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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 »

ABC 7 to Report Sheriff Baca Acts as Pitchman for Health Supplement Company….and More

September 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



According to an upcoming report on ABC 7 (appearing Monday at 11 pm) Sheriff Lee Baca has been acting as a pitchman
for a health supplement company called Yor Health.

(NOTE: The videos that were posted here and here, suddenly vanished during the day on Monday after this story ran, and more reporters began inquiring. They showed Baca as a keynote speaker addressing thousands of Yor Life devotees and sales people at the company’s 2010 annual conference. ABC 7 also reports on Baca’s most recent go round at the company’s September 2013 sales conference earlier this month. Videos from that conference, that had been posted on Yor Health’s site, have also been blocked from public view.)

We understand that ABC 7 has been digging deeply into various aspects of the sheriff’s pitchman activities at Yor Health,—including the question of what if any financial arrangements may have been made in return for Baca’s hawking of the company’s products.

We suspect that the report will also look into the ethics of an elected official pitching for a profit making concern such as Yor Health.

We’ll link to the network’s online report after the segment with Marc Brown airs.

In the meantime, it is interesting to note that the Yor Life sales strategy is described by its founder Dennis Wong as “network marketing.”

Yet, according to other reports, like this one by Bradley Cooper for the NY Sun, Wong has displayed a liking for multilevel marketing and that, around ten years ago, Wong was charged by the Federal Trade Commission for allegedly engaging in an illegal pyramid scheme. Wong and his partner settled with the FTC, and the settlement, among other strictures, “bars them from participating in any prohibited marketing scheme, including any business that operates as a pyramid scheme.”

While we’ve seen no indication that Wong and Yor Life’s business strategy is in any way illegal, complaints about the company’s multi-level marketing efforts have surfaced on various sites the web (such as this one and this one).

In any case, be sure to tune in at 11 pm for ABC 7′s full story on Sheriff Lee Baca as pitchman.


UPDATE: Here’s a link to the broadcast, for those who didn’t get a chance to see it. Plus we have a fuller rundown in WLA’s Monday post by Taylor Walker.


ONE MILLION ELEMENTARY SCHOOL KIDS ABSENT EACH YEAR IN CALIFORNIA SAYS CA AG

In an alarming report released Monday by California Attorney General, Kamala Harris outlines a truancy crisis that is costing the state a fortune in funding, and creating a damaging achievement gap for many of the state’s children.

The AP’s Robert Jablon has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

California must act to reduce rampant truancy that saw an estimated 1 million elementary students absent in the last school year and may cost the state billions of dollars through increased crime and poverty, according to a study released Monday by the state attorney general’s office.

“The empty desks in our public elementary school classrooms come at a great cost to California,” the report said.

The report, scheduled for release at an anti-truancy symposium in Los Angeles, said children have unexcused absences from school for a number of reasons, including family issues, neighborhood safety concerns and bullying. It called for a sweeping battle against absenteeism that brings together parents, educators, lawmakers, law enforcement and community groups.

“The findings are stark. We are failing our children,” the report’s executive summary concluded….


LA’S CITY ATTORNEY GOES AHEAD WITH ECHO PARK GANG INJUNCTION

There has been strong advocacy pro and con about the new gang injunction in Echo Park that has just received court approval.

The LA Times Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles County court last week granted a permanent injunction against six gangs in Echo Park and its surrounding neighborhoods, according to the city attorney’s office.

The injunction prohibits known members of the gangs from associating with each other in public, possessing firearms or narcotics, or possessing alcohol in public, officials said. It also prohibits gang members from possessing aerosol paint containers, felt-tip markers and other items that can be used to apply graffiti.

The gangs named in the injunction are the Big Top Locos, Crazys, Diamond Street Locos, Echo Park Locos, Frogtowns and Head Hunters.

“We’ve got to be tough on violent gang activity, and gang injunctions such as this one … are an important step,” Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement.

The city has 45 other active gang injunctions, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The city’s lawyers filed the Echo Park injunction in June. It creates a 3.8-square-mile “safety zone” in Echo Park, Elysian Valley, Historic Filipinotown and portions of Silver Lake, court documents say.

The injunction — a civil suit that seeks a court ruling declaring a gang a public nuisance — also includes Echo Park Lake and Dodger Stadium


AND MORE ON THE STATE’S PRISON OVERCROWDING CRISIS

We didn’t want you to miss the LA Times editorial on the latest wrinkle in the state’s prison overcrowding crisis and what to do about it. Here’s a clip:

The three federal judges who have ordered California to dramatically reduce its prison population have now pushed back their deadline by 30 days. The delay is both less and more than it seems.

It’s less, because it’s nothing close to the three extra years that Gov. Jerry Brown said he would need to reduce overcrowding and to keep the number of inmates capped. Instead of facing a Dec. 31 compliance date, the governor and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation now have until late January. That’s not enough time to reduce crowding by attrition, or even by assigning newly convicted felons to leased cells in and outside of California.

But it’s also more, or at least it could be. It’s a signal from the judges that they believe, perhaps for the first time since the reduction order was handed down four years ago, that California may be ready to devote considerable thought and resources to reducing the flow of felons into the system….

We agree. And may we step up to the plate.

Posted in CDCR, City Attorney, Civil Liberties, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Gangs, LASD, prison, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

Why Do Kids Falsely Confess to Crimes?…LAPD Union Likes Body Camera Idea (With Caveats)….And It’s Banned Books Week Again

September 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



We know that a significant percentage of those who are falsely convicted—and later exonerated-
–have been convicted largely because they confessed to crimes they did not commit.

It turns out, however, that kids are far more likely to falsely confess than adults, according to a new database of more than 1,100 exonerations that have occurred over the last 25 years.

In a story for the Juvenile Justice Exchange, Gary Gately asked a bunch of experts why this is so?

Here’s a clip from Gately’s report:

The National Registry of Exonerations, put together by the Northwestern University Law School and the University of Michigan Law School, showed 38 percent of youths who were convicted and later cleared had given false confessions, compared with 11 percent of adults.

Experts note juveniles’ brains aren’t fully developed and that teens tend to be impulsive and less mature than adults. Juveniles often don’t weigh long-term consequences of their actions and can be more easily intimidated than adults, and teens have typically been taught to respect authority figures like police officers.

Samuel R. Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Law School and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, pointed out there’s a high proportion of false confessions among juveniles and suspects with mental disabilities, for some of the same reasons.

“These are people who are easier to mislead [than adults], easier to manipulate, more trusting, more likely to be afraid, more likely to be confused, more likely to not understand what’s going on, and we see that repeatedly in the descriptions people give after the fact of why they falsely confess,” Gross told JJIE.


LAPD UNION LIKES MOVE BY NEW COMMISSION PREZ TO GET BODY CAMERAS BUT URGES WISE USE OF THEM

Monday, the LAPPL—the LAPD’s union—put out a statement regarding the fast track move by new police commission head, Steve Soberoff, to get body cameras for the department’s officers. In essence the union officials are very much in favor of the cameras, but urge wise protocols. (Indeed, like any tool, the cameras may be used well or poorly.)

Here’s a clip from their statement:

The Digital In-Car Camera System has proven to be another tool to improve officer safety and accountability, enhance training and improve prosecution of criminal cases. The review of videos by arresting officers has proven valuable in the documentation of criminal activity and subsequent testimony. However, concerns have been raised as to how the Department uses the videos for administrative purposes, and we are addressing those issues as they arise, so as not to allow “gotcha” mentality or misuse to derail the intended purpose. We believe that our officers have not only a duty to be accurate, but a right to be accurate. To that end, the review of video and/or audio evidence before writing reports, testifying, or submitting to interviews in not only important, but vital to that goal.

While video can be helpful, we should all remember that video images and/or recordings are two-dimensional and therefore are not by themselves complete investigations. The work rules for the deployment and use of body cams must assure our members that they not be used to unfairly or unreasonably scrutinize an officer’s work performance.


CELEBRATING BANNED BOOKS WEEK—BY READING AND CHEERING BANNED BOOKS

Banned Books Week has come around again. And a number of publications—- like Forbes….the LA Times….The Washington Times—are celebrating the week by calling attention to their favorite banned books.

This year, in addition to the perennial classics like Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird, we find on the list The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

(Oh, book banning persons, you never cease to amaze!)


NOTE: I’m up in the state of Montana this week and much of next, so this is a shorter-than-usual post. More tomorrow.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Innocence, juvenile justice, LAPD, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

The Legal Brain Behind the Hunger Strike….Perpetual Solitary…. Right on Crime….& More

July 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


PORTRAIT OF CONVICTED KILLER TOD ASHKER, LEGAL BRAIN BEHIND CALIFORNIA’S PRISON HUNGER STRIKE

More credit to Paige St. John for her complex portrait of the inmate who is one of the prime movers behind Pelican Bay SHU’s “Short Corridor Collective,” the masterminds of the prison hunger strike that began on July 8.

Here’s how it opens:

Inside the concrete labyrinth of California’s highest-security prison, an inmate covered in neo-Nazi tattoos and locked in solitary confinement has spearheaded the largest prison protest in California history.

Convicted killer Todd Ashker and three other inmates — representing the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia and the Black Guerrilla Family — called for a mass hunger strike July 8, largely to protest indefinite incarceration in solitary confinement.

More than 30,000 prisoners answered.

Though segregated from others, the leaders, who dub themselves the Short Corridor Collective, have kept the protest going, with more than 600 inmates still refusing food.

Among the four, Ashker is the most outspoken of the collective and the legal brains behind the strike.

Some prisoner-rights advocates describe the intense and sometimes volatile man as a brilliant champion for California’s 130,000 prisoners.


PERPETUAL SOLITARY

Michael Montgomery for the Center for Investigative Reporting and KQED has this excellent story on those stuck in solitary confinement for years based on surprisingly flimsy evidence.


A HUNGER STRIKER DIES BUT THERE’S CONTROVERSY OVER THE REASON

Steve Gorman of Reuters has the story taht, at this point, is loaded with controversy.

Here’s a clip:

Supporters of California prison inmates staging a prolonged hunger strike said on Saturday that one of the prisoners who had been refusing meals has died, but state corrections officials said the death was under investigation as a suicide.

The inmate, identified by mediators for protesting inmates as Billy Sell, died on Monday at the Corcoran State Prison in central California, where he was serving time in a “security housing unit” for prisoners held in solitary confinement, according to the Prisoner Hunger Strike Solidarity Coalition.

The group said in a statement that fellow inmates have reported that Sell was participating in the hunger strike, and that he had been requesting medical attention for several days before his death.


PRISON REFORM THE CONSERVATIVE WAY

An Op Ed by Pat Nolan and Chuck DeVore of the Right on Crime movement, in the LA Times, slams conservatives for trying to score “short-term political points by employing old scare tactics about the state’s prison ‘realignment’ plan,” instead of employing common sense and “successfully reforming prisons with conservative ideas.”

Here’s a clip, but read the whole thing. It’s far better than a single clip can capture.

Go, Right on Crime!

When liberals expand the reach and cost of government, we conservatives label them “knee-jerk.” However, conservatives have shown themselves to be enthusiastically knee-jerk in one area: criminal justice spending. For more than 40 years, conservatives have blindly supported a vast expansion of criminal laws and appropriated billions of dollars for new prisons to hold the inmates convicted under those laws.

Now, the weight of those costs is sinking California’s budget, siphoning off dollars that could go to schools, roads, hospitals or tax cuts. With the state’s expensive and troubled corrections system in crisis, there is a great opportunity to apply conservative principles — smaller, more effective government at lower cost to the taxpayers — to the prisons.

We are leaders in the national Right on Crime movement. We believe it’s no longer enough for conservatives just to be tough on crime; we also must be tough on criminal justice spending. That means getting the most public safety for the fewest taxpayer dollars. Conservatives must demand the same accountability from our correctional system that we require from other government programs…


RIGHTEOUS INVESTIGATION OF HIGH HANDED BEHAVIOR? OR POLITICAL VENDETTA?

In case you missed this latest, strange LASD story over the weekend. Robert Faturechi reports for the LA Times Take a look.

Posted in Civil Liberties, LASD, prison, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary | 1 Comment »

Cheating on LASD Sergeant’s Exams….27 Death Penalty Cases Reviewed for Errors…Hunger Strike Leaders Further Isolated

July 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On Thursday afternoon, Sheriff Lee Baca sent out a department wide email indicating that a few people may have attempted to cheat
on the LASD’s Sergeant’s exam, and that the matter is being investigated.

The announcement that the department is being proactive on such matters is, of course, very good news.

We would like, however, to respectfully suggest that the barn door is being shut a bit on the late side, since credible accounts of certain favored groups of people receiving copies of either lieutenants’ exams or sergeants’ exams have been circulating for the past few years and beyond.

And, of course, since December of 2011, WitnessLA has been reporting on Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s influence on promotions with a system that often scooted “in-the-car” acolytes to the head of the promotion’s queue with all manner of not-by-the-books methods, thus rewarding a pernicious form of loyalty, (which often demonstrated itself with monetary campaign donations), over competence.

So, yes, a bit of investigating and cracking down might be in order, however belatedly.

Better late than never. May the exam cheating perps be apprehended, ASAP.

We await progress reports. In the meantime, here’s a copy of the Sheriff’s statement:

SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT BROADCAST ANNOUNCEMENT
SHERIFF’S HEADQUARTERS BUREAU

TO: ALL CONCERNED PERSONNEL

SUBJECT: SERGEANTS EXAMINATION

REGRETTABLY, IT HAS BEEN BROUGHT TO THE DEPARTMENT’S ATTENTION THAT THERE
MAY HAVE BEEN SOME ISOLATED ATTEMPTS BY INDIVIDUALS TO GAIN AN UNFAIR
ADVANTAGE DURING THE WRITTEN EXAMINATION FOR SERGEANT WHICH WAS HELD ON
JULY 13, 2013. WE ARE TAKING THESE ALLEGATIONS VERY SERIOUSLY AND AN
INTERNAL AFFAIRS INVESTIGATION IS ALREADY WELL UNDERWAY. IT IS OUR INTENT
TO CONCLUDE THE INVESTIGATION AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. IN THE MEANTIME,
THE REMAINING COMPONENTS FOR THE SERGEANT PROMOTIONAL EXAMINATION WILL
MOVE FORWARD AS PLANNED.

ANYONE WITH INFORMATION THAT MAY ASSIST IN THE EXPEDITIOUS CONCLUSION OF
THIS INVESTIGATION IS STRONGLY ENCOURAGED TO CONTACT SERGEANT DAVID BLY
AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. HIS DIRECT NUMBER IS (323) 890-5453.

LEROY D. BACA, SHERIFF


US REVIEWING 27 DEATH PENALTY CONVICTIONS FOR FAULTY FBI FORENSIC EVIDENCE

More than a year ago, the Washington Post wrote that US Justice Department officials has known for years that flawed FBI forensic work might have led to the convictions of potentially innocent people, but prosecutors failed to notify defendants or their attorneys even in many cases they knew were troubled.

As a consequence of these admissions, a federal review of old criminal cases was launched and, in its first round of preliminary investigations, it has uncovered as many as 27 death penalty convictions, “in which FBI forensic experts may have mistakenly linked defendants to crimes with exaggerated scientific testimony, U.S. officials said.”

According to the Washington Post, the review led to an 11th-hour stay of execution in Mississippi in May.

Spencer Hsu of the Post has more on this story. Here’s a clip:

It is not known how many of the cases involve errors, how many led to wrongful convictions or how many mistakes may now jeopardize valid convictions. Those questions will be explored as the review continues.

The discovery of the more than two dozen capital cases promises that the examination could become a factor in the debate over the death penalty. Some opponents have long held that the execution of a person confirmed to be innocent would crystallize doubts about capital punishment. But if DNA or other testing confirms all convictions, it would strengthen proponents’ arguments that the system works.

FBI officials discussed the review’s scope as they prepare to disclose its first results later this summer. The death row cases are among the first 120 convictions identified as potentially problematic among more than 21,700 FBI Laboratory files being examined. The review was announced last July by the FBI and the Justice Department, in consultation with the Innocence Project and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (NACDL).


PRISON HUNGER STRIKE LEADERS PUNISHED WITH MORE EXTREME ISOLATION

This week, the CDCR appears to have decided to deal with the hunger strike in California prisons, which was launched to protest conditions in the system’s isolation units, by putting 14 of the strike’s organizers into even more isolated units, in which they are reportedly prevented from seeing one of their attorneys.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the best account of the issue. Here are a couple of clips:

California prison officials have moved 14 inmate leaders of a hunger strike over solitary confinement conditions to more isolated quarters, cutting off their access to broadcast news and seizing some of their legal papers, according to one of their lawyers.

Another inmates’ lawyer was banned from all state prisons.

Wednesday was the 10th day of the statewide protest, with 2,327 inmates refusing their meals and 229 skipping their prison jobs and classes.

[SNIP]

Prison investigators took legal papers from some of the transferred inmates, said Anne Weills, an Oakland civil rights lawyer representing prisoners in a federal lawsuit over long-term solitary confinement. The documents included potential settlement terms that inmates had drawn up for a July 26 court appearance.

State officials confirmed that some protest leaders were moved but refused to identify the prison where they were located. All of the 14 strike leaders were signatories of protest-related documents, including a manifesto calling for unity among prison ethnic groups against the corrections system.


HAVE A GOOD WEEKEND, everyone. A pile of new stories coming next week.

Posted in CDCR, Civil Liberties, Death Penalty, Innocence, LASD, prison, prison policy, Sheriff Lee Baca | 59 Comments »

Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman—and the Interweave of Fear, Heartbreak and Injustice that Haunts the Verdict’s Aftermath

July 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Since the not guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman was announced just a few minutes
after 7 pm, Pacific Time on Saturday night, there is no shortage of opinions on what the verdict meant and did not mean.

Of all that we have seen and read since Saturday night’s announcement by the all-female jury, among the essays and analyses that we feel adds the most to the collective dialogue are the following:


it’s worth reading everything on the topic by writer Jeleni Cobb who covered the trial and its aftermath for the New Yorker.

Here’s a clip from his essay about Day 10 of the trial:

Amid their frustratingly uneven presentation, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda and the rest of the prosecution have pegged their second-degree murder charges largely on the idea that Martin was losing the fight on February 26th of last year, that he shouted for help, and that Zimmerman, a vigilante would-be cop, shot and killed him anyway. In plotting their route to conviction, they necessarily bypass another set of questions. What if he wasn’t losing the fight? What if Zimmerman is the one who called for help? What if Martin did swing first? And, most crucially, is an unarmed black teen-ager ever entitled to stand his ground?

The answers to these questions have bearing that is more social than legal, but they’re inescapable in understanding how we got here in the first place and what this trial ultimately means.


Also good is this column by our usual go-to-guy from The Atlantic, Andrew Cohen. Here’s a clip from his take on the trial and the verdict, and the oceans of fears, heartbreak and knowledge of our still-tragically race-fractured nation that they triggered.

Of course the deadly meeting last year between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman had at its core a racial element. Of course its tragic result reminds us that the nation, in ways too many of our leaders refuse to acknowledge, is still riven by race. The story of Martin and Zimmerman is the story of crime and punishment in America, and of racial disparities in capital sentencing, and in marijuana prosecutions, and in countless other things. But it wasn’t Judge Debra Nelson’s job to conduct a seminar on race relations in 2013. It wasn’t her job to help America bridge its racial divide. It was her job to give Zimmerman a fair trial. And she did.

[LARGE SNIP]

Without a confession, without video proof, without a definitive eyewitness, without compelling scientific evidence, prosecutors needed to sell jurors cold on the idea of Zimmerman as the hunter and Martin as the hunted. But when the fated pair came together that night, in those fleeting moments before the fatal shot, the distinctions between predator and prey became jumbled. And prosecutors were never able to make it clear enough again to meet their burden of proof. That’s the story of this trial. That explains this result. That’s why some will believe to their own dying day that George Zimmerman has just gotten away with murder.


And finally there is Monday’s essay by the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates. Below is a clip from the opening to get you started, but it demands a full reading:

In trying to assess the the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, two seemingly conflicted truths emerge for me. The first is that is that based on the case presented by the state, and based on Florida law, George Zimmerman should not have been convicted of second degree murder or manslaughter. The second is the killing of Trayvon Martin is a profound injustice. In examining the first conclusion, I think it’s important to take a very hard look at the qualifications allowed for aggressors by Florida’s self-defense statute:

Read the rest. It is painful. And essential.


PS: Oh, yes, and the most intelligent, insightful, literate rant on the verdict and its meaning comes from Charles Pierce, Esquire’s political columnist/blogger. (Charlie Pierce rants so the rest of us don’t have to.)


Demonstrators on the 10 freeway, Skipp Townsend of 2nd Call, July 14, 2013

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Community Health, Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, race, racial justice | 3 Comments »

DEVASTATING: 19 Firefighters Killed Sunday Night in AZ Wildfire…and Other News

July 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



As many of you may have heard by now, 19 firefighters were killed Sunday
night battling an out-of-control wildfire, located about 80 miles northwest of Phoenix.

The 19 were members of a team of highly-trained wildland firefighters known as the Prescott Granite Mountain Hot Shots (pictured above), one of the elite Interagency Hotshot Crews (IHC) that are deployed as needed to major wildland fires throughout the nation.

The deaths of the Prescott hot shots is the second worst such incident in U.S. history, and the worst firefighting loss of life since 1933.

When firefighters or police officers are killed, it tears a particular kind of hole in the community—both locally and in the larger community. Thus, while WLA doesn’t genrally report on wildfires, in this case….attention must be paid.

Here is what LAPD Chief Charlie Beck tweeted at around 10 pm Sunday night:

Feeling incredible shock and grief over the deaths of the 19 firefighters killed in Yarnell,Az wildfires. Please pray 4 their families.CB

Yes.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

OFFICER LAWSUITS AGAINST THE DEPARTMENT DEMONSTRATE NEED FOR CHANGES AND REFORMS SAYS LAPD’S INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s Inspector General, Alex Bustamante, issued a sharply-worded report that critiqued the department’s failure to institute reforms to reduce the number of officers suing department—and collecting big $$ payouts—as a result of various claims of ill-treatment at the hands of the LAPD.

Here’s a small snip from the LA Times’ Joel Rubin’s story on the matter:


Alex Bustamante, the inspector general, calculated that the city has paid $31 million over the last five years to resolve employment-related cases in which members of the LAPD contended they were victims of discrimination, harassment, retaliation or other misconduct. That was almost one-third of the $110 million paid in all LAPD lawsuits, including those involving allegations of excessive force and traffic accidents, the report found.

In a set of recommendations, Bustamante called on the department to implement a mediation program devised by the LAPD, city attorneys and officials from the union representing rank-and-file police officers.

The Los Angeles Police Comission will discuss Bustamante’s report on Tuesday.

And while we’re on the topic, it would be good to know what percentage of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department payouts are to settle with department members.

It should also be noted that, in his report, Bustamante said that, in the last 5 years, the LAPD has paid out $110 million in lawsuits, 31 million of which is cops suing the department.

The Sheriff’s department has, by contrast, paid out over $100 million-in three years.

So how much of that 100 million plus is paid to settle with LASD department members who are suing their department?

Has anyone called for reforms to help cut those numbers down?


SUPREME COURT JUSTICE KENNEDY TOSSES OUT PETITION TO STOP GAY MARRIAGES.

On Sunday, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy turned down requests from Prop. 8 supporters to put a stop to gay marriages in California until they could appeal to SCOTUS to rethink it’s ruling.

Kennedy said, Uh, no.

NPR’s Mark Memmott has the story. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday, the court (with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the majority opinion), ruled 5-4 that the proponents who came forward to defend Prop 8 after it was struck down by a lower court did not have the proper standing to bring the case to the High Court. So, in effect, the lower court ruling was allowed to stand.

The ruling has brought hundreds of same-sex couples to courthouses and city halls across California. As we wrote Saturday, it’s “wedding weekend in San Francisco” and other places.

This weekend, Kennedy (to whom appeals of decisions from California are directed) was asked to put a stop to the weddings. Prop 8′s supporters, as our colleagues at KQED reported, argued that because they have 25 days in which to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling, the marriages should be on hold for at least that long.

Kennedy disagreed. So, the marriages can continue.


TRAVIS COUNTY, TX, EXPERIMENT COULD SET THE STAGE FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM ACROSS THE STATE

Travis County, Texas, (which includes Austin within its borders) has decided that it can do a better job in helping its law breaking kids turn their lives around, by making use of intensive therapy and other rehabilitative programs.

Brandi Grisson writing for the Texas Tribune has the story. Here’s a clip:

“…We will no longer commit kids to the state,” said Jeanne Meurer, a Travis County senior district judge. “We will take care of all of our kids.”

This year, legislators approved a law to allow the county to commit juvenile offenders to local detention facilities instead of sending them to large institutions operated by the Texas Juvenile Justice Department. If the Travis County model is successful, it could set the stage for the next steps in reforming the juvenile justice system — sharply reducing the size of the agency and the number of detention centers.

“Travis County’s experience doing this will tell us what’s possible,” said Michele Deitch, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and an expert on jail conditions.

Since Texas deals with many of the same complex youth populations in its facilities as does California, what Travis does should be worth watching.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Fire, juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, LGBT, Life in general, Supreme Court | 8 Comments »

AG Kamala Harris Acts Fast & Asks 9th Circuit to Lift Stay on Gay Marriage

June 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Immediately following the release of the Supreme Court ruling on Prop. 8, court watchers,
advocates, and constitutional scholars were trying to sort out what, in a practical sense, the ruling meant fo the legality of gay marriage in California.

Wednesday mid morning, California Attorney General Kamala Harris issued a statement that pretty much answers the question.

Here’s a clip from her official statement.

Attorney General Kamala D. Harris today declared that the United States Supreme Court’s historic opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry means that every county in the State of California must now recognize the right of same sex couples to legally marry and asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift its stay and allow same-sex marriages to take place.

“The Supreme Court’s historic ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry means that same-sex couples have the fundamental right to be legally married in all of California’s 58 counties,” said Attorney General Harris. “The Court agreed with our argument that opponents of same-sex marriage lacked the legal standing required to bring the issue to the court. Same-sex marriages can legally resume in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay on the District Court Ruling. I ask that the Ninth Circuit lift this stay immediately, because gay and lesbian couples in California have waited long enough for their full civil rights.”

In an earlier letter to Governor Jerry Brown, Harris advised that, should the challenge to Prop. 8 be found to have no standing (as was the case), the State Department of Public Health should instruct county clerks and recorders in all 58 counties to resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex couples.

Bottom line, same-sex marriages will resume as soon as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals lifts its stay on the District Court ruling.

It appears that no other action is required.

Let the wedding bells ring!


Photo by LABaseballFan courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LGBT | 6 Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

SCOTUS Sez OK to DNA Swab at Arrest, Scalia Protests….Crime in Schools Down, Bullying Not….Juvie Justice Reform in Nebraska

June 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


In a 5/4 decision on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement officers
can take one’s DNA if one is arrested for a serious offense, a decision that elicited howls of protest from certain quarters. However, the primary howl of dissent came, not from the liberal justices or advocacy organizations, but from Justice Antonin Scalia.

(For the record, all three liberal-leaning female justices voted in the minority block. Breyer voted with the majority.)

And, be advised, Scalia didn’t just write a dissent, he insisted on reading it aloud—with much drama, lots of well crafted and colorful verbiage, and general passion.

Here’s a clip from Joan Biskupic’s story for Reuters on Scalia’s dissent :

Writing for the minority, Scalia was joined by three liberal justices. But his 11-minute oral statement – a departure from the usual practice in which only the majority opinion is read aloud – was classic Scalia. It relied on his “originalist” interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and employed forceful rhetoric as clever as it was heated. He declared that the majority’s rationale “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” An adroit writer, he sprinkled in words from decidedly non-legal contexts, such as “hash” and “genuflecting” and mixed in references to American revolutionary Patrick Henry and the biblical Leviathan.

The latter came at a moment of high drama in the white marble courtroom when Scalia concluded: “It may be wise, as the court obviously believes, to make the Leviathan all-seeing, so that he may protect us all the better. But the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would not have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection. I dissent.”

Only a few times each term does a justice read a dissenting opinion aloud. It typically happens in a close, hard-fought case, when a dissenter is especially angry and wants to call attention to a decision he or she believes especially unwise…..

And here’s a clip from Adam Liptak’s more general story on the decision for the NY Times:

The police may take DNA samples from people arrested in connection with serious crimes, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The federal government and 28 states authorize the practice, and law enforcement officials say it is a valuable tool for investigating unsolved crimes. But the court said the testing was justified by a different reason: to identify the suspect in custody.

“When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and they bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody,” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the majority, “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”

Justice Antonin Scalia summarized his dissent from the bench, a rare move signaling deep disagreement. He accused the majority of an unsuccessful sleight of hand, one that “taxes the credulity of the credulous.” The point of DNA testing as it is actually practiced, he said, is to solve cold cases, not to identify the suspect in custody.

But the Fourth Amendment forbids searches without reasonable suspicion to gather evidence about an unrelated crime, he said, a point the majority did not dispute….

Scalia’s dead right, of course. And, although WLA is agnostic on the issue in general, we too are bugged by the legal underpinnings of this ruling. Given how long it typically takes to get DNA results back, the majority’s rationale is a major stretch for the average felony arrest. And we don’t like it that the majority used this squishy and not-terribly supportable line of reasoning as a way to get around any Fourth Amendment problems.

The good news is that the ruling for swabbing will help solve more crimes. And, with luck, fewer innocent people will be convicted. But, it sets a weird precedent.

So, yes, go Antonin! Thank you for not going into your minority status quietly.

PS: For this one brief and shining moment, the ACLU agrees with Scalia, and name checks him in their post ruling statement.


NEW REPORT SHOWS CRIME AND VIOLENCE IN SCHOOLS ARE DOWN SINCE 1992, BUT BULLYING HAS REMAINED DISHEARTENINGLY STEADY

Last Friday, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released a new report that looks at violence and safety in schools and the numbers tell a complicated story.

For example, victimization of students at school by theft and violent crime dropped precipitously from 1993 to 2011 with a high in ’93 of around 165 students per thousand, to only around 35 students per 1000 in 2010.

When it comes to homicides in schools, the numbers were high in 1992, and then again in the 2006-07 school year, but steadily declined after that.

The number of kids who’d brought a weapon to school in the last 30 days has gone down quite a bit since the early 1990s. But still, 5 percent of students have brought a weapon to campus at least one day in the last 30 days (down from more than 12 percent in 1993.)

Yet, while violence and crime in schools dropped, bullying did not.

In 2011, 28 percent of kids between the ages of 12 to 18 reported being bullied at school, with the numbers slightly higher for girls at 31.4 percent, than for boys, at 24.5 percent.

There has been, as one might guess, much more in the way of safety measures put into place since the early 1990s (security cameras, restricted access to campus during school hours, etc.). And yet, while the percentage of schools with security guards, or school police, has remained about the same since 2005 (after rising a bit in 2007) the number of armed personnel on campus has dropped.

Take a look at the numbers and charts for yourself.


NEBRASKA TAKES BIG STEP TOWARD JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM

Although, nationally, juvenile incarceration is dropping, Nebraska had an 8 percent rise between 1997 and 2010, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation analysis released this year.

But now the state has taken a significant step in the direction of turning that trend around, according to a story by James Swift of the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

Nebraska’s juvenile justice system will have a new focus on rehabilitation thanks to a bill signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Legislative Bill 561 (LB561), introduced by state Sen. Brad Ashford (I-Omaha), will allocate $14.5 million towards several new services, as well as a grant program to aid counties in treating juvenile offenders.

The bill decreases the state’s dependency on juvenile detention programming, placing a greater emphasis on youth rehabilitation. The new measure also transfers juvenile offender supervision over to Nebraska’s Office of Probation Administration, which is subordinate to the state’s Supreme Court. Prior to the legislation taking effect, Nebraska’s juvenile populations were instead overseen by the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, Human rights, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Supreme Court, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

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