Sunday, August 2, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Civil Rights


Manifesting Justice This Week in Los Angeles

May 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CURTAIN RAISED FOR POP-UP ART EXHIBIT AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONVERSATION SPACE, MANIFEST JUSTICE

As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”

The 10-day event, called Manifest Justice, put on by Yosi Sergant of TaskForce PR, along with the California Endowment and Amnesty International, features the work of more than 190 artists, discussions with criminal justice leaders and activists, as well as music, poetry, plays, workshops, and a lot more.

Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)

At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.

There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.

Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.

From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.

When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”

That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.

(For more of Chandler’s story, watch her TEDx talk at Ironwood State Prison.)

Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.

Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.

Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.

Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”

Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.

Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.

Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.

Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).

“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:

Jordan Weber:

Yolanda Guerra:

Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.

But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.

There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.

Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 15 Comments »

DOJ, LASD Approve Antelope Valley Settlement…For-profit Prison Companies’ Political Influence…and How We Label Kids

April 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES OKAY DOJ AND SHERIFF’S DEPT. SETTLEMENT OVER DISCRIMINATION IN THE ANTELOPE VALLEY

On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement that will bring much-needed reforms to the LA County Sheriff’s Department stations in Lancaster and Palmdale.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved the settlement in a closed-door meeting Tuesday. The Supes voted 4-1, with Mark Ridley-Thomas as the dissenting vote.

The settlement was announced nearly two years after the DOJ slapped the LASD with a 46-page “findings” letter detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) residents.

The DOJ investigation found that officers from the Antelope Valley stations were conducting racially biased searches and seizures, using excessive force against people already in handcuffs, and harassing and intimidating Section 8 housing voucher holders along with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

The DOJ is working out a separate agreement with the Housing Authority of LA County.

Tuesday’s settlement agreement also instructed the county to set aside $700,000 to compensate the Section 8 housing voucher holders whose rights had been violated—a far cry from the $12.5 million the Justice Department originally demanded of the county in 2013. The county is also ordered to pay an additional $25,000 penalty to the US.

An independent team will monitor the department’s progress as it puts the ordered reforms into action, against a four-year deadline.

Here are the issues to be be addressed, according to the DOJ:

Stops, searches and seizures: measures to improve collection and analysis of policing data to identify instances and patterns of unlawful police-civilian contact, such as stops without adequate legal justification;

Bias-free policing: improved training and supervisory review to prevent and identify biased or discriminatory conduct;

Use of force: measures to improve the quality of use-of-force investigations and develop a better means to detect and correct problematic force patterns and trends;

Policies and training: revised policies on use of force, preventing retaliation, supporting officers who report misconduct, and improving the field training program to ensure that officers develop the necessary technical and practical skills required to use force in a lawful and effective manner, with an emphasis on de-escalation and use of the minimal amount of force necessary;

Internal and civilian complaint investigations: including standards for conducting objective, thorough and timely investigations;

Supervision: including holding supervisors accountable for close and effective supervision; and providing guidance on effective accountability systems to improve public trust;

Housing: measures to ensure proper limits on deputy involvement in searches of Section 8 voucher holders’ homes for compliance with program rules; and

Community engagement: including measures to strengthen civilian involvement and feedback in setting policing priorities; public information programs to keep civilians informed of policing activities; requirements for community interaction at all levels of LASD; and establishing community advisory entities to ensure that meaningful feedback is obtained from the community.

The Sheriff’s Dept. has implemented around a third of the DOJ’s 150 requirements, thus far, but LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he “will not be satisfied, nor should others be satisfied, until we are in full compliance with the high bar that we have willingly taken on – and I welcome the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards.” Sheriff McDonnell said the LASD will look at the DOJ requirements as “opportunities” for the department to improve knowledge, training, and policies.


BY THE WAY: THERE ARE THREE MORE TOWN HALL MEETINGS (INCLUDING THURSDAY) TO DISCUSS THE LASD OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of civilian oversight for the sheriff’s department has been holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. There are still three more meetings in different LA County locations through which you can have a voice in the creation of the oversight panel. Here’s the info.


THE GROWTH OF PRIVATE PRISON COMPANIES THROUGH SPENDING $$ ON POLITICS

Private prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America purport to save states and the federal government money, but in doing so treat prisoners like commodities, even employing lock-up quotas and “low crime taxes.” (Read WLA’s previous posts about troubled private prisons—here, here, and here.)

In order to business from various states and the federal government, since 1989 the two companies have donated $10 million to candidates campaigns, and another $25 million lobbying. And the expenditures have paid off. In 2010, CCA and GEO Group made around $3 billion in profit. GEO Group’s 2010 profits, in particular, jumped 121% over their 2001 figures.

Presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio, appears to have close ties with GEO Group. When the now-senator served as Florida’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House awarded a $110 million contract for a new FL prison to the private company. GEO Group received the contract after Rubio hired a former GEO Group trustee as a financial advisor for his campaign. The senator has also received around $40,000 in campaign donations from the company throughout his career.

California has its share of private lock-ups run by the GEO Group, some federal, others local.

Michael Cohen shines a light on this issue for the Washington Post. Here’s a clip:

With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit. For instance, privatization created the atmosphere that made the “Kids For Cash” scandal possible, in which two Pennsylvania judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks from for-profit juvenile detention centers for sending more kids to the facilities and with unusually long sentences. The influence of private prisons creates a system that trades money for human freedom, often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: children, immigrants and the poor.

The biggest beneficiaries of private prisons’ political donations have been Republican politicians in Florida, Tennessee, and border states with high populations of undocumented immigrants. The Republic Party of Florida PAC has received nearly $2.5 million from GEO and CCA since 1989. In 2010, GEO and its affiliates pumped $33,500 into political action committees benefiting Florida Republicans, including the Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate PAC. Since 2009, GEO Group’s co-founder and chief executive, George Zoley, has personally donated $6,480 to Rubio.

A 2011 investigative report published by The Center for Media and Democracy detailed the connections between Rubio and GEO during his time in the Florida House. It notes that Rubio hired Donna Arduin, a former trustee for GEO’s Correctional Properties Trust, as an economic consultant. Arduin worked with Rubio’s then-budget chief, Ray Sansom, who pushed through a $110 million deal for a new GEO prison in the House Appropriations Bill. The report also detailed how legislation favorable to GEO Group has shadowed Arduin’s presence in government from California to Florida. In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott – who also used Arduin as a budget adviser – pushed (unsuccessfully) to privatize 27 prisons south of Orlando.


“DELINQUENTS,” AT-RISK YOUTH,” AND “DROPOUTS”

For those of us who are word-junkies, Anya Kamenetz has a fascinating story for NPR about the history of what we have called kids who have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are homeless, or who are not in school, or any combination of the three. From “juvenile delinquent,” to “superpredator,” to “at-risk youth,” Kamenetz breaks down what each label represents and suggests about kids they identify. Here’s how it opens:

Much of our recent reporting, especially from New Orleans, has focused on young people who are neither in school nor working. There are an estimated 5 1/2 million of them, ages 16 to 24, in the United States.

But what do we call them? The nomenclature has fluctuated widely over the decades. And each generation’s preferred term is packed with assumptions— economic, social, cultural, and educational — about the best way to frame the issue. Essentially, each name contains an argument about who’s at fault, and where to find solutions.

“I think the name matters,” says Andrew Mason, the executive director of Open Meadow, an alternative school in Portland, Ore. “If we’re using disparaging names, people are going to have a hard time thinking that you’re there to help kids.”

Mason has worked in alternative education for more than 23 years and has seen these terms evolve over time.

To delve deeper into just how much the taxonomy has changed, I used Google’s Ngram Viewer tool to track mentions of some of the most popular phrases in published books. I started at the year 1940. Back then, the prevailing term was:

Juvenile Delinquent

This is among the oldest terms used to describe this category of young people. It was originally identified with a reformist, progressive view that sought special treatment for them, outside of adult prisons. It lumped together youths who broke a law, “wayward” girls who got pregnant or young people who were simply homeless.

The New York House of Refuge, founded in 1825, has been called the first institution designated exclusively to serve such youth. An 1860 article in The New York Times described its mission as “the reformation of juvenile delinquents.”

This was the beginning of the “reform school,” aka “industrial school” movement. The primary response to young people in these situations was to institutionalize them, sometimes for years, with varying levels of access to food, shelter, work and education…

Posted in Civil Rights, Department of Justice, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, media, racial justice | No Comments »

Loretta Lynch, Baltimore, and Two Important Decisions Before the LA County Supes…and More

April 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LORETTA LYNCH SWORN IN AS 83RD US ATTORNEY GENERAL

On Monday, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first female US Attorney General. Lynch replaced Eric Holder, who was the first black Attorney General.

Here are a few clips from AG Lynch’s speech at the Justice Department:

…my mother, who could not be here today but is never far from my thoughts or my heart. She grew up in a world where she was always told what she could not do or could not be, but always knew in her heart that she could soar. She did what would have seemed impossible in the small North Carolina town of her youth. She raised a daughter whom she always told, whatever the dream, whether lawyer, prosecutor or even Attorney General, “of course you can.”

[SNIP]

Because I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see “way up high, Granddaddy,” can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything.

We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them. We can protect the most vulnerable among us from the scourge of modern-day slavery – so antithetical to the values forged in blood in this country. [my ital] We can protect the growing cyber world. We can give those in our care both protection from terrorism and the security of their civil liberties. We will do this as we have accomplished all things both great and small – working together, moving forward, and using justice as our compass.

I cannot wait to begin that journey.

But while Vice President Joe Biden was swearing Lynch in, the turbulent situation in Baltimore, MD further deteriorated.

This afternoon, the new Attorney General issued a statement on the riots, urging Baltimore citizens to put an end to the violence.

Here’s a clip:

“I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore. Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful. The Civil Rights Division and the FBI have an ongoing, independent criminal civil rights investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray…

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence.”


BALTIMORE RIOTS: WHAT’S BEHIND THE VIOLENCE

To keep track of the latest developments in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun has a live update feed.

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb writes about the complex weave of underlying causes that led to Monday’s violence. Here’s a clip:

The sliver of hope that Baltimore might not fully teeter into bedlam went up along with the neighborhood CVS, the police vehicles, and the buildings that were ignited on Monday. The day began with a plea for a moratorium on protests from Fredricka Gray, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, so that her family might bury her brother in peace. But by the afternoon, there was no peace for Gray’s family, nor any other in the city. On Monday afternoon, the governor of Maryland issued a state of emergency. Flyers for a Saturday rally issued by the Black Lawyers for Justice urged protestors to “shut the city down.” Two days later, the city is a theater of outrage. The flames leaping into the sky underscored a crucial concern: if the pleas from Freddie Gray’s family could not forestall violence in the streets of Baltimore, the difficult question will be what can prevent more of it.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf shines a light on a pile of underreported police department abuses that fueled the Baltimore protests (and now, the riots). In one instance, a cop allegedly beat an 87-year-old woman while she tried to help her 11-year-old grandson who had been shot. Another cop allegedly tased a hospitalized meningitis patient to death.

Here are some clips, but read the rest of Friedersdorf’s story:

Let’s start with the money.

$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations.” What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?

[SNIP]

There was a murder-suicide, with a policeman killing a firefighter, his girlfriend, and himself. There was a different officer who killed himself in jail after being charged with killing his fiancée. In yet another case, “Abdul Salaam, 36, says he was beaten in July 2013 after a traffic stop by officers Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz and that he never got a response to his complaint filed with internal affairs,” The Sun reported. “Those officers would be implicated less than three weeks later in the death of 44-year-old Tyrone West while he was in police custody.” Also in 2013, a jury acquitted an off-duty police officer on manslaughter charges after he chased down and killed a 17-year-old boy who may or may not have thrown a rock that thumped harmlessly into his front door.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, former Baltimore Sun reporter, and author also called for an end to the tidal wave of violence in Baltimore.

Here’s a clip from his blog, The Audacity of Despair:

…the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS LIKELY TO VOTE ON UNIQUE PROGRAM TO PREVENT ABUSE BY HELPING FORMER FOSTER KIDS WITH THEIR OWN KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are slated to vote on whether to launch and fund a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. The program would cost $202,000 and would provide parenting assistance to recently aged-out foster kids who have children of their own (or are expecting). The program, to be run by the non-profit, Imagine L.A., would pair the young parents with five volunteer mentors to help with every day activities like taking kids to sports practice and tutoring.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposed pilot program. Here’s a clip:

Harvey Kawasaki of the Department of Children and Family Services said many young adults depend on their parents to help with those kinds of things when they have children of their own. But these youths, who are aging out of foster care, don’t necessarily have that relationship.

“Having a family-mentoring service is creating a surrogate family,” Kawasaki said.

He said the idea is unique in L.A., as most DCFS programs deal with either responding to reports of child abuse or preventing it from reoccurring. This project would target the children of former foster children, something that hasn’t been done before. An estimated 200 foster youth in L.A. County are parents themselves.

“In some sense, this project is trying to test out whether or not this family-mentoring model will prevent intergenerational child abuse,” Kawasaki said.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY APPROVE DOJ SETTLEMENT OVER LASD PALMDALE AND LANCASTER DEPARTMENTS’ RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

In 2013, the US Justice Department slammed the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with 46 pages of “findings” regarding Lancaster and Palmdale deputies’ alleged systemic racial bias against minorities. The DOJ also ordered the LASD, LA County’s Housing Authority, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, to cough up $12.6 million to pay residents who had allegedly been subject to harassment, discriminatory search and seizure, excessive use of force, and more. (Read the backstory.)

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a settlement with the DOJ. The full details of the proposed settlement are not available, but the Sheriff’s Dept. will reportedly have to compensate those whose rights have been violated and agree to (and comply with) orders regarding excessive force, training, and community relations.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on expected settlement. Here’s a clip:

The details of the settlement slated for approval Tuesday have not been publicly released, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the settlement will require the sheriff’s department to comply a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to ongoing monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress.

The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The justice department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.

The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement agreement that will pertain to the Housing Authority. That settlement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.


JUDGE ORDERS LAPD TO RELEASE CLINTON ALFORD BEATING VIDEO

US Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg ordered the LAPD to release surveillance footage of an officer allegedly kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head. The video is to be released Wednesday to Alford’s attorney. (Here’s the backstory.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

“Today a judge validated my client’s right to have a copy of the raw video footage of the brutal beating that included him being kicked and hit by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division,” Harper said. “I said six months ago that if Chief [Charlie] Beck were sincere about transparency he would have released the video then. He wouldn’t have made me compel the production of evidence showing what was done to my client.”

Under the order, Harper can pick up the video Wednesday. She said she will have a forensic expert on hand to examine it. A prior order forbids the public release of the video.

[SNIP]

Beck last week acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident, but he said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.” Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Rights, Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice | No 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


WHAT GOOD ARE BODY CAMS IF WE CAN’T SEE THE FOOTAGE?

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.


DESPITE RECENT TROUBLING INCIDENTS, THE LAPD HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE RODNEY KING ERA, BOTH AT THE TOP AND IN THE STREET, SAYS AUTHOR JOE DOMANICK

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.”

[SNIP]

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.


THE JOB: NEW YORK COP PENS TRUE TALES ABOUT HIS 20 YEARS ON THE NYPD

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.


STUDENT HIT WITH $197 TICKET WHEN CROSSING (NOT JAYWALKING) TO GET TO CLASS ON TIME

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.

[SNIP]

…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 »

Judge Gives Final Stamp of Approval for ACLU Legal Settlement Prompting Jail Oversight After 2009 Jail Beating Victim Tells Story

April 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


There was no real question as to whether U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson
would give his final approval to the settlement of the massive lawsuit brought by the ACLU—Rosas v. Baca—which was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors at the end of last year, and means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

But the 10:30 AM hearing before Pregerson on Monday served as a reminder of how bad things have been in the nation’s largest jail system, in that it featured an appearance by Michael Holguin, a former inmate in Men’s Central Jail, who was one of the 70 Rosas victims or eyewitnesses who made declarations for the lawsuit.

Holguin—who is now 35, and works for a car auction company-–made his report to the ACLU after he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, among them Fernando Luviano, who was also one of the 21 members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have thus far been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into wrongdoing at the LASD.

(Specifically Luviano is part of a group of five deputies charged with assaulting various visitors to Men’s Central Jail, along with handcuffing the Austrian Consul General. Their case is scheduled to come to trial later this year, but you can read the indictment here.)

“The hearing was important because technically there was no final settlement without the court okaying it,” said So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg. But also, he said, having Holquin present was significant because “it was the first time that the court had ever heard from someone who was part of the lawsuit.”

Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013. (He declines to disclose the amount of the settlement.)

When the incident in the jail took place he had been charged with having an illegal weapon—namely a cop baton—in a compartment on his motercycle.

According to his civil complaint, in October of 2009, Holguin and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, then-Deputy Fernando Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy said “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after he had been knocked to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Hoguin with a long stream pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services [see above], Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

When he was returned to his cell after being released from the hospital, Hoguin was “placed on a 29-day loss of privileges” and reportedly “routinely denied” the use of a cane, wheelchair or crutch so that he could make his way around his cell and elsewhere without putting weight on his cast.

Eliasberg said Holguin’s presence was important at Monday’s hearing “because his complaint hits so many of the marks that are reflected in the settlement agreement drawn up by the experts that is now to be implemented.”

Holguin too hoped his presence had an affect. “I don’t normally like to take off work for anything,” he told me. “But when Peter asked me, I said yes, because I’d like to do anything I can to help him and the ACLU, They’ve helped me so much. So, if I can do something to show why the settlement agreement should go through the way it’s written, I wanted to do that.

“I know there’re a lot of great cops out there,” Holguin added. “I really do. But when you have people like I saw, it just ruins it for everybody. It’s not right.”

On Monday afternoon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell put out his own statement on the Rosas confirmation, which he called an “important agreement.”

“Today’s decision enables us to continue to move forward,” stated McDonnell. “From the time I served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence (“CCJV”) and saw firsthand the challenges facing our County’s jails and the concerns regarding how we house and treat those in our charge, I have been deeply committed to this process of change.”

McDonnell pointed to the “great strides” made in the custody division since the CCJV report issued. More work remains to be done, he wrote, but he was deeply committed to “implementing and institutionalizing meaningful and lasting change” that would “insure that our jails are a safe, humane and appropriate place for those we incarcerate. as well as the dedicated men and women who work there.”

May it be so.

Onward.


ABC-7′S MIRIAM HERNANDEZ ALSO HAS A REPORT ON THE HEARING…so check it out.

Posted in ACLU, Civil Rights, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | No Comments »

Crime, Justice & Pulitzers….& the LA Times Books Prizes

April 20th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



LA TIMES BOOK PRIZE WINNER TELLS HAUNTING STORY OF A COMPLEX LIFE THAT WAS MUCH MORE THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

The winners of the LA Times Book Awards were announced Saturday night on the USC campus. It was a grand and glorious night devoted to the celebration of good literature.

(You can find the complete list of winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize here.)

But for those of you who, like me, are criminal justice junkies, (and also reading junkies) the Current Interest nonfiction list of finalists for the LAT prize is one that you should definitely check out.

(FULL DISCLOSURE: I was one of the judges for the Current Interest prize.)

We found all five of the books we chose as finalists to be stellar, which meant we struggled to settle on a winner, with several of the books holding the top spot at one point in the judging or other.

The five were:

Atul Gawande,Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”

Jeff Hobbs, “The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League

Bryan Stevenson, “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption

Matt Taibbi, The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap”

Héctor Tobar, “Deep Down Dark: The Untold Stories of 33 Men Buried in a Chilean Mine, and the Miracle That Set Them Free” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

These are all important books that each read with the narrative urgency of a novel. Yet, obviously, not all deal with justice issues:

Atul Gwande’s essential “Being Mortal,” is about the limits of medicine and how well or poorly we deal with aging and dying.

Hector Tobar’s brilliant “Deep, Down, Dark” tells the remarkable tale of the 33 trapped Chilean miners, their rescue and the aftermath.

But then there is Matt Taibbi’s “The Divide, which lays out, in relentlessly reported detail, stories of investment banks, hedge funds and short-sellers, many of whom commit extravagant crimes without being held to account, juxtaposed with the poor, whom Taibbi shows being locked up on the flimsiest of pretexts.

And there is Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy,” which recounts-–with stories that come from Stevenson’s own experience as a public interest lawyer—the many different and devastating ways that brutality, unfairness, and racial bias continue to infect criminal law in the United States

And finally there is the winner: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs.

Although the issue of race and justice is one of the many threads that wind through Hobbes’ haunting narrative about his near-genius Yale roommate who is shot to death in a marijuana deal gone bad, it is merely one thread in a complex and unforgettable interweave.

Here’s what we judges wrote when we turned our selection in to the Times.

We know the ending of the story before we open The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, yet when we arrive at the moment foretold by this important book’s title, author Hobbs has engaged us so completely that we wish to reach inside the narrative and roll back time, to make the finale play out differently, to force the spectacularly gifted, charismatic, courageous and painfully conflicted Peace to walk quickly in another direction. Hobbs’ deeply reported and mesmerizing work of literary journalism avoids easy assumptions, while offering us many satisfying gifts and troubling questions.


So read it. Hell, read ‘em all. You won’t be sorry.



REPORTING ON CRIME AND JUSTICE REWARDED AMONG THE 2015 PULITZERS

LA Times book prizes were on Saturday, then the Pulitzer Prizes were announced Monday and, among the winners and finalists, there were some works of extraordinarily fine journalism pertaining to the world of crime, justice, and juvenile welfare that you shouldn’t miss. To wit:


‘TILL DEATH DO US PART

The Pulitzer’s top journalism prize for Public Service was awarded to the staff members of the Charleston Post-Courier for their shattering series, Till Death Do Us Part, about South Carolina’s murder rate for women, which is twice that of the nation’s.

Here’s a clip from Part I:

More than 300 women were shot, stabbed, strangled, beaten, bludgeoned or burned to death over the past decade by men in South Carolina, dying at a rate of one every 12 days while the state does little to stem the carnage from domestic abuse.

More than three times as many women have died here at the hands of current or former lovers than the number of Palmetto State soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

It’s a staggering toll that for more than 15 years has placed South Carolina among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men. The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.

Awash in guns, saddled with ineffective laws and lacking enough shelters for the battered, South Carolina is a state where the deck is stacked against women trapped in the cycle of abuse, a Post and Courier investigation has found.

Couple this with deep-rooted beliefs about the sanctity of marriage and the place of women in the home, and the vows “till death do us part” take on a sinister tone.

Consider 25-year-old Erica Olsen of Anderson, who was two months pregnant when her boyfriend stabbed her 25 times in front of her young daughter in October 2006. Or Andrenna Butler, 72, whose estranged husband drove from Pennsylvania to gun her down in her Newberry home in December. Or 30-year-old Dara Watson, whose fiancé shot her in the head at their Mount Pleasant home and dumped her in a Lowcountry forest in February 2012 before killing himself.

Interviews with more than 100 victims, counselors, police, prosecutors and judges reveal an ingrained, multi-generational problem in South Carolina, where abusive behavior is passed down from parents to their children. Yet the problem essentially remains a silent epidemic, a private matter that is seldom discussed outside the home until someone is seriously hurt.

“We have the notion that what goes on between a couple is just between the couple and is none of our business,” said 9th Circuit Solicitor Scarlett Wilson, chief prosecutor for Charleston and Berkeley counties. “Where that analysis goes wrong is we have to remember that couple is training their little boy that this is how he treats women and training their little girl that this is what she should expect from her man. The cycle is just perpetual.”


WHEN THE SUPPOSED RESCUERS MISTREAT KIDS

One of the co-winners of the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting was Eric Lipton of the New York Times for his very disturbing stories showing how the influence of congressional lobbyists can slant justice toward the wealthy and connected—which is a definite must read.

The other co-winner was the Wall Street Journal staff for “Medicare Unmasked,” a remarkable project “that gave Americans unprecedented access to previously confidential data on the motivations and practices of their health care providers.”

But it is the runner-up for Investigative Reporting that we want to draw to your attention. It is a searing investigative report by Chicago Tribune journalists David Jackson, Gary Marx and Duaa Eldeib, about Illinois residential treatment centers for juveniles where kids are mistreated in ghastly ways.

Here’s a clip:

In residential treatment centers across Illinois, children are assaulted, sexually abused and running away by the thousands — yet state officials fail to act on reports of harm and continue sending waves of youths to the most troubled and violent facilities, a Tribune investigation found.

At a cost to taxpayers of well over $200 million per year, the residential centers promise round-the-clock supervision and therapy to state wards with histories of abuse and neglect, as well as other disadvantaged youths with mental health and behavioral problems. On any given day, about 1,400 wards live in the centers, although far more cycle through each year.

In the best cases, the facilities rebuild and even save young lives. But the Tribune found that many underprivileged youths — most of them African-American — are shuttled for years from one grim institution to another before emerging more damaged than when they went in.

Reports of patient-on-patient sexual assault are commonplace at some of Illinois’ largest and most relied-on facilities. Child prostitution schemes take root. Vulnerable children are terrorized by older ones and taught a life of crime. Some are preyed on sexually by the adults paid to care for them. And staggering numbers of wards, some as young as 10, flee to the streets.


THREE YEARS IN RIKERS WITH NO CONVICTION

In the category of Features, the winner was Diana Marcum of the Los Angeles Times for her compassionate and piercing dispatches from California’s Central Valley as its residents cope with the drought.

But it is the work of finalist Jennifer Gonnerman writing for the New Yorker, that we want to direct you toward. Her story about 16-year-old Kalief Browder who was accused of taking a backpack, a crime he maintained in the face enormous pressure, that he didn’t commit. As a consequence, Browder spent more than a thousand days at Rikers Island—many of them in solitary confinement—with no conviction before the district attorney simply dismissed the case.

With much of his adolescence simply lost to the system, Browder is working to make something of his life as he battles the ever-present emotional wounds of those frightening years inside Rikers.

Here’s a clip:

Browder’s brother…noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing [solitary] in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.

Browder was still on Rikers Island in June of 2012, when his high-school classmates collected their diplomas, and in September, when some of them enrolled in college. In the fall, prosecutors offered him a new deal: if he pleaded guilty, he’d get two and a half years in prison, which meant that, with time served, he could go home soon. “Ninety-nine out of a hundred would take the offer that gets you out of jail,” O’Meara told me. “He just said, ‘Nah, I’m not taking it.’ He didn’t flinch. Never talked about it. He was not taking a plea.”


AND IN BREAKING NEWS, FAST AND FINE COVERAGE OF THE ISLA VISTA KILLINGS

And, we don’t want to forget, in the category of Breaking News, the LA Times staff was a finalist for their quick and excellent coverage of the Isla Vista shooting rampage. “The staff mobilized reporters in the middle of the night to cover a deadly spree near the campus of UC Santa Barbara that left seven dead, including the killer, and wounding 13,” said the Times in announcing the honor.

Posted in art and culture, arts, Books, children and adolescents, Civil Rights, criminal justice, journalism, writers and writing | No Comments »

Homeboy’s New Digs, Appealing Compassionate Release Denials, Today’s Faces of Civil Rights…and More

March 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY SPREADS INTO NEW BUILDING TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FORMER GANG MEMBERS

Homeboy Industries—the gang recovery program founded by Father Greg Boyle that, for over 25 years, has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—has bought a much-needed new building that will add 6,000 square feet of space in which to provide employment, job training, and other crucial services.

Homeboy’s financial situation is on the upswing after a drastic downsizing in 2010, but the program still only receives 2% of their budget from government money.

The LA Times’ Brittny Mejia has the story. Here are some clips:

The desperately needed new space will provide welcome relief and allow Homeboy to provide better services to existing clients, said Thomas Vozzo, Homeboy’s chief executive. In addition to job training and counseling, Homeboy provides mental health services as well as job placement, tattoo removal and educational services.

“With that steady financial footing we’ve been on over the last couple of years, it’s time to take on a little bit of an expansion,” Vozzo said.

For all the praise Homeboy Industries has received for its work, it has struggled to raise revenue. The recession saw private donations drop, and the number of jobs available for graduates of Homeboy’s various programs declined.

Boyle conceded that he had to think more like a businessman.

Homeboy’s board of directors has raised $10 million in each of the last two years through individual donors and foundations and has even managed to build up a reserve. Homeboy also has received a $600,000 line of credit and a $700,000 loan for the new building acquisition through Wells Fargo.

But the expansion doesn’t reduce the need for funds — the program receives less than 2% in government funding, Vozzo said. More space, for example, doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to serve more trainees.

“By getting that one building there, it’s not going to allow us to have more people in our program, it’s just going to allow us to do a better job of providing them services in a better environment,” Vozzo said.

Homeboy Industries is planning a grand opening for the new building in April, with the full facility occupied in May. The goal is to eventually take over a whole city block in Chinatown, where the organization can construct a larger building and provide more services to more people, Vozzo added.

For now, employees and volunteers are forced to get creative with space…


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SEZ INMATES CAN APPEAL WHEN THEY ARE DENIED COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

Late last week, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state prisoners with terminal illnesses could appeal a judge’s decision to deny them compassionate release. The decision overturned a lower court decision that only the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could appeal a denial of the state parole board’s recommendation of a prisoner for medical parole.

The Associated Press has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

A few dozen inmates were recommended for a release annually between 1991 and 2009, according to statistics filed with the court by the prisoner advocacy group Justice Now. In an effort to ease prison overcrowding and cut costs, state lawmakers have made more incapacitated and ill inmates eligible for early release.

The ruling was made in the case of James Alden Loper, a San Diego man sentenced to six years in prison for insurance fraud in 2011. The next year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended he be released because of health reasons, including incurable heart disease.

But a San Diego judge refused to let the agency release Loper after a prison doctor testified that it was unclear how long Loper had left to live…


FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY STILL MISSING IN THE UNITED STATES

Here are three things out of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights that we didn’t want you to miss…

The LA Times’ Matt Pearce and Kurtis Lee have a group of profiles on this era’s newly emerging civil rights leaders. The list includes Michelle Alexander, the author of the New Jim Crow, Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life, Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now (and #BlackLivesMatter), Bryan Stevenson, MacAurthur “Genius” and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Fania Davis, founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, as well as heavy hitters in immigration reform and LGBTQ rights.

Here are clips from two of the profiles, but do go read the rest:

Patrisse Cullors
CO-FOUNDER OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER
AGE: 31
LOS ANGELES

A self-described “freedom fighter” and “wife of Harriet Tubman,” Cullors founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to battle for law enforcement reform in Los Angeles County. Cullors came up with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in 2013 of criminal charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. The #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign she helped foster caught on in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 at the hands of a police officer.

“This post-racial Obama era has sort of bamboozled a lot of us into thinking that we’ve come much further than we actually have,” Cullors told California Sunday recently, explaining the significance of the #BlackLivesMatter message. “Obviously we haven’t had enough both talk and practice around what it means to save black lives, because we keep dying. We need to stop being fearful of talking about ourselves.”

Bryan Stevenson
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
AGE: 55
MONTGOMERY, ALA.

Stevenson belongs to a wave of civil rights advocates who focus on prison reform. A MacArthur “genius” grant winner and a Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate, Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative represent death-row prisoners in the Deep South and advocate on behalf of young or poor prisoners. His 2012 TED talk in Long Beach, titled, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” has been watched more than 2 million times.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson said in the talk. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”


WHY BLACK AMERICANS ARE AFRAID OF THE POLICE

Nikole Hannah-Jones has a thought-provoking essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine illustrating the rift between black Americans and white Americans on the subject of the cops who are supposed to “protect and serve,” but often instead stop-and-frisk, harass and detain, and even kill black Americans at highly disproportionate rates.

Here’s how it opens:

Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.

Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.

I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.

The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.

“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.

Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.

“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”

My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.

As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS TWEETS HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND PHOTOS OF BLOODY SUNDAY

By the way, Congressman John Lewis live-tweeted Bloody Sunday anniversary with his own memories and photos from the march. We highly recommend reading through them.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, Civil Rights, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, racial justice | No Comments »

LA Deputy’s Suit Alleges Retaliation for Protesting Inmate Abuse…Fewer Inmates in CA and LA Facilities, Mock School Shootings…and Protecting Access to Justice Behind Bars

February 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTY SUES OVER ALLEGED RETALIATION FROM DEPUTIES, SUPERVISORS FOR REPORTING INMATE ABUSE IN JAILS

In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Ronald Brock alleges department peers and superiors bullied, discriminated against, threatened, and then fired him for protesting inmate abuse in several LA County jails, including Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers.

A great number of department members are mentioned in Brock’s complaint (a riveting 78 pages), including Sgt. Mark Renfrow, Lt. Mark Guerrero, as well as former Sheriff Lee Baca, ex- Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Sgt. Kimberly Milroy.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here are some clips:

He alleges a “veiled threat” came from Lt. Mark Guerrero, who he says told him about how North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un executed his uncle and the latter’s family members for being disloyal.

“Lt. Guerrero told plaintiff that if something happened to a person for reporting misconduct, LASD would not be responsible,” according to the Los Angeles Superior Court complaint filed Wednesday.

[SNIP]

The next month, Sgt. Mark Renfrow ordered Brock to fire a stun gun at an inmate who was not aggressive toward any deputy, the suit states.

“The bloodied and battered inmate was then handcuffed and taken away for medical attention,” according to the lawsuit.

Brock alleges he was told by Renfrow to falsify a statement in a report of the incident to state that the inmate was trying to punch a deputy, or else he would be determined to be insubordinate.

Brock “eventually relented to the incredible pressure and wrote in the report that the inmate was punching at (the deputy),” according to his court papers.

Brock says he later received a note from inmates stating they heard deputies saying they wanted to bring false allegations against him in retaliation for his complaints.


CA PRISONS AND LA JAILS SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCE OVERFLOWING INMATE POPULATIONS

Late last month, California’s prison population dropped below the 137.5% of capacity mandated by a panel of federal judges. The milestone was reached more than a year before the judges’ deadline. This important victory is made possible in large part by the passage of Propositions 36 and 47, but there is still potential for the population to swing back up if the state officials stop making significant strides toward easing overcrowding. (Refresher: 36 reformed the Three Strikes Law, and 47 downgraded certain low-level felonies to misdemeanors.) Since Prop 47′s passage in November, 2,035 California inmates have been freed.

California jails have also seen a substantial drop in inmate numbers, mostly thanks to Prop 47. Since November, Los Angeles County Jails have reduced the overall population by 3,200 inmates. San Diego achieved a 900 inmate reduction.

Jessica Eaglin, Counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU, has more on the numbers’ significance and why neither state nor LA County are out of the woods, yet. Here’s a clip:

This is the first time that the state’s prison population reached this level since 1994. The decline is a direct result of Proposition 36 and Proposition 47. Since Proposition 47 took effect, 2,035 inmates have been released from prison. 1,975 inmates have been released since Proposition 36 took effect.

California jails, too, have experienced reductions in their jail populations in recent months. Initially, Realignment facilitated shifting inmates from prison to county jails. The recent sentencing reforms – particularly Proposition 47 – changed this landscape. Los Angeles County, with the largest jail system in the country, saw its jail population decline by 17%, or 3,200 inmates, since November 2014. The San Diego County jail population, too, declined by 900 inmates. This is a critical development towards reducing overall incarceration in the state beyond simple compliance with the federal mandate.

California still has a long way to go to successfully get its incarcerated population under control. The state continues to send almost 9,000 prisoners out of state in order to comply with the court’s mandate. California increasingly relies on private and public facilities – including by sending 2,000 prisoners to a private facility in the state. The state will spend $12 billion on incarceration this year while trying to accommodate the court’s federal order. Moreover, CDCR’s numbers represent weekly snapshots. It may be that next week the number spikes above the threshold again. On the jails side, the population may creep back up as inmates previously being released early due to overcrowding are now serving as much as 100 percent of their sentences.


STAGING SCARY FAKE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS TO TRAIN KIDS ON WHAT TO DO DURING A REAL SCHOOL MASSACRE

A growing number of law enforcement agencies and schools across the nation are performing “active shooter” drills during school hours to prepare kids for real school shootings. Schools have even carried out these exercises, entirely unannounced to students. In a Florida middle school last November, students believed the cops barreling down their halls with fake guns were real shooters, and sent frantic text messages to their parents.

While most agree that lockdown drills are vital to ensure kids know what to do when there is a human threat on campus, experts say the gunman drills, particularly the unannounced kinds, can traumatize kids. But surprise drill advocates say kids do not take scheduled disaster exercises seriously, and that they do not learn from them.

Kids at a junior high in Bakersfield responded similarly to a surprise active shooter drill in November. And here’s what happened in Harlem.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department has performed similar drills at Topanga Elementary, but only to prepare teachers and staff. Students were not involuntarily involved.

Angela Almeida, who has personally participated in a mock school shooting, explores both sides of this issue in an excellent story for the Atlantic. Here are some clips:

Forget what you’ve learned about fake blood and Airsoft props on-site—in these schools, the word “drill” is a frightening misnomer; neither students nor faculty are given any advanced notice of them.

Last November, a middle school in Florida made headlines after students believed an unannounced drill, in which two gunmen barreled down the school’s hallway with a pistol and AR-15, was real. Turns out the shooters were local police officers yelling, “This is a drill!”—but that didn’t stop many students from texting their parents hysterically, telling them they feared for their lives.

[SNIP]

I asked Joseph LeDoux, a highly-regarded neuroscientist at New York University, what might be the most useful strategy for teaching students to act. While it is possible to change how humans instinctually freeze, LeDoux explained, the most effective route for learning may also be the most traumatic. “The introduction of surprise is probably a very useful tactic, because it means the brain has to learn each time students go through the drill,” he said. “When your expectations are violated, then there’s novel information and that’s where you learn. If there’s no violation of expectation, no learning takes place.”

Put simply, if humans know a drill is coming, it’s unlikely they’ll learn much from it. However, while scaring students senseless might make them more equipped to handle an emergency, LeDoux added, the degree to which people are affected by the trauma, in real life or in a simulation, depends upon their preexisting conditions. Everyone reacts differently to trauma.

For individuals struggling to recover from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, for example, reliving memories of high stress and fear can trigger unwelcome flashbacks. As a result, students who fit into this category run the risk of re-experiencing symptoms when confronted with simulation drills firsthand. School psychologists argue that the cost of unearthing terrible memories outweighs the potential benefit of these practices—not to mention the rare chance that someone in the school is carrying a concealed weapon and decides to act defensively. A drill to prepare for tragedy could turn into a tragedy itself.

Bonus: watch what Stephen Colbert has to say about Florida’s surprise drill.


SCOTUS TO HEAR CASE REGARDING INMATES’ RESTRICTED ABILITY TO SUE OVER PRISON CONDITIONS

Alliance for Justice has released a new report spotlighting an important case the US Supreme Court will hear next week. Inmates must overcome huge barriers to sue over conditions behind bars. The biggest roadblock is the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The PRLA was intended to weed out petty lawsuits, but has succeeded in barring inmates from justice who have serious grievances about inhumane treatment behind bars, according to the Alliance for Justice report.

The case challenges the PRLA’s three-strikes provision restricting the number of civil lawsuits an inmate can file before the $400 filing fee—a colossal sum for inmates working for pennies per hour—will no longer be waived. Interpretations of the provision vary, and can mean that inmates can run out of waivers for a number of reasons, when their cases are dismissed, due to technicalities, timing issues, and more.

Here are some clips from the report:

Recent court decisions have expanded congressional restrictions on the right of inmates to access the courts. Today, inmates are losing more cases, winning fewer settlements, and going to trial less often than any time in the past two decades. Yet, civil lawsuits are often the only way to hold prisons accountable for violence, overcrowding, and medical neglect.

And as with all burdens in the criminal justice system, these developments disproportionately burden people of color, particularly African Americans and Hispanics. Fifty-eight percent of all inmates in 2008 were African American or Hispanic, despite these groups only making up 25 percent of the general public. Recent events have shown how difficult it can be for members of these groups to find justice in all walks of life, but nowhere is it as difficult as in a prison.

This report details the ways courts have expanded nearly every element of the so-called “three-strikes” rule of the Prison Litigation Reform Act to keep inmates out of courts, in ways Congress never intended. Later this year, the Supreme Court will decide Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson, and with it, the future of inmate justice. AFJ calls on the Supreme Court to restore the right of all Americans to petition their courts. Access to justice is far too important an American value to take away from one of our country’s most vulnerable populations.

[SNIP]

On February 23, 2015, the Supreme Court will hear oral argument in Coleman-Bey v. Tollefson. Andre Lee Coleman-Bey is an inmate in Michigan who brought a lawsuit against prison officials for interfering with his access to the courts. Coleman-Bey had brought two previous civil cases that were dismissed. He then brought a third case, which was dismissed by the trial court, and he appealed. That appeal is still pending. When Coleman-Bey brought his fourth and most recent suit, the district judge ruled that the three previous cases were strikes, and that he could not have his filing fees waived. The Supreme Court is reviewing the case to decide whether a district court’s dismissal of a lawsuit can count as a strike—and effectively prevent an inmate from filing any more lawsuits—when it is still being appealed.

This case highlights a much greater trend of lower courts expanding the PLRA to hand out strikes based on technical errors, poor timing, and reasonable arguments that end up losing. Even inmates with law degrees, not just the “frequent filers” the PLRA was supposed to target, could now find themselves locked out of our civil justice system.

Congress enacted the PLRA to “reduce the quantity and improve the quality of prisoner suits,” yet the claims of unbounded frivolous prison litigation that sparked its passage do not match reality. Inmates file roughly half as many lawsuits per capita as the general public, but are successful at a similar rate.

Even as pro se litigants bringing cases without lawyers, inmates have been successful in bringing and winning cases in the United States Supreme Court. And litigation has brought reform to prisons that desperately need it. Recent lawsuits have successfully improved inmate medical care, reduced violence and overcrowding, and reformed prison use of solitary confinement.

Posted in Civil Rights, LA County Jail, LASD, Supreme Court, Trauma | 44 Comments »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 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


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

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.

[SNIP]

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….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

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 ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

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.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

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 »

« Previous Entries