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Tweet or DIE! (Says CBS Radio News)

August 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Okay, on Monday when CBS radio head, Harvey Nagler
sent out the memo to all of the network’s reporters, he didn’t actually use the word “DIE,” but he was pretty emphatic.

Below you’ll find a copy of the emailed memo itself:

From: Nagler, Harvey
Sent: Monday, August 30, 2010 3:09 PM
To: @CND Radio
Subject: Twitter

Field reporters, beat reporters – it’s time to tweet.

More and more news consumers are turning to places like Twitter to keep up with the news, and we want to be there for them. That means that if you cover a beat, or if you regularly go into the field to cover stories, we want you to tweet. No exceptions.

If you haven’t joined Twitter yet, do so now, and start tweeting. If you’re already on there but you’re not tweeting regularly – please tweet more.

What should you tweet about? Breaking news, your observations when you’re out on a story, retweets of stories from other CBS News accounts…anything that can help inform our listeners and help them connect with you. Listeners love it because they have a connection with a knowledgeable news reporter that up to now has only been a voice on their radio. And you will have the opportunity to engage with them, and get feedback.

Twitter also is a great place to monitor sources…whether they be on breaking news or on your beat. Politicians tweet. Representatives of medical schools and journals tweet. And people in the middle of a developing news story tweet, to share what’s happening around them. It can work for you to give you a jump on your story.

In-studio anchors, we’d love your participation as well, when relevant.

See me if you have any questions about this new effort. See Dustin or Aliah if you need tips or if you need help creating your account.


Posted in Future of Journalism, media | No Comments »

The New Homeless: LA Writer Rodger Jacobs Gets Short Term Relief

August 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Monday night I got an email from writer Rodger Jacobs
in which he delivered good news about his seemingly imminent plunge into homelessness that I posted about Monday.

His email read in part:

“I think we’re going to be okay, Celeste, for a few months at least; some kind (and mostly anonymous) benefactors have stepped forward. We rented a room at the Budget Suites Extended Stay hotel on Rancho this afternoon — with media in tow — and it is very conveniently located to shopping, affordable restaurants, and (this is what thrilled me) both a Barnes and Noble and Borders Books only three miles away. The room is about the size of your basic studio apartment with fridge, stove, microwave, basic cable, and wireless internet (five bucks a week).

As my friend Rudy Wurlitzer is fond of saying, keep the wind in your sails even when there is no wind…

Oh — one more thing I forgot to mention: in light of our circumstances (and the media presence), the Budget Suites waived all deposits for us, which saved us about $75.

Meanwhile, in the Sun’s comment section and around the web, the reactions to Rodger’s essay swung wildly between two extremes. There were those who opined with varying degrees of disdainful fury that Rodger’s situation merely evidenced some kind of failure of character and will.

More often, however, those who commented were empathetic—evidently figuring that, in this economy, given a few really bad reversals of fortune, all too many people could find themselves facing similarly scary circumstances.

Rodger tells me he will have a follow-up essay in the very near future–which I will, of course, post as soon as it is available.

Posted in Homelessness, writers and writing | 16 Comments »

New Report Says LA County Neglected to Report Child Deaths

August 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

A report released on Monday by Michael Gennaco
and the LA County Office of Independent Review, found that Los Angeles County officials have, in multiple cases, ignored state law that requires them to publicly disclose child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told the LA Times that dozens of such cases may be involved.

Garrett Therolf of the LA Times has the full story.

Here’s a clip.

….Yaroslavsky said auditors uncovered the discrepancy [between the number of deaths that occurred, and the number reported] when they reviewed the case of Jorge Tarin, an 11-year-old Montebello boy who hanged himself with a jump rope in June. In confidential court filings, social workers declared his death to be the result of abuse or neglect, but when it came time to report abuse or neglect deaths to the public, the department left his case off the list.

In the audit, Michael Gennaco, chief attorney for the Office of Independent Review, noted a dramatic change last year in the amount of information released by the department, with disclosure in only four of 18 cases. Gennaco said the pattern has extended into 2010. The Times has been denied in repeated public records requests for information.

A 2007 state law requires release of numerous records in such cases unless doing so would jeopardize a criminal investigation. Gennaco found that child welfare officials were asking law enforcement agencies to object to the release of documents before investigators had the chance to review the case files. The effect has been blanket objections to disclosure that resulted in “a virtual paralysis of the statute’s intent.”

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 1 Comment »

A Million Women v. Walmart…& 9000 Women v. Pfizer

August 31st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


It’s an really, REALLY unfun month for big corporations trying to dodge lawsuits from gaggles of angry women.

First Walmart. Monday’s New York Times editorial explains the matter well.

For nine years, Wal-Mart has fought to stave off a class-action lawsuit alleging that the company has long discriminated against its female workers in pay and promotions. So far it has avoided a trial on the merits of the issue. The battleground instead is whether the million or so women who have worked for Wal-Mart since 2001 really constitute a class, which the company vigorously disputes. In 2004, a federal district court judge said they did, and in April the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, ruling the case could proceed.

Now Wal-Mart has taken the class issue to the Supreme Court. It is probably a smart legal move, given the court’s clear tendency to rule in favor of corporations, particularly when big classes or discrimination claims are involved. We hope the court resists the temptation to toss out the case, which would force women to file lawsuits one by one. Wal-Mart’s employment practices deserve a full hearing.


It seems the whole thing started when nine women working for WalMart realized that they were being paid less than men who did the same work, plus the guys were being promoted more often.

A district judge who found in favor of the women noted that, according to statistics, women working in Walmarts in every region of the country were being similarly underpaid when compared to their male counterparts.

What the Supremes will have to decide is whether that means every one of the one million woman working at Walmart have been discriminated against. In other words, do the female workers at Walmart constitute a class? Or should their suits be—as a very jittery Walmart hopes—simply taken on a case by case basis.

One million women in a class action suit would make the Walmart action the largest employment discrimination lawsuit in American history—a stellar designation that Walmart would prefer to avoid.


PremPro is the hormone replacement drug that, at one time, was the most popular on the market. It is made up of Premarin, a form of estrogen that is made from the urine of pregnant mares (gross, but there you have it), and Provera, a form of artificial progesterone.

Wyeth made Premarin, Upjohn, Provera. Wyeth eventually packaged the two together as PremPro. And, for years, doctors prescribed by the bucketful.

Around 20 years ago, however, some of the nation’s more research-savvy OB/GYNs stopped prescribing PremPro when other hormone replacements drugs were developed that more closely mimicked the body’s own original hormones, and thus were deemed safer (and had fewer side-effects).

Still the preponderance of American doctors continued to go with the familiar PremPro. To date, it is estimated around 6 million women worldwide have taken the drug.

Then in 2002, the Women’s Health Initiative made headlines when they stopped a massive study (sponsored by the National Institute of Health), after they found that women in the study who took PremPro were more likely to get breast cancer than those who did not.

PremPro-taking women with breast cancer wondered if Wyeth had suspected the risks and ignored them. Lawsuits resulted. Then more lawsuits.

Pfizer bought Wyeth around a year ago (and Upjohn in 2003)– along with it, as many as 9000 lawsuits filed by women with breast cancer who claimed that PremPro was, at least in part, to blame for their illness—and that Pfizer/Wyeth hid what they knew of its dangers..

At first, Wyeth/Pfizer was able to get a bunch of suits dismissed, but now the stronger suits are arriving in court, and the tide appears to have turned.

Out of the 12 cases that have thus far gotten in front of a jury, the score is Pfizer 5, women 7. (Here’s the result of one such case from last year., in which the jury concluded that the drug company purposely hid the risk of cancer.)

At the end of last week, Pfizer settled another case before trial.

Monday, a Pennsylvania Superior Court gave plaintiffs another win when she ruled that the two-year statue of limitations for women who allege their breast cancer was caused by PremPro started, not from the day they were diagnosed with cancer, but from the day the Women’s Health Initiative study was released.

Stay tuned. This issue is far from over.

Posted in consumer affairs, Courts, health care, Supreme Court, War on Drugs | No Comments »

The New Homelessness: Writer Rodger Jacobs Fears Being on the Streets

August 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Rodger Jacobs, a wonderfully erudite, warm and funny California writer, author and documentary producer is teetering on the edge
of homelessness and is frightened of what life will hold if he falls off that edge—a possibility that, at the moment, is looking all but inevitable.

At the request of editors at the Las Vegas Sun who know him , Jacobs wrote an account of his situation, which the Sun printed on Sunday.

I knew Rodger had moved to Las Vegas and was having financial trouble because of a worsening physical condition. But I didn’t know things had gotten this fiscally perilous until Rodger dropped me a note Sunday night to alert me to the story in the Sun.

Below you’ll find the editor’s note and the beginning of Rodger’s piece. It is worth taking the time to read the whole thing—and then to take an extra moment to send him whatever good wishes you can. (However, if you have some freelance writing assignments to spare, send those instead.)

Editor’s note: Think “homeless” and most minds turn to scenes of disheveled men and women living in makeshift tents along Foremaster Lane near downtown Las Vegas. Many of them have adopted homelessness as their lifestyle. But the Great Recession has created the new homeless, people with good work histories who are victims of unemployment and foreclosures. We won’t necessarily find them sleeping on a downtown sidewalk. We asked Rodger Jacobs to tell his story, in his own words.

As I write this, taking a brief late night respite from packing books into boxes, I am just days away from an uncertain future, a Black Tuesday when the Sword of Damocles will, under legal edict, fall upon my head; and, as the ancient Greek and Roman tale of Dionysius and Damocles urges, I invite you to walk a mile in my shoes for a few brief moments.

Within a matter of days I am going to become one of the more than 13,000 homeless people living in Clark County and, frankly, I am frightened.

I am a 51-year-old professional writer; throughout my 20-year career I have been an award-winning feature documentary producer (“Wadd: The Life and Times of John C. Holmes” and multiple educational documentaries), a trade and arts magazine journalist, a successful playwright (“Go Irish: The Purgatory Diaries of Jason Miller”), a true crime author and a literary event producer. For the past two years, I have enjoyed my role as a book and literature columnist for Pop Matters, a popular online journal of cultural criticism.

But in the larger scheme of things, my credentials are utterly meaningless. In less than two weeks, my girlfriend and I will be without a home in a town where we have no friends, no family, and apparently no safety net to catch us when we fall.

I have been medically disabled for the past eight years; my primary source of income is my monthly Social Security disability payment of $926 and whatever supplemental income I can earn within the $1,000 monthly limit, but with jobs in the freelance market few and far between in the new economy, several months often pass without additional income.

My girlfriend, Lela, and I relocated to Las Vegas in 2007 from San Francisco to care for my terminally ill mother; the plan at the time was to liquidate my mother’s meager estate upon her passing, see to her funeral arrangements and return to California. But by the time my mother succumbed to her illness two years ago this week, the recession had hit, jobs for myself and Lela — a freelance editor — were scarce, my health was worsening, and we found ourselves effectively stuck in Southern Nevada. We were living a hand-to-mouth existence, with no savings and uncertain where the next month’s rent was coming from — let alone money for groceries, transportation, prescription and doctor co-pays and medical supplies not covered by Medicare…..

Read the rest.

The photo, by Sam Morris of the Las Vegas Sun, was taken as Rodger talked to one of his editors to see if he could expedite a check he is owed. Reportedly, the editor wasn’t able to do anything about speeding up payment.

UPATE: Commenter sbl pointed out that the blog Griffith Park Wayist has information as to how someone can help Rodger if anyone has a mind to do so. They’ve also posted the video that the Sun made of Rodger and his circumstance, which is assuredly worth watching.

Posted in American voices, Homelessness, writers and writing | 12 Comments »

Sunday/Monday Must Reads (And 1 Must See)

August 30th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


One of the week’s primary must reads is Jane Mayer’s New Yorker article
on the Koch Brothers who are bankrolling conservative think tanks, causes, and the tea party movement. Fortunately for non-subscribers, the New Yorker has let it emerge from behind the magazine’s irritating paywall.

Then on Sunday in the New York Times, Frank Rich, followed up with a column on the issue of his own.


As you know, there has been—and continues to be— much controversy over the LA Times’ Grading the Teachers series. Yet, like it or loath it, it is important to note that the one thing the series by the two Jasons—Jason Song and Jason Felch—has undeniably done, is to bring the discussion into the open and keep it there.

On Sunday, the series continued with a story about those teachers whom the Times’ analysis deemed to be the most effective, including list of 100 top 3rd, 4th and 5th grade teachers, chosen using the so-called value added evaluation.

I got a note from journalist/columnist Rebecca Schoenkopf that one of the 100 is her mom, and that she’s over-the-moon proud.


A new report released by the Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice finds that greater numbers of girls are entering the justice system nationwide in general and in California in particular—which means LA County most of all. Yet the report found that the system is not is not at all equipped to deal with the ways that girls’ underlying issues, traumas, needs (if they are to make it successfully out of the system) are often quite different than those of boys. Thus, in too many cases, says the report, programs aimed at girls are few or nonexistent.

“It’s the tyranny of numbers. There are more boys than girls in the juvenile system and where the numbers are, that’s where the money goes.” said Barry Krisberg, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Berkeley Center for Criminal Justice

Read the full report here.

A thank you to the Crime Report for drawing attention to this information.


Robert Lopez has been among the main journalists who have used the Public Records Act to request access to the boxes of LASD paperwork detailing the death of Ruben Salazar. In the meantime, Lopez looks at other aspects of the context of his death, in particular Salazar’s increasingly contentious relationship to the LAPD. Here’s a snip of Lopez’s Sunday LAT article.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is considering releasing thousands of pages of official documents that could shed light on Salazar’s slaying. But LAPD records obtained by The Times and interviews with Salazar’s friends and colleagues show that the newsman had clashed repeatedly with the department as the Mexican American civil rights movement roiled L.A.’s Eastside.

“The system didn’t like what he was reporting,” said Philip Montez, 81, the Western regional director for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the time and a Salazar confidant.


Read on.


Okay, this last one is not a must read, but a must see.

For HBO to have had the courage to make a movie that has as prominent part of its description the words “humane slaughter houses” is remarkable enough. But it felt like a near miracle that they pulled off a bio pic about the wildly gifted animal behavior scientist and author, Temple Grandin, who also happens to be autistic—and whose mother was repeatedly urged to institutionalize her permanently when she was a child.

I’m a huge fan of Grandin’s work. (Her book, “Animals in Translation,” in particular, is one of my favorite nonfiction works of the last few years.)

However, when I saw there was a movie made about her life, I approached it with trepidation, assuming it would be some kind of over-sentimentalized piece of clap-trap, a nauseatingly nice “feel-good” story about the plucky autistic girl.

Instead it was this utterly amazing, out-of-the-ordinary film about one of our nation’s most brilliant, courageous and unusual women. Thankfully it was repeatedly honored at the Emmys Sunday night.

Trust me, it deserved it.

I tell you all this to urge you to get it from NetFlix and watch it. I promise you that you won’t be sorry. It really is that good.


Okay, one more Must See that has zero social justice content
, but was a whole lotta fun to watch at the Emmys’ opening. (And I note that Roderick at LA Observed concurs. By the way, the actual music starts at the 2:30 mark.)

Posted in Must Reads | No Comments »

Weekend Social Report: LA Observed’s Annual Summer Rooftop Party

August 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

After long days of working, sans air-conditioner, in last week’s three-digit heat (long story, don’t ask, all fixed now), a purely social evening filled with writerly types seemed like a fabulously bracing idea.

Et voila! The LA Observed Annual Summer Party was right there on my calendar! Below you’ll find a few randomly commemorative photos and an entirely frivolous report.

One of the reasons that it’s fun to party with writers and journalists is that we are all visibly startled to be away from our computers and out in…you know…public. This causes the veneer of social appropriateness and dignified behavior to be flimsy and, as a consequence, much in the way of good-natured blurting occurs giving way to warm and quirky conversations that are a lot more fun than the kind of stultifyingly careful small talk that too many LA events feature.

Such was the case at Friday night’s LA Observed party that Kevin Roderick threw for several hundred of his closest journalist friends on the rooftop of the Formosa Cafe.

Attendees included many print and online folks, as well as such radio people as the above-pictured Shirley Jahad, with Alex Ben Block (Senior editor of the Hollywood Reporter) and various of her KPCC colleagues, like Patt Morrison and others.

(I saw Shirley and Alex early in the evening so no blurting was involved.)

Kevin Roderick, our stellar host, isn’t really a blurter by nature, although near the end of the evening when several of us confessed a long-term, secret desire to write noirish murder mysteries, Kevin was among those confessing.

In chatting with these three—journalist, columnist and author David Rensin, book critic, former NEA maven, and newly launched Boyle Heights book store owner, David Kipin (more on his unique bookstore venture, Libros Schmibros, in a week or two) and journalist, author, reporter, blogger, Annenberg prof, Marc Cooper—it came to light that a large number of us journos of a certain age had, in our…um…callow youth, written for questionable LA publications involving centerfolds. I’ll leave it at that—except in the interest of accuracy it is important to mention that, of the four of us, only Kipen was devoid of this particular kind of shady past, yet all four of us harbor the aforementioned secret desire to write mystery novels.

It was not surprising to find Zach Behrens, LAist’s editor-in-chief and most intrepid reporter, chatting with the LA Times’ Robert Lopez, since both have much in common, what with their snazzy black jackets and the fact that both seem to report a lot, and sleep very little. In Robert L’s case, this is caused by the fact that, in addition to his regular investigative reporting and multimedia duties, he is the new night editor/reporter for the Times’ LA Now. While Zach, as both editor, reporter and writer, is often up late reporting ’till all hours (I know this because he’s often also up tweeting about what he finds), then up again early filing timely stories online.

(On Friday night, the aforementioned caused me to launch into a motherly lecture about the value of REM sleep, although Zach assured me he catches up on the weekend.)

Rebecca Schoenkopf, who for years wrote the award-winning political column, Commie Girl, for OC Weekly before becoming the editor-in-chief of CityBeat (which soon-after became a casualty of the ongoing news biz implosion). Now Rebecca (pictured with her charming art director/graphic artist boyfriend, Paul Takizawa) has decided to go back to grad school at Annenberg as a fellow in their Specialized Journalism program, and assures me that being back in school as a grown-up is the coolest thing ever.

Henry Weinstein and Joel Sappell, both much-awarded former LA Times reporters who have each reinvented themselves in different realms, Henry as a law school prof at UC Irvine and Joel as Special Projects Deputy for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, tasked with scrutinizing misbehaving county agencies, both said they sometimes miss the crazy, collegial hive of the newsroom.

Here, of course, is our own Matt Fleischer contemplating Part 2 of his investigative look into the city’s gang program, written for the LA Justice Report. I know this because we had been exchanging emailed notes on the story just before both of us left our respective houses to show up on the Formosa’s rooftop. (The story itself will be out late this week, so stay tuned.) After this photo was taken, however, I seem to remember he stopped contemplating and had a beer.

Okay, that’s my social report for the month of August.

Happy Sunday.

Posted in media, writers and writing | No Comments »

The Death of Ruben Salazar: After 40 Years It’s Time to Come Clean

August 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Writing a special guest blog post for LA Observed
, my pal, the award-winning former LA Times editor and reporter, Frank Sotomayor, calls for the release of all the unredacted files pertaining to the death of well-known LA journalist Ruben Salazar, who died on August 29, 1970—40 years ago this weekend.

Sotomayor wants to know why, after all this time, has the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department still declined to release to the press the eight boxes of department materials relating to Salazar’s case?

It is an important question that demands an answer. What possible reason can there be to stonewall after four decades? No issues of national security are at stake. If the files show wrongdoing on the part of law enforcement figures, so be it; all the more reason the paperwork on the case should see the light of day. If those boxes full of material reveal that Salazar’s death was simply a tragic accident, that too needs to be known so that long-held suspicions that he was deliberately targeted may be laid to rest.

Below you’ll find the beginning of Sotomayor’s essay. . But read the whole thing because it is loaded with back story and context that is an essential part of LA’s history.

Two Mexican cousins are killed by Los Angeles police in a case of mistaken identity. A prominent journalist is cautioned by two LAPD officers about his coverage of the shootings. A short time later, the journalist meets with staffers of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission and tells them he is being followed. He gives his Rolodex of news sources to a colleague and clears his desk. Days later, at the age of 42, he is dead. Killed by a 10-inch-long tear-gas projectile fired by a Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy.

Is this the plot for a crime thriller? It could be. But it is just part of the tragic mystery surrounding Ruben Salazar. The Los Angeles Times columnist and KMEX news director was killed 40 years ago Sunday under very disturbing circumstances. Law enforcement officials had a chance to resolve the matter at that time but dropped the ball. A new generation of law enforcement officials now has a chance to come clean by releasing all records relating to the case. For the sake of history and transparency, they must not fumble this opportunity….


Earlier this month, in an editorial, the LA Times also called for the release of the Salazar files.

In truth, we should all be asking for the release of these files—and asking loudly.

Photo by photographer Raul Ruiz, was reportedly taken of an unidentified officer just seconds before Deputy Tom Wilson shot the projectile that would hit and kill Ruban Salazar, who was reportedly sitting on a bar stool behind the three men in the bar’s doorway.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, law enforcement, media | 5 Comments »

Friday Fresh Picks—Catching Up on the Rest of the News

August 27th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


KPCC Reporter Julie Small has put together a terrific five-part series on prison health care in our sunny state, which has the largest prison health care system in the nation—and one of the worst. Despite federal intervention, and billions spent trying to improve matters, it’s still one very scary system to encounter.

Sadly, Julie Small is one of the few California journalists who is still following this story

Here’s where you can find Small’s series. (I particularly liked Part 3, which has the blood thinner story.)

And attention reporters and journalism students: Listen to Small as she talks about her reporting process with Michelle Levander of Annenberg’s Reporting on Health project. Hint: It was anything but easy.


Backing up everything Small reported, the AP’s Don Thomson writes that while California’s annual spending on on prison medical care has more than doubled, from $707 million to $1.55 billion, according to a report by the prison system’s inspector general released on Thursday, the care itself remains shockingly poor.


And while we’re on the subject of health care, the announcement came Thursday that, although Anthem got slammed for their 39% rate hike, they—along with Blue Shield—are still being allowed to jack prices up by between 14 and 29%. (Here’s the LA Times story.)

Patt Morrison had a very good discussion (and infuriating) discussion on the issue on her Thursday radio show.


In Wednesday’s LA Times, a passel of Drug Czars—past and present—weighed in on the marijuana legalization issue. Their point? It will cost California way too much money if we vote to make weed legal.

Their logic? The fiscal downsides of smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol, are more costly than the tax revenue the two vices bring in.

So….this means we should make alcohol and tobacco illegal? since their damaging properties far outstrip weed. In any case, if that’s the best you’ve got guys, it’s not all that persuasive.


This week in the NY Times, author and columnist Timothy Egan slams the American press (presumably with the exception of Jon Stewart), for refusing to dispute the preposterous and deliberate falsehoods that have now managed to take root in the minds of an astonishing number of otherwise sensible Americans.


(Yes, I know that’s something of an awkward metaphor.)

The New York Times editorial page points to the new report by ProPublica and the National Law Journal, which “showed that the government has lost more than half the cases where Guantánamo prisoners have challenged their detention because they were forcibly interrogated.”

Thank you John Woo and friends for making us so-o-o-ooo much safer.

PS: We told you this would happen.

Posted in Must Reads | 2 Comments »

CA Legislature Votes to Continue to Lock Up Kids for Life, No 2nd Chances

August 26th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, the California state assembly voted 34 to 36
to defeat SB 399, the bill that would give certain kids sentenced to life in prison the possibility—just the possibility, not even the probability—of earning a new sentence of 25-to-life, meaning they would one day be eligible for parole.

Amazingly, supposedly progressive democrats like Attorney General candidates Ted Lieu and Pedro Nava did not vote for the watered down version of the bill. (Nava did not vote at all.) Democratic majority leader, Charles Calderon, also voted a big, fat NO.

Here’s the full list of who voted for The Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, who against (and who ducked and covered).

I called a list of the democrats who voted against SB 399 (Or who managed to duck the vote. I’m talking to you, Pedro Nava). Most of their press and/or public safety deputies declined to get on the phone. If they did get on the phone, when asked why their assembly person had voted against the measure, they mumbled something to the effect that it was “controversial.” When I pressed, none came up with an actual policy-related reason. It causes “high emotions,” was the best one flack could do.

I could almost hear the sound of their bosses’ spines melting in the heat like butter.


The single argument that law enforcement opposed to SB 399 have put forth, is that Life Without parole—LWOP— is solely reserved for juveniles who are worst of the worst. Monsters who have killed under the most ghastly of circumstances. Psychopaths who torture and slay. Bad seeds who, no matter their age, should never again walk freely among us.

However, in a 2008 report, Human Rights Watch estimated that 45 percent of California’s LWOP kids did not kill the victims. Many were convicted of murder, or for aiding and abetting because they acted as lookouts or were participating in a robbery when a murder took place. Or because they were simply present.

An emblematic example of the latter is a kid named Anthony C., who, at the time of his arrest, was 16 and had never before been in trouble with the law.

Anthony was not a total innocent. He belonged to a tagging crew–meaning he was a young graffiti outlaw. One day Anthony and his friend James went down to a cement wash intending to do a little creative spray painting. Once there, the friend— James—revealed to Anthony that he had a gun in his backpack, “for protection,” he said. Anthony probably should have left at that point, but he didn’t.

When another group of tagger kids came down to the wash and began flashing marijuana James told Anthony he was going to try to rob them. Anthony shrugged. James pulled the gun and demanded the weed. One of the would be victims, met tough talk with tough talk. “If you don’t kill me, I’ll kill you,” he reportedly said. Assuming that would be the end of the matter, the unarmed Anthony, turned to pick up his bike intending to ride away. It was at this point that James fired several times at the tough talking kid who, by then, was running in retreat. Anthony and James fled, not sure if anyone had actually been hit. Although Anthony broke out in nervous hives the next day at school it was only after police detained him that he learned the kid had died of his wounds.

Anthony was interviewed by police about the murder, and then released. . In fact, the cops reportedly told Anthony’s parents that he did not need a lawyer. Later, however, he was again detained and charged with robbery. Then with murder. Due to the fact that it was murder in the course of a robbery, he was transferred to adult court. The prosecutor offered Anthony a deal: 16-to-life. The boy refused, believing that, since he’d had no direct part in the shooting, he would be acquitted. Instead, under California’s “felony homicide” statute, the prosecutors were able to legally tie him to the murder committed by James, and he was convicted and sentenced just as if he had pulled the trigger: Anthony was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.


Some of the kids sentenced to life did kill, like 32-year-old Sara Kruzan who, at 16, shot and killed her pimp, a 35-year old man who began grooming the girl to be a hooker at age 11, personally turning her out at age 13.

Kruzan was raised in Riverside by her mother who was addicted to drugs and abusive. Worse, the mom looked the other way when her young daughter was sexually abused by others. In elementary school, Sara was a good student. But, at age 9, she was severely sexually abused by several of her mother’s acquaintances and became severely depressed. After several suicide attempts, she was hospitalized.

Longing for some kind of caring adult to take an interest in her, when she reached 11 and was moving toward puberty, Sara attracted the notice of a 31-year old man named George Gilbert “G.G.” Howard, who began showing her attention, taking her to the movies, giving her gifts. Sara attached to GG as a lonely kid would a prodigal father.

Unfortunately, GG’s interests were not altogether fatherly. When Sara was 13, the so-called father became her lover, then allegedly her pimp. By age 16, Sara began living with a competitor, another older man. It was man number 2—according to Sara—who ordered her to rob and kill GG, threatening to kill her if she refused, she said. Sara dutifully arranged an assignation, shot GG, took whatever money he had in his wallet, and the keys to his car, which she handed over to her new “protector.”

Afterward, the teenager was so rattled by the awful thing she had done that she left her own purse and ID behind at the scene. When she was predictably arrested, she confessed immediately.

After her arrest, the California Youth Authority—generally not a touchy-feely institution—-conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Sara’s mental and emotional state and determined that she was “amenable to rehabilitation,” thus recommended that she be tried as a juvenile.

The evaluation reads as follows:

[Sara] appears to be motivated to make positive changes in her life and has expressed a desire to participate in Youth Authority programming rather than be sent to state prison. With respect to the referring offense [the killing of G.G.], it is recognized that the crime was particularly callous and premeditated. However, it is noted that her male co-offender was considerably older than Sara and she was strongly vulnerable to exploitation by him. The psychiatric evaluation submitted by Dr. Sneed concludes that she is treatable.

However an ambitious prosecutor named Timothy Freer, (now a Riverside judge) would have none of it. Listening to Freer, the presiding judge used his sole discretion to order that Sara be tried as an adult.

During the trial, Sara was heavily medicated for depression and again confessed to the murder with little explanation. When the jury unsurprisingly found her guilty, Judge J. Thompson Hanks described 16-year-old Sara Kruzan as without “moral scruples” and sentenced her to life without possibility of parole.

In the 15 years between that day and now, Sara has reportedly been a model prisoner.

Under the present law, Kruzan has no chance whatsoever to prove that she has redeemed herself enough to be eligible for a change in her sentence, meaning she can never receive a parole hearing. Not when she turns 40 or 50 or 60 or 70. The Manson “girls” are eligible to be considered for parole, but she is not. She will die in prison for, at 16, shooting her former pimp and rapist. (And she will do it on our dime, by the way, if you’d like to think about the fiscal ramification.)

SB 399 would have given her at least chance for change in sentence that would one day allow for a hearing, but only after she has served 15 years—which Kruzan has.

But the men and women of the California state assembly, in their infinite wisdom, voted that such a hearing should not be allowed. Not now. Not ever. For any reason.

The collective humanity of the rest of us was measurably diminished by that vote.


There will, however, be one more reconsideration of this bill. Some time in the next week or two, there will be one more vote. If this issue calls out to you, you might want to check the list above to see how your representative voted. If he or she voted against SB 399, you might consider calling out to them.


The video above was made by Human Rights Watch when Sara Kruzan was 28 years old.

Posted in juvenile justice, LWOP Kids | 3 Comments »

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