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Bill Roundup—Round 2

September 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, WLA posted a list of noteworthy bills signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. As the governor decides the fate of dozens of bills each day this week before his September 31 signing (and vetoing) deadline, WLA has gathered a second roundup of relevant justice-related bills we’ve been following this year.


ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM BILL SIGNED

On Thursday, Governor Brown signed an important bill to rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property that may be tied to a crime (usually a drug crime), without due process.

Law enforcement agencies in California and other states circumvent their own states’ forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which creates a loophole allowing police, by bringing feds into an investigation, to use seized money as revenue, with only the suspicion that laws have been broken. Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool and using it as a cash cow, taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

SB 443, introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), blocks law enforcement from bypassing California’s civil asset forfeiture laws. To take advantage of the controversial Equitable Sharing Program without a conviction, the seized cash must be over $40,000.

“Solutions like SB 443 give communities plagued by injustice some relief,” said Zachary Norris, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Low income people simply do not have the means to hire an attorney to get their lawfully earned cash returned to them. When their money gets taken by law enforcement, it’s a family crisis affecting rent, food, everything.”

Last year, a version of the asset forfeiture reform bill could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.

“SB 443 will not only rein in the abuse in California, but also offers a blueprint for workable solutions to other states seeking reforms. We applaud Governor Brown for signing it,” said Mica Doctoroff, a legislative advocate at the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy.


NO MORE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON RAPE

SB 813, a controversial bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for rape and other sex crimes, also made it past Brown’s desk.

The bill, introduced by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), was propelled by the more than 30 rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, many of which have passed beyond the current 10-year statute of limitations. The new law will not, however, apply retroactively.


ENSURING VOTING RIGHTS FOR AB 109ERS

Brown also signed a bill that will clarify and affirm the voting rights of individuals who are locked-up for non-serious felonies serving time in county jails because of California’s prison realignment (AB 109). The bill, AB 2466 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), also applies to eligible AB 109ers under county supervision.


ANOTHER WINNER FROM ASSM. WEBER: CALGANG DATABASE OVERHAUL

Thanks to the governor’s signature on AB 2298, people will be notified of their impending inclusion on California’s gang database, CalGang, and will have the opportunity to challenge the designation.

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

A recent audit from State Auditor Elain M. Howle found serious errors in the database, which the audit shows lacks necessary state oversight and does not adequately protect the rights of the more than 150,000 people listed in the database.


SIGNED: RESTORATIVE JUSTICE ACT

The Restorative Justice Act, also by Assm. Weber, aims to increase rehabilitation and education programs and make them available for all inmates, not just non-violent offenders.

The bill changes language in a section of the penal code, removing references to punishment as the purpose of incarceration. Now, according to the changes, public safety—which is carried out through rehabilitation, restorative justice practices, and accountability—is the purpose of incarceration.


PROP. 47 DEADLINE EXTENDED

Brown signed another bill introduced by Assm. Weber, AB 2765, , which will extend the deadline for Proposition 47-eligible Californians to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. The will give Prop. 47ers seeking to reduce their felony convictions—upon a showing of good cause—an extra five years to apply beyond the current November 2017 deadline.


BILLS TO PROTECT VULNERABLE FOSTER CHILDREN FROM DOCTORS WHO PRESCRIBE PSYCHOTROPIC MEDICATIONS AT ALARMING RATES

The newly signed SB 1174 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will trigger regular reports on physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. (For backstory, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids,” which inspired SB 1174 and a number of other reform bills and policy changes.)

Governor Brown vetoed another bill that would have increased the requirements for juvenile court authorization of psychotropic meds for child welfare system or probation-involved kids. SB 253 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) would have required, among other safeguards, second medical opinions for prescriptions to foster kids under five, or in cases of multiple prescriptions. Brown called the bill “premature” in a veto message, and said he wants to wait to see the impact of new juvenile court medication authorization rules from a bill signed last year.


VETOED: BILL TO BAN CONTRACTING WITH FOR-PROFIT PRISONS

Governor Brown vetoed SB 1289, a bill introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), which would have banned cities and counties from contracting with (scandal-plagued) for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are currently contracting with private detention centers.

“I have been troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration detention facilities,” Brown wrote in a veto message. “The Department of Homeland Security, however, is now considering whether private contracting should continue for immigrant detention, and if so under what conditions…These actions indicate that a more permanent solution to this issue may be at hand.”


RECORDING INTERROGATIONS

Under current law, officers must record interrogations of minors suspected of committing murder. SB 1389, a bill from Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), will expand the rule to include adults accused of murder.

The recording of police interrogations is an important safeguard against false confessions, which land innocent people behind bars, sometimes for decades.


UNCORRUPTED AUTOPSIES

SB 1189, signed by Brown on Wednesday, aims to reduce the political pressure leveraged against forensic pathologists, and would require all autopsies to be carried out by a licensed physician and surgeon. Introduced by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill will also force law enforcement agencies to hand over all information about a death to those conducting an autopsy prior to the close of an investigation. This KQED story by Julie Small gives some alarming context as to why this bill is such an important reform.


“YES” TO COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

SB 955, a bill from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), will give state hospitals the power to grant compassionate releases for terminally ill or incapacitated patients who are charged with a crime but found unfit to stand trial.

Posted in children and adolescents, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Gangs, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Uncategorized | No Comments »

LA Jail Visitor Beating: Jury Acquits Sixth Deputy on Two Charges, Deadlocks on Third Count

September 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, a jury acquitted Byron Dredd, an LA County sheriff’s deputy indicted for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to cover up of a brutal beating of a handcuffed visitor to Men’s Central Jail, Gabriel Carrillo, by falsifying official reports, thus causing Carrillo to be criminally charged as the aggressor. The charges could have resulted in a fourteen year prison sentence for Carrillo. (Backstory: here.)

Dredd was acquitted on two counts—one of writing a false report, and one of conspiracy to violate Carrillo’s civil rights. Jurors deadlocked on a third count of lying to the FBI.

In December 2013, five LA County Sheriff’s department members were indicted for the Carrillo beating and cover-up. Three of the men involved were convicted, and two struck plea deals (these two deputies later testified against Dredd). Dredd is the sixth LASD member to be tried. Dredd testified in his own defense, saying that his written report was manipulated by his boss.

U.S. District Judge George King set a Monday deadline for prosecutors to decide whether they will retry Dredd on the third count.

Dredd is on paid leave from the department and reportedly employed at FedEx, and according to one of Dredd’s family members, likely does not wish to return to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

LA Times’ Joel Rubin has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

The verdict marks a rare loss for the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles, which has won a string of abuse and obstruction cases against deputies and higher-ranking sheriff’s officials following an FBI investigation into county jails.

[SNIP]

Carrillo and his girlfriend were handcuffed and taken into custody after deputies said they found them carrying cellphones, which is against state law. After Carrillo reportedly mouthed off repeatedly to the deputies in a secluded room, he was punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed in the face.

After the beating, which left Carrillo bloody and bruised, the deputies and their supervisor claimed in reports that when one of Carrillo’s hands was uncuffed for fingerprinting, he attacked deputies and tried to escape.

Based on those reports, Carrillo was brought up on criminal charges. After Carrillo’s attorney brought to light photographs showing injuries to both of Carrillo’s wrists, corroborating his assertion that he was handcuffed during the beating, prosecutors from the county district attorney’s office dropped the charges.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

Baca Wants Lead Prosecutor, Federal Judge AND City of LA Disqualified

September 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



In a string of motions filed early this week, Nathan Hochman,
the attorney for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, claimed that lead government prosecutor Brandon Fox plus U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson should both be recused from Baca’s upcoming trial that is scheduled to begin on December 6 of this year.

In addition Hochman has argued that Baca’s trial must be moved to another part of the state of California. Due to the “constant, inflammatory, and far-reaching media coverage surrounding this matter,” Baca’s legal team writes, “a trial within the Central District of California, particularly within Los Angeles County, will violate Mr. Baca’s due process rights.”

The defense went on to say that, if legal proceedings remain in Los Angeles, the former sheriff could not get a fair trial, due to “a tsunami of highly prejudicial media coverage of the case.” Thus, attorney Hochman would like proceedings to be transferred to, say, Sacramento, or Fresno, or San Diego. 
 And failing that, to Riverside or Orange counties



DUMPING THE JUDGE

The former sheriff’s attorneys—present and past-–hinted when Baca’s plea deal was falling apart that they might make a push to remove Judge Percy Anderson from the case if Baca ended up going to trial. Now that Baca’s trial date is set, he and his attorney, Nathan Hochman, are making a forceful pitch for Anderson’s removal.

Hochman’s argument for recusing Anderson centers around statements that the judge made when he rejected Baca’s plea deal, which the defense argues makes clear ”that the Court predetermined that Mr. Baca is guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice,” even though, at the time, the former sheriff had yet to be indicted on those charges.

Mr. Baca, if you’ll remember, pleaded guilty in February to one count of lying to federal officials. In return for his plea, he was to receive a sentence of between 0 and 6 months in prison.

Judge Anderson rejected the plea because of the low sentencing range, saying it trivialized the harm that Baca had done to the department and to the community at large.

Anderson arguably had reason, at the time, to knowledgably make such statements since he was the judge who presided over the trial of the six former department members who were previously convicted of obstruction of justice for allegedly getting in the way of the FBI’s investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, plus the two different trials of former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was convicted of the same charges. Perhaps, most significantly, Anderson presided over the trial of Paul Tanaka, where the part that Lee Baca did or did not play in allegedly trying to derail a federal investigation repeatedly came up in testimony.

Now the defense points to statements such as this one below, which Anderson made at one of this summer’s sentencing hearings, as the reason why he should not preside over the trial of the man who ran the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, when those previously convicted of obstruction engaged in the actions, and followed the orders, that led to their convictions.

Anderson: It’s one thing to lie to an AUSA; it’s another thing entirely, as the evidence has shown, where the chief law enforcement officer of the County of Los Angeles is involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up abuse and corruption occurring in the Men’s Central Jail.

Hochman and company contend that there is no reasonable way Anderson can remain. “Even if the Court were to offer that it could put these predeterminations aside, the standard for recusal is whether the Court’s appearance of impartiality may be reasonably questioned, not whether the Court is actually biased against Mr. Baca. “

The defense also considered it problematic that Anderson was a member of the Christopher Commission, the independent commission that investigated misconduct in the Los Angeles Police Department leading up to the Rodney King beating.

“Some general determinations of the Christopher Commission include,” wrote Hochman, “[t]he failure to control [certain] officers is a management issue that is at the heart of the problem…”


THE LEAD PROSECUTOR AS WITNESS

The lengthiest motion—56-pages—was reserved for Baca and company’s legal pitch to have the government’s lead prosecutor, Brandon Fox, removed from the prosecution’s team because the defense says it plans to call Fox as an important witness.

Attorney Hochman’s argument about what he describes as Fox’s importance on the witness stand centers around the interview with Baca by the feds that took place on April 12, 2013, during which the former sheriff allegedly lied to two federal prosecutors, one of them Fox, along two FBI agents, about his knowledge and participation in departmental actions in the late summer of 2011 that would ultimate form the basis for all the obstruction of justice cases against members of the sheriff’s department.

In addition to being charged with obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, Baca is charged with four counts of lying to federal officials, based on what he said in that interview in the spring of 2013.

Hochman contends that, as the main questioner of Baca, Fox can testify uniquely about the former sheriff’s physical and mental state as he answered questions during the four and a half hour interview, “since part of Mr. Baca’s defense….will rely on the impairment of his memory as a result of his Alzheimer’s disease, to remember in April 2013 what occurred twenty months before in August and September 2011.”

Hochman also wants to ask Fox why he decided to only audiotape the interview rather than video-taping it, when video “would be able to show whether Mr. Baca showed signs of tiredness, confusion, or lucidity…” and more.

Another question the defense feels it is crucial to ask Fox is “why he failed at the beginning of the interview, in contrast to other interviews he conducted in the investigation, to admonish Mr. Baca that although he was not under oath, he could be prosecuted for any false statement made to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “

(One might wonder why a four-time elected sheriff who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half should need to be warned that lying to federal officials was against the law, whether under oath or not, but that’s a matter that will no doubt be taken up at the December trial.)

Since Fox was the lead prosecutor on all the obstruction of justice cases against former members of the sheriff’s department, along with several of the cases involving alleged brutality by former sheriff’s deputies, one presumes the prosecution team would be very loathe to lose him.

“All Mr. Baca wants is a fair trial that has a fair judge, a fair prosecutor and a fair jury,” Hochman told Matt Reynolds of the Courthouse News Service on Tuesday. “If he receives that fair trial he believes that he will prevail.”

Two of these matters will be taken up in a hearing in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson on October 31, Halloween.

The recusal of Anderson has been referred to another federal judge, Michael W. Fitzgerald



MEANWHILE, ON WEDNESDAY JUDGE ANDERSON RULES THAT PAUL TANAKA MUST REPORT TO PRISON WHILE HE WAITS FOR HIS APPEAL

At a Wednesday hearing, Judge Percy Anderson ruled that Paul Tanaka cannot remain out of prison while he waits to for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule his appeal.

However, the next step is for Tanaka and his lawyers to appeal Anderson’s decision to the 9th, which will keep Tanaka from having to report to a federal lock-up.

Joel Rubin at the Los Angeles Times has more on the ruling, and the appeal to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

It’s Bill-Signing Season in Sacramento

September 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over the last few days (and certainly for the next several days) California Governor Jerry Brown has been a bill-signing powerhouse. While our list is by no means exhaustive, we’ve gathered many of the most consequential bills either signed or vetoed that relate to juvenile and criminal justice, foster care, and sex trafficking.

NEW JUVENILE & CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAWS (AND ONE THAT DIDN’T MAKE THE CUT)

On Wednesday, Governor Brown signed an important bill that will drastically limit the use of solitary confinement in juvenile facilities.

SB 1143 will block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids. “Room confinement,” which will now be limited to four hours at a time, will only become an option after other, less restrictive options have been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), received support from both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.

“This bill has been years in the making, and is a huge victory for all of the young people locked up in California and their families,” said Jennifer Kim, Director of Programs at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.

Governor Brown vetoed a bill that would have required jails to provide in-person visits for inmates and their families. Brown said the bill, SB 1157 by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), didn’t allow for enough flexibility for corrections facilities.

“Without this, it means we will have incarcerated people in our jails who are not able to bond with children or family members for years,” said Senator Mitchell. According to Mitchell, as many as 11 counties have either already eliminated in-person visits, or are in the process of getting rid of visits, replacing them with often expensive video calls.

In his veto message, Brown said that he was concerned about the increased use of video visitation in place of in-person visits. “This practice could have an adverse impact on achieving rehabilitative goals and might affect in a negative way the families and loved ones of those incarcerated,” Brown said. The governor said he will direct the Board of State and Community Corrections to look for solutions to the problem.

Another bill that received the governor’s stamp of approval, AB 1843, will block employers from asking job candidates about any juvenile arrests or detention or participation in a diversion program that did not result in a conviction.


LAWS TO IMPROVE THE WELLBEING OF FOSTER KIDS

Another newly signed bill, SB 1060, aims to reduce the number of siblings separated during adoptions. Far too often, siblings are split up in foster care and during adoptions and lose contact with each other, despite research showing that placing siblings together during their time in foster care improved academic and adoption outcomes. The bill authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) will require pre-adoption meetings between children being adopted, the prospective parents, the sibling(s) and facilitators to try to increase the number of voluntary visitation agreements to keep separated siblings connected after adoption.

AB 1299, also signed by Brown this week, will ensure foster kids transferred outside of their home counties receive continued mental health services in their new counties. Under current law, the responsibility (and funding) to provide mental health treatment remains with their home county, leaving kids to face months-long interruptions in treatment.


COMBATTING HUMAN TRAFFICKING

The newly signed SB 1322 by Sen. Mitchell–the “No Such Thing as a Child Prostitute” bill—aims to shield trafficked children from prosecution and criminalization.

“The law is supposed to protect vulnerable children from adult abuse, yet we brand kids enmeshed in sex-for-pay with a scarlet ‘P’ and leave them subject to shame and prosecution,” Mitchell said.

Last year in LA County, Sheriff Jim McDonnell instructed department members to treat the “child victims and survivors of rape,” as the victims they are, not as lawbreakers and “prostitutes,” and that the department would be going after traffickers and johns who victimize kids.

SB 1129 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) will get rid of some mandatory minimum sentences for prostitution-related crimes, giving judges discretion in sentencing people taking part in or soliciting prostitution. Existing law requires mandatory minimum sentences of 45 or 90 days in jail for repeat offenders.

Brown also signed SB 420, a bill that will create a legal distinction between adult buyers and sellers of commercial sexual acts, as well as solicitors of sex from minors. The bill will improve data collection on sex trafficking with the intent of helping legislators and policymakers make data-informed decisions, and aiding law enforcement in better directing their resources.

“By US State Department estimates, sex trafficking is a $32 billion industry in this country and 50 percent of trafficking victims are minors,” said the bill’s author, Sen. Bob Huff (R-San Dimas). “Yet according to the 2007 Final Report of the California Alliance to Combat Trafficking and Slavery Task Force, California lacks comprehensive statistics on human trafficking. SB 420 will help collect the statistics that law enforcement needs.”

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago’s AB 1276, will make it possible for kids under 15 to testify against exploiters in a separate location via closed circuit tv, away from the defendant(s), jury, attorneys, or judge.

Posted in criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Federal $$$ to Improve Local Justice Systems

September 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Over the past week, a number of noteworthy federal funding awards have been announced. Several of them, including a grant to fund veterans courts, have been awarded to jurisdictions in California. We’ve compiled a short list of some of the noteworthy grants.


FUNDING VETERANS COURTS

Riverside County Probation Department and the California Superior Court in Solano County are among 13 state and local jurisdictions chosen to receive a combined $4 million to help develop and run treatment courts for veterans. (Riverside will receive $300,000 and the CA Superior Court in Solano will receive $296,875.)

Veterans courts aim to help, rather than punish, vets who are often suffering from PTSD, mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans courts are similar to alternative drug courts and offer low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.

The use of veteran-specific court programs is on the rise in California and in other states, but many veterans in smaller counties don’t yet have access to alternative court programs.

A bill that died in committee this year would have required the Judicial Council of California to analyze veterans courts run in 25 of the state’s 58 counties, as well as the need for the specialized courts in the other 33 counties.


BODY-WORN CAMERAS

On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced $20 million in grants to 106 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to expand use of officer-worn cameras nationwide. In California, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties were chosen to receive funding under the Fiscal Year 2016 Body-Worn Camera Policy and Implementation Program from the Office of Justice Programs.

Attorney General Lynch says the funds will assist dozens of agencies in improving transparency and accountability and public trust in local law enforcement.

“As we strive to support local leaders and law enforcement officials in their work to protect their communities, we are mindful that effective public safety requires more than arrests and prosecutions,” said AG Lynch. “It also requires winning—and keeping—the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve.”

Contra Costa County was also selected to receive $400,000 in federal aid to participate in the Smart Defense program to ensure that indigent defendants have a public defender or court-appointed lawyer with enough time, skills, and resources to provide a proper defense. The money will go to hiring defense attorneys and providing specialized training and technical assistance to attorneys representing poor defendants.


RE-ENTRY

The county was selected for a third federal grant that will help develop strategies for improving re-entry success for inmates leaving lock-ups in Contra Costa. Just under $6 million will be split between six jurisdictions, including Contra Costa.


IMPROVING PUBLIC SAFETY FOR NATIVE AMERICAN COMMUNITIES

The Department of Justice also announced a pile of $107 million to be divided between 248 grants to more than 131 Native American tribes, Alaska Native villages, and other tribal groups to boost public safety and help victims of domestic violence.

Native Americans experience disproportionate rates of victimization and violence and have minimal access to the services available to their non-native peers.

Children growing up in tribal communities experience violence at a rate higher than any other race, according to a 2014 Justice Department report. More than $3 million of the pot will go to toward studying sex trafficking on tribal land and to supporting the the American Indian/Alaska Native Defending Childhood Policy Initiative, which works to reduce kids’ exposure to violence, and to treat the long-term negative effects of violence on children, including physical and psychological harm, as well as an increased risk of future contact with the justice system.

“These vital grants support everything from hiring law enforcement officers to empowering native youth, giving tribes the resources they need to meet the particular challenges facing their communities,” said AG Lynch. “We are also proud to continue support for those tribes exercising greater authority over crimes of domestic violence under the VAWA 2013 tribal provisions, the direct result of a proposal by this Justice Department and written into law by Congress that is today making communities safer and stronger.”

Posted in Reentry, Veterans | No Comments »

FBI Releases 2015 Crime Numbers

September 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

IN 2015, VIOLENT CRIMES, ESPECIALLY MURDERS, WENT UP BUT WE’RE STILL EXPERIENCING A HISTORICALLY LOW LEVEL OF CRIME

According to the FBI’s annual crime report, which was released Monday, the murder rate jumped 10.8% in 2015 (15,696 murders and non-negligent manslaughters) compared with 2014 (14,164).

Violent crime rates are still close to historic lows. The 2015 homicide rate is still about 40% lower than it was in 1991 when Los Angeles killings were at their highest. The FBI report numbers reveal that the United States is experiencing the lowest property, burglary, and larceny crime rates since the 60s.

On Monday, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch pointed out that 2015 was still the year with the third-lowest violent crime rate in 20 years. AG Lynch said the new data shows that the nation is moving in the right direction. “It shows that in many communities, crime has remained stable or even decreased from the historic lows reported in 2014,” AG Lynch said.

Normally more homicides means more minor crimes, too, but, interestingly, nonviolent crimes dropped during 2015. Crime experts are unsure what’s behind the anomaly.)

“An increase in the crime rate in some of our cities amounts to very small numbers,” says William Lansdowne, who has previously served as Police Chief of San Diego, San Jose, and Richmond, California. “It is not that we are saying the increase is not important, but instead that it takes small numbers to move the rate ten or twelve percent because the crime rate is so low. We are doing very well.”

A majority of the 10.8% increase (1,532) in homicides can be attributed to a cluster of cities, including Chicago, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Houston, according to an analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice.

And actually, in Chicago, it’s just a small number of neighborhoods—the poorest communities—that are suffering from a spike in killings. Most of the city’s neighborhoods are still enjoying record low homicide rates. “Homicides are extremely concentrated in a few of these city’s most impoverished and segregated neighborhoods,” says Ronald Sullivan Jr., a law professor and Director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School.

Crime trends viewed over a decade or more provide a much clearer and broader picture, criminal justice experts agree.

In Baltimore and Washington DC, murder rates are already coming back down this year. “We can’t read too much into year-to-year fluctuations,” say Sullivan. “Two of the cities with homicide increases in 2015 are the District of Columbia and Baltimore. Yet, already in 2016 we are seeing near double-digit decreases in both cities.”

During the first presidential debate on Monday night, candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump did briefly discuss the crime rates and other criminal justice issues.

Citing recent shootings of unarmed black men in Oklahoma and North Carolina, Clinton said she would work to improve police-community relations (through better training, policies, and more). Clinton says she will also push for “common sense” gun reforms to combat “the leading case of death of young African American men—more than the next nine causes put together.” More than 70% of 2015′s murders were committed with a firearm, according to the FBI stats.

Donald Trump brought up the homicide problem in Chicago where “you walk down the street, you get shot.” Trump said a return to “law and order” will reduce crime. “Is this a war-torn country? What are we doing?” he asked.

Trump proceeded to make a case for bringing back controversial stop-and-frisk practices in cities like Chicago. Back in 2013, a federal judge ruled that the NYPD’s use of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional because it involved unfairly targeting blacks and Latinos for searches.

The FBI report’s release, just two months before an extremely consequential election, has caused a number of experts to caution against politicizing these numbers.

Mandatory minimum sentences and other tough-on-crime laws and policies haven’t worked, says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Krinsky (who was also the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence here in Los Angeles). “If we could arrest and jail our way out of the gun violence problem, the neighborhoods in Chicago and elsewhere where there had been an uptick in crime would probably be the safest in America. But that’s not what the facts tell us.”

Posted in FBI | 3 Comments »

Controversial New Probation Policy Makes It Easier for Staff to Get Promoted After Being Disciplined for “Inappropriate Conduct”

September 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles County Probation has recently instituted a policy
making it easier for staff who have prior discipline problems to receive promotions, but not everyone is pleased by this development.

The policy, which is the result of a deal struck between county officials and probation’s labor unions, has been greeted with alarm by critics who point to a still troubled department with a history of mistreating the children in its care, and a penchant for tolerating extravagant, and sometimes criminal misconduct by a portion of its sworn employees.

The agency’s previous chief, Jerry Powers (who departed under a cloud last year), came to the job in late 2011 with a mandate to institute broad reforms. Yet many probation employees, along with union leadership, complained that Powers instead often caused deserving staff to be blocked from advancement for trivial infractions, whereas higher-ups who broke rules experienced no such consequences.

Those who favor the new policy maintain that the revised guidelines for promotions simply give a second chance to otherwise worthy people who’ve made minor mistakes.

Yet critics of the policy fear that county officials wrongly caved in to pressures by the unions, and that problems will result. To illustrate their concerns, they point to certain sections of the new guidelines, which seem to wink at behavior that should be disqualifying.

For instance, under the revised policy, one is eligible for a promotion after having engaged in certain kinds of “inappropriate conduct,” and long as one has not engaged in said conduct “two or more times,” within 60 months, which would constitute a “pattern.” Examples of the conduct in question are listed as those concerning issues such as:

behavior unbecoming peace officer;
honesty;
integrity;
truthfulness;
moral turpitude
unreasonably or unjustified use of force.

Yet, in certain instances, even if there is two or more instances of ‘moral turpitude” or “unjustified use of force,” or whatever else, according to the guidelines, executive management may still step in and make it possible for the staff member to promote.

(You can find the guidelines here if you want to take a look for yourself.)

On Sunday, the LA Times ran an excellent story by Abby Sewell and Garrett Therolf about the new agreement and the issues swirling around it.

In researching their story, the Times obtained a copy of the list of 57 people who are to be promoted based on the new policy. Here’s some of what Sewell and Therolf discovered about those 57:

They included one worker who was disciplined in 2012 for putting his hands around a juvenile’s neck, in 2013 for injuring another juvenile, and in 2014 for abusive language, dishonesty and failure to perform his duties, according to a source with access to his file.

Another worker had been disciplined in 2011 for misuse of force for striking a juvenile, according to a source with access to his file. A third had been given a 20-day suspension in 2012 for “failure to properly supervise” and “failure to exercise sound judgment.”

That arose from a 2010 incident in which she was on duty in a dormitory at one of the juvenile lockups and one minor was assaulted by another and sustained a serious jaw injury. The department’s investigation found that the officers on duty “allowed the dormitory to remain in a chaotic state with virtually no supervision.”

And then there was this:

One beneficiary of the new policy was an officer who was disciplined for excessive force after slamming a boy’s head into a bed frame. Officials gave him a 15-day suspension, according to a county official with access to his file who requested anonymity because California law prohibits the disclosure of peace officer discipline. After the rule change, he was promoted earlier this year, helping to raise his pay by more than $9,500 above last year’s total compensation of $95,000, county officials said.

According to a conversation the Times had with interim probation chief Cal Remington, an additional 18 probation employees, “some with more serious misconduct,” are currently being considered for promotion.


(PS: Be sure to read the rest of Sewell and Therolf’s story.)

Posted in Probation | 4 Comments »

Newly Signed Criminal Justice Laws, Youth Planting Trees, and New Data on Foster Students

September 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN SIGNS IMPORTANT CRIMINAL JUSTICE BILLS: OPENJUSTCE AND EDUCATION FOR LOCKED-UP KIDS

On Wednesday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will change criminal justice summary reports published annually by the state Attorney General’s Office into incident-based digital data sets that will be published on CA Attorney General Kamala Harris’ OpenJustice website, which the AG says will “bring criminal justice data reporting into the 21st Century.”

AB 2524 introduced by Harris and Assembly Member Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks), also requires the DOJ to work toward implementing a smoother, all-electronic collection of criminal justice data that would be updated on the OpenJustice site at least every quarter, rather than on an annual basis.

“…Only approximately 40% of local law enforcement agencies currently submit required data sets through electronic means, impeding the ability of the state to implement a uniform reporting structure through which information is made available to the public more frequently and more effectively,” the bill reads.

Last September, AG Harris launched the OpenJustice site to bring transparency to the state’s justice system by publishing crime and policing statistics. The website shows city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. Users can view data on interactive maps and graphs, and sort data groups by race, gender, and age.

The Attorney General’s Office also announced a new online tool that all California law enforcement agencies will use to report serious use-of-force incidents between civilians and officers. (Demo the software, URSUS: here.) The AG’s office is making the source code for the software free and available to any law enforcement agencies nationwide that want to use it.

California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow praised Harris’ new tool, saying “I am confident the introduction of URSUS and the collection of this data and information will improve the relationship between law enforcement and the communities that we serve.”

Gov. Brown also signed a bill that aims to help more justice-system involved California kids graduate high school on time.

The bill, AB 2306, would exempt kids locked up in county juvenile detention facilities from having to complete locally required coursework (like health and language courses) beyond what the state requires for graduation. Other high-needs student groups—homeless and foster youth—are already exempt from having to complete additional coursework.

In April, a report by the Youth Law Center found that juvenile court schools, which provide public education to kids in CA’s county probation camps fail to provide locked-up students with a quality education as required by state and federal law.

The report found that some court schools struggled to get incarcerated kids into class and keep them there, leading to alarmingly high truancy and suspension rates during the 2013-2014 school year.

Another serious problem plaguing court schools is that the kids, who must learn from worksheets rather than stimulating class discussions and lectures, often don’t improve their math and reading skills. In fact, some kids’ proficiency levels were even found to have declined under this system.


FUNDING FOR GROUPS THAT HIRE AT-RISK YOUNG PEOPLE FOR PLANTING AND CONSERVATION WORK

Earlier this week, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion to earmark $1 million for a program that employs teens and young adults from underserved communities to plant trees along roads and in parks in and near East Los Angeles.

City News Service has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed allocating the money to the San Gabriel Valley Conservation Corps.

“Our goal is to create healthier neighborhoods, especially for those most vulnerable in our communities. Trees provide cooler areas by up to 10 percent, help conserve energy and reduce the carbon footprint,” Solis said.

The youth-led, community-centered conservation group, which focuses on education and training of at-risk youth and young adults, will offer stipends to 90 participants.

One member said he hoped the planting program would spark interest in invasive species and green spaces, but highlighted a bigger goal.

The board approved a similar motion to use up to $2 million annually for each of the Los Angeles, California, San Gabriel, and Long Beach Conservation Corps for landscaping, water conservation projects, habitat restoration, trail work, and other services that provide job training and education to at-risk young people.


NEW DATA ON CALIFORNIA FOSTER STUDENT EDUCATION SHOWS HOW FAR WE ARE FROM CLOSING THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP FOR FOSTER KIDS

Late last week, the California Department of Education released the first batch of information on the educational outcomes of foster children in public schools in an effort to better serve high-needs students. Not surprisingly, foster students scored well below their peers not involved in the child welfare system on Common Core tests.

Soon, the department will expand public data to include suspensions and expulsions of foster youth from schools, graduation rates, and more.

This new data gathering is part of California’s relatively new education budget system, the Local Control Funding Formula, which is a weighted funding approach that allows districts (rather than the state) to decide how a portion of their funding is spent. The formula aims to level the playing field for high-needs students, including foster kids, who are severely underserved by school districts by allocating more money (and help) for those high needs kids.

Writing for EdSource, the National Center for Youth Law’s Michelle Traiman says the data collection is an important step toward addressing inequalities in the education system, but more must be done to improve educational outcomes for California’s foster youth. Here are some clips:

As an organization deeply committed to helping foster youth receive the education they deserve, we are all too familiar with the reasons foster youth struggle in school. We observe how untreated trauma is addressed not with school-based mental health services, but with suspensions and expulsions.

We meet countless elementary students who have already faced multiple school changes after disruptions in their foster home placements. We hear from high school youth who have endured multiple mid-semester school changes, failed to receive credit for their hard work in previous schools and are woefully behind their classmates — through no fault of their own. We hear, several times over, the degree to which adults hold heartbreakingly low expectations for their futures.

[SNIP]

There must be a new focus and commitment that reaches vertically throughout all levels of the education system, and horizontally across the multiple systems that serve foster youth:

School districts, through their Local Control and Accountability Plans, can embrace their mandate to engage the community in an effort to learn about the needs of their foster youth, then increase and improve services to those students.

County offices of education have a unique role to play in identifying opportunities to coordinate services to foster youth and supporting school districts’ efforts to serve foster youth.

The California Department of Education and California Collaborative for Educational Excellence have an opportunity to provide school districts and County Offices of Education with targeted technical assistance focused on students in foster care.

Child welfare agencies, behavioral health agencies and the courts must all recognize the importance of educational achievement in the lives of foster youth and take a coordinated approach to removing systemic barriers to educational success.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry) | 1 Comment »

Mapping Jail Spending in Los Angeles County

September 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

UCLA RESEARCHERS CREATE INCARCERATION SPENDING MAP OF LA COUNTY

A new project from UCLA researchers, Million Dollar Hoods, is a website and mapping system that shows how much the LA County Sheriff’s Department spends to incarcerate residents in each neighborhood across the county.

“We made this choice because Los Angeles operates the largest jail system in the United States and we wanted to better understand the impact of L.A.’s jails and lockups,” said Kelly Lytle-Hernandez, UCLA professor of history and African-American Studies.

Users can sort map data on the site by race, gender, specific crime, and top cause for arrest.

Bright red hot-spots—South LA, Lancaster, Palmdale and others—reveal that LA County is spending the majority of its jail budget incarcerating people from a handful of concentrated areas.

Lancaster alone accounted for approximately $82,240,000 of the county’s jail budget between 2010-2015 (a total of close to $6 billion). The map also paints quite a racially disparate picture. Of those jailed Lancaster residents, 43% were black, 27% were Latino, and 30% were white. In 2010, the city’s population was 20.5% black, 38% Latino, and 49.6% white.

The Million Dollar Hoods researchers have also partnered with the LA County Commission on Human Relations to hold community meetings for people impacted by policing and incarceration to give personal testimony. The first public hearing was held on September 10, in the 5th Supervisorial District, which includes Lancaster and Palmdale. (You can watch videos from that meeting here.) There will be five more meetings—one in each of the other four districts, as well as a final meeting to allow law enforcement officials to respond to the messages and testimony given by members of the public.


MORE ON INCARCERATION IN LA: JAILS SYSTEM PUT UNDER SPOTLIGHT ON “THIS IS LIFE WITH LISA LING”

This Sunday, at 10:00p.m., CNN will air an episode of “This Is Life with Lisa Ling” exploring the Los Angeles County jail system, which holds America’s largest jail population and even acts as the country’s largest mental health care provider.

The jail system is over capacity by nearly 2,700 inmates. At any time, there are between 17,000 and 20,000 inmates spread between seven jail facilities across the county. The daily population is nearly double that of the next largest jail system—New York City. And more than half of LA County’s inmates have not been convicted—they are sitting in jail awaiting trial.

Watch reporter Lisa Ling’s not-to-be-missed “This is Life” episode Sunday night on CNN to learn more about the complex and sprawling jail system.

Posted in jail | 4 Comments »

Massachusetts Supremes Rule That Black Men May Have a Legitimate Reason to Flee from Cops

September 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



In what is likely to be a controversial ruling, on Tuesday
the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court threw out an illegal gun possession conviction for a Boston man named Jimmy Warren that resulted when Warren was arrested on December 18, 2011, on a night when Boston police were investigating a local home break in, and mistook Warren for one of the robbers, at which point Warren ran from officers. He was charged with illegal gun possession after police found an unregistered firearm on the ground near to where Warren was apprehended.

The court’s reasoning in tossing the gun charge was both interesting, and potentially precedent setting.


A BURGLARY, A BACKPACK AND A RED HOODY

First, it is important to know the circumstances that led up to Warren’s arrest:

The incident began as Boston police officer Luis Anjos was patrolling the Roxbury section of Boston in a police cruiser when, at 9:20 P.M., he received a radio call that nearby residents had reported a breaking and entering in progress, with the suspects fleeing the scene.

Anjos went to the house and spoke to a teenage boy and his foster mother who had reported the break in. The boy had evidently surprised a burglar in his bedroom, and the guy, who wore a red hoodie, went out the window. When the boy looked out the window, he saw two other guys—both black males—wearing dark clothes, one of them wearing a black hoodie.

Once the burglars were gone, the boy noticed that this backpack, his laptop and some baseball caps were also now missing.

The officer reportedly talked with the victims for about fifteen minutes, then drove around in a five block radius of the victims’ house, looking for possible suspects. Finding no one, officer Anjos was headed back to the local police station when he spotted two men walking near a basketball court adjacent to a park, both wearing dark clothing, one wearing a hoodie. Neither had a backpack.

Anjos decided to stop the two men on a “hunch” that they were his suspects, despite the fact that, when he saw the men, there were two of them, not three, no one had a red hoodie, and there was no backpack. Plus nothing in their behavior suggested they were fleeing a crime scene, or had engaged, or were about to engage, in criminal activity.

Anjos rolled down his squad car’s window and hailed the two men.

“Hey guys, wait a minute.”

Both men made eye-contact, then turned and jogged away into the park.

Anjos remained in his police cruiser and radioed dispatch that three men fitting the descriptions by the victim were headed in to the park, although he admitted later he had seen only two.

Two additional officers, named Carr and Santosuosso, headed to the far side of the park and observed two men in dark clothing walking out of the park, headed toward street on the far side of the park called Dale Street.

Carr parked the cruiser on Dale Street and both officers exited the car and approached the two men as they left the park. According to the officers, the men walked with their hands out of their pockets. Officer Carr stated he saw “no bulges in their clothing suggesting the presence of weapons or contraband.”

Carr, said, “Hey fellas…!” at which point the defendant, turned and ran up a hill back into the park, while his companion stood still. Carr ordered the defendant to stop running. But the defendant kept going, running down yet another street and into the back yard of a house.

After the command to stop, accord to Carr, he observed the defendant clutching the right side of his pants, a motion Carr described as consistent with carrying a gun without a holster. Carr drew his firearm, pointed it at the defendant, and yelled several verbal commands for the defendant to show his hands and to “get down, get down, get down.” The defendant moved slowly, and Carr approached him. After a brief struggle, Carr arrested and searched the defendant but found no gun or contraband.

Minutes after the arrest, the officers recovered a .22 caliber firearm inside the front yard fence of the house. When asked if he had a license to carry a firearm, the defendant replied that he did not.


THE RULING

The defendant, Jimmy Warren, challenged the judge’s denial of the motion to suppress the gun, claiming the judge erred in his ruling that, at the time of the stop by the second two cops, the police had a sufficient factual basis for reasonable suspicion that Warren had committed the breaking and entering.

The Mass. Supremes agreed with Warren and his lawyer. The court wrote:

With only this vague description, it was simply not possible for the police reasonably and rationally to target the defendant or any other black male wearing dark clothing as a suspect in the crime. If anything, the victim’s description tended to exclude the defendant as a suspect: he was one of two men, not three; he was not wearing a red “hoodie”; and, neither he nor his companion was carrying a backpack.10 Based solely on this description, Anjos had nothing more than a hunch that the defendant might have been involved in the crime…

As for the fact that Warren ran, the court wrote that, unless “reasonable suspicion for a threshold inquiry already exists, our [state] law guards a person’s freedom to speak or not to speak to a police officer. A person also may choose to walk away, avoiding altogether any contact with police..”

In examining, Warren’s flight, the justices cited the findings in a recent Boston Police Department report documenting a pattern of racial profiling of black males in the city of Boston, who the study found were far more likely to be stopped, frisked, and searched. They also cited a 2015 ACLU of Massachusetts report showing that the city’s blacks were greatly disproportionately stopped by police, and the racial disparities could not be explained by crime or other non-race factors.”

As a consequence, the court concluded, black men in Boston may have a legitimate reason to run from police, thus it is not an indication of guilt:

We do not eliminate flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis whenever a black male is the subject of an investigatory stop. However, in such circumstances, flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind or consciousness of guilt. Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted for FIO [Field Interrogation and Observation] encounters suggests a reason for flight totally unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity. Given this reality for black males in the city of Boston, a judge should, in appropriate cases, consider the report’s findings in weighing flight as a factor in the reasonable suspicion calculus.


SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN BEYOND MASSACHUSETTS?

What meaning the ruling could have outside the state of Massachusetts is not clear.

In the U.S. it is not illegal per se to flee from police, according to the U.S. Supreme Court, but Scotus has made an exception to that rule in high crime neighborhoods. And if police suspect you of a crime, then running may be viewed as a suspicious activity.

That’s why this ruling is so “powerful,” said Matthew Segal, legal director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“..all the time in police-civilian encounters,” Segal told the Grio, “there are disputes about what is suspicious and what is not suspicious. So this is an opinion that looks at those encounters through the eyes of a black man who might justifiably be concerned that he will be the victim of profiling.”

The ruling, of course, comes at a time when tensions around the nation have once again risen due to a new series of fatal shootings of black men by police under troubling circumstances.

It also comes at a time when the efficacy and legality—or lack thereof—of the practice of stop-and-frisk is back in the news.

Posted in Civil Liberties, How Appealing | 5 Comments »

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