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Video Shows San Bernardino Deputies Beating Man…Nurses Say Health Care in Alameda Jails is Broken…and Walter Scott

April 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HELICOPTER FOOTAGE SHOWS A GROUP OF SAN BERNARDINO DEPUTIES BEATING A MAN ON THE GROUND AFTER A HORSE CHASE

On Thursday, video captured from NBC’s NewsChopper4 appeared to show a small crowd of San Bernardino County deputies beating a reportedly unarmed man during an arrest.

The man, Francis Jared Pusok, 30, lead officers on an intense chase, by car, on foot, and finally, on a stolen horse. When deputies caught up with Pusok, the horse bucked, throwing Pusok to the ground. The man, still on the ground, then spread his arms out and then put them behind his back, after which, deputies appear to taser him. Then, the video shows a number of deputies gather around Pusok, punching, kicking, and kneeing the man dozens of times for more than two minutes.

Allegedly the man was then left lying on the ground for at least 45 minutes without medical attention. Pusok is now in a hospital being treated for unknown injuries.

San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon said he was “disturbed” by the video and quickly launched an internal investigation.

NBC’s Jason Kandel and Tony Shin have the story. Here are some clips:

In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times and punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head. The allegedly stolen horse stood idly nearby.

The man did not appear to move from his position lying on the ground for more than 45 minutes. He did not appear to receive medical attention while deputies stood around him during that time…

Three deputies were injured during the search. Two suffered dehydration and a third was injured when kicked by the horse. All three were taken to a hospital for treatment.

[SNIP]

Deputies said the Taser was ineffective due to his loose clothing and a use of force occurred.

“I can certainly understand the concerns in the community based on what they saw on the video,” McMahon told NBC4. “I’m disturbed by what I see in the video. But I don’t need to jump to conclusions at this point, until we do a complete and thorough investigation. If our deputy sheriff’s did something wrong, they’ll be put off work and they’ll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy.”


PRIVATE HEALTH CARE CO. NURSES IN ALAMEDA JAILS THREATEN TO STRIKE IF MEDICAL CONDITIONS DO NOT IMPROVE FOR INMATES

Nurses employed by a troubled private company in charge of health care in Alameda County jails say they will strike if the company doesn’t improve the substandard care provided to inmates.

The Corizon nurses are calling on the company to add more nurses to the rotation. One worker said the ratio can sometimes be as bad as 23 inmate patients to one nurse. She says, at most, the ratio is five patients to one nurse in regular hospitals. The nurses also say medical equipment is often broken or unsanitary.

The understaffing means that medication often goes out hours late, medical intakes are rushed, and sometimes inmates die due to lack of adequate and timely health care, according to the nurses.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is sending around a strike petition. If union members vote in favor of striking, the decision will be announced to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors.

Corizon is no stranger to lawsuits. In February, Corizon (and Alameda County) agreed to a record-breaking $8.3 million wrongful death settlement to the family of a jail inmate who was tasered to death by ten deputies while suffering from severe, untreated alcohol withdrawal.

As part of the settlement, Corizon agreed to stop hiring less expensive Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein has the story. Here are some clips:

Clara, who works as a Registered Nurse at the jail, described abysmal conditions including broken or dirty equipment, rushed procedures and severe understaffing.

For example, when inmates are first booked, nurses examine them and ask them about their full medical history. Clara said Corizon’s procedures in this phase, designed to save time and money, puts everyone at risk.

“The patients come in right off the street. They’re often under the influence of drugs. You don’t know what their mental state is,” she said. “They’ve got three nurses seeing three inmates at once in one little cramped room, maybe 15 by 15 feet. So there’s no confidentiality. One inmate is sitting so close he could touch the next one, and we’re asking them very personal questions, like if they’re HIV positive. HIPAA [privacy] laws are totally violated there.”


DEATH OF WALTER SCOTT: LAPD CHIEF SAYS SHOOTING WAS UNLAWFUL…WHAT NEWS REPORTS WOULD HAVE SAID IF THE INCIDENT HAD NOT BEEN TAPED…THE DASH CAM VIDEO…AND SC’S RACIAL HISTORY

On Thursday, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said that as far as he could tell, South Carolina officer Michael Slager’s fatal shooting of the allegedly unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott was “a criminal act.”

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips:

Beck said he would have similarly had the officer arrested based on the video by the bystander. But he also said he’d typically do a more detailed investigation before making such a judgment.

“I will tell you this, based on what I have seen, based on the video, it is a criminal act,” Beck said. “It is well beyond any policies of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

[SNIP]

Beck said such an incident impacts all officers, but it doesn’t diminish his pride in their willingness to take risks daily.

“To have somebody 3,000 miles away take away from that by a criminal act, it’s disheartening,” Beck said. “All of us suffer when somebody in the profession acts illegally.”


The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have penned a version of what they believe news reports would have looked like, had a bystander not videotaped the shooting. Here’s how it opens:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

The shooting was the 11th this year by a South Carolina police officer. The State Law Enforcement Division has begun an investigation into the incident.

Police identified the officer involved as Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager and the suspect as Walter Lamar Scott, 50, of Meadowlawn Drive in West Ashley. Slager, 33, served honorably in the military before joining the North Charleston Police Department more than five years ago. He has never been disciplined during his time on the force, his attorney said.

The incident occurred behind a pawn shop on Craig Street and Remount Road. Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. During the stop, police and witnesses say Scott fled the vehicle on foot. When Slager caught up with him a short distance from the street, Scott reportedly attempted to overpower Slager. Police say that during the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.


On Thursday, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released dash camera footage of the incident. The video shows the initial traffic stop for a broken tail light, which wasn’t captured by the anonymous bystander’s video.


And for some interesting context, the New Yorker’s Jack Hitt delves into South Carolina’s complicated racial history. Here’s a clip:

The police officer was fired and charged with murder. North Charleston’s mayor, Keith Summey, announced, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong” and said that police officers can’t hide a bad decision “behind the shield.” He said that the police force’s “thoughts and prayers are with the family.” North Charleston’s police chief, Eddie Driggers, said he was “sickened.” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who rose to office as a darling of the Tea Party, said that the shooting was “unacceptable.” Senator Lindsey Graham called the video “horrific.” Senator Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who grew up in North Charleston, called the shooting “senseless” and “avoidable.” The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, immediately took control of the investigation, and the F.B.I. has opened its own investigation, as well. The victim’s brother told the local paper, “We don’t advocate violence. We advocate change.”

I grew up in Charleston, and, as someone close to North Charleston’s mayor told me, “Before the sun was down, everyone was unified.”

It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass. And no doubt, the swiftness of the political and narrative unity in the shooting death of Scott owes much to the lessons of Ferguson. But South Carolina is not Missouri—its racial past, in fact, is more violent, but its attempts to move away from that history, while less known, have been more bold. The state’s history of violence against black men and women is excruciating to know, or to read. If you are unfamiliar, then Google “George Junius Stinney, Jr.,” “Julia and Frazier Baker,” the Hamburg massacre, or the Orangeburg massacre. That is South Carolina at its worst. But there is a streak of fair-mindedness in the state’s history—an ancient ideal that Mark Twain parodied as coming straight out of the chivalric fiction of Sir Walter Scott’s mist-filled novels of courtly knights. While reserved exclusively for whites for most of its history, this tendency appears from time to time and is always surprising, especially to outsiders.

All Charlestonians are required to know the story of their Civil War-era representative, James Petigru, the state’s only Unionist, who voted against secession. Charlestonians have made a centuries-long career out of tweaking the rest of the state for its rustic views. Petigru opposed withdrawing from the United States back then because, as it is often quoted, “South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.”

But even during the collapse of Reconstruction, when racist Democrats took back control of the state’s government from Republican politicians backed by federal troops, there was a streak of fair play in the reformed Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was elected governor in 1876, and who, in his inaugural speech, said, “It is due, not only to ourselves, but to the colored people of the State, that wise, just, and liberal measures should prevail in our legislation.” (To those writing rebuttal posts right now to argue that this was mere racist palaver, I will note that however rhetorical Hampton’s views were, those earliest attempts at sane post-bellum racial decency in South Carolina were relatively real efforts at moderation, despite the fact they were, absolutely, crushed underfoot by pro-lynching extremists, like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, who thought that Hampton was out of his mind.) In the mid-twentieth century, a famous Charleston judge named Julius Waties Waring sought to steer a number of criminal cases toward the ideal of fair play, including a hideous police beating of a black man and later a local desegregation case that would eventually merge with others to become Brown v. Board. A cross was burned in the judge’s yard, and he eventually fled the state.

Posted in Charlie Beck, jail, LAPD, law enforcement, medical care, racial justice, unions | No Comments »

LA Sheriff McDonnell, LAPD Chief Beck, CHP’s Farrow and More Meet with Religious Leaders for Post-Ferguson Conversation

March 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell
, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and a cluster of other LA law enforcement figures got together with around two dozen local religious leaders for a two-hour, no-press-allowed post-Ferguson chat in the hope that everyone might speak candidly about the tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The meeting, which took place on the 8th floor of the newly renovated Hall of Justice, on Temple Street in downtown LA, was the inaugural event for the historic building.

Judging by what WitnessLA was able to gather as everyone was dispersing, most came away with the feeling that some real and relevant things had been said. Moreover, everybody wanted to do it again.

“We don’t want to have this be one-and-done,” said Sheriff McDonnell when we spoke after the event. The idea was to build ongoing relationships, he said.

The gathering was billed as being co-hosted by McDonnell, Beck and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. District Attorney Jackie Lacy, LA City Attorney Mike Feurer, and Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura were also on hand.

But, it was clearly an LASD-organized affair. Still everyone had reportedly had things to say—a lot of it straight talking from both the faith leaders and the cops. “It was not a booster club,” said McDonnell.

Interestingly, the faith leaders didn’t just raise issues with law enforcement, they also spoke frankly to each other. One issue in particular that reportedly caused discussion, according to those present, was the necessity of the clergy to engage when there is a police/community problem “not Just read about it.”

On this topic, one pastor reportedly said, ‘It breaks my heart that [when something happens] we close the doors of he churches.”

Another subject that caused much discussion was the religious leaders’ acknowledgement that affluent communities tend to view—and experience—the police very differently than do lower income communities

McDonnell and Beck both talked about interaction with the clergy as a being “critical piece of community policing.” They also spoke of the need to bring what occurred on Tuesday, “to the station level,” said McDonnell, for the LASD and the LAPD.

Community oriented policing is not something law enforcement agencies should do on the side or merely to appease critics,” he said. “Rather, a focus on community oriented policing ensures law enforcement is viewed by the community as legitimate.”

“We are very fortunate in this community to have law enforcement leadership that recognizes and understands the importance of strengthening community relations,” said Reverend Chip Murray, in a pre-meeting statement. “This timely event will help us build upon the strong foundations that already exist and enable us to do even more, working together.”

A pastor from Compton, who was leaving just as WLA arrived, pronounced the meeting, “Good. Very good.” Things were said that needed to be said, he told me. “And that’s a very good thing.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, City Attorney, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Update, Sen. Cory Booker Interview, a Coroner’s Inquest, and Henry Solis

March 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE OFFICE OF CHILD PROTECTION: TRANSITION TEAM STEPS BACK

After months of delays (and a little foot-dragging by the LA County Board of Supervisors), the transition team charged with preparing the way for the county’s new Office of Child Protection was able to relinquish control to the new interim child welfare czar, Fesia Davenport.

The co-chair of the transition team, Dr. Mitchell Katz, introduced the motion to have the team tear down shop.

Fesia Davenport, the new czar, (a former Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Children and Family Services) is already off to a productive start.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has the story. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, the interim director of the Office of Child Protection, took office on February 2, at which point the transition team appeared to loosen its grip on the implementation process, meeting only once that month and submitting a written progress report to the Board of Supervisors rather than appearing in person.

“She [Davenport] is espousing everywhere she goes that her role is to implement the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission and ensure that children are better off in this county,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team. “That’s what we would have hoped for when we finished the work of the blue ribbon commission last year.”

Transition team members extended their willingness to continue to be available to Davenport to share their expertise on specific issues, including education and law enforcement, and generally were optimistic about the transition team coming to an end.

“I think we’ve done great work and I’m so happy the office is up and running,” said Judge Margaret Henry, a member of the transition team. “Fesia [Davenport] has hit the deck running, and I’m just proud of the direction we’re going.”

The inauguration of two new county supervisors and an interim county CEO seemed to reinvigorate county government’s interest in the commission’s reforms in recent months. Supervisor Sheila Keuhl committed to delivering a new child-centric county mission statement around the same time that the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai, moved to establish the Office of Child Protection and hire an interim director.


US SENATOR CORY BOOKER ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM URGENCY

Last week, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a first-of-its-kind bipartisan bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.

The reform-minded Sen. Booker has also introduced (along with Sen. Paul) the REDEEM Act, which would restrict juvenile isolation, allow many youthful non-violent offenders to seal or expunge their records, and lift bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders, among other things.

In an interview with Vox’s German Lopez, Booker discusses the immediate need for criminal justice reform, from the war on drugs and racial inequality, to solitary confinement and rehabilitation. Here are some clips:

In my state, blacks are about 13 to 14 percent of the population, but they make up over 60 percent of the prison population.

Remember: the majority of people we arrest in America are nonviolent offenders. Now you’ve got this disparity in arrests, but that creates disparities that painfully fall all along this system.

For example, when you get arrested for possession with intent to sell, you can do it in some neighborhoods where there are no public schools and it’s not as densely packed as an inner city. You do it in an inner city and now you’re within a school zone, so you’re facing even higher mandatory minimums. So when you face that and you get out from your longer term, now you’re 19 years old with a felony conviction, possession with intent to sell in a school zone.

But forget even all of that — if you just have a felony conviction for possession, what do you face now? Thousands of collateral consequences that will dog you for all of your life. You can’t get a Pell Grant. You can’t get a business license. You can’t get a job. You’re hungry? You can’t get food stamps. You need some place to live? You can’t even get public housing.

What that does within our country, especially in these concentrated areas where we have massive numbers of men being incarcerated, is create a caste system in which people feel like there’s no way out. And we’re not doing anything as a society like we know we could do. There are tons of pilot programs that show if you help people coming back from a nonviolent offense lock into a job or opportunity, their recidivism rates go down dramatically. If you don’t help them, what happens is that, left with limited options, many people make the decision to go back to that world of narcotic sales.

What’s more dangerous to society: someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home, or someone going 30 miles over the speed limit, racing down a road in a community? And yet that teenager who makes a mistake — doing something the last three presidents admitted to doing — now he has a felony conviction, because it’s more likely he’s going to get caught. And for the rest of his life, when he’s 29, 39, 49, 59, he’s still paying for a mistake he made as a teenager.

That’s not the kind of society I believe in, nor is it fiscally responsible…

[SNIP]

When you take juveniles, like we do in this country, and put them in solitary confinement — other nations consider that torture — you hurt them and you scar them through your practices. You expose them for nonviolent crimes to often violent people. You expose them to gang activity.

Then you throw them back on our streets. And you tell them, “We’re not going to help you get a job. You want a roof over your head? Forget it. In fact, if we catch you trespassing on public housing authority property, we’re going to take action against you. You’re going to get a Pell Grant, try to better yourself through education? Sorry, you’re banned from getting a Pell Grant.”

What do people do when they feel trapped and cornered by society?


CONSIDERING THE CORONER’S INQUEST AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO A GRAND JURY PROCEEDING

After the grand jury non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been much public discussion regarding the grand jury process, especially with regard to how the grand jury is handled by local district attorneys.

One possible alternative is a coroner’s public inquest.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer involved shooting.

The NY Times’ Jack Healy has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In most places, the actions of the police officer who fatally shot Kaileb Williams, 20, would have been judged in secret, by an anonymous grand jury weighing criminal charges behind closed doors.

Here, it all played out in the open, during a little-known proceeding called a coroner’s inquest. It unfolded like a miniature trial, with a county coroner presiding in place of a judge, and seven Montana residents questioning witnesses and examining the violent, chaotic path that led Mr. Williams to a deadly standoff with the police on an icy night this past December.

[SNIP]

Inquests do not indict officers or judge guilt or innocence, but lawyers here said they could be useful tools in cities inflamed by police killings. They take place before trials — often before any criminal charges are even filed — and offer a forum to air painful details and talk about disputed facts.

In Pasco, Wash., where the shooting death of a Hispanic orchard worker last month resulted in accusations of bias and cover-ups by the police, the coroner recently announced that he would hold an open inquest to head off “another Ferguson.”

“It helps to come to terms with a traumatic event to go through it in a public way,” said Paul MacMahon, an assistant law professor at the London School of Economics who recently wrote about inquests.

The inquests have the simple aims of officially declaring who was killed and when, but they also have the power to decide whether a killing is justified or a crime — a crucial question when a police officer has pulled the trigger. Whatever their outcome, the decision to file charges still rests with local prosecutors.


LAPD CHIEF FIRES OFFICER SUSPECTED OF POMONA SHOOTING

On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck fired Pomona officer Henry Solis who is missing and suspected of shooting 23-year-old Salome Rodriguez Jr. in a nightclub parking lot on Friday.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Henry Solis failed to meet the minimum standards of the Los Angeles Police Department and has been terminated effectively immediately,” Beck said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Beck had harsh words for the rookie cop, who has been missing since the fatal shooting occurred early Friday. Pomona police issued a warrant for his arrest Monday.

“If Henry Solis is watching this, you have dishonored this police department, your country and your service to the country, and your family,” Beck said, looking into television news cameras. “And you should turn yourself in and face the consequences for your actions.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD | 8 Comments »

Blue is the New White: The Complexity of Talking About Police Reform – by Bill Boyarsky

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barak Obama said of the events of Ferguson and New York: “…Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

Let us hope so.

In Los Angeles as we talk about those issues, the worried father Obama mentioned is not necessarily African American. He is just as likely to be Latino. More likely, really.

And the police officers working patrol whose husbands and wives are fearful for their safety are widely diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and gender.

So, yes, the conversation we need to have is, in part, about race—but it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In the story below—which originally appeared in TruthDig—columnist Bill Boyarsky explores the complexity of law enforcement reform with members of the Youth Justice Collation, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, journalist/author Joe Dominick and others.

In the end, Boyarsky admits he finds no quick answers. But he brings up some worthwhile questions.

Happy reading.



BLUE IS THE NEW WHITE

Why Talking About Law Enforcement Reform in LA is Not a Simple Matter

by Bill Boyarsky


This story originally ran in TruthDig, which has generously allowed WitnessLA to reproduce it in full.



“It’s not the person that fills the uniform, it’s what the uniform does to the person,” said Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “Blue is the new white.”

“We have to change the culture of law enforcement and create real community authority over police if we want to address system violence and transform the treatment of black and brown communities,” she added.

Or, as another Youth Justice Coalition member, Abraham Colunga, told me, “It’s cop versus black and brown, any minority. It’s more a matter of cop versus us, no matter what the cop is, black, brown, Filipino.”

I visited the coalition headquarters, at the western edge of South Los Angeles, in search of an answer to a question raised by the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally ill African-American, in a poor black and Latino neighborhood of South L.A. on Aug. 11.

He was killed two days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and a month after Eric Garner, another African-American man, died after a white New York cop subdued him with an illegal chokehold. Then, in Cleveland in November, a white officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a replica gun. The officer and another cop threw Rice’s 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffed her and forcibly put her into a patrol car when she ran to her fatally wounded brother’s aid.

But Ford’s death in Los Angeles did not follow the black-white narrative that has framed news coverage of these police shootings. One of the cops who shot Ford, Sharlton Wampler, is Asian-American. The other, Antonio Villegas, is Latino.

White law enforcers have been killing black men since slavery. A study by ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, analyzed federal data from 2010 to 2012 and found that young black males were at a 21 times greater risk of being shot to death by police than young white men.

ProPublica’s black-white analysis, however, seemed incomplete for Los Angeles. Its multiethnic population—49.6 percent white, 48.5 percent Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent black—is now policed by a multiethnic department. Latinos, numbering 3,547, are the largest ethnic group in the LAPD, followed by whites, 2,756, blacks, 861, and Asian Americans, 634.

The analysis by McGill, who is white, and Colunga, who is Latino, seemed more to the point.

The coalition, which knows what’s going on with the police and communities, was organized by youths of color who have been arrested, served time behind bars, subjected to stop and frisks and police abuse, and threatened with deportation. Coalition members have helped lobby local and state lawmakers to reform laws and to increase civilian supervision of the police. They also keep statistics on the number of people killed by police in Los Angeles County.

From their close contact with crime-heavy neighborhoods, they see that police shootings of young men go beyond the black-white way journalism frames the issue.

For example, McGill said a cause of the shootings is the war on gangs being waged by the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies around the country.

Gang suppression cops, operating in neighborhoods prevalent with gangs, “treat all like criminals,” McGill said. “People are going to be roughed up and hurt.”

The two officers who killed Ford were members of a gang suppression detail operating in a high crime part of South Los Angeles, where four African-Americans and two Latinos have been slain by cops since 2000.

The victim was well known in the neighborhood. Brandy Brown, another member of the Youth Justice Coalition, lived in an apartment above where Ford was shot. Brown, who is African-American, told me that she and others around 65th Street and Broadway knew him as a pleasant, longtime resident who, as his teens turned into his 20s, became severely disturbed. He wandered through the neighborhood, cadging cigarettes and meals from people who had known him for years. Her mother occasionally fed him and let him use the shower. The two police officers, she said, should have known him too.

Brown was working in her kitchen when she heard the gunshots. She ran downstairs to where her 4-year-old nephew was playing and saw people gathered around Ford.

The autopsy report showed he was shot three times. One bullet hit him in the right side, another in the back and a third in the right arm. The wound in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” the autopsy report said, suggesting the shot was fired at close range.

Police said Ford was walking on 65th Street when the two officers got out of their car and tried to talk to him. Why they did this is unknown so far.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Ford walked away. The two officers followed him to a nearby driveway. Ford, the chief said, crouched between a car and some bushes. When one of the officers reached toward Ford, Beck said, he grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. The policeman shouted to his partner that Ford had his gun, Beck said. The partner fired two rounds, which hit Ford. The officer on the ground pulled out his backup weapon, reached around Ford and shot him in the back at close range.

Ford joined the long list of those who have been killed by the police in Los Angeles County, which contains 88 cities, Los Angeles being the largest by far.

The Los Angeles Times painstakingly reports all these deaths in its invaluable Homicide Report, which compiles and analyzes coroner’s figures. A total of 594 gunshot victims have died in officer-involved shootings from 2000 through 2014. Of these, 114 were white, 300 Latino, 159 black, and 16 Asian.

With African-Americans a much smaller part of the population, the black toll is disproportionately high. The Youth Justice Coalition reports a slightly higher total of deaths, probably because it supplements coroner’s reports with information gleaned from neighborhoods.
In any case, ethnic minorities comprise the largest number of victims by a huge number. David R. Ayon, senior strategist at Latino Decisions and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Latinos are underrepresented in a lot of positions of authority, but not when it comes to being shot by the police in Los Angeles.

“African-Americans are underrepresented in a lot of areas of society, but are overrepresented in being shot by the police. The group that is underrepresented [in police shootings] is whites.”

I talked to two criminal justice experts about the complex racial dimension to these police shootings.

Connie Rice is an attorney long active in civil rights who heads the Advancement Project, a national organization that fights for criminal justice reform and voting rights, among other issues. She was a leader in the reform of the Los Angeles Police Department after major scandals and the 1992 riots.

Rice said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in violent crime areas. “Do I think the cops are too quick to shoot in South L.A.? Yes, I do. They give themselves permission to shoot in South L.A. where they don’t anywhere else.”

She added, “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class. It is compounded by race.”

Neighborhood figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report support this.

Some examples: The Florence neighborhood in South Los Angeles is listed by the report as the ninth most deadly area in Los Angeles. Nine blacks and four Latinos were shot and killed by police there between 2000 and 2014. The count was four blacks and two Latinos in impoverished South Central Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, a poor Latino area, eight Latinos and one black died. But in middle-class Leimert Park, a largely black neighborhood, there were no police-caused shooting deaths in those 14 years.

Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the author of “Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD,” to be published by Simon & Schuster this summer.

Domanick also believes police attitudes in high crime areas influence behavior. “The explosion of guns and the lack of any kind of gun control make cops very edgy,” he said. He added, “I think there is also racism on the part of white, Asian and Latino cops that is endemic in our society, which doesn’t value black lives unless they are Denzel Washington.”

For those seeking quick answers, this column may leave you unsatisfied. Solutions glibly floated from New York and Ferguson have been tried to some extent in Los Angeles, a city that may be the picture of the nation’s urban future.

The police department has been integrated. Its all-white occupying army tactics in poor black and Latino areas were moderated after the riots and federal supervision. Bill Bratton, now New York police commissioner, and his successor, Beck, forced the cops to interact with communities, at least much more than in the past. “Charlie Beck did a superlative job in implementing community policing, especially in African-American communities and he built up a big stack of goodwill when he was chief of the South Bureau [covering South Los Angeles],” Domanick said. “He has continued that as police chief. He has deep relationships with people. They like him.”

Friday, Beck met with representatives of demonstrators who have been camping in front of police headquarters, demanding that he fire the cops who killed Ford. He didn’t do that, insisting that he has to follow department procedures on discipline. “It’s a first step,” Youth Justice Coalition’s McGill said. “It opened communications.”

Beck and other police chiefs and mayors can do more: Give communities more of a say in policing, which cops hate. Take every complaint seriously. Investigate police killings quickly and openly without relying on bureaucratic or legalistic barriers created to protect police officers. Let the community know what’s going on. And show respect to the residents. Be as polite to people in poor neighborhoods as the police are in more affluent neighborhoods that are nearly free of violent crime. Economic class shouldn’t determine whether you get an even chance with the law.

None of these small steps would make a headline or a mention on the Internet or in cable news. But they’re important in a country that is so racially divided and resistant to change.


Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, and a columnist for LA Observed.



Photo of LAPD academy graduation from LAPD Blog




AND AS A REMINDER OF ONE MORE FACET OF THE POLICE REFORM ISSUE…THE STORY OF A COP DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A FATAL SHOOTING

If by some chance you haven’t been following the account of Billings, MT, police officer Grant Morrison who was involved in a fatal shooting in the Spring of 2014, this nuanced story by Zach Benoit of the Billings Gazette, shows the grief and self-doubt Morrison has struggled with since the shooting, which was recorded by a dashboard video.

A later widely-destributed video shows Morrison sobbing after the incident after realizing he had fatally shot an unarmed man.

Both videos make for harrowing viewing.

Morrison was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter by a coroner’s jury after a two day inquest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Police, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Ezell Ford Autopsy Released Showing 3 Shots, 1 in Back

December 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The autopsy report for Ezell Ford’s death was released Monday after months of delay. It showed that Ford, 25,
a mentally ill black man, was shot three times, once in the back, once in the side of his abdomen, with a third, non-fatal wound in his right arm. The shot in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” according to the coroner’s office, which suggested that the shot was fired at very close range.

Ford was killed on the evening of August 11, in the Florence area of South LA, by two LAPD officers from the department’s Newton Division gang detail. The shooting took place a few days after teenager Michael Brown had been been shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri, by Ferguson PD officer Darrin Wilson. The proximity of the two events added to the growing tension over the issue of fatal police shootings this past summer that resulted in multiple protests in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the nation.

LAPD officers Sharlton Wampler and Antonio Villegas, who both fired shots, reported that Ford was trying to remove the service weapon from the holster of one of the officers. It was not clear why Ezell was stopped by the officers, and what triggered the physical altercation.

According to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, the information in the just-released coroner’s report does not conflict with the two officers’ account of the shooting.

Although the report has been complete for months, Beck asked that it be withheld pending further LAPD investigation into the shooting, in order to avoid the risk that the information contained in the report would taint the account of witnesses to the events of August 11. (LAPD investigators were, at the time, having trouble getting community witnesses to come forward and cooperate.)

Mayor Eric Garcetti, however, set a time clock on the report’s release, promising that it would be made public before the end of the year—-hence its public distribution on Monday.

“Transparency is key to the trust between LAPD and the people they serve,” said Garcetti in a statement Monday, adding that a full and impartial investigation was still ongoing. “As we end 2014″ he said, “I am proud that Los Angeles is home to the finest police officers in the nation, and my heart continues to go out to the grieving family.”

Chief Beck promised to “find out the truth of what happened that August night.”

Ford’s family has filed a $75 million wrongful death lawsuit.

For further information see accounts from Kate Mather and Richard Winton at the LA Times. The KPCC news staff has a series of ongoing updates on the story.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Yes, we’re still dark. But breaking news, is breaking news.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LAPD, law enforcement, Police, race | 60 Comments »

Michael Brown: “Deader than a Roadkill Dog”….Police Unions’ Open Letters: Violence Against Cops….Prosecutors’ PowerPoint Misbehavior…and More

December 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

A PARODY SONG ABOUT THE DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN PERFORMED AT LAPD RETIREE’S DINNER

While inflammatory language launched at police officers is being justifiably slammed, a parody song about Michael Brown’s death performed at a retired LAPD officer’s dinner party at the Glendale Elks Lodge last Monday was caught on video and leaked to TMZ.

The song, a play on “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” by Jim Croce, includes lyrics like, “”Michael Brown learned a lesson, about a messin’ with a bad police man, and he’s bad, bad Michael Brown, baddest thug in the whole darn town…” and “Michael looked like some old Swiss cheese, his brain was splattered on the floor.”

According to TMZ, private investigator Gary Fishell wrote and performed the parody song. Here’s a clip from the original story:

Singer Gary Fishell is a P.I. who once worked as an investigator for the Federal Government. His lawyer tells TMZ, Fishell now realizes the song was “off color and in poor taste.” The lawyer adds, “He’s a goofball who writes funny songs.” We asked why Fishell would sing this in a room full of cops, and the lawyer replied, “He thought the room would get a kick out of it.”

Joe Myers tells TMZ, “How can I dictate what he [Fishell] says in a song?” Myers goes on, “This is America. We can say what we want. This is a free America.” Myers adds … he’s done this as an annual event for decades and has raised a lot of money for charity.

Chief Charlie Beck took to Twitter to address the issue: “I am aware of the video released via TMZ. Like many of you, I find it offensive & absurd. It does not reflect the values of the #LAPD. I have directed our Professional Standards Bureau to look into this & determine if any active department employees were involved.”

KPCC has more on the incident. Here’s a clip:

Investigators are looking into whether any current LAPD officers attended the Dec. 15 party, which was thrown by a retired LAPD official at an Elks Lodge in Glendale.

“Simply being present at an event obviously does not constitute misconduct,” said LAPD officer Drake Madison.

[SNIP]

In a written statement, the LAPD echoed Beck’s sentiments and called the performance “stunningly offensive and absurd,” while noting that it was not a department-sponsored event. Madison said the song was performed by a former detective who retired from the force in 2007. The department does not believe that the event raised any money for the LAPD.

NOTE: The small headline mistakenly read that the song was performed at an “LASD Retiree’s Dinner,” when it was an LAPD dinner. Many apologies for that error!


CALIFORNIA LAW ENFORCEMENT UNIONS’ NUANCED RESPONCES TO MURDERS OF NYPD OFFICERS

In the wake of murders of NYPD officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu over the weekend, California law enforcement groups are reaching for a more balanced way to approach a complex issue.

President of Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), Brian Moriguchi, urges the public and local officials to work with law enforcement agencies to create real reform, while he calls for an end to racially charged violence against rank-and-file law enforcement officers. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA) is outraged by the recent murders of police officers throughout this country. These attacks on our nation’s police officers are directly and indirectly related to the racial tensions fueled by anti-police groups and the racial agendas of select politicians and race mongers.

Our jobs as police officers are dangerous enough without incitement to violence against officers by those with agendas and racial bias. We should be advocating for change, not violence. We should be advocating for accountability, not retribution. Police officers are human beings and as human beings, we are not perfect. But the vast majority of police officers are honest, hard-working professionals who place themselves in harm’s way to protect people, even those who despise them. They don’t deserve the hostility levied against them. Advocating violence is not the solution.

The recent violence at protests and the execution of officers are a result of irresponsible leadership at the national and local level. We, as a society, need to work together to resolve racial issues and strained relationships with the police and our government. Both community members and the police need to join together to reform police policies and accountability to ensure the highest level of conduct by our officers.

The three presidents of the Oakland Police Officers Association, the San Jose Police Officers Association, and the San Francisco Police Officers Association also wrote an open letter to Bay Area residents. Here’s a clip:

The protests that followed the grand jury decisions in Missouri and New York are a legitimate expression of our First Amendment traditions. The reaction is not unexpected but the vilification of front-line public servants by some politicians and media pundits has been demoralizing and unjust. Public safety in the Bay Area and the nation will be a subject of major debate going forward and we will each participate vigorously in that debate.

But what few have acknowledged until now is that too often the legitimate expression of views has devolved into vilification and violence against this nation’s front-line public safety servants. Demonstrators in New York chanted in unison: “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it? Now!” That was disgraceful…

The overwhelming majority of our members—who represent the most diverse police departments in the nation—bear such malice in dignified silence. Even following the murder of three of their own, our officers continue with their duty, answer your calls, respond to your crises, fulfill their mission, and honor their commitment to the people of San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland.

In short, they will always be there when you need them. In return, as their “voices” we simply ask that you join them in a cooperative effort to keep our streets safe, and to engage in constructive dialogue that calls for a common sense approach to very complex issues.


PROBLEMATIC POWERPOINT VISUALS BY PROSECUTORS: A NEW FORM OF MISCONDUCT

In the past, we at WLA have pointed out a number of stories of prosecutorial misconduct involving breaches such as withholding exculpatory evidence from the defense, coercing witnesses, and perjury.

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong tells of a relatively new form of prosecutorial misbehavior that has been cropping up in courts nationwide: inflammatory PowerPoint slides. The most common infraction involves strategically placing the word “guilty” in red, all-caps letters across a picture of the defendant. Prosecutors are expected to leave their opinions about the case at the door, and instead present evidence to make their points.

Here are some clips from Armstrong’s story, but jump over to the original for the rest (including photos of the PowerPoint slides):

At least 10 times in the last two years, US courts have reversed a criminal conviction because prosecutors violated the rules of fair argument with PowerPoint. In even more cases, an appellate court has taken note of such misconduct while upholding the conviction anyway or while reversing on other grounds (as in the case of Sergey Fedoruk). Legal watchdogs have long asserted that prosecutors have plenty of ways to quietly put their thumb on the scales of justice —such as concealing exculpatory evidence, eliminating jury-pool members based on race, and so on. Now they can add another category: prosecution by PowerPoint. “It’s the classic ‘A picture is worth a thousand words,’” said Eric Broman, a Seattle attorney who focuses on criminal appeals. “Until the courts say where the boundaries are, prosecutors will continue to test the boundaries.”

Perhaps the most common misuse of what some legal scholars call “visual advocacy” is the emblazoning of the word “Guilty” across a defendant’s photo. Almost always the letters are red—the “color of blood and the color used to denote losses,” as one court wrote.

[SNIP]

The use of sophisticated visuals in the courtroom has boomed in recent years, thanks to research on the power of show-and-tell. DecisionQuest, a trial consulting firm, tells lawyers that when they give jurors information verbally, only 10 percent of them retain it after three days. But if the lawyers provide that information visually as well, juror retention zooms to 65 percent. Lawyers in both civil and criminal cases have seized upon this advantage, integrating visuals ranging from simple slides to animated graphics into their courtroom presentations. In one civil case in Los Angeles County, a plaintiff spent $60,000 on a PowerPoint slide show.


STATES MOVING TO HELP EX-OFFENDERS HAVE BETTER OUTCOMES, BUT MORE COULD BE DONE TO CUT COLLATERAL CONSEQUENCES

A new Vera Institute report takes a look at what reforms states have adopted in the last five years to minimize the crippling secondary consequences of incarceration on people attempting to reenter their communities and families. (These consequences include difficulties obtaining employment, housing, education, the ability to vote, and more.) The report shows that while the majority of states (41) have taken 155 legislative steps to alleviate post-incarceration penalties, much more can be done to improve outcomes for former inmates and their families (and thus, reduce recidivism).

California has passed 10 reforms, including legislation to expand the pool of people with misdemeanors who are eligible for expungement, and legislation to establish wraparound services for mentally ill parolees at risk of being homeless.

Here’s a clip from the summary:

While efforts to remove or alleviate the impact of collateral consequences may indicate a broader shift in how the criminal justice system views law-breakers, vast numbers of post-punishment penalties remain in place and a closer look at recent legislation suggests that efforts do not go far enough. In particular:

* Reforms are narrow in scope;

* Relief mechanisms are not easily accessible;

* Waiting periods are long in many cases; and

* New rules restricting third-party use of criminal history are difficult to enforce.

Policymakers interested in promoting safer communities and better outcomes for justice-involved people and their families would do well to pursue sustainable and comprehensive reforms that:

* Promote the full restoration of rights and status as close as possible to sentence completion;

* Apply remedies to more people;

* Make remedies easier to access; and

* Establish clear standards for, and offer incentives to, third-party decision makers (e.g. landlords, employers, college admissions officers, etc.).

Posted in Charlie Beck, Courts, law enforcement, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 45 Comments »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LAPD to Reform Problematic Crime Reporting, Cops Misunderstanding the Law, and Protection from Prosecutorial Misconduct

December 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK: STRUGGLING POLICE DEPARTMENTS CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD BECAUSE IT HAS “BEEN THROUGH SO MUCH”

In an interview with NPR’s Kirk Siegler, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck discusses what struggling police departments can learn from the LAPD, not too long past a twelve-year federal consent decree itself. Here are some clips:

On the 11th floor of the Los Angeles Police Department’s downtown high-rise, Chief Charlie Beck has been fielding a lot of calls since the shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. Beck’s counterparts around the country are calling to find out how his department addressed what he calls the “ghosts of LAPD’s past.”

“I don’t want people to have to have their city go up in flames like Los Angeles did in 1992 to learn these lessons,” he says.

The lessons Beck refers to — and actual court-ordered reforms — began after Rodney King and addressed everything from police brutality to institutionalized racism within the LAPD. And they didn’t end until last year, when a federal judge finally lifted a consent decree originally imposed by the Department of Justice in 2001 following another corruption scandal.

Out of all this came an independent civilian oversight commission and a robust “use of force” investigation and discipline process. It also marked a shift toward community-based policing.

“We are where we are not because we are smarter or better than anybody else [but] just because we’ve been through so much,” Beck says.

[SNIP]

Cities looking to reform their troubled police forces might have a template to turn to in Los Angeles, according to police watchdog experts.

“The police department went from being, in essence, an occupying army to being a community partner,” says attorney Merrick Bobb, who worked as a court-appointed monitor for the separate LA Sheriff’s Department and once served on a citizen’s commission reforming the LAPD.


DESPITE MAJOR PROGRESS, THERE ARE ALWAYS AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT: LAPD TO ADDRESS MISREPORTED CRIME DATA

Back in August, an investigation by the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Ben Poston found that the LAPD mislabeled close to 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly altering the city’s crime statistics.

Now, the LAPD officials have announced the department will implement crime reporting reforms, in an effort to provide accurate crime statistics for citizens who trust the department to produce reliable data.

Department staff will be given new training on how to classify crimes in a manner that will comply with federal guidelines, and station supervisors will now be charged with making sure classifications are correct.

Rubin and Poston have the update on their investigation. Here’s a clip:

So far this year, overall violent crime has increased 11% compared with the same time period in 2013, according to LAPD figures. The city has experienced a double-digit rise in rapes and a slight uptick in homicides and robberies. But the largest increase has come in aggravated assaults, which are up more than 20%. The rise in such assaults, officials have said, is partly due to the department’s efforts to improve its crime reporting, which has led to a more accurate count of serious assaults.

To carry out the reforms, the department formed the Data Integrity Unit — a small team of detectives and data analysts. Over the last few weeks, the unit has put about 400 station supervisors, senior detectives and clerical staff through a four-hour training course on how to properly classify crimes to be in line with federal reporting guidelines, senior analyst John Neuman told the commission.

In coming months, the unit is expected to add staff and take on more responsibilities, including serving as a “strike team” that will inspect crime reports at the department’s 21 divisions, Neuman said.

The department also plans a simple but significant change in its procedures for classifying crimes. Watch commanders — the lieutenants and sergeants who must approve officers’ crime reports — will be required to document how each incident should be classified in the department’s crime database.

The move is intended to reduce confusion and misunderstandings, in particular among civilian records clerks who currently are left to decipher reports and make decisions about how to classify crimes.


US SUPREME COURT SEZ COPS DO NOT NEED TO BE RIGHT ABOUT A LAW TO PULL A CAR OVER FOR REASONABLE SUSPICION OF BREAKING THAT LAW

Earlier this week, in an 8-1 ruling, the US Supreme Court said that a cop can pull over a car under reasonable suspicion of law-breaking, even if the cop misunderstands the law. In this particular case, Heien v. North Carolina, an officer pulled over Nicholas Heien’s vehicle because of a busted tail light. The officer found cocaine in the car, but North Carolina law only requires one working tail light. Heien appealed his cocaine-trafficking conviction on the grounds that the officer misunderstood the law and thus had no reason to pull the car over.

In a commentary for the Atlantic, author and University of Baltimore constitutional law professor, Garrett Epps, says this decision gives officers more freedom to pull people over for increasingly ambiguous reasons. Epps also points out that, if the situation were flipped, and NC law required two working brake lights, Heien would not get off the hook for misunderstanding the law. Here’s a clip:

The facts of Heien are that a North Carolina sheriff’s deputy decided that a passing car was suspicious. The driver, he decided, seemed “very stiff and nervous” because he was looking straight ahead and holding his hands at the recommended positions on the wheel. (I am sure there was no connection, but the driver was also a Latino in an overwhelmingly white county.) The deputy followed the car, seeking a reason to make a stop, until the driver put on the brakes for a red light. One of the two brake lights was out. The deputy pulled over the car for the broken brake light and questioned both the driver and the owner, who had been sleeping in the back seat. Eventually he got permission to search the car, found cocaine, and arrested both men. A fairly open-and-shut case—except that, a state appeals court decided, North Carolina law only requires one working brake light. The “offense” leading to the stop was no more illegal than hanging a pine tree air freshener from the rear-view mirror.

The lower courts refused to suppress the evidence. It is settled law that when an officer makes a reasonable mistake of fact—concludes from appearances that, say, an assault is going on when two friends are just tussling—a stop doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment. But, Heien argued, a mistake of law is different. Consider the reverse scenario: If North Carolina law did require two brake lights, Heien could not have avoided a ticket by pleading that he thought it only required one. Most of the time, as we all know, ignorance of the law doesn’t get a citizen off the hook.

The Supreme Court had never decided this issue. On Monday, by 8-1, it concluded that the stop was “reasonable.” One can certainly sympathize with the deputy in this case: The North Carolina motor vehicle code on this point is virtually opaque, and the one-brake-light rule wasn’t clear to anybody until the appeals court decided it in Heien’s case. As for the “ignorance of the law” argument, the Chief Justice breezily responded, that’s fine. The deputy didn’t give Heien a ticket for having one brake light. “Heien is not appealing a brake-light ticket,” the Chief wrote. “[H]e is appealing a cocaine-trafficking conviction as to which there is no asserted mistake of fact or law.”

Justice Elena Kagan, joined by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote separately to attempt to limit the effect of the decision. It’s not a question of whether he actually knew the law, but of whether the law was really clear to everybody, she wrote. “If the statute is genuinely ambiguous, such that overturning the officer’s judgment requires hard interpretive work, then the officer has made a reasonable mistake,” she wrote. “But if not, not.” All very well, but I can’t help concluding that Heien makes it easier for police to find a reason to stop anyone they think looks suspicious. And we as a society are learning some very hard lessons about what can go wrong with police stops. Roberts’s opinion takes not the slightest notice of the events of the past year. The world he describes is a kind of happy valley were police are polite, citizens know their rights, consent to search is always freely given, and only evildoers feel dread when they see a blue light in the rear-view mirror. “[R]easonable men make mistakes of law,” as well as of fact, he says.

[SNIP]

Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a solo dissent, protested that the decision “means further eroding the Fourth Amendment’s protection of civil liberties in a context where that protection has already been worn down.” She pointed out that “[g]iving officers license to effect seizures so long as they can attach to their reasonable view of the facts some reasonable legal interpretation (or misinterpretation) that suggests a law has been violated significantly expands [their] authority.”


EDITORIAL: CALIFORNIA SHOULD JOIN 49 OTHER STATES AND IMPLEMENT A RULE TO STOP PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

According to the Brady rule, prosecutors must turn over any evidence to the defense any exculpatory evidence that would likely have an effect on a conviction or sentence. Unfortunately, many prosecutors violate the Brady rule without consequence. There is, however, an American Bar Association rule that says prosecutors have to turn over any evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” This interpretation of Brady is broader, and does not rely on prosecutors’ personal assessment of the significance of the evidence. The rule also says prosecutors have to hand over exculpatory evidence that turns up after a conviction.

California is the only state in the US to not have established some form of this rule. The California Bar spent years working on the code of conduct, only to have the state Supreme Court tell them to start all over again.

An LA Times editorial says properly protecting defendants cannot wait for the state to finish writing their rules, and calls on the state to use the American Bar Association’s version of the rule in the meantime. Here’s a clip:

There is an easy step California should take to curb this type of prosecutorial misconduct — the adoption of an ethical rule. One reason even well-intentioned prosecutors violate Brady is the cognitive difficulty of predicting before a trial has even occurred whether undisclosed information might be considered “material” — or sufficiently important to overturn a conviction — by an appellate court. Instead, prosecutors should follow a simple prophylactic rule that errs on the side of caution. Under the proposed ethical standard, prosecutors simply turn over any potentially helpful evidence without judging whether it could help lead to an acquittal.

The American Bar Assn., which publishes “Model Rules of Professional Conduct” to serve as ethical standards for attorneys nationwide, enacted Rule 3.8. The rule’s objective is to eliminate confusion. Part of the rule, which defines the evidence that must be disclosed, was designed to be broader and independent of Brady obligations, requiring prosecutors to disclose before trial all evidence that “tends to negate the guilt of the accused or mitigates the offense.” Again, this differs from Brady because it does not require prosecutors to evaluate how much the evidence tends to negate the defendant’s guilt. That is for the defense to argue and for the jury to decide.

The rule provides an exception so that prosecutors who have real concerns about witness safety, subornation of perjury or other significant considerations can seek and obtain protective orders from a court to delay disclosure. Equally important, other parts of the rule require prosecutors to turn over any evidence pointing to innocence that they become aware of after a conviction; they must take proactive steps to vacate a conviction if there is clear evidence of the defendant’s innocence.

California is the only state in the nation that has failed to adopt some version of this rule. Last week, we testified about the need for this rule at the State Bar of California’s hearing on attorney competency and disciplinary standards. The bar has spent nearly a decade redrafting a new set of rules of professional conduct. Complaints about the bar’s approach to redrafting the new rules recently led California’s Supreme Court to announce that it would restart the process with a new rules commission. The criminal-justice system cannot wait another decade to adopt a rule that will ensure fairer criminal trials. While the new commission considers how to revamp all the rules, the bar and court should adopt the American Bar Assn. model rule for disclosure of exculpatory evidence.

Posted in Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, LAPD, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

Cop Not Indicted in Chokehold Death, LAPD Chief Blames Officers in Shooting of Unarmed Man, No More DNA Swabs for Felony Arrests, and Undermining PREA

December 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GRAND JURY DOES NOT INDICT NYPD OFFICER IN CHOKEHOLD HOMICIDE OF ERIC GARNER

On Wednesday, a Staten Island grand jury decided not to indict Daniel Pantaleo, a plainclothes NY police officer whose prohibited chokehold on an unarmed man, Eric Garner, proved fatal.

Garner was stopped by officers on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. A video of the incident, shows Garner, a 43-year-old black father of six, telling officers over and over that he can’t breath while being held down by officers. And the city medical examiner’s autopsy found Garner’s death to be a homicide, with the chokehold as the main cause of death.

Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice announced that it would launch a separate federal investigation into Garner’s death.

The NY Times’ J. David Goodman and Al Baker have the story. Here are some clips:

The fatal encounter in July was captured on videos seen around the world. But after viewing the footage and hearing from witnesses, including the officer who used the chokehold, the jurors deliberated for less than day before deciding that there was not enough evidence to go forward with charges against the officer, Daniel Pantaleo, 29, in the death of the man, Eric Garner, 43.

Officer Pantaleo appeared before the grand jury on Nov. 21, testifying that he did not intend to choke Mr. Garner. He described the maneuver as a wrestling move, adding that he never thought Mr. Garner was in mortal danger.

After the news from Staten Island, a wave of elected officials renewed calls for Justice Department intervention, saying the grand jury’s finding proved that justice could only be found in the federal courts.

On the streets of the city, from Tompkinsville to Times Square, many expressed their outrage with some of the last words Mr. Garner uttered before being wrestled to the ground: “This stops today,” people chanted. “I can’t breathe,” others shouted.

While hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in Manhattan as well as in Washington and other cities, the police in New York reported relatively few arrests, a stark contrast to the riots that unfolded in Ferguson in the hours after the grand jury decision was announced in the Brown case.

[SNIP]

The officer targeted by the Staten Island grand jury said in statement that he felt “very bad about the death of Mr. Garner,” just as he told 23 panelists of the grand jury when he testified before them for two hours on Nov. 21.

During the proceedings, jurors were shown three videos of the encounter and in his testimony Officer Pantaleo sought to characterize his actions in tackling Mr. Garner not as a chokehold, but as a maneuver taught at the Police Academy. He said that while holding onto Mr. Garner, he felt fear that they would crash through a plate glass storefront as they tumbled to the ground, said Stuart London, his lawyer. One of the officer’s arms went around Mr. Garner’s throat, as Mr. Garner repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”


LAPD CHIEF SAYS OFFICER SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN AFTER CHASE VIOLATED DEPT. RULES

Back in California, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck says three officers’ fatal shooting of an unarmed man after a car chase was in violation of department policy. Officers opened fire after Brian Newt Beaird, a National Guard veteran, had turned away from them. The officers said they feared for their lives when they shot Beaird, but Chief Beck says the evidence suggests otherwise.

Now, Beck must decide if he is going to punish the officers (and if so, what level of punishment to hand out), or if their actions warrant firing them from the department.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Although the details of their recollections differed, each officer told investigators essentially the same thing: He shot at Beaird because he thought Beaird was armed with a gun.

One officer, who fired eight rounds, said he believed Beaird was actually shooting at police. In a detailed account of Beaird’s movements, the officer said Beaird had reached under his shirt and seemed to be pointing an object back at the officers from beneath his clothing. That, coupled with the sound of gunshots, led the officer to conclude Beaird was shooting, according to the report.

Beck, however, found “the evidence and actual actions of the suspect” contradicted the officer’s account.

The other two officers both said they saw Beaird reach for his waistband and make “a jerking motion.” Fearing that he had grabbed a gun, the officers fired, the report said.

In judging the officers, Beck said he took into account that they went into the encounter knowing Beaird was seen reaching for an unknown object during the pursuit. He also highlighted the chaos of the scene, including a geyser of water from a broken hydrant and the din of helicopters.

Although the officers had only seconds to act in the difficult conditions, Beck ultimately found their decision to shoot was unreasonable. “Each officer is accountable for their own use of force,” he wrote.


APPEALS COURT SAYS DNA SWABS AFTER FELONY ARRESTS VIOLATE STATE CONSTITUTION

In a 3-0 ruling, the SF First Court of Appeal has struck down a California law requires DNA cheek swabbing of anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a felony. A related Maryland law upheld by the US Supreme Court mandates swabbing only once a person is charged with a serious felony. And unlike in California, the DNA info is removed from the database in the case of an acquittal or dropped charges.

Bob Egelko has more on the ruling for the SF Gate. Here’s a clip:

The First Court of Appeal in San Francisco had struck down the same law in 2011, but California’s high court ordered it to reconsider the case after the U.S. Supreme Court in June 2013 upheld a Maryland law requiring DNA samples from anyone charged with a serious felony. The majority in that 5-4 ruling said swabbing a suspect’s cheek for genetic material was a “minor intrusion” that served the same identification purposes as fingerprints, the argument Attorney General Kamala Harris also used to defend the California law.

But in Wednesday’s ruling, the appeals court said DNA samples, containing “the most personal and confidential information a person can possess,” are not used to identify suspects. Rather the samples, which typically take a month to analyze, while fingerprints take less than a half hour, are used to investigate suspects’ possible involvement in other crimes, as part of a national database accessible to police and the FBI.


TAKING THE EDGE OFF THE PRISON RAPE ELIMINATION ACT

The federal Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) was passed in 2003, and brought about a set of “zero-tolerance” standards to eliminate rape in state and federal prisons, which took a decade to nail down and approve.

In May of this year, states were required to either pass an audit, or promise to pass compliance in the future. Only two states passed their audits. States that refuse to comply altogether—as Texas and five other states have—forfeit 5% of their prison funding.

But a report released last Friday from the United Nations Committee Against Torture points out that the rates of sexual violence in US lock-ups have not changed much since 2007, and expresses concern at the mediocre implementation of PREA.

The Marshall Project’s Alysia Santo has more on the issue, and also highlights an under-the-radar battle to further delay PREA and throw out the financial consequences for noncompliance. Here’s a clip:

…A proposal that originated in the Senate Judiciary Committee would almost completely eliminate financial penalties for states that defy the rape prevention law. The proposal, written by Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas — the most vocally defiant state — was agreed on by the committee in an after-midnight session in September and was attached to an unrelated bill.

The bill carrying the PREA amendment failed to pass, but members of the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, a federal body that spent years developing the PREA standards, say efforts are already underway to reintroduce the amendment during the next legislative session.

In a November letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, the Commission members requested a meeting to “discuss our grave concern about recent efforts to delay or weaken effective implementation” of PREA. So far, six states are refusing to comply with the standards: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Texas, and Utah. The letter goes on to point out that only two states have certified compliance, while forty-six states and territories have submitted assurances to eventually comply, which allows them to keep their funding.

“But those assurances will become hollow — and states and territories may not make them — absent the threat of financial penalties for failure to become compliant,” the Commission wrote.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DNA, LAPD, prison policy, racial justice | 6 Comments »

Helping Treatment Programs Access Funding, LAPD to Implement Discipline Recommendations, CA Attorney General Discusses Marijuana Legalization, and Montana Gets Gay Marriage

November 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TOWARD MAKING IT EASIER FOR TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAMS TO GET FUNDING

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas to look at possibilities for expanding eligibility requirements for the competitive bid process for county funding, so that community treatment programs that do great work serving at-risk kids, but don’t fit into the county’s “square peg” system, can still win crucial funding.

For instance, Don Knabe said he would like to find a way to provide funding for Homeboy Industries, which cannot engage in the county’s competitive bid process because participants are not referred to Homeboy. Instead, gang members seek help at Homeboy of the own volition.

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

About 1,500 juvenile delinquents are released from Los Angeles county youth camps each year and the county spends at least $11 million annually on rehabilitation programs, according to Knabe’s office.

Most of the money goes to traditional “fee for service” programs where a juvenile offender is referred to a specific rehabilitation program after release from camp. Knabe referred to those programs as “square pegs” that fit the county mold because it’s easy to track which services were provided.

He said other successful programs that help troubled youth turn their lives around are left out.

“These are not square peg issues,” he said. “They are issues that have to be met with head-on services,” he said. “And you have to look at all the different models that may be out there.”


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK TELLS COMMISSION HE WILL IMPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DISCIPLINE SURVEY

An internal LA Police Department report released late last week analyzed a survey of 500 sworn officers and employees regarding the LAPD’s disciplinary practices.

Those surveyed said they felt the department discriminated based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. However, when analyzed, respondents’ perceptions of bias were not generally representative of the discipline data gathered by the department. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Yet the department figures show that, for the most part, referrals to the Board of Review and terminations of latino, white, black, and asian officers were proportionate to the department’s overall ethnic composition.

The report was presented to the LA Police Commission Tuesday. In response, Charlie Beck told the police commission the department would implement recommendations from the report. Among the recommendations to be put into effect are:

- Utilizing new penalty guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness
- Gathering and analyzing Board of Review and complaint data for potential bias
- Developing an anti-nepotism policy

Other reactions to the report were mixed at the commission meeting. LA Police Protective League president Tyler Izen said he felt department officials were unfairly blaming the survey results on officers’ inadequate understanding of discipline policies, and that the report was missing information.

LA police commission president Steve Soboroff said that the report did its job—putting numbers next to claims of gender, minority, or rank-related bias—and that it was not intended to analyze every type of disparate discipline claim (like favoritism by the chief).

The LA Times’ Richard Winton, Kate Mather, and Joel Rubin have more on the the issue. Here’s a clip:

The review looked for disparities in whether officers of certain ranks, gender, or race were ordered to the hearings and ultimately penalized, concluding that data showed there was little merit to the complaints of bias.

Left unexamined, however, was the vast majority of the LAPD’s misconduct cases, which are handled by officers’ commanders.

The president of the union that represents the department’s roughly 9,900 rank-and-file officers dismissed the report Monday as a disappointment.

Tyler Izen was critical of what he said were efforts by officials to blame officers’ concerns on their poor understanding of how the discipline system works.

“They are saying the employees don’t get it…I think [officers] are afraid they are going to be fired,” he said. “I would like to see all the raw data because this report doesn’t tell me much.”

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, acknowledged that some officers believe the discipline system favors those with connections. But he praised the report, saying that it did a good job of analyzing claims of bias based on gender, rank and ethnicity. He said it would have been impossible to quantify all the complaints of disparities in punishments.

“You’ve got a perception that if you’re a friend of the chief’s, then all of the sudden it’s better,” Soboroff said. “You can’t quantify that. How do you do the statistics on that? So that’s a perception issue for the chief to work on. Nobody else but the chief. And he knows that.”

[SNIP]

Capt. Peter Whittingham, an outspoken critic of Beck who has sued the department over retaliation that he claims he suffered for refusing to fire an officer at a discipline hearing, said the report was “deeply disappointing.”

“I thought this was an opportunity for real transparency and for the department to show it really wants to address the core issues raised by officers,” he said.

Questions about discipline had dogged Beck before Dorner surfaced. The chief clashed repeatedly with members of the commission over what they saw as the chief’s tendency to give warnings to officers guilty of serious misconduct and the department’s track record for handing down disparate punishments for similar offenses.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS TALKS MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION WITH BUZZFEED

California Attorney General Kamala Harris told Buzzfeed’s Adam Serwer that she has “no moral opposition” to marijuana legalization, and that it seems inevitable. Harris said a lot has to be figured out for California to make legalization a workable reality, and that she is glad that Oregon and Washington have been paving the way. Here’s a clip:

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

[SNIP]

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said. “The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that… There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.

“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states; if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said.


MONTANA BECOMES 34TH STATE TO ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturned Montana’s ban on gay marriage. Couples were immediately allowed to wed following the ruling. Congrats Montana (a state of which we at WLA are particularly fond)!

The Associated Press’ Lisa Baumann has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Idaho and Nevada’s bans are unconstitutional. Montana is part of the 9th Circuit, and Morris cited the appeals court’s opinion in his ruling.

“The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws,” he wrote.

Four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in May challenging Montana’s ban. The plaintiffs included Angie and Tonya Rolando.

“Calling Tonya my partner, my significant other, my girlfriend, my perpetual fiancée has never done justice to our relationship,” Angie Rolando said. “Love won today.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Marijuana laws, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

LAPD Discipline Survey, the Marshall Project Launch: Missed Habeas Corpus Deadlines, and CA Ordered to Start Paroling Second-Strikers,

November 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD SURVEY SHOWS OFFICERS FEEL THEY ARE UNFAIRLY, INCONSISTENTLY DISCIPLINED

An LA Police Department discipline survey of 500 officers and civilian workers in response to former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner’s rampage over his alleged biased termination from the department. While the department found the firing of Dorner justified upon review, it opened up a discussion among other officers who felt they had experienced discriminatory or otherwise unfair discipline.

The survey indicated that officers and other employees commonly feel the LAPD discriminates based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. But the results were mixed, in some cases. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Similar contradictory opinions were given regarding female officers.

A considerable number of officers felt the department takes too many complaints made against officers, particularly ones that are “obviously false.” According to the survey, a yearly average of 28% of LAPD employees have at least one complaint filed against them.

The survey recommends updating and distributing complaint, discipline, and penalty guides, as well as regularly gathering and analyzing department data on these issues.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The survey was done shortly after former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner was killed in February. The disgruntled ex-officer murdered four people and prompted a massive manhunt before fatally shooting himself during a standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Though officers expressed disgust with Dorner’s actions, some said his grievances about disciplinary bias within the police department sounded legitimate. After a review of Dorner’s disciplinary hearing, the department declared his firing was justified.

The LAPD asked focus groups of employees to give anonymous feedback using a computer system. A group of academics and human relations consultants analyzed the feedback to look for trends.

Below is a sampling of some of the comments published in the survey report.

“Females are held to a lesser standard due to fear of lawsuits or claims of bias.”

“Race is a factor in the discipline system.”

“The media and public pressure have a direct impact on how discipline investigations are handled.”

“Discipline is not imposed when it involves managers and supervisors.”

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck has been criticized for inconsistent discipline for several years now. It surged in the last year or so when a few LAPD captains filed lawsuits alleging unfair discipline and retaliation, saying Beck did not follow top brass recommendations for disciplining other officers. It has been one of the complaints of the L.A. police union that represents the rank-and-file.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Jack Leonard also reported on the survey. Here’s a small clip:

The report…contained data that raised doubts about some of those perceptions of bias. Statistics compiled by the LAPD show that the ethnic, gender and rank breakdown of officers sent to disciplinary panels for suspensions or termination roughly matches the demographics of the LAPD as a whole. White officers, for example, make up 36% of the department and 35% of officers sent to a Board of Rights disciplinary hearing for a lengthy suspension or termination. Black officers account for 12% of officers and 14% of those sent to such hearings.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ordered the report more than 20 months ago after Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer, went on a shooting rampage across Southern California, killing police officers as well as the daughter of an LAPD captain and her boyfriend. In a rambling online document, Dorner claimed that he was seeking retribution after being unfairly fired and was the victim of racial discrimination within the department.

The civilian Police Commission is expected to review the report at a meeting next week.


NON-PROFIT PUBLICATION, THE MARSHALL PROJECT, LAUNCHES WITH TWO-PART SERIES ABOUT DEATH ROW ATTORNEYS MISSING LAST-CHANCE APPEAL DEADLINES

Ken Armstrong, of the new non-profit news organization launched over the weekend, the Marshall Project, has an excellent two-part series in the Sunday Washington Post about what happens when lawyers miss the final deadline for their death row clients’ last-chance appeal.

The first story tells of the 80 death penalty cases in which lawyers miss the final appeal deadline, by an average of nearly two and a half years (but in several cases by a single day). Of these 80 death row inmates thus denied habeas corpus, 16 have been executed. The reasons attorneys miss the cut off run the gamut from failing to overnight documents, to misunderstanding the complicated habeas law, to neglect. Here are some clips:

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent was on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.​

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited.

[SNIP]

Some of the lawyers’ mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help.

The right of condemned inmates to habeas review “should not depend upon whether their court-appointed counsel is competent enough to comply with [the] statute of limitations,” one federal appeals judge, Beverly B. Martin, wrote in an opinion earlier this year. She added that allowing some inmates into the court system while turning others away because of how their lawyers missed filing deadlines was making the federal appeals process “simply arbitrary,” she added.

In the second story, Armstrong explains how only the death penalty inmates suffer the consequences of these lawyers’ missed deadlines. Here’s a clip:

Among the dozens of attorneys who have borne some responsibility for those mistakes, only one has been sanctioned for missing the deadline by a professional disciplinary body, the investigation found. And that attorney was given a simple censure, one of the profession’s lowest forms of punishment.

The lack of oversight or accountability has left many of the lawyers who missed the habeas deadlines free to seek appointment by the federal courts to new death-penalty appeals….

In 17 of the country’s 94 federal judicial districts, special teams of government-funded lawyers and investigators monitor the capital cases coming out of their state courts to make sure deadlines are recognized and met. In some other districts, the federal defender’s office helps to evaluate the private attorneys who might be appointed to handle those appeals.

But for lawyers outside the government, the work is difficult and often unpopular, with limited funds available for investigators and experts. And in most districts, where judges screen candidates themselves or with the help of review committees, the quality of legal counsel varies widely.

Federal judges sometimes appoint lawyers “who are not good enough to handle these cases,” says habeas expert Randy A. Hertz, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

However well-meaning, such lawyers may be inexperienced or overmatched. Some may know the judges who make the appointments, but not the voluminous and complex law surrounding habeas corpus. Others have been found to have mental-health problems, substance-abuse issues or other complications that were missed in their screening.

In about one-third of the 80 cases where habeas deadlines were missed, the federal courts eventually allowed prisoners to go forward with their appeals, often because their attorneys’ failures went beyond what the courts would categorize as mere negligence.

Yet even when attorneys have been chastised in federal court rulings for work described as “inexcusable” or “deeply unprofessional,” they have managed to evade any discipline from bar associations or other agencies. One lawyer castigated by the U.S. Supreme Court for “serious instances of attorney misconduct” still has an unblemished disciplinary record.

A prominent death-penalty defense lawyer, Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina, offered a simple reason for the discrepancy between the magnitude of some lawyers’ mistakes and the paltry consequences they face: “The people who were hurt by it are prisoners.”

The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone speaks with Marshall Project founder Neil Barksy and editor Bill Keller (formerly NY Times editor-in-chief) about the Marshall Project, its mission, and what we can expect from the new publication. Here are some clips:

Neil Barsky has taken on varied roles over the years, from Wall Street Journal reporter to Wall Street analyst, hedge fund manager to documentary filmmaker. Now he has returned to the newsroom as founder and chairman of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice and edited by New York Times veteran Bill Keller.

Barsky’s interest in criminal justice and the inequities of the U.S. system was ignited in recent years by two books: The New Jim Crow, which tackles mass incarceration and the over-representation of African-Americans in prison, and Devil in the Grove, which focuses on a 1949 rape case fought by Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and later the first black Supreme Court justice. The project gets its name from Marshall — and for Barsky, its inspiration.

In an interview at The Marshall Project’s midtown New York offices before Sunday’s launch, Barsky said he wants to push criminal justice issues into the national spotlight. There’s a lack of urgency in dealing with the system’s flaws, he said, despite “how abysmal the status quo is.”

[SNIP]

Keller said he likes coming out of the gate with Armstrong’s piece because it shows readers that The Marshall Project won’t expose flaws in the system only when they concern the wrongly convicted.

“The easiest way to get reader sympathy is to write about people who are innocent,” Keller said. “Everybody feels a sense of unfairness if the law sends somebody away to jail for something they didn’t commit.”

Keller recalled how early on, he and Barsky visited different advocacy organizations, including the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate those wrongly convicted through DNA evidence. After their meeting, Keller recalled that Barsky said, “You know, we’re sort of the Guilt Project.”

“Most of what we’re going to write about is people who are not innocent,” Keller said. “But people who are not innocent are entitled to a fair trial. They’re entitled to not being raped when they get to prison. They’re entitled to competent defense. They’re entitled to prosecutors who don’t withhold exonerating information. They’re entitled to cops who follow Miranda. All these things that are built into our criminal justice system are there for the guilty as well as the innocent. That’s one of the reasons I particularly liked this piece as a debut.”


FEDS ORDER CALIFORNIA TO START PAROLE HEARINGS OF INMATES WITH NON-VIOLENT SECOND-STRIKE FELONIES

On Friday, federal judges ordered California to begin early parole hearings for non-violent second-strike felons by January, overriding the state’s projected hearing launch time-frame of July 2015. The state has been meeting mini-goals set toward a two-year population reduction goal by expanding parole and sentence reduction programs and policies. But because the prison population is still expected to grow, the federal judges are pushing for more lasting solutions. (For backstory on California’s prison population problems, go here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the topic. Here’s a clip:

In February, California officials were ordered to take a number of steps to reduce inmate numbers. At the same time, federal judges agreed to the state’s request for a two-year extension to meet population caps the courts had been trying to enforce for years.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrections department did move thousands of inmates out of state-owned prisons while expanding parole programs for frail and elderly inmates. Corrections officials also increased the sentence reductions some nonviolent felons could earn.

Those moves cut California’s prison population by 1,000 inmates, meeting short-term goals even though state projections show inmate numbers will continue to rise. Judges had sought additional actions to produce a “durable” long-term solution.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to adopt those steps, including the granting of early parole to second-strikers, the judges noted. In October, prison officials told judges that creating such a parole program was “a time-consuming process” and moving faster would “endanger the public.” They did not expect to finish until July 2015.

In an order several weeks ago, the judges said they were “skeptical” of such a delay. On Friday, they gave the state until Dec. 1 to finish plans for the parole program and ordered it in place by January.

Posted in Charlie Beck, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, LAPD, The Feds | No Comments »

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