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Following the Gang Money: Where are the City’s GRYD Evaluations?

June 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Really, all we’re asking for is a little of the much promised transparency and accountability.

It’s a season of ongoing budgetary nightmares. LA’s libraries are losing one-third of their staff. Even the city’s firefighters are taking budget hits. However one of the few programs or agencies in all of Los Angeles that has not seen its funding slashed is the city’s $26 million plus Gang Reduction and Youth Development program—or GRYD.

This is not to suggest that the city doesn’t need every penny of that GRYD money. Even after LA’s drop in crime, Los Angeles is still the gang capital the nation. Gang violence takes lives, wrecks futures, fills prisons and causes staggering levels of measurable PTSD in school-age kids who live in gang-intense neighborhoods.

In truth, $26 million is not all that much considering the gravity and complexity of the problem.

Yet the very scarcity of funds is a big part of the reason why the community at large deserves to know exactly what we’re getting for our prevention/intervention millions now that we are two years into the mayor’s GRYD strategies—which is precisely why WitnessLA and Spot.Us have hired Matt Fleischer to find out under the banner of the LA Justice Report.

Matt’s been digging up a lot very intriguing information already. (The fruits of his labors will appear later this summer.)

But, as he digs and explores, it has been a bit vexing to find that the least cooperative people have been those in the mayor’s GRYD office.

Take for example the issue of the evaluation:

As part of its mandate, GRYD has contracted with the Urban Institute to conduct an evaluation of the various GRYD programs’ for performance and efficacy—for a fee of $900,000. The gang programs were officially moved to the mayor’s office in July of ’08 and here we are in late June of 2010. Yet, thus far we can find no one outside of GRYD who has seen any part of any kind of an evaluation.

And GRYD ain’t sharing.

In fact, every time Matt asked for any information whatsoever regarding the UI evaluation city officials switched on their vague-afiers.

It was in draft form, they said, so they couldn’t give him that.

Now, granted, the evaluation is a 3-5 year project, which means that every interim report is, by definition, a “draft” until 2013 or 14 or whatever, when there will be a final report. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t reports at the one year mark. Surely GRYD wants to know—and would want us to know—that they are on the right track with their $26 million worth of gang violence prevention and intervention strategies. Matt said that a draft of the evaluation would fine. Anything would be better than nothing. At this, the GRYD people remembered urgent business elsewhere and stopped replying to his requests altogether.

Just out of curiosity, I called a contact who is an insider at the LA City Council. I reasoned that since the council is responsible for approving all GRYD’s city funds, surely a well-placed person in the council offices could get some kind of interim evaluation at this point. Nope, they’d asked for it, he said. And so far, nada.

“The council gets quarterly reports,” he said, “but they don’t say much.

He reminded me that one of the selling points for moving LA’s gang dollars away from the city council and putting the money all under the single roof of the mayor’s office was to insure that the program would be more accountable and transparent than the city’s previous gang violence reduction programs had been. (cough) LA Bridges (cough, cough).

“Well, the mayor is two years into having all the money, and we’ve not seen a lot of either transparency and accountability,” he said grumpily. “They aren’t very good at collaborating either. As a result, if you as a taxpayer ask me what you’re really getting for your money, I can’t really tell you.”

Okay, we aim to change that. That’s what Matt’s reporting for WLA and Spot.Us is all about.

IMPORTANT NOTE: You can do another round of free “donations” to Matt’s investigation
for WLA the LA Justice Report by doing the following:

* going to Spot.Us

*Login/Register on Spot.Us (upper left hand side.)
* hit the EARN CREDITS button
*answer three anonymous questions about how reporters and techs might better collaborate.
*scroll down and choose the LA Justice Report when you’re prompted to select how to use your credits.
*Then confirm it at the prompt.

That’s it. You pay nothing, and our reporting fund gets ten bucks!

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, City Budget, City Government, Gangs | No Comments »

California District Attorneys Say…um…NO to Trutanich’s Grand Jury Bill

June 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

City Attorney Carmen Trutanich’s quest to acquire his own personal Grand Jury continues.

The controversial bill, SB1168, that would allow the city attorney to get what he wants, is scheduled to be heard in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee on June 27.

Meanwhile, Councilwoman’s Jan Perry’s resolution to oppose the idea may or may not be brought up in the council today, Friday. (Everyone is waiting for the fiscal report on the bill by the City’s Administrative Officer (CAO).

BUT THE BIG NEWS AROUND THIS ISSUE is the fact that Trutanich received a nasty blow this week when the California District Attorneys Association wrote Gil Cedillo, the bill’s sponsor, to say that, thank you very much, but they would NOT be supporting this measure.

The DAs also opined that the grand jury Trutanich wanted was “potentially unconstitutional.”

Word is that Trutanich, was really, really not happy at this outcome. Vocally not happy.

Anyway….here is the heart of it the district attorneys’ Dude-I-don’t-think-so letter :

On behalf of the California District Attorneys Association (CDAA), I regret to inform you that we are opposed to your measure, SB 1168, as amended on May 25,2010. This bill would allow the Los Angeles City Attorney to request the impanelment of a misdemeanor grand jury.


More concerning is that the measure proposes a potentially unconstitutional arrangement because the misdemeanor grand jury would exist simply as an investigative tool. Grand jurors would only have the power to subpoena witnesses as well as hear andrecord their testimony; there would be no power to indict. This bill creates something that has never existed before: a grand jury with no ability either to determine that a crime has not occurred or to indict. Such a system would likely face a charge that it is a sham and a violation of the separation of powers.

Specifically, the argument would be that a judicial agency (the grand jury) is being used to
carry out an executive function (the investigation of crime) and that this grand jury performs no judicial function because it does not have the power to independently evaluate the evidence and render an opinion whether there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.

Although this bill might provide the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office with a helpful tool, we
must consider the potential impact on other prosecutors. The grand jury performs an important function and we do not want to risk losing it…..


If you’ve already finished being aghast at the great welfare-to-casino debacle, and/or Antonio’s ongoing ticket idiocy, then, if by some odd chance you haven’t yet read the Guardian’s Xan Brooks instantly legendary live blogging of the Isner-Mahut Zombie tennis match at Wimbleton, do it this second. I know I’m late in the bringing this up. But its face-achingly funny. (And, if you’ve already read it, it bears reading again.)

(Everyone says to start at hour 4:05 pm but I’d read the whole damn thing.)

(Screw tennis, I think the guy should start live blogging American politics. it’d make everything more bearable. I’m sure of it.)

UPDATE: By the way, it’s worth noting that Kevin Roderick at LA Observed flagged Brooks’ poetic and gloriously frantic live blogging—and the press follow-up—ahead of anybody else. A few random sports bloggers saw it. But Roderick was out spreading the word early. And I’m glad he did.

Posted in City Attorney, Courts | No Comments »

Probation Nightmare – Part 4: Sups Divide as 1 Calls for Fed Oversight

June 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

It’s been around a week since the last unpleasant revelation surfaced about LA County’s Juvenile Probation department
(with more likely to come).

This week, however, the LA County Supervisors are having a public spat over how to deal with the mess.

Here’s the deal: The Los Angeles County Probation Department is the largest probation agency in the nation, has a budget of nearly $800 million, and oversees around 2,000 of LA’s locked-up kids in 19 camps and several juvenile halls. As of this month, probation has hands down won the prize for the most nightmarishly dysfunctional agency in LA County.

So what to do?

The one piece of good news is that probation’s new chief, Don Blevins, who used to run probation for Alameda County, and took over LA’s scandal-ridden department about two months ago, is by all accounts a intelligent and capable man, as is his second in command, Cal Remington.

But undoing a train wreck of this magnitude is a great deal to ask of anyone. Clearly the guy needs to be given all possible tools, as the LA Times editorial board rightly opined last week.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Supervisors had their regularly scheduled meeting and Topic A was how best to give Blevins the needed tools and back up.

To this end, a package of three recently-crafted motions were called to a vote at the meeting.


1. The first motion, sponsored by Zev Yaroslavsky and Mike Antonovich, was to allow Mike Genneco and the County’s Office of Independent Review to oversee the examination and revamping of the hideously incompetent mechanism for investigating probation staff misconduct.

Since Gennaco and the OIR had already conducted a three month investigation into the problems, then made a list of recommendations, it is a natural for Gennaco’s OIR to follow through with permanent independent oversight. Up until now, probation has policed itself, and that strategy has not exactly played out well. The OIR would provide a much-needed fail safe.

2. Motion two, from Zev and Gloria Molina, was to give new Probation Chief Blevins the power to hire people for management who were outside the civil service universe. Another essential idea.

Much of probation’s management, in a word, sucks.

You don’t mislay 1/3 of your workforce, find yourself unable to account for $79 million, fail to discipline a long list of sworn staff who are caught abusing locked up kids on video, and so on and so on, and get to call that roiling mess anything resembling good management.

Thus Blevins should be able to—as the motion put it–have “the maximum flexibility to assemble the best possible management team, including where necessary the ability to hire individuals from outside the Department.” Motion No. 2 is a no-brainer.

3. Motion three, sponsored by Antonovich and Don Knabe, was something designed to revisit the issue of the 31 sworn employees who committed misconduct and abuse but who will probably escape discipline because probation investigators took too long to complete their cases, and the statute of limitations has run out. The motion, as I understand it, pushes for a way to punish those who are guilty of crimes and egregious misconduct relating to the kids in their care—statute of limitations or no statute of limitations. Heck, yeah. We’re for that.


Okay, so admittedly the motions weren’t designed to address the systemic and cultural changes needed at probation, but they were a good place to start. However, when it came time for a vote, there was a problem.

Only three of the five Supervisors were present. Antonovich and Knabe were both out of town. But as each had sponsored a motion, they’d left word with their respective staffs that they didn’t want their absences to imperil the vote.

All that was needed, was for the remaining three Sups—Yaroslavsky, Molina, and Mark Ridley-Thomas—to vote yes.

However, Ridley-Thomas did not vote YES. He didn’t vote NO either. He abstained. Thus the motions didn’t pass.

This caused much unhappy muttering in and around the other County Supervisorial offices. Some asked if Ridley-Thomas was way too influenced by the probation officers union, which had given big bucks to his campaign. The union, as it turns out, didn’t like several features of the motions.

But then early Wednesday morning, Ridley-Thomas surprised everyone with an Op Ed that appeared in the Huffington Post. In it, he called for much more than motions. Ridley-Thomas called for the Feds to come in with a full on Consent Decree.


Ridley-Thomas wrote his plea in strong terms:

The Los Angeles Police Dept. spent much of the past decade transforming its culture, one that too often had tolerated excessive force, racial bias and even lawless behavior by officers. The LAPD did not have a choice — ambitious reforms were imposed by a 2001 consent decree enforced by a federal judge.

By the time the consent decree was lifted last year, there was widespread agreement that the LAPD was vastly improved. The police department’s credibility has been largely restored even in communities in which the LAPD was deeply distrusted.

It is now time for the federal government to guide reform in another local agency, the Los Angeles County Probation Dept.

How severe is the crisis in the Probation? Consider this: some of the worst offenders the department must handle are, regrettably, on its staff.

Probation officers who should have been fired for misconduct remain on duty due to botched investigations. The County’s Office of Independent Review reported this month that such flubbing of internal investigations is “emblematic of a wholesale systems breakdown” in the department.

The Office of Independent Review found Probation’s internal investigations take an average of 200 days. These delays have in some cases resulted in statutes of limitations expiring.

The department also can’t fully account for $79 million in its budget.

What are we waiting for ? Isn’t it time to take off the County’s blinders with respect to Probation?

With each new proposal to clean-up Probation by the Board of Supervisors or the department’s new chief, Donald Blevins, there are also new reports of alleged crimes by department insiders – from sexual abuse to buying video games with public money and then stealing them.

Some of these reports by County auditors have been made public, but other potential crimes remain confidential as investigations continue.

Privately, Probation insiders also say what they fear most is what they don’t yet know. The depth of corruption and incompetence found so far has already surpassed what anyone dreamed, they say.

We’ve now seen enough to be sure of this: we can’t wait for the Probation Dept. to fix itself. We need the authority and resources of the federal government….


In reality, Ridley-Thomas was not the only person calling for federal oversight. Tim Rutten called for it here, as did I here and again on Which Way LA?

And during the weeks prior to the appearance of the Huff Post op ed, there had been much talk about the need for federal oversight among those watching the probation drama–some from inside government, some not–their reasons just about identical to those that the supervisor listed. They point out that, for the past decade, the justice department has been monitoring the probation department’s juvenile programs. During those ten years, some changes have been made, to be sure. But the changes are minimal at best. For the most part, the county’s probation camps grew worse. Something more is needed, they said.

To those who favored the call for strong federal oversight it was not a vote of no-confidence for Don Blevins—merely an acknowledgment that, with problems of the magnitude and cultural entrenchment that Blevins faces, some serious muscle was needed. In situations of this nature, the Feds are the most serious kind of muscle around.


Curious as to why Ridley-Thomas seemed to put a stick in the spokes of the other Sups’ motions on Tuesday, yet pushed forcefully for a much larger move—namely federal intervention—on Wednesday, I called his Senior Deputy for Justice and Public Safety, Richard Fajardo, to ask what it all meant.

Fajardo also happens to be a respected civil rights attorney.
He spoke bluntly.

The supervisor wasn’t so against the motions per se, Fajardo said, but Ridley-Thomas felt a lot more was needed. “Every time there’s a news article with some new revelation about probation we get what I call these ‘I”m outraged!’ motions, that are supposed to demonstrate how shocked and furious everybody is.” Something more comprehensive was needed, Fajardo said. “I mean, the supervisors have been at this for 20 years and look where we are. We need something more than piecemeal.”

“And Blevins needs help.”

So the supervisor was, with his Huffington Post piece, “starting the conversation’ about the matter of the feds coming in, said Fajardo.

However the mood in and around some of the other Sups offices was less than sanguine at the notion of Ridley-Thomas' conversation starter.

“I’m very puzzled by it,” Zev Yaroslavsky told the LA Times’ Garett Theroff. “I don’t understand how on Tuesday you prevent the board from approving proposals that empower the leaders of the Probation Department and then on Wednesday say they need help. It just doesn’t compute.”

Tony Bell, spokesman for Mike Antonovich, told Theroff much the same thing. “I think the supervisor would oppose bringing the feds in,” he said.

“It’s grandstanding,” one County Sup insider added to me. “Blevins has been on the job all of two months. I mean give the new guy a chance!”


Speaking personally, I too think we should “give the new guy a chance.’

But like many of those I’ve spoken with in the past two weeks, I also think, as I’ve said before, it is time for aggressive federal oversight.

The plain truth is that, aside from probation staffers buying big screen TVs on county credit cards, and the unconscionable mismanagement of many millions of dollars, the urgently pressing issue when it comes to country probation is the chronic abuse and/or neglect of the kids that LA county has in its care—which has been going on for a very, very long time.

“Juvenile incarceration is not meant to be punitive, it’s meant to be rehabilitative,” said one expert on the county’s system. “That’s the law. But we are not rehabilitating. We’re breaking kids further.”

That’s the real point. And it has to stop. If it takes a federal consent decree to insure that those desperately needed changes are made in order for us to treat the kids in our care as if they mattered—as if they belonged to us.—then fine. Bring it on.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | 7 Comments »

More Posting Later Today

June 23rd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

In the meantime, here are a few things to check:


I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with hero. (But not in a cheery way.)

A lot more on this in a while.


Nikki Finke asked Andrew Jay Schwartzman of the Media Access Project to write about what the CC/NBCU merger could really mean to us average folks. Check it out.

In short, Shwartzman says the deal would harm diversity and free expression and is bad for America. (Other than that, I’m sure it’s fine.)


With all the yammering this past year on the part of the news media about pay walls and sanctity of content
, why exactly was it okay for Time Magazine and Politico to both put up the entire Rolling Stone McCrystal article—before RS had posted it online themselves?

I’m just curious.

(Rolling Stone has it up now.)


In case you missed it, in Sunday’s LA Times, Howard Blume had a story well worth reading on a charter high school that allowed under achieving kids access to music recording equipment, that now is being shut down.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

LA Mag Gets LA Women Together

June 22nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Monday night, Los Angeles Magazine held a gathering they called a Women’s Leadership Reception.
it was co-hosted by Editor-in-Chief Mary Melton and Publisher Amy Saralegui along with City Controller Wendy Greuel.

The women present were an eclectic mix.
They were from government (like Greuel, city planning director Gail Goldberg, and longtime California Democratic powerhouse, Roz Wyman) from journalism—(Director of the Annenberg School of Journalism, Geneva Overholser, columnist/radio host, Patt Morrison, KPPC’s Shirley Jahad, KCET exec Val Zavala) —from literature and the arts…from the nonprofit sector and, well, from a lot of varied fields– County Counsel Andrea Ordin, L.A. Conservancy chief Linda Dishman, author Gina Nahai. However, unlike most such gatherings, although all of us knew a few people, no one but perhaps the LA Mag editors who did the inviting, seemed to know a lot.

It took about fifteen minutes of collective shyness before everyone ventured out to talk to those whom they’d not met.

A lot of intriguing and decidedly non-small-talkish conversations seemed to emerge from the mingling (even though accessories were occasionally mentioned).

For instance, I heard from Emmy winning composer Laura Karpman
that she was in the middle of writing an “multi-media opera called The One Ten—about…well… the 110 Freeway. It seems that the 110 turns 70 in December of this year. So to commemorate the anniversary, the LA Opera offered Karpman a quirky commission to create an opera about it. (Laura and librettists M.G. Lord and Shannon Halwes blog about their creative process here.)

Wendy Greuel veered easily between topics that included her newest audit (more on that another time) and and the fact she and Wyman were two of the three women ever to get pregnant and have a child while serving in LA public office. (The third was Gloria Molina, said Greuel.)

“I’m glad she took on the DWP,” I heard two different women whisper when they spied Greuel.

Stephanie Stone, the Vice Chair of LA County’s Veterans Advisory Commission, told me disturbingly that according to the most recent estimate, 25 percent—likely more—of the women soldiers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan, have been sexually abused during their time in the service. One out of four.

(I’ll be following up on that story.)

I heard from Elena Stern of Para Los Ninos about the desperate need for psychological counseling among the children living on Skid Row whom her agency serves.

I talked with Literary agent Bonnie Nadell, who was the longtime agent of the late David Foster Wallace, about whether she thought that D.T. Max, who wrote the long, unutterably sad, but relievingly informative story about DFW in the New Yorker, was the right person to do the upcoming biography of Wallace. (She did. She thought he’d be good. And, since she’d known both men for over 20 years, I figured she was in likely the best position to judge the matter.)

Mary Melton also mentioned, when she gave her welcoming speech, that Roz Wyman was the youngest LA City Council person ever. (She was first elected in 1953 at the age of 22.) Mary also said that Roz was instrumental in bringing the Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957, figuring that LA needed its own sports team.

And so it was that, as the longest night of the year unfolded—along with myriad conversations—everyone seemed to settle into the pleasant realization that it was nice (even if merely for a change) for just girls to get together with just girls…in LA. (And a kick-ass group of grrrllls it was.)

Thanks to LA Magazine for making it possible.

Group photo by Zach Lipp via LA Observed.

Posted in art and culture, literature, media, women's issues, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

Stupid Boycott Tricks

June 22nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

I too despise AZ’s loathsome immigration law—SB 1070
—which makes it a state crime to lack immigration papers and requires police to determine the immigration status of people they lawfully stop for other reasons, including violations of municipal ordinances.

But, I was not in favor of the fact that, along with a number of American cities, LA’s City Council approved a travel and economic boycott of Arizona in order to protest the law. Predictably, however, the boycott is turning out to be a bit more complicated than originally thought.

A problem turned up last week when it came to light that the LAPD had registered—and paid for—four of its Air Support Division officers to attend the yearly Airborne Law Enforcement Association Conference, which this time is being held in Tuscon. The event is evidently a great opportunity for networking and for sharing operational info.

What to do? Could there be an exemption granted? Council members Bernard Parks and Greig Smith introduced a motion to exempt the four LAPD Airborne guys and their pre-boycott-paid trip.

But before the matter could be discussed, the department quietly quashed the training trip.

The police union’s Paul Weber, was extremely annoyed and, this time, I’m with the LAPPL.

But that’s not the end of it. Tuesday, the council’s Public Safety Committee will hurriedly discuss another exemption from the boycott—this time around the issue of those red light cameras, which it turns out are run by a company in Scottsdale.

If an exemption from the boycott isn’t granted, and the city isn’t able to extend its contract with the camera company, while LA scrambles for another firm to take its place, the cameras are expected to be out of commission for nine months. After that, the operation of 32 intersections will be construction-plagued while new cameras can be installed, and….

…the LA Times reports that the other big firm that provides the cameras is also based in Arizona.

Do we want to take bets on whether or not this will be the last such exemption needed?

Posted in Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

A Judge’s 5 PM Rule, Sentencing 4 Child Porn, & Librarians Read 2 Mayor

June 21st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct will decide this week whether or not to sanction Judge Sharon Keller for her actions on the afternoon of September 25, 2007 when, as the presiding judge of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, she refused to allow her court clerk’s office to stay open slightly after 5 pm to receive an appeal from from public defenders asking for a last minute stay of execution based on a Supreme Court decision that had been handed down earlier that day.

As a consequence, the request for the stay—which it is believed likely would have been granted—wasn’t received and the inmate, Michael Wayne Richard, was executed at 6 pm that same day.

The Dallas Morning News has more as does the Wall Street Journal.

But first you might want to re-read the full back story on this. (WLA posted on the story back in 2007.) It’s…disturbing.

Among other things, Keller could have and should have referred Richard’s lawyers to the judge whom she knew was assigned to hear after hours appeals—but she didn’t bother.

It is not that Michael Richard was a sympathetic character. He wasn’t. But as the Dallas Morning news wrote three years ago of the case:

When the state takes the life of a condemned criminal, it must do so with a sense of sobriety commensurate with its grave responsibility. Hastening the death of a man, even a bad one, because office personnel couldn’t be bothered to bend bureaucratic procedure was a breathtakingly petty act and evinced a relish for death that makes the blood of decent people run cold.



In Monday’s New York Times A.G. Sulzberger has an interesting story about Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Jack B. Weinstein who has thrown out two convictions for a guy who has downloaded thousands of child porn images from the internet. Weinstein believes the mandatory minimums for what the porn downloader—a married father of three—has done are far too high.
Here’s a representative clip:

There is little public sympathy for collectors of child pornography. Yet across the country, an increasing number of federal judges have come to their defense, criticizing changes to sentencing laws that have effectively quadrupled their average prison term over the last decade.

Last week, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated a 20-year child pornography sentence by ruling that the sentencing guidelines for such cases, “unless applied with great care, can lead to unreasonable sentences.” The decision noted that the recommended sentences for looking at pictures of children being sexually abused sometimes eclipse those for actually sexually abusing a child.

Read the rest. It’s a complex and emotion filled issue, with no absolutely black and white answer. But the questions it raises are important.

I tend to agree with Judge Weinstein, as I see does my favorite sentencing guru, Doug Berman.

Yet, as I said above, it is not a simple issue.


According to According to the Librarians’ Guild and Save the Library campaign,
the budget for city libraries has been cut by more than $20 million, and more than 150 library workers have been laid off as the city tries to reduce its projected half-billion-dollar budget deficit.

Library advocates say that when added to the hiring freeze and retirements, this latest round cuts the library staffing by a full one third, (!!!)which, they say, is one of the largest cuts to a city department.

CBS News reports:

“We have overcome disasters including earthquakes, we have risen from arson fires, but the Villaraigosa Disaster will haunt our library system for generations,” Roy Stone, president of the Librarians’ Guild, said. “The mayor has led this effort and he is succeeding in destroying one of the most important services provided to our residents.”

Libraries are essential resources, right after those dealing with public health and public safety.

Meanwhile, certain city agencies are not having their budgets slashed much at all. In fact, one is actually getting additional bucks.

More on that story tomorrow.

Posted in Courts, Death Penalty | 4 Comments »

Happy Father’s Day

June 20th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

For fathers (and uncles and step-dads and foster dads and compadres) everywhere.

(Nevermind that this song is not what you’d call cheery; it’s also beautiful and makes clear the importance of fathers.)

Below you’ll find two of my favorite dad-related poems—one by a father for his child, one by a son for his father.

The first is by the great and glorious, Gary Snyder. (It’s the last three lines of this poem that always get me.)

Changing Diapers by Gary Snyder

How intelligent he looks!
on his back
both feet caught in my one hand
his glance set sideways,
on a giant poster of Geronimo
with a Sharp’s repeating rifle by his knee.

I open, wipe, he doesn’t even notice
nor do I.
Baby legs and knees
toes like little peas
little wrinkles, good-to-eat,
eyes bright, shiny ears
chest swelling drawing air,

No trouble, friend,
you and me and Geronimo
are men.

The other is a remarkable poem that E. E. Cummings wrote for his dad. It’s called my father moved through dooms of love. I believe it’s best read aloud.

I read fragments of this poem at my dad’s funeral.
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Life in general | 4 Comments »

The Mehserle Trial – Why is LA So Uninterested?

June 18th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday, a friend who works for works for public radio in San Francisco emailed me and asked if I planned to cover the murder trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle.

“I woulda thought there would be more interest in So Cal given the “meta-themes” – police brutality, transit cops with attitude, race in the courts – but doesn’t seem like it…”, she wrote.

Indeed, the case is tragic and emotion-fraught, with all of the elements that our fair city would ordinarily take to obsessively:

In the early morning hours of January 1, 2009, now-resigned BART police officer, Johannes Mehserle shot and killed a 22-year-old unarmed BART passenger named Oscar Grant III. It seems Grant and some of his friends were thought to be fighting on the train and BART police were called.

At some point, Mehserle and some other officers got Grant—who is black— down on the ground with the intention of cuffing him. But then Mehserle—who is white— stood up and shot Grant in the back while a dozen or more witnesses watched.

And, this being the 21st century, at least 5 different people shot cell-phone videos that show some aspect of the shooting. (Two of those videos are in the YouTube compilation above.)

Now Mehserle is on trial for murder.

His defense attorney contends that the former BART cop intended to draw his taser but instead mistakenly and tragically the drew his service weapon— thus fatally wounding Grant.

The prosecutor says nonsense, that Mehserle deliberately shot Grant while the man was face down on the cement.

The case has aroused a deep emotional reaction throughout the Bay Area as the shocking videos of the incident played repeatedly on local TV and quickly went viral on YouTube. Large demonstrations have resulted, some of them violent.

However in LA, no one seemed to notice.

In fact emotions have run so high in the Bay Area, that the trial was moved from Alameda to downtown Los Angeles.

The trial began on June 10 and has been going on all this week, replete with lots of daily drama.—but with very little notice from the LA press.

LA Times reporter Jack Leonard has been in court every day, and told me he is fascinated by the case, yet I notice most of his stories are either buried deep in the paper, or relegated to occasional LANow blog posts (even though, as one of the paper’s top crime reporters, his work is usually featured prominently).

Other Los Angeles media outlets have been similarly lackadaisical in their coverage.

Independent LA journalist Thandisizwe Chimurenga, who has been covering the trial for a Spot.Us project, told me that when she tried to interest a couple of local outlets in her reporting, they all but yawned.

Hey, now that the Lakers have rather thrillingly won the NBA trophy (Go Artest! Go Kobe! Go Spain!), and the mini-post-victory riots and car burnings have been finally and thankfully quelled, perhaps we will need something else to occupy our….um… hearts and minds.

So maybe at least a bit of our attention will drift over to the People v. Mehserle.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, law enforcement | 12 Comments »

Rescuing the Miracle Dog – Part 2

June 17th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Milagro is the name that former public defender Elie Miller
gave to the injured stray dog she was attempting to rescue. [PART 1 HERE] The dog is large-ish black and tan creature who is part German Shepherd, part Rottweiler, part who-knows-what?

When she first encountered Milagro at the end of December, 2009, he lived on a large vacant lot that is situated between the Homeboy Industries offices, where Elie now works, and Men’s Central Jail where she often goes to meet with clients. He caught Elie’s attention because he was so obviously sick and hurting. It turned out the source of the problem was the collar he was wearing that must have been strapped on him when he was puppy, before he was lost or abandoned. Now that he was an adult dog, the over-small collar remained on and had grown into his skin and was literally strangling him. It was also causing an open, infected wound that circled his neck.

Elie began coming to the lot twice a day— at first to feed the dog and then, once he began to trust her, to slip medication into his food.

Her unlikely partner in the rescue was BeeBee (BB), a dread-locked, 50-something homeless man who camped at the edge of the vacant lot and claimed he had long-ago served in the navy on a nuclear submarine.

Before Elie’s arrival, BeeBee never tried to touch Milagro. However, he shared his food with the dog, hoping at least to keep him alive.

Ideally, the animal needed to go to a vet, but Elie worried that any official agency would likely put the sick stray down.

As if to prove the point, shortly after Elie began visiting Milagro, a kindly woman postal inspector who worked nearby and often stopped to bring BeeBee food, had also taken an interest in the dog. Observing Milagro’s obvious distress she told BeeBee she thought the authorities should be called.

“He’s in such pain,” she said. “Maybe he should be euthanized.”

BeeBee shook his head when he told Elie about the exchange. “Don’t we all live our lives in some pain?” he said.

A few days later, Elie found at first one tiny metal cross, sans its chain, in the dirt where she fed Milagro. A couple of days after that, she found two more.

She chose to take the discoveries as a sign—or at the very least a friendly blessing.

“I decided that one was for me, one for BeeBee, one for Milagro.”


The afternoon before Valentines day, Elie decided the moment had come to attempt to snip off the embedded collar that was continuing to gouge an open sore into Milagro’s neck.

She had been told by well-meaning experts that the task was impossible without tranquilizing the dog. But she was determined to try. She’d given him a long a course of antibiotics and it seemed to bring the infection down at least a little, but the wound was still open and horribly raw.

Elie’s planned strategy was to put small bits of food down on a plate for Milagro, a little at a time, and then snip at the collar while he was eating. More food, more snipping.

It worked—at least for a while. The dog had come to trust Elie to the degree that he seemed unalarmed at her ministrations. After about a half hour of feeding and snipping, she decided she had pushed Milagro far enough for one day.

Back at the office, Elie wrote me:

I was able to snip 3/4 of Milagro’s collar. Besides being difficult to cut (there are metal grommets on [the leather] spaced about every 1/2 inch), Milagro kept turning his head to snap at flies that are eating away at him. But I did it without tranquilizing or sedating him. All he time, he was eating near me with his head down, allowing me to touch his collar!

After she finished her bout of snipping, Elie lingered for a while longer to talk to BeeBee, she said.

I asked him how long he has been living on the streets. He said, “all my life.”

He listens to a radio station on his headphones. He says it’s 1280, a gospel station which promotes end of world beginning May 2011 & lasting 5 months.

I suspect BeeBee needs to be rescued too, but he’s been on the street so long….


On Sunday, Valentines Day, Elie was ready to try again in the hope of getting the rest of the collar off—namely the part that was embedded in the dog’s skin.

She found the work was much slower going than the day before. “I nearly gave up,” she wrote me later. Plus the flies on the oozing wound were, if anything, worse, making the dog and Elie both crazy.

She worked as carefully as she could trying not to snip any flesh. Finally, amazingly, the collar came free. The leather strap dropped away.

Seeing his tormentor on the ground, Milagro at first sniffed the thing, then grabbed the offending collar in his jaws and trotted around with it for a while, a victory lap of sorts.

Finally, he allowed Elie to take the leather strip away and he skittered to a hole near the vacant lot’s edge where he often goes to hide when there’s a threat.

After Milagro hit out, Elie left to catch up on some work for a while, then came back to the vacant lot, around 4 p.m.

Seeing her approach, Milagro trotted out of his hole to greet her.

“He is like a different dog,” she wrote me, “much more confident. He walks with his tail up! He actually looks happy. BB is amazed.”

Most importantly, she said, Milagro could finally swallow water like a normal dog—without strangling.

At home that night, Elie measured the choking collar. It was 13 inches long. Elie has three dogs of her own. The most recent addition to the group is a Chihuahua she rescued whom she named Pee-Wee. Pee-Wee weighs 11 lbs and his collar measures 10 1/2 inches. How, she wondered, had Milagro survived strapped into a collar a bare 2 1/2 inches larger than that of a Chihuahua?

“My next goal is to see that neck wound heal,” she wrote. “I’ve given him 2 weeks of antibiotics and that is the limit. Someone gave me a saline solution to clean his neck, but that has to wait until I can get him to let me wash/clean it.” Still the wound was looking better, she thought. She hoped so, anyway.

FEB 16

Over the next week, the dog continued to slowly improve.

I went to feed Milagro this morning,” Elie wrote, “and he was standing out in the empty lot; when he saw me, he stared. I walked closer to him and he started jumping around, in a playful manner. He barked too. Then he started to make that funny howling noise my dog Amy makes. What a greeting I got!”

Two days later she had a more colorful report.

Milagro is doing so well that now he is able to run after a cat in the lot & make it climb a utility pole. BB says he also started barking at people walking on the sidewalk. We agreed he’s tough only because a chainlink fence separates them.

I feel like BB & I are Milagro’s parents.

A day later still she wrote:

“Making progress in trying to get Milagro to come to me so I can pet him without enticing him with treats,” Elie wrote. “So far it’s working.”

As for what to do next, now that the collar was gone, her goal, Elie wrote to me, was to get Milagro well enough to move him out of the lot and into an adoptive home by the summer.


Note: if you have an interest in adopting or foster parenting either Milagro and/or his girl friend Novia (more about Novia later), Elie may be reached at:

Posted in bears and alligators, Life in general | 1 Comment »

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