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The Presumption of Innocence & the Presumption of Dangerousness

January 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


This past weekend, UC Irvine’s Literary Journalism Program together
with UCI’s School of law sponsored a unique interdisciplinary conference titled Justice and Injustice: The Consequences of Storytelling in the Courtroom.

The conference (in which I was fortunate enough to take part) was unusually dynamic, and many of the topics discussed by the event’s panelists and keynote speakers will find their way into WLA stories and posts in the future.

But a cluster of this week’s news stories pointed directly to two issues that came up repeatedly, including in the Friday evening presentation of superstar lawyer, author, and justice advocate Bryan Stevenson.

The issues are the presumption of innocence and what Stevenson called, “the presumption of dangerousness.”

Here are the stories that brought those two concepts—at least tangentially—to mind:


IS THE DEFENDANT WHITE OR NOT?

As the jury selection takes place in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the two alleged Boston Marathon bombers, there is a lot of concern about whether or not the ethnicity of the jurors will affect their views.

But, it appears there is another likely significant factor that could affect jurors’ potential for impartiality, which social scientists Nour Kteily and Sara Cotterill bring up in an Op Ed for the New York Times.

While Kteily and Cotterill are writing about Tsarnaev, the results of research they conducted regarding his case, point well beyond the matter of the alleged Boston Marathon Bomber to some discomforting conclusions about the part race may play—in general—in certain people’s perceptions of how lightly or harshly a defendant should be treated by the justice system.

Here’s a clip from their essay:

No sooner did the F.B.I. release photographs of Mr. Tsarnaev and his older brother, Tamerlan, three days after the bombings, than questions arose about the racial identity of the suspects. (“Are the Tsarnaev Brothers White?” ran a headline in Salon.) Although neither brother matched the visual prototype of a white American, both hailed from the Caucasus, the region that gave rise to the term “Caucasian,” and both had lived in America for many years.

In the aftermath of the bombings, we sought to answer two questions: If white people perceived Dzhokhar Tsarnaev as less white, did that influence their support for treating him harshly? (Tamerlan was dead by this point.) And if people varied in how white they considered Mr. Tsarnaev to be, what psychological propensities, if any, determined whether they perceived him as more like “us” or more like “them”? We, along with three of our colleagues, published our findings last year in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

Within hours of the F.B.I.’s release of the suspects’ photographs, we collected responses from 426 white Americans to a broad questionnaire assessing a range of their demographic information as well as aspects of their ideological orientations. Eight days later, we offered these same participants the opportunity to respond to a second questionnaire. Here, we presented them with the original F.B.I. photos, and asked them to tell us how white they thought the suspects looked.

We then asked the participants whether they endorsed statements such as “I hope the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks rots in hell” and “It is O.K. for Tsarnaev not to have been read his Miranda rights before interrogation” and “We shouldn’t rush to judgment in bringing the perpetrator of the Boston Marathon attacks to justice.” They were also asked to indicate the sentence that they felt Mr. Tsarnaev ought to receive should he be found guilty, with options ranging from “a maximum of 20 years in prison with the possibility of parole” to “the death penalty.”

We found that there was substantial ambiguity about whether the Tsarnaev brothers were white. On a scale from zero (nonwhite) to 100 (white), the participants varied in their perceptions, with ratings running the full gamut from zero to 100. The average rating was around 64.

When the researchers asked the same research participants about what kind of punishment Tsarnaev ought to receive, it turned out that those who rated Mr. Tsarnaev lowest on the “looking white” scale, were in favor of punishing him the most severely.

“In a case like Mr. Tsarnaev’s,” Kteily and Cotterill concluded, “where guilt is widely presumed and where the outcome will most likely fall on one side of the line between life imprisonment and death, this finding seems especially relevant [when it comes to jury selection].


IS THE LITERAL APPEARANCE OF INNOCENCE NECESSARY FOR THE ASSUMPTION OF INNOCENCE?

The week also features jury selection for another alleged purveyor of mass violence, namely James Holmes, the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater. As with Tsarnaev, the issue is less one of guilt or innocence than it is a matter of what kind of punishment should be meted out. With this in mind, Holmes’ attorneys naturally want their client to look the most ordinary and the least threatening possible.

Beth Schwartzapfel of the Marshall Project writes about the issue in general of shackling or not shackling prisoners when they come to court, how such decisions can affect a trial’s outcome, and whether the garb of innocence is important to the presumption of innocence that is supposed to be a pillar of the American legal system.

Here are a couple of short clips:

When jury selection began this week in the trial of James Holmes — the man accused of killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater — he looked different than he had in prior court hearings. He traded his jail garb for khakis and a sport coat. Instead of wearing shackles and chains, he was discreetly anchored to the floor by a tan cable meant to disappear into the tangle of computer cords at the defense table.

That cable, which was attached to a harness under Holmes’s clothes, was the result of much legal volleying before any potential jurors arrived. His lawyers had argued that seeing Holmes in restraints would ruin his opportunity to be presumed innocent. Shackles and other extreme security measures (like the snipers posted on the roofs of nearby buildings) would give jurors the impression that “extraordinary security is necessary to contain Mr. Holmes,” they wrote, “and few things could be more prejudicial to a man on trial for his life.”

[SNIP]

James Holmes’s legal team seeks to persuade the jury that their client’s crimes were committed as a result of his longstanding mental illness. Under the law, he will have the best chance of a fair trial if he appears before jurors looking like an ordinary person. “The presumption of innocence requires the garb of innocence,” wrote a judge in another Colorado courtroom almost 70 years ago, “and regardless of the ultimate outcome, or of the evidence awaiting presentation, every defendant is entitled to be brought before the court with the appearance, dignity, and self-respect of a free and innocent man


THE PERILS OF THE PRESUMPTION OF DANGEROUSNESS

One of the topics that threaded through many of the panel discussions at the Justice and Injustice conference I mentioned above, was the legal precept of the presumption of innocence, which both the defense attorneys and prosecutors on the various conference panels said that—with rare exceptions—seemed increasingly hard to come by in criminal court.

A twin topic that keynote speaker Bryan Stevenson talked about was something he called the presumption of dangerousness. He brought it up regarding the disproportionately harsh treatment of young men of color by the criminal justice system.

It is that presumption of dangerousness that clearly frightened NY Times columnist Charles Blow when he heard about his Yale student son’s experience as the young man made his way back to his dorm room from the school library.

Here’s a clip from Blow’s column:

Saturday evening, I got a call that no parent wants to get. It was my son calling from college — he’s a third-year student at Yale. He had been accosted by a campus police officer, at gunpoint!

This is how my son remembers it:

He left for the library around 5:45 p.m. to check the status of a book he had requested. The book hadn’t arrived yet, but since he was there he put in a request for some multimedia equipment for a project he was working on.

Then he left to walk back to his dorm room. He says he saw an officer “jogging” toward the entrance of another building across the grounds from the building he’d just left.

Then this:

“I did not pay him any mind, and continued to walk back towards my room. I looked behind me, and noticed that the police officer was following me. He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio and said, ‘I got him.’

“I faced forward again, presuming that the officer was not talking to me. I then heard him say, ‘Hey, turn around!’ — which I did.

“The officer raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground.

“At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement. I dropped to my knees first, with my hands raised, then laid down on my stomach.

“The officer asked me what my name was. I gave him my name.

“The officer asked me what school I went to. I told him Yale University.

“At this point, the officer told me to get up.”

The officer gave his name, then asked my son to “give him a call the next day.”

My son continued:

“I got up slowly, and continued to walk back to my room. I was scared. My legs were shaking slightly. After a few more paces, the officer said, ‘Hey, my man. Can you step off to the side?’ I did.”

The officer asked him to turn around so he could see the back of his jacket. He asked his name again, then, finally, asked to see my son’s ID. My son produced his school ID from his wallet.

The officer asked more questions, and my son answered. All the while the officer was relaying this information to someone over his radio.

My son heard someone on the radio say back to the officer “something to the effect of: ‘Keep him there until we get this sorted out.’ ” The officer told my son that an incident report would be filed, and then he walked away.

[SNIP]

What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a “suspicious” movement? Had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back.

My son was unarmed, possessed no plunder, obeyed all instructions, answered all questions, did not attempt to flee or resist in any way.

This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete. I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious “club.”


AND IN OTHER NEWS……OBJECTIONS TO WAZE TRACKING COPS CONTINUES TO HEAT UP

Still more law enforcement voices are calling for the WAZE communal traffic tracking Ap to remove any police tracking features. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has been a strong voice in the matter.

NPR’s Sam Sanders has the story for NPR’s Morning Edition.

Here’s a clip:

Waze, the popular navigation app boasting more than 50 million users worldwide, has a new critic: police officers. Over the last few weeks, law enforcement officials have been urging the app and its owner, Google, to disable a feature that allows users to report when they’ve spotted a police officer, in real time, for all other Waze users to see.

Sergio Kopelev, a reserve sheriff in Orange County, Calif., is one of the law enforcement officials behind the push to remove Waze’s police-tracker. He says he first discovered the feature through his family.

“In early December, or mid-December, I saw my wife using the app when she picked me up from the airport,” Kopelev tells NPR. “I saw her tag a location of a police officer. And then as the officer was moving, I saw her update the location… She told me about Waze, and I said, ‘Look, this isn’t good.’”

After that day, Kopelev reached out to Waze directly. He made posts about the feature on Facebook. And he eventually gave a talk about the app and its police tracker to the National Sheriffs Association’s annual convention. His talk there led to even more outcry from officials and a good amount of media coverage, but even before that conference, police around the country had been speaking out about it.

In late December, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck sent an open letter to Google CEO Larry Page, saying that the app endangers officers’ lives. “I am concerned about the safety of law enforcement officers and the community, and the potential for your Waze product to be misused by those with criminal intent to endanger police officers and the community,” Beck wrote.


MINI THERAPY HORSE JOINS THE LASD

One more thing in case you’ve missed it: a ridiculously cute miniature therapy horse has just joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Just thought you’d like to know.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, race, race and class, racial justice, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

LAPD Discipline Survey, the Marshall Project Launch: Missed Habeas Corpus Deadlines, and CA Ordered to Start Paroling Second-Strikers,

November 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD SURVEY SHOWS OFFICERS FEEL THEY ARE UNFAIRLY, INCONSISTENTLY DISCIPLINED

An LA Police Department discipline survey of 500 officers and civilian workers in response to former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner’s rampage over his alleged biased termination from the department. While the department found the firing of Dorner justified upon review, it opened up a discussion among other officers who felt they had experienced discriminatory or otherwise unfair discipline.

The survey indicated that officers and other employees commonly feel the LAPD discriminates based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. But the results were mixed, in some cases. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Similar contradictory opinions were given regarding female officers.

A considerable number of officers felt the department takes too many complaints made against officers, particularly ones that are “obviously false.” According to the survey, a yearly average of 28% of LAPD employees have at least one complaint filed against them.

The survey recommends updating and distributing complaint, discipline, and penalty guides, as well as regularly gathering and analyzing department data on these issues.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The survey was done shortly after former LAPD officer Christopher Dorner was killed in February. The disgruntled ex-officer murdered four people and prompted a massive manhunt before fatally shooting himself during a standoff in the San Bernardino Mountains.

Though officers expressed disgust with Dorner’s actions, some said his grievances about disciplinary bias within the police department sounded legitimate. After a review of Dorner’s disciplinary hearing, the department declared his firing was justified.

The LAPD asked focus groups of employees to give anonymous feedback using a computer system. A group of academics and human relations consultants analyzed the feedback to look for trends.

Below is a sampling of some of the comments published in the survey report.

“Females are held to a lesser standard due to fear of lawsuits or claims of bias.”

“Race is a factor in the discipline system.”

“The media and public pressure have a direct impact on how discipline investigations are handled.”

“Discipline is not imposed when it involves managers and supervisors.”

L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck has been criticized for inconsistent discipline for several years now. It surged in the last year or so when a few LAPD captains filed lawsuits alleging unfair discipline and retaliation, saying Beck did not follow top brass recommendations for disciplining other officers. It has been one of the complaints of the L.A. police union that represents the rank-and-file.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Jack Leonard also reported on the survey. Here’s a small clip:

The report…contained data that raised doubts about some of those perceptions of bias. Statistics compiled by the LAPD show that the ethnic, gender and rank breakdown of officers sent to disciplinary panels for suspensions or termination roughly matches the demographics of the LAPD as a whole. White officers, for example, make up 36% of the department and 35% of officers sent to a Board of Rights disciplinary hearing for a lengthy suspension or termination. Black officers account for 12% of officers and 14% of those sent to such hearings.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck ordered the report more than 20 months ago after Dorner, an ex-LAPD officer, went on a shooting rampage across Southern California, killing police officers as well as the daughter of an LAPD captain and her boyfriend. In a rambling online document, Dorner claimed that he was seeking retribution after being unfairly fired and was the victim of racial discrimination within the department.

The civilian Police Commission is expected to review the report at a meeting next week.


NON-PROFIT PUBLICATION, THE MARSHALL PROJECT, LAUNCHES WITH TWO-PART SERIES ABOUT DEATH ROW ATTORNEYS MISSING LAST-CHANCE APPEAL DEADLINES

Ken Armstrong, of the new non-profit news organization launched over the weekend, the Marshall Project, has an excellent two-part series in the Sunday Washington Post about what happens when lawyers miss the final deadline for their death row clients’ last-chance appeal.

The first story tells of the 80 death penalty cases in which lawyers miss the final appeal deadline, by an average of nearly two and a half years (but in several cases by a single day). Of these 80 death row inmates thus denied habeas corpus, 16 have been executed. The reasons attorneys miss the cut off run the gamut from failing to overnight documents, to misunderstanding the complicated habeas law, to neglect. Here are some clips:

An investigation by The Marshall Project shows that since President Bill Clinton signed the one-year statute of limitations into law — enacting a tough-on-crime provision that emerged in the Republicans’ Contract with America — the deadline has been missed at least 80 times in capital cases. Sixteen of those inmates have since been executed — the most recent was on Thursday, when Chadwick Banks was put to death in Florida.​

By missing the filing deadline, those inmates have usually lost access to habeas corpus, arguably the most critical safeguard in the United States’ system of capital punishment. “The Great Writ,” as it is often called (in Latin it means “you have the body”), habeas corpus allows prisoners to argue in federal court that the conviction or sentence they received in a state court violates federal law.

For example, of the 12 condemned prisoners who have left death row in Texas after being exonerated since 1987, five of them were spared in federal habeas corpus proceedings. In California, 49 of the 81 inmates who had completed their federal habeas appeals by earlier this year have had their death sentences vacated.

The prisoners who missed their habeas deadlines have sometimes forfeited powerful claims. Some of them challenged the evidence of their guilt, and others the fairness of their sentences. One Mississippi inmate was found guilty partly on the basis of a forensic hair analysis that the FBI now admits was flawed. A prisoner in Florida was convicted with a type of ballistics evidence that has long since been discredited.

[SNIP]

Some of the lawyers’ mistakes can be traced to their misunderstandings of federal habeas law and the notoriously complex procedures that have grown up around it. Just as often, though, the errors have exposed the lack of care and resources that have long plagued the patchwork system by which indigent death-row prisoners are provided with legal help.

The right of condemned inmates to habeas review “should not depend upon whether their court-appointed counsel is competent enough to comply with [the] statute of limitations,” one federal appeals judge, Beverly B. Martin, wrote in an opinion earlier this year. She added that allowing some inmates into the court system while turning others away because of how their lawyers missed filing deadlines was making the federal appeals process “simply arbitrary,” she added.

In the second story, Armstrong explains how only the death penalty inmates suffer the consequences of these lawyers’ missed deadlines. Here’s a clip:

Among the dozens of attorneys who have borne some responsibility for those mistakes, only one has been sanctioned for missing the deadline by a professional disciplinary body, the investigation found. And that attorney was given a simple censure, one of the profession’s lowest forms of punishment.

The lack of oversight or accountability has left many of the lawyers who missed the habeas deadlines free to seek appointment by the federal courts to new death-penalty appeals….

In 17 of the country’s 94 federal judicial districts, special teams of government-funded lawyers and investigators monitor the capital cases coming out of their state courts to make sure deadlines are recognized and met. In some other districts, the federal defender’s office helps to evaluate the private attorneys who might be appointed to handle those appeals.

But for lawyers outside the government, the work is difficult and often unpopular, with limited funds available for investigators and experts. And in most districts, where judges screen candidates themselves or with the help of review committees, the quality of legal counsel varies widely.

Federal judges sometimes appoint lawyers “who are not good enough to handle these cases,” says habeas expert Randy A. Hertz, a professor at the New York University School of Law.

However well-meaning, such lawyers may be inexperienced or overmatched. Some may know the judges who make the appointments, but not the voluminous and complex law surrounding habeas corpus. Others have been found to have mental-health problems, substance-abuse issues or other complications that were missed in their screening.

In about one-third of the 80 cases where habeas deadlines were missed, the federal courts eventually allowed prisoners to go forward with their appeals, often because their attorneys’ failures went beyond what the courts would categorize as mere negligence.

Yet even when attorneys have been chastised in federal court rulings for work described as “inexcusable” or “deeply unprofessional,” they have managed to evade any discipline from bar associations or other agencies. One lawyer castigated by the U.S. Supreme Court for “serious instances of attorney misconduct” still has an unblemished disciplinary record.

A prominent death-penalty defense lawyer, Gretchen Engel of the Center for Death Penalty Litigation in North Carolina, offered a simple reason for the discrepancy between the magnitude of some lawyers’ mistakes and the paltry consequences they face: “The people who were hurt by it are prisoners.”

The Huffington Post’s Michael Calderone speaks with Marshall Project founder Neil Barksy and editor Bill Keller (formerly NY Times editor-in-chief) about the Marshall Project, its mission, and what we can expect from the new publication. Here are some clips:

Neil Barsky has taken on varied roles over the years, from Wall Street Journal reporter to Wall Street analyst, hedge fund manager to documentary filmmaker. Now he has returned to the newsroom as founder and chairman of The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization covering criminal justice and edited by New York Times veteran Bill Keller.

Barsky’s interest in criminal justice and the inequities of the U.S. system was ignited in recent years by two books: The New Jim Crow, which tackles mass incarceration and the over-representation of African-Americans in prison, and Devil in the Grove, which focuses on a 1949 rape case fought by Thurgood Marshall, then head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and later the first black Supreme Court justice. The project gets its name from Marshall — and for Barsky, its inspiration.

In an interview at The Marshall Project’s midtown New York offices before Sunday’s launch, Barsky said he wants to push criminal justice issues into the national spotlight. There’s a lack of urgency in dealing with the system’s flaws, he said, despite “how abysmal the status quo is.”

[SNIP]

Keller said he likes coming out of the gate with Armstrong’s piece because it shows readers that The Marshall Project won’t expose flaws in the system only when they concern the wrongly convicted.

“The easiest way to get reader sympathy is to write about people who are innocent,” Keller said. “Everybody feels a sense of unfairness if the law sends somebody away to jail for something they didn’t commit.”

Keller recalled how early on, he and Barsky visited different advocacy organizations, including the Innocence Project, which fights to exonerate those wrongly convicted through DNA evidence. After their meeting, Keller recalled that Barsky said, “You know, we’re sort of the Guilt Project.”

“Most of what we’re going to write about is people who are not innocent,” Keller said. “But people who are not innocent are entitled to a fair trial. They’re entitled to not being raped when they get to prison. They’re entitled to competent defense. They’re entitled to prosecutors who don’t withhold exonerating information. They’re entitled to cops who follow Miranda. All these things that are built into our criminal justice system are there for the guilty as well as the innocent. That’s one of the reasons I particularly liked this piece as a debut.”


FEDS ORDER CALIFORNIA TO START PAROLE HEARINGS OF INMATES WITH NON-VIOLENT SECOND-STRIKE FELONIES

On Friday, federal judges ordered California to begin early parole hearings for non-violent second-strike felons by January, overriding the state’s projected hearing launch time-frame of July 2015. The state has been meeting mini-goals set toward a two-year population reduction goal by expanding parole and sentence reduction programs and policies. But because the prison population is still expected to grow, the federal judges are pushing for more lasting solutions. (For backstory on California’s prison population problems, go here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the topic. Here’s a clip:

In February, California officials were ordered to take a number of steps to reduce inmate numbers. At the same time, federal judges agreed to the state’s request for a two-year extension to meet population caps the courts had been trying to enforce for years.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s corrections department did move thousands of inmates out of state-owned prisons while expanding parole programs for frail and elderly inmates. Corrections officials also increased the sentence reductions some nonviolent felons could earn.

Those moves cut California’s prison population by 1,000 inmates, meeting short-term goals even though state projections show inmate numbers will continue to rise. Judges had sought additional actions to produce a “durable” long-term solution.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has failed to adopt those steps, including the granting of early parole to second-strikers, the judges noted. In October, prison officials told judges that creating such a parole program was “a time-consuming process” and moving faster would “endanger the public.” They did not expect to finish until July 2015.

In an order several weeks ago, the judges said they were “skeptical” of such a delay. On Friday, they gave the state until Dec. 1 to finish plans for the parole program and ordered it in place by January.

Posted in Charlie Beck, criminal justice, Death Penalty, journalism, LAPD, The Feds | No Comments »

Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

Here’s a clip from the report’s summary:

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Isla Vista & the 2nd Amendment…..Paroling Lifers in CA…..LASD Opens Inmate Reentry Center….A One-of-a-Kind Sheriff’s Race….Next LASD/Fed Trial Begins Tuesday

May 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



ISLA VISTA & THE SECOND AMENDMENT

Three days before Elliot Rodger went on his murderous rampage on May 23 in Isla Vista, a new non-fiction book called The Second Amendment: A Biography was published to generally good reviews.

In it, the book’s author, Michael Waldman, examines the Second Amendment and our nation’s history with this short (27 words) and weirdly punctuated clause in the Constitution that has become freighted with so much acrimonious controversy. (Walman is a former Bill Clinton speechwriter who now heads up NYU Law School’s Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan think tank dedicated to “improving the systems of democracy and justice.”)

The timing of the book’s release turns out be painfully serendipitous, in that the horror of a mass shooting, like the tragedy of a few days ago, inevitably brings up a discussion of guns and what legislation would or would not help prevent a the next Columbine or Sandy Hook or Isla Vista (or—if one is bothering to look at statistics—the everyday shootings that regularly tear irrevocable holes in America’s most violence-haunted communities).

It would be nice to think that Waldman’s scholarly, but lively in tone, “The Second Amendment” could bring some much-needed sanity, and perhaps some facts, into that discussion.

LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, reviewed Waldman’s book on Sunday. Here’s a clip from what Ulin wrote:

….Guns, after all, represent a microcosm of an America divided between left and right, urban and rural, collective and individual rights. It’s complicated further because it is encoded in the Bill of Rights — one of our foundational documents, to borrow a phrase from Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who famously sparred with Dianne Feinstein at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2013.

“[W]ould she consider it constitutional,” Cruz asked of Feinstein, “for Congress to specify that the First Amendment shall apply only to the following books and shall not apply to the books that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights? Likewise, would she think that the Fourth Amendment’s protection against searches and seizures could properly apply only to the following specified individuals and not to the individuals that Congress has deemed outside the protection of the Bill of Rights?”

Cruz’s showboating aside — Feinstein responded that she was “not a sixth-grader” and didn’t need a lecture on the Constitution — these are important questions, not so much for pro-gun advocates as for supporters of privacy and free speech rights. What happens if we unravel one amendment, regardless of the way we feel about it? What does it mean for those amendments we prefer?

This is the puzzle of the 2nd Amendment, which, Waldman admits, is a problematic text at best. “Let’s be clear,” he writes: “the eloquent men who wrote ‘we the people’ and the First Amendment did us no favors in the drafting of the Second Amendment.”


PAROLING LIFERS IN CALIFORNIA: JERRY BROWN & THE NEW NORMAL

Governors Gray Davis and Arnold Schwarzenegger reversed nearly all of the parole recommendations for lifers that crossed their desks.

Governor Jerry Brown, in contrast, only reverses around 20 percent of the lifer parole approvals that he sees.

(And by lifers, in this case, we’re talking about people who got indeterminate sentences of, say 15-years-to-life, 25-to-life, 40-years-to-life—-or any such indeterminate sentence with with an “L” after it.)

When NPR’s Scott Shaffer asked Brown about the difference in reversal rates between him and his predecessors, Jerry said that his approach to the matter was “”to follow the law and evaluate very carefully each case, which I do every week.”

Although some suggest that Brown’s policy poses a risk to public safety, in fact, lifers have among the lowest recidivism rates of all released prisoners with less than 1 percent of paroled lifers winding up back in jail or prison.

Here’s a clip from Shaffer’s story:

….As for the difference between his rejection rate and those of previous governors, Brown says, “I don’t know what they did and whether they read the record or whether they looked at the law.” And, he points out, the law has changed.

He’s referring to the 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court that ruled that parole denials could not be based on the viciousness of a crime alone. Instead, the justices said, there must also be evidence that an inmate is still a threat.

The case involved Sandra Davis Lawrence, who fatally shot and killed a woman during a jealous rage. The parole board recommended her release four times, but it was reversed by three different governors. The state Supreme Court cited “overwhelming” evidence that Lawrence was rehabilitated and therefore no longer dangerous.

Jennifer Shaffer, executive director of the State Board of Parole Hearings, says that decision changed everything. “As you can imagine, if their crime alone could keep them from being paroled forever then that was really not life with the possibility of parole. So there had to be something else,” she explains.


WELCOME NEWS: THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT OPENS FIRST COMMUNITY REENTRY CENTER

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department formally took a much welcome step in opening the county’s first Community Reentry and Resource Center, or CRRC, that is designed to help inmates make the crucial transition out of lock-up and back into life in their respective communities.

Christina Villacorte at the Daily News has more. Here’s a clip:

For the first time, jail inmates who have served their time can walk out of their cells and go straight into a one-stop shop for finding a place to live, staying sober and getting a job.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Thursday opened the first-ever Community Reentry and Resource Center at its jail complex in downtown Los Angeles.

“One of the challenges for newly released inmates is avoiding a return to drug use and crime,” Sheriff John Scott said during the grand opening ceremony. “It can be a difficult road — their families may not accept them, finding a job may be difficult, and old friends may be eager to support bad habits — and that often contributes to an offender’s return to criminal behavior and, ultimately, to jail.”

Scott said the CRRC, located at the lobby of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility across the street from Men’s Central Jail, would give newly released inmates a “better chance for a successful transition.”

“This is designed to give hope to people,” added Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

Read the rest here.

We look forward to giving you additional details once we’ve seen the CRRC for ourselves. But for now we are simply cheering this smart step by the sheriff’s department in helping combat offender recidivism.


A SHERIFF’S RACE LIKE NO OTHER (NO, REALLY!)

The LA Times Rob Greene explains why this particular 7-candidate race for LA County Sheriff is so unique.

Here’s a clip:

….We’re still digging to find a time when voters actually chose a new sheriff, with no incumbent or incumbent’s designee on the ballot.

You’d think this would be easy to nail down. But Los Angeles was so different then — before voters adopted the 1913 “home rule” charter, with its civil service protections and other progressive reforms. Candidates were anointed by political bosses and nominated at county party conventions instead of selected in primary elections. Sheriffs’ tenures were brief, deputies were openly hired and fired based on political support, and the sheriff was paid in part by the fees and fines he collected.

In the 1890s and the first decade of the 20th century, four men wrestled over the office — Cline, Hammel, John Burr and William White — along with their respective factions of job seekers and patrons. When Burr was elected in 1894, he went into hiding to avoid a throng of would-be deputies, and in so doing, he failed to show up at the proper time and place to take office. The job was declared vacant, and the Board of Supervisors ended up appointing him.

So when was the last time the choice was this wide open, with no incumbent and no front-runner, and with voters firmly in charge of who the next sheriff would be? In the era in which county politics were something we’d recognize today?…..


AND SPEAKING OF THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT….THE NEXT ANTHONY BROWN/OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE TRIAL BEGINS TUESDAY

On Tuesday, attorneys for the prosecution and for the defense in the second of two obstruction of justice trials, involving federally indicted members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, will deliver opening statements at 8 a.m. sharp Tuesday morning in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson.

Now that the trial of Deputy James Sexton resulted in a mistrial last week, with the jury split six-six down the middle, it will be interesting to see how Sexton’s case affects the way defense attorneys and prosecutors reposition their arguments, and retool their witness lists.

Just to remind you, this second trial involves six defendants: Lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith.

We’ll keep you up to date on what happens.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, guns, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, parole policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney | 5 Comments »

Pandora’s Box: the Sexton Obstruction of Justice Trial Continues, Tanaka Drops F-Bombs, Baca Unlikely to Testify

May 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday is Day Three of the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton,
who is charged with engaging in a conspiracy to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal law enforcement agents.

Day one consisted of jury selection and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. Then, on Wednesday, Day 2, the prosecution called its first four witnesses.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, is the youngest and the lowest ranking of seven who were indicted pertaining to the Brown matter. (His trial has been “severed” from the trial of the other six. That trial with multiple defendants will begin after Sexton’s case is completed.)

His defense team, led by former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, intends to show that, while he participated in the Brown matter, Sexton—at the time 26-years old and 3 years out of the sheriff’s academy—was following the orders from multiple layers of supervisors, most of whom have not been indicted.


SUDDEN CHANGE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY & TANAKA INVOLVEMENT

The prosecution, for its part, intends to show how Sexton and other department members conspired to keep Brown away from the reach of any federal agents.

In this regard, among the interesting points that arose in Day two, came in the testimony by two witnesses that, after investigators at the LASD figured out that Anthony Brown was a federal informant, the department suddenly changed its policy about how members of “outside law enforcement” could meet with or interview inmates.

Prior to the discovery that Brown was part of a covert FBI investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, FBI agents and others had only to sign in, show a picture ID, explained Sgt. Robert Bayes, who was, at the time of the Brown incident, working as an investigator in the jails. Afterward, any visit required a lengthy series of permissions and approvals

And, according to an internal LASD email admitted as evidence on Wednesday, when it came to Brown himself, any visit by federal agents had to be approved directly by then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Yet in a second email about the permission chain distributed more widely to department supervisors, Tanaka’s name was removed at his direction (according to another email), thereby masking the direct nature of his involvement in the hiding of Brown.

According to yet another LASD email distributed to the jury, permission to produce Brown for a writ of habeas corpus to appear in front of a federal grand jury must include the opinion of county counsel. However, the email specified—without apparent irony—that the county lawyer selected to be part of the permission process should be a particular man who conveniently happened to be on vacation for a month.

(There was also a lively moment in Bayes’ testimony when he described standing outside Tanaka’s office while his supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, briefed Tanaka about some part of Brown’s federal involvement. At one point in the meeting, according to Bayes, Tanaka expelled himself from his office with a loud and long series of f-bombs.)


FOR HIS OWN GOOD

The sheriff’s department official explanation for the hiding of Anthony Brown has always been that, once he was outed as an FBI informant, he needed to be hidden for his own good, so that no vengeful deputies would do him harm now that he’d been outed as a snitch.

Yet, in other emails entered into evidence and recordings played in court on Wednesday, various other high level department members, including then ICIB Captain, Tom Carey, and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, appeared to be involved in the direction of elaborate actions that were primarily designed to keep Anthony Brown away from any federal agents so that LASD team members could find out what he’d told the feds about wrongdoing in the jails.

Any possible danger from deputies was not mentioned, except on a couple of instances by Brown himself in a recording made when he was being questioned and expressed his reluctance to spill what he knew of deputy misconduct to the two deputies who were interviewing him.


AND WHERE IS SEXTON IN ALL THIS?

Interestingly, very little of the evidence presented on Wednesday pertained at all to the defendant, James Sexton. And when his name did come up in the testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, it was when Marx described some of what Sexton had told her and her colleagues about the Brown operation in the more than 30 meetings Sexton reportedly agreed to in order to provide information to the FBI and members of the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Among the things that Sexton told the FBI about the matter of hiding Anthony Brown, Marx testified, was that he had never heard of another instance when an inmate had been hidden from a law enforcement agency.

On Thursday the prosecution team—led by Assistant U.S Attorneys Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes—will continue with its witnesses.

When it is the defense’s turn, Sexton’s attorneys are expected to call Paul Tanaka, among others.

Although former sheriff Lee Baca is also on the defense witness list, we have learned that he is unlikely to be called.


FOR ADDITIONAL COVERAGE OF THE SEXTON TRIAL…. See ABC 7′s excellent rundowns on the first two days (here and here) and the smart report by KPCC’s Rina Palta. Plus the LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting story on the trial’s first day.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney | 14 Comments »

LAPD Wilshire Station Shooting, Debunking the “Superpredator,” Breaking the Cycle of Repeat Victimization…and More

April 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUNMAN OPENED FIRE IN LAPD WILSHIRE STATION, INJURED AN OFFICER

An LAPD officer was wounded in a shooting Monday night at the Wilshire station.

An unnamed gunman walked through the front doors and shot at two desk officers in the lobby. The officers returned fire and took down the gunman. One officer was shot seven times according to Chief Charlie Beck, but was saved by his vest and only sustained a shoulder wound. The gunman is in critical condition.

We’ll let you know as we know more. Our best wishes are with the officer and his family.

Jason Kandel, Andrew Blankstein and Beverly White have the story for NBC4. Here’s a clip:

A Los Angeles officer was shot and wounded by a gunman who walked into a police station lobby with “a complaint” and opened fire, officials said.

The officer, a seven-year veteran of the LAPD, was shot seven times – three times in the vest and four times in his extremities, officials said. He was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

“He is in great spirits,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said outside the hospital. “Remarkable young man. Very, very lucky.”

The gunman was taken to the hospital in critical condition, Kato said.

The violence broke out at 8:30 p.m. at the LAPD’s West Traffic Division, which is housed in the Wilshire Division, in the Mid-City area of LA.


HISTORY OF THE “SUPERPREDATOR” OF THE 90′S

In the early 90′s a wave of teen violence prompted some criminologists and political scientists to forecast the emergence of a new breed of children—”superpredators”—impulsive kids without compassion who would commit innumerable violent crimes.

Their fear-mongering was perpetuated by many news sources and politicians, and prompted a string of reactionary and harmful juvenile justice laws across the country.

But instead of a horde of “superpredator” children, Department of Justice data showed that the teenage violent crime rate actually dropped a whopping two-thirds from 1994 to 2011.

As part of the RetroReport documentary series, the NY times has a video (above) and story by Clyde Haberman about the rise and fall of the “superpredator” mania and its repercussions. Here’s how it opens:

As the police and prosecutors in Brooklyn tell it, Kahton Anderson boarded a bus on March 20, a .357 revolver at his side. For whatever reason — some gang grudge, apparently — he pulled out the gun and fired at his intended target. Only his aim was rotten. The bullet struck and killed a passenger who was minding his own business several rows ahead: Angel Rojas, a working stiff holding down two jobs to feed his family of four.

Not surprisingly, the shooter was charged with second-degree murder. Not insignificantly, prosecutors said he would be tried as an adult. Kahton is all of 14.

That very young people sometimes commit dreadful crimes is no revelation. Nor is the fact that gang members are to blame for a disproportionate amount of youth violence in American cities. But it is worth noting that in Kahton’s situation, no one in authority or in the news media invoked a certain word from the past with galvanic potential. That word is “superpredator.”

Had this Brooklyn killing taken place 20 years ago, odds are that some people would have seized on it as more evidence that America was being overwhelmed by waves of “superpredators,” feral youths devoid of impulse control or remorse.

Their numbers were predicted as ready to explode cataclysmically. Social scientists like James A. Fox, a criminologist, warned of “a blood bath of violence” that could soon wash over the land. That fear, verging on panic, is the subject of this week’s segment of Retro Report, a series of video documentaries that examine major news stories from years ago and explore what has happened since.

What happened with the superpredator jeremiads is that they proved to be nonsense. They were based on a notion that there would be hordes upon hordes of depraved teenagers resorting to unspeakable brutality, not tethered by conscience. No one in the mid-1990s promoted this theory with greater zeal, or with broader acceptance, than John J. DiIulio Jr., then a political scientist at Princeton. Chaos was upon us, Mr. DiIulio proclaimed back then in scholarly articles and television interviews. The demographics, he said, were inexorable. Politicians from both major parties, though more so on the right, picked up the cry. Many news organizations pounced on these sensational predictions and ran with them like a punt returner finding daylight.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the apocalypse. Instead of exploding, violence by children sharply declined. Murders committed by those ages 10 to 17 fell by roughly two-thirds from 1994 to 2011, according to statistics kept by the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Mugged by reality, a chastened Mr. DiIulio has offered a mea culpa. “Demography,” he says, “is not fate.” The trouble with his superpredator forecast, he told Retro Report, is that “once it was out there, there was no reeling it in.”


REDUCING REPEAT VICTIMIZATION IN CALIFORNIA

Many Californians who experience repeat victimizations do not take advantage of trauma services according to a new report by Heather Warnken of Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute of Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley (and commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice). Prolonged and repeated victimization can have long-term, serious psychological consequences.

The report calls for things like increased access to trauma services in spaces that are not justice-system affiliated, and building trust between communities and law enforcement with officer training.

Here are the report’s key findings and recommendations:

The report led to the following key findings:

Many repeat victims do not access trauma services.

Repeat victims who utilized services often accessed them much later – often for reasons other than the original crime.

The failure or inability of a survivor to report a crime to law enforcement can jeopardize their ability to access services.

The collateral consequences to survivors grow without effective services and stability.

The report recommends:

Increasing state support for a diversity of trauma-recovery services, including more options in communities and at venues unaffiliated with the justice system;

Building trust with law enforcement through training and other methods to address the perceived “empathy divide;”

Allowing for multi-disciplinary, trauma-informed first-response teams; and

Promoting resource and referral counseling, and access to job-support, transitional housing and other longer-term resources necessary for stabilization.

KPPC’s Rina Palta has more on the report.


THE PROBLEM WITH PUNISHING INDIVIDUALS FOR CRIMINAL JUSTICE FAILURES

Criminal justice errors are not uncommon: prosecutorial misconduct and coerced false confessions land innocent people behind bars, and preventable deaths and injuries can and do occur in jails and prisons.

Stephen Handelman, executive editor of the Crime Report, says that targeting and punishing the rogue prosecutor or the jail guard who neglected the medical needs of an inmate does not actually do anything to fix the system that allowed the error.

By using a system-based approach to prevent misdeeds—like medical field uses—real and lasting reform can occur. Here’s how it opens:

Who should be blamed when an innocent person goes to prison? Or when an inmate with un-addressed mental health problems commits suicide?

If you just looked at newspaper headlines, or listened to angry legislators or advocacy groups, the answers seem simple.

There’s usually some “bad apple” —an overzealous prosecutor or careless jail guard—to pin the blame on.

But the problem with simple answers is that they can be misleading.

Especially when catastrophic mistakes such as a lifetime spent in prison for a crime that you didn’t commit— or even comparatively minor injustices, such as an innocent suspect who pleads guilty for lack of a good attorney—seem to recur throughout our criminal justice system.

According to the National Registry of Exonerations, by the end of 2013, 1,272 individuals were freed from prison after being found innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

Some believe this represents only a small percentage of those wrongfully behind bars today, since this figure is the result of painstaking work by the still-small “innocence movement” and relates mostly to serious criminal charges, such as murder.

Are they right? To what extent are our overloaded and resource-strained courts, prisons and jails evidence of flaws in the administration of justice rather than crime rates?

It’s entirely possible that system errors and oversights are “destroying tens of thousands of lives every year,” suggests Dr. Lucian Leape of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Dr. Leape admits he’s no criminal justice expert, but he’s worth listening to.

A few decades earlier, Dr. Leape discovered that mistakes in surgical and hospital care, which inadvertently killed thousands of patients annually, were preventable by addressing systemic flaws rather than by focusing on the actions of individual doctors or nurses.

For instance, putting two different types of medicines in packages that look almost identical could cause a hurried, stressed surgeon to reach for the wrong package, with disastrous results for a patient.

“We make mistakes because we’re human,” says Leape. “But punishing errors won’t work, especially when they’re unintended. You’ve got to quit trying to change (people) and change the system.”

The work of Leape and others led to the creation of the National Patient Safety Foundation, which established a template for detecting and correcting the often-overlooked errors in procedure or lapses in judgment that produce fatal results.

Leape’s estimate of the impact of criminal justice system errors is based on his own experience of the similarly complex and occasionally dysfunctional U.S. medical system. But we don’t have to accept his judgment alone.

Last weekend, some of the nation’s leading criminal justice players and scholars came to much the same conclusion during a two-day conference organized by the Quattrone Center for the Fair Administration of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.

“If you limit yourself to going after the bad cop, the drunken sleepy lawyer, the corrupt judge, (you’re not affecting) the conditions that created them,” the conference was told by James Doyle, a Boston attorney who, as a recent National Institute of Justice (NIJ) fellow, helped spearhead a “systems approach” to correcting mistakes in justice.

Read on.


A QUICK RUNDOWN OF THE SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE ON SUNDAY NIGHT

Sunday night, Los Angeles Sheriff candidates (minus Bob Olmsted) squared off in the latest debate. Sheriff hopefuls discussed deputy cliques and “bad behavior.”

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has more on the debate. Here’s a clip:

Seeking to distance himself from the problems that led his former boss to resign, a candidate for Los Angeles County sheriff offered to roll up his pants and prove he does not have a tattoo.

Patrick Gomez’ offer at a debate in Pasadena on Sunday was followed by a challenge from the moderator to the other candidates — not necessarily to show skin but to say whether they had ever been members of a Sheriff’s Department clique.

Under former Sheriff Lee Baca, deputies allegedly formed cliques with names like “Grim Reaper” and “Regulators,” using tattoos to cement membership bonds. One clique, the “Jump Out Boys,” allegedly modified its tattoos to celebrate the shootings of suspects.

At Sunday’s debate, retired undersheriff Paul Tanaka admitted to having a tattoo from the Lynwood Vikings clique. When deputies first started acquiring ink in the 1980s, the tattoos were just that — tattoos, he said.

“Yes, I do have a tattoo. No, I never was part of a gang,” Tanaka said. “It did not become sinister until years later. If I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten a different tattoo.”

Todd Rogers, an assistant sheriff, said he was invited to join a clique and refused.

Deputies who were not members were “treated like second-class citizens,” said Rogers, who joined the department 29 years ago. “Anybody who denies it is living in fantasyland, and I don’t mean the one at Disneyland.”

The next debate will be tonight (Tuesday) at Loyola Marymount University. (More info here.)

Posted in criminal justice, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, psychology, Trauma, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

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