Thursday, November 26, 2015
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LA Jail Plan to be Reconsidered….Rebuilding Jordan Downs….and Bail

August 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.

“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”

The Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”

The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.

Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.

Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.

The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.

The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.

The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.

During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.

The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:

Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?

We’ll keep you updated.


Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.

Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.

Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.

HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:

Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.

The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?

However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.


Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.

But first, it has to get built.


The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.

Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.

The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.

In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.

Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:

On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.

The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’

Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”

Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.

Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.

When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.

But the bail system wasn’t always this way.

When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Posted in ACLU, HACLA, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, pretrial detention/release, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.


On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

Fresno’s Public Defender Problem…John Oliver on Mandatory Minimum Sentences…and Supes Consider LASD Oversight

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno in Northern California over the state of the city’s indigent defense system, which is so underfunded, 60 public defenders take on 400,000 cases per year between them. That’s more than four times the maximum caseload recommendation from the American Bar Association and National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. But this is not a problem unique to Fresno, it’s happening all over the nation, and like many other areas of the criminal justice system in need of reform, it disproportionately affects people of color.

Mother Jones’ Gabrielle Canon has more on the issue. Canon opens with the story of Peter Yepez, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit:

After being charged with burglary in 2013, Peter Yepez waited in the Fresno County, California, jail for a month before his assigned public defender came to talk to him. This delay was a sign of what was to come: Between arraignment and sentencing Yepez spent more than a year being shuffled between nine different Fresno County public defenders, who he says told him they did not have time to work his case

By then he’d missed his daughter’s graduation and his young son’s memorial service, and had fallen into depression.

Though he was originally accused of a domestic burglary, during those many months prosecutors added additional charges to his case, alleging that a victim had been present during burglary even though a police report filed at the time of the crime had claimed no one was there. The new allegations would bump his original charge to a violent felony. Still, Yepez’s public defender advised to him to accept all the charges and the punishment that would come—and so he did. Now Yepez’s record reflects a felony conviction.

Read on.


Once again, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight is staying on top of important criminal justice issues. We didn’t want you to miss his latest segment about President Obama’s recent commutations and mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. (Oliver is not a fan.) Watch it above.


Today, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a report from the working group convened to advise the board on what the composition and reach of civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department ought look like. (Backstory here.)

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, Sentencing | No Comments »

LASD Civilian Oversight Report, Kids and Prop 47, and Still No Child Welfare Czar

July 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the shape that civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department should take is expected to present a final report to the Supes next Tuesday, on July 28th. The report includes five key recommendations for the composition and reach of the oversight commission.

Arguably the most important recommendation is that the commission should have the power to subpoena LASD documents. In order to make that subpoena power possible, however, there would have to be changes to state law.

The LASD’s Inspector General, Max Huntsman, who is also a member of the working group, has had his own trouble getting personnel documents from the department.

“I used to be an attack dog,” Huntsman said, back when the Supes voted to create civilian oversight. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

At a KPCC panel discussion on police transparency last week, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department has been working cooperatively “for a year and a half…to deepen Max Huntsman’s…access to the department. And we’re poised to do that.” But, it’s complicated.

Other recommendations include having nine board-appointed commissioners-–one chosen by each of the five supervisors, and four voted on by all of the Supes. Members should also serve three-year terms, and should be diverse (different races, ages, etc.), according to the working group. And, the oversight commission should use the Inspector General’s staff to for monitoring and investigation purposes.

The working group is slated to present the report to the Supes in two weeks. (For backstory on the working group’s preliminary decisions and how they came to make these recommendations, go here.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

Subpoena power has emerged as a critical issue for activists, who claim it’s necessary to have access to internal department documents. During 13 public meetings and nine town halls conducted by the working group, activists lobbied hard for subpoena power. Patrice Cullors of Dignity and Power Now called it “make or break” for successful oversight.

Sheriff’s representatives who sat on the group strongly opposed the idea.

They felt it was important the new commission begin its work in a “cordial and cooperative relationship,” and that Sheriff Jim McDonnell – elected last year – be given time to “effectuate reforms,” according to the report. None was immediately available for comment.

“Subpoena power would be available as a last resort,” said attorney Dean Hansell, who chaired the group. “It provides a club.” Hansell once served on the Los Angeles Police Commission.

Hansell acknowledged subpoena power would require voters to approve a change in the County Charter. The working group voted four to three to recommend supervisors place the question on the next ballot.

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who sat on the working group, supported giving the new oversight panel subpoena power, but said it may be overrated.

“A subpoena just gets you the right to get somebody to court to say ‘hey give me stuff’,” he said. The department – and the powerful labor union that represents deputies – can always argue that personnel and investigation records are not public.

Huntsman knows this challenge firsthand. The sheriff has denied Huntsman access to personnel records, which include a wide range of information about internal investigations. McDonnell has cited conflicting California laws and court rulings on access.


In a ruling on Thursday, a California appeals court said kids qualify, just like adults, for crime reclassifications—from felony to misdemeanor—that adults convicted of certain non-serious felonies receive under Proposition 47. (We at WLA applaud the court’s very sensible decision.)

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The court of appeal said the reclassification of offenses under Proposition 47 applies to juveniles because they are judged by the same criminal code as adults.

“Accordingly, when a criminal offense is reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor in the adult context — as occurred under Proposition 47 — the reclassification likewise applies in juvenile wardship proceedings,” Associate Justice Judith Haller wrote for the court.

The ruling came in a San Diego County case involving a minor who acknowledged in 2013 that he had committed felony commercial burglary, according to the appeals court ruling.

The San Diego County district attorney’s office said it will review the court’s ruling and decide whether to appeal.

“We support a juvenile justice system that has a goal of rehabilitation focused on providing the care, treatment and guidance in the best interest of minors,” the office said in a statement.


After two rounds of interviews with four candidates to act as child welfare czar, a position recommended by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system, the LA County Board of Supervisors has still not made up its mind as to who will lead the new Office of Child Protection.

The board was supposed to continue deliberating in a closed-door meeting Tuesday, but decided to put off the meeting for another two weeks.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, says she has been interviewed twice for the important role, and hopes the Supes make a final decision soon.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Holden Slattery has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On Wednesday, during a break at a community meeting on data and analytics in child welfare at the University of Southern California, Fesia Davenport, interim director of the Office of Child Protection (OCP) confirmed that she has been interviewed and re-interviewed.

“I’m hoping that a decision will be made soon,” Davenport said.

Davenport, who previously served as chief deputy director of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), said she feels a greater ability to effect change at the OCP than she did at DCFS.

“Working for DCFS you see a lot of things that need to happen, that should be corrected or need to be changed, and it’s difficult to do that because you’re just focused on core mission and task,” Davenport said. “I really appreciate being in a position where I don’t have the constraints of DCFS. I can effect change with the team, in partnership with the other county departments and the community-based organizations.”

Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, attended Wednesday’s community meeting, which was organized by the Office of Child Protection. Garen praised Davenport for her performance.

“We know that she’s engaged and willing to do the work that’s necessary, and really whatever’s asked of her,” Garen said. “That’s a tremendous asset to this community.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors | 6 Comments »

Bail, Blocked Video of a Fatal Shooting in Gardena, LA County Spending, and More on the Ezell Ford Decision

June 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Bail in America is a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and contributes to overcrowding in jails and prisons.

One man protesting in Boston after the death of Freddie Gray was locked up with $250,000 bail—the same bail amount set for real estate mogul (and accused murderer) Robert Durst. Dominick Torrence spent a month in jail before the disorderly conduct and rioting charges against him were dropped.

According to a Vera Institute of Justice study, in 2013 in New York City, more than half of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, remained behind bars solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates had been charged with misdemeanor offenses.

The New York Times’ Shaila Dewan has more on the issue and what municipalities are doing to reverse the trend. Here’s a clip:

No amount of money, they say, should buy the freedom of someone who is truly dangerous. By the same token, the inability to pay should not keep defendants who pose little risk locked up. Instead, they should be released using a range of nonfinancial conditions like GPS monitors, pretrial supervision (similar to probation), or even unsecured bonds. With unsecured bonds, a defendant is released without having to pay but owes money if he or she fails to appear in court.

The critics say risk should be evaluated not in a quick, subjective hearing, but rather through a scientifically validated assessment that weighs such factors as the defendant’s age, lifestyle and previous record. The use of risk assessments is also supported by law enforcement groups that include the National Sheriffs Association and the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

As an example of a model system, advocates for change point to Washington, D.C., where money bail was effectively eliminated in the 1990s. About 15 percent of defendants are deemed too risky to release and are held on what is called “preventive detention.” Of the rest, very few fail to appear in court or are arrested on a new charge.

New Jersey is phasing in a system modeled on Washington’s, but elsewhere, change has been blocked. In Maryland last year, a pretrial reform committee appointed by the governor at the time, Martin O’Malley, issued a host of recommendations, including the use of risk assessments and the elimination of money bail. None have been adopted — in part, said Mr. DeWolfe, the public defender, because of opposition from the powerful bail bond industry.

Equal Justice Under Law, a civil-rights group based in Washington, has been trying a novel legal tactic to dismantle money bail: going after jurisdictions that use bail fee schedules, in which the amount of bail is fixed based on the offense instead of the flight risk or public safety concerns resulting in the unconstitutional imprisonment of people solely because they cannot pay.

In one of the suits, against the town of Clanton, Ala., the federal Department of Justice filed a rare supporting brief, writing that setting bail in this fashion, and without regard for a defendant’s ability to pay, “not only violates the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause, but also constitutes bad public policy.”

In fact, the Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo points out, 22-year-old Kalief Browder’s tragic story would have likely turned out much differently, if his family had been able to pay $3000 to bail him out when he was first locked up. (In case you missed it, Kalief Browder spent three years on Rikers Island—around 800 days of which were spent in solitary confinement—without a trial, for allegedly stealing a backpack, charges that the prosecutors ultimately dropped. On Saturday, just a few years after his release, Browder committed suicide.)

Here’s a clip from Santo’s story:

Browder, who insisted on his innocence, sat in jail initially because his family could not afford to post bail. About two-thirds of America’s jail population — 450,000 people — are behind bars awaiting trial. And five out of six of those people are in jail because they could not afford bail or because a bail agent declined to post a bond.

Stuck in jail and without easy access to his lawyer, Browder was at a disadvantage in preparing a defense. He was also at the mercy of prosecutors, who offered to reduce his jail time or release him, but only if he pleaded guilty, an option he refused.

Such circumstances aren’t uncommon at Rikers, said Bryanne Hammill, a member of the Board of Correction who leads its committee on adolescents. “With regards to the adolescent and young adults I talk to and meet, many of them are in on low-level charges but with bail set,” said Hamill. “And bail essentially results in an incarceration because they nor their family have the financial wherewithal to post any bail.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio addressed the Browder case on Monday, in response to a question at an unrelated news conference.

“There’s just no reason that someone should be held for a long period of time if they can’t pay bail,” Mayor Bill de Blasio told the New York Observer. “[W]e need some type of bail reform,” de Blasio said, but he wasn’t specific about what type of reform, according to the Observer. “I deeply wish we hadn’t lost him — but he did not die in vain.”

On Last Week Tonight, John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales. Watch his segment above.


In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, eight times, because he allegedly appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release video of the shooting, because of privacy concerns. Gardena officials also argued that making the videos available to the public might bring down unnecessary speculation.

Three news outlets submitted a federal court motion on Monday to release footage of the shooting, while Gardena still stonewalled.

The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times and Bloomberg say the city is withholding the video to evade criticism and accountability.

It’s worth noting that former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was elected to his third term as mayor of Gardena in 2013, and two years later, indicted on obstruction of justice and other charges. The jury selection for his trial and that of former LASD captain Tom Carey is to begin on November 3. Tanaka has taken a leave of absence from his duties as mayor.

The Associated Press’ Amanda Lee Myers has the story. Here’s a clip:

…there’s profound public interest in the release against the backdrop of fatal police shootings around the country, the media outlets contend.

“Access to the videos is critical for the public to have a full and accurate account of the proceedings that occurred before this court, and the circumstances that led to the city defendants’ payment of millions of dollars of taxpayer money to settle allegations of alleged police misconduct,” the news organizations argued in their motion.

Videos of such interactions often prompt institutional change, it said.

The city in Southern California argued in February for sealing the videos, citing privacy concerns and saying release could cause unfounded speculation.

“This is a particularly legitimate concern given the anti-police sentiment which has recently become so prevalent,” according to the city’s arguments.

A judge granted the request before the case was settled.


A motion by LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl requests DCFS allocate $1.25 million to bolster services for relative caregivers, who are often overlooked, and thus, underserved.

That money would be split up: $250,000 would go to each district. That number may not seem like much, especially when compared with the approximately $6 million to contractor AECOM for work on the jail plan, to-date.

The county has already paid out several millions to Vanir Construction Management, Inc. just for coming up with the various high-priced jail construction strategies, of which the supervisors chose one that came it at approximately $2 billion. The county has approved $30 million in funding just for these jail plans.

One community member who spoke to the board about the kinship caregiver support funding, noted that $250,000 for 17 or 18 cities in a district is “chump change.”

Supe. Sheila Kuehl responded by saying that while it may not be a whole lot of money, “I don’t think that there’s one person in here who would say, ‘No, that’s okay. It’s only $250,000 for our district. We don’t need it.’ …It’s not much as a whole, but I’ll tell you what, it’s something.”


The Los Angeles Police Protective League President Craig Lally slammed the LAPD Commission’s decision that actions taken during the incident that led to the death of Ezell Ford were unjustified. Lally said the ruling will make cops scared to do their jobs and make those split second decisions.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Joel Ruben have the story. Here’s a clip:

Lally said the commission’s ruling would probably make officers hesitant to patrol proactively. He said the decision, along with the impending department-wide rollout of body cameras, has prompted concerns that officers will be unfairly scrutinized for doing even routine police work.

“It’s going to be a different way of life,” he said. “They’re scared. They’re worried. What is an officer supposed to do?”

Although Officer Sharlton Wampler may have been in a fight for his life with Ford, the commission decided Tuesday that he did not have a reason to stop and detain Ford in the first place. His handling of the encounter, the commission concluded, was so flawed that it led to the fatal confrontation.

The decision marked a significant departure for the commission, which for decades when evaluating police shootings has looked only at whether an officer faced a threat at the moment deadly forced was used.

The commission instead relied for the first time on a small but significant change it made last year to its policy on shootings, requiring the panel to take a broader view of incidents. On Tuesday, the commission said it based its ruling on “the totality of the circumstances, and not just the moment in which the force was used.”

Ford’s mother, Tritobia Ford, is calling on LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey to press charges. And the SoCal ACLU called the commission’s decision an important step in the right direction.

KTLA has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In a statement that called for Beck to go beyond a “slap on the wrist,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said the commission’s decision marked an “encouraging step” towards the panel “reinforcing its independence.”


Ford’s mother said her first reaction was, “hallelujah.”

“I didn’t believe God would allow my son’s life to be taken in vain,” Tritobia Ford said.

The ruling, “strongly, on the record, stated that what happened to Ezell was wrong,” she said.

However, Tritobia Ford said she was disappointed the second officer was most found not to have acted against policy, adding that she hoped Beck would do more than give the officers a “slap on the wrist.”

Lacey was also called upon to file charges.

“You need to step up,” Tritobia Ford said, addressing Lacey. “She needs to press charges and the court needs to figure it out.”

Posted in ACLU, DCFS, Eric Garcetti, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail | 6 Comments »

Alleged Abuse at a Boot Camp for LA-Area Kids….Disclosing LA County’s Legal Bills….LAUSD Program Re-Enrolls Kids Exiting Juvie Detention….Fight in Men’s Central Jail

June 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Out of 36 kids who attended the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp program in May, seven say they were punched, slapped, stepped on, and beaten by officers running the program. LEAD is sponsored by the Huntington Park and South Gate Police Departments.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused them, stepping on them as they did push-ups.

The program leaders would take them into a “dark room,” where the they would hold kids against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers from an officer stepping on his hand.

The kids said those responsible threatened physical harm if the kids broke their silence.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating the allegations. The Gomez brothers have been suspended from the kids’ program, but are still on patrol, according to lawyers.

KTLA’s Ashley Soley-Cerro, Eric Spillman, Christina Pascucci, and Melissa Palmer have the story. Here are some clips:

Bridget Salazar said her 13-year-old son was punched, slammed up against a wall and choked.

“He just couldn’t stop crying,” Salazar said. “Right there, I knew something happened.”

Araceli Pulido said her daughters, aged 12 and 14, were among the seven alleging abuse. There are more campers who were hurt but they are too scared to come forward, Pulido said.

The children were allegedly told they were worthless and their parents did not love or want them, and that the camp was three months long rather than a week, according to Owen.

The “Gomez brothers” were primarily responsible for the mistreatment, the children reported.

“Many of the children are suffering from nightmares and other emotional trauma because the Gomez brothers are out on the streets. They are afraid the Gomez brothers will come after them,” Owen’s news release stated.


Last June, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel (particularly the ones alleging LASD misconduct, abuse, and excessive use of force that typically drag on for a year, or three, presumably while the meter is running).

But this April, an appeals court agreed with the county that any information between lawyer and client, including invoices, is confidential. Last week, Preven and the ACLU petitioned the CA Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

An LA Times editorial says the Supes answer to the public, and should be forthcoming with how much taxpayers are forking over for these lawsuits, and preferably before the Supreme Court has to deal with it. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven is one such county resident, and he sought the invoices for a handful of cases under the California Public Records Act. When the county rejected much of his request, he and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued. A judge ruled in Preven’s favor a year ago, but in April an appeals court sided with the county, accepting its argument that billing records — indeed, anything at all that passes between a lawyer and client — are protected from disclosure.

That’s an unduly expansive reading of the attorney-client privilege, which is widely understood to apply to a lawyer’s advice, a client’s directives and other substantive communications made in the scope of the lawyer’s representation, but not to billing records of the type sought by Preven and the ACLU, cleansed of sensitive information. In the case of Los Angeles County, where voters or residents might understandably believe they are collectively the clients and ought to have access to relevant information, the privilege protects not them but their elected representatives, the Board of Supervisors.

The public should be pleased that Preven and the ACLU are not taking the ruling lying down. Last week, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

As intriguing as the legal issue is, however, it should not obscure the basic fact that the supervisors, as the client, have the authority to waive the privilege and release the documents right now — but have opted instead to fight.


As of last year, California law mandates juvenile justice systems connect with school systems to keep kids who are released from juvenile detention facilities from slipping through the cracks. According to the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, more than 80% of kids leaving lock-up are not enrolled in school within the first month of their release.

An LA Unified School District counseling program works to catch those kids and help them re-enroll in school and keep up with classes, and also to direct them to other important services.

More than 100 LAUSD kids are released from lock-up every month. In fact, there are more LAUSD kids cycling in and out of the detention centers than in any other school district. But because of budget cuts, the program cannot sustain enough counselors to meet the needs of every justice system-involved kid.

And when the counselors do reach out, those kids have to be receptive to the idea of returning to (and completing) high school. Some are not.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the program.

Gilbertson’s story follows two formerly incarcerated high school kids, one who completes high school and moves on to community college while working for Homeboy Industries, the other who, unfortunately, does not triumph over the statistics. Here are some clips:

When 19-year-old Liliana Flores was in fifth grade, her parents immigrated into the United States from El Salvador. Her family was fleeing gang violence, but it only followed them to Los Angeles.

“I never had a happy home,” she said.

Social workers thought Flores would be safer in foster care. She was tossed from group home to group home packed with troubled teens.

“I started doing the same things they were doing,” Flores said.

She got into drugs, and it led to a series of stints in juvenile detention centers scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In between her time away, she attended continuation high schools filled with other at-risk students struggling to stay within the law.


Even after her incarceration, Flores wears a uniform: a long-sleeve, button-down shirt with a neat collar.

It conceals the tattoos climbing her arms, inked across her chest and spread around her scalp. On her neck, a tattoo she got when she was 14 years old says “f— love” in swirling letters.

Valli Cohen, a nurse practitioner, is taking a laser to Flores’ tattoo at the Homeboy Industries medical office, which specializes in gang tattoo removal…

It’s hard to tell if the attempt to track students exiting juvenile detention is having an impact. LAUSD declined to provide the numbers of students who re-enroll and go on to graduate.

But Flores said it is working for her…

“Right now, I’m taking Criminal Justice I, and I’m taking Criminal Justice II,” she said.

Flores plans to transfer to University of California, Santa Cruz, and eventually become a probation officer. Her report card is full of Bs and she said the fact that she’s undocumented is her motivation.


At 12:30p.m. on Wednesday, a fight broke out between around 80 inmates in Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA. Deputies succeeded in quelling the disturbance in about ten minutes. One inmate was stabbed and three others were wounded in the fight. There were no serious injuries. Both Men’s Central and Twin Towers jails, which are across the street from each other, were placed on lockdown.

CBS has more on the incident.

Posted in ACLU, California Supreme Court, children and adolescents, Education, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

LA County Selected for 1st Round of MacArthur $75 Million Jail Reform Challenge (This is a Very Good Thing)….& Holding on to Humanity at Pelican Bay

May 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, Los Angeles County received news that it has been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation that will take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

This is very good news.

The 20 areas selected for this first phase of the challenge include New York City, New Orleans, LA, Pima County, AZ, Harris County, TX, Pennington County, SD, and the entire state of Connecticut. (Full list below.) The idea is for these cities and counties (and one state) to be mentored by the nation’s experts in such things through the process of creating and refining a plan to reform their respective jail systems.

Then in phase two of the Justice Challenge, the 20 jurisdictions, will be whittled down to ten. Those fortunate ten will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement their respective plans for reform.

In other words, those who are part of the 20 are, by their participation, committed to a real, no-kidding substantive plan for jail reform, which will include strategies to reduce the jail system’s population and more. Then if they’re chosen to be one of the ten, they’re committed to implementing that plan, and will get an infusion of cash to better make that implementation possible.

(The 20 that were recently selected have jails systems that range in size from 239 beds in Mesa County to LA County’s 21,951 bed system, so for the second phase, the yearly funding for the remaining ten, will depend on the size of the jurisdiction’s jail system.)

According to MacArthur, the criminal justice organizations that will provide “technical assistance and counsel” to the 20 jurisdictions as they design and prepare their “comprehensive plans for local reform” are the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

The Vera institute of Justice in particular, has been deeply involved in MacArthur’s jail reform initiative with two MacArthur-funded studies released this year that both illuminate problems in the nation’s jail systems and point toward the way toward solutions.

For instance, we learned from this month’s study by Vera that U.S. jails are draining a lot more dollars from our public coffers than most people think. And in February of this year, another Vera study, Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, showed the ways that the nation’s jail policies can do harm.

Vera’s February study makes clear that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

Yet, according to what the study’s authors found, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report states, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

It is these problems and others that the Justice Challenge of which LA County is now a part hopes to help cure.

The fact that jails can do harm is, of course, a fact with which LA is very familiar, what with the scathing report on our jails delivered in September 2012 by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, the looming federal consent decree pertaining to the way the mentally ill are treated in LA’s jails, and the recent landmark settlement of “Rosas v. Baca,” the giant federal class action lawsuit brought by the So-Cal ACLU that has resulted in a court enforceable roadmap to correct the use of force policies inside the jail that led to a pattern of brutality by sheriffs deputies against inmates.

Back in February, when the challenge was first announced we spoke to one of the MacArthur people, and also to one of the Vera study authors, both of whom said they hoped very much that LA County—the home of the nation’s largest jail system—would be one of those jurisdictions that applied.

To its credit LA County—which, in this instance, means the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departmentdid apply and, as we know now, was selected.

We look forward to hearing about LA’s strategy for reform of its massive system as that plan evolves.

And, of course, but we cannot help but hope that LA will be one of the final ten that get MacArthur bucks to put their stellar plans into action.

The full list of jurisdictions selected for the first round of Justice Challenge is as follows:

· Ada County, ID
· Charleston County, SC
· Cook County, IL
· Harris County, TX
· Los Angeles County, CA
· Lucas County, OH
· Mecklenburg County, NC
· Mesa County, CO
· Milwaukee County, WI
· Multnomah County, OR
· New Orleans, LA
· New York City, NY
· Palm Beach County, FL
· Pennington County, SD
· Philadelphia, PA
· Pima County, AZ
· St. Louis County, MO
· Shelby County, TN
· Spokane County, WA
· State of Connecticut


In the Chronicle of Social Change, Wendy Smith, an Associate Dean and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work has written an extraordinary story about her trip to Pelican Bay Prison to meet with men who were incarcerated for crimes they’d committed as teenagers.

Smith traveled to Pelican Bay with a group of lawyers, advocates, and law students with the purpose of talking to 250 of these inmates convicted as juveniles about California’s Senate Bill 260, a law passed and signed in 2013, which allows youth offenders given life sentences, the possibility of a new type of parole hearing at their 15th, 20th or 25th year of incarceration.

But the trip was much more than simply an imparting of information. In many instances, it was a walk back into humanity with men who were terrified that humanity was lost to them.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole thing. It’s more than worth it.

During the small groups, we learned that some men had not been to the visiting room to receive a visitor for a long time; some had never been there. Some had exchanged no conversation with anyone but another prisoner or a guard in months or years. During the groups, described in the evaluations by many as the best part of the workshops, some men spoke and asked questions readily; others did not speak at all.

In the insight groups, some struggled with the distinction between excuses and explanations of crime, wondering if there was one. We spoke of examining and reflecting on the people and events in their early lives, and the environments in which they grew up as steps along the road that led to the crime and to where they are now.

Several men recognized aloud that they did not know how to begin this work. They wondered if there could be someone to ask the questions that could help them see into their own lives, to see the boy who was and the man who might yet be. Hope had entered the room, bringing with it fear and worry about how to make a turn from habitual ways of feeling and being, and especially, how to conceive of such a turn without help.

And then here’s a section from her meeting with men in solitary:

I told them that their crime was not the total of the person they were, and asked them to try to remember the very first illegal act they ever committed. In a moment or two, they all did. Most told me they were eight, nine, 10, or 11 at the time. A few were five or six, and a few were teenagers. All were old enough to remember a self that existed before that first act. I asked them to remember the boys they were before the crime.

We talked about how to begin to remember and piece together what happened after that, trying to dig deep to include the many steps along the road to the moment of a crime, and the decisions they made at the time and since. We acknowledged together the difficulty and shame of thinking and talking about their crimes.

In the SHU, as in the general population the day before, many men told me that they wished there were someone they could speak with on a regular basis to be able to do this work—they could not imagine how they would be able to do it. Some believed their inability to put things into words would make it impossible, now and at any parole hearing in the future.

Our conversations were brief and constantly interrupted by movement – our own as we rotated among the groups, and those of the guards and inmates, as bathroom trips and meal and water deliveries were made, as men were taken back to their cells and new groups of men were brought in.

Somehow, amid the locking and unlocking of cells and cuffs, and the congestion in narrow halls crowded with our group and guards, conversations continued. It became clear that for many of these men, we were the first people other than prison personnel or other inmates that they had spoken with in years. Some were nevertheless able to engage with little apparent difficulty, asking questions, enjoying the opportunity to interact with us.

For others, speech came slowly or not at all, and for some, even eye contact was too much to manage. These men spend all their time alone, in their cells or in the exercise area. The solitude of their confinement is absolute. Many had been there for five or ten years. Some had been there 20 years or more.

One man had spent the previous four months “debriefing,” telling what he knew about the gang life he had decided to renounce. Debriefing is the primary avenue by which inmates can obtain transfer out of solitary confinement. It is dangerous, as gang members often retaliate when someone leaves.

Those who debrief must be isolated from other inmates and their locations kept secret. For this reason, each of us met individually with this man in a separate visiting corridor. It was a relief to have the relative quiet of this space and a full twenty minutes in which my focus could be undivided.

He had been incarcerated at 17, already the father of two very young children. Now he is 41 and a grandfather. We spoke little about his crimes—he lived the gang life both before and during his imprisonment—but rather about the rocky course of his marriage over many years and how his wife helped him to get sober and to find the religious faith that strengthened his will to leave the gang life.

His eyes filled as he described his hopes for the future and his pain over how he had lived his life. Only lately had he begun to understand the impact of events of his early life: the loss of his baby brother, his mother’s wild grief that led her to cruelly abuse him, habitually pouring scalding water over his hands and body.

We wept together. There was much more he needed to say, but already the next advocate was waiting to meet and speak with him, and another group of inmates waited around the corner for me. It was awful to leave him with only the hope that he had found comfort in the humanity of those few shared moments….

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

40,000 Californians Download ACLU App…..Ferguson’s High Priced “Negotiation” With Justice….Chief Charlie Beck Thanks the Troops

May 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Last month a South Gate, California, woman was filming a police action when a Deputy U.S. Marshall saw her, strode over and smashed her phone to the ground.

As of last Thursday, the ACLU of California has an app for that with their new Mobile Justice CA, a free smartphone app that allows people to record video that, at a finger touch, is sent straight to the ACLU—or more specifically to their cloud storage.

The video also stays on your phone so that you retain a copy as well.

It is the transmission that is key, of course, because—as the above video demonstrates—it prevents anyone from deleting the only copy of a recording.

Since MobileJusticeCA was released less than a week ago, the app has been downloaded “around 40,000 times,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring when we talked on Monday. Bibring is director of police practices and senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Southern California branch, and one of those most involved with the project. “So we’re calling that successful,” he said.

No kidding.

(By the way, the ACLU of California is made up of the state’s three big regional branches: the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.)

MobileJusticeCA is not the first such application that the ACLU has distributed. The newly launched California app is an improved variation on an app introduced in New York a couple of years ago, when there was a push among activists to document stop-and-frisk incidents. A few other states, like New Jersey, and Oregon, followed suit.

Then California worked with the software developers to make various improvements over the original, said Bibring,.

For instance, unlike the New York version, which only allowed a short recording, the new version allows you to record as long as you want, or at least as long as your battery holds up.

Other improvements in the California incarnation include access—through your phone— to the ACLU’s full library of know your rights material. Plus, there’s a feature that allows someone who is recording a police action to send out an alert that will be seen by others nearby who may then show up to record too.

When I asked Bibring if he was at all concerned with some of the privacy issues that some critics have mentioned since the app was introduced.

“Actually, I’m proud of our privacy policies on this application,” he said.” For example, unless you submit it to us, we don’t collect any kind of information about you. We don’t have your name, or any kind of device ID, or anything else. We just have the video.”

The video exists on the Amazon cloud server, with whom the ACLU has contracted. “And they’re extremely exacting about not collecting access to any personal data.” said Bibring.

In truth, unless the video is flagged by the sender as evidence of possible civil rights violation, ACLU staffers will, in most cases, never look at it, and it will be purged in a few months.

The ACLU is partnering with the Ella Baker Center to do a six month campaign to engage people about ways to promote police accountability in their neighborhoods, said Bibring.

“People unquestionably have the first amendment right to film law enforcement,” he said. “So one of the things we are trying to do with this app is to make sure that people know their rights.”


There’s no question about the fact that Dan K. Webb, 69, is a brilliant attorney. But the fact that Ferguson, MO, has hired one the nation’s highest paid lawyers, in a contract that grants him his full fee for guiding their negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice, has drawn criticism. In certain pro bono cases, Webb works for a lowered fee. Not this time. His hourly price tag is nearly twice that of the highest paid lawyers—$700 per hour—working in Missouri in the whole of last year.

According to St. Louis Despatch reporters Christine Byers and Stephen Deere, who broke the story after they managed to wrestle a copy of the engagement letter showing the hiring terms away from the Ferguson City Council, which tried very, very hard to keep the letter secret, then reportedly redacted it energetically after they realized they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in the face of the Dispatch’s Public Records Act request.

Eventually, persistent reporters Byers and Deere got the whole thing which you can read here.

Yet, the most interesting part of the hiring of Webb is not so much that Ferguson, which has been reported to be skating perilously close to bankruptcy, has chosen to pay such an unusually high fee, it is why they were interested in Webb specifically, a story that the Dispatch reporters say came from Webb himself.

It seems that, after interviewing other suitable attorneys and firms with successful experience with this precise kind of negotiation process between the DOJ and a law enforcement entity in need of reform—like, for example, the firm that represented the city of Albuquerque recently to negotiate its consent decree—-Ferguson was attracted to Webb when they learned he had represented the infamous and very colorful Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, when Arpaio and company were facing a DOJ lawsuit.

Here’s a clip from Byers and Deere’s story:

it was Webb’s involvement in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation, that attracted the attention of Ferguson, Webb said. The DOJ alleged that the Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio engaged in discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos.

In 2012, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arpaio. In a press release, the DOJ wrote: “negotiations were unsuccessful, primarily because the county and Arpaio refused to agree to any independent oversight by a monitor.”

“They have been the most belligerent” of the communities in negotiations with DOJ, said Walker, the professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


Last Friday was May Day, which brought thousands to downtown Los Angeles for marches, demonstrations and celebration. Expecting big crowds, and a teensy weensy bit jittery about what the day might bring, what with the anger and grief still spilling out of Baltimore and elsewhere, the Los Angeles Police Department wisely called a tactical alert.

Happily, however, it was a peaceful day. And LAPD officers were reportedly helpful and firm, when need be, but not at all aggressive.

So, over the weekend, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck posted a thank you to sworn department members on the police union’s internal website.

To the men and women of the LAPD,

I want to personally thank you for showing the professionalism of the Los Angeles Police Department to the world on May Day. Your efforts allowed thousands of protesters and marchers to exercise their rights protected by our Constitution.

While there were some tense moments yesterday, I witnessed firsthand how LAPD officers exercised discipline and extraordinary professionalism while thousands of people took to the streets to express their views about a number of issues. The fact there was not a single incident, arrest or citation throughout the day is remarkable and indicative of your preparation, professionalism and respect for the communities we serve.

Despite the heat and the sensitive times we face in the law enforcement community across the country, each and every one of you shined. From the leadership team to the men and women working and walking with the various community groups, you did a phenomenal job and I am so proud of you. Like you do daily, you made the LAPD badge shine and the nation took notice.

Thank you and be safe out there.



Posted in ACLU, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, LAPD, Trauma | No Comments »

Judge Gives Final Stamp of Approval for ACLU Legal Settlement Prompting Jail Oversight After 2009 Jail Beating Victim Tells Story

April 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

There was no real question as to whether U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson
would give his final approval to the settlement of the massive lawsuit brought by the ACLU—Rosas v. Baca—which was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors at the end of last year, and means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

But the 10:30 AM hearing before Pregerson on Monday served as a reminder of how bad things have been in the nation’s largest jail system, in that it featured an appearance by Michael Holguin, a former inmate in Men’s Central Jail, who was one of the 70 Rosas victims or eyewitnesses who made declarations for the lawsuit.

Holguin—who is now 35, and works for a car auction company-–made his report to the ACLU after he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, among them Fernando Luviano, who was also one of the 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have thus far been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into wrongdoing at the LASD.

(Specifically Luviano is part of a group of five deputies charged with assaulting various visitors to Men’s Central Jail, along with handcuffing the Austrian Consul General. Their case is scheduled to come to trial later this year, but you can read the indictment here.)

“The hearing was important because technically there was no final settlement without the court okaying it,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg. But also, he said, having Holquin present was significant because “it was the first time that the court had ever heard from someone who was part of the lawsuit.”

Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013. (He declines to disclose the amount of the settlement.)

When the incident in the jail took place he had been charged with having an illegal weapon—namely a cop baton—in a compartment on his motercycle.

According to his civil complaint, in October of 2009, Holguin and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, then-Deputy Fernando Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy said “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after he had been knocked to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Hoguin with a long stream pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services [see above], Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

When he was returned to his cell after being released from the hospital, Hoguin was “placed on a 29-day loss of privileges” and reportedly “routinely denied” the use of a cane, wheelchair or crutch so that he could make his way around his cell and elsewhere without putting weight on his cast.

Eliasberg said Holguin’s presence was important at Monday’s hearing “because his complaint hits so many of the marks that are reflected in the settlement agreement drawn up by the experts that is now to be implemented.”

Holguin too hoped his presence had an affect. “I don’t normally like to take off work for anything,” he told me. “But when Peter asked me, I said yes, because I’d like to do anything I can to help him and the ACLU, They’ve helped me so much. So, if I can do something to show why the settlement agreement should go through the way it’s written, I wanted to do that.

“I know there’re a lot of great cops out there,” Holguin added. “I really do. But when you have people like I saw, it just ruins it for everybody. It’s not right.”

On Monday afternoon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell put out his own statement on the Rosas confirmation, which he called an “important agreement.”

“Today’s decision enables us to continue to move forward,” stated McDonnell. “From the time I served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (“CCJV”) and saw firsthand the challenges facing our County’s jails and the concerns regarding how we house and treat those in our charge, I have been deeply committed to this process of change.”

McDonnell pointed to the “great strides” made in the custody division since the CCJV report issued. More work remains to be done, he wrote, but he was deeply committed to “implementing and institutionalizing meaningful and lasting change” that would “insure that our jails are a safe, humane and appropriate place for those we incarcerate. as well as the dedicated men and women who work there.”

May it be so.



Posted in ACLU, Civil Rights, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 1 Comment »

SB Supervisors Swiftly Settle with Horse Thief After Beating…Bills to Protect CA’s Over-drugged Foster Kids…LAPD Won’t Release Video of Officer Charged with Assault…and Death Penalty in LA

April 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $650,000 to Francis Jared Pusok, who was allegedly beaten by a group of deputies for more than two minutes after an intense horseback chase earlier this month. (Backstory and video are here.)

Wishing to avoid costly legal fees, the San Bernardino Supes made the decision in a remarkably quick eight days, before Pusok’s attorneys even filed a claim.

Legal experts (and WitnessLA) were pleasantly surprised that the board assessed the situation and prepared a settlement so quickly.

The SB Supes efficiency in handling the issue was in stark contrast to LA County’s history of dragging out litigation, only to settle anyway, sticking county taxpayers with the legal bills.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“I support the action by the Board of Supervisors to handle this matter promptly,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement…

“This is the fastest settlement I have ever heard in a case of alleged officer abuse,” said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman. “Usually these things go on for months and years.”

He said the county likely saved money with the early deal. Cities and counties often hire outside counsel to handle police abuse cases, and that can be expensive. “Attorneys fees can really add up,” Goldman said.


According to the terms of the agreement, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in closed session Friday, the county acknowledges no wrongdoing, according to the statement. The agreement settles all potential claims from Pusok.

“The sole purpose of this agreement for both parties is to avoid the costs involved in litigation,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. “This agreement is a fair outcome for everyone involved, including the taxpayers.”


On Tuesday, the California Senate Human Services Committee unanimously approved a package of four bills designed to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids. (For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.)

Among other changes, the bills will improve prescription tracking and oversight, and push doctors to choose non-medical treatments before psychotropic drugs.

The bills will have to jump through a few more legislative hoops.

De Sá has more on the bill package and what comes next. Here are some clips:

The foster youth told the Senate’s Human Services Committee they’d been kicked out of residential treatment programs for refusing drugs that caused them debilitating side effects, had been prescribed four and five medications at once, and often suffered in silence when no one was there to listen.

Joined by public health nurses, social workers, advocates, county leaders and welfare directors, the former foster youth urged support for four bills that would improve court oversight of prescribing, better track medication use and call for non-drug therapies before medication. The legislation — authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel — comes after a yearlong investigation by this newspaper called “Drugging Our Kids.”


The chair of the Human Services Committee, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, insisted Tuesday the four bills were only the beginning. His committee will soon hold a hearing on the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the excessive prescribing to foster youth. California has to stop “drugging our kids,” McGuire said. “We have to take the tens of millions of dollars we are spending on psychotropic medications and put it into trauma care.”


Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

On Monday, the officer, Richard Garcia, was charged with assault for the alleged excessive use of force.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck (backed by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey) chose not to release the video of the incident, saying that it had the potential to compromise the criminal case against Garcia.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the case and Chief Beck’s decision. Here are some clips:

Beck acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident – which was captured by a security camera posted on a South L.A. building — but said Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.”

Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

“My desire here is justice,” Beck told reporters Tuesday. “I know that there are other things that could be met by the release of the video. … But I want to get justice. And I think that’s what this city deserves.”


On Tuesday, Beck said that after watching the video, he called Lacey and asked her office “to not only look at this case but to file criminal charges.”

“I was shocked by the content of the video,” he said.


The US Marshals Service announced an investigation into a video captured in South Gate, CA, in which a deputy marshal appears to grab, throw to the ground, and kick the cell phone of a woman who was reportedly recording an incident between marshals and a biker gang.

In response to the video, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California said, “The ACLU of Southern California is deeply disturbed by the video released yesterday on YouTube, showing a law enforcement officer approaching a woman who appears to be lawfully filming a police operation from the sidewalk, grabbing her phone, smashing it to the ground and kicking it.

“There is no situation in which an officer can intentionally grab and destroy a camera being used to lawfully record law enforcement. The officer’s conduct is a blatant and deliberate violation of the Constitution and his duties as an officer to abide by the law. Members of the public, on a public street, unquestionably have a First Amendment right to record law enforcement officers, acting in the course of their duties. Indeed, as recent events have shown, video recording of law enforcement activity plays a crucial role in holding police accountable for misconduct — particularly in California, where public access to information about officer misconduct is limited by state law.”

Andrew Blankstein, Robert Kovacik and Willian Avila have more on the story for NBCLA.


The US is in the midst of a decline in the use of capital punishment. While the death penalty is still legal in 32 states, the real work is being done at the county level. Out of the nation’s 3,144 counties, only a handful of those are still carrying the torch: in 2012, just 59 of the country’s 3,144 counties gave all of the death penalty sentences.

Los Angeles was among the overachievers.

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford takes a closer look at the numbers and their implications. Here are some clips:

Los Angeles County is only twice the size of [Illinois’s] Cook County, but Los Angeles County sentenced nearly five times as many people to death from 2004 to 2009. [Texas’s] Harris County has roughly one million fewer people than Cook County, but Harris County sentenced almost three times as many people to death. [Arizona’s] Maricopa County is roughly the same size as Harris County, but Maricopa County sentenced thirty-eight people to death while Harris County rendered twenty-one death sentences. [Florida’s] Miami-Dade County, which has a population of approximately 2.5 million, only sentenced four people to death, whereas Oklahoma County, which has a population of approximately 750,000, sentenced eighteen people to death.

The effect is even more dramatic in the aggregate. Of the 3,144 counties or their equivalents in the United States, just 29 counties averaged more than one death sentence a year. “That 1 percent of counties accounts for roughly 44 percent of all death sentences” since 1976, Smith observed. A 2013 report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 59 counties—fewer than 2 percent of the total—handed down all U.S. death sentences in 2012.

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, Innocence, LAPD | 1 Comment »

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