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As Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca’s Trial Approaches….

December 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Jury selection starts Monday for the federal trial of Leroy Baca, the man who ran the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years.

The trial itself will likely begin Tuesday morning

WitnessLA will be covering the proceedings, of course. But we will also give you relevant pre-trial updates between now and Tuesday.

So stay tuned.

Photo of Lee Baca taken in late 2013 by Saxon Brice

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Another Suicide at CIW, Photoshop Tattoo Removal, and LA “Bans the Box”

December 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On November 10, 56-year-old Bong Chavez reportedly committed suicide in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Woman (CIW).

CIW has experienced a high number of suicides (7), and suicide attempts (73), since 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate among all 34 prisons—five times the state average.

Bong Chavez, a Korean immigrant reportedly suffering from mental illness and a brain tumor, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter, after she stabbed her daughter, Quesi Chavez, to death.

According to witnesses within the prison, Chavez had been asking for more mental health services for two weeks before killing herself. Chavez also reportedly told a prison guard that she was suicidal the night she died.

The witnesses say the guards responded by sticking Chavez in an office to “calm down” for 45 minutes, then put her back in her cell. Once back in her cell, Chavez hung herself from the ceiling vent.

Chavez’s cellmate found the woman hanging and repeatedly screamed for help, as did inmates held in cells across from Chavez’s. Guards reportedly did not respond for 10 minutes, and then took another 8 minutes to come back with scissors. The correctional officer who cut Chavez down did not support her body as he did so. Instead, “they let her drop like she was nothing,” said an inmate across the hall named Elaine Leeon. “There was a pool of blood on the floor.” Chavez’s head reportedly cracked open upon impact with the ground.

“Make no mistake, CIW is directly responsible for Ms. Chavez’s death,” said Colby Lenz, an advocate at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “People are committing suicide because of the inhumane conditions at CIW, including forcing people into solitary confinement when they are the most vulnerable. Guards are indifferent to these deaths and blatantly refuse to follow CIW’s suicide prevention policy, with no repercussions.”

Back in April, 35-year-old Erika Rocha committed suicide in the mental health unit at CIW, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing. Rocha, like Chavez, hung herself from the vent in her cell.

In June, one month after Rocha’s death, 27-year-old Shaylene Graves was found hanging, with just six weeks left to go on an 8-year sentence. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said Graves’ death was a suicide, but the young woman’s loved ones are challenging that conclusion.

“We as families can never get timely and accurate information about what happened to our loved ones who died in custody,” said Shaylene Graves’ mother, Sheri Graves. “We demand full transparency and full accountability.”

Concerned by the flood of deaths at CIW, California Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) started pushing for an investigation into suicides in the troubled prison.
In August, Leyva announced that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee would examine suicide prevention and reduction policies, procedures and practices at state prisons across California.

While the results have not yet been released, the audit is expected to include evaluations of the following issues:

- CDCR’s policies and procedures for inmates that express suicidal behavior and/or tendencies

- Uniformity of policies and procedures implementation across CDCR

- Comparison of suicide rates and attempts across all California prisons (male and female)

- Availability, access and use of mental health care services for and by inmates

- Potential causes and factors contributing to high suicide rates and attempts at CIW

- Appropriate implementation of CDCR’s suicide prevention and related policies at CIW

- Medical treatment and housing options for suicidal inmates at CIW

- Previous and ongoing suicide prevention and reduction training for CIW staff

LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron (who has been doing an excellent job reporting on the recent deaths at CIW) has more on the story.


Seeking to humanize men and women recovering from gang involvement with the help of Homeboy Industries, Photographer Steven Burton launched a book photography project called “Skin Deep.”

Founded by Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands of people find healthy alternatives to gang life through mentoring, employment training and placement, mental health counseling, and more. (For those unfamiliar with the work Homeboy does—learn more here.)

One of the many free services Homeboy offers is tattoo removal.

Burton first took photos of 27 men and women, then spent hundreds of hours digitally removing their tattoos via photoshop. Burton videotaped the revealing of the final photos, which proved emotional for the photographer’s subjects, many of whom hadn’t seen themselves tattoo free since they were young teenagers. On KPCC’s Take Two, A. Martinez interviewed one of the men Burton photographed, Francisco Flores, who wants to be known as a good father to his five children, rather than the gang member he used to be. (We’ve included some of the must-see videos here, including one of Flores’ reveal, but you can watch the rest of the videos on Youtube—here.)


On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance barring employers from asking job seekers about their criminal background, at least in the first stages of the interview process.

The council approved the the ordinance 12-1 with Councilman Mitch Englander dissenting. The measure will have to go through a second vote because it was not unanimous, but the second vote only has to have majority approval to pass.

The ordinance will get rid of questions about criminal history from job applications for both public and private employers with more than 10 employees, as well as contractors within the city.

City News Service has more on the decision and what it means.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, LA City Council, prison | 1 Comment »

SCOTUS to Hear Case Challenging Prolonged Detention Without Bond Hearings for Immigrants

November 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court is slated to consider whether people held in immigrant detention facilities have a right to bond hearings, which means the potential for release.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Jennings v. Rodriguez that immigrant detainees subjected to noncitizen mandatory detention for six months or more must be granted a bond hearing, even if they have been convicted of crimes.

The ACLU brought the original class action lawsuit on behalf of around 1000 immigrants held indefinitely in federal detention centers for minor—and often very old—crimes. Most were legal residents who committed crimes that are grounds for deportation. Others were guilty of re-crossing the border after a deportation.

Those convicted had to complete sentences for the actual crime before moving to immigration detention. In at least half the cases, the crimes committed did not carry more than a six month sentence.

Many of the Jennings v. Rodriguez plaintiffs were held in detention for many months—even years.

“The people who have the strongest claims for staying in the U.S. end up staying in detention longest because they have the incentive to stick it out,” the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights attorney Michael Tan told VICE. “The people who don’t have a case get deported right away.”

During bond hearings, immigration judges determine whether detainees would pose a flight risk or endanger the public if released while they await deportation proceedings.

In Los Angeles area cases, judges found 70% of the men and women who requested bond hearings to be eligible for release, according to the ACLU.

On average, the plaintiffs in the Jennings case, who “have strong claims to lawful status” are five times more likely to triumph over their deportation cases than other detainees, says the ACLU.

Alejandro Rodriguez, the lawsuit’s lead plaintiff, was a legal permanent resident when he was convicted of joyriding at age 19, and later, misdemeanor drug possession. These crimes triggered mandatory detention for Rodriguez, who waited for more than three years without going before a judge for a bond hearing. Rodriguez ultimately won his immigration case. Unfortunately, in the process, he lost years with his two children and his job as a dental assistant.

Warren Joseph, another plaintiff, was injured in the Gulf War while serving in the US Army. Joseph was honored for rescuing his fellow soldiers. Joseph struggled to reintegrate into his community after service. In 2001, he was arrested for buying a handgun for people to whom he owed money. Joseph, a legal permanent resident from Trinidad, was put on probation and got his life back on track. Then Joseph moved in with his mother without telling his probation officer, and was sentenced to six months behind bars. After his prison term, Joseph spent another three-and-a-half years in an immigration facility. He never received a bail hearing. Joseph also eventually won his deportation case and became a US citizen.

(For more on the issue of indefinite detention, head over to KPCC, and listen to AirTalk host Larry Mantle discuss the case before the Supreme Court with SoCal ACLU attorney Michael Kaufman and Jessica Vaughan, the Center for Immigration Studies’ Director of Policy Studies.)

Posted in immigration, Supreme Court, The Feds | 4 Comments »

Sec. of Education Calls for Boosts to Prison Education, Pasadena Sued Over Police Body Cam Policy…and More

November 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In a “Dear Colleague” letter, US Education Secretary John B. King Jr. called for a much-needed increase in prison education and vocational training programs to improve reentry success for the 1.5 million state and federal prisoners who will eventually return to their communities.

“Equipping incarcerated individuals with these foundational skills and technical competencies will make them more employable upon reentry and increase their ability to contribute,” the letter reads.

King’s letter was sent out in conjunction with a report that revealed a considerable gap between the literacy and numeracy skills of adults in prison and their non-incarcerated peers.

Twenty-nine percent of incarcerated adults have low literacy skills and another 52% have low numeracy skills, compared to 19% and 29% respectively of U.S. households, according to the report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the US Department of Education.

“Providing these individuals with opportunity, advancement, and rehabilitation is not only the right thing to do, it also positions our country to remain economically competitive in a global economy,” King’s letter reads. “To foster this reintegration and reduce recidivism, we as a nation must continue to expand and develop correctional education and reentry support programs.”


The NAACP’s Pasadena branch has filed a lawsuit challenging changes made to Pasadena’s policy regarding the use of body cameras within the Pasadena Police Department.

The city of Pasadena applied for and won a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Justice for implementing a police body camera system. Pasadena’s grant application included a very “progressive” policy that later changed drastically during negotiations with the police union, according to the NAACP.

The new version of the body cam rules permit officers to view footage of an incident before submitting their statements, an allowance not included in the original proposed policy. The newer police union-approved policy was also changed to allow the Pasadena PD to hold back sections of video and “cherry-pick” what is released to the public.

KPCC’s Mike Roe has more on the lawsuit. Here’s a clip:

Pasadena is defining body camera video and audio as “investigative materials,” which are exempted the California Public Records Act. Gronemeier said that an appeals court decision means you can’t make something an investigative document before the investigation exists, which he argues is the case with the body camera footage police collect.

“It’s a patent attempt to put a square peg in a round hole. It won’t work, and we’re in a lawsuit attacking it as facially invalid,” Gronemeier said.

The suit asserts that Pasadena “erroneously and intentionally misled” the DOJ when it applied for a federal grant, knowing that the policy would change. That, it says, is what makes the city’s application to the DOJ fraudulent.

As part of its application, the city also solicited and received support from community activists, including Pasadena NAACP President Gary Moody. Gronemeier said that support was based on the initial policy the city submitted.

“The Department of Justice doesn’t ask for a draft policy — they ask for the policy for the body cameras,” Gronemeier said.


Last week, a California appeals court unanimously upheld the 2015 ruling by Super Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals blocking the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from handling the death penalty portion of mass-murderer Scott Evans Dekraai’s case.

The appellate ruling blasted OC DA Tony Rackauckas’ office and the OC Sheriff’s Department for systemic violation of defendants’ through the misuse of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence.

Orange County has been plagued with a major prosecutorial misconduct scandal that has unraveled a number of other cases going back decades, in which inmate informants were allegedly housed near defendants in order to procure confessions. Tasking jailhouse informants with pulling incriminating statements from defendants violates defendants’ right to remain silent and right to an attorney.

(For more on the backstory on the scandal that has gripped Orange County for more than three years, go here.)

Voice of OC’s Rex Dalton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

Rackauckas’ office abdicated its duties, therefore it “violated Dekraai’s due process rights,” according to the 53-page opinion written by Presiding Justice Kathleen E. O’Leary.

In 2011, Dekraai committed Orange County’s largest-ever mass murder when he gunned down his ex-wife and seven others in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

After his arrest, Dekraai was put in a county jail where sheriff’s deputies used a secret informant network to illegally obtain information from him.

In its decision, the appellate court noted Dekraai’s prosecutors — Daniel Wagner, head of Rackauckas’ homicide division, and Scott Simmons — ignored a “red flag” regarding a violation of Dekraai’s right to counsel, among others.

After years of battling the DA for informant records, Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders, showed in 2014 and 2015 during lengthy evidentiary hearings before Goethals how prosecutors and deputies for years systematically used informants to violate defendants’ rights.

The fact that the records Sanders had sought were suddenly disclosed by the DA or the Sheriff’s Department during the hearings is what prompted Goethals to issue his rare decision.

State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris appealed Goethal’s ruling on behalf of the DA’s office, calling his order “a remedy in search of a conflict.”

The appellate panel sharply criticized Harris’ stance, describing it as “nonsense.”

“To suggest [Goethals] prejudged the case is reckless and grossly unfair,” the panel stated, writing with italics for emphasis: “These proceedings were a search for truth.”

Posted in Education, Police, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Two Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies Sentenced to Prison for Savagely Beating Jail Inmate

November 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, two former members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were sentenced to terms in federal prison for violating the civil rights of a mentally ill jail inmate who was beaten, kicked and pepper sprayed after showing “disrespect” to a jail employee at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

That makes at total of 20 department members who have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County jail system.

Bryan Brunsting, 32, and Jason Branum, 36, (who is also, for reasons never really explained, known as Jason Johnson), were sentenced on Wednesday by a stern-faced U.S. District Court Judge George W. Wu, who handed Branum a sentence of five months in federal custody, while Brunsting was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.

In mid-may of this year, a seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated for just slightly more than an hour after nearly a week of dramatic testimony regarding the charges of beating, kicking and pepper spraying an allegedly unresisting schizophrenic inmate named Philip Jones on March 22, 2010. Then, according to the prosecution, after the beating the deputies falsified reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor who should be the one to be criminally prosecuted.

The jury panel found Brunsting and Branum guilty on all three counts of conspiracy to violate jail inmate Philip Jones’s civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsification of records.

Following the trial, federal prosecutors reached an agreement with Brunsting in which he admitted his role in another use-of-force incident on August 20, 2009 at Twin Towers.


In the May trial, the prosecution’s case rode primarily on the testimony of a former LASD deputy named Joshua Sather, who was the most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer Bryan Brunsing.

According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for a group of less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant named Porscha Singh.

Jones was to learn that “disrespect will be met with physical violence,” lead government prosecutor Brandon Fox told the jury.

There was also a second lesson, according to Fox. But this “lesson” was for the benefit of “honor recruit,” Joshua Sather, “the future of this sheriff’s department.” For Sather, said Fox, “it was Training Day.” The message was, he said, “we’re going to teach you how it’s done at Twin Towers.”

As part of the lesson, said Fox, Brunsting and Branum decided to test the new deputy “to see if he could be trusted” not to be a snitch. And so it was that Sather became part of the group teaching inmate Jones his lesson.

“For one day Joshua Sather passed their test with flying colors,” Fox told the jury during closing arguments. But then a few days later, the promising deputy became troubled and “decided to walk away from his promising career. He decided to come forward.”

Similarly, custody assistant Porscha Singh “told the truth about what she saw” and heard,” said Fox. Singh was the department member to whom inmate Jones had talked back.

What Brunsting and Branham didn’t expect, said Fox at the trial’s end, “was that these two people—–Porscha Singh and Joshua Sather—–would cross the thin blue line” to tell the truth.

Sather, a very reluctant witness, testified that he was so disturbed by the experience of the beating and the cover-up—particularly the fact that he’d gone along with it—that he resigned from the department.

When it was the defense’s turn to deliver their closing, their main thesis was that the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Sather and Singh, were clumsy liars.

The jury didn’t buy it.


“Both defendants engaged in a vicious, premeditated assault on an inmate,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Deputy Brunsting’s conduct was even more egregious given that he was involved in the abuse of a second inmate, and he was training new deputies on how to violate inmates’ civil rights and get away with it. These defendants tarnished all law enforcement with their conduct, undermining the outstanding work by the vast majority of officers in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the nation.”

The case against Brunsting and Branum was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon D. Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.

Counsel for both defendants said they would appeal their clients’ convictions. Brunsting and Branum are able to remain free while their appeals make their way through the court system.

Posted in LASD | 6 Comments »

Authorities Continue to Search for a Motive for Attacker at Ohio State U Who Injured 11 – UPDATED

November 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At around 10 a.m. ET, reports of an active shooter broke out at Ohio State University, as university officials and students frantically tweeted an alert of “run, hide, fight.”

The “shooter” turned out to be an attacker who, at first, rammed several students with his car at around 9:40 a.m. ET, then jumped out and started slashing students with a large knife.

By midday on Wednesday, the suspect was identified as Abdul Razak Ali Artan, 18, an OSU student of Somali descent, who was a permanent legal resident of the U.S., and was listed as logistics management major in OSU’s online directory. In 1915, Artan reportedly graduated with an associate of arts degree from Columbus State Community College, where he was reportedly on the school’s dean’s list and graduated cum laude. A photo of Artan in his cap and gown shows him beaming after collecting his diploma.

Although officials are still trying to piece together clues to determine what motivated the attack, in August 2015, Artan, who is a Muslim, told an OSU student reporter at the university’s publication the Lantern about his fear about being negatively stereotyped. “I wanted to pray in the open,” said Artan, “but I was kinda scared with everything going on in the media. I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But, I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads,” he told reporter Kevin Stankiewicz.

Yet the expression was more one of anxiety. Artan went on to say that, he found a place to pray without incident.

Officials continue to gather information about Artan’s history in their efforts to determine what caused the young immigrant man—who appeared to be succeeding as a student—to go off the rails between his August 2015 interview, and his vicious attack fifteen months later.

Among the clues being examined is a Facebook diatribe, posted minutes before Artan’s potentially deadly attack, which rants against U.S. policy toward Muslims, mentioning Myanmar specifically, which he reportedly wrote had pushed him to a “boiling point.”

“I am sick and tired of seeing my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters being killed and tortured EVERYWHERE,” Artan reportedly posted.

“America!” the Facebook post continued, “Stop interfering with other countries, especially the Muslim Ummah. We are not weak.”


When the attack began, students started posting photos and videos on Twitter warning each other of the danger, and trying to get information.

Eleven people were reported hospitalized after the attack. All were in stable condition, save for one victim who was in critical condition. Yet while serious, the injuries were reportedly not life threatening.

At first there were reports of two attackers, one with a gun. But as time went by, the shooter story was amended. Despite rumors of a second suspect, police believe there was one person involved in the attack. Less than a minute after the attack, an OSU police officer fatally shot the suspect, after ordering him to drop his weapon.

The Washington Post reported conversations with bystanders, including the following:

“We were waiting for the firetrucks to go. As soon as the firetrucks started to pull away, a white Honda Civic came flying into the crowd,” Chapman said. “It probably hit three or four people. We thought it was an accident at first. Once the car had stopped, everyone was making sure the driver was okay. But he got out of the car and immediately started slashing people closest to the car with a knife.

“He got out of the car and started slashing everyone nearby,” Chapman said. “After that, I ran. Once I recognized he was attacking people with a knife I got out of there as fast as I could. The guy next to me, his hand got cut.”

The police officer who took quick action and fatally shot Artan was identified as OSU Officer Alan Horujko, who is 28. Authorities said Horujko’s quick action helped minimize the toll of the attack.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post was updated on 11/29/2016 at 11:40 a.m.

Posted in Life in general | 4 Comments »

Judge Puts Off Decision About Whether Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Can use an Expert to Introduce Baca’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

November 23rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At a 3 p.m hearing on Wednesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, federal prosecutor Brandon Fox argued that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his defense team should not be allowed to bring in expert witness, UCLA psychiatrist Dr. James Spar, to testify about Baca’s diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and what it suggests about his cognitive ability in the years prior to his diagnosis.

Baca was first officially diagnosed as having some kind of cognitive impairments, on May 13, 2014.

More to the point, the defense hopes to have Spar testify about whether it was likely that the former sheriff was suffering cognitive impairment during the four and a half hour interview with federal officials on April 12, 2013, during which time he allegedly lied to the feds on four different occasions.

Baca is charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials. His trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on December 6.

Spar’s area of expertise has to do with mental illnesses affecting the elderly, thus by getting him to the witness stand, the defense hopes to introduce the idea that the former sheriff may not have been cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Spar’s proposed testimony, argued Fox, “is based on insufficient facts and data. Dr. Spar’s proposed testimony would result in juror confusion and unfair prejudice to the government.”


Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, pointed out in the defense’s opposition to the government’s motion, and again in court, that his client had answered “I don’t recall” 25 times” during the crucial 2013 interview with the government. Dr. Spar, Hochman said, would testify to the probability that Mr. Baca was in the “pre-clinical stage” of Alzheimers, which Spar contends “can occur 10 years or more before the onset of clinical symptoms,” or the Mild Clinical Impairment” or MCI stage of Alzheimer’s during his April 12, 2013 government interview, but that the symptoms “were not formally diagnosed until May 2014.”

In response, Fox pointed out that “I don’t recall,” is a common response by witnesses in the hot seat, and called Spar’s contention that Baca could have been suffering from some kind of cognitive impairment for up to ten years prior to his actual diagnosis “junk science.” Spar was “cherry picking” facts that were beneficial to the defense, Fox said.

On Tuesday, Judge Anderson seemed very engaged in the issue, and asked defense attorney Hochman question after question about what Spar would say that was “an objective assessment.” Were there any “documented complaints by Baca about memory?” Anderson wanted to know.

In the end, however, Judge Anderson declined to rule right away on the government’s motion to bar Dr. Spar’s testimony, but said he would hand down a ruling before the trial’s beginning.


Even if the judge rules that Spar’s testimony would be more prejudicial than probative, thus keeps Dr. Spar off the stand, the defense could still get the Alzheimer’s issue in front of the jury by putting Baca on the stand, said former assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was also the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence.

When WitnessLA asked Hochman if the defense team would indeed consider putting the former sheriff on the stand, he said that the defense team was “evaluating all options, and those options include calling Sheriff Baca as a witness in his own case.”

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 4 Comments »

LA County Supes Take on Hate Crimes

November 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ramp up efforts to prevent hate crimes.

Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced the motion in response to a wave of reports of hate crimes in the county following Donald Trump’s election victory.

The motion directs the sheriff’s department to “swiftly” contact communities likely to be targeted in order to reaffirm the county’s continued support and to open up communication with those communities so that victims feel they can safely report hate crimes and related incidents, particularly those concerned about their immigration status.

County departments, including the LASD will report back in 60 days with a plan on how to better track and quickly respond to hate crimes.

“It seems that standing up for our people’s constitutional rights is going to fall on the hands of state and local governments,” Solis said. “Many families in our county are fearful and we have to assure them that we are here to protect their rights.”

The motion also directs the county’s Office of Education to report back in 60 days with a plan detailing preventative steps to curb “bullying, targeting, demeaning, and harassing behavior” in schools.

“People in the county are being targeted because of their ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and we need to act now. This motion calls our communities to stand in unison and speak out against these acts of bullying, discrimination and hate violence,” Supe Solis said. “We are calling on our Sheriff’s department, law enforcement agencies and County Education Office to help us maintain a safe environment for everyone to work, learn and live in.”

The Supes created a task force to address anti-Muslim acts committed in the months following the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. The task force—a group of law enforcement leaders, city and county officials, community groups, and others—spent 2016 developing recommendations for combatting crimes motivated by hate and bias. The recommendations were included in a recently released 2015 Hate Crime Report.
The report found that hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose 24% from 390 in 2014 to 483 in 2015, compared with a 10% rise statewide. Half of the hate crimes were motivated by race.

Last week the FBI released the national hate crime report for 2015, which revealed a startling 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims.
In the video above, US Attorney General called the report’s results “deeply sobering,” and urged victims to continue to report incidents to local law enforcement and the Department of Justice.


“Every single one of us has a friend, family member, or a neighbor who is an immigrant, and it is that degree of connectedness that should drive us to do everything possible to protect our immigrant population,” Solis said, previewing a separate motion Tuesday. Among the tasks the second motion will call for, is an analysis of the feasibility of creating a county Department of Immigrant Affairs to protect the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell will also have to report back to the board in 45 days on whether the LASD plans to change any immigration-related policies or practices in the event that Trump follows through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

WitnessLA will have more on the motion after Solis submits it to the board in December.

Posted in immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, Los Angeles County, race | 4 Comments »

Obama Hits 1,000 Commutations

November 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama granted 79 more commutations, pushing his clemency total over the 1,000 mark—more than the last 11 presidents combined.

“The number 1,000 is significant, but it’s important to remember that this is more than a statistic,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “There are 1,000 lives behind that number, 1,000 people who had been sentenced under unnecessarily harsh and outdated sentencing laws that sent them to prison for 20, 30, 40 years, even life, for nonviolent drug offenses.”

The men and women granted clemency by the president were serving outdated sentences for cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and other drug-related offenses. Twenty of those who received commutations had been serving life sentences.

“It’s part of my job to review the petitions for each of these individuals, and I’ve been struck by the common threads woven through many of them – lack of access to education or real economic opportunity, absence of parents, drug addiction, hopelessness,” Yates said. “But in these petitions I’ve also seen something else – remarkable introspection, a real sense of responsibility for their conduct, and a dogged determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to ensure that they, and especially their children, chart another path.”

The president has granted far fewer pardons (which wipe a person’s criminal record and restore their rights) than many of his predecessors, despite receiving more than 3,000 petitions during his eight years in office. Obama has granted 70 pardons during his two terms. George W. Bush pardoned 189 men and women, Bill Clinton granted 396 pardons, Ronald Reagan granted 393, Jimmy Carter granted 534, Lyndon B. Johnson granted 960, and Harry S. Truman granted 1,913.

Advocate groups including #Cut50—led by CNN political commentator former and Obama administration official Van Jones—have urged Obama to keep pushing through commutations in the weeks he has left in the White House.

Posted in Obama, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

More Cities Join LA in Asserting “Sanctuary” Status Despite Trump’s Plan to Take Away Funding

November 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the city would not work with President-elect Donald Trump on the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Trump has said that he will withhold major Department of Justice funding to “sanctuary cities” like Los Angeles where undocumented immigrants are not arrested solely for violating federal immigration laws.

Over the weekend, Reince Priebus, tapped by Trump to be chief of staff, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump is looking into pulling funding from the sanctuary cities and counties—of which there are more than 300 nationwide.

Tapper asked Priebus about Los Angeles’ decision not to work with the feds to deport undocumented immigrants, while continuing to take in hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the DOJ. While Priebus answered that the issue would be a “matter of negotiation,” he also argued that “the idea that a city would decide to ignore federal law, and then would want the federal government to help them anyway is an inconsistent position,” and “not the way life works.”

On Monday Mayor Garcetti called the Trump administration move a “mistake” that would lead to “social, economic, and security problems,” according to the LA Times’ Dakota Smith.

The LAPD will continue to follow Special Order 40, a 1979 mandate implemented by then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates and the LA City Council, which prevents police from questioning people with the sole intention of determining their immigration status, Garcetti said last week.

The conservative Gates (and every chief who has come after) embraced the mandate, which was put in place so that undocumented immigrants could feel safe reporting crimes and otherwise engaging with law enforcement without the fear of deportation.

The city of Los Angeles is expected to receive more than $500 million this fiscal year from the DOJ for port security, homeland security, and combatting homelessness, among other important purposes.

“Every police department has to make decisions about how to best go about policing efforts, and most jurisdictions have decided that if local police are known to be enforcers, it harms their ability to police effectively,” Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, told the Washington Post.

In California, San Francisco, Alameda County, San Diego County, Santa Clara County, Riverside County also offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, flanked by city officials, promised that SF would remain a sanctuary city. “We promise to be a city that’s always welcoming,” said Lee. “There are no walls in our city.”

Mayors of other “sanctuary cities,” including Portland, OR, Seattle, and Chicago have made similar statements.

In a tweet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made his position clear. “I told the President-elect we’re ultimate city of immigrants & attempts to mass deport our people flies in the face of what makes NYC great.”

Mere hours after taking office in January, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order reclassifying the city as a sanctuary city.

Last week, Kenney reaffirmed the city’s stance. “I vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States by not holding people in jail without a warrant, which I think is in violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Kenney said.

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