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26 Criminal Justice & Civil Rights Leaders Call for Fed Probe Into Jail Abuse

September 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


THE LETTER

On Thursday afternoon, the ACLU released a letter signed by 26 criminal justice, civil rights and religious leaders that calls for a broader Federal investigation of the alleged abuse of inmates and misconduct by sheriff’s deputies inside the LA County Jails.

The letter is addressed to US Attorney General Eric Holder, US Attorney Andre Birotte, FBI Director Robert Mueller, Thomas Perez, head of the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, and Steven M. Martinez, the Assistant Director in Charge of LA’s FBI Office.

In other words, nobody with any power in the matter got left out.

The message conveyed is sober-minded and respectful but leaves no room for doubt about the seriousness of the request:

We, the undersigned, respectfully request that the federal government pursue a thorough criminal and pattern or practice civil rights investigation into the allegations filed by the ACLU yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in Rutherford v. Baca, with documentation of a persistent pattern of deputy-on-inmate assaults, deputy-instigated inmate-on-inmate assaults, and use of excessive force in the Los Angeles County jails.

We understand that the FBI is currently investigating the beating of James Parker in Twin Towers Correctional Facility on January 24, 2011 based in part on the eye-witness statement of a civilian, ACLU jails monitor Esther Lim, and that the investigation has widened to include other such incidents in the Los Angeles County Jails. We are pleased that federal law enforcement officials have undertaken this investigation.

We note that Sheriff Baca, through a spokesman, responded to the report of this investigation in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, by categorically denying the need for a federal investigation and insisting that the Sheriff’s Department has already investigated inmate accounts of deputy beatings and found most of them to be unfounded. Based on evidence presented by the ACLU, however, including sworn statements not only from some seventy inmates and former inmates but also from prison chaplains and civilian eyewitnesses to deputy-on-inmate assaults, we are concerned that despite the Sheriff’s protestations there appears to be a pattern of violations by deputies against inmates in the Los Angeles County jails that should be independently investigated.

We therefore respectfully urge you to proceed with a broad inquiry.

Former California Attorney General John Van de Kamp tops the list of those who signed. He is followed by 2 former US Attorneys, 3 former assistant US Attorneys, Los Angeles County Public Defender, Ron Brown, the former head of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, plus 2 high profile law school deans, some well-known civil rights lawyers and religious leaders.


THE SHERIFF

It is interesting to note that, several of those who signed on to the plea for the Feds to step in consider themselves to be personal friends with Sheriff Baca, people like Connie Rice and Father Greg Boyle— among others.

Indeed Lee Baca is a very likeable man who has for many years expressed a deep commitment to criminal justice reform. For those who know him, this progressive and humanistic vision of LA’s popular Sheriff has always been hard to square with the hard fact that the jail system he oversees is a shameful quagmire of ongoing civil rights violations.


THE PAST

After the release of our recent jails story by Matt Fleisher, and in the run-up to the this week’s release of the harsh ACLU report on abuse at the jails, a lot of us who write (or litigate) about this topic wondered if any of the new round of stories and witness accounts would make any difference.

Now, with the appearance of this letter, I think maybe…..maybe we have reached a tipping point. The moment feels weirdly like period after the Rampart scandal broke about the LAPD. For a long time after the scandal, disbelief still governed public perception. It couldn’t be that bad, people said; even editors I worked with, said it; people experienced enough to know better said it.

But it was that bad. Most LAPD officers were excellent people. Yet there was a toxic culture inside the department that was doing terrible damage to the fabric of our communities and to the people within them—and to all the good cops who were doing their damnedest every day to protect and serve..

And so it is with the Los Angeles County Jails.

So maybe that’s the good news. In the case of the LAPD, eventually enough people acknowledged that the LAPDs problems were greater than the existence of a few bad apples that it led to a widespread push for reform.


THE FUTURE

As a consequence, the Los Angeles Police Department is now fundamentally different than it was in the bad old, pre-Rampart days.

So perhaps there is reason to hope the same will ultimately prove to be true for LA County’s jails system.

Of course, several elements went into the LAPD’s transformation. Good leadership at the top was essential. Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck, and their command staffs made a world of difference.

But equally important was the existence of a very sharp-toothed Federal Consent Decree.

Which brings us back to the letter at hand.

What those who signed it have requested is crucial.

Let us hope that those with the power to trigger a comprehensive investigation understand that.

****

What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons. It comes home with prisoners after they are released and with corrections officers at the end of each day’s shift. When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them. We must create safe and productive conditions of confinement not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it influences the safety, health, and prosperity of us all.

—2006 report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Vera Institute of Justice



AND IN RELATED NEWS….WHICH WAY LA? DOES THE JAILS

Warren Olney’s Which Way LA had a segment on the jails on Tuesday and another segment with Sheriff Baca on Thursday.

Plus there was a segment on realignment—the transfer of a large segment of parolees from state custody to the various California counties—which begins this weekend.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF REALIGNMENT…

NPR Carrie Kahn did an excellent show on LA County’s role in realignment with some mention of the jails issue.

AND ONE MORE WRINKLE IN THE JAILS STORY

An inmate allegedly beat up by deputies in front of ACLU jails monitor Esther Lim and another witness was tried for assaulting those same deputies although Lim says he did not. Not even close. The trial ended in a hung jury that was reportedly leaning toward acquittal.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story.


Photo by Damian Dovarganes/AP


Posted in ACLU, Civil Rights, jail, LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

ACLU Witnesses Detail Shocking Abuse in LA Jails—& Baca Dismisses It All

September 29th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“I have never seen anything that approaches the patterns of violence, misfeasance and malfeasance that particularly infects the Los Angeles County jail system.”

Tom Parker, Former Assistant Special Agent in Charge of FBI LA Field Office


The witnesses include two jail chaplains, film producer Scott Budnick of “Hangover” fame who volunteers at Men’s Central Jail,
, Esther Lim, the ACLU’s jails monitor, 72 inmates and former inmates, and a former FBI agent, Tom Parker, who has investigated problems in corrections facilities in the U.S. and around the globe.

In sworn testimony, all of these people detailed incidents of abuse of inmates by Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies in the LA County jails. They did so as part of the ACLU’s lengthy and scathing jails report released Wednesday morning.

In addition to the ACLU’s new report, in the past six months, KTLA News, the LA Weekly and WitnessLA , have each done extensive stories on the entrenched patterns of violence and abuse by deputies at the jails.

In the case of WitnessLA’s story, Dangerous Jails, by Matt Fleischer, for every account of mistreatment that appeared in the article there were another five that we did not use.

Then, on top of the media accounts, on Sunday the LA Times reported that there was a widening FBI investigation into beatings and other deputy misconduct inside the Jails.

In short, a pile of evidence from various sources suggested that something was terribly wrong in the county’s jail system.

So how did LA’s popular Sheriff, Lee Baca, respond to all these stories of deputies brutalizing inmates? One might have reasonably hoped that he would assure us—the concerned public— that he takes such reports of brutality inside his jails very seriously and that each incident would be carefully investigated until he was sure he’d gotten to the bottom of the matter.

But that’s not what Baca did.

Instead, the Sheriff—who has a long had a reputation as a progressive lawman— began blasting away at the messengers.

He told the AP that the ACLU’s statements in its report were “hyperbole” designed to win a quick headline.

About the charges that gang-like groups of deputies had been allowed to operate in the jails—made by the ACLU, plus KTLA and WitnessLA— Baca said:

“That is a very false allegation. There are no gangs in the Sheriff’s Department working custody.”

Right. Never mind that the ACLU has multiple witnesses, we have a whistleblower from high up in the department who told us otherwise in detail, and KTLA has a deputy on camera doing the same.

In perhaps the most bizarre moment of denial and misplaced priorities, Baca even slammed the FBI for setting up a sting in which they gave a jails deputy a 1500 buck bribe to get a cell phone to one of their inmate informers. Instead of wondering why it was so easy to find a crooked deputy willing to bring in contraband phones, Baca complained to US Attorney Andre Birotte about those mean, mean Federal agents.

In an editorial in Thursday’s paper, the LA Times advised the Sheriff to get a grip:

If Baca is truly interested in demonstrating the integrity of his department and protecting the reputation of his deputies, he should welcome the FBI probe, not obstruct it.

No kidding.

Both Peter Eliasberg, the ACLU of So Cal’s Legal Director, and former FBI agent Tom Parker have gone a step further by calling for a more comprehensive Federal investigation—most likely by the civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department.

Let us hope that Justice heeds the call—and sooner rather than later.

“ The voluminous evidence I have reviewed cries out for an independent, far-reaching, and in-depth investigation by the Federal Government.

The problem can no longer be ignored.”

- Thomas Parker, former Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.

NOTE: Frustrated with the inattention to the jails abuse issue on the part of public and policymakers, the ACLU deviated from its traditional lawyerly approach to its reports and, as an adjunct to its many pages of written material, produced the above dramatic video that seems more Dateline NBC than traditional ACLU fare.

The gambit appears to be working. Rachel Maddow ran a clip from the thing on her show Wednesday night in a segment covering reports of abuse at the LA County Jails.

Posted in ACLU, jail, LA County Jail, LASD | 1 Comment »

The ACLU Releases a Disturbing New Jails Report …and the News is Bad

September 28th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


Tuesday morning, the Southern California ACLU released a new and deeply disturbing report
detailing, yet again, the systemic pattern of abuse by deputies taking place in the LA County Jail System. This time the report contains the accounts of witnesses along with those from the inmates describing abuse.

Both the LA Times and the New York Times have stories about the report.

The LA Times story by Robert Faturechi, opens this way:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies brutalized inmates on multiple occasions and their supervisors failed to take complaints of the abuse seriously, according to sworn declarations from two chaplains and a Hollywood producer who volunteered in the jails.

Two of the volunteers said they heard deputies yell “stop fighting” as deputies pummeled inmates who appeared to be doing nothing to fight back.

The allegations come on the heels of Los Angeles Times stories detailing FBI probes into deputy misconduct in the jails. The declarations are expected to be filed in court Wednesday as part of a report compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is a court-appointed monitor of jailhouse conditions.

It’s not uncommon for inmates to make allegations of abuse, but these sworn statements are noteworthy because all three are from independent civilians in the jails who say they came forward because they were troubled by what they saw. Two have included their names. The third, a chaplain whose identity was learned by The Times, opted to have his declaration filed anonymously at the last minute for fear of reprisal.

The New York Times story, whose reporter Jennifer Medina, went so far as to interview some of those whose accounts were in the ACLU report, opens like this:

One inmate said he was forced to walk down a hallway naked after sheriff’s deputies accused him of stealing a piece of mail. They taunted him in Spanish, calling him a derogatory name for homosexuals.

Another former inmate said that after he protested that guards were harassing a mentally ill prisoner, the same deputies took him into another room, slammed his head into a wall and repeatedly punched him in the chest.

And a chaplain said he saw deputies punching an inmate until he collapsed to the ground. They then began kicking the apparently unconscious man’s head and body.

The examples are just a fraction of dozens of detailed allegations of abuse in Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers, according to a report that the American Civil Liberties Union is expected to file in Federal District Court here on Wednesday. The Los Angeles County jail system, the nation’s largest, is also the nation’s most troubled, according to lawyers, advocates and former law enforcement officials.

“This situation, the length of time it has been going on, the volume of complaints and the egregious nature are much, much worse than anything I’ve ever seen,” said Tom Parker, a retired F.B.I. official who led the agency’s Los Angeles office for years and oversaw investigations into the Rodney King beating and charges of corruption in the Los Angeles Police Department. “They are abusing inmates with impunity, and the worst part is that they think they can get away with it.”

The system has a long history of accusations of abuse and poor conditions. The A.C.L.U. filed a federal lawsuit 35 years ago, and an agreement eventually allowed the organization to place monitors inside the jails. But those monitors say that they receive six or seven complaints a week now, primarily from the two large jails in downtown Los Angeles that house thousands of men. The F.B.I. has also begun to investigate several episodes in the jails.

Sheriff Lee Baca has repeatedly dismissed any suggestion of a systemic problem in the jails, saying that all allegations of abuse are investigated and that most are unfounded.

This week, The Los Angeles Times reported that F.B.I. agents sneaked a cellphone to a prisoner as part of an investigation. Sheriff Baca reacted to the investigation angrily, saying that the agency did not know what it was doing and was putting prisoners and guards in danger.

Sheriff Baca discussed the matter with a Justice Department official in a meeting on Tuesday. Nicole Nishida, the sheriff’s spokeswoman, said that the department thoroughly investigated all complaints of abuse that it received and that most were unsubstantiated.

With California under an order from the United States Supreme Court to shed thousands of inmates from the state prisons, county jails are expected to receive many more inmates in the next year, which could aggravate overcrowding and other problems. Officials from the Sheriff’s Department have said that they will not place inmates from the state in the Men’s Central Jail, which they concede is an antiquated building.

But lawyers from the A.C.L.U. say that the Los Angeles County system is, in many ways, even worse than the state prisons that have been found unconstitutional. They say that many complaints are never properly investigated, and that often the very guards accused of abuse are in the room when an inmate is interviewed about the complaint….

And there’s more. Plus the NY Times posted affidavits from the various inmates and witnesses.

I’ll be posting additional material from and about the report in the next few days.

But, for now, suffice it to say that although Sheriff’s department officials and the Sheriff himself continue to deny the seriousness of the abuse in the county’s jails, those of us who have, over the years, interviewed man after man who credibly describes having been abused by deputies in the LA County jails, and have talked to a long list of volunteers and other civilians who have witnessed abuse of inmates by deputies, have gradually concluded that this issue can no longer be considered merely a He said, She said matter. The charges are too many, too detailed, and too serious.

Despite official statements to the contrary, the weight of evidence is too great.


For an in-depth look at abuse of inmates by deputies in the jails, and the entrenched culture that is producing it, read WLA’s special report by Matt Fleischer: DANGEROUS JAILS – Part 1.

Posted in ACLU, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca | 2 Comments »

Knabe Redistricting Plan Accepted, Lawsuits Probable, Secret Plan in Play – UPDATED

September 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

An 11th hour deal was struck in the LA County redistricting battle on Tuesday afternoon after a brief closed door session. When the Supes emerged from behind the closed doors, they voted and, all at once, the deed was done.

The winning plan that finally got the necessary four votes after weeks of stalemate was A 3, the redistricting scheme proposed by Supervisor Don Knabe—which leaves most of the supervisory districts largely unchanged.

The decision came after an earlier vote of 2 to 3 for the plan, which meant that no plan could be chosen—in that, for redistricting, four votes are required. That crucial last vote came after the addition of a somewhat complex amendment that moves a few communities from one district to another and, in so doing, made Knabe’s plan presumably more palatable.

Mark Ridley-Thomas cast the swing vote that made the difference, added as it was to the existing votes of Zev Yaroslavsky, Don Knabe and Mike Antonovich.

Yet, why Ridley-Thomas decided to switch sides is a longer story.

For one thing, the last minute passage of a plan—any plan— kept the decision from being yanked out of the Supes collective hands and bounced over to a three-person committee made up of Sheriff Lee Baca, LA District Attorney, Steve Cooley and LA County Assessor John Noguez—an event that no one on the Board wanted.

But there’s more to it.

First the back story.

Up until Ridley-Thomas’s decision, the battle lines had been drawn as follows. (This is complicated, so bear with me.)

Zev Yaroslavsky, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe supported Knabe’s plan, A 3, which mostly left things as is, but—in an effort to satisfy the Voting Rights Act—took a little from Molina’s District 1, still leaving her with a Latino majority of qualified Latino voters (59.7 percent), giving Knabe’s District 4 a slightly larger citizen voting age Latino population (32.8 percent)—albeit not the majority necessary to easily outvote the district’s white plurality (40.9 percent) to elect a Latino candidate, unless voters could be siphoned off from other blocks like the Asian/Pacific Islanders (17.3 percent) or African American voters (7.6 percent), or White voters, for heaven’s sake. Of course, this is all presuming that racial and ethnic groups all vote as a block, which they don’t (except when they do). In any case, you get my point. A 3′s supporters contend that the plan puts another Latino supervisor within reasonable political striking range, without having to stack the deck.

Gloria Molina supported Gloria Molina’s plan (obviously), known as T 1, which forces the slam dunk creation of a second Latino District, mainly by moving much of Zev Yaroslavsky’s highly Democratic District 3 to into Republican Don Knabe’s District 4, and giving Yaroslavsky a new District 3 that is cobbled together out of largely Latino areas of the north-ish mid-ish San Fernando Valley. In an effort to get some of the White Guys’ support, Molina’s plan leaves Knabe’s district pretty much in place, the reasoning presumably being that Zev is terming out in 2014, so what does he care? Whereas Knabe is up for reelection in 2012 so will fight any plan that attempts to snatch away his base.

However, for Zev to have accepted Molina’s plan, while it might have gained him some extra Latino support, would have meant infuriating much of his base, namely environmentally-focused progressives, and West Side and West Valleyite Dems, all of whom will be crucial for any mayoral run he might be planning.

Plus it seems Zev just didn’t like the Molina plan.

Mark Ridley-Thomas, who also had a plan, which left Zev’s progressive, environmentally-oriented, District 3 mostly in one piece, but carved up and moved Knabe’s District 4 to the east end of the County, moving soon-to-term-out Molina’s District 1 to the north-ish and mid-ish Valley in order to create two Latino majority districts.

(Are you still with me? Or did you just decide to flee and instead read about Nancy Grace’s wardrobe malfunction on Dancing With the Stars?)

The problem with Ridley-Thomas’s plan was that it was a no go with Knabe, and Molina was already committed to her own plan. Antonovich wasn’t about to rattle any cages. And so on. Thus, while in some ways more agreeable to a majority than Molina’s plan, it was still a non-starter.

This meant that the only swing vote, if there was going to be a swing vote, was Ridley-Thomas, mostly because his was the plan that couldn’t possibly win, and everybody else had political reasons not to move from their positions. That meant, by default, MRT was the only person standing in the way of the decision being dropped into the waiting paws of the Gang of Three (Baca, Cooley and Noguez). However, for Ridley-Thomas to suddenly switch to the status quo plan proposed by the Republican White guy (Knabe), would not exactly thrill his base, which includes a large chunk of Latino voters in his district—unless….unless…. it was part of a SECRET PLAN.

The secret plan (okay, it wasn’t that secret) is as follows: MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) and the So Cal ACLU have repeatedly threatened to sue if A 3 passes, contending that Knabe’s plan is a violation of the Voting Rights Act, meaning that a court challenge will be successful. If A 3 is challenged, and a challenge is successful, this means a judge will create a brand spanking new second Latino district, Supes votes be damned. So, one could arguably say that a vote for A 3 is really a very savvy, super-ninja, back door vote to expedite the creation of two Latino districts—with the new district created by judges who are presumably free of the swamp of political concerns that plague all three of the Supervisors’ plans.

Whew! Cool, huh?

(It should be mentioned here that not absolutely everyone agrees that A 3 will be struck down by the court. In fact there’s a strong legal argument to be made against that conclusion. However, the viability of the legal challenge is sorta the conventional wisdom, at least this week, which in no way guarantees it’s true, of course. But what is truth anyway, grasshopper? Ahem. Sorry. I digress.)

So there you have it. Plan A 3 wins—for now.

As for the future? Gentlemen and women start your engines. Let the lawsuits begin.


UPDATE: MARK RIDLEY THOMAS’S OFFICE JUST RELEASED THE SUPERVISOR’S STATEMENT RE: THE VOTE

Here’re the heart of it:

I believe strongly that either S2 or T1 is the right redistricting map, reflecting appropriate communities of interest and complying with the Voting Rights Act. Unfortunately, the board was unwilling to compromise. Ultimately, a federal court will likely determine whether a second, effective Latino-majority district is legally required.

In order to expedite that court review, to avoid further divisive delay and to avoid an unnecessary gamble on the uncertainty of an untested political process, I voted for A3 as amended. However, let me be clear: in voting for the A3 map, my sentiments remain unchanged. I am not endorsing the status quo. Rather, it is my expectation that endorsing the status quo will have the opposite effect; far from resolving the issue, the Board has hastened the court decision that appears necessary to determine district lines that comply with the VRA. [Voting Rights Act]

When there is no compromise, the courts must decide.

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

Probation Chief Donald Blevins Learns He’s History on Eve of “Realignment”

September 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



LA County Probation Chief Donald Blevins is out—according to multiple sources inside and close to the LA County Board of Supervisors’ offices
. WitnessLA has learned that, although the Supervisors had yet to take an official vote on the matter, Blevins himself was quietly informed mid-week last week.

Steps in the exit process continued early Tuesday morning in a closed door session where the Supes discussed the rough terms of Blevins’ departure.

Rumors that the Probation Chief was headed for the door have been circulating for nearly six months. However, the back room chatter gained intensity this past summer during the fights over which LA County agency—Probation or the Sheriff’s Department— should supervise the tens of thousands of non-violent parolees who will, as of this coming Saturday, Oct 1, be transferred from state control to LA County control, under the new California corrections policy known as “realignment.”

Probation was the winner of that particular political tug-of-war (if you can call anyone a winner). Yet, right before the decision was made, the primary unions that represent nearly all Probation’s employees hit Blevins with a nearly unprecedented “no confidence vote” aimed at his performance as chief.

Yet it is precisely because of the fact that the already-troubled LA County Probation Department is madly—and very messily—gearing up for this new influx of parolees, that the timing of Blevins’ now-confirmed exit is, in some ways, surprising.

Until recently, the Board of Supes didn’t have three firm votes to oust the Probation Chief, who is liked personally by many, but also increasingly viewed as not up to the task of reforming a badly broken Probation Department. Both Gloria Molina and Mark Ridley-Thomas have reportedly been leaning for some time toward replacing Blevins. There is speculation that Mike Antonovich may be the newly emerged third vote, but this is only, as I say, speculation.

In any case, someone among the remaining three Supes (Antonovich, Knabe and Yaroslavsky) was persuaded to hop the fence at this critical time. It may be that, faced with waiting until the realignment process was in process to make a change at the top, or acting now, the Board felt that, while neither choice was ideal, it was best to move ASAP.

Yet it is likely that the decision to oust Blevins has most to do with the last couple of scathing reports from the Justice Department regarding the depressing lack of progress in reforming the County’s juvenile probation camps, as required by the DOJ.

With talk of a possible Federal Consent Decree long in the air, the Supervisors may have felt that they had no choice but to move on Blevins, and to move fast—if they were to have even a prayer of prevent the DOJ from stepping in with very big feet.

“Let’s just say that Blevins has not been the leader that everyone hoped he would be,” said a juvenile probation insider.

Cal Remington, who is now second in command to Blevins, will take over as the new acting head of Probation when Bevins departs.

However, Remington, while popular in and around the Supervisors’ offices and in Probation as a whole, has reportedly made it clear he will not stay. Thus a national search will begin for a new Chief as soon as Donald Blevins exits.

In the meantime, aside from the Probation Chief’s job fate, the parolees arrive this weekend. We all hope very much that an adequate system will be in place to productively supervise their reentry into their—and our—communities.


NOTE: The above photo was taken at a meeting held this past Thursday with around 80 reentry advocates at Chuco’s Justice Center in Inglewood. There, for nearly three hours, Blevins was peppered with questions about what he was willing to do as head of LA County Probation to reform the reareentry process so that it actually was actually—you know— helpful to people coming out of prison, rather than just a form of brittle oversight that amounts to little more than waiting for parolees to screw up. Aside from one moment when he threatened to leave the room, for most of the evening, the Chief answered in mostly general terms, but with polite patience. Knowing now what Donald Blevins knew then—namely that he had learned the day before that he was being shown the door by the Supes—in retrospect the night cannot help but gain a wildly ironic pallor.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | 3 Comments »

Country Redistricting….Jails, FBI & Cell Phones…and the State Parolee Handover

September 27th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


RESHAPING LA COUNTY’S DISTRICTS – WHO WILL WIN THE POLITICAL BATTLE?

The final hearing on the topic of how and how much the county ought to be redistricted will be held at Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ meeting, at which time the three possible redistricting plans for LA will be discussed. Two of the plans aim to substantially re-carve the boundaries of the county’s supervisory districts in order to create a second Latino district—which may (or may not) be required to satisfy the legal parameters of the Voting Rights Act.

Theoretically the Supes will vote on all three plans on Tuesday—one proposed by Gloria Molina, one by Mark Ridley-Thomas, one by Don Knabe—and will select one of the three. But to pass a redistricting plan, a supermajority of four votes is required, not the usual three. And none of the plans has four supporters among the Supes.

If the Supervisors cannot agree, then the decision will be made by the LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles DA Steve Cooley and LA County Assessor John R. Noguez—and the Supervisors are not fond of that option either.

If you’re confused about what all this means and want to acquire some kind of working knowledge of the politics at play with this decision, start by reading Monday’s column by the LA Times’ Jim Newton, which is pretty good, (except that I think that Newton has the boundaries of Mark-Ridley Thomas plan a little screwed up, but otherwise it’s quite informative).

After that, you should turn your attention to the analysis by LA Weekly’s Gene Maddeus who did a very savvy job of explaining the possible political implications of the decision with his column: The Politics of The L.A. County Redistricting Fight Explained — With Venn Diagrams!

If you want still more, the LAT also has an informative Op Ed in Tuesday’s paper.

And, of course, you can look at WLA’s report for yet another take.

I should have more from the meeting as the day wears on—that is if anything actually happens.


MORE ON THE FBI INVESTIGATION OF THE JAILS—AND THE NOW ESCALATING CELL PHONE CAPER

When we last left off, LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was mighty unhappy because FBI agents probing abuse of inmates by deputies and other misconduct at the LA County jails managed to get an illegal cell phone to a jail inmate in a sting operation. Now LAT reporter Robert Faturechi has more on the cell-phone kerfuffle.

Here’s a clip:

FBI agents probing misconduct allegations in the L.A. County Jail orchestrated an undercover sting in which they paid about $1,500 to a sheriff’s deputy to smuggle a cellphone to an inmate, sources said.

The revelation is the first public indication that the FBI’s investigations into allegations of inmate beatings and other deputy misconduct in the jails have uncovered possible criminal wrongdoing.

The FBI conducted the cellphone sting without notifying top Sheriff’s Department brass, enraging Sheriff Lee Baca and causing a rift between the two law enforcement agencies.

Baca, who is scheduled to meet Tuesday with U.S. Atty. Andre Birotte Jr. to discuss the escalating tensions, went on television Monday to slam the FBI, saying smuggling a cellphone inside a secured lockup created a serious safety breach. Baca suggested that the FBI committed a crime by doing so.

“It’s illegal,” he said. “It’s a misdemeanor and then there’s a conspiracy law that goes along with it.

Yeah, that works. Federal law enforcement officers ran a successful sting and a dirty LASD deputy allegedly committed a criminal act and got stung. So the Sheriff wants to go after the Feds instead of cleaning up his own house? Really??

There’s more coming this week on the jails/abuse story, so stay tuned.


THE COMING PAROLEE HANDOVER

And as if those stories weren’t enough….

….Beginning this Saturday, Oct 1, a pile of state parolees will be handed over to LA County Probation for supervision (instead of being supervised by the state parole officers), and there is no telling how ready the county is for the handover.

I’ll have more on this too as the week progresses. But here’s a link to the LA Times Op Ed on the topic in the meantime. Read it as it provides excellent background for the news that will be coming.

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, parole policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

In FBI Probe Into LA Jails Abuse, Feds Slip Inmate Cell Phone to Report

September 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



In a well-reported story in Sunday’s LA Times Robert Faturechi
writes that the FBI is investigating beatings of inmates and misconduct by deputies in the LA County Jail system—indicating a far wider probe by the Feds into abuse inside the jails than had previously been disclosed.

This is good news.

It had already been reported that the FBI was looking into the alleged beating witnessed by ACLU jails monitor Esther Lim earlier this year. But Faturechi’s story indicates that the probe goes much further than the Lim case. (We have heard rumors that it is even wider still.)

One of the most intriguing tidbits from Sunday’s story is the little matter of the cell phone: It seems that FBI agents managed to sneak a cellphone to an inmate in the hope that they would get unfiltered reports from inside the jail.

Here’s a clip:

The inquiries include allegations that deputies broke an inmate’s jaw and other facial bones and beat another man for two minutes while he was unconscious.

Their investigation created a flap recently when Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department brass discovered that an inmate inside Men’s Central Jail was an FBI informant equipped with a cellphone he was believed to be using to communicate with agents on the outside.

Sheriff Lee Baca, who had not been notified by the feds of the plant inside his jail, is expected to meet with U.S. Atty. André Birotte Jr. soon to discuss the phone incident and the growing tensions between the two law enforcement agencies.

The problems of abuse and mistreatment inside LA County’s huge jail system are longstanding (See Part 1 of WitnessLA’s DANGEROUS JAILS series by Matt Fleischer). Yet, despite years of civil rights lawsuits, reports by the ACLU, and a plethora of anecdotal reports by laypeople who work or volunteer inside the jail , there has been little outcry from the public and/or pressure from policy makers for genuine reform.

The news that the FBI is investigating the abuse and that the investigation appears to be widening in scope and seriousness…is a very good sign.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Liberties, FBI, LASD | 2 Comments »

New York & Newark Intend to “Think Outside the Cell,” LA…Not So Much

September 26th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



Stephen Handelman, Executive Editor of The Crime Report, reports
on a new program launched in NY City, funded by the Ford Foundation and others, that aims to help formerly incarcerated young men and women change the trajectory of their lives. At the program’s launch, Newark Mayor Cory Booker detailed what his city is doing on the prisoner reentry front.

Here’s how the story opens:

Jason Davis was 14 when he joined the Bloods. He was a “scared kid,” trying to survive in the five-square block area in New York City that represented his gang turf—even though his mother, a university graduate, tried to keep him off the streets.

That was 16 years ago—and after hard time in prison, which included several suicide attempts, Davis now counsels at-risk kids like the troubled, fearful youngster he used to be. He still counts himself lucky to have survived not just gang life—but his years behind bars.

“I was like an animal in a cage,” he told a hushed audience of more than 400 people at Riverside Church in New York City last weekend. “I needed someone to show me how to be a human being again.”

The psychological damage inflicted on hundreds of young men like Davis by a prison system that offers little in the way of rehabilitation was one of the key themes of the weekend symposium, titled “Think Outside the Cell.”

Formerly incarcerated men and women and their families were joined by a VIP list of some of the leading politicians, journalists, academics, and community activists in the Metro New York region, headed by Newark Mayor Cory Booker and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.


THE BLOOMBERG INITIATIVE

The above symposium came a few weeks after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced his commitment to put up $30 million of his own money to kick start a new $125 million program that aims to help approximately 315,000 at risk and/or formerly incarcerated Black and Latino young men between the ages of 16 and 24, whom Bloomberg described as being “….in crisis by nearly every measure, including rates of arrest, school suspension and poverty.”

Bloomberg talked George Soros into kicking in another $37.5 million to get the new program up and running.

Here’s a clip from last month’s New York Times story on the new Bloomberg plan:

The administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, in a blunt acknowledgment that thousands of young black and Latino men are cut off from New York’s civic, educational and economic life, plans to spend nearly $130 million on far-reaching measures to improve their circumstances.

The program, the most ambitious policy push of Mr. Bloomberg’s third term, would overhaul how the government interacts with a population of about 315,000 New Yorkers who are disproportionately undereducated, incarcerated and unemployed.

To pay for the endeavor in a time of fiscal austerity, the city is relying on an unusual source: Mr. Bloomberg himself, who intends to use his personal fortune to cover about a quarter of the cost, city officials said. A $30 million contribution from Mr. Bloomberg’s foundation would be matched by that of a fellow billionaire, George Soros, a hedge fund manager, with the remainder being paid for by the city.

Starting this fall, the administration said it would place job-recruitment centers in public-housing complexes where many young black and Latino men live, retrain probation officers in an effort to reduce recidivism, establish new fatherhood classes and assess schools on the academic progress of male black and Latino students….


MEANWHILE, BACK IN LOS ANGELES….

So…. does Los Angeles have any kind of plans to sponsor a similar much-needed program here?

Answer: (resounding silence)


2010 photo of Booker and Bloomberg by Mel Evans/Associated Press

Posted in Reentry | 2 Comments »

Troy Davis: 36 Hours Later….and More

September 23rd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



THOUGHTS IN THE AFTERMATH OF THE EXECUTION OF TROY DAVIS

The execution of Troy Davis was deeply disturbing for large numbers of Americans—and for many elsewhere in the word.

In the hours since Davis died at 11:08 Georgia time on Wednesday, September 22, there has been a flood of columns, news stories, tweets and random opining.

Some of the opinions have featured sloppy thinking. For instance, there were many comparisons to the Casey Anthony case that, when pulled apart, don’t hold up logically.

Then the cyber vigilante group Anonymous reportedly plans a “Day of Vengeance” against the Georgia Board of Pardons and Parole. (NOTE TO ANONYMOUS: YOU’RE NOT HELPING!)

Yet there are other essays and articles that surfaced after Davis’ death that are very much worth your time. —like this story by Mansfield Frazier writing for the Daily Beast.

Frazier tells how, on Wednesday morning, the day of the execution, six high ranking retired corrections officials, people who had personally “been there” when it comes to state executions, weighed in forcefully on the Troy Davis case. The six—including Dr. Allen Ault, the retired director of the Georgia Department of Corrections and former warden of the Georgia Diagnostic and Classification Prison, and California’s own former CDCR director and former warden of San Quentin Jeanne Woodford—sent a joint letter to Georgia corrections officials and Gov. Nathan Deal asking them to urge the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider the decision they made Tuesday, Sept. 20, to deny Davis clemency.

Here is some of what they wrote:

“Like few others in this country, we understand that you have a job to do in carrying out the lawful orders of the judiciary. We also understand, from our own personal experiences, the awful lifelong repercussions that come from participating in the execution of prisoners. While most of the prisoners whose executions we participated in accepted responsibility for the crimes for which they were punished, some of us have also executed prisoners who maintained their innocence until the end. It is those cases that are most haunting to an executioner.

“We write to you today with the overwhelming concern that an innocent person could be executed in Georgia tonight. We know the legal process has exhausted itself in the case of Troy Anthony Davis, and yet, doubt about his guilt remains. This very fact will have an irreversible and damaging impact on your staff. Living with the nightmares is something that we know from experience. No one has the right to ask a public servant to take on a lifelong sentence of nagging doubt, and for some of us, shame and guilt. Should our justice system be causing so much harm to so many people when there is an alternative?

“We urge you to ask the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles to reconsider their decision. Should that fail, we urge you to unburden yourselves and your staff from the pain of participating in such a questionable execution to the extent possible by allowing any personnel so inclined to opt-out of activities related to the execution of Troy Anthony Davis. Further, we urge you to provide appropriate counseling to personnel who do choose to perform their job functions related to the execution. If we may be of assistance to you moving forward, please do not hesitate to call upon any of us….”

Two more stories that might interest you: one is by death row attorney and law professor David Dow. The second is by Slate’s legal reporter, Dahlia Lithwick. The two essays are interesting to read together in that Dow and Lithwick each take a different side of the question: Will Troy Davis be the tipping point in America’s feeling toward capital punishment?


AS LA CRIME CONTINUES TO DROP, LASD SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS GOES UP

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi reports on the study just released on Thursday by Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the LA County Board of Supervisors and the founding director of the Police Assessment Resource Center (PARC)

Here’s a clip:

Those shootings jumped from nine in 2009 to 15 last year, according to the report. Last year also saw the highest proportion of people shot by deputies who turned out to be unarmed altogether.

The Sheriff’s Department already requires its patrol deputies to do scenario-based shooting training every two years. According to the report, though, almost a third of the deputies who shot at people before seeing an actual gun failed to meet that training requirement.

According to the report, the number of officer-involved shootings generally correlates with the criminal homicide rate. But in the last two years, as the homicide rate in Los Angeles County has fallen, the number of Sheriff’s Department shootings has risen.


NOTE: LIGHT BLOGGING today. Back to full force on Monday.

Posted in Death Penalty, LASD | 1 Comment »

Fullerton Officers Criminally Charged in Kelly Thomas Case

September 22nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon



TWO FULLERTON POLICE OFFICERS CHARGED, ONE WITH MURDER, IN DEATH OF KELLY THOMAS

This is from the LA Times with multiple staffers working the story, most particularly Abby Sewell, Richard Winton and Scott Gold.

Here’s the opening:

Two Fullerton police officers charged in the death of a homeless man made their first court appearance Wednesday afternoon, and one was set to be released on bail.

Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas took the unusual step of appearing in person for the arraignment of Officers Manuel Ramos and Jay Cicinelli, who are charged in the death of Kelly Thomas, 37. Thomas’ father, Ron, also spoke out at Rackauckas’ request during the arraignment.

Cicinelli pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and the use of excessive force. He posted $25,000 bail and was slated to be released Wednesday.

The LA Times editorial board rightly praised OC DA Tony Rackauckas in the Kelly Thomas case for “conducting a thorough yet timely investigation into a homeless man’s death at the hands of Fullerton police officers..”

In a separate article LAT’s reporters Richard Winton and Abby Sewell write about how DA Rackauckas told those at a news conference how Kelly Thomas had begged for his life only to be pummeled and tased further.

Rackauckas gave a painfully detailed narrative of the July 5 events leading up to Thomas’ death -– details that he said resulted in second-degree murder and manslaughter charges being filed against two police officers.

Rackauckas said Officer Manuel Ramos put latex gloves on his hands and brandished a fist at Thomas. Then, Rackauckas said, the officer, in a “menacing” manner, threatened Thomas: “These fists are ready to F you up.”

The OC Weekly’s reporter Scott Moxley, who has been extremely critical of the Orange County District Attorney over the years, reported that the press conference was Rackauckas’s “finest moment.”

At today’s press conference, the DA seemed to finally fit the job, both in terms of decision-making and style. He didn’t stutter. He didn’t pause for an inordinate amount of time to think up dubious answers. He didn’t run from hard questions. He didn’t use cheap props. He was clearly comfortable and in command. There’s no doubt he believes the severity of the charges are justified.

“In Orange County, we generally trust our law enforcement and with good reason,” he declared. “[But] all people in this great country of ours have a constitutional right to be free from the imposition of unlawful and excessive force under the color of law…”

NBC said that Rackauckas may try the case himself, and is now listed as the attorney of record. Much of the press conference may be viewed here.

EXCELLENT STORY ON THE DIFFICULTIES OF BRINGING CHARGES AGAINST POLICE OFFICERS

Read this article by LA Times’ reporter Jack Leonard.

Here’s a clip:

Murder charges against on-duty police officers — such as the one announced by Orange County prosecutors in the Fullerton beating case — are rarely filed, and successful prosecutions in such cases are almost unheard of in California.

Legal experts said jurors who are naturally sympathetic toward law enforcement are not easily persuaded that an officer has committed the ultimate crime, even after seeing video of the death.

Ira Salzman, who has represented police officers, said defense attorneys in Orange County will have the added benefit of jurors who look favorably toward law enforcement and can make a forceful argument that police had the legal right to use force against a non-complying suspect.

Investigators interviewed more than 150 witnesses, analyzed video and reviewed stacks of documents as part of an intensive 11-week investigation leading up to the decision to charge Officer Manuel Ramos with second-degree murder in the July 10 death of a mentally ill homeless man.

But to obtain a murder conviction, Orange County prosecutors will have to convince jurors that Ramos intended to kill Kelly Thomas or acted with a conscious disregard for life.


COINCIDENTALLY, TWO MD POLICE OFFICERS WERE INDICTED TUESDAY FOR A BEATING OF A U OF MARYLAND STUDENT CAUGHT ON VIDEO

The Washington Post has that story.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, law enforcement, Orange County | 5 Comments »

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