familiarly known as the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights that was designed to protect the privacy of officers. If the nation has learned any lesson in the wake of a series of police shootings of unarmed African-American since 2014, it is that keeping secrets deepens mistrust.

In the absence of details about past shootings, the department must continue to communicate what it can, including the steps it is taking to reduce the likelihood of future deadly encounters. In the last year, for example, the 60 LAPD officers who work in homeless communities have received 40 hours worth of training in dealing with mental illness. That training is now been expanded to field training officers as well.

In a response to the Times’ editorial, Chief Charlie Beck said the department does everything it can in furtherance of openness and accountability with regard to officer discipline and in accordance with the law. Here’s a clip:

For decades the LAPD has been a leader in providing detailed information regarding serious use-of-force and disciplinary decisions. For example, the department started disclosing the names of officers involved in shootings typically within 72 hours of the incident long before the California Supreme Court required such disclosure by all agencies.

The department also discloses my detailed analyses of incidents and recommendations to the Police Commission. Within days of deliberation, the commission discloses details of the incident and its conclusions. Very few departments in the country provide such in-depth information to the public.

In addition, starting as early as the 1950s, the LAPD conducted open disciplinary hearings for police officers recommended for termination until the state Supreme Court ruled that such disciplinary matters are restricted from public disclosure under state law.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Persons of Interest: Who Will Be LA County’s Next Probation Chief – by Jeremy Loudenback

February 8th, 2016 by witnessla


PERSONS OF INTEREST

Searching for LA County’s Next Probation Chief

by Jeremy Loudenback



LA COUNTY ADVOCATES EYE REFORMERS FOR PROBATION TOP SPOT

The Los Angeles County Probation Department has cycled through five probation chiefs in just over a decade. This time, juvenile justice advocates hope the county will attract someone with the desire, experience and aptitude to oversee the reform of the nation’s largest juvenile-justice system, as well as the state’s larges adult probation program.

“[Candidates] need to hear why this is a potentially exciting time in juvenile-justice reform in the county,” said Children’s Defense Fund-California Executive Director Alex Johnson. “This board has been moving in a progressive, reform-minded manner. If that message is conveyed, about why this is such a good opportunity, I think it will help start to pull in some people who would otherwise take a pass or who might be on the fence.”

The department has been shaken by one scandal after the other in recent years. In December, former Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers resigned after he was accused of improperly promoting his mistress. In 2008, the Department of Justice placed the county’s juvenile camps under federal oversight after horrific reports of the mistreatment of youth by staff members along with commonplace assaults and other violence. L.A. County officials also settled a major class-action federal lawsuit brought in 2010 over educational failures and “Dickensian” conditions at the six Challenger Camps.

Then there was the release of a December audit showing that the department has hoarded $22 million in funds earmarked for community-based programs, among other questionable fiscal actions. The audit, in turn, prompted the Board of Supervisors to vote to explore the creation of a permanent Probation Oversight Commission last week.

Now, instead of business as usual in the long scandal-plagued department, advocates are hoping the next chief has a working knowledge of trauma, mental health and youth rehabilitation and development.

“Often, many of these kids [in the juvenile-justice system] come from very dysfunctional backgrounds with a lot of toxic stress, and they’ve had all sorts of serious psychiatric issues,” said Jacqueline Caster, who serves on the Los Angeles County Probation Commission. “If you don’t understand that and come from that angle, it’s going to be a disaster. Most people in probation don’t have that background.”

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl says that the board has revised the job posting for the incoming probation chief to reinforce the county’s interest in a new approach for its juvenile-justice system.

“When the human resources team first developed the outreach brochure for the new probation chief, it didn’t really talk about restorative justice, it didn’t really talk about second chances. So we rewrote it,” Kuehl said. “The brochure that eventually went out made it clear that anyone applying for probation chief should understand— and hopefully embrace— these approaches.”

Overseeing the probation department in Los Angeles is also a job that requires administrative experience. The department supervises 46,000 adults and more than 7,800 juvenile offenders, including 1,400 in its 14 juvenile camps and three juvenile halls. It employs nearly 7,000 people, with a budget of about $860 million.

“Running L.A.’s probation department is like running an agency in a mid-size state,” said Shay Bilchik, director of the Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University. “It has to be someone who is committed to being on the west coast and willing to follow through on reform and not just for a couple years.”

Following is a look at some of the most mentioned candidates for the job, based on conversations with officials and advocates close to the hiring process.


OUT OF STATE

A prominent name high on the lists of many advocates is Vincent Schiraldi. Before stepping away to head a criminal justice think tank at Harvard, he was director of juvenile corrections in Washington, D.C., and commissioner of the New York City Department of Probation. After turning around D.C.’s troubled juvenile-justice agency, Schiraldi has been an influential voice for community-based alternatives to juvenile incarceration that emphasize positive youth development and keeping juveniles close to home.

But like other high-profile national names who have entered the conversation—such as the Justice Policy Institute’s Marc Schindler and Wayne Mackenzie from the New York City Department of Probation—it is unclear if East Coaster Schiraldi would consider coming west.

Candice Jones, director of the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, is another reform-minded possibility for Los Angeles County, though she was only recently appointed to her current position. One advocate described her as the “leading reformer in the country” for her efforts to support rehabilitation and policy changes to sentencing.


IN-STATE

Among the in-state candidates, the name most frequently cited is Sheila Mitchell, the former probation chief in Santa Clara County, and Deputy Chief of Probation in Alameda County before she took the Santa Clara job. Mitchell resigned in 2013, but her nearly decade-long stint there was marked by a decrease in the number of youth incarcerated in the county and use of positive youth justice-informed services offered at the county’s facilities, including the much-praised William F. James Ranch. Mitchell is now heading the Namaste Leadership Institute in North Carolina, but some wonder if she could be lured back to California. Recently, Mitchell has provided technical assistance to Los Angeles County as part of ongoing efforts to create an innovative new facility on the site of the old Camp Vernon Kilpatrick, using the “L.A. Model,” which is partly based on her efforts to adapt the Missouri Model in Santa Clara County. The Missouri Model is a therapeutic approach to rehabilitation in juvenile detention that favors smaller-sized facilities in community settings.

David Muhammad, who has helped direct juvenile-justice reforms in New York City and Washington, D.C. with Schiraldi before heading the probation department in Alameda County, threw his hat in the ring the day after Powers resigned when the Los Angeles Times called to gauge his interest in the position.

“I have close friends and family who think I am crazy to consider it,” Muhammad said. “But this position is so important, [and] I am crazy enough to think I could pull it off.”

Now a partner at the Oakland-based nonprofit Impact Justice, Muhammad earned plaudits from a wide number of advocates for his efforts to provide Alameda County with increased alternatives to juvenile incarceration. But his tenure there was also clouded by sexual harassment allegations. Alameda County investigators found the allegations to be “unsubstantiated,” yet even the suggestion of impropriety may knock him out of the running, say insiders.

“Maybe if Jerry [Powers] hadn’t gone out like he did, David would be our person for sure,” said a source close to the hiring process who declined to go on the record.

Another potential candidate is Sacramento County Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale. Since heading to Sacramento in 2013, Seale has been touted for his ability to work well with unions and the introduction of rehabilitative programs at juvenile halls. Under his watch, the probation department has reduced the use and duration of solitary confinement and has explored alternatives to incarceration, especially for low-level offenders.


LOS ANGELES

In Los Angeles County, a pair of senior probation employees has been mentioned in conversations, though neither of the two appear to fit the mold of reform that many advocates are hoping for.

Assistant Probation Chief Margarita Perez is said to enjoy support from probation rank-and-file and has been working closely with current Interim Chief Cal Remington. But critics say that, while Perez has reformist leanings on the adult side of probation, her experience with juveniles is nearly non-existent. In addition, the fact that she was brought to the agency by the recently departed Powers, might unfairly tarnish her, at least for now.

Felicia Cotton, deputy chief for juvenile institutions in Los Angeles County, is intimately familiar with the county’s probation system, and is credited with having helped bring its probation camps into DOJ compliance. (The county exited six years of special federal oversight in April 2015.) Yet, reform advocates note that a more recent county audit of progress in the camps—or lack thereof—has found the county “out of compliance,” on many of the very issues that the agency supposedly corrected when the feds were still in residence.

Johnson, a longtime observer of juvenile-justice issues in Los Angeles County, received some mention as the type of reform-minded leader in Los Angeles who might be able to navigate the county’s politics. But the former education and public safety deputy for Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas says he has no interest in the position.

“I’m flattered, but I think there are other folks who are far better suited to lead the department,” Johnson said. “I view my role as being an external partner and thought leader for the department and that’s the role that I see myself playing best.”



Jeremy Loudenback is the Child Trauma Editor for the Chronicle of Social Change

Loudenback’s story was adapted from an article originally produced for The Chronicle of Social Change.


Candidates pictured in photo, clockwise from top left: Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Director Candice Jones, Sacramento County Chief Probation Officer Lee Seale, Sheila Mitchell, Vincent Schiraldi, David Muhammad and Los Angeles County Assistant Probation Chief Margarita Perez.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Should ex-Mexican Mafia Hitman Rene “Boxer” Enriquez Be Paroled?

February 8th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, Rene “Boxer” Enriquez,
who by his own account is a former shot-caller and hitman for the Mexican Mafia, was granted parole by a two-person panel of California’s parole commissioners.

In 1993, Enriquez was convicted of killing two people, and sentenced to 20-to-life. He has admitted to killing or attempting to kill others, one of whom he attacked when both were in jail awaiting trial, stabbing the man 26 times.

Earlier during that same period, when he was out on parole in December 1989, Enriquez ordered the killing of a 28-year-old mother of two. The woman, Cynthia Gavaldon, it seems was allegedly selling drugs for the gangsters and Enriquez thought she might not be turning over her full earnings. So he ordered her death.

A few weeks later still, he personally pumped five bullets into another member of the Mexican Mafia, after first giving the man what was intended as a heroin overdose. The victim, Enriquez told an earlier probation board, was someone he was ordered to kill by higher-ups in the EME after the guy supposedly ran away from a fight.

Governor Jerry Brown has the power to veto the panel’s Friday decision. If he chooses not to do so, Enriquez will be a free man within five months, despite the pleas of the grown children of the woman he ordered killed more than two decades ago.

In 2014, another panel also decided that it was time for Enriquez to be released.

At the time, Brown had affirmed around 82 percent of the parole commission’s decisions, according to the Associated Press. Yet, the governor declined to go along with the decision to let Enriquez out.

Instead, Jerry explained in a carefully composed three-page letter why he did not feel “Boxer” was a suitable candidate for release.

“Mr. Enriquez presents a rather shallow understanding of how he came to perpetuate so many extremely violent crimes,” the governor wrote. “These explanations suggest that Mr. Enriquez has not yet deeply examined or forthrightly explained why he pursued for decades a life of violence.”

So why has Rene “Boxer” Enriquez been marked eligible for parole—not once, but twice, in two years—while men and women convicted of murder for one terrible act of lethal violence committed when they were young and troubled, get turned down repeatedly? Never mind that many of those same lesser known inmates have decades of blemish-free behavior in prison, have worked to make positive use of their time inside, and who have also worked to face the grievous harm that they did to others in their youth.

Yet, a man who admits to being part of the gang rape of an 18-year-old girl, in his own teenage years, who didn’t just kill people in anger, or because he was drunk or drugged up, or as part of a fight, but coldly, for business—he’s the guy whom two parole panels want to cheerfully wave out the door.

What’s the deal?

The primary reason that Enriquez gets a yes vote, while others a no, appears to be the fact that, in 2002, Enriquez became disenchanted with his relationship with the Mexican Mafia, wondering if he too might soon be marked for execution, and agreed to become a source for law enforcement officers eager for an inside look into the infamous, dangerous California prison gang, La EME. Enriquez, with his extravagant personality, and his former position of prominence in the organization, could provide genuine information—and has now done so for years.

In so doing he became, not just an informant, he became a star—and a useful star at that. Enriquez has been credited with providing information that was critical to a 2013 FBI round up of alleged Mexican Mafia members, along with providing other pieces of information that led to arrests.

All of this is, of course, a very good thing.

And, as a consequence, prior to his most recent hearing, Enriquez received more than 60 letters from law enforcement agencies supporting his parole.

It didn’t hurt that Enriquez has his own authorized biography,The Black Hand: The Story of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez and His Life in the Mexican Mafia, written by Peabody-winning journalist, Chris Blatchford, in 2009, with Enriquez’ enthusiastic cooperation.

Enriquez’ reached out to Blatchford through his mother after the journalist did a several reports on “Boxer” and other Mexican Mafia members as part of a week-long series produced during the height of the LA gang crisis in the 1990′s. While a bit overly sensational in its tone, the report also gives a sobering look at the crimes to which Enriquez has since admitted.

So should Jerry Brown say yes? Should Rene “Boxer” Enriquez be paroled?

We at WitnessLA don’t think so. At least not this time around.

We sincerely applaud the fact that Enriquez is using his life inside productively. (Although to be truthful, Enriquez is rarely ever inside prison these days. Instead, he seems to be semi-incarcerated at best. But that’s another discussion.)

But, let’s just say, we hope that the governor—and the parole board—will start looking first at the lives and records of other lifer inmates who have not repeatedly, and coldly, wreaked the kind of lethal havoc to which Enriquez has admitted.

Even if those other inmates aren’t quite as glamorous as the would-be parolee in question.

As mentioned earlier, Brown has five months to make up his mind.

In that time, we’ll be presenting a couple of profiles of some of the other people who have been locked up for decades, whom we happen to know, whose cases the governor might want to examine first before he decides whether or not it’s time to let Mr. Enriquez out.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Kate Mather, with Victory Kim, has written several informative stories on Enriquez and the issue of parole that you might want to check out here and here.

Posted in parole policy | 1 Comment »

Trauma & Resiliency, Health and Activism: A Cross Generational Conversation Between BlackLivesMatter’s Patrisse Cullors and California Endowment’s Dr. Robert Ross

February 5th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

“The most important indicator of your life expectancy in this country is your zip code,” said Dr. Robert Ross, president and CEO of the California Endowment, and a former pediatrician. “Race and racism, schools and public education, public housing, jobs, trauma, toxic stress—that’s the toxic brew that leads to disparities for African Americans in this country, and for communities of color in general,” Ross said. “Eighty percent of your life expectancy has nothing to do with health care.”

Ross made the observation at a cross-generational conversation with #BlackLivesMatter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, about the violence and trauma plaguing inner city communities, how to help cure that trauma, and what can be learned from the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s to better address today’s public health problems.

The exchange was moderated by Krista Tippett, host of NPR’s On Being for later broadcast on her show, and it took some surprising directions.


THE VALUE OF ACTIVISM

When the California Endowment—the state’s largest non-profit health foundation–was founded in the 90’s, racial bias, trauma and resiliency, and a broken criminal justice system were not yet on the radar as public health issues. Ross took over as head of the Endowment in 2000, and has steered the foundation in some significant new directions as research has started to catch up to the realities of underserved communities of color in California and beyond. One of those new directions involves supporting the efforts of #BlackLivesMatter and other activist groups.

The #BlackLivesMatter movement, which started on social media, was founded by three queer black women—Patrisse Cullors, Opal Tometi, and Alicia Garza—in response to the 2013 acquittal of George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black teen in Florida. Through “hashtag activism” and protests, the organization has been integral in bringing to public attention the disproportionate number of deaths of black Americans at the hands of law enforcement. Not surprisingly #BlackLivesMatter developed into a flashpoint for controversy, with opponents countering with hashtags #AllLivesMatter, and #BlueLivesMatter (in reference to police).

But, in the conversation with Tippett, Cullors emphasized that the “conversation about black lives mattering is a conversation about all lives mattering.”

According to Ross, the Endowment believes that supporting activist groups like #BlackLivesMatter in their fight against systemic racism in its many forms has become an important component in the foundation’s effort to improve the health and well being of California’s communities. “What we found is that by funding and supporting activism and leadership, we are actually addressing public health,” he said.

Cullors, who is in her early 30’s and very pregnant, talked about why she has found the work of #BlackLivesMatter to be so healing and how her upbringing framed her life of activism on behalf of people of color.

A South Los Angeles native, Cullors was brought up by an activist grandmother whom she said “stood up for black life” while her own mother worked three jobs. “My grandmother showed me what it could look like to live a full life as a black woman in this country with integrity.”

While Cullors grew up during LA’s crack epidemic and watched the war on drugs unfold, Ross, who is 60, grew up in south Bronx during the tail end of the civil rights movement, and was working as a pediatrician at Children’s Hospital when crack made its appearance in the US.

As crack spread through poor urban neighborhoods, Ross said he watched youth violence, gun violence, and property crimes skyrocket. He also attended numerous deliveries of crack babies and said that the nation’s medical community was not prepared for the effects of widespread drug addiction.

“I wasn’t prepared for any of that based on my training,” Ross explained. “I could treat a kid with asthma or an ear infection, or even meningitis. But there was this other thing happening that was quite powerful, for which I had zero training.”

Ross explained that the shock of dealing with the catastrophic effect of the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 1990’s on poor urban neighborhoods was his introduction to what we now call the “social determinants of health”—factors like housing, education, and lack of employment that impact wellness.

He was further angered, he said, as he watched what he called the nation’s “fear-based” response to what he saw plainly to be a public health crisis. “I was quite bitter at what the nation’s response was—which was to criminalize drug addiction,” Ross said.


CIVIL RIGHTS LEGACY

Now, 30 years later, said Ross, the nation is only starting to reverse the damages done by the war on drugs and poverty.

Ross said he felt that part of the problem was the failure of his generation to take action on these issues that affected African American communities disproportionately. “It was my parents’ generation that weathered the depression, defeated Hitler, brought the civil rights movement,” he said. “Our generation has pretty much dropped the ball…We left the business of addressing structural racism and inequality undone.” Ross said he wants to see “defeating inequality as the next moon shot for this nation.”

Part of the problem, according to Ross and Cullors, is that many believed changing discriminatory laws would change the public narrative. “You can’t policy your racism away,” said Cullors. “We no longer have Jim Crow laws, but we still have Jim Crow hate.”


CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE AND PUBLIC HEALTH

Tippett asked Cullors about the fact that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has drawn criticism for using anger and civil disobedience as a strategy for combating racism and injustice. Cullors replied that, if looked at from another angle, the acts of resistance are acts of love. “When we show up on the freeway, when we chain ourselves to each other, that’s an act of love,” she said. “It’s an act of love that we will put our bodies on the line for our community and for this country. In changing black lives we change all lives.”

Ross noted that research is beginning to indicate that outrage and activism are actually good for our health, especially for those who have been “traumatized, stigmatized, and oppressed” he said. “The science on trauma and what it does to us is a lot better developed than the resiliency side. But there is something about civic activism and engagement that appears to be powerfully immunizing against poor health.”

Both Ross and Cullors pointed to the importance of social media as a tool to reframe public narratives. “Social media allowed for a new generation to speak from their own perspective,” said Cullors. “It’s allowed for a new conversation, a new reach. As we know so much of media is corporatized. You’re not going to get the authentic messaging from folks who are on the ground who are having these conversations.”

Framing is crucial to #BlackLivesMatter, and the civil rights work of today, Ross pointed out. “How issues are framed dictates how public policy conversations are laid out,” said Ross. “’Three strikes and you’re out’ went from a bumper sticker and a slogan to national and state policy in a minute. And bingo–440% increase in America’s prison population.”

Cullors agreed, adding that it is important to treat racism and every other form of discrimination as a sickness. “We are social creatures. Human to human, if you take a moment to be with somebody to understand the pains they’re going through, you get to transform yourself. #BlackLivesMatter is a re-humanizing project,” she said.

Ross added that the power of personal stories is essential in reversing racial bias in the justice system. “What we try to execute is this combination of storytelling and science to move the policy agenda,” Ross said. “We are going to reform the criminal justice system, and we are going to do that with young peoples’ stories.”

Posted in Public Health | 19 Comments »

RETRIAL: Two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies to be Retried for Assault on Inmate

February 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Two days after an unusually mixed verdict was handed down on Tuesday
afternoon, following the two-week federal trial of two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, on Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins announced they would retry Aguiar and Ramirez on Count Two of the four original charges.

If you’ll remember, the deputies were acquitted of Count One which was the conspiracy charge.

But Ramirez was convicted on Count Three and Aguiar on Count Four, both pertaining to charges of falsifying reports to portray Bret Phillips, the inmate the deputies allegedly assaulted, as the aggressor.

On Count Two, which charged the deputies with assaulting Mr. Phillips, the jury was “hopelessly deadlocked,” with 10 jurors voting to convict, two voting to acquit.

Aguiar and Ramirez are to be retried on Count Two.

Posted in LASD | 4 Comments »

Probation Oversight, the SFPD Review, Homelessness in LA, and a Bill to Help Homeless Kids

February 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

SUPERVISORS VOTE YES ON EXPLORING OVERSIGHT COMMISSION FOR LA COUNTY PROBATION DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas to form a working group to look into establishing a civilian oversight commission for LA County Probation Department similar to that of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The working group will report back to the board in 90 days with a plan for moving forward.

“This motion is an essential next step in ensuring that the County’s Probation Department is willing and able to provide services needed to support the new and innovative criminal justice policies being adopted at the County and state levels,” said Supervisor Kuehl, the motion’s primary author.

The Supes’ decision follows the release of a fiscal audit two weeks ago that found problematic spending (and non-spending) in the probation department. The largest red flag was an unspent $161 million that should have gone to much-needed rehabilitation and re-entry efforts for adults and kids.

Probation has also gone through a pile of probation chiefs in the last ten years.

The county’s most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers, was persuaded to resign after allegations surfaced that he was involved romantically with another probation employee, whom he hired, and who was inappropriately placed in charge of the department’s $820 million budget without any prior related experience.

Cal Remington, who took over as interim chief upon Jerry Powers’ exit, expressed his support of creating oversight. “The Probation Department is making a commitment to this Board and the public that we will become more transparent, and this is one way to do that. I’m looking forward to this period of study.”

Supe. Ridley-Thomas pointed out that the mission of probation—rehabilitation—has, in some ways, been forgotten. “The fundamental mission [of probation] is to engage in rehabilitation of the youngsters and, for that matter, the adults who are under the supervision of probation,” said Ridley-Thomas. “It is almost as if the language of rehabilitation is an afterthought, in many respects. And I would like to see us return to that fundamental mandate and mission.”

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California, said the timing is right for a “bold” effort to reform probation in LA County as the state and the rest of the nation shift into a focus on rehabilitative reforms. “There’s a climate shift—a national climate shift, and a statewide climate shift—for the criminal justice and juvenile justice reform era,” said Johnson. Government agencies, advocates, community-based organizations, and the public at large already demonstrated care and commitment to coming together for reform.”


DOJ’S REVIEW OF SAN FRANCISCO POLICE WILL NOT FORCE REFORMS, ONLY SUGGEST THEM

Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice announced it would launch a review of the San Francisco Police Department following the controversial shooting of Mario Woods.

Normally, when the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.

But this time, the DOJ will be conducting the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that was used for the first time in 2011. This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.

Frontline’s Sarah Childress has more on the collaborative review process, including where it has worked, and where it has failed. Here’s a clip:

The reform process doesn’t preclude federal officials from opening a pattern-or-practice investigation later on, if they deem it necessary, as they did in Baltimore last year.

In October 2014, the Justice Department began a review of the Baltimore police department amid residents’ complaints of police misconduct. But then in April 2015, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, died in police custody, federal officials decided to open a pattern-or-practice investigation.

In explaining the decision at the time, Lynch told reporters that the collaborative review process needed support from the police and city officials, but also local residents. Community trust in the police had been “severed” in Baltimore, she said, and the issues facing the police department were “much more serious, and they were much more intense” than when the review process began.

Lynch said that federal officials would seek a court-enforceable agreement in Baltimore. The investigation there is still ongoing.

The Justice Department has had the ability to investigate departments since 1994, but the collaborative reform initiative only started in 2011. Just one department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan police, has completed the process so far, and data there suggests some progress.


LA CITY AND LA COUNTY: WHERE THE RESPONSIBILITY FOR TACKLING HOMELESSNESS LIES

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says LA County, rather than city, holds the largest share of culpability for—and obligation to reverse—LA’s homelessness crisis. Although in the past the supervisors have avoided the responsibility, the county’s current homelessness plan, which the board is expected to consider next week, looks promising. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County government handles jails, foster care, emergency rooms and, in large portions of the county, law enforcement. But the county — with its 100,000 employees, its $26.9-billion budget and its five-member Board of Supervisors — is almost unknown compared with the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council. The city gets the headlines for its emergency declarations and its promises of funding. The county is mistakenly seen as an obscure bystander.

Yes, the city of Los Angeles has an important role in meeting the homelessness challenge. City laws and police practices determine whether people living on streets and sidewalks will be arrested and whether their belongings will be confiscated. City leaders have to figure out how to meet the need for housing units, how to pay for them and how to overcome community resistance to new buildings and new neighbors who have histories of homelessness and, perhaps, mental illness or addiction.

The same is true for Long Beach, the next most populous city in Los Angeles County. And for Glendale, the next biggest after that. And for the next, and the next – Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona and in fact each of the county’s other municipalities. Their local policing and land use ordinances have a direct bearing on the fate of people who live on the streets of each of those cities. Any solution to L.A.’s homelessness necessarily includes all 88 city halls.

But county government has by far the largest responsibility for homelessness and for solutions meant to address it. The county is on the supply side, because county institutions feed the streets and stoke the misery when they discharge people who have nowhere to go: Young adults who age out of foster care with no home and no income. Medical patients who are discharged from county hospitals. Inmates leaving jail. Patients leaving mental health clinics. And the county bears at least partial responsibility for people such as domestic violence victims who leave shelters but can’t go back home, and young sex trafficking victims who flee from their abusers.

Because it operates the jails, foster care and all those other institutions, it is the county as well that holds the key to ending much of the misery. County government is the chief provider of social services and has the obvious responsibility for people who are discharged to the streets. The county has the same responsibility that cities do to site and build affordable housing; but it also has the ability to craft solutions that require no new housing and little new money for people like the inmate returning from jail, wanting to get his kids back.

The county may lack the tools to deal with more systemic problems like poverty and inequity, both of which push people to the streets. But apart from the federal government, the county has the chief role in dealing with the fallout.

There are many ways the county can abdicate that responsibility, and it has tried most of them…


CA BILL TO HELP HOMELESS AND EXPLOITED KIDS

On Wednesday, Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) announced a bill that would ramp up emergency services, including temporary housing, for California’s homeless and trafficked kids.

The money will go specifically to the Homeless Youth and Exploitation Program and the California Youth Crisis Line.

According to California Homeless Youth Project estimates, in 2014, over 298,000 kids in grades K-12 experienced homelessness at some point during the year.

Together the two programs only receive $1.3 million in state funding, which allows the programs to serve around 5,000 kids per year. Kim’s bill would increase that number by $25 million.

“The number of homeless youth in California is staggering. In my district alone, there are nearly 8,600 homeless public school children,” said Kim. “Current services for homeless youth aren’t getting the job done in providing them with the basic necessities like food, shelter, job training, and basic life skills. By providing them with our love and support while young, we can put our homeless youth on the road to successful careers and bright futures.”

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