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Trutanich’s Grand Jury Quest is a Dead Issue—for Now…And Maybe for Good

June 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The bill that could have given City Attorney Carmen Trutanich
his own grand jury was shot down in the Assembly’s Public Safety committee, thus never made it out to the state assembly floor for a vote. The bill, SB 1168, introduced by Senator Gill Cedillo, passed in the state senate. However the committee defeat means that that SB 1168 is dead for another year, maybe forever.

It likely didn’t help the bill’s chances that such state organizations as the California District Attorneys Association and the California Chamber of Commerce were against the idea.

A motion to oppose the SB 1168 was to have been discussed in Wednesday’s LA City Council meeting, but the bill’s death in legislative committee made the local motion a moot point,

However, the city’s Chief Administrative Officer still delivered his planned cost analysis of the proposed new grand jury.

Mr. Trutanich contended the grand jury would save money. However the CAO’s report indicated that this was not the case In fact, according to the CAO, the $$ needed to impanel a grand jury, along with other court costs, would put the City Attorney over budget.

In Sacramento, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D- San Francisco), the Public Safety Committee’s chair, told the LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy that he felt he was being asked to jump into an “internecine battle” going on in Los Angeles.

“I just thought it was inappropriate to bring to the Legislature,” Ammiano said Wednesday, the day after the committee action. “I don’t want to play in somebody else’s backyard.”

Right, and in that same vein, kudos to council members Jan Perry and Bernard Parks for staying on the subject, while most of the rest of the council either sided unquestioningly with Trutanich or seemed to remember urgent appointments elsewhere when the grand jury topic arose. Jan Perry in particular refused to bend to the insistent winds blowing out of the city attorney’s office.

Posted in City Attorney | 7 Comments »

DCFS Worker Arrested For Having Sex With 15-Year-Old Girl

June 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Rod Lautrec Carter, 45, who is employed as an investigator by the Department of Children and Family Services
, LA’s Foster Care System, was allegedly caught having sex with a 15 year-old girl and arrested in San Bernardino. The girl may or may not have been a prostitute.

DCFS was willing to confirm that they were investigating such an incident involving one of their employees. However, department spokesman Nishith Bhatt made clear that no one else involved with the incident—meaning, one presumes, the girl— was in any way connected with the foster care system. Nor was the DCFS guy on duty at the time.

Bhatt did confirm that the DCFS guy has contact with children an families during his normal working hours.

In a statement, DCFS said it was their policy to place employees charged with a crime on administrative desk duty “pending completion of criminal and internal investigations.”

So what does all this mean? If the charges are true, is the guy just an idiot, or a pedophile? That much isn’t clear.

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

Wednesday RoundUp

June 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


A KID DIES AS DCFS OUT-OF-CONTROL BACKLOG OF ABUSE ALLEGATIONS INCREASES

LA Times’ Garrett Theroff reports on this case that is tragic and also deeply disheartening because of what it illustrates.

Here is the opening:

The tip that abuse was taking place in the Long Beach home where 2-year-old Joseph Byrd lived came to Los Angeles County child welfare officials nearly two months ago.

But 57 days after opening an investigation into the allegations, social workers had yet to determine if Joseph was at risk when the toddler was pronounced dead Saturday. Coroner’s officials have listed the case as a homicide.

At the time of Joseph’s death, social workers were still looking into allegations of abuse and neglect in a family that already had been investigated five times, according to sources familiar with their history. Three of those cases were substantiated, sources told The Times.

Joseph’s case is a grim illustration of the growing number of abuse and neglect investigations still open past the state’s 30-day deadline.

Despite pledges to resolve Los Angeles County’s mounting backlog, the crisis has deepened significantly in recent weeks. At last count, cases involving more than 20,000 children reported at risk of abuse or neglect had not been fully investigated within 30 days — up from 18,000 in May

There’s lots more, so read on.


SUPREMES RULE AGAINST SCHOOL GROUP THAT EXCLUDES GAYS

This is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t case that I flagged a few months ago. The NY Times’ Adam Liptak reports.

A public law school did not violate the First Amendment by withdrawing recognition from a Christian student group that excluded gay students, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The case, involving a clash between religious freedom and antidiscrimination principles, divided along familiar ideological lines, with the court’s four more liberal members and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in the majority….

And here’s the best majority quote, from Justice Stevens:

….Justice Stevens said groups that “exclude or mistreat Jews, blacks and women” must be tolerated in a free society. But “it need not subsidize them, give them its official imprimatur or grant them equal access to law school facilities.


CALIFORNIA NAACP BACKS POT LEGALIZATION, CITING RACIAL DISPARITIES

An unusual amalgam of supporters are turning up to back the marijuana legalization initiative.

On Tuesday, the California NAACP became the latest, as the AP reports:

The NAACP’s California chapter pledged its support on Tuesday for a marijuana legalization ballot measure, saying current laws are unfairly used to target minorities.

The group highlighted findings it says show the arrest rate among blacks for low-level marijuana crimes far exceed those of whites in the state’s largest counties.

“Justice is the quality of being just and fair and these laws have been neither just nor fair,” said Alice Huffman, president of the California State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.



AMID ALL THE BAD PROBATION NEWS, A LOCKED UP KID WINS AN ACADEMIC TROPHY

It seems that the Los Angeles County Office of Education stages an annual academic decathlon-style competition for kids who are locked up in various probation-run facilities in Los Angeles County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has a story of one 17-year-old who was locked up at Dorothy Kirby Center, a residential probation facility that caters to kids with emotional issues, and who co-captained the team that won.

Here’s a clip:

For more than two months, Riley and his six teammates spent two hours after school every day and 2 1/2 hours on Saturdays drilling for the competition, which focused on the American Old West this year. Riley put in extra time on his own, practicing on his guitar to play the national anthem and a rendition of country classic “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky” at the competition.

After picking up his shiny red and gold trophy, Riley sat down in a daze.

“It feels so . . . real. This is life, this is what I can make it,” he said.

In another week, the aspiring musician from Lancaster will leave and face life in the real world, which will include junior college and eventually a four-year degree at Cal State Northridge, he said.

Read it and be encouraged.

Posted in Medical Marijuana, Probation | No Comments »

The LA Times, Probation and Inadequate “Second Chances” – UPDATED

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



(NOTE: BE SURE TO CHECK THE LA TIMES-RELATED UPDATE AT THE END OF THE POST.)


I just reread this morning’s LA Times editorial about Los Angeles County Probation in which they say that the LA County Supervisors have a “Second Chance” to “Renew LA County Probation.”

On a second reading,
I find I am deeply perplexed by it.

First of all, LA County Probation doesn’t require “renewal.” It’s not some wilting flower that needs a little plant food and some water.

It’s a broken, toxic mess of a contraption that the new probation chief, Donald Blevins, must yank up by its handles, turn upside down and shake hard until all the bad things roll out. And then rebuild the whole kit and caboodle from the wheels up.

Literarily speaking, it’s a page one rewrite.

But okay. No need to be peckish over a mere choice of images. (And, yes, I know that there are many good and deeply devoted people working within the department. That isn’t the point.)

However, then the Times editorial board goes on to say that the second chance in question is the approval at today’s meeting of the County Sups of a motion that allows Chief Blevins to hire new managers from outside the civil service structure.

This is of course a very good idea and will very likely be passed. The new chief should be unhampered in his ability to clear the decks when it comes to his top managers. (Again, he needs to turn the thing, shake everything out, and then start over, etc. etc.)

But then the Times opines, without any logical back-up, that there is no necessity for federal oversight. That what is really needed is for the county to “press for improvement.”

Well, duh. Yes, of course the County Board of Supervisors need to be, as the Times writes “committed” to “seeing that process [of reform] through.” Yadda, yadda, yadda.

But what the hell do those words mean? And what in the past behavior of LA County governance leads anyone to believe that the top-to-bottom reform needed at this nightmare of an agency can be accomplished without the do-it-or-else motivation and tools that a federal consent decree (or equivalent) can provide.

Seriously. Name one example. I dare y’all. Hmmm. Let’s see. Martin Luther King-Harbor hospital, otherwise known as King-Drew? Yeah, that worked out well.

I’m sorry, but the smart money—and a bunch of city and county history—suggests that a new department head (in this case, Blevins), no matter how well-intentioned, talented and capable, cannot take on a task of this magnitude unless he or she is very, very well armed. And the only government entity with guns big enough for the task are the feds.

(Yes, I know I have just mixed metaphors to an even more alarming degree than usual.)

Federal intervention is what gave Sheriff Lee Baca the tools—and the impetus–to reform the worst of the LA County jail conditions. (With more reform still needed.)

More dramatically—and relevantly, really—the federal consent decree is what gave master manager Bill Bratton the tools he needed to fundamentally reboot the damagingly-entrenched culture of the LAPD.

The Times suggests that calls for federal intervention by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (and their own Tim Rutten, and, well, me, if I want to be picky) are a vote of no confidence in the new chief.

To the contrary, when done right, federal intervention doesn’t preclude good management, it demands it—and, if capable leadership is already present, aids it.

We would hope that, should the Department of Justice decide to wade into the mess of LA County probation, it would do so with care and precision. Fortunately, with Eric Holder’s recent reconstitution of the DOJ’s civil rights division, chances are better than ever before that any new fed intervention would be wise, not clumsy.

Having spent the past three weeks talking to people with a stake and/or experience in some aspect of LA County Probation—ranging from activists, service providers and reformers at one end, to law enforcement types at the other—I can tell you that the belief that federal intervention is necessary is surprisingly widespread and getting wider.

The reason is simple. Most recognize that this is an all hands on deck moment, and that the well-being of the kids—our kids—with whom probation comes in contact simply cannot wait for another round of good tries. The time for business-as-usual 2.0 has run out with a vengeance.

So why in the world is the LA Times coming out against federal involvement? Really. A lot of us out here would like to know.



UPDATE: THE LA TIMES REPLIES—AND CLARIFIES

Tuesday afternoon I got a call from Lisa Richardson, a very smart and thoughtful woman who also happens to be one of the group of LA Times editorial board writers who composed the editorial about which I wrote the above rant. She phoned, she said, to say that the Times was not against federal intervention at all.

They definitely did not, Lisa said, think that forceful action on the board’s part and having the feds step in, were mutually exclusive. But since federal intervention was not something that we could trigger here at a local level, they wanted to call for committed action on the part of the Board of Supervisors. (Or words to that effect. I am paraphrasing mightily here.)

So it appears that we are on the same page after all—or close to it. Lisa said that the Times wasn’t ready to actually call for federal intervention, but they were assuredly not opposing it.

Fair enough. And thank you for the call. Dialogue is a good thing.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Times, Probation | 1 Comment »

Mark Ridley-Thomas on Probation, the Feds, & Why the Sups are Squabbling

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


While the flow of revelations about the ghastly state of LA County’s juvenile probation system
appears to have slowed for the moment, LA County’s five supervisors can’t seem to agree about how to fix the colossally broken department.

Last week, there was an attempt to pass three reform-minded motions, which stalled due to the abstention of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. [Back story here.] Accusations flew that Ridley-Thomas was standing in the way of reform because of pressure from the probation officer’s union.

The next day, however, that notion seemed disabused when Ridley-Thomas pushed for a far heftier brand of reform by calling publicly for federal intervention. Thus far, this is an approach that other supervisors do not favor. And neither, I understand, does the new Chief of Probation, Donald Blevins.

Everyone agrees that something needs to be done. The problem is agreeing on what exactly that something ought to be.

Knowing that the Board of Supervisors will meet again Tuesday to wrestle again with these matters, I talked at length with Ridley-Thomas about various sides of the probation problem, why he thinks the feds are necessary, and the kerfuffle with his colleagues over how to reform a dysfunctional department.

You’ll find the results below:


NOTE: Tuesday, the LA Times has an editorial on the topic describing its own perspective of how probation ought to be fixed.


WitnessLA: Mr. Supervisor, last week you called for federal oversight for the LA County Probation Department in the form of a federal consent decree—much like the federal consent decree that the LAPD had to agree to in order to avoid a Department of Justice lawsuit after the Rampart scandal.

However, none of your fellow supervisors seem to favor such federal involvement. Why is there such a schism between the supervisors?

Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas: At least one supervisor has articulated the point of view that we have a new chief probation officer, and so we should permit him a chance to succeed rather than declaring him a failure. I think that’s a mischaracterization of the call for broadened, deepened and quickened reform.

These problems are not of [Chief Blevins’] making. We’re not declaring him a failure.

But if we want to get this right, I think it has to be understood that it’s not about the new probation chief at all. This is about the mission of that department. The focus of the probation department is supposed to be rehabilitation of the children we serve. But there is so much dysfunction in the Department of Probation that rehabilitation is hard to realize.

WLA: Most of those I speak to who work inside the department say that rehabilitation is pretty much nonexistent.

MRT: And I don’t think you get there without serious top to bottom reform. For that, I think we need a set of tools and resources that are only available to the federal government.

WLA: One of the main objections I’m hearing from the offices of your colleagues is that: 1. Once the Feds step in their agenda tends to bigfoot any internal reform that is taking place for good and for ill, and 2. Even when the feds are genuinely helpful, as they were with the LAPD, they’re very often like the bad houseguests who overstay their welcome, to a degree that can be problematic.

How would you answer those objections?

MRT: I recognize those concerns. But there is no wholly elegant solution to a crisis as deep as the Probation Department’s. It’s in situations like these that the Justice Department needs to come in— when it’s clear an invasive treatment is required for the patient to survive. If DOJ decides to expand its role, it will be because they have concluded there are civil rights matters serious enough to compel them to do so.

And keep in mind this is no longer George Bush’s Department of Justice. What’s emerging is a new justice department with more robust civil rights prowess that would take this kind of issue on in a serous way—which is what we want.

Frankly, part of the problem I think we’re seeing from those who resist federal help, is a certain level of denial about the depth of the problem. And some want to control rather than correct it.

WLA: When you say “control rather than correct”, are you speaking about juvenile justice advocates—some of whom are also worried about the feds coming in—or those in county government?

MRT: I’m talking about decision makers. And more than some would like to admit or acknowledge, the department is already out of control. And it calls for intervention to rectify these problems.

Also, you should know, I’m quite sure that more in the way of problems will be revealed, none of which is particularly pleasant.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Probation | 1 Comment »

LAPD Gets Out Ahead of the Problem in Video-Captured Tasing

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jca8ajeaLTk

The above video shows a belligerent man being tased Sunday night by an LAPD officer, and consequently hitting his head on the curb with a sickening thud. (The videographer is a bit of an obnoxious little twerp, but that isn’t the issue.)

Monday, the LAPD put out the release below, thereby making a move to get out ahead of the story with facts and transparency.

I think it’s a very smart call on the part of the department and Chief Beck. (As my Deputy Sheriff cousin says about the press when he teaches criminal justice to young cops in South Dakota, “If you don’t feed them, they will hunt.” I always thought he had that about right.)

What do you think?

June 28, 2010

Use of Force Involving Hollywood Area Police Officers

Los Angeles: Hollywood Area Los Angeles Police Department officers respond to a report of an intoxicated man and a use of force occurs.

On June 27, 2010 around two in the morning, officers responding to an unrelated call of an intoxicated man at a bar in the Hollywood Highland complex came upon a man causing a disturbance, across the street on Hollywood Boulevard. The man, who appeared intoxicated, had confronted several black males calling them racially derogatory names. The LAPD officers intervened, and over the next several minutes tried to calm the man down and direct him to leave the area. The subject refused to leave and continued his aggressive and threatening behavior. The man reportedly threatened to “cut the throats” of the officers.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LAPD, media | 7 Comments »

County Sups: $400K Death Payout, City Council: Vote on Trutanich Grand Jury

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



TRUTANICH’S GRAND JURY

Tuesday the City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss SB 1168, the bill that would allow City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to have his own grand jury. The bill has passed the state senate and with a trip to the state assembly still ahead.

The City Council will decide whether or not it is in favor of the bill. Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks are strongly opposed, and would like the idea to be put to a vote of the residents of Los Angeles.


COUNTY SUPERVISORS EXPECTED TO VOTE $400,000 TO SETTLE JUVENILE HALL MEDICAL NEGLIGENCE/WRONGFUL DEATH LAWSUIT

Also on Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are scheduled to vote to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Tremayne Cole.

The bare bones of the case, which is expected to be settled for $400,000, are as follows:

According to the county’s own report, on February 5, 2008, a short, skinny, 14-year-old boy named Tremayne Cole was placed in one of LA County’s juvenile halls, Los Padrinos. Four days later, on February 9, Tremayne complained of a bad headache, a tooth ache, and he was running a fever. Although he was given medication, he was reportedly not seen by either a doctor or a dentist until around February 17 when he had grown so sick that he was transferred to LA County-USC hospital. Tremayne died of complications of meningitis on March 4, 2008.

Tremayne’s parents allege that the adults in charge dropped the ball on their son pretty much at every step.

Posted in City Attorney, City Government, Courts, Foster Care, LA City Council, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

Interview on the Ongoing Probation Debacle Coming Late Today

June 28th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

An interview with LA County Supervisor about the LA County Probation mess, how he thinks it should be handled, why he believes his fellow supervisors feel otherwise, and what scandals are yet to come, and more….will be posted late today.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

LA Press Club Honors Parole Series

June 28th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon



At the LA Press Club Awards held in the Crystal ballroom of the Biltmore Hotel Sunday night,
Arnold Schwarzenegger delivered the welcome speech and rattled on pleasantly for quite some time—a little too long, actually—reciting a litany the things that didn’t get done, or got done wrongly, or not well, during his tenure that the press had helpfully pointed out. He end with “I’ll be back.” Back to where wasn’t clear.

Many hours and many, many, MANY awards later, Sean Penn presented the President’s Award to Andersen Cooper for his reporting on the earthquake crisis in Haiti. Cooper was very gracious but looked decidedly sleep-deprived and like every minute he was forced to spend in some LA ballroom instead of working on the gulf oil spill story was some form of punishment. (He told me when I asked that he was flying back Monday morning.)

In between, my gorgeous friend, actress Wendie Malick, was one of a group of celebrity types who were drafted to actually hand out the 79 trillion awards given. (I’ll link to them when the press club puts them online as there were many excellent and deserving people honored.)

The Daily Journal’s Greg Katz was one of those recognized. He got an award for the best investigative series (publications under 50,000) and as the print journalist of the year (also for papers under 50,0000).

I mention this because the terrific newspaper series that got Katz the awards was something called Revoked about California’s parole revocation system. Since it was published in the Daily Journal, it was hidden behind a pay wall, thus most of you likely didn’t see it. But Katz, (who Tweeted excitedly when he won) has kindly provided a PDF for your reading pleasure.

It opens this way:

Imagine you’re a defendant in a court system where hearings take place in prison, behind closed doors, while you are shackled to the floor.

You get an attorney who can subpoena witnesses, but the court doesn’t compel them to show up. Hearsay evidence from law enforcement is allowed, and you can be convicted without ever being allowed to confront your accuser.

There is no jury. There is also no prosecutor; rather the judge is charged with protecting the public safety, creating a duel role with an inherent conflict. This hearing officer may or may not be a lawyer.

To send you to prison, he does not have to find you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, only 51 percent likely to have done what you’re accused of.

You’re not in Guantanamo Bay.
You’re in California’s parole revocation system.

Read on here.


And while we’re on the topic of media, if you haven’t already, be sure to read Frank Rich’s dead on commentary in Sunday’s New York Times about the mainstream media’s utter shock over the fact that a smart Rolling Stone reporter actually just did his job and got a terrific story.

Posted in media, parole policy, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

One of Pot Dispensary Workers Killed, Son of LA Labor Leader, Julie Butcher

June 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Awful.

Andrew Blankstein and David Zahniser report for the LAT:


‘No reason for anyone to die over marijuana,’ mother of slain pot dispensary worker says

A medical marijuana dispensary employee killed Thursday during a robbery at the Echo Park store is the son of a well-known L.A. labor leader, Julie Butcher.

Matt Butcher’s mother described the killing as “totally senseless,” saying her son was simply trying to cobble together part-time jobs in a tough economy.

“He was one of the most peaceful people,” said Julie Butcher, who works as a regional director of the Service Employees International Union Local 721. “He would have given them anything they wanted. There’s no reason for anyone to die over marijuana.”

Butcher, 27, was one of two pot dispensary workers killed Thursday.

More here.

Freaking legalize it. Regulate it. Tax it.

Posted in crime and punishment, Medical Marijuana | 24 Comments »

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