Friday, December 9, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




Supervisor Ridley-Thomas Calls for Civilian Oversight of the LASD.

September 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On Friday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, announced his intention to seek some strong civilian oversite
for the the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in the form of a citizen oversight commission and an inspector general.

This is, as it turns out, very much in keeping with what the commission unequivocally recommended in its report, and that the commissioners emphasized personally when they each spoke individually.

The Office of Independent Review (OIR) and Special Council Merrick Bobb are not enough, he told me. “They’ve become somewhat toothless.”

What is needed now is fundamental “systemic reform.,” he said. The department needs to transform.

This is from Ridley-Thomas’s statement:

Now that the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence has completed its mission, we can be sure of one thing: The Sheriff’s Department cannot police itself.

That is why I will ask the board to make profound structural changes with regard to oversight of the department and create a system for permanent and independent citizen oversight of our jails.

On Tuesday, Oct. 2, I will introduce a Board motion directing the County Counsel and the Chief Executive Officer to assess the viability of establishing both a Citizens Law Enforcement Commission and an Inspector General for the Sheriff’s Dept.

“The commission could be like the LAPD’s police commission or it could be based on another model,” Ridley-Thomas said.

“It’s time. No one should fear it.”

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 32 Comments »

Today Jails Commission Will Issue Final Report With 63 Recommendations UPDATED

September 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Today, Friday, the Citizen’s Committee on Jail Violence—CCJV—
will meet at 10 am to release its final report and recommendations to the public,. The report is the result of nine month investigation into allegations of inappropriate use of force against inmates in L.A. County jails.

NOON UPDATE: I’m still at the commission meeting, but you can start looking at the report by going here.

For a shorter version, here’s the executive summary.

According to the statement issued Thursday afternoon, the Commission’s final report will include 63 recommendations “that relate to jail management, culture, personnel and training, oversight, discipline and accountability.”

The report also includes over 77 findings that resulted from:

*interviews with over 150 witnesses (including past and present Sheriff’s Department personnel, inmates, clergy, and others)

*review of over 35,000 pages of documentary evidence including Sheriff’s Department memoranda and data, and information obtained from experts and corrections leaders.

The big question is, of course: what difference will it make? The commission has no legal power. But it does have the power of the pulpit, so to speak.

How will the sheriff react? And what will the Board of Supervisors do if the sheriff makes the easy changes but declines to make the harder, more important ones?

These are answers that will unfold over time. But we will have some indications right away.

So stay tuned. It’s going to be a VERY interesting day.

Posted in jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 9 Comments »

BOOK LOVERS ALERT: Come to the West Hollywood Book Fair Sunday!

September 28th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

It used to be that the LA Times Festival of Books was the only game in town
, but in the 11 years since it started, the West Hollywood Book Fair has become its own major So Cal literary event attracting big crowds and featuring a long and excellent list of authors and poets.

This year, I’ll be moderating a panel called Women in Crime at 11:45 am until 12:45. My stellar panelist are April Smith, AGS Johnson and Amelia Gray, all three are incredibly talented women, each with very different approaches to crime writing.

And then at 4 pm, I’ll be interviewing the remarkable Luis Rodriguez, author of the LA classic, Always Running, and most recently, the moving sequel It Calls You Back-—among his works.

But mine are only two out of a list of great panels.

Here’s the full schedule.

Check it out. There are many treats that await all book lovers, I promise you.

11th Annual West Hollywood Book Fair
Sunday, September 30, 2012
10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
West Hollywood Library and West Hollywood Park
625 North San Vicente Boulevard.

Photo from Good Gay LA

Posted in American voices, art and culture, arts, writers and writing | No Comments »


September 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Patrick Caruthers, a well-liked teenager and volunteer for Summer Night Lights was shot in broad daylight as he sat on a South LA park bench Tuesday. According to police, Patrick, a developmentally disabled 19-year-old, seems to have been mistaken for a gang member. Cameras projected to be installed at Harvard Park earlier this summer have been caught up in City Hall delays since early 2012. While there’s no guarantee the cameras would have made a difference, it’s hard not to wonder if surveillance may have deterred the tragic violence, or at least given the police leads in the investigation. A heartwrenching death like this is a reminder that even though crime is down in LA, for the people affected, one murder is earth-shattering.

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

A student at L.A. Trade Technical College, Caruthers got out of class a little early Tuesday and headed straight to Harvard Park. He called his stepfather at about 3 p.m. to check in.

Caruthers was sitting at a picnic table with his headphones on when a gunman shot him multiple times in the back. The gunman fled in a compact car.

Police said the shooting was gang-related, but that Caruthers was an innocent bystander.

The shooter “thought he was targeting a gang member,” LAPD Det. Chris Barling said. “At 3 o’clock in the afternoon, somebody doesn’t walk up and shoot somebody on a park bench. That is something a gang member would do.”

Caruthers, who has a learning disability, volunteered at the city-owned park for years, until the director finally hired him in the Summer Night Lights anti-gang program. There, he helped steer youngsters from trouble.

“He was the one guy you would go to the park and see and he was always doing something positive,” said Officer Gary Verge of the LAPD’s 77th Division. “I’ve been on the scene of a lot of shootings but hearing about this one really bothered me.”


LAUSD teacher and author, Dennis Danziger, goes to bat for Prop 30 in a impassioned and funny editorial for the Huffington Post. Danziger says the tax-raising bill will likely keep Gov. Brown from cutting $4.8 billion from the education budget. That kind of cut could mean that kids would lose another 15-20 school days per year, which could have a disastrous effect on the state’s already struggling public school system.

Here’s how Danziger’s editorial opens:

Regardless of who wins the presidential election on Nov. 6, California’s six million K-12 public school students will feel no immediate effect.

However, if California’s Proposition 30, a Sales and Income Tax Increase Initiative, fails all California public school students’ lives will be rocked the next morning.

The Los Angeles Unified School District has already lopped 10 days off its normal 180-day school year to deal with this year’s state budget crisis. And if Prop 30, which raises California sales tax from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent and increases the income tax on those earning over $250,000, goes down in flames, Governor Brown will likely make good on his promise to cut $4.8 billion in public school funds. That could mean wiping out an additional 15-20 schools days from the 2012-2013 academic year.

That’s good news for day care providers, video arcade owners and sleep-a-way camp proprietors.

Not so good for student learning.

What does a 155-day public school year look like?

Well, compare it to China which sends its kids to school 260 days; Japan, 243 days; Israel, 216 days; Nigeria, 190 days; France, 185 days; and Bolivia, 160 days.

So all other things being equal, California public school kids should be able to give Bolivian students a run for their money come spring when it’s time to take those standardized tests.


It has been determined that Meatball, the adorable and mischievous Glendale bear, will remain a California resident. If you don’t know the story, Meatball was caught in Glendale and released deep in the forest several times, to no avail. California Fish and Game officials had aimed to send him to a sanctuary in Colorado, but CO state officials blocked his entry. Now, Meatball will await the building of his new habitat in a sanctuary outside San Diego.

The Glendale News Press’ Brittany Levine has the story. Here’s a clip:

Since being lured into a trap with McDonald’s and bacon, Meatball has been staying in a 15-by-20 foot cage at the Lions, Tigers, and Bears animal sanctuary in Alpine in east San Diego County. It was meant to be a holding spot until the bear could be transferred to a much larger sanctuary in Colorado, but state officials there blocked the plan.

California fish and game officials had said they would seek out a permanent home stateside, but since then, Lions, Tigers and Bears has embarked on a fundraising campaign to build Meatball his own habitat. The sanctuary still has a long way to go — it’s raised just $22,000 of the $250,000 needed — but the effort has been enough for the California Department of Fish and Game.

“We’re hoping that he lives a long, happy life in Alpine,” said the agency’s spokesman, Andrew Hughan, who was reached by phone Tuesday as he visited Meatball for the first time.

The bear captured the hearts of many after he made multiple visits to foothill neighborhoods, snacking on trash and raiding a freezer of his namesake — frozen meatballs. California officials twice relocated the bear deep in the Angeles National Forest, but he continued to return.

Photo taken from a memorial facebook page.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

New ACLU Report Shows Unnecessary and “Alarming” Use of Head Strikes….And the Grand Jury Subpoenas Roll In for LASD

September 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


In anticipation of the final report on Friday by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence—and the Sheriff’s reaction to that report— the So Cal ACLU issued its own report Wednesday morning, contending that jail deputies frequently use head strikes—many causing serious injuries—at a rate that is fundamentally out of line with the national standard among corrections officers.

Corrections expert Steve J. Martin, a former Texas correctional officer, turned attorney, turned nationally-known corrections consultant, examined the ACLU’s report and weighed in under oath. Martin said, among other things, that “….the number and extent of head injuries sustained in these use of force incidents strongly suggest’ that the deputies working in Men’s Central Jail “employ hard impact head strikes during force incidents”…”at alarming levels.”

Interestingly, Martin also said that, after reviewing the department’s own use of force stats compiled by the Jails Commission, he concluded “…that there were many more serious injuries, including head injuries, between 2009 and 2012 that the ACLU is aware of.”

Here’s a link to Martin’s full testimony.

And here’s more from Wednesday’s ACLU report:

…There is clear evidence that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”) deputies have used head strikes with alarming regularity in the Los Angeles County jails. In many of those incidents the head strikes have caused significant injuries. The manner and frequency of such head strikes strongly suggests an inappropriate use of force by

In recent years, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies have stomped on inmates’ heads, even after shackling those inmates’ hands. They have bashed inmates’ faces into concrete walls. They have fractured inmates’ facial bones – noses, jaws, cheekbones, or eye sockets. The ACLU is aware of least 11 inmates who have had their facial bones broken by LASD deputies in the past three years. One inmate has lost vision in one eye. Others have undergone surgery. Sixty-four people have made sworn statements describing incidents in which deputies targeted inmates’ heads for attack between 2009 and 2012. These are not mere unsubstantiated complaints. The ACLU has corroborated 12 of these allegations of head injuries with secondary evidence, such as medical records, photographic documentation, or civilian reports. In several other instances, inmate witnesses have corroborated reports of deputy-on-inmate head strikes.

If history is any guide, LASD will respond to this evidence by attacking the ACLU and blaming inmates. They will argue that inmates’ accounts of deputies using unjustified force are false, and they will allege that inmates were the aggressors.

But even assuming that the LASD is correct that the inmates were aggressive towards deputies, the attempt to blame inmates does not absolve the LASD from its use of excessive and illegal force. For even where inmates are the aggressors, the fundamental widely recognized rule regarding use of force by a custodial officer is that head strikes are almost never permissible. Accordingly, head injuries should be an exceedingly rare consequence of a use of force incident, even when inmates are aggressive.

There are some disturbing accounts of the use of head strikes in the report itself, like the story of “Mr. NN” picture above.


Several rounds of grand jury subpoenas have been delivered to members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department, some this week, some last week, and some reportedly trickling in still earlier.

This week’s flurry caused the Sheriff’s Department to send around a memo on Tuesday telling those receiving the things and not to go around bringing in any LASD documents or paperwork—even if the feds ask for them—without consulting the department’s legal watchdogs on the matter.

Here’s a clip from the memo:




It should be an interesting week.

Posted in ACLU, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 29 Comments »

New ACLU Jails Report Released Later Today, LA City Controller Laura Chick’s Fiery Blast at Carmen Trutanich…and More

September 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Ahead of this Friday’s final Jails Commission report, the ACLU of Southern CA will release a new, highly critical report of its own today, Wednesday, at 10a.m. during a press conference held at its downtown headquarters. (We’ll have more on the report later this morning.)

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s press release:

The report, says the ACLU’s advisory, “…compiles some 64 sworn statements taken since 2009 describing attacks in which deputies targeted inmates’ heads, as well as substantial corroborating documentation including photographs and medical records, and the opinion of a nationally recognized corrections expert on the impropriety of using head strikes, even where inmates are aggressive.”

More in a while.


A Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled earlier this week that Harold Hall, a man falsely imprisoned for nineteen years, would be able to sue the LAPD for allegedly coercing his confession.

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

Harold C. Hall should be permitted to amend his complaint against the city to allege coerced confession, which the court said was made as a result of “desperation, fear and fatigue,” in possible violation of the Fifth Amendment.

The majority in the 2-1 decision said “the extraordinary circumstances” of Hall’s conviction justified the court’s unusual action as necessary “to prevent a woefully unjust result.”

Hall’s double-murder conviction in 1985 was based on “falsified” documents by a jailhouse informant and a confession Hall made when he was 18, the court said. He agreed to admit guilt only after several hours of interrogation in which he was handcuffed and denied food. He was never advised of his rights, the court said.

Hall’s convictions eventually were overturned. He later sued the city, but failed to allege violation of the Fifth Amendment, which protects people from forced self-incrimination. A district judge dismissed the case after ruling Hall could not amend his suit to cite the proper provision of law.

The 9th Circuit majority said the “exceptional” nature of Hall’s history warranted Monday’s ruling that revived his suit. “Justice eluded Hall when he suffered a conviction based on that confession and the patently false inculpatory evidence created by a jailhouse informant,” wrote Judge Dorothy W. Nelson, an appointee of former President Carter. “Justice eluded Hall when he served nineteen years in state prison for a crime he did not commit. And justice will elude Hall yet again without the opportunity to amend his complaint and let a jury decide whether he deserves monetary compensation for his unlawful incarceration.”


LA man John Edward Smith was exonerated and freed on Monday. Smith sat in prison for nineteen years before wrongful convictions non-profit Innocence Matters took on his case and found issues with the testimony of the sole witness who says LAPD officers coerced his positive ID of Smith.

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

During 19 years behind bars, Smith, a 37-year-old former gang member, adamantly maintained his innocence in the drive-by shooting, insisting that he was miles away at his grandmother’s house at the time of the crime.

His claims went unheard until three years ago, when a fledgling wrongful convictions group, Innocence Matters, took his case and identified problems with the testimony of the lone witness to identify him as the killer. The man subsequently recanted and at a brief and raucous hearing Monday afternoon, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge vacated his conviction.

Smith’s relatives and friends erupted in cheers as Judge Patricia Schnegg, the supervising criminal judge, said she was setting aside the 1995 verdict because Smith’s conviction rested almost entirely on perjured testimony.

“Thank you for your enthusiasm,” Schnegg told the audience as Smith, dressed in a blue jumpsuit, gave a slight smile.

Smith was released around 8:30 Monday evening from a jail in downtown L.A., and was greeted by a phalanx of camera crews and microphones.

The judge’s ruling came after the district attorney’s office completed its own yearlong investigation and determined that the witness, a high school student injured in the shooting, had lied on the stand.

That teenager, Landu Mvuemba, told Smith’s lawyers that LAPD detectives had pressured him into the identification and that he had tried on a number of occasions over the years to alert authorities about his false statements.

Be sure to watch the embedded video above the story. KTLA captured some very touching moments from Smith’s grandmother and the rest of his family.


Laura Chick, former LA City Controller and current co-chair of Mike Feuer’s campaign to unseat Carmen Trutanich as City Attorney, called out Trutanich in a sharply-worded letter to LA. The letter spared no effort to make her ill feelings about Trutanich very clear.

Here’s a clip from Laura Chick’s letter:

I remember April 15, 2009 like it was yesterday. That’s when I stood in front of Los Angeles City Hall and lent my support to a man who called himself “The People’s Attorney…dedicated to restoring honesty, integrity, accountability and transparency” to city government. I admit, I bought into the hype of this so-called “City Hall Outsider.” I took him at his word when he promised he’d be a breath of fresh air, who would cleanse the musty halls of power, and who would continue my own work of restoring honesty and integrity to the people’s business. When I said that day, “I think he’ll make an outstanding City Attorney,” I truly believed it.

But it didn’t take long for me to realize I had made a terrible mistake. Shortly after taking office, Mr. Trutanich reneged on his pledge to support the City Controller’s ability to conduct audits of multi-million dollar programs housed in elected officials office’s, especially the City Attorney’s office. With this one breathtaking reversal the so-called “People’s Attorney” revealed himself to be a liar and demagogue, who would not only lie to me to gain my political support, but whose clear intention was to squash transparency and disallow the scrutiny of how taxpayers dollars are spent.

A simple Google search will yield dozens of news stories documenting Mr. Trutanich’s sizable record of broken promises, shattered pledges and misleading tactics. From violating his pledge not to seek higher office, to reneging on his debt to LA’s BEST, to his recent questionable actions in favor of campaign contributors, Mr. Trutanich has broken faith with the people of Los Angeles.

Kevin Roderick also has the letter and a response to Laura Chick from Trutanich’s campaign spokesperson, John Schwada.

Photo Credit: ACLU

Posted in ACLU, District Attorney, Innocence, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

Sheriff Baca’s Racked Up Absences from LA During Jails Scandal, Flawed Civilian Oversight of LASD, Automatic Arrest-Tracking Software…and More

September 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


As we look toward the Jails Commission report Friday, LA Weekly calls our attention to data showing that Sheriff Lee Baca was absent from the county for over a month between January and July at the height of LASD’s expanding scandal. The information came to light as a result of a records request by eagle-eye county-watcher Eric Preven.

LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Instead of providing answers to dozens of black-and-blue L.A. County jail inmates and the ACLU, or addressing his deputies’ brutal, gang-like policing tactics…

… Baca apparently split town as much as his travel budget would allow, making himself into some kind of international ambassador for feel-good cop philosophies like “public trust policing” and “education-based incarceration.” (Although we’re really not sure how anyone takes him seriously on those issues, considering that the level of mistrust between his department and the Los Angeles public is at an all-time high.)

Baca’s travel record shows that he took a total of 18 trips between January and July, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on flights and hotel rooms so that he could sprinkle his L.A. Sheriff’s wisdoms all across the globe.

Here, his five strangest/silliest appearances in 2012 so far:

Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.: Meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey
April 13-14 in Seattle, Washington: The Pacific Institute Spirit Board Meeting
April 21-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada: Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay
May 18-22 in Doha, Qatar: Doha Forum
June 22 in Washington, D.C.: Keynote Speaker at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Conference


The LA Times reports flaws in civilian oversight of the sheriff’s dept. Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Revelations of brutality by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and cover-ups inside the jails have exposed significant shortcomings in the department’s civilian watchdog system, which was created to prevent such misconduct.

The watchdogs have come under scrutiny from county supervisors and investigators for a commission examining jail abuse. The investigators found that neither of the two main civilian monitors regularly analyzed data that tracks violent encounters between deputies and inmates or examined how the department handled inmate complaints.


Pennsylvania reporter Andrew McGill developed an arrest-tracking tool called Philly Rap Sheet. “It’s a small entry in the growing tradition of data-journalism innovation on the cops-and-courts beat — from to EveryBlock to Crime L.A. and many more,” writes Adrienne LaFrance of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. This may be a good thing to consider for compiling statistics in other parts of the nation. While this technology is pulling data from public records that anyone can access, there seem to be some questions of ethics in regard to publishing—via mass email alerts—the names of those who later get their charges dropped or their records expunged.

LaFrance interviewed Andrew McGill on his arrest-tracking tool. Here’s a clip from the Q & A:

LaFrance: So what’s your vision for this thing?

McGill: I don’t know. It’s tough. I want to add historical data. So I spent a little bit of money to get data back to around 2005, which is not that far back, but at least it’s historical data. I want to backload that in. But in terms of the next step, it’s tough to say.

I want to get into a little bit more analytics. I think it’d be nice to add more realms of information to cross reference. I might look again at some things and see if I can pull some more data out of the existing sheets. Geography-wise, I do have what police district arrests are in, and I haven’t done a lot with that. So I want to try to start doing that, and maybe have a newsletter. Right now, I just have alerts.

LaFrance: And as a reporter, those are so helpful, I’m sure. You can be tracking all the murders.

McGill: That’s what I have set up for my alert. Unfortunately, it also pulls in attempted murder and stuff like that. I want to be able to get a summation newsletter out that you sign up for and say, “Okay, you’re in this neighborhood, and these crimes happened in your vicinity, and this is how it compared to last year,” and you would get this once a month or something. I don’t want to inundate people, but I think there’s room for a little more statistics pushing.


By the way, this Saturday is Smithsonian’s “Museum Day Live!”, a day of free museum entry across the nation. Of course, there are lots of museums and art exhibits you can visit for free all year long (like the California Science Center’s permanent exhibits and the Getty), but for those participating museums you can’t visit any time, you can download two free tickets per person here. Beware: this weekend is Carmageddon Part 2, so take that into consideration and plan accordingly.

Posted in art and culture, journalism, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

The Outrageous Costs of Inmate Calls to Families….Conservative Voices Call for Jerry to Sign SB9….and More

September 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Because of the type of reporting I do, for over two decades, I have gotten occasional collect calls from prison and jail inmates.

With the exception of maybe the cost of using certain satillite phones, these are the most expensive phone calls in the world.

I can call China less expensively than the cost of accepting the average call from a California state prison.

And even with the already usurious per minute rates in place, the phone companies seem to find ever more devious ways to levy additional charges.

Take, for example, the experience I had last week when I wanted to be able accept a collect call on my cell phone while I was out of state in Montana.. The call was coming from inmate in the LA County Jail system whom I’d heard wanted to talk to me.

In order to accept the call, the Globel Tell Link operator cheerily informed me I had to prepay a minimum of $25 just to have the possibility of accepting a single call on my cell, no matter how short that call might end up being. (My landline is set up to accept collect calls on a normal basis, with a extra charges tacked on to my monthly phone bill for any collect calls I might receive. However, my cell phone isn’t. But since I was away from my home office, the cell was the only alternative if I wanted to accept this guy’s call.)

I explained to the operator that I only would be accepting a single call on a single occasion, and that it was unlikely to be long. And I wasn’t 100 percent sure, that the call in question would come through at all anyway. Plus I was already a Globel Tel Link customer on my home phone. Surely, I said, I could buy maybe $10 worth of prepaid minutes, instead of $25?

Nope, said the operator. It was $25 or nothing. She further informed me that if I failed to use up that $25 credit in, I think it was 90 days, the credit went dead and could no longer be used to cover calls at all. Globel Tel Link would simply keep the money.

Part of the problem is that, since each county or state contracts with a single phone company, there is no competition; it’s a take it or leave it situation for mothers, fathers, wives and husbands, sons and daughters hoping to keep in touch with their incarcerated family members, but for whom the cost of accepting calls quickly becomes prohibitive.

(Did I mention that the states and counties are getting multimillion dollar legal kick backs from the phone companies that have these big bucks contracts?)

Now, however, there is finally some real movement to change all that.

Sunday’s NY Times has an editorial calling for those changes in clear, no-nonsense terms.

Here’s a clip:

Members of Congress and civil rights groups are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to rein in telephone companies that, in many states, charge inmates spectacularly high rates that can force their families to choose between keeping in touch with a relative behind bars and, in some cases, putting food on the table.

The time is long past for the F.C.C. — which has been weighing this issue for nearly a decade — to break up what amount to monopolies and ensure that prisoners across the country have access to reasonably priced interstate telephone service.

The calls are expensive because they are placed through independent telephone companies that pay the state a “commission” — essentially a legalized kickback — that ranges from 15 percent to 60 percent either as a portion of revenue, a fixed upfront fee or a combination of both. According to a new report by the Prison Policy Initiative, a research group based in Massachusetts, depending on the size of the kickback, a 15-minute call can cost the family as little as $2.36 or as much as $17.

Prison officials and phone companies that defend the system of commissions say that extra charges are necessary to pay for the security screening required when inmates make calls. But this presents no problem in New York State, which banned the kickbacks several years ago and required its prison telephone vendor to provide service at the lowest possible cost to the inmates and their families…..

Read the rest. It’s ridiculous that these policies are still in place—punishing the families in our communities who can least afford it.


As the clock ticks down on the bills that remain on Governor Brown’s desk, late-ish last week one piece of legislation got some welcome support from some unexpected sources when the San Diego Union Tribune ran an op ed by former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich and Pat Nolan, a former Republican leader of the California State Assembly, and president of Justice Fellowship, urging the governor to sign SB9, the bill that would allow the possibility of eventual parole after 25 years for some of those inmates who’ve been locked up for life for a crime committed when they were kids as young as 14 years old.

The governor has until the end of this month to sign—or not.

Here’s a clip from Newt and Pat’s excellent essay:

…Teenagers often don’t make very good decisions. Our laws take this into account in many ways: We don’t let young people drink until they are 21, and they can’t sign contracts, vote or serve on juries until they are 18.

But there is one area in which we ignore teens’ youth and impulsiveness: our criminal laws. Our laws often ignore the difference between adults and teens, and some youngsters are sentenced to life in prison without parole (LWOP). Despite urban legends to the contrary, this law has no exceptions: A teen sentenced to LWOP will die in prison as an old man or woman. No exceptions for good behavior, no exceptions period. No hope.

You might expect that these LWOP sentences are limited to the “worst of the worst,” but that is not the case. A young teen can be a bit player in a crime, e.g., act as a lookout while his buddies go in to steal beer from a convenience store. None of them is armed, and there is no plan for violence. Then it all goes haywire. The clerk pulls a gun, and one of the kids tries to grab it away. In the struggle that ensues, the gun goes off and the clerk dies.

Under California’s “felony murder” rule, every person involved in that crime, no matter how minor their role, is equally guilty of murder, even if they did not plan or expect a murder to occur. According to the fiction of our law, the lookout is as much to blame as the person who pulled the trigger. About 45 percent of the inmates serving LWOP for a teenage crime were not the person who caused the death. Yet they will die in prison of old age, with no chance for release.

But should these youngsters die in prison for something they did when they were so young? Wouldn’t it be better to re-evaluate them after serving a long stretch in prison and consider whether they have matured and improved themselves?

We are conservative Republicans, and we believe that some people are so dangerous that we must separate them from our communities. That is what prisons are for. But sometimes we overuse our institutions. California’s teen LWOP is an overuse of incarceration. It denies the reality that young people often change for the better. And it denies hope to those sentenced under it…..

Such common sense is refreshing. Let’s hope that the governor sides with facts rather than the fact-challenged diatribes of those lobbying against this bill that is a long time coming.


The Great Falls Tribune has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A conservative political group opposed to the death penalty is calling for an end to capital punishment in the wake of a recent court ruling that found the state’s method of execution unconstitutional.

“Conservatives dislike waste and inefficiency. That is why we should cast a critical eye when the state is involved with the business of executing people,” said former Republican state Sen. Roy Brown of Billings.

Brown is on the advisory committee of Montana Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.

“When it takes over 20 years and hundreds of thousands of tax payer dollars for extra legal fees and court costs, it is obvious that the process is full of waste and inefficiency,” Brown said.

Brown worked across the aisle with Democrats in the state Senate in past legislative sessions to try to end the death penalty in Montana.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Last Call for Gov. to Sign Juvie LWOP Bill SB9, a Death at Guantanamo Bay, and Progress on Safe-Guarding LGBT Prisoners

September 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


SB9 advocates are making one last push to urge Governor Brown to sign the bill into law. This piece of legislation would allow some of those sentenced to life without parole as juveniles a chance to request parole. (For WitnessLA’s most recent posts on SB9, go here and here.)

Vicky Lindsey, director of a support system for families of murder victims called Project Cry No More, has this to say about SB9:

On behalf of hundreds of families I work with who grieve every day for our murdered children, we believe that justice in our courts will contribute to the building of peace and justice in our streets. All youth deserve a chance to prove that they have changed and an opportunity to earn their release.

Giving youth a Life Without Parole sentence does not relieve my suffering as a victim. In fact, it contributes to the feelings of hopelessness in our neighborhoods. The violence will end when we look beyond revenge, to love all youth and have faith in their ability to give back to their families and communities.

It would be easy for me to be trapped in the anger immediately following my son’s murder. But, I choose instead to embrace youth and families, and urge them to stop the violence, to get involved while their loved ones are still alive – as I often say, to “get involved by choice not by force.”

Today, I hope that everyone will have the same ability to forgive, and to build a better future for California’s youth. All youth are better than their worst day. If we throw youth away, then we are also throwing away our own opportunity to heal and to end the violence that has caused so many families a lifetime of pain.

The Youth Justice Coalition has info and resources for those who want to encourage the governor to sign SB9. The same advocates are urging the governor to sign AB1270 which would lift the media ban in prisons. That contact information can be found here.


Gitmo detainee Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif died on September 8th after ten years of incarceration and legal battles during which the U.S. government provided no concrete evidence of Adnan’s association with enemy forces. Marc Falkoff, one of Adnan’s habeas corpus attorneys since 2004, stresses the need for the U.S. to discontinue use of Guantanamo Bay, asserting that the unjust detention killed Adnan in the end. Here’s a clip from Falkoff’s Op-Ed for the LA Times:

On Sept. 8, one of my nightmares came true. Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif, a client of mine who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba for more than 10 years, died alone in his cell. His tragic death will surely be greeted with a shrug by some, but it should prompt all of us to reconsider our decision to continue the operation of our infamous offshore prison camp.

Adnan was brought to Guantanamo in January 2002 on suspicion of being associated in some manner with enemy forces in Afghanistan. It’s hard to say exactly what the U.S. military thought Adnan had done. Over the years, the government made allegations and then abandoned them.


We don’t yet know how Adnan died, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it was by his own hand. He had sought release from Guantanamo by attempting suicide several times before.

It’s also possible his death was caused by the cumulative effect of a decade’s worth of intermittent hunger strikes, which were his only way to protest the injustice of his indefinite detention and the harshness of his treatment at Guantanamo.

Either way, his death was caused by his detention.


A small group of correctional institutions are taking a lead in protecting the gay and transgender incarcerated population from rape and discrimination. A nationwide broadcast from the National Institute of Corrections will air November 7th presenting effective practices to protect LGBT incarcerated and the institutions that are successfully implementing them. (You should be able to view the broadcast here.)

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

With jails and prisons federally mandated to curb sexual assaults against homosexual and transgender inmates, a handful of correctional facilities have emerged at the forefront of innovative practices designed to protect what is one of the most vulnerable groups behind bars.

The National Institute of Corrections (NIC), citing studies that show lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inmates are 13 to 20 times more likely to be raped than incarcerated heterosexuals, plans to spotlight those practices Nov. 7 in a nationwide broadcast that corrections officials can view live. The public eventually can access the broadcast on the institute’s website.

One of the institutions leading those efforts is the Denver Sheriff Department, whose director, Gary Wilson, began raising the issue when he took the job two years ago, around the time federal officials began seeking public comment on what then were proposed safeguards for gay and transgender inmates.

“We wanted a policy that [would] ensure that transgender people who came into our custody were treated fairly with the equal amount of [protections] as other inmates,” said Capt. Paul Oliva, who began developing the program in February 2011 with the help of experts and advocates from the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities and civil rights lawyers.

(Make sure you read the rest, as there’s lots of good information and links!)

PHOTO BY Youth Justice Coalition

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Guantanamo, LGBT, LWOP Kids, prison policy | 2 Comments »

LASD Use Cameras to Reduce False Identifications, Federal Court Weighs in on DNA Sampling, and the Full Cost of Money Bail

September 20th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Under a new program, certain LASD deputies are now armed with cameras in an effort to lower the number of innocent people jailed as a result of mistaken identity. A December 2011 LA Times report showed that almost 1,500 wrongful incarcerations took place over the last five years, although the number has been declining.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have the story. Here’s a clip:

Along with his Taser, baton and handgun, Los Angeles County sheriff’s Det. David Huelsen has a new tool for meting out justice: a point-and-shoot camera.

The Malibu traffic detective is among a handful of cops the Sheriff’s Department has equipped with digital cameras as part of an effort to reduce the number of innocent people jailed after being mistaken for wanted criminals.

The reforms come after a Times investigation detailed how authorities in the county had incarcerated people mistaken for wanted criminals more than 1,480 times over five years. Some spent weeks behind bars before the errors were realized. In recent months, other law enforcement agencies around the country have also been confronted with the problem, but the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is emerging as one of the leaders in attempting to solve it.

Deputies are using the cameras to take photos of people who get cited but don’t have ID. If a defendant misses court appearances and becomes the subject of an arrest warrant, officials hope having the photos on file will avoid cases of mistaken identity.


An eleven-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals deliberated for an hour Wednesday on whether or not the mandatory collection of DNA from anyone facing a felony charge was a violation of the Fourth Amendment, as an unreasonable search and seizure.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has the story. Here’s a clip:

The majority of the judges expressed particular concern that the DNA is taken from people regardless of whether they are later charged or convicted of a crime. The arguments were the latest round in an American Civil Liberties Union challenge to the nine-year-old DNA collection law.

9th Circuit Judge N. Randy Smith grilled a deputy attorney general, insisting there is no reason California’s law should permit DNA collection at the point of arrest.

“I don’t see what the government loses by putting it off until conviction, or until a judge looks at it … or at least the prosecutor looks at it, rather than just the police look at it,” said Smith, a Republican appointee of former President George W. Bush.

9th Circuit Judge Raymond Fisher also expressed reservations about the government seizing a person’s genetic map at the point of arrest. The ACLU case was filed on behalf of several people who were arrested and never charged with a crime, yet were forced to provide DNA samples.

“Now if I’m arrested, I wind up leaving behind in the custody of the government the intimate details of my medical condition, my heritage, whatever is in that DNA sample,” Fisher said to Deputy Attorney General Daniel Powell.

(We’ll let you know when the court hands down a decision.)


A new report from the Justice Policy Institute calls money bail a discriminatory policy that adds billions in taxpayer costs without increasing public safety. The report also outlines proven alternative pretrial detention and release services. Here’s a clip from the press release:

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last year that taxpayers spend over $9 billion in jail costs alone to keep people in pretrial detention. Meanwhile, people who are held in jail while awaiting a court date may lose their job and housing. Their children and families may suffer from not having that person in the home taking care of his or her responsibilities. People who are jailed while awaiting trial are also more likely to be found guilty and go to prison than their counterparts who are free. This is for a variety of reasons, including the impact of enduring harsh jail conditions, reduced access to defense attorneys, inability to maintain the types of social and personal responsibilities, and the reality that showing up in shackles and a jail jumpsuit creates an impression of guilt on judges and juries.

“Our constitution and laws are supposed to protect the presumption of innocence,” said Dr. Melissa Neal, author of Bail Fail and senior research associate at JPI. “Yet thousands of people are held in jails before trial because they don’t have access to money for bail. This is a waste of taxpayer money and it causes tremendous collateral consequences to those being unnecessarily incarcerated.”

The report shows how the average bail amount for people who are detained has more than doubled from $39,800 in 1992 to $89,900 in 2006. This is despite evidence that higher bail amounts are not related to more public safety and that people who are unable to afford money bail are often a lower risk of dangerousness or failure to appear in court – the two legal justifications to incarcerate someone pretrial – than those who can make bail.


Bail Fail points to pretrial service (PTS) agencies, in particular, as effective in protecting public safety, ensuring people appear in court, reducing jail populations and their costs, as well as, leveling the playing field so that all people, regardless of income, have their rights protected. By using validated risk assessment instruments, PTS agencies can determine if a person is high, medium or low risk for dangerousness or failing to appear in court. They also can provide appropriate services that increase a person’s likelihood of pretrial success, including supervision and monitoring, referrals to drug treatment, and referrals to social service agencies to address other issues a person may be facing.

The report notes that Washington, D.C., through effective use of its Pretrial Services Agency, has successfully moved away from money bail. In D.C., 80 percent of people charged with an offense are released on nonfinancial bail options to await resolution of their charge while 15 percent are kept in pretrial detention. Only 5 percent are released using some form of financial bail, but there is no use of for-profit bail bondsmen services. The Pretrial Services Agency has reported that 88 percent successfully complete the pretrial process by appearing in court and not being rearrested.

Posted in Courts, DNA, LASD, pretrial detention/release | 1 Comment »

« Previous Entries