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Don’t Close Child Dependency Court…Lee Baca’s Approval Rating… Baca Uses the “B” Word: Bitter…..”Circle It!” Don’t Suspend Say TX Students….Graduation & Crime & Money

December 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


PLEASE DON’T CLOSE CHILD DEPENDENCY COURT. JUST DON’T DO IT!

On Wednesday there was a hearing in front of the 2nd Circuit Court of appeals that is to determine whether or not the order issued by Judge Robert Nash in January 2012 to finally open Los Angeles County’s child dependency courts to the press under certain controlled circumstances was legal.

These are the courtrooms where foster care cases are heard, that have too long been secretive and disastrously short of sunlight.

The LA Times editorial board asks the 2nd Circuit to leave the situation as is. As does Christie Renick for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Here’s a clip from what the Times had to say, with which we strongly agree:

Has openness perfected the Dependency Courts? No. But parents who felt their cases were being rushed through by overburdened lawyers and social workers have expressed relief to have outside eyes present; lawyers who complained of judges delaying cases have welcomed coverage that creates a disincentive to dawdle; judges say coverage has focused attention on questionable lawyering. Meanwhile, the tentative ruling cites no instance in which any child has been harmed by the presence of reporters.

This is an important work in progress; the appellate court should not end it. If it tries, the Legislature should pass a bill keeping the courts in Los Angeles open or, even better, extending the principle of Nash’s order to the entire state.

We’ll let you know when we learn more.


IS LEE BACA’S APPROVAL RATING DIVING? A CHALLENGER’S TAKES A POLL

Early Wednesday morning Los Angeles County Sheriff’s candidate and Lee Baca challenger Bob Olmsted released a poll that showed that incumbent Baca’s approval ratings could be in the midst of a bad slide.

The poll was a live telephone survey of 406 likely June 2014 voters in LA County conducted December 16th – 17th 2013. Olmsted’s campaign paid for the survey.

Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly got the fastest story up on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca has had a rough couple of years, but it’s gotten really bad in the last two weeks, ever since federal prosecutors brought corruption charges against 18 of his deputies.

Baca is up for re-election next year, and the unending scandals have taken a toll on his approval ratings. That’s according to a new poll released today by one of Baca’s opponents.

The survey shows that Baca’s favorability rating has plunged in the last two years, and a majority of likely voters now disapprove of Baca’s handling of his job. Not a good sign for the 71-year-old lawman.

[SNIP]

As with any internal poll, take it with a grain of salt.

With that, the results:

Baca (job approval)

Positive: 34%
Negative: 52%

Baca (favorability):

Favorable: 41%
Unfavorable: 33%

His favorability rating has declined sharply since the fall of 2011, according to another poll the Weekly obtained last month.

Baca (2011 favorability)
Favorable: 66%
Unfavorable: 23%

That’s a 35-point drop in his net favorability rating in the last two years.

As Maddaus said, one should take insider polls with a dash of good sel de mer. Plus the sheriff has a big powerful political machine plus nearly two decades worth of popularity that one would be unwise to discount.

Yet, there is without a doubt blood in the water.


BACA FINALLY TALKS & CALLS HIS OPPONENTS “BITTER & A QUITTER”,

After not meeting with the press for months, Sheriff Lee Baca has emerged from his bat cave to speak with reporters a number of times in the last week. On Wednesday he met with KCAL 9′s Dave Lopez.

Be sure to watch the video, which includes a change of clothes on the part of the sheriff so that he could speak about the election legally—AKA out of uniform.

After talking about what he describes as his utter non-involvement with the FOS—Friends of the Sheriff—hiring program, he did his clothes change and chatted emphatically about his campaign.

Here’ a bit of what he said:

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” he said. “Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy.”

Baca’s two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle. [Actually that isn't accurate, but whatever]

Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.

“My opponents – one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you’ve got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter,” he said.

Okay, I count three in that statement. One bitter, one a quitter, and “one who is bitter but should have been a quitter.’

Who’s the third guy, sheriff? Just asking.

NOTE: ABC-7 has a story on the Friends of the Sheriff issue, that is worth checking out as well.


“CIRCLE IT!” SAN ANTONIO, TX, SCHOOL USES INNOVATIVE STRATEGY TO SUCCESSFULLY REDUCE SUSPENSIONS

The term “circling it” has become an important part of the vernacular at Ed White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas.

Jim Forsyth at WOAI Radio has the story. Here’s a clip:

Marilyn Armour of the University of Texas School of Social Work calls it ‘Restorative Discipline’ and he says it has resulted in a staggering 84% decrease in suspensions at White, which previously had some of the highest discipline rates in the entire district.

“What’s happening here is really an effort to change the whole climate,” she told 1200 WOAI’s Michael Board. “Not just change the kids’ behavior.”

She says Restorative Discipline is a student based way of convincing kids to behave properly. When a child acts out, rather than an immediate trip to the principal’s office, in school suspension, or other traditional tactic, the students, counselors, teachers ‘talk out’ the issues in what are called ‘restorative circles.’

“When kids begin to get skills beyond the fighting, it gives them options they haven’t had before,” Armour said.

She says many examples of sixth and seventh graders engaging in disruptive behavior is frequently borne of frustration, the students want to be heard, and they want to be considered to have a role in their discipline and the activities they engage in. She says this process allows the student to talk out their problems, with an eye toward reducing bullying, truancy, and disruptive behavior…


STUDY SAYS H.S. GRADUATION PREVENTS CRIME AND SAVES $$

A recent report draws a correlation between graduation rates and entry into the criminal justice system—and then does the math. Obviously one cannot draw a straight line of cause and effect, but the relationship is there, and the study is worth noting.

Isabelle Dills of the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

strong>Among all 50 states, California would save the most money — $2.4 billion in crime costs — if the male high school graduation rate increased by 5 percent, according to a recent report from the Alliance for Excellent Education.

The report, “Saving Futures, Saving Dollars: The Impact of Education on Crime Reduction and Earnings,” examines research that links lower levels of education with higher rates of arrests and incarceration.

[SNIP]

There is an indirect correlation between educational attainment and arrest and incarceration rates, particularly among males, the report found. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Justice, 56 percent of federal inmates, 67 percent of inmates in state prisons, and 69 percent of inmates in local jails did not complete high school. Additionally, the number of incarcerated individuals without a high school diploma is increasing over time.

“Dropping out of school does not automatically result in a life of crime, but high school dropouts are far more likely than high school graduates to be arrested or incarcerated,” Wise said.

The report found that increasing the male graduation rate would decrease crime nationwide. According to the report, annual incidences of assault would decrease by nearly 60,000, larceny by more than 37,000, motor vehicle theft by more than 31,000 and burglaries by more than 17,000.

It would also prevent nearly 1,300 murders, more than 3,800 occurrences of rape and more than 1,500 robberies, according to the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, Education, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 40 Comments »

Former Boston Prosecutor Gets Self Arrested in NY to Examine System…..Sheriff Admits to 80 Bad Hires, Talks Reform….LA County Plans to Lobby CA for Realignment $$$.

December 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


FORMER BOSTON PROSECUTOR GETS SELF ARRESTED TO LOOK INSIDE THE JUSTICE SYSTEM, DOESN’T LIKE WHAT HE SEES

Former Boston prosecutor Bobby Constantino decided to find out first hand what New York’s criminal justice system looked like from the perspective of a lawbreaker, and if he—as an upscale-looking white guy—would be treated differently than someone who looked less affluent and/or was non-white.

The answers Constantino got are both interesting to read and disturbing.

Here are some clips from Constantino’s story, written for the Atlantic.

Ten years ago, when I started my career as an assistant district attorney in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston, I viewed the American criminal justice system as a vital institution that protected society from dangerous people. I once prosecuted a man for brutally attacking his wife with a flashlight, and another for sexually assaulting a waitress at a nightclub. I believed in the system for good reason.

But in between the important cases, I found myself spending most of my time prosecuting people of color for things we white kids did with impunity growing up in the suburbs. As our office handed down arrest records and probation terms for riding dirt bikes in the street, cutting through a neighbor’s yard, hosting loud parties, fighting, or smoking weed – shenanigans that had rarely earned my own classmates anything more than raised eyebrows and scoldings – I often wondered if there was a side of the justice system that we never saw in the suburbs. Last year, I got myself arrested in New York City and found out.

On April 29, 2012, I put on a suit and tie and took the No. 3 subway line to the Junius Avenue stop in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Brownsville. At the time, the blocks around this stop were a well-known battleground in the stop-and-frisk wars: Police had stopped 14,000 residents 52,000 times in four years. I figured this frequency would increase my chances of getting to see the system in action, but I faced a significant hurdle: Though I’ve spent years living and working in neighborhoods like Brownsville, as a white professional, the police have never eyed me suspiciously or stopped me for routine questioning. I would have to do something creative to get their attention.

[LARGE CLIP]

I walked up to the east entrance of City Hall and tagged the words “N.Y.P.D. Get Your Hands Off Me” on a gatepost in red paint. The surveillance video shows me doing this, 20 feet from the police officer manning the gate. I moved closer, within 10 feet of him, and tagged it again. I could see him inside watching video monitors that corresponded to the different cameras.

As I moved the can back and forth, a police officer in an Interceptor go-cart saw me, slammed on his brakes, and pulled up to the curb behind me. I looked over my shoulder, made eye contact with him, and resumed. As I waited for him to jump out, grab me, or Tase me, he sped away and hung a left, leaving me standing there alone. I’ve watched the video a dozen times and it’s still hard to believe.

I woke up the next morning and Fox News was reporting that unknown suspects had vandalized City Hall. I went back to the entrance and handed the guard my driver’s license and a letter explaining what I’d done…

[BIG SNIP]

In the end I was found guilty of nine criminal charges. The prosecutor asked for 15 days of community service as punishment. My attorney requested time served. The judge—in an unusual move that showed how much the case bothered him—went over the prosecutor’s head and ordered three years of probation, a $1000 fine, a $250 surcharge, a $50 surcharge, 30 days of community service, and a special condition allowing police and probation officers to enter and search my residence anytime without a warrant.

At my group probation orientation, the officer handed each of us a packet and explained that we are not allowed to travel, work, or visit outside New York City.

“Wait, what?” I blurted out. “This is true even for nonviolent misdemeanors?”

“Yes, for everyone. You have to get permission.”

After the orientation, I went straight to my probation officer and requested permission to spend Christmas with my family in Massachusetts. I listened in disbelief as she denied my request—I’d worked with probation departments in several states, and I knew that regular family contact has been shown to reduce recidivism. My probation officer also refused to let me go home for Easter and birthdays……

Read the whole thing.


SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SAYS IT MADE 80 BAD HIRES, WILL REFORM HIRING PRACTICES, BLAMES BAD CHOICES ON PEOPLE CONVENIENTLY RETIRED

In a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca explained to the board members the broad strokes of the hiring practices that resulted in a list of questionable hires three years ago when the department merged with LA County’s Office of Public Safely—or OPS—and was asked to absorb what officers it could from that small county police force.

According to an LA Times investigation into the matter, out of 290 new hires, around 100 were inappropriate candidates for law enforcement. Some were droppingly inappropriate. like, for example, the woman who had a fight with her husband then, in a fit of pique, blasted away at the man with her service weapon as he frantically ran a zig-zag-pattern in order to dodge her bullets.

The supervisors were not at all thrilled with Baca’s one-and-a-quarter-page letter, which did not answer many of the question that the board deemed pertinent—namely how in the world did this happen? The letter mostly blamed the hires on retired undersheriff Larry Waldie. This was not an explanation that the board members appeared to find satisfying, particularly Supervisor Antonovich who made a motion that Baca be required to report again to the board in two weeks.

In the meantime, LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston talked to Assistant Sheriff Todd Rodgers about the matter and Rogers said that he and the sheriff admit that there had been 80 bad hires, but that reforms were being put into place to prevent such a thing from happening in the future.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore reiterated to WitnessLA that former undersheriff Larry Waldie had been an extra layer in addition to the usual hiring protocols, and it was he who made the improper hiring selections.

“The sheriff takes full responsibility, and has decreed that we will do what is necessary to reform the system,” said Whitmore. “But it was Undersheriff Waldie who was in charge of that project.”

Former LASD commander Bob Olmsted, who is running against Baca in the 2014 sheriff’s race, said that from what he knows of the situation, the problems with department hiring practices are “systemic,” and not limited to merely those 80-100 problem hires from the OPS.

Olmsted also said he’d spoken to another retired undersheriff who told him that the sheriff would have had to sign off any and all people hired from the county police.

“All the paperwork absolutely would have gone straight to the sheriff,” Olmsted said.

AND FOR ONE MORE TAKE ON THIS ISSUE:

In an LA Times editorial about the bad hires that ran on Tuesday morning before the board meeting, editorial board member Rob Greene writes that the hiring issues point to other problems in the department.

Here’s a clip:

Sheriff Lee Baca had his hands full last week responding to the arrests of 18 of his current and former deputies amid a continuing investigation into abuse of inmates at Los Angeles County’s jails, so let’s hope he hasn’t forgotten that he is due to report today on the previous week’s scandal: the hiring of dozens of deputies with personnel records that showed lying, cheating, excessive force and irresponsible use of firearms.

The two matters aren’t related in any formal sense; none of those arrested Dec. 9 was among the group that moved over to the Sheriff’s Department in 2010 when the county’s public safety police force was dissolved. But it doesn’t take a leap of imagination to recognize a link between bad hiring practices and bad deputy conduct, especially if the sheriff’s hiring of those 280 public safety officers three years ago followed standard policy….


LA COUNTY TO LOBBY FOR MORE REALIGNMENT MONEY FROM STATE & PROBATION CHIEF POWERS OUTLINES PROGRESS AND CHALLENGES 2 YEARS IN

The serendipitously-named Luke Money of the Santa Clarita Signal reports about LA County’s determination to get a larger slice of California’s realignment dollars. Here’s a clip:

With state savings likely totaling more than $2 billion and county resources strained to provide adequate services for thousands of offenders, county supervisors voted Tuesday to ask the state to dole out more dough to fund the cost of the controversial state prison realignment program.

Members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors decided during their meeting Tuesday to request more funding from the state to help supplement services that have been strained by an influx of inmates under the 2011 law, which shifted responsibility for some criminals from the state to counties.

“Realignment resulted in a 25 percent increase in the jail population over the first two years of the program,” reads a board report. “The population count was 15,463 on Sept. 30, 2011, and 19,225 on Sept. 30, 2013.”

The state will likely save in excess of $2 billion as a result of realignment, according to Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William T. Fujioka, while sending out less than $1 billion to California’s 58 counties to help offset the cost of the prisoner shift.

AND… PROBATION CHIEF JERRY POWERS REPORTS ON THE UPS AND DOWNS OF REALIGNMENT IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, Probation Chief Jerry Powers presented an extensive two-year report on how realignment is going in LA County, which Powers said, gets 30 percent of the realignment prisoners. Among his points, Powers outlined some parts of the county’s approaches to the realignment challenges that are beginning to succeed, such as the use of “flash incarceration,” short jail terms of around 10 days, that are used for small infractions instead of parole revocation.

Allison Pari of KHTS AM Radio has more on Powers’ lengthy and comprehensive report:

Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers opened the report by explaining that L.A. County is currently the only county in the state that has created a year two report on the results of AB 109.

He and the other presenters also emphasized that some of the data from year two is not complete, because those offenders released during 2013 may not have completed their probation or treatment.

During the first two years, more than 18,000 prisoners were released into the county under the Post-Release Community Supervision program, but the active probation population peaked at 10,300, according to the Probation Department’s full report, available here.

Powers said that of those 18,000 who have gone through the program so far, 1,900 have outstanding warrants, a similar ratio to other counties in the state.

He also said that flash incarcerations have significantly increased between years one and two–from more than 2,500 to more than 9,700–primarily because the Probation Department has become more comfortable with using this method of dealing with probation violators.

Flash incarcerations are seven to 10 day sentences given to AB 109 offenders for technical violations, such as failing to report to their probation officer.

Concerning recidivism, Powers said that the percentage of rearrests has been cut in half between years one and two– 43 percent rearrested vs. 21 percent rearrested…

Posted in Board of Supervisors, CDCR, crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, parole policy, Realignment | 9 Comments »

An “Epidemic” of Brady Violations…ATF Agents Behaving Badly…. Fed Judges Now Add Solitary to CA Prison Talks

December 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHIEF JUDGE KOZINSKI FOR THE 9TH CIRCUIT SEZ THERE IS AN EPIDEMIC OF PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

The Huffington Post’s Radley Balko (one of our favorite criminal justice journalists and the author of The Rise of the Warrior Cop) reports on the series of statements by 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Justice Alex Kozinski—and what is behind Kozenski’s blistering fury. Here’s a clip:

The dissent by Alex Kozinski, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, from a decision not to rehear U.S. v. Olsen starts off with a bang:

There is an epidemic of Brady violations abroad in the land. Only judges can put a stop to it.

Brady, of course, is shorthand for the Supreme Court decision that requires prosecutors to turn over exculpatory evidence to defense attorneys. In Olsen, a ruling from a three-judge 9th Circuit panel in January detailed extensive questionable conduct on the part of the prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Earl Hicks (*see clarification below), who works for the Office of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. (Kozinski’s opinion this week doesn’t name Hicks, nor do most press accounts of the decision, but I will. These prosecutors need to be identified by name.)

[BIG SNIP]

The U.S. Department of Justice is stingy when it comes to releasing information about disciplining federal prosecutors for misconduct, but it seems unlikely Hicks will face any real sanction. Recent media investigations have found that such discipline is rare. Even in cases involving high-profile, egregious misconduct, like the prosecution of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, prosecutors can usually duck any serious sanction. In the Stevens case, the DOJ imposed light suspensions on the offending prosecutors, and even those were later overturned by an administrative law judge. (You could make a strong argument that federal prosecutors have more protections against professional sanction than criminal defendants do against violations of their constitutional rights by federal prosecutors.)

Offenbecher says it’s unlikely that he’ll file a complaint against Hicks. That isn’t uncommon, either. Defense attorneys have to work with prosecutors on behalf of other clients, including negotiating favorable plea bargains. Putting yourself in the cross-hairs of a U.S. attorney’s office can make it very difficult to be an effective advocate. That’s a lot of risk to take on, especially if it’s unlikely that anything will actually come of the complaint.


FEDERAL ATF AGENTS PAY TROUBLED 19 YEAR OLD TO GET JOINT SMOKING SQUID TATTOO….AND WORSE

This story falls into the please-tell-us-you’re-kidding category.

The Atlantic Monthly’s Coner Friedersdorf and Andrew Cohen draw attention to an astonishing, and largely ignored story broken by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’s alleged use of a string of mentally disabled locals in a number of US cities to drum up business for their various stings, later arresting the people they’d used.

And then the ATF’s behavior really got crazy.

Here’s a clip:

Lately infamous for the “Fast and Furious” gun-walking scandal, the ATF now has the dubious distinction of bankrolling even-more-questionable behavior, which my colleague Andrew Cohen details here. The newspaper leads its latest investigative article with a headline-friendly anecdote about Aaron Key, a mentally disabled 19-year-old who started hanging out with the guys who ran a smoke shop near his house, taking them for friends. As it turns out, they were undercover ATF agents. And they paid the troubled teen and a friend $150 apiece to tattoo the fake shop’s emblem on their necks.

But digging into the story, it’s evident that undercover employees were engaged in far more objectionable behavior.

In cities around the United States, the ATF set up fake stores—often but not always pawn shops—set up surveillance cameras, conducted lots of illegal business over many months, and arrested various customers at the end of the sting. Normally federal law-enforcement agencies don’t set up operations guaranteed to mostly snare low-level individual criminals operating at the local level.

Questionable resource allocation aside, the really shocking parts of this scandal involve what happened at the neighborhood level as several of these stores were being operated. Just take a look at the newspaper’s bullet-point summary….

To find the summary, click here. And for the whole series, go here.


FEDERAL JUDGES ADD THE ISSUE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT TO THE CALIFORNIA PRISON NEGOTIATIONS

As the mandated negotiations continue to try to nail down a long-term plan that will lower California’s prison population, as ordered by the US Supremes, a new element has found its way into the talks, reports the LA Times’ Paige St. John. Here’s a clip from St. John’s story:

Federal judges considering California’s request for more time to reduce prison crowding have asked the state in turn to limit how long some mentally ill prisoners spend in solitary confinement.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton on Wednesday said he had accepted a state offer to limit the time severely mentally ill prisoners who have committed no rules violations can be held in isolation to 30 days. Hours later, he and the other two judges issued an order extending negotiations to Jan. 10, and pushing the state’s deadline to reduce crowding to April 18.

Karlton is holding hearings on the treatment of mentally ill inmates and also sits on the federal three-judge panel that ordered California to reduce prison overcrowding.

California has been ordered to remove 7,000 inmates from state prisons, reductions that judges say are needed to remedy unconstitutionally dangerous conditions, including inadequate medical and mental health care. In Wednesday’s order, the judges said they expect no further extension in the talks, “absent extraordinary circumstances,” but that does not preclude additional delays in the actual crowding deadline.

[SNIP]

Transcripts of courtroom hearings show the talks took a twist after Thanksgiving, when Karlton said he was concerned about some 230 mentally ill prisoners currently housed in isolation cells, though they have committed no infraction. State prison officials say they are there for their own protection, or while awaiting space in a mental health unit.

Karlton said he told the other federal judges “that as far as I was concerned” the state’s request for an extension to reduce prison overcrowding should not be granted as long as those mentally ill inmates were being held in isolation units.

Lawyers for California made it clear that the state is eager to address the judge’s concerns about solitary confinement. Transcripts show that at one point last week, state officials were rushing documents to the judge for review. At another, they offered to produce Corrections Secretary Jeffrey Beard to speak with Karlton. The judge said he was told Brown’s office responded that it “understood the nature of the problem” and promised a quick remedy….

Posted in CDCR, Courts, crime and punishment, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), guns, How Appealing, law enforcement, solitary | No Comments »

Federal Indictments, Part 2: Where—and To Whom—-Will They Lead?

December 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On the day after United States Attorney Andre Birotte unveiled five criminal cases that have thus far resulted in the 18 federal indictments, it is instructive to look beyond Monday’s charges to see what they might mean in terms of the feds ongoing probes.


MONDAY’S INDICTMENTS POINT TOWARD FEDERAL CHARGES YET TO COME

Birotte made it clear that the 18 indictments unsealed on Monday—which he characterized has alleging “a wide scope of illegal conduct”—-were by no means an endpoint, that investigations were aggressively ongoing into these and other areas.

When asked by Warren Olney how high up the food chain he expected future indictments to go, Birotte said that the feds would “go where the investigations take us.”

If looked at as auguries of things yet to come, the three groups of indictments pertaining to the LA County jails are particularly interesting because they point to much broader indictments possibly on the horizon alleging a “pattern and practice” of abuse of inmates by deputies, and of related corruption in the jails.

For instance, one of the five clusters of indictments pertains to incidents at Twin Towers jail facility in which a training officer, Bryan Brunsting, along with Twin Towers deputy Jason Branum, is charged with planning an assault on an inmate “to teach him a lesson,” and then together with several other deputies, allegedly assaulting the inmate with kicks, punches and pepper spray to the point of “bodily injury.”

The indictment further alleges that Brunsting used deputies he was training to file reports that covered up the abuse and caused the beaten inmates to be falsely criminally charged to mask the beatings.

This alleged strategy of using accusations of violence against inmates to cover-up deputy assualts is one that has frequently turned up in high ticket lawsuits and incidents like the one WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on here last week. In other words, it suggests something more widespread than a few bad apples, but rather “pattern and practice.”


ALLEGED ASSAULTS ON NON-INMATE VISITORS

The second cluster of indictments, labeled “the visiting center indictment,” charges that a sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, and four deputies, with civil rights violations, and alleges they arrested or detained five victims—including the Austrian consul general and her husband—when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail.

According to Birotte, one of those victims suffered injuries that resulted in a permanent disability.

The indictment further alleges that Gonzales, who is no longer with the department, “encouraged deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force”….and to “criticize deputy sheriffs’ who were not aggressive.”

When Gonzales left Men’s Central Jail, the indictment charges that the attitudes he promoted continued.

Again, this cluster suggests possible “pattern and practice” allegations to come.

The visiting center indictment is also interesting because none of the people who were allegedly unlawfully detained and/or assaulted, were inmates. Instead they were simply the friends or family of inmates who had come to the jail to visit.


A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

So how responsible are Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka for the actions alleged in the indictments?

When Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, was interviewed Monday on KCRW as part of the station’s coverage of the indictments, Krinsky talked about “failures of leadership at the highest level,” leadership that, among other things, failed to address a culture in the jails where “a code of silence and excessive force was the norm.”

A failure for leadership to address such attitudes, “…causes small problems to become large problems,” said Krinsky.

You can listen to the rest of what Krinsky had to say here.


HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE ELECTION?

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed made an interesting point in his KCRW segment on Monday, when he suggested that one of the reasons the sheriff, who has rarely spoken to the press these past months, felt he had to hold a press conference Monday afternoon after the indictments were unsealed, was because he feared a gaggle of reporters with cameras and mics would show up at his Monday night $1500-a-plate campaign fundraiser co-sponsored by Grey Davis, Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Mark Geragos. (“They probably showed up anyway,” Roderick said.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze went even further with his report on what the indictments might mean for Baca’s reelection race. Here are some clips.

When Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca woke up Monday morning, he was probably looking forward to the fundraiser being held that very evening for his 2014 re-election campaign.

But his mood probably changed about 9:30 a.m., when news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted 18 current or former members of the Sheriff’s Department on a wide range of misconduct charges that include excessive force, unlawful arrests and obstruction of a federal investigation.

At a morning press conference, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. pointedly said the incidents “did not take place in a vacuum – in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”

[BIG SNIP]

…The sheriff faced a daylong deluge of criticism from various corners.

Former federal judge and former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Robert Bonner, served on a blue ribbon commission that just over a year ago issued a report that faulted both Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

“I think [the charges] are reflective of what we found on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence,” said Bonner, “that there has been, in the past, a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that fosters the use of unreasonable and unnecessary force.”

Bonner called the indictments something akin to a thermonuclear bomb delivered by the U.S. attorney, noting how unusual it is for the federal government to indict law enforcement officials.

Since, along with his other past jobs, Jails Commissioner Bonner also ran the DEA, and the US Border Patrol, he is likely in a position to know a bit about law enforcement.


SHERIFF’S CHALLENGER BOB OLMSTED SPEAKS OUT ON THE INDICTMENTS

Bob Olmsted, the retired LASD commander who is challenging Lee Baca for sheriff, pointed unequivocally to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven indictments on Monday.

Olmsted was on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, and spoke to Frank Stoltze at KPCC, along with putting out a statement of his own about the indictments.

Regarding the cluster of indictments stemming from the Anthony Brown matter, Olmsted told Stoltze that the directions to hide FBI informant Brown, and to try to intimidate his FBI handler, could not have originated with the lieutenants and two sergeants who were indicted.

“Lieutenants do not have the capability to make decisions,” Olmsted said. “Those came from higher-ups. Being an investigator for years and years and years, I can tell you what’s going on: The Feds grabbed the low-lying fruit.”

Olmsted also pointed out that when Paul Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, Tanaka claimed that Baca ordered him to hide prisoner Anthony Brown. “He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” Olmsted noted both to WitnessLA and to Olney. “This could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Interestingly, when asked by Olney, if he would have the wherewithal to challenge two very well financed candidates with deep pockets—meaning Baca and Tanaka—Olmsted said he did, that by the end of the year he expected his fundraising to hit the same dollar amount that now LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey had raised at the same point in her campaign against the better financed and better known Carmen Trutanich.


LASD WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES RETALIATION

Backing Olmsted’s observations about the involvement of top leadership, Bradley Gage, attorney for department whistleblower, LASD Lt. Katherine Voyer (among others), told KNBC reporters on Monday that Voyer—-who was a supervisor in the jails at the time when Anthony Brown’s identity as an informant was discovered—was told that if federal agents showed up to see inmate Brown, Paul Tanaka was to be called immediately on his personal cell phone, and that no one should use department phones or email, because those forms of communications might be tapped by the feds.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS GLORIA MOLINA AND MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS WEIGH IN ON THE INDICTMENTS

Molina issued a statement late Monday that read, in part:

“This morning’s Department of Justice arrests are disappointing but not surprising – and, in some ways, expected. These arrests reveal that Sheriff Lee Baca’s claim ‘there is no institutional problem within the Sheriff’s Department when it comes to correcting itself’ is untrue – especially since 18 current or former Sheriff’s Deputies were arrested. Saying you embrace change is not enough. Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform – they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years…..”

Ridley-Thomas also put out a statement, and told LA Times reporter Seema Mehta that the indictments were yet another indication of the need for strong oversight of the department.

“Ultimately, the next step in this process of reform is oversight and this should not be taken lightly because of the need to make sure that we are building a culture where no one operates under the impression they are above the law,” he said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas said the mechanism would be a blue-ribbon panel that he and Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed earlier this year that has stalled for the lack of a third vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They will revisit the proposal in January.


NOTE: Obviously, there are lots of important news stories that have nothing to do with the sheriff’s department or with new federal indictments. And we’ll be diving into those issues tomorrow morning.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »

Supes May Vote on LASD Oversight Commission & Questionable Electronic Monitoring Contract….A Glitch in 3-Strikes Reform…Police & Sheriffs Given Leftover Iraq War Trucks…An LASD Detective & a Steamy Cold Case

November 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



SUPES COULD VOTE TUESDAY ON LASD OVERSIGHT COMMISSION….& THE CONTRACT TO HIRE THE SAME ELECTRONIC MONITORING FIRM THAT ORANGE COUNTY FIRED

The LA County Supervisors may vote on Tuesday about whether they should create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department.

(And on the subject of oversight, no word yet on the whether an Inspector General has been hired to oversee the sheriff’s department, although we do know there were candidates interviewed earlier this month.)

Oh, and also back on the agenda is that iffy contract to rehire the same company for electronic monitoring that Orange County fired for incompetence.

More on all this when we have it.


SOME 3-STRIKERS HOPING FOR RELEASE AFTER THE LAW WAS REFORMED, HAVE FOUND THAT CERTAIN “NON-VIOLENT” THIRD STRIKES, ARE CONSIDERED “VIOLENT” AFTER ALL (IT’S COMPLICATED.)

The LA Times Jack Leonard has the story. Here’s a clip:

After nearly two decades behind bars, Mark Anthony White saw a chance for freedom last year when California voters softened the state’s tough three-strikes law.

Within weeks of the election, White asked a judge to reduce his 25-years-to-life sentence under the ballot measure, which allows most inmates serving life terms for relatively minor third strikes to seek more lenient sentences.

White would have walked free if his request had been granted. But a San Diego County judge refused to reduce White’s sentence. The judge ruled that the 54-year-old prisoner’s last crime, being a felon in possession of a firearm, made him ineligible for a lighter punishment.

A year after state voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, judges around the state are handing down conflicting decisions on whether prisoners given life terms for gun possession can qualify for shorter sentences.

The ballot measure specifically excluded prisoners whose third strikes were either violent or serious, or who during the commission of their last crime were armed with a firearm or deadly weapon.
Whether someone convicted of simply possessing a firearm was in fact armed during the commission of a crime is a more complicated legal question than it might appear.


18-TON LEFTOVER IRAQ WAR MILITARY ARMOURED TRUCKS COMING TO A POLICE AND/OR SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT NEAR YOU

They’re humungous, they’re distressingly tippy, they’re “intimidating,” and they’re free. But are they needed?

(When Radley Balko wrote about the militarization of America’s police forces in his book The Rise of the Warrior Cop, this is the kind of thing he meant.)

The AP has the story. Here’s a clip:

Coming soon to your local sheriff: 18-ton, armor-protected military fighting vehicles with gun turrets and bulletproof glass that were once the U.S. answer to roadside bombs during the Iraq war.

The hulking vehicles, built for about $500,000 each at the height of the war, are among the biggest pieces of equipment that the Defense Department is giving to law enforcement agencies under a national military surplus program.

For police and sheriff’s departments, which have scooped up 165 of the mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles, or MRAPS, since they became available this summer, the price and the ability to deliver shock and awe while serving warrants or dealing with hostage standoffs was just too good to pass up.

“It’s armored. It’s heavy. It’s intimidating. And it’s free,” said Albany County Sheriff Craig Apple, among five county sheriff’s departments and three other police agencies in New York that have taken delivery of an MRAP.


AN LAPD COLD CASE REVISITED—WITH MUCH HOPE….AND AN AMBIGUOUS CONCLUSION

Twenty-two years ago, Sheriff’s Department investigators thought that they likely had their man in the case of the murder of a married LAPD officer’s girlfriend (who was the wife of another LAPD cop). But they could make no arrest.

Twenty-two years later, a new sheriff’s detective opened the cold case.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the melancholy and intriguing interactive story.

Here’s a clip. (But you have to read the whole thing to find out what happens!)

She was both a sister and wife of Los Angeles cops, and worked as a clerk for Police Chief Daryl Gates. Nixon was one of the LAPD’s rising stars, on his way to taking over a coveted position as the chief’s official spokesman.

Their affair began on a spring day in 1985 when they checked into a Holiday Inn. Browne left her husband a few weeks later.

For three years they met regularly, often at her house during the day. At night, he’d go home to his wife in Pasadena.

Then, one morning, Browne was found beaten and strangled on her bathroom floor.

The crime scene was outside the Los Angeles city limits, so it fell to the L.A. County sheriff’s department to investigate. Detectives looked at Nixon as a suspect, but they gave up on the case without filing charges. Nixon, who over the years has maintained his innocence, worked another decade before retiring and moving to Oregon.

Twenty-two years after the killing, in 2010, Robert Taylor, a cold case investigator in the sheriff’s office, reopened the file.

Read on.


Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Police, Sentencing | No Comments »

A Good Prison Turns Bad…..Why Doesn’t CA Collect Usable Criminal Justice Data?….How Solano County Helps Lawbreaking Kids….and More.

November 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WHEN A “MODEL” PRISON BREAKS BAD

What has caused so many of our nation’s prisons to abandon any attempt at rehabilitation in order to keep large numbers of prisoners in isolation, or near isolation, in “Special Housing Units” (SHUs} or in “Special Management Units,” (SMUs)?

Justin Peters, writing for Slate, looks at that question with an analysis of what happened to the the prison at Lewisburg, PA, that in the 1930s started out as a model of innovation, and that now typifies the trend toward SHUs and SMUs.

Here’s a clip:

Last month, I wrote about Marion, the notorious federal prison that helped pave the way for all the supermax-style facilities that are so popular today. Though Marion was under lockdown for an astounding 23 years, the prison itself became a medium-security facility in 2006, and is no longer a repository for the most troublesome prisoners in the federal system. That honor arguably now belongs to USP Lewisburg, a Pennsylvania facility where violent or obstreperous federal inmates get sent for ostensibly short-term “attitude adjustment” stints. (Before transferring out, inmates are expected to complete a four-stage, 18-to-24-month resocialization program that can actually last much longer than that.) USP Lewisburg might be the worst place in the federal prison system, so bad that some inmates there actually dream of being transferred to the famously isolating Supermax facility in Florence, Colo.

A recent article from the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space helps explain how Lewisburg got that way. The article, by Bucknell University geography professor Karen M. Morin, recounts the transformation of USP Lewisburg from a progressive facility to an isolating and restrictive “Special Management Unit,” or SMU—a shift that mirrors the evolution of the U.S. prison system in general. (Morin is also a member of the Lewisburg Prison Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for prisoners’ rights.) Whereas model prisons 75 years ago were designed to rehabilitate prisoners, the best-known prisons today seem specifically designed to drive their inmates mad.

Read on.

Also read Peters’ October 23 story in Slate about how, in 1983, two horrific murders at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Ill, ushered in America’s infatuation with Supermax prisons.

In addition, take a look at the report released earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of a Congressional committee that wanted to know more about why the US Bureau of Prisons was making increasing use of SHUs and SMUs, and whether all this isolation made the prisons safer.

In their report, the GAO stated it wasn’t at all sure that widespread use of isolation did increase institutional safety and pointed to the five states that had reduced their reliance on the segregated units.

“While these states have not completed formal assessments of the impact of their segregated housing reforms, officials from all five states told us there had been no increase in violence after they moved inmates from segregated housing to less restrictive housing. In addition, Mississippi and Colorado reported cost savings from closing segregated housing units and reducing the administrative segregation population.”


WHY BIG DATA MATTERS FOR CALIFORNIA’S CRIMINAL AND JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES

This is one of those issues that one would hope would be obvious:: In order to make good criminal and juvenile justice policy (or any kind of policy, for that matter) we need good numbers—specifically, we need stats that tell us which policies work, and which do not.

Yet, incredibly, all too often, lawmakers and others fail to bother.

Take, for instance, the matter of realignment. For all the money, stress and time spent on the state’s two-year-old prison realignment policy, there was no provision in the law for any kind of evaluation to determine what part of realignment worked—either on a statewide level, or in the individual counties—and what did not.

Yes, some federal dollars and foundation money has found its way to Stanford, allowing Joan Petersilia and company to do limited research. But it isn’t the kind of money needed for meaningful programatic evaluation. So, in its most recent report, Stanford was left to make do by asking various “stakeholders’ around the state—law enforcement, probation, district attorneys and such—for their opinions of how things were going with realignment. (And we wrote about the resulting report earlier this month.] All very well and good. But—as Petersilia would be the first to point out—opinions are not numbers.

Brian Goldstein (of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) elaborates further on the numbers issue in his short but must read essay.

Here’s a clip:

Data analysis is the basic metric to measure the success or failure of public policy. Absent useable data, researchers, policymakers, and the general public cannot accurately judge whether an approach is working and must make uneducated guesses. For example, national polling finds that people often mistakenly exacerbate crime trends. In 2011 a majority of Americans believed crime was getting worse as the country was experiencing a steady 15-year decline. Crime data is the only way to fight the undue influence of misperception and anecdotal evidence.

Corporate America recognizes the need to develop long-term strategies for collection and utilization of data. Books on “Big Data” top bestseller lists and statisticians, such as Nate Silver, have well-deserved influence over electoral politics, business, and health practices. Unfortunately, government has been slow to use data analysis for decision-making.

Data collection standards remain a central issue in California-albeit one that rarely gets the attention it certainly deserves. California’s data collection systems, specifically in the criminal and juvenile justice field, demands continued attention and resources to best serve our state.

Specifically, Goldstein points out the failure to collect usable data that plagues California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC)—AKA the board that is specifically tasked by state law with such data gathering. To wit:

“The [BSCC] board shall seek to collect and make publicly available up-to-date data and information reflecting the impact of state and community correctional, juvenile justice, and gang-related policies and practices enacted in the state…” California Penal Code Section 6024-6031.6.

So do they?

Goldstein says, No. Not really.

In March 2013, the BSCC released the Third Annual Report to the Legislature on the Youthful Offender Block Grant. The report tracks YOBG expenditures, with a total $93.4 million given to California counties in FY 2011-12. However, with the release of the report, the BSCC admits significant challenges in tracking performance outcomes. They note,

The nature of the data collected precludes our ability to draw inferences about cause and effect relationships between services and outcomes….

Collecting unusable data is unacceptable. Governor Brown, state legislators, and policy advocates must ensure that the BSCC has the staffing, resources, and leadership necessary to meet its mandate on data collection.

Yep. What he said.


INNOVATIVE SOLANO COUNTY FINDS SMART WAYS TO HELP HIGH RISK LAW BREAKING KIDS

Speaking of numbers: The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has just released a new report that looks at the innovative juvenile programs in Solano County that specifically address high risk youth.

In the report, CJCJ analyzes seven years of data to determine how Solano’s programs have affected the post lock-up outcomes of the kids they served. The report also compares Solano’s cost per kid with those of the state.

Here’s a clip from a story on Solano’s programs by Selena Teji, CJCJ’s Communications and Policy Analyst:

…In 1959, Solano County dedicated itself to taking responsibility for its high-risk youth. Fouts Springs Youth Facility was built as a regional alternative to reliance on the state youth correctional system, and it accepted youth who had serious, violent delinquent histories and who had failed to successfully complete other placements. The decision to create a local custody option for high-risk youth was developed out of a recognition that youth eventually return to their communities, which made reentry planning and aftercare essential components of effective juvenile justice programming. Unfortunately, the state has not been able to provide adequate reentry services to the youth in its care due to the sparsity of its facilities and parole services.

A new study of youth served by Fouts Springs from 2005 to 2011 shows that not only was the program more successful than the state facilities, with a 35 percent recidivism rate compared to the state’s 75 percent recidivism rate, but it was also significantly cheaper to operate. Fouts Springs cost approximately $32,100 per youth for its average length of stay, whereas an average placement in the state youth correctional facilities costs around $778,500. While counties paid a nominal $213 per month to commit youth to the state facilities until 2012 (when a larger flat rate fee was introduced), a commitment to Fouts Springs would set a county back $4,200 per month. The fiscal disincentive paired with the decrease of youth crime statewide lessened the demand for a regional program and resulted in the closure of Fouts Springs in 2011.

Yet, Solano County has continued to aggressively pursue adaptable, individually-focused, holistic approaches to serving justice-involved youth…

Read the rest of the story at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


$50,000 REWARD GOES TO $100K FOR INFORMATION REGARDING HIT & RUN DEATH OF POPULAR LA COUNTY PROBATION OFFICER

The Los Angeles City Council put up the first $50,000 and now LA County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina pushed for another $50,000 to be added to the pot, in the hope of uncovering information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver who caused the death of a well-like LA County Probation officer, high school coach, and father of three, Kenneth Hamilton last month.

CBS-2 News has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Kenneth Hamilton, 54, was leaving his job at the Eastlake Juvenile Facility around 6 a.m. on Oct. 28 when he was hit at the intersection of Soto Street and Lancaster Avenue in Boyle Heights.

He died instantly, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

“Someone out there knows something, saw something or may even know the driver who fled,” Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said. “The reward money is a reminder that Los Angeles has not forgotten, the LAPD has not forgotten and that this crime must be solved and the driver brought to justice.”

Police identified the suspect vehicle as a late 1990s silver four-door Honda Civic DX from a side mirror that was sheared off in the crash.

“This is like losing one of our own,” LAPD Det. Michael Kaden said.

Anyone with information was asked to contact Det. Kaden at (213) 972-1837.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation, solitary | 1 Comment »

New Approach to Juvie Crime is Working in Red Hook….Should Taxpayers Pay the LASD’s Punitive Damages?…..Paul Tanaka Says Sheriff Baca Shut Down Narco Investigation…..Insane Justice ….and More

November 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A HUMANE, COMMUNITY-ORIENTED APPROACH TO JUVIE & ADULT CRIME IS WORKING IN RED HOOK, SAYS NEW REPORT

In April 2000, a new courthouse called the Red Hook Community Justice Center opened its doors in a vacant schoolhouse in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Over the previous few decades, Red Hook had declined from a vibrant, working-class waterfront community into crime and drug-ridden place that residents fled when they could.

The Justice Center hoped to change all that by “halting the revolving door” of the traditional criminal justice system. Justice Center planners believed that “community courts foster stronger relationships between courts and communities and restore public confidence in the justice system.”

It was a bravely optimistic concept.

Yet, according to a fascinating report released last Tuesday by the National Center for State Courts, evaluating the program’s outcomes, the approach that launched 13 years ago, is working impressively well.

The report found, among other things, that juvenile defendants were 20 percent less likely to re-offend when their cases had been heard at the Justice Center—instead of at the Kings County Family Court, where cases would have normally been heard.

After reading the report, the New York Daily News described the Center as “a success for defendants and taxpayers.”

(The Center hears adult cases as well. For adults, thus far recidivism has dropped by 10 percent.)

Roxanna Asgarian of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the Justice Center-–and the report. Here’re some clips:

On a recent afternoon in a Red Hook courtroom, a disheveled young woman in a baggy blue sweatshirt was being sentenced for a drug-related offense. The judge had seen her in court before, always for arrests related to her heroin addiction.

Judge Alex Calabrese, a paternal-looking middle-aged man, asked her to approach the bench.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, looking into her eyes. “Yes,” she responded.

He reached out and took her hand.

“Are you gonna get on the bus? Are you gonna stay on the bus?” he asked, and she nodded. “Yes.”

Calabrese signed the paperwork for her to enter a mandatory detox and rehabilitation center, and she was to leave on a bus from the courtroom to the rehab facility in ten minutes.

“She got picked up last night at 6:30 p.m., and she’ll be on a bus to rehab at 3:30 today,” Calabrese said. “That’s good work.”

[SNIP]

Where in traditional courts, the defendant may meet with their public attorney just minutes before their trial, at the Justice Center, onsite social workers can meet with the defendant and come up with alternatives to incarceration, like mandated community service or treatment, before the offender meets with a judge.

For young residents of Red Hook, where 70 percent of the neighborhood lives in public housing, the chance to keep their record clean, or clear it, can make a world of difference in the opportunities they’ll have for their future.

“It’s not that complicated an idea,” said Julian Adler, the Justice Center’s director. “It’s just something that you don’t typically see in the criminal justice system.”


THE LA TIMES ASKS IF COUNTY TAXPAYERS SHOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SUPERVISORS

In Monday’s editorial, the LA Times asks what a lot of people have been asking of late: Should Sheriff Baca and others in the department have to personally pay injured inmates?

It’s a question that has two sides to it, as the Times points out.

The arguments on indemnification can cut both ways. On the one hand, if those held liable were just doing their jobs, or if they had no way of knowing they behaved wrongly or if they were following orders, perhaps they shouldn’t have to pay. It doesn’t make sense to punish a few rank-and-file deputies if the culture of the department is what’s really to blame. Nor does it make sense to create a environment in which officers feel they must act with excessive caution….

On the other hand…..

Here’s another snip from the end of the editorial:

….at the very least, we’d like to see the county Board of Supervisors hold a public discussion and a public vote on the subject. No doubt some on the board will argue that they need to make such decisions behind closed doors, because they will require confidential advice from their lawyers as they consider whether to pay the awards and whether to appeal the verdicts. But the truth is that the supervisors routinely get legal advice in closed session on matters such as whether to transfer inmates out of the county, and then go on to hold a robust public debate on the same subject.

The decision of whether to indemnify these defendants isn’t merely a legal matter. It’s a public policy issue that requires the supervisors to explain why taxpayers should continue to pay out millions of dollars for public officials who break the law. Perhaps declining to indemnify the deputies and the sheriff who leads the department would help reform this deeply troubled agency.

Oh, Board of Supes…? Are you listening…?


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA ACCUSES SHERIFF LEE BACA OF SQUASHING A NARCOTICS INVESTIGATION AIMED AT BACA’S FRIEND BISHOP TURNER

On Thursday of last week, KABC-TV reported on LA County Sheriff Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner—who was making $105,000, per year plus percs—but who had recently been relieved of duty by the sheriff in response to a series of decidedly curious issues that the ABC-TV folks uncovered in their reporting.

The most startling of those issues had to do with a mystery package addressed to Turner’s church that was intercepted in 2005 by an LASD narcotics squad. After the squad’s drug-and-money sniffing dog (whose name was Jake) did everything but point a paw at the package in question, investigators opened the thing and found, among other things, more than $84,000 in shrink wrapped cash inside. The narcotics squad believed the cash was part of a drug transaction.

An investigation ensued but went nowhere, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Then on Friday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, put out a statement saying that back in 2005, while he had personally pressed for the Turner/cash incident to be vigorously investigated, the sheriff had ordered the probe to be squashed.

“In 2005, I was made aware that detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Bureau had intercepted a parcel package destined for Bishop Edward Turner’s church. The package contained in excess of $80,000 in cash. The detectives believed that the money was a direct result of selling and distributing illegal narcotics,” said former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. “Although I did not have chain-of-command responsibility for Detective Division in 2005, I directed my aide to advise the detectives that they needed to conduct a full investigation, despite the fact that Bishop Turner was a Field Deputy to Sheriff Lee Baca. Subsequent to this direction, I was advised that Sheriff Baca had personally ordered the investigation terminated. This is appalling, unacceptable, and just another reason why the Sheriff’s Department needs new leadership.”

On Friday night, Tanaka appeared on KABC to reiterate these charges. However, Steve Whitmore—who was also interviewed—asked why Tanaka, as a law enforcement officer, had not made sure the investigation went forward anyway.

Reporter Marc Brown posed that very question to the former undersheriff—at which time Mr. Tanaka paused conspicuously, then phumphered something about how “you won’t last long” if you go against the sheriff.

Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources inside the department told us that someone at the LASD squashed the investigation.

There is also much speculation among department members about who might have leaked the internal LASD documents showing the existence of the narcotics investigation against Turner, to KABC, and why? (The suggestion is that there may have been a political agenda behind the leak.)

With all this competitive finger-pointing going on, one cannot help but hope that some outside law enforcement agency—like, say, the FBI—has taken an interest in the case of Bishop Turner, the mystery box-of-cash, and the possibly-aborted narcotics investigation.


SPEAKING OF THE LASD & ELECTIONS….

We reported a few weeks ago on the battle for control of the board of one of the LASD unions, PPOA. On Friday, the ballots were counted and it appears that the slate of candidates rumored to be aligned with Paul Tanaka were defeated by the incumbent board members.


INSANE JUSTICE: DO WE REALLY WANT THESE PEOPLE TO BE SERVING LIFE SENTENCES?

As we noted last week, the ACLU has released a new and devastating report about Americans serving life sentences without the possible of parole for non-serious crimes, very often drug related, nearly all people with no violent crimes in their backgrounds.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an impassioned editorial that points out the utter madness of such sentencing.

Here are some clips:

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

[SNIP]]

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men…..”

There are two bills before congress that, if passed, would give judges a bit more discretion.

But as the NY Times notes, this gesture toward reform isn’t close to enough—either on a federal or a state level.

Let us remember, we incarcerate more of our fellow Americans per capita than any other country in the world. No one else even comes close. These kind of sentencing policies are a large part of why.


THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, THE SUPREME COURT, & LOCKING UP THE INNOCENT

Michael Kirkland, UPI’s Senior Legal Affairs Writer takes a look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s complicated and often troubling relationship with the concept of innocence.

Here’s how his report opens:

The case of Ryan Ferguson, the Missouri man freed after spending 10 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit, shows the nation’s justice system, one of the fairest in the world, occasionally convicts the innocent, puts them in prison and throws away the key.
Does the U.S. Supreme Court give a damn?

Ferguson improbably was convicted on the “repressed memories” of a friend for the 2001 killing of Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune Sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot as Heitholt was leaving work early in the morning.

The friend recanted at trial and another witness putting Ferguson at the scene also recanted. He was not connected to fingerprints, bloody footprints and hair found at the crime scene.

Ferguson, now 29, was sentenced to 40 years. He was finally freed last week.

So far the Innocence Project has freed more than 300 people based on DNA evidence, Kirkland notes.

Still other people have been freed by the dogged work of attorneys who believed that an injustice had been done, and find the evidence to prove it.

But in some of those cases, even when new evidence surfaces that indicates those convicted are likely factually innocent, lower courts fail to act. At those times, SCOTUS is split about whether innocence is a legal reason for the high court to wade in.

Here’s what Kirkland writes:

On one side, Roberts and his fellow conservatives warn at some point, judicial proceedings have to be final, and opening the floodgates of judicial review might return the justice system to the days when death row inmates and others delayed their sentences for decades with claim after claim, despite the overwhelming evidence that convicted them.

After all, Congress, fed up with endless federal appeals, enacted the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 to limit habeas review.

On the other side, Stevens and his fellow liberals made the practical argument: If a DNA test or rape kit test can make a conviction even more certain, or expose a miscarriage of justice, why not do it?

Such divisions probably will continue. How do you effectively punish the great mass of the guilty without damning the innocent few?


And then Kirkland notes this statement from Antonin Scalia who said in his dissent in a 2009 case
in which the majority of the Supremes granted a new evidence hearing for a Georgia death row inmate.

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a [constitutional] court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

As is often the case, Scalia makes a distressing—but legally interesting—point.


Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, DNA, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

New LA Weekly Bob Olmsted Profile…LA’s Foster Care-Involved Teen Moms Passing on Abuse…Shocking LWOP Sentences…and SCOTUS Looks at Warrantless Search Case

November 15th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

ON SHERIFF-CHALLENGER BOB OLMSTED AND THE SHERIFF SHOWDOWN

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus, one of LA’s best political writers, has an excellent profile on LA County Sheriff contender Bob Olmsted. Maddaus explains all the complexities of Olmsted’s situation—the new guy, the whistleblower, the long-shot, and arguably the only viable opponent—and the impending “palace bloodbath,” as Maddaus once termed it.

Here are some clips (but we urge you to read the piece in its entirety):

On a recent Monday, Olmsted has an appointment at the Jonathan Club, the downtown refuge for the city’s most fortunate. He’s addressing about 30 men — mostly retirees — who belong to a service organization called the Vikings…

It’s all new to Olmsted…and he’s still trying to get the hang of it. As the Vikings dig into their pork chops, he tries to tell his story in a way that will connect.

“Have you ever had to go outside your organization to accomplish goodness?” he asks.

Apparently no one has.

“That’s a hard thing to do,” he continues. “I lost about three days of sleep before I decided to go to the feds.”

[SNIP]

Battered by scandals, for the first time ever Baca faces serious competition. His former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, announced his candidacy over the summer. Olmsted also is in the hunt, as are two lesser-known candidates, Lou Vince and Patrick Gomez.

Looked at individually, none of these candidates should be able to win. But one of them will have to, unless someone else joins the race.

Baca is still the favorite, if only by default. Inside the department and out, there is a growing sentiment that his time has come and gone.

[SNIP]

There is one wild card — a possible additional candidate who could provide another alternative to Baca and Tanaka. Over the summer, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced that he would not be a candidate. McDonnell, who served on the jails commission and was once an LAPD assistant chief, was widely seen as the most serious threat to Baca. Though he has no political background, he does have the credentials.

McDonnell’s supporters are urging him to reconsider, and the filing deadline is not until March. If he were to change his mind, that would shake up the race…

But for now, Olmsted is the only halfway viable contender who is untarnished by scandal. In other words — as unlikely as it seems — he just might be the next sheriff.

Thomas, Olmsted’s strategist, says the campaign will have to make a strong case that Baca and Tanaka have both failed, and neither should be given four more years.

“The real challenge for us is going to be to make sure that voters and the media understand that Paul Tanaka and Lee Baca are one and the same,” Thomas says. “They’ve created the mess together.”

As Olmsted puts it: “I don’t have a hole to dig myself out of.”

(Great illustration, by the way.)


NOTE: On Thursday, KCRW’s Warren Olney, on his show Which Way, LA?, talked with Gene Maddaus and SoCal ACLU’s legal director Peter Eliasberg…about Bob Olmsted and his “dark horse” sheriff’s race.


THE INTERGENERATIONAL CHILD WELFARE CYCLE

In LA County, kids with teen mothers involved with the child welfare system experienced a rate of abuse and neglect, themselves, two to three times higher than kids born to teen moms with no DCFS-involvement, according to a new report funded by the Hilton Foundation and authored by USC professor Emily Putnam-Hornstein and other researchers.

The alarming statistics point beyond themselves to the need for trauma-informed policies and intervention in the foster care system, schools, and the juvenile justice system—not just in LA County, but in California and across the nation.

Foster care journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel, has more on the report and its implications regarding the foster care system in his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change. Here are some clips:

Putnam-Hornstein identified 24,767 teen mothers ages 15-19, who had a child during 2006 or 2007 in Los Angeles County. They then traced the child maltreatment histories of those mothers back to their tenth birthdays, while tracking the instances of child maltreatment for their children up to age five.

…For babies born to teen moms who were victims of alleged abuse or neglect while they were children, 30.7 percent went on to be alleged victims of abuse themselves, while nearly 12 percent were victims of substantiated abuse or neglect.

When accounting for mothers who had been victims of substantiated abuse or neglect the numbers shoot up further, with almost 40 percent of their children linked to reported maltreatment while 18 percent suffered substantiated maltreatment.

Amy Lemley, policy director of the John Burton Foundation, was tapped by the Hilton Foundation to present a series of policy recommendations to complement the release of the research. Among Lemley’s six bullets was a call to increase child care for pregnant and parenting foster youth.

“According to the report, the rates of substantiated abuse and neglect among children born to teen mothers with a history of reported or substantiated maltreatment were a full two to three times higher than the rates of children whose teen mothers had no history of involvement with Child Protective Services,” Lemley wrote in the short memo circulated at the convening. ”This dramatic effect highlights the need to provide intensive support services to parenting dependents… One such support is access to affordable high-quality child care.”


LIFE WITHOUT PAROLE FOR PETTY THEFT AND OTHER UNDESERVING CRIMES

The ACLU has a new report out identifying 3,278 people in federal prison (and nine states) serving life without parole for non-violent offenses. Because of three-strike rules, penalty enhancements, and other mandatory minimum-triggering laws, people are spending the rest of their lives in prison for non-violent drug and property crimes.

The NY Times’ Nicholas D. Kristof, in his biweekly op-ed column, says mass incarceration is a “monstrous injustice,” and points out some preposterous examples of LWOP for non-violent offenses. Here’s a clip:

So you’re a judge, and Sharanda P. Jones comes before you for sentencing for conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine.

She’s a 32-year-old mom with a 9-year-old daughter and no prior arrests, but she has been caught up in a drug sweep that has led to 105 arrests in her Texas town. Everyone arrested is black.

There are no drugs found on Jones, but her supposed co-conspirators testify against her in exchange for reduced sentences. The whole case is dubious, but she has been convicted. What’s your sentence?

You have little choice. Given the presumptions of the case, she gets a mandatory minimum sentence of life without the possibility of parole. Jump to today and already Jones has spent 14 years in prison and is expected to die behind bars — for a first offense…

Judges and prison officials are rebelling at the injustice of our justice system. Here’s what Judge James R. Spencer, a federal district judge, said when sentencing a former F.B.I. informant to life without parole for selling crack cocaine to support his own addiction: “A life sentence for what you have done in this case is ridiculous; it is a travesty.”

But federal law on mandatory minimums left Judge Spencer no leeway. He added: “I don’t agree with it, either. And I want the world and the record to be clear on that. This is just silly.”


US SUPREME COURT HEARS ARGUMENTS ON COMPLICATED WARRANTLESS SEARCH CASE

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court heard arguments on whether law enforcement officers have the right to search a house without a warrant when two people disagree about letting officers in, after the person refusing the search leaves the house. Normally, when two people disagree about a search without a warrant, the objecting occupant has the final say. But what happens when that person is arrested and no longer at the residence in question?

The Associated Press’ Mark Sherman has more on the case and hearing. Here’s a clip:

The court took up the case of Walter Fernandez, who is serving a 14-year prison term on robbery and guns charges. Police found a shotgun, ammunition and a knife when they searched the Los Angeles apartment Fernandez shared with his girlfriend, Roxanne Rojas.

Fernandez told police they could not enter his apartment. But about an hour after his arrest, officers returned to the apartment and persuaded Rojas to let them in.

When Rojas first answered the door for police, she was crying and holding her 2-month-old baby. She had a fresh bump on her nose, and blood on her hands and shirt. She said she had been in a fight.

At that point Fernandez appeared and ordered the police to get out, telling them he knew his constitutional rights. The police believed the couple had just been in a fight and removed Fernandez from the apartment in handcuffs. An officer noticed a tattoo on Fernandez’ shaved head that matched the description of a robbery suspect. Fernandez soon was arrested.

When officers went back to the apartment, they had sufficient evidence to obtain a warrant, California Deputy Attorney General Louis Karlin told the court. But, “Rojas had the authority, as the sole present tenant, to call the shots…and to consent to a search,” Karlin said.

Would that be so even if Fernandez had stepped out to make a quick trip to the drugstore, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.

Yes, Karlin said, a departure for any reason, dramatically changes the situation.

Justice Samuel Alito seemed angry in his questioning of Fisher. “You have a woman who has been beaten up. She’s got bruises. She’s standing on the doorstep of her house. And she says to the police: I’d like you to come into the house and see evidence of what my husband has been doing to me. And you say she can’t do that…It’s her house, but she can’t invite the police in?” Alito said.

In response, Fisher said Rojas and Fernandez both have rights in that situation. “And what the Constitution says is that searches of homes presumably have to be done under warrant,” he said.

There are likely going to be very interesting arguments on both sides of the case. (We’ll be tracking the proceedings as they unfold.) The NY Times has an interesting editorial that comes down strongly on the side of Fernandez. Here’s a small clip:

A tenant’s right to object to a warrantless search should not depend on whether he can permanently stand guard at his front door. If the police have probable cause to make an arrest, they will almost surely have the basis for a warrant as well. Warrants can be issued in a matter of minutes, and, in the meantime, the police can secure the home if they are concerned that evidence may be destroyed.

The state contends that obtaining consent is “simpler, faster and less burdensome” than getting a warrant. But that is precisely the point. By forcing the government to get a judge’s approval before intruding into a private home, the warrant requirement ensures oversight of law enforcement and informs citizens that the search has been authorized by a neutral arbiter.

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, DCFS, Foster Care, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 15 Comments »

A Mind Shattered by Solitary, A California Problem School Overhauled, and the Death Penalty’s Core Defect

November 14th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LIFE WASTED BY JUSTICE MISCARRIED AND PROLONGED ISOLATION

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has a worthwhile long read article about Sam Mandez, a Colorado man grievously failed by the Colorado justice system at every turn. After a slipshod trial and a murder conviction at eighteen (for a crime that occurred when he was fourteen), Mandez landed in solitary confinement where he spent sixteen years developing severe mental illness without adequate treatment.

Here are some clips:

On July 26, 1992, an elderly woman named Frida Winter was murdered in her home in Greeley, Colorado. The police recovered fingerprints from the scene and later found some of Winter’s things in a culvert near her home. But for years the investigation went nowhere in large part because it was flawed in nearly every way. Other fingerprints from Winter’s home were not recovered. Leads were not adequately pursued. Logical suspects were not properly questioned. At the time of Winter’s death, Sam Mandez was 14 years old.

Four years later, the police caught what they considered a break. Fingerprints from Winter’s home finally found a match in a police database—and the match was Sam Mandez, who had just turned 18. They brought him in for intense questioning. But Mandez had a strong alibi. He and his grandfather had painted part of Winter’s home in 1991, a year before her death. There was good reason for his prints to have been on the window that was broken on the night of Winter’s death. Mandez had been in trouble with the law before—but never for a violent crime.

There were no eyewitnesses. There was no confession. There was no evidence of any kind that Mandez had murdered Winter. But there was one other link between them. Among the items recovered from that culvert after Winter’s death was a matchbook from a business in Henderson, Nevada. The Mandez family had relatives there. The cops said this proved that Mandez had been inside Winter’s house on the night of her death: He had burglarized her home, and thus, under a dubious extension of Colorado law, he was necessarily guilty of first-degree murder.

The trial of Sam Mandez was a travesty. Prosecutors could have processed him through the juvenile justice system—he was only 14 at the time of his alleged crime, remember—but chose instead to charge him as an adult under Colorado’s felony-murder rule…

So prosecutors did not need to prove at trial that Mandez had murdered Winter or even that he intended to murder Winter. They did not need to solve the crime for jurors. What they did need to do was observe the constitutional command of Brady v. Maryland, which forbids prosecutors from withholding evidence that could exculpate the defendant. They failed—a critical prosecution witness changed his story at the last minute, but that fact was not disclosed to Mandez’s lawyer until the witness had testified. A foul, sure, but no harm, the court ruled.

There were other fatal flaws in the trial. The judge refused to allow Mandez’s attorneys to fully cross-examine the police about other suspects. This information was not relevant, the trial judge said with no evident trace of irony, because Mandez had been charged with felony-murder. And then that same judge refused to grant the defense a continuance to obtain the presence of a material witness who was prepared to identify another suspect in the murder. The initial jury vote was 6-6. As Mandez was convicted, one of the jurors begged the defense to appeal.

[SNIP]

If this were the extent of the injustice the law has visited upon Mandez, it would be enough, wouldn’t it? But this is a story that gets even worse. After being convicted of a crime with which he never should have been charged, Mandez went to prison and was promptly placed into solitary—”administrative segregation,” is what bureaucrats call it—for institutional offenses so petty that they almost beggar belief. He made a three-way phone call he wasn’t supposed to make. He put his key in a bathroom lock after it was closed for the evening. Even Kafka, even Hugo, did not memorialize such diabolical perversions of law and justice.

For that, Colorado prison officials in 1998 put Mandez away, in lockdown, where he more or less has remained for nearly 16 years. What happens when you take a young man and confine him in such conditions for such a long period? The young man becomes severely mentally ill. And his illness causes him to act out. And in acting out he gets in more trouble, which justifies his continuing placement in solitary confinement which in turn causes him to act out more.

The ACLU has put out a video (above) documenting Sam Mandez’s story. And Mandez is far from the only person visibly harmed by shoddy trials and solitary confinement. Here (and here, and here) are similar stories by Cohen and others that WLA has pointed to.


A CALIFORNIA MIDDLE SCHOOL SHIFTS TOWARD RESTORATIVE DISCIPLINE APPROACH

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has a new narrative piece about a troubled middle school in Santa Ana called Spurgeon Intermediate, and Todd Irving, the new game-changing principal who is bringing Spurgeon back from the brink of failure. The chaotic school environment, described by one teacher as like “Lord of the Flies” has already seen huge improvements two months into the year, with a more than 50% drop in suspensions thanks to Irving’s alternative discipline strategies and genuine dedication to helping his middle schoolers succeed.

Here are some clips:

Spurgeon Intermediate in Santa Ana sits squarely in the center of one of the poorest ZIP Codes in Orange County. For years, it has consistently ranked one of the lowest-performing schools in the region. But early this year, things got even worse.

In March, 36 teachers and employees took the unusual step of filing a hostile work environment complaint against the administration and students. Children were accosting adults, smoking marijuana, making sexual noises in class, the complaint said. By the end of the school year, more than 40% of the students had been suspended for a total of more than 800 days.

Things were so bad, one teacher said, it was like “Lord of the Flies.”

Irving was hired over the summer to keep Spurgeon under control. The 6-foot-1 former college basketball player had two major goals: First, enforce the small rules; second, give the troublemakers some attention.

In the weeks before school began in late August, he asked his vice principals to compile a list of the school’s 50 most disruptive students and promised to be responsible for them…

Over the summer, he met with each of the 50 students and their parents. The meetings gave Irving a glimpse into the problems they faced at home.

Some have trouble waking up for school because they don’t have beds to sleep in, parents explained. There are boys whose fathers are serving life in prison. Others have mothers who are being deported. Some are not yet teenagers and already are addicted to painkillers or inhalants.

“These are not bad kids,” Irving said. “We have students … that we talk about like they’re a problem. But they come to us with problems.”

[SNIP]

Each was asked to sign a contract promising to come to class every day and to follow small rules, like being on time. Teachers would assess their behavior on a scale of one to five during each period of each day. If they earned consistent marks, they could graduate from the program.

[SNIP]

So far, suspensions are down — in the first two months of the year there were 24 days compared with 71 last year, Irving said. All but 12 of the 50 students identified as troublemakers have done well enough that they are no longer required to check in with teachers every period.


WHY THE DEATH PENALTY IS CONSTITUTIONALLY FLAWED

This month’s Criminal Justice Matter’s show put on by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (above) examined the fundamental failures of the death penalty in the United States. In the course of the program, Georgia’s former assistant AG, Dorothy Toth Beasley pointed out the bottom-line objection to capital punishment—that there is no way to ensure innocent people are not executed.

(Other guests included Evan Mandery, author and a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Jesse Wegman of the NY Times editorial board.)

Here’s a clip from the program’s synopsis:

The U.S. justice system will never be able to apply the death penalty in a way that avoids the danger of convicting innocent individuals or eliminates the possibility of serious human rights abuse, says Georgia’s former assistant attorney general.

Dorothy Toth Beasley, who defended her state’s use of capital punishment in the historic 1972 Furman v Georgia case before the Supreme Court, says the checkered history of death penalty cases in the three decades since makes clear that capital punishment violates American values of equal justice…

“We’ve tried all kinds of different ways, and we can’t get it perfect enough to know that somebody is (not) being executed wrongly, or that the delay is too long—nine, ten, sixteen years.”

Although the Court ruled against Georgia in 1972, the decision was interpreted by legal observers as a nudge to the states to improve their legal procedures for putting people to death. Four years later, the ruling was reversed—and by the late 1970s, 37 states had reintroduced capital punishment with new administrative rules designed to ensure due process of law was followed.

But since then, the use of emerging DNA technology to prove wrongful convictions has illustrated that the system remains flawed—and in the process has increased public doubts about the death penalty, according to Evan Mandery, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and author of Wild Justice: The Death and Resurrection of Capital Punishment in America.

Mandery, who appeared with Beasley on the Criminal Justice Matters program, suggested that America’s High Court would likely outlaw the death penalty today if it were presented with a similar case…

Posted in ACLU, crime and punishment, Death Penalty, Mental Illness, solitary, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

9th Circuit Slams OC DA’s Unconstitutional Use of Gang Injunction….& La Opinion Nixes New Term for Baca

November 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

9TH CIRCUIT RULES THAT OC DA RACKAUCKAS VIOLATES DUE PROCESS WITH HIS 2009 BAIT AND SWITCH GANG INJUNCTION

In a decision that could conceivably affect the way future gang injunctions are constructed, on Tuesday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that by enforcing a 2009 gang injunction against scores of Orange County residents, without giving those residents a meaningful opportunity to contest the allegation that they were, in fact, gang members, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas violated the due process provision of the United States Constitution.

“The court recognized that you can’t make these decisions that restrict one’s liberties, behind closed doors,” said Peter Bibring, lead attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the class-action lawsuit, together with the law firm of Munger Tolles and Olson. “They found that to do so simply because the police and the DA believe that someone is a gang member has too much ‘risk of error,’ if done without court approval and a chance for the supposed gang member to be heard.”


THE BACK STORY

The circumstances that led to the ruling began in late March 2009, when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed an injunction against a gang known as Orange Varrio Cypress, or OVC, which generally claims territory in the traditionally Mexican American area of the City of Orange known as Barrio Cypress.

Functionally, a gang injunction works like a restraining order. But, instead of regulating the behavior of a single individual (as a restraining order does), it bans certain activities by purported members of a particular gang. If the people named in the injunction violate any of the restrictions that the injunction lays down, that person can be arrested and go to jail.

In the case of the OVC gang injunction, back in 2009, Rackauckas named 115 people whom his office described as among the “most active participants in” the Orange Varrio Cypress gang.

The physical area that the proposed injunction covered was a 3.8-square-mile section of the city of Orange that the DA designated as the Safety Zone. This particular section, which reportedly amounts to 16 percent of the city, is located mostly in Orange’s downtown sector, west of the 55 Freeway.

According to the injunction’s terms, when in the Safety Zone, the 115 named could not be in the presence of anyone else who was allegedly a gang member, or drink alcohol, or to be nearby to anyone else who is drinking alcohol—which pretty much eliminated eating in or being in proximity to a restaurant. Those named were also prohibited from wearing “gang attire,” and engaging in such conventionally gang-related activities as throwing gang signs,possessing guns or dangerous weapons, fighting, tagging and so on.

In addition, those named in the injunction had to obey a 10 p.m. curfew, and—oddest of all—they could not stand in front of a famous local mural that was designated by the DA’s office as Orange Varrio Cypress’s “flag.”

Like many law enforcement tools, gang injunctions work well or poorly depending on how well they are designed and whether or not they are filed and enforced with solid knowledge and precision.


THE PROTESTS

When a preliminary version of the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction was filed, community protests began to occur. It was not the injunction itself that bothered people the most.

People were particularly upset because they felt that, in many cases, the police and the DA had named individuals who were not in the gang, nor had they ever been, or the people named admitted that they had been involved when they were younger, but had matured and hadn’t been active in years.

In all, 62 of those named in the injunction sought to protest their inclusion in court.

Some of those named also went to the ACLU, which agreed to take on the cases of 5 of the 62.

We reported on the ACLU’s filing here and here. And here’s a clip from our report.

The idea, the ACLU attorneys hoped, was to use the five to suggest to the presiding Superior Court judge that maybe he ought to take a look at the rest to see if they were really the dangerous gangsters the DA advertised them to be. The ACLU limited themselves to five because representation is time consuming and expensive,and the staff attorneys figured five was better than none.

“The case marks one of the few times that individuals named in a gang injunction have been able to obtain legal representation and defend themselves against the charge they are gang members and should have their activities severely restricted,” said the ACLU’s LA Staff Attorney Peter Bibring

The 2009 judge ruled that the ACLU’s five clients had wrongly included. Then, while he was at it, the judge also excluded the other 57 who contested their status.

After the judge ruled, rather than counter the ACLU’s evidence with his own, DA Rackauckus decided to dismiss all 62 from his own list. In other words, he dropped them from the injunction.

All might have been well had things ended right there. Instead, in an interesting bait and switch, the DA filed a new injunction against the gang—but this time, without naming any actual individuals. This new injunction was approved easily without anyone contesting it.


BAIT & SWITCH

Armed with his nice, shiney new injunction, the DA then came back and slapped its restrictions on, among others, most of the 62 who had gone to court and been dismissed from the first in junction—and whom he and his office subsequently had dropped from that old injunction.

The DA’s office once again claimed that those served were suspected of being part of the OVC gang.

Here’s what we reported in 2009 on the matter:

The reasons why various individuals had been labeled as gang members were often preposterously flimsy. One person was listed as a gangster because an officer had once seen him in clothing that the cop deemed to be gang attire, although no one could say precisely what that clothing was. In another case, an individual was seen talking with gang members who also happened to be neighbors and childhood friends.

Not surprisingly the ACLU filed suit in federal court and, two years later, in May 2011, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU.

Naturally, the DA appealed.


THE 9TH CIRCUIT RULES

Fast forward another two years, and you have this week’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among other things, the 67-page ruling looks at the particular ways the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction impinged on the daily lives of those named.

(You can read the ruling here.)

The heart of the matter is found the court’s conclusion:

Here’s a clip:

….We are mindful of the great importance of controlling the proliferation of criminal gangs and preventing illegal activity by gang members. Anti-gang injunctions such as the one at issue here broadly restrict the covered individuals’ legal daily activities in a prophylactic effort to prevent illegal activities from taking place. There is no challenge before us as to the propriety of that effort as applied to properly covered individuals.and we express no view whatsoever on the substantive terms of this or any other anti-gang injunction. But the breadth of the injunction, given its prophylactic character, does give rise to unusually strong liberty interests on the part of those putatively covered.

In light of those interests, some adequate process to determine membership in the covered class is constitutionally required….

In other words, you don’t get to legally restrict people’s liberties without some kind of due process, which in the case of the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction, DA Rackauckas deliberately sidestepped.

Oh, and just in case anyone is tempted to dismiss the 9th Circuit’s decision as that of an overly liberal court, it is instructive to also read the Concurring Opinion written by Judge Richard Tallman, the court’s notoriously conservative member.

Here’s a clip from what Tallman had to say:

Orange undoubtedly has a vital interest in protecting its community by suppressing gang violence. But as the court observes correctly, our inquiry….is not whether Orange has a significant interest in combating gang violence, but rather whether it has a significant interest in failing to provide a pre-deprivation process to challenge Orange’s gang membership allegations.

In my view, this inquiry cannot be severed from Orange’s unsettling and indefensible decision to voluntarily dismiss every individual who tried to challenge the injunction in the state court proceeding, and then serve those same dismissed individuals with the injunction it obtained uncontested.


THE PESKY MATTER OF LEGAL COSTS

When writing about this ruling, we couldn’t help thinking of the report we wrote last week about LA County’s refusal to disclose the costs incurred by the county’s hired gun attorneys who defend the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department against the myriad high ticket lawsuits it loses—or settles—each year. Remember, this first of the injunction actions kicked off in 2009, and here we are, four years, two lawsuits and one appeal later—all of which the OC DA’s office lost.

So how much, we wondered, did it cost the Orange County taxpayers to defend DA Rackauckas’ constitutionally problematic behavior?

It seems that the 9th Circuit’s Judge Tallman thought about this question too, and mentioned his musings in his Concurrence:.

“Ironically,” wrote Tallman, “the taxpayers of Orange County now get to pick up a multi-million dollar tab for the litigation that ensued from the district attorney’s bad tactical decision.



LA OPINION OPPOSES BACA’S RUN FOR SHERIFF

Although this editorial in La Opinion ran late last month in La Opinion, we didn’t want you to miss it.

Baca has traditionally had a lock on most of the Hispanic vote, so a pre-emptive anti-endorsement on the part of a publication with La Opinion’s stature is worth noting.

(The editorial is short and to the point, so we hope La Opinion will forgive us this once for running the text in full.)

The difficulties of Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca are piling up, making it clear that he should not seek his fourth reelection next year.

A few days ago a federal jury found him personally liable in a human rights violation case involving the beating of an inmate. Baca was not present during the beating, but he was held responsible for the officers’ use of heavy flashlights to beat detainees.

What is new here is that Baca must pay a fine of $100,000 out of his pocket; we already knew about the repeated use of excessive force by officers and the apparent ignorance or complicity of their boss.

Last year the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence referred to a “culture of violence” against detainees in county jails. It is even known that some officers formed cliques to attack inmates.

It is true that Baca has implemented many of the Commission’s recommendations. The big problem is that under his leadership, since 1998, the situation has deteriorated to this point. That is his responsibility.

It is also true that under his watch, inmate abuse and inadequate care for the mentally ill spurred investigations, up to the federal level. Meanwhile, lawsuits against the LA Sheriff’s Office are piling up.

That makes for a poor track record to seek reelection.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 1 Comment »

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