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Witness Says Deputies Shot Unarmed, Nonthreatening Man, CA TRUST ACT 2.0…and More

November 30th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

WITNESS AND DEPUTIES HAVE DIFFERENT STORIES ON OFFICER-INVOLVED FATAL SHOOTING

A woman who witnessed a deputy-involved shooting on Nov. 10th said that officers shot an unarmed man while his hands were on his head and his body was turned away from the deputies. The officers involved said that Jose de la Trinidad was reaching for his waistband when the shots were fired. We suspect this story will not go away any time soon.

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

Two sheriff’s deputies had attempted to pull over De la Trinidad and his brother for speeding as they were leaving a family quinceañera. De la Trinidad’s brother was driving the car and fled for a few blocks before the car came to a sudden stop in the 1900 block of East 122nd Street in Willowbrook, a residential neighborhood tucked just off the 105 Freeway.

According to the deputies’ account, De la Trinidad jumped out of the passenger seat.

His brother, 39-year-old Francisco de la Trinidad, took off again in the car. One of the four deputies on the scene gave chase in his cruiser, leaving Jose de la Trinidad on the sidewalk and three deputies standing in the street with their weapons drawn.

The deputies said Jose de la Trinidad then appeared to reach for his waistband, prompting two of them to fire multiple shots into the unarmed man. He died at the scene.

Unknown to the deputies at the time, Estefani sat perched in her bedroom window, directly overlooking the shooting.

Estefani said De la Trinidad did jump out of the car after it came to a sudden stop. After he ran toward the deputies a few feet, they ordered him to stop and turn around — which he did immediately, she said.

Seconds later, the deputies opened fire, she said.


CA TRUST ACT REVAMPED AND ABOUT TO BE REINTRODUCED

A revised version of the TRUST Act, the “Anti-Arizona bill vetoed by Gov. Brown just two months ago, is expected to be introduced Monday.

KPCC’s Ruxandra Guidi has the story. Here’s a clip:

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) intends to unveil the new Trust Act on Monday. His office has not yet said what revisions have been made.

Activists have billed the TRUST Act as an “anti-Arizona” law aimed at keeping undocumented immigrants arrested for minor offenses from being turned over to immigration officials for deportation.

The proposed law was intended to counter the federal Secure Communities program, which shares law enforcement fingerprint data with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It would require local police to release people who have been arrested once bond is posted, as long as they have no serious convictions.


SCOTUS DEBATES HENDERSON V. UNITED STATES AND INJUSTICE

SCOTUS justices Wednesday discussed a case in which a man was sentenced to an overly long prison term so that he could receive rehabilitation while incarcerated. While everyone seemed to agree that the man, Amarcion D. Henderson, should not have had to serve the extra time, no one could agree on what should be done, if anything, to fix the error.

Washington Post’s Robert Barnes has the story. Here’s a clip:

“There’s always an injustice when the district court has gotten it wrong,” Justice Antonin Scalia said. “The district court got it wrong, applied the wrong rule. Justice has not been served.”

But at the same time, Scalia continued, “we don’t say, ‘We want to do justice.’ We say, ‘We’re only going to do justice if it was clear’ ” to all at the time that a mistake was being made.

The mistake in Henderson’s case was that the federal statutes on sentencing do not allow a judge to extend someone’s sentence in order to facilitate drug rehab. But that was not settled law when a judge sentenced Henderson to five years in prison, above the federal guidelines of 33 months to 41 months.

By the time the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit considered Henderson’s appeal, it had been settled. A unanimous Supreme Court in 2011 said the federal statute was clear that “a court may not impose or lengthen a prison sentence to enable an offender to complete a treatment program or otherwise promote rehabilitation.”

But the appeals court upheld Henderson’s sentence anyway, because at the time of his guilty plea, it was not “plain error” for the judge to have imposed the sentence he did. And plain error is part of the test that courts must use to decide whether to get involved when a defendant’s lawyer has not objected to a judge’s mistake.


WILL SCOTUS TAKE ON GAY RIGHTS CASES?

Don’t forget, SCOTUS is deciding today, Friday, whether to take on any or all of ten possible gay rights cases on the table from the lower courts. The justices could announce their decisions as soon as this afternoon, otherwise we are likely to know Monday morning.

Wednesday, we posted on part one of a four-part series navigating the legal controversy of gay rights by Lyle Denniston over at SCOTUSblog. (Here are parts two, three, and four.)

Posted in criminal justice, immigration, LASD, LGBT, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

THE ART OF CHANGING BRAINS: Neurofeedback and Incarcerated Kids

November 29th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: Next year, among other topics, we’ll be looking deeply into how we incarcerate kids in the state of California and in our various counties, notably Los Angeles. We’ll be looking for the promising bright spots, as well as the disasters that demand reform. We want to know what approaches help kids succeed, while we shine a spotlight on the methods that simply break kids further, and how the various policies collaterally affect the health and well-being of our communities, for good or ill.

The following story is an early look at one small foray into the world of juvenile justice and corrections. In 2013 there will be much more where this came from, .



THE ART OF CHANGING BRAINS

Can Neurofeedback Help Incarcerated Kids Heal the Effects of Childhood Trauma?

by Celeste Fremon



The fight that broke out in the school building of the Los Prietos Boys Camp and Academy ignited quickly. A couple of kids who were reputed to be gang members exchanged words, then blows. Swarming adults broke up the clash almost as fast as it started.

After it was over, the boy who seemed the most upset by the brawl was not one of the fighters, but a fourteen-year old kid whom we’ll call Daniel*, who stood at the edge of the fight looking more frightened than the actual situation demanded.

Minutes later, Daniel was still in a state of high distress. Seeing he needed help in calming down, a staff member brought him to the camp’s central office.

“He’s a sensitive kid and we saw that some kind of crisis intervention was called for,” said Dean Farrah, the Director of Los Prietos., which is a set of twinned juvenile probation lock-ups co-located on 17 acres in the Los Padres National Forest of Santa Barbara County. Usually, Farrah said, this would have meant meeting with one of the facilities’ two on-site mental health counselors. But in the past few months, Daniel had been taking part in a unique pilot program at Los Prietos called the Juvenile Neurofeedback Project, run by a neurofeedback therapist and researcher named Elizabeth Kelleher. With this in mind, the staff decided to try something a little different. Daniel would first do a session with Kelleher. Conventional counseling could come second.

Kelleher determined right away that the boy’s reaction was not so much about the recent brawl, but the result of deeper fears from Daniel’s past, which the brief slugfest had somehow triggered. Kelleher already knew that, as child, Daniel had repeatedly been exposed to what she describes as “extreme violence” in his family. She surmised that the fight had restimulated those earlier traumas, and adjusted her treatment of Daniel accordingly.

The strategy worked. After his time with Kelleher, Daniel’s anxiety levels were notably different, said Farrah. His gaze was no longer darting and disconnected. And when he did sit down with one of the Los Prietos therapists, “he was able to engage again,” and talk about what had so upset him.

Kelleher agreed. “Daniel has been through what we call developmental trauma,” she said, which can disrupt a kid’s sense of safety. “Our session helped him to know he can be okay.”

________________________________________________________________________________________________

THE ART OF CHANGING BRAINS

The method that Kelleher used to help Daniel is called neurofeedback, also known as EEG biofeedback. It is a therapeutic process that allows patients to alter their own neuro-activity, specifically their brainwaves, through a feedback system that “rewards” the brain when it produces the desired wave frequency, and withholds rewards when it doesn’t.

In the simplest terms, the method works as follows: First the clinician attaches electrodes to the scalp of the client to assess current brainwave activity via a computer program. Thus the clinician can determine what frequencies predominate at a given moment: Delta (deep, dreamless sleep), Theta (deep relaxation, meditation,) Alpha (your brain in idle in a safe environment), Beta (relaxed and focused), Beta 1 (focused and very alert), Beta 2 (high states of arousal, tension, anxiety, hyper vigilance. Fight and flight).

In Kelleher’s project, once the electrodes were attached at the session’s beginning, and the kid’s brainwaves assessed, each kid would sit at a second computer and play a specially designed video game. When the subject’s brain activity moved toward the desired new frequency range, the game provided “rewards” (pleasurable sounds, on-screen actions, and an increased ease in playing the game).

“For instance,” said Kelleher, “when we get a kid who has 75 percent Beta 2 [anxiety or arousal], and 25 percent Beta [relaxed and focused], we want to reverse those percentages.” Once the practitioner put the desired protocol in place, the kid would— without any conscious effort—begin moderating his brainwaves in the new, healthier direction, simply by playing the computer game.


THE BIRTH OF A PROJECT

Kelleher came up with the idea for the neurofeedback project when she was working with at risk kids at a Santa Barbara County continuation school, and noticed that many of the students were, like Daniel, suffering from trauma springing from violence and/or victimization experienced in childhood.

A former fundraiser who went back to get her master’s degree in psychology after she turned 40, Kelleher was also trained as a neurofeedback therapist, working at the Santa Barbara Neurofeedback Center, and had known the method have good results for adults with issues like Post Traumatic Stress and depression. She thought it might be a good tool to use to help traumatized incarcerated kids, and discussed the idea of a pilot program with her boss and mentor at the school, a man named Lennie Kwock, who was, at the time, the Juvenile Program Manager for the Santa Barbara County Department of Mental Health. Kwock loved the idea and agreed to sign on has her partner and to help her navigate through the county’s various bureaucracies in order to get the project off the ground.

When Kelleher approached Dean Farrah with her idea, the two Los Prietos facilities were already far more progressive than most of California’s probation camps “We try to have programs that challenge our kids to succeed,” said Dean Farrah, “not dare them to fail.”

Still, the whole brain-training idea that Kelleher suggested was a little farther out than Farrah and his staff was used to. Yet, he was impressed with the material that she presented and, after a string of meetings, he decided there was nothing to lose by giving it a try. “We’re always open to something that that’s a better method.”

It took nearly two years to get all the remaining bureaucratic approvals, which included a go-ahead from the higher-ups in Santa Barbara County’s probation department, and a positive nod from the county’s juvenile court system. The kids themselves also had to sign on, along with their parents. “Beyond certain requirements, we don’t force kids into any of the programs,” Farrah said.

By March 15, 2012, however, all the hurdles had been cleared and the project was ready to go.


KIDS SET UP FOR FAILURE

The concept of “trauma-informed” treatment programs has gained a growing traction within the nation’s research community but, with rare exceptions, it has yet to find its way to public policy. Research estimates that 75 to 93 percent of youth entering the nation’s juvenile justice systems annually have experienced some kind of what is called “traumatic victimization”—sexual or physical abuse, neglect and so on. A study of children held in a Chicago detention center found that over half of those studied had experienced more than six traumatic events prior to their detainment. Two studies reviewing the link between trauma and juvenile justice involvement found that among males who experienced childhood “maltreatment” prior to 12 years of age, 50-79 percent became involved in serious juvenile delinquency.

Of course, not all kids respond to trauma by getting in trouble with the law, but a great many do. And, a growing list of studies make clear that, to incarcerate kids without addressing these underlying issues, all but guarantees a young man or woman will be set up for failure when he or she is released, which is what has been occurring in a great many of California’s probation camps—Los Angeles County’s recidivism-heavy camps being the prime example.

Although cognitive behavioral therapy is being used with some success by a few of the state’s more progressive county facilities, like Los Prietos, most juvie lock-ups still rely heavily on drugs. “Psychotropic medication is the primary intervention we have for youth with neurobehavioral disorders,” said Kelleher.


I ALWAYS USED TO FEEL THE GROUND SHAKING UNDER ME

Kelleher began her six-month pilot in March 2012, with ten boys ranging in age from 13 to 18. By the time the program finished in mid-September, each kid had been given 32 to 40 neurofeedback sessions, which Kelleher and her team had individually tailored to address the various trauma-based mental health conditions with which kids in juvenile detention facilities most commonly suffer—things like anxiety disorder, depression, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).

Even in the project’s early days, Dean Farrah said he saw recognizably positive results. “I’d stop the kids after their sessions all the time, and they’d tell me, ‘Yeah, it’s pretty good. I feel more calm,’” Farrah said. “When kids are calm, they can make better decisions.” Over all, said Farrah, her felt that the neurofeedback kids were gaining a “different kind of mental and emotional skill set.”

Spencer Cross, the Supervising Probation Officer for Los Prietos Academy, also talked about the positive changes he noticed in the boys early on. (In addition to his position with Los Prietos Academy, Cross was the main staff liaison for Kelleher’s project and, along with Farrah, was the guy inside the system who was largely responsible for making the pilot happen.) “For example,” said Cross, “the number one thing they said to me is that they could sleep better. And improving kids’ sleep is a big deal. They often come to us here with PTSD nightmares.”

One kid, we’ll call him Victor*, was particularly expressive in explaining the changes he noticed in himself. When he first began his sessions, Victor was a skinny 16-year-old who reported off-the-charts anxiety. It seemed that Victor’s father was out of the picture and his stepfather, a meth addict, had beat him ferociously on a regular basis without seeming provocation. Victor explained that, after he began doing meth with the abusive stepfather, at age 12, he found he was able to nominally connect with the man, and the beating pretty much subsided—replaced by a killer meth habit.

During each session, Kelleher would ask her subjects to rate the intensity of things that bothered them—depression, anxiety, drug cravings, anger—on a scale of 0 to 10, 10 being the most intense.

“When Victor came in, he rated his cravings for meth at 10. By about the 8th session, they’d zeroed out.” His anxiety went through a similar downward trend.

““I used to always feel like the ground was shaking under me,” Victor said to Kelleher after one of his sessions “Now I feel like I’m just standing here. “


I WASN’T JUST SCARED, I WAS TERRIFIED

Kelleher found that, once the kids had a few sessions under their belts, they generally stuck with the program. The challenge, she said, was getting boys to sign up in the first place—mainly because the idea of someone messing around in their brains scared them. “They wanted to know if we’d be able to read their thoughts,” she said. “They were also afraid that they’d lose their ability survival in the street, once they got out.”

Realizing that the kids were likely going to need more than merely her assurance that neurofeedback would help not harm them, before she geared up at Los Prietos, Kelleher and her mentor, Kwock, contacted two respected local gang intervention workers, Joe Sanchez and J.P. Herrada, and asked them if they’d be willing to submit themselves to several months of the treatments as a sort of two-person trial group.

As it turned out, however, the two adults had the same fears that plagued the kids.

Joe Sanchez, 42, is a mountain of a man and an expert at surviving in circumstances where survival is frequently a challenge. He joined a gang in 1982, when he was 12, then spent his next 26 years alternating between a violence-plagued life on the street, and stints in lock-up, first in juvenile facilities, then cycling in and out of a succession of California prisons, where just standing in the chow line for meals, could mean a violent attack, he said.

Sanchez was last paroled in 2009, at age 38, at which time he decided he was going to live a resolutely legal life for the sake of his kids. Eventually, he found a job at Palabra, the well-regarded violence intervention program that J.P. Herrada was running.

When Kelleher contacted Herrada and Sanchez about participating in the neurofeedback program, Sanchez in particular was initially appalled at the idea.

“I was terrified,” Sanchez said. “I was scared I’d lose my edge. Even now, when I walk, I look at shadows,” he said, “to know what’s going on behind me.”

Sanchez said he also had a post-prison habit of walking with his shoulders scrunched upward, as if against a hard wind, whenever he was in a public setting. “I learned to do that to protect my neck, because, in prison, if someone’s going to shank you,” he jabs a finger at his carotid artery, “that’s where they’re going to do it.”

Sanchez wondered if he’d lose all these well-honed protective skills by participating in Kelleher’s program. But, at JP’s urging, he went ahead anyway. “I figured if it would have a chance at helping the kids we work with….well, that was important.”

And so both Sanchez and Harrada submitted to the electrodes and the video games. Sanchez said he saw a difference almost immediately. “After the second or third session, it’s like I got Spiderman senses!” he said. “I’m serious. I could hear and see things I hadn’t noticed before because of, you know, anxiety.” With additional sessions, a hand tremor that had plagued Sanchez since he’d been released from prison, simply vanished. “It just stopped.”

Herrada was similarly blown away. “Truthfully, I thought it sounded like B.S.,” he said. “But I was amazed at how it helped my memory. It also helped with the anxiety I used to feel over public speaking.” Overall, the 70 or so treatments each man received made him feel more internally “balanced,” said Herrada.

“See, the kids we work with are always so out of balance because of what they’ve been through, that they use substances to be able to get through the day,” he continued. “If those same kids can learn to balance themselves through neurofeedback, then they have a chance.”

Thus armed with their own experience, Sanchez and Herrada came with Kelleher to make sales pitches to the Los Prietos kids. “It worked for us, and it can work for you,” they said.


THE NUMBERS AND THE FUTURE

Now that Kelleher ‘s pilot program has ended at Los Prietos, the next step is for a group of statisticians to analyze the raw data that the project produced to see what difference the treatments made, statistically speaking, beyond the promising anecdotal changes in the kids that everyone observed.

“The bulk of the programs we offer are data driven,” said Farrah. “So we have to do some work to see how we measure the neurofeedback program in terms of recidivism, for example.

“But, I’m fortunate enough to work in a county that values innovation,” Farah added. “So I’m optimistic that we’re going to find a way to continue this program.”

Kelleher too is optimistic. While she awaits results from the stat crunchers, she is already planning how round two of the work can be even better. Like Farrah, she feels that a big part of the challenge is preventing recidivism. “When the guys get out of camp, they’re faced with all the same conditions and triggers that caused their trauma in the first place,” she said. So ideally she’d like to see kids be required to attend a few months worth of post camp sessions as a condition of their probation.

““The brain is plastic,” Kelleher said. “It can change. You can create a new neural pathway in about three months.” However, for the change to become permanent in the face of the old traumatizing environment, “some reinforcement helps a lot. “

Sanchez and Herrara also said they were convinced that neurofeedback could be an important tool in their work of reducing youth on youth violence. In fact, the pair’s only criticism of the program was that it should be offered to more kids, including the harder core young men and women whose more severe criminal offenses typically excluded them from Los Prietos, and innovative programs like Kelleher’s.

“In our society,” said Herrada, “we have an accepted number of kids who we’re willing to cross off.”

Sanchez nodded agreement. “Some kids we decide it’s okay to throw away.” A pause. “I was one of those kids. And I really believe this program can help them the way it helped me. Otherwise,” he said, “when those kids get locked up, and then get out, they don’t come out better, they come out angrier, and more anxious, because they know we don’t care about them, they know they’re being thrown away.”

With programs like Kelleher’s, he said, “that doesn’t have to happen.”


*Note: All kids’ names have been changed to protect their privacy as minors.

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

Shifting Views on Incarceration, SCOTUS & Gay Rights Controversy…and More

November 28th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

with Celeste Fremon



LOCK-UPS AND CRIME REDUCTION CONCEPTS

Nationally-renowned corrections expert, James Austin, in an Op-Ed for the LA Times, talks about the evolving perceptions of incarceration as the central means of crime reduction, attributing California’s falling crime rate, in part, to changing demographics, better policing, and new rehabilitation strategies.

In 1960, California’s prison population was less than 22,000. If you applied that year’s incarceration rate to today’s crime rate and total population, the state would have only 52,000 prisoners, well under the current state prison population of about 130,000. This dramatic rise is because the state, over the decades, dramatically increased the number of people it sent to prison and the length of their imprisonment.

However, a growing body of science shows that prison-only approaches may feel good initially — and be safe politically — but an overreliance on incarceration ultimately can make things worse. In other words, there is limited scientific evidence that prison reduces crime, or that longer prison terms reduce recidivism or crime rates.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s data show that people serving one, two or three years have the same recidivism rates. We also know that the vast majority of people arrested in California are not recently released prisoners. Meanwhile, New York and New Jersey have significantly reduced their prison populations and continued to lower their crime rates.


SUPREME COURT AND THE CONSTITUTIONAL CONTROVERSY OF GAY RIGHTS

On Friday, the US Supreme Court is scheduled to consider whether or not it is going to agree to hear any or all of ten separate gay rights cases from the lower courts—one of them, California’s Prop. 8 challenge.

Lyle Denniston, the super-wonk over at SCOTUSblog, has written a four-part series designed to guide court-watchers through the thicket of legal issues that will be in play with whichever of the ten cases the Supremes decide to take on.

Part 1 of the series looks at what is called the constitutional “standard of review”—in other words, the legal test that the Supremes might or might not use to judge the constitutionality of the issues to which each of these cases pertain.

Denniston points out that, in the past, the court has studiously avoided choosing a specific constitutional standard to be used in gay rights cases. He goes on to say that, with the petitions facing it Friday, a standard of review will be harder for the court to totally dodge.

He then explains the three main constitutional standards of review that SCOTUS will likely be choosing among.

As suggested above, Denniston and the rest of the folks at SCOTUSblog are a very wonky—but their work is also very much worth the effort. (We feel smarter every time we read Denniston’s stuff especially.) Here’s a rather large clip:

Over the years, and particularly in the last quarter-century, the Supreme Court has issued a number of significant rulings on gay rights, focusing on laws that were challenged as discriminating against individuals because of their sexual identity as gays or lesbians. In none of those decisions, however, has the Court settled on a specific constitutional standard to be used in gay rights cases; it managed to decide all of them without spelling out what government must prove to justify a law that treats homosexuals differently, and less favorably.

It is possible, of course, that the Court may decide one or more of the currently pending same-sex marriage cases without adopting a binding standard this time, either. But that issue is energetically debated by all sides in the cases, so it will not be easy for the Justices to leave it entirely untouched. Because the cases all involve a variation of arguments about constitutional equality or inequality, the Court is likely in considering a review standard to turn to that branch of constitutional law — “equal protection” guarantees under the Fifth Amendment, for federal laws, and under the Fourteenth Amendment, for state or local laws.

There are now three distinctive standards of review under equal protection analysis, and some decisions have relied upon a fourth standard, not very clear-cut but supposedly workable.

Here are the three most explicit standards:

** Rational basis review: This is clearly the most tolerant of the equal protection standards. In order to satisfy that test, a law or regulation need only have a “reasonable” link between what the law declares and a “legitimate” government interest. Such a law can be understood to have such a “rational basis” even if the legislature that enacted it did not spell out such a reason. If a court can think up a rational basis for a law that allegedly classifies people in differing ways, that is good enough: the law survives. The courts most often use this test when judging a law that seeks to regulate commercial activity.

** Heightened scrutiny (sometimes labeled “intermediate scrutiny”): This is the next step up from “rational basis,” and it is, therefore, a more difficult standard to satisfy when a law classifies people based on some asserted difference between them. In order to meet this test, the government’s interest must be “important,” and not just “legitimate,” and the link between what the law declares and that government interest must be a “substantial” one, not just ”reasonable.” This is the standard that the Supreme Court has specified for laws that treat women differently than men, based on their gender. It is sometimes spoken of as the test to be used when a law declares a ”quasi-suspect classification.” (“Suspect” in this sense does not mean suspicious; it means a social grouping that has a distinctive identity, whose identity does not affect its capacity to contribute to society, that has suffered a history of discrimination, and that has a comparative lack of political power so that it cannot easily obtain protective laws.)

** Strict scrutiny: This is the top-tier standard. A law that must satisfy this test is not necessarily always doomed to be struck down, but it must come close to being truly necessary to achieve a government policy goal of the highest order, if the law at issue is to survive. The government interest at stake must be “compelling,” and not just “substantial,” and the method chosen to serve that interest must be “narrowly tailored” to do so. It is used when a law creates a “suspect classification.” It is the test that is used to protect individual rights that are considered “fundamental” to society; it has long been used to judge laws that treat people differently and less favorably on the basis of their race, country of birth, country of citizenship, religion, and poverty.


LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES ADDRESS FOSTER KIDS GETTING ENSNARED IN SEX TRAFFICKING

LA County Supe Michael Antonovich filed a motion Tuesday to form a task force to find ways to keep foster kids from becoming sex trafficking victims, which turns out to be yet another disturbing risk to which foster children can be subjected.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

The county’s probation department found that 174 minors in juvenile custody in 2010 were arrested for prostitution related charges. About 64 percent of them had some previous involvement with DCFS because of child abuse.

“Even more shocking is that pimps are using child sex workers to recruit fellow foster care children at the DCFS Emergency Response Command Post and group homes across the county,” says the motion filed by Antonovich.

The task force would be responsible for collaborating with other county agencies – mental health, probation, law enforcment and the district attorney’s office.

Posted in crime and punishment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

OC Sheriff Faces Cancer Diagnosis, Riordan Pension Reform Nixed, and Green Dot Finalist for Major Fed Grant

November 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

OC SHERIFF HUTCHENS SAYS BREAST CANCER WON’T STOP HER

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens held a press conference Monday afternoon to publicly address her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and to say that she doesn’t intend to let her health affect her ability to perform her duties as sheriff. (We at WLA are sending wishes for Sheriff Hutchen’s full recovery.)

The OC Register’s Salvador Hernandez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I will be fully engaged,” Hutchens said during a news conference Monday, accompanied by members of her command staff. “And I plan to run for a second term in 2014.”

Hutchens voice cracked as she described details of her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, but said she is intent in being involved in the day-to-day operations of the department.

“I think the best thing for this is to keep your normal schedule as much as possible and keep engaged,” she said.

A resident of Dana Point, Hutchens, 57, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 9, about six months after a mammogram had shown no signs of a cyst. The discovery came as a surprise, she said, especially because there is no history of cancer in her family.

“I’m very optimistic about it,” she said. “I really believe it was caught early.”

Hutchens notified employees in the department in a memo Nov. 19, in anticipation that treatment could change her appearance, her schedule and raise questions about her health, she said.

But there will be no change to the department’s command.

“I’m going to be in charge,” she said. “If at any time I felt I could not carry on my duties, I would make other arrangements. That’s not going to be the case.”

By the way, there’s a video of Sheriff Hutchen’s news conference beneath the body of the story, so be sure to go over to the OC Register.


RIORDAN’s PENSION PLAN GOES UP IN FLAMES

It was announced Monday that former LA Mayor Richard Riordan would drop his controversial city employee pension reform, an intended ballot measure for the May 2013 election.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum have the story. Here’s a clip:

Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, said he was not surprised by the collapse of the signature drive backed by Riordan. Izen said the pension proposal, which had been planned for the May ballot, never received the proper financial analysis in the weeks before Riordan began his push to get 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot.

“The plan proposed by Riordan to close the defined benefit pension system as a way of saving money was both simplistic and costly … for the taxpayers,” Izen said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents civilian city workers, released a statement from sanitation worker Simboa Wright, who said Riordan and his allies had failed because L.A. voters value the work of city employees.

“City residents weren’t about to let a bunch of billionaires rewrite city policies,” Wright said. “As city workers have been saying for a long time, Riordan’s half-baked plan wasn’t thought out. It died because it was bad for city workers and the city they serve.”


GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS BEAT OUT LAUSD IN QUEST FOR FEDERAL EDUCATION GRANT

The Los Angeles charter group Green Dot Public Schools has advanced as a finalist for a $30 million Dept. of Education grant. LAUSD had also applied for the grant, but was unable to get the support of their teachers union—a requirement for school districts to be in the running.

It is a rather amazing turn of events that Green Dot has made the cut, in that the applications were primarily to have been open to full school districts. But evidently (and happily) Green Dot’s presentation was a strong one.

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

Green Dot Public Schools, which operates 18 charter schools, remains in the running for a “Race to the Top” grant, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday. If successful, Green Dot could receive $30 million over a four-year period.

In the application process, districts were supposed to set out a plan to “personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them to meet students’ needs,” according to the Education Department.

But the devil for L.A. Unified was in the details. Participation by the teachers union was required and United Teachers Los Angeles would not sign on, citing concerns that Race to the Top could commit the school system to long-term spending not covered by the grant. Union leaders in L.A. and elsewhere also were concerned such a grant could commit them to the use of student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


KIDS ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: ZERO-TOLERANCE AND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

The Fresno Bee and kNOw Youth Media partnered to produce a series of first-hand accounts of kids affected by “zero-tolerance” school policies, and alternately, kids who have benefited from restorative justice in the education system.

Here’s fourteen-year-old Jane Carretero’s story:

My name is Jane Carretero and I am 14 years old. Towards the beginning of my 8th grade school year at Fort Miller I started doing drugs, and my mom found out about it.

One day, she and I got into a huge fight and she found a bottle of marijuana in my backpack. It was a difficult choice for her to make, but she ended up calling the police. They ended up taking me in for that.

After three days at juvenile hall, it finally hit me. I remember falling on my knees and I started crying for my mom, and I was like, “Why did I have to mess up so badly?”

When I went back to school, I had fallen behind a lot. A lot of people thought that I snitched them out. Some people even thought that I had gotten pregnant, and a lot of girls wanted to fight me, because they thought I was saying things about them.

The teacher started yelling at everyone, and he turned to me. I said, “You’re yelling at us for no reason.” Then the teacher said, “Don’t talk back to me. I know kids like you. You’re messed up in life, and you’re going to mess up when you’re older, too. You’re going to go off to high school thinking you’re all cool and pretty like that, thinking you’re all hard. And you’re going to get beat up one day by a girl better than you,” he told me.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD | 1 Comment »

DA declines to file on LASD Captain Bernice Abrams for Protecting Accused Drug Dealer

November 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Over the weekend, another chapter surfaced in one of the many perplexing sagas that continue to unspool
at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The latest installment pertains to Captain Bernice Abram, the head of the department’s Carson station who has been on administrative leave since mid-April 2011, after she was reportedly caught on tape warning Dion Grim, the alleged head of a drug-trafficking ring, of some impending police surveillance. The “surveillance” was in fact part of a sting operation—-which had been specifically designed to catch Abram in the act of passing police info to the 36-year-old Grim.

Abram also reportedly used her position to get Grim and his sister out of various low-rent legal scrapes, tickets and more, by leaning on various subordinates—in one case reportedly to the point of attempting to discredit a department deputy who was investigating Grim and his friends.

Now, 19 months later, according to a report in the LA Times, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has declined to charge Abram with anything. In the case of the ticket fixing, et al, the statute of limitations on the various incidents had simply run out.

As for the more serious potential crimes of warning an alleged drug dealer of law enforcement activity that might adversely affect him, the DA’s office said they couldn’t prove that Abrams knew that Grim was engaged in illegal activities. Nevermind that in August 2011, four months after Abram was relieved of duty, Grim and fourteen of his alleged associates were arrested after a 2-year-long multi-agency investigation into two inter-state drug trafficking rings, one allegedly headed by Dion.

Here are the basics of this maddening tale as outlined in an excellent story by the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi.

The trap was set. All that was left for Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators to do was wait and see if the unthinkable was true.

Suspicions had grown that one of their colleagues — a respected captain with more than 150 deputies under her command — was funneling secret information to an alleged Compton drug trafficker. So investigators sent out a phony plan as bait, according to records and interviews, detailing their intention to do surveillance on a house near the suspected trafficker’s home.

A few minutes after receiving the fake plans, Capt. Bernice Abram was heard on a phone tap placing a call to Dion Grim, the suspected drug dealer.

Authorities listened in as she tipped him off about the location of the planned surveillance. Stay away, she warned.

That day, in April 2011, sheriff’s officials placed Abram on leave, and for more than a year afterward her ties to Grim were investigated. Prosecutors recently declined to file charges against Abram, saying they couldn’t prove the captain knew that Grim, a documented gang member, was involved in illegal activities.

But a district attorney’s memo explaining that decision provides the most detailed description yet of how the Sheriff’s Department came to believe one of its up-and-coming leaders was betraying the agency and shows the efforts officials pursued to prove it. The memo also documents several occasions when Abram appeared to use her authority to help Grim avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

An FBI investigation into Abram is ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

The Sheriff’s Department placed Abram on leave along with her niece, a custody assistant who prosecutors said improperly accessed a law enforcement database for Grim. They remain on leave and together have collected more than an estimated $300,000 in salary as the sheriff’s internal probe continues, based on posted county salaries….

A department source tells us that, now that the DA’s office has declined to prosecute, the LASD’s Internal Affairs investigation will likely begin—although the FBI’s continuing probe could further delay an IA investigation.

He also said that Abram’s actions as reported by the Times contained multiple firing offenses.

Another source familiar with the workings of the Carson station that Abram oversaw, and with the reputation of Grim and his friends, said that the notion that Abram was unaware of Grim’s extralegal activities was simply not credible.

Several LASD sources expressed concern that, even if Abram’s actions are found to be cause for her termination, she could be allowed to retire ahead of any findings, thereby retaining all pension and benefits that she has accrued at that point.

Back in April of 2011, Sheriff Baca told KABC’s John North that he expected the investigation into Abram’s possible wrong-doings to be wrapped up in approximately 30 days.

KABC also noted that Bernice Abram and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka have been friends since junior high school but said that the undersheriff assured press that there was no conflict of interest.


POST SCRIPT: The fact that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed on nothing and allowed the statute of limitations to run out on the lesser matters, is hard for those of us observing to understand. To be frank: absent some more rigorous justification than we have yet heard, it suggests a dispiriting double standard.

It should be noted, however, that whatever the reasons behind all this non-filing-–whether righteous or deeply questionable—-it was the decision of the DA’s office under Steve Cooley’s tenure.

District Attorney-elect Jackie Lacey will be sworn in next Monday, December 3. Let us hope that she will choose a more agressive route in such matters in the future.

Posted in District Attorney, FBI, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca | 55 Comments »

SCOTUS to Decide on Friday Whether to Rule on CA’s Prop 8….and Other Stories

November 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF GAY MARRIAGE OVERALL…OR ONLY SEE LESS SWEEPING CASES?

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News has the story. Here is a clip:

When the U.S. Supreme Court convenes behind closed doors Friday, the justices will weigh whether to jump headlong into the historic same-sex marriage debate — or merely dip their toes in the roiling legal waters.

The high court could decide whether to rule once and for all on California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. And it could choose to hear up to eight other cases that challenge the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Depending on how far the court goes, it could end up legalizing gay marriage nationwide, banning it nationwide, or continuing the current state-by-state experiment in whether gays and lesbians can marry and whether they are entitled to equal benefits under federal law.

All the cases on the court’s docket involve lower court decisions declaring gay marriage restrictions unconstitutional.

Both sides in the gay marriage battle and legal experts have little doubt the Supreme Court will take up at least some of the cases to put its stamp on one of the country’s most pressing social issues. The mystery is in how far it will go.

If the Supreme Court chooses not to review the challenge to Proposition 8, gay and lesbian couples will have the right to legally marry in California.

The court is expected to announce it’s decisions about taking or not taking the various cases in early December.


CALIFORNIA THREE-STRIKES HORROR STORIES

The Sunday New York Times featured an Op Ed by Brent Staples detailing some of the horror stories wrought by California’s 3-Strikes law, which the state’s residents have (thankfully) just voted to reform.

Here are some clips:

…The revised law preserves the three-strikes concept, but it imposes a life sentence only when the third felony offense is serious or violent, as defined in state law. It also authorizes the courts to resentence thousands of people who were sent away for low-level third offenses and who present no danger to the public.

The resentencing process is shaping up as a kind of referendum on the state’s barbaric treatment of mentally ill defendants, who make up a substantial number of those with life sentences under the three-strikes rule. It is likely that many were too mentally impaired to assist their lawyers at the time of trial.

[BIG SNIP]

Among the more horrifying cases investigated by the Three Strikes Project is that of 55-year-old Dale Curtis Gaines, who suffers from both mental retardation and mental illness. He has never committed a violent crime, but is serving a life sentence for receiving stolen property. His first two strikes, daytime burglaries of empty homes during which he was unarmed, appear to have involved thefts valued at little more than pocket change.

According to court documents, Mr. Gaines’s early childhood was a nightmare, filled with the most savage forms of abuse. His grandmother, a primary care giver, is said to have beaten him when he urinated or defecated in bed — and forced him to eat his feces as punishment. Later, as often happens with mentally impaired adolescents, he began to skip school because he was ashamed that he could not keep up with his classmates. He was often homeless. While serving time for his second crime, he was diagnosed by the prison system itself as both mentally disabled and schizophrenic.

He was clearly too impaired to help with his defense, and at one point simply put a blanket over his head and declined to speak to a doctor who was questioning him. His ability to read is comparable to that of a kindergartner.

At the time of his third strike, for receiving stolen computer equipment, Mr. Gaines was getting Social Security and disability benefits because of mental illness and retardation. His mental health history, readily available in the prison record, would probably have been recognized as a mitigating factor and prevented him from being so harshly sentenced. But, according to court documents, his public defender presented no evidence about his disability.


MARYLAND GOVERNOR EYES DEATH PENALTY REPEAL FOR STATE

John Wagner reports for the Washington Post. Here’s a clip:

Coming off some high-profile wins at the ballot box this month, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is considering another run at repealing the death penalty when lawmakers reconvene in January, aides say. It’s an issue that could add to his progressive legacy.

But even if the law remains on the books, advocates on both sides agree that O’Malley (D) is all but certain to finish his two terms in office without having presided over a single execution of one of the state’s five condemned prisoners.

That’s largely because O’Malley’s administration has yet to implement regulations required for executions to resume, nearly six years after Maryland’s highest court halted use of capital punishment on a technicality. And there’s little reason to believe the politically ambitious governor will do so in his remaining two years, as drug shortages and other factors have complicated the mechanics of lethal injection in other states.

“It’s legislating by inaction,” said Sen. Joseph M. Getty (R-Carroll), a member of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and an O’Malley critic. “I’m among the members of the General Assembly who would like to see the law followed.”


Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

15 Reasons Why We’re Thankful This Year

November 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker

As we near the end of 2012, we at WitnessLA believe there is quite a bit to be thankful for within the social justice sphere–breakthroughs, big wins (and smaller wins), opened doors, and steps in the right direction. Here are fifteen items on our list, in no particular order:


1. We’re thankful to Senator Leland Yee for drafting SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and to Gov. Brown for having the good sense to sign the bill that gives certain juvies serving life-without-parole the possibility of a second chance.


2. We’re thankful that Californians passed Prop 36, the three-strikes reform legislation.


3. We’re thankful that California’s education system will not have to find out what would have happened if Prop 30 had not passed.


4. We’re thankful for the rigor with which the members and staff of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence approached their task, which led to a strong set of findings, and a thorough list of recommendations.


5. We’re also thankful for the many LASD people—present and former— who have courageously come forward: to us, to the LA Times, to the commission and to those guys and girls on Wilshire Blvd.


6. We’re thankful to Judge Michael Nash for shining light on Child Dependency Court proceedings by allowing media access, and to the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals for denying petitions against Judge Nash’s decision.


7. We’re thankful for the passage of marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as steps toward rectifying the harm done by a failed drug war.


8. We’re thankful for SCOTUS’ ban of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentencing. (It’s one step in the direction of banning juvie LWOP altogether.)


9. We’re also thankful to SCOTUS for ruling preposterously long sentences for youth unconstitutional.


10. We’re thankful for the wise and important findings of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color created by Assembly speaker John Perez, and chaired by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.


11. We’re thankful that, slowly but surely, the US is making progress toward equal rights for the LGBT community (shout out to Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota).


12. We’re also thankful to Gov. Brown for making CA the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for youth.


13. We’re thankful for all those who are pushing for zero-tolerance reform in LAUSD schools and across the nation.


14. We’re thankful to SCOTUS for striking down most of the harsh AZ immigration law, SB 1070.


15. We’re thankful that, a year after the program commenced on Oct. 1, 2011, people are finally starting to talk sense about California’s prison realignment process—rather than painting it counter-factually as a plot to endanger public safety by releasing prisoners early. (We are particularly grateful to the LA Times Rob Greene for snapping some of the worst fact-offenders out of their stupor.) We’re also thankful for the programs that are starting to spring up in various counties that see realignment as an opportunity, rather than a burden.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LASD, LAUSD, LGBT, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Realignment, Uncategorized, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

The Affect of 2 Violent Crimes on Two Young Men….Plus Women & Weed

November 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



THE AFTERMATH OF BULLETS & THE DANGEROUS DECISION THEY REQUIRED

On Sunday, the LA Times ran the first part of Molly Hennessy-Fisk’s remarkable two part series. Part 2 followed on Monday. (The photos accompanying the series by Times photographer Barbara Davidson are also simply stunning.)

The series follows the life of a Monrovia teenager named Davien Graham, a young man who was turning out well, despite the fact that nearly every adult in his family who should have protected him, seemed to let him down in frightening ways. Nonetheless, he worked hard at school, was devoted to church, and stayed away from trouble.

But one day trouble found Davien, and brought with it a dangerous decision.

Here’s a clip from Part 1:

The oldest of six children, he learned as a small boy not to feel safe anywhere. He played under the towering pines and sweet gum trees of Pamela Park, where gangbangers stashed guns in bathrooms and addicts left crack pipes in sandboxes.

He witnessed his first drive-by when he was 4 years old. He came to recognize the sound, “like a loud drum, a thunderclap.”

He grew leery of sedans with tinted windows, “drive-by cars,” and gangsters who sprinted past his house and across “the wash,” a drainage canal, with police in pursuit.

For Davien’s safety, a relative had walked him to school — until he, too, was shot and his body dumped in the wash.

Davien had one goal in mind: to make it to his 21st birthday.

Drug dealers, bookies and hustlers called to him from the streets: “Hey, Day Day! You just like your dad.”

The comparison made him cringe. Davien’s father, Steven Graham, or Steve-O, was a Crip who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession weeks after Davien was born. Steve-O would spend several years in prison.

Afterward, on days Steve-O got high or drank too much, he would put on his sunglasses and take Davien out to the yard for lessons in manhood, often bringing a shotgun.

Davien’s mother, Sharri McGhee, also struggled with drugs.

Even so, when times were good, Davien felt as though he belonged to a normal family. His mother would check them into an Embassy Suites hotel so they could swim in the pool. It felt like Disneyland.

Then he woke up one morning and all his videos and the TV and VCR were gone, and he saw his dad walking home because he had sold the car, too.

By the time he started school, Davien had learned not to depend on adults for protection. He saw kids whisked away from their parents by the state, or sent to juvenile hall. He promised his younger brothers he would take care of them…

Then the thing happened that Davien had always feared. He got shot.

To make matters worse, he recognized the shooter. They’d been in the same gym class in middle school. When the sheriff’s detective asked Davien if he’d seen who shot him, he knew that his Christian beliefs had taught him not to lie. Yet he also knew he was living in a community where “snitching” could be a death sentence.

Here’s a clip from Part 2:

Davien knew his biggest hurdle lay ahead; testifying at Santana’s trial.

As the case dragged on, Davien felt like he was doing time, waiting. He began to believe that his aunt and uncle, Joni and Terry Alford, resented caring for him, especially when he bumped into their furniture or peed in his shabby wheelchair.

They didn’t seem to fear for his safety. Sometimes when they ran errands, they would leave him alone in the car, feeling trapped and exposed.

Davien wanted to put the trial behind him. He wanted out of Monrovia. He decided the best way out was to finish high school and make it to college.

(It should be noted, that the one adult who repeatedly seemed to do right by Davian was Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detective Scott Schulze.)

Read the rest.

This is a story that definitely deserves to be recognized at awards time.


WHEN YOUR MOTHER GOES TO PRISON

Violent crimes produce many collateral victims, in addition to those most directly affected.

For instance, the November 26 New Yorker contains an affecting personal account by journalist Victor Zapana called SHAKEN: A mother’s conviction. A son’s doubts, in which Zapana tells how, in 2007, when he was a senior at Stuyvesant High School, he came home from school one day to find that his mother, Yoon Zapana, had been found guilty of catastrophically injuring an eight-month-old baby for whom she had been the nanny eight years earlier. She had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

Zapana describes the effect the sentence had on him, and his Iraq war veteran dad. He also talks about his discovery that his mom, who had always insisted upon her innocence, might not be guilty. Yet despite what the new information that has come to light about shaken baby syndrome suggested for her case, the family decided they simply could not afford to hire another lawyer, as paying the first one had wiped them out.

(Sadly, this story too is hidden behind a paywall. But if you or someone you know has access, do avail yourself.)


HOW DID THE MARIJUANA LEGISLATION GET PASSED? WOMEN AND HISPANICS WERE KEY

Or so writes Casey Michel in this week’s Atlantic. Here’s a clip:

A few days before last Tuesday’s election, New Approach Washington, the group pushing a ballot issue to legalize marijuana in the state, posted its final ad of the campaign. The spot featured a “Washington mom” — a woman in her mid-40s, sitting on her porch, flanked by pumpkins — who took the viewer through the assorted restrictions and benefits both minors and businesses would see once the measure, Initiative 502, was implemented: ID checks.Fewer profits for the cartels. Increased funds for schools. More time for police to “focus on violent crime instead.” In short, all of the top concerns that an average mom in the Evergreen State would seem to have about making pot legal.

But New Approach’s ad was about more than just capturing the votes of a major demographic — the same one that helped reelect President Obama and the one that kept GOP Senate hopefuls Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin at bay. Legalization advocates have found that female support tends to be a leading indicator for marijuana measures. In the case of both California’s 2010 and Colorado’s 2006 votes, sagging support among women preceded a collapse in men’s support too. In California, for instance, support from women saw a 14-point swing against legalization over the final six weeks, dragging support from men under 50 percent.

“Historically, as soon as women really start to create a [gender] gap, a marijuana measure gets killed,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “If women get weak-kneed, the men will start to drop.”


Photo of evidence, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, via the Los Angeles Times.

Posted in criminal justice, Gangs, Life in general, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | No Comments »

LAPD Use-of-Force Issues, LASD Investigates Photo Exchange Between Officers…and More

November 19th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

ONE MORE INCIDENT RAISES QUESTIONS ABOUT LAPD USE-OF-FORCE ON RESTRAINED SUSPECTS

In yet another incident in a series of unnecessary use-of-force controversies, an LAPD officer was caught on video in 2010 tasering a handcuffed woman multiple times while joking with three other deputies. Parts of the officer’s story were proven false by video evidence, but the LAPD denied that this incident and three others like it occurring in the last few months point to a larger problem of abuse within the department.

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

The civilian Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, has launched an independent inquiry into cases of Taser use and other types of non-lethal force by officers.

The roughly 1,700 such cases that occur each year are investigated less rigorously than those involving lethal force, and the study will examine, among other things, whether changes to training and oversight need to be made, said commission President Andrea Ordin. She added that the report, which she said is expected to be completed in the coming months, will shed light on whether the recent string of controversial cases are unrelated or rooted in some common problem.

“They certainly raise some red flags,” said Geoffrey Alpert, a leading expert on police violence and training, of the recent cases. “These types of things do happen, but when they do you have to look for the patterns that link them, if there are any. Were these officers trained by the same people or in the same way? Do they share a common psychological profile that can be identified? Someone needs to start peeling back this onion to search for what’s going on.”

Department officials rejected the idea that the cases add up to a larger behavioral pattern. Cmdr. Andrew Smith called them “isolated, unrelated cases in which officers got out of line.” The cases, he emphasized, represent a small fraction of the total number of those involving force and added that in each of the cases in question the department is investigating the officers for misconduct.


LASD OFFICERS’ QUESTIONABLE PHOTO SWAP PROMPTS INTERNAL INVESTIGATION

After a confrontation with a suspect, an LASD deputy text messaged a photo of the teenager’s battered face to a friend working at Men’s Central Jail. The CJ Sgt. responded sometime later with a picture of a jail visitor who had been violently beaten by deputies, and appeared to brag about the incident. Two law enforcement sources we spoke with did not find Gonzalez’s explanation credible.

LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have the story. Here are some clips:

After a violent confrontation with a teenage suspect, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy took a photo of the man’s bloodied face and texted it to Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, a friend who worked at Men’s Central Jail.

A few hours later, Gonzalez responded by sending his own photo of a battered suspect: a jail visitor who had been kicked, punched and pepper-sprayed by deputies.

The man in Gonzalez’s photo had two black eyes, one swollen shut, and blood streaming down his face.

“Looks like we did a better job,” Gonzalez wrote his colleague. “Where’s my beer big homie.”

“Hahaha,” the deputy responded, according to a text message exchange reviewed by The Times.

[SNIP]

Prosecutors had initially charged the visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, with battery and resisting deputies based on the jailers’ statements. But they later dropped the case. The district attorney’s office concluded earlier this year that the deputies appeared to use necessary force on Carrillo.

In an interview with the Times, Gonzalez said his text message is being misconstrued and was not intended as a boast. He said he sent the photograph to determine whether his colleague recognized the visitor as someone who had recently run from him. The accompanying message, he said, was a joke unrelated to the injuries suffered by either man.


LASD DEPUTY FACES 75-TO-LIFE FOLLOWING OFF-DUTY SHOOTING

An LASD deputy was charged Thursday with the off-duty murder of a former neighbor after the man had gotten into an altercation with the deputy’s son.

LA Times’ Richard Winton and Wesley Lowery have the story. Here’s a clip:

Francisco Gamez, 41, has been with the department for 17 years and was last working as a station detective in West Hollywood. He was arrested Wednesday after a lengthy LAPD investigation.

He is charged with the June 17 murder of Armando Casillas, attempted murder and discharging a weapon from an occupied vehicle, as well an allegation he personally used a firearm.

Casillas and Gamez’s 20-year-old son were involved in an altercation on Beaver Street about 10 p.m. that night. After the fight, the son called Gamez, who allegedly drove to the scene and confronted Casillas, 38, and another man. After an argument Gamez allegedly opened fire on the two men.

Gamez, while still seated in a car, fired two shots, hitting Casillas and narrowly missing another man, prosecutors said. Gamez then allegedly fled the scene.

And then there’s this:

In August, a person who identified himself as the victim’s brother commented on the Los Angeles Times’ website that he suspected a deputy was responsible.

“We think he is a L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF,” the comment stated. “The reason we think he is a Sheriff is that he shouted to my Brother “L.A. COUNTY SHERIFF WHERE YOU FROM” as if the sheriff was in a gang.”


LASD DEPUTY GUNNED DOWN FRIDAY IS ON THE MEND

An LASD deputy on gang patrol was shot Friday during a confrontation with four suspected gang members. The deputy is in stable condition and four men have been arrested in connection with the shooting.

NBC’s Jason Kandel and Antonio Castelan have the story. Here’s a clip:

Detectives said a gun battle broke out between gang enforcement deputies and up to four males that the officers were trying to contact.

A deputy who was on patrol was hit by a bullet in the abdomen and was taken to a hospital where he was in stable condition, according to a sheriff’s department spokeswoman. The deputy was a 15-year veteran of the department, spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said.

Four males were expected to be booked into custody on suspicion of attempted murder of a peace officer. They were not immediately identified.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

LAUSD’s Charters, The Anti-Charter Warrior Queen…and More on Edu Reform

November 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



LAUSD HAS HIGHEST CHARTER SCHOOL ENROLLMENT IN THE NATION

The Los Angeles Unified School district, which is the 2nd largest school system in America, now boasts more students in charter schools than any other district in the U.S. Whether that is a good thing or not, depends on whom you ask.

John Fensterwald of Ed Source has the story about our newly acquired Number 1 status. Here’s a clip:

More students from Los Angeles Unified attend charter schools than from any other district in America – by far. The 98,576 students who enrolled in charters last year, up a significant 24 percent from 2010-11, were more than double the 48,057 students from New York City, the nation’s largest district and number two in charter attendance. Nearly one out of seven LAUSD students now attend charters.

The annual report by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools found that 2 million students – nearly 5 percent of the nation’s public school population – enrolled in charters last year, with 610,000 on waiting lists. In seven districts, more than 30 percent of students attend charters, led by post-Katrina New Orleans, where three-quarters of students are in charters, and Detroit and Washington, D.C., both with 41 percent of students in charters. The numbers do not include students enrolled in online charters.

And there’s this from Joy Resmovits at the Huffington Post, who looks at the pros and cons of fast grown of charters.


SCHOOL BOARD VOTES DOWN AN ATTEMPT TO SLOW CHARTER GROWTH

A decade ago, the LAUSD board seemed to barely tolerate charters. But things have changed. On Tuesday, one district board member, Steve Zimmer, supported a resolution that would have limited the growth of charter schools. At first, the rest of the board tried to talk Zimmer out of the resolution then, failing that, they voted the resolution down, as Barbara Jones of the Daily News reports:

Following a flood of protests from parents and charter supporters, the Los Angeles Unified board on Tuesday soundly rejected a resolution seeking a voluntary moratorium on new charter applications while a strategic plan is developed to better govern their explosive growth.

Board member Steve Zimmer said he saw the need for an in-depth study of the district’s charter system, which now educates some 110,000 students and has thousands more on waiting lists. He wanted to monitor how well charter schools are educating students and ways to share methods for closing the achievement gap and boosting parental involvement.

“The milestone of 100,000 is a moment in which we should step back and reflect on what is working in our role as (charter) operator and what isn’t,” he said. “We need to have a real strategy and a real plan.”

But parents and charter supporters saw his resolution as a challenge to their right to choose the appropriate school for their child, with speakers sharing personal stories of how charters had changed their lives.


MEET DIANE RAVICH, THE COUNTRY’S LEADING WARRIOR VALKYRIE OPPOSING THE CHARTER MOVEMENT

The nation’s most vociferous critic of charter schools and much of the school reform movement is the former Sec. of Education under George W. Bush, Diane Ravich who, at 74, is possessed of enough energy to light several medium sized cities, and is, in general, a force to be reckoned with. She drives school reformers crazy (a perspective we at WLA often share), but it is unwise to ignore all she has to say. Her prolific tweets alone are a must follow for those interested in U.S. education policy.

The November 19 issue of the New Yorker features a profile of Ravich by David Denby, which is unfortunately hidden behind a paywall. But if education policy is of interest to you, make a point of getting your hands on this story. Here’s a big clip from the abstract:

…Since the publication, in 2010, of her book “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education,” she has barnstormed across the country giving speeches berating the reform movement, which, in addition to test-based “accountability,” also supports school choice and charter schools (public institutions that often receive substantial private funding and are free from many regulations, such as hiring union teachers in states that require it), and which she calls a “privatization” movement. The reform movement has the support of President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan; it is also championed by the Republican Party; by many governors, mayors, and schools chancellors; and by a variety of wealthy entrepreneurs and fund managers, including Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Whitney Tilson.

It has changed educational thinking in states such as Florida, Wisconsin, and Louisiana, and in cities such as Washington, D.C., New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Ravitch argues that the reform movement is driven by an exaggerated negative critique of the schools, and that it is mistakenly imposing a free-market ethos of competition on an institution that, if it is to function well, requires coöperation, sharing, and mentoring.

Before she opposed the reform movement, Ravitch advocated for it: for years, she supported many reform goals, but now that the ideas she championed have taken effect she is dismayed by the results and has disavowed her previous positions. Her disillusionment has been slow and painful and has ended some old friendships. Today, Karen Lewis, the president of the Chicago Teachers Union, describes Ravitch as “the intellectual leader—and the intellectual soul—of the resistance to reform.”


LA SCHOOL REFORMERS’ NEWEST DREAM GIRL

Steve Zimmer, the very board member whose charter moratorium resolution was just voted down, is being challenged for his school board seat by a mother of school age kids whom the LA school reform movement sees as their ideal change agent/candidate.

The LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron has the story Here’s a clip;

Steve Zimmer is a man without a country. Parents at school board meetings wear T-shirts that read, “SHAME ON YOU, MR. ZIMMER.” Union officials make wisecracks when he speaks. Preventing the Westside school board member’s re-election to the powerful Los Angeles Unified School Board in March is one of the top priorities for a group of well-funded activists, often dubbed reformers, who want additional charter schools and tougher teacher evaluations in which the students’ achievements — i.e., test scores — are taken into account.

“This is a seat that, on the natural, should be a reform seat,” says Parent Revolution founder Ben Austin, a Westsider in the reform camp who nearly ran for it in 2009. “Parents in this district are desperate for transformative change in our schools.”

Austin and others searched far and wide for the perfect candidate to represent the city’s most highly educated households, and they think they’ve found her.

Her name is Kate Anderson, a 40-year-old mother of twins, a former UCLA student-body president, former Congressional staffer to Henry Waxman and Jane Harman, and former corporate lawyer for heavyweight firm Munger, Tolles & Olson.

She’s also perfect as a challenger to a sitting politician for another reason — she’s no neophyte, having run for the Assembly in 2010. She lost the Democratic primary to current Assemblywoman Betsy Butler but impressed veteran politicos by raising nearly $400,000 her first time out the gate. Anderson sits on the board of the Mar Vista Community Council, and serves as Los Angeles director for Children Now, an influential advocacy group focused on early childhood education and child health.

“She has intellect, political experience and the perspective of being mom,” Austin says. “But at end of the day, it takes courage to stand up for kids. There are very powerful forces that push very hard.”

Do read the rest of Aron’s story, which is smart, informative and lively. For instance there is this about the emotional tenor of the district’s school board meetings:

In stark contrast to the backslapping, kumbaya-singing Los Angeles City Council — whose 15 members vote unanimously 99 percent of the time and almost never hold a hot debate in public view — the LAUSD school board is a veritable hyena’s cage.

Board members yell, roll their eyes and make poorly veiled accusations about one another. Two members have called the body dysfunctional. Yet the seven take their work seriously. The acrimony is as much a function of the tough decisions they’re forced into as it is the forces pushing them.

(Hillel Aron also writes for the LA SCHOOL REPORT, which tips us to a lot of good ed stories, including some of the above.)


Photo courtesy of Hugowolf at Wikimedia Commons.

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