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A Look at Controversial Law Enforcement Bills on CA Gov. Jerry Brown’s Desk…and One Education Bill

September 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Several noteworthy bipartisan-supported criminal justice bills that have landed on CA Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would create new felony offenses. Critics say the bills would contribute to prison overcrowding (backstory on California prison overcrowding saga: here), and go against the national push for decriminalization and decarceration.

But the bills’ authors and supporters argue that while keeping California’s prison population down is important, these public safety measures are more important.

A bill by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton) would bump possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense. The bill, SB 333, would mean that those found with such drugs would face up to three years behind bars.

“The malicious intent behind possessing and using ‘date rape’ drugs on another individual necessitates an aggressive response from law enforcement,” said Galgiani, urging the governor to sign SB 333. “Assaulting a person that has become incapacitated from being drugged is an especially despicable crime.”

Under SB 722, sex offenders on probation or parole who disable or remove their GPS ankle monitors with the intention of absconding would also face a three-year sentence. The bill was authored by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel).

AB 256 aims to protect people who record law enforcement-involved incidents on their phones. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), would make video evidence tampering a felony offense punishable by a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Another bill, SB 347, would not reclassify any misdemeanors as felonies, or create new crimes, but would include two non-violent misdemeanors—gun theft and bringing ammunition to school—to the list of crimes disqualifying gun ownership. The bill was authored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara).

Governor Brown, who has not hinted about which way he’s leaning, has until October 11 to sign or veto the measures.

The LA Times’ Paige St. Brown has more on the issue.


Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)

Another meaningful bill passed by CA legislature, AB 1012, would prevent school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester (with some exceptions), which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others.

“Continual reforms to California’s education system have not fixed an underlying cause of education inequity, equal time for learning,” said the bill’s author, Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). “It is time to ensure that all of our schools have the support they need to provide real classes to every student until they graduate.”

AB 1012 would also bar schools from assigning students to classes they have already completed and passed.

Posted in crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education | 2 Comments »

2 LA County Deputies & 1 Sergeant Convicted on All Counts for Beating Jail Visitor, Then Falsifying Charges in Cover-Up

June 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The jury members sent their note to Judge George H. King, announcing that they had a verdict, just before 12 noon on Wednesday. The seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for just about four hours before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

When the verdict was read aloud in Judge King’s courtroom on the 6th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Courthouse on Temple Street, Ayala and Luviano sat motionless next to their attorneys. Gonzalez, however, uttered a agonized guttural sigh before slumping forward into himself, his head in his hands.


Jury Foreman, 35-year-old Tony Tran, said that, from the beginning there were no dissenters among the jurors.“The whole case was dependent on whether or not the suspect was in handcuffs,” he said. “And that photograph that showed the marks on wrists erased any doubts.”

Tran, who is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, with plans to teach high school history, said that the jurors also found the testimony of two former deputies—Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—to be particularly persuasive. “They were very credible,” he said.

When asked whether he and the others were affected by the defense team’s suggestion that Womack and Zunggeemoge—who made deals earlier this year with the government in return for their testimony—were simply telling the feds what they wanted to hear and lying to the jury, Tran shook his head.

“When we looked at the evidence, we had no doubts,” And nothing the defense said could rattle that certainty, said Tran. “We considered them whistle blowers, and trusted their testimony completely.”

And now that his job as juror was finished, did Tran hope the verdict sent any kind of message? “I hope the message does go out that this code of silence, and the feeling on the part of some law enforcement that they can violate people’s rights with impunity….it has to stop.”


Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisabeth Rhodes, and fellow A.U.S.A Brandon Fox were the prosecutors on the case and, in an impromptu press conference in front of the courthouse after the verdict was announced, they characterized the case as important one.

“I believe that an individual who carries a badge and a gun and who uses their authority and power to violate people’s constitutional rights, as was the case here, is one of the worse kind of criminals, and should be brought to justice,” said Rhodes. “We believe justice was done here.”


Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the Southern California ACLU, also talked about the importance of the case. “The thing that amazed me,” he said, “was that, not only were the deputies willing to savagely beat a jail visitor, who had done nothing more than not offer them what they believed was enough respect. Then they were willing to lie about the abuse, and those lies became the basis of the criminal case against Mr. Carrillo that could have resulted in years in state prison. That’s where he’d be right now if he didn’t have a really good criminal defense attorney.

Carrillo’s attorney, Ronald Kaye, was present for much of the federal trial and had a particularly strong reaction to the testimony of deputies Womack and Zunggeemoge, who, when on the stand, both described in detail the way the charges against Carrillo were falsified, and the thinking behind it, namely that anything other than backing one’s partner was considered absolutely unthinkable, no matter the lies or damage that resulted.

“It was so, so vindicating,” said Kaye. “In the criminal case against Gabriel, we were a week from trial. He was looking at a possible fourteen years in prison, if we lost. And in the case, we were facing five sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant who all had completely consistent reports.” But in that week, Kaye said, they found the photos of Carrillo’s wrists. “Grace took phone pictures of his wrists along with a bunch of other photos of him, but then she forgot about them, and didn’t realized how important they were.” Plus Kaye found a neutral witness who had been in the visiting center, sitting right outside the break room, a middle-aged woman with no criminal record, who was able to describe what she heard coming out of the room. “She was really important,” said Kaye.

Thus, instead of going to prison, Carrillo works in construction as a fork lift operator and is married to his former girlfriend, Grace Torres, who was with him on the day of the beating. The couple has two young children. And this past weekend, Kaye said, with their court appearances behind them, they were able to have a belated wedding reception, after which the two spent a few days in Las Vegas for a honeymoon. “That’s all the time they could take,” said Kaye, who attended the reception. “Gabriel had to get back to work.”

Last year, there was one more piece of very good news for Gabriel Carrillo when LA County agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle a civil lawsuit arising out of the beating and the false charges that formed the basis of Wednesday’s conviction.


The conviction of the three LASD defendants, which will almost certainly be appealed, could mean 70 months in a federal prison for the deputies. Gonzales, who was the group’s supervisor, and signed off on all the falsified reports, and who could receive a an even longer sentence. The statutory maximum sentence on such charges, however, is up to 30 years, Gonzales could face up to four decades, although such lengthy sentences are considered unlikely.

Judge King will sentence the threesome on November 2, the day that the trial of former LASD Captain Tom Carey, and former undersheriff is due to will begin jury selection.

VIDEO NOTE: The video above shows Carrillo being interviewed a few hours after his beating by then LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who had, a few hours before, supervised the beating and the cover-up. It was shown at trial and the jury watched it with rapt attention. ABC-7 News producer Lisa Bartley obtained the video, so we have her to thank for being able to show it to you. For further insight to the trial and it’s aftermath see these excellent reports by Bartley and ABC-7 reporter, Miriam Hernandez here and here.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD | 38 Comments »

1st Day of Newest LASD Trial Features Accusations of Out-of-Control Brutality by Deputies versus Claims of Wall-to-Wall Gov’t Lies

June 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.

“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.

And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.

When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.

“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.

All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.


The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.

Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.

Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.

After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.

And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

What Happens When Predictive Analytics Enters the World of Child Protection?….How Do You Define a Gang Member?……The LAPD & the Guardian’s Count

June 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Much has rightly been made of the unbearably tragic child deaths in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state, at the hands of those who should have kept them safe, deaths like that of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez. To refresh your memory, when paramedics showed up at Gabriel’s mother’s home in May 2013, they found the little boy with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, bruises and burns in too many places to count, and his mouth absent two of his teeth. BB pellets were embedded in his lungs and his groin.

Both LA County’s Department of Children Services and the LA County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints that Gabriel was being abused. But somehow nobody acted. And the two-agency non-action resulted in the torture and violent death of an eight-year-old.

Yet, there are other documented cases where DCFS seems to act too quickly, yanking kids out of less-than-ideal but non-dangerous homes and putting them through encounters with the foster care system that were, at best, traumatic and, at worst, deeply damaging.

So how does one tell the difference? Certainly, in some cases, it seems that a modicum of caring attention and common sense would have helped. But in others, the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

Some counties and states around the nation think they might have found at least part of the answer in the realm of what numbers geeks call predictive analytics.

Take for example, the case of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, which had nine child deaths in the state’s Hillsborough County area between 2009 and 2012. All of the kids were under three years old, and all but one were killed by either a parent or paramour.

At the time, the region’s child protective services were contracted out, at a cost of $65.5 million a year, to private youth services agency called Hillsborough Kids.

Florida dumped Hillsborough Kids, bumped up the budget for social workers and, perhaps most significantly, Florida officials contracted to use a new decision-making tool to help the agency prioritize calls of suspected child abuse. It is called Rapid Safety Feedback.

Darian Woods, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at where predictive analytics has entered the world of child protection, who is involved, and what that entry could mean in terms of the future safety of kids.

Here’s a clip:

So in 2012, the department made changes. It commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the data behind the child deaths that were concentrated in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kids lost out on the $65.5 million contract and went into liquidation. A private youth services agency, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, was selected by the department to take care of approximately 2,900 abused children in Hillsborough County. The next year, Florida Governor Rick Scott boosted funding for new social workers. Perhaps most radically, a new decision-making tool called Rapid Safety Feedback was introduced in the county.

Rapid Safety Feedback uses — in the parlance of big data crunchers and, increasingly, social scientists — predictive analytics to prioritize calls of suspected child abuse.

Predictive analytics in child protective services means assigning suspected abuse cases to different risk levels based on characteristics that have been found to be linked with child abuse. These risk levels can automatically revise as administrative data is updated. Administrative data may be as simple as school reports or could delve deeper into other information that the state holds: the parents’ welfare checks, new criminal offenses or changing marital status.

Combining predictive analytics with more investigators seems to be producing results in Hillsborough County. According to Eckerd, who also holds contracts in Pasco and Pinellas counties, since it took over the contract in 2012, the quality of reviews has improved 30 percent. There is a significant increase in completed documentation by caseworkers. There have also been zero child homicides in the county since the handover.

LA County is one of the counties that is looking hard at the use of predictive analytics, but they are less positive that big data can solve the problem.


Holden Slattery, also writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, looks further into what LA County is doing as it “struggles to strike the right balance between human judgement and increasingly sophisticated predictive tools when determining the risk that a child will be abused.”

Here’s how Slattery’s story opens:

On weekdays, calls to Los Angeles County’s child abuse hotline reach their peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.—right after school. On average, 70 to 80 calls about child maltreatment in Los Angeles County reach the hotline per hour during that span, according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the agency charged with responding to alleged abuse.

There are about 85 social workers manning the phones at any given time. They ask callers to explain how child abuse or neglect took place.

The number of calls made to the largest child welfare system in the United States creeps up each year, said Carlos Torres, an assistant regional manager for the DCFS hotline. In 2014, the hotline received 220,000 calls, he said.

After listening and marking down answers on a computer program, the social workers decide whether a situation meets the criteria for an in-person response. They also decide whether DCFS should respond by the end of their current shift, within 24 hours, or within five days, Torres said.

These decisions, based on small bits of information shared by a caller, determine where DCFS directs its limited human resources. DCFS responds with an in-person investigation to 35 percent of the calls, Torres said. In these cases, a social worker drives to the home, interviews the family, gathers information, and enters his or her findings into a web-based decision-making tool, which, like a questionnaire that an insurance company gives to prospective clients, estimates risk; in this case, risk that a child will be abused.

When everything goes right, DCFS can save a child from harm. When something goes wrong, the result can be heartbreaking. A 2011 report on recurring systemic issues that led to child deaths in Los Angeles County put the onus largely on flawed investigations and problems with the decision-making tool employed. In the search for solutions, public officials have looked toward new technologies, such as analytics software used primarily by private companies, to see if that can keep more children out of harm’s way. As public officials make these kinds of inquiries, in Los Angeles County and across the globe, they confront the conundrum of human judgement versus machine. Some say technological advances hold the answers, while others say that only savvy people are up to the task.

Slattery notes that a number of experts cite research that suggests all this predictive analytics isn’t particularly effective when it comes to assessing if a kid is safe or not.

In any case, read on.


One night in January 1988, rival gang members were shooting each other on the streets of Westwood and mistakenly hit and killed a young woman named Karen Toshiba.

The murder of Karen Toshiba became a flashpoint, as such tragic deaths often do, and 1988 became the year the so-called war on gangs was declared in Los Angeles and, in Sacramento, the state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code.

Among its other functions, the the STEP Act imposed greater punishment for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a criminal street gang. In the beginning, the sentencing “enhancements” were no more than a few years. But it 2000, crimes that were “serious” or “violent,” as defined by the California Penal Code, could be enhanced by five or ten or, in certain cases, a life sentence.

The STEP Act can be brought to bear even when a young man or woman is at the periphery of a gang, with a relationship that has more to do with where he or she lives, than any kind of actively committed or formalized association.

It has resulted in multi-decade sentences for juveniles tried as adults as a consequence of their proximity to violent acts in which they did not participate, even in cases when no one was injured.

If a so-called gang expert can successfully label a defendant as a gang member, even if he or she is not, then the enhancement can kick in, and conviction is also much more likely.

In a story by Daniel Alarcón in this week’s New York Times Magazine called “How Do You Define a Gang Member?” Alarcón
describes a case that shows the STEP Act in action.

The story has to do with a case in Modesto, California, where the primary gangs are variation on the theme of Norteño, or northerners, or Sureños—southerners.

Here’s a clip:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

But this time the defense has a gang expert of its own, a former gang member turned PhD named Jesse De La Cruz…

In any case, read on.


The Guardian newspaper has launched a project it is calling The Counted, the purpose of which is to count people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015.

It’s an interactive project, which you can find here.

Over at KPCC, Aaron Mendelson writes that, according to the Guardian’s database, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people (10), than any other law enforcement agency in the United States this year, that’s twice as many as the four law enforcement agencies, one of which is the LASD, that are in second place.

Anyway, it’s interesting so take a look, both at what KPCC has isolated from the database, and at the Guardian database itself.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, families, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 17 Comments »

Prop 47 Town Hall Talks $$$ Use…. Hillary on Criminal Justice…More Thoughts on Violence & Non-Violence Baltimore….

April 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In an absolutely packed town hall meeting held Wednesday night at Hollman United Methodist Church on West Adams, close to 800 So Cal community members, clergy, office holders, and advocates came from as far as San Diego, Orange County, and the Inland Empire to talk about the implementation of Proposition 47, the initiative passed last November that reduced a number of low level felonies to misdemeanors.

The string of speakers that included LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis, A New Way of Life’s Susan Burton, LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers, Father Greg Boyle and other representatives from Homeboy Industries, and more, talked about the need to make sure that the biggest piece of the projected millions in savings generated by the law is directed toward reentry services, drug treatment, and other programs that either help prevent a return to jail or prison, and/or provide healthy alternatives to incarceration.

Supervisor Solis talked about increasing county funding for community programs “that work,” and about how the newly configured LA county board of supes “is realizing it’s wiser to reduce incarceration for community safety.”

Hillary Blout of Californians for Safety and Justice, one of Prop 47′s sponsors, gave a rundown on the statewide implementation to date of the still new law, and talked about the “need to treat health problems with health solutions,” rather than incarceration.

“Drug addiction is a disease that needs treatment…untreated it gets worse behind bars”

Susan Burton, who founded An New Way of Life to give women coming out of prison a new start. said that she had supported Prop. 47 “because it recognizes the promise in all of us.”

The overarching purpose of the night was to seek commitments to support programs that “create opportunities for redemption and success” from members of the Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC), which is the group that will administer 65% of the savings from the Proposition 47 Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund.”

The two-plus hour event was cosponsored by PICO California, LA Voice, Californians for Safety and Justice, Homeboy Industries, Anti-Recidivism Coalition, Community Coalition, All of Us or None, and A New Way of Life. And, as the night reached its end, most participants seemed to come away with inspiration.

“People make the deepest of transformations with even the slimmest of support,” said Minister Zachary Hoover, LA Voice’s Executive Director. “Imagine what would happen if we continue to invest in ourselves, our neighbors, our fellow Californians as if we were family…. We are calling on state and local officials to do more,” he said, “because we the people are ready for boldness.”

Wednesday’s town hall was the third of four events in a series of town hall forums organized by PICO California and affiliates, along with the Board of State and Community Corrections, to discuss “local, regional and state priorities for violence reduction, expanding alternatives to incarceration, and reducing recidivism.”

The final town hall will be held in Sacramento on May 19, 2015


On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton gave what was billed as a major speech on criminal justice at Columbia University. But did she say anything of substance?

The Washington Post’s Anne Gearan felt that Clinton called for an overhaul of her husband’s criminal justice policies. (Although this was reportedly somewhat refuted later by Clintonites.) Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime policies that emphasized arrests and convictions for relatively minor offenses have failed the country, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton said Wednesday, leading to overcrowded prisons and too many black men “missing” from their families and communities.

“We need to restore balance to our criminal justice system,” Clinton told an audience at Columbia University in New York.

Calling for an “end to the era of mass incarceration,” Clinton endorsed body cameras for police nationwide to record interactions between officers and potential suspects. Making her most specific policy proposals since launching her campaign earlier this month, Clinton said it’s time for a nationwide overhaul of what she called misguided and failed policing and prison strategies.

In effect, she was saying that policies put in place when her husband Bill Clinton was president have not worked. Clinton did not mention her husband or identify exactly which laws and sentencing policies she thought had gone wrong. But many of those policies grew out of the crackdown on drug crimes and other nonviolent offenses that took place before and during Bill Clinton’s presidency 20 years ago….

Jacob Sollem of Reason magazine was less than thrilled. Here’s a clip:

Speaking at Columbia University, Clinton said several true things: The use of unnecessary force by police is bad, but so is looting and rioting. Our “out-of-balance” criminal justice system punishes people too harshly, imprisons too many “low-level offenders,” and disproportionately hurts black men. As Clinton noted, there is by now bipartisan agreement on these points. “It is not enough just to agree and give speeches about it,” she said. “We need to deliver real reforms.”

Such as? The one new and specific reform Clinton recommended was equipping police officers with body cameras, which she called “a common-sense step.” She also reiterated her support for “alternative punishments,” “specialized drug courts,” and “drug diversion programs.” Body cameras are a good idea with broad support. I am less keen on forcing people into “treatment” they do not want by threatening to lock them in cages. I would tell you what I think about Clinton’s other ideas if she had offered any.

“It’s time to change our approach,” Clinton said. “It’s time to end the era of mass incarceration.” I agree. Presumably the solution involves 1) locking fewer people up, 2) imposing shorter sentences, and 3) letting current prisoners out. But Clinton did not move beyond platitudes on any of those points. “I don’t know all the answers,” she confessed.

Sollem lists a number of reformist bills that Hillary could back that would give her stand some heft—-many of them already backed by some of the Republicans who would run for president against her.

For instance, he says, she could easily get behind making retroactive the lowering of the disproportionately high sentences for crack cocaine, which was approved by Congress almost unanimously in 2010. And he has other ideas after that one.

[The crack sentencing retroactivity] reform, which could help thousands of federal prisoners and should be a no-brainer for Clinton, is part of the Smarter Sentencing Act, which was reintroduced in February by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Richard Durbin (D-Ill.). The bill’s 12 cosponsors include four Republicans, two of whom, Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas), are vying to oppose Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, in next year’s presidential election. The House version of the bill was introduced by a Republican and has 30 cosponsors, including seven Republicans. In addition to making shorter crack sentences retroactive, the bill would cut mandatory minimums for various drug offenses in half, eliminate the mandatory life sentence for a third drug offense, and expand the “safety valve” for low-level, nonviolent offenders.

Is this the sort of bipartisan reform Clinton has in mind? What about the Justice Safety Valve Act, a more ambitious bill sponsored by Paul that would effectively repeal mandatory minimums by allowing judges to depart from them in the interest of justice? Is that too radical for Clinton? If so, why?

Here’s the text of Hillary’s speech.


And while Hillary was at Columbia, after the most intense of Baltimore’s demonstrations quieted, Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote this conversation-provoking essay about the fury in the streets. It is called ‘Nonviolence as Compliance.” Take a look.

Here are some clips:

Rioting broke out on Monday in Baltimore—an angry response to the death of Freddie Gray, a death my native city seems powerless to explain. Gray did not die mysteriously in some back alley but in the custody of the city’s publicly appointed guardians of order. And yet the mayor of that city and the commissioner of that city’s police still have no idea what happened. I suspect this is not because the mayor and police commissioner are bad people, but because the state of Maryland prioritizes the protection of police officers charged with abuse over the citizens who fall under its purview.

The citizens who live in West Baltimore, where the rioting began, intuitively understand this. I grew up across the street from Mondawmin Mall, where today’s riots began. My mother was raised in the same housing project, Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray was killed. Everyone I knew who lived in that world regarded the police not with admiration and respect but with fear and caution. People write these feelings off as wholly irrational at their own peril, or their own leisure. The case against the Baltimore police, and the society that superintends them, is easily made:


….tonight, I turn on the news and I see politicians calling for young people in Baltimore to remain peaceful and “nonviolent.” These well-intended pleas strike me as the right answer to the wrong question. To understand the question, it’s worth remembering what, specifically, happened to Freddie Gray. An officer made eye contact with Gray. Gray, for unknown reasons, ran. The officer and his colleagues then detained Gray. They found him in possession of a switchblade. They arrested him while he yelled in pain. And then, within an hour, his spine was mostly severed. A week later, he was dead. What specifically was the crime here? What particular threat did Freddie Gray pose? Why is mere eye contact and then running worthy of detention at the hands of the state? Why is Freddie Gray dead?

The people now calling for nonviolence are not prepared to answer these questions. Many of them are charged with enforcing the very policies that led to Gray’s death, and yet they can offer no rational justification for Gray’s death and so they appeal for calm. But there was no official appeal for calm when Gray was being arrested….

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Drugs and drug treatment, law enforcement, Propositions, race, race and class, racial justice, Reentry | 2 Comments »

More Bad News Re: Antipsychotics & Medicaid Children….How Should We Compensate the Wrongly Convicted?…..$5.3 Mil Possible Payout for LASD Shooting

April 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Last week we reported on an alarming new federal report from the US Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General that documented excessive use of antipsychotic drugs to treat poor children (many of them in foster care) on Medicaid.

Now a new study, published Monday in JAMA Pediatrics by researchers from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s PolicyLab, suggests that prescription antipsychotics may elevate a child’s risk for Type II diabetes by nearly 50 percent.

Among children who are also receiving antidepressants, researchers found the risk may double.

The research newswire NewsWise reports that researchers cautioned against over-reaction to the findings, pointing out that the baseline risk for diabetes among youth not exposed to antipsychotics was 1 in 400, rising to 1 in 260 among those being given antipsychotics.

Newwise also noted “emerging evidence that Medicaid-enrolled children are far more likely than privately insured children to be prescribed antipsychotic medications.”

Overall, over 25 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children receiving prescription medications for behavioral problems were prescribed antipsychotics by 2008, largely for less severe disorders.

“With such vast numbers of children being exposed to these medications, the implications for potential long-lasting harm can be jarring,” said David Rubin, MD, MSCE, the study’s lead author..

To say the least.


The New Yorker’s Arial Levy writes about John Restivo, who lost 18 years of his freedom after being convicted of rape and murder of a young woman in 1985. DNA evidence set him free in 2003. The story of the $18 million settlement Restivo may or may not get opens the complex discussion about what we owe those who are wrongly convicted.

Here’s a clip:

Restivo had never met the victim and had no criminal record, it became clear that he was a suspect. One of the detectives grabbed him by the throat, he recalled recently. “He starts screaming, right in my face, ‘Is this how you killed her?’ And I’m, like, This is insane.” They kept him at the station for twenty hours, during which he was not allowed to rest or eat or call his girlfriend and let her know where he was. Restivo remembers that when he said he had a right to a lawyer, Volpe told him, “This is un-America: you have no rights here.” Then Volpe’s partner, Robert Dempsey, hit him in the face.

Restivo had grown up thinking of the police as good guys—his father had spent twenty years on the Nassau County force—and he was stunned by his treatment. As soon as he was released, he went to see a lawyer, who took photographs of his bruises and filed a complaint against the detectives. (Dempsey denied hitting Restivo.) But the police did not relinquish the case. “It’s quite possible that the fact that he called a lawyer right away made them think that he was guilty,” Anna Benvenutti Hoffmann, one of Restivo’s current lawyers, said. “Anything is a sign that you’re guilty, once they get a feeling that they don’t like something about somebody.”

Restivo’s phones were tapped. His home was bugged. “Everywhere I went, they started following me around,” he said. “I’m trying to continue running a business, and if I go to somebody’s house to do an estimate or a moving job, I’m afraid the cops are going to show up. Anybody I associated with, they’re starting to snatch off the street—and they’re not just bringing them in for a half-hour chat.”

On the night of the crime, Restivo had been in Wantagh, sanding floors at his new house with a friend; the police brought the friend in and questioned him for ten hours. “They told me, ‘We’re going to turn your life into an effing nightmare,’ ” Restivo said. “ ‘And we’re going to turn your brother’s life into an effing nightmare. We’ll turn your mother’s life into a nightmare. We’ll turn your son’s life into a nightmare.’ And they did.”


Restivo was convicted and given 33-to-life. He was released after 18 years when DNA evidence proved him innocent. Now Restivo may or may not get $18 million in compensation.
So what do we owe people like Restivo, or the recently released inmate who served 30 years in an Alabama prison?

It’s an interesting question, and an interesting longread story.

Nina Morrison, of the Innocence Project, told me, “I think for a lot of the clients there’s a sense that this is going to be the thing that helps them move on. But then the jury goes home; we all go home. And then, at the end of the day, they are still left with the enormity of what they’ve lost.”


And while we’re on the topic of damage awards, Jose de la Trinidad was a 36-year-old father of two when he was shot five times in the upper and lower back by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. A witness to the shooting has always maintained that the unarmed De la Trinidad was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

The LA County Board of Supervisors are expected to vote on the high ticket payout on Tuesday.

Frank Stolze of KPCC has more. Here’s a clip:

[If the supervisors agree to the payout, this] would settle a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by the family that claimed deputies opened fire on Trinidad, even though he had his hands in the air and his back to deputies.

“He had not violated any law and posed no risk to deputies,” the lawsuit said. “He exited a vehicle and obeyed the instructions of deputies to stop and raise his hands.”

He had two daughters — ages 3 and 6 — at the time of his death. Relatives say he held down two jobs to support them and his wife.

In February, the board agreed to pay $1.5 million to the family of Arturo Cabrales, who was also fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy.


In May, the L.A. County District Attorney’s office concluded the two deputies “acted in lawful self-defense and defense of another when they used deadly force.”

Posted in children and adolescents, crime and punishment, health care, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 5 Comments »

Suing Colorado’s ADX Prison: “A Clean Version of Hell”

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility in Florence, Colo., known by most as the ADX, is the highest-security prison in the country. Inside ADX you will find such high profile inmates as the Unibomber Ted Kaczynski, the Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing mastermind Ramzi Yousef, Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols, former Bonanno crime-family boss Vincent Basciano and Michael Swango, a serial-killing doctor who may have poisoned 60 of his patients.

These kind of prisoners, most of whom are doing multiple life sentences, are viewed as having nothing to lose, thus potential violent.

But according to a class action lawsuit filed in June 2012, many of those housed in ADX are not high risk prisoners but inmates who’ve gotten transferred to the prison for a list of less-than-necessary reasons. Moreover, many are mentally ill and the conditions—along with a lack of appropriate care at ADX—make those who come to the facility with mental and emotional problems inevitably grow far worse.

And many of those who come into ADX without serious mental problems, have decompensated mentally and emotionally as a consequence of the extreme isolation to which they are subjected.

Perplexingly, according to the lawsuit, those who are housed in ADX’s Control Units-–the most restricted and isolating units in the prison—receive no mental health care or psychotropic medication at all, whatever their needs.

“Currently, the BOP [Bureau of Prisons] turns a blind eye to the needs of the mentally ill at ADX and to deplorable conditions of confinement that are inhumane to these prisoners,” states the 2012 lawsuit knowns as Bicote v. The Federal Bureau of Prisons. “No civilized society treats its mentally ill citizens with such deliberate indifference to their plight.”

In Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, reporter Mark Benelli writes a long and affecting story about what it’s like inside “America’s Toughest Prison,” and about the conditions and the prisoners that persuaded attorneys Deborah Golden, the director of the D.C. Prisoners’ Project, and Ed Aro, a cowboy-styled super lawyer from Denver, to file a lawsuit that most considered unwinnable.

Here are some clips:

Robert Hood, the warden of the ADX from 2002 to 2005, told me that when he first arrived on the campus, he was struck by “the very stark environment,” unlike any other prison in which he ever worked or visited — no noise, no mess, no prisoners walking the hallways. When inmates complained to him, he would tell them, “This place is not designed for humanity,” he recalled. “When it’s 23 hours a day in a room with a slit of a window where you can’t even see the Rocky Mountains — let’s be candid here. It’s not designed for rehabilitation. Period. End of story.”

Hood was not trying to be cruel with such frankness. The ADX was built explicitly to house men often already serving multiple life sentences and thus facing little disincentive to, say, murder a guard or another prisoner. Still, during his own tenure, Hood said he made a point of developing one-on-one relationships with as many inmates as possible — he described Salvatore (Sammy the Bull) Gravano as “a very likable guy, believe it or not,” and he bonded with the Unabomber over their shared interest in running marathons — in hopes of eliciting good behavior in exchange for whatever he could do to make their sentences more bearable. But he also needed them to understand that even as warden, he lacked the authority to change the rules of their confinement. In the past, Hood has memorably described the ADX as “a clean version of hell.”


A Colorado native who looks the part, attorney [Ed] Aro, 50, favors cowboy boots and fleece jackets, and his cheeks have the ruddy, slightly cured quality of a man who enjoys vigorous exercise at high altitudes. “Juries are my stock in trade,” he told me. “They bring me in when the story is complicated and there’s not going to be a settlement and they need someone to tell a convincing narrative. With this case, I worried, How do you weave a narrative and humanize people at a prison like this?”

As he tried to get a handle on the lawsuit, he made the two-hour drive to Florence nearly every week. For years, conditions inside the ADX had remained largely a mystery; from 2002 on, the Amnesty report noted, ADX officials denied every media request for a visit or prisoner interview, aside from a restricted tour in 2007. (The B.O.P. declined to comment for this article or to allow a site visit.) Aro assumed he would find a small number of prisoners who had somehow slipped through the cracks. “The thing that shocked me most was how massive the problem was,” Aro said. “The ADX is the most closely monitored and evaluated subset of the prison population in the entire country. With the extent of the problem, it’s incomprehensible to me that the B.O.P. didn’t notice what was going on.” How, Aro wondered, did the toughest prison in the United States become a mental asylum — one incapable of controlling its own population?

He enlisted Dr. Doris Gundersen, a Denver-based forensic psychiatrist, who was allowed inside the ADX as part of his legal team. After evaluating 45 prisoners, she estimated that 70 percent met the criteria for at least one serious mental illness. She and Aro spoke to inmates who swallowed razor blades, inmates who were left for days or weeks shackled to their beds (where they were routinely allowed to soil themselves), an inmate who ate his own feces so regularly that staff psychiatrists made a special note only when he did so with unusual “voracity.” A number of prisoners were taken off prescribed medications. (Until recently prison regulations forbade the placement of inmates on psychotropic medication in the Control Unit, the most restrictive section of the ADX, as, by definition, such medication implies severe mental illness.) Others claimed that they were denied treatment, aside from “therapy classes” on the prison television’s educational station and workbooks with titles like “Cage Your Rage,” despite repeated written requests. (The ADX lawsuit says that only two psychologists and one part-time psychiatrist serve the entire prison.)

Gunderson and Aro met one inmate, Marcellus Washington, sentenced to life for carjacking and armed robbery, who slashed his wrists in a suicide attempt and was punished for it: He lost his television and radio privileges for several weeks. They met another inmate, Herbert Perkins, also serving life for armed robbery, who, after slashing his throat with a razor and being rushed to a hospital, was returned to the same cell, given a mop and bucket and ordered to clean up the blood.

Binelli’s story is a longread, but it’s fascinating as well as alarming and well worth your time.

The Atlantic’s Andrw Cohn also wrote an excellent series on ADX and the lawsuit. It begins here.

Here’s how Cohen’s series opens with the harrowing tale of then ADX inmate Jack Powers:

When Jack Powers arrived at maximum-security federal prison in Atlanta in 1990 after a bank robbery conviction, he had never displayed symptoms of or been treated for mental illness. Still in custody a few years later, he witnessed three inmates, believed to be members of the Aryan Brotherhood gang, kill another inmate. Powers tried to help the victim get medical attention, and was quickly transferred to a segregated unit for his safety, but it didn’t stop the gang’s members from quickly threatening him.

Not then. And certainly not after Powers testified (not once but twice) for the federal government against the assailants. The threats against him continued and Powers was soon transferred to a federal prison in Pennsylvania, where he was threatened even after he was put into protective custody. By this time, Powers had developed insomnia and anxiety attacks and was diagnosed by a prison psychologist as suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Instead of giving Powers medicine, or proper mental health therapy, officials transferred him yet again, this time to another federal prison in New Jersey. There, Powers was informed by officials that he would be removed from a witness protection program and transferred back into the prison’s general population. Fearing for his life, Powers escaped. When he was recaptured two days later he was sent to ADX-Florence, part of a sprawling prison complex near Florence, Colorado often referred to as “ADX” or Supermax,” America’s most famous and secure federal prison.

From there, things got worse. The Supermax complex, made up of different secure prison units and facilities, is laden with members of the Brotherhood and Powers was no safer than he had been anywhere else. Over and over again he was threatened at the Colorado prison. Over and over again he injured or mutilated himself in response. Over and over again he was transferred to federal government’s special mental health prison facility in Missouri, diagnosed with PTSD, and given medication. Over and over again that medication was taken away when he came back to Supermax.

As he sits today in Supermax, Powers had amputated his fingers, a testicle, his scrotum and his earlobes, has cut his Achilles tendon, and had tried several times to kill himself. Those tattoos you see? Powers had none until 2009, when he started mutilating with a razor and carbon paper. He did much of this — including biting off his pinkie and cutting skin off his face — in the Control Unit at ADX while prison officials consistently refused to treat his diagnosed mental illness. Rules are rules, prison officials told him, and no prisoners in that unit were to be given psychotropic medicine no matter how badly they needed it.

Posted in crime and punishment, prison policy, solitary, torture | No Comments »

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

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

Think progress has more on the story.

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

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

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

There’s more, so read the rest.


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

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

Here’s how it opens:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

District Attorney George Gascón called the allegations “deplorable.”

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

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

Study Shows LA County Probation Kids Not Getting Needed Help…. Mass Murder Meets Prosecutorial Madness….Local FBI Agent Indicted

March 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Up until now, LA County juvenile probation—the largest juvenile justice system in the nation—knew very little about the kids in its care, what challenges those kids faced, which methods might be best suited to address a kid’s challenges, and whether or not those methods were actually working—and if not, why not.

On Thursday, however, all that changed with the release of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study, a 155-page report that took almost four years to complete, and that will hopefully be difficult to ignore.

The report shows, for example, that one-third of the kids who wind up in the county’s juvenile camps or the probation run group homes, get arrested again within a year of their release. But we pretty much already knew that. So it is more interesting to note that nearly all of the kids in either the homes or camps had been on probation prior to the arrest that sent them into the county’s care, and had not gotten the help they needed when on home probation either. Moreover, the report digs into what broke down in the kids’ lives that could have and should have been addressed for better results for all concerned.

Yet, in addition to delivering those and other pieces of bad news, the report looks deeply at the kinds of problems these youth face, then makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the probation kids’ chances of rebooting their lives. The researchers also lay out what they call “targeted reforms” to help LA County Probation fundamentally transform its approach to the youth it serves.


In many ways, the best news out of this study is the fact that the study was done at all. Prior to its release this week, there was—as mentioned above—very little to tell us about the LA County kids who land in LA County’s care, what got those kids there, and how well or poorly they did when they got out.

As a consequence, nearly all the decisions made about how LA County Probation dealt with the kids in its care were, up until now, done flying blind. (Not that this is surprising news in that we are talking about the same probation agency that a few years ago misplaced a full third of their workforce. But those were very dark times, so we won’t return there.)

Now, thankfully, we have a rigorous piece of research and data gathering to provide a baseline, and that, by its existence, demands ongoing research and data gathering.

Moreover, the study was led by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz, who is considered one of California’s go to researchers in the realm of juvenile justice, gang violence and the like. Plus, the report was a collaborative effort that included other top notch researchers as consultants, plus youth advocates such as the Children’s Defense Fund, with the Advancement Project providing oversight in addition to getting the money to fund the thing (from the W.M. Keck Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation).

To their credit, probation fully cooperated—even if, at times, reluctantly..

“What is encouraging,” said Michelle Newell from the Children’s Defense Fund, who was one of the study’s authors, “is that many county leaders, including the Board of Supervisors, probation, and judges, seem committed to using the findings in this study to both strengthen data collection, and to improve outcomes for youth.”

We’ll have more about the study early next week. So stay tuned.


Impossible though it sounds on its face, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas and his prosecutors managed to spectacularly blow the sentencing hearings in a high profile mass murder case in which the murderer confessed. The OC Weekly’s Scott Moxley lays it all out for you, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s how the story opens:

Orange County’s worst mass shooting, the so-called 2011 Seal Beach hair-salon massacre, began as a traumatizing event for all, but it has devolved into one of the most polarizing legal struggles to hit our legal system. The question isn’t about Scott Dekraai’s guilt. Dekraai admitted to police that he was the killer within minutes of the shooting. Controversy swirls, however, around the tactics of prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies trying to impose a death-penalty punishment rather than a 200-plus-year prison sentence without the possibility for parole. With one embarrassing revelation after another, the battle has grown painful, especially for the baffled families of the victims. To help understand why Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, himself an accomplished former prosecutor, this month made a historic decision to recuse Tony Rackauckas and his district attorney’s office (OCDA), we are providing a chronology of events:

Read on.


On Thursday, a local FBI agent (who had a very, very small part in the feds’ investigation of the LASD) was indicted for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and more. In short, he got WAY more involved than was even vaguely appropriate with a federal witness.

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Timothy Joel worked out of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office. The indictment relates to Joel’s alleged relationship with a woman who was arrested at the Otay Mesa border in 2007. The woman, a Korean national, was being smuggled into the United States to work as a prostitute. Joel allegedly helped her stay in the U.S. by claiming she was an important witness in a human smuggling investigation.

According to the indictment, Joel provided the woman with regular cash payments from his personal bank account totaling nearly $20,000 and later moved in with her in an apartment in Los Angeles.

In 2013, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Joel’s alleged actions.

Here’s the full text of the indictment. Special Agent Joel Indictment

Posted in children and adolescents, crime and punishment, FBI, juvenile justice, Probation, Prosecutors | No Comments »

A New Complaint by the Texas State Bar Suggests That Prosecutorial Misconduct May Have Caused the Execution of an Innocent Man

March 20th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In a startling and painfully belated turn of events, the State Bar of Texas has filed a formal complaint alleging misconduct against John Jackson, the prosecutor who tried one of the most controversial death penalty cases in recent American history, that of Cameron Todd Willingham.

It reads in part:

“Before, during, and after the 1992 trial, Respondent [aka prosecutor Jackson] knew of the existence of evidence that tended to negate the guilt of Willingham and failed to disclose that evidence to defense counsel. Specifically, Respondent failed to make timely disclosure to the defense details of an agreement of favorable treatment for Webb, an inmate, in exchange for Webb’s testimony at trial for the State.”

“Webb” is a jailhouse informant named Johnny Webb, but we’ll get to that in a moment.

The Bar then went on to tic off several very nice things Jackson allegedly did for informant Webb, namely to get the charge of which he was convicted reduced substantially, to push for his early parole, and to get him transferred out of prison to county jail. (The Bar did not mention that Jackson also allegedly introduced Johnny Webb to a wealthy rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., who gave Webb a job, money, and various other forms of help.)

The Bar also noted that Jackson told the court that he had no evidence that was favorable to Willingham. “That statement was false,” wrote Linda Acevedo, the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas with terse brevity.

The complaint is a welcome and very unusual instance of a prosecutor being held to answer by the legal profession. Yet it is more than a decade too late.

On February 17, 2004, Todd Willingham was executed in Texas for deliberately setting the fire that killed his three young daughters.

Maurice Possely of the Marshall Project, who is the latest smart reporter to get hooked by the Willingham case, has more on the events behind the Texas Bar’s decision to propose sanctions against prosecutor Jackson. And in reports co-sponsored by the Washington Post, Possely wrote of previous evidence of Jackson’s misconduct, and other irregularities pertaining to the case.

But, for those of you unfamiliar with the whole troubling Willingham matter, a little back story.


On December 23, 1991, a fire destroyed the Corsicana, Texas, home that Cameron Todd Willingham, then twenty-three, shared with his twenty-two-year-old wife and three young daughters. The girls’ mother was not home at the time of the fire, but was at the Salvation Army buying Christmas gifts for the kids. Willingham was asleep when the fire broke out and was able to burst out of the house nearly unscathed, but screaming to the neighbors that his “babies,’ were still inside. By that time, however, the house was engulfed inflames. All three girls died in the fire.

At Willingham’s 1992 trial, prosecutor Jackson told the jury that Willingham had set the fire to kill his children, although no convincing motive for the arson murders was ever established. Willingham, a man with many less than likable traits, was sentenced to death on October 29, 1992.

Willingham maintained his innocence to the end. Prior to his trial, he refused the state’s plea bargain offer that would have saved his life. Rather than seeing this as the action of an innocent man, however, the prosecution viewed his refusal as the arrogance of an unrepentant killer.

Jackson’s primary evidence against Willingham was, as he put it, held up by “two pillars.” First there was the analysis of the state’s leading arson investigator, a deputy fire marshal named Manuel Vasquez, whom David Grann of the New Yorker described as having cultivated a Sherlock Holmsian aura of invincibility.

Vasquez concluded that the deaths of the three little girls were the a result of a clear and deliberate act of arson. Willingham, the only other person in the house, had poured liquid accelerant around the children’s room, even under their beds. Fire sleuth Vasquez described a heinous crime about which he maintained there could be no doubt.

The other primary evidence against Willingham was the testimony of the jailhouse informant Johnny Webb, who had been in the same county jail as Willingham when the latter was awaiting trial. Webb said that Willingham had confessed to him that he took “some kind of lighter fluid, squirting [it] around the walls and the floor, and set a fire.”

This supposed confession matched the analysis of Vasquez, who claimed to have found more than “twenty indicators” of arson. With these two “pillars” holding his prosecutorial theory aloft, Jackson concluded that his case was impregnable.

In March 2000, however—four years before Willingham’s execution—Webb sent prosecutor Jackson a Motion to Recant Testimony, stating that “Mr. Willingham is innocent of all charges.”

No one in the prosecutor’s office thought to mention this recantation to Willingham’s attorney.

Nor did Jackson mention the legal favors he gave Webb in what appeared to be a quid pro quo exchange for testimony. In fact, he maintained there were no favors.

Shortly after his reversal, Webb recanted his recantation, with timing that seemed to correspond with some of Jackson’s written assurances of help for Webb.

For instance, in an August 2014 story for the Marshall Project and the Washington Post, Possely reported that “…letters and court files show that Jackson worked diligently to intercede for Webb after his testimony and to coordinate with the rancher, Charles S. Pearce Jr., to keep the mercurial informer in line:”

“Mr. Pierce and I visit on a regular basis concerning your problems,” Jackson wrote to Webb in August 2000, eight years after the trial, when his former witness was threatening to recant. (Jackson misspelled the rancher’s last name.) “We worked for a long time on a number of different levels, including the Governor’s Office, to get you released early in the robbery case. . . . Please understand that I am not indifferent or insensitive to your difficulties.”

When questioned about the flip-flops half a decade after the fact by the New Yorker’s David Granny, Webb, who had by that time been diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, first claimed a bad memory, then asked, “The statute of limitations has run out on perjury, hasn’t it?”

Earlier this month, the Marshall Report’s Possely published the most detailed account to date of how Webb came to testify against Willingham, based on two days of interview with the former informant:

“I did not want to see Willingham go to death row and die for something I damn well knew was a lie and something I didn’t initiate,” Webb said. “I lied on the man because I was being forced by John Jackson to do so,” Webb said. “I succumbed to pressure when I shouldn’t have. In the end, I was told, ‘You’re either going to get a life sentence or you’re going to testify.’ He coerced me to do it.

In 2010 Webb similarly described threats and coercion by Jackson on camera to reporters from PBS’s Frontline.

“During Willingham’s three-day trial in August 1992, Jackson pointedly asked Webb on the witness stand whether he had been promised a lighter sentence or some other benefit for his cooperation. Webb told the judge and jury that he had not.

Documents published last year by the Marshall Project and The Washington Post showed that during and after Webb was in state prison, he received thousands of dollars in aid from a wealthy local businessman, Charles S. Pearce Jr. Webb said in interviews that Pearce had helped him at the behest of Jackson, Patrick C. Batchelor, the district attorney, and the county sheriff. Jackson later denied that claim, saying that any support Pearce gave “had no connection” to Webb’s testimony in the Willingham case.


In January 2004, a few weeks before Willingham was to be executed, the other pillar of Willingham’s guilt began to crumble when Willingham’s lawyer, along with a pen-pal turned platonic friend named Elizabeth Gilbert, talked acclaimed scientist and fire investigator, Dr. Gerald Hurst, into reexamining the case file pro bono.

When Hurst subjected Vasquez’ prior report to exhaustive examination and testing, he concluded that the analysis of the Willingham fire on which the prosecution based its case did not conform at all with scientific knowledge about fire behavior. Based on the evidence, Hurst concluded that there was no indication at all of arson, that the fire was accidental and likely caused by a space heater in the house or faulty electrical wiring. Not a single article of physical evidence supported the conclusion of Arson, Hurst wrote. A man was about to be executed based on “junk science.”

The analysis did no good. Although it was sent to the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles, and also to Governor Rick Perry, either of whom could have issued a stay so that the countervailing evidence could be presented in court. The requests for a stay were denied. Willingham’s execution went forward as scheduled.

Not content to let the matter drop, a few years later, the Innocence Project assembled five of the nation’s leading independent arson experts to again review the evidence in the case. In 2006, the group issued a 48-page report finding that none of the scientific analysis used to convict Willingham was valid. He was convicted, they wrote, “using what is now known to be bad science (or no science.,”

Three years later still, on August 25, 2009, a team of Texas state-hired experts released their own findings in a 64-page report on the Willingham fire. The team, headed by Dr. Craig L. Beyler, found the same thing that Hurst had found in 2004, and the Innocence team had found in 2006. No evidence of arson.

In a scathing analysis, Beyler wrote that original fire investigator Vasquez’s conclusions seemed to deny “rational reasoning” and were more “characteristic of mystics or psychics.”

“Vasquez’s opinions are nothing more than a collection of personal beliefs that have nothing to do with science-based fire investigation.”

And now we have the complaint against prosecutor Jackson filed by the State Bar of Texas.

In 2006, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a dissenting opinion that in the modern judicial system, there has not been “a single case—not one—in which it is clear that a person was executed for a crime he did not commit. If such an event had occurred in recent years, we would not have to hunt for it; the innocent’s name would be shouted from the rooftops.”

Perhaps it is time to start shouting.

NOTE: Even though it is dated, if you’d like to know more about this complex and alarming case, the best account is still to be found in the 2009 New Yorker story, “Trial by Fire” by David Grann.

Photo courtesy of Willingham Family

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