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LA Supes Consider Jail Project, Disciplined Kern County Students Face Meager Education Alternatives…and More

July 17th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider (and revisit in four weeks time) a report from Vanir Construction Management with five options for rebuilding Men’s Central Jail and a new women’s facility ranging in price from $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion. (For WLA’s previous reporting on the jail plan go here.)

LA Times’ Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Concerned that federal authorities could soon intervene in the operation of Los Angeles County’s outdated jail system, the Board of Supervisors took a significant step Tuesday toward replacing the Men’s Central Jail and renovating other facilities to reduce crowding and increase mental health services for prisoners.

The board voted unanimously to accept a report from consultants who outlined five jail renovation options.

All options included tearing down and replacing the cornerstone of the nation’s largest jail system — the Men’s Central Jail — and reconfiguring other existing facilities.

Supervisors were wary of the $1.3-billion to $1.6-billion price tag — if approved, it would be the county’s largest building project ever. But they were more concerned about jail conditions prompting the federal government to wrest away control.

They repeatedly cited a similar dilemma facing state officials, who were ordered by federal judges earlier this year to release 9,600 prisoners or find another cure for overcrowding.


The board voted to accept the consultants’ report, and to revisit the matter in four weeks. In the meantime, county officials were directed to answer questions about existing operations and to amend the agreement with Vanir so the firm can begin analyzing staffing and operational costs for the various proposals. Officials will also find out whether the county can use a $100-million state grant now earmarked for a new women’s facility at the Pitchess Detention Center to instead adapt existing facilities at Mira Loma to house female inmates.

After the Supervisors’ vote, the majority of the public commenters expressed frustration at the proposed jail plan and urged the Board to reject the costly building of new facilities in favor of community-based alternatives. Esther Lim from the ACLU pointed out the incongruity of having a construction contractor produce a study looking at whether or not the county should be building expensive new jails.

The objective of the study is to find out who is inside our jails, who will be entering our jails, and who should be in our jails. However, it was disappointing to learn that the county’s executive office hired a construction group to do that comprehensive assessment. It was not surprising that a construction company, in its report, proposed five options, all involving construction costing billions…The goal is two-fold—to reduce recidivism and increase safety and to reduce operational costs. These can be achieved [by] alternatives to incarceration, such as split-sentencing and the diversion of the mentally ill. Vanir merely listed alternatives.


The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Susan Ferriss has an excellent story about the scant education options available to kids who have been expelled from schools in Kern County due to harsh zero tolerance policies. When kids are banned from attending schools in regular districts, they are told to go to county schools. When county-operated schools are too far to attend, students have no choice but to turn to independent study programs, which means that, these kids, often already struggling in school before expulsion, only receive four-and-a-half hours of instructor time and are left to teach themselves the remainder of the week.

Here’s how it opens:

On a blistering May day in California’s Central Valley, most other 13-year-olds were in classrooms down the road. But Erick Araujo was under strict orders from his mother to stay inside with a U.S. history textbook.

Despite the orders, the seventh-grader didn’t really have much to do. Over four days, while his buddies were finishing up the school year, Erick’s only task was to read three chapters from the book and answer, briefly, a few questions per chapter.

“Pretty easy,” the boy with braces said with a shrug, leafing through pages.

He had no math. No English. No science. And no other books to engage his love of history.

But this could be how Erick gets his education for months to come, at least until he’s halfway through eighth grade in early 2014.

That’s because in February, Erick was expelled for a year from Lost Hills’ only junior high, A.M. Thomas Middle School, and told to enroll at a “community school” for kids with discipline problems that is run by Kern County. But that school is 38 miles away – so far away that staff there suggested Erick’s mom put him on independent study at home. She would have to drive him to the North Kern Community School in Delano only one day a week, so he could get in a minimum of 4½ hours of weekly face time with an actual teacher.

For Erick’s mom, Nereida Vasquez, this seems like a strange way to expect her son to fulfill his “rehabilitation plan.” Instead, she said, she thinks educators have cast Erick adrift in Lost Hills, a hardscrabble town surrounded by some of the world’s richest groves of fruit and nut trees, vineyards and vegetable crops.

“He’s already told me that he should just drop out and go to work in the fields,” an exasperated Vasquez said in Spanish, her dominant language.

Erick’s circumstances aren’t unique. Hundreds of disciplined kids his age are put on independent study in Kern County. Youth advocates say Erick’s situation typifies a troubling pattern of authorities removing students from regular school and dispatching them to alternative campuses, where plans sometimes seem disturbingly casual – including long stretches of stay-at-home independent study.

The seventh-grader’s experience also reflects national concerns about the effectiveness of harsh school discipline and about a widening school-achievement divide between affluent children and lower-income, often Latino or black students.


Sam Slovic of Mission and State has written a painful and extremely well-crafted and documented story about the awful history of abuse of kids by clergy in Santa Barbara, which for a period may actually have been a dumping ground, of sorts, for abusing priests. What unfolds in the course of the narrative—and its underlying documents and testimony—-is not some isolated instances, or one pedophile priest who did awful damage to a string of kids, but a possible “culture of abuse,” that reportedly involved one forth of the clergy at a single institution, during a 23-year span from 1964 to 1987. And that was only one of a list of local schools and churches that were allegedly affected.

The story, called Sacred Monsters, is multimedia and then some, in that there are videos, piles of documents to search, and an interactive timeline. The work is important and makes for a very engrossing—if painful—read. Here’s a clip:

St. Anthony’s Seminary held its first classes at the Garden Street property in 1901, with the mission of grooming young men for the clergy, which it did for decades before closing ignominiously in 1987. By then, it had sealed its fate as one of the charter institutions in the Catholic clergy’s emerging sex abuse crisis.

With the children now gone for the day, the birds settle back into the tall trees around the Garden Street Academy, and the afternoon turns calm. Across the street, Paul Fericano can be found in a shady patch in the back of the Mission. He is contemplating a large boulder with a bronze plaque on its face and the larger context within which it exists. The boulder, a symbol of St. Anthony’s grim legacy, carries talismanic freight for Fericano.

Fericano had been a student at St. Anthony’s in the 1960s at the height of the abuse, decades before the scope and extent of its horrors were revealed. Fericano says a Franciscan priest named Mario Cimmarrusti repeatedly assaulted him while he was studying to be a priest himself. Court documents and personnel files released under a judge’s orders in 2012 would eventually depict Cimmarrusti as a particularly prolific perpetrator.

“This is where it all began in 1992 and ’93. It all broke here. It was huge,” Fericano says.

He is referring to the national reaction when an Independent Board of Inquiry submitted its findings in November 1993 to Father Joseph P. Chinnici, provincial minister of the Province of Saint Barbara. The board, comprised of mental health professionals, lay people and clergy, had convened in January to deal with allegations of rampant abuse of minors by St. Anthony’s clergy during a 23-year span from 1964 to 1987. The board sent letters of inquiry to as many alumni and their families as it could find addresses for. Three hundred men responded.

Posted in ACLU, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Supes Have Closed Door LASD Meeting …Valley Fever Flares in CA Prisons….Privacy Issues…And More

May 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


There was to have been no Board of Supervisors’ meeting this Tuesday, because the Supes were scheduled to take their once-a-year joint trip to Washington DC instead. However, after last week’s LA Times interview with former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in which Tanaka engaged in what can best be described as a verbal assassination attempt against Sheriff Lee Baca, the majority of the Board—Don Knabe, Gloria Molina, and Mark Ridley-Thomas—cancelled their respective trip plans and decided maybe a meeting was called for after all.

Or at least so we’ve heard. The meeting is to take place behind closed doors, so you and I won’t be able to observe first hand.

The agenda for Tuesday’s hastily planned meeting indicates the subjects up for discussion are “department head performance evaluations,” plus ” Significant exposure to litigation” and “Allegations regarding civil rights violations in the County jails.”

However, sources close to the board suggested that, more than anything, this meeting is about what Tanaka said, what the Feds might or might not be planning to do, what it all portends for the future of the department, and what actions—if any—might soon be required of the Supes given the storm around the LASD that is rapidly quickening.

We’ll let you know as we know more.


The AP has the story on this largely-hidden epidemic that endangers inmates in certain CA lock-ups. Here’s a clip:

As many as 3,000 prison inmates in central California deemed to be at risk from a potentially lethal lung disease may need to be moved to other regions under an order from a court-appointed federal overseer.

The directive, issued on Monday, marks the latest effort to stem cases of valley fever, or coccidioidomycosis, at two prisons where the disease was found to have contributed to the deaths of nearly three dozen inmates from 2006 to 2011.

But it could complicate court-ordered efforts to reduce overcrowding across California’s prison system, the nation’s largest…

And then here are a couple of clips from a more detailed story by John E. Dannenberg of The Prison Legal News:

In the past three years more than 900 of the 5,300 prisoners at California’s Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) in Fresno County, plus 80 staff members, have contracted coccidioidomycosis, a fungus commonly known as “valley fever.” Over a dozen prisoners and one guard have died from the disease. Valley fever forms in the lungs, where inhaled fungal spores colonize.

The soil-based fungus, which is indigenous from California’s central valley down to South Texas, most often causes symptoms similar to the flu (and in the process confers lifelong immunity); however, in two to three percent of cases it metastasizes. Once it gets into the bloodstream it is often fatal.

Although valley fever has occasionally infected archaeologists digging in Utah’s Dinosaur National Monument and drug-sniffing dogs along the Mexican border, its statistical prevalence in California prisons is troubling. California reported 3,000 cases of valley fever in the general population in 2006, of which 514 were diagnosed at PVSP alone. This 17% morbidity rate among prisoners is astounding. Further, from a mortality standpoint, 12 deaths in 900 prison cases equals a 1.3% fatality rate – double the community rate of 0.6% (based on 33 deaths in 5,500 infections reported in Arizona in 2006). Put another way, if the general population had the same mortality rate as prisoners, there would have been another 38 valley fever-related deaths in the community.


The high infection rate at PVSP (and to a lesser degree at other central valley prisons) has been correlated with two other factors: 1) importation of non-local prisoners and 2) prisoners with compromised immune systems. This has translated into a high rate of serious valley fever cases among HIV-infected prisoners from Los Angeles, many of whom are susceptible under both factors. As a result, prison officials have been preemptively moving such vulnerable prisoners from PVSP to other areas in the state…


Youth Today has a column by the very-smart Liz Ryan of the Campaign for Youth Justice about the sections in the president’s budget that youth advocates see as the most crucial—namely the funding it provides for the 40-year old Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) that, in this go-round, focuses on three areas:

1. Keeping “status offenders” from winding up in the juvenile justice system. Status offenders kids who’ve done things that are against the law only because of their age—things like skipping school, running away, breaking curfew and possession or use of alcohol.

2. Getting kids out of adult jails and lock ups, whenever possible

3. Reducing the disparate treatment of youth of color in the juvenile justice system.

Here are the details.


The idea that law enforcement may be compiling databases on the whereabouts of non-lawbreakers is making a lot of people jumpy, and has caused the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to demand that both the LAPD and the LASD fork over information about how the data is being used.

Both Dennis Romero of the LA Weekly and the AP’s Tami Abdollah reported on the matter.

Here’s a clip from Abdollah’s story:

Two privacy rights groups questioning law enforcement’s use of automated license plate readers asked a judge Monday to order the Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to provide more details on how they use the technology.

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a writ against the city, county and its law enforcement departments after waiting more than eight months for a complete response to public records requests.

The groups are seeking one week of data collected by the readers, which are usually mounted on police cars and scan thousands of license plates in an officer’s shift. The readers – which collect the license plate numbers, the time, date, GPS location and a photo – alert law enforcement to stolen and wanted vehicles.

“If you’re not wanted for anything, it doesn’t do anything,” said Los Angeles County sheriff’s Sgt. John Gaw, who works in the advanced surveillance and protection unit. “It does collect that information, it does put it in our database, and we’re able to go back and review that information if you’re wanted in some type of criminal investigation.”

Privacy advocates are worried that about the growth of such law enforcement databases often outside the public’s eye and with little public oversight or information. They say the readers create a database that essentially tracks movements of innocent people, often long before any crime has been committed. But officials contend that the readers are a valuable piece of technology that helps solve crimes and simply speeds up and automates what would have been a slow, painstaking manual process only a few years ago.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Civil Liberties, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, prison, prison policy, Public Health, Sheriff Lee Baca | 46 Comments »

The Damage Inflicted by Putting Kids in Isolation, SD’s Juvenile Justice Issues Deserve Candidates’ Attention…and More

October 12th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A new report by the Human Rights Watch and the ACLU reinforces the need for effective alternatives to the all-too-common use of solitary confinement in the youth detention setting. The report surveys over 125 kids in 19 states, including California, who have spent time in isolation, and provides first-hand accounts of the devastating effects of solitary confinement on developing youth. Here’s a clip from the Human Rights Watch article:

Because young people are still developing, traumatic experiences like solitary confinement may have a profound effect on their chance to rehabilitate and grow, the groups found. Solitary confinement can exacerbate short- and long-term mental health problems or make it more likely that such problems will develop. Young people in solitary confinement are routinely denied access to treatment, services, and programming required to meet their medical, psychological, developmental, social, and rehabilitative needs.

The New York City Department of Corrections, for example, reported that in fiscal year 2012, which ended in June, more than 14 percent of all adolescents were held in at least one period of solitary confinement while detained. The average length of time young people spent in solitary confinement at Rikers Island was 43 days. More than 48 percent of adolescents at Rikers have diagnosed mental health problems.


The solitary confinement of young people under age 18 is itself a serious human rights violation and can constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Conditions that compound the harm of solitary confinement, such as denial of educational programming, exercise, or family visits, often constitute independent, serious human rights violations.

A number of corrections officials have begun to recognize and speak against the use of solitary confinement, saying that it is costly, ineffective, and harmful.

There are alternative ways to address the problems – whether disciplinary, administrative, protective, or medical – that officials typically cite to justify using solitary confinement, while taking into account the rights and special needs of adolescents, Human Rights Watch and the ACLU said. Youth could be housed in specialized facilities organized to encourage positive behavior. And punishment should be proportional to the infraction, using any short-term isolation as a rare exception.

Here’s what some of the surveyed kids had to say about their time in isolation:

“In seg[regation] you either implode or explode; you lose touch with reality, hear voices, hallucinate and think for hours about killing yourself, others or both. The anger and hurt gets so intense that you suspect everyone and trust no one and when someone does something nice for you, you don’t understand it.” – “Douglas C.” Colorado, April 2012.

“I just felt I wanted to die, like there was no way out – I was stressed out. I hung up the first day. I took a sheet and tied it to my light and they came around … The officer when she was doing rounds found me. She was banging on the window – ‘Are you alive? Are you alive?’ I could hear her but I felt like I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe.” – “Luz M.,” New York, April 2012


As election day nears for the San Diego County Board of Supervisors’ open seat, neither of the two candidates have addressed the colossally important problems of youth gang violence and prescription drug abuse—in fact, these issues remain largely ignored by everyone, says San Diego CityBeat writer Dave Maass. Here’s how Dave’s story for CityBeat and the Crime Report opens:

California’s second largest county is coping with widespread gang violence and prescription drug abuse among youth. But as election day nears, juvenile justice remains a whisper in a monsoon of economic rhetoric.

According to statistics released this year by the San Diego Association of Governments, 38 percent of male juveniles arrestees— and 28 percent of female juvenile arrestees— reported gang affiliations. And last year, 37 percent of juveniles arrested acknowledged prescription drug abuse— the highest rate in four years—according to a county task force.

In the only race on any level with a direct influence over juvenile justice policy in this county of more than 3.1 million people, the challenges of dealing with troubled young people have indeed surfaced—but almost as an afterthought.

The two candidates for the five-member San Diego County Board of Supervisors have an opportunity to take the county in a new direction as they vie for the first open seat in 16 years. So far they’ve traded jabs on funding for after-school programs as part of a larger campaign quarrel over an alleged county “slush fund.”

But in general the juvenile justice problems which are preoccupying some parents and county officials barely get a close examination.

That may not be surprising in an election season that has hinged on jobs and the economy in local as well as national contests. Even in education-related races, the debate has focused squarely on financial mismanagement and labor unions, issues that put the welfare of troubled kids below the concerns of taxpayers.

We, too, wish our local and statewide candidates would focus more on juvenile justice issues which, thus far, don’t seem to be high up on the political talking points list.


A 17-year-old son of a NY law enforcement officer secretly recorded a “stop and frisk” encounter in which police officers called him a “mutt” and told him that they would “break his arm off.”

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf (who happens to live in Venice, CA) talks about how recording perceived wrong-doing can make a big difference and has the rest of the 17-year-old’s experience and its effect. Here’s a clip:

That’s how the politics of this issue will change.

What’s required is more secret recording. It’s very difficult to defend Stop and Frisk when the reality of how it’s administered is made public in a way the average person can understand. Technology is permitting the government to spy on us in unprecedented ways, but it can empower citizens too.

Any 17-year-old can record a Stop and Frisk encounter.

Any non-profit can teach people in affected areas how to inconspicuously record anytime they see one of these encounters.

Big Brother is being watched.

Posted in ACLU, Human rights, juvenile justice, National issues, racial justice, solitary | 1 Comment »

Final Round-up of Gov. Brown’s Bill Activity, Statistics and Effects of Parents Behind Bars…and More

October 2nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


This weekend, Gov. Jerry Brown acted on over one hundred pieces of legislation. Here’s what he did with some of the bills WitnessLA has been following: (WitnessLA posted Monday on the fate of SB9 and the sunshine law.)

Gov. Brown vetoed the TRUST Act, a crucial immigration bill, but signed the immigrant driver bill.

PBS’ Adrian Florido has the story. Here’s a clip:

The TRUST Act was passed by the state legislature in August and would have prohibited local police who arrest an illegal immigrant from holding that person for possible deportation at the request of federal immigration officials.

It would have made an exception for people who commit serious crimes.

The bill’s aim was to make it harder for federal immigration agents to use local police to help them deport people. Its supporters said it was needed to ensure that immigrant communities did not begin fearing police, as they have in states like Arizona, but it was opposed by federal immigration officials and many local sheriffs.


At the same time the governor vetoed the TRUST Act, he signed into law Assembly Bill 2189, the driver’s license bill. Undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and meet other requirements, like schooling or military service, will qualify for a stay from deportation and work permits under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The bill to grant them driver’s licenses will make transportation to and from their newly acquired jobs easier.

Brown also signed a bill making California the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for kids, dubbing it “quackery.” (Way to go, Jerry!)

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

Effective Jan. 1, mental health practitioners are prohibited from performing sexual orientation change efforts — known as reparative or conversion therapy — for anyone under 18.

The therapies “have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” Brown said in a statement.

Mainstream associations representing psychiatrists and psychologists have dismissed reparative therapy in recent decades. A number of mental health associations in California — including the state’s Board of Behavorial Sciences, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists and the California Psychological Association — supported the legislation.

But some organizations and ministries continue to use counseling and prayer to try to help conflicted Christians rid themselves of unwanted homosexual inclinations. Gay rights activists have said the damage they inflict on individuals can be deep and lasting and can put youth at higher risk of depression and suicide.

“We’re grateful to Gov. Brown for standing with California’s children,” the Human Rights Campaign said in a statement. “LGBT youth will now be protected from a practice that has not only been debunked as junk science, but has been proven to have drastically negative effects on their well-being.”

A bill that safeguards kids from being charged illegal educational fees also received Jerry’s stamp of approval.

KPCC’s Tami Abdollah has more on AB1575. Here’s a clip:

The American Civil Liberties Union of California and the law firm Morrison & Foerster announced Monday that in response to the new law they will dismiss their class action lawsuit, Doe vs. State of California, filed two years ago. The suit alleged that the imposition of such fees violated the California Constitution, which has provided for “free school” since 1879.


The lawsuit was based on an online investigation the ACLU conducted during August 2010. It found that at least 32 schools throughout California required students to pay for educational materials. [You can read WitnessLA's 2010 post about this ACLU lawsuit here.]

The suit alleges that requiring students to pay discriminates against lower-income children and results in an unfair system that favors wealth.

“There are budget problems in the state and it’s having problems ensuring schools get the money they need [but] you can’t pass that cost along to school children and their families,” said David Sapp, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “In tough budget times, it’s tough budget times for families as well,” said Sapp.


A new publication from the Sentencing Project presents crucial data on incarcerated parents and their children. (We realize that the Sentencing Project was unable to obtain figures past 2007, but the incarceration numbers have only gone higher. The effects of incarceration on America’s kids is a very under-reported issue that affects our communities in a significant way.)

Here’s a clip from the fact sheet:

• The number of fathers in prison increased 76% and the number of mothers in prison increased 122%
between 1991 and 2007.

• In 2007, 1.7 million children had a parent in prison on any given day.

• The number of children with parents in prison increased 80% between 1991 and 2007.

• 1 in 15 black children, 1 in 42 Latino children, and 1 in 111 white children had a parent in prison in 2007.


A Pennsylvania judge stayed death row inmate Terrence William’s execution and vacated his sentence Friday. (We’ve been following the stories by the Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen on Terry Williams because they point beyond themselves to yet another view of the problems with the death penalty. Go here and here for the back story.)

Andrew Cohen has the most recent developments in Terry William’s story. Here’s how it opens:

Twenty-six years after the fact, too late but just in time, a measure of justice finally found Terry Williams on Friday when a Pennsylvania judge, a former prosecutor, stayed his October 3 execution and vacated a death sentence that had been unfairly imposed upon him in 1986. No reasonable review of Williams’ case — no evaluation of the evidence, no respect for his trial jurors or the victim’s widow, no fealty to the Sixth Amendment’s fair trial guarantees — can sustain, in law or fact, the imposition of capital punishment here.

And yet today, seeking to defend an indefensible verdict, unapologetic about the misconduct of his predecessor, impervious to the dynamics of child sex abuse cases, tone-deaf to local politics and morality in the Age of Sandusky, unrepentant about misstatements to the state’s parole board, Williams’ prosecutor pushes on. I have been covering capital cases like this for 15 years and I can rarely remember an instance where a district attorney fought so willfully for so long for the right to do an injustice. It’s a risible offense.

In 1984, Williams savagely murdered a man named Amos Norwood. No one disputes that. At Williams’ 1986 trial, however, prosecutors had evidence that Norwood was a sexual predator — a man who preyed upon boys, including Williams himself. But prosecutors did not disclose this evidence to Williams’ lawyers even though they have an obligation to do so under the United States Supreme Court’s Brady v. Maryland precedent. Instead, the district attorney portrayed Norwood as an innocent victim of Williams’ evil mind. The state cheated.

Read on, as the entirety of Andrew Cohen’s article is worthwhile. Here’s one more clip from near the end we thought you shouldn’t miss:

But even this is not good enough for prosecutor Williams. He immediately appealed Judge Sarmina’s ruling. Want to know why more and more Americans are skeptical of the death penalty, why the constitutional guarantees of due process and fair trials so often go unmet? It’s because of cases like this one, where prosecutors cheat at trial and where their successors, decades later, cannot then admit, to themselves or the world, that such behavior undercuts confidence in the accuracy and integrity of the criminal justice system.

Photo taken from Sutter Brown’s facebook page.

Posted in ACLU, children and adolescents, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LGBT | 1 Comment »

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

September 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip from the memo:




It should be an interesting week.

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

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

September 26th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

More in a while.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: ACLU

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

News Conference Addresses Issues Raised by Alesia Thomas Death, Family Reunification Week…and More

September 10th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called a press conference Friday regarding the in-custody death of Alesia Thomas. (WitnessLA’s previous post on Alesia Thomas can be found here.) Supervisor Ridley-Thomas was joined by Phillip Browning, director of LA County Department of Children and Family Services, and LAPD officials to reassure parents that there should be no fear of repercussions for seeking help when they are unable to care for their kids.

“Anytime an incident like this takes place it is not simply a matter of investigation, it is a matter of review of policy to make sure that whatever factors might have contributed to the tragic results are not repeated,” said Ridley-Thomas.

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

“We do not wish to in any way cause anyone to feel that they should be reluctant to take advantage the safe houses in the city or to take advantage of the DCFS [Department of Children and Family Services] office,” said Ridley-Thomas.


LAPD Police Commissioner Andrea Ordin said the police department would redouble partnership efforts with DCFS and increase training so that all officers are aware of the county’s services for parents.

Officials encouraged parents to use the Child Protection Hotline, 800-540-4000, if they need any help with children.

“No parent should believe that they are in this by themselves,” said Phillip Browning, director of LA County Department of Children and Family Services.

L.A. County participates in the Safely Surrendered Baby Law, which allows parents to give up an unwanted infant without fear of arrest or prosecution for abandonment as long as the baby has not been abused and is dropped off at a hospital or fire station within three days of birth.

The law does not apply to older children, but Browning said L.A. city police and fire departments are willing to take on those kinds of situations.


While we’re on the subject, LA County Supervisors have declared Sept. 10-14 “Family Reunification Week.” The celebration is in recognition of families’ safe reunions with their children and and all of the parents, caregivers, social workers, and organizations that make reunification possible, after children have been initially removed to the county’s care. (We’re glad the Supervisors are paying attention to these issues, and want to continue to help families grow healthier and able to become whole again.)

The Paramus Post’s Mel Fabrikant has the info. Here’s a clip:

On Tuesday, September 11th, six “Family Reunification Heroes,” a group of parents, social workers, and organizations that have done an exemplary job in supporting the safe return of children to their homes and families, will be honored with a special scroll presentation by Chairman Yaroslavsky’s Children’s Deputy Lisa Mandel at the Hall of Administration.

On Thursday, September 13th, a Family Reunification Symposium, “Families First: The Road that Leads Back Home,” will feature Chairman Zev Yaroslavsky, Judge Michael Nash and Philip L. Browning, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). The symposium will include a lively panel discussion with parents, caregivers, former foster youth, social workers and court attorneys on pertinent family reunification issues. The most emotional part of the program will undoubtedly be three families sharing their personal stories on how they reunited with their children. Parents in Partnership, a DCFS program that utilizes parents who have successfully navigated the Dependency Court system to reunify with their children and are now coaching other families on how to do the same, will discuss their successful program.

On Friday, September 14th, media is invited to attend a press conference at Juvenile Court where reporters can witness a unique event, similar in format to National Adoption Day, as court officially terminates the cases of eight families whose parents have successfully reunified with their children. These eight families represent over 3,000 families that reunify with their children each year.


A bill to prevent the shackling of pregnant prisoners awaits Gov. Brown’s decision, once again, after passing unanimously through legislature. Brown vetoed a previous version of the bill, AB 2530, last year.

The ACLU’s Alicia M. Walters has the story on AB 2530. Here’s a clip:

This year marks the third attempt to get a signature on a bipartisan, unanimously supported bill in California (AB 2530) that would ban the practice of putting incarcerated pregnant women in dangerous shackles. Similar bills have passed two previous legislative sessions with overwhelming support from both political parties, only to be vetoed. Opposition from the powerful law enforcement lobby surely played a role in these vetoes. But we have persevered, and this year we’ve been successful in keeping law enforcement neutral. While we’re happy with this progress, we still need the Governor to sign the bill.

We’ve kept at this for several years for a fundamental reason: Shackling is dangerous for a woman and her baby. It is well-documented that shackling pregnant women causes them to fall. Falls could cut off oxygen to the fetus and could lead to miscarriage, stillbirth, or fatally premature birth.

By the way, Gov. Jerry has until Sept. 30th to sign (or veto) another bill that WitnessLA strongly favors, AB 1270, that would open up media access to in-person interviews with prisoners. If approved, the bill would help shed light on areas of the corrections system that need reform. (For more info, check out our previous post on AB 1270 here.)

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), families, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD | 1 Comment »

LA Co. Juvie Probation Camp Raises Education Bar, Santa Clara Sheriff Urges Gov. Jerry to Sign TRUST Act, and LAPD Chief Beck Addresses Use of Force Problems

August 31st, 2012 by Taylor Walker


Challenger, LA County’s largest juvenile probation camp, has come a very long way from the once horrifying conditions it subjected kids to. In November of 2010, the ACLU, Public Counsel, and the Disability Rights Legal Center settled a landmark lawsuit over Challenger’s then unconscionable education system. (WitnessLA’s previous post on the lawsuit can be found here.) Two years later, Challenger has had a complete turn-around, giving its education system the potential to be a model for juvie probation camps across the country, says KPCC’s Tami Abdollah in a pair of stories on the camp. Here are some clips from the first story:

Probation and education officials have trained together under a new “behavior management model” called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports.

The program has landed Challenger in a study funded by the U.S. Department of Education that evaluates the effects of it in juvenile corrections.

Since January, PBIS has slowly reduced the numbers of students written up for bad behavior from dozens a day to as few as two. Staff put up posters in classrooms illustrating proper classroom behavior.

“We assumed kids knew what was expected of our kids in the classroom, but that was not true,” said Kimberly Humphries, assistant principal for special education. “Because our kids have not traditionally been in school. They’ve been kicked out, they don’t go.”

The change is one example of the biggest shift that has taken place at Challenger: a change from a “punitive coercive culture” to a more “positive cooperative culture,” said Watkins.

“Instead of constantly catching the kids when they were doing something wrong, we needed to flip that, and start to catch the kids when they were doing things right,” Watkins said. “A lot of our attention was being focused on the kids who were not behaving, … and there were probably a lot more kids behaving.”


It costs roughly $139,500 per year, per bed, to house and educate minors at a county juvenile detention camp, according to county officials. Traditionally, it is more expensive than housing adults, because of the requirements to educate and efforts to rehabilitate youths, said Peter Leone, a professor of special education at the University of Maryland.

Leone is a national expert at delivering education in detention settings and serves as a monitor in this case. He has been involved in monitoring and reform at dozens of facilities for 25 years.

“There will be people who … say: ‘What are they doing all this stuff for these kids for? My kid didn’t get in trouble and he didn’t have access to this kind of stuff. … It’s a waste of money,’” Leone said. “But it’s a whole lot less expensive to get these kids on the right track, to support them, help them become more confident young men, than to have them potentially in and out of juvenile corrections. That’s more expensive. They’re not taxpayers. Then we have to house them, provide for them.

“I don’t think the public understands that. I think we’re still in that ‘get tough on crime,’ ‘three strikes you’re out’ mentality that’s much more punitive,” Leone said.

Tami Abdollah has another, longer article on Challenger—this one focusing on Challenger’s potential to emerge as a model for other youth camps if it can get the support it needs to proceed. The juvie probation camp is on a roll, but it faces budget cuts that may make staying on course difficult. Here’s a clip from the second article:

…A 2011 settlement agreement gave county officials a legal mandate to change. The agreement requires monitoring and quarterly reports by a team of experts over four years who check on 13 areas of reform, including literacy, instruction and special education. A monitor is at the site several times a month, sometimes weekly.

“There’s a lot of pressure on everybody,” said school principal Marsha Watkins. “We live in a fishbowl pretty much. But the real bottom line is it comes down to kids. …We weren’t doing what we needed to do for kids, and now we are.”

Yet even as Challenger emerges as a possible model for teaching incarcerated kids, budget worries may endanger these reform efforts. Cuts to state funding have already forced a round of layoffs since the settlement, and such new and innovative programs —as well as the training for them — require more resources. There is a fear that, though support and focus is here now, that won’t remain the case in the future.

(Be sure to read the rest of these articles, as they are jam-packed with worthwhile information and Abdollah’s excellent writing and reporting.)


Santa Clara Sheriff Laurie Smith has publicly taken a stand in favor of the TRUST Act, sending a letter to Gov. Brown asking him to sign the legislature. The TRUST Act would keep law enforcement from detaining undocumented immigrants for ICE, except in the case of serious felonies. Smith’s stance is a major divergence from the views of other CA sheriffs.

CBS San Francisco has the story. Here’s a clip:

Smith sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown, urging him to sign the TRUST act. If approved, police would be prohibited from holding undocumented immigrants at local jails for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, unless they are charged with serious or violent felonies. The legislation was introduced by San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

In the letter, Smith criticized the federal government’s “Secure Communities Program” or S-Comm, which was billed as a way to deport violent criminals. The sheriff said in two-thirds of the deportations, the detainees had no criminal records or had nonviolent offenses such as traffic violations.

Smith wrote: “The S-Comm program has diminished trust in our immigrant communities of local law enforcement…immigrant victims and witnesses of crime have told me they are afraid to come forward to cooperate with local law enforcement out of fear that they could be detained by ICE under S-Comm and deported.”

(A copy of the letter from Sheriff Smith can be found here.)


Sheriff Baca says that he will not enforce the Trust Act. (Here is a nice little cartoon depiction by the LA Times’ Ted Rall.)


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has reassigned and cut the pay of the commanding officer of the Foothill division due to his poor response to an incident involving questionable use of force to detain a woman arrested after a traffic violation last week. Beck also removed the officers involved from field duty pending the investigation—an action he says should have been executed by the commanding officer.

The Daily News’ Dakota Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have serious concerns about this incident and I believe the commanding officer of Foothill area was severely deficient in his response,” Beck said. “Proper steps were not taken, including appropriate notifications and the removal of the involved officers from the field. Because of these issues, I have removed him from his command and initiated downgrade procedures.”

Beck also is requiring that video of the incident be played at officer roll calls across the city as part of a discussion about use of force issues.

“Every Los Angeles police officer regardless of rank will be held accountable for their actions,” Beck said.

And then, there’s this—LA Times’ staff writers have the story on yet another LAPD brutality investigation. This time, a woman died in custody after a particularly violent struggle in which a female officer stomped on her genital area. Here’s a clip:

The altercation in front of her South Los Angeles apartment was captured by a patrol car’s video camera.

When asked by The Times about the incident, LAPD Cmdr. Bob Green confirmed that one officer, while trying to get Alesia Thomas into the back of a patrol car, threatened to kick Thomas in the genitals if she did not comply, and then followed through on her threat.

After officers forced Thomas into the back seat of the police car, she is seen on the video breathing shallowly; she eventually stopped breathing.

“I take all in-custody death investigations very seriously,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement late Thursday. “I am confident we will get to the truth no matter where that leads us.”

Photo by KPCC’s Tami Abdollah

Posted in ACLU, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, immigration, juvenile justice, LAPD | 1 Comment »

Effects of Transferring Prisoners Out-of-State, What’s Next for Juvie LWOP-ers…and More

July 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has released a new report on the fiscal downsides to transferring inmates to out of state prisons, and the negative effects it has on rehabilitation, prisoners’ families and children, and the community as a whole. Here are a few clips from the report:

Prior to the Supreme Court mandate, California had been addressing overcrowding concerns by utilizing out-of-state private prisons, the majority of which are operated by the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA). The temporary transfer of California inmates to other states began in late 2006, rose to a peak of 10,400 in early 2011, and declined to under 10,000 by mid-2011. Continued utilization of private out-of-state facilities is slated under the 2011-2012 budget to fall by nearly half by June 2012.

In light of California’s extensive budget crisis, in early 2012, CCA offered to purchase California state prisons and operate them through a 20-year management contract. In exchange CCA requested an assurance that the prisons would remain at least 90% capacity (CCA, 2012). California not only declined the offer, but CDCR released plans in April 2012, to return out-of-state inmates to state facilities and terminate its contracts with private out-of-state facilities by FY 2015- 16 (CDCR, 2012a). This proposal estimates savings of $318 million (CDCR, 2012a, p.28). In addition to cost savings, returning out-of-state inmates is a sound public policy decision. The purpose of this publication is to provide an overview of the effects of out-of-state transfers on inmates and families, to evaluate the potential public safety and policy merits of CDCR’s proposal.


…Housing inmates in-state increases the opportunity for family reunification and community-based programmatic engagement. Ultimately these connections enable offenders to more successfully reintegrate into society upon release, and have the potential to improve conditions within the facilities themselves. Thus, the practice of sending inmates to private out-of-state facilities creates significant barriers to achieving CDCR’s rehabilitation mandate.


Parental incarceration, along with the crimes and arrests that precede it, “cause chaos in the lives of these children, including traumatic separations and erratic shifts from one caregiver to another. Most children with incarcerated parents reside in poverty before, during, and after their parents’ incarceration” (Seymour & Hairston, 2001, p. 2). This in turn is an additional causative factor in delinquency. Children of incarcerated parents “experience a broad range of emotions, including fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, loneliness, and guilt. They may exhibit low self-esteem, depression, and emotional withdrawal from friends and family” (Seymour & Hairston, 2001, p.2). As a result, many of these children struggle both socially and academically.


These effects are exacerbated when a parent inmate is transferred to an out-of-state facility. In 2008, almost 1,707,000 children (2.3% of the children in the United States) had a parent in prison (Glaze & Maruschak, 2008). The stress of this impact on children is not only experienced in communities, but also in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. In California, decreased reliance on both out-of-state and private prisons will reduce the geographical barriers between inmates and their families, thus reducing the numerous collateral consequences of incarceration.


SCOTUS’ recent ban on mandatory LWOP for juvie offenders leaves states scrambling to interpret the change, with decidedly uneven results.

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

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision banning mandatory life without parole for juvenile criminals gave inmates like Christine Lockheart a glimmer of hope.

In response to the Court’s ruling, the Iowa Court of Appeals earlier this month overturned Lockheart’s mandatory life sentence for a murder committed when she was 17 and ordered a judge to hold a new sentencing hearing.

But less than a week later, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad commuted the sentences of all state prisoners serving mandatory life terms for crimes committed as juveniles, and instead gave them life with the possibility of parole after 60 years.

Lockheart’s lawyer says he plans to challenge Branstad’s order in court, arguing that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Miller v. Alabama. That ruling said that sentencing judges should consider the individual circumstances of crimes committed by juveniles, including “how children are different, and how those differences counsel against irrevocably sentencing them to a lifetime in prison.”

Lockheart’s case is among the first of what criminal justice experts say will be numerous and lengthy legal battles as courts and state legislatures across the country determine how to comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling—and what to do with the estimated more than 2,000 prisoners currently serving mandatory life sentences for crimes committed when they were under the age of 18.

“This is very clean at the wholesale level and very messy at the retail level,” said Mark Osler, a professor at the University of St.Thomas Law School, in Saint Paul, MN. “It’s very clear from 10,000 feet that children are different.”

Osler, who specializes in sentencing law, added: “But with these 2,000 cases, it’s going to be pretty messy with a lot of different outcomes.”


A federal appeals court voted Wednesday to reconsider a law requiring police to take DNA swabs from anyone facing a felony charge.

SF Gate’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:

A panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco voted 2-1 in February to uphold the law, saying DNA sampling is an effective crime-solving tool that is no more invasive than fingerprinting. But the court said Wednesday that a majority of its judges had voted to set the ruling aside and refer the case to an 11-judge panel for a new hearing during the week of Sept. 17.

The law, part of a 2004 ballot measure, took effect in 2009. It requires police to swab an inner cheek of all felony arrestees for DNA and enter the information into a national law enforcement database.

Those who are not convicted of the charges within three years can ask a judge to remove their DNA from the database, but prosecutors can veto the request.

Opponents say the law allows authorities to retain genetic information, indefinitely, from innocent people, a procedure they describe as both intrusive and ineffectual.

The law is “an unprecedented expansion of the government’s power to collect DNA evidence and to DNA-profile individuals who have never been convicted of any crime,” attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union said in requesting a rehearing.

Supporters, including Attorney General Kamala Harris, say DNA from arrestees has been used to reopen numerous “cold cases.”

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, criminal justice, DNA, juvenile justice, law enforcement, LWOP Kids | No Comments »

Boy Scouts Ban Gays, New Immigration Bill…and More

July 18th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The Boy Scouts of America reconfirmed their policy banning both gay leaders and scouts on Tuesday. The story was covered widely, but WitnessLA thought that LA Times’ Steve Lopez made some excellent points. Here’s how he opens his column:

“The Boy Scouts of America is one of the nation’s largest and most prominent values-based youth developed organizations,” says the organization’s website. The BSA is about character and responsibility, and the group “has helped build the future leaders of this country by combining educational activities and lifelong values with fun.”

What kind of values?

Bigotry, for one.

On Tuesday, Boy Scouts of America has reaffirmed its policy of excluding gays as scouts or leaders.

“Scouting believes that good people can personally disagree on this topic and still work together to achieve the life-changing benefits to youth through scouting,” said a statement.

Pardon me, but I don’t get it. How can “good people” work together if some of them aren’t allowed in the door? Just because the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000 let the BSA policy stand doesn’t make it any less odious.

Be sure to read on, as the rest of Steve’s article is worthwhile.


CA Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard proposed a bill Friday that would protect the rights of immigrant families caught up in the foster care system–keeping child service organizations from removing children born in America from their immigrant parents in deportation or immigrant detention situations.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A measure voted on last spring by the California Senate that could allow some immigrants in deportation to hold onto their children, avoiding the foster care system, has been joined at the federal level by a similar federal House bill.

Introduced by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Los Angeles), HR 6128 proposes amending federal law to make it easier for the relatives of children whose parents are in deportation to act as legal guardians, and making it more difficult for state and local governments to terminate the parental rights of immigrants in removal proceedings. From the new bill:

H.R.6128 – To amend part E of title IV of the Social Security Act to ensure that immigration status alone does not disqualify a parent, legal guardian, or relative from being a placement for a foster child, to prohibit a State, country, or other political subdivision of a State from filing for termination of parental rights in foster care cases in which an otherwise fit and willing parent or legal guardian has been deported or is involved in (including detention pursuant to) an immigration proceeding, unless certain conditions have been met, and for other purposes.


A new government order declares that anything that Guantanamo detainees say to their lawyers or in trial is presumed classified. The ACLU, one of the detainees’ lawyers, and various news sources are not thrilled, and have filed multiple objections.

ProPublica’s Cora Currier has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Can the government declare anything a Guantanamo detainee does or says automatically classified?

That’s the question posed by two challenges to a government order declaring “any and all statements” by the five detainees allegedly behind the 9/11 attacks “presumptively classified.” That includes their own accounts of their treatment, and even torture, at the hands of the U.S. government.

The government made that argument this spring at the start of the military commission trials of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others. The government says the defendants’ accounts, if made public without review by a government authority, could reveal details of the CIA’s detention and interrogation efforts.

Of course, much information about the programs—including torture of detainees—has long been public. The CIA’s so-called black-site prisons were acknowledged nearly six years ago by then-President Bush. More details about the program were released by President Obama in 2009.

The “presumptive classification” order extends to both detainees’ testimony and their discussions with their lawyers. In other words, anything said by a detainee, whether in court or to their counsel, will first need censors’ stamp of approval before it can become public.


An LASD deputy was caught on tape Friday appearing to stomp on a resisting suspect’s head. The LASD has relieved the deputy of duty with pay pending their investigation.

LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

It occurred Friday morning when deputies approached a man in downtown Los Angeles suspected of groping a woman’s chest. Authorities said the suspect, Alexis Husmario Torres, was uncooperative, initially refusing to take his hands out of his pockets and then fighting with deputies as they tried to restrain him.

A news crew from Telemundo caught much of the take-down on video. In parts of the footage, aired by NBC Los Angeles, the suspect is elbowed several times in the head while on the ground and stomped at least once in the head by a black-booted deputy.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said department officials were aware the arrest was caught on tape when they decided to launch the criminal probe but had not yet seen the footage. He said Telemundo has agreed to turn over its raw footage.

Posted in ACLU, Courts, Foster Care, Guantanamo, immigration, LASD | 1 Comment »

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