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Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

LA County Board of Supes to Vote on Laura’s Law… as Sheriff Candidate McDonnell Commits Strong Support for Mental Health Diversion

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.

First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.

Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.

In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.

Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.

Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.

However, a similar law enacted in New York in 1999, called Kendra’s law, featured few of the feared problems and showed a range of improved outcomes for the mentally ill involved.

Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.

Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”

Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.

Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.

“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.

McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)

As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.

“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.

We think so too.

All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.


PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”

As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.

Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 19 Comments »

LA’s Use of “Split Sentencing” Gets Worse (Can DA Jackie Lacey Help?)…..When CA Kids are “Double Charged” ….Pilot of Drug Smuggling Boat Sentenced for Coast Guard Murder

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TUESDAY’S AB 109 REPORT SHOWS LA’S USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ board meeting, Probation Chief Jerry Powers will present a report about what is going on with the various AB 109 offenders who have been passed to LA County for oversight rather than the state since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

The report is dry, extremely detailed and statistic heavy (you can find it here if you’d like to peruse). However, amid the welter of figures a few numbers do jump out, namely the stats showing the progress that LA County is making when it comes to beefing up its use of “split sentencing,” an approach that justice advocates, Governor Jerry Brown and the top brass at probation—among others—would like to see expanded.

And what kind of progress are we making? Um, none. Zero. Zip. As a matter of fact, rather than progressing, LA seems to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, split sentencing is a sentencing strategy that has been adopted to greater and lesser degrees by California’s counties as part of California’s AB 109 public safety realignment system. With a split sentence, the court can divide a low-level felon’s time to be spent half behind bars, with the other half (or more) spent out of jail but under the supervision of county probation. The idea is that most offenders do better when they receive some kind of help and oversight when they get out of jail or prison rather than just getting dumped on the street with no further follow-up.

Moreover, split sentencing has the pleasant collateral effect of lowering the jail population.

Riverside county has over 60 percent of its AB 109ers serving split sentences.

In constrast, LA County was using the strategy only around 5 percent of the time in year one and two of realignment.

Looking at the first five months of year three, that percentage has dropped to closer to 2 percent—or 109 split sentences out of 5151 sentences handed down in that period.

(See line 2 of the “Custody” table on p. 14 of the report.)


CAN JACKIE LACEY HELP? (PLEASE!)

Thus far it has reportedly been prosecutors, public defenders and judges who mostly stand in the way of split sentencing.

With that in mind, perhaps this is another issue in which DA Jackie Lacey can take a strong part, as she has with her recent—and much welcomed— leadership in diversion for the mentally ill and other forms of alternative sentencing she has begun championing.

As the members of the board of supervisors listen to Tuesday’s realignment report, perhaps they could bring up such a possibility.

Can’t hurt.

PS: For a good rundown on split sentencing in general see last summer’s story by KPCC’s Rina Palta.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…. “DOUBLE CHARGING” FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA’S COUNTIES

In most California counties now, when a kid is arrested, the meter starts ticking for the boy or girl’s parent or guardian. This means that, in addition to whatever stress occurs when one’s child breaks the law and is sentenced to juvenile hall, probation camp or some other form of placement, there are the mounting bills.

Myles Bess of Youth Radio has a well-reported story for Marketplace about this double charging and the impact those charges have on families.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you’re arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000.

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states.

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen.

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.

NOTE: In 2009, the LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske did some excellent reporting on the aggressive billing going on in LA County for the parents and guardians of incarcerated kids.


DRUG SMUGGLING PANGA BOAT PILOT GETS LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDER OF COAST GUARD OFFICER TERRELL HORNE

The Mexican national who was found guilty of second degree murder in the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was sentenced to life in a federal prison without parole on Monday, reports the office of U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. A second man was given ten years in federal prison for his part in Horne’s death.

Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified a second suspicious vessel nearby, a 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

After spotting the panga themselves, Coast Guard officers launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. As the four in the small boat approached the 2nd suspicious boat, the four officers activated their own boat’s police lights and ID’d themselves as law enforcement. The pilot of the panga boat reacted by throttling his engines and steering the panga boat directly toward the small Coast Guard inflatable.

Despite the coast guard officers’ frantic efforts to avoid a collision, the pilot of the panga boat deliberately rammed into the smaller boat, ejecting Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. However, just before the boat was about to be
rammed, rather than dodge, Horne reached forward—toward the point of impact—pushed his coxswain to safety.

Once in the water, Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and died of the injury.

The 34-year-old Horne was an extremely well-liked father of two with a baby on the way and, along with his devastated family, Horne’s colleagues reacted with heartbreak. He was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927.

U.S. Attorney Birotte told LA Times columnist Patt Morrison that the day Terrell Horne was killed was one of his two worst days on the job. (The other worst day was in 2013 when a man walked into LAX and opened fire killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez.)

Birotte said he keeps a note from Rachel Horne (Horne’s wife) on his desk “to remind me what this job is about.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation | No Comments »

LA Sheriff’s Debaters Finally Start to Draw Blood…. & More

April 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


If we are to judge by the last two debates featuring the men who hope to become the next LA County sheriff,
there is not a whole lot of difference between the candidates when it comes to…..well…just about anything.

They are all for a civilian oversight body to monitor the department, even if they differ on what legal powers that body should have. (And Pat Gomez would eliminate the newly-created but power-lite position of Inspector General altogether.) They think term limits for the office of sheriff would be swell. (They’d go for three terms.) They adore community policing. No, they don’t want to do ICE’s job for it. They’re longing for accountability, transparency, and to restore the public trust. They believe in educating people when they’re in jail. They would all rehire Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, the Baca hire from the CDCR who is presently overseeing the department’s custody division.

And so on.

For a while, at the Tuesday night debate hosted by Loyola Marymount University, it was more of the same, despite the very capable efforts of the debate moderator, LMU prof Fernando Guerra.

Yes, some of the candidates brought up variations on the theme that showed they’d thought deeply on this or that topic, and were not merely a Johnny Come Lately.

There was also a little bit personal sniping. For instance, as it did on Sunday, the matter of who might or might not have ankle tattoos came up briefly. And Jim Hellmold attempted to set himself apart from the pack by repeatedly noting that he was the youngest of the candidates and implying that everyone else was…well…old.

Bob Olmsted had a bracing moment when the panel members were asked if there were deputy cliques or gangs within the organization.

“Absolutely we’ve got cliques,” he said, “and I’ve got some pictures.” With that Olmsted whipped out a couple of photos for the cameras filming the event, one showing a young Tanaka throwing a “C” for Carson sign while posed with a bunch of other then young department members. The second a photo of a drawing of a skull backed by a so called deadman’s hand, which is reportedly the tattoo design sported by members of one of the newer deputy gangs, the Jump Out Boyz.

But, mostly the sheriff hopefuls gave the impression that, when it came to the broad strokes of policy, there was more accord than difference.

Finally Guerra managed to break through the wall of sameness when he asked all six of the candidates to name what they saw as the number one scandal of all the department’s many problems.

(Only six were present as Lou Vince was absent)

Even then, for a minute it looked as though the group would homogenize this question too, when four in a row named the prime scandal as inmate abuse in the jails—although some gave edgier answers than others. (Tanaka and Hellmold both were reluctant to admit to any real corruption in the organization.)

Jim McDonnell said it was hard to choose, that there were so many scandals, and he talked of “the abuse of authority that’s been sanctioned up to the highest levels of the organization…”

Bob Olmsted too named abuse in the jails, but then he went further and said that the worst part of the whole thing was that the department hid what it was doing when the FBI began investigating, which resulted in indictments. “Three of the four supervisors out of the 20 who were indicted were from our criminal investigative unit. They were the ones who were supposed to be investigating, but they needed to be investigated and we were indicted.”

But it was Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers who finally drew his metaphorical stiletto and began slashing.

“Well,” he said drolly without so much as a telltale glance at his neighbor, who happened to be Paul Tanaka, “I think smuggling bullet proof vests to Cambodia was a pretty big deal.”

Then barely pausing for breath he continued. “But in terms of the single most defining moment of corruption and mismanagement, I’m going to have to go with the Anthony Brown case where at the highest level of our organization ordered deputies sergeants and lieutenants to hide an informant from the FBI, to pretend that he was released from our custody…. And to change his name and move him from facility to facility to the FBI couldn’t find him. I think it’s reprehensible that we have deputies, sergeants and lieutenants who were following orders from the highest levels of the organization…

“I’m told that the previous occupant of my office was giving the direction to hide this inmate from the FBI.
Those people [who were ordered to do the hiding] are indicted for federal crimes and they’re facing trial starting this May. And those people who gave them the orders, who gave them the directions… are walking around free.

“That to me is the defining moment of corruption and mismanagement of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Boo-yaa!

And while we’re on the topic of dutiful order-followers in a paramilitary organization facing having their lives wrecked, not to mention real prison time, while those who actually gave the orders are thus far facing exactly zero consequences….oh, FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, are you listening…? You do plan to go higher with your indictments, right? Right????


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF LAW ENFORCEMENT, THERE’S THE MATTER OF 80 OF THE LAPD’S SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS BEING DISMANTLED AND THE FAILURE OF DEPARTMENT BRASS TO INVESTIGATE

This is not a heartening story.

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the rest of the details. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews.

An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other top officials learned of the problem last summer but chose not to investigate which officers were responsible. Rather, the officials issued warnings against continued meddling and put checks in place to account for antennas at the start and end of each patrol shift.

Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers’ attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light.


ONE TIME BACA’S BIGTIME HOLLYWOOD PAL, BRIEFLY TURNED TANAKA PAL, IS NOW SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD’S VERY, VERY HELPFUL PAL

The New York Post has the story. (And why aren’t local LA outlets reporting on this? Just curious.)

Here’s a clip:

Hollywood producer and financier Ryan Kavanaugh is pushing to make some changes to LA law enforcement after ruffling the feathers of former LA Sheriff Lee Baca.

The Relativity CEO was accused last year of improperly landing a helicopter on a Sheriff’s Department helipad while visiting Paul Tanaka — a former undersheriff who was planning to run for Baca’s office, and whom Kavanaugh was assumed to be backing. (The LA district attorney dropped any criminal investigation over the chopper flap.)

But last week, Kavanaugh instead threw a fund-raiser for rival LA County Sheriff candidate James Hellmold. The event was hosted at Kavanaugh’s hanger at the Santa Monica airport, where guests including Ron Burkle and Leonardo DiCaprio chatted with Hellmold and his wife.

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 49 Comments »

Proposal to Keep Kilpatrick Sports Program Alive…..Judge Nash Plans New Order to Open Family Courts to Media…Does the LASD IG Need Greater Independence?….& More

March 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NEXT CHAPTER ON THE ONGOING CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM STORY


According to a motion sponsored at last Tuesday’s board meeting
by Supervisor Don Knabe, Probation Chief Jerry Powers was going to deliver a report on Tuesday of this week detailing exactly where and how he thought he could relocate the popular sports program that is right now in residence at Camp Kilpatrick.

Kilpatrick is the aging LA County juvenile probation facility that will be shuttered and torn down starting at the end of this month in order to make way for a brand new rehabilitation-centric juvenile probation camp that it is intended to be a model for future camps that help kids rather than simply punish them.

However, as much as California juvenile advocates are in favor of the new Kilpatrick project, the many fans of the sports program don’t want to lose one good thing, in order to get another.

(For the back story on the Kilpatrick sports issue, see our post of last week.)

It was everyone’s assumption that Powers’ report would be presented publicly at Tuesday’s meeting. But a few days ago, that plan changed and Powers said he would simply deliver his report to the supervisors on Tuesday, without a public presentation.

The report in question was finally delivered to all the Supes Wednesday, and we have obtained a copy.

There’s lots of good news in what Powers has proposed, like the fact that Powers has set a firm timeline for the sports program reopening for the fall season. However, some of the details may produce complications—particularly the fact that the proposed location for the sports program is Challenger Memorial Youth Camp in the Lancaster area, more than an hour away from where Kilpatrick is now located in Malibu.

Yet, the proposal also describes the advantages that Camp Challenger has to offer, like two gymnasiums, multiple areas for practice fields, and others. It also helps that moving the sports program there will not displace any existing programs.

But it’s complicated.

Hopefully, all parties can come together in good faith to work out any rough spots so that the sports program can resume for the Fall 2014 season with even more support than it has had in the past—which is what Powers has made clear he wants.

We also hope that this new plan will continue to support the work of the extraordinarily dedicated Kilpatrick coaches who continue to give so much of themselves to the kids who have been under their care.

We’ll keep you up to date as this story unfolds further.

Here’s a copy of Wednesday’s report. Garfield sports proposal


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH’S EXCELLENT & LEGALLY TWEAKED PLAN TO RE OPEN CHILD CUSTODY COURTS TO THE PRESS

If you’ll remember, at the beginning of this month, in a 2-1 decision a California appeals court closed off press access to LA’s Juvenile Dependency hearings—aka where foster care cases are decided—in all but a few instances.

The ruling came more than two years after Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued a blanket order opening the long-shuttered court system to the press, on January 31, 2012.

Undeterred, Judge Nash will soon issue a new order complying with the appellate court decision and laying out a new procedure for journalists and members of the public seeking access to dependency hearings.

Journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel has more on the story in the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip:

Today, Presiding Judge Michael Nash continued his campaign to encourage media access to Los Angeles County’s historically closed juvenile dependency court, after a California appeals court had invalidated a similar, earlier order only this month.

While Nash had called the changes a “a distinction without a difference,” in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change last week, it appears that his new order will thread the needle on this highly contentious issue: by offering the press a way in, but forcing reporters to be conscious of the potential harm their coverage could cause to vulnerable children.

Nash sent a revision of his controversial 2012 order easing press access to a clutch of judges, journalists, child advocates and other stakeholders for comment. They have until April 14th, after which Nash intends on issuing a new order that will once again allow press into the courts.

Read the draft order HERE:

A key reason why two out of three judges in California’s Second Appellate District ruled against the 2012 order was because they believed it stripped individual judges and court referees of discretion in excluding the press from sensitive hearings involving child victims of maltreatment.

Nash’s rewritten order fixes all that.


DOES THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL HAVE THE NECESSARY POWER AND INDEPENDENCE?

The LA Times Editorial Board thinks new IG Max Huntsman needs more independence if he is to be effective. Here’s a clip from the editorial:

It was no surprise last week when Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended against renewing contracts with two agencies monitoring the Sheriff’s Department. The same citizens commission that called for the creation of Huntsman’s office also suggested that it absorb the functions of those other agencies, one of them established 22 years ago to report on excessive force and lax discipline, the other created nine years later to monitor the sheriff’s handling of deputy misconduct allegations.

One lesson arising from the commission’s hearings was that the county’s existing oversight and reporting agencies were insufficient to end a pattern of abuse in the jails; the implication was that a differently constructed and empowered office would be better suited to the task.

That lesson and that implication could stand some scrutiny. Without it, the county could find itself with new titles and offices but the same problems it failed to solve a decade ago and a decade before that.

Just why, for example, were the special counsel and the Office of Independent Review inadequate? The citizens commission noted that both did their investigations and reports but both met with a “lack of meaningful or timely action” by the Sheriff’s Department. And why did the department not respond? Because it didn’t have to. Criticism and critiques were filed by both monitors with the Board of Supervisors, which too often failed to use the political power at its disposal to develop sufficient public pressure to get the sheriff to act.

Read on.


A COOK COUNTY, ILL, JUDGE SENTENCED A KID TO DIE IN PRISON IN 1988 AND HATED THAT THE LAW MADE HIM DO IT

The Chicago Tribune’s Duaa Eldeib and Steve Mills report about how judges are glad that the US Supreme Court ordered an end to mandatory life for kids. Now various state courts are stepping in to put the Supremes ruling into motion.

Here’s a clip:

The Cook County judge made it quite clear he did not want to sentence Gerald Rice to life in prison without possibility of parole.

At the sentencing hearing in 1988, Judge Richard Neville noted that Rice was mildly mentally disabled and that evidence showed the 16-year-old had been coaxed by an older man into throwing a Molotov cocktail into a West Side house on a summer night two years earlier, killing a woman and three children. The co-defendant was acquitted.

Neville criticized state legislators for tying his hands and making a life sentence mandatory. Doing so, he said, stripped him of his discretion. He could not weigh Rice’s age, maturity level, lack of a criminal record or his role in the murders. Urging Rice’s attorney to appeal, the judge said he hoped that such mandatory sentences would be outlawed someday.

“I think it is outrageous that I cannot take that into consideration in determining what an appropriate sentence is for Mr. Rice,” a transcript quoted Neville as saying about Rice’s fate compared with his co-defendant’s. “It is with total reluctance that I enter the sentence, and it is only because I believe I have no authority to do anything else that I enter this sentence.”

Nearly a quarter-century later, the U.S. Supreme Court fulfilled the judge’s hopes, ruling that mandatory life sentences violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. Last week the state’s highest court weighed in, ruling that inmates in Illinois who received mandatory life sentences for murders that they committed as juveniles should receive new sentencing hearings.

“It’s a judge’s job and usually they’re the best qualified to decide what kind of sentence is appropriate,” Neville said last week. “I’ve got the most information and the best view of what happened and of the defendant’s background.”

Neville retired from the bench in 1999 and now is a mediator.

The ruling by the Illinois Supreme Court on Thursday affects about 100 inmates who were under 18 at the time of their offenses, according to state prison officials. The youngest four were 14, while about half were 17. The vast majority were sentenced in Cook County. Most were convicted of more than one murder.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Probation, Supreme Court | 2 Comments »

Kilpatrick Imperiled Sports Program Should be Saved, Says Chief Powers & LA County Supes Agree—& the Research Agrees Too

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


For nearly two years, the fate of LA County Probation’s
much-lauded Kilpatrick sports program for incarcerated kids looked very grim.

The last few months, in particular, have been filled with dire rumors about about the program’s imminent demise.

On Tuesday, however, the athletic program’s fortunes suddenly reversed when Probation Chief Jerry Powers told the LA County Board of Supervisors that the program will not be shut down after all. There are some problems to be solved, Powers said, but he sounded definitive on the main question.

“The bottom line,’ he said, “We will continue the sports program.”

With that, the program’s coaches, who were sitting in nervous clusters at the back of the supervisors’ hearing room, breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

The sports program in question, which became the basis for the 2006 film, The Gridiron Gang, began in 1986, with a single 12- player basketball team. Now it fields teams in football, basketball, baseball, soccer and track and is the only program in the state of California in which incarcerated kids play against teams from public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation or CIF.

The program is housed at Camp Vernon Kilpatrick, a dilapidated all boys facility built in 1962 in the hills above Malibu, which is slated for tear down this month.

Camp Kilpatrick is being bulldozed in order to replace its prison-esque barracks with smaller, homier cabins, family-style dining areas and other rehabilitation-friendly architecture. The inner workings of the place will be rebooted as well. The new Kilpatrick will emphasize mental and emotional health, the acquisition of skills, healing from childhood trauma, relationship-building, and the like. Gone will be the ineffective and damaging command and control methods that have too long held sway in LA’s juvenile facilities.

Kilpatrick’s transformation (which we are following closely) is a vitally important project that has the possibility of fundamentally changing the way Los Angeles treats its lawbreaking kids.

But, up until Tuesday, it looked like the camp’s sports program—which, for many years had been one of the rare bright lights in LA County’s huge and troubled juvenile justice system—might go from source-of-pride to road kill—mainly because nobody seemed to know quite what else to do with it.

Advocates of the program weren’t willing to give up so easily. A mother whose kids attended Viewpoint private school, and whose son had played against the Kilpatrick kids, started a petition to save the camp. It quickly amassed more than 1000 signatures, with the number still rising.

Kilpatrick’s coaches began talking to anybody who would listen. The kids couldn’t lose this program, they said. They just couldn’t.


“EVIDENCE BASED”

Back in the summer of 2012 when the matter first came to the attention of the supervisors, one of the strikes against the athletics program despite its popularity, was the claim that it wasn’t “evidence based”—meaning that there was no study that proved positively that kids in a carcel setting would measurably benefit from playing team sports.

Nevermind that the Kilpatrick coaches could trot out mounds of anecdotal evidence of how this or that kid’s life was changed or saved, or how the coaches helped various players get into college. Moreover, there was plenty of related research, like this 2012 study done at the University of Michigan, that showed “when high schools have strong interscholastic sports participation rates, they report lower levels of crime or violence and fewer suspensions.”

With the idea of possibly remedying the “evidence-based” issue, the board ordered up a year-long study of its own to find out whether the sports program did, in fact, help kids.

After nearly two years, the study will become public toward the end of next week, Powers said. In the meantime, he gave the highlights:

When compared to the 121 probation kids who were used as a control group, when it came to discipline, the sports kids were better behaved than the control kids, he said. They performed equally well educationally and, in many cases, improved their school attendance once they got out of camp. The sports kids were more likely than the control kids to earn early release from camp.

The area that Powers said needed to be “tweaked,” had to do with this: For the first six months after they were released from camp, the control group kids and the sports kids did equally well. However, during the second six months after release, 15 percent more of the sports group reoffended, than the non sport kids.

“So we’ve got to work to find out why that recidivism rate changes after six months,” Powers said.

(The actual details of all these numbers will be found in the study, when it is released.)

The bump in the statistical road didn’t seem to dampen Powers’ newly ignited enthusiasm for rescuing the program.

“When we improve those long term outcomes, why just have [the sports program] with 40 kids, why not spread this to other camps. Why not have a program for the girls?”

Zev Yaroslavsky agreed. “If it’s good for 40 it’s probably good for 400.”

I’ll tell you one thing,” Powers said, “the kids who go through the program rave about their coaches. They rave about the connections they’re able to make with those coaches. They see them as mentors. I would love to see the staff in all my facilities related to these kids, bond with the kids in that way….”

And so it was that Supervisor Don Knabe, long a Kilpatrick sports supporter, put forth a motion to “instruct” Powers to “report back in one week as to the feasibility of retaining the sports program as is at Camp Miller”—which P.S. is right next door to Kilpatrick—”or another location” until such time as a study is completed.

Progress.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, children and adolescents, Probation | No Comments »

Board of Supervisors to Hear Arguments at Meeting About Closing Famous Youth Sports Program

March 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will hear recommendations from Probation Chief Jerry Powers
about whether he thinks the county should shut down the unique youth sports program housed at Camp Kilpatrick, one of LA County’s 14 juvenile probation facilities—or save the program by moving it to another location.

Located in the rural hills above Malibu, Camp Kilpatrick is the county’s oldest camp, and its most run down. So when Probation (with the approval of the LA County Board of Supervisors) began to develop ambitious plans to completely rethink and rebuild one of its juvenile facilitates, the half-century-old Camp Kilpatrick was an obvious choice.

The idea is to transform the aging Malibu facility from its present dilapidated prison barracks-like atmosphere into a cluster of homey cottages, which will house therapeutic programs that borrow from the famed “Missouri Model”—developed by the State of Missouri, and hailed as the most widely respected juvenile justice system for rehabilitating kids in residential facilities.

Unfortunately, the camp’s sports program didn’t really fit into the planned therapeutic model, So it was headed for trash heap until fans of the program along with the press—WLA included—began complaining that in dumping the highly-regarded sports program administrators were making a dreadful mistake, throwing the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.

As a compromise of sorts, the supes commissioned an evaluative study to find out if the program was measurably successful in helping kids stay out of trouble after they left the facility, the results of which are expected to be introduced Tuesday, along with Powers’ recommendations.

We’ll have more on the story after the meeting (where emotions are expected to run high).

NOTE: Although there is no study that looks specifically at the affect of sports on kids during and after incarceration, a 2012 University of Michigan study sampled nearly 1,200 public high schools to determine the relationship between school sports participation rates and in-school “delinquent behaviors.” The U of Michigan researchers found that “schools with higher sport participation rates had lower serious crime rates and suspensions while controlling for a host of school characteristics, such as location and student-teacher ratio.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, juvenile justice, Probation | No Comments »

OC Supervisors Block Plan to Release and Monitor Low-Risk Felons…Officers Who Shot at Women in Dorner Hunt to Return to Work…California Judges May Be Prohibited from Boy Scout Affiliation

February 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

ORANGE COUNTY SUPES REJECT SHERIFF’S PLAN TO ELECTRONICALLY MONITOR SOME LOW-LEVEL FELONS

The Orange County Board of Supervisors shot down Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ plan to open up the county’s successful electronic monitoring system—which is already being used to monitor those serving time for misdemeanors—to include some inmates serving time for low-risk, non-violent felonies. By releasing certain low-level felons, Hutchens intended to prevent overcrowding in the OC jail system.

The LA Times’ Jill Cowan has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I understand they need to find an alternative to incarceration, and I appreciate the sheriff’s efforts,” Supervisor Janet Nguyen said Tuesday. “But I’m still uncomfortable allowing felons to be out on the street.”

The move came as the county, like many jurisdictions across the state, grapples with a ballooning jail population and scant resources to house inmates.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said her department has struggled to accommodate an influx of inmates from a variety of sources…

Hutchens said there are about 900 more inmates in Orange County’s system as a result of the realignment.

[SNIP]

This week, Hutchens said those home-monitoring programs have been successful, adding that inmates who are being monitored electronically are still technically in custody.

Assistant Sheriff Lee Trujillo told the board Tuesday that the only inmates who would have been eligible for electronic monitoring are “low-risk” felons — those who are nonviolent, with limited criminal records and just days remaining on their sentences.

(Our new LA Sheriff John Scott is on loan from the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., and will be returning to his position as OC’s Undersheriff when our permanent LASD leader is elected.)


OFFICERS WHO MISTAKENLY SHOT AT TWO WOMEN DURING DORNER MANHUNT WILL RETURN TO THEIR JOBS

The eight officers who fired over 100 rounds at two women in a pickup truck during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last February will return to the field after they receive additional training, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Both the civilian police commission and Chief Beck found that the shooting (which injured both women) violated department policy, but no disciplinary action will be taken against the officers involved.

The commission also found the department to be at fault in the incident. President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Tyler Izen, says the officers were “placed into a highly unreasonable and unusually difficult position.”

AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs in the same capacity they had been assigned,” Beck said in a department message to officers obtained Wednesday night by The Associated Press. “In the end, we as an organization can learn from this incident and from the individuals involved.”

Both the chief and an independent commission found the 2013 shooting that injured two women violated department policy. The seven officers and one sergeant could have faced penalties including being fired.

Other discipline not outlined in the chief’s message could be handed down, police Lt. Andrew Neiman said, but department policy prevents him from discussing it.

Attorney Glen Jonas, who represented the two women who won a $4.2 million settlement from the city, said he was concerned by the chief’s decision not to terminate any of the eight officers.

“If either of the women had been killed, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody would be fired and maybe prosecuted,” Jonas said. “A stroke of luck, firing more than 100 rounds and missing, should not mean the discipline is lighter.”


CALIFORNIA MAY BAN JUDGES FROM BELONGING TO BOY SCOUTS DUE TO DISCRIMINATION AGAINST GAYS

The California Supreme Court’s ethics committee unanimously recommended the court forbid judges from affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, based upon the Boy Scouts’ ban on LGBT leaders. California prohibits judges from being a part of organizations with discriminatory policies, but make an exception for non-profits like the Boy Scouts. The committee will take public comments on the issue until April 15. If the state Supreme Court decide’s to approve the ban, it will go into effect on August 1.

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

If the court agrees, California will join 21 other states whose judicial ethics codes have antidiscrimination provisions that forbid judges from affiliating with the Boy Scouts.

Banning scout membership would “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the ethics committee said Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The panel noted that 22 states, including California, prohibit judges from belonging to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but only California exempts “nonprofit youth organizations” from that prohibition. The state’s high court, which sets judicial ethics standards, adopted that exemption in 1996 to accommodate judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

“Selecting one organization for special treatment is of special concern, especially in light of changes in the law in California and elsewhere prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the committee said.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Orange County, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Sheriff Lee Baca Retires: “I Will Go Out on My Terms” More Candidates Consider Running…& Indictments Loom

January 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


It was a strangely melancholy, almost Shakespearean scene on Tuesday morning
at the Monterey Park headquarters of the LA County Sheriff’s Department where, at just after 10 am, Sheriff Lee Baca emerged and announced to a large crowd of journalists and others that he was leaving the department he had served for 48 years, and led for fifteen. His exit would be effective at the end of January.

[KPCC has most of the audio of Baca's statement and the Q & A that followed here.)

“I was elected to four terms. And I will go out on my own terms,” the 71 year old sheriff said looking fit and also fragile.

At several points in his prepared statement, the sheriff teetered on the precipice of tears.

“All the people in this county count, he said, his voice thickening. “Everybody.”

Baca said he was retiring for many reasons, But “the prevailing one,” he said, “is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the sheriff’s department.

“This is all about doing what is right for the people of Los Angeles County.”

Since the meaning of this statement was somewhat…unclear…a reporter asked Baca why he couldn’t just announce that he wasn’t running for a new term, but still finish out his existing elected term.

He thought of it, he said, “But I know the intensity of politics…”

Anoather reporter asked Baca if his resignation had anything to do with worry about federal indictments. He answered opaquely.

“I’m not afraid of reality,” he said. “I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth.”

Hmmmmmm.

Along with the crowd of journalists recording the moment, there was also a second crowd of department members. The mood among the latter was, oddly, one of relief—as if after months of tension the storm had broken. The rain had come. There was no more wondering what would occur. Now it had happened.

Even Baca looked like a weight had been lifted.


After delivering his own news, the sheriff endorsed Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald— formerly of the California Department of Corrections, who is now in charge of the department’s custody division— as his choice for interim sheriff. (The LA County Board of Supervisors has the ultimate say about who will be chosen as interim sheriff.)

Baca also endorsed two of his assistant sheriffs as candidates for the office of sheriff, Todd Rogers and Jim Hellmold.

I spoke to Rogers after Baca’s press conference concluded. When I asked him if he planned to declare his candidacy on Tuesday, at first said he wasn’t officially declaring on this day, but another minute or two into the conversation, he changed his mind and went ahead and jumped into the race for real. He then talked about a “catastrophic failure of leadership” in the department and how Baca had trusted the wrong people, particularly Paul Tanaka. By this time, some TV reporters had drifted over, and Rogers repeated everything for the television cameras.

I had a similar conversation with Jim Hellmold, who was in his sheriff’s department uniform so couldn’t really legally talk politics. But he said he was strongly considering running, but hadn’t decided yet.

Both Hellmold and Rogers seemed very interested in whether Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell was going to jump into the race. (He has said he is now strongly considering the option. More on McDonnell later in the week.)

After the official event was over, as reporters and department members stood around talking, there was much speculation about why Baca had chosen so unexpectedly to call an end to his time in office. Most agreed it had something to do with the federal investigations, but no one seemed to know for sure.


OTHER CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF SPEAK OUT

Candidates for Sheriff Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince all issued statements in response to the Lee Baca’s announcement.

Olmsted (who reportedly has raised $250,000 in campaign donations thus far) wrote this:

“They said he couldn’t be beaten. They called him the Teflon Sheriff. But no man is above the law. Plagued with an active FBI investigation and a host of scandals, Lee Baca announced his resignation today.

He can run from the job, but he can’t hide from the culture of corruption he oversaw. It’s like cleaning up after a hurricane. The storm is gone, but the damage remains. It’s time to clean house, implement major reforms and restore honesty and integrity to this department……


WLA ON KCRW & PACIFICA TALKING ABOUT BACA’S RETIREMENT—AND MORE

On Tuesday afternoon, I was on KCRW’s “All Things Considered” talking about Baca’s announcement with Steve Chiotakis, and you can find the podcast of the short segment here.

Later in the day I did a segment of Background Briefing with Ian Masters. (Here’s the podcast.)

Regrettably, on Tuesday morning, I was so busy chatting with people outside the LASD headquarters that I failed to pick up the request to be on Which Way WLA? until it was too late. (Here’s the WWLA? show on Baca’s retirement announcement.)

We also recommend Larry Mantel’s show on the matter at AirTalk featuring LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Jails Commission executive director Miriam Krinsky and the So Cal ACLU’s legal director Peter Eliasberg. Definitely worth a listen.


MORE INDICTMENTS COMING?

There have been strong rumors—as yet unconfirmed—that more indictments could arrive as soon as next week—or perhaps earlier—this time involving people higher on the department food chain.

But one of the most intriguing moments of speculation came in the course of a KFI news segment on Tuesday when reporter Eric Leonard says that he has talked to a source at the federal law enforcement source who reportedly said after it was learned that the sheriff was stepping down, “The election for the next sheriff of Los Angeles County going to change dramatically again this week.” (You can find the quote at around minute 5:40)

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, FBI, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 33 Comments »

Former Boston Prosecutor Gets Self Arrested in NY to Examine System…..Sheriff Admits to 80 Bad Hires, Talks Reform….LA County Plans to Lobby CA for Realignment $$$.

December 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FORMER BOSTON PROSECUTOR GETS SELF ARRESTED TO LOOK INSIDE THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, DOESN’T LIKE WHAT HE SEES

Former Boston prosecutor Bobby Constantino decided to find out first hand what New York’s criminal justice system looked like from the perspective of a lawbreaker, and if he—as an upscale-looking white guy—would be treated differently than someone who looked less affluent and/or was non-white.

The answers Constantino got are both interesting to read and disturbing.

Here are some clips from Constantino’s story, written for the Atlantic.

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

[LARGE CLIP]

I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done…

[BIG SNIP]

In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”

After the orientation, I went straight to my probation officer and requested permission to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts. I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism. My probation officer also refused to let me go home for Easter and birthdays……

Read the whole thing.


SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SAYS IT MADE 80 BAD HIRES, WILL REFORM HIRING PRACTICES, BLAMES BAD CHOICES ON PEOPLE CONVENIENTLY RETIRED

In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca explained to the board members the broad strokes of the hiring practices that resulted in a list of questionable hires three years ago when the department merged with LA County’s Office of Public Safely—or OPS—and was asked to absorb what officers it could from that small county police force.

According to an LA Times investigation into the matter, out of 290 new hires, around 100 were inappropriate candidates for law enforcement. Some were droppingly inappropriate. like, for example, the woman who had a fight with her husband then, in a fit of pique, blasted away at the man with her service weapon as he frantically ran a zig-zag-pattern in order to dodge her bullets.

The supervisors were not at all thrilled with Baca’s one-and-a-quarter-page letter, which did not answer many of the question that the board deemed pertinent—namely how in the world did this happen? The letter mostly blamed the hires on retired undersheriff Larry Waldie. This was not an explanation that the board members appeared to find satisfying, particularly Supervisor Antonovich who made a motion that Baca be required to report again to the board in two weeks.

In the meantime, LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston talked to Assistant Sheriff Todd Rodgers about the matter and Rogers said that he and the sheriff admit that there had been 80 bad hires, but that reforms were being put into place to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore reiterated to WitnessLA that former undersheriff Larry Waldie had been an extra layer in addition to the usual hiring protocols, and it was he who made the improper hiring selections.

“The sheriff takes full responsibility, and has decreed that we will do what is necessary to reform the system,” said Whitmore. “But it was Undersheriff Waldie who was in charge of that project.”

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, who is running against Baca in the 2014 sheriff’s race, said that from what he knows of the situation, the problems with department hiring practices are “systemic,” and not limited to merely those 80-100 problem hires from the OPS.

Olmsted also said he’d spoken to another retired undersheriff who told him that the sheriff would have had to sign off any and all people hired from the county police.

“All the paperwork absolutely would have gone straight to the sheriff,” Olmsted said.

AND FOR ONE MORE TAKE ON THIS ISSUE:

In an LA Times editorial about the bad hires that ran on Tuesday morning before the board meeting, editorial board member Rob Greene writes that the hiring issues point to other problems in the department.

Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca had his hands full last week responding to the arrests of 18 of his current and former deputies amid a continuing investigation into abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County’s jails, so let’s hope he hasn’t forgotten that he is due to report today on the previous week’s scandal: the hiring of dozens of deputies with personnel records that showed lying, cheating, excessive force and irresponsible use of firearms.

The two matters aren’t related in any formal sense; none of those arrested Dec. 9 was among the group that moved over to the Sheriff’s Department in 2010 when the county’s public safety police force was dissolved. But it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to recognize a link between bad hiring practices and bad deputy conduct, especially if the sheriff’s hiring of those 280 public safety officers three years ago followed standard policy….


LA COUNTY TO LOBBY FOR MORE REALIGNMENT MONEY FROM STATE & PROBATION CHIEF POWERS OUTLINES PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES 2 YEARS IN

The serendipitously-named Luke Money of the Santa Clarita Signal reports about LA County’s determination to get a larger slice of California’s realignment dollars. Here’s a clip:

With state savings likely totaling more than $2 billion and county resources strained to provide adequate services for thousands of offenders, county supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to dole out more dough to fund the cost of the controversial state prison realignment program.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided during their meeting Tuesday to request more funding from the state to help supplement services that have been strained by an influx of inmates under the 2011 law, which shifted responsibility for some criminals from the state to counties.

“Realignment resulted in a 25 percent increase in the jail population over the first two years of the program,” reads a board report. “The population count was 15,463 on Sept. 30, 2011, and 19,225 on Sept. 30, 2013.”

The state will likely save in excess of $2 billion as a result of realignment, according to Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, while sending out less than $1 billion to California’s 58 counties to help offset the cost of the prisoner shift.

AND… PROBATION CHIEF JERRY POWERS REPORTS ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF REALIGNMENT IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, Probation Chief Jerry Powers presented an extensive two-year report on how realignment is going in LA County, which Powers said, gets 30 percent of the realignment prisoners. Among his points, Powers outlined some parts of the county’s approaches to the realignment challenges that are beginning to succeed, such as the use of “flash incarceration,” short jail terms of around 10 days, that are used for small infractions instead of parole revocation.

Allison Pari of KHTS AM Radio has more on Powers’ lengthy and comprehensive report:

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers opened the report by explaining that L.A. County is currently the only county in the state that has created a year two report on the results of AB 109.

He and the other presenters also emphasized that some of the data from year two is not complete, because those offenders released during 2013 may not have completed their probation or treatment.

During the first two years, more than 18,000 prisoners were released into the county under the Post-Release Community Supervision program, but the active probation population peaked at 10,300, according to the Probation Department’s full report, available here.

Powers said that of those 18,000 who have gone through the program so far, 1,900 have outstanding warrants, a similar ratio to other counties in the state.

He also said that flash incarcerations have significantly increased between years one and two–from more than 2,500 to more than 9,700–primarily because the Probation Department has become more comfortable with using this method of dealing with probation violators.

Flash incarcerations are seven to 10 day sentences given to AB 109 offenders for technical violations, such as failing to report to their probation officer.

Concerning recidivism, Powers said that the percentage of rearrests has been cut in half between years one and two– 43 percent rearrested vs. 21 percent rearrested…

Posted in Board of Supervisors, CDCR, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy, Realignment | 9 Comments »

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