IN NEW POLL CALIFORNIANS MOVE TOWARD COMMUNITY-BASED SOLUTIONS TO MANY PUBLIC SAFETY PROBLEMS
According to a Field Poll released last week, 39 percent of California voters view the justice system as “generally unfair.” That means, of course, that over sixty percent of those questioned saw the American justice system as “generally fair.”
Yet, among certain demographics, those generally fair/generally unfair numbers reversed themselves. For instance, the majority of African Americans chose the more pessimistic of the justice, as did nearly half of young voters ages 18-29.
When asked about specific concerns regarding the unfairness of the justice system, 41% of all voters surveyed, and 54% of those under age 30, felt the system unfairly penalizes people of color more than whites.
But a larger segment of California voters (53%) agreed that their primary concerns when it came to the justice system centered around the system’s treatment of the innocent—specifically that “too many innocent people, regardless of their race and ethnicity, are arrested unfairly, mistreated by police, wrongly convicted for crimes, or given overly harsh punishments.”
HOW TO BUILD A SAFER COMMUNITY
Interestingly, when it came to programs and strategies to make their communities safer, a hefty majority of those polled said they strongly supported community-based prevention strategies for promoting community safety over strategies that mandated spending more money on police and prisons.
Then when asked about specifically what methods they felt might improve community safety, two thirds of the state’s voters said they “strongly support” having their local governments spend funds to increase access to mental health services (66%). The same percentage of voters (66%) favored providing more job training programs (66%). Increasing support programs for young people also drew 66%, while slightly less—56%—wanted to increase access to substance abuse treatment.
Still, a healthy 39% were strongly supportive of increasing the number of police, however just 11% favored building more jails and prisons as a strategy to make their communities safer.
SUPPORTIVE OF KIDS BEING KIDS
Voters seemed to have the most agreement when it came to the need for programs to keep kids in school and out of the justice system.
For instance, greater than eight in ten voters (86%) agreed that suspending or expelling students from school for misbehaviors ranging, from minor misconduct to violent offenses, should only be employed as a last resort after other approaches have been tried “to hold students accountable while keeping them in school.”
This view was shared by the majorities of voter across all age, ethnic and party lines—although Democrats, Latinos, African Americans, and voters under age 30 expressed the strongest agreement for taking this no-expulsion approach.
Similarly, greater than two in three polled said they believed the government’s education and health care systems are better suited than the juvenile justice system to oversee the rehabilitation of juvenile offenders
And by a two to one margin, California voters surveyed told Field that they believed the justice system should treat juvenile offenders differently than adult offenders.
NO FOR-PROFIT DETENTION CENTERS FOR IMMIGRANT DETAINEES
In the last topic area that the survey covered, pollsters found the majority of Californians would make changes in how undocumented immigrant detainees are treated.
Most California voters (68%) favored a policy of releasing undocumented immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers into the community under supervision or electronic monitoring rather than holding the immigrants in a jail or detention center (31%) while they wait to go to court to determine their residency status.
The numbers on this topic are most dramatic with voters under age 30, where close to nine in ten favored community-based supervision.
And if undocumented immigrants are locked awaiting their court appearances, three in four Californians (73%) said these immigrants should be held in government-run facilities rather than in the private, for-profit jails or detention centers (25%) that currently house the majority of immigrant detainees.
It is not clear whether or not these poll numbers are indicative of how voters will vote on the ballot propositions relating to justice issues, like Propositions 66 and 62, which both deal with the death penalty, pro and con, and Governor Jerry Brown’s Proposition 57, which would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give that control back to judges, along with increasing parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense, and boosting access to early release credits.
Yet representatives from the California Endowment, which requested the Field poll, said they were pleased by the what the numbers suggested about Californians’ evolving views and perceptions.
“As a health foundation, we believe it’s time for a new vision of community safety centered on health, education and investing in young people,” said Mary Lou Fulton, Program Director for the Endowment. “It’s encouraging to see that a majority of California voters support moving our tax dollars and policies from punishment to prevention.”
DALLAS POLICE CHIEF DAVID BROWN SAYS WE ARE ASKING TOO MUCH OF OUR POLICE OFFICERS
David Brown, the Dallas police chief—with his painful past of three family members killed by violence, including a son—is the beating heart at the center of the public discussion. At least for the moment. And he’s wearing that mantle well, and humanely, even if with increasing fatigue.
On Monday, Brown confirmed that he and his family getting death threats following Thursday’s shooting.
He also said in a Monday press conference that the public expects too much of law enforcement. “We want to be superman and superwomen and we’re not. We don’t like to ask for help…. But that’s the number one thing we need…”
DALLAS — The police chief here said Monday he feels that law enforcement officers across the country are being asked to take on too much, comments that came as his department was still investigating the mass shooting of Dallas police officers last week and protesters in other cities continued demonstrations against how officers use force.
Even as the Dallas police worked to sift through massive amounts of evidence from the shooting rampage that killed five officers — an effort that entails watching hundreds of hours of videos and conducting scores of interviews — David Brown, the Dallas police chief, said he believes officers in his city and nationwide are under too much strain.
“We’re asking cops to do too much in this country,” Brown said at a briefing Monday. “We are. Every societal failure, we put it off on the cops to solve. Not enough mental health funding, let the cops handle it. Here in Dallas we got a loose dog problem; let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. Schools fail, let’s give it to the cops. That’s too much to ask. Policing was never meant to solve all those problems.”
During his remarks Monday, Brown also offered a hint of the toll that overseeing the response to such a shooting was taking on him. Brown, who has lived through traumas including his son’s death following the young man’s fatal shooting of an officer, said he was “running on fumes.” The chief also said he and his family “received death threats almost immediately after the shooting.”
“We’re all on edge,” Brown said of police in Dallas. “And we’re being very careful.”
Brown said Monday that in addition to the five officers who were killed, nine others were injured due to the gunfire — two more than police had said before. A total of 13 officers used force against the gunman, Brown said, with 11 of them firing their guns and two of them using the explosive that killed the attacker.
LA RESIDENTS TALK ABOUT DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS HAD WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY ABOUT LAST WEEK’S SHOOTINGS—IN BATON ROUGE, ST. PAUL AND DALLAS
KPCC’s Larry Mantle decided not to have a guest on for his last segment on Monday so he could ask listeners to call in and talk about the conversations they’d been having about the complex and painful events of the past week.
As I pointed out in today’s morning links, one particularly unfortunate aspect of the murder of five Dallas police officers Thursday night is that the city’s police department is a national model for community policing. Chief David Brown, who took office in 2010, has implemented a host of policies to improve the department’s relationship with the people it serves, often sticking out his own neck and reputation in the process. At risk of stating the obvious, no sane person would argue that these murders would have been okay if they had occurred in a city with a less community-oriented police department. Nor am I suggesting that the killer or killers represent any legitimate faction of the police reform or racial justice movements. But because Dallas is grieving right now, and the rest of us with it, it’s worth pointing out that in its police department, the city has much for which to be proud. Here are some of the areas where Brown and his administration have made changes:
Use of force
After a series of officer-involved shootings in late 2013, Brown overhauled the department’s lethal-force policies, including a requirement that officers undergo training every two months instead of every two years. The new policies won him a lot of public criticism from police groups and police advocates. He was even criticized by the Dallas Morning News, which accused him of being “reactive” and “moving too quickly.” Brown significantly expanded the data the department gathers on shootings by police, and has set up a team to regularly review that data to identify trends and potential problems. The Dallas PD’s lethal-force policy includes a statement that “protection of human life” is the agency’s primary goal, emphasizes that deadly force should be used with “great restraint,” only “as a last resort,” and requires officers to use all reasonable alternatives before resorting to lethal means. After an incident in which Dallas officers shot and killed a schizophrenic man, the department teamed with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to provide better training for intervening when someone is having a mental health crisis. Moreover, all of the data on the city’s officer-involved shootings is not only available to the public, there’s also a prominent link to the data on the department’s homepage. Brown also seems to understand the important distinction between the cop as warrior and the cop as guardian. And his top aides also seem to understand that when it comes to the harms caused by police militarization, imagery is as important as the gear and how it’s used.
Has it worked? It would appear so. After hitting a high in 2012, officer-involved shootings in the city dropped in each ensuing year. I don’t completely agree with everything Brown has done. In 2013, for example, Brown quietly introduced a policy that allows police officers to wait 72 hours before answering questions about a shooting. I find the research suggesting that a wait time improves an officer’s memory to be lacking. And I’ve seen too many incidents of cops corroborating on a narrative to believe that isn’t how such a wait time would primarily be utilized. But that’s one issue. On the whole, Brown’s record demonstrates that he takes officer-involved shootings very seriously and is implementing policies designed to reduce them — and at times has taken quite a bit of heat for it.
Brown has fired more than 70 Dallas cops since taking office. But he doesn’t just fire bad cops, he also announces the firings — and the reasons for them — on social media…..
DALLAS TRAUMA SURGEON TALKS ABOUT HIS ANGUISH OVER NOT BEING TO SAVE SOME OF THE OFFICERS HE TREATED, ALONG WITH HIS PAIN AS A BLACK MAN
Dr. Brian H. Williams, trauma surgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital, who was one of the primary doctors who treated the 12 officers shot by Micah Johnson in Dallas talked on Monday to press about his anguish at being unable to save some of the officers he treated, and the complex emotions he has experienced as a black man about such shootings as those seen recently in Baton Rouge and St. Paul.
A BLACK FORMER POLICE CHIEF TALKS ABOUT DALLAS, & MORE
….rather than talk about things reasonably, logically, we have the police ratcheting up the rhetoric and we’ve got members of the community ratcheting up the rhetoric and that doesn’t resolve any issues at all. It bothers me any time we lose a citizen or we lose a police officer. We have to recognize that police officers are citizens too…”
THE NON-COP MOM VICTIM SHEILDED HER SONS FROM SHOOTER’S BULLETS IN DALLAS, THEN COPS CAME TO SHIELD HER
The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiskhas a portrait of one of the two civilian victims of the devastating mass shooting in Dallas. Shetamia Taylor and her sons told about their experiences at a press conference on Sunday, July 10, describing to reporters what happened the night when a gunman killed five police officers and wounded ten others including Taylor.
Here’s a clip:
When the shooting started at the Black Lives Matter protest here last week, Shetamia Taylor shouted at her four sons to run.
“They started running up the block and I was running behind them and I felt the bullet,” she said Sunday.
Taylor, 38, had been shot from behind, in her right calf. Still standing, she looked to a police officer ahead of her, a heavyset, balding white man.
Then he was shot, too.
“I saw him go down. When he got hit, he slumped over and he said ‘He has a gun, run!’ ” she said, recounting the incident from her wheelchair at Baylor Medical Center. She began to sob, covering her face.
It would take hours for Taylor to learn the fate of her sons – ages 12, 14, 15 and 18 – and of the dozen officers shot, five of them fatally, by 25-year-old Micah Xavier Johnson.
She tried to raise her sons right, instructing them to treat police with respect, but also to call home if they were ever stopped. Taylor admired police but was increasingly disturbed by the growing tally of police shootings involving black men, and feared for her boys. It had been her idea to go to the protest, the family’s first, which she saw announced on Facebook.
After she was shot, Taylor managed to grab her 15-year-old son, Andrew Humphrey, and push him between a car and the curb, shielding him with her body.
“I was just laying on top of him,” she said. “If it was going to happen to one of my sons, it was going to happen to me first.”
She watched police stream up the block toward them — and the shooting. One of them shouted, “Is anybody hit?’”
Andrew yelled no, unaware that his mother was injured.
Taylor didn’t want to alarm him, and called out quietly to one of the officers, “Yes, sir, I’m hit in my leg!”
Police rushed over, most of them white officers, and jumped on top of Taylor and her son. “There was another one at our feet and another one over our head and several of them lying against a wall. And they just stayed there with us,” she said. “I had never seen anything like that before, the way they came around us and guarded us like that.”
Andrew was crying for police to move them, but they said it wasn’t safe.
As they lay on the concrete, pinned down by gunfire, Taylor saw another police officer get struck. She still doesn’t know if the two officers who were shot in front of her lived through the night.
“It was hundreds of rounds,” she said, “shots all around us.”
RAPPER RAISES $50K FOR LITTLE ROCK POLICE OFFICER
The whole thing began when rapper the Game and his oldest son, Harlan, were talking about what made a good cop in their estimation. After the conversation, Harlem began poking around on the web looking for unsung officers who he felt were engaged in the kind of excellent everyday policing they’d been talking about. Of the men and women in blue he found, he was particularly impressed with Little Rock police officer Tommy Norman, a white cop serving a predominantly black community in the Arkansas city.
On his web page, Norman wrote the that the following was his Mission:
“If you can just take two minutes out of the day to go out and make a difference, whether checking on your neighbor if they’re elderly, cutting someone’s grass, or hold the door for someone. It’s really just act of kindness and I think acts of kindness coming from a police officer means that much more to people because that’s not something you’re used to seeing.”
Now, the Game and Harlem are raising $50,000 for Norman— through a GoFundMe campaign.
According to Rolling Stone’s Daniel Kreps whose story . called attention to Game and Harlem’s efforts in officer Norman’s behalf, the “money raised by the GoFundMe will help Norman better contribute to the community he polices, including ‘purchasing and delivering items such as snacks, drinks, and toys for him to keep his trunk stocked for the kids.’”
The Game launched the fundraising effort after he and Snoop Dog and others led a peaceful march to the LAPD headquarters on Friday, and then joined Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference.
WHEN THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INTERVENES, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES HAVE MIXED RESULTS, AND THE DOJ DOESN’T TRACK LONG-TERM OUTCOMES LIKE WHETHER POLICE SUSTAIN THE REFORMS
Over the past 20 years, the US Department of Justice has intervened to overhaul 16 local law enforcement agencies plagued by officer misconduct (like frequent excessive use of force) and other systemic failures. But the Justice Dept. hasn’t closely examined the long-term outcomes of the interventions, according to Frontline’s Sarah Childress and Washington Post reporters Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich,who looked at the unintended consequences of those DOJ interventions, traveling to Los Angeles and some of the other 16 locations.
The reporters interviewed officials from the 16 law enforcement agencies, the federal monitors, and civil rights advocates about the interventions, their purpose, and what impacts they have on communities and law enforcement officers.
When the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by re-training officers and forcing policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s reform agreement. But once the feds leave, it’s up to the department to continue those reforms, and some backslide.
The Frontline and WaPo reporters looked at available use-of-force and budget-related data and reports from the monitors, and found that results have been mixed. Out of ten police departments for which enough data was available, use of force rates at five departments actually rose after federal intervention. In five others, use of force rates either stayed the same or dropped.
And when the DOJ steps in, taxpayers have to foot the bill. Thus far, Los Angeles has been the must expensive intervention with a price tag of $300 million for 12 years of post-Rampart-scandal federal oversight that ended in 2013. But the DOJ’s efforts produced desperately needed reforms in the scandal-plagued department.
Albuquerque is another of the more obvious success stories. The DOJ went in to address a spike in officer-involved shootings, particularly of the mentally ill. Since 2012, the Albuquerque police have dropped use-of-force incidents by 57% thanks to crisis intervention training.
For many law enforcement agencies, federal oversight lowered officer morale and led to a high officer turnover rate. During Detroit’s 11-year intervention, the police department went through eight police chiefs.
For New Orleans police officers, the DOJ’s 1996-2004 intervention was not enough to carry lasting reform. The feds returned in 2010 after cops were again racking up excessive use of force incidents and illegal stops and searches. One of the latest mandated reforms came in the form of officer-worn cameras. Capt. Mike Glasser told reporters that the enforced videotaping has stopped officers from proactive policing.
Here are a few clips, but the issue is a complex one, so be sure to go over to Frontline and read the whole thing:
Officer morale in some of the departments plummeted during the interventions, according to interviews. Collectively, the departments have cycled through 52 police chiefs as the agencies tried to meet federal demands. Some departments have struggled to sustain reforms once oversight ended, and in some cities, police relations with residents remain strained.
In interviews, Justice Department officials defended the interventions and said that in recent years they have significantly improved the reform process. Those changes have led to greater oversight of police departments and to policing that better protects the civil rights of residents, they said.
“The goal isn’t that we have a perfect police department when we leave,” said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department’s civil rights division. “The goal is that they actually know what to do when there’s a problem.”
“The police departments that we go into, small or big, are ones where there have been findings of pretty significant systemic pattern-or-practice constitutional violations,” Gupta said. “Whether they’re the worst, I don’t know. Whether they are in crisis, yes.”
The Justice Department’s only broad assessment of its interventions occurred as part of a 2010 roundtable with police chiefs from some of the departments targeted. One of the conclusions: Federal officials had no universal way to measure impact and needed better data to determine whether reforms worked.
But numbers will not tell the full story, experts said.
“The hard question – have you stopped doing the things that got you into court in the first place – is something that these consent decrees seem to have trouble answering,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University who has studied reform agreements.
Justice officials said the newest generation of reform agreements, starting with Seattle in 2012 and 11 police departments since, includes benchmarks to indicate whether the reforms are taking hold. Gupta, the civil rights division chief, said Justice can then adjust as needed. She also said Justice officials are working more closely with local law enforcement and community members to build trust.
She cited federal reforms of police in East Haven, Conn., Seattle and Los Angeles as successes that have produced “transformation.”
“And transformation is more than just…enactment of specific reforms,” Gupta said. “It really is a fundamental change in how the community relates to the police department and vice versa.”
But she said once the monitoring ends, so does Justice’s involvement.
“We don’t tend to evaluate…after we have left,” Gupta said. “There’s a limit to how much we can…remain engaged with a particular jurisdiction given our limited resources.”
Some critics have complained that federal interventions leave abusive officers in uniform because the agreements target policies and practices of an agency, not individual employees. But experts said reforming departments is more important than trying to punish officers.
THE CHALLENGES OF CREATING MEANINGFUL CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES
Independent civilian oversight commissions are popping up in jurisdictions across the country as a way to hold law enforcement agencies accountable to the public. But how much power do they actually have to address problems within the agencies and investigate misconduct allegations?
Scripps News’ Ross Jones contacted 200 civilian oversight groups across the nation as part of a special “Focus on Force” series. Jones found that almost two-thirds of those watchdog groups don’t have their own independent investigators. Instead, the majority of the civilian panels work directly with law enforcement agencies’ own internal affairs officers.
Because most oversight groups don’t have teeth and can only make recommendations, they must rely on the cooperation of the departments they monitor.
This year, Los Angeles County officials has wrestled with whether to grant subpoena power to a planned civilian oversight commission that would be tasked with monitoring the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and how to best protect deputies’ privacy without compromising transparency and accountability. The working group tasked with making recommendations as to the reach and composition of civilian oversight recommended the commission use the county’s Office of Inspector General staff for investigation purposes.
[Civilian oversight commissions] rely on police department internal affairs officers to determine if a fellow officer went too far.
And that’s troublesome, some experts say.
“They may not have asked the appropriate follow-up questions or investigated contradictions in what the officer has said,” said Samuel Walker, an expert in police oversight and professor emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
“Some (boards) do have the power to reject what internal affairs does and send it back for further investigation,” Walker said. “That’s good, but you still have to take on faith that they’ve reinvestigated, asked the questions and have got it right this time. But I think taking it on faith isn’t good enough.”
Today, Walker and other experts advocate for another form of police oversight – one that reacts to complaints of misconduct and proactively audits officers’ investigations, collects arrest data and reviews department policies.
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.”
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.
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:
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.
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 settlementthat 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.
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:
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…
…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.”
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.
“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.”
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 abusesthat 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.
$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?
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.
…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.
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 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.)
“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.
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.
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.”
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?
“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.”
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.”
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.
“The department is far, far better in terms of dealing with officer use of force and officer-involved shootings,” said Joe Domanick, the author of acclaimed books about the LAPD. “Charlie Beck has vowed that if there’s ever another riot in Los Angeles, it won’t be on his watch. He’s really sincere about these things.”
Since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the rioting that followed in Ferguson last summer, Chief Beck, a career LAPD cop who witnessed the 1992 riots first-hand, has made extensive efforts to head off the risk of similar unrest in Los Angeles.
Last month he held a closed-door meeting with community leaders and other regional police chiefs to discuss the risk of a Ferguson-type powder keg blowing in the vast concrete jungles of south LA, which remains poor, underserved by businesses and city services and rife with racial divisions.
Such efforts at community outreach have gone a long way to mitigate criticisms of department policies such as “stop and frisk”, which has caused an uproar in New York, or the continuing use of injunctions limiting the civil rights of gang members. Earlier this month, Beck went out of his way to condemn the police shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina – a continent away – saying he too would have arrested the officer involved.
In addition to Garcia’s, two other LAPD excessive force cases are working their way through the courts.Jonathan Lai, who was caught on tape using his baton to hit a man already on his knees with his hands on his head, and Mary O’Callaghan, accused of kicking a woman….after she was in handcuffs, have court appearances in early May.
Domanick noted that over the 20-30 years before the Rodney King case, only one LAPD officer was prosecuted for acts of violence.
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.
…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.
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.”
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.
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 openThe 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 wasDiana 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.
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 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.
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
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
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