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Indefinite Solitary All But Eliminated in California Prisons

October 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

As a result of the settlement of Ashker v. Brown last year, only a handful of California prisoners remain in indefinite solitary confinement, according to data collected by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the non-profit legal advocacy organization who represented inmate plaintiffs in suit.

When California settled Ashker last September, the state agreed to drastically limit the use of isolation in state prisons. CCR brought the lawsuit in 2012 on behalf of a group of ten Pelican Bay State Prison inmates who had each spent at least 10 years in solitary confinement.

The plaintiffs—who called themselves the “Short Corridor Collective”—led the prison hunger strikes of 2011 and 2013, protesting the conditions of isolation. During the first five days of the 2013 strike, a staggering 30,000 prisoners refused food. The LA Review of Books has a great longread that tells the story of the Short Corridor Collective’s unlikely win against the state’s draconian use of long-term solitary confinement.

In Pelican Bay, home of the largest Security Housing Unit (SHU) program in CA, inmates spent 22-and-a-half hours each day in tiny, windowless cells, where they were denied visits and phone calls from family, as well as any programming offered to inmates in the general population.

According to CCR’s data, between 2011 and 2016, the number of men held in Pelican Bay’s SHUs for more than 10 years dropped 99%—from 513 inmates to five inmates this year. The last five prisoners in extended isolation are expected to be released from solitary soon.

Of the 1,557 total inmates whose indeterminate confinement was reviewed by prison officials between October 2015 and October 2016, the state approved 1,532 for transfer out of isolation.

So far, the state has moved 1,512 inmates (97%) into a two-year step-down program, after which, the inmates will be reintroduced into the prisons’ general population.

“We are thrilled to report that new data shows that the settlement succeeded in moving virtually all prisoners out of indefinite and prolonged solitary confinement,” the Center for Constitutional Rights wrote.

And from December 2012 to August 2016, California’s total SHU population dropped 65%, from 9,870 to 3,471.

One of CCR’s clients, Luis Esquivel, wrote about his transition into the general population after nearly two decades in solitary confinement. “It was like learning to walk for the first time,” said Esquivel. Here’s a clip:

I would never be able to give my Mom that hug she wanted back in 2000. The last time I saw her, she said, “Mijo, ask the C/O, if I can give you a hug.” Those were her words. The SHU has a lot of our memories, good and bad. I lost one of my sisters, my older brother, my Mom and Dad in the SHU.

Then, we prisoners, attorneys, outside support, families, friends, all the people—all as one, we beat CDCR and obtained one victory, our release from Pelican Bay SHU, any SHU, the right way. Walking with head held high.

So what were we able to do that we had not been able to in the SHU? Walking the yard, all seemed unreal, it was like learning how to walk for the first time. It felt, because of the size of the yard in the SHU, you get used to just walking a small yard.

Shaking someone’s hand, because for so many years we weren’t able to do that, just like on my first visit with my niece, Maribel, then with my sister. My first hug. I don’t know how to explain it, but it was just hard to feel their hug. I felt their arms around me, but that was it. I couldn’t feel it in my heart.

Posted in prison, solitary | No Comments »

Foster Youth Bring Calls for Reform to Capitol Hill….and Two Different Views on National Crime Trends

October 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


This week, nearly 100 current or former foster kids from advocacy groups across the nation traveled to Washington D.C. to give a voice to child welfare reform issues of particular importance to foster youth.

The young advocates are focusing on areas for reform revealed in a recent survey of over 500 current and former foster kids, including maintaining sibling relationships, stamping out homelessness for foster youth transitioning out of the system and into adulthood, and access to higher education.

The group is meeting with lawmakers during a larger conference for foster youth in D.C.

Youth Today’s Sarah Barr has the story. Here’s a clip:

The survey found that 52 percent of respondents ranked seeing their siblings as a top priority, while 47 percent said the same about preventing homelessness, 46 percent about college access and 44 percent about living independently.

Serena Skinner, a member of the California Youth Connection, said siblings are an important source of comfort and companionship, as well as a motivation to strive for achievements such as graduating high school or college.

“This need to have siblings present goes beyond just having siblings by our side. It can push a youth to better themselves and to want the very best for themselves,” she said at a press conference announcing the survey results.

In a year when the federal legislative conversation about foster youth has been dominated by concerns about funding levels and congregate care, these priorities offer a different way of looking at the day-to-day needs of foster youth, said Matt Rosen, executive director of Foster Youth in Action.

“What we do – that we think is flipping the script — is to raise up the voices and priorities of young people,” he said.

(Head over to Youth Today for more videos and information.)


The US Justice Department’s annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) results showed that in 2015, violent crime (excluding murders) did not change over the previous year. The survey results paint a picture that is slightly different from that of the FBI’s annual crime report, which gathered data from law enforcement agencies nationwide, and revealed a 3.9 rise in overall violent crime over 2014.

The victims survey was first used in the 70s. Since then, the NCVS has served as the leading source of national crime victimization numbers.

The two reports are not necessarily contradictory, however. The victim survey includes crimes that victims do (and do not) report to police, while the FBI gathers info from law enforcement agencies. The victims survey is just another interesting puzzle piece in the larger picture of crime in America.

Ted Gest of The Crime Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Of two major NCVS violent crime categories, the estimated national robbery total has dropped over four consecutive years; aggravated assaults increased in 2014 after a year of decline, and then dropped last year.

The overall property crime rate, including household burglaries, theft and motor vehicle theft), dropped last year from 118.1 victimizations per 1,000 households to 110.7 per 1,000, NCVS reported today. A decline in theft accounted for most of the decrease.

Last year, 47 percent of violent victimizations overall and 55 percent of serious violent victimizations (rape or sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) were reported to police. Property victimizations reported to police declined from 37 to 35 percent, and the percentage of household burglaries and vehicle thefts reported to police also declined last year.

NCVS reported no statistically significant differences last year compared with previous years in the rates of violent or serious violent crime by victims’ race or Hispanic origin, marital status, or household income.

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

Tom Hayden, 60′s Anti-War Activist Turned State Lawmaker, & Champion of Social Justice Causes, Dies at 76

October 24th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Many on all sides of the political spectrum were stunned and saddened Sunday night to learn of the death of Tom Hayden. The texts and emails and Facebook posts that passed Sunday night between friends, or just acquaintances of Tom’s, were filled with shock and sorrow.

Hayden had been struggling with heart problems and a stroke, then reportedly became ill during the Democratic National Convention in July, according to his wife, Barbara Williams. He died on Sunday, October 23. He was 76.

Still, in typical Hayden fashion he managed to record at least one more long and chatty interview with an NPR reporter at the convention, talking about his hopes for the country’s political future, and how he hoped to contribute to that future.

Even those who disagreed with Hayden expressed admiration for his passion, his shimmering intelligence, and his commitment to causes he believed to be important.

It would be difficult to count all the ways he has mattered in the realm of social justice.

Due to his early days of activism, however, he was sometimes a polarizing figure.

Hayden began as an early 60′s radical and freedom rider who became nationally known for his opposition to the Vietnam War, and for his involvement in the civil rights movement.

He was one of the founders of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). In 1962, he was the principal author of the Port Huron Statement, the influential organizing document of the SDS.

In 1968, he helped plan anti-war demonstrations to take place outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. When after weeks of trying without success to get permits to gather legally, Hayden and the other organizers went ahead with the demonstrations anyway. The resulting clashes with Chicago police were violent, deadly—and televised. Hayden and seven others were arrested and slapped with the newly minted federal charges of conspiracy to incite to riot.

The subsequent so-called Trial of the Chicago Seven, veered between theater and farce. (Defendant number eight, Bobby Seale, was tried separately.) Hayden was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, but the conviction was later overturned on appeal, because the highly colorful Judge Julius Hoffman had so opening sided with prosecutors.

By the late 1970′s, the FBI had a 22,000-page FBI on Tom Hayden.

He was famously—and sometimes infamously—married to actress Jane Fonda from 1973 to 1990. It was a second marriage for both Hayden and Fonda. Now that the Vietnam War had ended, anti-establishment Hayden decided to try his hand at conventional politics. Fonda financed the beginning of his political career, which started with an unsuccessful run for the U.S. Senate.

Then, in 1982, Hayden was elected to the California Assembly. Once he got his political feet under him, a newly-middle class Hayden served a total of 18 years in the state capitol—first ten years in the Assembly, then another eight in the state Senate.

After his divorce from Fonda, Hayden married Canadian actress Barbara Williams shortly after being voted into the California State Senate in 1992.

When he was termed out of the senate, Hayden’s political career ran aground. He ran unsuccessfully for California governor, for LA mayor, and finally for Los Angeles City Council, where he lost in a runoff by 369 votes to former prosecutor Jack Weiss.

Following the City Council loss, Hayden left politics, and went back to writing and organizing, championing a list of social justice causes, with the help of a new generation of young activists, including a group of former gang members whom he successfully mentored and championed.

Hayden began as a journalist during his student activist years, and remained a prolific writer, and author throughout his life. He was a member of the editorial board and a columnist for The Nation magazine, and was published with some regularity in the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Harvard International Review, the Huffington Post and more

He also authored and/or edited more than twenty books, including “Inspiring Participatory Democracy: Student Movements from Port Huron to Today,” and his last book, “Hell No: The Forgotten Power of the Vietnam Peace Movement,” which is scheduled to be published in March 2017 by Yale University Press.

“Tom Hayden changed America,” wrote Nicolas Lemann of The Atlantic. During his time in Sacramento, he was described as “the conscience of the Senate” by the Sacramento Bee’s political analyst. The Nation magazine named Hayden one of the 50 greatest progressives of the 20th century.

At WitnessLA we considered Tom a treasured friend. We sometimes disagreed with him, and he with us. But we were far better for having known him. We will miss his wildly intelligent and impassioned voice more than we can express.

If you’d like to hear more from Tom Hayden personally, here’s the NPR interview with Tom at the Democratic convention in July that we mentioned above. It’s weirdly poignant, given the timing. His energy, and his enthusiasm and optimism for affecting political change is still there in full force, despite his failing health.

Then if you’d like to read more about Tom Hayden, the Los Angeles Times obit by Michael Finnegan on Hayden is a good one.

Here’s a clip:

Looking back on the war in his memoir, Hayden voiced a few regrets. Time proved him “overly romantic about the Vietnamese revolution,” he wrote. Hayden also admitted “a numbed sensitivity to any anguish or confusion I was causing to U.S. soldiers or to their families — the very people I was trying to save from death and deception.”

As the war came to an end, Hayden embraced mainstream politics in California with a campaign to unseat U.S. Sen. John Tunney. He lost the June 1976 Democratic primary to Tunney, who was ousted in November by Republican S.I. Hayakawa. Some Democrats blamed the defeat on Hayden.

But the campaign laid ground for Hayden and Fonda to start the Campaign for Economic Democracy, later known as Campaign California. The group fought for such causes as Santa Monica rent control, public spending on solar power and divestment from apartheid South Africa.

Much of the group’s money came from Fonda, whose movie career was booming and whose workout video business would spawn a fortune in the ’80s. It helped elect scores of liberals to local offices statewide and campaigned for Proposition 65, the anti-toxics measure that requires signs in gas stations, bars and grocery stores that warn of cancer-causing chemicals.

Hayden represented Santa Monica, Malibu and part of the Westside in Sacramento. His legislative achievements were modest — research into the effects of the herbicide Agent Orange on U.S. servicemen in Vietnam; repair money for the Santa Monica and Malibu piers; tighter rules to prevent the collapse of construction cranes, to name a few.

Hayden paid a personal price for his work as a radical.

His father, a Republican, refused to speak with him for 13 years. They reconciled before his father’s death, a few days before Hayden won election to the Assembly in 1982.

PHOTO by Jay Godwin courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Posted in Life in general | 1 Comment »

LA County Swears in a New, Reform-Minded Mental Health Director…& an Update on the Selection of a New Probation Chief

October 21st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Last week, the Los Angeles County board of Supervisors formally hired a new Director of LA’s Department of Mental Health, the largest public mental health system in the nation.

The new director’s name is Dr. Jonathan Sherin. And, according to our sources, in Sherin the supes seem to have found a winner.

By training, Dr. Sherin is a psychologist and neurobiologist with a particular expertise in developing programs and providing care for individuals who are, as he explains it, challenged with persistent and severe mental health conditions, “many of whom have criminal records due to disorganized thought processes and behavior.”

Professionally, Sherin worked for a decade for the Department of Veteran Affairs, both in Los Angeles and Miami, where he gained a national reputation in the arena of care for veterans struggling with reintegration challenges, testifying frequently before Congress on the issues of veteran suicide, homelessness, and other mental health-related difficulties with which many vets struggle after they come home.

Most recently, Sherin has continued his work with veterans and mental health as the chief medical officer, and executive vice president for military communities, for the national nonprofit social-services group Volunteers of America.


During his time in Los Angeles, Sherin has been unafraid to wade into some of the county’s most pressing mental health controversies with an eye toward reform. For example, he has been a strong, outspoken proponent of diversion programs for mentally ill criminal offenders who revolve in an out of the LA County’s jail system.

“From a clinical perspective,” he wrote in a letter to the board of supervisors on the topic in 2014, “it is important to recognize that incarceration is in many cases contraindicated.”

Around that same time, Sherin told the Wall Street Journal that jail-based treatment programs aren’t the right solution.

“They’re a reaction that is based in fear,” he said. “Having an individual with mental illness in a constrained environment, in a punitive environment, in a deprived environment, is adding fuel to potential fire.”

Similarly, Sherin has made it clear that he is not a fan of excessive prescribing of psychotropics and other medications for either adults or kids.

He expressed his concerns to LA Magazine reporter Anne Taylor Fleming about the overuse of psychiatric medication for veterans. “Our society—the VA and beyond—is focused on treating mental and physical injuries with pharmaceuticals,” Sherin said. “Opioids can be effective in the short term, but they are not a solution. We have an epidemic of younger folks who are becoming addicted to them.”

Given the revelations that have risen in the last few years about the overuse of psychiatric drugs with California children in the state’s foster care systems, and possibly in juvenile facilities and elsewhere, it is heartening to find that LA’s County’s new head mental health guy appears, when it comes to drug use, to believe firmly in restraint.

Sherin replaces Acting Director Robin Kay, who took over after the exit of longtime former Director of Mental Health, Dr. Marvin Southard, who headed the department for 17 years. Southard announced his retirement in August 2015, shortly after the Supes voted to consolidate the county’s three health agencies.

Dr. Sherin’s undergraduate degree is from Brown University, his medical degree was a combined program at the University of Chicago and Harvard Medical School, where he was a scholar in residence, followed by an internship and residency at UCLA. He continues to teach and provide psychiatric care as a volunteer at the VA in Los Angeles, Calif.

Dr. Sherin will be sworn in on Friday at noon at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.


While we’re on the topic of heads of big LA County agencies, we understand that the board of supervisors has finally chosen a chief for the county’s embattled Department of Probation, but that there are still a few contractual matters being ironed out before they will actually announce their choice. The vote to select the final candidate was reportedly unanimous.

While we await a formal announcement, here is WitnessLA’s previously published look at the five finalists, a varied list of candidates, each with different strengths, whom the board has been interviewing and, in some cases, re-interviewing in the course of making their final selection for the crucial position.

The county has cycled through five probation chiefs in just over 10 years, as the department struggled through various serious scandals and challenges in the past decade. Now more recent revelations (see here, here, here and here for examples) have pointed to the fact that the agency’s problems are still far from solved, making the selection of the chief, plus the process of instituting a system of civilian oversight for the agency, of ever more pressing importance.

Posted in mental health | 7 Comments »

Two Education Reports – School Discipline and Absence

October 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A new report released Wednesday by the the ACLU of California takes a look at school districts’ over-reliance on law enforcement officers to discipline students, which leads to the disproportionate criminalization of poor and minority kids and teens.

During the 2013-2014 school year, in California’s K-12 schools, kids were referred to police 22,746 times, and students were arrested 9,540 times, according to data from the US Department of Education.

According to the report, California’s school districts still overuse police officers to respond to students’ violations of school rules and when kids commit status offenses and other minor infractions—often problems that could be handled by school administrators and counselors.

The prevalence of this problem can partly be attributed to unclear or missing policies regarding law enforcement officers’ role in schools and when teachers should ask cops to intervene. Around 60% of schools give teachers and staff full discretion to call the police on students for violations of school rules, for bullying and harassment, for school disruption, and for vandalism.

“…Many districts have failed to adopt firm policies on interactions between students and law enforcement, which encourages school officials to rely on police, rather than principals, counselors or other administrators, to enforce discipline,” said Sylvia Torres-Guillén, education equity director for the ACLU of California. “In many cases districts have adopted policies requiring staff to call the police to address even minor disruptions or violations of school rules.”

Parents do not have to be notified before their child is interviewed by a cop in 97.5% of the state’s school districts.

Fewer than 1% of school districts stipulate that an adult (other than a police officer) must be present when kids are questioned to ensure that students’ civil rights are protected. Just 1% of districts have a policy dictating that cops and school staff make sure kids know their Miranda rights. And in many districts, there are no barriers to police taking kids off school grounds.

Unless there is an immediate threat to the physical safety of those on campus, the report says that counselors and school staff—not cops—should deal with minor, non-violent infractions like disrupting class, vandalism, substance abuse, bullying, truancy, being late to class, “defiance,” profanity, and public displays of affection. (One kid in San Bernardino was reportedly choked, pepper sprayed, and beaten by a cop for hugging his girlfriend at school.)

The ACLU also calls for district officials to establish clear policies regarding circumstances in which law enforcement can arrest kids and/or take them off school property. According to the report, in those rare circumstances, an officer should have a warrant or court order to arrest and remove students.

School districts should also be collecting detailed data on interactions between cops and students, and should develop a process through which kids and parents can submit complaints against police.

The report has many examples individual stories that illustrate why the ACLU thinks reining in police presence on campuses is vitally important. Here’s just one:

In 2015, the 13-year-old daughter of Anita Wilson-Pringle was strip-searched at Serrano Middle School in San Bernardino.

A female vice-principal forced the eighth grade girl to pull her bra away from her body and shake it. When the girl tried to cover her breasts for modesty, the vice-principal pulled her hands away. This all took place under the observation of a male officer employed by the district police department.

After hearing about the incident from her daughter, Wilson-Pringle visited the school seeking an explanation, but the school would not release an incident report or even give her the police officer’s name. Wilson-Pringle’s daughter felt so violated after the incident that her grades plummeted. Wilson-Pringle reported, “She hasn’t been herself…She makes sure she doesn’t have any kind of contact with any of the principals, with any of the teachers. She does her work and comes home.”

And in the larger picture, funding should be shifted from school cops to teachers, counselors, and restorative justice practices, according to the report. “The ACLU firmly believes that school districts and law enforcement agencies should never permanently assign police officers to school campuses,” the report reads.


California Attorney General Kamala Harris’ latest annual report on chronic absence and truancy in California revealed that around 210,000 CA elementary students (from kindergarten through fifth grade) missed 10% of the 2015-2016 school year or more. That’s 7.3% of the state’s elementary school population.

AG Harris’ report found that the overall rate of chronic absence was even higher for preschool students. From a sample of more than 36,000, 8% of pre-K students were considered chronically absent.

Harris stressed the importance of reining in truancy and chronic absence in elementary schools: “Chronically absent children are far more likely to drop out of school and enter into the criminal justice system. This is a solvable problem: with better data, monitoring, and communication with parents, we can continue to make significant strides toward ensuring students are in school and on track to meet their full potential.”

While the rate of chronic absence in 2015-2016 did not differ between genders, special education students and kids of color had much higher numbers.

The absence rate for black students—14%—was double that of the general population of elementary-aged kids. Black students that were also homeless had the highest the chronic absence rate of all student subsets included in the report: 22%. And 77% of all chronically absent elementary school students are also low-income. Poor students were given 82% of all suspensions.

The report recommends lowering the number of days students are absent because of suspensions by supporting smart and therapeutic teacher responses to unwanted behavior at school, rather than punitive ones (as seen in the above report on police in schools).

The state’s truancy rate continues to climb, according to the report. More than 25% of all K-5 students were truant during the 2014-2015 year, up from 23.2% during the previous year.

And while black students represented just 5% of the overall population of elementary school kids, they accounted for 22$ of suspensions (and 28% of students suspended for three or more days) statewide.

The AG’s report highlights the need for “better systems to track, monitor, and respond to chronically absent students.”

At the end of the current school year, for the first time ever, all school districts and other education agencies will be required to report absence data to the California Department of Education.

Posted in Education | 1 Comment »

Police Group Prez Apologizes for “Past Injustices”…a Puzzling Inglewood Shooting…and Luiz J. Rodriguez

October 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, Terrence Cunningham, the president of International Association of Chiefs of Police formally apologized to communities of color for law enforcement’s part in “society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

Cunningham, who is the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., gave his speech at an IACP convention in San Diego.

The IACP president acknowledged that in the past, police officers served as the “face of oppression,” enforcing discriminatory laws that have cultivated a “multigenerational—almost inherited—mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”

Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the ACLU, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and others have praised Cunningham’s apology, calling the high-ranking law enforcement official’s speech an important step toward healing police-community relations.

Critics of the apology point out that Cunningham’s apology treats of the issue of racism in policing as a problem of the past—the aftereffects of which continue to act as a barrier to peace between citizens and cops. Cunningham never addresses the issue of continued racial bias in policing occurring today. “There are bigoted cops today as there were when it was legal to be a bigoted cop,” Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College said to the LA Times’ Jaweed Kaleem.

You can watch the speech in its entirety above.

The Washington Post’s Tom Jackman broke the story. Here’s a clip:

Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., delivered his remarks at the convention in San Diego of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States. The statement was issued on behalf of the IACP, and comes as police executives continue to grapple with tense relationships between officers and minority groups in the wake of high-profile civilian deaths in New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere, the sometimes violent citizen protests which have ensued as well as the ambush killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Police chiefs have long recognized the need to maintain good relations with their communities, of all races, and not allow an us-versus-them mentality to take root, either in their rank-and-file officer corps or in the neighborhoods where their citizens live. Cunningham’s comments are an acknowledgement of police departments’ past role in exacerbating tensions and a way to move forward and improve community relations nationwide. Two top civil rights groups on Monday commended Cunningham for taking an important first step in acknowledging the problem.

“Events over the past several years,” Cunningham said, “have caused many to question the actions of our officers and has tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments…The history of the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice, and service to the community. At its core, policing is a noble profession.”

But Cunningham added, “At the same time, it is also clear that the history of policing has also had darker periods.” He cited laws enacted by state and federal governments which “have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks…While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”


Back in February, five Inglewood police officers fatally shot Kisha Michael, 31, and Marquintan Sandlin, 32, after officers found them unconscious in a car idling in the middle of the street. Michael, a mother of three, was shot in the head, neck, and back 13 times. Seven more bullets proved fatal for Sandlin, a father of four.

In a police radio clip, one of the responding officers said that Michael had a gun in her lap. Both Michael and Sandlin’s families said the two were loving parents. Their families said they didn’t know why Michael and Sandlin were found with a gun.

A warrant had been issued for Michael’s arrest earlier in February after she violated the terms of her probation by failing to appear in court. (Michael was on probation because of a misdemeanor theft.)

Following the shooting, Inglewood police remained particularly quiet, giving hardly any information about the circumstances of the shooting. The department hasn’t even said whether either of the deceased had reached for the gun before the responding officers let loose a hail of bullets.

Michael and Sandlin’s loved ones find it hard to believe that the cops were unable to de-escalate a situation involving two people who were unconscious when law enforcement arrived.

Michael’s twin, Trisha, tried for several months to get answers from the civilian body tasked with overseeing the Inglewood Police Department, but every month, the commission’s meetings were canceled.

When the Inglewood Citizen Police Oversight Commission was established back in 2002, it had teeth. The commission had the power to conduct hearings on instances of police misconduct. The group had subpoena power and a say in officer discipline. But before the first meeting, the police union intervened, and the commission was stripped of its authority.

The commission rarely meets, and mainly acts as a porter for complaints against police. Meanwhile the Inglewood PD continues to face scrutiny over questionable uses-of-force.

The LA Times’ Angel Jennings has the story. Here’s a clip:

Jan Williams, a local resident who follows city government, said she often goes to the commission meetings only to find they have been canceled due to a lack of a quorum. On May 11 — the first meeting in seven months — she criticized the commissioners for not convening more often.

This is “suppose to be our voice. I encourage you guys to meet more regularly,” she said.

The commission’s fading role in police oversight is all the more troubling to critics because the department continues to come under scrutiny.

For example, the commission had no role in reviewing the shooting of motorist Juan Jose Palma, whom the city recently paid $4.6 million to settle an excessive force lawsuit. Palma, now 46, was shot in the head by an officer during a 2012 traffic stop. The officer said he shot Palma because he refused commands to show his hands and appeared to be reaching behind his car seat for a weapon. No firearm was found in Palma’s SUV, but a baseball bat was found in the vehicle. Palma survived but suffered lasting brain damage.


Michael Falkow, the assistant city manager who has served as the advisor for the panel since 2007, said the city’s elected leaders and commissioners have not had “a desire to change anything” with regard to how the police oversight panel functions.

At the May meeting, Falkow described the group’s limited purview.

The commission does not investigate allegations of police misconduct, he said. It can only make recommendations for discipline, but the final call belongs to the chief of police.

“To be very clear, the commission has no authority, the commission has no mechanism, the commission has no ability to discuss or oversee or even hear any cases of [or] related to officer involved shootings,” he told the two people in the audience.

By comparison, the five-member Los Angeles Police Commission overseeing the operation of the 10,000-officer force has broad authority and meets weekly. The panel sets LAPD policies and has an inspector general who investigates and audits the department on its behalf. In one of its most important roles, the board decides whether police shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate.

Keep reading.


In an interview with Alex Cohen, of KPCC’s Take Two, Luis J. Rodriguez discusses his work and legacy as he finishes the last weeks of his two years as LA’s second poet laureate (ever).

Once a gang-involved, drug-addicted teen, Rodriguez is now a celebrated poet, author, activist, and mentor to young men and women seeking healthy alternatives to gang life.

When Rodriguez was appointed two years ago, he was told to do a minimum of 6 events. Last year alone, Rodriguez, who is paid a small monthly stipend, held 110 workshops, readings, and other events.

Rodriguez also completed an anthology featuring 160 LA poets called “The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles,” and a chapbook of poetry called “Borrowed Bones.”

Posted in Police, race, writers and writing | 7 Comments »

“Chessman,” and the Death of Venida Browder

October 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A new play about an incredibly controversial death penalty case in California in the 1960s—”Chessman”—opened last week at Sacramento’s B Street Theatre.

For more than 12 years, California death row inmate Caryl Chessman fought desperately to save himself from the gas chamber. Chessman’s case was extremely controversial because he had not been convicted of murder. Instead, at 27-years-old, Chessman, also called the “Red Light Bandit” was convicted of a a number of robberies and rapes in Los Angeles. Many important voices, including Eleanor Roosevelt and the Vatican newspaper, called for Chessman to be spared.

On Feb 18, 1960, 21-year-old UC Berkeley student Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, Jr. dialed his father, then-Governor Pat Brown, and asked for a 60-day stay of execution for Chessman, the night before the man’s scheduled execution. The younger Brown also urged his father to propose a bill to end the death penalty in California. Even though both men knew the measure had an extremely low chance of success, Pat Brown introduced a bill to abolish capital punishment.

The elder Brown’s bill was rejected by state legislators, and Chessman was put to death two-and-a-half months later.

Although playwright says the timing of the play was not purposeful, it is serendipitous, in that next month, California voters will choose between two competing death penalty-related ballot initiatives. The first, Proposition 62, would abolish capital punishment in the state. The second, Prop. 66, would speed up the death penalty appeals process executions.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the play, which tells the Chessman story from the perspectives of the condemned man, and four members of the Brown family—Pat, his wife Bernice, Jerry, and Pat’s daughter, Kathleen. Here’s a clip:

The controversy also came at a relative highwater mark for opposition to the death penalty, when Americans were about evenly split on the issue. This allowed Pat Brown to openly grapple over Chessman’s fate without committing “automatic political suicide,” the biographer Rarick noted at a recent panel on the case.

“He always looked for the best with everybody. He was inclined toward mercy, but inclined toward upholding the law,” Rarick said.

Because Chessman had prior felonies, Pat Brown could not commute his sentence without the approval of the California Supreme Court, which voted 4-3 to uphold the conviction. Chessman was going to die.

But the night before the execution was scheduled to proceed, Jerry Brown called his father urging him to grant a 60-day reprieve and pursue a moratorium on the death penalty in the Legislature. As Pat recounted in “Public Justice, Private Mercy,” he believed there was not “one chance in a thousand” that lawmakers would act.

“Then Jerry said, “But Dad, if you were a doctor and there was one chance in a thousand of saving a patient’s life, wouldn’t you take it?’

“I thought about that for a moment. You’re right, I finally said. I’ll do it.”

For his decision, Pat Brown received a slew of negative responses – and a 16-page letter from a “surprised and grateful” Chessman.

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, “Chessman” playwright Joseph Rodota discusses the case’s backstory and context, as well as his inspiration for the play, and the impact of the case on the Browns “and how it shapes the relationship of family members to each other.” Here are some clips:

The play looks at the death penalty controversy through the eyes of each member of the family. I think that’s what I found very fascinating as I was reading through Bernice Brown’s recollections at the time. Jerry in 1960, at this moment where it looks like all options for Chessman have been closed off, and Pat Brown has finally decided that he’d done all that he can do, and he was going to let the execution take place. Pat Brown was alone in the house and he writes later that he took a phone call from Jerry. Jerry was a student at that point, he’s out of the seminary and he’s now at Berkeley. He calls him and they discuss the case, and nobody knows of course what they said to each other.

But that evening, after that call concluded, Brown reversed course and decided he would go to the Legislature and seek a change in California’s death penalty law, and he gave Chessman a reprieve so that he could pursue that option.

[Morrison:] Ultimately of course that reprieve couldn’t last, and the commutation wasn’t possible.

Right. It was a temporary reprieve, and Gov. Brown was unsuccessful in persuading the Legislature to change the law, and he lost in committee. It’s important in the context — this might have been one of the first defeats Brown had suffered in the Legislature. He was riding high, he’d been elected in 1958, and he had had a breathtaking year in 1959, one success in the Legislature after another. And this was the first roadblock.


He made it very clear what his personal views were on the death penalty, and he also made very clear the matter of his Catholic faith. But he had also expressed a deep love for the law. Pat Brown had grown up as a prosecutor, a D.A., attorney general and now the governor. And he really felt that the legal system was the glue that held California together, and he was very conscious of his legal limitations and his duty to the people to follow the law. If he couldn’t change it, he had to follow it.

The play actually attempts to answer the question, how does the experience of the Chessman case change the relationship between Gov. Brown and his son? Of course, I did a large amount of research. For example, back in the ’70s, Jerry talked a bit about his early life, and I have a lot of early Jerry Brown interviews. I also found a letter Jerry Brown wrote to one of his uncles while he was in the seminary. It was handwritten, beautiful letter that you can just feel; here’s a 19-year-old talking to somebody in the family, just pouring his heart out. I felt I could really hear the voice of these family members.


On Friday night, at 63 years old, Venida Browder, the mother of Kalief Browder, died of complications from a heart attack. The Browders’ attorney, Paul Prestia, says he believes Venida “died of a broken heart.”

In 2010, Kalief was arrested after being accused of stealing a backpack. The Browders’ inability to post $3,000 bail led to a harrowing three-year stint at Rikers Island for Kalief.

Kalief was never tried during those three years—two of which he spent in solitary confinement.

Prosecutors ultimately dropped the charges against Browder in 2013. For the next two years following his release, Kalief struggled with mental illness stemming from the adverse effects of prolonged isolation and other trauma he experienced behind bars. For periods, it appeared that Browder was restarting his life, but on several occasions he tried to kill himself. Last June, at 22 years old, Browder finally succeeded.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman, who has been following and reporting on Browder’s devastating story since October 2014, also wrote about Venida and the work she did to honor Kalief’s life and legacy through activism, before her own untimely death. Here’s a small clip:

In the following months, Venida, who was fairly shy, became much more outspoken. Although she had serious health problems, she travelled to Washington, D.C., in July of 2015 to attend a press conference for “Kalief’s Law,” a bill intended to improve the treatment of young people in prison. She joined the advisory board of an organization called Stop Solitary for Kids. She spoke to reporters. In January of 2016, she participated in the American Justice Summit at John Jay College. Paul Prestia, who represented her in a wrongful-death claim against New York City, remembers going with her to a speaking event at the New School last April. Before she stepped onstage, he said that she seemed very nervous. But then she spoke for forty-five minutes about what she and Kalief had endured. “She got up there, and I was like, Wow!” he said. “She blew me away.”


“She could have stayed back, but the fact she was so involved helped that movement,” Prestia said. Kalief’s story—and his mother’s voice—became an important part of the public debates over solitary confinement, youth incarceration, court delays, speedy-trial laws, and conditions on Rikers.

As part of an upcoming video series for The Marshall Project, Venida tells her son’s story—from his arrest to his release and, later, his death. Venida found Kalief after he had hanged himself from a second floor window of their family home. “I miss my son,” Venida said. “I miss him so much.”

Kalief’s story has garnered a ton of media attention and set in motion efforts to reform the notorious NY jail. Earlier this month, Rapper Jay-Z announced that he is producing a six-part docu-series called, “Time: The Kalief Browder Story,” scheduled for release this upcoming January on Spike TV.

Posted in Death Penalty, juvenile justice | No Comments »

WitnessLA On Larry Mantle’s Air Talk Discussing Flaws in DOJ’s New Plan to Collect Police Shooting Data Nationwide

October 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, the U.S. Department of Justice announced a new plan to gather crucially important nationwide data on law enforcement interactions with civilians in general, and on the use of force by law enforcement officers in particular.

On Friday, Witness LA joined author, and former Los Angeles Times police reporter, Jim Newton (now editor of Blueprint), and New York Times reporter, Eric Lichtblau, on KPCC’s AirTalk with Larry Mantle to discuss the good, the bad, and the not-so-promising aspects of the new plan.

Here’s the deal: According to Attorney General Loretta Lynch, this new effort at data collection is an attempt to close a gap in an existing law passed in 2014 called the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The DCRA (that is pronounced by experts, in all seriousness as dic-rah) made it a requirement for police and other law enforcement agencies to submit data about people who died during an interaction with law enforcement or in their custody.

A good new step forward, right? Well, maybe not. According to a long list of advocates and experts, the lack of an enforcement mechanism to mandate that law enforcement agencies actually fork over the necessary information, plus the new plan’s flawed methods for data gathering, does not bode at all well for anything resembling success.


According to 2014′s DCRA, in order to persuade agencies to participate, said agencies could also be fined by the AG for not reporting these incidents.(“Could” is the operative word here.) But such arguably weak enforcement mechanisms are not in place for the new reporting system of non-lethal uses of force interactions.

As WitnessLA reported on Friday, thus far, even when it comes to the two states that already have mandated reporting of fatal shootings by law enforcement—namely California and Texas—-things have not gone especially well, according to a recently-released study conducted by researchers at Texas State University at San Marcos.

The study’s authors looked at data reported over a ten-year period by police and sheriff’s agencies in those two states, then placed those numbers side-by-side with data for the same period gained via other sources—news stories, press releases from police departments, coroners, and the like. When the researches compared the two sets of figures, they found that California was missing 30 percent of its total officer involved fatal shootings, which came to 440 incidents. Texas agencies missed reporting around 220 OIS deaths, or 25 percent.

And although, in California, large law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (34 unreported deaths), the Los Angeles Police Department (21 fatalities missing) and the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (12 missing incidents) led in this undistinguished sweepstakes, in many cases the discrepancy seemed more an artifact of problematic record keeping, not deliberate data tweaking.


The study also noted that some of the biggest gaps in data came from the small law enforcement organizations around the two states, some of which may be deliberately underreporting to protect their agencies from bad PR, but there also seemed to be a lot of sloppy record keeping.

In fact, according to LASD spokesperson Nicole Nishida, many of the department’s 34 missing officer involved fatal shootings were due to a “clerical error” caused by a switch in reporting forms.

This last, brings up one of the most pressing objections to the new plan flagged by a list of 67 organizations including the ACLU, the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Amnesty International, and more. According to this group of concerned advocates, the new DOJ plan weakens the already-faulty 2014 collection mechanism by turning over data collection to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, not the states.

Worse, as the ACLU, et al, noted, the “proposal indicates that BJS will rely primarily upon publicly available information (“open-source review”)” for its data collection.

This means, as the 67 groups wrote in an open letter to Attorney General Lynch, “that should The Guardian and the Washington Post decide to continue to invest in this research, those news outlets will continue to be the best national sources for data on deaths in police custody.” That’s not how it should be.

(At this point in time, the Guardian’s project The Counted and the Washington Post’s data gathering project provide the closest to accurate data that we have.)


The advocate group also stressed that that “some kind financial penalty is critical to successful implementation” of both DICRA and the new program. “Voluntary reporting programs on police-community encounters have failed,” they wrote. “Reportedly, only 224 of the more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies reported approximately 444 fatal police-shootings to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in 2014, though we have reason to believe that annual numbers of people killed by police exceeds 1,000.”

The DOJ already awards close to $4 billion in grants annually to local agencies to collect and report data on incidents of police use of force on civilians and other police-civilian encounters. Advocates propose that such discretionary grants should be conditioned upon providing data.

Texas State University researcher Howard Williams—who, by the way, was a police officer for 36 years, first for the Austin PD, and then as the chief of police in San Marcos, Texas—agrees that much of the problem is that the reporting has, in the past, been voluntary—a strategy that has been impressively unsuccessful.

As for the importance of the data, Williams stresses that we need accurate information gathering, not just to find better ways of policing, but also to look at large public health issues in need of change.

When you go back and look at details of a shooting, Williams said, “there are always antecedent conditions.” Williams pointed to less-than-optimum mental health policies—both at a state and national level—as an example. “It may be the cops who pulled the trigger,” he said, “but it wasn’t the police that were in control of the antecedent conditions” that may have led to the deadly moment. “If we can go back and study these shootings, maybe we can pick out some patterns that show us what we can do to reduce these shootings. But we can’t study them, if we don’t have the data on them.”

If you’d like to listen to the radio discussion that looks at these and other angles of the LE data issue, you can stream the podcast here.

Posted in Department of Justice, law enforcement | No Comments »

Field Poll Show’s Many Californians Lack Faith in Justice System & Strongly Favor Community Intervention Programs

October 17th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to a Field Poll released last week, 39 percent of California voters view the justice system as “generally unfair.” That means, of course, that over sixty percent of those questioned saw the American justice system as “generally fair.”

Yet, among certain demographics, those generally fair/generally unfair numbers reversed themselves. For instance, the majority of African Americans chose the more pessimistic of the justice, as did nearly half of young voters ages 18-29.

When asked about specific concerns regarding the unfairness of the justice system, 41% of all voters surveyed, and 54% of those under age 30, felt the system unfairly penalizes people of color more than whites.

But a larger segment of California voters (53%) agreed that their primary concerns when it came to the justice system centered around the system’s treatment of the innocent—specifically that “too many innocent people, regardless of their race and ethnicity, are arrested unfairly, mistreated by police, wrongly convicted for crimes, or given overly harsh punishments.”


Interestingly, when it came to programs and strategies to make their communities safer, a hefty majority of those polled said they strongly supported community-based prevention strategies for promoting community safety over strategies that mandated spending more money on police and prisons.

Then when asked about specifically what methods they felt might improve community safety, two thirds of the state’s voters said they “strongly support” having their local governments spend funds to increase access to mental health services (66%). The same percentage of voters (66%) favored providing more job training programs (66%). Increasing support programs for young people also drew 66%, while slightly less—56%—wanted to increase access to substance abuse treatment.

Still, a healthy 39% were strongly supportive of increasing the number of police, however just 11% favored building more jails and prisons as a strategy to make their communities safer.


Voters seemed to have the most agreement when it came to the need for programs to keep kids in school and out of the justice system.

For instance, greater than eight in ten voters (86%) agreed that suspending or expelling students from school for misbehaviors ranging, from minor misconduct to violent offenses, should only be employed as a last resort after other approaches have been tried “to hold students accountable while keeping them in school.”

This view was shared by the majorities of voter across all age, ethnic and party lines—although Democrats, Latinos, African Americans, and voters under age 30 expressed the strongest agreement for taking this no-expulsion approach.

Similarly, greater than two in three polled said they believed the government’s education and health care systems are better suited than the juvenile justice system to oversee the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders

And by a two to one margin, California voters surveyed told Field that they believed the justice system should treat juvenile offenders differently than adult offenders.


In the last topic area that the survey covered, pollsters found the majority of Californians would make changes in how undocumented immigrant detainees are treated.

Most California voters (68%) favored a policy of releasing undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers into the community under supervision or electronic monitoring rather than holding the immigrants in a jail or detention center (31%) while they wait to go to court to determine their residency status.

The numbers on this topic are most dramatic with voters under age 30, where close to nine in ten favored community-based supervision.

And if undocumented immigrants are locked awaiting their court appearances, three in four Californians (73%) said these immigrants should be held in government-run facilities rather than in the private, for-profit jails or detention centers (25%) that currently house the majority of immigrant detainees.


It is not clear whether or not these poll numbers are indicative of how voters will vote on the ballot propositions relating to justice issues, like Propositions 66 and 62, which both deal with the death penalty, pro and con, and Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give that control back to judges, along with increasing parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense, and boosting access to early release credits.

Yet representatives from the California Endowment, which requested the Field poll, said they were pleased by the what the numbers suggested about Californians’ evolving views and perceptions.

“As a health foundation, we believe it’s time for a new vision of community safety centered on health, education and investing in young people,” said Mary Lou Fulton, Program Director for the Endowment. “It’s encouraging to see that a majority of California voters support moving our tax dollars and policies from punishment to prevention.”

Posted in Civil Rights, Community Health, criminal justice | 5 Comments »

Baca’s Motion to Recuse Federal Judge is Denied….& Tanaka’s Appeal Keeps Him Out of Prison (For Now)

October 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Otis D. Wright, II, denied the motion filed by attorneys for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to recuse federal Judge Percy Anderson from presiding over Baca’s trial, which is due to begin on December 6.

Late last month, Baca’s legal team led by attorney Nathan Hochman, filed three dramatic pre-trial motions, one of which was to try to force the recusal of Judge Anderson, whom the defense argued could not be an objective jurist.

Hochman’s argument for recusing Anderson centered around statements that Anderson made when he rejected Baca’s plea deal. The defense argued that those statements indicated that “the Court predetermined that Mr. Baca is guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice,” even though, at the time, Hochman pointed out, 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.

“It’s one thing to lie to an AUSA,” Anderson told Baca. “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.”

Anderson was, of course, also 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.

Baca and company argued that given the various statements Anderson made during the sentencing hearings, the judge should not remain. “Even if the Court were to offer that it could put these predeterminations aside,” wrote attorney Hochman, “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.”

But in an 11-page ruling, Judge Wright disagreed.

“In order to prevail on a disqualification motion based on bias,” Wright wrote, “the defendant must provide facts which ‘must give fair support to the charge of a bent of mind that may prevent or impede impartiality of judgment.’ Judge Anderson’s remarks do not even approach the category of expressions of dissatisfaction or annoyance or anger directed at either the defendant or defense counsel which the Court has found permissible, much less an indication of a ‘bent of mind that may prevent or impede impartiality of judgment.’”

In the final analysis, Wright continued, “Baca has failed to offer facts which would lend supportfor the claim that disqualification of Judge Anderson is warranted in this matter.”

(Interestingly, Wright, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2007 by George W. Bush, served as a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department from 1969 to 1980, by which time he’d graduated from law school and was ready for his legal career.)

Wright’s denial of the motion to get rid of Anderson may or may not bode well for the other two significant motions that Baca’s team filed last month.

Specifically, defense attorney Hochman also filed a motion asking for Baca’s trial to be moved to another part of the state of California, claiming that, due to the “constant, inflammatory, and far-reaching media coverage surrounding this matter,a trial within the Central District of California, particularly within Los Angeles County, will violate Mr. Baca’s due process rights.”

And in another interesting move, Baca and company asked for lead government prosecutor Brandon Fox to be removed from the prosecution’s team, claiming that the defense needs to call Fox as a crucial witness.

On Monday, October 31, the not-recused Judge Percy Anderson will hear the motions to move the trial out of LA County, and to recuse prosecutor Fox.

So stay tuned.


Back in late September, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson ruled that the fact that Paul Tanaka, the former second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, was appealing his conviction didn’t mean he could stay stay out of prison while he waited around to see what the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals would do.

Instead, Tanaka was ordered to report on October 7, either to the low-security federal prison camp in Englewood, Colorado, or to the U.S. Marshals office in downtown Los Angeles, to begin his five year sentence—appeal or no appeal.

But, Anderson’s ruling is only part of the dance between the courts and Mr. Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, who—following Anderson’s ruling—quickly filed their appeal with the Ninth, which automatically stopped the clock anyway when it came to their client’s report-for-prison day.

This means Tanaka can stay out of prison until the Ninth Circuit decides whether or not it will hear the former undersheriff’s appeal. The appeals court could say no, but that is unlikely.

Then, presuming the Ninth Circuit agrees to hear Tanaka’s appeal, the clock is further stopped until the hearing, and then until the ruling. If Tanaka loses his appeal before a three-judge panel at the Ninth, then he and his attorneys can still ask to appeal en banc, which means to the court as a whole, which again stops the clock….and so on.

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

Seven of the other former department members who were also convicted of obstruction of justice charges filed appeals with the Ninth Circuit and, after hearings early this summer, lost their appeal. Six of the seven have requested to be heard en banc. The seventh, former deputy James Sexton elected not to continue to try to avoid prison. Instead, he left the en banc appeal behind, and arranged to turn himself in on August 31, to begin his 18-month sentence. He will try a U.S. Supreme Court appeal when he gets out.

Former LASD Captain Tom Carey, was originally charged with the same obstruction charges but, in a deal made with the government, pleaded guilty to lying on the witness stand during the 2014 trial of James Sexton, and is due to be sentenced in January.


The retaliation case involving former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Ban Nguyen, who is suing the sheriff’s department along with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and others, is due to begin trial on October 19.

UPDATE: We just learned today, that the trial has now been moved to January.

In early 2015, Nguyen filed a civil lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated against when he refused to falsify paperwork for certain unsuitable job candidates favored by department higher ups, particularly those candidates supported by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

The retaliation got worse, Nguyen alleges, when he was asked to raise money for Tanaka’s 2013 campaign to become LA County Sheriff, and he refused, explaining that he didn’t favor Mr. Tanaka for that post.

After being what he describes as forced into retirement, Nguyen decided to sue the former undersheriff, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, for alleged violations of his civil rights along with violations of the state labor code and more. Nguyen also names in his lawsuit two LASD captains, and two department sergeants. (Kevin Hebert and Judy Gerhardt, are the captains named, although both have since been promoted to commander.)

Many of issues outlined in Nguyen’s civil complaint suggest that this trial will be an intriguing one.

More as we know it.

Posted in LASD, Pandora's Box | 20 Comments »

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