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Crazy Prosecutions, Lawyers Using Facebook & More

February 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


SUPREMES CONSIDER WHETHER BLOGGERS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR WORDS (AND CAN BE SUED FOR DEFAMATION)

Uh, yeah. Of course they can be and should be. And it’s time the issue was addressed.

UPI has the story.

A high-profile defamation suit by a former U.S. Department of Agriculture official against a prominent conservative blogger may test the role of libel laws in the brave new world of the Internet, as one newspaper writer suggests.

Or it may be just an opportunity to reinforce the notion, shocking and strange as it may seem, that bloggers should actually be held legally accountable for the truth of what they say — like trained journalists.

The case in the District of Columbia Superior Court involves former USDA official Shirley Sherrod and conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart, who posted a video online purporting to show Sherrod’s prejudice against whites as she addressed the NAACP in Atlanta.

Sherrod was forced out of her job, but the NAACP released a full video of the speech showing the portion posted online was taken out of context. Sherrod was actually making the case that all people need to be helped, regardless of color.

Of course if bloggers are eligible to be sued successfully for defamation, then they should also be eligible to be protected by journalist shield laws.

I’m just sayin’.


LA’S RANK AND FILE CITY WORKERS AIM TO TELL MAYOR AND CITY COUNCIL WHERE THE BUDGET CUTS ARE HIDING

On Sunday, a group of city employees who are fighting being furloughed ” sent out an informational press release, which they stated was” a direct effort to bring to public light, the true cause of the City’s budget crisis…”

The group listed a bunch of areas the city could look to for additional funds rather than laying off city workers (like, say, themselves.) This list includes things like collecting those half a billion in back taxes that the city is owed and a similar amount uncollected fees.

The group includes employees from the Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), the Department of Transportation, Department of General Services and Department of Public Works. They have, they said, made this move apart from their unions.


AN ADVOCATE FOR “JURY NULLIFICATION” IS INDICTED FOR JURY TAMPERING

File this under Prosecutors Gone Wild. Benjamin Weiser for the NY Times has the story.

Julian P. Heicklen sat silent and unresponsive as his bail hearing began one day recently in federal court in Manhattan; his eyes were closed, his head slumped forward.

“Mr. Heicklen?” the magistrate judge, Ronald L. Ellis, asked. “Mr. Heicklen? Is Mr. Heicklen awake?”

“I believe he is, your honor,” a prosecutor, Rebecca Mermelstein, said. “I think he’s choosing not to respond but is certainly capable of doing so.”

There was, in fact, nothing wrong with Mr. Heicklen, 78, who eventually opened his eyes and told the judge, “I’m exercising my Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.”

Indeed, it was not his silence that landed Mr. Heicklen, a retired Pennsylvania State University chemistry professor, in court; it was what he had been doing outside the federal courthouse at 500 Pearl Street.

Since 2009, Mr. Heicklen has stood there and at courthouse entrances elsewhere and handed out pamphlets encouraging jurors to ignore the law if they disagree with it, and to render verdicts based on conscience.

That concept, called jury nullification, is highly controversial, and courts are hostile to it. But federal prosecutors have now taken the unusual step of having Mr. Heicklen indicted on a charge that his distributing of such pamphlets at the courthouse entrance violates a law against jury tampering.

Since Mr. Heicklen didn’t target any particular jurors or in any way try to influence the outcome of any particular case, the jury tampering charge seems a bit of a stretch. (cough) firstamendmentviolation (cough, cough)

In fact it seems that Heicklen didn’t even give his leaflets specifically to jurors but to random people going in and out of the court building, hoping to hit some jury members among those he approached.

If you read the rest of the story you’ll see that Heicklen is something of a character. But fortunately for many of us, being quirky isn’t, as yet, a federal offense.


FACEBOOK AND JURIES

It seems that Facebook is being used by attorneys—both defense and prosecutors—to determine whether or not individuals are suitable for jury placements. The Wall Street Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

Prosecution and defense lawyers are scouring the site for personal details about members of the jury pool that could signal which side they might sympathize with during a trial. They consider what potential jurors watch on television, their interests and hobbies, and how religious they are.

Josh Marquis, district attorney of Clatsop County in Oregon, did background searches on Facebook to help pick a jury for a penalty trial last summer to determine if a convicted murderer should get the death penalty. He was looking for clues on how potential jurors might feel about the defendant, a man who killed a couple as a teenager in 1988. The jury imposed the death penalty.

Jury consultant Amber Yearwood in San Francisco found that one potential juror in a product-liability case last year held strident opinions on a host of issues, and dispensed unsolicited medical and sex advice. “Often juries offer opinionated people like that the perfect opportunity to wield their influence,” said Ms. Yearwood. The prospective juror was bounced….

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism | No Comments »

Oscar Watching – the Annual WLA Predictions

February 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Much of the Oscar list is way too easy to handicap.

Best actor? Colin Firth. Done.

Natalie Portman for best actress? I wouldn’t bet against her.

Christian Bale for best supporting?
Done and done.

Best supporting actress? Likely Melissa Leo.

But what about Best Picture?

There we’ve got a horse race.

The so-called smart money used to be on The Social Network. And then the tide changed and The King’s Speech became the front runner.

I’m still betting on The Social Network. As marvelous as The Kings Speech is, The Social Network is the film that matters, beyond the art of it—and for the art of it both.

Ditto for The Social Network’s director, David Fincher for best director.

I’d give ‘em best original score too. But that one’s hard to call.

Best adapted screenplay? The Social Network

Best original screenplay? Probably The King’s Speech. But The Fighter is a great script too. (Ditto for Winter’s Bone in the above category).

Best documentary…Oh, I’m going with my personal favorite: Restrepo.

Okay, it’s time.

What’s your bet?


LATER NOTE: Even though I love Restrepo, I’m really glad to see “Inside Job” win for best doc. Go Charles Ferguson! What a great year for documentaries!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

At Work on Another Project Today

February 24th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Blog posting a bit later.

Posted in Life in general | No Comments »

Dangerous Jails: The Witness – Part 2

February 24th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



The ACLU has filed dozens of complaints over the years alleging that sheriff’s deputies
inside LA County jail have beaten or otherwise mistreated inmates. As recently as May of last year, they released a 64-page report on the LA County jail system charging that it fostered a “culture of fear and violence.” However, according to Peter Eliasberg, the managing attorney for the Southern California branch of the ACLU, in most cases, the only witnesses to incidents of alleged mistreatment by deputies are the deputies themselves who say the beatings et al never happened, and prisoners whose accounts are chronically disbelieved. Thus the complaints almost never go anywhere.

Then on January 24 of this year, Esther Lim, the ACLU’s newest jails coordinator, said she witnessed two deputies brutally beating and tasing an inmate named James Safari Parker, a 35-year-old who was awaiting trial on a nonviolent marijuana charge. At the time of the incident in question, Lim was visiting another inmate, a man named Christopher Brown, who also witnessed the alleged beating.

In Part 1 of this story you can read Esther Lim’s account of the incident.

Part 2 below covers Brown’s account of what happened:


Christopher Brown was in one of the cubicles at the Twin Tower jail facility that is reserved for attorneys who need to meet with their clients. He was talking to ACLU jails monitor Esther Lim who was sitting in the twin of his cubicle, right across from him, separated by a glass window. All at once, Brown said, he heard loud “cussing” outside the attorneys’ room. Someone said the word, “motherfucker.” Then Brown heard what he later described as scuffling noises, boots squeaking and various thumps and thuds. A fight, he thought.

Brown stood up and strode to the locked door that separates the attorneys’ room from the “staging area,” a large space that contains the jail module’s recreation area. The door featured two windows—one in the top half of the door, the second in the lower half— that allowed Brown to peer out at the staging area to see what it was that was causing all the scuffling noises.

“I saw an inmate who looked African-American, who I later learned was Parker,” Brown stated in his signed declaration about the events of that day. “He had big braids that were sticking out from his head and [he] was standing next to the water fountain in the staging area with his hands covering his face, with two deputies punching him.”

At that point, Brown said, he could only see the deputies backs, but he could see their punching motions clearly. He glanced at Lim, who by that time, was also standing at the windows on her side of the attorney’s room. “See, it’s happening now,” he said.

Brown then said he looked back out the windows in time to see Parker stumbling forward, then falling to the ground between the two deputies, his hands out in front of him. However, according to Brown, when Parker hit the ground, he stopped moving. “He looked like he was knocked out,” said Brown. “He appeared limp.” The fall brought Parker right up to the door nearest to where Brown was standing.

It was at that point that Brown got an angle on the deputies, whom he identified as Hirsch and Ochoa, both officers who had worked on the module. To his surprise, both deputies began punching the prone and unmoving Parker, according to Brown. Then one of the deputies, whose name Brown happened to know, Hirsch, began “kneeing” Parker. Finally, the other deputy—Deputy Ochoa— got out a taser gun and, according to Brown, tased Parker first in the leg several times, then in his back.

Brown saw Parker’s body convulse each time he was tased, he said, but otherwise the man with the deputies appeared to be out cold.

Like Lim, Brown said that Deputy Hirsch kept yelling “Stop fighting! Stop resisting!” even though Parker was in no condition to resist anything, according to Brown.

At this point, said Brown, Deputy Ochoa pointed a finger at him and yelled, “Lay down on your stomach and face the fucking wall.”

Brown scurried back to the cubicle and did what he was told to do. He laid down on the floor—which is where Esther Lim found him when she went back to the cubicle before leaving the building.

After Lim was gone, more deputies came into the attorneys’ room and into the staging area. Someone took pictures. A jail trustee arrived with a mop to swab down the floor where Parker had been lying and, according to Brown, had bled some on to the ground.

A sergeant asked Brown what had happened. Brown said he told him what he had witnessed. But while he talked, Deputy Ochoa appeared nearby and give him a hard look, said Brown what he took to be a threat, The sergeant escorted Ochoa away then left to get a video camera, at which point Brown spoke to Deputy Ryan Hirsch, the second of the deputies who had allegedly beat James Parker, who complained that he had injured his hand.

Brown said he told Hirsch that “a lady from the ACLU was here and saw what happened.”

“My advice is to stay out of it,” Hirsch said, according to Brown. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

Brown did, however, give a statement on video about the incident. That much was verified by Sheriff’s Department spokesman, Steve Whitmore.

Brown also detailed the sequence of events in a signed declaration for the ACLU, in which Brown said he was interviewed on video by a second sergeant named Ramos who, he said, told him several times that he didn’t have to give a statement if he feared for his safety—or words to that affect.

“I felt very intimidated by this comment,” said Brown, “like he was trying to discourage me from saying anything.”

According to Brown, the same sergeant told him that he looked uncomfortable. “It looks like you don’t want to say anything.” Again, he said, he felt intimidated and thought that Sergeant Ramos was suggesting that perhaps he should not talk about what he had seen.

Brown said he gave the statement anyway. “I thought, if someone had seem me being beat up by deputies like the way it happened to Parker, I’d want that person to stand up for me and tell what happened.”

Brown also told Sergeant Ramos about Esther Lim having witnessed the eventl. According to Brown Ramos said that he knew who Lim was and where she was from and that it would “not change” his report.


BACK AT THE ACLU OFFICE, Peter Eliasberg said he assumed that someone would also want to interview Esther Lim—the sole outside witness to the Twin Towers incident. But, according to Eliasberg, no one from the sheriff’s department attempted to contact Lim.

Lim, however, checked on Parker and learned that he had stitches in his face and bruising in his facial area and his ribs.

By the end of the week, criminal charges had been filed —against James Parker. He was charged with with a felony assault on an officer and obstructing an officer in his line of duty.

When asked why no one from LASD had interviewed Lim before filing charges against Paker, Steve Whitmore said that they had attempted to reach Lim. “And she could have called us. I mean if she was so concerned about Mr. Parker’s safety, why didn’t she immediately report what had happened to the Sheriff’s department.”

As for Brown’s account in the declaration?

“It’s a fabrication,” Whitmore said. Both Brown and Parker were interviewed on video. “And they both said nothing happened.”

When Eliasberg and Lim hear what Whitmore has said about the sheriffs trying unsuccessfully to contact Lim, they are emphatic. “That just isn’t true. No one has called us,” said Eliasberg.

As to why Lim didn’t reported the alleged beating to the sheriffs, she said it was simple.

“I was scared,” she said. “If you see two police officers beating up a man on the street, would you go flag down the nearest police car?”

I’ve read reports of this kind of thing,” said Lim. “But I’ve never seen deputies viciously beating up an inmate. Nothing compares to the brutality of seeing it in person. It was scary.”


ON FEBRUARY 3, JAMES PARKER WAS SET TO BE ARRAIGNED IN IN DEPT. 30 OF THE DOWNTOWN CRIMINAL COURT, but he didn’t show up. According to court records, he wouldn’t come out of his cell. The unofficial word is that he was too spooked. The court records show that the same thing happened on Feb 4.

On Monday February 7, an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times about the alleged beating and the fact that Lim had witnessed it. That same day, the ACLU filed an official complaint about the incident.

On Tuesday February 8, following the appearance of the Times’ story, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department launched an internal criminal investigation into the alleged beating.

In the meantime, Parker is on what is called “keep-away” status, said Steve Whitmore, meaning he is separated from all other inmates and accompanied at all times by a sheriff’s department sergeant.

On Feb. 9, James Parker was again set to be arraigned. Again he refused to come out of his cell.

When he was once more not present in court on Feb. 10, Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra got fed up and ordered the sheriff’s department to “extract” Parker from his cell and get him to court, “by all means necessary.”

On February 14, Valentines Day, he was a no show.

On February 15, extraction was presumably successful and James Parker was finally arraigned.

He pleaded not guilty to both felony counts

His preliminary hearing is set for February 28.


Photo by 888bailbond.

Posted in ACLU, jail | 2 Comments »

“Conservatives” and Prison Cost, Poisoned Prison Water, the Ruben Salazar Files…and More

February 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



NOW THAT SHERIFF BACA IS GOING TO RELEASE THE SALAZAR FILES TO REPORTERS AND SCHOLARS, AND THE OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT REVIEW REPORT IS IN, LA TIMES’ ROBERT LOPEZ EXPLAINS WHY THE BIG QUESTIONS ARE FAR FROM SETTLED

The LA Times Robert Lopez is writing a book about Ruben Salazar and he is one of those who has been pushing hard for the release of the Salazer files that have been held by the LA Sheriff’s Department for four decades.

On Tuesday, Lopez and KPCC’ Franks Stoltz were on the Larry Mantel Show talking about the case and what those boxes might and might not contain.


GROVER NORQUIST WANTS TO TALK PRISONS AND MONEY

I rarely find myself cheering for something Grover Norquist has written, but this Op Ed from the Orange County Register is dead on.

Conservatives pride themselves on relentlessly questioning government agencies: Is this program producing results? Do the results justify the cost? Can the project be done less expensively? These are typical conservative questions about education, pensions, health care and dozens of other government functions – except one: criminal justice.

The size and cost of America’s prisons has quadrupled in the past three decades. In states like California, the annual cost of incarceration is around $50,000 per inmate. When looking for reasons why California is going bankrupt, just multiply that figure by the 170,000 inmates that live in the state. Moreover, 34,000 California prisoners are serving life sentences as a result of the “three strikes” law, for which the state prison guards’ union lobbied intensely. Certainly, some violent criminals should be out after the first strike, but the law applies to many low-level, nonviolent offenders, too.

Criminal justice expenses continue to grow – even during a recession. For instance, Delaware’s Department of Corrections is seeking a 5 percent budget increase, while other agencies are desperately looking for ways to cut costs.

The costs of incarceration is worthwhile to the extent that it is the most cost-effective means of protecting the public; however, research indicates we have reached the point of diminishing returns.

Further, more prison spending provides less safety per dollar than other approaches…


PROP 36 IS THE LAW….BUT HAS NO MORE FUNDING (AND THIS IS A PROBLEM)

The Oakland Tribune has the story:

County officials who administer the state’s treatment-not-jail program for certain drug offenders are struggling with a lack of funding that’s not likely to improve, but advocates say ignoring the mandate simply isn’t an option.

Instead, officials are trying to figure out how they’ll continue to provide the same treatment without the money to pay for it.

Enacted by 61 percent of voters in November 2000 as Proposition 36, the law says first- and second-time nonviolent, simple drug possession offenders must be given the opportunity to receive substance-abuse treatment instead of jail time.

That “must” isn’t a suggestion; it would take another voter-approved ballot measure to undo it.

But Prop. 36 allocated $120 million per year for only five years, and as the state’s budget crisis worsened, the Legislature and governor declined to ante up. They set aside $108 million in 2008-09 but just $18 million in 2009-10, and then zeroed it out for this current fiscal year. Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal includes no money for it in 2011-12.

A $45 million infusion of federal economic stimulus funds in 2009 is now all but gone, and the coffers are empty.

So, it’s a mandate with no money, but a mandate nonetheless: Someone who’s eligible and demands treatment can’t just be sent to jail……


CALIFORNIA MOM ASKS FOR CLEAN WATER FOR PRISONS

It doesn’t seem like a whole lot to ask. Yeah, it’s prison. But nobody’s asking for bottled water, just running water that won’t actively poison you when you drink it.

Change.org has the details:

Blanca Gonzalez’s son spent years at California’s Kern Valley State Prison, where she says he was sickened by the foul water he was forced to drink – water that the state knows is contaminated with arsenic, a carcinogen that can cause serious skin damage and circulatory system problems. And she wanted to do something about it.

But where to start? For years California officials have been promising to fix the facility’s water problem – promising to provide its more than 5,000 inhabitants water that meets the standards of the EPA and World Health Organization. And for years they have failed to deliver, extending and then extending again their self-imposed deadlines for when they “anticipate” resolving the issue; indeed, just this year the supposed deadline for installing water treatment equipment has been extended from October 2011 to February 2012 – and then again to August 2012.

After reading an article last fall about Kern Valley State Prison’s dirty water, Gonzalez contacted your humble criminal justice editor here at Change.org, asking that I write more about the problem. And for weeks … well, I didn’t – hey, I’m a busy guy, alright? But after a few more friendly reminders, her persistence paid off. And now her campaign is drawing the attention of California’s top prison officials.

Since her petition was first featured here a few weeks ago, more than 2,100 people have joined Gonzalez and other mothers of sickened, incarcerated men in California in demanding that the state stop poisoning its prisoners with arsenic-laced water.


LIBYAN JOURNALIST VANISHES AFTER DEMONSTRATIONS BEGIN

The Committee to Protect Journalists has posted about the disappearance of Libyan journalist Atef al-Atrash,. His absence has many worried.

The Committee to Protect Journalists
is alarmed by the ongoing deterioration of conditions for the media in the Middle East, including the disappearance of Atef al-Atrash, a critical Libyan journalist, since anti-Qaddafi demonstrations began February 17. The Internet has been intermittently down since Saturday in the country, according to international news reports, and foreign journalists continue to be denied entry. Al-Jazeera’s signal in Libya remains jammed, according to the network. In Yemen, security forces confiscated the print run of an independent newspaper and at least one reporter was injured as demonstrations turned violent. And in Iraq, 50 gunmen reportedly shot up an independent television station while the staff of a local newspaper was forced to evacuate their offices.

The Libyan authorities and their supporters should know that violence against journalists reporting on political turmoil will not be tolerated,” said Robert Mahoney, CPJ’s deputy director. “We are concerned for the safety of all journalists, in particular Atef al-Atrash.”

Al-Atrash disappeared after reporting live on Al-Jazeera from demonstrations in Benghazi on Thursday, the network reported. He also reported that “several journalists” had been detained in the second largest city of Libya but did not provide names.


The painting above is Frank Romero’s 1986 work, the Death of Rubén Salazar. It is free of my usual…um…artwork, because I cannot possibly scribble on Frank Romero.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Economy, parole policy, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

LA Times Book Awards Finalists Announced! Read ‘em and Cheer!

February 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The finalists for this year’s LA Times book awards were announced Tuesday morning
and it’s a great list filled with things that you honestly ought to run out and read immediately. (Or soon, anyway.)

For instance, I love the range covered by the five books short-listed for the fiction prize: This year’s megabook, Freedom, by Jonathan Franzen is (deservedly) on the list. It’s a brilliant work, despite all the, you know, Franzenfreude it seemed to trigger. Franzen’s ability to turn a character this way and that, each time letting the light catch a different psychological angle, is genuinely remarkable.

Another delight on the list is the glorious A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, a terrifically entrancing and original novel that uses the story cycle form to create a larger psychic canvas than a purely sequential narrative likely could have accomplished. (It’s easily one of my favorite books from last year.)

Happily, in addition to the above highly recognized novels, the list also includes things like Rick Bass’s Nashville Chrome. Bass—like his friends Thomas McGuane and Jim Harrison—is a kick ass prose stylist yet, because he lives in Montana (the horror) he (like McGuane and Harrison) is often viewed as a “regional writer” by east coast reviewers who are made nervous by people who spend too much time out of doors in states other than Connecticut. This time, however, Bass set his book in Nashville and wrote a partially true tale about the country music business. This change of venue, plus the music biz angle, seemed to get him removed—if only temporarily—from the Regional Lit ghetto. (Not that the LAT judges would have dreamed of putting him there. We have better sense out here on the left coast.)

I was on the judging panel for Current Interest Nonfiction, along with Henry Weinstein and Ron Brownstein, and we love our five finalists.

We found The Big Short and All the Devils Are Here to be far and away the best all ’round books written about the financial meltdown in the past two years. (And between us we looked at all of ‘em, and read most of ‘em, trust me.) There were other extremely worthy books on the topic, but these hit so many marks they easily stood out as important works that were also marvelously well-realized from a literary standpoint. (A word of warning: I don’t recommend reading deeply on this subject if you have any kind of blood pressure or anger issues.)

In another realm entirely, Patti Smith’s memoir, Just Kids, is a beautifully rendered memento mori, as Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “of a relationship fueled by a passion for art and writing.” We all agreed it had to be on our short list. (Two of us were also taken with Keith Richards’ memoir, Life, which features, among other things, helpful tips about winning a knife fight. And who among us cannot use such handy advice? For a variety of reasons it didn’t land in our top five. Yet we wouldn’t have missed it and you shouldn’t either if you are any kind of music lover.)

After reading a pile of the Obama and 2008 elections-related books that gushed into the book stores last year, several of which were quite good and definite contenders, we came back over and over to the surprising and canny insight, combined with great access and reporting, that characterized Jonathan Alter’s The Promise. Speaking personally, I did not really expect to love this book. I thought it would probably be too political, too partisan, too…something. But it was instead a sober-eyed and unflinchingly detailed look at Obama’s first year in office that landed firmly on our individual top 5 lists and stayed there.

I don’t think any of us intended to put a book on either the Iraq or the Afghanistan war on our list. It seemed that there had been too many of them already these past years. But then we read Sebastian Junger’s brilliant and harrowing and deeply wise book, War. In terms of its content, it is about the 173rd Airborne brigade in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, but really it is just about war—in general. And it is utterly unforgettable.

Oh, I could go on. I’ve read all but one of the finalists in the mystery category and can recommend all. The science and history lists look great. (For example, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is terrific. We read it to see if it should be in our category, but realized it should be in history or science.) And I’m just about to wade into the poetry list.

Go and look for yourself. And read on! Reading great books (or downloading ‘em via audible.com com.) makes life richer and better, IMHO.

The winners will be announced April 29th.

Posted in American artists, art and culture, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 2 Comments »

Dangerous Jails: The Witness – Part 1

February 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


In January, WitnessLA and Spot.us launched our second investigative series under the banner of The LA Justice Report. Our first investigation looked at how LA spends its gang intervention money.

This new investigation will examine the “culture of violence and fear” that allegedly exists inside the LA County jail system.

The following story is an illustration of why we think such an investigation is important.

*NOTE: This account is based on declarations given under penalty of perjury both by Esther Lim and by Christopher Brown, as well as interviews with Ms. Lim and with Peter Eliasberg.

We will hear from the spokesman for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and others in Part 2 of the story.


THE WITNESS


On Monday, January 24, 2011, ACLU Jails monitor Esther Lim
was seated in one of the seven cubicles reserved for attorneys in module 142 in the Twin Towers facility of the Los Angeles County jail system. She was there in cubicle number five (of the seven) in order to meet with an inmate named Christopher Brown, who was now seated in the matching cubicle directly opposite her. Lim and Brown were separated by a 2 by 3 foot window and spoke to each other via the telephones mounted on the right side of each cubicle.

It is a set-up akin to that depicted in nearly every prison visiting scene you’ve ever seen in the movies or on TV. Except that in Twin Towers, the public visiting area is located on the 1st floor near to the exit, whereas the attorney visiting rooms are inside the various modules in the jail’s interior.

[Click twice for full sized diagram.]

Lim is the latest in a string of So Cal ACLU jails monitors. The monitors were originally put in place after the ACLU sued the County of Los Angeles in federal court in the mid-1970s over what it believed to be unconstitutional conditions at LA’s Men’s Central Jail. The ACLU won the lawsuit—known as Rutherford v. Block, now just called Rutherford, for short—and, as part of the subsequent ruling that mandated improvements in jail conditions, the court appointed the Southern California branch of the ACLU as monitor, to make sure that the ordered changes were being made. Nearly four decades later, some changes have been accomplished, while others are depressingly slow in coming. More recently, however, the sheriff’s department installed special hot lines that allow inmates to call the ACLU to report complaints that they would like to see addressed.

Lim, who is in her late 20s, has been the monitor since last October and visits one of the LA County jail facilities every day of the work week except for Thursday. Much of her time on site is spent talking to inmates who have requested a meeting to tell her about some problem or other. The most common problems reported are things like lack of access to adequate medical care, too little out-of-cell time and not enough recreation.

Sometimes, however, the complaints are more dramatic and involve accusations of excessive use of force and other forms of brutality by the deputies toward the prisoners. Yet such tales are difficult to verify. An inmate who claims he was beat up by sheriff’s deputies usually has no witnesses other than the deputies he has accused of wrongdoing.

However on Monday January 24th, when a beating was alleged to have occurred between an inmate and two deputies, this time an outside witness present.

According to Lim, the incident in question began after she had been talking to Brown for about 30 minutes. She heard what she thought sounded like some kind of scuffle coming from the “staging area” outside two windows that were located on the far right wall of the attorneys room. She later described the noises in a sworn deposition as the “sounds of fists hitting a body.” Lim said she also heard thuds against the attorney room wall underneath the windows, and “other noises that sounded like a fight.” Hearing the commotion, Brown left his cubicle and moved toward the windows and the noises. Lim paused for a moment, then did the same.

What Lim saw at first confused her. An African American prisoner, whom she later learned was a 35-year-old named James Parker, was lying face down on the floor unmoving while, according to Lim, two sheriff’s deputies were punching and “kneeing” the prone man while simultaneously yelling “Stop fighting!” and alternately, “Stop resisting!”

For the first few seconds, Lim could not make sense of the scene. She could see, she said, that Parker was neither fighting back nor was he resisting. He wasn’t even flinching, despite the force of the blows. Instead, he was lying motionless on the floor as if unconscious.

With a nod toward the scene outside the windows, Brown turned briefly to Lim and shrugged. “See. It’s happening now,” he said.

After a bunch of punches, said Lim, one of the deputies tased Parker —first three or four times in his leg, then three or four more times in his back. All the while he kept shouting the same bizarre monotonic chant: “Stop fighting! Stop resisting!”

Parker’s body convulsed at each tasing, then went limp again. Lim thought irrationally that it looked as if the deputies were using a mannequin in inmate garb as a punching bag.

After about a minute of disbelieving observation Lim banged hard on the window with the palm of her right hand, hoping to get the deputies’ attention. The LASD deputies—whom she would later learn were named Ochoa and Hirsch—did not look up. Eventually Deputy Ochoa did look up and, according to Lim, looked at her hard and motioned her emphatically away from the window.

Spooked, Lim dutifully moved away. By that time a frightened Brown had also retreated from the window back to his side of the attorney client cubicle—except that he was no longer sitting in a chair, but lying on the ground as if trying to become invisible. After exchanging a few words with Brown, Lim gathered her purse and other belongings, left the attorney room and walked quickly to the elevator, which she took the first floor, then headed outside to the parking lot. She passed three or four deputies on her way out, but said nothing to them. “I was scared,” she said later. After watching the beating, she was no longer sure whom she could trust.

Instead of telling deputies, Lim called her boss, Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU/SC’s managing attorney. The ACLU immediately filed a complaint.

The next morning, Lim was back at the office reviewing the jail logs and reports that she gets from the sheriff’s department every day via email. She noted that there was a “Significant Use of Force” log entry for Twin Towers for Monday, the 24th.

The entry describing an altercation between two unnamed deputies and an inmate named James Parker who, according to the log, attacked the deputies and continued attacking even while being tased in the leg and the back.

Stunned at the alternate version in the log, Lim went to Twin Towers in the afternoon and where she talked with Brown briefly and arranged for a longer meeting in the attorney’s room the next day, Wednesday.

On Wednesday Lim brought one of the ACLU’s attorneys with her and the two met with Brown, who told the attorney and the monitor what had happened after Lim left the jail.

TO BE CONTINUED


Posted in ACLU, jail, LASD | 2 Comments »

Wisconsin – A Line in the Sand: What The Nightwatchman Said

February 21st, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


And while you’re here, check the Libya updates on the WLA Twitter feed to the right.
Amazing.

Posted in Economy, unions | No Comments »

The LA Times/U of Colorado Teacher Ranking Wars: Part 3

February 18th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



On Thursday, the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) at the University of Colorado
issued a reply to the LA Times’ story and blog posts written in response to the NEPC’s study that was highly critical of the research model that underlies the Times “Value-Added” Teacher Rankings that were released this summer to reactions ranging from praise to fury. (Whew. That was a longer than ideal sentence. But this ongoing education/social science/media quarrel is a bit like that. When trying to explain it, one is often reduced to run-on sentences and under-breath mutterings.)

In their study released nearly two weeks ago, the NECP researchers characterized the Times’ underlying research as “not adequate to validly or reliably produce the teacher ratings it published.”

The Times reacted with an article about the NECP study that—because, among other things, the Times bannered their story with a head-scratcher of a headline saying the NECP, in essence agreed with them— triggered its own little firestorm of controversy. And then, on Valentine’s Day, they followed up with two “readers representative” posts (here and here) that were responses to the criticism of their article. In the posts, the Times was also quite critical of the NECP researchers.

So the NECP replied.

I should warn you, much of this will read like inside baseball for those of you who haven’t been following this whole mess with obsessive intensity. But the underlying subject of the argument is of consequence.

And if you have been following the drama of the back and forth quarrel, you will definitely find the latest volley to be of interest.

I’ll have Part 4, the views of a neutral expert, next week.


AND SPEAKING OF EDUCATION….ABOUT MEASURE L, THE LIBRARY FUNDING MEASURE

Earlier this week, the LA Times came out against Measure L saying:

The voters elect a mayor and City Council to make those kinds of choices through a comprehensive annual budget process, adapting their allocations to the city’s ever-changing needs and circumstances. Mandatory funding proposals such as Measure L ask voters to make choices about particular programs without knowing how those choices will affect the rest of the budget. That is why The Times opposes them.

Children’s book author Susan Patron takes the other side of the argument in Friday’s LA Times opinion section. She writes:

The library’s budget is only 2% of the total city budget. In the past two years, the library force has been reduced by 28%. The book budget has shrunk to $1.70 per capita, versus a national average of $4.20. This is shameful. Measure L can change it.

Measure L will progressively increase the library’s share of existing city revenues. Within four years, it will increase the library’s charter-required funding from the current 0.0175% to a maximum of 0.0300% of each $100 of assessed tax value on property within the city.

The measure doesn’t call for a tax increase. It calls for a change in city priorities, a change in how we allocate the funds Los Angeles already collects. That change of priorities is crucial. The city’s leaders have shown that they cannot be trusted to weigh the worth of our library appropriately as they grapple with L.A.’s deficits. Their unwillingness to give the library its fair share means that the voters must step in.

Yep. What she said. I’m down with the POV of Susan-the-novelist and children’s librarian. The city council had its chance to do the right thing. Even after the LA Weekly’s excellent and shaming cover story on the matter, the council failed to step up.

So, regrettably, it seems like we ordinary library-going folks need to do so. The fact that all of this great city’s public libraries are CLOSED to the city’s children on the first school day of the week—every week—is simply not acceptable. Not even a little bit.

So, yeah, vote YES on Measure L.

Posted in Education, Los Angeles Times | No Comments »

ACLU Calls for Independent Investigation on Jail Beating

February 17th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, the ACLU called on the US Attorney’s Office
to launch an independent criminal investigation into the beating of an LA County jail inmate, allegedly by two LA County Sheriff’s deputies. The incident was witnessed by the ACLU of Southern California’s jails monitor, Esther Lim.

This is from the ACLU’s Thursday press release.

The ACLU of Southern California (ACLU/SC) and the American Civil Liberties Union today called on the United States Attorney’s Office to launch an independent criminal investigation into last month’s brutal beating by two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputies of an inmate at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, part of the Los Angeles County Jail system.

The savage attack Jan. 24 on James Parker, detained on a non-violent marijuana charge, was witnessed by ACLU/SC’s Jails Project Coordinator Esther Lim, who is assigned to monitor all county jails, and another inmate. Both observed the two deputies beating and repeatedly tasering Parker for about two minutes while he was lying on the ground limp, motionless and not resisting the deputies in any way.

“It is crucial that the federal government launch an independent investigation immediately,” said Peter Eliasberg, ACLU/SC managing attorney. “A criminal investigation from an impartial outside agency will not only help the inmates but will also help all those deputies who work hard to do their job properly and who should not be painted with the same brush as those who may have violated the law by beating a non-resisting inmate.”

Sheriff’s department employees have made public statements challenging the motivation and integrity of Lim, calling into question the impartiality of the LASD. Lim would necessarily be a key witness in any criminal case filed against the deputies and so the statements by sheriff’s department employees could significantly harm any prosecution by the county district attorney that relies on an investigation by the LASD.

“It is odd, and indeed troubling, when a law enforcement spokesperson publicly disparages the credibility of a potential prosecution witness,” said Daniel Richman, a professor at Columbia University’s School of Law and former Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. “Such comments can undermine the appearance of impartiality critical to maintaining public trust in the criminal justice system. Moreover, if a prosecutor ends up bringing charges, the defense may try to use the comments to undermine the credibility of that witness, a problem that no prosecutor wants to deal with.”

James Parker, the inmate who was reportedly beaten by deputies, has been charged with the crime of battery with injury on a peace officer and resisting an officer in the performance of his duty. Although the sheriff’s department has launched a criminal investigation into the incident, the charges against Parker still stand.

Next week, I’ll post the detailed story of the Parker incident-–and its aftermath to date. I think you will find it to be a troubling and perplexing tale.

Posted in ACLU, jail, LASD | 4 Comments »

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