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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 »

The State of Incarceration in California and Nationwide, 2200+ LA Foster Kids Not Seen by Social Workers Last Month…and More

October 29th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

ANALYZING CORRECTIONS TRENDS TO MAINTAIN THE US PRISON POPULATION DECLINE

A worthwhile editorial by the NY Times appeared on Sunday, yet law professor and sentencing expert Doug Berman of Sentencing Law and Policy has an interesting analysis of what he says the NY Times editorial board is missing.

The NYT editorial says that the national prison population drop of 3.8% over the last four years is due to the trend toward bipartisan sentencing reforms in many states. The editorial suggests that more states need to use things like risk-assessment data-gathering to create lasting sentencing policy reforms. Here are some clips:

Underlying the state reforms is a relatively new and more sophisticated way of using data about the offender — including criminal history, drug abuse and instances of antisocial behavior — to assess the likelihood of that individual’s committing a new crime. And by examining arrest, sentencing and probation data, the states can revise policies that might be driving people back into prison unnecessarily.

[SNIP]

Despite the merits of a risk-assessment approach, a report issued earlier this year by the Council of State Governments Justice Center said that many states are still flying blind, because they don’t have the resources to gather data. Moreover, the study noted, handling high-risk and low-risk offenders in the same way is a big mistake, because “low risk individuals have an increased likelihood of recidivism when they are oversupervised or receive treatment or services in the same programs as medium- and high-risk individuals.”

There are proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies. More states need to adopt these approaches.

Doug Berman says that the NYT editorial board missed, among other things, that populous and diverse states like California (and Illinois) should be prime focuses for determining which policies work and which do not. Here are two of them:

I am fully supportive of the ideas and themes in this editorial, but a lot more could and should be said at this dynamic moment of sentencing and corrections reform. For example, in the wake of the latest crime data indicating a spike up in national violent and property crimes (discussed here), this editorial should be stressing the need and importance of a careful state-by-state examination of where crime is going up and whether new (and still emerging) data on changes imprisonment rates and crimes rates provide critical new lessons concerning what we can now conclude about the connections between crime and punishment.

In addition, I think this editorial (and other advocacy concerning these critical issues) ought to be urging sustained examination and analysis of a handful of big jurisdictions in which stories of crime and punishment have been especially dynamic over the last few years. Specifically, I strongly believe that the big states of California, Illinois, New York and Texas, all of which have diverse urban and rural regions and all of which have changes its sentencing laws in diverse ways in recent years, should be a special focal point for sorting through and fairly assessing “proven ways to move away from discredited, ruinously expensive corrections policies.”


WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: LA TIMES EDITORIAL SAYS ILLINOIS SHOULD LEARN FROM CALIFORNIA’S BAD EXAMPLE

In Illinois, legislators are considering a measure by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to impose a three-year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal firearm possession.

An LA Times editorial says that Illinois should learn from California’s current state of extreme over-incarceration, brought on by mandatory minimum sentencing and other overly tough-on-crime laws. Here’s a clip:

Illinois lawmakers are considering whether to require minimum three-year prison sentences for unlawful possession of loaded weapons. If the proposal sounds both familiar and ominous, it should: California has been down this road, and in fact is on it still.

It’s a road paved with fear and desperation, and it leads to a shocking diversion of public resources, prison overcrowding, unconstitutional treatment of inmates, federal court oversight and orders to suspend state laws and release felons before their full time is served. It’s a long road and can take a generation to walk — one tough-on-crime law is merely a first step — but it turns out to be a closed circle, taking weary travelers from get-tough laws like mandatory minimum sentences back again to crime, fear and overreliance on prisons.

Beset by gun violence, especially in Chicago, Illinois finds itself roughly in the spot on that road where California was in the 1980s after a 400% rise in violent crime over a 20-year period. That jump, by itself, increased the prison population. But so did laws passed in response to the jump…

The editorial also advises California to take note of Illinois’ predicament:

Illinois should serve as a reminder of where California once was, with a rising crime rate that so stoked public fear that it moved people to demand that the state just do something, anything, to stop the violence, and to worry about the consequences — the taxpayer costs, the broken neighborhoods, the normalization of prison as a natural part of some young mens’ lives, the revolving door, the reckoning — later.

And Illinois should likewise remind them that California has caught a break, with a historic decline in violent crime and, as a result, public openness to spending more resources on mental health treatment and drug rehab rather than new prison beds. This state’s lawmakers should examine the sentences they and their predecessors have passed into law and the opportunities for smart and safe alternative sentencing that they have previously missed. And they should take hold of the rare political moment to redesign the state’s criminal justice system so that it provides rehabilitation where possible, promotes safe reentry into society, spends public resources wisely and effectively, and still punishes and incapacitates criminals where appropriate.

[SNIP]

And ultimately, the example of Illinois should teach lawmakers here the futility of merely pushing the state to a different spot on the same circular road. We need not be fated to 30-year cycles of locking people up and letting them out, depending on the prevailing political or philosophical fashions or even on the ebb and flow of crime.


MORE THAN 2200 LA FOSTER KIDS WERE NOT VISITED LAST MONTH BY SOCIAL WORKERS

According to testimony by social workers at Monday’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, over 2200 Los Angeles foster youths were not seen by social workers last month due to severe DCFS understaffing.

KABC’s Michael Linder has the story.


LA COUNTY SUPES’ VOTE MAY END JAIL BED CONTRACT WITH TAFT

The LA County Board of Supervisors will be voting today (Tuesday) on Supe Molina’s motion to discontinue the previously approved contract to move 500 LA County inmates to a correctional facility in Taft, CA. (Backstory if you missed it: here.)

Posted in crime and punishment, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Sentencing | No Comments »

Calif. Wellness 2013 Peace Prize Winners….& A 2008 Case of LA Jail Ultra-Violence Goes to Trial

October 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA WELLNESS PEACE PRIZE WINNERS TALK ABOUT TRAUMA AND VIOLENCE

Every year the California Wellness Foundation chooses three Peace Prize winners who are honored at a celebratory dinner that kicks off the foundation’s yearly Violence Prevention Conference.

The three outstanding community leaders who received the prizes Thursday night at the Westin Gaslamp Quarter hotel in San Diego each had affecting personal stories to tell, all of which seemed to touch the crowd.

The first to speak was Lali Moheno, the daughter of a migrant farm worker mother who, Moheno said, quite literally “died in the fields” of complications of diabetes because she was not properly diagnosed and treated for the disease. Now Moheno runs a health awareness program in Tulare County, where she connects women farmworkers and their families with health care and mental health services, reaching around 1000 women. All of her work is done on a shoestring budget consisting mostly of locally gathered donations.

(Did I mention that each Peace Prize comes with a $25,000 check?)

Moheno talked about how every time she got together a group women to talk about diabetes and other health issues, the conversation always turned quickly to domestic violence and serious instances of sexual harassment on the job. Thus Moheno realized that a big part of her work would be to find ways to help these women combat the damage and trauma that the violence in their homes brought to them and their kids.

Although the other two winners each worked in different arenas, the theme of the interweave of trauma and violence was something that each brought up with a sense of urgency.

For instance, another winner, Tasha Williamson, is an ardent community peace advocate who runs an organization that provides help and emotional support for families in San Diego County who have lost loved ones to gang or gun violence.

As she explained her work, Williamson talked about her upbringing in a particularly violence-ridden area of South LA, where the gang violence was so intense that her mother didn’t allow her to go outdoors to play “until I was 10 years old.”

The real danger for Williamson, however, would come, not from the street, but from inside her family when she was sexually abused as a child by a family member.

She said that the trauma of that violence visited on her when she was a kid made her a “very angry teenager” who took to the streets with a vengeance, getting in fights whenever possible.

Williamson said she sees that same kind of anger in many of the kids whose actions cause such grief in the communities where she works.

(Incidentally, Williamson drew the biggest gasp of the night when she said how much the $25,000 award would mean in her life, since she was a single mom with four kids who “lived off $13,000 last year.”)

The third honoree, George Galvis, served time in prison before co-founding an organization in the Bay area called Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice (CURYJ) which helps kids who’ve been involved in the criminal justice system.

Galvis too talked about how violence in the family can send a kid to the street.

“The cycles of violence are so profound,” he said, then explained he grew up in a home where life was routinely shattered by domestic violence. “Then I ended up perpetuating the violence on the street against boys who looked just like me,” he said, “all because of my anger at my father.”

More can be learned about the Peace Prize honorees here.

NOTE: Today’s conference will feature a keynote address by Michael Santos, who served 26 years as a federal prisoner, returning to society on August 12, 2013—60 days ago—bringing with him a remarkable story and a deeply felt sense of personal mission.

More on Santos soon.


REVISITING EXCESSIVE FORCE IN MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte, is attending a civil trial having to do with a 2008 incident in Men’s Central Jail where multiple inmates were badly injured and the jail supervisor at the time, then-Lieutenent Dan Cruz, appears to celebrate the deputies’ agression.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole hair-raising account of the Villacorte’s day in court.

Videos of inmates screaming in pain while being hit multiple times with a Taser. A sheriff’s deputy taking the stand to deny he used excessive force even while testifying he punched and kicked inmates as many as 35 times after they were already sprawled face down on their cells.

Those were just some of the highlights — or lowlights — of a trial underway at the downtown federal courthouse, as Los Angeles County and its Sheriff’s Department stand accused of subjecting inmates to “dehumanizing abuse” while “under the color of law” during a cell extraction on Aug. 25, 2008.

Five inmates — Heriberto Rodriguez, Carlos Flores, Erick Nunez, Juan Carlos Sanchez and Juan Trinidad — are suing for unspecified damages, saying they suffered skull fractures, broken limbs and other serious injuries after being “unmercifully beaten” by deputies at Men’s Central Jail.

In their complaint, they said about 15 to 30 inmates barricaded themselves inside their cells to protest the beating of a fellow inmate.

Deputies allegedly responded by subjecting them to “brutal and gratuitous force that was unnecessary for any legitimate penal interest and amounted to punishment.”

The violence took place three weeks after gang members killed a jail deputy, Juan Escalante, outside his home in Cypress Park….

[BIG SNIP]

…Deputy Nicholas Graham admitted during cross-examination that he punched and kicked inmates 17 to 35 times after they had been hit repeatedly with Tasers, and forced down to the floor.

Graham said both in his post-incident report and during cross-examination that the inmates were not fighting back.

But when plaintiff’s attorney James Muller asked if he used excessive force, Graham responded, “That’s incorrect.”

He also said, “Force is a prerogative.

[BIG SNIP]

In one of the videos, an inmate was hit with a Taser repeatedly even after he was heard screaming, “I give up!”

At one point, deputies laughed because Graham cursed after accidentally hitting himself with a Taser.

Another video showed Lt. Dan Cruz, a supervisor at the jail, appearing to give deputies high-fives after they walked out of the cells, carrying inmates who had been rendered unconscious.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, LA County Jail, LASD, Restorative Justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

THE SHOOTING: The Death of Michael Domaloan – An Update

September 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

The reasons why are complicated and heartbreaking.

WitnessLA began to tell the story some years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Court Rules Police Are Protected As Whistleblowers….. Judge Awards $3 Million to Parents of Zac Champommier….WWED? What Would Elmore Do?….and More Sheriff Challenger Interviews

August 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



9TH CIRCUIT SAYS POLICE ARE PROTECTED AS WHISTLEBLOWERS BY 1ST AMENDMENT

The decision on Wednesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is very interesting, and also very important.

Here’s the deal: A former Burbank police detective, Angelo Dahlia, said he was suspended after reporting that fellow officers had beaten suspects and then told him to keep his mouth shut about it. After witnessing the abuse, he first reported what he had seen to his direct superior, but was told to “stop his sniveling,” according to the court. Any further attempts were met with the same dismissal.

Next Dahlia went to Burbank PD’s Internal Affairs, and the real retaliating allegedly began.

When Dahlia finally went outside his agency and talked to investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and eventually to the FBI, he was reportedly directly threatened by one of the Burbank PD’s lieutenants who, according to the ruling, warned Dahlia, “Fuck with me and I will put a case on you, and put you in jail.” Plus there were reportedly other unpleasant retaliations.

And then he was put on administrative leave.

So he sued.

A lower court tossed out his lawsuit, contending that Dahlia’s actions did not constitute whistleblower activity, so were not eligible for First Amendment protections because, according to a 2009 ruling, Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, as a law enforcement office, reporting wrongdoing was a part of his job.

The 9th circuit disagreed. They ruled that, the moment Dahlia went outside of the Burbank PD, he should be accorded the same First Amendment protection as a private citizen.

So they reinstated his lawsuit.

This ruling, which may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down Huppert, which had denied cops most whistleblower protection, to set an important new precedent.

“The practical reality,” wrote a court member, “is that quite a few police officers are reluctant to report acts of police abuse committed by their fellow officers. The ‘officer code of silence’ describes the understanding that “an officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer. The public’s trust is diminished when a law enforcement officer abides by the code of silence to cover up misconduct engaged in by fellow officers. To strengthen the public’s confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement officers, it is essential that an officer be encouraged or required to report misconduct committed by fellow officers.”

Indeed.

Scott Michelman, attorney for the advocacy group, Public Citizen, which helped to bring the appeal, credited the decision with helping to ensure transparency when “public officials are engaging in misconduct,” writes Tim Hull, reporting for The Courthouse News Service.

“Courageous police officers like Angelo Dahlia are in many circumstances the public’s best or even only available source of information about police corruption and abuse,” Michelman said in a statement.

Sources tell us that the ruling will come as very good news to the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have filed lawsuits against the department for alleged retaliation when they attempted to blow the whistle on LASD corruption and abuse.


JUDGE AWARDS $3 MILLION TO NORTHRIDGE TEENAGER, ZAC CHAMPOMMIER, WHO WAS SHOT AND KILLED BY A DEA AGENT IN INCIDENT WITH DEA AND LASD OFFICERS

This case goes back to the tragic 2010 shooting of 18-year-old Zachary Champommier that WLA reported on here and here.

Both Frank Stoltze of KPCC and The Associate Press were in court and have reports that will give you the details.

Here are two clips from Stoltze’s story:

In a rare ruling against a federal law enforcement officer, a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday found an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent committed battery when he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of a San Fernando Valley strip mall in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded the parents of Zachary Champommier $3 million dollars in general damages. Champommier had graduated from Granada Hills High School three weeks before his death.

[SNIP]

The incident occurred as plainclothes DEA agents and L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies gathered outside a Studio City restaurant after serving a search warrant on a nearby house. The officers were in the process of detaining a man Champommier was coming to meet.

Witnesses said that as Champommier started to drive away, he struck a sheriff’s deputy. Federal attorneys argued that DEA agent Peter LoPresti shot Champommier because he believed he was a threat. The sheriff’s deputy also fired his weapon.

And from the AP:

….They said Champommier drove his mom’s car to the parking lot to meet someone he befriended on a social networking website. The friend went looking for Champommier’s white Corolla and became a suspect when he looked into an agent’s light-colored vehicle, which had seized guns and drugs.

Agents were in the process of arresting the friend when the deputy approached the scene with his gun drawn.

Champommier’s parents claimed the deputy stepped in front of their son’s car and “vaulted” on top of its hood like a Hollywood stuntman.

Fitzgerald wrote that within two seconds of the “low-speed impact” of the collision, DEA agent Peter Taylor LoPresti fired through the driver side of the window from about 2 feet away, killing Champommier.

The judge noted that LoPresti “did not articulate at trial exactly how shooting the driver of a moving vehicle while another officer was on the hood would be helpful to the besieged officer.”

He found that five subsequent shots fired by LoPresti and the deputy “unquestionably lacked justification.”

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office, said the government is considering an appeal.


WHAT WOULD ELMORE DO? NOW, SADLY, WE HAVE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION ON OUR OWN

Among my favorite tales about the gloriously talented and much-beloved crime and mystery writer Elmore Leonard, who died on Tuesday, has to do with the wonderful FX series, Justified, which is based on one of Leonard’s short stories called “Fire In the Hole.” It seems that Justified’s creator, Graham Yost, was so intent on the tone of the show remaining true to Leonard’s unique voice that he gave everyone on the writing and acting staff little blue rubber wristbands printed with WWED? “What Would Elmore Do?”

For aspiring writers—hell, for any writer—those four letters are a far better guide to good work than many graduate school degrees.

A master of the American crime thriller, Leonard’s novels raised crime writing to art.

His partly humorous, part deadly series “10 Rules for Writing,” written in 2001 for the New York Times, are worth noting:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Of the obits I’ve read thus far on Leonard, I recommend this one by mystery novel reviewer, Marilyn Stasio for the New York Times, and this one for The Daily Beast by Malcolm Jones…and this lovely essay about Leonard’s unbeatable sense of voice, by Joan Acocella for the New Yorker.


MORE INTERVIEWS WITH CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF: THIS TIME WITH PAT GOMEZ

Now that challengers in the race for sheriff, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince, have been interviewed on KABC, it’s Pat Gomez’s turn.

Pat will be on Larry Elder Thursday at 5:14 pm, and on with Doug McIntyre on Monday at 7:15 am.

We will continue to try to keep you reasonably up-to-date on events related to the race for sheriff. If we miss something please let us know.

PS: For anyone who missed the various Larry Elder interviews, then—like me—noted that the podcasts are vexingly hidden behind a pay wall, for a mere $4.95 you can buy a monthly membership to Elder’s podcast club, and listen to talk from the three previous candidates. (But don’t forget to cancel your membership when the month is up if you don’t want it to auto renew.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, criminal justice, writers and writing | 16 Comments »

Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and More

August 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

IS CONTRA COSTA COUNTY “LOCKING UP YOUTH AND THROWING AWAY THEIR FUTURES?”

An alarming class action suit filed last Thursday accuses Contra Costa’s Juvenile Hall of taking kids as young as 13 with disabilites and locking them up in solitary for 23 hours a day, while dening them education….and other such abuses.

Here’s a clip from the statement put out by Public Counsel, which brought the lawsuit along with Disability Rights Advocates, and Paul Hastings LLP,:

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, like all juvenile halls in the State, exists “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment,” according to the California Supreme Court. Education is supposed to be at the center of young people’s rehabilitation.

But students at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the size of a hand. Young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison.

By its own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. But youth with disabilities at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination: they do not receive critical special education and related services, and lacking such supports, they are locked in their cells for a variety of infractions.

Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse.

Here are two examples of the kind of treatment of kids that the lawsuit alleges: :

**A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

**W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Susan Ferris, the excellent juvenile justice reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has more on the lawsuit and on the awful conditions that helped bring it about.


HOLDER SET TO ANNOUNCE FEDERAL SENTENCING REFORMS ON MONDAY

Sari Horowitz from the Washington Post has details on some of the extremely welcome changes in federal sentencing policy that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce on Monday. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.

“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, ­according to excerpts of his ­remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.

As we mentioned last week, Some of Holder’s proposed reforms will require legislative changes.

And, as we also mentioned previously, , let us hope that California follows the lead of the feds with some our own desperately-needed state sentencing reforms.


STUPID SENTENCING TRICKS

As Holder prepared to announce his list of reforms, Saturday’s essay by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof provided a perfect illustration of other excesses in federal sentencing that could also use some work. Here’s a clip:

IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

It should be noted that what Kristof does not explain is that Young was not altogether innocent, and that the police bust was righteous. (Sorry, but that was very sloppy, Mr. Kristof.)

It turns out that in 2011, Young had relapsed into old behavior, and had stolen tools, tires and weight lifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse—crimes to which he confessed when the police came knocking. Yet, for the burglaries he would have gotten a few years of Tennessee state time with the likelihood of early parole.

However, the federal charge for the seven shells means that Young will spend a full fifteen years in prison, away from his kids, not supporting his family, a punishment that is not remotely proportionate, all at a cost to the federal government of approximately $415,000.


AN EXCEPTIONALLY SANE LOOK AT REALIGNMENT, POSSIBLE EARLY RELEASES AND WHAT NEEDS TO COME NEXT

We wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the excellent LA Times editorial that talks sanely and factually about the possible early release of some prison inmates, what most desperately needs to be fixed in California’s incarceration policy…and more. Here’s a clip from the essay’s center:

…..It would be naive to consider the returning felons harmless; but it would be an act of wild self-deception to pretend that an early release order would make their homecoming any more dangerous than it would have been otherwise. The fact is, most of the prisoners in line for possible early release had been scheduled to return to the streets within the coming year anyway. The status quo in California has been, for years, the steady return of felons after two- to five-year terms who pose the same risk they did when they went in. Those returns are the chief product of our broken criminal justice system.

That’s the real point here — not that some prisoners will be moving to the post-incarceration portion of their sentences a few months early, but that California has done too little to fix a system under which we deem it normal that prisoners come out at least as dysfunctional as when they went in. Precisely because of crowding and foolish management of the inmate population, California prisons have not only fallen below a minimum constitutional level of medical and mental health care, but also have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes. One word that appears throughout various reports and federal court orders describes the state’s prison system as “criminogenic” — referring to its high propensity to make inmates more likely, not less, to offend again after their release.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A MENTALLY ILL MAN GETS HELP INSTEAD OF BEING LOCKED UP….AGAIN?

We’ve heard over and over again that the LA County Jail system is the largest mental health hospital in the nation, with approximately 2000 mentally ill inmates housed in the county’s lock ups at any one time.

But other than getting inmates (hopefully) the right meds, the jail system does little else to provide any kind of help for those who cycle in an out of its locked doors.

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about one such frequent return customer to the jails who contacted Lopez and described how he’d managed to get out of the cycle. Here’s a clip:

There is little in Andy’s appearance or manner that offers a clue as to what he’s been through. The arrests, the jailhouse beatings, the commitments. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming, so much so that the story of his life doesn’t seem to go with the man who tells it.

I ask how many times he’s been locked up, and now a hint of distress creeps into his eyes.

“Maybe 20,” he shrugs, adding that he’s been in mental institutions nearly as many times.

Andy emailed me after I wrote about a visit to L.A. County Jail, which houses about 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a barbaric system, with many of those inmates repeatedly filing through the turnstiles at great public cost, with little or no chance of getting help that might break the cycle.

“Before 2004, I had spent MANY a time in the L.A. County Jail.” wrote Andy, explaining that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disease. “If you’d ever like some background on surviving … the jails, I’m available. I’ve been stable and productive since 2004, and living in sunny Santa Monica.”…

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in crime and punishment, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Is Drug Sentencing Reform Really Coming?….In CA Who Will Get Early Release?….Baca Tells LB Rotary Club He’s Running…and More

August 8th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



We may be at the very beginning of a sea change when it comes to drug sentencing,
at least on the federal level, according to a new NPR story by Carrie Johnson, who reports that Attorney General Eric Holder would like to see things done differently.

“I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons,” Holder told Johnson.

Here’s more from her story:

The war on drugs is now 30, 40 years old,” Holder said. “There have been a lot of unintended consequences. There’s been a decimation of certain communities, in particular communities of color.”

That’s one reason why the Justice Department has had a group of lawyers working behind the scenes for months on proposals the attorney general could present as early as next week in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco.

Some of the items are changes Holder can make on his own, such as directing U.S. attorneys not to prosecute certain kinds of low-level drug crimes, or spending money to send more defendants into treatment instead of prison. Almost half of the 219,000 people currently in federal prison are serving time on drug charges.

“Well, we can certainly change our enforcement priorities, and so we have some control in that way,” Holder said. “How we deploy our agents, what we tell our prosecutors to charge, but I think this would be best done if the executive branch and the legislative branch work together

Yet Holder isn’t the only one calling for change. After three decades of lawmakers absolutely tripping over each other in their haste to see who can come off as the toughest on drug crime, it appears that there are pockets of sanity emerging in the Congress as well.

There is, for example, Senate Judiciary Committee chair, Democrat Patrick Leahy, who is teaming up with Tea Party darling, Republican Rand Paul, to introduce a bill called the Justice Safety Valve Act of 2013, which will give judges the power to consider sentences below the mandatory minimum for all federal crimes.

Leahy is also planning committee hearings on sentencing.

In addition to possible changes with federal sentencing laws, nearly two dozen states are moving toward sentencing reform as well, including Texas where change is driven by the conservative “Right on Crime” people, who continue to gain in significance in the realm of criminal justice reform.

And what, you might be wondering, does our progressive state of California have in the works when it comes to sentencing reform??

Pretty much zero.

But with the spectre of having to do something to lower the state’s prison population by 9400 inmates, perhaps even California will be motivated to get with the program.**

Our favorite legal blogger and law prof Doug Berman put it this way when he talked to NPR on the general topic of sentencing reform: “Are we using the prison system too broadly, too widely? Are we getting a poor return on our investment with criminal justice dollars when we’re constantly growing the federal prison population and especially in a time of sequester that comes with cuts to prosecutors, cuts to police forces, cuts to defender services?”

Return on investment. . Not a bad standard to use.

(**NOTE: While sentencing reform won’t solve California’s immediate overcrowding problem, it could, over time, help bring about a permanent and sustainable solution.)


IF CALIFORNIA HAS TO RELEASE INMATES, WHO WOULD THEY BE? SERIOUSLY ILL OFFENDERS BELONG TO ONE LIKELY GROUP

Now that the US Supreme Court has ruled that California has to lower its prison population by at least 9400 inmates by the end of the year, we are starting to get reports on how that number might be met.

The LA Times’ Chris Megerian and Paige St. John report that around 8000 or more of the necessary reductions might be found by moving inmates around—to private prisons, to out of state facilities, to certain jail systems in the state that have the room to take additional inmates (LA is not on that list), and to other facilities like fire camps.

That would still leave around a 1000 inmates who might need to be released early.

So who might those early releases be?

One category being examined for release, reports the AP’s Don Thompson, is certain inmates who are seriously ill.

Here’s a clip:

A federal official who controls prison medical care has given corrections officials files on about 30 women who could be released on medical parole as part of the state’s response. They are among 900 inmates statewide who have been preliminarily identified as eligible for medical parole, said Joyce Hayhoe, a spokeswoman for the federal receiver.

It’s just one step California is taking to meet the court order.

“We’re starting with the inmates with the most serious medical conditions. These are ones that likely will need to be placed in nursing homes,” Hayhoe said.

It should be noted that elderly and ill inmates are the most expensive for California to house. Those same inmates can be safely cared for by the state outside prison, say experts, for a fraction of the cost of keeping them inside.


BACA SPEAKS TO LONG BEACH ROTARY CLUB ON WEDNESDAY AND VOWS TO RUN FOR REELECTION

Beatriz Valenzuela of the Long Beach Press-Telegram has the story.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he is running for re-election next year despite a recent scathing editorial urging the sheriff to bow out of the race.

“I think I’m the most qualified for the job,” Baca said following a speaking engagement at the Long Beach Rotary Club Wednesday afternoon. The sheriff was slated to talk about the Los Angeles Times editorial and California’s Prison Realignment’s effects on the county, but seemed to dance around both topics in his talk to the local service group.

In an editorial piece that ran in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Baca is asked not to run for re-election due to the “extraordinary cascade of scandals that have exposed the dismal state of the department and the jails he runs.”

The sheriff also reportedly talked about his one of his favorite topics, Education Based Incarceration, which he said can help with deputy/prisoner conduct problems.

“Education is key,” he said.

In the county jail system, Baca helped create a program that allows inmates to receive an education while behind bars.

“We’ve had 6,000 go to school every day Monday through Friday and six have gone to the judge to ask for extended sentences to finish their classes,” Baca said.

A better educated inmate, he said, helps keep that person from returning to jail.

On that point, WLA strongly agrees.


AND THE AWARD FOR CREEPIEST STORY OF THE WEEK GOES TO: THE LOUISIANA ATTORNEYS WHO CLAIM THAT A 14-YEAR-OLD LOUISIANA GIRL WANTED TO BE REPEATEDLY SEXUALLY ASSAULTED BY GUARD IN A JUVENILE FACILITY

John DeSantis of the Tri-Parish Times has the head-spinning story about a 20-year-old woman who is suing Terrebonne Parish, alleging she was repeatedly sexually assaulted when she was 14 and locked up in a local juvenile detention center.

In trying to avoid paying the young woman damages, local attorneys are using the time honored “she asked for it” defense. (No one evidently disputes that the guard had sex with the girl— who was, at the time, three years shy of the age of consent in the state of Louisiana.)

Here’s a clip:

….attorney Carolyn McNabb, a founding member of CASA of Terrebonne, whose members act as child advocates in court, and a board member of the Bayou Area Children’s Foundation, wrote a letter last week to attorney Alexander “Kip” Crighton, criticizing the tactic.

“To say that a 14-year-old mentally and emotionally distressed girl with a history of having been abused and neglected as a child should be found at fault for consenting to be raped by a male guard while in confinement at the hands of my local government, which is charged with the responsibility of keeping her safe, not only sets the cause of children’s advocacy back a hundred years, but I believe the parish government commits ‘documentary’ sexual assault against the child by taking this position in a public record,” McNabb’s letter states.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, LASD, Right on Crime, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 19 Comments »

More Shocking Asset Forfeiture Stories…LA City Attorney Addresses Wobbling Offenses…and Sheriff Baca & the LA Times Editorial

August 7th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

ASSET FORFEITURE—ORIGINALLY INTENDED AS A CRIME DETERRENT IN THE 70′S, NOW A GOLDEN GOOSE FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT

Tuesday, we posted a story about innocent people losing their homes through asset forfeiture in Philadelphia, but this controversial law enforcement tactic has become a problem all over the US, and perhaps most notably, in a tiny town called Tenaha, Texas.

In Tenaha, police officers reportedly regularly stopped out-of-town cars for minor traffic violations and proceeded to seize valuables, from gold necklaces to thousands of dollars, threatening alternatives like arrest, felony charges, and turning children in to Child Protective Services.

The New Yorker’s Sarah Stillman has a fascinating (and lengthy) piece on Tenaha’s story and the issue of asset forfeiture at large. Here are some clips:

On a bright Thursday afternoon in 2007, Jennifer Boatright, a waitress at a Houston bar-and-grill, drove with her two young sons and her boyfriend, Ron Henderson, on U.S. 59 toward Linden, Henderson’s home town, near the Texas-Louisiana border. They made the trip every April, at the first signs of spring, to walk the local wildflower trails and spend time with Henderson’s father. This year, they’d decided to buy a used car in Linden, which had plenty for sale, and so they bundled their cash savings in their car’s center console. Just after dusk, they passed a sign that read “Welcome to Tenaha: A little town with big Potential!”

They pulled into a mini-mart for snacks. When they returned to the highway ten minutes later, Boatright, a honey-blond “Texas redneck from Lubbock,” by her own reckoning, and Henderson, who is Latino, noticed something strange. The same police car that their eleven-year-old had admired in the mini-mart parking lot was trailing them. Near the city limits, a tall, bull-shouldered officer named Barry Washington pulled them over.

He asked if Henderson knew that he’d been driving in the left lane for more than half a mile without passing.

No, Henderson replied. He said he’d moved into the left lane so that the police car could make its way onto the highway.

Were there any drugs in the car? When Henderson and Boatright said no, the officer asked if he and his partner could search the car.

The officers found the couple’s cash and a marbled-glass pipe that Boatright said was a gift for her sister-in-law, and escorted them across town to the police station. In a corner there, two tables were heaped with jewelry, DVD players, cell phones, and the like. According to the police report, Boatright and Henderson fit the profile of drug couriers: they were driving from Houston, “a known point for distribution of illegal narcotics,” to Linden, “a known place to receive illegal narcotics.” The report describes their children as possible decoys, meant to distract police as the couple breezed down the road, smoking marijuana. (None was found in the car, although Washington claimed to have smelled it.)

The county’s district attorney, a fifty-seven-year-old woman with feathered Charlie’s Angels hair named Lynda K. Russell, arrived an hour later. Russell, who moonlighted locally as a country singer, told Henderson and Boatright that they had two options. They could face felony charges for “money laundering” and “child endangerment,” in which case they would go to jail and their children would be handed over to foster care. Or they could sign over their cash to the city of Tenaha, and get back on the road. “No criminal charges shall be filed,” a waiver she drafted read, “and our children shall not be turned over to CPS,” or Child Protective Services.

“Where are we?” Boatright remembers thinking. “Is this some kind of foreign country, where they’re selling people’s kids off?” Holding her sixteen-month-old on her hip, she broke down in tears.

Later, she learned that cash-for-freedom deals had become a point of pride for Tenaha, and that versions of the tactic were used across the country. “Be safe and keep up the good work,” the city marshal wrote to Washington, following a raft of complaints from out-of-town drivers who claimed that they had been stopped in Tenaha and stripped of cash, valuables, and, in at least one case, an infant child, without clear evidence of contraband.

[SNIP]

David Guillory [attorney for Boatright and Henderson] started his research by driving his cluttered red Volkswagen Jetta to the Shelby County courthouse, in Center, Texas, where he examined the ledgers that listed the past two years of the county’s legal cases. He wanted to see “any case styled ‘The State of Texas versus’ anything that sounds like a piece of property.” The clerk began hauling out one bulging accordion file after another.

“The eye-opening event was pulling those files,” Guillory told me. One of the first cases that caught his attention was titled State of Texas vs. One Gold Crucifix. The police had confiscated a simple gold cross that a woman wore around her neck after pulling her over for a minor traffic violation. No contraband was reported, no criminal charges were filed, and no traffic ticket was issued. That’s how it went in dozens more cases involving cash, cars, and jewelry. A number of files contained slips of paper of a sort he’d never seen before. These were roadside property waivers, improvised by the district attorney, which threatened criminal charges unless drivers agreed to hand over valuables.

Guillory eventually found the deal threatening to take Jennifer Boatright and Ron Henderson’s children unless the couple signed away their money to Shelby County. “It’s like they were memorializing the fact that they were abdicating their responsibility to fight crime,” Guillory said. “If you believe children are in sufficient danger that they should be removed from their parents—don’t trade that for money!” Usually, police and prosecutors are careful about how they broker such exchanges. But Shelby County officials were so brazen about their swap-meet approach to law enforcement, he says, “they put it in the damn document!”

Patterns began to emerge. Nearly all the targets had been pulled over for routine traffic stops. Many drove rental cars and came from out of state. None appeared to have been issued tickets. And the targets were disproportionately black or Latino. A finding of discrimination could bring judicial scrutiny. “It was a highway-piracy operation,” Guillory said, and, he thought, material for a class-action lawsuit.

[SNIP]

Forfeiture in its modern form began with federal statutes enacted in the nineteen-seventies and aimed not at waitresses and janitors but at organized-crime bosses and drug lords. Law-enforcement officers were empowered to seize money and goods tied to the production of illegal drugs. Later amendments allowed the seizure of anything thought to have been purchased with tainted funds, whether or not it was connected to the commission of a crime. Even then, forfeiture remained an infrequent resort until 1984, when Congress passed the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. It established a special fund that turned over proceeds from forfeitures to the law-enforcement agencies responsible for them. Local police who provided federal assistance were rewarded with a large percentage of the proceeds, through a program called Equitable Sharing. Soon states were crafting their own forfeiture laws.

Revenue gains were staggering. At the Justice Department, proceeds from forfeiture soared from twenty-seven million dollars in 1985 to five hundred and fifty-six million in 1993. (Last year, the department took in nearly $4.2 billion in forfeitures, a record.) The strategy helped reconcile President Reagan’s call for government action in fighting crime with his call to reduce public spending. In 1989, Attorney General Richard Thornburgh boasted, “It’s now possible for a drug dealer to serve time in a forfeiture-financed prison after being arrested by agents driving a forfeiture-provided automobile while working in a forfeiture-funded sting operation.”

(We urge you to go over to the New Yorker and read the rest.)


THANKS TO LA CITY ATTORNEY MIKE FEUER, 91 OFFENSES “WOBBLING” BETWEEN INFRACTION AND MISDEMEANOR, NOW ONLY INFRACTIONS

LA City Attorney Mike Feuer, in an attempt to save taxpayer dollars and make the system in the City Attorney’s office more efficient, revised filing guidelines so that 91 offenses that could be treated as either an infraction or a misdemeanor, known as “wobblers,” would be treated only as infractions.

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

An internal LAPD memo dated July 25 that was sent to commanding officers detailed 91 violations that are now considered infractions instead of misdemeanors. That means the violations won’t appear in U.S. Department of Justice criminal records, and they no longer figure into department crime statistics tracking misdemeanors and felonies.

The memo was sent out in response to the city attorney’s office revision of its filing guidelines in May. The change is an effort to make the system more efficient and save taxpayer dollars, said Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the newly seated city attorney, Mike Feuer. Such offenses, which number in the thousands each year, were usually downgraded to infractions anyway upon review by the city attorney’s office, Wilcox said.

“These were already treated as infractions, it’s just flipping how they were reviewed so there is not another review process here,” Wilcox said. “They’d be written up as infractions by the police officer.”

The department said the changes create penalties that actually reflect reality, especially when budgets are tight. Misdemeanors, however, can bring a year-long sentence in jail, but it rarely happens.


WWLA? TALKS LA TIMES EDITORIAL ASKING SHERIFF BACA NOT TO RUN AGAIN

Monday evening, KCRW’s Warren Olney, on his show Which Way, LA? hosted a discussion about issues raised by Sunday’s LAT editorial asking Sheriff Lee Baca not to run for reelection in 2014. Guests were Sandra Hernandez speaking for the LA Times editorial board, and LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore.

The entire segment is worth listening to, but here’s Hernandez’s answer to Steve Whitmore’s list of the Sheriff’s accomplishments and his assertion that the Sheriff is doing all he can to implement reforms recommended by the jails commission:

“First of all, we’re glad that the county’s crime rate is down, and that the county isn’t bucking a national trend that’s been going on for a decade—we’re glad to see that. …Second of all…it’s great that he’s implementing these reforms, but these reforms were necessary only because these problems occurred on his watch.”

(Here’s WLA’s coverage of the LAT editorial.)


SHERIFF BACA: “DEAR LA TIMES, LET THE VOTERS DECIDE”

Then, Tuesday Morning, Sheriff Lee Baca responded to the Sunday LA Times editorial. In his letter, Sheriff Baca stated, among other things, his objections to and concerns about what he felt was the LA Times’ attempt to subvert the democratic process via their editorial:

I find it disconcerting that The Times has decided it should deprive voters of the right to select whomever they please as the next sheriff. Democracy is about giving voters choices, not denying them.

Posted in City Attorney, crime and punishment, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 16 Comments »

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