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4/29/1992 – 4/29/2012: Letters From the New LAPD About Then and Now

April 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Interviews with and essays by some of those in the LAPD
who were around in 1992, and were forever changed by what they saw, are a good reminder of how far our city’s police department has come.

No, the department ain’t perfect. Then again, neither am I, neither are you. But it is example number one for me when I doubt that change is possible in big public agencies. The Los Angeles Police Department is fundamentally different than the force whose thin-blue-line, us-versus-them arrogance and brutality did much to create the climate that allowed the Rodney King riots to happen, and likely necessitated their occurrence.

Here are a few of the best examples of Riot Anniversary statements by some very good LA cops.


CHARLIE BECK’S TRANSFORMATION

This is from an Op Ed by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in Monday’s LA Times:

In 1992, I was a young Los Angeles Police Department sergeant assigned to the Internal Affairs Division and had just returned home after a long shift only to see on television the Florence and Normandie assaults, the beating of Reginald Denny and fires spreading all over the city. I was stunned at the absence of any response by my beloved LAPD. I quickly got into my personal car and drove westbound into a sunset that highlighted a city on fire and in crisis.

Reporting to the LAPD Command Post at 54th Street and Van Ness Avenue, I found myself among hundreds of fellow officers of all ranks, all of us waiting for orders. Police cars in long rows sat empty, waiting for a mission. Knowing that the city was burning from arson fires yet sitting idle left me feeling numb. On that first night, the department failed to adequately fulfill its role of protecting and serving.

Over the next six days, I saw terrible inhumanity committed against innocent people, and heroic actions by officers, firefighters and residents alike. As the arson fires burned out and the city began cleaning up the damage, I knew everything had changed. The 1992 civil unrest was a defining point in the history of the LAPD and, for me personally, a life-changing event. I knew in my heart then that we had to completely change the way we policed this city….


ANDY SMITH: THE ONCE LONELY VOICE OF A GOOD COP

This is from a short profile of LAPD Commander Andrew Smith in this month’s Los Angeles Magazine:

….I grew up in a little Midwest town where we treated the police with respect, and they treated us the same. At Newton station I was shocked by guys I worked with, guys with zero respect for the people we policed, guys who have since retired or been fired. I’d apologize to someone on the street or offer help, and another officer would say, “Why do you talk to them like that? These aren’t your friends or neighbors. These are just Newtonites.” During the Rodney King trial, I knew it was going to be bad. I’d go on calls, and every TV was on, everyone glued to the trial. But I think I was alone in my feelings….


PAT GANNON HAS A PLAN

Deputy Chief Patrick Gannon is the head of LAPD’s South Bureau, which covers the areas of South LA that were the riot’s epicenters 20 years ago. This is from Neon Tommy’s Agnus Dei Farrant’s interview with Gannon regarding what he saw and felt on April 29, 1992, and what he is determined to see done differently now:

…Even if Gannon had searched for a preventative plan [in the event of unrest after the King verdicts, he wouldn’t have found one from police Chief Daryl Gates.

“He thought he had a plan,” Gannon said. “He used to wave around this big book and said, here is our plan. It was really not a plan, it was a tactical operations manual that we use in reference to different incidences. A plan is specific to an event and we weren’t ready for that. And nor did he see it coming or he never would have been at a fundraiser [the day the riots began].”

Although he was a sergeant at the time, Gannon took the failures of the police department personally. He was disappointed in himself for not doing enough.

“Whether it was my fault or not, I was just one person in a police department but I really took it as being my problem or my fault.”

Today, Gannon is the deputy chief of LAPD’s South Bureau. Being promoted into further positions of authority, it became a personal mission to prevent another LA riot.

“As a police department, we police better. We handled our issues better, we weren’t as aggressive and forceful as we had been. And officers that were, we made sure they were held accountable for what they’ve done. We didn’t do well by that in those days.”

He also makes steps to plan for larger events and quell issues that cause community tension or anger.

“I’m not going to ignore these indicators anymore like some people did in those days. Even the mayor of Los Angeles and the police chief weren’t talking. How do you deal with such a sensitive issue when you’re not even talking?”

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Gang Violence, Daryl Gates & the Task of Making it Home on April 29, 1992

April 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On April 29, 1992, I began the day worrying about the threat of gang violence, not city-altering conflagration that the afternoon’s news would bring.

As every local media outlet has been discussing all week , twenty years ago on Sunday, Los Angeles exploded in what is generally considered to be the worst civil disturbance of the 20th Century. But even before the four LAPD officers were acquitted by a Simi Valley jury, triggering a citywide spasm of violence that would kill 63 people, Los Angeles was already living through the deadliest period in its history, with homicides skyrocketing past the 2000 mark county-wide in 1991, and headed still higher in the first quarter of ’92, with nearly 40 percent of the killings marked as gang-related.

It was one of those gang killings that had an initially skewing effect on the way I experienced the events of April 29, 1992.

At the time, LAPD Chief Daryl Gates’ reaction to what would come to be known as the decade of death in East and South LA, was to institute a clumsily designed and brutal policy he named Operation Hammer. The Big Blue Hammer, as it was sometimes known colloquially, consisted mainly of massive gang sweeps in which as many as a thousand young people were arrested at a time, with sometimes no more pretext than the kid had on a black Raiders’ jacket. The broad brush arrests resulted in a miniscule number of actual charges, which could have been better accomplished with normal police work. Yet they gave permission for lots of acts of deliberate humiliation and ongoing incidents of cop-administered beatings, most of which were never reported, since the mothers of the beat-up kids learned that the complaints went exactly nowhere. And still the homicides continued to rise. The Hammer’s main collateral effect was to drive a wedge between law enforcement and the communities that were most in need of the LAPD’s protection and service that would take years and two enlightened chiefs of police to undo.

In was into this climate that the verdicts were delivered.

At the time, I was spending most of my working hours reporting on gangs in the Pico Aliso housing projects of East Los Angeles, where I was researching a book on Father Greg Boyle, and on the six active street gangs who claimed territory within the mile-square boundaries of Pico-Aliso. This meant I was often in the projects late at night when shootings erupted, and I had frequently seen first hand the aftermath of an LAPD beat down that resulted in no arrest.

I had also been to an unhealthy number of funerals of kids I’d gotten to know and like.

On April 29, 1992, the afternoon that the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case were announced, I was on my way to the projects to talk to some homeboys whose lives I’d been tracking for the book, after which time I was going to pick up Father Greg at his office inside Dolores Mission Church, which was situated between the twinned housing projects, and then I’d accompany him on a series of errands, as I often did during the four years I all but bungee-corded myself to the priest’s ankle.

Entirely apart from the citywide storm that would break with staggering force before the day was out, it was already a perilous week in the Pico-Aliso projects: A few days before, a member of the East Coast Crips,—a smallish Crip set that was one of the six projects gangs—had been shot and killed by a member of one of the other projects gangs, The Mob Crew, or TMC, and retaliation was expected to be imminent.

The murder itself was already round two of a deadly game of tit-for-tat. It seemed that in the midst of an argument over some territorial issue or other, the dead boy, who had the unlikely street name of New York, had pulled out a gun and shot a TMC homeboy in the foot. Rumor had it that a second TMC homeboy had a gun trained on New York from a nearby apartment roof and fired a couple of warning shots, thus discouraging the Crip from shooting a second time. It was assumed that the foot-shot gangster, a baby-faced 16-year-old who would later go to work for Power 106 radio, or one of his homeboys, most likely the roof shooter, had tragically upped the ante by killing New York.

By this time, I’d been reporting on Father Greg and the various clusters of gang members for nearly two years, so I knew most all of the significant players in the gang world of Pico-Aliso, and had come to care about many of them, and their mothers, sisters, cousins, and little brothers, some of whom regularly tumbled in an out of my car like rowdy puppies. In other words, I had long ago lost most of my reportorial distance. In this case, although I had not known New York, who was just out of prison, I did know the two TMC teenagers in question, either one of whom I realized with dread could easily be New York’s killer, and could therefore also easily become the next victim in the projects’ latest escalating cycle of gang madness.

Thus it was that this other, much closer-to-hand threat of violence was most on my mind when, at 3:16 pm on Wednesday, April 29, I listened as KFWB all-news radio announced each one of the Simi Valley verdicts separately: Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. Not guilty. I remember that the content of the announcement was momentarily confusing. How can one be found not guilty of something that the whole country saw one do over and over again on video? The radio announcer said that there might be unrest, which anybody living or working in South or East LA already knew. Yet, as I drove toward Dolores Mission to meet Greg, the likelihood of citywide violence still seemed a distant concern with the shadow of Pico/Aliso’s own potential unrest looming much nearer.

By the time I arrived at the church, a group of community mothers were gathered with the idea of marching to Parker Center to protest the King verdicts and asked if I would come with them. I declined explaining that I’d already promised to accompany the priest to the Dorothy Kirby Center, a therapeutic juvenile facility run by LA County probation in which around 70 kids were housed, and where Greg went to say mass every first Wednesday of the month.

I’d been to Kirby with Greg multiple times before, but this visit was markedly different. During the mass, the kids were oddly agitated. After the service ended, Greg made a habit of visiting various “cottages” in order to talk to kids individually. It was just before 7 pm when we reached the first cottage where we found all its occupants gathered in a single, jittery clump around the cottage’s television. Hearing us enter, the kids looked up briefly and seemed glad to see Greg, but their gazes were drawn quickly back to the TV where a news clip of a white man being pulled from the cab of a semi truck and horribly beaten by a bunch of young black men, was being replayed over and over in a violent, balletic series of images that careened across the screen in an eerie visual reverse of the tape of the King beating. Greg attempted conversation at each cottage, but the point of diminishing returns was reached quickly; the kids were too agitated, unable to light anywhere for long, even for him.

After Kirby we drove to a Jesuit retreat house in Azusa where Greg had managed to wangle temporary employment for two Pico/Aliso homeboys. Their work as assistant groundskeepers had reportedly gone well, but they were both dreadfully homesick so Greg promised to pick up the two and bring them back to L.A. for a short visit.

Once homeboys and priest were safely stashed in my car for the trip back to the projects it was nearly 9:00 p.m. As we neared Los Angeles, we were surprised when we hit a colossal traffic jam, which was our first inkling that something might truly have gone terribly wrong in the city. Squinting ahead, I saw that the sky was bright to the northeast of us and also to the south, with veils of smoke wafting across the night’s waning crescent moon. I hurriedly flipped on the radio and we learned what the rest of Los Angeles already knew.

When I finally dropped Greg and the two homies at the church parking lot, Pico/Aliso was quiet and dark, a seeming haven from the storm that was quickening everywhere else else. I would not learn until the next morning that, after I left the church, Greg and the homies had remained trapped inside the sanctuary after cars full of Crips showed up and proceeded to drive up and down Gless Street for hours, the dull shine of gun barrels visible out open car windows.

Ignorant of the soon-to-be menacing Crips, I occupied myself with the task of trying to figure out some kind of safe route home. To my right was Hollywood, where the palm trees had become fantastic torches lining the freeway with furious light, and causing the shutdown of the 101, which would have been my usual path back to Topanga Canyon, where I lived with my then-six year old son. To my left was South Los Angeles, which still seemed to be the epicenter. Plus an hour before, Mayor Tom Bradley had ordered the closing of many of the exit ramps on the Harbor Freeway and maybe some on the 10, so going south seemed unwise. Using the radio news as a guide, I decided to head west across the First Street Bridge, straight through the middle of downtown.

I saw the first sign of trouble at what was then the New Otani Hotel at First and Los Angeles Streets. Nearly all of its ground floor windows were smashed and there was fire damage—although, by the time I passed it, the rioters had moved on. Hoping for more up-to-date information than the radio was able to provide, I veered north on Los Angeles Street to the LAPD headquarters at Parker Center, which was protectively surrounded by a shoulder-to-shoulder string of two hundred or more police officers top-heavy with riot helmets, their order to guard the building while the rest of downtown LA was evidently on its own.

I pulled to the curb and yelled that I was looking for a route west. “Get over to Third Street,” one of the cops yelled back. Relieved, I took his suggestion and raced back along Los Angeles Street toward third. But the insurrection was a live thing now, which no one could track or predict. After swerving around first one and then a second set of street barricades, I rounded yet one more corner and ran smack into everything I was trying to avoid.

Up and down the intersecting streets in front of me as far as I was able to see, several hundred people raced and twirled in zigzag patterns across streets like whole teams of football running backs suddenly seized by mania.

The craziness was auditory as well as visual. Glass erupted in a musical clatter seemingly from every angle, sometimes close, sometimes father away. Some of the people had guns in their hands, and I heard gunfire, close by, but sporadic, the bullets spent, I remember hoping absently, more for effect than for injury. Lots of stores were extravagantly on fire, while flames only barely sequined the facades of others. Every single trashcan on the street was burning, which caused me to think stupidly of the only sensory analogue I had for what I was seeing, the movie Blade Runner.

I crept my car cautiously forward into the darting crowd hoping that, although I seemed to be the only vehicle on the road, if I kept moving steadily, I would simply become another part of the cacophonous wallpaper. As I drove, my hands clinging with white knuckled correctness to the ten and two o’clock positions on my steering wheel, my eyes the size of dinner plates, I wished desperately for a camera.

Now, of course, I always carry a camera with me, in the form of a cell phone, if nothing else. But then I was a narrative journalist, not a hard news reporter. Plus in those years, reporters didn’t usually take pictures. That was left up to the photo pros. Yet, that night as I threaded and swerved around the runners, I longed for some method other than memory with which to capture what I was witnessing.

I also longed to get home safely, a goal it still wasn’t yet clear I could accomplish. I didn’t feel frightened exactly. The intensity of the moment didn’t leave room for fear. But I wondered in passing if I should be afraid. After all, that Reginald Denny guy had been in a truck, and look what good it did him.

With that thought still lingering, I braked to a halt at one last downtown intersection clogged by running, shooting looters, and my gaze locked with that of a thirty-ish black man who was one of the gun-holding runners. The moment occurred as he passed in front of my car and stared curiously in at me through the windshield. Then, evidently seeing something in my expression of which I still refused to be cognizant, in a silent exchange that could have taken no more than a millisecond, the man communicated as clearly as if he’d spoken aloud to me with brief but consummate kindness: Keep going, his gaze said. You’re okay. This is not about you.

A minute or two later, I did make it through the chaos of downtown, then over to Olympic Blvd. to La Brea, south to the 10, then west to PCH, and north to Topanga, where I sent the baby sitter home and hugged my son longer than he thought was seemly.

For the next forty-eight hours in Los Angeles, everything stopped and everything was in motion. However, in Pico/Aliso, and most of the rest of East LA, there was no rioting, no looting. Although I knew that some people made forays into other areas of the city, most of the projects residents huddled together like a family riding out a hurricane. The gun toting, church-circling Crips of Wednesday night, stayed at home too, their grief and fury subsumed for a while by the larger collective grief and fury. More gang violence and more heartbreak was to visit the projects in the months to come, but for now anyway, there was pause.

On Thursday, I stayed close to home, checking in with Greg a couple of times during the day. But by Friday I could no longer bear what felt like the psychological remove of the West Side. I went back to the projects. The dusk ‘till dawn curfew that Mayor Tom Bradley had called was still in place, and the violence and destruction would continue in shuddering fits for a few more days. But by Friday night, everyone knew that the worst of the fever had broken and spontaneous barbecues bloomed like sudden wildflowers in front yards all over the projects. I made a big salad and, at the invitation of some of the projects mothers I knew the best, joined in one of them, grateful that I had a place that would welcome me for the much needed communal ritual.


Posted in LAPD, Life in general, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles history | 3 Comments »

Death Penalty Initiative Qualifies, DA Candidates Opine (Badly), LA Thinks About April 30, 1992…& Much More

April 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker



While WLA was dark earlier this week,
a few things happened that we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss:

DEATH PENALTY REPEAL WILL BE ON NOVEMBER BALLOT IN CALIFORNIA

First of all, on Monday, the initiative known as the SAFE California Act, officially qualified for the ballot. This means that, in November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on a measure that would ban the death penalty in the state, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty is alarmingly disproportionately applied to people of color, particularly African Americans.

Jeanne Woodford, who was formerly the head of the California Department of Corrections, and the former warden of San Quentin prison, is one of the ballot measure’s most vocal supporters, and was quoted in the press release announcing the measure’s official approval by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

“I oversaw four executions at San Quentin,” said Woodford. “I can tell you as a law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience those executions did not make any one of us safer. What they did do was consume millions of dollars in resources that would be better spent on solving crime. Now, Californians will have a real chance to improve personal safety by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and directing some of the savings to solving more rape and murder cases.”

The fact that the initiative has qualified in California is eliciting a lot of comment from outside the state.

For example, there is this from the International Business Times by Ashley Portero:

….Studies conducted in multiple states have concluded that carrying out inmate executions is ultimately more expensive than sentencing them to life without parole, further leading capital punishment opponents to question the logic of the system.

California taxpayers alone have spent more than $4 billion on the 13 inmate executions the state has performed since 1978, according to a three-year study published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review last year. The study estimated the costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for death penalty defendants adds $184 million to California’s budget each year.

Similar studies have been conducted in at least 9 other states since 2000, all of which have concluded imposing the death penalty is exorbitantly more expensive than a life-without-parole sentence. A 2001 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that capital crime trials place huge and unexpected burdens on country budgets, often leading them to counter those high costs by defunding public projects and increasing taxes….

Also, the Death Penalty Information Fact Sheet has some interesting statistics pertaining to the topic….such as these:

-California had 723 death row inmates as of Jan. 2012 (the second highest, Florida, had 402).

-Over 130 people have been exonerated since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973.

-”A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.”

There’s more, so check it out.


THE CANDIDATES FOR LA’S DISTRICT ATTORNEY SPEAK ABOUT THE DEATH PENALTY AND REALIGNMENT…BADLY

The LA Times video-taped five of the candidates for DA speaking on questions that are crucial for any potential LA D.A. to be able to answer coherently. In the videos posted on Wednesday, nearly to a person, the candidates’ answers seemed to indicate a horrifying cluelessness on realignment. On the issue of the death penalty, there’s mostly a lot of pandering and very little reasoned opinion.

Not cheering.

Watch the videos here and then read the LA Times editorial that takes the candidates to task for their inexcusable lack of willingness to say anything that might be actually thought through, fact-based and responsible.

Here’s a clip:

Voters should expect the six candidates for district attorney to have mastered the facts of realignment and to be able to present well-thought-out policies for re-creating the justice system in Los Angeles County and making the reforms stick.

But today, none of the candidates seems completely prepared to grapple with what to do next. Some repeat falsehoods as if they were gospel: Los Angeles County’s jails are overcrowded (false; they are at about half capacity). California’s recidivism rate is 70% (meaningless, without distinguishing between a new criminal offense that should land an offender back behind bars and a technical parole violation, such as failing to report to an agent in time). Realignment puts parolees on our streets unsupervised (a blatant falsehood). State prisoners are being released early under realignment (false). But it’s true that if prosecutors, the courts and the sheriff are not careful, they will release people whom they should keep. And it’s true that under realignment, more jail inmates (as opposed to prison inmates) may be unsupervised upon release.

Alan Jackson has two answers to realignment: repeal it (which is not going to happen, and Jackson knows it) and allow counties to send prisoners out of state instead of seeking alternative treatment and supervision for those who can respond to it. Carmen Trutanich repeats the old saw that “we cannot start crying, ‘The sky is falling.’ ” We know that, but what would he do as D.A. to make realignment work? “This is a terrible mistake,” Jackie Lacey offers somewhat wearily. “But it’s also an opportunity.” Very well, but how will she respond to that opportunity?


JERRY BACKS CARMEN

Did we mention that Governor Jerry Brown announced on Thursday that he would be supporting City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the upcoming Los Angeles District Attorney’s race? Okay, consider it mentioned.

THREE STRIKES INITIATIVE ALSO CLOSE TO QUALIFYING

An initiative to modify California’s Three Strikes Law is headed for the November ballot with almost twice as many signatures as necessary. SF DA George Gascon (who is also the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD), and LA DA Steve Cooley, have both publicly endorsed the measure which would eliminate the mandatory 25 to life for non-violent and less grievous third strike felonies.

Sacramento Bee’s Torey Van Oot writes:

…Under the proposal, only offenders convicted of a “third strike” felony that is violent or serious would face a minimum sentence of 25 to life in prison. The measure, which is modeled after proposed legislation, would also allow some offenders currently behind bars for a “third strike” that was a minor crime to seek a re-sentencing.

Voters rejected a similar measure, Proposition 66, in 2004.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has endorsed the new measure, said in a statement that the initiative “saves California taxpayers money and restores the original intent of the law,” which was approved by voters in 1994, “by focusing on truly dangerous criminals.” A fiscal analysis estimates the measure could reduce prison costs by up to $100 million a year in the future.

Tracy Kaplan for the San Jose Mercury News has a nicely informative piece on the newly ballot-ready initiative, in which she quotes Steve Cooley and others.


CDCR CALLS EMERGENCY MEETING IN ONGOING NEGOTIATIONS WITH HUNGER STRIKER GROUP

Isaac Ontiveros reports for the San Francisco Bay View. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not entirely clear if the meeting is really an “emergency meeting,” or if the “emergency” part is a bit of hyperbole from the Bay View editors.) In any case, here’s the deal:

A little over a month after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures, the department has called a meeting with members of the mediation team advocating on behalf of SHU and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or ASU) prisoners around the state as well as legislative aides in Sacramento….


20 YEARS AFTER THE LA RIOTS….WHICH WAY LA? DOES A WEEKS WORTH OF PROGRAMS

Warren Olney and his producers have done an unusually good series of programs this week on different aspects of the LA Riots of 1992. You can listen here.


SUPERVISOR RIDLEY THOMAS ORGANIZES A DAY OF DIALOGUE FRIDAY

This is from the press statement:

At 9 a.m. Friday, April 27, 200 civic leaders will return to the First A.M.E., gathering at the FAME Renaissance building at 1968 West Adams Boulevard, to participate in a Day of Dialogue. In small groups, participants will discuss the causes and impacts of the 1992 upheaval, and they will assess what progress has been made and what challenges remain….

I know from talking to various community organizers that this is going to be a very large and interesting event that will be well worth your time if you can get over there.


MAYOR OF UPLAND PLEADS GUILTY TO A BRIBERY CHARGE…

This is from Thursday’s U.S. Attorney’s Office statement:

The former mayor of Upland pleaded guilty today [Thursday] to a federal bribery charge, admitting that he accepted a $5,000 payment in exchange for helping a business obtain a conditional use permit from the city.

John Victor Pomierski, 58, who resigned as mayor last year after he was named in a grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty this morning before United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. Pomierski becomes the third defendant to be convicted in relation to a corruption investigation in the city of Upland.

As a result of today’s guilty plea to the bribery charge, Pomierski faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Judge Phillips is scheduled to sentence Pomierski on August 6.

(We don’t usually report on Upland. But we thought that a lot of you might like to know that the feds are on a roll—since they’re also very busy with ever widening investigations closer to home.)


EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA has linked before to the TED talk about justice and injustice by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

But, it’s worth listening to again. (And again.)

Stevenson was the dinner speaker on the first night of the symposium I attended in New York, and the 31 experienced and sometimes jaded reporters in the room were utterly riveted

Posted in CDCR, Death Penalty, Los Angeles Times, solitary | 11 Comments »

EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA Will Be on Haitus Until Friday 4/27

April 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

WitnessLA is going to be dark for a few days this week while I am in New York City to take part in a juvenile justice fellowship and symposium sponsored by the John Jay College Center on Media, Crime and Justice and The Tow Foundation.

The fellowships brings together 31 journalists from all over the country to meet with some of the nation’s best experts in the myriad topics related to how we treat our American young people when they come in contact with the criminal justice system—all stuff that WLA will be digging into more deeply in the next year.


AND…..FOR THOSE OF YOU INTERESTED IN WLA’S ONGOING COVERAGE OF THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT, WE HAVE LOTS MORE COMING. There is another chapter still to come about Aero Bureau. And we’ll be publishing a new chapter in May of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series. Plus there are more threads we’re investigating after that.

In any case, see you on Friday.

Posted in juvenile justice | 2 Comments »

Sheriff’s Department Probes Yet Another Secret Deputy Clique

April 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Secret deputy cliques within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department
have been a problem for the LASD since at least the late 1980′s, some say before.

Such “affinity groups” most recently hit the public consciousness with the revelation last year that there were gang-like cliques reportedly wreaking havoc in the department’s troubled and notorious Men’s Central Jail. The highest profile of these CJ cliques is the 3000 Boys, with their matching tattoos and even hand signals. But there are also the 2000 Boys, among others, both inside the jails and out on the street.

Now, according to a story posted Thursday late afternoon in the LA Times, the department is newly worried by a clique inside the LASD’s gang unit—reportedly because of what is printed in a memo or pamphlet that may indicate that deputies’ participation in Officer Involved Shootings conveys status within the clique.

Rumors of shootings conveying status within other LASD cliques have long swirled around the department. However, if such a delineation really does appear in writing, it would be an entirely different matter.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives have launched a probe into what appears to be a secret deputy clique within the department’s elite gang unit, an investigation triggered by the discovery of a document suggesting the group embraces shootings as a badge of honor.

The document described a code of conduct for the Jump Out Boys, a clique of hard-charging, aggressive deputies who gain more respect after being involved in a shooting, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. The pamphlet is relatively short, sources said, and explains that deputies earn admission into the group through the endorsement of members.

The sources stressed that the internal affairs investigation is still in its early stages and that little is known about the Jump Out Boys’ behavior or its membership.

Still, sheriff’s officials are concerned that the group represents another unsanctioned clique within the department’s ranks, a problem the department has been grappling with for decades.

Last year, the department fired a group of deputies who all worked on the third, or “3000,” floor of Men’s Central Jail, after the group fought two fellow deputies at an employee Christmas party and allegedly punched a female deputy in the face. Sheriff’s officials later said the men had formed an aggressive “3000″ clique that used gang-like three-finger hand signs. A former top jail commander told The Times that jailers would “earn their ink” by breaking inmates’ bones.

On learning of the new investigation, LASD sources we spoke with expressed concern about whether the department’s investigation of the clique would be honest and aggressive.

Some sources took it as a possible good sign that the investigation is being conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau, or IAB, the investigative unit over which Sheriff Baca has recently retaken control. The department’s other investigative unit, UCIB, which looks into potentially criminal matters in the LASD, is still ultimately overseen by the Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who took over directly both investigative units last march, much to the dismay of many LASD observers.

As Faturechi notes, Tanka himself is a member of the now infamous Vikings clique that was most active in the 1980′s and early 1990′s, it’s members the subject of a massive class action suit that cost LA County $9 million in cash settlements and training. According to a deposition taken in an unrelated court case earlier this year, Mr. Tanaka still sports a tattoo on his ankle signifying Vikings membership.

WitnessLA has acquired a partial list of Vikings working inside the department culled from sworn depositions for various court cases. The list indicates there are Vikings members scattered at supervisory levels throughout the LASD including, at present, inside the departments’ internal investigatory units like IAB and ICIB.

It is, however, considered to be good news that IAB is now headed by Captain John Clark, recently put into place by Sheriff Baca. Clark, if you remember, was the supervisor that WitnessLA reported had tried to institute reforms in Men’s Central Jail when he became aware of the growing problem of deputy cliques inside the jail.

Modeled after the law-suit producing deputy cliques of the previous decades, like the Vikings, these cliques featured special tattoos, threw gang-like hand signs and, in some cases, refused to socialize with “rival” cliques within the department. In the case of the 3000 Boys and the matching group from the 2nd floor, the 2000 Boys, the cliques had also recently started waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. This was not only a violation of departmental policy, but it was eerie gang-like behavior intended to intimidate—to show both inmates and supervisors alike who really ran the jail.

But instead of getting support from higher-ups, Clark had his reforms swiftly revoked by Undersheriff Tanaka, who railed at Clark and his supervisors for their attempts at discipline, had his own private meetings with deputies, then transferred Clark away from custody work, altogether. (You’ll find more details in Part 3 and Part 4 of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series.)

Officially Sheriff Baca disapproves of groups like the Jump Out Boys, the 3000 Boys, the 2000 Boys, the Regulators and the Vikings, et al. But sources inside the LASD tell us that unofficially a double message is conveyed to the troops with the undersheriff’s well-documented work in the gray speeches, and his tendency to protect, rescue and reward those who do color outside the lines. And of course his retention of the Viking ink on his ankle.

Sheriff’s department spokesman, Steve Whitmore, confirmed that IAB was doing the investigating, but reminded me that the notion of status conveyed for shootings could be “a fantasy.”

“We just don’t know.”

In any case, WLA will track the investigation as it develops as, no doubt, will the Times.
So stay tuned.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 54 Comments »

The LA Times Festival of Books This Weekend! Just Go!

April 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Today, Friday, Festival of Books weekend begins with the LA Times Book Awards
tonight, followed by two full days of fest-ing on the USC campus, featuring author interviews, panels, readings, cooking demonstrations, kids activities, and all manner of other events centered around the celebration of writers and readers.

I’m moderating a panel on Saturday at 3:30 pm called Crime Fiction: Out of the Box

It features a stupendously cool line up of gifted authors, each with an ardent following. (If you like very smart, very literary, very original and culturally savvy noir-ish crime fiction, that also has something interesting to say, these are your guys.)

Nelson George
Gary Phillips
P.G. Sturges
Paul Tremblay

I pre-interviewed them all Thursday, and trust me, the audience is in for a treat.

As for what else you should see? Oh, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Susan Orlean, John Green (author of the new, hot book, “The Fault in our Stars), Joseph Wambaugh….. Just page through the list.

As always, you should go to any panel that involves my pal Tod Goldberg in any way-–either as a panelist or a moderator. (Really, just trust me. Every year there’s a legendarily funny Tod-related panel that everyone talks about in the Festival’s Green Room, causing those who have missed it to look….you know….sad. But even his non-legendary panels will be good. Just go.)

And my brilliant friend, Tom Bissell, has recently moved into town and is on a panel both Saturday and Sunday. If you know his work, you already understand why one would be wise to do whatever it takes manage to catch one of his panels. If you don’t know who he is….well, take a look. (To intellectual gamers, he’s a god, but he’s also beloved by literary types.)

My pal David Ulin has a terrific panel on Sunday at 1 pm with Steve Erickson, Hari Kunzru, and Dana Spiotta—any one of whom alone would be a hot ticket.

Just go to USC and walk in a panel at random. Honestly, you can’t go wrong.

I asked WLA’s new news aggregator Taylor Walker, who is, like me, a mad reader, for her picks to click. Here are Taylor’s LATFOB suggestions:

TAYLOR’S PICKS

I LOVE the Festival of Books. I’ve attended almost every year with my dad as a quasi-father/daughter tradition.

Here are some of the Saturday panels we will be sitting in on:

1. Robert Kirkman‘s Q&A with Geoff Boucher at 10:30AM

We’re both [not so] secret comic book fans, so this Q&A session is a MUST. Robert is most famous for writing The Walking Dead, a graphic novel series (and TV show) about a zombie-infested dystopian earth and its human inhabitants’ struggle for survival. What’s not to like?

2. Cheryl Strayed‘s on the Memoir: Over the Edge panel moderated by Amy Wallen at 1:30.

Cheryl’s new memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail follows her on her 1,100 mile trek from Mohave to Washington along the Pac. Crest Trail as she hazards physical extremes to find herself. Her hyper-realistic style and literary flourish make her novels that much more delightful for the lit. nerd in me. She’s the witty, slightly vulgar best friend I wish I had.

3. Celeste Fremon’s Crime Fiction: Out of the Box panel at 3:30. (A whim, of course, but I may have heard a thing or two about the fabulous panelists.)
________________________________________________________________________________

I won’t be able to go on Sunday this year, but here are a few of the events I would have caught:

Rodney King’s Q&A with Patt Morrison at 12:30,

Betty White at 1:20

T.C. Boyle at 4:30.

I’m also entirely content spending a few hours meandering through the crowd, looking at the booths, inevitably getting lost, and enjoying the ambiance created by hundreds of book lovers.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers | No Comments »

Levon Helm: 1940 – 2012. Godspeed.

April 19th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

To paraphrase what was once written about Raymond Chandler, Levon Helm sang as if pain hurt and life mattered—but also with an irrepressible resilience. When Levon sang, it was as if the song had always existed.

The son of a cotton farmer and front porch musician out of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, Helms’ high lonesome tenor was the heart of a cluster of multi-instrument playing, highly gifted musicians known simply as The Band. Guitarist and front man Robbie Robertson wrote most of The Band’s music, but it was Levon, the drummer for godsake, whose county roots-bluesy voice—weathered and indelible, even at a young age—that gave the group legendary status the moment they began to play.

Whatever our flaws, how can one not love an America that has given us the weave of musical influences capable of birthing an artist like Levon Helm?

Impossible, I tell you.


Early in the morning
When the church bells toll
The choir’s gonna sing
And the hearse will roll
On down to the graveyard
Where it’s cold and gray
And then the sun’s gonna shine
Through the shadows
When I go away


Don’t want no sorrow
For this old orphan boy
I don’t want no crying
Only tears of joy
I’m gonna see my mother
Gonna see my father
And I’ll be bound for glory
In the morning
When I go away


I’ll be lifted up to the clouds
On the wings of angels
There’s only flesh and bones
In the ground
Where my troubles will stay


See that storm over yonder
It’s gonna rain all day
But then the sun’s gonna shine
Through the shadows
When I go away

Posted in American artists, American voices | No Comments »

Juvenile Justice Cuts, Death Penalty Deterrence, The Controversial LA Times Photos….& More

April 19th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


by Taylor Walker



IS DEATH PENALTY A DETERRENT?

More than three decades after the moratorium against capital punishment was lifted, the prestigious National Research Council released a report that, after reviewing dozens of studies, failed to find reliable evidence that the death penalty is actually a homicide deterrent. In fact, the Committee of Deterrence and the Death Penalty said that any past research on the subject should be disregarded in death penalty debates as incomplete and unsupportable.

The LA Times has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The Committee of Deterrence and the Death Penalty concluded that studies on the death penalty and its potential effect on homicide rates — both pro and con — contain fundamental flaws that essentially make them moot.

For example, the studies do not include the effects of other forms of punishment – such as life in prison without possibility of parole, and whether it too acts as a deterrent. The studies, study authors wrote, don’t “consider how the capital and noncapital components of a regime combine in affecting the behavior of potential murderers.”

In other words, previous studies don’t determine whether potential killers think about the possibility of spending their lives in prison or ending up on death row before they commit their crimes.

The lack of comprehensive information makes the research inconclusive, the study authors said. “We recognize this conclusion will be controversial to some, but nobody is well served by unfounded claims about the death penalty,” committee Chairman Daniel Nagin said in a telephone news conference.

“Nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment,” he said.


SLASHING NATIONAL JUVENILE JUSTICE FUNDS

Funding for juvenile justice programs is likely about to get slashed—again.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

Federal funding for state and local juvenile justice programs seems likely to take another big hit as Congress continues to slash federal “discretionary” spending.

The Republican-controlled House committee that appropriates money for the Justice Department today issued its proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It would cut juvenile justice funding to $209 million–a figure that stood at $424 million in fiscal year 2010.

Federal aid for juvenile justice already had fallen more than 50 percent to its lowest level in more than a decade, says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents state advisory committees in Washington, D.C. The coalition is asking Congress for $80 million for “formula grants” that helps states comply with mandates in a key 1974 juvenile crime law, such as separating juvenile and adult defendants in jail and keeping minor offenders out of custody.

House appropriators, rather than adding funds for those purposes, would cut them to $33 million.

The Obama administration’s funding request of $140M for three important juvenile justice programs would be slashed to just $53M under the House committee’s proposal.


FIRST RACIAL PROFILING HEARINGS SINCE 9/11

A Senate committee hearing for the End Racial Profiling Act featured testimony from 225 different organizations on Wednesday. If passed, the legislature would forbid officers from using race as a component in standard law enforcement decisions.

Salon’s Jefferson Morley has the story.

Here’s a clip:

….as profiling has become entrenched in drug enforcement, counterterrorism and immigration control, said criminologist David Harris, research shows it is an ineffective law enforcement tool. “In many contexts, in many types of police agencies, the results all fall in the same direction: when racial or ethnic profiling is used, police are less likely, not more likely, to catch bad guys,” Harris said.

Ron Davis, police chief in East Palo Alto, Calif., said his experience as a cop on the streets confirmed that finding. Admitting that he himself had engaged in profiling, he called profiling “an ineffective tactic that wastes scarce law enforcement resources and it harms our relations with communities whose cooperation we need.”

Davis said passage of S. 1670 would help police nationwide.

“Without the legislation and updated Department of Justice guidance
we will continue business as usual and only respond to this issue when it surfaces through high-profile tragedies such as Oscar Grant case in Oakland, Calif., and the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Fla.,” he said.

The Obama Administration has yet to have joined the bill’s supporters.



EDITOR’S NOTE: SHOULD THE LA TIMES HAVE PUBLISHED THOSE PHOTOS?

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of controversy around whether or not the LA Times should have posted the two graphic photos of American soldiers posing with dismembered Afghan corpses. The Pentagon asked the Times not to publish the photos, contending that the publication would incite violence.

It is a thorny question. I happen to think the Times did the right thing.

Yet, I’m grateful that I wasn’t one of those who had to make the decision.

On To the Point, Warren Olney interviewed David Zucchino, the award-winning LA Times reporter who wrote the story accompanying the photos.

The New York Times has a report on the Pentagon’s objections—and how the Times’ came to be in possession of the photos in the first place.

And here the Poynter Institute weighs in, with two stories.

As of this writing, there are more than 2000 comments on the LA Times website regarding the issue.


Photo by Phil Sandlin for the AP

Posted in Death Penalty, juvenile justice, Los Angeles Times, media, Must Reads, race, racial justice | 1 Comment »

LA Probation Officers Stop Jobless Kids From Working at Homeboy Industries

April 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


WHY HAVE SOME JUVIE PROBATION OFFICERS BANNED HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES?

by Matthew Fleischer


On first weekend of April, Homeboy Industries founder Father Greg Boyle
was making his usual rounds to LA County’s various juvenile probation facilities, when he had a strange conversation with three female probationers.

“I asked them when they were coming to see me at Homeboy,” he remembers. “They told me, ‘We can’t. Our probation officer won’t let us.’ I thought, ‘Huh? That doesn’t sound right,.”

Homeboy Industries has a national reputation for its nearly 25 years of work with at-risk youth and former gang members from all over Los Angeles County. Thanks to a $1.3 contract with Los Angeles County, LA County juvenile probationers are supposed to be given preferential access to Homeboy’s formidable array of wrap-around services: tattoo removal, counseling and job training to name just a few. Boyle makes a point of encouraging kids to show up during the first week after their release when they are trying to repurpose their lives.

But, says Boyle, probation officers explicitly told these three girls they were not allowed to spend time at Homeboy. It wasn’t the first time he’d gotten word of such directives. Boyle says he’s aware of at least 10 kids who desired to come to Homeboy for help but were prevented from doing so by their probation officers. “When I first heard about this happening I thought it was a mistake,” he says, “but this has been going on for months now.”

Homeboy’s director of legal services Elie Miller says she has had her own experiences with the anti- Homeboy prohibition. In one recent incident she dealt with a mother whose son had a job at Homeboy—but was forced to quit by his probation officer. “She was upset and came by to ask what she could do,” says Miller. “Here’s a mother excited her son is able to come somewhere for services, and the probation officer makes an arbitrary decision to halt that rehabilitation. It’s insane.”

So why are county juvenile probation officers denying kids in need of help the chance to work at Homeboy Industries? It certainly isn’t because of Homeboy’s performance, says UCLA researcher Jorja Leap, who was hired by the county to evaluate the effectiveness of Homeboy’s county-sponsored programs. In the first quarter of 2012, none of the 30 enrollees in Homeboy’s comprehensive Job Readiness and Job Placement Service Program were re-arrested.

“We’ve been following these kids very closely,” says Leap. “We’re finding that once they’re enrolled at Homeboy, there is virtually no recidivism—roughly 96 percent stay in the program. That is outstanding and virtually unprecedented.”

Nevertheless, says Father Boyle, probation officers are telling kids that working at Homeboy is a violation of the terms of their probation–because gang members are known to be on the premises, or former gang members anyway.

“That’s akin to telling an alcoholic he’s not allowed to go to AA because there will be other alcoholics there,” says Boyle. “It makes zero sense.”

Calvin Remington, deputy chief of the LA County probation department, agrees. I called him on Monday and asked if he thought working at Homeboy was a breach of probation protocol, due to the presence of gang members. “Absolutely not,” he replied. “We’d have to shut down our probation camps if that were the case.”

Remington assured me that there was no top-down directive from the probation department to steer kids away from Homeboy. But he also made it clear that Homeboy isn’t the perfect fit for all juvenile probationers—which could explain why probation officers discouraged certain individuals from attending. “For some kids less is better,” he said. “If you have a lightweight kid, there’s no reason to send them to Homeboy. Homeboy is for the deep-in kids: for the kids who need lots of help and need it quick.”

That caveat aside, Remington says there isn’t any other reason POs should be discouraging enrollment in Homeboy’s programs. “It’s possible that certain probation officers who are unfamiliar with the program could have told their kids to stay away from Homeboy,” he says. “We’ll look into it.

“I’ve known Father Boyle for a long time,” Remington continues. “I have tremendous respect for him and he provides a real service to the whole community.”

For his part, Boyle agrees with Remington that is likely a case of a small number of probation officers who haven’t done their research regarding Homeboy, its services and its rate of success. “Look, we have no shortage of kids looking to access our services,” says Boyle. “We’re not dependent on the probation department to help fill our caseloads. But I would hate to see someone denied the option to come here who really wants to turn their life around. The problem with many of these kids is a lethal absence of hope. Hope is our currency here at Homeboy.”

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, Probation | No Comments »

Probation Dept. Is Asked for Solutions to Its Realignment Problems, Comes Back with Nada to Speak of

April 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Earlier this month, the LA County Supervisors passed a motion authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas t
hat asked the county’s Probation Department to come up with some ideas as to how Probation might improve the way it was handling the more than 5000 newly-released inmates that had been handed to LA County Probation for oversight as part of the new realignment strategy mandated by AB109.

One of the purposes of realignment—in addition to saving the state money— is to rethink the idea of prisoner reentry so that those released receive appropriate rehabilitative services to aid them in succeeding on the outside, rather than simply returning to prison. This means they were supposed to be enrolled in services such as mental health and substance abuse counseling, housing referrals and job training, and other programs of that nature.

Yet, according to reports, LA’s Probation Department has thus far had a dismal record for actually getting the mandated services to those newly-released former prisoners who need them. In fact, since February, probation had reportedly only referred 60% of the former inmates that passed through its doors to services, of which only 15% actually have received treatment.

It was also noted that the Probation Department’s intake “HUBs” to which a newly released prisoner must first report, weren’t properly equipped to refer clients to many of the services necessary to begin with.

Since appropriate reentry programs and services have been shown to greatly improve an individual’s chance to avoid the revolving door back to lock-up, the supervisors moved to direct Probation to come up with some solutions for the various problems outlined, and a goal-laden plan for bringing those solutions to fruition. Plus to help matters along, the motion provided a few suggested methods that Probation might explore.

Probation’s response to the supervisors’ request was posted on Tuesday night, and it isn’t particularly heartening.

It mostly consists a list of reasons why nearly everything the supes asked them to do “isn’t feasible”—-with few if any creative counter-solutions offered.

You can take a look for yourself here.

More on this as we have a chance to analyze it further.


NOTE: AN INMATE AT TWIN TOWERS JAIL DIED AFTER RECEIVING MEDICAL TREATMENT ON TUESDAY

The LA Times’ Robert Lopez posted the story Tuesday night. Details are sketchy. Presumably we’ll know more soon.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Probation, Realignment, Reentry | 2 Comments »

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