Tuesday, December 1, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




Civil Liberties

Fear Wins as SB 443, the Asset Forfeiture Reform Bill, Goes Down in Flames

September 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

If one has been convicted of a crime, it makes sense that any ill gotten gains produced by one’s criminal behavior should be forfeit. Right? We can all understand that logic.

And if the police agencies that make the busts get to keep the proceeds from some or all of the seizures of dirty money and property, so much the better. It is, as they say, a win-win.

Okay, but what if you have not been convicted and, in many cases, not even charged with a crime, should law enforcement be allowed to grab your money and/or property—and keep it—-without ever having to prove that a crime has occurred?

Under existing California law, the answer is no.

But due to a loophole in federal law (that we reported on back in April), in California, that no answer can be magically transformed into a yes. Local police or sheriffs who suspect that you might be guilty of a crime—which in the case of cvil asset forfeiture usually means a drug crime—can operate under federal law, instead of state law, if they invite the feds to work with them. Then the cops may take your $$ and whatever else, and keep it to pump up their agencies’ coffers, even if you are never convicted. Ever if you were never charged.

The policy was originally designed in the 1980s to strike a blow against big-time drug traffickers by hopefully crippling them fiscally. But, over time, the broad nature of the federal statute proved to be an irresistible lure to many local police agencies in need of additional revenue. In this way, the perverse incentive of profit making led to abuse.

California’s SB 443, introduced by State Senator Holly Mitchell, (D-Los Angeles) along with a diverse bipartisan group of six co-authors, was designed to plug the loophole. And for a while it seemed that it would. After all, the bill had amassed an impressive array of supporters and it passed out of the state senate with only one vote of opposition.

(Democrat Connie Leyva, the representative for District 20, which includes Pomona, the city with one of the highest asset forfeiture rates in the state, cast the one lonely no vote. To be specific, Pomona scooped up more than $14 million in civil asset forfeiture bucks last year, which was more than the cities of Oakland, Long Beach, Fresno and Bakersfield combined.)

Most Californians don’t like all this conviction-free asset snatching. In, a research poll taken at the end of August, 76 percent of Californians were against asset forfeiture unless the person whose property was taken was convicted of a crime. According to the poll, Republicans and Democrats were equally against the actions that SB 443 was designed to prevent.

When the bill got to the assembly, however, things changed—polls be damned. As we reported yesterday, the bill’s opponents—in the form of law enforcement lobbying groups from all over the state—suddenly showed up in force in the hallways of the capital, telling lawmakers that the bill absolutely could not be passed because local police agencies would lose far too much money, and public safety would be disastrously compromised.

Now parse that out for a minute. California police and sheriff’s departments who engage in this overaggressive forfeiture practice (which not all agencies do) should be allowed to keep the money, property and belongings taken from citizens who have never been convicted of a crime, because otherwise said cop agencies can’t balance their budgets, criminals will run rife through the countryside, and the drug king-pins win.

Despite the illogic, assembly members began to be freaked.

In a last ditch effort to save the bill, Thursday morning before the vote Mitchell and SB 433′s other authors held a press conference on the steps of the state capitol.

“We have today the opportunity to restore a core principle of American justice, and that is that no person’s property can be taken from him or her without due process,” said Republican Assemblyman David Hadley of Manhattan Beach, who was one of the main co-authors of the bill. “In the last 30 years we have strayed from that principle…..We’re here to fight for justice.”

A co-author on the senate side, Republican Joel Anderson, of La Mesa in San Diego County, spoke with equal conviction. “We don’t have a problem if the person is charged and taken to trial,” he told reporters. “What we have a problem with is seizing assets and never charging the individual. It’s wrong, it goes against everything that America stands for. We certainly want to stop crime. We want to stop drugs being sold in our communities. But we can’t do it at the cost of our personal liberties.”

Holly Mitchell, who ran the press conference, spoke first and last.

“Fifteen years ago, the California legislature passed reform measures once it was clear that police were seizing innocent people’s property under civil asset forfeiture,” said Mitchell. “Those reforms are being sidestepped by California law enforcement in order to continue bounty hunting at the expense of innocent California residents.”

Like the the rest of the lawmakers at the press conference, Mitchell expressed strong support for law enforcement, “respect for what they do to keep us all safe,” and a commitment to making sure that police have the proper resources to do their work.

But, she said, she objected to the exaggerations and scare tactics being used by lobbyists. “Bank robberies and [the actions of] criminal drug cartels are crimes under current law and should be prosecuted as such. This bill does nothing to change that….” But, Mitchell concluded, “innocent until proven guilty is the law of this land.”

The presser drew a bunch of reporters yet, by then, it was really too late to undo the damage. .

When the state assembly voted, the tally wasn’t even close. SB 443 went down in flames in a vote of 44 to 21.

Fear and intimidation won.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 5 Comments »

The Battle Over Who Can View Body Cam Footage…..Expert Says LAPD Has, in Fact, Come a Long Way…….NYPD Cop Writes New Book……I SAID, DON’T WALK!!!

April 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In his state of the city speech earlier this month, Mayor Eric Garcetti promised body cameras for all LAPD patrol officers. “In the aftermath of Ferguson, Staten Island, and now, North Charleston,” Garcetti said, “relationship-based policing has put us on track to be the biggest city in America to put body cameras on every officer on the street.”

More recently LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that officers could review their body cam footage before writing reports, a decision that has caused controversy.

But, as major law enforcement departments around the country gear up to begin the widespread use of body cameras, the squabble about officers viewing footage prior to writing reports is going to pale next to the far more central question that the coming widespread use of the cameras will force: What about the public? Can you and I view footage from body cams through the use of public records acts requests?

It is this question that reporter Robinson Meyer asks in a new story for the Atlantic.

“Body cameras are supposed to be instruments of public accountability,” Meyer writes, “but how realistic is it for the public to have access to the footage?”

Therein, it turns out, lies the rub.

Here’s a clip from Robinson’s story:

Soon, thousand of police officers across the country will don body-worn cameras when they go out among the public. Those cameras will generate millions of hours of footage—intimate views of commuters receiving speeding tickets, teens getting arrested for marijuana possession, and assault victims at some of the worst moments of their lives.

As the Washington Post and the Associated Press have reported, lawmakers in at least 15 states have proposed exempting body-cam footage from local open records laws. But the flurry of lawmaking speaks to a larger crisis: Once those millions of hours of footage have been captured, no one is sure what to do with them.

I talked to several representatives from privacy, civil rights, and progressive advocacy groups working on body cameras. Even among these often allied groups, there’s little consensus about the kind of policies that should exist around releasing footage.

Body cameras were introduced as a tool of public accountability, but making their videos available to the public might be too fraught, too complex, and too expensive to actually put into practice.

Much of the ambiguity around body cameras comes down to this: Despite their general popularity, despite being the only policy change called for by the family of Michael Brown, body cameras are a little weird. They are both a way for the public to see what police officers are doing and a way for people to be surveilled. If a body-cam program, scaled across an entire department, were to release its footage willy-nilly, it would be a privacy catastrophe for untold people. Police-worn cameras don’t just capture footage from city streets or other public places. Officers enter people’s homes, often when those people are at their most vulnerable.

So while body-cam footage is “very clearly a public interest record,” says Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, it is also “just full of private information.”

What’s more, there’s no easy way to fix this….

In a related story for the New York Times titled “Downside of Police Body Cameras: Your Arrest Hits YouTube,” Timothy Williams writes:

In Bremerton, Wash., the police chief, Steven Strachan, is wary about making such footage public. After testing body cameras last year, he decided not to buy them for his 71 officers because he feared that the state’s public records laws would require him to turn over the film.

Requests for footage, he said, would create an unwieldy administrative burden for his small department and could potentially violate privacy.

“We hit the pause button,” Chief Strachan said. “Our view is we don’t want to be part of violating people’s privacy for commercial or voyeuristic reasons. Everyone’s worst day is now going to be put on YouTube for eternity.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would limit access to the footage to civilians who are directly involved in the police encounters.

But some law enforcement think that the public should indeed have access.

…[Mike] Wagers, the chief operating officer of the Seattle police, said he understood that the proliferation of body cameras had whetted the public’s appetite for access to the footage. The department, he said, is testing 12 body cameras but plans to outfit 900 patrol officers in 2016.

He said the ultimate goal was to post online every moment of officers’ body camera recordings.

“What’s the purpose of collecting the data?” he asked. “To move to accountability and get to the truth.”

Well, yes. The logistics are likely not going to be simple to solve. But solve them we must.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 30 minute video above is body cam footage from a fatal shooting in Draper, Utah. It was released after the shooting by the Draper Police Department.


On the topic of footage, most of us have never seen the October 2014 surveillance video of 22-year-old Clinton Alford Jr. showing how Alford was yanked off his bike then, when on the ground with his hands behind him, kicked repeatedly in the head by a Los Angeles Police officer named Richard Garcia, 34, and shocked in the back with an electric stun gun.

But some of those who have seen the video, including LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, have described it in alarming terms. The actions of Garcia, said Beck, “were not only beyond departmental policy but were in fact criminal.”

Garcia is one of three LAPD officers facing assault under color of authority charges.

Reporter/author Andrew Gumbel, writing for the Guardian, talked to LAPD expert and author Joe Domanick, about whether or not this cluster of charges against LAPD officers represents a dramatic and hopeful change from the LAPD of the Rodney King/Rampart days.

When it comes to LAPD history, Domanick is right person to ask. He is the author of To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams, and his brand new book on the department: Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, will be out in August.

Here are some clips from Gumbel’s story:

“The department is far, far better in terms of dealing with officer use of force and officer-involved shootings,” said Joe Domanick, the author of acclaimed books about the LAPD. “Charlie Beck has vowed that if there’s ever another riot in Los Angeles, it won’t be on his watch. He’s really sincere about these things.”


Since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the rioting that followed in Ferguson last summer, Chief Beck, a career LAPD cop who witnessed the 1992 riots first-hand, has made extensive efforts to head off the risk of similar unrest in Los Angeles.

Last month he held a closed-door meeting with community leaders and other regional police chiefs to discuss the risk of a Ferguson-type powder keg blowing in the vast concrete jungles of south LA, which remains poor, underserved by businesses and city services and rife with racial divisions.

Such efforts at community outreach have gone a long way to mitigate criticisms of department policies such as “stop and frisk”, which has caused an uproar in New York, or the continuing use of injunctions limiting the civil rights of gang members. Earlier this month, Beck went out of his way to condemn the police shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina – a continent away – saying he too would have arrested the officer involved.

In addition to Garcia’s, two other LAPD excessive force cases are working their way through the courts. Jonathan Lai, who was caught on tape using his baton to hit a man already on his knees with his hands on his head, and Mary O’Callaghan, accused of kicking a woman….after she was in handcuffs, have court appearances in early May.

Domanick noted that over the 20-30 years before the Rodney King case, only one LAPD officer was prosecuted for acts of violence.


And while we’re on the topic of police and books….

Like many of those in law enforcement, Steve Osborne, a former lieutenant in the New York Police Department’s Detective Bureau, is a great storyteller. We know this because Osborne has gathered his stories into a book called The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop..”

The book was released last week, and is already getting excellent reviews.

The timing is, of course, serindipitous. Right now we need to hear the voices of officers who are able to bring the rest of us into their experiences—-which can, in turn, help humanize the argument that too often has been shrill and toxic on both sides.

Last week, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross interviewed Osborne, and, I think you’ll find it an enjoyable listen.

Osborne talks about his first call about a “foul odor” as a rookie, on stopping a murderous knife fight, on working in plainclothes, on foolishly following a suspect into a subway tunnel when the train was coming, on how he nearly shot another cop, and more.

Here’re a couple of short excerpts from the interview:

On whether he ever fired his gun on the job

That’s, like, one of the most common questions. And when I tell people “no” they seem disappointed. It’s like you watch TV and you think cops are firing their guns every night, but that’s not true. And over the course of 20 years, I was involved in thousands and thousands of arrests. On top of that — I couldn’t possibly count — tens of thousands of civilian interactions. No, I never had to fire my gun once, believe it or not.

I had plenty of opportunities. There’s at least a half a dozen guys that are still walking around out there that I would’ve been completely justified using deadly physical force, but at the last possible second I found another way to resolve it. But make no mistake about it: If I had to do it, I would do it. I was fully prepared to do it. Luckily for them and luckily for me, always at the last second, I found a way to resolve the situation without having to resort to deadly physical force. That’s what you have to remember: … You have different tools. You got a nightstick; you got Mace; you got a Taser; you got a gun. Your gun is your last resort, after everything else fails.

On his opinion of the cell video footage of police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing Walter Scott in South Carolina (Slager has been charged with murder)

If you’re expecting me to defend that guy down in South Carolina, forget about it, it’s not going to happen. I saw the video just like everybody else did and I can’t possibly explain what was going on in his head. We don’t shoot fleeing felons. I’ve been in that situation thousands of times, and I never had to resort to deadly physical force.


And finally, on the somewhat unrelated topic of pedestrian crosswalks…

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez was under the impression that you could still cross in the crosswalk at a downtown Los Angeles intersection as long as you were back on the opposing sidewalk by the time that the WALK/DON’TWALK timer counted down to zero.

In truth, I thought so too and have often made the dash during those last 8 or 9 seconds to get to the Main Street entrance of the U.S. Central District Courthouse.

It seems that struggling college student Edwardo Lopez was also suffering from the same misapprehension as Steve Lopez and I were. It turns out, however, that all of us were wrong. The last 10 seconds in a crosswalk function like a yellow light and, even if you make it easily from one side of the street to the other before the counter runs down and the light turns red, you are breaking the law and may be ticketed.

Edwardo Lopez got such a ticket as he was rushing to class—a ticket that had $197 fine attached to it. For most of us, $197 ticket would certainly be unpleasant. But for Edwardo, the $$ amount was nearly one third of the $712 monthly rent for the small one-bedroom apartment where he lives with his brother Miguel, 25, their hard-working mother and two younger sisters.

No one’s blaming the LAPD officer who gave Edwardo the ticket. But columnist Lopez suggests that the cash hit feels a bit usurious for hardworking, lower income people like Edwardo.

So what to do? Lopez has a few suggestions.

It should be noted that we at WLA are not necessarily endorsing Lopez’s solutions, just the discussion. Although we do wonder why lower income people couldn’t pay off such a fine with community service if they didn’t have the cash money.

Here’s a clip from Lopez’s column:

Eduardo Lopez, 22, has not caught many breaks in his young life. If anything, that’s made him more determined to succeed.

The all-star soccer player wants to finish college, he wants to be a firefighter, and he wants to help get his family out of the hole it’s been in from the day he was born.

That means he’s always on the go, and on a recent morning, Lopez was really in a hurry. He had worked a minimum-wage graveyard shift loading pallets for an export company near LAX, then jumped a Green Line train and transferred to the Blue Line.

At the Metro station downtown, he hustled up to street level and saw his bus approaching 7th and Hope streets. If he caught it, he’d make it to his first class at Glendale Community College on time. He hadn’t slept in 24 hours, but he had to get to school.

No problem, he thought. The “don’t walk” sign was blinking. The countdown was at 10 seconds, as he recalls, giving him plenty of time.


…In that scenario, a $500,000-a-year broker pays the same penalty as a struggling student. But it’s chump change to one, and a month of groceries for the other.

It’s the equivalent of an added tax for the crime of being poor. Sorry, young man, but you’ll have to pay a far higher percentage of your income than the rich guy.

The system should have a little more discretion built into it, maybe even a sliding scale based on ability to pay.

Eduardo had to take time out of another busy day to go to court and ask if he could pay off his debt by doing community work. No, he was told. He has until April 27 to pay up, unless he tries to fight it, with no guarantees except that he’d eat up more of his valuable time.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LAPD, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Santa Clara Does it Right With Dual Status Kids….Defining Violent Felony….Freddy Gray’s Voice

April 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this month we introduced you to Angel,
a young woman, now-20, who had spent much of her adolescence in the care of juvenile probation, not because she was particularly breaking any laws (save things like lying about her name when approached by cops), but because after years of chronicled abuse by her mother, she finally fought back, although she was reportedly the one with the bruises. As a consequence Angel wound up a juvenile lock-up. Then, when her term was finished, she stayed under the care of probation, because—although she should have long-ago been in the foster care system, now that she was a teenager, no one seemed sure where else to put her.

Angel was a “dual status” or crossover kid, which in many California jurisdictions makes kids like her nobody’s child.

As defined by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, the term “dual status youth” refers to young people who come into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and occupy various statuses in terms of their relationship to the two systems. A growing body of research has consistently shown that, in comparison to kids involved in only one of the two systems, dual status youth are usually dealing with more in the way of childhood trauma and other daunting challenges. Sadly, despite their needs, these kids often get less consistent help and attention than singly involved young people.

The RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice (a division of the RFK Children’s Action Corps) is trying to change all that by offering consultation, technical assistance, and training to local, state and national “youth-serving agencies” to improve the lives and the outcomes of dual status kids.

With this in mind they have worked with 13 jurisdictions around the nation on efforts designed appropriately synchronize the two systems—child welfare and juvenile justice—in order to give dual status kids the consistant care and services they need to begin to thrive.

One of RFK’s earliest “demonstration” sites is California’s Santa Clara County, which is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay and encompasses 1,312 square miles.

Heidi Benson, writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, has written an excellent profile of what Santa Clara is doing with RFK’s guidance, who is involved, and how it is changing kids’ lives for the better.

Here are some clips:

SAN JOSE, Calif. — At 8 years old, Marco had spent most of his life in the child welfare system. When an uncle took him in, to the first stable family environment he’d ever known, the boy finally began to thrive.

When he turned 13, his behavior changed. He started fighting at school and smoking marijuana daily. His uncle feared for the family’s safety. Marco was sent to a group home. Soon, he was living on the street, addicted to methamphetamine.

The scenario is all too common, said Laura Garnette, chief probation officer for Santa Clara County. “Kids hit adolescence and something snaps.

“We don’t know why, whether it’s memories or the onset of puberty,” said Garnette, who first studied to be a psychologist. “Something triggers past trauma.”


Previously, Marco might have fallen into the bureaucratic and philosophical gap between probation and child welfare. Today, he is back in school and in treatment for substance abuse. Though he is still in a group home, he now lives four days a week with his uncle, whose family is getting supportive services.

“Marco will probably be our first graduate,” said Garnette, who sat in on his hearing in January. “Soon, he’ll be out of both systems. He’ll be living full-time with his uncle. That’s our goal.”


Once a case is labeled “dually involved,” another team convenes — a family meeting, organized by a facilitator who is also a youth advocate.

“They bring in everybody under the sun,” Tondreau said, including parents or foster parents, social workers and probation officers. The group stays on board until a case is decided. The anecdotal evidence is encouraging, he said. “Kids are saying, I really like my team, I’m glad they’re involved in my life.”

A growing body of scientific research shows that the adolescent brain is more malleable and more complex than previously known. The findings have informed progressive legislation: In 2014, taking a cue from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentences.”

The distinction has come into play in Santa Clara.


Even in the best of circumstances, adolescents are vulnerable to poor judgment while their brains are developing. “You’re not weighing consequences because you don’t have the ability to do it quite yet,” said [Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Patrick] Tondreau, who confessed that he knows this through personal experience.

“Part of the reason for my love of juvenile court is that I was in juvenile delinquency court myself,” he said. “I was a good kid, but I got involved with a couple of guys and we snuck out every night and were going for joy rides. Nobody locked their cars back in 1961. We’d get in the car. We’d drive around. And we’d park it right where we’d found it. We weren’t trying to hurt anybody. Then one night, we hit a telephone pole. Everybody got hurt. Not badly. We were lucky.”

At the time he was an Eagle Scout and on the basketball team of his Jesuit high school in Portland, Ore.

He never forgot the sadness he felt, or how deeply upset his parents were. “The shame that they had, that cured everything. The judge couldn’t have done anything to me,” he said.

“Even as a really good kid, with really good parents, I made some terrible mistakes. Adolescents screw up. It’s what happens.”

Now, as a judge of adolescents, he brings that awareness to the bench.

And so does Santa Clara County.


In federal criminal law, the definition of “violent felony” is an extremely fuzzy one. The LA Times Editorial Board hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will force Congress into making some needed changes.

Here’s a clip:

Twice recently the Supreme Court has chastised the U.S. Department of Justice for stretching criminal laws beyond their rational application in order to secure a conviction. Beyond their consequences for individual defendants, these decisions sent a welcome message to prosecutors that they must not uproot a statute from its clear context in order to get their man (or woman).

Sometimes, however, prosecutors are aided in their overreach by laws that are so vaguely written that it’s not clear exactly what conduct is being targeted. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law, which allowed the government to define illegal possession of a gun as a “violent felony” justifying an extended prison term.

The exceedingly unattractive defendant in this case, Samuel Johnson, is a white supremacist from Minnesota who pleaded guilty in 2012 to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, he was sentenced to a 15-year prison term because he had three prior “violent felonies” on his record. Johnson conceded that two of his previous convictions, for robbery and attempted robbery, were violent felonies. But he disputed the government’s decision to classify a third conviction, for possessing a short-barreled shotgun, as a “violent felony.”

The notion that the mere possession of an illegal firearm is a violent act defies the dictionary and common understanding, and Johnson initially argued — plausibly — that it was not. But Monday’s arguments focused on a broader issue: whether the violent felony provision in the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague. The answer is clearly yes.


Now there is an other front-and-center death of a young black man in the nation’s vision; that of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would launch a civil rights investigation into Gray’s death in police custody, which is sparking ongoing demonstrations.

Gray, 27, died this past Sunday, April 19, a week after he was chased by Baltimore officers on April 12, when he took off running after exchanging eye-contact with one of the cops. It is not clear why the BPD chased him, other than the fact that he ran. He was found to have a knife on him, which is not necessarily illegal in Baltimore, and which was not known until he was caught and searched. None of the officers who apprehended Gray described any kind of use of force on the man.

And yet…..Gray reportedly died of a complication of a spinal injury that, barring out-of-season lightening strikes or other forces majeures, almost certainly were sustained during his arrest or during his transport in a police van, or possible both, with the van ride worsening a first injury. According to The Baltimore Sun, members of Freddie Gray’s family have said he sustained three fractured vertebrae in his neck and that his larynx was crushed. Since anyone with the slightest amount of first aid training knows that moving a spinal injured person can exacerbate the problem, the van ride, particularly if he travelled without a seatbelt, could have turned a bad situation tragic. The Sun has also reported that officers present in the van said that Gray repeatedly asked for medical attention.

And was Gray spinal-injured in the course of being apprehended by police? A cell-phone video taken by a local observer would certainly suggest so, given the strange limpness of Gray’s legs as he is being dragged to the police van, shouting what appears to be intense pain.

Baltimore officials like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and police Chief Anthony Batts, (formerly of Long Beach PD, followed by Oakland PD) have struck most of the right notes, promising an unusually quick and transparent investigation, and being very careful to humanize Freddy Gray with believable empathy, while not demonizing officers as they do so. The BPD has, however, suspended the six officers most involved.

The BPD investigation is due to be handed over to prosecutors on May 1. Mayor Rawlings-Blake said she will launch an investigation by an independent commission. And now we have the feds.

If you haven’t yet watched the cell-phone video of Mr. Gray’s arrest, you can find it above. It is harrowing. Not so much the look of it. It is the sound of Gray’s voice.

Here, if you’d like to read a little further, is a commentary by The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson that talks mostly about that voice.

Photo of Angel by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, law enforcement, racial justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

Media & Crime & Race…Emotion Makes Bad Law…..Were SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?…A SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


We know that, statistically, poor minority defendants fair far less well when they come in contact with the American criminal justice system than do non-minorities.

Now, according to a recent report by Media Matters, it turns out that the media also tends to give disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects, over those involving non-black suspects.

Think progress has more on the story.

Compared to the percentage of crimes they actually commit, African Americans are grossly overrepresented on local news broadcasts about criminal activity, according to a new report from Media Matters for America. In New York City alone, black people make up 75 percent of criminals discussed on local channels, whereas they only make up 51 percent of the actual arrest rate.

Summarizing the report, the Color of Change, a black advocacy organization, concluded that all four [NYC] channels [studied] failed to contextualize the crimes that were reported, making no mention of discriminatory policing that targets African American communities or systemic factors that contribute to crime, such as unemployment. By portraying black people as the vast majority of perpetrators, the news stations detracted from criminal activities perpetrated by non-black persons and fueled racial bias.

Unfortunately, media bias parallels extensive research that shows how African Americans are far more criminalized than their white counterparts, nationwide. One study about “who looks criminal” determined that police officers frequently associate black faces with criminal behavior. According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimated African Americans’ participation in burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime by 20-30 percent. Additionally, white people support stricter criminal justice policies if they think that more black people are arrested as a result.

There’s more, so read the rest.


California Proposition 83—otherwise known as Jessica’s Law—passed easily in 2006, and has made a mess ever since, as evidenced by two recent court decisions. Jessica’s law, in case you don’t remember, set down a bunch of regulations and prohibitions about where sex offenders could and could not live after being released from prison. The answer too often was nowhere, which has resulted in homeless sex offenders living on the street, under bridges, in cars—hardly safe situations for anyone.

The LA Times editorial board lays the matter out in a strong and sensible editorial that includes some suggestion solutions.

Here’s how it opens:

Jessica’s Law — California’s version of it, anyway — was a mess from the beginning. Voters here adopted it (as Proposition 83 in 2006 )because they mistakenly believed they were cracking down on horrific crimes against children. They were urged on by nightly harangues from national TV commentators who campaigned on-air for swift action following the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida, a crime that touched an especially sensitive nerve here because the circumstances nearly mirrored the nightmarish killing of Polly Klaas in California a decade earlier. But emotional outpourings of fear, revulsion and collective guilt too often translate poorly into policy and law, and that was surely the case with Proposition 83.

The latest reminder of the law’s failure came last week, when state parole officials announced that they would no longer enforce the measure’s blanket ban on paroled sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children regularly gather.

That decision follows a state Supreme Court ruling this month invalidating the ban as it applied in San Diego County.

Californians have every right to protect their children from child molesters, so it would be understandable if they were perplexed by the actions of the court and corrections officials — until they realize that the residency restriction did nothing of the sort.

In fact, it likely undermined public safety for everyone, children included, by pushing paroled sex offenders from their homes and compelling them to live homeless or as transients, leaving the public in the dark as to their whereabouts and making parolees harder for agents to find.

Besides, it is important to remember that the law did not single out child molesters. It did not distinguish parolees at high risk to commit new crimes, or those more likely to target children, from any of the other 6,000 parolees required to register as sex offenders — or indeed any of the approximately 80,000 Californians not on parole but with a sex offense on their record….


San Francisco’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, announced on Thursday that at least four of the county’s jail deputies reportedly had a little side bets on gladiator-like fights they threatened and cajoled inmates into staging.

(Really, people? After all the scandals in and around the jails in LA, you still think this is a good idea?)

In any case, Vivian Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story.

Here’s a clip:

San Francisco sheriff’s deputies arranged and gambled on battles between County Jail inmates, forcing one to train for the fights and telling them to lie if they needed medical attention, the city’s public defender said Thursday.

Since the beginning of March, at least four deputies at County Jail No. 4 at 850 Bryant St. threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not fight each other, gladiator-style, for the entertainment of the deputies, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

Adachi said the ringleader in these fights was Deputy Scott Neu, who was accused in 2006 of forcing inmates to perform sexual acts on him. That case was settled out of court.

“I don’t know why he does it, but I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face,” said Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, one of the inmates who said he was forced to fight. “It looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing.”

An attorney for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Association said that the allegations were “exaggerated,” and that what happened was basically “horseplay.”

District Attorney George Gascón called the allegations “deplorable.”

Vivian Ho provides has a lot more about the accusations, so read on.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, jail, media, prison policy, race, race and class | 7 Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.


A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

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

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Lawmakers Call for End to Reckless Medicating of CA’s Foster Kids….Head of State Foster Care Sez Not So Fast….Shadows & Ferguson….LAPPL Tells NYT Why Words Matter

August 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


After The San Jose Mercury News ran its eloquent and devastating investigative report by Karen de Sá about the over-use psychotropic meds on California’s foster youth, various lawmakers have come forward to call for fast-tracked action to curb the prescribing of psychiatric meds to essentially drug foster kids into submission.

De Sá writes about the various legislators who have come forward since her report appeared Sunday. Here are some clips:

“It’s easier to take care of a sleeping kid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right,” State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Monday. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s in the best interest of the child — it’s obvious that in so many instances, it’s not.”

Steinberg said he was deeply concerned about the newspaper’s finding that the state spends more on psychiatric drugs for foster children than on any other type of drug. An analysis of 10 years of Medi-Cal data showed psych meds accounted for 72 percent of spending on the 10 most expensive drug groups for foster children, topping $226 million.

Steinberg said that wide-open spigot, fueled by pharmaceutical company marketing, has to be restricted.

“What we know now is that $226 million, 72 percent of the total spent, is being used to over-prescribe and to over-rely on medication as the primary strategy to help these kids who have already had a tough life — and that the side effects and impact on their life and their growth are serious,” Steinberg said. “This report and these numbers tell me that this money is not being well spent in many instance…


One senator on Monday said he was ready to lead the charge. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee — said his committee will consider new policies and legislation to curb overprescribing when the new session begins in December. Beall said he intends to focus on what he calls “‘trash can diagnoses’ — diagnoses that are made simply to control behavior, as opposed to diagnoses that have a medically therapeutic value.”

Beall agreed with Steinberg’s urgency, noting: “There needs to be some action taken to reduce the inappropriate use of drugs in our foster care system — this is not a lightweight issue.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agreed.

“Drugging kids to make them behave isn’t care, isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be legal,” she said in a statement. “Silencing their youthful pain by inducing stupor simply leaves childhood issues to fester into adulthood — and violates the obligation to ‘do no harm’ to those in our care.”


When the Mercury-News talked to Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, about their report, he told the paper that this over-drugging problem would take some time to solve.

Thankfully that answer didn’t work for the Mercury-News editorial board, the members of which seemed to think that every kid whose life was being potentially wrecked by being force-fed an untested cocktail of psychotropic meds, has a life that actually, you know, matters.

Here’s a clip from their editorial:

Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, says there’s no simple way to end the pattern of thousands of foster children spending much of their youth drugged into malleability — the horror eloquently revealed by reporter Karen de Sá on Sunday’s Page One. He says it has to be part of the holistic rethinking of the entire foster care system that’s under way, giving doctors better options than prescribing psychotropic drug upon psychotropic drug to control children who act out.

Really? Really? If this isn’t a crisis, then what is?

The abusive use of powerful medications on kids with formative brains cries out for action. Each child who grows up scarred by this is a human tragedy and, in many cases, a lifetime burden on society.

Yes, the whole foster care system needs rebuilding, and yes, that could reduce the incentive to drug kids to alter behavior. But we can’t write off the children in the system now. That’s like declining to treat a cancer because the cure hasn’t been found.

It’s time to act. There are things the state can do now to at least begin to control the damage to children’s minds and physical health….


Author and associate history professor, Jeleni Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, has been one of the voices consistently worth reading during the most intense days in Ferguson.

His newest essay, posted late Tuesday afternoon at the New Yorker, is another thoughtful and emotionally affecting example. Here are two clips, one from the essay’s beginning, the second taken from near its end:

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me. The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Nothing save random fortune separated the fate of the man who died from that of the one telling the story. Errin Whack and Isabel Wilkerson have both written compellingly about the long shadow of lynching. It is, too often, a deliberately forgotten element of the American past—one that is nonetheless felt everywhere in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, who was eighteen years old, by a police officer. One can’t make sense of how Brown’s community perceived those events without first understanding the way that neglected history has survived among black people—a traumatic memory handed down, a Jim Crow inheritance….

And then this:

…I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger.

I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival. I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here…

Read on.


Being precise with words matters, as this new post on the blog for the LAPD’s union states, calling out the New York Times for what the LAPPL suggests is a careless use of language.

Here’s a clip from the post’s opening:

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it….

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LAPPL | No Comments »

Lessons the LAPD Can Teach……What About Body Cameras?…..John Oliver on Police Militarization….”Toxic Stress” and CA Kids…..& More

August 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Yes, the Los Angeles Police Department is far from perfect. There was, for instance, the recent revelation that they appear to be deliberately cooking some of their crime stats to shower better numbers than they actually have. Yet, they’ve also undeniably made a huge amount of significant progress in the last decade.

With that in mind, the LA Times editorial board listed a few lessons that the staggeringly problematic Ferguson police department might want to learn from the LAPD

Here’s a representative clip:

….More than two decades ago, civic leaders here grasped the importance of diversity on the police force. Today, the LAPD mirrors the city quite closely — Latinos are the department’s largest ethnic group, and blacks make up just over 10% of the force, roughly equivalent to their representation in the city. Ferguson’s force is almost entirely white — only three of 53 commissioned officers are black — even though the population of the city is two-thirds black. It is difficult for residents to trust a force that feels foreign.

The riots forced deep reflection in Los Angeles over how police should best handle unruly crowds. The department today attempts neither to yield to violence nor to provoke it. It’s not always successful — by its own admission, its handling of a May Day rally in 2007 was cause for “great concern.” Still, the LAPD’s reputation for restraint in crowd control is generally deserved. By contrast, authorities in Ferguson responded to initial protests with heavy arms and tactics; the situation escalated rapidly….

For the rest, read on.


The shooting of Michael Brown has brought up the topic of body cameras for police again and, in his story on the issue, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims notes that the Ferguson police department, like many law enforcement agencies, has a supply of the cameras but has not actually deployed them to officers.

The LAPD has been testing body cameras out but has not gone into any wholesale ordering of the things.

Rialto, California, however, is one of the cities that has required all its officers to use cameras (which are no bigger than pagers).

“In the first year after the cameras’ introduction,” Mims writes, “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.”

Mims had more to say about the benefits and potential challenges of camera use when he was on Madeleine Brand’s Press Play on Monday.


John Oliver covered the behavior of the police in Ferguson and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement in his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight.” He makes one false step in calling the convenience store video of Michael Brown irrelevant, but most of the rest of Oliver’s commentary is well-researched, sharply on target, and scathing.


With a bipartisan vote of 34-0, on Monday, the California Senate passed a resolution aimed at getting the governor to begin to focus on the issue of the effect of childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences”—-or ACES— on a kid’s future.

Big sources of trauma are things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness or incarceration of a household member, domestic violence, community violence….and so on.

The resolution notes that studies now have tracked the effects of too many “ACES,” and the results are alarming. For instance, a child with 4 or more ACES is 46 times more likely to have learning or emotional problems, and far more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system…and more.

It also notes that prolonged “toxic stress” can “impact the development of a child’s fundamental brain architecture.”

Yet research has shown too that intervention in a child’s life can mitigate and heal the potential for damage caused by these toxic traumas.

The resolution—-introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice— is largely symbolic.

But it is also viewed as a big step in acknowledging the importance of early childhood trauma in the lives and future of the state’s children, and the need for policy that provides trauma-informed intervention for the kids most affected.

A concurrent resolution unanimously passed the California Assembly on August 11.


As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation begins to comply with the federal court ordered revisions of its long-criticized use-of-force policy with the mentally ill, the California Report’s Julie Small looks at mental illness and California prisons with a series of reports. Here’s a clip from her Monday story, with more to come.

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury.

The issue was brought to light last year through graphic videos shown in court in a lawsuit that was begun in 1990, a lawsuit brought by inmates to improve psychiatric care.


One video showed custody staff at Corcoran State Prison struggling to remove an inmate who was hallucinating and refusing to leave his cell in order to receive medication.

The inmate had taken off his clothes and smeared feces on himself. When he refused to submit to handcuffs, guards in gas masks sprayed a potent pepper spray into the cell, causing the inmate to gasp for air.

The video showed that as the inmate screamed for help, an officer ordered him to “turn around and cuff up.”

The inmate screamed back, “Open the door!”

When the inmate still wouldn’t “cuff up” the officers sprayed him again, repeatedly.

Later, the video showed guards rushing in and wrestling the inmate to the floor and into restraints.


In an innovative restorative justice program run out of one of San Francisco’s jails, men who are awaiting trial on violent crimes rethink their own lives and actions by rethinking what a prison could look like.

Lee Romney of the LA Times has this story, and it’s a good read. Here are a couple of clips to get you started:

All the students wore orange. And on this final day, their paper models were taking shape.

Architect Deanna VanBuren adjusted a piece of tracing paper over Anthony Pratt’s design, showing him how to mark the perimeter to show walls and windows, then urging him to use dots to indicate open spaces.

A towering, broad-chested man with full tattoos adorning both arms, Pratt, 29, was among those sketching out new visions: an airy room with a skylight to cure vitamin D deficiencies and a fountain with a cascading waterfall to represent resilience and adaptability. Privacy barriers for the shower and toilet. A healing center with lots of windows and, in the middle, a talking circle with a sun emblazoned in its center.

The spaces they were planning could be at a New Age retreat, but these were conceived by inmates at San Francisco’s County Jail No. 5.

Most inmates on this 48-man jail pod are awaiting trial on violent crimes. All must agree to participate in a program called “Resolve to Stop the Violence,” which involves concepts of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional criminal justice that focuses on healing victims and offenders alike. This day’s class allowed them to explore their feelings about the system that landed them here and how its physical contours might be altered…..


Restorative justice concepts were first promoted in the 1970s by global practitioner and theorist Howard Zehr, now a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The goal was to make the needs of victims central, and by doing so effect broader healing for all, communities included.

Critics of restorative justice contend the process is too subjective and could lead to proposed remedies that are wildly disparate. As a result, some victim organizations and hard-line prosecutors reject it.

But the practice has nonetheless spread globally and throughout the U.S. as a body of evidence grows showing it helps reduce school expulsions, keep youths out of the criminal justice system and prevent youths and adults who have already been sentenced from re-offending.

The conversation has now turned to space.

NOTE: The video at the top was recorded by reporter Mustafa Hussein of Argus media,who was live streaming from Sunday’s protest when a Ferguson police officer allegedly pointed a weapon at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t turn off his camera light. Hussein is a graduate student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, media, prison, prison policy, PTSD, Restorative Justice, Trauma | 5 Comments »

More on Unarmed Man Shot by LAPD….Family of Compton Man Beaten by LASD Protests….Study: Effects of Cops With Personal Cameras…..Smart Trauma-Informed Re-entry Program for Women

August 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


It has been a bad week for the shooting of unarmed young black men.

First there is the case of Michael Brown in Missouri.

While eyewitnesses are notoriously unreliable, the friend of 18-year-old Brown’s, who was with him this past Saturday when he was fatally shot, has told MSNBC a disturbing account of what he observed prior to the seeing the Ferguson, MO, police officer fire first one, then another, then multiple shots into his unarmed fleeing friend.

Now there is the shooting by an LAPD officer of unarmed Ezell Ford on Monday in South Los Angeles. Ford, a reportedly mentally challenged 26-year-old tackled an officer and grabbed for his gun, after being stopped for an “investigative stop” according to the LAPD. That may very well be the way it happened. But, as with the Brown case, eyewitnesses have started to challenge the police account.

In the case of Ford, an eyewitness told Huffington Post staff reporter, Matt Ferner,

Here’s a clip:

An eyewitness to the killing of Ezell Ford told The Huffington Post on Wednesday that he heard an officer with the Los Angeles Police Department shout “shoot him” before three bullets were unloaded into the unarmed, 25-year-old black man, who was on the ground.

“It is unknown if the suspect has any gang affiliations,” the LAPD said in a statement after the killing.

But people in Ford’s neighborhood said the young man was not remotely involved in gang activity. Leroy Hill said he was an eyewitness to the shooting Monday night, and confirmed that he heard three shots.

“He wasn’t a gang banger at all,” Hill said. “I was sitting across the street when it happened. So as he was walking down the street, the police approached him, whatever was said I couldn’t hear it, but the cops jumped out of the car and rushed him over here into this corner. They had him in the corner and were beating him, busted him up, for what reason I don’t know he didn’t do nothing. The next thing I know I hear a ‘pow!’ while he’s on the ground. They got the knee on him. And then I hear another ‘pow!’ No hesitation. And then I hear another ‘pow!’ Three times.”

At one point while the police had Ford on the ground, but before the shooting took place, Hill said, he heard an officer yell, “Shoot him.

The LA Times reports that another witness also has offered an account of Ford’s shooting that differs from that of the LAPD.

According to Mother Jones Magazine, Ford’s death brings the total of unarmed black men who died at the hands of police under disputed circumstances in the last month to four.


On Wednesday, the family members and attorneys for a skinny 29-year-old schizophrenic man, Barry Montgomery, along with representatives from the Compton NAACP held a press conference in front of the Compton Police Station, to protest the non-fatal beating of Montgomery by sheriff’s deputies last month on July 14, resulting in multiple broken bones and possible permanent injuries.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has that story. Here’s a clip:

Barry Montgomery is a skinny, “docile,” 29-year-old man who’s been diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to his attorneys. He was shooting baskets at Enterprise Park on the evening of July 14–something he does every evening.

Sheriff’s deputies approached Montgomery, according to the sheriff’s department’s account, because they smelled marijuana. According to the official report, Montgomery “became verbally confrontational and subsequently attempted to punch one of the deputies. The deputies then struggled with the suspect and took him into custody.”

He was taken to a hospital after for unspecified injuries.

The family’s attorney, Martin Kaufman said at least 20 deputies were involved.

The sheriff’s department said three deputies were involved–and all have been reassigned to office/administrative duties while an internal affairs investigation examines the incident. Max Huntsman, the newly appointed Inspector General is aware of the allegations and could potentially review the investigation, when his authority takes effect next month.

Montgomery’s family members and attorneys said he came out of the incident with cracked ribs, fractures in his eye sockets, and rips in the skin of his back–allegedly from Tasers


A new report by Michael D. White, PhD for the Office of Justice Programs of the U.S Department of Justice
shows that, while there’s not nearly enough research on the effects of body worn cameras on law enforcement officers, the results that we have from five studies (conducted in Rialto CA, Phoenix, AZ, Mesa, AZ, and two sites in Britain) show that the advent of body cameras produced fewer reports of use of force, fewer citizen complaints, and fewer attacks by citizens on officers. That’s the very good news.

The bad news, if you can call it that, is the fact that it’s not clear what’s causing those lowered numbers. In other words, we’re not sure why the officers and citizens seem to behave better in the presence of cameras. (Well, duh! Perhaps people are more afraid of being caught if they behave badly or report falsely!)

In any case, while we wait for more sophisticated sudies with further controls, if the stats show that that results are better, that’s an excellent step forward and we’re cheered.

By the way, the studies also show that officers have less paperwork to complete when they wear cameras, also a good thing.

You’ll find more details here with the study itself.

NOTE: The LAPD tested body cams earlier this year and they are reportedly still under discussion.


Solano County just graduated a group of women from its Women’s Reentry Achievement Program-–or WRAP

The program came about in 2010 as a result of the grant from the DOJ through the Second Chance Act, which was signed into law in 2008 in response to the need to reduce recidivism and promote safe and healthy families and communities.

In Solano, WRAP was done as a smart partnership between county agencies, state agencies and advocates, which included Solano County Health & Social Services, the County Sheriff’s Office, Probation, plus other partners like the state’s Adult Parole Operations.

Melissa Murphy writing for the Vacaville Reporter has more on the program and its most recent group of graduates.

Here’s a clip:

“I am accepting the new me.”

“The new me is not scared or afraid of taking on new challenges,” said Ashland Timberlake, 25, after graduating form Solano County’s Women’s Re-entry Achievement Program.

It was an emotional day for Timberlake as she accepted her certificate and wish from case managers Pat Nicodemus and Patty Ayala. While she has accomplished a lot, she was also reminded that her mother, who passed away, was not there to see her accomplishment.

“I thank God and I appreciate the program that helped me change my life,” she said while she accepted her certificate.

Still, she’s moving forward and changing her life and stopping the cycle she’s been on since she was 18 years old going in and out of jail.

“It’s been about finding yourself, bettering yourself and healing,” she said and added that the next goal is to get her high school diploma.

WRAP is designed to help women while they are in jail and after they are released to deal with the trauma in their lives, avoid the obstacles that can lead to re-offending and help them make a successful transition back into society.

WRAP is a unique model that uses gender-based risk assessments and trauma-informed case management. It works as a partnership between Health and Social Services, the Sheriff’s Office, Probation Department, District Attorney’s Office of Family Violence Prevention, Public Defender, the Re-entry Council and community partners, including Mission Solano, to assist the women who have a moderate to high risk of returning to the system. The county received a grant to fund the program through 2015.

Shonna Tibbetts, 29, was on the verge of losing her daughter after being involved in an armed robbery. After surviving domestic violence, Tibbetts explained that her life spun out of control.

“I couldn’t handle it,” she said. “I started to use (drugs) and with that lifestyle comes other things.”

She said Nicodemus and Ayala advocated for her to be a part of WRAP, which changed her life. Thursday she was proud to be wearing a pink shirt and jeans instead of a jail jumpsuit with stripes.

Read the rest about the model program here.

Amy Maginnis-Honey also has a good story on the WRAP graduation for the Daily Republic.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LAPD, law enforcement, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Trauma | 13 Comments »

2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

When the LASD Spied on the City of Compton—and Forgot to Tell Anybody

April 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Earlier this month, The Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED ran a jointly produced story about the future of high tech surveillance. As the story’s centerpiece, the reporters focused on a 2012 program of aerial surveillance that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department operated for nine days in the city of Compton.

Here’s the opening clip from the story produced G.W. Schultz and Amanda Pike:

When sheriff’s deputies here noticed a burst of necklace snatchings from women walking through town, they turned to an unlikely source to help solve the crimes: a retired Air Force veteran named Ross McNutt.

McNutt and his Ohio-based company, Persistent Surveillance Systems, persuaded the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to use his surveillance technology to monitor Compton’s streets from the air and track suspects from the moment the snatching occurred.

The system, known as wide-area surveillance, is something of a time machine – the entire city is filmed and recorded in real time. Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city.

“We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”

So did the people of Compton know about this eye in the sky?

Uh, no. As it turns out they didn’t. At least not when it was going on. Here’s what Sergeant Doug Iketani, who supervised the project, told KQED.

The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”

The CIR/KQED report of a “hush-hush” surveillance program in LA County sparked a rash of stories in which people—–some of them Compton residents—–expressed their distinct displeasure at the whole notion.

For example there were stories in CBS Los Angeles….Reason Magazine.The Atlantic….and TechDirt.…among others.

Finally, on Tuesday afternoon of this week, the LASD put out a press release, saying that in the end the department decided not to use the system past its nine day experiment. According to the release, the main reason for nixing the surveillance system had to do with the fact that the images it produced weren’t high resolution enough for the watchers to be able to ID law breakers. In fact, it turned out it was also difficult to tell autos apart.

So nobody needs to get all upset, the release implied, although not in so many words.

“Hawkeye II Wide Area Airborne Surveillance System” was simply a system tested and evaluated as an option which would supplement cameras already deployed in the city of Compton. No notification to the residents was made because this system was being tested in a city where cameras were already deployed and the system was only being evaluated. Additionally, the limitation of the system would not allow for the identification of persons or vehicles. The system’s lack of resolution in no way compromised the identity of any individual. The recordings reviewed by Department personnel were found to have no investigative value as discernable detail of gender, race, hair color or any other identifiable feature could not be made.

The Sheriff’s Department utilizes several forms of technology as a tool to provide communities and citizens of Los Angeles County with a safer environment and better quality of life. The Department has used aerial surveillance in the form of helicopters since the 1950’s; beginning with Sky Knight, a program still in use today. The Department is committed to taking advantage of new technology to assist Deputies in the field and improve the service to the communities we serve.

Don’t get us wrong. We too want our law enforcement to be vigorously up to date on the latest technology for keeping our communities safe. But when it comes to strategies that could affect our rights and our privacy, we’d strongly prefer that they let us know what they were doing—before they actually do it.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, LASD | No Comments »

« Previous Entries