Tuesday, December 6, 2016
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$1.1 Million Judgement for LASD Shooting With or Without “Malice”……People are Dying Like Crazy in SD Jails….and The Power of Justice Ruth

March 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


This week a jury awarded 19-year old William Fetters $1,127,600 in medical bills and damages for pain and suffering, after Fetters was shot on May 10, 2009 by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy, Scott Sorrow.

Fetters, who was then 15-years -old, was riding his bicycle, and playing a tag-like game with his brother and friends, when he was shot.

Deputy Sorrow testified at trial that Fetters was brandishing a realistic looking toy gun that he refused to drop. This, the deputy said, caused him to fear for his life and that of his partner so he fired a single shot at Fetters.

The teenager was hit in the rear of the side of his chest.

According to Fetters, matters went as follows: he was riding his bike down the street toward a local baseball diamond, playing “cops and robbers” with his brother and friends as they went. As the boys rode, Sorrow approached in his car and asked Fetters to stop riding and drop the toy gun he was holding, and that he dropped it right away. After that, Fetters said, the deputy shot him. Then, as he lay on the ground wounded, yelling that the gun was just a toy, Sorrows handcuffed him.

(Sorrows also testified that he handcuffed the wounded boy after shooting him and seeing that the gun was on the ground and out of his reach.)

At the trial—and according to interview transcripts—-Sorrows insisted that Fetters did not drop his toy gun when ordered to do so, while Fetters said the opposite. The teen said he was scared, and when the deputy barked the order, he dropped the gun immediately, then tried to get off his bike, at which point Sorrows shot him.

Oddly, according to Fetters’ attorney Bradley Gage, in an earlier version of an interview transcript that was presented at a hearing for the case in 2012, Sorrows appears to say that that Fetters did drop the gun.

But for this month’s trial, said Gage, the same transcript was amended to read that Fetters did not drop the gun. When questioned about the discrepancy in trial, Gage said that Sorrows discribed the first version as a “typo.”

(Here is the first version of the interview with Sparrow: EXHIBIT 35 – 1st INTERVIEW)

About the matter of whether Sorrow shot Fetters “with malice,” which the court was also asked to consider, the jury as unable to not a verdict. Thus a mistrial was declared for that part of the case. The question of “malice” is due to be tried again in mid April.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said that the department strongly disagrees with this week’s jury judgment, and that Fetters was holding what appeared to be a real handgun which he pointed at the deputies when he was shot.


Reporters Dave Maas and Kelly Davis, have a startling story in San Diego City Beat showing that the jail death capital of California is….San Diego County.

Didn’t see that coming.

Maas and Davis note that jail inmate deaths have been tracked nationally only since 2000, when Congress passed the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA) to “help address increasing reports of neglect and abuse in U.S. jails.”

According to Department of Justice statistics tracked from the period of 2000 to 2007, for that time period, San Diego was second in the state, for jail deaths. (Alameda county was first.)

Then when the reporters began gathering stats from 2007 to the present through public records act requests, things got worse for SD, not better. In this newer period, San Diego County was at the top of California’s list—based on a calculation of deaths per 100,000 people (the standardized metric that is most often used for this kind of calculation so that one may compare apples to apples).

Riverside County, Alameda and Los Angeles ranked 2nd, 3rd and 4th, respectively, behind San Diego.

Next the reporters plan to drill down into the county’s figure so try to determine if any of those deaths were preventable.


One of the most to-the-point remarks in this week’s gay marriage hearings was said so softly that many in the court gallery didn’t hear Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s words when she talked about “skim milk.”

Greg Stohr at Bloomberg has a nice story about the physically diminutive, but intellectually and strategically powerful Miz Ruth.

Here’s clip:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is sometimes barely audible when she speaks at the U.S. Supreme Court. That doesn’t mean she isn’t heard loud and clear.

As the court took up same-sex marriage this week for the first time, the 80-year-old justice offered a reminder that she remains a force, the anchor of court’s liberal wing. At various points, she served as the hard-hitting questioner, the voice of experience and a source of wit.

Ginsburg delivered one of the most memorable lines of the two days of arguments when she said yesterday that a federal law limiting benefits to married gay couples would create “two kinds of marriage — the full marriage, and then this sort of skim-milk marriage.”

The quip drew chuckles throughout the packed courtroom. The laughter would have been louder except that many of the 500 onlookers couldn’t hear Ginsburg, whose soft speaking style means her words often get lost in the corners of the courtroom.

Her quiet manner and diminutive stature make Ginsburg an easy justice to underestimate — for those not familiar with her work.

“It is clear that she is respected and even somewhat feared by her adversaries on the bench,” said Garrett Epps, a University of Baltimore law professor who attended the argument.
The skim-milk analogy was her way of “explaining in clear terms — terms that will be remembered and carried forward to judges and citizens outside the court — what is wrong with the idea that the federal government can withhold the title of marriage to couples legally wedded in their states,” Epps said….

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin has a terrific profile of Ginsburg in the New Yorker earlier this month, but regrettably it’s hidden behind their paywall. However, if you don’t have your own subscription and can’t snatch a friend’s magazine, Toobin was interviewed on Fresh Air with Terry Gross about his profile, and it’s very good (and covers many of the same points as he did in the profile).

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, Supreme Court | 11 Comments »

LASD Gets $$….Allegations Ongoing for Pasadena PD Officers…Supremes Hear DOMA…

March 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


At Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors’ meeting the board voted to give the sheriff’s department $22 million to help shore up the LASD budget. The money is reportedly slated to pay for officers to adequately patrol the unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County—namely the areas that the sheriff’s department is legally obligated to patrol. (But why quibble.)

Christina Villacourt of the Daily News has the story on the board’s vote. Here’s a clip:

….Short on cash at the beginning of this year, Sheriff Lee Baca reduced patrols in unincorporated areas but not in cities and agencies where his department is contractually obligated to maintain a certain level of service.

An audit revealed residents of unincorporated areas ended up having to wait 17 percent longer — a minute more — for deputies to respond to their 9-1-1 calls, compared to people in contract cities and agencies.

At a tense board meeting, Supervisor Gloria Molina accused Baca of “stealing” from unincorporated areas to serve contract cities and agencies.

Baca restored the patrols by pulling dozens of deputies out of gang enforcement and other units and sending them to monitor unincorporated areas.

Speaking of audits, wasn’t there going to be some kind of audit of the LASD budget when this whole thing came up a month or so ago? Or did we all just get tired and forget about that? (I’m just curious.)


The Pasadena Star’s Brian Charles continues to vigorously report on this hydra-headed story of alleged Pasadena Police misconduct, misadventure and, in the case of Kendric McDade, a series of tragic mistakes—or worse. Here’s a clip from the latest sad wrinkle.

In the final moments of his life, Kendrec McDade was handcuffed and “began to twitch” on the ground after being shot by two Pasadena police officers, according to a civil rights lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court.

McDade, a onetime standout football player at Azusa High School, tried to talk to officers as he lay dying, the lawsuit reads.

Instead, Pasadena police officers left McDade handcuffed in the street late Saturday night “for a protracted period of time without administering first aid,” the lawsuit filed by McDade family attorney Caree Harper reads.

The 19-year-old Citrus College student died later at Huntington Memorial Hospital.

Pasadena police spokeswoman Phlunte Riddle denied that McDade was left to die, but would not comment on the specifics of the case.

Named as defendants in the lawsuit are Pasadena police Chief Phillip Sanchez, Officer Mathew Griffin, Officer Jeffrey Newlen and detective Keith Gomez. It seeks unspecified damages.

Read the rest. And note that off to the right side of the story there are links to Charles’ other stories.

ERICA AGUILAR OVER AT KPCC reports that one of the officers involved investigating the McDade shooting is already being investigated for a hefty string of allegations of misconduct.

Here’s a clip from her story:

Pasadena’s police chief said he’s investigating two officers on accusations that they intimidated suspects and witnesses. One of those officers is a detective investigating the officer-involved shooting of Kendrec McDade.

Pasadena police shot and killed 19-year-old McDade in March after they said he reached for his waistband. Police say they thought he had a gun because of a false emergency call, but McDade was not armed. Keith Gomez, a corporal with the Pasadena department, is looking into the incident.

Last week the Pasadena chapter of the NAACP filed a complaint with the police department alleging that Gomez intimidated a suspect and witnesses and manufactured evidence in a 2006 murder case he investigated.

“Sometimes officers may do things that are inappropriate,” said Joe Brown, the chapter president, “and there appears to be sometimes patterns that certain officers are using that are really going over the line.”


Here’s a clip from Adam Liptak at the New York Times writing about the justices’ doubts about DOMA.

The Supreme Court appeared ready on Wednesday to strike down a central part of a federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, as a majority of the justices expressed reservations about the Defense of Marriage Act.

On the second day of intense arguments over the volatile issue of same-sex marriage, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who most likely holds the decisive vote, returned again and again to the theme that deciding who is married is a matter for the states. The federal government, he said, should respect “the historic commitment of marriage, and of questions of the rights of children, to the states.”

That suggests that he is prepared to vote with the court’s four liberal members to strike down the part of the 1996 law that recognizes only the marriages of opposite-sex couples for more than 1,000 federal laws and programs. Such a ruling would deliver federal benefits to married same-sex couples in the nine states, and the District of Columbia, that allow such unions.

If the 1996 law stands, Justice Kennedy said, “you are at real risk with running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence” of state power, which he said was to regulate marriage, divorce and custody.

All four members of the court’s liberal wing questioned the constitutionality of the law, though they largely focused on equal protection principles rather than on the limits of federal power.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for instance, said the law effectively created “two kinds of marriage: the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.”

David Souter and David Savage of the LA Times also think that the liberal justices and Justice Kennedy are in favor of striking down DOMA. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court wrapped up a second day of arguments on gay marriage, as Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and the court’s liberal justices appeared headed toward striking down the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to legally married gay couples.

Kennedy repeatedly said the states, not the federal government, have the primary role in deciding who is married. The question is “whether the federal government has the authority to regulate marriage,” he said.

Meanwhile, the court’s four liberal justices said the 1996 law is flawed and discriminatory because it treats married same-sex couples differently than other married couples.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she too found the discrimination troubling. Some couples can have “full marriage” under the law, but others who are gay are left with “skim-milk marriage,” she said.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the law creates two classes of married couples. “You are treating married [gay] couples differently,” she said. “You are saying that New York’s married couples [who may be gay] are different than Nebraska’s,” she said, even though both are legally married under state law.

She questioned whether the government “can create a class they don’t like — here homosexuals –and … decide they get different benefits on that basis.”

The ATLANTIC WIRE has a transcript of Wednesday’s hearing that is nicely laid out so your eye can skip over the less interesting parts, in order to read and assess what the SUPREMES said for yourself.

Posted in crime and punishment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT | 3 Comments »

Rules for Engagement: The Collateral Damage of School Discipline…and What to Do About It

March 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Journalist Jane Stevens has a remarkable website that only experts seem to know about but that deserves a very wide readership among those who care about…well….kids, and certainly those who care about education. It’s called Aces Too High, and it’s about the affect that adverse childhood experiences-–AKA “ACE” AKA childhood trauma—have on education, and school discipline issues, and, of course, the way and the reasons why kids intersect with the juvenile justice system.

In this article by Stevens, titled The secret to fixing school discipline problems? Change the behavior of adults,” she explains—probably better than I’ve yet seen it done elsewhere—-the affect of zero tolerance discipline policies, and the profoundly positive changes that occur in schools and school districts, when the adults running things figure out that suspensions and expulsions aren’t good solutions to anything.

Here’s a large explanatory clip:

A sea change is coursing slowly but resolutely through this nation’s K-12 education system. More than 23,000 schools out of 132,000 nationwide have or are discarding a highly punitive approach to school discipline in favor of supportive, compassionate, and solution-oriented methods. Those that take the slow-but-steady road can see a 20% to 40% drop in suspensions in their first year of transformation. A few — where the principal, all teachers and staff embrace an immediate overhaul — experience higher rates, as much as an 85% drop in suspensions and a 40% drop in expulsions. Bullying, truancy, and tardiness are waning. Graduation rates, test scores and grades are trending up.

The formula is simple, really: Instead of waiting for kids to behave badly and then punishing them, schools are creating environments in which kids can succeed. “We have to be much more thoughtful about how we teach our kids to behave, and how our staff behaves in those environments that we create,” says Mike Hanson, superintendent of Fresno (CA) Unified School District, which began a district-wide overhaul of all of its 92 schools in 2008.

This isn’t a single program or a short-term trend or a five-year plan that will disappear as soon as the funding runs out. Where it’s taken hold, it’s a don’t-look-back, got-the-bit-in-the-teeth, I-can’t-belieeeeeve-we-used-to-do-it-the-old-way type of shift.

The secret to success doesn’t involve the kids so much as it does the adults: Focus on altering the behavior of teachers and administrators, and, almost like magic, the kids stop fighting and acting out in class. They’re more interested in school, they’re happier and feel safer.

Then Stevens gets into the really good stuff… about the effect of trauma on kids’ behavior, and…well, just read it.

“You can’t punish a behavior out of a kid,” says Jen Caldwell, a social worker at El Dorado Elementary School in San Francisco, CA. “The old-school model of discipline comes from people who think kids intentionally behave badly.”

Joseph Arruda, learning director at Reedley High School in Reedley, CA, shakes his head: “Suspending, expelling….that’s the old way.”



As we’ve mentioned earlier, Radio and PBS host Tavis Smiley has new PBS special that focuses on some of the same school-to-prison-pipeline topics that Stevens talks about above.

WLA’s own Matt Fleischer interviewed Smiley for FishbowlLA about the special titled Education Under Arrest, and Smiley talked about how the filming got to him emotionally:

….We spoke to Smiley last week, and he said this topic had left him emotionally drained in a way he had never experienced before in his more than two decades in the media.

“This is one of the most emotional pieces of work I’ve really done,” he tells FishbowlLA. “This has never happened before, but I had to stop camera at one point because I started crying. We had to take a break. I couldn’t keep it together.”

Smiley says it was the story of Kenyatta and Kennisha–sisters from New Orleans who were expelled from their charter high school for fighting after one was jumped and the other attempted to come to her rescue–that left him particularly raw.

“Both girls end up penalized because there is no gray area for adults to make decisions about these issues. They were both almost perfect 4.0 students. To see these two girls, as bright and full of life as can be, treated in a punitive and pejorative way, I had to stop camera because I started crying.”

“Bad things do happen to good people. I understand that. But I couldn’t wrap my head around why the adults in this situation couldn’t have figured out a better way to handle it.”

The special aired Tuesday night, and it’s terrific. It will re-air on PBS-OC on Sunday. Or you can watch it online here.

Matt talks more extensively to Tavis Smiley here.


ED Week’s Ross Brenneman has a rundown on yet one more excellent show dealing with this new wave in education. Here’s a clip:

At Washington Metropolitan High School, in the District of Columbia, many students struggle to keep going. The alternative school for at-risk youth features a litany of the toughest problems schools have to cope with: Chronic absenteeism, dropouts, violence, teenage pregnancy, suspension, tight budgets, and an ongoing challenge to meet adequate yearly progress.

In an ambitious project, a film crew went into D.C. Met for the entirety of the 2011-12 school year to give a broad picture of what a school in dire straits faces. The result, “180 Days: A Year Inside an American High School,” debuts tonight at 9 p.m. ET on PBS, with the other half showing tomorrow night.

“180 Days” gives a sweeping view of the climate inside alternative urban schools, starting with the school’s principal, Tanishia Minor, and moving out from there. The crew went into the high school every single day, and if the four-hour finished product seems expansive, it ultimately focuses on the difficulty of keeping a school together, let alone making it academically proficient.

“In these parts, we know these kids are walking in with these deficits, and every second counts,” Minor says.

The climate almost demands failure. When a student gets a great scholarship to college, they put the good news on the sign in front of the school….

As with Tavis Smiley, the producers of this show also came away changed by the experience of making the documentary:

“It was completely transformative. I think it changed all of our views on education,” said coordinating producer Alexis Aggrey, after the screening. “I think it made us feel, after we shot it and going through all the footage, we just feel like this piece was going to be bigger than what we expected it to be, and I think it lends a voice to this conversation that wouldn’t have normally been captured.”

It aired in LA Tuesday night, check listings here for future airings.

Photo: still shot from broadcast of Tavis Smiley special, “Education Under Arrest”

Posted in School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Prop 8 Arguments: Is Gay Marriage Younger than Cell Phones? What About the Children? Should Post-Menopausal Women Be Allowed to Marry….and Other Pressing Questions (Plus a New Big LAPD Settlement)

March 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


It is still something of a miracle that Constitutional attorneys David Boies and Ted Olson—who fought against each other in Bush v. Gore—have been the lawyers who made this case against Proposition 8 possible.

Here’s their post hearing press conference.

Their clients, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, Jeff Zarrillo and Paul Katami spoke as well— along with Kris and Sandy’s sons. It is hard to understand how anyone could object to their marrying each other. Very, very hard.

Have a look.

Here, as promised, are a couple of the more intriguing essays and reports on Tuesday morning’s hearing on the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8.

DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act case—is Wednesday.


Amy Davidson from the New Yorker focuses on the fertility issue—or whatever it was that Prop 8 attorney, Charles Cooper was nattering on about regarding fertility and marriage.

Here’s a clip:

This is what we’ve come down to: a lawyer arguing, before the Supreme Court, that a ban on same-sex marriage should be upheld in the interest of discouraging elderly heterosexual men from cheating on their similarly aged female partners with younger women who might get pregnant. At least, that is what Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the proponents of California’s Proposition 8, seemed to be saying in his very odd exchange with Justice Elena Kagan. She had pointed out, amid his talk of the “historic traditional procreative purposes” of marriage, that infertile couples have every right to marry.

JUSTICE KAGAN: If you are over the age of 55, you don’t help us serve the Government’s interest in regulating procreation through marriage. So why is that different?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, even with respect to couples over the age of 55, it is very rare that both couples—both parties to the couple are infertile, and the traditional—


JUSTICE KAGAN: No, really, because if the couple—I can just assure you, if both the woman and the man are over the age of 55, there are not a lot of children coming out of that marriage.


MR. COOPER: Your Honor, society’s—society’s interest in responsible procreation isn’t just with respect to the procreative capacities of the couple itself. The marital norm, which imposes the obligations of fidelity and monogamy, Your Honor, advances the interests in responsible procreation by making it more likely that neither party, including the fertile party to that…

His thought was interrupted by an exchange between the Justices, in which Scalia made a joke about Strom Thurmond—presumably referring to his marriage to a twenty-five-year-old when he was sixty-eight, and not to the daughter he fathered, at the age of twenty-two, with a woman whom it was, at the time, illegal for him to marry in his home state of South Carolina. And then, back to Cooper:

MR. COOPER: Very few men—very few men outlive their own fertility. So I just—

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Why, why, why did no one ask Mr. Cooper at this juncture if postmenopausal women should be forbidden to marry? Why??? A glorious opportunity, lost, LOST, I tell you!)

JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55—


JUSTICE KAGAN: A couple where both people are over the age of 55.

MR. COOPER: And Your Honor, again, the marital norm which imposes upon that couple the obligation of fidelity…. It’s designed, Your Honor, to make it less likely that either party to that—to that marriage will engage in irresponsible procreative conduct outside of that marriage. Outside of that marriage.

Read on. Please, read on. (How can you resist? I mean, really???!)


Oh, may he be right! Maura Dolan at the LA Times has the story on Chemerinsky’s opining on the Supremes possible opining. (Plus some counter opining by Prop. 8 advocates.)

Here’s a clip:

One leading law professor said he saw little support on the U.S. Supreme Court for keeping Proposition 8, California’s ban on gay marriage.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at UC Irvine and a constitutional law professor, said a reading of the transcript showed that several justices were particularly concerned about standing, especially Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

If the court dismisses the appeal on standing, the ruling by a federal district judge would probably stand.

“There might be a majority to leave the district judge’s opinion in place,” Chemerinsky said. “On the other hand, it is also possible the court could reach the merits. Only two justices—Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia—seemed clearly supportive of Proposition 8.”

Gay marriage foes expressed confidence that the U.S. Supreme Court could uphold the state’s ban on same-sex unions after hearing arguments Tuesday.

“I think we are going to win this case,” Andy Pugno, lawyer for Proposition 8 campaign, said. “We definitely represented the winning case today and the justices asked good thoughtful questions and we were able to say everything that we wanted to get in front of the court today.”

Pugno, counsel for Protectmarriage.com, said he was unimpressed by the arguments in favor of lifting the voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages in California.

Chemerinsky thinks that both Kennedy and Roberts are swing votes, not just Kennedy. I tend to agree—both based on pre-hearing logic re: Roberts and his legacy, and based on Roberts’ behavior in Tuesday’s hearing. Let’s hope they both swing with the tide of history.


If you’d like the full transcript of Tuesday’s hearing plus the audio, NPR has it here.

Charles Cooper, who is attorney for Prop 8, was first up. Cooper is clearly an extremely capable attorney. But he sounded nervous in the beginning, thus was a little wordier than might be optimum and got continually interrupted by impatient and keyed up justices, both on the liberal and the conservative side of the matter.

But then Cooper and the justices all seemed to settle down and the exchanges became legally substantive—even if sometimes a bit odd (as with the procreation, women over 55 section excerpted in the New Yorker story above).

Here are a couple of the more interesting moments:

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: Outside of the -­ outside of the marriage context, can you think of any other rational basis, reason, for a State using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them? Is there any other rational decision-making that the Government could make? Denying them a job, not granting them benefits of some sort, any other decision?

MR. COOPER: Your Honor, I cannot. I do not have any — anything to offer you in that regard. I think marriage is -­

JUSTICE SOTOMAYOR: All right. If that -­ if that is true, then why aren’t they a class? If they’re a class that makes any other discrimination improper, irrational, then why aren’t we treating them as a class for this one thing? Are you saying that the interest of marriage is so much more compelling than any other interest as they could have?

MR. COOPER: No, Your Honor, we certainly are not. We — we are saying the interest in marriage and the — and the State ‘s interest and society’s interest in what we have framed as responsible pro -­ procreation is — is vital, but at bottom, with respect to those interests, our submission is that same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are simply not similarly situated.

But to come back to your precise question, I think, Justice Sotomayor, you’re probing into whether or not sexual orientation ought to be viewed as a quasi-suspect or suspect class, and our position is that it does not qualify under this Court’s standard and -­ and traditional tests for identifying suspectedness.

The — the class itself is — is quite amorphous. It defies consistent definition as — as the Plaintiffs’ own experts were — were quite vivid on. It — it does not — it — it does not qualify as an accident of birth, immutability in that — in that sense.

And then a classic moment in Scalia-osity in which the good justice musingly wondered why he should have to rule on a social issue that he alleged is “newer than cell phones.”

JUSTICE SCALIA: ….Traditional marriage has been around for thousands of years. Same-sex marriage is very new. I think it was first adopted in The Netherlands in 2000. So there isn’t a lot of data about its effect. And it may turn out to be a — a good thing; it may turn out not to be a good thing, as the supporters of Proposition 8 apparently believe.

But you want us to step in and render a decision based on an assessment of the effects of this institution which is newer than cell phones or the Internet? I mean we — we are not — we do not have the ability to see the future….


On Tuesday, the verdict came in for LAPD officer, Earl Wright, who described harrowing harassment by his supervisor and some other officers at the department’s Central division.

The LA Times Joel Rubin reported on the three day trial..

Here’s a clip:

…The testimony by officers during the trial showed Wright “willingly participated in some of the inappropriate behavior and banter,” said Lt. Andy Neiman, a spokesman for the department.

The jury, however, seemed to reject that notion.

In reaching their decision, jurors noted in written records that the LAPD’s procedures for handling harassment claims such as Wright’s were “ineffective,” Smith said.

Beck said in his written response that the department had learned lessons from the Wright case and “has used its experience from the allegations revealed in this case to more aggressively monitor workplace environments and investigate allegations of misconduct.”

Indeed, cop-on-cop accusations of harassment, retaliation and discrimination have bedeviled the LAPD for years, and cost tax payers tens of millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements.

Wright’s verdict is the second seven-figure payout for the city in as many weeks. Last week, the City Council voted to approve a $1.25-million settlement with two lesbian officers who claimed they had been subjected to sexual harassment by their supervisor.

That’s nearly 3 million in harassment settlements in two weeks.

FOXLA News notes that Wright is still working for the LAPD—now at the department’s training division—and still loves his job.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LAPD, LGBT, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Is the Right to Counsel Becoming a Myth? ….R.I.P. Anthony Lewis….Prepping for the Supremes & Prop 8, et al

March 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Every week I get a couple of calls from gang members or former gang members who are locked up in county jail or state prison. These collect calls are a byproduct of my years of gang reporting. I spent so much time on the street talking with homeboys and homegirls that many of them came to view me as some kind of white lady auntie who always carried a notebook, an audio recorder and a camera.

Many of the guys I knew from way back when have long ago turned their lives around and have good jobs, kids, wives and houses of their own. But some have not, at least not with any consistency. So when they, or their brothers or nephews, get locked up, sometimes they call me.

I talked to such a guy earlier this week. He was someone I only vaguely know, but it was the weekend and I had a minute to two to spare so I took his call. We’ll call him David. He called because he’d just signed a plea bargain but wanted advice as to how he might get his 18-month sentence transferred to county jail, which would allow him to call and see his daughter for whom he had always been the sole caretaker, instead of doing the year and a half in state prison. I told him that his public defender would likely have the best luck in talking to the judge about such a change—and the judge would either cooperate or not.

No, he said. “I already asked my lawyer. He told me to go F— myself.” He paused awkwardly. “Sorry for cussing.”

“Um, he what??” I asked. “Why did he say that?”

“He told me the first day he saw me that I was going to take a deal, and that he didn’t want to hear any argument from me. He hardly even looked at my case.” David took the deal, he said. “And I’m okay with that. But all I wanted is for my lawyer to ask the judge if I could do my time here, where I could make phone calls and get visits. If I go to prison, they told me I’ll spend the whole 18 months in ‘reception,’ which means I won’t be allowed any phone calls or visits. And what is my little girl going to do? She’s six and she’s never had any other parent but me.”

Okay, tell me how this conversation when again,” I said.

“He told me to go F— myself,” David reiterated. “When I tried to explain, and I mean really nicely and respectfully, he said it again.”

Now, as I said earlier, I don’t really know David, thus I don’t know if some crucial part of his story is false, or exaggerated, or left out. But it had the odd ring of truth. He made no excuses for himself. He simply had this one anguished request, that the judge could grant—or not. Yet, David’s attorney, who would have lost nothing by making a quick pitch to the judge, instead told David to go screw himself. (After telling him he was taking a deal, regardless of whether he wanted to take a deal or not.)

I know many wonderful, wonderful public defenders and court appointed attorneys who do work a gazillion times past what they are every paid for, and who believe ardently in the principal that everyone deserves a competent defense. A lot of those PD’s cope with impossible caseloads, yet keep working like crazy, with great intelligence and compassion, to provide what their clients need. In fact, it’s public defenders’ associations that are fighting to make things better.

Yet, I’ve also seen public attorneys who do the absolute minimum, who actively loathe most of their clients whom they believe are scum who should just take what’s coming to them.

Which is not an attitude that you want in your attorney.

It sounded like David’s lawyer fell into the latter category.

I bring all this up as a very long introduction to this essay by Kevin Burke, a trial judge who is the immediate past president of the American Bar Association. Burke writes about the 50th anniversary of U.S. Supreme Court decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, in which the court ruled that defendant in a criminal case had a constitutional right to have an attorney, and if he or she could not afford one the government had an obligation to provide said attorney.

In his essay, Burke suggests that maybe our 50-year-old right to counsel has become more of myth than the principal the Supremes intended a half century ago with their unanimous ruling. Here’s are two clips from Burke’s essay:

…Today there are those who claim [Gideon] is all a mirage. The right to counsel they say is just “another lie we tell each other to hide the truth” about unequal justice in America. Andrew Cohen wrote this week, “for all the glory we heap upon Gideon, for all the preening we display about our fealty to the rule of law, the sad truth is that there is no universal right to counsel today. We know today which path our legal and political leaders chose. Instead of ensuring that the right to counsel kept pace with the explosion of criminal cases, the Supreme Court and the Congress (and state legislatures) allowed the right to be left by the side of the road.”

What happened that diminished the bright promise of Gideon? First, the reality was there was no appetite for anyone to fund the mandate or for courts to order adequate funding. Neither Fortas nor Krash (and perhaps Justice Black as well) foresaw the problems of financing the new right to counsel. Caseloads and inadequate representation stripped Hugo Black’s admonition of the importance of the right to counsel of its vitality. They did not foresee a criminal justice system dominated by plea bargaining. They did not nor could have at the time foreseen the collateral consequences that flow from a conviction today.


Every day in thousands of courtrooms across the nation, from trial courts that handle felony cases to limited jurisdiction justice of the peace courts, the right to counsel is violated. Judges conduct hearings in which people accused of crimes and children accused of delinquency appear without lawyers. Some are middle class and therefore not eligible for appointed lawyers. Many plead guilty without lawyers. Others plead guilty and are sentenced after learning about plea offers from lawyers they met moments before. They are afraid and intimidated by the courts. Innocent people plead guilty to get out of jail. Too many plead guilty with no idea that there are collateral consequences that could change their lives.

Read the rest here.

(NOTE: A hat tip to Doug Berman of Sentencing. Law and Policy who flagged Burke’s essay.)


Pulitzer Prize-winning legal columnist and author Anthony Lewis died on Monday.

His death was an odd bit of timing, since Lewis’s most enduring work is Gideon’s Trumpet, about the that very Supreme Court decision that gave Americans the right to have counsel.

There are lots of remembrances about how Lewis’s knowledge and his love of writing about the law made his legal reporting clear, elegant, and understandable. This one from the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen is a good one. Here’s a representative clip:

…The headline of the [New York Times] obit says that Lewis “transformed” coverage of the United States Supreme Court, and he did. But he did much more than that. He transformed coverage of the broader beat of the law, and he inspired generations of writers (and lawyers and judges, for that matter) to try to better explain and translate legal jargon into phrases and concepts that laypeople could more easily understand.

Lewis’ masterwork, Gideon’s Trumpet, was a piece of art for precisely this reason — word by word, simple sentence by simple sentence, he deconstructed the Sixth Amendment’s right to a fair trial, and murky Supreme Court procedure, and state law, and the insular world of Washington law firms, and all the other satellite topics that revolved around that seminal case. Here is a representative passage:

The case of Gideon v. Wainwright is in part a testament to a single human being. Against all the odds of inertia and ignorance and fear of state power, Clarence Earl Gideon insisted that he had a right to a lawyer and kept on insisting all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States

His triumph there shows that the poorest and least powerful of men-- a convict with note even a friend to visit him in prison — can take his cause to the highest court in the land and bring about a fundamental change in the law.

But of course Gideon was not really alone; there were working for him forces in law and society larger than he could understand. His case was part of a current of history,and it will be read in that light by thousands of persons who will known no more about Clarence Earl Gideon than that he stood up in a Florida court and said: “The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel.”

For his work, in 1963, he won a Pulitzer Prize (his second, his first coming years earlier with his equally trenchant work covering the civil rights movement). Afterward, taking the longer view, Lewis wrote pointedly and poignantly for decades on the op-ed page of the Times, wrote excellent books like Make No Law (about the key first amendment case New York Times v. Sullivan), and contributed regularly to the New York Review of Books.

When given the chance over the years, I always tell young journalists and young lawyers to read everything Lewis has written, because his writing was always so clear, and so accessible, and such a good starting point for more involved research on any given legal topic….


A few stories for your reading pleasure:


David Siders at the Sacramento Bee reports that ” mayors of 25 California cities are urging the court to find the measure, Proposition 8, unconstitutional..”

Read more here:


For the moment, Toobin’s essay from the April 1 issue of the New Yorker isn’t hidden behind a paywall. Let’s hope it stays that way but, if you’re not a subscriber, you might want to read it now, just in case. It’s short, very smart and gives an interesting way in to what some of the arguments will be, and what is at stake.

Here are some clips:

In 2003, the Supreme Court decided that gay people could no longer be thrown in prison for having consensual sex. Specifically, Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion, in Lawrence v. Texas, declared that Texas’s anti-sodomy law “demeans the lives of homosexual persons” and violated the right to liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. But Kennedy was careful to describe the limits of the Court’s holding. He wrote that the case “does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons seek to enter.” In other words, in Kennedy’s telling, Lawrence v. Texas was not about same-sex marriage.

To which Justice Antonin Scalia responded, in a dissenting opinion, “Do not believe it.” He explained:

If moral disapprobation of homosexual conduct is “no legitimate state interest” for purposes of proscribing that conduct; and if, as the Court coos (casting aside all pretense of neutrality), “when sexuality finds overt expression in intimate conduct with another person, the conduct can be but one element in a personal bond that is more enduring,” what justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples exercising “the liberty protected by the Constitution”?

What, indeed? A decade later, it’s clear that Scalia was right. Once a society decides that the law must treat a group of people equally in one area of life, it becomes harder—and, eventually, impossible—to justify discriminating against them in others. If gay people can’t be prosecuted for being gay, then they shouldn’t be fired for being gay, either. If they can’t be fired, then they shouldn’t be denied custody of children. And so on, to the issue of marriage.Each of these steps is incomplete under current law, as well as in the real world, but the direction they are taking is unmistakable. This week, we will begin to find out whether the Justices will impede or accelerate that process. But, at this point, not even the Supreme Court can reverse the march toward equality.

And then there’s this:

…It’s important that the Justices decide these two cases the right way.

It’s just not as important as it once seemed. When Theodore B. Olson and David Boies, the lead lawyers in the Prop 8 case, filed their lawsuit, in 2009, it appeared to many informed observers that they were taking a foolhardy risk. At the time, gay-rights organizations had been following a cautious, state-by-state approach, and it seemed that an adverse decision in a major federal lawsuit could set back the cause of same-sex marriage for a generation. But, whatever the Justices do, that’s not going to happen. The question about marriage equality for all Americans is not if it will pass but when. The country has changed, and it’s never going back to the way it was. Though the battles continue, the war is over.

Read the rest.

Photo from the Missouri Bar Association

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court, writers and writing | No Comments »

Paul Tanaka’s Exit: the Sequel….and Possible Plans for 2014

March 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard report that Undersheriff Paul Tanaka did not,
in fact, announce his retirement earlier this month because “he felt it was time,” (as department spokespersons then maintained). To the contrary, Tanaka left, not by his own choice, but because Sheriff Baca insisted rather firmly that his second in command pull the plug.

This revelation is not exactly news since the sheriff himself said as much to the LA News Group editorial board last week (which we pointed out on Friday).

Moreover, we reported on the issue more than two weeks ago, based on information from a variety of insider sources. We did so here at WLA, and on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? (although, at the time, we were admittedly a bit more circumspect, in order to politely allow room for the “wanted more time for his family” meme put forth by department spokesman Steve Whitmore).

However, there is one genuinely meaningful piece of news embedded in Monday’s LA times story and that is the last sentence in this paragraph:

One source close to Tanaka said the undersheriff believes Baca views him as a political liability and is trying to use him as a scapegoat for the jail’s problems as the sheriff seeks reelection to a fifth term. That same source, who has spoken with Tanaka, said Tanaka has not ruled out running for sheriff himself, challenging his boss in the 2014 election. [Italics mine]

The fact that Paul Tanaka still believes he can be the next sheriff is both flabbergasting and, sadly, not a surprise at all. Despite the growing string of scandals that follow Tanaka like an elaborate and ever-expanding kite tail, as recently as February, according to well-placed sources inside the department, the undersheriff was still maneuvering to get his own loyalist slates elected to the various boards of the two LASD unions—ALADS and PPOA—–plus LA county’s main law enforcement fraternal organizations, namely BPOA (Black Peace Officer’s Association of Los Angeles County) and HAPCOA (Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association)—with the idea that their combined support could provide signficant help him in a bid for sheriff in 2014.

What a race that would be!—especially if someone untainted by the current scandals comes in from the outside, like Long Beach Chief, Jim McDonnell.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 45 Comments »

The DOJ Slams Meridian, MS Schools, with “Remarkable” Federal Consent Decree—Providing Possible Reform Roadmap for Schools Nationwide

March 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

When it comes to overly punative school discipline policies
, Meridian, Mississippi, arguably leads the pack.

But a new federal consent decree filed on Friday promises to force a change in Meridian’s severe approach to punishing students—and could, say experts, provide a blueprint for school discipline reform nationwide.

In Meridian the need for reform is particularly extreme. Here students are reportedly routinely arrested for any one of a string of minor reasons. When kids are arrested, children as young as ten are taken away by police in handcuffs, and thrown into juvenile detention centers—often without being allowed access to a lawyer.

For example, one girl with a bladder disorder was arrested after she raced frantically to the restroom without getting permission from her teacher.

Other kids were arrested and incarcerated for minor dress code violations, like the wrong color socks, or for having shirts untucked.” Tardiness and “flatulence in class” could be arrest-worthy offenses, as could using “vulgar language, or yelling at teachers.”

And in an alarmingly disproportionate number of instances, the students receiving these outsized punishments were “African-American children and children with disabilities.”

After warning Meridian to clean up its act or face legal proceedings, the civil rights section of the U.S. Department of Justice filed a legal complaint in October 2012, in which they wrote in harsh tones about Meridian administrators’ “school to prison pipeline” diciplinary policies:

Collectively, Defendants engage in a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct through which they routinely and systematically arrest and incarcerate children, including for minor school rule infractions, without even the most basic procedural safeguards, and in violation of these children’s constitutional rights.

Defendants do not afford children in the juvenile justice system even the minimum procedural safeguards required by the Constitution. As a result, (1) the City of Meridian engages in a pattern or practice of arresting children in school without probable cause; (2) Lauderdale County and the Youth Court Judges engage in a pattern or practice of authorizing the repeated incarceration of children without essentials of fairness and due process such as a timely hearing to determine whether there is probable cause to detain them, and meaningful representation by an attorney; (3) the Mississippi Division of Youth Services, Lauderdale County, and the Youth Court Judges engage in a pattern or practice of placing children on probation and incarcerating children for alleged probation violations without affording children constitutionally required protections such as reasonable opportunities to understand their probation requirements or hearings to challenge alleged probation violations that could result in incarceration; and (4) Defendants collectively engage in a pattern or practice of imposing disproportionate and severe consequences, including incarceration, for technical probation violations such as school suspensions, without any due process whatsoever.

Defendants’ concerted actions punish children in Meridian, Mississippi so arbitrarily and severely as to shock the conscience, and deprive these children of liberty and educational opportunities on an ongoing basis.

In January, the Advancement Project issued its own report titled: HANDCUFFS ON SUCCESS: The Extreme School Discipline Crisis in Mississippi Public Schools. The report made clear that the habit of criminalizing kids as young as five was not exclusive to Meridian but was happening all over the state of Mississippi.


After conducting an investigation that began in December 2011, the Feds gave local officials plenty of time to make progress toward correcting the most harmful of the issues before beginning with legal proceedings. But, instead of complying, Meridian officials reportedly tried to keep documents away from the DOJ people.

So the lawsuit was filed last October, followed five months later by the consent decree that was filed last Friday.

The following is from the DOJ press release announcing the move:

The American dream is rooted in education. In Meridian, that dream has long been delayed by discipline practices that deny students access to education,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “We commend the Meridian Public School District for taking this huge step toward ensuring that its schools are safe and welcoming to all students and that education is a road to success instead of a pipeline to prison.”


A consent decree—like the one that the Los Angeles Police Department operated under after the Rampart scandal—is basically a plea bargain in which the agency being sued avoids court proceedings by agreeing to a set of requirements.

The main terms that the Meridian consent decree lays out are the following:

· Limits exclusionary discipline such as suspension, alternative placement and expulsion, and prohibits exclusionary discipline for minor misbehavior;
· Prohibits school officials from involving law enforcement officers to respond to behavior that can be safely and appropriately handled under school disciplinary procedures;
· Requires training for school law enforcement officers on bias-free policing, child and adolescent development and age appropriate responses, practices proven to improve school climate, mentoring and working with school administrators;
· Revises policies at the district’s alternative school to create clear entry and exit criteria and provide appropriate supports to speed students’ transitions back to their home schools;
· Requires enhanced due process protections in student discipline hearings
· Expands use of a behavior and discipline management system known as positive behavior intervention and supports (PBIS) at all schools;
· Requires teachers and administrators to use developmentally appropriate tiered prevention and intervention strategies before removing students from instruction;
· Requires monitoring of discipline data to identify and respond to racial disparities
· Requires training on all revised policies and procedures, and
· Implements measures to engage families and communities as partners in revising policies and as participants in regular school and community informational forums.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

Many youth advocates hope that the full 44-page consent decree, which expands on the points made above, can act as an instructive model that any school district can use as a blueprint for its own reforms.

“This is really an incredible document,” Miriam Krinsky, policy consultant for the California Endowment, told me on Friday. (Note: Krinsky is also the executive director for LA’s Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.) “It provides a detailed and thoughtful roadmap for elements of best practices that can be incorporated in school discipline reforms around the nation.”

A look at the still depressingly high suspension and drop out rates that plague too many American school districts makes it clear that reforms are badly needed.

“Even one court appearance during high school increases a child’s likelihood of dropping out of school,” writes the DOJ. “And court appearances are especially detrimental to children with no or minimal previous history of delinquency.”

13_03_21 Barnhardt and US v. Meridian Joint Consent Order – FILED

Photo from the Advancement Project’s report, “Handcuffs on Success”

Posted in Civil Rights, Education, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Baca Speaks to Editorial Board of LA News Group……LA Experts Assess Villaraigosa’s Public Safety Report Card…SCOTUS Hears Gay Marriage Next Week

March 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA News Group includes such newspapers as the LA Daily News, the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, the Long Beach Press-Telegram and so on. Earlier this month, the group published a withering critique of Baca, all but calling for his ouster in 2014 when he is up for election.

But after a meeting with Baca this week, while not by any means offering the sheriff any reelection endorsements, the LA News Group’s editorial board was, at least, somewhat less determined to show him the door.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca mentioned two personal goals this week: Winning re-election next year and living to 100. In recent months the latter had seemed more likely than the former.
The dedicated runner’s physical fitness wasn’t in doubt, but his fitness for office was. After revelations about the unwarranted use of violence by sheriff’s deputies, Baca initially passed the blame to subordinates. A citizen’s commission probing jail violence cited a “failure of leadership. ”

By last fall, the question had become whether Baca, 70, should resign before scandal or voters forced him out.

But the Lee Baca who visited the Los Angeles News Group editorial board this week, to outline responses to the problems in the Sheriff’s Department, appeared as fully committed and as creative as ever in his approach to his huge job. It is still not clear that Baca deserves a fifth term, any more than it was clear before that he doesn’t. But it is clear that Baca will not be easily brushed aside in 2014.

The question now is whether Baca’s wide-ranging responses to the scandals makes up for his inability to prevent them.

The editorial also mentions that, in answer to questions about the exit of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca said he managed to “finess” Tanaka into leaving.

Here’s the clip:

…More-impressive responses are Baca’s admissions that much of the ACLU’s criticism is correct, and his actions to get to the systemic roots of issues instead of merely blaming underlings.

One was Baca’s move to “finesse” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka into announcing his retirement – and then to essentially eliminate the position. Baca thinks this removes a barrier to communication between him and assistant sheriffs.

The insistence on using the word “finesse” to describe his ouster of Tanaka is classic Baca….

In other words, the retirement announcement was not about the undersheriff’s sudden urge to play more golf, after all.

For LASD watchers, it’s essential to read the whole editorial.


KPCC’s Frank Stolze talks to a list of LA experts about how Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa should be rated as a public safety mayor.

The reviews are generally good, but qualified with the admonition that Antonio was also the beneficiary of some very good luck.

Villaraigosa’s largest stroke of good fortune was his inheritance of Bill Bratton as LAPD’s chief after James Hahn arguably lost the mayoral election to Antonio because he fired Bernard Parks, “a beloved figure in the black community. Hahn lost his once bedrock support among African-Americans.”

(It should be noted that Parks had come to be roundly loathed by the rank and file, who felt that, as chief, he punished them for small infractions while letting his friends do what they pleased. He also alienated the press, members of the DA’s office, and most of city hall for his obstructive handling of the Rampart investigation.)

But while Villaraigosa may not get credit for bringing Bratton to LA, Stoltze reports he does get credit for working very well with him.

Here’s a clip:

In a sense, Villaraigosa lucked out.

“I think he was the beneficiary of the very tough decision that Jim Hahn made,” said UCLA Adjunct Associate Professor of Anthropology Jorja Leap, who studies crime in L.A. “I don’t think Jim Hahn is given enough credit.”

Villaraigosa embraced Bratton, who receives a lot of credit for turning the LAPD around and delivering the dramatic drops in crime by introducing new technology and cooperating more with federal agencies. The mayor also deserves praise for working with the chief to repair long-frayed police-community relations, said Alex Alonso, who monitors gangs and policing on his StreetGangs.com website.

“Chief Bratton and Villaraigosa showed up at churches, showed up at community meetings,” Alonso said. “That’s definitely a plus. Going to the ghettto.”

Villaraigosa also is praised, reports Stoltze, for embracing non-law-enforcement-centric strategies for crime reduction.

While she’d like to see more funding for the GRYD program (it receives about $25 million annually), Kayle Shilling of the Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater L.A. said she’s glad Villaraigosa embraced the gang strategy along with more police — even if it was four years into his administration.

“There are a lot of different approaches in Los Angeles and I think it just takes folks a little while to get up to speed,” Shilling said. “I think he’s landed in a good place.”

Villaraigosa can hardly take sole credit for the historic crime drop that began before he took office. Community groups — some led by former gang members — are more involved than ever in reducing violence.

“You have a lot of other things going on outside of City Hall and outside of government,” said Alonso of StreetGangs.com. “You have nonprofit organizations, you have a lot of gang intervention workers. The mindset is changing within South L.A.”

But with Villaraigosa’s help, the mindset on how to tackle crime has changed at City Hall, too.

Read and listen to the rest of Frank Stoltze’s report here.


We’ll be linking to what we see to be the best of the commentary. So buckle-up and hang on.

Here, for example, is an explanatory story from Michael Doyle of McClatchy Newspapers.

And here’s an interesting blog post by Amy Davidson in the New Yorker about the non-Prop 8 case, that of Edie Windsor. As she writes, Davidson helpfully links to some of the best essays on the two cases.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Bill Bratton, Charlie Beck, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Sheriff Lee Baca | 16 Comments »

Mistakes Kids Make….the School Suspension Boondoggle….”Education Under Arrest”

March 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

A brand new initiative called “Mistakes Kids Make,” sponsored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, created the video above and is busily gathering stories from adults who have made mistakes as kids but whose lives were not blown apart. To encourage others to come forward, the organizers have posted some mini-stories by famous people who did dumb, and in some cases scary and/or tragic things as kids, but who turned out okay—as most kids do, if given half a chance and some caring adult help, when needed.

(For instance you may have known the “mistake” stories listed about Laura bush and about Steve Jobs, but I didn’t.)

The site also lists a string of relevant facts:

The US locks up nearly five times the number of kids as any other nation in the world.

Only five percent of kids who get arrested, have committed a violent crime. Yet they often are given the same treatment as the youth who commit more serious crimes.

66 percent of kids who are incarcerated, never return to school

All terrific stuff. But do sites like this one actually help to motivate lawmakers to work for saner public policy? I wonder. It would be good to think so.


Brian Palmer of Slate asked a group of experts why school suspension was so over-used.

Why is suspension such a common punishment?

Because it’s familiar, cheap, and convenient. It’s also demonstrably ineffective. Its deterrent value is low: A 2011 study showed that Texas students who were suspended or expelled at least once during middle school and high school averaged four such disciplinary actions during their academic careers. Fourteen percent of them were suspended 11 times or more. Suspensions don’t even seem to benefit the school as a whole. In recent years, while Baltimore city schools have dramatically reduced suspensions, the dropout rate has been cut nearly in half.

Still, surveys consistently show that parents support suspension, because it keeps those students perceived as bad apples away from their peers. Principals continue to rely on suspension, in part because it creates the appearance of toughness.


We mentioned this Tavis Smiley special before, but now that it’s coming up soon, it bears mentioning again.

Here’s a clip from the story about the special by the LA Sentinal’s Thandisizwe Chimurenga:

…Smiley says his decision to focus on “the connection between the juvenile justice system and the dropout rate among American teens” was a logical outgrowth of his concern about poverty.

“I’ve been talking about the issue of poverty for quite some time and this is another one of those poverty tentacles, he said. “I wrote about it in the book I did with Dr. Cornel West, The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto, but I’ve talked about it in a number of different forums over the years and I’ve done other specials about education but … ‘Education Under Arrest,’ this particular special focuses uniquely on the school to prison pipeline and how it is that we are criminalizing our children. So, my interest in it has always been there.”

According to Smiley, one out of three teens arrested in this country are arrested at school.

“The stuff that I used to get sent to the principal’s office for – foul language, getting into a fight, disruptive behavior, missing school, chewing gum in class, getting caught too many times chewing gum – kids are now being suspended for; they’re being expelled for, and they end up in front of a judge and that get’s them a criminal record. And they end up on lockdown. We’re criminalizing our kids and its’ all because of this notion of ‘zero tolerance.’ This idea of ‘zero tolerance’ does not work,” said Smiley.

Posted in juvenile justice | 1 Comment »

Charlie Beck Says LAPD Doing Anonymous Officer Surveys, LA Cop Files Suit Charging Racism, New LASD Assistant Sheriff Does Interviews….and More

March 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck did a couple of back-to-back interviews this week
—with KPCC’s Larry Mantle on Wednesday and on Tuesday with KNX1070′s Ed Mertz.

In both instances, the chief said that the department is going to conduct anonymous survey of more than 500 of its officers about issues of racism, discipline, and a list of related issues, the idea being to find out what officers think and experience that they may not be willing to come forward to say.

On Larry Mantle’s show Beck and Mantle also had an interesting exchange about whether or not the chief would ever endorse one local candidate over the other. The answer was NO—”Unless I believed that person was dangerous to the city.” Even then, Beck suggested, he would likely say something behind the scenes, not as a public statement.

This is, of course, quite different than the point of view Sheriff Lee Baca has taken. (In the past, Baca has endorsed candidates for City attorney and for LA’s District Attorney, among others.)


FoxLA reports on a lawsuit brought by Earl Wright, an LAPD officer alleging racial harassment on the job at LAPD’s Central station, as recently as 2010. (The lawsuit was filed in April 2012, but is just now coming to court.)

Here’s the complaint if you wish to read it. If true, it describes a climate of ongoing racial harassment—with liberal references to watermelon and the n-word. According to the complaint, the harassment was not limited to Wright, but states he observed an Asian American officer being similarly harassed, and also a female colleague, who was allegedly sexually harassed then pressed not to report it. In many cases, the incidents were allegedly caused by same officer who, according to the complaint, supervisors declined to reprimand.

Anyway, read it yourself and see what you think.


The LASD’s new Assistant Chief in charge of custody is scheduled to appear on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? today Thursday. She is also expected to be interviewed by Patt Morrison for the LA Times in the next day or so.

Here’s the link to the Terri McDonald interview.


The threatened cluster of counter-Realignment bills were introduced into committee on Tuesday. The idea of increasing penalties for those who take off or disable their GPS bracelets (introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu) is one that we think has merit, if written correctly.

As for the rest….we’ll be keeping an eye on them. Public hysteria plus shoddy reporting, like we have too often seen on this topic, usually makes for bad laws.

Don Thompson of the AP has more details on this story.


We’ve been fans of the Youth Promise Act
for a long time. But although it has, in the past, gathered lots of sponsors, it has not gotten very far in terms of passage. But times are changing. Here’s some info on the bill from Scott’s site:

Under the Youth PROMISE (Prison Reduction through Opportunities, Mentoring, Intervention, Support, and Education) Act (H.R. 2721), communities facing the greatest youth gang and crime challenges will be able to develop a comprehensive response to youth violence through a coordinated prevention and intervention response. Representatives from local law enforcement, the school system, court services, social services, health and mental health providers, foster care providers, other community and faith-based organizations will form a council to develop a comprehensive plan for implementing evidence-based prevention and intervention strategies. The plans can be funded up to four years. The act also enhances state and local law enforcement efforts regarding youth and gang violence.

Nothing in the Youth PROMISE Act eliminates any of the current tough on crime laws, and while it is understood that law enforcement will still continue to enforce those laws, research tells us that no matter how tough we are on the people we prosecute today, unless we are addressing the underlying root causes of criminal activity, nothing will change.

Aside from reducing crime and providing better results in the lives of our youth, many of the programs funded under the Youth PROMISE Act will save more money than they cost. The State of Pennsylvania implemented a process very similar to the one provided for in the Youth PROMISE Act in 100 communities across the state. The state found that it saved, on average, $5 for every $1 spent during the study period…

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Rights, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

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