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Tattoo Removal for Former Prostitutes, Two-Thirds Louisiana Prison Doctors Have Disciplinary Records, and Ralph Nader Wants Prez Candidates to Address Prison Issues

July 31st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new California bill seeks to provide free tattoo removal services to former prostitutes and others branded by tattoos meant to identify them within the sex trade. (Homeboy Industries is currently providing the service for free.)

Megan O’Neil has the story for the Pasadena Sun. Here’s how it opens:

A man’s name is scrawled across Krystal Lopez’s neck in black lettering like that of a centuries-old manuscript.

It is a bitter souvenir for the 18-year-old Pasadena resident, who has worked hard to sever ties with the former pimp who inspired it and the lifestyle it represents. She has started laser treatments to have the tattoo removed at Los Angeles-based Homeboy Industries, a nonprofit supporting ex-gang members that provides the service for free.

Lopez doesn’t fit the Homeboy profile, though. She has never been in a gang, and as a result, she and others like her are deep in the queue.

“There are girls I know who have three different people on them,” Lopez said. “There is a huge waiting list for [removal services]. The priority is always the gang members.”

The wait soon may be pared down. Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) is shepherding through the California Legislature a bill that would expand the pool of people eligible for state-facilitated, federally-funded tattoo removal services to include those tattooed for identification in human trafficking or prostitution.


Nine out of the fifteen resident doctors at Louisiana state prisons have received sanctions by the state medical board for criminal activity ranging from drug dealing to sex crimes.

The Times-Picayune’s Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Of the 15 doctors working full-time at Louisiana state prisons, nearly two-thirds have been disciplined by the state medical board for issues ranging from pedophilia to substance abuse to dealing methamphetamines.

Two have served federal prison time. Five are still on probation with the medical board and have restrictions on their licenses, including bans on prescribing controlled substances. Altogether, nine have received the rare black mark of a board sanction.

Louisiana state prisons appear to be dumping grounds for doctors who are unable to find employment elsewhere because of their checkered pasts, raising troubling moral questions as well as the specter of an accident waiting to happen. At stake is the health of nearly 19,000 prisoners who are among the most vulnerable of patients because they have no health care options.

About 60 percent of the state’s prison doctors have disciplinary records, compared with 2 percent of the state’s 16,000 or so licensed medical doctors, according to data from the Louisiana State Board of Medical Examiners. The medical board is aware of the prison pipeline — in fact, a board-employed headhunter has sometimes helped problem doctors get prison gigs.

“Aside from being unethical, it is dangerous,” said Dr. Sidney Wolfe, a physician and director of health research at the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen. “You’re winding up having people who don’t have any choice being where they are, getting taken care of by people with demonstrable previous records and problems with the way they practice medicine.”


Ralph Nader’s new opinion piece for the Register Citizen explores the problems within the current prison system and the corruption of the privatized prison industry. Here’s a clip:

Ever visit a major prison? The vast majority of Americans have not, despite our country having by far a higher incarceration rate per capita than China or Iran. Out of sight is out of mind.

Imagine the benefits of the average taxpayer touring a prison. The lucrative prison-industrial complex would definitely not like public exposure of their daily operations. Prison CEOs have no problem with a full house of non-violent inmates caught with possession of some street drugs (not alcohol or tobacco). Our horrendous confinement system cannot change when it clings to perverse practices such as cruel, costly, arbitrary, mentally destructive solitary confinement (again, the highest in the world, see: Corporate profits drive the prison system’s insanity.

Indeed, for the giant Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), times are booming. CCA builds their prisons or buys or leases public prisons from financially strapped governments. Barron’s financial weekly can always be expected to give us the Wall Street perspective. In a recent article titled “Ready to Bust Out,” writer Jonathan R. Laing ( is bullish on CCA stock. He thinks it could double to more than $50 a share if the company were to convert to a real estate investment trust (REIT).

Mr. Laing writes that CCA has cost advantages over the public-prison sector, paying lower non-union wages and using more automated technology. Besides, the company is a tough bargainer when it buys or operates public prisons. One CCA condition is that the facility must have 1,000 beds, can’t be more than 25 years old, and get this, “the contract must guarantee a 90 percent occupancy rate.” A guarantee backed by taxpayers no less, unless, that is, the clause works to put more prisoners in jail for longer sentences.

The Barron’s article adds that CCA is counting on “the old standby of recidivism to keep prison head counts growing, filling its empty beds.” To the impoverished rural communities where these prisons are located, it’s about needed jobs.

The criminal injustice system has many faults, other than an inadequate number of beds filled with convicted corporate crooks. As the Justice Roundtable (, composed of a collation of over 50 national organizations, declares, “The current punitive system depletes budgets without making society safer…The Archaic system must be reformed to be rehabilitative, just and accountable.”

How naïve! Don’t these experienced people know that first they have to change the purposes of this system? Instead of wanting more prisoners and treating them in such ways that when they get out they are too unskilled and damaged to overcome the society’s exclusionary pressures that half of them end up back in jail, they should be training these prisoners to be contributing members of society. But that’s the problem of the gigantic prison machine that thrives on returning prisoners.

Posted in criminal justice, Homeboy Industries, medical care, prison, Reentry | No Comments »

The Sheriff, the Undersheriff & the Commander: Part 1

July 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Last Friday, July 27, the Citizens Committee on Jail Violence heard public testimony from Sheriff Lee Baca and his Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

We will have more commentary on their appearances on Wednesday and again later in the week.

[And you can find the audio for Friday's hearing here and here.]

But first, it is helpful to have a broader context with which to view the testimony by Sheriff Baca and most particularly by Undersheriff Tanaka who, in the course of answering nearly four hours worth of questions by one of the commission’s counsels, accused four department captains, a lieutenant, a sergeant, a high profile retired commander and a crop of others not specifically named (but darkly alluded to), of either fabricating events, deliberately misrepresenting actions for their own agendas, or out-and-out lying.

So who is telling the truth?

With this question in mind, perhaps the very most instructive frame of reference with which to assess Friday’s events, is an account of the testimony of a previous witness, Retired Commander Robert Olmsted, who appeared before the commission in May, and who is the prime person whom Tanaka labeled a liar.

Be forewarned. This is a long narrative. And certainly, Olmsted’s testimony simply represents one man’s point of view. Yet it is a point of view that is unusually authoritative, clear and comprehensive, and it was corroborated by testimony from the four department witnesses who testified before and after him.

For those of you who are following the ongoing LASD drama—a drama where a so much at stake—I think you’ll find it absolutely essential reading.


Straight-backed and going gray with a closely clipped beard, Bob Olmsted has the mysterious quality that law enforcement types refer to as command presence.

He came to oversee Men’s Central Jail in December of 2006, some months after then-Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka, the executive who oversaw the custody division from January 2005 to June 2007, reportedly became incensed at Captain John Clark, the man who was, at the time, overseeing the county’s largest and most troubled jail facility. It seems, Clark was not running CJ in the way that Mr. Tanaka wanted. Most specifically, in order to address escalating incidents of questionable force by deputies on inmates in the jail, Clark had elected to institute a job rotation plan for CJ personnel that had long been recommended by others who had studied the problem, but that Tanaka had decided he loathed. As a consequence, Tanaka rescinded Clark’s plan and then became intensely determined to get Clark out of CJ and out of the custody division altogether.

[WitnessLA has reported on the back story between Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Clark and some of his supervisors, here, here and here.]

Olmsted, whom he knew to be well-liked by Sheriff Baca, was the person whom Tanaka tapped to replace Clark.

Olmsted told the commission that when he got the call about replacing Clark, he had only spoken to Mr. Tanaka once before. He said that while he had zero interest in leaving his existing post, a prestigious job in commercial crimes investigations, when Tanaka asked him to make the move, he agreed to do it.

“I’m a team player,” Olmsted told the commission.

Tanaka did not tell Olmsted much about why he wanted Clark out so much. “He said there were morale issues, force issues,” Olmsted explained, “and there was an attempt to rotate all the deputies on the jail”—a strategy that Tanaka made clear to Olmsted that he despised.

Olmsted said that Tanaka reportedly said nothing specific about what he’d like a new captain to do differently, in terms of supervision or strategy, or even goals he wanted hit, he was emphatic about certain additional personnel changes he wanted. There were three sergeants and a lieutenant whom Tanaka wanted Olmsted to get rid of, for reasons that were never made clear. (Olmsted checked the four out, determined they were doing a fine job, and kept them on anyway.)

Most importantly, Tanaka said, he had a guy named Dan Cruz whom he told Olmsted was to be his operations lieutenant, making him the second in command at the jail.

“He wouldn’t have been my choice,” Olmsted said of Cruz. He would have chosen someone, he said, who was “more hands on, more personable, someone who could talk to the deputies and get ‘em motivated.” Still Olmsted agreed to take Cruz out of courtesy to the assistant sheriff, who made it plain he was keen on the transfer.

He would learn much later how drastically unsuited Cruz was for the job, and how his assignment to the jails had little to do with merit, and everything to do with his relationship to Mr. Tanaka.


To understand this next section of the testimony having to do with Dan Cruz, it helps to know a little about Cruz’s past in the department, a past that Olmsted discovered only much later, as he explained to the commission.

“After I was retired,” Omsted told the commissioners, “I was getting phone calls right and left about stuff that was transpiring at the department.” One such contact, he said, was from a recently retired commander. [He] gave me a call and said, ‘I’m the one that mandated Dan Cruz be transferred from Lennox station.’ He and another lieutenant over there were deficient in the way they handled service comment report and force packages. They were eighteen months behind.”

In response to quizzical looks from the commissioner members, Olmsted explained. “Service comment reports are citizen complaints,” he said. “And ‘use of force packages’ are generated when force is used on individual, a suspect or otherwise. The sergeant looks at the package first. Then the operations lieutenant or station captain “makes the final adjudication.”

This last action is what Cruz neglected inexcusably.

Olmsted went on to explain how the consequence of Cruz holding on to these “packages” of paperwork for 18 months. “You only have one year to look into [a charge of excessive force or a citizen complaint],” said Olmsted. So when Cruz let the complaints and the force reports languish for a year and a half, this meant he effectively rendered each one worthless. This meant if real wrongdoing had occurred on the part of a deputy, or if force was found to be out of policy, “there was nothing you can do.”

“All this made everything make sense after the fact about the problems I had as a commander at Men’s Central Jail,” Olmsted said, of his belated revelations about his new operations lieutenant.

But, back in 2006, Olmsted knew none of Cruz’s history of ignoring complaints. He only knew, he said, that Cruz seemed overly concerned by being one-of-the guys the deputies. “Dan’s the kind of guy who wants to be liked. He’ll do everything he can to try make the deputies happy. I have no problem with that. But sometimes discipline needs to come into play. “

Since part of his job as a supervisor, Olmsted told the commission, was to groom those officers directly under him, he wasn’t bothered by Cruz’s lack of supervisory skills, as he saw the younger man as someone he could mentor.


Olmsted is a very thorough man by nature. Thus in order have the best possible grasp of what he was walking into at Men’s Central Jail, before he began at his new post, he made a point of setting up a meeting with Clark, the captain whom he was replacing.

“We talked for hours about what was going on,” Olmsted told the commissioners. “He said there were force issues, deputy clicks”—like the now infamous 2000 Boys and 3000 Boys. Clark talked about his (now much written about) attempt to institute the assignment rotation to deal with the cliques.

He also warned Olmsted that three of the lieutenants who would be working under him would be reporting—not to him, but directly to the Assistant Sheriff. “I was told that Wes Sutton, Chris Nee, and Kevin Ebert all reported surreptitiously [to the assistant sheriff] after work, and had monthly meetings with Mr. Tanaka.”

It was, to say the least, a highly unorthodox breech of command structure.

But the undersheriff was becoming known for such breeches.


In answer to a question from the Commission’s legal counsel, Richard Drooyan, Olmsted said he had no knowledge of the content of those off-the-reservation meetings with Assistant Sheriff Tanaka.

But when Drooyan followed up and asked the commander if he ever heard Mr. Tanaka “…using a term called working in the gray?” Olmsted said he had indeed. He’d not heard it first hand, he said, but he’d definitely heard about it from a variety of close colleagues who had been present when Paul Tanaka gave one of his Work the Gray speeches.

“A very good friend of mine said that when he was in sergeant super school, he said Mr. Tanaka came in and said, ‘You guys need to work the gray area. Work it hard!’”

Drooyan interrupted. “What do you consider ‘working the gray area’ meant?’

Olmsted: “Anything in the gray areas in considered outside policy, as far as I’m concerned. The ‘gray area’ can be interpreted any personal way you want. But it can very easily be construed to be illegal by nature.”

When Olmsted took over CJ, he felt that the work the gray ethic was on display in many areas of the jail’s daily operations. Olmsted then listed for the commission some of the issues at the jail that caused him the most immediate concern.


In his first week as captain, he said he made a point of walking the floors so he could become acquainted with the deputies and make his presence known. In one of these first walks, he said, he had an “amazing experience. It began, he said, when he walked into the 2000 floor control booth, and saw a deputy with a broken right hand. “What happened to you?” asked Olmsted. “I hit a inmate in the head.” Olmsted said that the deputy replied.

Olmsted was taken aback. “’Really?!” he testified he said to the deputy. “You know, that’s not good for your career.” He chatted with the man, and suggested “there were other ways to subdue an inmate.”

Olmsted then walked up to the floor above, the 3000 floor, and again strolled into the control both. “Same thing. There was a deputy with a broken right hand. I said, ‘What happened to you?’” He too said he’d hit an inmate in the head. Olmsted stayed to talk to the second deputy about all the reasons that head slugging was not the way to go.

Since at this point, Olmsted’s account was starting to sound like a standup comedy routine, one of the commissioners blurted, “Are you serious?”

“Serious as a heart attack,” said Olmsted.

Then he went up to the 4000 floor. Another deputy, another broken hand.

“Don’t tell me,” said Olmsted. “You hit a deputy in the head.”

“No I missed and hit the wall.”


Olmsted related the events with a storyteller’s touch, but he appeared dead serous about the disturbing implication: on floor after floor, certain deputies were using intense physical violence as their default strategy to control inmate behavior.

It was a matter, Olmsted said, he began taking aggressive steps to stop.

Yet, even before Olmsted encountered the string of broken-handed deputies, he saw other signs of the kind of attitude toward inmates that could easily presage violence:

During his first week on duty, Olmsted told the commissioners, a federal judge called to enquire regarding a rumor he’d heard about problematic graffiti scrawled by deputies inside one of the 3000 floor control booths, specifically the booth on the 3100 block.

“He gave me a call around noon one day. I remember it distinctly because you don’t have a judge call you up often.” The judge met Olmsted at the jail and together the two men went to inspect the control booth in question. When they arrived inside the booth, Olmsted was aghast.

“I found an atrocious sight!” he told the commissioners. Only sworn personnel operate such control booths, he explained, so there could be no blaming of anyone else for the hostile and juvenile vandalism but deputies and their supervisors.

“You have to get two keys to get into it. Inside the second area that you have to go through two locked doors to get access. “ Once past those sets of locked doors, “there was malicious scribbling all over the walls,” he said. “Around the computer keyboard, on the monitor, on the fire hose, which was on strung out on the floor. Olmsted said that the judge was particular concerned with a bumper sticker that was on the control key box. “Please don’t feed the animals.”

Given the high use-of-force statistics in CJ, neither Olmsted nor the judge were inclined to dismiss the scrawled messages as a boys-will-be-boys prank.

“It was ugly. It was just plain ugly,” Olmsted told the commission.

Olmsted said he asked for an immediate “roll-out” from the Internal Affairs Bureau. But after a day or two of taking photographs and analyzing the situation, the two-person IAB team returned to the jail and told Olmsted not to pursue the matter. Their reasoning, he said, was that they had determined that the graffiti had been present for at least six months.

“Now, because this is a violation of policy,” said Olmsted, “everyone who’d walked into 3100—every deputy, every sergeant and every lieutenant who’d walked and out of the control booth and not reported it—would have to be investigated.”

The IAB officers recommend that Olmsted have the room cleaned up, put everyone on notice, but “write this one off” and start over.

Olmsted wasn’t pleased, but after running the decision by his superior officer, he did as was suggested, and let the matter go.

Olmsted also told how constructive interactions with inmates got subverted. When he complimented one deputy for showing a room full of inmates a movie on DVD, which had a measurable calming effect on the men, the very next day the TV connecting cord for the DVD player had been cut—clearly by other deputies—thus effectively ending the movie viewing.

But when Olmsted put his foot down and rectified the situation, deputy who had been showing the films approached him, his expression uncomfortable.

“Please don’t come talk to me any more,” Olmsted said the man told him. “I want to make this stuff work, but I’m getting pressure from my peers. They don’t like the fact that I’m talking to you because they think I’m snitching.

Nevertheless, Olmsted told the commissioners, he continued to set down firm rules regarding force and its use, put confident sergeants into key places, and flooded problem areas of the jail with supervisors. At the same time found out what tools the deputies lacked to do their jobs well, and made sure they were actively supplied.

And after a while, the force numbers in CJ started to go down.


In April 2008, after he had been captain of CJ for about 15 months, Olmsted was promoted to Commander of all the Southern jails. Dan Cruz was tapped by Mr. Tanaka to move into Olmsted’s place as head of Men’s Central Jail—nevermind that Tanaka was no longer the Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody, but had now moved over to supervising patrol.

When he became a commander, Olmsted was still Cruz’s direct superior. However, once Cruz was in charge of CJ, Olmsted said, his relationship with the man changed “significantly.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 56 Comments »

The Sheriff and the Undersheriff Will Testify Today at the Jails Commission

July 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Today, Friday, Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to testify
before the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

The Commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. at 500 Temple Street in downtown LA, but testimony will likely not commence until around 9:30-9:45-ish—at least if past patterns hold true.

The hearing is bound to contain some interesting theater, but for those of you who can’t attend (yet wish you could) you can listen to audio of the meeting live. Call (877) 873-8017, Access Code: 111111# .

And just as a reminder, podcasts for all the past commission meetings may be found here.

The jails commission members have heard and read a lot over these past months, and several of the commissioners, plus the commission’s legal counsel, Richard Drooyan, and executive director, Miriam Krinsky, are not at all afraid of asking the hard questions.

So stay tuned. We’ll be back with our impressions—likely several rounds of them.

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 41 Comments »

Effects of Transferring Prisoners Out-of-State, What’s Next for Juvie LWOP-ers…and More

July 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has released a new report on the fiscal downsides to transferring inmates to out of state prisons, and the negative effects it has on rehabilitation, prisoners’ families and children, and the community as a whole. Here are a few clips from the report:

Prior to the Supreme Court mandate, California had been addressing overcrowding concerns by utilizing out-of-state private prisons, the majority of which are operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The temporary transfer of California inmates to other states began in late 2006, rose to a peak of 10,400 in early 2011, and declined to under 10,000 by mid-2011. Continued utilization of private out-of-state facilities is slated under the 2011-2012 budget to fall by nearly half by June 2012.

In light of California’s extensive budget crisis, in early 2012, CCA offered to purchase California state prisons and operate them through a 20-year management contract. In exchange CCA requested an assurance that the prisons would remain at least 90% capacity (CCA, 2012). California not only declined the offer, but CDCR released plans in April 2012, to return out-of-state inmates to state facilities and terminate its contracts with private out-of-state facilities by FY 2015- 16 (CDCR, 2012a). This proposal estimates savings of $318 million (CDCR, 2012a, p.28). In addition to cost savings, returning out-of-state inmates is a sound public policy decision. The purpose of this publication is to provide an overview of the effects of out-of-state transfers on inmates and families, to evaluate the potential public safety and policy merits of CDCR’s proposal.


…Housing inmates in-state increases the opportunity for family reunification and community-based programmatic engagement. Ultimately these connections enable offenders to more successfully reintegrate into society upon release, and have the potential to improve conditions within the facilities themselves. Thus, the practice of sending inmates to private out-of-state facilities creates significant barriers to achieving CDCR’s rehabilitation mandate.


Parental incarceration, along with the crimes and arrests that precede it, “cause chaos in the lives of these children, including traumatic separations and erratic shifts from one caregiver to another. Most children with incarcerated parents reside in poverty before, during, and after their parents’ incarceration” (Seymour & Hairston, 2001, p. 2). This in turn is an additional causative factor in delinquency. Children of incarcerated parents “experience a broad range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, loneliness, and guilt. They may exhibit low self-esteem, depression, and emotional withdrawal from friends and family” (Seymour & Hairston, 2001, p.2). As a result, many of these children struggle both socially and academically.


These effects are exacerbated when a parent inmate is transferred to an out-of-state facility. In 2008, almost 1,707,000 children (2.3% of the children in the United States) had a parent in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). The stress of this impact on children is not only experienced in communities, but also in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. In California, decreased reliance on both out-of-state and private prisons will reduce the geographical barriers between inmates and their families, thus reducing the numerous collateral consequences of incarceration.


SCOTUS’ recent ban on mandatory LWOP for juvie offenders leaves states scrambling to interpret the change, with decidedly uneven results.

The Crime Report has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope.

In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing.

But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.

Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling—and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

“This is very clean at the wholesale level and very messy at the retail level,” said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St.Thomas Law School, in Saint Paul, MN. “It’s very clear from 10,000 feet that children are different.”

Osler, who specializes in sentencing law, added: “But with these 2,000 cases, it’s going to be pretty messy with a lot of different outcomes.”


A federal appeals court voted Wednesday to reconsider a law requiring police to take DNA swabs from anyone facing a felony charge.

SF Gate’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:

A panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 in February to uphold the law, saying DNA sampling is an effective crime-solving tool that is no more invasive than fingerprinting. But the court said Wednesday that a majority of its judges had voted to set the ruling aside and refer the case to an 11-judge panel for a new hearing during the week of Sept. 17.

The law, part of a 2004 ballot measure, took effect in 2009. It requires police to swab an inner cheek of all felony arrestees for DNA and enter the information into a national law enforcement database.

Those who are not convicted of the charges within three years can ask a judge to remove their DNA from the database, but prosecutors can veto the request.

Opponents say the law allows authorities to retain genetic information, indefinitely, from innocent people, a procedure they describe as both intrusive and ineffectual.

The law is “an unprecedented expansion of the government’s power to collect DNA evidence and to DNA-profile individuals who have never been convicted of any crime,” attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union said in requesting a rehearing.

Supporters, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, say DNA from arrestees has been used to reopen numerous “cold cases.”

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, criminal justice, DNA, juvenile justice, law enforcement, LWOP Kids | No Comments »

A Brighter Perspective on Realignment, 69 Parolees Arrested Under Operation Guardian, CDCR’s Open Forum on Rehabilitation…and More

July 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


According to a new report from the Chief Probation Officers of California, realignment is actually faring better than has been previously reported by news media sources (and even local officials). CPOC collected probation data from all 58 CA counties and found that, in many ways, realignment has statistically eclipsed the old parole system.

AP has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Fewer felons are skipping out on probation under California’s new criminal justice realignment than under the state’s old parole system, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report obtained by The Associated Press [and also by WitnessLA] is the first six-month snapshot of trends in all 58 counties.

It found that less than 4 percent of felons failed to report to their county probation officers after their release from state prison, compared to 14 percent who faced fugitive arrest warrants for failing to report to their parole officers under the old system.

More than 23,000 ex-convicts are supervised at the county level instead of by state parole agents after a law took effect in October to save the state money and reduce prison crowding.

The report by the Chief Probation Officers of California said early concerns that many felons might go unsupervised under the new law appear to be overstated.

Take a look at the Chief Probation Officers of California’s report, as it has more great data (and graphs!).


Meanwhile, the state officials have gotten busy: the CDCR, along with local law enforcement officers, conducted a compliance sweep on 340 parolees with known gang ties. The sweep, called “Operation Guardian” resulted in 69 arrests and large quantities of seized weapons, drugs, and paraphernalia.

The CDCR Star has the press release. Here’s how it opens:

Agents from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) and their local law enforcement partners have just concluded Operation Guardian, one of the largest and most comprehensive sweeps in recent years focusing on parolees who have known ties to criminal gangs.

So far, Operation Guardian has resulted in the arrests of more than 69 parolees in Los Angeles County with known gang ties. One compliance check prompted an investigation after a naked parolee was found in bed with three children. There were 59 instances of guns, a shotgun, semi-automatic handguns and ammunition seized. More than 35 knives, four swords and a machete were also confiscated. CDCR agents and their law enforcement partners also confiscated 20 fully grown marijuana plants, 156 grams of marijuana, 30 grams of cocaine, a possible meth lab, drug paraphernalia and hundreds of dollars of suspected illegal drug money. Sixty out of 340 compliance checks are still being tabulated.

“This morning, while many of the potential suspects were still asleep, more than 400 CDCR agents and local law enforcement partners fanned out across Los Angeles County and searched the homes of parolees who are affiliated with criminal street gangs,” CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate said. “The number of parolees who were arrested and the number of guns, ammunition and drugs taken off the streets show how important these proactive searches in cooperation with our local law enforcement partners are to public safety.”


On a more upbeat note, the CDCR held a much-needed public forum for suggestions on improving inmate and parolee rehabilitation programs on Tuesday.

Mercury News’ Scott Johnson has the story. Here’s a clip:

The CDCR has tried to reform in years past, but those efforts were stymied, most recently by problems of prison overcrowding and statewide budget shortfalls. But over the past two years, as part of the realignment effort, some 40,000 inmates have been transferred from state prisons to county jails, freeing up space and resources for more aggressive rehabilitation efforts. At the same time, California has set aside $190 million this year alone to improve resources for inmates at all stages of their re-entrance to society. The goal, said Sessa, is ultimately to provide wrap-around re-entry services for at least 70 percent of the current prison population, starting the moment they enter to the first 12 months of their release.

As part of this effort, CDCR plans to build special facilities at three prisons within the next three years where outgoing inmates will receive special attention. Other services will be rolled out once CDCR has heard from the criminologists, community members, ex-offenders and members of the faith-based community who spoke Tuesday.

“We’ve waited so many years, literally prayed, and I wasn’t sure I would still be alive to see this day,” said Leslie Arroyo, 62, the director of the “Open Arms” Transitional Care Facility, speaking of the CDCR’s realignment initiative. Arroyo has worked in prisons across California and says the biggest problem is the inability of inmates to build and sustain lasting relationships with the people who want to help them the most.

“I think this is a beginning, but unfortunately every initiative we’ve seen in the past has gotten lost in the bureaucracy,” Arroyo said. “We are begging you at this point in time, please listen to us; we’re all trying to go in the right direction.”

Kyle Dunson, 44, a supervisor at a Richmond homeless shelter, spent 13 years behind bars for various crimes, including burglary and petty theft. Speaking at the panel Tuesday, he urged CDCR staff members to consider re-implementing programs that once worked, but were cut due to budget issues. He cited one such initiative, the Alternative Sentencing Program, a kind of bootcamp for inmates, which he said resulted in a drastically reduced recidivism rate for participants — 13 percent versus 83 percent for the San Quentin general population. “I think they should reinstate it,” he said. “Until that point, it was the hardest thing in my life.”

Other speakers repeatedly urged the CDCR to implement re-entry classes and programs long before inmates were released.

“We’re releasing men and women into crisis situations,” said Randy Haskins, who runs a ministry for ex-offenders. “Time has stopped for that inmate; it has kept going for everybody else, and that’s a burden we need to help fix.”


The CA Dept. of Parks and Recreation has been threatening closure of 70 CA state parks for quite some time now. Recently, (and after much fund-raising by concerned Californians) it has come to light that Parks and Rec. have been hiding almost $54M from the governor’s budget office.

LA Times has an excellent op-ed on the matter. Here’s how it opens:

Californians are feeling betrayed after learning that the Department of Parks and Recreation, while pleading abject poverty and begging for donors to keep 70 state parks from closing, was hoarding nearly $54 million in special accounts, underreporting its holdings to the state. Much of the money was earmarked for specific purposes, but even the remainder is enough to keep the 70 parks open for close to two years. Some of the donors who generously stepped forward to form nonprofits to run parks complain that they were duped. We on the editorial board were misled into calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to provide more money to keep most of the parks open. Taxpayers feel they were put through the wringer with baseless threats about the closures. (As it turned out, with various deals and fundraising, all but one of the parks are still open.)

The department appears to have concealed the money in two accounts for 12 years, reporting accurate figures to the state controller and inaccurate information to the governor’s budget office, an indication that this was intentional and not just incredibly bad bookkeeping. One account was funded by park fees, the other by fees assessed on off-road vehicles, which must be used for facilities or services for off-roaders. Traditionally, special funds have not undergone the same level of state scrutiny as money from the general fund. But that clearly has to end.


And, more hoopla for Sheriff Baca to address prior to testifying before the jails commission this Friday: LASD Sgt. Bonnie Bryant was arrested Wednesday on suspicion of heisting thousands of dollars from drug investigations.

LA Times has the story. Here’s a clip:

Sgt. Bonnie Bryant III, a 28-year department veteran, allegedly was stealing the cash during investigations, not from evidence lockers, said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The arrest of Bryant on Wednesday afternoon came after a two-week probe by the sheriff’s internal criminal investigators. Whitmore declined to say what stoked suspicions into Bryant, saying the investigation is ongoing.

“This department is bringing people that break the law, that are supposed to represent the law, to justice,” he said.

Posted in California budget, CDCR, criminal justice, LASD, Realignment | 5 Comments »

Protests Continue In Anaheim Over Police Killings, LA City Council Goes Med Weed Crazy….and Considering Insanity Pleas

July 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to review the weekend shootings, according to Anaheim mayor Tom Tait. He will meet on Friday with members of U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI. The AP report has more.

In addition, the mother of Manual Diaz, the man who was killed by Anaheim police on Saturday has publicly and emotionally condemned the violent protests, the AP reports. (NOTE: I’m linking to the Atlanta Journal Constitution version of the AP story because they have posted a video of last night’s violent mess of a demonstration.)

Tuesday night marks the fourth day of protests in Anaheim over the Saturday shooting of an unarmed man, Manual Diaz, who was said to be running from Anaheim officers when he was reportedly shot in the leg and the back of the head.

The community was further upset when, in the minutes after the Diaz shooting, distressed residents and onlookers began arguing with police, at which point officers shot non-lethal projectiles at the crowd that included small children. At one point, a K-9 police dog raced into the same crowd and visibly fastened its teeth to one man’s person or shirt, it’s hard to tell which. Much of this was caught in the KCAL 9 video posted above in a scene that is undeniably disturbing.

Then on Sunday, a second Anaheim man, 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo, was shot and killed by police after he allegedly opened fire after a car chase involving a stolen vehicle, although there is some dispute over the details that account.

Columnist Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly broke the news of the second shooting after noting a Facebook post by the dead man’s mother, whom it turns out he knew.

Whether or not the Acevedo shooting was righteous, it was the last thing this on edge community needed.

Although the Acevedo shooting was reportedly righteous, coming so soon after after that of Diaz, it further inflamed the expanding groups of protesters.

On Tuesday night, protests moved into violence. The LA Times reported that protesters grabbed rocks from a construction site and “hurled them at officers.”

The LA Times also reported that, according to the police, an OC Register reporter was injured by a rock.

Some of the now ubiquitous (and often effective) freelance videographers, doing live streaming from their cell phones, reported being fired at with tiny “bean bags,” pepper balls, and “impact weapons” despite holding up press passes. One of the streaming videographers kept wishing on camera that he had brought his helmet, worrying about rock throwers as well as police. Around 11 pm, live streamers reported the sound of windows being broken at a Starbucks down the street, presumably by protestors. Meanwhile fires burned in nearby dumpsters.

The AP has an overview of events in Anaheim, where it seems anger at the police force has been brewing in the city for a while.

In their team coverage, the OC Register reports that two officers have been put on leave following the shooting of Diaz.

Here’s a clip from the OC Register’s report from the weekend:

Police described Diaz as a “documented gang member,” and said he was shot after the officers saw three men near a car in the 600 block of Anna Drive, near La Palma Avenue and State College Boulevard. Believing the activity to be suspicious, the officers approached the vehicle, and all three men fled on foot.

The officers chased Diaz and observed him throwing unidentified objects onto rooftops as he ran, Welter said. What led one of the officers to shoot Diaz remained under investigation Sunday, Welter said.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said he would be asking California’s attorney general to assist in the investigation.

“I’m asking for a full investigation,” Tait said at a Sunday news conference. “Transparency is essential. Whatever the truth is, we will own it.”

The dead man’s sister, Lupe Diaz, said Sunday that her brother was “just hanging out with friends” before the shooting.

“There is no explanation,” Diaz said. “It’s not fair.”

The Registor also reported that, according to the Anaheim police, the K-9 police dog, which evidently bit several people, got loose from a police car accidentally.

Reuters reports that Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is now calling for both a state and federal review of the whole matter.


For 5 years, the LA City Council has been trying—unsuccessfully-–to come up with a sensible way to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been popping up in the city like….well…weeds. Now, it seems, because of the council’s inability to come up with a legally viable way to set down some firm guidelines, big pot sellers have taken advantage of the situation (how shocking!), thus our fair council members have decided to shut down all retail sales—-with the possible exception of 182 dispensaries that opened before a 2007 city moratorium, which might—or might not— have been given some kind of loophole. What kind of loophole, and what practical difference it will make, seems somewhat unclear.

In other words, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what this vote will mean for medical marijuana in LA in the future.

For the moment, however, KPCC’s Alice Walton has one of the best reports on Tuesday’s medical weed banning activities.

Here’s how her story opens:

Nonprofit storefronts that sell medical marijuana will be banned in the city of Los Angeles under a proposal approved Tuesday.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to prohibit the sale of medical cannabis in retail establishments. However, exemptions will allow patients to continue growing marijuana for their own use, and primary caregivers may continue to distribute the drug.

The vote, which came after hours of public testimony and debate, drew sharp criticism from patients who use medical marijuana to tame the side effects of their illnesses. Some public speakers shouted at council members and then the police officers who took to the council chamber after the vote.

Earlier in the day, the council heard from patients and advocates of medical marijuana.

“A ban on medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives is an attack on patients. They need this. It can work in other cities,” said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access. “You guys have to get it together and pass regulations that protect safe access for legitimate patients for legal operations.”

The original vote against the ban was 13-1, with Councilman Paul Koretz dissenting. However, the councilman later flipped his vote so the ordinance could get to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s desk sooner. The ban will take effect in about 40 days. Dispensary owners who do not close their businesses could face fines or misdemeanors, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Dennis Romero at the LA Weekly also has a good report. But be sure to read through all the updates for the full story.


The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes has done a great job laying out this interesting and important question just as the Supreme Court was hearing a request to take on the issue. Here’s how Barnes’ story opens:

There’s no doubt John Joseph Delling knew what he was doing. His carefully planned 2007 crime spree lasted weeks, covered 6,500 miles and culminated in two people dead and one seriously wounded.

He had his reasons, too. Delling, then 21, had become “a type of Jesus,” he later explained, and the men he attacked, two of them former classmates he had not seen in years, were stealing his “energy.” An MRI of his brain would have revealed the damage the men had already caused, he told authorities.

I had to defend myself,” he said.

As the nation confronts another act of unfathomable madness, Delling’s story is one chapter in a distressing and violent genre: the loner who tries to impress a movie star by shooting the president; the mother who drowns her children to save them from damnation; the black-clad shooter who seems to step from the movie screen to kill.

But Delling’s case presents an intriguing legal question as well. He committed his crimes in Idaho, which is one of only four states — Kansas, Montana and Utah are the others — in which a defendant may not use insanity as a defense to criminal charges.

Delling’s lawyers are now at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to rule that the Constitution mandates that such a defense be available for those who, because of mental illness, are not responsible for the mayhem they create.

“For centuries, the moral integrity of the criminal law has depended, in part, on the insanity defense,” Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher wrote in a petition on Delling’s behalf.

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, law enforcement, Medical Marijuana, Supreme Court | 6 Comments »

Springsteen at 15,000 Words & Dave Eggers’ Global Parable

July 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

THE BOSS @ 15,000

As a respite from the hard news of the day, two stories about artists—one musical, the other literary.

The first story may already be on your radar, which is the fact that, on Monday, the New Yorker posted David Remnick’s novella-length and revelatory profile of Bruce Springsteen. And, on the off chance you don’t want to immediately read the full 15,000 words in the New Yorker, you can read about Remnick’s portrait of The Boss—whom he succeeds in never referring to as “The Boss”—just about everywhere else (like Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Fuse and the Washington Post, for starters.)

(As a happy Bruce cultist, I read the full 15,000 words Monday morning before coffee, and will likely read it again.)


Dave Eggers is the guy who, when he was 30, published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his memoir about raising his kid brother after the death of both of his parents from cancer—a book that was shortlisted for a Pulitzer and was enough of a literary phenom that it made Eggers both famous and relatively rich. If you read the thing, it probably either enchanted you because of Eggers’ obvious, edge-walking talent, or irritated you because of the literary party tricks he employed—or a little of both.

In the dozen years since the publication of HWSG, Eggers has started a book publishing house, two magazines, a string of nonprofit writing and tutorial centers for kids, and has written a pile of books, both nonfiction and fiction, each one seeming to build on the other in terms of strength, grace and relevance.

And the party tricks are long gone.

Eggers latest book, A Hologram for the King, is both bracingly original and weirdly classic, a sort of “Death of a Salesman” for the global economy— and easily the best novel I’ve read thus far in 2012.

Hologram was also the book I’ve read of late that I felt the most mournful about finishing. I wanted to linger a bit longer in the characters’—and Eggers’—company.

That’s why it was so heartening to read the lengthy review of Eggers’ Hologram on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Book section. Written by travel essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer, it hits every right mark in explaining why the book and the author matter.

Here are some clips from the review’s opening:

Where is our new-millennium Norman Mailer? It’s startling, 50 years on, to look back at the work of Mailer in the 1960s — from “The Presidential Papers” to “The Armies of the Night” — and see such unabashed ambition, such reckless audacity and such a stubborn American readiness to try to save the Republic from itself and bring it back to its original promise. Mailer’s very titles — “Advertisements for Myself,” “An American Dream” — told us he was on a mission, committed to the transformation of country and self, and even as he gave himself over to unremittingly private (and epic) meditations on God, the Devil, cancer and plastics, he was also determined to remake the civic order. He ran for mayor of New York City, he tried his hand at directing movies and in 1955 he helped start an alternative weekly known as The Village Voice. Part of the exhilaration of Mailer was that he cared so ravenously even when he failed; he was shooting for the moon even when he shot himself in the foot.

Dave Eggers comes from a much more sober, humbled, craft-­loving time, and his latest novel is the opposite of a failure: it’s a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad. But for all the difference between their generations, you can feel in Eggers some of the hunger, the range and the unembarrassedly serious engagement with America and its ideals that gave Mailer’s work such force.


Like Mailer, he’s almost underrated precisely because he’s so ubiquitous and dares us to mock him with his unapologetic ambitions. Yet where Mailer was consciously working in a deeply American grain, with his talk of revolution and transcendence, Eggers speaks for a new America that has to think globally and can’t be sure where the country fits on the planetary screen. And where Mailer was bent on showing us how America could remake the world, Eggers, with ferocious energy and versatility, has been studying how the world is remaking America. Most of our great contemporary examinations of cultural sampling and bipolar belonging come from writers with immigrant backgrounds. It’s invigorating, in that context, to see how Dave Eggers, born in Boston to classic fifth-generation Irish stock (his mother was a McSweeney) and raised in Lake Forest, Ill., has devoted himself to chronicling the shifting melting pot, seeming to tell others’ stories more than his own.

If you’re interested in literature, read the rest of the review. But if you’re just interested in a very, very good book that tells a quirky, dark-ish, funny, spare, discomforting and wildly insightful tale that will stay with you, read A Hologram for the King.

And if you want more Eggers after that, go down the list. (I particularly recommend Zeitoun.)

OKAY, NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING.… which you’ll find in Taylor’s post below.

Photo of Springsteen by manu_gt 500, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Dave Eggers by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, literature, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

US Corrections Infographic, GA Stays Execution of Mentally Disabled Killer…and More

July 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Pew Center on the States has an AWESOME infographic
on the American corrections system pictured above (go to the PEW website to view the graphic in an even larger size).


Warren Hill found out, just two hours before he was to be put to death, that his execution was stayed—not because of his mental disability, but to figure out if changes made to the state’s lethal injection procedures are in violation of GA law.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Bill Rankin has the story. Here’s a clip:

For more than a decade, Hill’s lawyers have sought to halt the execution on grounds the 52-year-old is mentally disabled. But Monday, with less than two hours to spare, the state high court unanimously granted the stay to determine whether a recent change to Georgia’s lethal-injection protocol violates state law. The court agreed to hear Hill’s appeal of a Fulton County judge’s decision issued earlier in the day.

Separately, by a 6-1 vote, the court declined to hear Hill’s appeal challenging the state’s standard to determine whether an inmate is mentally disabled and thus ineligible for execution. Justice Robert Benham, the lone dissenter, said he would not allow the execution because Hill has been found to have a mental disability.

Hill is on death row for the 1990 bludgeoning death of a fellow inmate at a southwest Georgia prison. At the time, he was serving a life sentence for killing his 18-year-old girlfriend in 1985.

Hill’s case attracted the attention of national and state advocacy groups for the developmentally disabled, who had asked for Hill to be allowed to serve the rest of his life in prison without parole. Former President Jimmy Carter and his wife, Rosalynn, had made a similar plea for mercy.


Greg Ousley—now 33—killed his parents at age 14, was tried as an adult, and is currently serving out two 30-year sentences. Ousley was a troubled teen, living in a discordant home not unlike other youths who commit parricide. Nineteen years later, he has had time to develop and mature, and both corrections officials and all but one family member deem him fit to reenter society. Is a man who murdered his parents in middle school ready to be released?

Scott Anderson has a beautifully written story for the NY Times Magazine. Here are a few clips:

His former work supervisor, Cindy Estes, was more explicit. “This kid has jumped through every hoop the state has put in front of him,” she told me. “He deserves to come out. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained by keeping him in there for another 10 years.”


…He set out on a painful journey of self-examination, trying to understand what he had done and why. One of the crueler paradoxes of his situation is that if he had been remanded into Indiana’s juvenile justice system, Greg would have received help in this process; Indiana places an emphasis on youthful offenders’ undergoing intensive behavioral and psychological therapy as a way for them to understand their actions and, it’s hoped, correct their course in the future.

But Greg entered an adult system where whatever psychological counseling existed was primarily geared toward helping an inmate cope with his incarceration, not examining how he got there in the first place. Going it alone, Greg began putting his thoughts to paper. His first effort, a 40-page handwritten essay begun when he was 19, took him 15 months to write and was titled, “Why I Killed My Parents.”


Strong or not, Greg’s case is a telling one in the national debate over just what is accomplished by sentencing juveniles to long prison sentences. In the case of juvenile parricide, there is an added paradox. Because it is among the most target-specific of crimes, criminologists believe that an abused juvenile who killed a parent is likely to be at low risk of future criminality if he gets treatment and has a strong social support system when he is released. Certainly society might recoil at the notion that a child who murders his parents should be “let off” by a juvenile detention that might end at 18 or 21, but attached to this is the question of when the thirst for punishment becomes counterproductive to all concerned. After all, Greg Ousley, like 95 percent of other prison inmates, is going to come out some day, and is it better for society that he do so when he’s in his 30s and still has the potential of patching together a somewhat-normal life, or not until his 40s when his options will be far more limited?

In addition, NY Times Rachel Nolan has a Q & A with Scott Anderson (the author of the above referenced article). Here’s a small clip:

[Rachel:] What do we know about the experience of juvenile offenders after they’ve served lengthy prison terms? Are recidivism rates higher or lower than for others?

[Scott:] I don’t know what the overall recidivism rate for juveniles convicted as adults is, but for parent-killers like Greg in general (whether placed in juvie or tried as adults), almost all studies show that the recidivism rate is extremely low (although again it’s hard to state much with absolute confidence due to the low numbers of people who commit parricide). This undoubtedly has to do with the target-specific nature of their crime. I did see a study where they compared 10 parricidal juveniles with 10 who killed other family members and 10 who killed strangers. Those in the first group had the least prior history of delinquency and the lowest recidivism rate (as I recall, just 1 of the 10 engaged in later criminality), while those in the last group — who killed strangers — had the highest.

NY Times also has a photocopy of the essay Ousley wrote at age 19 titled: “Why I Killed My Parents,” along with a page written in a notebook a few days before he committed parricide in which he states, “This weekend I’m going to kill my parents.” Be sure to take a look at the post. It’s worth reading.


In an attempt to deal with an outrageous backlog of fingerprint analysis throughout the 21 stations, LAPD officials have decided to implement a new system of 10 cases per station, per month. (This isn’t the first time the issue of LAPD evidence backlog has come up, either. We’ve noted in previous years the excess of rape kits waiting to be analyzed and problems within the fingerprint analysis dept.)

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

The LAPD’s beleaguered Latent Print Unit has failed to analyze fingerprints from about 2,200 burglaries, auto thefts and other property-related crimes, according to department figures. Detectives wait on average between two and three months to get print results back from the lab, LAPD officials said. In some cases, the delay can last more than a year and, in older cases in which the detectives have not pressed for analysis, prints are ignored altogether because the unit cannot keep up with the constant inflow of cases.

“In a perfect world, we’d get results back in a day or two,” said Michael Brausam, a detective in the LAPD’s Central Division. “The longer you leave these criminals out on the street, they’re likely going to be committing more crimes. And, if you do get a match on prints months later, it can be much harder to prove your case.”

And the prospect of the situation improving is bleak because of the city’s ongoing hiring freeze.

Since the freeze in 2009, the fingerprint unit has lost 27 of its 97 analysts. Over the next five years, 20% of the unit is expected to retire, officials said. Additionally, furloughs that are part of the city’s attempt to close a budget shortfall have exacerbated the problem, as have the neck and back injuries that analysts commonly suffer from long hours hunched over desks staring at prints through magnifying glasses.

Meanwhile, the demands on the unit continue unabated. Last year, detectives requested fingerprints to be collected at 19,000 crime scenes, and the pace so far this year is the same. As a result, LAPD officials have decided on a rationing plan that they hope will bring the workload in line with the unit’s capabilities.

Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, Death Penalty, DNA, juvenile justice, LAPD, Reentry | 2 Comments »

Gathering Some Thoughts About the Murders in Aurora

July 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Over the weekend, it was hard to focus on news other than the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed, 58 wounded, at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. With this in mind,
we’ve set aside other issues and have gathered some reports and stories that you might have missed.


Journalist and author Dave Cullen has first hand experience about the perils of jumping to conclusions about mass murder—and mass murderers. He is the author of the excellent book Columbine, which deconstructs in harrowing detail the myriad events that led to the Columbine school massacre, after which everyone reporting on the tragedy, including Cullen himself, seemed to get it wrong.

Here’s the opening of his essay about the Colorado shooting for Sunday’s NY Times.

YOU’VE had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong.

I learned that the hard way. In 1999 I lived in Denver and was part of the first wave of reporters to descend on Columbine High School the afternoon it was attacked. I ran with the journalistic pack that created the myths we are still living with. We created those myths for one reason: we were trying to answer the burning question of why, and we were trying to answer it way too soon. I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them.

Not one bit of that turned out to be true.

But the news media jumped to all those conclusions in the first 24 hours, so they are accepted by many people today as fact. The real story is a lot more disturbing. And instructive.


It is nearly impossible not to talk about gun control after this shooting (pro and con). And yet the presidential candidates have managed it.
Here are some of the more articulate pleas for a real discussion on the matter.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about what the politicians—on the right and the left—won’t talk about.

The murders—it dignifies them to call them a “tragedy”—in Aurora, Colorado, have hit us all hard, though the grief of the friends and families of the victims is unimaginable. Still, it hits home, or someplace worse than home, for any parent who (as I did, as so many did) had a kid at one of the many midnight screenings of the new Batman movie last night, they having gone to see it the moment it opened. Once again, as so often before, the unthinkable news is disassembled, piece by piece, into its heartbreaking parts. After the Virginia Tech shooting, the horrifying detail, as I wrote at the time, was that the cell phones were still ringing in the pockets of the dead children as their parents tried to call them. In Colorado, you can’t expunge the knowledge of the sudden turn from pleasure to horror that those children experienced.


The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it.


The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?
But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed

And then there is James Fallows’ Sunday night post at the Atlantic, after readers wrote him to say he was too pessimistic and furious in his earlier post about his certainty shootings like this would happen again.

Here’s a clip from the first post:

Like everyone, and I’d say especially like every parent, I am of course saddened and horrified by the latest mass shooting-murder. My sympathies to all.

And of course the additional sad, horrifying, and appalling point is the shared American knowledge that, beyond any doubt, this will happen again, and that it will happen in America many, many times before it occurs anywhere else…..

Now here’s a clip from the second post that went up Sunday night (in which he doesn’t back off in the least):

….I never mean to give in to jaded fatalism, so I will reflect on this again.

….Meanwhile, this sample of the insanity of today’s “security” thinking.

The latest Colorado shooter — like Jared Loughner of Tucson, Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, and the countless others whose names we forget after they have done their damage — could not legally have walked onto an airplane carrying a water bottle, or without taking off his shoes.

But he could walk down the street with a legally purchased assault rifle, body armor, and as much ammo as he could lift.

At some point the madness of this disproportion may sink in. To be clear on my own views: I see no reason why a civilian should be allowed to possess an assault rifle like this shooter’s AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16, or similar high-capacity weapons. These are for soldiers and others formally authorized to administer deadly force.

And while we’re on the “madness” topic, please consider:

The lasting distortion in our airport operations and travel “security” rules if these same 12 people had been killed and dozens injured on an airplane. We’d have Congressional hearings, sackings of TSA officials, new inspections and screening machines “to keep us safe,” and so on.
The military, diplomatic, and cultural consequences if the Batman murderer had happened to yell “Allahu Akbar!” or “Death to America!” before dispatching his victims….


This weekend Doug Berman, the attorney/law professor/sentencing expert who blogs at Sentencing Law and Policy, generated a LOT of heated discussion in response to this post on the shooting rampage in which he said how relieved he was that Colorado is a death penalty state.

(A little later, he revisited his thoughts on the matter with a cooler head here in his Sunday post, but he didn’t dial back his point.)

Here’s a small clip from the post that stirred everyone up:

….In the immediate aftermath of these sorts of horrific mass killings, I find it so very hard to react with my head without also listening to my heart. And in these kind of awful cases, my heart (or is it my gut) often suggests to me that ultimate punishment of death is the only one which feels fitting. I suspect Colorado prosecutors (and perhaps also federal prosecutors) will have similar feelings…..

(Readers here know that we at WLA are big fans of Doug Berman,which doesn’t mean we agree with him on absolutely everything).


In the midst of much nattering by TV talking heads on the issue, former LAPD chief Bill Bratton was refreshingly sane and specific on Meet the Press as he responded to the argument that, if only theater goers had been carrying their own guns, much of the theater shooting tragedy could have been averted.

(NOTE: You have to listen to quite a bit of blather before you get to Bratton’s comments at about minute 2:03.)

Earlier in the weekend, Bratton told FOX News that “What we need is “some sanity in our gun control laws.”

Photo by Alan Mittelstaedt

Posted in Bill Bratton, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, guns, media | 41 Comments »

THE UNDERSHERIFF & THE GRAY, Part 2 – by Matthew Fleischer

July 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Other law enforcement officers weigh in, plus an internal LASD document puts the undersheriff’s “work in the gray” speeches into a troubling context

By Matt Fleischer

Two weeks ago, at the most recent Jails Commission hearing, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain Pat Maxwell, who heads LASD’s Norwalk Station, testified about a disturbing meeting he had with LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. The year was 2009, and Tanaka came to Norwalk to hold a meeting with the station’s supervisors. According to Maxwell, Tanaka, who was then an assistant sheriff, was quite blunt about what Norwalk’s supervisors were doing wrong. “He was talking to my sergeants, lieutenants and he said, ‘You need to let deputies do their job out there, they have a tough job. You need to allow the deputies to work in the gray area.”

Pressed by commission members to define “gray area,” Maxwell initially demurred. “Well, that’s the problem with the gray area, there’s a lot of different interpretations.”

When compounded with Tanaka’s repeated statements—to Maxwell and others—about his dislike for robust internal affairs investigations, the captain eventually revealed that he believed there was little doubt about Tanaka’s meaning: “To me, working in the gray area is outside of policy and outside the law.”

Maxwell is not the only LASD employee to arrive at this interpretation. His sentiment echoes our earlier reporting on Tanaka’s apparent infatuation with “the gray.”

“If we know there are drugs in a house, but we don’t have a warrant,” one supervisor who worked under Tanaka told us, “‘working the gray’ would mean manufacturing a reason to search the house. We could say we were responding to a complaint of a domestic disturbance, or that we personally heard a disturbance. Whatever it takes to get inside that house and get the job done.”

This past Tuesday, Tanaka penned a department-wide memo, which quickly found its way to WitnessLA and to the LA Times. In the memo, the undersheriff attempted to rebut that notion that his repeated work the gray area speeches promoted a borderline-straddling or extralegal style of law enforcement:

“I’ve come to learn in recent months that the term ’grey area’ can be easily misinterpreted by those that choose to do so. Some would like to believe that the grey area is the area between right and wrong, that it characterizes certain police misconduct as acceptable, and that the end justifies the means.

“I’m writing this message to ensure that there is no misunderstanding — that when it comes to right or wrong, there is NO grey area. The discretionary authority given to us as law enforcement officers brings with it tremendous responsibility. It requires us to be knowledgeable of all applicable laws, rules, policies and protocols and to enforce them in a manner that is fair, impartial and compassionate. Being a peace officer necessitates that you maintain an unwavering sense of right and wrong. Cross this line and you violate our Department’s Core Values, dishonor the badge, let down your fellow deputies, bring shame to yourself and embarrass your family.”


The idea that Tanaka has been making the rounds to some of the most active stations in the department, calling closed door meetings in which he insisted deputies focus their efforts on exercising proper discretion when giving speeding tickets and the like, stretches the limits of plausibility. But to get a better idea of how the concept is viewed by other policing agencies, I called around to a variety of law enforcement departments in California and elsewhere in the country to get their take on “working in the gray.”

“Like a lot of idioms, it can be used in ways other than its accepted sense,” Riverside Police Chief and 33-year LAPD vet Sergio Diaz told me. “It’s a phrase about ethical ambiguity that is in itself very ambiguous.”

But Diaz and nearly all the law enforcement officials I spoke with made the distinction between a law enforcement officer’s discretion and the “gray area” of the law.

“I can’t imagine describing the gray area as discretion,” Diaz said.

El Paso Police Department training officer Allen Edington went even further. “There’s no such thing as a gray area,” he said. “There’s the law and that’s it. We address that right out of the gate [in training].

Edington, like Diaz, quickly drew a sharp line between an officer’s discretion and working in the ambiguous gray.

“There is a realm of officer discretion. The soccer mom speeding to get to her boy in the hospital who had an accident: do you give her a citation or let her go? We set boundaries on what we’re willing to accept on officer discretion.”

What if a recruit were to bring up the gray areas of law enforcement during training?

“We would shut that down in a heartbeat,” Edington said.

San Diego Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Jan Caldwell was equally dismissive of the notion of “gray” policing. “In all my time at the Sheriff’s Department and 32 years in the FBI before that, I have never heard the term used. Nor have I heard that term used by any law enforcement agency in the San Diego area.”

Of course, “gray area” is a universal term that occasionally gets bandied about in casual conversation. As it relates to law enforcement, Caldwell says those instances call for intensive collective circumspection.

“I think if a deputy or anyone comes to us and says there’s a ‘gray area,’ we would sit down and talk about that. We would weigh very carefully how the letter of the law applies to that situation.”

The bottom line, she says, “There is no gray area. Our mission is to enforce the law and the law is pretty specific. We have a mission statement and one of our points is, ‘we do the right thing, even when no one is looking.’”

Diaz, however, disagrees with the notion that there isn’t a legitimate place for a very circumscribed kind of ambiguity in law enforcement. “To say there’s no gray area is a totalitarian point of view.”

That said, he added, without very explicit guidance in the parameters of the gray area, its scope can easily be misconstrued, and abused.

“You have to know how that particular person used it,” Diaz says. “What I’m concerned about the phrase could be used as the verbal equivalent of a wink and a nod. It’s gray as long as you don’t get caught.”

Deputy Tom Peine, public information officer of the Pima County Sheriff’s Department in Arizona, was reluctant to even comment on working in the gray, given a lack of universal clarity on the term.

“We don’t have such a definition here. There is no such thing as an official or an unofficial encouragement of the gray area in our department. We’re trying to do our job well and do it right. This department takes great pains to protect rights, not violate them. The courts look at this stuff under a magnifying glass, and rightfully so.”

Peine did acknowledge that working in the gray is an inevitability in law enforcement. “It’s not that I don’t understand what you’re talking about. There are situations where you don’t have a black or a white.”

However, these situations are far from ideal. “Those are tough places to be in. Those situations can arise, but you don’t necessarily want to be in them.”

Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department echoes Peine’s sentiment. “I’ve heard that term. It’s used in a lot of different professions. To me, it means sometimes there may not be a policy, procedure or law that governs a certain situation. But, when you’re dealing with a situation like that, you need to use moral and ethical decision-making.”

In other words, working in the gray is an inevitable, ethically perilous part of any law officer’s job. But is it something to be pursued?

“I wouldn’t encourage it as a rule,” says Kelly. “If you train your people right, the gray area should be very small, the black and white should be large. I certainly wouldn’t try to exploit the gray area. Search and seizure or use of force, you better be careful. You need solid foundation.”

Diaz agrees that application of ethical “gray” policing is extremely limited in scope. “There is no gray area when it comes to force,” he says. “A police supervisor speaking to subordinates on an issue as critical as force, you have to go to great pains not to be ambiguous and to be understood.”


This brings us to why, according to LASD sources we spoke with, Tanaka’s speeches about the virtues of “gray” policework have been so troubling: As we reported in Part 4 of our Dangerous Jails series, these speeches to station deputies did not occur in a vacuum.

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