Bail, Blocked Video of a Fatal Shooting in Gardena, LA County Spending, and More on the Ezell Ford DecisionJune 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker
INEFFECTIVE BAIL BOND SYSTEM TARGETS POOR
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.
THREE NEWSPAPERS FILE MOTION TO RELEASE VIDEO OF GARDENA OFFICERS’ FATAL SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN
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.
MONEY TO RELATIVE CAREGIVERS “CHUMP CHANGE” WHEN COMPARED TO LA COUNTY’S SPENDING ON JAIL PLANS?
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.”
REACTIONS TO LAPD COMMISSION’S EZELL FORD DECISION
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.”