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With Gratitude to Wanda Coleman: 1946 – 2013

November 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

“Like Wallace Stegner, I am in the ‘universal’ tradition of writers who concern themselves with The Truth—never mind that it is apt to hurt someone, in some way, most likely me.”

– Wanda Coleman, The Riot Inside Me

After Wanda Coleman died on Friday, most of those writing obituaries to honor her noted that she was widely thought to be the poet laureate of Los Angeles. Certainly, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who fit that bill better than Coleman.

Yet, for me, author and LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, goes more to the heart of the matter of her significance to LA literature in this essay he wrote remembering this woman he rightly described as a force of nature:

Coleman was the conscience of the L.A. literary scene — a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s…..

…She was the keystone, the writer who shifted L.A. writing, irrevocably and to the benefit of all of us, from an outside to an inside game, a literature of place.

The importance of this can’t be overstated; without Coleman, there’d be a lot less here for the rest of us. She taught us to write about the city we saw, the city in which we lived, to turn our backs on the stereotype and stare down the reality instead.

In terms of worldly accomplishments, Coleman wrote 22 books, won an Emmy for her TV writing on “Days of Our Lives,” won a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry in 1984, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1999. Her collection, “Mercurochrome,” was a finalist for a 2001 National Book Award.

Literarily speaking, she was, to use a faddish word, a disrupter. As Ulin suggested, she challenged the rest of us to ground ourselves in the real, to make art out of only that which mattered, to cut the B.S. or get outta the way.

Thankfully, for anyone with any sense, she was impossible to resist.

If you’d like to hear a bit more of Coleman’s work, listen to this 2012 reading on KCRW of some of what she wrote in response to the Watts and the Rodney King riots.

Posted in American artists, American voices, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Where to Lock Up the CA Kid Who Killed his Neo Nazi Dad….Sexual Abuse-Riddled GA Juvie Prison To Close….For Profit Juvie Lock-Ups….And More

October 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Hearings resumed on Tuesday in the case of the Riverside, CA, boy who, at age 10, shot and killed his White Supremacist father. The boy has already been convicted of 2nd degree murder. What remains is sentencing, and the decision as to where the now-thirteen year old will do his time. Tuesday mostly featured dueling psychologist/experts who, according to KNBC’s Patrick Healy, could not agree about much. They did, however, give a harrowing look into the homelife that may have played a role in the boy’s violent actions.

Here’s a link to Healey’s report.

John Rogers of the Associated Press has also been following this story closely. Here are some clips from his report on last week’s fight over the 13-year-old’s fate.

A 13-year-old boy who became one of the nation’s youngest killers when he shot his neo-Nazi father to death as the man slept should be incarcerated in a state juvenile justice facility to protect him and the public, a judge was told Friday during a sentencing hearing.

As the baby-faced, blond-haired teen sat quietly in court, sometimes fidgeting in his chair or scribbling in a notebook, Deputy District Attorney Michael Soccio said the severity of the crime he committed at age 10 can’t be overlooked.

Soccio said the boy needs to be in a more secure system, with fences and locked gates, where he would receive the necessary treatment.

“He needs to be in a protective environment for his safety and that of others,” the prosecutor said.


Prosecutors say the boy shot his father behind the ear at point-blank range as he slept on a sofa after coming home from a night of drinking. The child later told police he was afraid he would have to choose between living with his father and his stepmother, who were headed for a divorce.

Attorneys for the boy have said he reacted after years of horrific abuse that left him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, anger and fear issues, learning disabilities and other emotional problems.

The lawyers deferred their opening statement until the hearing resumes on Tuesday, when they will have a chance to call witnesses. But outside court, defense lawyer Punam Grewal said the teenager was abused almost from the day he was born.

“The only thing he learned was the world of fear and violence,” she said.

His mother and his attorneys want him sent to a private residential treatment center, where security would be lighter and therapy more intense.

Soccio didn’t directly address the boy’s emotional troubles during the hearing. He did call witnesses who testified about the safety and educational value at California’s juvenile lockups.


In a survey looking at sexual victimization inside jails, prisons and juvenile facilities released this past summer by the Department of Justice’s Federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center in Dallas, Ga. stood out as the worst in the nation when it came to kids being victimized. One in three kids locked up in the place reported that they’d been sexually victimized by staff or other kids during the previous 12 months.

As the Atlanta Journal Constitution noted in June, four Georgia lockups for juveniles were among the 13 nationwide that had the highest percentage of youth reporting inappropriate sexual contact with detention officers.

Now, it turns out the state of Georgia is closing the worst of the four facilities—a for profit lock-up run by Youth Services International (YSI).

Weirdly, Georgia officials are not closing down RYDC because of the staggeringly high reports of sexual abuse, reports James Swift in a story for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

A Georgia official told Swift:

“The decision to close the Paulding Regional Youth Detention Center was based totally on economics. This decommissioning is a state agency business assessment based on cost savings and changing detention populations.”

In fairness, the state of Georgia quickly launched an investigation into the matter this summer after suspending 20 of its existing juvie justice investigators who had all but ignored 20 open cases of sexual abuse of juveniles in the state’s facilities.

It should also be noted that YSI, the parent company running the abuse-plagued facility, has been the target of criticism and lawsuits in at least three other states where it manages youth detention facilities….


Now about that parent company….

Last week, the Huffington Post took a close and very alarming look at YSI and it’s for-profit Juvie lock-ups—particularly those in Florida, where the company does the bulk of its business—in a deeply reported 2-part series Chris Kirkham.

It is a must read.

Here’s the series’ opening to get you started:

From a glance at his background, one might assume that James F. Slattery would have a difficult time convincing any state in America to entrust him with the supervision of its lawbreaking youth.

Over the past quarter century, Slattery’s for-profit prison enterprises have run afoul of the Justice Department and authorities in New York, Florida, Maryland, Nevada and Texas for alleged offenses ranging from condoning abuse of inmates to plying politicians with undisclosed gifts while seeking to secure state contracts.

The Huffington Post uploaded and annotated the documents — including court transcripts, police reports, audits and inspection records — uncovered during this investigation.
Hover over the highlighted passages to see the source document behind each fact.

[Browse the documents behind this report.]

In 2001, an 18-year-old committed to a Texas boot camp operated by one of Slattery’s previous companies, Correctional Services Corp., came down with pneumonia and pleaded to see a doctor as he struggled to breathe. Guards accused the teen of faking it and forced him to do pushups in his own vomit, according to Texas law enforcement reports. After nine days of medical neglect, he died.

That same year, auditors in Maryland found that staff at one of Slattery’s juvenile facilities coaxed inmates to fight on Saturday mornings as a way to settle disputes from earlier in the week. In recent years, the company has failed to report riots, assaults and claims of sexual abuse at its juvenile prisons in Florida, according to a review of state records and accounts from former employees and inmates.

Despite that history, Slattery’s current company, Youth Services International, has retained and even expanded its contracts to operate juvenile prisons in several states. The company has capitalized on budgetary strains across the country as governments embrace privatization in pursuit of cost savings. Nearly 40 percent of the nation’s juvenile delinquents are today committed to private facilities, according to the most recent federal data from 2011, up from about 33 percent twelve years earlier.

Over the past two decades, more than 40,000 boys and girls in 16 states have gone through one of Slattery’s prisons, boot camps or detention centers, according to a Huffington Post analysis of juvenile facility data.

The private prison industry has long fueled its growth on the proposition that it is a boon to taxpayers, delivering better outcomes at lower costs than state facilities. But significant evidence undermines that argument: the tendency of young people to return to crime once they get out, for example, and long-term contracts that can leave states obligated to fill prison beds. The harsh conditions confronting youth inside YSI’s facilities, moreover, show the serious problems that can arise when government hands over social services to private contractors and essentially walks away.

Those held at YSI facilities across the country have frequently faced beatings, neglect, sexual abuse and unsanitary food over the past two decades, according to a HuffPost investigation that included interviews with 14 former employees and a review of thousands of pages of state audits, lawsuits, local police reports and probes by state and federal agencies.


We often find ourselves reporting on the legal difficulties faced by those who turn out to be wrongly convicted.

But regarding the latest wrinkle in the long-dramatic case of convicted murderer Michael Skakel, the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin writes that the opposite is likely the case.

Here’s a clip:

The extraordinary legal saga of Michael Skakel took its most surprising turn last week. In 2002, Skakel was convicted of murdering his neighbor Martha Moxley, in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1975, when both of them were fifteen years old. After more than a decade of futile appeals, a Connecticut Superior Court judge granted Skakel a new trial on the grounds that his attorney, Michael Sherman, had provided ineffective assistance under the Sixth Amendment.

The hundred-and-thirty-six-page opinion by Judge Thomas A. Bishop is a peculiar document. It is designed to prove that Sherman did an incompetent job, but Bishop seems principally interested in proving that Skakel was in fact not guilty of the murder. Bishop, it seems, wanted to dispense rough justice—that is, to free an innocent man from prison, using whatever legal tools he had at his disposal.

This, in a way, is admirable. Wrongful convictions are individual and societal tragedies, and judges should do whatever they can to reverse them. The question is whether Skakel was wrongfully convicted. I covered the trial and read Bishop’s opinion, and I still think that the jury got this one right—that Michael Skakel killed Moxley.

The murder took place on October 30th, known as “mischief night,” for the local tradition of raucous fun on the eve of Halloween. There were many kids, including Moxley, coming and going on the Skakel property. Moxley was romantically involved with Thomas Skakel, Michael’s seventeen-year-old brother. Michael, too, was interested in Moxley, and the two brothers had a contentious relationship about this and other matters. Moxley never came home on the night of October 30th, and her body was discovered on the lawn of her own house in Greenwich the next day…..

In closing Toobin contends is that Skakel is getting a second chance at a jury trial, not because of compelling evidence that he was poorly defended, or that he was wrongly convicted, but because he has the money and his family the social standing to repeatedly pull whatever possible legal strings there were until something—or someone—finally gave way:

Skakel has had a decade of appeals and finally found a judge who bought his story. Less privileged defendants don’t have those kinds of opportunities. Skakel’s victory is due as much to his many privileges as a defendant as it is to the actual evidence in his case.

These are not comforting words. But, sadly, they have the ring of truth..


We’ve not covered the battle over whether or not Los Angeles Unified School District head guy John Deasy would be forced out. But we are very relieved that the wrong-headed move to push Deasy out has not succeeded. The superintendent is staying until 2016.

The LA Times editorial board weighed in on the matter before Tuesday’s vote to keep Deasy. Here’s a clip from their very sane view:

There are so many dramas and mini-disasters at the Los Angeles Unified School District, they have to take a number and line up for attention. First, a special meeting was called for Tuesday so that the board could set a broad vision from which future policies would flow. Then the board put off the vision thing in favor of a meeting on the more immediate, problem-riddled iPad project. Now it is delaying that discussion to devote the meeting to the topic of Supt. John Deasy, the bold but stubborn school reformer who stunned Los Angeles last week when it was revealed that he is on the verge of quitting the job he has held since 2011.

It’s unclear whether Deasy really intends to resign in frustration or whether, in fact, he expects to be fired at his performance evaluation Tuesday — which would be an astoundingly bad mistake on the part of the board. It’s also possible that he is merely bluffing in order to pressure the board members into toning down their criticism of him.


The board is at a crucial juncture. It must back away from micromanaging, and it must stop empowering those board members whose main goal is to return to those imaginary good old days when little or nothing happened without the approval of United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers union. Those were not, in fact, good days at all for L.A. Unified’s students, too many of whom were reaching high school barely able to read picture books. Given the current crisis, the board’s best move would be to hire an organizational consultant to iron out the friction and help the board understand and carry out its proper role….

Posted in American artists, Child sexual abuse, juvenile justice | No Comments »

Court Rules Police Are Protected As Whistleblowers….. Judge Awards $3 Million to Parents of Zac Champommier….WWED? What Would Elmore Do?….and More Sheriff Challenger Interviews

August 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The decision on Wednesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is very interesting, and also very important.

Here’s the deal: A former Burbank police detective, Angelo Dahlia, said he was suspended after reporting that fellow officers had beaten suspects and then told him to keep his mouth shut about it. After witnessing the abuse, he first reported what he had seen to his direct superior, but was told to “stop his sniveling,” according to the court. Any further attempts were met with the same dismissal.

Next Dahlia went to Burbank PD’s Internal Affairs, and the real retaliating allegedly began.

When Dahlia finally went outside his agency and talked to investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and eventually to the FBI, he was reportedly directly threatened by one of the Burbank PD’s lieutenants who, according to the ruling, warned Dahlia, “Fuck with me and I will put a case on you, and put you in jail.” Plus there were reportedly other unpleasant retaliations.

And then he was put on administrative leave.

So he sued.

A lower court tossed out his lawsuit, contending that Dahlia’s actions did not constitute whistleblower activity, so were not eligible for First Amendment protections because, according to a 2009 ruling, Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, as a law enforcement office, reporting wrongdoing was a part of his job.

The 9th circuit disagreed. They ruled that, the moment Dahlia went outside of the Burbank PD, he should be accorded the same First Amendment protection as a private citizen.

So they reinstated his lawsuit.

This ruling, which may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down Huppert, which had denied cops most whistleblower protection, to set an important new precedent.

“The practical reality,” wrote a court member, “is that quite a few police officers are reluctant to report acts of police abuse committed by their fellow officers. The ‘officer code of silence’ describes the understanding that “an officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer. The public’s trust is diminished when a law enforcement officer abides by the code of silence to cover up misconduct engaged in by fellow officers. To strengthen the public’s confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement officers, it is essential that an officer be encouraged or required to report misconduct committed by fellow officers.”


Scott Michelman, attorney for the advocacy group, Public Citizen, which helped to bring the appeal, credited the decision with helping to ensure transparency when “public officials are engaging in misconduct,” writes Tim Hull, reporting for The Courthouse News Service.

“Courageous police officers like Angelo Dahlia are in many circumstances the public’s best or even only available source of information about police corruption and abuse,” Michelman said in a statement.

Sources tell us that the ruling will come as very good news to the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have filed lawsuits against the department for alleged retaliation when they attempted to blow the whistle on LASD corruption and abuse.


This case goes back to the tragic 2010 shooting of 18-year-old Zachary Champommier that WLA reported on here and here.

Both Frank Stoltze of KPCC and The Associate Press were in court and have reports that will give you the details.

Here are two clips from Stoltze’s story:

In a rare ruling against a federal law enforcement officer, a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday found an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent committed battery when he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of a San Fernando Valley strip mall in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded the parents of Zachary Champommier $3 million dollars in general damages. Champommier had graduated from Granada Hills High School three weeks before his death.


The incident occurred as plainclothes DEA agents and L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies gathered outside a Studio City restaurant after serving a search warrant on a nearby house. The officers were in the process of detaining a man Champommier was coming to meet.

Witnesses said that as Champommier started to drive away, he struck a sheriff’s deputy. Federal attorneys argued that DEA agent Peter LoPresti shot Champommier because he believed he was a threat. The sheriff’s deputy also fired his weapon.

And from the AP:

….They said Champommier drove his mom’s car to the parking lot to meet someone he befriended on a social networking website. The friend went looking for Champommier’s white Corolla and became a suspect when he looked into an agent’s light-colored vehicle, which had seized guns and drugs.

Agents were in the process of arresting the friend when the deputy approached the scene with his gun drawn.

Champommier’s parents claimed the deputy stepped in front of their son’s car and “vaulted” on top of its hood like a Hollywood stuntman.

Fitzgerald wrote that within two seconds of the “low-speed impact” of the collision, DEA agent Peter Taylor LoPresti fired through the driver side of the window from about 2 feet away, killing Champommier.

The judge noted that LoPresti “did not articulate at trial exactly how shooting the driver of a moving vehicle while another officer was on the hood would be helpful to the besieged officer.”

He found that five subsequent shots fired by LoPresti and the deputy “unquestionably lacked justification.”

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office, said the government is considering an appeal.


Among my favorite tales about the gloriously talented and much-beloved crime and mystery writer Elmore Leonard, who died on Tuesday, has to do with the wonderful FX series, Justified, which is based on one of Leonard’s short stories called “Fire In the Hole.” It seems that Justified’s creator, Graham Yost, was so intent on the tone of the show remaining true to Leonard’s unique voice that he gave everyone on the writing and acting staff little blue rubber wristbands printed with WWED? “What Would Elmore Do?”

For aspiring writers—hell, for any writer—those four letters are a far better guide to good work than many graduate school degrees.

A master of the American crime thriller, Leonard’s novels raised crime writing to art.

His partly humorous, part deadly series “10 Rules for Writing,” written in 2001 for the New York Times, are worth noting:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Of the obits I’ve read thus far on Leonard, I recommend this one by mystery novel reviewer, Marilyn Stasio for the New York Times, and this one for The Daily Beast by Malcolm Jones…and this lovely essay about Leonard’s unbeatable sense of voice, by Joan Acocella for the New Yorker.


Now that challengers in the race for sheriff, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince, have been interviewed on KABC, it’s Pat Gomez’s turn.

Pat will be on Larry Elder Thursday at 5:14 pm, and on with Doug McIntyre on Monday at 7:15 am.

We will continue to try to keep you reasonably up-to-date on events related to the race for sheriff. If we miss something please let us know.

PS: For anyone who missed the various Larry Elder interviews, then—like me—noted that the podcasts are vexingly hidden behind a pay wall, for a mere $4.95 you can buy a monthly membership to Elder’s podcast club, and listen to talk from the three previous candidates. (But don’t forget to cancel your membership when the month is up if you don’t want it to auto renew.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, criminal justice, writers and writing | 16 Comments »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend: Be There! (My “Guns in America” Panel Is Sunday)

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend—Saturday and Sunday—on the USC campus. If you’re a book person of any kind, this is the happiest of events—and it’s all free.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, you can see me moderate a panel on Guns in America with three stellar authors: Adam Winkler, who wrote Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, and Paul Barrett who wrote GLock: the Rise of America’s Gun, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Constitutional scholar, and the author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.

These are all very bright people with a lot to say on the topic, and I promise we will have a lively and informative time.

But there’s something for absolutely everyone at this two day event.

There are panels featuring fiction writers, political writers of al leanings, poets, wildly funny book authors, deadly serious noirish mystery writers, graphic novelists…..and so on.

There’s even a panel at 12:30 on Sunday about why you should care about the mayor’s race.

It’s hard to go wrong.

For instance, there are back-to-back panels on Sunday in Mudd hall at 1:30 and 3 pm. One features such persons as my pal Tod Goldberg, plus the wildly talented authors Hector Tober, Laila Lalami, and Nina Revoyr. (Rule of thumb for the LAT FOB, if the panel has Tod Goldberg on it, you should automatically go. It doesn’t matter the topic, just go. Trust me on this. Otherwise it will be the panel you wish you’d seen.)

The other panel is moderated by David Ulin, who—along with Patt Morrison is the absolute best at the whole moderater thingy, and features my pal Tom Bissell, who is one of the smartest people I know and a great prose stylist and he designs video games. With them is D.T. Max, author of the riveting and heartbreaking book about David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and deliciously talented travel writer and essayist, Pico Iyer.

But these are just two of many. Right after our Sunday 10:30 a.m. Guns panel at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Henry Wienstein is moderating a panel called Today’s Dangerous World, that includes terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins (who in his photos has an impressively intense stare), Pulitzer winner, Mark Mazzetti, who writes about the CIA (and not comfortingly), and Jess Bravin, whose book “Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, is not calming either. In short, the panel sounds like it will be terrific!

The schedule is here. And if you happen to attend my Sunday panel, stop by and say hi.

But if you’re a reader at all, go to the festival. Just go.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

The NY Times on CA’s Trust Act, the Fiscal Incentives for ICE Enforcement….the MacDonald Murders… and More

September 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The Trust Act is one of the bills that are sitting on Jerry Brown’s desk awaiting a signature. This weekend the NY Times features an editorial explaining why he should sign it.
Here is how the NYT opinion piece opens:

There is a significant and immediate step Gov. Jerry Brown of California can take to protect community safety and civil liberties in his state.

He can sign the Trust Act, a recently passed state bill that prevents local police departments from turning their jails into immigration holding cells for noncriminals or minor offenders whose sentences are up or who should otherwise be out on bail. The act would require the police to let such people go, even if Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have issued voluntary requests, known as detainers, that they be held until they can be picked up for deportation. Only those who have been convicted of or charged with serious or violent felonies would continue to be detained at ICE’s request.

The purpose of the act is to bring state enforcement in line with federal deportation priorities — which is to focus on dangerous criminals, national-security threats and repeat offenders. It was prompted by a troubled ICE program called Secure Communities, which enlists local authorities in immigration enforcement by doing checks on everyone they fingerprint. The program has led to the deportation of tens of thousands of minor offenders or those with no criminal records. The Trust Act is one state’s way to prevent such overkill.

Most of the state’s sheriffs, LA’s Sheriff Lee Baca most prominently included, oppose the Trust Act saying that it would force them to decide whether to violate State law or federal law.

Baca has gone so far as to say he won’t enforce the thing, even if it is signed by the governor.

Only Santa Clara Sheriff, Laurie Smith, has broken from the pack to announce that she is fine with the Trust Act. In fact she took the same stance that the LAPD has long taken with Special Order 40, maintaining that forcing local police to engage in immigration enforcement to makes immigrants less likely to report the kind of serious crimes that are a genuine threat public safety, simply because they’re fearful of being deported.

And about the claim that the Trust Act, if it is allowed to go into effect, will force local law enforcement to break either federal or state law, according to more than 30 legal scholars, this either-or interpretation of the law’s potential affect is utter nonsense. Here’s the letter the profs from such schools as Berkeley, Stanford, Yale, NYU, Penn State, Davis, Georgetown, UC Irvine, Hastings, Brandeis, and more, sent to the governor on the issue.

The letter is 8-pages of legal language, which you may find interesting, but it’s bottom line may be found in the following two statements:

The Constitution does not allow the federal government to command that local sheriffs enforce a federal regulatory regime. The regulation of immigration is no exception to this rule.

The Immigration and Nationality Act makes clear that local participation in immigration can only take place with the consent of localities.


Interestingly, while most of the state’s sheriffs oppose the Trust Act and embrace Secure Communities or S-Comm, many police chiefs, like San Francisco’s and Oakland’s— are in favor of the Trust Act.

LA’s Charlie Beck has long expressed concern about the potential negative effects of enforcing S-Comm while, as mentioned above, Lee Baca is an ardent S-Comm supporter and says, if the Trust Act is passed, he won’t enforce it.

So what could cause such a difference in perspective between county and city law enforcement agencies?

Perhaps Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff has the key. Sniff, who wrote an letter urging Brown to veto the Trust Act, told David Olson of the Press-Enterprise that the bill would “… jeopardize federal funding to help pay the cost to house illegal immigrants.” Riverside, he said, has received up to $1.8 million annually for S-Comm enforcement. In other words, not locking up as many immigrants would make most or all of those nice dollars vanish.

So maybe the Trust Act isn’t a legal problem for the sheriffs as much as it is a fiscal one.

The governor has until Sept. 30 to jump one way or the other on the bill.


On Tuesday, Sept 4, the third major book on the Jeffery MacDonald murder case is being released. It is called A Wilderness of Error: The Trials of Jeffrey MacDonald, and in it, author Errol Morris, pretty much decides MacDonald is innocent of the murders of his wife and two young daughters, although Morris concedes he cannot prove MacDonald’s innocence to a certaintly.

When I say Morris’s is the third major book, I mean there have been several lessor volumes other than the two well-known examinations of the case, Fatal Vision, the monster best seller by The Selling of the President author, Joe McGinnis, and The Journalist and the Murderer by Janet Malcolm, a book that—love it or hate it—is now a staple in non-fiction literature courses.

The author of the newest book is, of course, the highly regarded writer/director of such stellar documentaries as The Thin Blue Line, which actually exonerated a man after it was released, and The Fog of War, which completely reframed the reputation of Vietnam war architect Robert McNamara while winning Morris an Academy Award.

Sunday’s NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Atlantic and others have features on the new book.

Here’s the opening of the story in the Atlantic:

It was not quite the case of the century, but Americans of a certain age are likely to remember the savage, 1970 murders of Army doctor Jeffrey MacDonald’s wife and daughters and his subsequent convictions on first and second degree homicide. Or, they remember the story of the case popularized by Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and, perhaps, the story of McGinniss and MacDonald, told by Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer.

Now comes documentary filmmaker Errol Morris with his new book A Wilderness of Error, a devastating expose of the incompetence and corruption that enabled MacDonald’s conviction and continues to obstruct his appeals. MacDonald, now 68, has been imprisoned for 30 years, denied parole because he continues to deny his guilt, as his efforts at exoneration continue, decades after conviction. Last April, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new hearing in his case, scheduled in September 2012.

As Morris observes, it’s impossible to know “with absolute certainty” whether MacDonald is guilty or innocent. But evidence of innocence wrongly excluded from his trial, including multiple confessions from other suspects, seems considerably stronger than evidence of guilt, and Morris, a dogged, discerning investigator, makes clear that MacDonald was “railroaded.” Personally, I don’t have a shadow of a doubt that in a fair trial, a relatively unbiased jury would not have found him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt (and I’ve contributed to his defense fund).

What went wrong in this case? The short answer, Morris suggests, is that military police and, eventually, civilian prosecutors assumed a conclusion and selected evidence to support it. “When police arrive at a scene, like any of us, they try to formulate an idea of what happened … they take the seeming chaos of a crime scene and interpret it. Often the explanation is based on convenience. It’s easier to pick one narrative about an explanation than another.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just to be clear, we aren’t taking a side in this. We’re just noting that the case continues to fascinate and frustrate a bunch of smart people, each of whom seems to read a different answer in the facts available.


In Tuesday’s NY Times Adam Liptak takes a look behind the metaphorical curtain to find out what kind of process the Supremes and their respective staffs go through when they deal with requests to stay executions.

This isn’t a news story but rather a peek backstage to look at one small part of the way SCOTUS works and it’s quite intriguing. Here’s a clip:

John Balentine was an hour away from being put to death in Texas last month when the Supreme Court granted him a stay of execution.

The unseemly and unsettling spectacle of a last-minute legal scramble in the shadow of the ultimate deadline, with the condemned inmate waiting for word of his fate just outside the death chamber, may suggest that the Supreme Court does not render considered justice when it is asked to halt an execution.

But it tries. Indeed, the court goes to extraordinary lengths to get ready, and its point person is a staff lawyer named Danny Bickell.

“Cases where there is an execution date,” he said with a sigh, “that’s where I come in.”

Mr. Bickell’s formal title is emergency applications clerk, but capital defense lawyers have an informal title for him, too. They call him the death clerk.

In remarks at a conference of lawyers specializing in federal death penalty work at a hotel here last month, Mr. Bickell provided a rare inside look at the Supreme Court’s oversight of the machinery of death in the United States.

It starts with a weekly update…..

Posted in American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), immigration, LAPD, LASD, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Springsteen at 15,000 Words & Dave Eggers’ Global Parable

July 24th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

THE BOSS @ 15,000

As a respite from the hard news of the day, two stories about artists—one musical, the other literary.

The first story may already be on your radar, which is the fact that, on Monday, the New Yorker posted David Remnick’s novella-length and revelatory profile of Bruce Springsteen. And, on the off chance you don’t want to immediately read the full 15,000 words in the New Yorker, you can read about Remnick’s portrait of The Boss—whom he succeeds in never referring to as “The Boss”—just about everywhere else (like Rolling Stone, New York Magazine, Fuse and the Washington Post, for starters.)

(As a happy Bruce cultist, I read the full 15,000 words Monday morning before coffee, and will likely read it again.)


Dave Eggers is the guy who, when he was 30, published A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, his memoir about raising his kid brother after the death of both of his parents from cancer—a book that was shortlisted for a Pulitzer and was enough of a literary phenom that it made Eggers both famous and relatively rich. If you read the thing, it probably either enchanted you because of Eggers’ obvious, edge-walking talent, or irritated you because of the literary party tricks he employed—or a little of both.

In the dozen years since the publication of HWSG, Eggers has started a book publishing house, two magazines, a string of nonprofit writing and tutorial centers for kids, and has written a pile of books, both nonfiction and fiction, each one seeming to build on the other in terms of strength, grace and relevance.

And the party tricks are long gone.

Eggers latest book, A Hologram for the King, is both bracingly original and weirdly classic, a sort of “Death of a Salesman” for the global economy— and easily the best novel I’ve read thus far in 2012.

Hologram was also the book I’ve read of late that I felt the most mournful about finishing. I wanted to linger a bit longer in the characters’—and Eggers’—company.

That’s why it was so heartening to read the lengthy review of Eggers’ Hologram on the cover of Sunday’s New York Times Book section. Written by travel essayist and novelist, Pico Iyer, it hits every right mark in explaining why the book and the author matter.

Here are some clips from the review’s opening:

Where is our new-millennium Norman Mailer? It’s startling, 50 years on, to look back at the work of Mailer in the 1960s — from “The Presidential Papers” to “The Armies of the Night” — and see such unabashed ambition, such reckless audacity and such a stubborn American readiness to try to save the Republic from itself and bring it back to its original promise. Mailer’s very titles — “Advertisements for Myself,” “An American Dream” — told us he was on a mission, committed to the transformation of country and self, and even as he gave himself over to unremittingly private (and epic) meditations on God, the Devil, cancer and plastics, he was also determined to remake the civic order. He ran for mayor of New York City, he tried his hand at directing movies and in 1955 he helped start an alternative weekly known as The Village Voice. Part of the exhilaration of Mailer was that he cared so ravenously even when he failed; he was shooting for the moon even when he shot himself in the foot.

Dave Eggers comes from a much more sober, humbled, craft-­loving time, and his latest novel is the opposite of a failure: it’s a clear, supremely readable parable of America in the global economy that is haunting, beautifully shaped and sad. But for all the difference between their generations, you can feel in Eggers some of the hunger, the range and the unembarrassedly serious engagement with America and its ideals that gave Mailer’s work such force.


Like Mailer, he’s almost underrated precisely because he’s so ubiquitous and dares us to mock him with his unapologetic ambitions. Yet where Mailer was consciously working in a deeply American grain, with his talk of revolution and transcendence, Eggers speaks for a new America that has to think globally and can’t be sure where the country fits on the planetary screen. And where Mailer was bent on showing us how America could remake the world, Eggers, with ferocious energy and versatility, has been studying how the world is remaking America. Most of our great contemporary examinations of cultural sampling and bipolar belonging come from writers with immigrant backgrounds. It’s invigorating, in that context, to see how Dave Eggers, born in Boston to classic fifth-generation Irish stock (his mother was a McSweeney) and raised in Lake Forest, Ill., has devoted himself to chronicling the shifting melting pot, seeming to tell others’ stories more than his own.

If you’re interested in literature, read the rest of the review. But if you’re just interested in a very, very good book that tells a quirky, dark-ish, funny, spare, discomforting and wildly insightful tale that will stay with you, read A Hologram for the King.

And if you want more Eggers after that, go down the list. (I particularly recommend Zeitoun.)

OKAY, NOW BACK TO OUR REGULARLY SCHEDULED PROGRAMMING.… which you’ll find in Taylor’s post below.

Photo of Springsteen by manu_gt 500, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Dave Eggers by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, literature, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Happy (Day After) Birthday, Woody

July 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 years old on July 14.

Posted in American artists, American voices | 1 Comment »

Chaka Khan’s Juvenile Reentry Program, Four State Parks Are Safe for Now…and More

July 2nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


“Queen of Funk” Chaka Khan recently launched the “No Excuses National Initiative” in an effort to fight juvenile recidivism through community business mentors. The program partners with Avis Ridley-Thomas (wife of LA Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas) whose program “Days of Dialogue” helps youth recently released from detention facilities reenter the work force.

You can read about No Excuses on the NC WFJA radio station website. Here’s a clip:

“In Los Angeles County, more than 60 percent of all incarcerated youth return to custody after their release,” Khan says in a statement. “These kids need our help.”

As part of the No Excuses National Initiative, local business leaders mentor youngsters upon their release from juvenile detention. A handful of businesses have stepped up to provide support, so now young people throughout Los Angeles will have an opportunity to learn basic skills that will help them land jobs and move ahead.


Four CA State parks that were expected to be shut down Sunday have gotten a reprieve, although not likely for long.

LA Times’ Chris Megerian has the story. Here’s a clip:

But the revised plan means four sites expected to close on Sunday — Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach and Zmudowski State Beach — will keep operating for the time being.

“We had the time over the last 24 hours to review operations and were able to determine they could stay open in the very short term, likely a few weeks,” said Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Stapler said lawmakers created some breathing room by appropriating an additional $10 million in the budget signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday.


A Maine law student, illegally stopped by an officer for carrying a firearm, videotaped the incident and quoted his rights until he was told he was free to go.

The Police State Journal has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a remarkable exchange that shows exactly why it pays to know your rights, a law student in Portland, Maine backed down a police officer who had stopped him for no reason other than he was carrying a gun.

After clearly stating that he did not consent to any searches or seizures, the student asked the officer what crime he had been suspected of committing.

The officer stated that he had received calls about a man carrying a gun.

“That is not illegal. Can I have my gun back and be on my way?” the student notes during the incident while filming it on his phone. “In order to stop me you have to suspect me of a crime.” the man notes.

As Maine is a traditional open carry state, it is perfectly legal and acceptable to carry a firearm openly.

Photo courtesy: Dwight McCann/Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, California budget, Civil Rights, environment, juvenile justice, Reentry | 3 Comments »

RIP Nora Ephron….and A Few Words About Breasts

June 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Nora Ephron was a gifted essayist, novelist, and humorist, a wildly talented screenwriter and film director. And she was a brilliant avocational chef, a devoted mother and wife, who also happened once to be famously married to Carl Bernstein and even more famously divorced from him, and she was a glorious wit—among other worthy occupations.

Ephron died Tuesday of pneumonia brought on by acute myeloid leukemia, according to the New York Times.

She was 71.

It is preposterously and painfully soon to lose her talent.

I met Nora Ephron once, only briefly, but I liked her right away. Despite her double, triple, quadruple threat talent (writer, screenwriter, director, etc.), she seem grounded and present. Somebody you’d want as a neighbor. Mostly, of course, like the majority grieving her today, I knew her through her work—her movies, naturally, and her books.

Her books more than anything.

Like many American women who happened to pick up Ephron’s writing at a formative age, I was fascinated and inspired by her gutsy girl voice. Most particularly I loved her early essays—written when she was young, vulnerable, sassy, and impressively fearless. Since I first read them when I was also young and vulnerable without the sass, and wishing very much to be far more fearless—they were fantasically permission-giving.

For those of you who only know Nora Ephron from her screenplays (like Silkwood and When Harry Met Sally) and the films she wrote and directed (like You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, and Julie and Julia) please allow me to introduce you to at least one piece of her prose writing.

And if you’re going to read only one, it should really probably be the 1972 essay Ephron wrote for Esquire Magazine (for which she then penned a regular column).

The essay, which was later reprinted in her 1975 collection, Crazy Salad, is titled: A FEW WORDS ABOUT BREASTS

(I’ve just excerpted the opening, but there are links to the full piece and, trust me, you’d be foolish  to start and not read to her final line, which is:  ”I think they’re full of shit.”  Happy reading.)


by Nora Ephron

I have to begin with a few words about androgyny. In grammar school, in the fifth and sixth grades, we were all tyrannized by a rigid set of rules that supposedly determined whether we were boys or girls. The episode in Huckleberry Finn where Huck is disguised as a girl and gives himself away by the way he threads a needle and catches a ball — that kind of thing. We learned that the way you sit, crossed your legs, held a cigarette and looked at your nails, your wristwatch, the way you did these things instinctively was absolute proof of your sex.. Now obviously most children did not take this literally, but I did. I thought that just one slip, just one incorrect cross of my legs or flick of an imaginary, cigarette ash would turn me from whatever I was into the other thing; that would be all it took, really. Even though I was outwardly a girl and had many of the trappings generally associated with the field of girldom — a girl’s name, for example, and dresses, my own telephone, an autograph book — I spent the years of my adolescence absolutely certain that I might at any point gum it up. I did not feel at all like a girl. I was boyish. I was athletic, ambitious, outspoken, competitive, noisy, rambunctious. I had scabs on my knees and my socks slid into my loafers and I could throw a football. I wanted desperately not to be that way, not to be a mixture of both things but instead just one, a girl, a definite indisputable girl. As soft and as pink as a nursery. And nothing would do that for me, I felt, but breasts.

I was about six months younger than everyone in my class, and so for about six months after it began, for six months after my friends had begun to develop — that was the word we used, develop — I was not particularly worried. I would sit in the bathtub and look down at breasts and know that any day now, in second now, they would start growing like everyone else’s. They didn’t. “I want to buy a bra,” I said to my mother one night. “What for?” she said……

You can find the rest here…..or here.

Or better yet, buy the book. It has aged well. (As did she.)

Photo of Ephron with her husband, writer Nicholas Pileggi, by David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, women's issues, writers and writing | No Comments »

Realignment Dangers, LA Taggers Reach Settlement…and More

June 22nd, 2012 by Taylor Walker


The City Attorney’s office brought suit against 11 members of the LA tagging crew, Metro Transit Assassins, which could have resulted in the taggers paying upwards of four million dollars for multiple acts of vandalism, including a ginormous, 3-story high tag on the LA River walls. Both parties agreed to a deal that eliminates fiscal responsibility, but requires 100 hours of graffiti clean-up per crew member, an adult curfew, and a ban on associating with each other in public–a condition usually reserved for gang members.

(City Attorney Carmen Trutanich has been eager to use legal sanctions like gang injunctions on taggers, a move that, thus far, has largely been blocked by the ACLU among others.)

By the way, one of the more famous of the MTA crew, artist Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear, says he was not present for the creation of the monster tag.

You can peruse Gheorghiu’s online art gallery here.

LA Times’ Richard Winton has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The settlement was announced Wednesday, the resolution of a landmark lawsuit against the taggers that sought to restrict their behavior and force them to pay $1.2 million in penalties and $3.7 million in damages for “500 documented incidents of graffiti vandalism.”

The lawsuit against 11 alleged members of the crew was filed in June 2010 in response to a quarter-mile-long graffiti “bomb” of its acronym along the Los Angeles River.

Initially, city lawyers also sought to prevent the individuals — including artist Cristian Gheorghiu, a.k.a. Smear — from profiting from the sale of any related art.

Attorneys from the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California challenged the proposed injunction on 1st Amendment grounds, but a judge found that the constitution “does not protect destruction of public or private property by graffiti vandalism, trespass and illegal activities.”

Under the deal, defendants are prohibited from associating with other members of the tagging crew in public and possessing graffiti tools. They must also obey an adult curfew, according to Deputy City Atty. Jim McDougal.


As most American states struggle to reduce the giant bite that prisons take out of cash strapped state budgets, all eyes are on California where a Supreme Court-mandated reduction in our prison population has resulted in the massively consequential strategy known as realignment, in which the counties are being handed the oversight of many of the state’s lower level law-breakers—the “non-non-nons, as they have come to be called. (They are those convicted of non-violent, non-serious, non-sexual crimes.) Much of the rationale behind, realignment, is the idea that the county structure is better suited to rehabilitation than the state prison system, which has generally failed miserably (hence, California’s awful recidivism rate).

This week, in a keynote address to the National Institute of Justice’s annual conference in Arlington VA, Stanford law criminologist, Joan Petersilia, perhaps the leading national expert on parole and reentry, talks about the necessity of effective ex-inmate rehabilitation programs if California is to successfully meet the huge challenges and opportunities that our realignment experiment brings.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest has the story on Petersilia’s speech. Here’s a clip:

Even many Californians are not aware that in the last 18 months, the state’s prison population has dropped from 172,000 to 135,000, and the number of parolees has plummeted even more sharply, from 132,000 to 60,000.

While this sounds promising to corrections reformers, Petersilia says it is happening so fast that officials and offenders alike are just beginning to understand the impact.

Many former inmates complain that they have been taken off the parole rolls so quickly that they are losing government benefits that are reserved for parolees. Some are being asked to get back on parole as a result, she says.

In addition, many prosecutors and law enforcement officials oppose aspects of realignment, contending that it will lead to rising crime rates.

One big problem is that government agencies are not pouring sufficient funding into ex-inmate rehabilitation.

Petersilia’s Stanford Criminal Justice Center, which is receiving a federal grant to evaluate the California prisoner realignment program of Gov. Jerry Brown, is building a database of how the state’s 58 counties are spending the $2 billion they are getting from the state to perform corrections-sytem functions that the state formerly did.

So far, only 10 percent of that money is going to treatment programs, with the bulk going to sheriff’s office, local jails, probations staff, and court services. That bodes ill for keeping ex-inmates from returning to crime, Petersilia says.

“We can’t just sit and watch this go off the train track,” she told fellow researchers at the NIJ conference.


America extensively compiles data for sports, the health care, schools, and many more industries, but there is a large gap in data collection and analysis between the different branches of the criminal justice system. Collecting, processing, and studying that data would provide a substantial sketch of the parts of the system that work–and those that don’t work–and might create more direct routes to a better justice system, eliminating some of the guesswork and trial and error in corrections reform.

The Atlantic’s Anne Milgram has the story. Here’s a clip:

One area in which the potential of data analysis is still not adequately realized, however, is criminal justice. This is somewhat surprising given the success of CompStat, a law enforcement management tool that uses data to figure out how police resources can be used to reduce crime and hold law enforcement officials accountable for results. CompStat is widely credited with contributing to New York City’s dramatic reduction in serious crime over the past two decades. Yet data-driven decision-making has not expanded to the whole of the criminal justice system.

But it could. And, in this respect, the front end of the system — the part of the process that runs from arrest through sentencing — is particularly important. At this stage, police, prosecutors, defenders, and courts make key choices about how to deal with offenders — choices that, taken together, have an enormous impact on crime. Yet most jurisdictions do not collect or analyze the data necessary to know whether these decisions are being made in a way that accomplishes the most important goals of the criminal justice system: increased public safety, decreased recidivism, reduced cost, and the fair, efficient administration of justice.

Even in jurisdictions where good data exists, a lack of technology is often an obstacle to using it effectively. Police, jails, courts, district attorneys, and public defenders each keep separate information systems, the data from which is almost never pulled together and analyzed in a way that could answer the questions that matter most: Who is in our criminal justice system? What crimes have been charged? What risks do individual offenders pose? And which option would best protect the public and make the best use of our limited resources?

Posted in ACLU, American artists, crime and punishment, Realignment, Reentry | 1 Comment »

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