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Protecting Trafficked Foster Kids…Without Legal Representation…Splitting Detained Immigrant Moms from Kids…Sonoma Explores Law Enforcement Oversight

May 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISORS APPROVE PLANNING HIGH-SECURITY RESIDENCE FOR TRAFFICKED FOSTER KIDS

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors advanced with a plan to build a residential facility for foster kids who are at risk of being trafficked by pimps.

Over the last few years, the county has moved away from criminalizing and incarcerating sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and placing them in foster homes. While this is a big step in the right direction, placing trafficked kids into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors is not always enough. Sometimes young girls run back to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Supervisors and the head of the Dept. of Children and Family Services have butted heads on this complex issue for months. The current model is not keeping the trafficked kids safe from exploitation, and yet, confining the foster kids in their homes is not much different than incarcerating them, and pimps have their claws in juvenile detention facilities, says Supe. Sheila Kuehl.

The new high-security live-in facility will be built to keep pimps out, while still allowing foster kids to come and go. The Supes have set a three-month planning period, during which time more than a dozen county departments and agencies will work together toward finding a design that will keep kids safe.

(Read the backstory: here.)

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

“If they really want to leave, they can leave, but we want to discourage it by giving them a real opportunity to heal,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said in an interview.

Supervisor Don Knabe, who advocated for a locked facility, cited a recent case of an 11-year-old girl who recently left a foster care group home to return to her pimp and work at an event where men paid to have sex with her.

Knabe’s spokeswoman, Cheryl Burnett, said he “is pleased that we are moving forward, but he remains frustrated that he continues to hear that our ability to protect these girls is limited.”

County staffers are analyzing available public and private facilities as a site for the new center. Possibilities include rehabilitating the closed MacLaren Children’s Center in El Monte or one of the probation juvenile detention camps.

The supervisors established a three-month deadline for a detailed plan.


WHY PEOPLE CHARGED WITH MISDEMEANORS SO OFTEN GO WITHOUT LEGAL REPRESENTATION

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll has an informative run-down on the reasons people go to jail every day in the US for misdemeanor offenses without ever speaking to a lawyer, in violation of their constitutional right to legal representation. Carroll also sheds light on why these widespread constitutional breaches have been left unchecked for so many years.

One of the reasons defendants go without representation is prosecutor interference:

Following their arrest, most people are brought to a police station or detention center for processing. At some point thereafter the defendant is likely brought before a judicial officer to determine whether or not he should be released pending further court action. In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the right to counsel attaches the first time a defendant is brought before a judge or magistrate. From that point forward, a court cannot proceed with a critical stage of the case without offering counsel to the poor defendant. (The 6AC wrote a whole report on these requirements, available here.)

Despite this, prosecutors often interfere with that right to counsel process. If the defendant is out of jail pre-trial he may be required to meet with a prosecutor before getting his constitutionally guaranteed lawyer, or more likely, enter a guilty plea without ever getting that lawyer at all. For example, a Sixth Amendment Center report details how one misdemeanor court in Delaware asks defendants appearing for arraignment to wait in one of two lines based alphabetically on last name. After standing in line, the first person a defendant encounters is not a public defender, but a prosecutor seeking to make a plea deal. On an average day during out site visits, these two lines totaled approximately 200 individuals. Not surprisingly, more than 75 percent of misdemeanor defendants in Delaware proceed through the Court of Common Pleas without ever having spoken to a lawyer.

And many municipalities and states, California included, do not employ tracking systems to compile data on whether the Sixth Amendment and the Fourteenth Amendment are being carried out:

In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Supreme Court made the provision of indigent defense services a state obligation through the Fourteenth Amendment. Though it is not believed to be unconstitutional for a state to delegate its constitutional responsibilities to its counties and cities, in doing so the state must guarantee that local governments are not only capable of providing adequate rep­resentation, but that they are in fact doing so. A number of states have no institutional presence to begin to assess whether its constitutional obligations under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments are being met at the local level, including: Arizona, California, Illinois, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and Washington.


FEDS RESPONSE TO RULING AGAINST LOCKING IMMIGRANT KIDS AND MOMS IN UNLICENSED FACILITIES: THEN WE WILL SPLIT UP THE KIDS AND MOMS

Late last month, a US District Judge in CA, Dolly Gee, issued a tentative ruling against detaining immigrant kids and their mothers in unlicensed facilities, and against locking up kids and an accompanying parent unless they pose a safety or flight risk.

The US Dept. of Justice says that if the three unlicensed facilities get shut down, it will mean separating mothers and their children when the moms are deemed a flight risk. There are more than 1,000 women and children incarcerated betweem the three facilities, most of whom say they crossed the border fleeing gang violence in Central America.

Attorneys for the immigrant families and the DOJ have until May 24 to agree on a solution before Judge Gee makes a final decision.

McClatchy’s Franco Ordonez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Federal attorneys acknowledged the family detention system could collapse if the ruling stands. Leon Fresco, a deputy assistant attorney general, warned the court that such a ruling would actually encourage separation of parents and children and turn minors into “de facto unaccompanied children.”

“This isn’t a situation where we want to detain the mother. These are situations where we have to detain the mother, your honor,” Fresco told the court.

The practice of family detention has reached a tipping point. Multiple lawsuits against family detention have been filed in California, Texas and the District of Columbia. Advocates for the mothers say it’s unlawful to detain children with their parents in jail-like facilities.

The government has dug in its heels, arguing that it needs greater flexibility when detaining parents who are considered a flight risk but also that it needs to send a strong message to Central America that it’s not OK to cross the border illegally.

[SNIP]

The government argued the agreement didn’t take into account family detention, which didn’t begin until 2001. Fresco told the court that the government needed greater flexibility if the parent is considered a flight risk or if the officials think it’s safer to have the children with the parent.

He said he worried that if officials separated families, smugglers would seize the opportunity and take advantage of young migrants, pretending to be children’s parents in order to avoid being detained.

“The outcome of this is going to be to separate families, create uncertainty where we don’t have uncertainty now and to endanger children,” Fresco said, according to the transcript.


SONOMA COUNTY SERIOUSLY CONSIDERS LAW ENFORCEMENT OVERSIGHT AFTER 13-YEAR-OLD IS KILLED

In late 2013, a Sonoma County deputy fatally shot thirteen-year-old Andy Lopez who was holding a pellet gun that the officer mistook for an assault rifle. Andy’s death spurred lawmakers to reintroducing legislation that would require all fake firearms to be produced in bright colors.

Now, the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors is moving toward creating an Office of Independent Auditor to look into officer-involved shootings and complaints about the sheriff’s department and the probation department. The Auditor would also act as a community liaison. The Supes set a June 16 deadline for job descriptions and budget for the Independent Auditor’s Office.

The Santa Rosa Press-Democrat has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We need to turn this around fast,” Supervisor Shirlee Zane said. “It’s going to cost some money; it’s got to go into this budget.”

The auditor’s office was the central and most ambitious recommendation in a package of proposals made by a county-appointed panel studying community relations with law enforcement agencies in the aftermath of Andy Lopez’s October 2013 shooting death.

The 21 recommendations, put forward by the Community and Local Law Enforcement Task Force, cover a sweeping set of ideas — from boosting mural projects to improving student mental health services.

But of all the recommendations, the independent body overseeing law enforcement generated the most study and public debate. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors dedicated the bulk of its hearing — its first on the entire set of proposals from the task force — to the oversight office.

Board Chairwoman Susan Gorin called Lopez’s death “a tragedy which is still tearing us apart” before supervisors voiced their support for advancing the auditor proposal. They said they would need more time to evaluate the other 20 proposals.

Posted in DCFS, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement, Prosecutors | No Comments »

LA’s Crossover Kids Desperately Need Our Help, Says a New Report. So Here’s What One Non-Profit is Doing About It – by Christie Renick

May 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:   
Earlier this month, the Los Angeles County supervisors received a new report detailing how the county’s “crossover youth” had fared in 2014.

Crossover youth, as we’ve mentioned in past stories (two of which you can read here and here) are kids who have come in contact with both the county’s foster care system and its juvenile justice system.

The board-requested report is a rigorously data-driven examination by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz and her team that assesses how these crossover kids are doing in terms of school, mental and emotional health, their living situations and the like, and the numbers are not cheering.

For instance, the average crossover kid’s family had been referred to the child welfare system 10.3 times. Their average time in the system was 4.5 years.

Of the crossover girls, 10 percent fell into the category of sexually exploited.

Only 2/3 of the crossover kids were enrolled in school although nearly all were required by a judge to attend. Of those 2/3 who were enrolled, only 1/5 were attending with any regularity. Still fewer were doing well, or even “average,” the report found. In fact, the county could only find complete school records for 3.7 percent of the crossovers. For the rest, officials only managed to track down partial records—or no records at all.

When it came to mental and emotional health, 75 percent had a mental health diagnosis and were assigned some kind of treatment, although the report specified that the researchers had no data that told them if the treatment was appropriate or at all effective. In many cases, the kids had not been “able to access the services” anyway.

Over a quarter of the kids, or 27.4 percent, were put on psychotropic drugs. Yet, as with the other forms of treatment, the report could not get data to determine whether the drugs were either appropriate or effective for the kids taking them.

The Herz report has lots more, but the bottom line is simple: crossover kids face a scarily long list of challenges—more even than those faced by youth who are in either foster care or the juvenile probation system alone. Yet because they don’t belong wholly to either of the two systems, the crossovers seem to get the least oversight, instruction, guidance or consistent care.

That’s where the story below by Christie Renick comes in.

So read on.


This story was produced by the Chronicle of Social Change with participation by WitnessLA.


CATCHING THE CROSSOVERS

For years LA County’s crossover youth routinely fell through the crack between the foster care and juvenile justice systems.  But now one non-profit has stepped up to catch them. 

by Christie Renick



“NO ONE IS IN CHARGE OF MAKING SURE THEY GET THE HELP THEY NEED”

On paper, the profile of young people caught up in both the juvenile justice and foster care systems in Los Angeles County is disheartening.

“Crossover youth,” as they are referred to, are likely to have experienced abuse or neglect, to have been arrested for a violent or threat-related offense while living in a group home, and to have substance abuse and mental health issues. In theory, dual-system involvement should mean these young people get twice as much attention and twice as many services.

But dependency attorneys and researchers are finding that, although these young people need the most help, they frequently fall victim to a game of policy hot potato, with each system assuming the other is responsible for assistance.

One Los Angeles-based law firm is working to change that on the ground, while in Sacramento legislators are amending a bill that will make it easier for crossover youth to access the benefits of extended foster care.

Children’s Law Center of California, the nonprofit law firm that represents all children in foster care in Los Angeles and Sacramento Counties, launched a grant-funded Crossover Advocacy and Resource Effort (CARE) pilot program in 2014 to make sure crossover kids get the services they need.

“Everyone just wants to point fingers at everyone else,” said Barbara Duey, a supervising attorney at CLC who led the creation of the CARE Unit. “These kids fall through the cracks.”

Last fall, a 16 year-old Los Angeles County crossover youth we’ll call Jake was moved from a foster home across town to a new foster home and a new school.

The new school would not enroll Jake, so he spent the next four months out of the education system. And despite the fact that attending school was a condition of his probation, Jake’s probation officer did not intervene.

“The social worker and the probation officers didn’t even know,” Duey said. “Had we not been involved, he would have been in violation of his probation because he wasn’t in school.”

Foster youth drop out of high school at a rate three times higher than that of their peers in the general population, according to The Invisible Achievement Gap report released in 2013. Only 40 percent of L.A.’s crossover youth enroll in any type of college, and a much smaller number actually complete degrees, according to the 2011 adult outcomes study by Dennis Culhane of the University of Pennsylvania.

In a 2005 study examining the relationship between placement instability and juvenile delinquency, Joseph Ryan of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that delinquency rates for youth with a substantiated report of maltreatment in their past were 47 percent higher than those without reports.

In 2008, Ryan partnered with Denise Herz from California State University, Los Angeles, to analyze data from Los Angeles County’s Superior Court and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to better understand the characteristics and outcomes of crossover kids in Los Angeles.

Herz’s team at Cal State-L.A. is now assisting with the evaluation of the CARE Unit. Herz has also been tapped by the county to track service referrals and outcomes for crossover youth. The findings so far mirror what Herz and Ryan found years earlier. In her preliminary report to the county’s board of supervisors in 2014, Herz found that almost all the youth monitored had mental health or substance abuse issues, and two-thirds of the group struggled with both conditions.

The most recent report confirmed the earlier findings, and also showed that African-American youth are even more over-represented within the crossover system than in the child welfare or juvenile justice systems individually. There are more females in L.A.’s crossover population (about 35 percent) than in the juvenile justice system as a whole (where females make up only about 20 percent of the population).

As might be predicted, the report found that crossover youth and their families have had multiple contacts with child welfare. These kids tend to stay in the system for about five years.

The creation of CLC’s CARE Unit was driven by Herz’s and Ryan’s research.

“When we built this program, we’d been working with Dr. Herz, and we found out that no one was tracking how many crossover kids were getting services,” Duey said.

Culhane’s study showed that among systems-involved youth in L.A. County, crossover kids were more likely to receive services than child welfare or probation-involved youth, but this does not mean crossover youth are getting the right services when they need them most.


WHERE SYSTEMS CONVERGE

When California legislators passed Assembly Bill 129 back in 2004, counties were given permission – but not a mandate – to create a “dual-jurisdiction protocol” under which a youth may receive services from both the dependency and the delinquency systems.

Today, only 15 of 58 counties in California, including Los Angeles County, have put such a protocol into practice. In L.A., this means agencies are tasked with pulling together the various players who are called upon to intervene on the youth’s behalf: DCFS, the Department of Mental Health, Probation, and Children’s Law Center among others.

The CARE Unit strives to augment these multidisciplinary teams. Its approach pairs CLC’s investigators with social work interns who are then assigned to crossover youth cases.

These caseworkers immediately establish relationships with the youth, the DCFS social worker and the probation officer. They gather information about the young person that the social worker and probation officer may not be monitoring, and they present it to judges on the youth’s behalf. CLC also pulls in its internal mental health advocacy team when a youth has complex mental health issues.

The CARE unit currently works with 25 crossover kids, four of whom are pregnant or have had a child and are now parents. CARE caseworkers meet with each youth in person on a weekly basis for the first month, and then in-person visits are tapered down to every other week with phone calls on the off-weeks.

“We decided to focus on this issue and these kids who are the highest risk kids with the highest level of needs,” Duey said. “No one is in charge of making sure they get the help that they need.”

The CARE unit’s initial evaluation cites the example of Jane*, a 15 year-old in juvenile hall for petty theft who had issues getting her prescription medication and enrolling in school. CARE staff stepped in and worked with Jane’s attorney to have her placement changed, her DCFS social worker to have her medication issue addressed, and with education and delinquency attorneys to resolve the conflicting court orders that were preventing her from enrolling in school.

As it should, the evaluation of the CARE unit’s efforts so far depicts a picture of its crossover clients that is strikingly similar to what Herz and later Culhane found in looking at the county’s larger crossover population. More than 50 percent of the youth are African-American and came under DCFS’ supervision due to neglect. Two-thirds have a mental health diagnosis (such as ADHD, depressive disorder, mood disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, or PTSD), and 80 percent of youth had a substance use problem at the time of referral.

The CARE unit’s main grant from The Center for Juvenile Justice Reform at Georgetown University will run out next winter. It will be evaluated for a new grant, but such funds are never guaranteed.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE CROSSOVERS CROSS INTO ADULTHOOD?

Not surprisingly, the problem of lack of coordination between agencies often affects crossover youth after they turn 18.

Children’s Law Center attorney Lindsay Elliott oversees a program that hires and trains former foster youth, called peer advocates, to act as liaisons to other foster youth who may not know about the ways extended foster care can help them become more independent.

CLC’s peer advocates attend dependency court hearings where they connect with foster youth, face to face, and they spend hours on the phone reaching out to teens who have had their cases recently closed, or may be on the verge of that happening.

Despite the peer advocates’ keen sense of what foster care youth go through, they don’t always pick up on the fact that a young person is dually involved right away.

“Sometimes it can take a while before we find out other stuff is going on,” said Miranda Sheffield, a peer advocate who is now 28 and working full-time for CLC while raising a daughter.

For example, Sheffield worked with a young woman who had been in juvenile hall for two years, was released on probation, and then picked up on a shoplifting charge. The girl, who was pregnant at the time and had outstanding community service hours, resisted going to court or interacting with probation out of fear that she would be arrested and end up having her baby in jail.

But with help from the peer advocates and an experienced investigator, she was able to avoid jail time and remain in her transitional housing program.

“What helped this youth was this constant reminder that, ‘I really want to help you.’ That we’re here,” Sheffield said.


LEGISLATION BRIDGES SOME GAPS

In 2012, legislators passed Assembly Bill 12, which extended foster care benefits from age 18 to 21.

The law was intended mostly for youth aging out of foster care, but included a wrinkle for juveniles on probation. Under AB 12, kids who turned 18 on probation could access foster care if probation deemed their living situation neglectful, abusive or unsafe.

Los Angeles County’s Probation Department oversees about 200 crossover youth who are benefiting from extended foster care, according to Jed Minoff, a probation director.

Minoff also sits on the Los Angeles County AB 12 Steering Committee, which includes representatives from probation, the Department of Children and Family Services, CLC, and advocates and service providers across the county.

“We’re all around the table trying to do what we do better, and I have to take a serious look at my own program and say, ‘Are we doing the best that we can do for this population?’” Minoff said.

When asked about how LA County compares to other counties in terms of probation’s involvement with extended foster care for crossover youth, Minoff became more optimistic.

“This is not based on data, but I think L.A. County is very often at the forefront,” he said. “Back when AB 12 was first being implemented in Sacramento, I was the only probation representative sitting at the table.”

The uneven nature of how county probation departments administer AB 12 benefits was explored in a recent CSC/WLA story, with Contra Costa County and San Francisco County employing different strategies.

Although the results of a study meant to measure the impact of extended foster care in California have yet to be released, early data and anecdotal evidence from crossover kids in Los Angeles suggest that the efforts made by Children’s Law Center and the multidisciplinary teams may be making a difference.

In February, Children’s Law Center received a handwritten letter from a young woman named Monica* whose case was handled in part by Duey and her team:

“Because of the diligence that [my team] showed in working out resources that would benefit me, I felt cared for, which frequently encouraged me to care for myself,” Monica wrote.

Senate Bill 12, the legislation that is intended to make it easier for crossover youth to receive the benefits of extended foster care, is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee as early as May 11.

*Names have been changed.

Christie Renick is Managing Editor for Fostering Media Connections.

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

DCFS Likely Never Distributed $571,000 in MTA Passes Needed by LA’s Foster Kids Says Report

May 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


THE VANISHING MTA PASSES

In an audit released Friday afternoon, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office revealed that, in a four month period, at least $160,000 word of MTA passes and/or tokens—and very probably $571,000 worth of those same passes/tokens—were never given out to the foster kids who urgently need them.

Here’s the deal: The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—AKA foster care—provides transit passes or tokens to eligible foster youth who need to use public transportation in order to get to school, counseling sessions, family visitations, and and other required activities.

Transit passes/tokens are, as you might imagine, considered cash equivalents thus, as the auditor controller’s report put it, “should be safeguarded in the same manner as cash to prevent theft or misuse.”

And just give you an idea of the kind of “cash equivalents” we’re talking about, in FY 2012-2013, DCFS gave out approximately $12 million in passes.

With the above in mind, the A-C reviewed DCFS’s pass/token policy and record keeping, starting in FY 2014-2015, to make sure that the chronically troubled agency was safeguarding its inventory of passes and—even more importantly—to determine if the passes and tokens were getting to the kids who depend on them.

The results were not cheering.

We verified that during a four-month period, DCFS regional offices never distributed 1,906 transit passes valued at $160,000. We also reviewed MTA usage records for the same four months and noted that an additional 4,818 transit passes valued at $411,000 may have expired without being used. Based on our findings throughout this review, it is unlikely that all 4,818 of the transit passes were distributed to clients.


“MISAPPROPRIATED” WITHOUT DETECTION??

So what happened to the half-million $$ in passes that appear to never have been used in that four month period?

And are there more discrepancies where those came from?

Despite much looking into the matter, the auditor-controller’s office ultimately wasn’t sure. The report points to finding “critical internal controls and recordkeeping which could result in County funds being misappropriated without detection.”

To try to get to the bottom of the issue of the non-used passes, the A-C referred its concerns to its investigative arm, the Office of County investigations, or OCI—hoping that the sleuths could determine if the passes were stolen, lost, or just stuck in drawers and forgotten about. But because of DCFS’s sloppiness in record keeping, the investigators reportedly found themselves stymied.

Due to the lack of accountability and poor internal controls, OCI was unable to conclude whether County funds were misappropriated.”

Great.


SO WHERE DID THE PASSES AND TOKENS GO?

When the investigators visited 7 local DCFS offices and interviewed samplings of social workers, they found that 90 percent of the MSWs they interviewed kept the passes and tokens (that are, remember, the equivalent of cash) in unlocked desk draws, in overhead cabinets, unsecured in their purses, and like locations. In the case in one office, 38 of the things—all unused, and worth a total of $2,300—were sitting in the employee’s inbox in full view of anybody who strolled by.

Worse, when asked to produce the most recent monthly passes/tokens the workers had been issued, 30 percent of the 20 interviewed, couldn’t locate or account for all the tokens they had received.

In addition to the physical carelessness with the passes and tokens themselves, the A-C reported that, due to the shockingly bad record keeping maintained by regional offices, there was no way to know if small or large numbers of passes and tokens were vanishing regularly.

Regional offices do not maintain perpetual inventory records, and do not accurately complete reconciliation forms – None of the seven regional offices we visited maintain perpetual inventory records of transit passes/tokens. The regional offices also do not conduct monthly physical inventory counts, as required, or accurately complete monthly reconciliations. For example, one office’s reconciliation showed an ending balance of 6,452 tokens, but their beginning balance for the following month was 2,972 tokens. Regional office staff could not explain this discrepancy.


PASSES? WHAT PASSES?

When the passes actually were theoretically given out to foster kids, they were not necessarily given to the right people, or in a timely fashion. In some cases, they were simply not given out at all. And records of who got what were either sloppy or nonexistent.

For instance, in a random sampling of 65 kids who were marked as having to gotten passes/tokens, 20 percent reported to investigators they “did not receive any or all of the transit passes/tokens.”

In one instance, the guardian of a kid indicated that the child in his/her care had not received any of the required transit passes for six months. When confronted by this, the social worker “subsequently admitted that he had given the child’s transit passes to other clients. He could not recall who actually received the passes, but he claimed that he did not ‘keep or sell them.’”

Never mind that, for a kid to be issued the monthly passes/tokens, the distribution must be justified with a court order or case plan.

Out of the sampling, another 20 percent of the kids who had requested monthly passes got the passes, but “an average of 14 days afterthe month began, even though the requests had been submitted at or before the beginning of the month.”

And then there was the case of the social worker who had a form signed by the “client,” indicating that he or she had gotten the monthly passes when, in fact, the passes were still sitting on the MSW’s desk.

(And what sanctions have been levied against these people? Or never mind. Forget we asked.)


THE DOG ATE OUR ABILITY TO DISTRIBUTE MTA PASSES

The report also includes the response from DCFS, which—while no doubt well meaning—feels full of excuses.

For instance, among its plans to solve this lovely mess the department intends to reissue the rules and regulations around the passes, and institute—what else?—new rounds of training.

ln September 2014, the Department began working with the Auditor-Controller’s OCI Division to coordinate training for nearly 250 DCFS management supervisory level staff regarding Fraud Awareness. Training commenced on January 14,2015, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2015…..

And so on. There’s more if you wish to read it. But the above is representative.

From sources close to the board of supervisors we have heard that the Supes are really.., really not happy with all this nonsense.

Good.

Laissez les têtes tomber.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 3 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

LA to Get a Conviction Integrity Unit, LA’s Judge Michael Nash is Back, Bridging the Gap Between Homelessness and Employment, and Crime Victims

April 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY DA JACKIE LACEY TO LAUNCH UNIT TO HUNT FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is establishing a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The team will consist of three prosecutors, a senior investigator, and a paralegal. DA Lacey has asked the Board of Supervisors for around $1 million in funding.

(Read about conviction integrity units elsewhere in the US: here and here.)

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the new unit. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he expects that a new conviction review unit would particularly help people of color, who he said are wrongfully convicted at disproportionately high rates.

“It sends the message to law enforcement officers that trumped-up charges will not work,” he said. “It’s another dimension of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, which I think is sorely needed.”

The units have already had an effect in other places in California.

On Wednesday, at the request of the Ventura County district attorney’s office, a judge dismissed a murder case against Michael Ray Hanline, who was convicted in 1980. The office said it made the request after an investigation by its conviction integrity unit, along with the California Innocence Project, which turned up new evidence casting doubt on Hanline’s guilt.

[SNIP]

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said that setting up a unit won’t necessarily translate into meaningful change or exonerations.

“There are lots of people who can say, ‘Oh gee, I have a conviction integrity unit,’ because that’s now the necessary fashion accessory,” he said.

To be successful, Scheck said, Los Angeles County should search for someone with “a different way of looking at the cases” —- like a former defense attorney — to lead the unit. The other key, he said, is fostering robust relationships between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which neither side expects to be “sandbagged.”

“It’s no longer an adversarial relationship,” he said. “It’s a joint search for the truth.”


FORMER HEAD OF LA JUVIE COURT, JUDGE MICHAEL NASH, OUT OF RETIREMENT AND INTO DELINQUENCY COURT

Judge Michael Nash retired in January after serving for nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Fortunately, he did not remain retired for long. Judge Nash is back, and working as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and the Department of Children and Family Services, here.)

Holden Slattery interviews Nash for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Nash discusses the differences (and commonalities) between delinquency and dependency courts, and the kids he strives to protect. Here’s a clip:

He had shown interest in taking a lead as the county’s Director of Child Protection, a new office created after recommendations by a blue ribbon commission established to overhaul L.A.’s child protection system. But when the Board of Supervisors dithered on hiring him, he recalibrated his sights.

For a couple of months, he enjoyed relaxing at home with his puppy, doing projects, and watching TV shows that had never fit his schedule in years past.

But Nash wanted more than a cozy seat on the couch. He applied for California’s Assigned Judges Program, which assigns retired judges to benches where they are needed. Nash was appointed to the Juvenile Court in Compton. He now sits in Judge Donna Groman’s courtroom on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while Groman does administrative work.

As presiding judge, Nash was responsible for all of the delinquency courts and dependency courts in Los Angeles County—more than 40 courtrooms in total. In delinquency courts such as Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, a judge determines whether children have broken laws and takes corrective action. In dependency courts, a judge decides whether children have been victims of maltreatment. Before being elected as presiding judge, Nash worked in a dependency court. This is his first time working on the delinquency side of the county’s vast judicial system for minors.

“This is a new experience for me, and it’s great,” Nash says in Groman’s office during a break. “This court is really a hybrid between two systems.”

“On the front end of this process, it’s like a criminal court because kids are charged with crimes and you have to deal with that. But once you get to resolve that issue, it’s the same thing we do on the dependency side. We have to work with these kids and their families to ensure that they’re in stable settings and getting the services they need to become productive members of the community.”


LA TRADE TECH PROGRAM COMBATS SOUTH LA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, HELPS THOSE IN NEED LAND JOBS

Los Angeles Trade Tech’s nonprofit WorkSource Center, which opened in November, makes finding work an attainable goal for low-income men and women in the eastern part of South LA, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the state average. The center serves as a hub, providing everything from employment training and job fairs, to work clothes and tools, and connecting participants to housing assistance and other indispensable services.

The program runs on a $1.1 million grant from the City of Los Angeles.

KPCC’s Brian Watt has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Job seekers take online classes, and complete resumes and job applications at the center’s computer terminals. Private meeting rooms are available for job interviews. The center will host a job fair on May 7.

Carlon Manuel, who works at the WorkSource center, said many of the people who come for help are homeless and hungry.

“We can help them find housing, food banks, rental assistance,” Manuel said, standing in a large closet full of donated suits, ties, dress shoes and business-casual sweaters. “We can give you everything but underwear and a T-shirt and socks. The underwear, T-shirts and socks you work on your own.”

Manuel’s colleague, John Wilson, added: “We’ve put gas in someone’s car so they could get to an interview.”

On a recent Thursday, Manuel, Wilson and other staffers at the center helped a group of men sign up for a construction apprenticeship program. Some were military veterans. Others were what Manuel called “veterans of the streets,” who were referred to the center by representatives at Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that helps current and former gang members.

Applications and training are the first steps for job seekers. As they near the end of that process, and are at the cusp of getting hired, other needs can get in the way. Construction work might require tools and boots that the employer doesn’t pay for. The same goes for culinary knives for line cooks in restaurants. If the aspiring worker doesn’t have the cash to cover those items, the center tries to find a way.


CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS WEEK: POLICE WIDOW AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO VICTIM SERVICES

In the summer of 2005, Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband, Dan, was talking with three drunken young men outside of an apartment building when one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dionne Wilson explains how her husband’s murder led her to become a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Wilson says that while she received excellent support as a victim of crime, her experience did not fall within the norm. Not all crime survivors are treated the same by the criminal justice system, and many do not have easy access to support and resources. Wilson helped secure funds for one-stop-shop trauma recovery centers in California to combat these problems. Currently, there are just three centers in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Wilson says more are needed, and lauds the allocation of anticipated Prop 47 funds for future trauma recovery centers.

Here’s a clip:

Responding to a minor disturbance outside an apartment complex, Dan spoke with some young, very intoxicated men. One man, who had been in jail for drugs and feared a return trip, drew his gun and shot Dan. The man was caught, convicted and received the death penalty. But the healing I expected did not come. I was angry, depressed and broken.

As a police widow, I had all the support you could want: Friends brought me food, Dan’s colleagues helped me navigate the justice system and everyone always saw me as a victim. Without this support, I would not have made it.

However, the entire experience led me to view the system itself as broken…

This endless cycle of incarceration is largely driven by mental health and drug addiction issues that continue to be punished instead of healed. This is exactly what happened with the man who shot my husband.

The current approach is not working; it’s expensive and not making us safer. This realization led me to work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network whose members were in Sacramento on Monday and Tuesday to call for new priorities that better aid survivors.

For example, the support I received after Dan’s death is the exception, not the rule. After meeting with survivors, I realize that the justice system does not respond to victims equally. Equally troubling is that a vast majority of crime survivors don’t know about, or have access to, services for victims.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

Crucial Bill to Give More Crossover Kids a Chance at Extended Foster Care Benefits Passes Out of Committee

April 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday of this week, a bill was passed out of committee
that, if passed by the full California legislature, would offer extended foster care benefits to groups of what are known as “crossover youth”—kids affected by both the juvenile justice and the foster care systems. An earlier bill (AB 12), that passed in 2010, gave many crossover youth the crucial three-years of extra help that research has shown can dramatically improve outcomes for kids as they begin to navigate adulthood without the help of stable families. But, due to quirks in the law, still other crossover youth were excluded from receiving the all-important extended benefits.

The new bill, SB 12, which was introduced by Sen. Jim Beale (D),, was the focus of a recent story by Daniel Heimpel, that was co-published by WitnessLA and the Chronicle of Social Change. The story, called Who is Watching Out for Angel, told of a now 20-year-old young woman who entered the foster care system through the doorway of juvenile probation when she was arrested following a fight with her mother, after years of reported abuse at home.

While Angel now hopes to qualify for extended care, the need for the bill was made particularly clear by two earlier stories written by Brian Rinker (here and here) for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Rinker wrote of three brothers who entered foster care together but were immediately split up, and each sent to different placements. Due a variety of circumstances, only the youngest brother, Joseph Bakhi, was eligible for extended care, while his two older brothers, Terrick and Matt, were not. The outcomes for each of the three brothers differed dramatically. Joseph attended UC Berkeley with scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth. In contrast, the other two brothers—Terrick and Matt—had no support after turning 18, either from family or from the state, and faced constant struggle, were at times homeless, and began battling with drug addition.

On Tuesday, Joseph Bakhi attended the committee hearing in support of his brother Terrick, who was hit particularly hard by the lack of support after he turned 18.

“I am a proud recipient of AB 12,” Joseph told Chronicle of Social Change reporter Sawssan Morrar. “And with assistance like this I could only imagine the difference in Terrick’s outcome. Issues like these are prevented by AB 12 and other resources, but the criteria to receive them are exclusive to kids that fall under dependency status.”

We will be following the progress of SB 12, as it makes its way through the legislative process.


Photo by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

LA County’s Proposed Budget…Feds Investigate SF Jail Abuse Allegations…CA Bill to Reduce Drivers License Suspensions…and Criminal Justice Questions for Presidential Candidates

April 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S REFORM-MINDED BUDGET PROPOSAL ALLOCATES MORE $$ TO MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION, JAIL SERVICES, FOSTER CARE

In a press conference Monday morning, the office of LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai released the 2015-16 budget proposal.

A spokesman for the CEO emphasized that the new budget is focused on “major programatic reforms, with new positions and funding” going toward “improvements in the criminal justice system, child protection, and improvements in health care delivery.”

Out of $26,923 billion, only an additional 10.2 million is going to mental health diversion, but it’s a big step in the right direction. In June, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is expected to present to the Board of Supervisors her task force’s report on creating a comprehensive mental health diversion plan for the county.

An even larger step is the $66.9 million to fund 542 additional child protection positions, in order to lighten social workers’ cases loads, a crucial move in the name of child safety. Over-stressed social workers are more likely to miss things.

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the proposed budget “provides critically needed resources to support ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to ensure the compassionate treatment of inmates in the nation’s largest jail system, while also continuing to develop smarter justice system approaches to those in our community suffering from mental illness.”

Public budget hearings are slated to begin in mid-May.

The LA County Supervisors are also scheduled to vote today on a motion to institute some additional oversight for probation in the form of an audit.


FBI JOINS THE GROUP OF AGENCIES PROBING REPORTS OF SF DEPUTIES FORCING INMATES TO FIGHT AND BETTING ON THEM

The FBI has initiated an investigation into allegations that four San Francisco deputies forced jail inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. SF District Attorney George Gascon, the SF Police Department, and the sheriff’s department have also launched investigations into the matter. (WLA will continue to track this story.)

KQED’s Alex Emslie has the updated story. Here are some clips:

The four deputies named at the center of an independent investigation initiated by [San Francisco Public Defender] Jeff Adachi remain on paid leave, [SF Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said. Their names are Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely. The law firm representing the deputies did not return a call seeking comment.

The federal inquiry officially started April 3. Special Agent Greg Wuthrich said the FBI investigation is at a very early stage.

“Civil rights allegations are definitely huge for the bureau,” Wuthrich said. “These kind of things, we take very seriously.”

[SNIP]

Adachi said in a statement that he is pleased with the FBI’s involvement and commended Mirkarimi for taking the unusual step of inviting the federal probe.

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty,” Adachi said. “I look forward to a thorough and fair investigation that includes determining whether additional deputies were aware of the abuse and complicit in their silence. To ensure this never happens again, there must be accountability — not only for the perpetrators, but for those who fail to speak up.”


CA BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON ALL-TOO-COMMON LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR NON-VIOLENT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A new bill by CA Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) aims to reduce the number of drivers whose licenses are suspended after failing to pay (often exorbitant) fines for non-violent traffic offenses.

SB 405 follows closely behind a report condemning California’s policing-for-profit system as not unlike the situation in Ferguson, MO. In both places, fines pile on top of fines when a driver is unable to pay a ticket, burying the person (often poor to begin with) under a mountain of debt. And often failure to pay these fines results in a suspended license, which prevents the person from driving to a job to earn money to pay the fines. One in six California drivers have had their licenses suspended, and according to a separate report, nearly half of people whose licenses are suspended lose their jobs.

The bill would reinstate drivers licenses lost due to non-violent traffic infractions, as long as the licensee then paid back the debt through the state’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

A New Way of Life Reentry Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children cosponsored the bill.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Hertzberg’s website:

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.


RADLEY BALKO: CRUCIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has a “quick and dirty” list of important criminal justice reform questions for all presidential candidates.

If you are wondering who has thrown their hat in, thus far, the NY Times has a nice little chart (updated as of yesterday, April 13).

Here are four from Balko’s list, but there are … more where these came from:

The Obama administration has made heavy use of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate patterns of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments. Would you continue this policy in your administration? To what extent is the federal government obligated to step in when local police and prosecutors are either habitually violating or failing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in their jurisdiction?

[SNIP]

Several media reports, advocacy groups and judicial opinions (including a recent opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) have described an epidemic of prosecutor misconduct across the country. Do you believe there is a widespread problem of prosecutor misconduct in America? Do you believe the federal government has a responsibility to address it?

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS, District Attorney, FBI, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, Public Defender | No Comments »

LA Officials to (Belatedly) Crack Down on Over-Drugging LA Kids….A Juvie Lifer Artist…and the Shooting of Walter Scott

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



MENTAL HEALTH OFFICIALS TO CRACK DOWN ON OVER-DRUGGING OF KIDS IN COUNTY CARE (UM…THAT WOULD BE NICE.)

In the past year, it has come to light that kids are being over-drugged in many of California’s various foster care and juvenile systems, LA County’s included. Then more recently, we learned that powerful medications are unnecessarily being jammed down the throats of poor kids via the Medicare system. (See here and here and here for some of the latest stories.)

Tuesday, however, there was a piece of good news when the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health officials plan to crack down on doctors who appear to be inappropriately prescribing powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs to kids in LA County’s foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The question is, however, knowing the serious dangers posed by overprescribing or wrongly prescribing antipsychotics for children or teenagers, why weren’t the county’s mental health officials paying better attention?

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs.

Once problematic doctors are identified, the department will recommend that judges no longer approve their prescriptions for youth under court supervision.

Additionally, Los Angeles County mental health workers will fan out across the county to randomly interview children, caregivers and doctors about the reasons behind the prescriptions and how they are working.

The hope is that the in-person reviews will allow the county to go beyond the information doctors submit in their paperwork, offering a more complete picture of the youth’s mental health and whether less-intrusive interventions were used before turning to drugs.

“We know there is really a need to do this,” said Fesia Davenport who was recently named interim director of the county Office of Child Protection, a new agency charged with coordinating services across county departments for abused and neglected children. “Once we start to look at the data I think we’ll identify patterns and really understand why the use of the drugs seems to be high.”

In February, Therolf, writing for the LA Times, noted that “51% of California’s foster youth who are prescribed mental health-related drugs took the most powerful class of the medications — antipsychotics.” (And, of course, Karen de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News, reported extensively on the over-drugging of foster kids in her multi-part series.)

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

The risks of using antipsychotics on kids are considerable—except in certain very closely monitored situations. (For further details, read last week’s WLA story by Taylor Walker about the most recent study released showing the disturbing overuse of antipsychotics on Medicaid kids, with California one of the five states studied.)

The crack-down Therolf reports is a very welcome step, albeit distressingly belated. Yet, another underlying issue still calls out to be discussed, namely that, every study we have on the matter shows that most kids who land in foster care or the juvenile justice system, or both, are suffering from high degrees of childhood and adolescent trauma. This kind of toxic stress almost inevitably results in some kind of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms—which are crucial to address. But, in most cases, powerful drugs are neither an appropriate nor safe way to ameliorate and heal these issues.

Of course, real healing of trauma-harmed kids is labor intensive— and cannot be done from the remove at which one can prescribe drugs.

But that’s a discussion for another day.


A JUVENILE LIFER WHO MAKES MEANING WITH ART COULD BE AMONG THOSE GETTING NEW SENTENCE IF SCOTUS AGREES

In 1999, when Kenneth Crawford was fifteen, he was the getaway driver for a brutal murder of strangers. He did not himself beat, rob and shoot Diana Lynn Algar, 39, and her friend Jose Julian Molina, 33, at a campground in Pennsylvania. The admitted killer was an 18-year-old fellow drifter and carnival worker, David Lee Hanley. Nevertheless, Crawford was tried as an adult, and given a sentence of life without parole in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, which was still legal for juveniles as the time.

Although nearly all of his upbringing was horrific, Crawford makes no excuses for his involvement in the crime for which he was convicted.

“I was too drunk and full of pills and have only myself to blame,” he wrote to a couple who have befriended him during his time in prison.

The victims “were good people and their families did not deserve the pain and suffering they endured. I have begged the Lord for forgiveness and I believe I have been forgiven. But I will never forgive myself.”

One of the primary ways Crawford, now 31, finds meaning and solace in his life behind bars is painting miniature scenes on fallen leaves he collects. The results are remarkably beautiful.

Crawford is also one of the 2100 inmates given life sentences as teenagers, whose prison terms could possibly be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the question, likely in September of this year, of whether their historic ruling of Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively. Miller, if you remember, which was presented by civil rights attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson, ruled that mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole were unconstitutional.

Gary Gately has delved further into Crawford’s story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Here are some clips:

Five years ago, Kenneth Carl Crawford III returned to that woods behind his childhood home in Oklahoma, but only in his mind — the only way he can go back now, perhaps the only way he’ll ever go there again in his time on this Earth.

After a storm, he had been gazing at a thick forest about 100 yards away when he noticed a bunch of leaves had blown over the high electric fences topped by razor wire and landed in the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, here in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Crawford picked up one of the leaves. “It had been a long time since I had touched a part of a tree, let alone held a piece of it in my hands,” he would write in his journal.

He kept looking at the leaf, mesmerized, nostalgic for so much of a bit of boyhood paradise lost.

Then he took the leaf back to his 8-by-12-foot cell and decided to recapture some of what he missed so dearly — and ultimately painted on it a scene right out of the woods he remembered.

He’s been painting wildlife scenes — and painting them superbly — on leaves ever since.

Crawford, 31, has plenty of time to create his miniature masterpieces. He’s serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for his involvement in a double murder at age 15 in 1999.

[SNIP]

Crawford, a lean man with the beginnings of a mustache and beard, calls the Sanfords “Mudder” and “Peepaw.” [The Sanfords are a couple who ran across his art and have gradually befriended him.]

“I’ve had ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and none of them turned out too well,” he says.

Indeed, his alcoholic father beat him, his brother and his two sisters with extension cords and switches in drunken rages and often left them home alone in their ramshackle trailer with no electricity or heat and little food. And he forced them to tend to his marijuana plants behind the trailer.

Crawford’s mother ran off with one of her boyfriends to work the carnival circuit when Ken was 5…..

When he was 9, Child Welfare Services came to remove Ken and his siblings from their father’s custody — and promised the children their lives would be much better with foster parents.

They weren’t.

Crawford recalls one 400-pound foster father who forced the children to scratch and bathe his legs because he could not reach down to them.

Another foster father showed off Ken’s ability to play football — until he outshone the man’s biological son, at which point the foster father made Ken quit the team.

A third foster father told him he’d be in prison by the time he was 18.

When Ken was 10 and wetting the bed, his foster mother screamed at him and ordered him to strip naked and lie on a towel on the living room floor. As other children in the home laughed, she put a diaper on him and made him wear it to school the next day.

He wet the bed again that night, and she forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

If he could change two things in his life, Crawford says now, he would have never have hung out with David Lee Hanley, and, if it were somehow possible, he would have eluded Child Welfare Services workers.

“If I could go back in time, I would have hid from Child Welfare Services. I should have hid. I shouldn’t have let them find us,” he says.

Speaking of his father’s abuse and neglect, he says: “That’s what we knew. It was nothing out of the ordinary for us. We still had something, and the physical abuse we grew up with I was used to.

“In foster care, it was mental abuse, and the mental abuse was much worse.”

Still, he’s quick to add that he doesn’t blame anybody for the circumstances that led to the double homicides. “I made the choices,” he says.


THE SHOOTING OF WALTER SCOTT

As most of you probably know by now, a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott was fatally shot on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., after being stopped for a broken tail light by a white Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, 33.

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

Initially, Officer Slager reported that he made a traffic stop and was in foot pursuit after the subject. Next Slager reported shots fired and that the subject was down. “He took my Taser,” Slager said on the radio. Later, in the police report, Slager stated he had feared for his life because the suspect, Scott, had taken his taser in a scuffle.

However when a video taken by a bystander surfaced, and it told a very different story.

Here’s how the South Charleston Post and Courier describes what is on the video:

The three-minute clip of Saturday morning’s shooting starts [shakily], but it steadies as Slager and Scott appear to be grabbing at each other’s hands.

Slager has said through his attorney that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle.

The video appears to show Scott slapping at the officer’s hands as several objects fall to the ground. It’s not clear what the objects are.

Scott starts running away. Wires from Slager’s Taser stretch from Scott’s clothing to the officer’s hands.

With Scott more than 10 feet from Slager, the officer draws his pistol and fires seven times in rapid succession. After a brief pause, the officer fires one last time. Scott’s back bows, and he falls face first to the ground near a tree.

After the gunfire, Slager glances at the person taking the video, then talks into his radio.

The cameraman curses, and Slager yells at Scott as sirens wail.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer shouts before he handcuffs Scott as another lawman runs to Scott’s side.

Scott died there. [Actually, in the beginning Scott appears to be alive.]

Slager soon jogs back to where he fired his gun and picks up something from the ground. He walks back to Scott’s body and drops the object.

At no time, does Slager or the next officer on the scene, attempt to help the dying Scott, although one of the officers searches him and then eventually feels for a pulse.

According to the Post & Courier, Mr. Scott “had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through an assault and battery charge in 1987″—in other words, 27 years ago, when Scott was 23.

A family member told reporters that Scott likely ran because he didn’t want to be arrested for back child support.

In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Senator Tim Scott (R) said “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” Senator Scott said that he would be watching the case closely.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, mental health, Youth | 7 Comments »

SCOTUS to Consider How Cops Deal with Mentally Ill, Asking the Right Questions About Police Killings, Gov. Brown Sez Hire Ex-inmates, and Trafficked Foster Kids

March 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US HIGH COURT TO HEAR ARGUMENTS ON HOW POLICE HANDLE ARMED, MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE

This week, the US Supreme Court will consider in what capacity law enforcement officers must adhere to the Americans With Disabilities Act during an encounter with a mentally ill (or otherwise disabled) person who is armed and violent.

In San Francisco v. Sheehan, officers shot a woman with schizoaffective disorder in a group home who, in midst of a psychiatric crisis, had locked herself in a room with a knife after threatening her social worker. Sheehan survived the shooting. She has since sued the police department for resorting first to lethal force instead of attempting to deescalate the confrontation.

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah and Sam Hananel have more on the case and why it is so important. Here’s a clip:

Law enforcement groups are keeping a close eye on the Supreme Court case, which they say could undermine police tactics, place officers and bystanders at risk, force departments to spend thousands in new training and open them to additional liability.

The ADA was designed to regulate institutional policies, not an individual officer’s behavior, said Darrel W. Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, which filed a brief supporting San Francisco.

Stephens said that while departments around the country receive training to de-escalate and avoid using force in a situation with an unstable person, it’s not always possible to do so.

But mental health advocates say the ADA requires police to act less aggressively when arresting or detaining people with disabilities. Claudia Center, a senior staff attorney in the American Civil Liberties Union’s disability rights program, said the ADA should apply to all situations, especially emergencies when the disabled most need to be accommodated.

“This case is not unusual. There are a lot of Sheehan situations out there where there is an opportunity not to rush in, and take a moment,” Center said.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: RADLEY BALKO SAYS WE ASK THE WRONG QUESTIONS ABOUT POLICE KILLINGS

Last summer, Dallas police officers shot and killed Jason Harrison, a mentally ill man who police say threatened them with a screwdriver. Late last week, Harrison’s family members, who are suing the Dallas Police Dept., released footage captured by one of the officers’ body cameras during the encounter. (You can watch it here.)

The police department concluded their internal investigation into whether or not the officers broke any laws and chose to turn it over to the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says that instead of just looking at whether the killing was lawful and within department policy, we should also ask whether the killing was necessary, or whether it could have been deescalated by the officers. Balko also says that if the killing of this man suffering from mental illness could have been reasonably avoided, we must also determine what needs to change in order to prevent such shootings in the future. Here’s a clip:

Asking if a police shooting was legal tells us nothing about whether or not we should change the law. Asking whether or not it was within a police agency’s policies and procedures tells us nothing about the wisdom of those policies and procedures. Of course, both of those questions are important if your primary interest is in punishing police officers for these incidents. But while it can certainly be frustrating to see cops get a pass over and over again, even in incidents that seem particularly egregious, focusing on the individual officers involved hasn’t (and won’t) stopped people from getting killed.

Let’s go back to that Dallas shooting. Unfortunately, the video camera doesn’t capture the critical moments immediately prior to the shooting. But it does capture the initial police contact with Harrison. Let’s assume for a moment that the police account of the incident is 100 percent true — that Harrison did come at them with the screwdriver. The question we should be asking isn’t whether or not the police decision to shoot Harrison at that moment was justified. The question we should be asking is whether the interaction ever should have reached that moment. Or, to go back to our more basic question: Was this shooting necessary?

The video strongly suggests that it wasn’t. Why were two patrol officers responding to a call about a possibly schizophrenic man? Would it be better for a mental health professional to have accompanied them? If Dallas police officers are going to be the first responders to calls about mentally ill people who have possibly become dangerous, are they at least given training on how to interact with those people? Are they taught how to deescalate these situations?

From the video, it seems clear that these particular police officers did the escalating, not Harrison. It’s the cops who begin yelling and who take a confrontational stance. Yes, Harrison was holding a small screwdriver. And yes, in the right circumstances, even a small screwdriver can do a lot of damage. That doesn’t mean you pull your gun on everyone who is holding a small screwdriver. Now, there’s probably nothing illegal about a police officer unnecessarily escalating a situation with his words or his body. There’s certainly nothing illegal about his failure to deescalate.

But that’s precisely why Was this illegal? is the wrong question. The better question is, Was this an acceptable outcome? And if the answer is no, then the follow-up question is, What needs to change to stop this from happening again?


GOV BROWN CALLS ON CALIFORNIA BUSINESSES TO EMPLOY EX-OFFENDERS TO REDUCE REVIDIVISM

At a employer forum at Merritt College in Oakland, California Governor Jerry Brown urged businesses to hire former offenders to give them the means to successfully transition back into their communities. Brown called the issue one of public safety as well as about “being a human being.”

KQED’s Sara Hossaini has the story. Here are some clips:

Brown says a lack of work will keep them locked out of a permanent place in their communities and, too often, locked up behind bars once again.

“This work I see is, yes, about public safety, but it’s also about being a human being,” says Brown.

[SNIP]

Now, Brown is hoping that providing employers with information and incentives will encourage more of them to do their part. That means tax breaks, talent matching, bond reimbursements and training subsidies of between $5-10,000 per employee.

Businesses can also take part in a Joint Venture Program that offers what officials call attractive benefits for employing people while they’re still in custody, in the hopes of providing them a seamless transition once they’re out.


LA COUNTY DISAGREES ABOUT HOW TO KEEP SEX-TRAFFICKED KIDS FROM BEING PULLED BACK TO THE STREETS

Within the last few years, LA County has shifted away from criminalizing and locking up sexually exploited minors as “prostitutes,” instead treating them as victims and diverting them from juvenile detention into foster care. But placing trafficked girls into foster care and connecting them with services and mentors does not always work. Sometimes the young girls run away, and return to the streets and their pimps.

The LA County Board of Supervisors and head of the Department of Children and Family Services, Philip Browning, don’t all agree on how to address this complex problem.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…as county supervisors debate establishing a treatment center for these youth, the issue of locking up foster children has become a quagmire.

On one side are those who say the state should act like a responsible parent to stop children from leaving their home to meet pimps and johns. On the other side are those who say that locking up children mirrors the confinement that predators subject them to, and will ultimately fail to cure the problem.

“This is really the issue that everyone keeps coming back to,” said Allison Newcombe, an attorney with the Alliance for Children’s Rights who represents sex-trafficked children. “Everyone has such strong opinions.”

Law enforcement officials say criminal gangs have increasingly turned from selling drugs to selling children for sex because a drug can be sold once, but a child can be sold repeatedly. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a child’s life expectancy after being involved in sex trafficking is seven years, with AIDS and homicide being the leading causes of death.

Pimps capitalize on the porous barriers between foster care facilities and the outside world, advocates say, by calling vulnerable children, sending them letters and infiltrating group homes with young recruiters. In some cases, the pimps persuade children to get tattoos of their names.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who opposes efforts to allow locking up foster children who are at risk of being lured into sex trafficking, said the recruitment for prostitution in the county’s juvenile detention facilities proves that confining children is not a solution.

Leading the push to establish a locked facility for some foster youth are Los Angeles County’s child welfare chief, Philip Browning, and Supervisor Don Knabe. Both are lobbying Sacramento lawmakers to change laws that currently prohibit confining foster care youth who are at risk.

Browning said he reluctantly came to support such an option after social workers watched children as young as 10 and 11 run from county foster care facilities to rendezvous with pimps and johns.

“We have a small number of youth in foster care where our current programs simply haven’t worked,” Browning said. “Frankly, I’m not certain that the current facilities provide the level of security that I would like.”

Posted in Child sexual abuse, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, Reentry | No Comments »

Child Welfare Czar Update, Sen. Cory Booker Interview, a Coroner’s Inquest, and Henry Solis

March 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

MOVING FORWARD WITH THE OFFICE OF CHILD PROTECTION: TRANSITION TEAM STEPS BACK

After months of delays (and a little foot-dragging by the LA County Board of Supervisors), the transition team charged with preparing the way for the county’s new Office of Child Protection was able to relinquish control to the new interim child welfare czar, Fesia Davenport.

The co-chair of the transition team, Dr. Mitchell Katz, introduced the motion to have the team tear down shop.

Fesia Davenport, the new czar, (a former Chief Deputy Director of the Department of Children and Family Services) is already off to a productive start.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has the story. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, the interim director of the Office of Child Protection, took office on February 2, at which point the transition team appeared to loosen its grip on the implementation process, meeting only once that month and submitting a written progress report to the Board of Supervisors rather than appearing in person.

“She [Davenport] is espousing everywhere she goes that her role is to implement the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission and ensure that children are better off in this county,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team. “That’s what we would have hoped for when we finished the work of the blue ribbon commission last year.”

Transition team members extended their willingness to continue to be available to Davenport to share their expertise on specific issues, including education and law enforcement, and generally were optimistic about the transition team coming to an end.

“I think we’ve done great work and I’m so happy the office is up and running,” said Judge Margaret Henry, a member of the transition team. “Fesia [Davenport] has hit the deck running, and I’m just proud of the direction we’re going.”

The inauguration of two new county supervisors and an interim county CEO seemed to reinvigorate county government’s interest in the commission’s reforms in recent months. Supervisor Sheila Keuhl committed to delivering a new child-centric county mission statement around the same time that the county’s interim CEO, Sachi Hamai, moved to establish the Office of Child Protection and hire an interim director.


US SENATOR CORY BOOKER ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM URGENCY

Last week, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) introduced a first-of-its-kind bipartisan bill to legalize marijuana at the federal level.

The reform-minded Sen. Booker has also introduced (along with Sen. Paul) the REDEEM Act, which would restrict juvenile isolation, allow many youthful non-violent offenders to seal or expunge their records, and lift bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders, among other things.

In an interview with Vox’s German Lopez, Booker discusses the immediate need for criminal justice reform, from the war on drugs and racial inequality, to solitary confinement and rehabilitation. Here are some clips:

In my state, blacks are about 13 to 14 percent of the population, but they make up over 60 percent of the prison population.

Remember: the majority of people we arrest in America are nonviolent offenders. Now you’ve got this disparity in arrests, but that creates disparities that painfully fall all along this system.

For example, when you get arrested for possession with intent to sell, you can do it in some neighborhoods where there are no public schools and it’s not as densely packed as an inner city. You do it in an inner city and now you’re within a school zone, so you’re facing even higher mandatory minimums. So when you face that and you get out from your longer term, now you’re 19 years old with a felony conviction, possession with intent to sell in a school zone.

But forget even all of that — if you just have a felony conviction for possession, what do you face now? Thousands of collateral consequences that will dog you for all of your life. You can’t get a Pell Grant. You can’t get a business license. You can’t get a job. You’re hungry? You can’t get food stamps. You need some place to live? You can’t even get public housing.

What that does within our country, especially in these concentrated areas where we have massive numbers of men being incarcerated, is create a caste system in which people feel like there’s no way out. And we’re not doing anything as a society like we know we could do. There are tons of pilot programs that show if you help people coming back from a nonviolent offense lock into a job or opportunity, their recidivism rates go down dramatically. If you don’t help them, what happens is that, left with limited options, many people make the decision to go back to that world of narcotic sales.

What’s more dangerous to society: someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of their own home, or someone going 30 miles over the speed limit, racing down a road in a community? And yet that teenager who makes a mistake — doing something the last three presidents admitted to doing — now he has a felony conviction, because it’s more likely he’s going to get caught. And for the rest of his life, when he’s 29, 39, 49, 59, he’s still paying for a mistake he made as a teenager.

That’s not the kind of society I believe in, nor is it fiscally responsible…

[SNIP]

When you take juveniles, like we do in this country, and put them in solitary confinement — other nations consider that torture — you hurt them and you scar them through your practices. You expose them for nonviolent crimes to often violent people. You expose them to gang activity.

Then you throw them back on our streets. And you tell them, “We’re not going to help you get a job. You want a roof over your head? Forget it. In fact, if we catch you trespassing on public housing authority property, we’re going to take action against you. You’re going to get a Pell Grant, try to better yourself through education? Sorry, you’re banned from getting a Pell Grant.”

What do people do when they feel trapped and cornered by society?


CONSIDERING THE CORONER’S INQUEST AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO A GRAND JURY PROCEEDING

After the grand jury non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there has been much public discussion regarding the grand jury process, especially with regard to how the grand jury is handled by local district attorneys.

One possible alternative is a coroner’s public inquest.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer involved shooting.

The NY Times’ Jack Healy has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In most places, the actions of the police officer who fatally shot Kaileb Williams, 20, would have been judged in secret, by an anonymous grand jury weighing criminal charges behind closed doors.

Here, it all played out in the open, during a little-known proceeding called a coroner’s inquest. It unfolded like a miniature trial, with a county coroner presiding in place of a judge, and seven Montana residents questioning witnesses and examining the violent, chaotic path that led Mr. Williams to a deadly standoff with the police on an icy night this past December.

[SNIP]

Inquests do not indict officers or judge guilt or innocence, but lawyers here said they could be useful tools in cities inflamed by police killings. They take place before trials — often before any criminal charges are even filed — and offer a forum to air painful details and talk about disputed facts.

In Pasco, Wash., where the shooting death of a Hispanic orchard worker last month resulted in accusations of bias and cover-ups by the police, the coroner recently announced that he would hold an open inquest to head off “another Ferguson.”

“It helps to come to terms with a traumatic event to go through it in a public way,” said Paul MacMahon, an assistant law professor at the London School of Economics who recently wrote about inquests.

The inquests have the simple aims of officially declaring who was killed and when, but they also have the power to decide whether a killing is justified or a crime — a crucial question when a police officer has pulled the trigger. Whatever their outcome, the decision to file charges still rests with local prosecutors.


LAPD CHIEF FIRES OFFICER SUSPECTED OF POMONA SHOOTING

On Tuesday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck fired Pomona officer Henry Solis who is missing and suspected of shooting 23-year-old Salome Rodriguez Jr. in a nightclub parking lot on Friday.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Henry Solis failed to meet the minimum standards of the Los Angeles Police Department and has been terminated effectively immediately,” Beck said in a statement.

Earlier in the day, Beck had harsh words for the rookie cop, who has been missing since the fatal shooting occurred early Friday. Pomona police issued a warrant for his arrest Monday.

“If Henry Solis is watching this, you have dishonored this police department, your country and your service to the country, and your family,” Beck said, looking into television news cameras. “And you should turn yourself in and face the consequences for your actions.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD | 8 Comments »

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