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Sheriff McDonnell to Launch Anti-Corruption Policy Regarding Who Approves the LASD’s Long Controversial Tow Contracts

October 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

In the process of discussing the kerfuffle around Assistant Sheriff Rothans
and the stolen car he inadventantly bought from his pal at one of the department’s contracted tow companies (see story below), WitnessLA has learned that Sheriff Jim McDonnell is in the process of making significant changes in the way that the LASD awards its tow contracts.

This is very welcome news.

From at least the time of former undersheriff Larry Waldie forward, there has been back room talk about corruption leaking into the awarding of the sheriff’s department’s lucrative tow contracts. These are the contracts given out to companies that tow and store the vehicles that the LASD has, for one reason or another, impounded. Since at least 1999, the much sought after contracts have been awarded by the department, based on a system outlined in an MOU with the county’s board of supervisors.

The MOU states that the actual selection of the recipients of the various regional contracts is overseen by the LASD’s Major Crimes Bureau—but with each station captain having the primary say-so over which tow company (or companies) gets the final nod in each geographic area.

This system has been sensible in some ways, since presumably the regional commanding officers are more likely to know the local players better than most.

But there has also been a serious downside in that the arrangement also opens itself up to the possibility of sub rosa pay-to-play arrangements.

This is not to say that the majority of station captains have not made their selections based on merit—doing their best to hand out contracts fairly and without bias or personal interest. (And we are in no way suggesting that Assistant Sheriff Rothans was anything but ethical in his contract dealings when he was captain at Pico-Rivera. He may very well be clean as a whistle—despite his recent foray into what has the appearance of impropriety.)

But in too many cases, if years worth of stories are to be believed, the contracts have been tied to monetary kickbacks that, in some instances in past years, have been rumored to be sanctioned at higher levels in the department.

All this is very hard to prove, of course. Based four years of our own digging into the matter, we’ve found many of the accounts we’ve encountered to be extremely credible, but difficult to nail beyond doubt. For one thing, the tow companies allegedly involved have thus far declined to come on the record, even those who reportedly hate being asked to pay-to-play. They have too much to lose.

We know that many have gone to the feds with what they know, but since there have been no indictments, we assume the FBI has not gotten what they need either.

Apparently Sheriff McDonnell has also heard the stories and found them convincing. As a consequence, we have learned, the method by which the LASD tow contracts have been handed out in the past….is about to change.


Instead of the choices being made at the station level, according to department spokesman, Keith Swensson, the selections under the new system will be made by three chiefs who have no direct connection with the individual stations. Sheriff McDonnell will be the final decision maker.

“The captains will have no input whatsoever,” said Swensson. The point, he said, is to avoid corruption. (And the appearance of corruption, which can also be corrosive.)

A new MOU should be going to the Supes soon for their approval, Swensson said.

This, as we mentioned above, is very good news.


Posted in Jim McDonnell, LASD | 8 Comments »

Probe Launched Into Top LA County Sheriff’s Official Stolen Luxury Car—Bought at a Bargain Price From His Tow Company Pal

October 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell has launched an investigation
into the fact that the department’s third in command, Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, has been driving a stolen luxury car—a 2012 Audi A4—for the past year—a car that he bought for an unusually low price from the owner of a tow company, which has a lucrative contract with the department.

In a statement released Thursday, McDonnell emphasized that the probe into the matter of his assistant sheriff and the stolen Audi would be thorough and transparent, and that Inspector General Max Huntsman would be involved.

“Upon taking office, I made it clear that I expect every member of the Department to be held to the highest standard,” the sheriff said. “Immediately upon learning of this incident, I ordered an administrative investigation into the facts of this case and notified the inspector general. This matter will be handled thoroughly and fairly and I welcome the engagement of the Inspector General in helping us evaluate the underlying facts.

The investigation was triggered when the LA Times’ Cindy Chang, who broke the story Thursday morning, began asking the department questions last week about Rothans and the stolen car.

As it happens, the fact that the assistant sheriff was driving a car that was stolen is not, actually, the main issue. More potentially problematic is the fact that the vehicle was impounded by the department. (Buying LASD impounded items is reportedly a no-no.) Worse, in terms of appearance, is the matter that Rothans bought the car from the head of a tow company—Vernola’s Towing—-that has a contract with the department and that, starting in 2006 when Rothans was made captain of the LASD’s Pico Rivera station, he was the person who had the final say-so over the awarding of the contract. Even now, as assistant sheriff overseeing patrol, Rothans could theoretically favor or nix the contract with Vernola’s.

Rothans told the Times’ Chang that he considered the sale a private transaction between friends and believed it not to be against the rules. “I didn’t think I was manipulating the policy or that a car was changing hands so I could get a special deal. I bought the car from someone I’ve been friends with for 20 years. Looking at the policy, I still don’t think I did anything wrong.”

And maybe he’s right.

Then again, maybe not. As things stand now, it seems there were some possible red flags when it comes to the car’s title history (or lack thereof), and its purchase, that the assistant sheriff could or should have seen.


The 2012 Audi came to the authorities’ attention when its driver, an alleged gang member, was stopped at a drunk-driving checkpoint in Pico Rivera, and the driver was arrested for alleged weapons violations, the car towed and impounded.

The car had been stolen from a dealership in Mission Viejo on Dec. of 2011, but didn’t pass through the check-point for another two years. Somewhere during that two-year gap, the Audi’s VIN number was switched with that of a non-stolen 2010 Audi A4, thus the impounded car wasn’t flagged as jacked.

In LA County, a vehicle’s owner has a maximum of 180 days to claim an impounded car (less in some cases). If one is arrested or otherwise incapacitated, one generally empowers a friend or family member to pick up one’s car and pay the impound fees.

But no one came to claim the Audi.

In the case of an unclaimed car, it is advertised for sale in the paper and sold in a “lein sale” by the tow company, which, in turn gets to recoup its costs off the top, plus a little extra. Any additional $$ left from the sale price goes to the DMV.

The Audi A4, however, didn’t sell. When that occurs, the vehicle becomes the property of the tow company. The company’s head, Lisa Vernola, told the Times that, after the non-sale, she decided to put the pretty Audi in her name. But some time later, she claims she figured the car had too many problems, and she resolved to unload it.

The Audi caught Rothans’ attention when he dropped by the tow company to meet Vernola’s father, Luigi Vernola, for lunch. (The senior Vernola is a Norwalk city council member and former Norwalk mayor.) Sometime shortly thereafter, Lisa Vernola sold Rothans the car for $3000.

Both Vernola and Rothans maintain that the three grand was a fair price, because the car was minus a radio and had some body damage in the back. In addition, Vernola told the Times that sometimes she had trouble starting the thing, and that it needed a new engine. (Even if there was problem getting the car to start, why that would mean a new engine is not clear.)

In any case, the implication was that lots of costly repairs were needed.

Department spokesman Commander Keith Swensson said that delving into the cost of such repairs would be among the questions that would be asked during the investigative process.

In the meantime, a cursory perusal of the Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds, and other like sites, shows that a 2010 Audi A4 with the 24000 miles Rothans claimed when he registered it—even if it was in “poor” or “rough” condition—would sell today for between $11,000 and $13,150. If the condition is raised to “fair,” the price jumps to $12,500 to $15,000. Returned to a paltry “good” condition and you’re in the $17,000 range. Moreover, let’s just say Vernola was right about the engine, has anyone priced new engines for Audi A4s including labor? We have. They’re pricey, but they don’t break the bank.)

All this is to say that, if that the car was drivable, and not demolition-derby trashed, $3,000 sounds like a gift.

THE 2010 IS A 2012

In late August, after Rothans had been driving the car in his non-working hours for about a year, the stolen vin number was finally flagged and Rothans got a notice from the DMV informing him that he needed to take his now fixed-up Audie in for a “VIN verification.” When he brought the car in, a CHP officer reportedly spotted the phony VIN, and also located a secondary “real” VIN in a less obvious place on the auto. The 2010 Audi A4 was, in reality, a 2012 A4—and stolen. (Not to put too fine a point on things, but that makes its value—banged up or pristine—considerably higher. Also, during all these repairs, did no one report that they were working on a 2012, not a 2010? The models are similar, but not identical.)

Now the heisted Audi 2012 has been returned to its rightful owners at the dealership, and Rothans is out the $3000 he paid for car and whatever repairs it required. In other words, he’s a victim, along with the car’s original owner, the dealership.

However, one does wonder why an obviously savvy law enforcement veteran of more than 30 years of service, wouldn’t at least ask a few questions about the car’s likely questionable provenance, and a few more questions about his own possibly questionable actions in buying it.

Posted in LASD | 28 Comments »

Inmate Debate Team Beats Harvard, LAPD Transparency, Drugging Foster Kids, and CEO Sachi Hamai

October 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a debate last month, an inmate debate team from Eastern New York Correctional Facility beat a national championship-winning debate team from Harvard.

The inmates, students of the Bard Prison Initiative, won using an argument they strongly disagreed with: that undocumented immigrant children should be barred from attending public schools. The Bard team caught the Harvard students off-guard, asserting that when the public schools (AKA “dropout factories”) deny enrollment to the undocumented kids, private schools and non-profits will step in and give kids a better education than they would have received in the public school system.

The team of three inmates, who are serving time for manslaughter, also dominated the debate teams from West Point Military Academy and the University of Vermont. And the Bard students do not have access to the internet to prepare for their debates. They have to request books and articles to research their topics.

The Wall Street Journal’s Leslie Brody has the story. Here’s a clip:

Ironically, the inmates had to promote an argument with which they fiercely disagreed. Resolved: “Public schools in the United States should have the ability to deny enrollment to undocumented students.”

Carlos Polanco, a 31-year-old from Queens in prison for manslaughter, said after the debate that he would never want to bar a child from school and he felt forever grateful he could pursue a Bard diploma. “We have been graced with opportunity,” he said. “They make us believe in ourselves.”

Judge Mary Nugent, leading a veteran panel, said the Bard team made a strong case that the schools attended by many undocumented children were failing so badly that students were simply being warehoused. The team proposed that if “dropout factories” with overcrowded classrooms and insufficient funding could deny these children admission, then nonprofits and wealthier schools would step in and teach them better.

Ms. Nugent said the Harvard College Debating Union didn’t respond to parts of that argument, though both sides did an excellent job.


In the morning before the debate, team members talked of nerves and their hope that competing against Harvard—even if they lost—would inspire other inmates to pursue educations.

“If we win, it’s going to make a lot of people question what goes on in here,” said Alex Hall, a 31-year-old from Manhattan convicted of manslaughter. “We might not be as naturally rhetorically gifted, but we work really hard.”

The Washington Post’s Pete Holley explains why, while impressive, it shouldn’t be a surprise that inmates bested the Harvard boys. Here’s a clip:

It sounds like an underdog story plucked from the pages of a yet unwritten Walt Disney screenplay — and in some ways, it is.

But it’s also worth pointing out the fallacy of our underlying assumptions about such a matchup — the first (and most pernicious) being that criminals aren’t smart. If a definitive link between criminality and below-average intelligence exists, nobody has found it.


Some of the program’s students have continued their educations at Yale and Columbia universities, Max Kenner, executive director of the Bard Prison Initiative, told the AP. He noted that his students “make the most of every opportunity they have” and aren’t treated like men with criminal records in the classroom.

“Students in the prison are held to the exact same standards, levels of rigor and expectation as students on Bard’s main campus,” Kenner told the AP.


On Saturday night, Los Angeles police officers fatally shot a man they believed to have thrown a beer bottle, shattering their radio car’s rear window. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has said little about the shooting. We do know that officers said they believed they were being shot at when their window shattered, and that the man was not found to have a gun.

While noting that law enforcement officers are forced to make extremely difficult split-second decisions to protect protect their own safety and the safety of the public, an LA Times editorial urges transparency from the LAPD and the city regarding the shooting, so that suspicions about the killing are not left to “fester.”

Here’s a clip:

Few facts about this latest incident have been released to the public. Two Los Angeles Police Department officers in a patrol car were stopped at a light at Victory and Van Nuys boulevards Saturday night when a 40-ounce beer bottle crashed through the back window. The officers got out and shot to death a man who they thought threw the bottle. That’s it. The police haven’t even disclosed the dead man’s name.

In the absence of facts, people are liable to fill in the blanks with a narrative that won’t necessarily favor the officers. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has been too quiet on this case, saying only that the main question is whether the officers’ perception of imminent danger was reasonable. There are others that are just as important. Was the dead man the bottle thrower? Why did the officers believe they were in danger? Was it reasonable for them to start firing before they knew they had the right person, or whether he was armed? Are they being adequately trained to deal with such situations?


On KPCC’s Take Two journalist Karen De Sá talks about a newly-signed package of bills to protect CA’s foster kids from over-drugging, and her powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked use of psychotropic meds on California’s foster children (which was sparked the legislative action). Take a listen.


The LA County Board of Supervisors voted in a closed-door session to appoint the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai as the permanent CEO.

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

“Sachi has been an outstanding county leader throughout her career and has excelled as our interim CEO, rapidly responding to reforms critically needed inside the county and tackling reforms in service to improving the quality of life for our county residents,” Antonovich said in a statement.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in an interview the board commissioned a detailed evaluation, conducted by an outside evaluator, of Hamai’s job performance in her interim role.

“Everyone is very happy with her,” Kuehl said.

Hamai was appointed the county’s interim CEO in December following the installment of two new board members Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis. Hamai replaced Brence Culp, who was briefly appointed interim CEO by the previous board following the retirement of longtime CEO William Fujioka. Fujioka served as CEO for seven years….

The CEO’s duties include oversight of the county’s $27.1 billion budget, labor relations, legislative advocacy and capital planning.

Hamai will also continue to oversee the county’s initiatives on homelessness, heath care, criminal justice and child welfare.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Protecting Foster Kids, Gov. Brown’s Veto Message, John Oliver on Mental Illness…and More

October 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to establish a new center—a philanthropy liaison—within the still developing Office of Child Protection. The new liaison effort will fill in a problematic gap in the child welfare system: collaboration with philanthropic groups on initiatives to better protect and serve foster kids.

The new Center for Strategic Public-Private Partnerships will have three staff members who will be tasked with securing funding assistance from philanthropic groups. Supervisor Hilda Solis, who co-authored the motion with Supe Sheila Kuehl said she sees the money going toward keeping kids safe from abuse, addressing trauma in foster children, and other critical safety and wellbeing efforts.

“The power of public-private partnerships has been under-utilized within the County. This motion changes that unfortunate dynamic,” Supervisor Solis said. “With this new Center in place, we will be far better positioned to combine the best thinking and resources of government and philanthropy into programs that work for children. That is why this initiative is a priority for me.”

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the new center. Here’s a clip:

“We believe it will be a game-changer and lead to a more effective and collaborative relationship between government and philanthropy as we work together toward a better future for our children,” said Chris Essel, SCG’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Twelve philanthropic groups have already endorsed the center, according to a press release from Solis’ office: The Ahmanson Foundation; Annenberg Foundation; Anthony & Jeanne Pritzker Family Foundation/Pritzker Foster Care Initiative; Blue Shield of California Foundation; California Community Foundation; The California Endowment; David Bohnett Foundation; Hilton Foundation; The James Irvine Foundation; The Ralph M. Parsons Foundation; UniHealth Foundation; and Weingart Foundation.

“Improving our child welfare system requires the kind of innovative solutions that result from cross-sector collaboration. This is a very important example of government and philanthropy working together on behalf of our children and families,” said Fred Ali, president and CEO of the Weingart Foundation, in a press release.

The board also passed a motion by Supe Kuehl to hire a consultant to focus specifically on the finding areas in which the county departments are failing LGBTQ foster kids, who are over-represented in the child welfare system. The consultant will gather data and present recommendations to the board on how to better care for the vulnerable LGBTQ foster population, including recommendations on training for those in contact with the kids (like social workers, mental health professionals, and foster parents).

“All the young people in our foster care system face incredible challenges, but the nearly 20% who identify as LGBTQ are in great need of targeted support to ensure they’re properly cared for, valued and respected, said Kuehl. “This is an important first step in improving outcomes for these kids and I’m proud to have the opportunity to champion them today.”

Here’s a clip from Kuehl’s website:

These youth face unique challenges and barriers to finding positive outcomes and permanent homes—challenges stemming from discrimination due to their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

Not only are LGBTQ youth over-represented in the foster care population, there are also significant disparities in experience between LGBTQ youth and their non-LGBTQ counterparts. These disparities could be mitigated if we develop and utilize accurate data and enhanced training efforts to more fully address their needs, including identifying and re-mediating the effects of bullying and trauma.

As part of a five-year, federal grant awarded to the LGBT Center in Los Angeles, the Williams Institute at UCLA and Holarchy Consulting conducted a landmark study of 786 randomly sampled foster youth ages 12 to 21. The findings show that 19 percent – nearly one in five – foster youth in Los Angeles County identify as LGBTQ. This means that there are almost four times more LGBTQ youth as a percentage of young people in foster care than those identifying as LGBTQ outside foster care.

Given this over-representation of LGBTQ youth among foster children, it is even more problematic that there has been very little focus on this population. According to the Williams-Holarchy study, LGBTQ youth have a higher than average number of foster care placements and a greater likelihood of being in a group home, hospitalized or homeless at some point in their lives. More stable placements and stronger reunification efforts could lead to improved educational and permanency outcomes.

Costly group home and hospital stays could be avoided with a more targeted approach in serving this unique population. While many of our departments have made very good efforts to develop specialized LGBTQ programs, now is the time for the County to systematically address the needs of LGBTQ youth in our child welfare system.

Also on Tuesday, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a package of three weakened, but still important, bills to curb doctors over-prescribing of dangerous psychotropic medications to vulnerable foster kids. San Jose Mercury News’ Karen De Sá has more on the three bills authored by Senators Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles). (If you haven’t, be sure to read De Sá’s powerful five-part series on the excessive and unchecked over-drugging of California’s foster children.)


Over the weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a pile of bills that would have created new crimes (and put more people behind bars for longer). In his veto message the governor urged caution, pointing out that the state already has a whopping 5,000 criminal laws. “I think we should pause and reflect how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just, and more cost-effective,” said Brown.

An LA Times editorial lauds the governor’s message, and calls for a sentencing commission to review the criminal statutes and give meaningful reform recommendations to responsive lawmakers. Here’s a clip:

We take that statement not as merely a wise admonition but as a call to action. California needs a comprehensive review of its 5,000 criminal statutes. It needs a sentencing commission to provide a holistic view of crimes and penalties, to recommend needed changes — what to roll back, what to toughen up — and to critique legislative proposals. It needs lawmakers who take such recommendations seriously and are prepared to inject some sense into our criminal justice framework.

The Legislature too often proves itself inadequate to the task. Senators and Assembly members carry bills as one-offs that respond to current tragedies, outrages or headlines, or that cater to the needs of particular advocacy groups, even when there is little or no evidence that greater safety or savings will result. There is an entire crime bill industry that measures effectiveness by the number of infractions turned into misdemeanors and misdemeanors turned into felonies. Results have included, for example, more serious charges and stiffer criminal sanctions for the theft of avocados or crustaceans than other goods of similar value, and long sentences for relatively minor nonviolent crimes such as drug possession.


John Oliver, host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, continues to hammer away at important social and criminal justice issues. This week, Oliver takes on the issue of mental health in the United States, including the inadequate treatment, the never-ending cycle of fatal encounters between law enforcement and the mentally ill, and the horrifying fact that there are ten times more people with mental illness behind bars than in psychiatric hospitals. Watch the segment above.


FiveThirtyEight’s Carl Bialik has a very helpful analysis of the major bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill announced last week. (Backstory here.)

Here’s a clip:

The crimes that would have new mandatory minimums produce few convictions. They are interstate domestic violence — involving travel across state lines by an offender or victim — resulting in death or serious injury, or committed with a dangerous weapon; and providing goods or services to terrorists or proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.

Just 44 people were sentenced for interstate domestic violence last year, according to the Sentencing Commission’s 2014 Sourcebook of Federal Sentencing Statistics. And 162 people were sentenced for the category of crimes that includes arming or aiding terrorists.

The commission’s numbers include some people whose crimes wouldn’t have been covered by the new mandatory minimums proposed in the Senate bill. That’s because the legislation doesn’t cover everyone who has violated the relevant federal statutes; it covers only a subset of the most serious offenders. For instance, not all interstate domestic violence results in death or serious injury or is committed with a dangerous weapon.

For that reason, the number of people who would have been affected by the bill if it were in effect in 2014 is smaller — far smaller, according to Molly Gill, government affairs counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports the bill but opposes the new mandatory minimums. She estimates that if the mandatory minimums were in place last year, they would have affected just 22 people for interstate domestic violence and just eight people for aiding or arming terrorists.

By contrast, thousands more people could benefit from a different provision of the bill. It retroactively applies the 2010 Fair Sentencing Act, which narrowed the gap in sentencing guidelines between offenses involving crack cocaine and those involving powder cocaine. (Crack sentences, which disproportionately affect black prisoners, were significantly higher than those for powder.) Making the 2010 law retroactive would give approximately 6,500 people convicted of crack offenses who remain in prison the right to file a motion for a reduced sentence — although the bill doesn’t mandate that courts grant the motion and some of the prisoners already are near the end of their sentences.


And in the coming weeks, the US Department of Justice is scheduled to release around 6,000 drug offenders from federal prison, reducing prison overcrowding and shortening old, harsh drug-related sentences.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates from federal prisons nationwide will be set free by the department’s Bureau of Prisons between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2. About two-thirds of them will go to halfway houses and home confinement before being put on supervised release. About one-third are foreign citizens who will be quickly deported, officials said.

The early release follows action by the U.S. Sentencing Commission — an independent agency that sets sentencing policies for federal crimes — that reduced the potential punishment for future drug offenders last year and then made that change retroactive.

The commission’s action is separate from an effort by President Obama to grant clemency to certain nonviolent drug offenders, an initiative that has resulted in the early release of 89 inmates.

The panel estimated that its change in sentencing guidelines eventually could result in 46,000 of the nation’s approximately 100,000 drug offenders in federal prison qualifying for early release. The 6,000 figure, which has not been reported previously, is the first tranche in that process.

“The number of people who will be affected is quite exceptional,” said Mary Price, general counsel for Families Against Mandatory Minimums, an advocacy group that supports sentencing reform.

The Sentencing Commission estimated that an additional 8,550 inmates would be eligible for release between this Nov. 1 and Nov. 1, 2016.

The releases are part of a shift in the nation’s approach to criminal justice and drug sentencing that has been driven by a bipartisan consensus that mass incarceration has failed and should be reversed.

Along with the commission’s action, the Justice Department has instructed its prosecutors not to charge low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who have no connection to gangs or large-scale drug organizations with offenses that carry severe mandatory sentences.

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Criminal Justice Bills, Stopping Mass Shootings Before They Start, and Tasers

October 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Over the weekend, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed (and vetoed) a number of notable criminal justice-related bills we have been following at WLA.

Also among the ranks of passed bills was SB 261, a bill to expand the age of eligibility for early parole hearings to include lifers whose crimes were committed before the age of 23. (In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that gave a second chance at parole to kids who committed murder before the age of 18 and were sentenced to life-without-parole. SB 261 extends the reach of that 2013 bill.)

The bill was sponsored by the Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), Human Rights Watch (HRW), National Center for Youth Law (NCYL), and Youth Justice Coalition (YJC).

“If a young person demonstrates personal growth and rehabilitation, and shows remorse for their crime, they deserve a second chance,” says ARC Founder and President Scott Budnick. “This new law holds young people accountable for the mistakes they have made, but also offers them compassion and the opportunity to begin contributing positively to their communities.”

“California’s new law acknowledges that young adults who have done wrong are still developing in ways that makes a real turnaround possible,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at HRW. “This law gives imprisoned young offenders hope and the motivation to work hard toward parole.”

A bill to ban strip searches of kids in juvenile detention by (or in front of) members of the opposite gender was also signed into law on Saturday. The bill, AB 303, was introduced in response to reports of San Diego juvie detention officers pepper spraying young inmates who refused to be searched by staff of the opposite gender.

Another new law, AB 256, will protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), will make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Other notable signings include a bill that will require law enforcement agencies to provide the DOJ with detailed use of force reports and data, a bill to curb prosecutorial misconduct, two bills to boost mental health training for law enforcement, and a mental health diversion bill.


A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), SB 333, would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.

Brown also vetoed SB 722, a bill by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel), that would have made it a felony for sex offenders on parole to remove or tamper with their GPS tracking devices.

Expressing her disappointment at the veto, Sen. Bates said, “If anyone deserves to serve longer prison terms, then it should be violent sex offenders who tamper with their GPS devices.”

And SB 347 would have added two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

The governor vetoed a several other bills that would have created new crimes, saying, “Over the last several decades, California’s criminal code has grown to more than 5,000 separate provisions, covering almost every conceivable form of human misbehavior. During the same period, our jail and prison populations have exploded.”

“Before we keep going down this road,” continued Brown, “I think we should pause and reflect on how our system of criminal justice could be made more human, more just and more cost-effective.”


Mother Jones’ Mark Follman has an excellent longread on threat assessment teams and how they root out and prevent school shootings.

Threat assessment teams comprised of cops, psychologists, and counselors, successfully divert and treat young people at risk of harming others via a strategy that includes identifying and quickly and carefully evaluating a person’s risk of harming others, followed by intervention efforts like counseling, mentoring, and other services.

It’s rare that a team has to go so far as to hospitalize or arrest a person.

The risk assessment is an interesting and complicated process for law enforcement officers, especially because their subject has committed no crime.

Mass shootings are nearly always carefully planned—usually by a young white male in the midst of a mental health crisis. These massacres are not impulsive crimes.

The concept of multidisciplinary efforts to prevent mass killings began as an LAPD response to public outrage after 21-year-old actress named Rebecca Schaeffer was fatally shot by an obsessive fan.

The specialized teams seem to be working, for the most part. According to the FBI, of the hundreds of subjects its team has tracked, only one has gone on to harm someone else. But cases still slip through the cracks, and it’s hard to tell when a person no longer needs the intervention services. Some of the monitored young people who appear well and out of crisis mode still go on to commit those mass murders, just years later.

Colorado theater shooter, James Holmes, and Jared Loughner, who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 18 others in Arizona, were both evaluated by threat assessment teams before their rampages.

One troubled Oregon teen, Erik Ayala, whom law enforcement found to be contemplating shooting fellow classmates, received years of help and mentorship from an assessment team. The team believed they had successfully navigated Ayala through his crisis and diverted him from a path of violence, but years after his intervention, Ayala went out and killed teens very similar to those he targeted in high school.

Here’s the opening from Mark Follman’s story on the assessment teams, the copycat killer trend known as the “Columbine effect,” and gun control (but do go read the rest):

Soon after the school year started in September 2000, a police officer working at McNary High in Keizer, Oregon, got a tip about a junior named Erik Ayala. The 16-year-old had told another student that “he was mad at ‘preps’ and was going to bring a gun in.” Ayala struck the officer as quiet, depressed. He confided that “he was not happy with school or with himself” but insisted he had no intention of hurting others. Two months later, Ayala tried to kill himself by swallowing a fistful of Aleve tablets. He was admitted to a private mental health facility in Portland, where he was diagnosed with “numerous mental disorders,” according to the police officer’s report.

To most people, Ayala’s suicide attempt would have looked like a private tragedy. But for a specialized team of psychologists, counselors, and cops, it set off alarm bells. They were part of a pioneering local program, launched after the Columbine school massacre the prior year, to identify and deter kids who might turn violent. Before Ayala was released from the hospital, the Salem-Keizer school district’s threat assessment team interviewed his friends, family, and teachers. They uncovered additional warning signs: In his school notebooks, Ayala had raged about feeling like an outsider and being rejected by a girl he liked. He had repeatedly told his friends that he despised “preps” and wished he could “just go out and kill a few of them.” He went online to try to buy a gun. And he’d drawn up a hit list. The names on it included his close friend Kyle, and the girl he longed for.

The threat assessment team had to decide just how dangerous Ayala might be and whether they could help turn his life around. As soon as they determined he didn’t have any weapons, they launched a “wraparound intervention”—in his case, counseling, in-home tutoring, and help pursuing his interests in music and computers.

“He was a very gifted, bright young man,” recalls John Van Dreal, a psychologist and threat assessment expert involved in the case. “A lot of what was done for him was to move him away from thinking about terrible acts.”

As the year went on, the team kept close tabs on Ayala. The school cops would strike up casual conversations with him and his buddies Kyle and Mike so they could gauge his progress and stability. A teacher Ayala admired would also do “check and connects” with him and pass on information to the team. Over the next year and a half, the high schooler’s outlook improved and the warning signs dissipated.

When Ayala graduated in 2002, the school-based team handed off his case to the local adult threat assessment team, which included members of the Salem Police Department and the county health agency. Ayala lived with his parents and got an IT job at a Fry’s Electronics. He grew frustrated that his computer skills were being underutilized and occasionally still vented to his buddies, but with continued counseling and a network of support, he seemed back on track.

The two teams “successfully interrupted Ayala’s process of planning to harm people,” Van Dreal says. “We moved in front of him and nudged him onto a path of success and safety.”

But then that path took him to another city 60 miles away, where he barely knew anyone.


In the coming months, the Los Angeles Police Department plans to equip every officer with a taser, in an effort to lower the number of officer-involved shootings. Currently the LAPD only has 3,500 tasers, and will need to buy 4,000 more to equip every police officer. Critics worry that because there are not concrete standards in place for taser-use, the tools may be misused. And while considered a “less-than-lethal” weapon, people do sometimes die after being shocked by a law enforcement officer taser. For example, Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless Fullerton man died after being beaten and shocked multiple times by police officers.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Craig Lally, president of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, the union that represents rank and file officers.

“There might be a situation where a Taser would be effective in stopping the threat, and then you don’t have to go to your firearm,” he said.

It stands to reason that the availability of less than lethal weapons like Tasers and beanbag shotguns prevent police shootings. But its impossible to say for sure, said Lally. And many shootings will still happen.

“You’re not going to shoot a guy with a Taser when he’s got a gun.”

One use of force expert said there is no doubt police will shoot fewer people.

“I think there’s quite a number of incidents over the years that clearly could have been prevented had a Taser been immediately available,” said Greg Meyer, a former LAPD captain who now testifies on police use of force in court cases around the country.

This is “long overdue,” Meyer said of the LAPD’s new policy.

He noted Tasers don’t always work. Two electronic probes must make contact with the suspect. The LAPD’s Murphy said internal studies found Tasers work about 67 percent of the time.

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

Governor Signs AB 953, Racial Profiling Bill; Advocates Thrilled, Law Enforcement Not So Much

October 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 953, The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, a bill that, since its introduction, has aroused strong passions, pro and con.

The bill requires the collection of data by California law enforcement agencies on the racial makeup of all those stopped by the police, along with the outcomes of those stops. All the data, once compiled, will be made public.

AB 953 will “collect data to validate what black people experience very day,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) when she spoke to her fellow senators in favor of the bill’s passage. Mitchell is one of the bill’s co-authors.

The newly signed legislation was written by Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s (D-San Diego), who thanked Gov. Brown in a statement after the signing, describing him as being, along with his father, “on the forefront of civil rights” for the last half century.

“AB 953 will be the state’s first step toward not only understanding the problem of racial profiling,” said Weber, “but also toward formulating policies to reduce the practice and its devastating consequences. California is going in a new direction on this issue; hopefully, this will set an example for other states.”

Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), another co-author, tweeted cheerily after the signing, “Justice wins today…”

AB 953 was sponsored by such reform-minded groups as the ACLU of California, the Youth Justice Coalition, PICO California, Dignity and Power Now, and others.

In statement released after the signing, the Nor Cal ACLU called AB 953 a “monumental step toward fair policing with first-ever bill to collect, analyze, and make public data on all police stops.

“California holds the ominous record for the highest number of deaths in the country, with 149 people killed by law enforcement in the state this year,” the ACLU wrote. “However, the state still does not collect, analyze, or make available basic information about who the police, stop, search or even shoot.”

Interestingly, the bill also received impassioned support from clergy up and down the state, a diverse group of whom signed a letter addressed to the governor encouraging him to sign the bill.

It read in part:

We people of faith imagine a new California where Black, Brown, and Native people rejoice knowing their leaders, particularly their Governor, have done everything possible to ensure safeguards are in place that create understanding, accountability, and trust with law enforcement. Research has shown that race plays an unconscious role in everyone’€™s decision-making, particularly in split-second decisions on perceived crime and danger. Unfortunately, when it comes to policing we still don’€™t have data at the statewide level to address this. Policing that wrongfully uses discriminatory practices will only lead to more unjust deaths, and reaffirms distrust in law enforcement, which makes all of us less safe.

AB 953’s passage in California would send a signal to the whole country that California is leading the nation on fair policing during the urgency of this moral crisis. We should not be afraid of data – in fact, data will help us empower reform and facilitate reconciliation with police officers at the neighborhood level.

On the other side of the issue, however, opinions also ran strong, especially among law enforcement organizations, many of which described AB 953 as a costly headache that would provide little information of real use. For instance, The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) urged a veto, telling the governor:

Our communities are frustrated in the wake of high profile incidents involving officer use of force. PORAC understands the concerns of the public and wants to work together to address these issues and move forward together. However, the additional reporting requirements under AB 953 will prove burdensome, and implementation and maintenance for such record keeping will prove costly and be of little benefit to the community.

Brown, who has generally been very attentive to the views of law enforcement since his stint as California Attorney General,, reportedly called several of the heads of the big LE groups that had opposed the bill, in order to explain his thinking.

(LA Times reporters Kim Christensen and Matt Hamilton have a longer story on the reaction of law enforcement around the state to Brown’s signing of the law. So take a look.)

The new law does not require the new data collection to actually begin until March 1, 2018, giving all those concerned more than two years to create systems to gather and analyze the data in question.

AB 953 was one of around a dozen criminal justice bills that Brown signed over the weekend. Tomorrow, we’ll have a run down of some of the rest of the bills for your reading pleasure.


Los Angeles County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, was interviewed Sunday on NBC4 where he talked about such topics as the Oregon shooting, the controversial decision to have ICE agents back in LA’s jails, and a new partnership between the LASD and the U.S. Attorney’s office to combat sex trafficking in LA County, a crime that U.S. attorney Eileen Decker said is on the increase and has become a “priority issue” for the Department of Justice.

McDonnell too pointed to the issue as a priority. “The average age of a girl in California getting involved is 12 years old,” he said, explaining that the LAPD plus smaller LA County police agencies were also involved in the newly created task force.

On the tragedy in Oregon, and what should be done to prevent such horrors, McDonnell said, “While the gun is the vehicle, and after every one of these, we focus on that….the underlying cause is mental illness…”

Forty percent of the uses of force in the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said, “are dealing with the mentally ill.”

The sheriff called again for community based treatment for the mentally ill, so that the jails aren’t “the default mechanism…” for their treatment, as has been true in the past.

The interview has lots more, including a detailed explanation of the ways that ICE will and will not have access to LA County jail inmates. So take a look.


The New York Times has a sort of info-graphic feature on how the various shooters got their guns.

The Times’ writers note that, “criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used.”

The charts are disturbing but important, so take a look.

Posted in law enforcement | 10 Comments »

Bill Round-Up, Turmoil in Hawaiian Gardens, the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act, and Reviewing Realignment

October 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 504, a bill to eliminate the often prohibitive $150 fee to seal a juvenile record for anyone under the age of 26. The bill, introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), will also ensure that unpaid fines and restitution will not bar young people from expungement.

“SB 504 will help reduce recidivism among juvenile youth by removing the fee to seal their records and thereby helping them secure permanent employment,” said Senator Lara. “It’s a major victory for juvenile justice reform and for youth trying to turn their lives around.”

Another important bill that won Gov. Brown’s signature, SB 794, requires county child welfare and probation departments to establish services for foster children at risk of sexual exploitation. Those departments will also have to create and implement specific protocols to swiftly locate missing kids. The bill will also ramp up probation and child welfare agencies’ duties to report to law enforcement within 24 hours when a child at risk of sexual exploitation goes missing or is abducted.

Gov. Brown also signed two meaningful bills to help exonerated state inmates.

AB 672 by Assemblymember Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer Sr. (D-Los Angeles), bridges a huge gap in assistance for exonerees by allowing prisoners who have been exonerated of their convictions to access the same re-entry services as any other inmate exiting lock-up.

And SB 635 by Senator Jim W. Nielsen (R-Gerber) will raise the compensation paid to exonerees for their time lost behind bars from $100 a day to $136.98 per day, adding up to $50,000 per year. This bill was inspired by Obie Anthony, who spent 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit before being exonerated in 2011.


On July 5th, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy fatally shot Johnny Ray Anderson, a Hawaiian Gardens man who the deputy says tried to grab his gun.

Lawyers for Anderson’s family argue that the physical evidence shows Anderson was too far away from the deputy to have grabbed for the firearm.

The inconsistencies between narratives of how Anderson died have churned up tension between the sheriff’s department and the city’s residents.

The Hawaiian Gardens City Council voted to ask the FBI to look into the troubling shooting.

Barry Bruce, the mayor of Hawaiian Gardens, faults the 10-year-old city-wide gang injunction for much of the tension. Bruce says the injunction unfairly targets innocent residents (in addition to guilty ones) by banning things like public bicycle-riding and gathering on street corners. Many residents, however, say they feel much safer because of the injunctions, which led to a major reduction in violent crime between 2005 and 2014.

The LA Times’ Ruben Vives and Cindy Chang have more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The city…is home to a notorious gang: Varrio Hawaiian Gardens. VHG, as it is sometimes known, has been implicated in killings, drugs and weapons trafficking, extortion and racially motivated attacks designed to drive African Americans from their homes.

One of the gang members fatally shot Deputy Jerry Ortiz in 2005. Jose Luis Orozco, who had devil horns tattooed on his forehead, received a death sentence for Ortiz’s killing. His fellow gang members were hit with the injunction, and in 2009, 147 members and associates were charged in a massive federal racketeering case. At the time, the FBI claimed 1 in 15 residents in Hawaiian Gardens had ties to the gang.

Despite the crackdown, VHG is still going strong and is currently at war with gangs in neighboring communities such as Artesia, said Capt. Keith Swensson, who runs the Lakewood sheriff’s station.

Crime has shot up in Hawaiian Gardens recently, with violent and property crimes up 78% from last year and 42% from five years ago. In 2015, aggravated assaults have increased 106%, burglaries 127% and larcenies 114%.

The uptick in assaults may have to do with increased gang activity, Swensson said. But he blamed the property crime increases on other lower-level offenders.

Still, Swensson said, the situation has improved from the days when he drove a patrol car as a deputy in the 1980s and 1990s. Back then, residents were scared to walk down the street because they might encounter a group of gang members. Swensson said that even as an armed law enforcement officer he felt scared driving around by himself in the early mornings.

From 2005 to 2014, violent crime by gang members dropped 74% in the city, compared with a 62% drop in overall violent crime. In 2005, half of violent crimes in Hawaiian Gardens were committed by gang members. The figure last year was 35%.

The injunction is targeting the right people, Swensson said, noting that to be added to it a person has to admit that he or she is in the gang or show an obvious sign of gang association such as a gang tattoo. The prohibition against gang members congregating in public has been instrumental in making residents feel safer, he said.


The city’s mayor does not agree. In a letter to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-Whittier) requesting the FBI investigation, Bruce wrote that residents had complained that sheriff’s deputies violated their civil rights and that he did not trust local officials to investigate Anderson’s killing.

While the gang injunction has been useful in rounding up dangerous people, it has cast too wide a net, catching many “dolphins” as well as “sharks,” Bruce said in an interview.

“The department, the way they treat people in the community, it’s like everyone is a gangster in Hawaiian Gardens. No one’s a regular person,” said Bruce, who runs a ministry for at-risk youth. “It shows contempt and a prejudicial attitude towards the community.”

The city pays the Sheriff’s Department more than $3 million a year to patrol its streets. In the past, Bruce has threatened to contract with a different agency or start a city police department. While there is currently no plan to switch, Bruce noted that a new casino is in the works and would bring extra revenue that could make the city’s own police department “a very plausible idea.”

“I’d rather work with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department if they can be more transparent and more concerned about the things their officers are involved in,” Bruce said.


On Thursday morning, a bipartisan group of Judiciary Committee members, led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), announced a criminal justice overhaul plan called the Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act of 2015.

The other bill sponsors are Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ), John Cornyn (R-TX), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Mike Lee (R-UT), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The massive 141-page bill, the result of a six month collaborative effort, which Sen. Schumer likened to solving a “Rubiks Cube,” deserves very careful review, but here is a run-down of the basics from the bill summary:

- Reforms and Targets Enhanced Mandatory Minimums for Prior Drug Felons: The bill reduces the enhanced penalties that apply to repeat drug offenders and eliminates the three-strike mandatory life provision, but it allows those enhanced penalties to be applied to offenders with prior convictions for serious violent and serious drug felonies.

- Broadens the Existing Safety Valve and Creates a Second Safety Valve: The bill expands the existing safety valve to offenders with more extensive criminal histories but excludes defendants with prior felonies and violent or drug trafficking offenses unless a court finds those prior offenses substantially overstate the defendant’s criminal history and danger of recidivism. The bill also creates a second safety valve that gives judges discretion to sentence certain low-level offenders below the 10-year mandatory minimum. But defendants convicted of serious violent and serious drug felonies cannot benefit from these reforms.

- Reforms Enhanced Mandatory Minimums and Sentences for Firearm Offenses: The bill expands the reach of the enhanced mandatory minimum for violent firearm offenders to those with prior federal or state firearm offenses but reduces that mandatory minimum to provide courts with greater flexibility in sentencing. The bill also raises the statutory maximum for unlawful possession of firearms but lowers the enhanced mandatory minimum for repeat offenders.

- Creates New Mandatory Minimums for Interstate Domestic Violence and Certain Export Control Violations: The bill adds new mandatory minimum sentences for certain crimes involving interstate domestic violence and creates a new mandatory minimum for providing weapons and other defense materials to prohibited countries and terrorists.

- Applies the Fair Sentencing Act and Certain Sentencing Reforms Retroactively

- Provides for Prison Reform based on the Cornyn-Whitehouse CORRECTIONS Act: The bill requires the Department of Justice to conduct risk assessments to classify all federal inmates and to use the results to assign inmates to appropriate recidivism reduction programs, including work and education programs, drug rehabilitation, job training, and faith-based programs. Eligible prisoners who successfully complete these programs can earn early release and may spend the final portion (up to 25 percent) of their remaining sentence in home confinement or a halfway house.

- Limits Solitary Confinement for Juveniles in Federal Custody and Improves the Accuracy of Federal Criminal Records

- Provides for a Report and Inventory of All Federal Criminal Offenses

“For decades, our broken criminal justice system has held our nation back from realizing its full potential,” said Sen. Booker. “Today, we take a step forward. Mass incarceration has cost taxpayers billions of dollars, drained our economy, compromised public safety, hurt our children, and disproportionately affected communities of color while devaluing the very idea of justice in America. The Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act is a promising, bipartisan step forward to help right this wrong.”

“This legislation is modeled after successful Texas reforms that have rehabilitated prisoners, reduced crime rates, and saved taxpayer dollars,” said Sen. Coryn. “This bipartisan package will protect law enforcement’s ability to aggressively target violent criminals and serious offenders, while focusing on justice, rehabilitation, and public safety. I look forward to working with this bipartisan coalition to move this bill through Congress and to the President’s desk.”


A study assessing California’s public safety realignment, four years after its implementation, found that recidivism rates have remained largely the same and state spending on corrections is at an all-time high (for a variety of reasons, including prison and jail-building).

Realignment has not increased violent crime, but may have contributed to a rise in auto thefts, according to the study from the Public Policy Institute of California.

(If you need a refresher: realignment, AB 109, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the study.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Bipartisan CJ Reform Plan, LA’s Mega-Health Department, and Richard Glossip Spared from Death Once More

October 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are expected to unveil a major bipartisan criminal justice reform plan at 10:00a.m. this morning.

The criminal justice overhaul plan is spearheaded by Republican Senator Charles Grassley, along with other members from both parties, and reportedly has the support of the Coalition for Public Safety (Koch Industries, the ACLU, and others).

But while the plan includes more sentencing discretion for judges with non-violent offenders, as well as adding good-time credits for prisoners who complete treatment and education programs, the bipartisan plan will also generate new mandatory minimums.

We’ll keep you updated.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson has more on the plan. Here’s a clip:

Senior members of the Obama administration, including the second in command at the Justice Department, also have been nudging senators on the sentencing plan, viewing the proposal as one of the capstones of a legacy on criminal justice issues for this president. Barack Obama famously became the first sitting president to visit a prison in July.

An unusual left-right coalition formed earlier this year to drive action in Congress and in statehouses across the country. The Coalition for Public Safety, which includes Koch Industries, the American Civil Liberties Union and others, is said to support the goals of the proposal as well, a third source said.

The proposal will not go as far as some reform advocates may like, the sources say. For instance, the plan would create some tough new mandatory minimum sentences, after pressing from Grassley. It stitches together proposals that would allow inmates to earn credits to leave prison early if they complete educational and treatment programs and pose a relatively low risk to public safety along with language that would give judges some more discretion when sentencing nonviolent offenders.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to meld three major county health departments into one mega-department, in an effort to bridge departments struggling to with interagency communication and give people receiving community health care services better care.

Issues the new Department of Health Services’ priorities will include mental health diversion, improving the level of care kids in the probation and foster care systems receive, addressing over-stuffed psychiatric emergency departments, and linking homeless people with housing assistance.

Critics worry that the mega-health department will be too big (those three departments were actually broken off from one department years ago for that reason).

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

A patient who arrives at a county hospital emergency room with a broken arm faces a bureaucratic maze. If he needs follow-up physical and mental health service, as well as substance abuse counseling through the county system, he might have to fill out different sets of forms at three different clinics. And his health professionals in one department won’t have access to health records maintained by the other departments.


The consolidation has sparked concerns in some quarters about whether such a massive bureaucracy will work and whether certain specialized services — or broader programs dealing with issues such as environmental health — will suffer from neglect. They noted that all three departments were once unified, but then separated in reforms intended to ensure that the county’s huge system of hospitals and medical clinics didn’t pull too much money and attention from other health programs.

But board members said Tuesday that it was time to try a more connected system.

The goal is “better patient care, better outcomes for communities,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “The systems will talk to each other effectively. That hasn’t been the case.”

The new health agency will be given the task of addressing an expansive range of issues, some of which fall outside the traditional healthcare realm. The priorities approved by the supervisors include connecting homeless patients to housing programs, improving health services for foster children and youths in the juvenile probation system and reducing overcrowding in psychiatric emergency departments at county hospitals.

The board has already assigned the Department of Health Services a major new responsibility: managing the diversion of mentally ill inmates from county jails and into treatment programs.

The Department of Health Services currently runs the county’s four hospitals and 19 health centers, serving about 670,000 patients a year, while the mental health department provides treatment to 250,000 people a year in clinics, board and care facilities, juvenile halls and camps, and other facilities. Public health is responsible for a wide range of programs, including substance abuse treatment, HIV prevention programs, inspecting restaurants and nursing homes, and investigating disease outbreaks.

Some critics say that the new agency is taking on too much and won’t be able to effectively manage the vast range of programs.


On Wednesday, the day Richard Glossip was scheduled to be put to death, Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin granted the death row inmate a 37-day stay of execution, giving the state time to review drug protocol—namely, whether potassium acetate is an acceptable lethal injection drug.

“Last minute questions were raised today about Oklahoma’s execution protocol and the chemicals used for lethal injection,” said Gov. Fallin. “After consulting with the attorney general and the Department of Corrections, I have issued a 37 day stay of execution while the state addresses those questions and ensures it is complying fully with the protocols approved by federal courts.”

Two weeks ago, the OK Court of Appeals granted a 14-day stay of execution (just hours before he was scheduled to die) to give Glossip’s legal team time to present evidence from two new witnesses casting doubt on Glossip’s already shaky murder conviction.

But this past Monday, the appeals court decided not to let a state trial court consider the new evidence. Thus, Glossip was only saved this time because of a question about execution drugs.

The New Yorker’s Lincoln Caplan has some interesting things to say about why, if capital punishment is abolished, Richard Glossip’s case will likely be referenced as a prime example of the fallibility of the death penalty. Here’s a clip:

Glossip was twice convicted and sentenced to execution. The Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals overturned the first conviction, holding that his lawyer’s “conduct was so ineffective that we have no confidence that a reliable adversarial proceeding took place.” After that ruling, the prosecution stipulated that no physical evidence linked Glossip to the crime scene. He was convicted again based largely on Sneed’s testimony, although his account of Glossip’s alleged involvement diverged from what he said at the first trial, which diverged from his original confession to police. According to Glossip’s lawyers, Sneed has given eight “very different” accounts.

Last January, the Supreme Court stayed Glossip’s execution so that it could hear a challenge that he and other death-row inmates had made to the use of the drug midazolam as the anesthetic in a three-drug lethal-injection procedure, before the other drugs were administered to paralyze the inmate and then to stop his heart. The challenge came after Oklahoma’s gruesome execution of an inmate in 2014, when the state used midazolam and it failed to fully anesthetize him, causing him searing pain.

Three months ago, at the end of the recent Court term, the Justices upheld the use of the drug by 5–4. They said that Glossip’s lawyers had not shown that the state had a better option than midazolam or that the use of midazolam with the other drugs was “sure or very likely to result in needless suffering.”

The first reason that the Glossip case is likely to be a point of reference is the widely commented-on dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer, who, “rather than try to patch up the death penalty’s legal wounds one at a time,” devoted forty-one pages to arguing “that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment”—that is, the constitutional clause prohibiting the infliction of “cruel and unusual punishments.” Breyer’s dissent laid out his reasons: “(1) serious unreliability, (2) arbitrariness in application, and (3) unconscionably long delays that undermine the death penalty’s penological purpose. Perhaps as a result, (4) most places within the United States have abandoned its use.”

The Glossip case doesn’t illustrate all of these reasons, but it provides a case study in the unreliability of the application of the death sentence. Glossip’s current lawyers have raised serious doubts about his guilt, which make his conviction dubious and his death sentence unjust. His counsel in his first trial was reprehensibly bad. His counsel in his second trial exceeded the very low standard for ineffective counsel, but did a poor cross-examination of Sneed, the main witness against Glossip. From the decision to charge Glossip with a capital crime to some unsavory tactical moves in the second trial, the prosecution was overzealous and may have crossed the line into misconduct.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Are Abused and Traumatized Girls Disproportionately Pushed Into the Justice System? A Startling New Study Says: YES

September 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

There are approximately twice as many boys than girls in the juvenile justice system in America.
As a consequence, we hear more about young men in public policy discussions and in the press, when the topic turns to youth justice reform.

But according to an important new study just released by the Women’s Law Center, what we are missing when we look at the gross numbers, is the fact that when it comes lawbreaking that poses little or no threat to public safety, and offenses that are a direct result of violence or abuse and trauma in the home, girls are disproportionately more likely to be detained and arrested than their brothers.

For example:

In 2012, girls represented 29 percent of youth arrested nationwide, but they represented 76 percent of arrests for “prostitution,” (AKA “crimes” in which they are the victim), 42 percent of arrests for larceny, 40 percent of arrests for liquor law violations, 35 percent of arrests for disorderly conduct, and 29 percent of arrests for curfew violations.

In 2011, girls were 28 percent of delinquency cases, but they made up 41 percent of status offense cases. (Status offenses are actions that would not be considered crimes if committed by an adult, things like truancy or running away.)

In 2013, 37 percent of detained girls were locked up for status offenses or technical violations of their probation, compared with 25 percent of boys.

Furthermore, for certain status offenses, rates for girls are even higher. For example, 53 percent of runaway cases in 2011 involved girls.

In addition, girls are unusually likely to be arrested for fights in their homes stemming from family dysfunction. For example, girls may become involved in a domestic fight when defending themselves against victimization or as part of a pattern of violence and turmoil among family members. Yet, when the incident leads to contact with law enforcement, write the study’s authors, girls “are treated as aggressors rather than victims.”

In 2013, 21 percent of girls were detained for simple assault and public order offenses (excluding weapons), compared with 12 percent of boys.

Sadly and predictably, girls of color are more likely to be detained than their white sisters. In 2013, Black girls were 20 percent more likely to be detained than white girls. And American Indian/Alaska Native girls were 50 percent more likely to be detained, according to the study.


When it comes to girls who don’t identify as straight or what is known as “gender conforming,” the situation gets far worse:

A study of youth in California’s juvenile justice system found that 38 percent of the state’s LBQ/GNCT girls (lesbian, bisexual, questioning/gender-non-conforming, transgender) had been removed from their homes because someone was hurting them, compared with 25 percent of their straight and gender-conforming peers. The same study found that 49 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls in the juvenile justice systems had been homeless, compared with 30 percent of their straight and gender-conforming sisters.

California’s LBQ/GNCT girls who are justice-involved face additional challenges in their educational lives: 90 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls in the California juvenile justice system have been suspended or expelled prior to juvenile incarceration. In their homes, they experience high rates of family discord that may lead to adolescent domestic violence.

According to a 2015 survey of seven sites across the country, 40 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system identify as LBQ/GNCT. And a recent California study found higher rates of detention and incarceration of LBQ/GNCT girls for certain offenses: 41 percent of LBQ/GNCT girls were detained or incarcerated for status offenses and 8 percent were detained or incarcerated for sexual exploitation, compared with 35 percent and 3.5 percent of their straight or gender-conforming peers. Then once in the system, LBQ/GNCT girls report higher levels of self-harming behavior and are more likely to become targets of violence and sexual victimization, and be placed in isolation.


We know from multiple studies that kids involved in the justice system, are far more likely to have a higher degree of childhood trauma than are non-system involved kids.

Yet, as studies have been done that measure system-involved kids’ trauma in more detail, we see that girls trauma scores are consistently higher.

For example, in 2014, a Florida ACE study evaluated 64,300 youth involved in the Florida juvenile justice system, 14,000 of whom were girls. (ACEs—if you’ve some how missed this particular piece of useful jargon—stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences)

The study shows that the prevalence of ACE indicators was higher for girls than boys in all 10 categories. Sexual abuse, for example, was reported 4.4 times more frequently for girls than for boys. Forty-five percent of the girls scored 5 or more out of a possible score of ten when it came to adverse childhood experiences, versus 28 percent of the boys who scored 5 or more.

Another ACE study, conducted by National Crittenton Foundation in 2012, similarly found higher concentrations of adverse childhood experiences among girls in trouble with the law, with 62 percent scoring 4 or more on the ACEs scale, 44 percent scoring 5 or more, and 4 percent scoring 10, the highest score possible.

Among young mothers in the juvenile justice system, the scores shot still higher with 74 percent scoring 4 or more, 69 percent scoring 5 or more, and 7 percent scoring 10.


The study’s authors offer a list of suggestions about what kind of policy changes would help, but their nine primary recommendations are the following:

*Stop Criminalizing Behavior Caused by Damaging Environments that Are Out of Girls’ Control

*Engage Girls’ Families throughout the Juvenile Justice Process

*Use Pre-Petition Diversion to Provide “Off-Ramps” from the Formal Justice System for Girls Living in Traumatic Social Contexts

*Don’t Securely Detain Girls for Offenses and Technical Violations that Pose No Public Safety Threat and Are Environmentally-Driven

*Attorneys, Judges, and Probation Should Use Trauma- Informed Approaches to Improve Court Culture for Girls

*Adopt a Strengths-Based, Objective Approach to Girls Probation Services

*Use Health Dollars to Fund Evidence-Based Practices and Programs for Girls and Address Health Needs Related to Their Trauma

*Limit Secure Confinement of Girls, Which Is Costly, Leads to Poor Outcomes, and Re- Traumatizes Vulnerable Girls

*Support Emerging Adulthood for Young Women with Justice System Histories

The study has lots more in the way of solutions and examples of municipalities that have made promising changes. But the first step, say the authors, is understanding that, “in the midst of the current ‘developmental era’ of reform, juvenile justice systems are routinely failing to modify promising system reforms for girls or even to collect data on how girls are affected by the problems systems seek to remedy.”

Bottom line: Our girls need our help.


“Crossover kids” are the California youth who start out in the foster care system, but then land in the juvenile justice system, for one reason or another. Or conversely, they begin in the juvie justice system, then cannot safely return to their families, so they become involved in the foster care system. Yet, as we’ve reported in the past (here and here), because of their dual designation too often neither system adequately takes responsibility for their well-being and crossover kids become nobody’s kids.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has a must-read story about one such boy named Jesse Opela, whose life has been overseen by LA County’s foster care system from the age of 2, and LA County’s juvenile probation system since the age of 12. Sewell and the Times received a hard-to-acquire court permission to able to follow the now-17-year-old’s “rocky trajectory” through both systems.

This excellent longread story is the result.

Don’t miss it.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

Fed Judge Denies Immunity for Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca to Testify at Paul Tanaka’s Criminal Trial

September 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

A new moment of drama in the run-up to the trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka occurred on Monday
when District Court Judge Percy Anderson told Tanaka’s attorney that, no, he was not going to give former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca immunity from future prosecution should Baca be called to testify at Tanaka’s trial.

Tanaka’s attorney, H. Dean Steward, filed the request in mid-August, asking that the former sheriff be granted immunity because, “if he testifies truthfully, [Baca] will provide evidence that will contradict the government’s evidence” and thus provide a basis for [Mr. Tanaka’s} “acquittal of the charges.”

The motion was almost certain to be a non-starter with Judge Anderson from the get go. But it was also understandable that that attorney Steward would roll the legal dice, no matter how slim the chance for success.

When Tanaka was originally indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice back in May 2015, former LASD Captain William (Tom) Carey was indicted at the same time as a co-conspirator and also for perjury, having to do with his previous testimony in the trials of seven other former LASD members indicted with obstruction of justice for some of the same series of alleged actions. (The seven have since been convicted of the obstruction charges, and their convictions are on appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.)

At that time, Seward made confident statements to the press about his client’s innocence and how Mr. Tanaka would prevail when it came time for trial—which certainly he still may.

However, in mid-summer, the odds of an acquittal for Tanaka suddenly rearranged themselves when Tom Carey took a plea deal in return for his cooperation in Tanaka’s trial and any subsequent proceedings relating to department member misdeeds of which Carey had had knowledge, and which related to the original indictment concerning the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown and other actions designed to thwart the FBI’s investigation into chronic corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system.

Carey’s plea, which was filed on August 13, 2015, sent Tanaka’s defense scrambling for a witness to counter what Carey was likely to say on the stand.

Hence, presumably, the motion about immunity for Baca.

Carey and Tanaka took the stand in the previous obstruction of justice trials, and former Sheriff Baca was on the witness list for the defense at least twice, most notably in the two trials of former LASD Deputy James Sexton (who was tried twice before the feds could produce a guilty verdict). Yet Baca was never called in either of the trials because his then-attorney informed Sexton’s legal team both times that Baca would take the fifth if put on the stand.

Baca hired a new attorney, Michael Zwieback, earlier this month. While Zwiback did not attend the Monday hearing, he confirmed to us that Baca would indeed be invoking his 5th Amendment rights this time around, if called as a witness.


At least one federal witness was reportedly given immunity that was limited to his testimony before a federal grand jury during hearings that likely contributed to Tanaka’s and Carey’s eventual indictment. But that witness had already been convicted of obstruction of justice, so the government’s cost/benefit ratio in issuing limited immunity was presumably very different that it would be in the case of Baca, who at remains conspicuously un-indicted.

To put it another way, if federal prosecutors are able to convict the former undersheriff of the allegations arrayed against him, the notion that Baca’s once powerful second in command is guilty of corruption charges that have already resulted in seven additional convictions and one plea bargain, it becomes less and less believable that Tanaka’s former boss, the man who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half, is legally blame free.

Originally Mr. Tanaka’s trial was scheduled to begin in early November of this year. But on Monday Judge Anderson agreed to delay proceedings until March 22, 2016, at the request of Mr. Tanaka’s attorney.

Posted in LASD | 40 Comments »

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