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Firefighters Arnie Quinones & Ted Hall: A Hero Story

August 31st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Firefighters are, by definition, heroic.
But in some cases, the heroism is more direct.

We know that Sunday night Los Angeles County Firefighters Arnie Quinones and Ted Hall, both experienced firefighters—Ted a 26-year veteran of LACFD, Arnie a specialist—were killed in the course of working on the Station fire. We think it happened when a ferocious and fast-moving tongue of the blaze overtook their vehicle causing them to go off the road. Or maybe it was the smoke that blinded them for a fatal moment. Investigators are not yet sure. What is completely clear is that they plunged down an 800 foot embankment, and the engine truck flipped, landing upside down.

“Look,” LA County Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers told me. ” One thing I can tell you is that it’s a dangerous road even when it’s daylight and there’s no fire.”

What we also do know is that just before Hall and Quinones
got on that fire-haunted road, they helped to save the lives of 58 other men, and that they were on that difficult road trying to find a route to safety for those same 58 men when the fire in some way caught up with them.

In short: this is a hero story.

NOTE: BEFORE READING ON...please know that this post about of the events on Mt. Gleason was an early account that reflects as much as CDCR officials knew at the time. Since this account was written new facts have emerged, which I posted about here. But the investigation is ongoing and a truly accurate account may not emerge for some time. However one thing that those of us covering this incident have heard repeatedly: and that is the message that many of those trapped on Mt. Gleason might not be alive had it not been for Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones.

Both Ted Hall and Arnie Quinones were known to be ardent family guys. Quinones’s wife was pregnant and due to give birth to the couple’s first child within a few weeks. The soon-to-be-father was thrilled. Hall was married with two sons—ages 20 and 21—whom he doted on and adored.

But in addition to their families, the men also loved the work. At the time of their deaths, both Hall and Quinones were engaged in an interesting and unusual job for LACFD: They were assigned to Mt. Gleason Fire Camp, a wildland fire training and deployment facility that is located deep in the Angeles National Forest at an abandoned missile base that, during the cold war, was considered one of the Los Angeles basin’s bulwarks against any nuclear threat.

Mt Gleason Fire Camp is run by the California Department of Corrections and by the LA County Fire Department. It is one of five CDCR wildland fire camps in which adult prison inmates are trained and work as firefighters. The camp guys function in crews skilled in such tasks as aiding in the setting of backfires and clearing fire breaks in the path of advancing flames.

Hall and Quinones were one of a handful of LA County firefighters stationed at Gleason to provide supervision and training for the 105 inmates who were assigned to the camp.

On Sunday, August 30, about half of the Mt. Gleason inmates were already deployed out in the field fighting the various Southern California fires. (According to the CDCR, there are 2,245 firefighting inmates working on fires up and down the state.)

But 55 of the inmates plus three CDCR staff were still back at the camp.They became trapped when suddenly the Station fire came straight at the Mt. Gleason facility itself.

If a fire has the right combination of fuel and wind, it can move faster than a man can run. On Sunday the winds were not the problem. But the fuel was. So as the Station fire barreled toward Mt. Gleason, there was no way to escape it. Hall and Quinones, and other LA County firefighters stationed with them, calmly directed the 55 inmate firefighters and the three CDCR staffers into the cinder-block dining hall, which they deemed to be the only building likely to survive the coming conflagration.

It was a good choice. The fire passed over the cinder block structure, but only barely. As soon as they could, Hall and Quinones moved the group out of the dining hall into a large parking area, which was about the only part of the camp that was now not actively burning.

Yet, fires are volatile and so it was agreed it was necessary to get everyone out of Mt. Gleason camp altogether as soon as was humanly possible. With this goal in mind, Hall and Quinones took off in one of the engine trucks, intending to check out the narrow, winding Three Mile Road to see if it was a viable route to safety.

We know now, of course, that they did not find a safe road out.

Instead the fire found them.

Eventually, the rest of the 57 men were able to somehow make their way down the mountain and out of harm’s way. In the meantime, Camp Gleason burned completely to the ground, with it, the inmates’ very few possessions—pictures, letters and the like. But at least they were still alive.

Once safe themselves, the inmate firefighters learned to their horror that Hall and Quinones —their respected coaches, teachers and the men who had kept them from harm—did not survive.

“These guys were devastated, just devastated,” said CDCR spokesperson, Terry Thornton. “When the firefighters and the inmates work together up in those camps, they all really get to know each other—you know, just as people. These are really cooperative relationships. So they were devastated. A lot of them were out fighting fires, and they didn’t hear until later…”

All at once, Thornton’s voice became thick.

“I don’t want to start crying here,” she said.

LA County Fire Inspector Frederic Stowers echoed her grief and added his own.

“I’d worked with both those guys,”
he said. “They were very well known here. Very well known, very well liked, and well respected.” He too found the need to gather himself.

“They were friends,” he said finally. Then after another pause. “I think the hardest thing is wondering what they went through. ……This is very difficult for us.”


The photo above was taken in 2007 of another CDCR crew, when I was snapping pictures at the fire base in Malibu.

POST SCRIPT: An hour after I posted this account, I got one of my regular calls from an inmate
doing time at one of the California state prisons. It was a man named Danny Cabral, whom I’ve known for many years.

When guys call, sometimes they have an agenda: they want me to give some message or other to their girlfriend, or their kid or their mother. Most often they simply want to talk, so I make a point of telling them chatty stories about something in my day, just to provide whatever moment of normalcy I can offer.

Danny nearly always fell into the latter category,
so I related the story about Mt. Gleason, the inmates and the tragedy of the heroic fighter fighters.

“I’m glad you told me that,” he said, “even though it’s sad. And I’m glad you’re writing about that stuff. See, a lot of guys I know have been to those fire camps, and risked their own lives to fight fires. And they were glad to do it. Really glad. It makes them feel like they’re doing something that….matters.”

Just then, the recorded 60-second warning message interrupted his words. When it stopped, Danny hastened to finish the point, his voice now soft.

“People need to know that, just because we’re locked up
, it doesn’t mean we aren’t people,” Danny said. “And a lot of us here want to do something good.

He hesitated. “Do you know what I’m saying?” he asked.

I did, I said.

And then the allotted time was up. . The line went blank. We were disconnected.

Posted in Fire, LACFD, Natural Disasters | 53 Comments »

Katrina, Triage & The Cost of Great Journalism

August 31st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


For the second week in a row, the New York Times Magazine
has presented a cover story that is everything that journalism should be.

The story, called “The Deadly Choices at Memorial,is about the choices some doctors and nurses made at Memorial Hospital in New Orleans after the back-up generators failed, the majority of the most able patients had already been rescued, and only the very, very sick were left behind. Days later, when help finally arrived, 45 people were dead, 17 of those patients had lethal doses of morphine and other drugs in their blood streams.

In 2007, a grand jury declined to indict the doctors accused of administering those drugs as a form of mercy killing. The New York Times cover story painstakingly and intelligently revisits the entire issue.

The article’s author is Sheri Fink, a medical doctor and staff reporter at ProPublica, the independent nonprofit investigative journalism organization that began in 2007 and launched in 2008, as the news-business-as-we-know-it was in full collapse.

In more than two years of investigating, Fink obtained previously unavailable records and spoke to dozens of people who were involved in or observed circumstances at Memorial. She paints a complex story that points beyond itself to large array of moral, ethical and legal questions.

It is a work of journalism that is important and will likely be recognized come prize time.

But the New York Times didn’t pay for the reporting and the other costs of the investigation. ProPublica did. (The NYT had to cough up some money, but not the preponderance.)

Neither did the Times pay for last week’s excellent central story on women’s rights. It was rejiggered from an upcoming book.

So, how much does such a story cost to produce? Mother Jones magazine ran its own feature to answer that question:

They estimate $400,000.

For the record, I think that’s an overblown number. (They estimate the NYT fact checking process as costing $10,000 and the NYT lawyers vetting the piece, on top of ProPublica’s lawyers, who also vetted the piece, as costing $20,000 each, respectively. (Surely one $20,000 vetting should have been enough. And, $20,000? Really? I’ve had plenty of stories lawyer vetted since I have often written about crimes, so even the single vetting price tag seems a bit…um… steep. But whatever.)

You can see the rest of the numbers here.

Yet, despite my individual quibbles, the point is correct. Good journalism is expensive.

So this leaves the question that is often asked these days: in this rapidly changing media environment, who is going to pay for the journalism that is so necessary to a healthy democracy?

Part of the answer lies in these stories themselves. They were, after all, reported and written—newspaper collapse, notwithstanding—proving that some great work is finding a way to exist and always will.

But that isn’t the whole of the answer. ProPublica is a comparatively small organization that takes on only a few select issues to investigate

And Nicholas Kristof and his wife are both top-of-the-food-chain Pulitzer winners who were able to afford to write their book in their off hours, which resulted also in the magazine cover story, in part, because they make good salaries and get a goodly amount of expense-accounted travel, all courtesy of the New York Times.

And so what of all the stories that are being ignored? Judging by the compelling tips and pleas about stories that are sent to me alone on a weekly basis…that pile is growing larger every day.

Posted in Future of Journalism, Natural Disasters | 5 Comments »

Fire Weather: Two LA County Firefighters Killed – UPDATED

August 31st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE: 5:15 P.M. The word is now, according to LASD’s Steve Whitmore,
that those five people in Gold Canyon who needed rescue, don’t need to be rescued after all. According to Whitmore one of the group’s members has been calling local radio stations and news outlets saying that they’re fine. That they never needed rescuing.


Whitmore says that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department had been notified of the trapped five by one of the rescuees directly by phone. Whatever the case, it hardly needs to be said that the sheriff’s are feeling a little irritable that they nearly put men and women in harms way to rescue people who…..

Oh, never mind. I guess all is well, that ends well.

May everyone stay safe.

Time lapse photography of the Station Fire by Brandon Riza, posted this morning, taken Saturday. As horrible as this fire is, the photos are almost balletic.

2 p.m. – So far the flames have been far too intense to rescue
the five people trapped in Gold Canyon, north of Lakeview Terrace. Sheriff’s spokesperson, Steve Whitmore is sounding more and more vexed by this situation with each successive news release on the rescue attempts.

His vexation is with good cause. Evacuation order for the area were issued two days ago.

Meanwhile, TV stations and other news outlets, are making plans for back-ups and work-arounds
in case Mt. Wilson goes down.

For instance, KNBC, Channel 4, has arranged to broadcast via its sister station, Telemundo, whose transmitters are not on Mt. Wilson, but on Mt. Harvard, which is also threatened, but not with the same immediacy.

If Mr. Harvard goes down, I have been told that KNBC’s Digital Channel 4.2 is being eyed as a back-up.

If some of the local NPR stations go down, they can, of course be accessed via your handy iPhone if you load the NPR Ap.

12:15 p.m.: A group of people are trapped by the Station fire
in an area north of Lakeview Terrace and near to Little Tujunga Road. The area was thought to have been previously evacuated. Now sheriff’s deputies are attempting a rescue—at great danger to themselves, as the area is overgrown with chaparral.

NOTE: This is, by the way, why when the sheriffs or cops tell you that evacuation is mandatory, you need to pack up the kids, the photos, the hard drives and the animals….and freaking leave.

NOTE 2: Last night, National Forest officials and LACFD were estimating that the Station fire would be contained by Sept. 8. Now they’re saying Sept. 15. (!!!)

KTLA’s Eric Spillman took a drive up to Wilson and came back with photos and reports.

10:20 a.m.

Firefighters have set back fires and have, for the moment, slowed the fires aimed at the top of Mt. Wilson. But not enough. Leaving teams on the mountain has been deemed too risky, and they have been pulled away from the observatory while the access road is still open.

We understand. We want no more dead firefighters.

Sky and Telescope magazine has this report on the fire threat to Mt. Wilson. Although, matters are changing so quickly, that much of its info is out of date by morning. It nonetheless has lots of details about the observatory and the communications equipment at risk. Plus, the time lapse photos are cool.

UPDATE: 9 a.m. – the Station Fire is approximately 1/4 mile from the Mt. Wilson observatory.

The fire has doubled in size-–from 43,000 acres at midnight last night, to 85,000 this morning.

When there is a big fire in Los Angeles County,
it hangs over the rest of LA life as a specter formed of flame and ashes.

The shadow thrown by the so-called Station fire, which has now burned nearly 45,000 acres, grew measurably darker when the city learned the terrible nws that, on Sunday,
two LA County fire fighters had been killed fighting the fire. According to the visibly choked up County Deputy Fire Chief Mike Bryant, the fire fighters died when the fire overran them and their vehicle rolled on the side of Mt. near to Acton. Although 2575 people from various states are now fighting the Station fire, the two killed were local— from the LA County FD.

The two killed were Fire Captain Tedmund “Ted” Hall and Firefighter Specialist Arnaldo “Arnie” Quinones. Captain Hall was 47 and had been with the LACFD for 26 years.

Arnie Quinones was 35 and had been with the department 8 years.

Then at 10:30 Sunday night, it was announced that the fire was less than a mile from the observatory at the top of Mt. Wilson, which is the home to many of LA’s TV and FM transmitters, as well as some of those of law enforcement. It is expected to reach the peak during the night, or early Monday morning, reported the Pasadena Star-News.

“It’s not a matter of if (flames reach the top),” said Forest Service Capt. Mike Dietrich, “it’s a matter of when.”

Dietrich said the communications equipment there are “truly in jeopardy.”

(The LA Times has a report listing all that would be affected if the observatory got hit hard.)

The Wilson website reported the following at 8 p.m. Sunday night:

A critical aspect to the survivability of the Observatory should the fire sweep across it is whether or not fire fighters will be on site during such an event. The U.S. Forest Service continually assesses the danger to fire fighters in any scenario and will withdraw fire crews in situations that are particularly precarious. Such an evaluation took place on Mount Wilson in the last half hour with the decision for the fire crews to remain in place tonight. That’s very good news.

Indeed, there are 25 firefighters at the top of Mt. Wilson who will stay “no matter what,” according to a US Forest Service spokesman.

ON A PRACTICAL NOTE: Those Needing information about the most recent evacuation orders, should dial 211.

PRACTICAL NOTE 2: The Pasadena Human Society is overrun with animals rescued from the fire and needs people who can bring in carrying crates and/or are will to be foster families for some of the overflow rescued critters.


Back later in the morning with more news.

Posted in Fire, Natural Disasters | 5 Comments »

Fire Weather ’09

August 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


View on Saturday at 1:40 p.m. from Topanga Canyon Blvd.
looking toward the La Canada Flintridge fire, known as the Station Fire.

Even from a distance, the smoke roiled in explosive billows, like an angry and malign ghost—signaling that the fire was very much out of control.


Here it is seen from the Altadena Weather Cam, 10 hours later.

Posted in Fire, Natural Disasters | 18 Comments »

Prison Lifers Trained as Drug & Alcohol Counselors

August 28th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


With all the depressing news coming out of Sacramento and Washington D.C.,
it is great to run across a genuine bit of very good news—amazingly enough, from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

HERE’S THE DEAL: This morning the California State Prison at Solano will hold a graduation ceremony for 47 prisoners—41 of them serving life sentences— who have just completed an innovative course of study called the Offender Mentor Certification Program—or OMC—that has allowed them to become officially certified drug and alcohol counselors especially skilled at working with their incarcerated peers.

The newly-minted counselors were each carefully selected. They had to have have at least a high school diploma or GED. An effort was made to make them all—or nearly all—-lifers, with the idea that these are men deeply in need of purpose.

(And there are other reasons for picking lifers, but I’ll get to that in a minute.)

First you need to know that this is no lightweight program. Once selected, the inmate students are put through six months of intensive training, which includes a great deal of group therapy. At the end of six months, they become certified CAADAC counselors. (CAADAC is short for The California Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors—a highly respected certificate-conferring program that usually offers its training in local colleges.)

The normal CAADAC course of study is two years., Yet the Solano inmates are expected to master the same material in six months by attending class at least eight hours a day, six days a week, with another four or five hours of study back in their cells.

The hard work has paid off. In addition to their CAADAC certificate, thirty-six of the 47 inmate students— or 77 percent—also passed an international counselor certification exam—a significantly higher pass rate than the average pass rate of 68% for non-inmate counselors-in-training who take the 2-year version of the course at their local state college.

Lt. Cicely Burnett, a spokesperson for Solano, who has also worked around the program as a corrections officer, says she has seen huge changes in the inmates’ behavior and sense of self as they make their way through the training. “I wish they had before and after picture, so you could see it,” she told me Thursday.

The program has been shepherded by Sol Irving,
a former corrections officer turned long-time corrections counselor, who saw a similar program at San Quentin, and wanted to add the lifer component, and try it at Solano . Irving too describes the training as transformative—both for the student inmates and also for the prisoners whom they have now started to counsel.

“Lifers are also often the leaders in the prison population, Irving said, “the ones that the other guys respect.” So if these guys transform, he said, their change tends to resonate outward through the rest of the population in a sort of behavioral wave pattern. (That is the other reason Irving has picked almost exclusively those serving life sentences.)

“I’ve been a peace officer for 30 years,” he told me yesterday. “and a counselor for many years. I’ve seen programs come and go. But I’ve never seen a program that works quite as well as this one.”

Another secret of the project’s success, he said, is that once trained, the inmate/counselors are far more effective as substance abuse peer counselors than the best outside shrinks.

“A lot of these guys have the feeling that they want to give back,” Irving said, “but they don’t now how to it. This program gives them the chance to do that.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in CDCR, prison, prison policy | 10 Comments »

Asking the Really Tough Questions About Torture

August 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon

Is Using A Minotaur To Gore Detainees A Form Of Torture?

(Favorite line: “We could use griffins
but we don’t use griffins and I think that’s what separates us from them.”)

(Second favorite line: “I’m Juliana McCannis filling in for Clifford Baines…who is vacuuming.”)

Posted in torture | 5 Comments »

Gang Czar Elevated to Mayor’s Chief Of Staff

August 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In a press release sent out late this morning,
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced that his departing chief of staff, Robin Kramer, will be replaced by the Reverend Jeff Carr, who has been heading up the mayor’s gang initiative. (The LA Times has a list of other staff replacements.)

Carr has been responsible for the programs that have gotten the mayor the best press of late, most specifically for the Summer Night Lights program, a simple but smart initiative that keeps 16 city parks in LA’s most gang-troubled neighborhoods open late and full of activities . Summer Night Lights runs only for nine weeks of the summer, but has been a justifiably big hit with communities, police and the press. (Hector Tobar’s recent LA Times article on SNL captures its mood and value perfectly.)

“…the idea behind the city’s Summer Night Lights program: If you distract troubled youths with wholesome things like basketball, outdoor movies and a well-lighted field, they’ll be less likely to start shooting one another.”

Okay, so good. But if Jeff Carr is moving to the front office, who’s going to run the gang programs, which the press release states will report directly to Carr.

UPDATE: I did speak to Carr’s office and was assured that a new head of Gang Reduction and Youth Development will be appointed—and soon.

A second question (albeit a slight more frivolous one): Departing chief of staff, Robin Kramer, while a strong personality, was rarely seen front and center in the press, whereas Jeff Carr has been anything but photo shy. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It is simply an observation.) So what will happen now? Will Carr still be looking for photo ops or will he let the new gang czar have the on-camera face time that used to be his?

And one more thing: The head of the gang program has become a high profile and important city position— since it controls every penny of city gang violence prevention money.

It will be very interesting and instructive to see what direction this appointment goes. It will also be interesting to see if Jeff Carr will continue to set the direction for the gang initiatives (with the mayor’s approval), or whether a new gang czar will have some of his or her own freedom to shape and calibrate—and recalibrate— the programs as they move ahead.

In the meantime, congrats to Reverend Carr.

PS: LA TIMES editorial pages chief, Jim Newton,
has an insightful essay on Robin Kramer and her departure.

Posted in Uncategorized | 12 Comments »

California Corrections Budget: THE GUTLESS WONDERS

August 27th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


In reporting on the whimpering and pathetic series of encounters,
that were formerly known as the corrections budget battle, this morning, nearly every news outlet led with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s extremely apt statement made during a webcast conversation held at the headquarters of Twitter. (Arnold’s a happy Twitterer so he wanted to visit the mother ship, so to speak.)

Basically Schwarzenegger called the state assembly members a bunch of gutless wonders who are making their decisions on corrections issues purely for political reasons— and that they need to grow a set. (He avoided using the term “girly men.”

“They don’t have the guts to go out there and create the prison reform that they have been talking about now for two decades. They (Assembly members) don’t have the guts now to make those decisions, because they are now more worried about safe seats than safe streets.” the governor said. Schwarzenegger also pointed out that assembly members had to problem making $10-billion worth of cuts in education, but found it impossible “to make the $1-billion cut for prisons.” AP, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee.

Schwarzenegger’s remarks were proved sadly prescient when, on Wednesday night, those self-same gutless wonders once again postponed taking the vote that had been expected to occur Wednesday on the prison budget plan that should have been passed in July. No new date for the vote has been set, said Assembly Speaker Karen Bass.

Matters were made worse by the fact that this non-vote
that sent the state assembly into paroxysms of avoidance was in response to a legislative package that had already been substantially watered down from the legislation that was passed by the state senate last week.

For instance, gone was the provision to let certain elderly and sick inmates serve their sentences under house arrest with GPS monitoring. Another axed provision the much needed proposal for a sentencing commission.

And still they can’t pass the damn thing-–and have no idea when and how they might be able to pass it. Meanwhile, with every day that goes by without a corrections package passed, the state continues to hemorrhage money.

While the state papers reported Arnold’s attempt to speak truth to power the deliberately powerless, only this morning’s New York Times had the…um….guts to themselves call the state’s legislative disaster for what it is.

Here are a few clips:

The California Legislature has failed several times to change backward sentencing and parole policies that keep the state’s prisons dangerously overcrowded with too many minor offenders sent to jail for too long. These failures, which have driven up corrections costs by about 50 percent in less than a decade, came home to roost earlier this month, when a federal court ordered the state to cut the prison population significantly. Days later, an ominous riot broke out in the men’s prison in Chino.

The time for ducking this issue has clearly passed, but a reform plan approved by the State Senate after being championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is in danger of being gutted in the Assembly. Democratic lawmakers who should know better are running scared of the prison guards’ union and of being labeled “soft on crime.” [MY NOTE: It's now been gutted by the assembly and still the fools won't voted for it.]

The heart of the problem is California’s poorly designed parole system. A vast majority of states use parole to supervise serious offenders who require close monitoring. California has historically put just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study releasedut just about everyone on parole. According to a federally backed study released last year, more people are sent to prison in California by parole officers than by the courts, and nearly half of those people go back on technical violations like missed appointments and failed drug tests.


This bill should have easily passed in the Assembly, which has a Democratic majority supposedly in favor of reform. But the Democrats, many of whom are running for other offices, are clearly fearful of even taking a vote that would allow a sick, 80-year-old inmate to spend what remains of his life in a nursing home wearing an ankle bracelet.

This is a low moment for Democrats in California. Those who put their parochial career interests ahead of the public good deserve to be called to account for it.

We used to be a state that led the way in such matters. Now, California has become a cautionary tale that many other parts of the country are working hard NOT to duplicate.

I for, for one, am sick of it.

Posted in California budget, prison policy | 3 Comments »

Sergio Diaz: A New Hat in the Race for LAPD Chief

August 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Up until today, there were four names tossed around by nearly everyone
as most likely to be on the short list to follow Bill Bratton as LAPD Chief: The four are Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, Assistant Chief Sharon Papa and Deputy Chief Charlie Beck.

There are dark horse candidates too—like Deputy Chief Michael Moore and Deputy Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur, plus some others.

But the four have been the candidates on whom the public and private handicapping has focused with the most vigor.

It has also been widely agreed that no one of the four is the odds on front runner.

There is however, one more person whose name has also often come up as another possible candidate—but only in private, because it was it was always assumed he wouldn’t try for the position.

And that is Deputy Chief Sergio Diaz.

Diaz, as you may remember, is the well-respected Deputy Chief in charge of the department’s Central Bureau. He was the guy tapped by Bratton to take over and fix things at Central—and also, to be honest, to help smooth matters with LA’s Hispanic community— after the May 1, 2007 debacle at MacArthur Park suggested that great deal needed fixing and smoothing on both those fronts. (I wrote about his appointment here for the LA Times, and here for WLA.)

Yet people simply assumed that Diaz would stay out of the race when Bratton left, primarily for one very large reason. Sergio has been best friends since childhood with George Gascon. And everyone knew that Gascon definitely wanted to be chief. Of the two friends, Gascon had long had first dibs on the position, so to speak. And Sergio showed no overt sides of wanting it.

Up until this summer, in fact, Gascon was the one most thought actually had the best shot at succeeding Bratton. He’d been the Assistant Chief right under Bratton and, more recently, had served as Chief of Police for Mesa, Arizona—thereby theoretically positioning him even better for the jump to LA’s chief, in that he’d now run a department of his own.

Then, this past June, George accepted the job as San Francisco’s Chief of Police, clearly assuming that Bratton would serve out his term. But when Bratton made his surprise announcement last month, Gascon had no alternative but to declare himself out of the running.

The unexpected collateral consequence of Gascon opting out was that, all at once, in the eyes of many there seemed no good reason for his extremely capable friend Sergio not to throw his hat into the ring.

On Friday, Diaz flew to San Francisco for George Gascon’s swearing in ceremony, and it is assumed that the two men talked the matter over.

Monday, Sergio Diaz spoke to Chief Bratton and made it official.

And so it came to be that, as of this morning, there are—not four—but arguably five possible favorites for the position of Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

It should be quite an intriguing race.

So stay tuned. There is lots more coverage—and handicapping—to come.

Posted in LAPD | 11 Comments »

Social Justice Shorts (Very Short)

August 26th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon



In a 6-1 vote, the LAUSD board voted Tuesday for a plan that could conceivably turn over the oversight and running of 250 campuses — most prominently 50 of the new multimillion-dollar facilities to be completed in the next three years—to charter groups and other outside operators. It is estimated that as many as 3000 parents showed up outside LAUSD’s Beaudry Street headquarters to lobby, plead, chant and cheer for (and some against) the vote.

One of the parent advocacy groups, Families That Can,collected in excess of 2,500 signatures on a petition in favoring of the resolution, which they presented to the LAUSD board before the vote.

Howard Blume and Jason Song have the LA Times story.

But Howard Blume’s blog post about the afternoon, to be found here, is the probably the most fun to read. ( I’d have been there had I not been teaching.)



While the next bail hearing for respected—and indicted—gang interventionist, Alex Sanchez, is not scheduled until October, there is more commentary on this possible innocence or guilt.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco, who has interviewed Sanchez in the past, had a well-balanced story on the case on Tuesday.

And then there is author/activist Tom Diaz, who has a much darker point of view of the case, that pretty much solely mirrors the point of view of the prosecution. Balanced, it ain’t. But it’s worth a read too.

(Interestingly, Diaz has managed to get hold of a copy of a photo that has been mentioned in court as being part of the prosecution’s case against Sanchez. But it’s an item to which no other journalist, to my knowledge, has gotten access.)


It was announced yesterday that former LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Berkow, who left Los Angeles three years ago to become the Chief the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, has just resigned his Savannah post become the Chief Operating Officer of Altegrity Inc—the “the global screening and security solutions provider” that has lured our own Bill Bratton to become its CEO, come October.

While Chief Bratton will be based in New York, Berkow will be based in Los Angeles.

Both men, it seems, were recruited by former LAPD federal monitor and current Altegrity CEO, Michael Cherkasky.

Berkow told a local Savannah TV station that he was approached about this position in April.

That April date has set a lot of LAPD watchers to talking—-as it suggests that Bratton too was likely recruited in April.

Photo of school choice rally by Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

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