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LA Co. Juvie Probation Camp Raises Education Bar, Santa Clara Sheriff Urges Gov. Jerry to Sign TRUST Act, and LAPD Chief Beck Addresses Use of Force Problems

August 31st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Challenger, LA County’s largest juvenile probation camp, has come a very long way from the once horrifying conditions it subjected kids to. In November of 2010, the ACLU, Public Counsel, and the Disability Rights Legal Center settled a landmark lawsuit over Challenger’s then unconscionable education system. (WitnessLA’s previous post on the lawsuit can be found here.) Two years later, Challenger has had a complete turn-around, giving its education system the potential to be a model for juvie probation camps across the country, says KPCC’s Tami Abdollah in a pair of stories on the camp. Here are some clips from the first story:

Probation and education officials have trained together under a new “behavior management model” called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.

The program has landed Challenger in a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education that evaluates the effects of it in juvenile corrections.

Since January, PBIS has slowly reduced the numbers of students written up for bad behavior from dozens a day to as few as two. Staff put up posters in classrooms illustrating proper classroom behavior.

“We assumed kids knew what was expected of our kids in the classroom, but that was not true,” said Kimberly Humphries, assistant principal for special education. “Because our kids have not traditionally been in school. They’ve been kicked out, they don’t go.”

The change is one example of the biggest shift that has taken place at Challenger: a change from a “punitive coercive culture” to a more “positive cooperative culture,” said Watkins.

“Instead of constantly catching the kids when they were doing something wrong, we needed to flip that, and start to catch the kids when they were doing things right,” Watkins said. “A lot of our attention was being focused on the kids who were not behaving, … and there were probably a lot more kids behaving.”


It costs roughly $139,500 per year, per bed, to house and educate minors at a county juvenile detention camp, according to county officials. Traditionally, it is more expensive than housing adults, because of the requirements to educate and efforts to rehabilitate youths, said Peter Leone, a professor of special education at the University of Maryland.

Leone is a national expert at delivering education in detention settings and serves as a monitor in this case. He has been involved in monitoring and reform at dozens of facilities for 25 years.

“There will be people who … say: ‘What are they doing all this stuff for these kids for? My kid didn’t get in trouble and he didn’t have access to this kind of stuff. … It’s a waste of money,’” Leone said. “But it’s a whole lot less expensive to get these kids on the right track, to support them, help them become more confident young men, than to have them potentially in and out of juvenile corrections. That’s more expensive. They’re not taxpayers. Then we have to house them, provide for them.

“I don’t think the public understands that. I think we’re still in that ‘get tough on crime,’ ‘three strikes you’re out’ mentality that’s much more punitive,” Leone said.

Tami Abdollah has another, longer article on Challenger—this one focusing on Challenger’s potential to emerge as a model for other youth camps if it can get the support it needs to proceed. The juvie probation camp is on a roll, but it faces budget cuts that may make staying on course difficult. Here’s a clip from the second article:

…A 2011 settlement agreement gave county officials a legal mandate to change. The agreement requires monitoring and quarterly reports by a team of experts over four years who check on 13 areas of reform, including literacy, instruction and special education. A monitor is at the site several times a month, sometimes weekly.

“There’s a lot of pressure on everybody,” said school principal Marsha Watkins. “We live in a fishbowl pretty much. But the real bottom line is it comes down to kids. …We weren’t doing what we needed to do for kids, and now we are.”

Yet even as Challenger emerges as a possible model for teaching incarcerated kids, budget worries may endanger these reform efforts. Cuts to state funding have already forced a round of layoffs since the settlement, and such new and innovative programs —as well as the training for them — require more resources. There is a fear that, though support and focus is here now, that won’t remain the case in the future.

(Be sure to read the rest of these articles, as they are jam-packed with worthwhile information and Abdollah’s excellent writing and reporting.)


Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith has publicly taken a stand in favor of the TRUST Act, sending a letter to Gov. Brown asking him to sign the legislature. The TRUST Act would keep law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants for ICE, except in the case of serious felonies. Smith’s stance is a major divergence from the views of other CA sheriffs.

CBS San Francisco has the story. Here’s a clip:

Smith sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to sign the TRUST act. If approved, police would be prohibited from holding undocumented immigrants at local jails for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unless they are charged with serious or violent felonies. The legislation was introduced by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

In the letter, Smith criticized the federal government’s “Secure Communities Program” or S-Comm, which was billed as a way to deport violent criminals. The sheriff said in two-thirds of the deportations, the detainees had no criminal records or had nonviolent offenses such as traffic violations.

Smith wrote: “The S-Comm program has diminished trust in our immigrant communities of local law enforcement…immigrant victims and witnesses of crime have told me they are afraid to come forward to cooperate with local law enforcement out of fear that they could be detained by ICE under S-Comm and deported.”

(A copy of the letter from Sheriff Smith can be found here.)


Sheriff Baca says that he will not enforce the Trust Act. (Here is a nice little cartoon depiction by the LA Times’ Ted Rall.)


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has reassigned and cut the pay of the commanding officer of the Foothill division due to his poor response to an incident involving questionable use of force to detain a woman arrested after a traffic violation last week. Beck also removed the officers involved from field duty pending the investigation—an action he says should have been executed by the commanding officer.

The Daily News’ Dakota Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have serious concerns about this incident and I believe the commanding officer of Foothill area was severely deficient in his response,” Beck said. “Proper steps were not taken, including appropriate notifications and the removal of the involved officers from the field. Because of these issues, I have removed him from his command and initiated downgrade procedures.”

Beck also is requiring that video of the incident be played at officer roll calls across the city as part of a discussion about use of force issues.

“Every Los Angeles police officer regardless of rank will be held accountable for their actions,” Beck said.

And then, there’s this—LA Times’ staff writers have the story on yet another LAPD brutality investigation. This time, a woman died in custody after a particularly violent struggle in which a female officer stomped on her genital area. Here’s a clip:

The altercation in front of her South Los Angeles apartment was captured by a patrol car’s video camera.

When asked by The Times about the incident, LAPD Cmdr. Bob Green confirmed that one officer, while trying to get Alesia Thomas into the back of a patrol car, threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals if she did not comply, and then followed through on her threat.

After officers forced Thomas into the back seat of the police car, she is seen on the video breathing shallowly; she eventually stopped breathing.

“I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement late Thursday. “I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us.”

Photo by KPCC’s Tami Abdollah

Posted in ACLU, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, immigration, juvenile justice, LAPD | 1 Comment »

Will Gov. Jerry Cave to Political Pressure & Veto SB9, the Juvie LWOP Bill?

August 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Is Jerry Brown really considering vetoing SB9,
the bill that would give some of those sentenced as juveniles to Life Without Parole a chance of a chance to one day leave prison?

Elizabeth Calvin, Human Rights Watch’s well-respected Children’s Right Advocate, says she’s worried.

When the bill finally was passed by the state assembly two weeks ago, supporters of the legislation figured that was pretty much the ball game. A done deal.

Sure, SB9 still had to go through a procedural vote in the state senate. But the senate had never been the problem. In the last three years, AB9 made it through the senate several times without a hitch, but then got stopped short when it hit the assembly, where otherwise sensible lawmakers got cold feet and sat out the vote, because of the loud protestations of victims’ rights groups and law enforcement unions, both of which are lobbying forces with piles of money to throw against a candidate who crosses them.

Then, finally, on August 16, the bill passed in the state assembly for the first time.

Juvenile justice advocates were ecstatic.

As predicted, it sailed through the senate the following week.

All that remained was for the governor to sign it, which surely Jerry would do. Right?

However, on Wednesday morning, a bunch of panicked emails from youth advocacy groups began to show up in my email box. The messages all urged supporters to call the governor and plead with him to sign the bill into law.

I figured this was just advocacy overkill, but wanted to make sure, so I called Human Rights Watch’s Elizabeth Calvin to ask her what was going on.

Calvin told me she thought the veto risk might be real.

“In my conversations with the governor’s staff,” Calvin said grimly, “they mentioned…..concerns.”

“Like what concerns?”

“Well,” she said, “Number one, Jerry’s worried that, with realignment just getting started, if he signs this, he’ll end up being known as the guy who let lots of criminals out of prison.”

“But…realignment doesn’t let anyone out of prison,” I sputtered. “Like, nobody. It lets zero people out early. All it does is to send certain low-ish level offenders to jail when they’re convicted, whereas before realignment, those same people would have served their time in state prison. In other words, the counties now lock ‘em up instead of the state. Realignment also transfers some parolees to county oversight, but they don’t get out early or anything…”

“Look,” Calvin interrupted. I know that and you know that, but it’s the….”

“...perception,” I said, my tone now as grim as hers.

“Right. It’s the perception.”

“They said it would be easier if we just brought the bill back a year from now…”

I groaned.

“You said that was number one of the governor’s concerns,” I said. “Is there a number two?”

“Number two is that the Sacramento-based victims rights groups are very vocal. And so are the law enforcement unions.”

“Uh, huh,” I said, thinking of the LAPD union’s recent push to get Brown to ax the bill (which WLA covered here and here).

“PORAC has told the governor that defeating this bill is their number one priority.”

PORAC—for those who don’t keep up on every law enforcement acronym, is the Peace Officers Research Organization of California. They’re a good organization that advocates for law enforcement. If you’re a politician, they’re very handy people to have backing you, and very unfun to have against you.

They backed Jerry, not Meg Whitman, for governor. One presumes he’d like to have their backing the next time around.

But does that require the veto of a bill that, when you get past the alarmist rhetoric, is just a very sensible and humane piece of legislation that corrects a matter that needs correcting, I suspect the governor knows all that. But will politics win out anyway?

“This is not good,” I said.

“No,” she said.

We’ll let you know more as we know more.


I was not able to speak to PORAC’s president, Ron Cottingham, before I posted this story. However, Mr. Cottingham, who is also a member of the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, did kindly call me back this morning and we had a wide-ranging chat about the ins and outs of the issue.

The bottom line is that PORAC is, indeed, strenuously opposing the bill.

The reasons he cited were much the same as the LAPPL—the LAPD union-–had listed, most of which I recognized as having come from the main victims’ rights lobbying group opposing the bill.

Yet I found Cottingham to be a bright, thoughtful person who, while appropriately protective of PORAC’s law enforcement membership, was also genuinely interested in the facts of the matter. He wanted, for example, to know how many of those convicted as juveniles would have been eligible for the death penalty for the crimes of which they were convicted. It was a question I couldn’t answer.

He also was under the impression that everyone given juvenile life had been through a thorough a complex vetting process before they were tried as adults. I told him that, no, after Prop. 21, DAs could “direct file,” meaning they could file on kids as adults without having to go through a juvenile court process known as a “fitness hearing.” Well, what percentage of the LWOP juveniles fell into that direct file category, Cottingham wanted to know. Were they the exception or the rule?

I had no definitive stat for that either.

I had enough information to be able to disabuse him of certain false notions he had about the bill, and he listened thoughtfully. On certain other parts of the topic, we agreed to disagree.

After I got off the phone, I realized the question I should have asked Mr. Cottingham: Had any of those who were advocating for the passage of SB9 called PORAC? Or was he just hearing from victims rights groups, who like many advocacy groups, tend to shave the dice on their facts and figures?

If the latter was true, why had none of the juvenile justice experts managed to sit down with the various law enforcement unions to explain why SB9 was not a threat to public safety, or a slap in the face to the work of cops?

Maybe PORAC, the LAPPL and others would still come out against bills like SB9, but maybe not. As I said, while Ron Cottingham would certainly always have a law-enforcement leaning, he was interested in more than knee-jerk positions. He was interested in facts.

I wondered why no one in the juvenile justice reform camp had thought to provide him with the detailed facts of the matter before now.

Photo from the Office of the Governor.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LWOP Kids | 2 Comments »

Update On the Fate of LA Juvenile Probation’s Sports Program, GOP Platform Calls for More Inmate Rehabilitation…and More

August 30th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


There are concerns that Camp Kilpatrick, an aging LA County juvenile probation camp scheduled to undergo a $41M renovation, will not resume its well-known sports program once the facility is rebuilt. Kilpatrick is the only juvie detention facility that has a sports program for the kids. (You can read WitnessLA’s previous post on Kilpatrick here.) The issue was discussed Tuesday during the Board of Supervisors meeting.

Zev Yaroslavsky, who coauthored a motion with Mark Ridley-Thomas, urged the board to proceed with a motion that would have Probation Chief Jerry Powers commission a study gauging the benefits of sports programs for incarcerated youth. (Apparently there are few, if any, studies on the ability of inter-mural sports programs to lower recidivism in incarcerated kids.) All members seemed to agree that the sports program should resume once Kilpatrick reopens. Ridley-Thomas had this to say:

“The sports program at Camp Kilpatrick has already been widely acknowledged… The work that is happening at Camp Kilpatrick to make it a better environment is essentially the principle cause for the temporary—and I want to underscore ‘temporary’—termination of the sports program there… I think it’s fair to suggest that there is no intention on the part of this board to terminate the sports program…”

Sup. Knabe suggested looking at another evaluation of a different program that the Supervisors had previously ordered up a couple of years ago, this one of the outcomes for probationers who, after they were released, went through a program at Homeboy industries. “…If I could make a friendly amendment to include that comparison,” he said.

The question seems to be whether or not a study is necessary to include sports programs in the “evidence-based” treatment programs that the DOJ requires. (We at WitnessLA think that including money for program evaluation in funding is a good thing! These studies and evaluations allow us to see what works, what doesn’t, and give us an idea of what might work better.)

Here’s a clip from Yaroslavsky and Ridley-Thomas’ motion:

The County Probation Department is under ongoing U.S. Department of Justice scrutiny of the facilities and programming it provides for its young wards. The U.S. DOJ requires that the county offer “evidence-based integrated treatment programs.” While such activities as group therapy sessions and mental health counseling have been proven through rigorous study to help the plight of these teenagers and reduce recidivism, intermural sports programs have not been similarly studied. There is apparently no “evidence” to show that participation in team sports can play a positive role in rehabilitating these young people.

Recent history, however, suggests otherwise. The 2006 film “Gridiron Gang” portrayed real-life Camp Kilpatrick wards learning to play football and win together despite coming from rival gangs. In 2010, the Camp Kilpatrick basketball team made the state play-offs, failed to advance to the championship game but nonetheless won its league Sportsmanship Award. In 2011, a team from neighboring Camp David Gonzalez competed successfully in an intermural contest to design, build and race a solar-powered boat. While these small triumphs may not speak to long-term therapeutic advancement or reductions in recidivism, they do seem to provide concrete “evidence” of pro-social behavior among these troubled youth.

Also, if you feel so inclined, you can read Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting transcript here.


While the newly adopted Republican platform supports capital punishment, the Defense of Marriage Act, and Arizona’s immigration laws, it also called for better inmate rehabilitation and recidivism reduction strategies—which is one thing that both parties can agree upon.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest has the story. Here’s a clip:

The platform endorsed “new approaches, often called accountability courts,” and said, “government at all levels should work with faithbased institutions that have proven track records in diverting young and first time, non-violent offenders from criminal careers.” Republicans back state and local initiatives “trying new approaches to curbing drug abuse and diverting firsttime offenders to rehabilitation.” The platform assailed federal “overcriminalization,” noting that the number of U.S. criminal offenses has jumped from 3,000 in the early 1980s to 4,450 in 2008. It says Congress “should withdraw from federal departments and agencies the power to criminalize behavior, a practice which, according to the Congressional Research Service, has created tens of thousands of criminal offenses.”

You can access the complete GOP platform here.


New York prisons are implementing a new video conference visitation system for those prisoners who are locked up in facilities far away from their families. This would be great to see instituted in CA, where most prisons are in remote locations, making visits for working family members and kids extremely difficult.

The New York Daily News’ Oren Yaniv has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Tayshona McDuffie used to meet her inmate mother only twice a year after making a grueling, 400-mile journey to a prison near the Canadian border.

These days, the daughter gets to see her mom twice each month while sitting in a videoconference room in downtown Brooklyn.

“It improves our relationship,” said McDuffie, 19, whose mother is nearing the end of a 12-year sentence for an assault conviction. “I look forward to it every month.”

The fledging program of prison visits via closed-circuit TV — the first one in the state — is set to more than quadruple in size this fall, the Daily News has learned.

“The research shows that people will do better when they’re released if they stay connected with their families,” said Elizabeth Gaynes, executive director of the Osborne Association, a nonprofit that has been conducting the meetings known as televisits for the past two years.

Posted in 2012 Election, Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison | 2 Comments »

LASD INVESTIGATIONS: TRUTH & CONSEQUENCES – Revisiting the Jails Commission Testimony of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – by Matthew Fleischer

August 29th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The very last jails commission meeting is next Friday, September 7.

Then in early October, the commission will deliver its final report.

Thus as we head into the home stretch of what will have been a year-long process, we thought it might be beneficial to review some of what has come to light in the course of the commission’s investigations.

In this first such review, WLA’s Matt Fleischer looks long and hard at the substance and the meaning of the testimony given by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who appeared before the commission on July 27.


by Matthew Fleischer

It’s been just over one month since Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka testified before the Los Angeles Commission on Jail Violence-—a blue ribbon panel charged with investigating the brutal and systemic deputy-on-inmate violence inside the county jails. Interestingly, it was the testimony of the notoriously media-shy Tanaka, not Baca, that was the most hotly anticipated.

In previous testimony by others before the commission, as well as in numerous reports in the media, Tanaka had been accused of failing to do anything to stop a culture of violence from growing and festering in the jails after he was reportedly warned verbally and in written reports about the growing crisis. Even worse, according some who testified, he had tacitly facilitated an anything-goes ethic among those working in Men’s Central Jail– breeching the chain-of-command to interfere when lesser-ranked supervisors attempted to hold out-of-control deputies accountable.

For instance, in September of 2011 WitnessLA reported that, in 2006, Tanaka unilaterally shut down a pivotal anti-force reform effort by then-Men’s Central Jail captain John Clark—a reform that was since enacted years later once news of the brutality inside the jails began to leak to the press. In the months that followed, we reported that Tanaka was widely rumored to be running a pay-to-play promotional scheme inside the sheriff’s department—in which LASD donors to his Gardena mayoral campaign were placed in key supervisory roles and other coveted positions, throughout the department, and most crucially in Men’s Central Jail (MCJ), in several cases, despite troubled managerial backgrounds. Prominent among those Tanaka-favored figures was Captain Dan Cruz, the highest-ranking member of the department put on leave for his role in failing to check the violence inside the jails, and allegedly in many instances appearing to sanction it.

The undersheriff had never publicly answered any of the accusations despite the repeated calls for accountability by social justice advocates and outraged LASD personnel.

At the commission, deputy general counsel Bert Deixler questioned Tanaka on these and other topics–including pinning the undersheriff down for encouraging deputies to work the “gray area” of law enforcement. Yet Deixler spent the most time trying to get Mr. Tanaka to explain his failure to contain, or even to address, the growing violence in MCJ.

In response to Deixler’s questions, Tanaka provided little of substance, falling back repeatedly on, “I don’t remember” and “I don’t recall” in response to even the most basic of inquiries by Deixler.

Tanaka’s testimony may not have provided the commission with the answers they were looking for, but it did provoke several significant questions: what did Tanaka know about force problems inside the jails and when did he know it? Did Tanaka lie throughout the commission hearing about his knowledge of the epidemic of force? Or was he bizarrely incurious about and irresponsibly unaware of the enormous problems that were facing the nation’s largest jail?

Thus far there is no smoking gun to provide an unassailable answer one way or the other, but there is a wealth of evidence compiled by WitnessLA, the jails commission and others that suggests his claim of ignorance is simply untrue. However the implication of his purported ignorance of force issues is nearly as profound.


Though he denied being aware of them at the time, when presented with document after document that outlined widespread instances of excessive force inside the jails and noted a pattern of clumsy attempts to cover-up that violence, Tanaka admitted to the commission that there were extensive problems with jail violence under his watch that should have been a “significant cause for concern.”

Yet while the undersheriff acknowledged that there were fundamental issues plaguing the jails during his tenure as assistant sheriff overseeing the department’s custody division (and in the three plus years directly after when he still frequently meddled in custody matters) he stuck to his mantra that he simply wasn’t aware of the problems until a flood of bad publicity, and the commission’s own work, brought the matter to his attention. According to Tanaka, his failings as manager were not that he ignored dire warnings and reports of excessive force inside the jails (as a preponderance of evidence and other testimony suggests) It was the staff beneath him who failed to adequately inform him or to handle the job on their own initiative. Had he only been informed of the problems, Tanaka claimed, he would have gone into action.

When Deixler asked Tanaka directly if he had any knowledge of deputy-on-inmate force problems inside the jail system during his tenure as assistant sheriff in charge of custody from 2005-2007, Tanaka flatly replied “No.”

Deixler followed up: “When you were assistant sheriff for custody, did you receive or request reports about problems with deputy cliques?”

“I did not receive any reports that there were problems with deputy cliques during that period of time,” Tanaka said.

Later, Deixler asked about the statements of retired LASD Commander Robert Olmsted, who oversaw the jails from 2008-2010, and whose testimony before the commission had been—prior to Baca and Tanaka—the most dramatic. Olmsted testified he told Tanaka directly in a 2010 meeting that “…force is out of control. There are issues that need to be addressed down there [in MCJ]” Tanaka listened stone-faced, then replied to Deixler, “That’s a fictional account of what occurred.”

It was a reaction that left many in the audience scratching their heads.

“It seems to me everybody buried their head in the sand in regard to this issue,” Commissioner Dickran M. Tevrizian Jr. told Tanaka. “It’s very hard for a rational person to understand this.”

Indeed, it was hard for us at WitnessLA to comprehend how Tanaka could have been unaware of high levels of force inside MCJ. From 2008 to 2010, custody supervisors generated no less than four internal reports, each intended to raise the alarm that there were serious and ongoing issues of excessive force inside the jail that were being inadequately reported and, in many instances, likely outright covered up:

Lieutenant Steve Smith compiled a force report in the fall of 2009, in which he noted that 42 deputy sheriffs had 10 or more uses of force over the last 24 months. (To put those numbers in perspective, it helps to know that, one week after Tanaka’s testimony, former commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections Martin Horn testified that only three uses of force by an officer at Rikers Island Prison Complex would trigger an automatic interview with the warden of the facility.) In another report, Smith looked at the patterns that could be seen with the highest force users, and what might be done to address the problem. In 2009, Lieutenant Mark McCorkle analyzed 154 force reports from 2005 to 2009 and found a list of red flags—cases of “repeated blows to the heads” of inmates, “personnel not held accountable,” and “events dramatized to justify the outcome.” And in January of 2010, Captain Gregory Johnson wrote a report that analyzed force packages at MCJ, and how they were improperly investigated, often in a manner that appeared to be consciously designed to let deputies off the hook for misdeeds.

Robert Olmsted, who oversaw the jails as a commander from 2008-2010, said he explicitly told Tanaka about these reports when he met with Tanaka in 2010.

“You don’t get called into the Assistant Sheriff’s office too often,” Olmsted told WitnessLA. “When you do, it sticks.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 74 Comments »

The Push to Make PTSD a Qualifier for OR Medical Marijuana, the Dangers of Being a Confidential Informant in the War on Drugs…and More

August 28th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Right now, Oregon veterans seeking to use medical marijuana to treat their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder must have a different qualifying condition to legally receive the drug. Veterans and advocates of medical marijuana are pushing to get PTSD on the list of approved conditions, but are being met with political opposition.

The Oregonian’s Noelle Crombie has the story. Here are some clips:

As with virtually all marijuana-related matters in the United States, the debate over expanding Oregon’s program to include PTSD is politically charged. The drug’s outlaw status under federal law makes it a lightning rod for controversy. Two previous attempts to add PTSD to Oregon’s program have failed, and Colorado and Arizona officials recently rejected efforts to add the condition to their medical marijuana programs.

Law enforcement in Oregon generally opposes the expansion of the program. Some drug treatment providers caution against treating PTSD sufferers with what they view as an addictive drug.

Oregon is home to an estimated 300,000 veterans, including more than 20,000 from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs. A 2008 Rand Corporation study found nearly 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets reported PTSD symptoms.

Jason Hansman, senior program manager for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said medical marijuana’s potential to help sick veterans deserves serious examination.

“We treat it like any other new treatment technique: We want to see it studied. We want to see increased research to see if it’s a viable solution,” said Hansman, whose group represents 145,000 veterans.


States considering whether to add PTSD to their medical marijuana programs face a lack of research on the topic, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Dr. John H. Halpern, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and researcher at McLean Hospital outside Boston, one of the country’s leading psychiatric hospitals, said there’s an “overabundance of case reports” suggesting marijuana aids PTSD sufferers. In a recently published paper, Halpern presented a case study he helped conduct on a PTSD sufferer whose marijuana use dramatically eased his symptoms.

But the politics of marijuana bogs down any meaningful examination of its benefits, Halpern said.


Sarah Stillman has an excellent article for The New Yorker called “The Throwaways” on the unchecked use young confidential informants in the war on drugs and the life-threatening situations they are often put in. Even if you don’t subscribe to the New Yorker, find a way to get a hold of this article (found in the Sept. 3rd issue). Here is a clip from the abstract:

On the evening of May 7, 2008, a twenty-three-year-old recent Florida State graduate named Rachel Hoffman got into her Volvo sedan and headed north to a public park in Tallahassee, Florida. On the passenger seat beside her was a handbag that contained thirteen thousand dollars in marked bills.

She was not a trained narcotics operative. Perhaps what put her at ease was the knowledge that nineteen law-enforcement agents were tracking her every move, and that a Drug Enforcement Administration surveillance plane was circling overhead.

Three weeks earlier, police officers had arrived at the door of her apartment after someone complained about the smell of marijuana. The cops seized slightly more than five ounces of pot and several Ecstasy and Valium pills. Hoffman could face serious prison time for felony charges.

The officer in charge, Ryan Pender, told her that she might be able to help herself if she provided “substantial assistance” to the city’s narcotics team. She believed that any charges against her could be reduced, or even dropped.

The operation did not go as planned. By the end of the hour, police lost track of her and her car. By the evening of her disappearance, Rachel Morningstar Hoffman had been working for the Tallahassee Police Department for almost three weeks. In bureaucratic terms, she was Confidential Informant No. 1129. In legal parlance, she was a “coöperator,” one of thousands of people who, each year, help the police build cases against others, often for the promise of leniency in the U.S. criminal-justice system.

Informants are the foot soldiers in the government’s war on drugs. By some estimates, up to eighty per cent of all drug cases in America involve them, often in active roles like Hoffman’s. For police departments facing budget woes, untrained C.I.s are an inexpensive way of outsourcing the work of undercover officers.

Unlike wiretaps and other highly regulated investigative techniques, informants can be deployed without a warrant. Often, their efforts involve no paperwork and no institutional oversight, let alone lawyers, judges, or public scrutiny. Every day, offenders are sent out to perform high-risk police operations with few legal protections. Some are juveniles, sometimes as young as fourteen or fifteen. Many have been given false assurances by the police, used with striking disregard for their safety, and treated as disposable pawns of the criminal-justice system.


The CA Supreme Court overturned Miguel Bacigalupo’s death sentence Monday due to unearthed evidence that the prosecution failed to present to the defense during the double murder trial. The court determined that there was a probability that the jury would have recommended life in prison without parole had the jurors heard the missing evidence.

The San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here are some clips:

In a unanimous ruling, the seven-member court, which seldom overturns California death sentences, ordered a new penalty phase trial for Miguel Bacigalupo, who was sent to death row for the 1983 slayings of two brothers in their San Jose jewelry store. The Supreme Court left Bacigalupo’s murder convictions intact, but concluded that prosecutorial misconduct could have altered the jury’s death sentence recommendation.

The Supreme Court largely followed the findings of a superior court judge assigned to explore allegations that the lead prosecutor, current Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joyce Allegro, and her lead investigator decades ago did not reveal crucial evidence to the defense that a Colombian drug cartel was involved in the crime.

“Substantial evidence supports the (lower court’s) determination and it is reasonably probable that petitioner’s penalty phase jury would have returned a verdict of life in prison without parole had it heard the evidence withheld by the prosecution,” Justice Joyce Kennard wrote for the court.


As with most of California’s more than 720 death row inmates, Bacigalupo’s appeal has languished in the state Supreme Court for more than 20 years, and his case has never even reached the federal courts, where cases typically take another decade to resolve.

Proposition 34 backers say this bogged-down system has become too costly for California to maintain. But death penalty supporters argue the punishment is still justified for the state’s most heinous murderers, and that the system would cost less if the courts processed appeals more swiftly.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Death Penalty, Marijuana laws, PTSD, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

Fed Subpoena May Pertain to Tanaka “Work the Gray” Incident, a Well-liked LAPD Deputy Chief Retires, & More on Solitary Confinement

August 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


WitnessLA has obtained the following email that went out to all LASD lieutenants this past Wednesday morning:

From: Federal Grand Jury Inquiry
Sent: Wednesday, August 22, 2012 7:36 AM
To: All Lieutenants
Subject: Federal Criminal Grand Jury Subpoena #1788

Good morning,
The Department has received a subpoena from the Federal Criminal Grand Jury which commands, in part, the following documents:

“4. Any and all correspondence between members or associates of the CCJV [Citizen's Committee on Jail Violence] and any member of the LASD at the level of Lieutenant or above.”
YOU MUST RESPOND TO THIS EMAIL. If you possess documents that are responsive to this subpoena, please indicate so in a reply email. If you do not have documents that are responsive, indicate such in a reply email.

It is of the utmost importance that we comply fully with this subpoena.
Your prompt attention to this matter is necessary and your cooperation is appreciated.

In that the memo was notably fuzzy about what this subpoena/grand jury business was about, there has much department speculation about what exactly the Feds are looking for.

Robert Faturechi from the LA Times wrote about the subpoena on Saturday. (You can read his article here.) In his story, he reported that the memo provoked concern that the subpoena could inadvertently “force department members to out themselves” if they have given testimony privately and in confidence to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence.

However, a department source has told us that the subpoena may pertain to a story that WitnessLA first reported last month about an incident that occurred in mid-2005, after the murder of Sheriff’s Deputy Luis Gerardo Ortiz by a Hawaiian Gardens gang member.

According to our source, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was ushered in to speak to a room full of 80 to 100 deputies, federal agents and other members of law enforcement, who were all part of a multi-agency task force being briefed before the service of a series of search warrants in connection with the killing of Deputy Ortiz. According to the story, before he began, Tanaka told anyone who was video taping the proceedings, to turn off all recording devices. Then he reportedly gave to those assembled a version of his “work the gray,” speech, and some of those listening were concerned by the skate-the-edge ethic they believed the speech tacitly encouraged.

Subsequent to our reporting, the CCJV [Citizen's Committee on Jail Violence] brought the incident into public testimony, and questioned Mr. Tanaka himself on what had occurred. (He denied telling anyone to turn off recording devices or saying anything that implied working on or over the legal line.)

We have been told that pursuant to the commission meeting, the feds became interested and that 11 federal officers have already been interviewed by the FBI on this matter.

Of course, due to what appears to be the general nature of the subpoena request, the “work the gray” incident, may be only one of the things that the feds are looking at.

One thing we do know is that the FBI investigation that began by looking into incidents of violence and corruption in Men’s Central Jail continues to widen.

As we learn more about the issue of the subpoena and the grand jury we will let you know.


The South Bureau of the LAPD polices some of the most challenging real estate in in all of California. Yet in the last few years it has been led by a series of commanding officers who have managed to create good relationships with communities whose residents had, for decades, felt themselves to be at war with LA’s law enforcement.

The person commanding South Bureau right now is a guy named Pat Gannon, who is extraordinarily well liked by community members, activists, city government types, and the officers under him. Smart, strategic, warm and innovative, it is difficult to find anyone who doesn’t like the man.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that Gannon is retiring on August 31.

Now that the dreaded time has nearly arrived, writer Diana Chapman has written a nice profile of Gannon for City Watch explaining why she and those in the communities LAPD’s South Bureau polices don’t want to see Pat Gannon go. Not at all.

Here’s a clip:

He returned phone calls.

He set up water polo and basketball games between his officers and community kids. Sometimes he even played in them. As the captain of the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Division, he closed down an entire street Halloween night so parents and children could trick-or-treat safely in the neighborhood saturated with crime. His officers policed the event.

Most of all, LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, who retires from the department Aug. 31, listened to people like you and me.
“He was a saint,” said Neal Kleiner, who met Gannon when he was principal at one of the toughest middle schools — John Muir — in the 77th Division. Having called Gannon’s predecessor and never getting a response, Kleiner was astonished when Gannon, then the new captain, called him without provocation.

“He initiated a call to me and visited Muir,” Kleiner said still with amazement. “He let me know that his men were there to service the community and if I needed help to call. He was a frequent visitor to the school and met with the staff and parents and he demonstrated a genuine concern for my school and the community.”

Said Mike Lansing, the Harbor Area Boys and Girls Club executive director: “Pat always supported the Boys and Club and the work we do. He advocated for kids through his police work and had officers interact with our members — including playing basketball. Sometimes, Pat even played himself. He is one of the great leaders who actually wanted to know what we did — he took the time to listen and engage our members.”

Gannon, 56, retires not because he wants to, but because he signed on to an economically savvy retirement package the LAPD offered years ago which he now regrets.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: It's called the DROP program and it can seem like a good idea at the time, and then becomes something that LAPD officers wish they could reverse as retirement time approaches. That's the situation with Gannon. I know because I've asked him about the issue mournfully several times.]

“I could have stayed forever,” said Gannon, who plans to look for other police work. “I’m going to continue working. It was interesting to me. I worked cases. I solved them and I enjoyed that.”


The wide use of solitary confinement as a punitive measure in U.S. prisons continues to be controversial. On Sunday, the online only version of the New York Times featured a new op ed challenging the cost/benefit wisdom (or lack thereof) of the practice, written by Vanderbilt University associate professor, Lisa Guenther, who is the author of the forthcoming book “Social Death and Its Afterlives: A Critical Phenomenology of Solitary Confinement.”

Here’s how it opens:

There are many ways to destroy a person, but the simplest and most devastating might be solitary confinement. Deprived of meaningful human contact, otherwise healthy prisoners often come unhinged. They experience intense anxiety, paranoia, depression, memory loss, hallucinations and other perceptual distortions. Psychiatrists call this cluster of symptoms SHU syndrome, named after the Security Housing Units of many supermax prisons. Prisoners have more direct ways of naming their experience. They call it “living death,” the “gray box,” or “living in a black hole.”

In June the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, headed by Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, held the first Congressional hearing on solitary confinement. Advocates and experts in the field were invited to submit testimony on the psychological, ethical, social and economic issues raised by punitive isolation. Among the many contributors was Anthony Graves, who spent over 18 years on death row in Texas, most of them in solitary confinement, for a crime he did not commit. Graves describes his isolation as a form of “emotional torture.” Two years after his exoneration and release, he still feels trapped in isolation: “I am living amongst millions of people in the world today, but most of the time I feel alone. I cry at night because of this feeling. I just want to stop feeling this way, but I haven’t been able to.”

We tend to assume that solitary confinement is reserved for “the worst of the worst”: violent inmates who have proved themselves unwilling or unable to live in the general population. But the truth is that an inmate can be sent to the hole for failing to return a meal tray, or for possession of contraband (which can include anything from weapons to spicy tortilla chips). According to the Bureau of Justice, there were 81,622 prisoners in some form of “restricted housing” (code for solitary confinement) in 2005. If anything, these numbers have increased as isolation units continue to be built in prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers across the country. Given that 95 percent of all inmates are eventually released into the public, and that many of these will be released without any form of transition or therapy, solitary confinement is a problem that potentially affects every one of us.

Posted in FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary | 2 Comments »

The Right Stuff: Neil Armstrong R.I.P. 1930 – 2012

August 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

He was shy, a geeky engineer type who had none of the charisma of, say, John Glenn, the all American golden boy at one end of the spectrum, or Chuck Yeager, the legendary cowboyesque fighter pilot at the other.

Yet, Neil Armstrong was capable, committed to precision, with nerves of ice when the situation demanded it.

Here is how Tom Wolfe described Armstrong in his 1979 classic, “The Right Stuff.” (a book that is, by the way, just as astonishingly good and relevant as when it was published).

[Armstrong's facial expression] “hardly ever changed. You’d ask him a question, and he would just stare at you with those pale-blue eyes of his, and you’d start to ask the question again, figuring he hadn’t understood, and — click — out of his mouth would come forth a sequence of long, quiet, perfectly formed, precisely thought-out sentences, full of anisotropic functions and multiple-encounter trajectories . . . It was as if his hesitations were just data punch-in intervals for his computer.”

And in the 1999 Washington Post Magazine profile of Armstrong, journalist Kathy Sawyer writes this of that day in the summer of 1969 when Neil Armstrong entered history:

….At touchdown, NASA measured Armstrong’s pulse at 150 beats per minute. You can hear the emotion in the recording of the Apollo commander’s words of confirmation: “Houston, uh . . .”

Here he paused, staring out through his visor at the deceptively benign-looking moonscape. The quaver in his voice was still discernible when he continued, identifying the landing spot in a way that he believed would evoke the tradition of human explorers over the centuries:

“Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.

This was 4:17:42 p.m. EDT.

The notion of a small step compared with a great leap seemed natural, and Neil Armstrong thought up the line on his own during the 6 1/2 hours between touchdown and stepping out, he said later. He was aware that the occasion called for something beyond engineer-speak. On the ground, his mother told reporters he wanted to say something that included everybody in the world.

What he meant to say was: “That’s one small step for a man,” but either he misspoke in his excitement or the spotty transmission eliminated the article — “We’ll never know,” he has said cryptically — and it came out: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The momentous hop from the ladder to the surface happened in the waning minutes of prime time — 10:56 p.m. EDT, Sunday, July 20, 1969, with grainy black-and-white TV images beamed to the world live from the moon’s surface. Armstrong and Aldrin spent less than 21/2 hours outside their moon ship, setting up experiments, collecting rocks, taking pictures. They never ventured more than about 150 feet from the lander, but Armstrong startled some members of the ground team when he bounded out of the camera’s field of view to examine an interesting crater.

It was like being on a flood-lit sandlot baseball field at night, he would later tell fellow engineers. You’re standing in this dazzling light at ground level, but above you is a stark black sky. Earth appears four times as big as the moon does from Earth, and the oceans and continents — even white clouds — are visible.

Armstrong felt elated when that first step reassured him that “we weren’t going to sink into the surface,” he said. His most surprising visual impression was the eerie play of color and light. At lunar dawn, the airless moonscape seemed drained of color, but as the sun rose, the moving light was reflected in bright tan. Surprisingly, though, the actual color of the rock when viewed close up was dark or charcoal brown. The horizon, close by, was jagged and outlined with knife-edge sharpness against the black abyss.

Even the laconic pilot/engineer felt the tingle of the moment. As they stood in the flood of light, Armstrong leaned toward Aldrin, clapped his gloved hand on his crew mate’s shoulder and said, “Isn’t it fun?”

Posted in Life in general | 2 Comments »

Why Won’t Lee Baca Release All the Records on LA’s Costly Participation in “Secure Communities?”

August 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


This week, a New York based justice advocacy organization called Justice Strategies released a report that looked at the dollar cost of LA County’s participation in the Department of Homeland Security’s “Secure Communities” program, in which local law enforcement—in this case the LA County Sheriff’s Department—detains undocumented residents. It turns out that LA is spending $26 million a year on these Secure Communities prisoners—and it may be that we are keeping these same prisoners far longer than necessary in our already overcrowded jails.

Justice Strategies got their numbers through a lawsuit filed by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.under the Public Records Act, but still the LASD held back some of the most crucial information requested, as the LA Times notes in an important editorial that ran earlier this week.

The report and the editorial bring up several large questions that demand further discussion. But, before we get there, first a rundown by on how Secure Communities works. Here’s how Roxandra Guild of KPCC explains it.

Here’s how Secure Communities works: When local law enforcement makes any arrest, the detainees’ fingerprints are sent to a federal database. If the person is deportable, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will ask local law enforcement to keep the person in detention for no more than 48 hours, until federal agents can transfer that person to one of its facilities.

The report from New York-based advocacy organization Justice Strategies puts a dollar figure on L.A. County’s spending for immigrant detention. The report says the cost is so high because county jails hold undocumented immigrants, on average, for 20 days — not the mandated 48 hours.

So here are the questions:

1. Why was progressive lawman Baca so eager to leap into this controversial program way back in 2009?

2. Why, given that the county’s jails are so overcrowded that the sheriff plans to ship some of the inmates off to other areas of the state, does the Los Angeles Sheriff Department hold the ICE detainees an average of 20 days rather than the federally required 48 hours? This is an average of 17 days longer than legal residents facing the same criminal charge, notes the LA Times. Seriously, what’s that about?

3. What’s in it for Baca? Although the taxpayers of LA County are taking a hit with Secure Communities, is the LASD making a profit on the detentions?

Maybe not. But our suspicions would be better quelled if the sheriff would release those records that reveal how many immigrants were held for what length of time, and on what charges.

This is not a topic that should be allowed to let slide.

Posted in immigration, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

LA’s D.A. Steve Cooley and SF’s D.A. George Gascon Square Off About Realignment, 3- Strikes Reform, & the Death Penality

August 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Today, Friday, KQED together with the Center for Investigative Reporting wraps up their excellent and informative week-long series called PRISON BREAK that is all about realignment and the changing face of California’s criminal justice system

The half hour segment that will air tonight at 7:30 pm, is in two parts. The first part is an remarkably detailed overview of the issue—reported by my friend Michael Montgomery—that will give you a clear idea of what realignment is all about, what challenges and opportunities it presents, and the myriad ways it could affect the health and well being of our state and of our individual counties.

The second half of Friday’s program features twinned interviews with the District Attorneys from California’s two most populous cities—LA’s Steve Cooley and San Francisco’s George Gascon. (It should be noted that, as the former Assistant Chief and head of operations of the LAPD, under Bill Bratton, Gascon knows LA pretty well too.)

As they are questioned by KQED’s Scott Shafer, Cooley and Gascon and square off over the value—or lack thereof—of realignment—and come down on two very different sides of the question.

Cooley displays the most law-and-order side to his personality as he portrays realignment as an unfolding disaster.

In contrast, Gascon comes across as a man with a more nuanced view of the future of criminal justice, and a broader grasp of the possibilities that realignment presents.

And finally, the videos at the top of this post are extra two clips from the outtakes of Friday night’s show in which Cooley and Gascon agree about the proposed 3-Strikes reform, Prop. 36, and then disagree mightily on the topic of the death penalty, and Prop. 34, the ballot measure that would end the death penalty and replace it with life without parole.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Realignment, Reentry, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

The LAPD Union Reads WLA & Changes its Tune on SB9—At Least a Little

August 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

No. The LAPPL leadership isn’t suddenly clasping SB 9—the Juvie LWOP reform bill
—warmly to its collective bosom.

But, in response to our post yesterday, it has removed the biggest errors from its pitch to members and others, to contact Governor Jerry Brown and urge him to veto the legislation in question.

We appreciate the union’s willingness to make the correction and to do it so quickly.


Tuesday night, the union sent around an email to its members and friends hectoring them to urge Jerry to veto SB 9, the bill that would give some people sentenced to life without parole for crimes they committed when they were teenagers, at least the slim possibility of one day getting to leave prison before they die.

Inmates who had committed certain kinds of particularly horrific murders—those involving torture or the killing of a peace officer, firefighter or public official—would be excluded from even the possibility of eventual parole, no matter how remorseful and rehabilitated the inmate, or how steller his or her behavior in prison over the decades.

However, when the LAPPL powers-that-be sent out their initial pitch against the bill on Tuesday night, their big selling point was the notion that SB 9 would result in the release of cop killers. They even detailed the particularly vicious shooting of a detective by someone they insisted that SB 9 would set free.

Of course, the bill allows for no such thing. If anything, it strengthens the certainty that no kid killers of police officers will ever be released for any reason.

WitnessLA called them out on this (and some of their other statements) in a story Wednesday morning.

We felt the issue was important. On one hand, we didn’t think Jerry would veto the bill. But we do know he is very mindful of his relationships with the state’s public safety unions. Thus we would hate to have had him get a flood of anti-SB 9 emails—based on a lie.

And so we were heartened when, on Wednesday mid-morning we heard that, having read our story (and likely noted that LA Observed and others linked to it), the LAPPL got upset at the news of its mistakes.

As a consequence, we heard, there was a flurry of unhappy phone calls, et al, in and around the union’s offices. Finally it was decided; they’d remove the statements in question from their online pitch.

There is some overheated prose remaining, plus some arguable inaccuracies here and there. And the union still opposes the bill.

But they are now doing so far more honestly.

And that’s always a good thing.

Photo of Sutter Brown courtesy of Sutter Brown

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LWOP Kids | 2 Comments »

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