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Finalists for LA Times Book Awards Announced

February 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Tuesday.
(The full list is here.)

This year, I was one of the three judges for the Mystery Thriller category, along with Dick Lochte and Michele Slung. (for the last two years, I’ve judged Current Interest in nonfiction, so this year it was fun to leap into genre fiction.) Frankly, our main challenge was selecting between a lot of worthy books. Once we narrowed the choices down to ten—twice the number of finalists the contest permitted—it was hard to want to lose any of them off our list.

Yet, when the winnowing was completed, we were quite pleased with our final selections:

“Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

“Plugged” by Eoin Colfer (Overlook Press)

“11/22/63” by Stephen King (Scribner)

“Snowdrops: A Novel” by A.D. Miller (Doubleday)

“The End of Wasp Season” by Denise Mina (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

By the way, since I’m a reading fool, I’ve read quite a number of the finalists in the other categories, thus I can assure you that there are some terrific books in there. (The Art of Fielding, The Cat’s Table, Leaving the Atocha Station, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Malcom X biography….and lots more.)

So take a look. Lots of stuff to put on your reading list.


The LA Times Book Awards will be presented on Friday night, April 20, and the LA Times Festival of Books follows on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, at USC.

Mark it on your calendar now. I’ll be on a panel, so I’ll see you there!

Posted in American artists, literature, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

NEW RULES: Supes to Vote on Campaign Contributions From Employees & Baca Reconfigures LASD Disciplinary Board

February 21st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


MOLINA PROPOSES A NEW RULE THAT WOULD PROHIBIT LA COUNTY MANAGERS AND HIGHER-UPS FROM ASKING FOR CAMPAIGN DONATIONS FROM EMPLOYEES

The LA County Supervisors will vote on a motion at Tuesday’s meeting that, if passed, would forbid LA County managers from soliciting or accepting campaign donations from their employees.

Here is a clip from the motion, which was proposed by Supervisor Gloria Molina:

Decisions concerning promotions, wage increases, work assignments, and many others, can become tainted when real, or even perceived conflicts of interests are present.

When managers or supervisors solicit or accept campaign contributions from employees who they supervise, evaluate, and approve for promotions and advancement, there will be, at a minimum, a perception of a conflict of interest. This perception can taint the workplace and create a cynicism that career success is about “who one supports”, not how well one performs employment duties….

There is no indication in the language of the motion as to whether a particular county manager or candidate prompted Molina’s concern.

However, in the past few months, there has been growing controversy in an around the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department about the possible role that campaign contributions to the political campaigns of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka may or may not have had in the promotions process inside the LASD. This is a controversy of which the supervisors reportedly are aware.

The fact that significant numbers of the undersheriff’s subordinates have donated to each of his mayoral campaigns (Paul Tanaka is also the mayor of the city of Gardena) was first reported in Part 3 of WitnessLA’s Dangerous Jails series by Matthew Fleischer.

PS: Likely the whole probe into the alleged shenanigans of LA County Assessor John Noguez, hasn’t helped the supes collective state of mind on these matters, although the heart of the investigation into Noguez activities doesn’t have anything to do with employee campaign contributions, but with the allegation of special favors granted to some property owners over others, when those selfsame property owners—clients of, as the LA Times describes him, “a Ferrari-driving ‘tax agent’” with whom Noguez is reportedly pals—contributed to Noguez’s campaign. Anyway, it’s complicated. The LA Weekly has lots of the details.


AND IN RELATED NEWS…..SHERIFF BACA MAKES CHANGES IN INTERNAL AFFAIRS AND LASD’S DISCIPLINARY BOARD

In a department memo that went out Friday, Sheriff Lee Baca made good on his promise to disband and reconfigure the sheriff’s department’s top disciplinary board—a three person body known as the Case Review Board—that decides on what disciplinary actions should be taken when a sheriff’s deputy or department supervisor has done something wrong.

In the most recent past, that Case Review Board has been made up of three people—the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and the two assistant sheriffs, Cecil Rhambo and Marvin Cavanaugh.

Now, with this new arrangement, the sheriff makes it clear that the Board will be under his control, not that of the undersheriff.

It was the Case Review Board that reduced the sanction against the LASD sergeant—Timothy Cooperwho pointed a gun at the head of another department sergeant, Mark Moffett. According to the LA Times, it was recommended that Cooper be demoted, but then 3-person board opted for the much lighter punishment of a 15-day suspension, a change that the sheriff questioned, the Times reported.

The Board acts as a direct representative of the Sheriff and is comprised of three Sheriff’s Department Commanders. One Board member is a Leadership and Training Division Commander who serves as the Board’s Chairperson. The other two Board members and an alternate Board member are selected by the Leadership and Training Division Chief and approved by the Sheriff. …

The full text of the memo is after the jump.


IN A SECOND CHANGE, ALSO ANNOUNCED BY THE SHERIFF ON FRIDAY, Baca removed the existing head of the Internal Affairs Bureau, a captain who had been put into place by Undersheriff Tanaka last spring when he effectively took ever

In his position, Baca installed Captain John Clark, the former head of Men’s Central Jail, whom the undersheriff had transferred out of custody and sidelined after Clark attempted reforms in the troubled jail, which Tanaka very publicly reversed. (The undersheriff went so far as to call a meeting of all the jails’ deputies, a meeting from which the facility’s supervisors—Clark and others—were specifically excluded, according to one for of those who attended the meeting. It was a meeting that many believed had a disastrous effect on the authority of the jails’ managers.)

(Matt Fleischer reported on the blocking of Captain Clark’s attempted reforms and their thwarting by Undersheriff Tanaka here and here.)


Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

Tuesday Must Reads: Solitary Confinement, Citizen’s United & Criminal Lying

February 21st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



INSIDE THE GRAY BOX – THE INCONVENIENT FACTS ABOUT SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN AMERICA

Right now approximately 80,000 Americans are living in solitary confinement in this country’s prisons. Many of them have no record of violence either in or out of prison, says a new investigative report by The Dart Society.

Here’s a clip from the report, written by Susan Greene:

Among the misperceptions about solitary confinement is that it’s used only on the most violent inmates, and only for a few weeks or months. In fact, an estimated 80,000 Americans — many with no record of violence either inside or outside prison — are living in seclusion. They stay there for years, even decades. What this means, generally, is 23 hours a day in a cell the size of two queen-sized mattresses, with a single hour in an exercise cage, also alone. Some prisoners aren’t allowed visits or phone calls. Some have no TV or radio. Some never lay eyes on each other. And some go years without fresh air or sunlight.

Solitary is a place where the slightest details can mean the world. Things like whether you can see a patch of grass or only sky outside your window – if you’re lucky enough to have a window. Or whether the guy who occupies cells before you in rotation has a habit of smearing feces on the wall. Are the lights on 24/7? Is there a clock or calendar to mark time? If you scream, could anyone hear you?

In the warp of time and space where [Osiel] Rodriguez lives, the system not only has stripped him of any real human contact, but also made it unbearable to be reminded of a reality that has become all too unreal. It’s ripping him apart. [Rodriguez robbed a bank and a pawn shop when he was 22 years old.]

“Looking at photos of the free world caused me so much pain that I just couldn’t do it any more,” writes Rodriguez, 36. “Time and these conditions are breaking me down.”

This is what our prisons are doing to people in the name of safety. This is how deeply we’re burying them.


SHOULD FREE SPEECH PROTECT THE RIGHT TO LIE?

William Bennett Turner writes for the NY Times about the alarmingly slippery slope presented by the Stolen Valor Act.

Here’s a clip:

XAVIER ALVAREZ is a liar. Even the brief filed on his behalf in the United States Supreme Court says as much: “Xavier Alvarez lied.” It informs us that he has told tall tales about playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings, being married to a Mexican starlet and rescuing the American ambassador during the Iranian hostage crisis. But as the brief reminds us, “none of those lies were crimes.”

Another of his falsehoods, however, did violate the law. In 2007, while introducing himself at a meeting of a California water board, he said that he was a retired Marine who had been awarded the Medal of Honor (both lies). He was quickly exposed as a phony and pilloried in the community and press as an “idiot” and the “ultimate slime.”

But his censure did not end there. The federal government prosecuted him under the Stolen Valor Act, which prohibits falsely claiming to have been awarded a military medal, with an enhanced penalty (up to a year in prison) for claiming to have received the Medal of Honor. Mr. Alvarez was convicted but appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which held that the act violated the First Amendment.

The government has taken the case to the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear arguments this week. The question before the court is not whether there is a constitutional “right” to lie. Rather, it’s a question about the scope of the government’s power over individuals — whether the government can criminalize saying untrue things about oneself even if there is no harm to any identifiable person, no intent to cheat anyone or gain unfair advantage, no receipt of anything of value and no interference with the administration of justice or any other compelling government interest.

Read the rest. It’s extremely interesting—especially when you start to consider the implications. (Hint: One of them involves Steven Colbert.)


THE SUPREMES, CITIZENS’ UNITED, THOSE CRANKY MONTANANS CHALLENGING THE LAW—AND THE MEANING OF RUTH GINSBURG’S REMARKS

On Friday of last week, the Supreme Court agreed to a stay on the Montana Supreme Court’s ruling of last fall,—one that upheld its own state law and thus basically made the US Supreme Court’s extremely controversial (and truly hideous) Citizens United decision inoperative in the Big Sky state.

Tom Goldstein over at SCOTUSBlog explains the significance of the message conveyed in the statement made by Justice Ruth Ginsburg (joined by Justice Breyer) at the hearing’s conclusion.

Or, if SCOTUSBlog is too wonky for your taste, the story at the Washington Post, addressing the same issue, lays things out more directly. Here’s how it opens:

Two Supreme Court justices suggested Friday that the court reconsider its controversial 2010 decision that allowed unlimited corporate and union spending in elections.

The suggestion came as the court blocked a Montana Supreme Court decision upholding a century-old ban on corporate campaign spending in the state.

The Montana ruling seems squarely at odds with the court’s 5 to 4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed unlimited corporate spending. The U.S. Supreme Court majority had said such independent spending did not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.

In Friday’s order, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer said the upheaval in the world of campaign finance since the Citizens United decision does not bear out the majority opinion.

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’ ” Ginsburg wrote.

“A petition for certiorari [from those challenging the Montana court’s decision] will give the court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

Most experts think that the chances of Citizens United being modified or undone by the Supremes are worse than slim, as that would require Justice Kennedy (or someone more conservative than he) switching sides, which is unlikely. But the fact that the discussion will likely be raised may lay down tracks for a future court’s consideration.


Posted in Free Speech, Must Reads, prison, prison policy, solitary, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Appeals Court Says Child Dependency Court Stays Open

February 17th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Those wishing to slam shut the Children’s dependency court where foster care and family reunification cases are heard, were dealt a setback
on Wednesday when two petitions were denied that sought to overturn a new order by Los Angeles County Children’s Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash allowing reporters to observe hearings unless it can be determined that the journalist’s presence will do harm to the child or children in the individual case.

Children’s Court Hearings—the hearings pertaining to matters such as whether or not a child should be taken away from parents or returned to them, and the like—have traditionally been closed tightly against any kind of outside monitoring until Judge Nash issued his order earlier this month.

In a two-line ruling the 3-judge panel at the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals said that the petition was denied “for lack of standing.”

In other words, come back and see us if and when you can show how a kid has been hurt by the presence of a reporter.

[Garrett Therolf of the LA Times has more on the decision.]

There has been much controversy ever since Judge Nash issued his order allowing some metaphorical sunshine into the court in the form of press coverage, thus disrupting the fiercely protected secrecy that has characterized the Department of Children and Family Services cases.

Advocates for social workers and court attorneys have predicted that kids coming out of abusive situations would be harmed by a stranger sitting in a court room where their cases are discussed.

However, as anyone who has ever sat through a number of those hearings knows, the courtroom is already loaded with strangers. In fact, the minute a child hits the foster care system, his or her life is shoved about by a list of strangers. To suggest that a reporter will add some kind of uniquely harmful foreign element to the mix is grossly exaggerated at best and, and in most cases, simply counterfactual.

Also there is the mistaken assumption that hoards of reporters will want to cover foster care hearings. Save for a few dedicated and hardy souls, or barring some unusual high-profile case, the media hoards will be elsewhere, trust me. It’s anything but exciting and easy to cover a DCFS case. There’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait. Plus the hearings on a single case can be spread out over weeks or months.

Yet those reporters who do make the time and effort have the opportunity, not only to shine a light on the parts of the system that are still so horribly broken, they also might possibly with their presence—and reporting—make a crucial difference in a case that might have otherwise gone in a sad or tragic direction.

Kevin Uhrich, editor of the Pasadena Weekly writes about that issue in a column on the hullabaloo surrounding Judge Nash’s order to open the courts.

First he mentions a wonderful series on foster care kids that reporter Joe Piasecki did for the paper. And then:

…More recently, the paper covered the case of a mentally infirm mother, whose two children — one an adorable infant, the other a slightly older toddler, both seemingly happy — were taken from her in late 2010 and were almost immediately prepped for adoption by the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

Much as Joe did with his wards of the court, all ostensibly “protected” by law from exposure in the press, we covered this case through the mother’s eyes — mainly because no one at DCFS would talk to us. We tried to make contact, but no one returned our calls. Neither did attorneys for the county nor the mother’s attorneys, so fearful were they of being sanctioned by the court for speaking with the press.

To write this story, we were forced to rely on the mother, who came to us with her problems and was more than happy to share stories and corresponding documents related to her quixotic quest to get her kids back. Her few advocates believed, as did we, that at the very least something was troubling about the ease with which anonymous and unaccountable county social workers simply took children away from their biological mothers and fathers, a rather common occurrence in LA County, or so we learned through our reporting.

Granted, the mother had many personal issues to work out, and perhaps she wasn’t fit. But why then did the court refuse the many requests of her socially well-established parents living in another state to care for those babies? These grandparents were certainly financially stable enough folks of good Midwestern stock, and they were willing to raise these children as their own. But they were repeatedly rebuffed by the court, according to them, and the records we were able to obtain.

So were we just “butting in,” invading people’s privacy in search of sensational copy with which to titillate and amuse our readers? The answer, of course, is no. We were equal parts shocked and outraged at what we learned throughout the course of reporting this story. We also were, and still remain, genuinely concerned about these people, as any right-thinking person with a shred of basic morality would be.

More importantly, though, did any of our coverage matter in the final disposition of this tragic case, which ultimately saw the infant go to the grandparents and the older child turned over to adoptive parents?

I can’t say for sure, mainly because the judge never explained her reasoning to us or to the anxious grandparents, who ripped through their life savings traveling back and forth from their home to California to attend court hearings and pay for lawyers. But I do know that this judge’s final decision to split up the children might not have happened at all had the paper failed to notify the grandparents about what was happening to their kin in court. Nor would anyone have known that the judge in the end inexplicably decided against the recommendation of DCFS workers to turn both youngsters over to their grandparents….

On the other side of the coin, there is last year’s horrific case of Vyctorya Sandoval- a pretty toddler who was inexplicably returned to her erratic mother against the panicked advice from the girl’s grandmother, family friends and a foster care official, and, as a consequence, soon wound up dead, with bruises, a fractured rib, thirsty and starving.

After the story broke in the LA Times, I was contacted by someone very close to the family who gave me additional details on all the warnings there had been, a plethora of red flags, plus the pleading letters to the court from those who were worried that the mother would hurt the little girl, and finally the nightmarish court hearing, the result of which seemed to run counter to all reason. Had a journalist been in the hearing room would the circumstances have played out just as tragically? Maybe. Maybe not.

I’d like to think not.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care | 2 Comments »

Friday…..Quick Takes

February 17th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


SHOOTOUT…AMONG FEDERAL AGENTS IN LONG BEACH?

At first I thought I read the LA Times headline wrong. I’d noticed hours earlier Thursday night on my breaking news twitter feed that there’d just been a shootout in Long Beach with two possibly dead. Then the news changed to this:

A confrontation between federal law enforcement agents erupted in gunfire Thursday evening in Long Beach, leaving one dead and another seriously injured, authorities said.

The incident was sparked by an unspecified dispute between Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in the Glenn M. Anderson Federal Building near the city’s oceanfront, according to law enforcement authorities.

The agency said in a statement Thursday night that one of its agents died at the scene and the other was in stable condition after the shooting. But the statement did not provide details about the incident.

Multiple law enforcement authorities told The Times the shooting involved a dispute between an agent and his supervisor.

The agent opened fire repeatedly on the male supervisor shortly before 6 p.m. in the building, according to the sources, who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak on the matter.

With the supervisor wounded, a third agent intervened and opened fire on the gunman, who was pronounced dead at the scene, according to law enforcement authorities. The male agent who killed the gunman was uninjured….

(NOTE: A scary and tragic story like this is exactly why, by the way, to most civilians, the idea of one law enforcement officer pointing a gun at the head of another law enforcement officer and mouthing threats, when it is widely acknowledged that the men are not friends but antagonists, does not seem like something that should be be flicked away as a “joke”—as was recently reported here and here.)


AND THEN THERE WAS THIS HORRIFIC STORY…

KIDNAPPED WOMAN DIES IN CRASH DURING POLICE PURSUIT

As the LA Times reported:

The victim of a reported kidnapping died Thursday after her alleged abductor crashed the sport utility vehicle he was driving head-on into another vehicle in Westlake as he was trying to flee police, authorities said.

Police were alerted to the kidnapping shortly after 8 a.m. when witnesses reported a woman inside a GMC Yukon frantically waving for help near the intersection of 6th Street and Westlake Avenue, said Cmdr. Andy Smith of the Los Angeles Police Department….blockquote>


AND THIS…

SHERIFF’S DEPUTY ARRESTED FOR LEWD ACTS AGAINST A CHILD….

The Times story opens as follows:

A veteran Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy has been arrested on suspicion of committing lewd acts with a child, police said Thursday night.

Oscar Rodriguez, who was assigned to the Marina del Rey station, allegedly committed the unspecified acts against the child while he was off duty, the Los Angeles Police Department said….

LA Times reporters Andrew Blankstein and Robert J. Lopez, among others, had a very busy night, Thursday night.

Or as Blankstein (@anblanx) tweeted around midnight:

This was the kind of news day in Los Angeles where every big story was so two hours ago #nightblog #sleepneeded


OH, AND I NEARLY FORGOT THIS…

(NOTE TO SELF: when straying with the Cessna into the President of the United States’ temporary no-fly zone, best to leave the giant bags of reefer at home.)


NOW IN THE NON-BREAKING NEWS, SLIGHTLY MORE WONKY REALM….

A NEW REPORT ON THE IRRATIONALITY OF “DIRECT FILING” PATTERNS ON JUVENILES IN VARIOUS CALIFORNIA COUNTIES

The power to direct file power, as it is called, was created in 2000 through Proposition 21, and allows prosecutors to circumvent the neutral decision-making authority of the juvenile court and unilaterally transfer certain kid offenders directly into adult jurisdiction. Now, prosecutors are threatening to direct file more if the state’s youth correctional facilities (DJF) are closed as the Governor proposes to do with his new budget.

Now a new study just released by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reveals that a small number of California counties are responsible for the vast majority of adult court transfers and that the practice of funneling large numbers of kids into the adult system is unrelated to population or crime rates. ..

More on the report on next week.


AND FINALLY…

….ANTHONY SHAHID IN JAN 26, 2012 MOTHER JONES INTERVIEW

“….it’s important as a reporter, a writer, a journalist, to try to restore humanity.”

Rest in peace. We are heartbroken.


Photo by Bob Chamberlain for the Los Angeles Times

Posted in American voices, juvenile justice, LASD, law enforcement, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

NYT’s Anthony Shadid, Dead in Syria…Grace and Courage Personified

February 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


At 8:24 p.m. Thursday night, after hearing about the death of two-time Pulitzer winning New York times reporter, Anthony Shadid,
famed journalism/digital media professor Jay Rosen tweeted the heart of the matter:

“Typically, great journalists are great stylists or great reporters. How many are great at both and at courage? Almost none. @anthonyshadid.”

Here are the basics of what happened, from the NY Times.

Anthony Shadid, a gifted foreign correspondent whose graceful dispatches for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and The Associated Press covered nearly two decades of Middle East conflict and turmoil, died, apparently of an asthma attack, on Thursday while on a reporting assignment in Syria. Tyler Hicks, a Times photographer who was with Mr. Shadid, carried his body across the border to Turkey.

Mr. Shadid, 43, had been reporting inside Syria for a week, gathering information on the Free Syrian Army and other armed elements of the resistance to the government of President Bashar al-Assad, whose military forces have been engaged in a harsh repression of the political opposition in a conflict that is now nearly a year old.

The Syrian government, which tightly controls foreign journalists’ activities in the country, had not been informed of his assignment by The Times.

The exact circumstances of Mr. Shadid’s death and his precise location inside Syria when it happened were not immediately clear.

But Mr. Hicks said that Mr. Shadid, who had asthma and had carried medication with him, began to show symptoms as both of them were preparing to leave Syria on Thursday, and the symptoms escalated into what became a fatal attack. Mr. Hicks telephoned his editors at The Times, and a few hours later he was able to take Mr. Shadid’s body into Turkey.

Jill Abramson, the executive editor, informed the newspaper’s staff Thursday evening in an e-mail. “Anthony died as he lived — determined to bear witness to the transformation sweeping the Middle East and to testify to the suffering of people caught between government oppression and opposition forces,” she wrote.

Listen to the interview with Shadid on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. It took place around seven weeks ago, this past December.

In the world of journalism, the loss of Anthony Shadid is a very big one.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, writers and writing | No Comments »

Big Discrepancies in Sentences for Teenage Killers, Juvie Prisons….and More

February 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Once again in California, those in the state with any kind of experience and/or knowledge
of juvenile justice, are trying to persuade California lawmakers to please, please, please pass a law that gives kids sentenced to prison for life a chance—just a chance, no kind of guarantee—to one day make the case that they are worthy of parole.

So far, as was true last year and the year before, nearly all the Republicans and far too many spineless Democrats, are unwilling to pass the thing. Thus SB9—as the bill is numbered—still is a few votes shy of being able to pass.

And while advocates are not giving up, the fact that our supposedly liberal state cannot pass this watered down bill is discouraging.

As I’ve stated here a zillion times, the United States is the only country in the world that puts kids in prison for life without parole—LWOP. The only one. Really. Nobody else does it. Nobody.

And….as that battle goes on in Sacramento, it is instructive to read this investigation by three reporters from the New England Center for Investigative Reporting about the discrepancy in sentencing in Massachusetts for juvenile murders. It is likely that California could use such an investigation.

Read the whole thing, but here’s how it opens:

Shrewsbury teen Valerie N. Hall pushed her mother down a flight of stairs in 2000, smashed her head in with a hammer and left Kathleen Thompsen Hall to die while she went for a ride with her boyfriend. For her mother’s murder, Hall, a depressed and suicidal 16-year-old at the time, served nine years in prison.

Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School student John Odgren, who suffers from depression and other mental ailments, fatally stabbed schoolmate James Alenson in the boy’s bathroom in 2007 when he was 16, and after realizing what he had done, tried to get help. Odgren is serving life without the possibility of parole at Bridgewater State Hospital.

Both crimes were ghastly. Both teens suffered from mental illness. Both were charged with first-degree murder.

But their punishments could not have been more different.

The dispositions of the Hall and Odgren cases illustrate the profound inequities that have grown up in the Massachusetts juvenile justice system since the passage of a tough sentencing law enacted 15 years ago and designed to punish the most depraved “super-predators” among teen killers.

An investigation by the New England Center for Investigative Reporting reveals, for the first time, that that law is not being applied consistently to the most horrific juvenile murder cases, as it was intended. The findings come as the U.S. Supreme Court prepares this spring to tackle whether it is “cruel and unusual” punishment to sentence juveniles 14 and under to life without parole for murder.

As the investigation points out, even law-and-order Texas has repealed life without parole for juveniles. But not Massachusetts…..and not California.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC—SOME WISE WORDS ABOUT CALIFORNIA’S JUVENILE PRISONS FROM JAMES BELL

Juvenile crime reached an all time low in California in 2010.

For this and other reasons, Jerry Brown wants to shut down the state’s incarceration facilities for kids by 2014, and move all of those juveniles to camps or other facilities at a county level.

Most of the juvenile justice experts I know see this idea as a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition.

On one hand the facilities we used to call CYA (California Youth Authority), that we now call DJJ (Department of Juvenile Justice) are lousy places, where kids don’t get what they need. What is more they’re insanely expensive to run.

On the other hand, some of the kids sent to DJJ are mentally ill and very difficult to handle. To toss them into, say, Los Angeles County’s already troubled probation camps, would be difficult.

James Bell, the founder and executive director of the W. Haywood Burns Institute, talks to KALW News about whether or not it’s practical or not for the young people in DJJ to be brought back to their home counties.

Here’s a couple of clips from the transcript for the broadcast:

The whole point of juvenile justice system is to make sure that we do some habilitation and some rehabilitation, so that you won’t go on to be an adult chronic offender. You are supposed to be there to be getting needs addressed that you have expressed as a juvenile, as a young person. Essentially, this was the place where it was guards in a pod, hundreds of young people in dorms, and if anything happens the guards would throw tear gas left, throw tear gas right, and call for backup or the SWAT team. So, you would have to declare a gang affiliation to be protected. It was just horrible!

There was no real interactive model between the young people and the people that were supposed to be serving them. So it just became custody and control. And as we know, there were beatings, there were deaths. There were absurd instances where kids with special education needs were supposed to get education but the facilities people thought they were too dangerous. So your classroom was just cage! Literally, you can imagine the absurdity that has to happen when you are non-interactive and you go to custody and control. That’s what it was.

KERNAN: Now the call is to shut down the DJJ altogether. Why is that happening now do you think?

BELL: There have been calls to shut down these facilities for many, many years. And the reasons were what we’ve just talked about: Treatment wasn’t right, it was extremely expensive for that kind of treatment. Recidivism rates were crazy – between 60-70% range. It was like, why are we doing this? But those arguments had no salience because of fear, the way politicians frame public safety… it just got no traction. Literally, the state’s fiscal crisis is the reason because folks are looking at why shouldn’t we do something differently.

Now in fairness, the populations were going down and I believe that’s because the locals were beginning to see that sending their young people away to the Youth Authority as it was then, wasn’t productive, wasn’t helpful. And so there is a movement out there in the youth justice field to look at rational policies, to become less anecdotal, more based on data and objective screens and probation violation grids and those kinds of things. That resulted in less counties sending their people anyway.

And you could really see a north-south split. Southern California being the one that are most sending, and northern California sending least….

Read or listen to the rest. Bell is very good at laying things out.


DEAR CALIFORNIA, I KNOW WE NEED MONEY, BUT PLEASE DON’T SELL OUR PRISONS TO THOSE SMILING GUYS WITH THE BAGS FULL OF MONEY

Chris Kirkham, writing for the Huffington Post has the story (actually two stories) on this new and alarming trend that brings with it a moral conundrum: If prisons become privatized is there not a budget incentive for prison inc. to get or keep customers?

In any case, here’s how Kirkhan opens his story:

As state governments wrestle with massive budget shortfalls, a Wall Street giant is offering a solution: cash in exchange for state property. Prisons, to be exact.

Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest operator of for-profit prisons, has sent letters recently to 48 states offering to buy up their prisons as a remedy for “challenging corrections budgets.” In exchange, the company is asking for a 20-year management contract, plus an assurance that the prison would remain at least 90 percent full, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

The move reflects a significant shift in strategy for the private prison industry, which until now has expanded by building prisons of its own or managing state-controlled prisons. It also represents an unprecedented bid for more control of state prison systems.

Corrections Corporation has been a swiftly growing business, with revenues expanding more than fivefold since the mid-1990s. The company capitalized on the expansion of state prison systems in the ’80s and ’90s at the height of the so-called ‘war on drugs,’ contracting with state governments to build or manage new prisons to house an influx of drug offenders. During the past 10 years, it has found new opportunity in the business of locking up undocumented immigrants, as the federal government has contracted with private companies in an aggressive immigrant-detention campaign.

And Corrections Corporation’s offer of $250 million toward purchasing existing state prisons is yet another avenue for potential growth. The company has billed the “corrections investment initiative” as a convenient option for states in need of fresh revenue streams: The state benefits from a one-time infusion of cash, while the prison corporation wins a new long-term contract. a businessl

Kirkham also reports that the state of Florida just narrowly escaped selling a bunch of it’s prison facilities to a large prison corp.

Posted in juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, prison, prison policy | 6 Comments »

LASD Sgt. Says Colleague Pulled a Gun on Him, Was Shielded by Higher Ups

February 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Sergeant Mark Moffett, a 23-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, loved policing,
and had the good performance reviews to prove it.

Then about five years ago, he reportedly began to be taunted and harassed by another LASD sergeant named Timothy Cooper, who told Moffett that he didn’t have what it takes to be a “real deputy”—meaning he was not enough of a hard charger; he didn’t skate the edge.

[NOTE: The Times reported that, according to the district attorney's records, Cooper may have been a* had ties to the Vikings, "a deputy clique that in the 1990s was alleged to have brutalized minorities, falsely arrested suspects and engaged in wrongful shootings." Paul Tanaka was a member of the Vikings.

According to some of our sources, Cooper is a Regulator, another one of the gang-like deputy cliques like the now infamous 3000 Boys and 2000 Boys, and the Vikings before them, that have matching tattoos, flash hand signs, and take pride in policing very aggressively---in certain cases, some say, brutally. As both the Vikings and the newer Regulators originated in Lynwood, department sources have characterized the Regulators as an evolution of the older deputy clique.

For several years, Moffett did not report Cooper, even as news of their run ins and Cooper's reported swaggering threats made the rounds on the department's gossip telegraph.

Then one morning in 2009, inside the Compton Sheriff's station, Cooper pulled a gun on Moffett and pointed it at his head.

"I'm going to kill you," Moffett said Cooper mouthed at him. "I'm going to kill you."

According to Moffett, he had avoided reporting Cooper's harassment in the past. But this time he decided enough was enough.

The LA Times' Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have a report in Wednesday's paper on Moffet's allegations against Cooper, and on the response by the sheriff's department.

WitnessLA is also familiar with Moffett's story---and the department's response to it. We'll have more on this a bit later on.

In the meantime, here are some clips from the LA Times report:

....Moffett told authorities he pulled into the employee lot [at the Compton station] at 4:30 a.m. As he walked toward the station, he said, Cooper pulled up in a sheriff’s patrol SUV, revved the engine and smirked. Cooper then allegedly drove toward him slowly, stopping just a few feet short of striking Moffett.

“What are you going to do?” Moffett recalled saying. “Run me over?”

Cooper, he said, nodded his head and smiled.

Surveillance video shows the SUV proceeding at a steady pace and stopping within five feet of Moffett, the district attorney’s memo states.

Later, inside the station, Cooper walked by Moffett, unsnapped his holster, and again smiled and nodded. He was standing just behind another station supervisor when he brandished his gun.

That supervisor, Sgt. Douglas Iketani, told investigators that he believed Cooper pointed the gun in Moffett’s general direction.

Moffett told investigators that Cooper proceeded to close one eye as if he were aiming before allegedly mouthing his death threat, according to the prosecutor’s memo.

According to the Times report, although the original recommendation was for Cooper to be demoted, the executives on the department’s discipline committee instead opted for a 15-day suspension—a wrist-slap at best.

This same discipline committee has now been disbanded by Sheriff Baca who, as we reported last week, is taking a direct and active role in the department’s Internal Affairs Bureau, which—since last Spring—was controlled by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. [See Dangerous Jails, Part 4.]

The Times reports that Baca had this to say when asked about the departmental change and the Moffett/Cooper case.

“I’m not here to comment about what’s [happened] before,” he said. “I’m here to say improving the sheriff’s discipline process … cannot be delegated.”

Indeed.

The Times also reported:

The now-disbanded committee that determined Cooper’s punishment was typically composed of two assistant sheriffs, Marvin Cavanaugh and Cecil Rhambo, and the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka..


POST SCRIPT: Timothy Cooper is on the 2004 donations list for Paul Tanaka’s Mayoral Campaign. We did not see him on the 2008 or 2009 lists. We have yet to check the others.


EDITORS NOTE: Apologies to our non-LASD obsessed readers. We’ll have news on other topics again tomorrow.


* Note correction from earlier version.

Posted in jail, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca | 70 Comments »

LAPD’s New Impound Policy Will Be Approved Tues: So is it Legal?

February 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Chief of Police Charlie Beck’s proposed changes to the LAPD’s automobile impound policy will be voted on by the Los Angeles Police Commission on Tuesday. It is pretty much preordained that the change will pass through the commission without a hitch.

While the new policy is all but a done deal, what remains open to question— according to critics of the change—is whether or not the proposed new interpretation of the LAPD’s policy is legal. City attorney Carmen Trutanich’s office has told the chief, that the change is not only permissible under the law, it is more correct than the old procedure.

However, according to a statement released Monday afternoon by the LAPPL (the LAPD union) California’s Legislative Counsel says it’s not legal. (The Legislative Counsel is what CA lawmakers and others use to sort out such matters.)

(And, indeed, that’s what the letter from William Chan, Deputy Legislative Counsel, says.)

For those of who have somehow missed this controversy, here’s the deal. Last Spring LAPD Chief Charlie Beck announced that the department was changing its rules for impounding cars of unlicensed drivers at sobriety checkpoints.

The old policy requires that the cops impound a car for 30 days if it is being driven by an unlicensed driver, whether the driver has been drinking or not. For years immigrant rights advocates have rightly pointed out that the policy cuts unfairly against undocumented immigrants, who often need cars to go to work and take their kids to school, but are prohibited from getting a driver’s license under California law. (Thank you, Arnold Schwarzenegger.)

Bothered by the fact that the impound procedures scooped up and penalized so many otherwise-law abiding undocumented residents, Chief Beck made a change that allows the unlicensed driver to call a licensed driver to pick up the car, as long as driver A has ID and car insurance. The unlicensed driver also cannot have caused an accident, or have prior conviction for the same offense. Otherwise the full 30 days kicks in.

Critics of the policy point out that unlicensed drivers are significantly more likely to be involved in fatal crashes and more likely to drive drunk and other reckless behaviors than are validly-licensed drivers.

Of course, all this would be a moot point if undocumented folks were allowed to get drivers’ licenses— then only the unlicensed scofflaws, who are so statistically dangerous, would be at risk of impounds. But, hell, why be practical? (I’m talking to you, California state legislature.)

Okay, back to the question raised in the beginning: is the change legal or not?

Beck makes it clear he has accepted the opinion of City Attorney Trutanich, whose reading of the law centers around the fact that there are two dueling sections in the CA Vehicle code, one of which mandates a 30-day impound, (that costs the poor car owner about $1,300 or more in fees)—while the other Vehicle Code Section allows a car to be released the next day, with proper documentation, (at an approximate cost of $250). Beck explains that he is perfectly within the law when ordering his officers to enforce the second, less onerous section, rather than the first.

The Legislative Analyst says, to the contrary, that the local cops can’t pick and choose between the two Vehicle Code sections; that the one that specifies the mandatory 30-day rule for those who have never had a California DL, legally holds sway. (If you’re not put to sleep by all this and are curious, you can look it up here. The relevant opinion is in the last full paragraph at the bottom of page 6.)

Beck counters that a number of court decisions back his and the City Attorney’s reading of the matter:

Commonly referred to as the Community Caretaking Doctrine, the courts have determined that the decision to impound any vehicle should be based on the totality of circumstances and must be reasonable and in the furtherance of public safety. Statutory authority alone is not sufficient to deprive someone of their vehicle.

In any case the commission votes today and, barring any force majeure, the chief’s proposal will pass.

UPDATE: Blogger Ron Kaye has found an interesting twist on the City Attorney’s opinion on the impound issue. It seems that civil rights attorneys in a federal lawsuit filed in behalf of undocumented immigrants who had their cars impounded for 30 days, argued that the cops had no right to do all this impounding, and to back up their claim, they cited the aforementioned Community Caretaking Doctrine. [See Above], Mr. Trutanich’s office countered that, according to previous decisions upheld by the 9th Circuit the police could absolutely impound the cars of drivers who never had a license, that the Community Caretaking Doctrine did not apply.

So which is it?


AND IN OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT NEWS—-THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IS HOPING TO IMPLEMENT A NEW 2-TRACK CAREER SYSTEM THAT ALLOWS SOME DEPUTIES TO NOT HAVE TO SERVE YEARS IN THE JAILS

The sheriff’s department’s insistence that all deputies have to work the jails for their first years out of the LASD academy has long been a source of criticism for reformers, yet the department has resisted change. Now, it seems that, Sheriff Baca is embracing the notion of a two-track career system—parole OR custody, with custody duty offering a fast track to promotion.

Ari Bloomekatz and Robert Faturechi have the story for the LA Times.


AND SOME GOOD NEWS: AS EXPECTED, THE TRUANCY FINE ISSUE MOVED OUT OF COMMITTEE AT THE CITY COUNCIL

Rick Orlov of the Daily News/Contra Costa Times has lots of the details.

School Board prez, Monica Garcia, approved the move.


DID RADIO SHOW THIS AMERICAN LIFE MOVE APPLE TO SEND OUTSIDE INSPECTORS TO FOXCONN?

On Monday, in response to a growing upset from its devoted customers, Apple announced that it had asked an independent inspecting entity to assess conditions at Foxconn and the other main factories where our shiny new i-things are made.

The outcry has been building for a while, but many believe the turning point was the January 6, 2012, brilliant and devastating broadcast by NPR’s This American Life about the Foxconn plant.

By the end of last month, the NY Times followed up with its own affecting report on the awful conditions. But it was the amazing Mike Daisy’s adaptation for TAL of his one-man show on the topic, combined with the TAL staff’s own follow-up—from which there was no going back—especially when, a few days later, there were horrifying reports of a threatened mass suicide among Foxconn workers.

You really are missing something if you don’t listen to the podcast.

May Apple’s audit genuinely stimulate change.

Posted in City Attorney, immigration, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

More on Opening LA’s Child Dependency Courts–& the Push to Close Them

February 13th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


There is a strong movement afoot to slam closed
the door that Judge Michael Nash unlocked last week with his order to open LA’s Child Dependency Courts to the press.

Two LA Times reporters and one LA Times columnist actually observed hearings last week. (I linked to the resulting article by reporters, Garrett Therolf and John Hoeffel here and columnist Jim Newton has a wonderful essay, just published this morning.) Somehow it seems no children were hopelessly traumatized by having another stranger or two sit quietly in the room. (Life for children in the midst of dependency hearings is already, sadly, loaded with strangers.)

Yet, many believe that Nash’s order will not stand for long—not because his order was wrong, but simply because those who want to yank that door closed again may have the power to manage it.

Here’s part of what Sunday’s LA Times’ well-written editorial said about the matter, now that they’d had reporters visit.

There were furious objections to the presence of these observers, a reminder that the idea of openness is profoundly unsettling in a courthouse accustomed to doing its work in private. But privacy has bred arrogance and resistance to notions that otherwise suit society well: that the public has a right to observe its institutions at work, and that public servants should not be allowed to hide behind secrecy to disguise inefficiency, incompetence or worse.

Secrecy is absolutely the issue—and not in a good way. A child’s privacy must always be protected, but it does not take re-closing the courts to do that. What must no longer be kept secret is the process by while decisions are made for children’s lives.

Another Sunday editorial, this one by Steven Greenhut from the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, writing for the North County Times, laid things out even more plainly.

Here are some clips:

….These courts and the entire children and family services systems are plagued by controversy and allegations of mismanagement and corruption. In few areas of American life do government officials have so much unchecked power, yet are allowed to operate in nearly complete secrecy. Maybe there’s a connection there.

No reforms or inquiries ever fix the situation, which is no surprise because the public doesn’t get to look at the inner workings of these agencies or delve into the details of specific cases. Los Angeles County has been a particular mess, where more than 70 children have died under the supervision of county social workers since 2008, and many of those deaths have been blamed by county leaders on mismanagement.

[SNIP]

It’s so frustrating how every serious policy issue in this state is driven by what’s best for government employees, not the public. In support of the Feuer bill [which tried to institute a pilot program to open some courts], the San Jose Mercury News opined: “Three years ago, Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá documented the troubled state of this system. Her yearlong investigation found that overwhelmed, undertrained lawyers weren’t properly representing their clients, that older children were too often excluded from proceedings affecting their lives, and that parents’ and children’s rights were routinely at risk.”

That’s exactly right. And, according to the Times report, Nash argued: “There is a lot that is not good (in the dependency courts), and that’s an understatement. Too many families do not get reunified … too many children and families languish in the system for far too long. Someone might want to know why this is the case.”

Yet Nash’s thinking is treated as something that’s almost radical. The simple and humane reform he imposed in his courtroom is being challenged in court by the same self-interested parties that have stopped reform in the Capitol. Openness is the rule in 17 states, so this isn’t some uncharted territory.

This is a very delicate matter to navigate well. And the court has to have broad discretion to protect kids. But the secrecy has to stop.

We’ll be tracking this issue closely.


NOTE: Here’s a clip from the LA Times’ Jim Newton’s column on his experience in court last week, which was published after I posted. By the way, to fend off challenges by DCFS lawyers Newton brought his own lawyer. (Smart move.)

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, media | No Comments »

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