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Contemplating Crime & Consequence

Youth Solitary Bill Shot Down in Last Committee… LA to Push for Harsher Penalties for Buyers of Child Sex…..Analyzing LA’s Crime Rise

August 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


California’s SB 124, which would have greatly reduced the use of solitary confinement for kids, was defeated in a state assembly committee on Thursday. The bill, sponsored by Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) had already been passed by the California senate, and the crucial Assembly Public Safety Committee. It had one more committee hearing left—namely in the Assembly Appropriations Committee—before heading to the Assembly floor.

SB 124 never made it out of that second committee.

An impressive list of supporters, including the LA County Board of Supervisors, had gotten behind the passage of SB 124.

At the same time, SB 124 faced opposition by law enforcement, and particularly strong opposition from organizations representing county probation officers, who run most juvenile facilities in California.

The bill was amended several time to try to placate its primary opponents.

SB 124 would have established important guidelines aimed at keeping youth in the classroom, programs, and counseling, and out of long-term isolation.

Thursday afternoon, some advocates were pointing fingers at Appropriations Committee chair, Jimmy Gomez (D).

We will know more in the next few days about why the bill was defeated.

The video below features young activists who experienced solitary in their youth, and who now work to end or drastically limit the use of the practice for kids.


In LA County, men who buy favors from under-age girls who are sex-trafficked into prostitution now are typically charged with misdemeanors and hit with fines in LA County.

All that may change as a Los Angeles task force looks at ways to use existing California laws to hit johns with felonies that result in prison time and possible registration as a sex offenders.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is one of those county officials who strongly favors the push for real punishment, not just a minor slap on the wrist.

The AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story.

Here’s a clip:

“What are johns? They’re pedophiles, they’re child molesters,” LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell told The Associated Press. “If we can take away the demand and very clearly let people know this is going to ruin their life … We’re hoping that’s going to be a disincentive.”

The county is the nation’s most populous, with more than 10 million residents. A taskforce that’s expected to be in place this fall will pursue the stiffer charges, a push that puts Los Angeles at the national forefront of “appropriately going after the buyers” of child sex workers, according to Malika Saada Saar, head of the Washington D.C.-based Human Rights Project for Girls.

For about a decade, Scandinavian countries have pioneered the so-called Nordic model, which aims to attack sex trafficking by targeting customers to decrease demand. The concept has gained traction in the United States in recent years with states including Massachusetts, New York and Colorado increasing fines and penalties. And law enforcement has started to move away from arresting women for prostitution and treating them like criminals.

California is one of the nation’s top four destinations for trafficking human beings, according to the state attorney general’s office, and transnational gangs are increasingly trafficking humans because it’s low risk and highly profitable.

Five girls working for a trafficker seven days a week brings in an estimated $600,000 to $800,000 annually.
The average age in California for a girl who is sex trafficked is 12 years old and some are as young as 9 years old, McDonnell said. The average age of entry into sex work nationally is 15 years old, said Ziba Cranmer, executive director of Washington D.C.-based nonprofit Demand Abolition.

California doesn’t have a specific law treating johns as traffickers, so jurisdictions such as Los Angeles and Alameda counties are trying to use existing sex laws against buyers.


Crime in LA has been diving for more than a decade. So why did it rise more than 20% during the first half of 2015— with felony assaults up 26% and robberies up 19%.

In an Joe Domanick in an LA Times Op Ed, author and analyst Joe Domanick points to an interweave of probable causes. (Domanick is the associate director of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of “Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.)

Here’s a clip from his essay:

Here in Los Angeles, the rise might also be attributable in part to the Los Angeles Police Department crime stats simply being reported more honestly. An irrefutable Los Angeles Times investigation of the department’s crime numbers for the first half of 2014, for example, discovered the misclassification of 1,200 violent felony assaults as misdemeanors, thus making it appear that serious violent crime was going down when in fact it went up by 14%.

There are also broader national trends that might be affecting L.A.’s crime rate. According to Ron Noblet, the dean of gang interventionists at the Los Angeles Urban Peace Institute, the heroin epidemic plaguing the Northeast has finally started to hit Los Angeles.

“It’s moving now from middle-class kids in the west San Fernando Valley to Chicano and African American areas such as South Los Angeles and East L.A.,” says Noblet. Thus we might be seeing heroin become a crime-rise factor like crack was in the 1980s, both in terms of strung-out users committing crimes to feed their addiction and gangs fighting turf wars over drug distribution rights.

But I’d like to take an educated guess on what might be the key factor causing L.A. crime to rise: Something may be happening akin to the eras of the Watts riots of 1965, the high-crime crack war years of the 1980s and early ’90s, and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. And it’s this: a new Gilded Age of obscene wealth, stunning, low-wage income disparity and grinding poverty have come together to make ghetto and barrio life ever more desperate. As a result, the steam is once again pressing against the engine cap, just as it did during those infamous times.

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, Sex trafficking, solitary | 9 Comments »

Last Minute, REALLY Low Down Dirty LA Politics in the 64th Assembly District

November 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Mud-slinging is an unpleasant fact of politics, particularly at the end of a hotly contested race.

But the form of loathsome mud that got thrown in the closing days of the 64th District Assembly race between Mike Gipson and newcomer Prophet Walker made even cynical campaign watchers blanch.

The worst of the mud came in the form of a campaign mailer that began landing in voters’ mailboxes on Friday, October 31.

The flyer depicted a photo of Gipson in a police uniform, next to highly photoshopped image of Walker holding a very large, very menacing gun, which is pointed at the observer. Courtesy of Photoshop Walker is also wearing a hoodie sweatshirt (which disconcertingly recalls the hoodie of Trayvon Martin hybrid with that of the evil emperor in the Star Wars series).

The 64th district is made up South Los Angeles, Compton, Carson and a slice of North Long Beach, cities that—particularly in the case of South LA and Compton—have neighborhoods that have been deeply scarred by gun violence. As a consequence, many district residents and others reacted to the flyer with fury.

In an editorial, the Los Angeles News Group called the mailer the “most egregious dirty campaign flier in a local race that members of this editorial board can recall in decades of experience…”

Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons (@UncleRush) tweeted:

Since u follow me @mgipson2014, take my advice + apologize for despicable ad. This is very offensive to our community

Walker’s campaign called a press conference for Monday morning to protest the mailer. It was a well-attended gathering featuring angry appearances by community leaders and others, and lots of TV cameras.


Across the doctored photo in the offending flyer the Gipson campaign stamped the words CONVICTED FELON.

As it happens, Prophet Walker, 26, is a convicted felon.

He was born in Watts to a heroin-addicted mother who, when Walker was six-years old and his sister was four, left the two children in an apartment in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects and never came back for them.

Eventually the authorities discovered that the two little kids were alone in a projects apartment, social services were called in and, eventually, Walker and his sister went to live with their father, who was hardworking but overwhelmed.

By the time he was a teenager, Walker had somehow managed to steer clear of gangs, but he was a troubled, unhappy kid who did poorly in school and struggled with roiling emotions. By sixteen, in the course of riding the MTA with two other boys for two days straight, Walker and the other two got in fight with some other young men, one of whom Walker hit hard enough to fracture the guy’s jaw in several places before stealing the guy’s CD player.

Walker was caught, tried as an adult for the robbery and great bodily injury, and sentenced to six years in state prison. In California, teenagers with adult sentences stay in juvenile facilities until they turn eighteen. It was in Sylmar Juvenile Hall that Walker met film producer Scott Budnick, of the Hangover series. Budnick, among his other forms of criminal justice activism, taught writing to locked-up kids for the group Inside Out Writers. Budnick was impressed with Walker’s intelligence, but not his self pity, and told the unhappy young man he need to buck up and grab hold of his life.

The lecture took. After Walker was sent to state prison at Ironwood, he began to read, to study and, in the course of doing so, to find himself. Eventually, he a wrote to Budnick about an idea he had in which young prisoners could be evaluated for their potential and, when appropriate, shipped to lower security prisons where they could take college classes and ultimately earn a two-year degree.

Budnick went for it, and so did the state. Jerry Brown signed off on the program. Walker was in the first pilot group to be transferred.

When Walker was released from lock-up after five years and three months, he was 22-years old, had a two year degree, a surprising amount of charisma, and a strong sense of direction. He managed to get himself accepted into the engineering program at Loyola Marymount University then, before graduation, got hired by a respected Westside construction firm, Morley Builders. Suddenly, four years out of prison, he had a degree and a budding career.

But he wanted more than that.

While working his day job on large construction projects (he now is working for the Jordan Downs Redevelopment Project), Walker spent his spare time with low-income kids from the kind of violence-fraught neighborhoods he’d known, and helped found a program called Watts United Weekend, in which inner city kids are mentored at retreats outside the city. He also gave time to the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a program of Budnick’s, where Walker talked to other former prisoners struggling to reboot their lives. Soon he was on the board of directors for Inside Out Writers.

Eventually, with strong encouragement from supporters like Budnick and others, Walker decided his next step in helping keep kids away from the kind of damaging paths he’d once walked, was to run for office. Out of a field of four candidates running for the newly opened District 64 assembly seat, he came in second in the primary with 21 percent of the vote, trailing Gipson, the mainstream candidate backed by a string of elected officials and unions, who cruised to any easy lead with 51 percent. It was presumed that Gipson, a three-time Carson city council member, former Maywood police officer, who was very politically connected, would win in the general election without much problem.

But, after a summer of knocking on doors in the district, Prophet Walker’s story had taken hold with residents and, for the first time in the race, Gipson had a serious challenger.

And Walker had attack ads aimed his direction.

He was accused, among other things, of being a tool of Hollywood and a deadbeat dad who paid no child support for his daughter, although his campaign has produced documents that he is fully up to date with child support, having fallen behind when he was in prison. (Walker managed to get a girl pregnant when he and she were both teenagers, before he assaulted the guy with the CD player. He now shares custody of 8-year-old Pryla, who has often been cheerily visible during the campaign.)

Finally there was the photoshopped gun and hoodie.


Although Gipson hasn’t talked to reporters about the photoshopped hit flyer, he did put forth an apology of a sort on his website in which, after saying that he was, in fact, the one who had endured attacks (although he gave no examples or specifics). Then three quarters of the way through the thing, he suggested that he allowed his “emotions to get the better of me..” and then so he…

“...allowed a volunteer to design and send out a mail piece to a small amount of voters in our district to set the record straight. I stand by the facts of the mail piece designed by this volunteer, as it was 100% factual, but in retrospect I realize that the volunteer’s graphic design elements went too far. This mail piece was not properly vetted by my entire campaign team, it was only one volunteer and myself, and for that I take responsibility for allowing something to go out with my name on it, that was 100% true, but included over-the-top visuals.

The Walker campaign felt a response was needed, as need a string of community members and angry supporters. Hence the Monday’s press conference, which featured people from Congressman Tony Cardenas, to community organizer, Najee Ali, to former state senator, Tom Hayden, to producer Norman Lear, to Homeboy Industry’s Hector Verdugo reading a note from Father Greg Boyle, and more.

“It is, in no uncertain terms,” wrote Boyle, “that I denounce here the photo-shopped travesty which was the flyer circulated by Mr. Gibson. it is beneath the dignity of the entire electorate of Los Angeles to see such a demonizing and reckless act in the name of ‘political business as usual.’”

The speakers were equally passionate.

“In a post Trayvon Martin society,” said Najee Ali, “it’s extremely disappointing to see a black candidate smear another black candidate with lies and stereotypes we are trying so desperately to overcome…. My story is similar to Mr. Walker’s story and many of the South Los Angeles residents who identify with the story of redemption and being given a second chance. There is only one way to stop people like Mike Gipson from committing this sort of despicable act and that’s to vote him out of office….

So, is he right? Should the creepy campaigning affect the actual election? Will it? And, if so, in what direction?

We’re about to find out.


Posted in 2014 election, Contemplating Crime & Consequence | 5 Comments »

THE SHOOTING: The Death of Michael Domaloan – An Update

September 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

On the night of September 17, 2003, Michael Domaloan,
21, and Felix Quiroz, 23, were shot outside a club named Bub Blars that was located nearby to Cal State Northridge. Both Michael and Felix died of their wounds in the early hours of September 18, ten years ago today.

Although the shooting took place in front of more than a dozen witnesses, no one was ever tried in criminal court for the deaths of Michael and Felix.

The reasons why are complicated and heartbreaking.

WitnessLA began to tell the story some years ago.

Then we got sidetracked by the many other stories that are also important—things like corruption in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, the ongoing saga at juvenile probation both in LA and elsewhere in the state, the many-layered issue of California’s prison realignment, the cost to kids of zero tolerance policies…and more.

Yet, the story of the shooting of Michael Domaloan and Felix Quiroz, and its troubling legal aftermath, still continues to haunt us.

It is because of our commitment to telling this crucial story and others like it—however long it takes—that WitnessLA exists.

We plan to make our way back to finishing our work on Michael and Felix’s case in early 2014.

So, for those who still wait for answers, don’t give up. We haven’t.

In the meantime, here are the links to Part 1 and Part 2 of The Shooting.

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, The Shooting | No Comments »

Miranda and Dzhokhar Tsarnaeve….Apologies in Criminal Law….More on the Koch-Bros & the LAT

April 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Of course we want the feds to have gotten everything possible our of Dzhokar Tsarnaev before he started clamming up. But is that merely an emotional position or a legally justifiable one? (Do remember, that the rights we give away in exceptionally moments often tend to stay given away.)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev talked for 16 hours before he was read his rights. Emily Bazelon of Slate thinks that’s too long. Here’s a clip from her discussion-provoking essay on the matter.

According to the AP, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev answered questions for 16 hours before he was read the Miranda warning that he could remain silent and could ask for a lawyer. Once Tsarnaev was told that, he stopped talking. (So much for the idea that everyone has heard Miranda warnings so many times on TV that they have become an empty ritual.) The AP also reports that the investigators questioning him were “surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room.” The investigators “had planned to keep questioning him.”

Wow. That’s bad no matter your point of view. If you think Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve the normal protections American law affords criminal suspects, then you’d want the FBI to keep at him as long as they chose. Or if, like me, you’re worried about how far the Obama administration’s Justice Department has stretched the limited “public safety” exception the Supreme Court has allowed for questioning suspects about ongoing danger without Miranda warnings, 16 hours sounds expansive.

It’s true that Miranda offers protection only after the fact. Technically, the rule is violated not when investigators fail to give the warnings, but when they try to introduce in court a confession or other facts a suspect revealed before he was read his rights. It’s also true that given the mountain of evidence against Tsarneav, he could be convicted without his own statements. But that may not be true with the next terrorist suspect—or the next hated man for whom the government decides to stretch the public safety exception. The Justice Department is setting a precedent here. And how does that precedent directly involve public safety, when all of law enforcement reassured the public that safety had been restored once Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, and that the authorities strongly believed he and his brother, Tamerlan, had acted alone?

Read on. There’s a lot more.


This research paper on the value of—and legal difficulty with—apologies by defendants in criminal court, by Professor Michael Jones of the Phoenix School of Law, covers an interesting question.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper is written for the purpose of addressing the power and possibility of early apologies in the criminal justice system. As constructed, our criminal justice system rewards defendants that learn early in their case to remain silent, and punishes those that talk. Defendants that may want to offer an apology or allocution for the harm they’ve caused are often required to wait until a sentencing hearing, which may come months, or even years after the event in question. This paper proposes that the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure be modified to provide an exception for apology to criminal defendants. Apologies can play an invaluable role in the healing process for victims, defendants, family members and others tied together by the unfortunate events of a criminal prosecution. This paper seeks to further the comprehensive law movement approach that promotes a healing process for those involved in the criminal justice system.

An here’s the full paper if you’d like to take a look.

(A thank you, once again, to the excellent Doug Berman of Sentencing, Law & Policy, for flagging this paper.)


Now that the shock of the Koch duo’s possible purchase of the LA Times and other Tribune Corp papers is nearly a week old, a whole second wave of reactions has been surfacing, some of them….odd.

Take, for example, this somewhat untethered column by the Washington Post’s Steve Perlstein in which Perlstein breathlessly suggests that he knows a sure fire way that the LAT employees can save the paper from the marauding Koch-sters.


Everyone should quit. (Right, Steve. That’d show ‘em.)

“If the Times journalists,” he writes…

….”….decide collectively to walk out the door one day, the readers and advertisers are almost certain to follow.

“A new owner, of course, could hire new journalists, and certainly there are plenty of them out there looking for a job. But it would take time to attract them, get them working as a team and weed out the inevitable clunkers…

“And in the meantime, competing news organizations would be quick to pick up Tribune’s stars and use them to lure away readers and advertisers at a time when circulation and revenue are already under pressure. Hell, in the age of the Internet, the rebellious journalists could easily start their own news organizations and grab a good chunk of their old readership within weeks.
This is a rare moment for Tribune’s beleaguered journalists. For the first time in a long time, they actually have leverage. They’d be crazy not to use it….”

This is, of course, quite nuts.

But read the rest anyway.


Washington Post columnist Herold Meyerson spent years as a political journalist in LA, so it’s understandable that he would feel moved to weigh in on the possibility of the Koch brothers as buyers for the LA Times, and about the necessity of remembering that a newspaper isn’t just a business; it’s also a civic trust.

Here’s a couple of clips:

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Who will govern Los Angeles, however, is only the second-most important local question in the city today. The most important, by far, is who will buy the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is one of the eight daily newspapers now owned by the creditors who took control of the Tribune Co. after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Others include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant. The Tribune board members whom the creditors selected want to unload the papers in favor of more money-making ventures.
Fans of newspapers are a jumpy lot these days. And in the past couple of weeks, their apprehension has gone through the roof with word that right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch are looking to buy all eight papers.


Being human beings, all newspaper owners have politics of their own. Since the 19th century, however, most haven’t gone into business primarily to advance a political perspective. Profit, professional and civic pride, and recognition have largely motivated them. It’s hard to see how any of these factored into the Koch brothers’ calculations.

In their very brief no-comment on the sale rumors, the Kochs took care to note, “We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions” owned by Tribune, but the staffs at those papers fear that, once Kochified, the papers would quickly turn into print versions of Fox News. A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sports writers and arts writers). Those who stayed would have to grapple with how to cover politics and elections in which their paper’s owners played a leading role. It’s also unclear who in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, would actually want to read such a paper, but then the Kochs don’t appear to view this as a money-making venture.

Though slimmed down from its glory days, the L.A. Times remains a great newspaper, as its recent stories on increasing employer surveillance of blue-collar workers illustrate. But the paper that, under the reign of publisher-owner Otis Chandler in the 1960s and ’70s, moved to the apex of American journalism has suffered a string of indifferent-to-godawful owners, ranging from Mr. Chandler’s cousins to Mr. Zell — that rare journalism mogul who actively hated journalism and journalists….

MEANWHILE…Marcelle Pacatte writing for Crains Chicago Business urges his fellow Chicagoans not to be afraid of the “big, bad Koch Brothers.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, criminal justice, journalism, Los Angeles Times | 5 Comments »

DN (Almost) Calls for Baca Resignation, Debt Collection Companies Use Misleading Scare Tactics, and a Compelling Case for Clemency

September 17th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


In the wake of the findings presented at the most recent hearing of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence there have been a series of responses. (You can find WitnessLA’s story on the hearing here.)

The strongest is an editorial by the Daily News. The DN article doesn’t quite call for Baca to step down, but it comes pretty close. Here’s a clip:

It may be time for Baca, 70, to consider resigning his post. It’s hasn’t quite reached the point where the public should demand his removal, but he’d likely have been fired already for such a failure of leadership if the county supervisors had that kind of power over an elected sheriff.

Granted, running the Los Angeles Men’s Jail is no more a picnic than being incarcerated in it. The most dangerous murderers, thugs and crooks from not only L.A. County but practically every corner of the world are booked into it on a daily basis. The Hilton, it’s not.

But it’s also not a place in which those incarcerated should expect to be the victims of a cabal of deputies who hide behind a code of silence about violence. Who have their alleged crimes announced to the general jailhouse population and then are tossed into it. Who are strip searched not because the deputies expect to find any weapons but as a routine tool of humiliation – deputies who use heavy force not as a last resort, as regulations require, but as a first resort.

These are the charges brought against Baca’s administration by the county’s Citizens Commission on Jail Violence last week. Its members are all prominent attorneys and retired judges. [WLA NOTE: Actually, the commission is made up of four retired federal judges, one police chief, one famous former church pastor and a former federal prosecutor who is now a member of various policy groups. But, okay, we take their point.] Baca’s response is, as ever, certainly one of concern – but it’s also the administrative equivalent of that old street cop’s line to the crowds: “Move along; there’s nothing to see here.”

The LA Times also ran a post jails commission editorial. Here’s a clip:

… The commission must decide whether reform of the long-troubled county jails is possible under Sheriff Lee Baca, who has emerged in the testimony as an out-of-touch figure overly reliant on his command staff. The sheriff has proved ineffective, at best, at running the jails. He blames his staff for keeping him in the dark about inmate abuse and other misconduct by deputies, yet despite repeated complaints over a period of years, he hasn’t held anyone accountable or made significant staff changes.

He failed to file inmate complaints in the personnel records of deputies accused of misconduct, making it nearly impossible for such evidence to be used by inmates in criminal defense trials. Although Baca says he’s taken steps to reduce abuse in recent months, there’s no way to know whether the reduction will continue once he and his office are out of the spotlight.

The commission should also consider whether the current department structure makes sense in a county as vast as Los Angeles. Can a single sheriff manage the largest jail system in the nation as well as providing public safety to dozens of cities and unincorporated areas?

On the same day as the LAT editorial, Sherriff Lee Baca wrote his own Op Ed response to the Commission findings. Here’s how it opens:

Last week, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence issued a report sharply critical of my department with regard to violence at the Los Angeles County Jail. But the report neglected to mention a number of important initiatives my management team and I have put into place since allegations of problems at the jails surfaced. These measures have resulted in a record low use of force in county jails in recent months.

Here are just some of the initiatives investigators neglected to mention in their report to the jail commission on Friday.

When the American Civil Liberties Union first raised allegations of excessive force being used by deputies, I launched a full-scale investigation into each and every one. Because allegations and anecdotes are not the same as facts, it was important to discover what was true, and I think that when these investigations are completed, which I believe will be soon, the public will be surprised by the factual findings.


Debt collection companies have been sending out notices to check-bouncers, threatening them with jail time, using the local district attorney’s seal and signature. DA’s offices allow the private companies to use their stationary with the understanding that the debt collectors will also try to wrangle an additional $180 from the debtors for a “financial accountability class” from which the DA’s office reaps a portion of the fee. (While we haven’t looked into this, on first glance, we’re made slightly queasy here.)

The NY Times’ Jessica Silver Greenberg has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The letters are sent by the thousands to people across the country who have written bad checks, threatening them with jail if they do not pay up.

They bear the seal and signature of the local district attorney’s office. But there is a catch: the letters are from debt-collection companies, which the prosecutors allow to use their letterhead. In return, the companies try to collect not only the unpaid check, but also high fees from debtors for a class on budgeting and financial responsibility, some of which goes back to the district attorneys’ offices.

The practice, which has spread to more than 300 district attorneys’ offices in recent years, shocked Angela Yartz when she was threatened with conviction over a $47.95 check to Walmart. A single mother in San Mateo, Calif., Ms. Yartz said she learned the check had bounced only when she opened a letter in February, signed by the Alameda County district attorney, informing her that unless she paid $280.05 — including $180 for a “financial accountability” class — she could be jailed for up to one year.

“I was so worried driving my kid to and from school that if I failed to signal, they would cart me off to jail,” Ms. Yartz said.

Debt collectors have come under fire for illegally menacing people behind on their bills with threats of jail. What makes this approach unusual is that the ultimatum comes with the imprimatur of law enforcement itself — though it is made before any prosecutor has determined a crime has been committed.


Lawyers for Pennsylvania prisoner Terrence Williams will go before the PA Board of Pardons today to request that his death sentence be transmuted to life without parole. Terrence’s case for clemency is an extremely interesting one. After a suffering abuse and a series of violent rapes beginning in childhood, Terrence snapped and beat to death a man who sexually assaulted him. Even the victim’s wife

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has the story. Here’s how it opens:

On Monday afternoon, before the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons in Harrisburg, lawyers for a man named Terrance Williams will attempt to convince state officials that his life should be spared– that instead of being executed by lethal injection on October 3rd Williams (shown at left) should instead be permitted to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. Despite the deadly violence of Williams’ crime, despite no questions about his guilt, it’s an unusually compelling clemency request– and because of its timing, in the midst of two local sex abuse scandals, a vivid test of the nature of Pennsylvania’s clemency process itself.

Williams’ lawyers will make their case to five officials who will then make a recommendation to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, who signed Williams’ death warrant on August 8th. The vote of the Board of Pardons must be unanimous in Williams’ favor and, even then, under state law, Gov. Corbett is free to disregard it and push on with the execution. It would be the first contested execution in the state in nearly half a century (three executions between now and then occurred when the defendants in the cases all agreed to waive their appeals). And it’s clear that the governor will be a tough sell.

This is so despite the fact that the widow of Williams’ victim now believes that his sentence should be commuted to life. It is so despite the fact that eight former judges — federal and state — now believe his trial was unjust. It is so despite the pleas of 28 former prosecutors — federal, state and local — who have gone on the record saying that justice would be served by clemency. It is so despite the fact that five of Williams’ trial jurors have come forward and declared, under oath, that they never would have recommended a death sentence for him had they known of material facts his defense attorneys did not introduce at trial.

At its core, clemency is an act of mercy, an official acknowledgment that justice will be best served in a particular instance by the granting of relief to someone who is not, technically speaking, entitled to it. There are many legitimate legal reasons why Williams ought to be given a new trial– just yesterday a state judge agreed to hear more about the new evidence in the case– but clemency is not about law. It’s about equity. It’s about the power of the state to put to right an unjust result. Below are some of the facts that were not introduced at Williams’ long-ago murder trial. Judge for yourself whether he deserves to die at the hands of the state.

Be sure to read on!

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, Death Penalty, District Attorney, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 8 Comments »

Protests Continue In Anaheim Over Police Killings, LA City Council Goes Med Weed Crazy….and Considering Insanity Pleas

July 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to review the weekend shootings, according to Anaheim mayor Tom Tait. He will meet on Friday with members of U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI. The AP report has more.

In addition, the mother of Manual Diaz, the man who was killed by Anaheim police on Saturday has publicly and emotionally condemned the violent protests, the AP reports. (NOTE: I’m linking to the Atlanta Journal Constitution version of the AP story because they have posted a video of last night’s violent mess of a demonstration.)

Tuesday night marks the fourth day of protests in Anaheim over the Saturday shooting of an unarmed man, Manual Diaz, who was said to be running from Anaheim officers when he was reportedly shot in the leg and the back of the head.

The community was further upset when, in the minutes after the Diaz shooting, distressed residents and onlookers began arguing with police, at which point officers shot non-lethal projectiles at the crowd that included small children. At one point, a K-9 police dog raced into the same crowd and visibly fastened its teeth to one man’s person or shirt, it’s hard to tell which. Much of this was caught in the KCAL 9 video posted above in a scene that is undeniably disturbing.

Then on Sunday, a second Anaheim man, 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo, was shot and killed by police after he allegedly opened fire after a car chase involving a stolen vehicle, although there is some dispute over the details that account.

Columnist Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly broke the news of the second shooting after noting a Facebook post by the dead man’s mother, whom it turns out he knew.

Whether or not the Acevedo shooting was righteous, it was the last thing this on edge community needed.

Although the Acevedo shooting was reportedly righteous, coming so soon after after that of Diaz, it further inflamed the expanding groups of protesters.

On Tuesday night, protests moved into violence. The LA Times reported that protesters grabbed rocks from a construction site and “hurled them at officers.”

The LA Times also reported that, according to the police, an OC Register reporter was injured by a rock.

Some of the now ubiquitous (and often effective) freelance videographers, doing live streaming from their cell phones, reported being fired at with tiny “bean bags,” pepper balls, and “impact weapons” despite holding up press passes. One of the streaming videographers kept wishing on camera that he had brought his helmet, worrying about rock throwers as well as police. Around 11 pm, live streamers reported the sound of windows being broken at a Starbucks down the street, presumably by protestors. Meanwhile fires burned in nearby dumpsters.

The AP has an overview of events in Anaheim, where it seems anger at the police force has been brewing in the city for a while.

In their team coverage, the OC Register reports that two officers have been put on leave following the shooting of Diaz.

Here’s a clip from the OC Register’s report from the weekend:

Police described Diaz as a “documented gang member,” and said he was shot after the officers saw three men near a car in the 600 block of Anna Drive, near La Palma Avenue and State College Boulevard. Believing the activity to be suspicious, the officers approached the vehicle, and all three men fled on foot.

The officers chased Diaz and observed him throwing unidentified objects onto rooftops as he ran, Welter said. What led one of the officers to shoot Diaz remained under investigation Sunday, Welter said.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said he would be asking California’s attorney general to assist in the investigation.

“I’m asking for a full investigation,” Tait said at a Sunday news conference. “Transparency is essential. Whatever the truth is, we will own it.”

The dead man’s sister, Lupe Diaz, said Sunday that her brother was “just hanging out with friends” before the shooting.

“There is no explanation,” Diaz said. “It’s not fair.”

The Registor also reported that, according to the Anaheim police, the K-9 police dog, which evidently bit several people, got loose from a police car accidentally.

Reuters reports that Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is now calling for both a state and federal review of the whole matter.


For 5 years, the LA City Council has been trying—unsuccessfully-–to come up with a sensible way to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been popping up in the city like….well…weeds. Now, it seems, because of the council’s inability to come up with a legally viable way to set down some firm guidelines, big pot sellers have taken advantage of the situation (how shocking!), thus our fair council members have decided to shut down all retail sales—-with the possible exception of 182 dispensaries that opened before a 2007 city moratorium, which might—or might not— have been given some kind of loophole. What kind of loophole, and what practical difference it will make, seems somewhat unclear.

In other words, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what this vote will mean for medical marijuana in LA in the future.

For the moment, however, KPCC’s Alice Walton has one of the best reports on Tuesday’s medical weed banning activities.

Here’s how her story opens:

Nonprofit storefronts that sell medical marijuana will be banned in the city of Los Angeles under a proposal approved Tuesday.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to prohibit the sale of medical cannabis in retail establishments. However, exemptions will allow patients to continue growing marijuana for their own use, and primary caregivers may continue to distribute the drug.

The vote, which came after hours of public testimony and debate, drew sharp criticism from patients who use medical marijuana to tame the side effects of their illnesses. Some public speakers shouted at council members and then the police officers who took to the council chamber after the vote.

Earlier in the day, the council heard from patients and advocates of medical marijuana.

“A ban on medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives is an attack on patients. They need this. It can work in other cities,” said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access. “You guys have to get it together and pass regulations that protect safe access for legitimate patients for legal operations.”

The original vote against the ban was 13-1, with Councilman Paul Koretz dissenting. However, the councilman later flipped his vote so the ordinance could get to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s desk sooner. The ban will take effect in about 40 days. Dispensary owners who do not close their businesses could face fines or misdemeanors, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Dennis Romero at the LA Weekly also has a good report. But be sure to read through all the updates for the full story.


The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes has done a great job laying out this interesting and important question just as the Supreme Court was hearing a request to take on the issue. Here’s how Barnes’ story opens:

There’s no doubt John Joseph Delling knew what he was doing. His carefully planned 2007 crime spree lasted weeks, covered 6,500 miles and culminated in two people dead and one seriously wounded.

He had his reasons, too. Delling, then 21, had become “a type of Jesus,” he later explained, and the men he attacked, two of them former classmates he had not seen in years, were stealing his “energy.” An MRI of his brain would have revealed the damage the men had already caused, he told authorities.

I had to defend myself,” he said.

As the nation confronts another act of unfathomable madness, Delling’s story is one chapter in a distressing and violent genre: the loner who tries to impress a movie star by shooting the president; the mother who drowns her children to save them from damnation; the black-clad shooter who seems to step from the movie screen to kill.

But Delling’s case presents an intriguing legal question as well. He committed his crimes in Idaho, which is one of only four states — Kansas, Montana and Utah are the others — in which a defendant may not use insanity as a defense to criminal charges.

Delling’s lawyers are now at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to rule that the Constitution mandates that such a defense be available for those who, because of mental illness, are not responsible for the mayhem they create.

“For centuries, the moral integrity of the criminal law has depended, in part, on the insanity defense,” Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher wrote in a petition on Delling’s behalf.

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, law enforcement, Medical Marijuana, Supreme Court | 6 Comments »

Gathering Some Thoughts About the Murders in Aurora

July 23rd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Over the weekend, it was hard to focus on news other than the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, where 12 people were killed, 58 wounded, at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises. With this in mind,
we’ve set aside other issues and have gathered some reports and stories that you might have missed.


Journalist and author Dave Cullen has first hand experience about the perils of jumping to conclusions about mass murder—and mass murderers. He is the author of the excellent book Columbine, which deconstructs in harrowing detail the myriad events that led to the Columbine school massacre, after which everyone reporting on the tragedy, including Cullen himself, seemed to get it wrong.

Here’s the opening of his essay about the Colorado shooting for Sunday’s NY Times.

YOU’VE had 48 hours to reflect on the ghastly shooting in Colorado at a movie theater. You’ve been bombarded with “facts” and opinions about James Holmes’s motives. You have probably expressed your opinion on why he did it. You are probably wrong.

I learned that the hard way. In 1999 I lived in Denver and was part of the first wave of reporters to descend on Columbine High School the afternoon it was attacked. I ran with the journalistic pack that created the myths we are still living with. We created those myths for one reason: we were trying to answer the burning question of why, and we were trying to answer it way too soon. I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them.

Not one bit of that turned out to be true.

But the news media jumped to all those conclusions in the first 24 hours, so they are accepted by many people today as fact. The real story is a lot more disturbing. And instructive.


It is nearly impossible not to talk about gun control after this shooting (pro and con). And yet the presidential candidates have managed it.
Here are some of the more articulate pleas for a real discussion on the matter.

In the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about what the politicians—on the right and the left—won’t talk about.

The murders—it dignifies them to call them a “tragedy”—in Aurora, Colorado, have hit us all hard, though the grief of the friends and families of the victims is unimaginable. Still, it hits home, or someplace worse than home, for any parent who (as I did, as so many did) had a kid at one of the many midnight screenings of the new Batman movie last night, they having gone to see it the moment it opened. Once again, as so often before, the unthinkable news is disassembled, piece by piece, into its heartbreaking parts. After the Virginia Tech shooting, the horrifying detail, as I wrote at the time, was that the cell phones were still ringing in the pockets of the dead children as their parents tried to call them. In Colorado, you can’t expunge the knowledge of the sudden turn from pleasure to horror that those children experienced.


The truth is made worse by the reality that no one—really no one—anywhere on the political spectrum has the courage to speak out about the madness of unleashed guns and what they do to American life. That includes the President, whose consoling message managed to avoid the issue of why these killings take place. Of course, we don’t know, and perhaps never will, what exactly “made him” do what he did; but we know how he did it.


The reality is simple: every country struggles with madmen and ideologues with guns, and every country—Canada, Norway, Britain—has had a gun massacre once, or twice. Then people act to stop them, and they do—as over the past few years has happened in Australia. Only in America are gun massacres of this kind routine, expectable, and certain to continue. Does anyone even remember any longer last July’s gun massacre, those birthday-party killings in Texas, when an estranged husband murdered his wife and most of her family, leaving six dead?
But nothing changes: the blood lobby still blares out its certainties, including the pretense that the Second Amendment—despite the clear grammar of its first sentence—is designed not to protect citizen militias but to make sure that no lunatic goes unarmed

And then there is James Fallows’ Sunday night post at the Atlantic, after readers wrote him to say he was too pessimistic and furious in his earlier post about his certainty shootings like this would happen again.

Here’s a clip from the first post:

Like everyone, and I’d say especially like every parent, I am of course saddened and horrified by the latest mass shooting-murder. My sympathies to all.

And of course the additional sad, horrifying, and appalling point is the shared American knowledge that, beyond any doubt, this will happen again, and that it will happen in America many, many times before it occurs anywhere else…..

Now here’s a clip from the second post that went up Sunday night (in which he doesn’t back off in the least):

….I never mean to give in to jaded fatalism, so I will reflect on this again.

….Meanwhile, this sample of the insanity of today’s “security” thinking.

The latest Colorado shooter — like Jared Loughner of Tucson, Seung-Hui Cho of Virginia Tech, and the countless others whose names we forget after they have done their damage — could not legally have walked onto an airplane carrying a water bottle, or without taking off his shoes.

But he could walk down the street with a legally purchased assault rifle, body armor, and as much ammo as he could lift.

At some point the madness of this disproportion may sink in. To be clear on my own views: I see no reason why a civilian should be allowed to possess an assault rifle like this shooter’s AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16, or similar high-capacity weapons. These are for soldiers and others formally authorized to administer deadly force.

And while we’re on the “madness” topic, please consider:

The lasting distortion in our airport operations and travel “security” rules if these same 12 people had been killed and dozens injured on an airplane. We’d have Congressional hearings, sackings of TSA officials, new inspections and screening machines “to keep us safe,” and so on.
The military, diplomatic, and cultural consequences if the Batman murderer had happened to yell “Allahu Akbar!” or “Death to America!” before dispatching his victims….


This weekend Doug Berman, the attorney/law professor/sentencing expert who blogs at Sentencing Law and Policy, generated a LOT of heated discussion in response to this post on the shooting rampage in which he said how relieved he was that Colorado is a death penalty state.

(A little later, he revisited his thoughts on the matter with a cooler head here in his Sunday post, but he didn’t dial back his point.)

Here’s a small clip from the post that stirred everyone up:

….In the immediate aftermath of these sorts of horrific mass killings, I find it so very hard to react with my head without also listening to my heart. And in these kind of awful cases, my heart (or is it my gut) often suggests to me that ultimate punishment of death is the only one which feels fitting. I suspect Colorado prosecutors (and perhaps also federal prosecutors) will have similar feelings…..

(Readers here know that we at WLA are big fans of Doug Berman,which doesn’t mean we agree with him on absolutely everything).


In the midst of much nattering by TV talking heads on the issue, former LAPD chief Bill Bratton was refreshingly sane and specific on Meet the Press as he responded to the argument that, if only theater goers had been carrying their own guns, much of the theater shooting tragedy could have been averted.

(NOTE: You have to listen to quite a bit of blather before you get to Bratton’s comments at about minute 2:03.)

Earlier in the weekend, Bratton told FOX News that “What we need is “some sanity in our gun control laws.”

Photo by Alan Mittelstaedt

Posted in Bill Bratton, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, guns, media | 41 Comments »