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Conviction Review Unit for LA, Stun-Cuffs, SCOTUS’ Lethal Injection Ruling and CA’s Death Penalty, and More

June 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S NEW CONVICTION REVIEW TEAM

On Monday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a new Conviction Review Unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved $1 million to fund the unit, which will consist of three deputy district attorneys, a senior investigator, and a paralegal.

When the DA’s office is presented with potentially exculpatory information, Lacey says, “The responsibility is on us, as prosecutors, to re-examine the facts and…to seek to vacate a wrongful conviction.”

The DA’s office prosecuted a whopping 71,000 felony cases last year. This unit is meant to cover prosecutors’ “margin of error” according to DA Lacey, who told Warren Olney, on his KCRW show Which Way, LA?, that she expects the unit to review around a dozen cases per year.

In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since 1989. LA County will join other CA counties with similar units including San Diego, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara.

Here’s how it will work, according to DA Lacey’s website:

The unit will review claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. These claims may originate from inmates, attorneys or innocence projects. The requests will be made in writing to the District Attorney’s Office. This process will not require the filing of any formal court documents.

If an initial review determines that the claim appears to have merit, a formal investigation will be opened. A prosecutor and investigator will be assigned to review trial transcripts and interview witnesses. If warranted, the case will be presented to the Conviction Review Committee composed of managers similar to the group that reviews death penalty cases.

If the committee decides the office has lost faith in the conviction, prosecutors will seek to have the conviction vacated.


STUN-CUFFS: 80,000 VOLTS OF INSTANTANEOUS DISCIPLINARY CONTROL OVER INMATES

A pair of “stun-cuffs” wrapped around wrists or legs allow officers to send 80,000 volts of electricity through an inmate’s body, remotely. In the video above, an officer at a National Sheriff’s Association meeting eagerly straps his ankles into the cuffs for a demonstration. When the button is pushed, the officer immediately drops to the ground screaming and writhing while his friends laugh and joke about his reaction.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the painful cuffs, and why the officers’ reaction to the demonstration is troubling. Here’s a clip:

The way that the man taking the video laughs as the other man writhes on the ground in uncontrollable spasms and painful screams adeptly captures the part of human nature that leads me to believe that these devices will spread with terrible results.

They’re already used on prisoners in some jurisdictions. The company itself lists some testimonials on its web site. A detention center in San Juan County, New Mexico, demonstrated the device on a prison guard back in 2012. A Missouri sheriff’s department tested a similar device from a different manufacturer in 2013. They too found it extremely amusing to debilitate colleagues with painful shocks. Lots of young men would react similarly, hence my reluctance to let them put devices they approach with jocularity rather than seriousness on people that they disdain.

I am hardly alone in finding stun-cuffs creepy and suggestive of evil––for goodness sakes, Darth Vader seems to have pioneered their use on the Death Star.

Back in the real world, there are a depressing number of news articles about parents arrested for putting shock collars intended for dogs on their children. Of course, no one would equate kids with prisoners acting up in custody. But the stories are narrowly relevant for two reasons: they’re written as though the shocks are self-evidently cruel, though they’re far weaker and less painful than what stun-cuffs deliver; and in at least one instance, a man was arrested for putting a shock collar on his kid that he never used, suggesting that on some level, even law enforcement understands that it isn’t just being shocked that matters in these situations––the burden of knowing that someone has a finger on a button that could deliver a shock at any moment matters too. When these stun-cuffs are preemptively placed on prisoners, those who don’t misbehave will still suffer that psychological trauma; and recall that many prisoners have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Those problems would give pause even if America’s police officers and prison guards were not prone to excessive force and prisoner abuse.


WILL SCOTUS RULING IN FAVOR OF OKLAHOMA’S LETHAL INJECTIONS TRIGGER LONG-DORMANT CALIFORNIA EXECUTIONS?

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

This ruling has particular significance in California, where executions on hold for almost ten years may soon resume. California recently agreed to develop a single drug execution method to replace the three-drug cocktail, pending the SCOTUS ruling.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has more on the ruling and why it brings CA closer to carrying out executions. (And for more on the issue, read WLA’s pre-SCOTUS-ruling backstory on the original OK case that went before the high court.) Here’s a clip:

Under a recent settlement with families of murder victims, California prison officials agreed to propose a new single-drug execution method within 120 days of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Oklahoma legal challenge. It would mark the first progress in years toward devising a new execution procedure at San Quentin, where California has not executed a condemned killer in nearly a decade.

By upholding Oklahoma’s controversial three-drug lethal injection method in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court appears to have removed a key legal hurdle for California to rely on some form of lethal drug.

“(It is) a pretty strong green light for California to go forward with whatever lethal injection protocol fits their own regulations and interests,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Death penalty opponents expressed alarm that California might resume executions, with one leading group, Death Penalty Focus, sending out an email seeking donations to back efforts to continue legal challenges to lethal injection.

“Today’s decision … starts off a very long, costly and wasteful process in California,” said Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the Northern California ACLU.

The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected the arguments of death penalty foes that drugs such as those used in Oklahoma risk violating an inmate’s right to a humane execution. “Holding that the 8th Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether,” the court’s conservative majority wrote.


NPR SERIES FACILITATES MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION AMONG LA COPS, COMMUNITY, AND CREATIVES

NPR’s Michel Martin hosted an event called “Street and Beats: Personal stories of cops and community from across L.A.” at the Los Angeles Theatre Center to open up communication between former gang members, local law enforcement, artists, and other community figures.

Panelists included actor Richard Cabral, LAPD Captain Ruby Flores Malachi, Yasmeen Muqtasid, the resident of Black Women Matter Inc., LASD senior deputy, Rafer Owens, Grammy-winning East LA rock group, Quetzal, author and journalist, Sam Quinones, and LA Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez.

Street and Beats is part of an ongoing NPR live event series.

Here are a couple of the discussion topics clipped from KPCC’s write-up of the event:

1. Most cops sign up to serve

L.A. Police Captain Ruby Malachi said she wanted to join the force after a bad personal experience with the police as a teenager. “I wanted to become an officer and make a difference, treat people right. Your first encounter with an officer is a lasting, lifelong impression,” she said.

“Many police officers come on for the right reasons,” Malachi continued. “As tough as it is to police in this day and age, we are extremely proud to wear the badge. And that’s one of the things we’re campaigning at LAPD: let’s show what’s behind the badge.”

“We’re real people,” she said. “We care about the job and came onto the job to serve and protect. That’s what we’re sworn to do.”

“[Serving on LASD] is coming out of yourself and serving the community, people who need you,” said Rafer Owens, Senior Deputy, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We are obligated and obliged to serve our community.”

Malachi said that police and the community they serve have to work to solve problems together and that there need to be more positive contacts with police officers. “We should be teaching kids to run towards us for help, not from us.”

2. Communities often don’t see the concern

Yasmeen Muqtasid, President of Black Women Matter Inc., said the good intentions Malachi and Owens described oftentimes aren’t seen by the community.

“For myself as a black woman, for our organization Black Women Matter, and for black people, the ‘Officer Friendly’ doesn’t exist. It never has,” she said.

“When I think about my first interactions with police, it’s seeing family members being beaten to a pulp,” said Muqtasid. “There’s a huge disconnect between what officers say and what the community feels and experiences.”

[BIG SNIP]

5. Cops are human and they’re needed by the community

Growing up, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez said he felt he and his San Gabriel community were at war with the police. Now, he wants police to be part of the community.

“When I was a crime reporter I learned that cops are under the gun of society that says crime is their problem, and I don’t think that’s true. I think crime is a social, political, and justice issue. I do think police are given the short end of the stick when it comes to that and that they should not be in charge of everything we can’t resolve,” he said.

Posted in Death Penalty, District Attorney, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

SF District Attorney Reviewing 3,000 Cases for Racial Bias

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

UNDER REVIEW: A WHOPPING 3,000 CASES INVOLVING SFPD COPS WHO ALLEDGEDLY ENGAGED IN DISCRIMINATORY TEXT MESSAGING

On Thursday, SF District Attorney George Gascón said that a team of prosecutors was in the process of reviewing 3,000 arrests—1,600 of which resulted in convictions—made by 14 officers who are the subjects of an ongoing investigation.

The 14 cops, some of whom were SFPD veterans, allegedly sent racist and homophobic text messages to each other. (Read the back story—here, and here.)

Gascon said that even only one person had been wrongfully convicted “because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many.”

The NY Times’ Timothy Williams has the story. Here’s a clip:

African-Americans in San Francisco have complained for years about harassment and the use of excessive force by the police. And while African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for half of its arrests and jail inmates, and more than 60 percent of the children in juvenile detention, according to city statistics.

In Baltimore on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged a “fractured relationship between the police and the community” in her predominantly black city and asked the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Police Department to determine whether officers had engaged in unconstitutional patterns of abuse or discrimination.

At a news conference in San Francisco announcing the expanded inquiry, the district attorney, George Gascón, acknowledged that the racist text messages had particularly undermined public confidence in both his office and the local criminal justice system…

Mr. Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief, said Thursday that a task force of prosecutors had already been scrutinizing some 3,000 cases — including about 1,600 convictions — related to contacts or arrests made by the 14 police officers during the last decade to determine if biases had led to any unlawful arrests or wrongful prosecutions.

The investigation by the panel, which will add three former judges as investigators, will now be broadened to include an examination of whether entrenched biases exist in the 2,000-member department.

“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many,” Mr. Gascón said. “What is the potential impact in our justice system when a juror in a criminal trial questions the credibility of the arresting officer on the evidence that is being presented because they believe that this process may have been influenced by racial or homophobic bias? Can justice prevail under such conditions? Probably not.”

Posted in District Attorney, law enforcement, racial justice | 2 Comments »

CA Counties “Step Up” for Mental Health Diversion…Jazz Therapy in Jail…and Preschool Savings

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA, OC, OTHER COUNTIES JOIN UNIQUE MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION INITIATIVE

A new national initiative to divert people with mental illness from jails will connect counties with resources to create concrete action plans and track results.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) launched the initiative, which will use money from Department of Justice’s Bureau
of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Sheriff’s departments in California counties and across the nation are signing up to participate in the “Stepping Up” initiative, which is intended to be “a long-term, national movement—not a moment in time,” according to organizers.

Here are a few of the areas sheriff’s departments participating in the initiative will focus on:

- Learning from a group of criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse experts, as well as people with mental illnesses and their families

- Collecting data and using it to assess needs of (and to better serve) people who are both mentally ill and justice system-involved

- Developing, implementing, and thoroughly tracking the progress of a diversion plan involving research-based approaches

Counties that see progress over the next year will be eligible to attend a national summit in the Spring of 2016, after which certain counties with the best diversion results will be selected to receive grant money to expand their efforts.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the initiative, and what the LA and OC sheriffs have to say about it. Here’s a clip:

“You will not find a sheriff in this state or this nation who is not struggling with the growing number of people who are mentally ill in our jails,” Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said at a kickoff event for the initiative in Sacramento….

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was not present Thursday at the Sacramento event, but said in a previous interview, “Absolutely, we want to be a participant.”

“Jails were not built as treatment facilities with long-term treatment in mind,” McDonnell said. “When you think about a jail environment, it’s probably the worst possible place to house or attempt to treat the mentally ill.”

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has been researching and working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program, and is expected to present the full plan to the Board of Supervisors next month.


A JAZZ SINGER’S MUSIC THERAPY CLASS LIFTS SPIRITS OF WOMEN LOCKED IN SAN FRANCISCO JAIL

After singing three songs to an extremely appreciative crowd of women housed in the San Francisco County Jail last year, cultural anthropologist and jazz singer, Naima Shalhoub, formed a weekly music therapy class to bring a little happiness and hope to the inmates.

The SF Chronicle’s Carolyne Zinko has the story. It’s behind a paywall, but here are some clips:

You don’t need a master’s degree to know that jail inmates are lonely, but during the past year, cultural anthropologist Naima Shalhoub has seen it doesn’t take much, or cost much, to make them feel less isolated and sad.

The difference between happy and unhappy just might be eight minutes. That’s the time it took for Shalhoub, also a jazz artist, to sing three songs on her first visit to a women’s unit at the San Francisco County Jail a year ago, right around Mother’s Day.

“One woman said, ‘I’ve been here two years and this is the happiest I’ve felt,’” she recalled during a visit to the women’s unit on Tuesday. With feedback so powerful, she had to come back, and has taught music therapy classes almost every Friday since.

For this Mother’s Day, Shalhoub went further: She and a four-piece band performed a 45-minute concert in the jail’s E pod on Tuesday, and recorded it before a captive audience of 50 female inmates, a first in the jail’s history.

[SNIP]

“Even though it’s not much to bring music on the inside, it’s a way to learn the day-in, day-out on the inside in the lives of women, and to intervene in their isolation and confinement,” Shalhoub said. “Dreaming about other systems that are restorative is what fuels my passion for this work.”


HOW MUCH COULD CALIFORNIA SAVE BY EXPANDING ACCESS TO PRE-K?

There are 31,500 4-year-olds from low-income households in California that don’t have access to public preschool.

Providing preschool to 31,500 kids—which was included in Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 Budget Act—could save California $820 million per year (at $26,000 per child), according to a new report by ReadyNation.

Heres a clip from ReadyNation:

Long-term savings are substantial. An independent cost-benefit analysis of more than 20 different studies of high-quality state and local preschool programs by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that providing high-quality early childhood education can have, on average, a net return of over $26,000 for every child served.

These savings result from fewer placements in special education, less grade repetition, increased lifetime earnings thanks to higher graduation rates, more income taxes collected from those earnings, reduced health care costs, and decreased crime.

In keeping with the promise in the 2014-15 Budget Act, an estimated additional 31,500 preschool slots are needed in order to provide early learning for all low-income 4-year-olds in California. Applying the estimated $26,000 in lifetime net savings per child served by preschool means that serving these children in California would result in savings to our state of close to $820 million for each graduating preschool class.

“When it comes to early education for at-risk youth, the research is clear: investing in our youngest learners now will pay big dividends in the future,” said Moreen Lane, Deputy Director of READYNATION California. “Hopefully, our state legislators and the Governor will agree and fulfill the promise of least year’s Budget Act to make early education available for all low-income 4-year-olds. Smart investments in preschool would be a solid step for our state economy.”

Posted in District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, mental health, racial justice | 5 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 »

LA Drug Court Reboot, $100 Million on Homelessness, DOJ to Monitor Calexico’s Police Dept., and the Struggle to Free the Innocent

April 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

GIVING LA’S DRUG COURTS NEW LIFE BY OPENING THEM UP TO MORE SERIOUS DRUG OFFENDERS

A new proposal from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office would expand the scope of the county’s half-empty drug courts to help people accused of more serious drug-related crimes.

Before Proposition 47 reduced many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with certain drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses. Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposal and how it would work. Here’s a clip:

Treatment programs used for drug court participants have dropped from 85 percent full to about 65 percent full, Satriano said.

To turn the trend around, she said, the committee is considering a proposal to repurpose drug courts to service higher risk, higher need offenders who’s crimes are tied to their addictions. Things like theft and being a middle man in a drug deal could qualify, along with any non-violent, non-serious felony.

“We’re looking to broaden the eligibility to get into drug court, but at the same time, realizing that what we would also need to do is intensify the program,” said Mark Delgado, director of the county’s criminal justice coordinating committee.

He said the new program, if adopted, would involve three months of jail time for people accused of more serious crimes – as well as more rigorous drug treatment and testing requirements.


HOW MUCH LA CITY AGENCIES SPEND EACH YEAR INTERACTING WITH THE HOMELESS

Los Angeles spends more than $100 million on homelessness each year, an estimated $54-$87 million of which is spent on police interaction with the homeless, according to a report released Wednesday by City Ad­min­is­trat­ive Of­ficer Miguel A. Santana. And of the money spent on law enforcement contact with the homeless population, arrests cost $46-$80 million.

Santana included sixteen different city agencies and departments in his study. One problem, according to the report, is that the departments rely heavily on the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 19-person Emergency Response Team which only receives $330,000 from the city and serves the whole county.

The LA Times’ Gale Holland has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

“There appears to be no consistent process across city departments for dealing with the homeless or with homeless encampments,” he said.

The report said it was not possible now “to get a full measure of the costs” of homelessness for the city, or to monitor the effects of changes in homelessness over time in L.A.

[SNIP]

Responses by city departments are not designed to end homelessness by systematically connecting the homeless to assessment, services and housing, the report said.

In many departments, the report said, responses are ad hoc, designed to respond to a very specific challenge rather than working toward ending homelessness as a whole.

Santana recommended that the city increase funding for homeless outreach and case management, create a new homeless office and set up neighborhood hubs to support existing efforts to house and care for homeless people.


DOJ TO MONITOR AND MAKEOVER CALEXICO’S POLICE DEPARTMENT

The US Department of Justice announced this week that it will train and monitor Calexico, CA’s troubled police department. Last fall, the FBI launched an investigation into alleged officer misconduct. In October, the city fired its police chief and replaced him with former LAPD Assistant Chief Michael Bostic. The new chief said he quickly found that the investigations unit was not conducting any investigations, officers were not bothering to obtain search warrants, the department was spying on the City Council, and that department members were using assets seized from citizens to buy things like spy glasses.

Chief Bostic has asked the DOJ to step in and help him turn the Calexico Police Department around. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, will provide extensive training and will help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

KPBS’ Jean Guerrero has the story. Here’s a clip:

Bostic has fired six police officers since his arrival in Calexico last fall. He was appointed police chief as the FBI started its investigation.

Previously, Bostic was assistant police chief at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he led internal cleanups after police scandals such as the Rodney King beating. During his time there, the Department of Justice and US Attorney’s Office monitored the LAPD for seven years in response to a court order.

“In my mind it was a very beneficial process,” Bostic said. “So when I got to Calexico… I on my own called the DOJ and asked them to come in and assist me in rebuilding the police department.”

The Department of Justice will help the Calexico Police Department through its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, bringing in a group of police chief consultants from major U.S. cities to share their expertise.

The training will be focused on the proper handling of evidence, booking procedures and improving community outreach.

In January, NPR’s All Things Considered host Arun Rath talked with reporter Jill Replogle, who had been covering the FBI investigation, about the corruption allegations and about the city’s outspoken and proactive new chief, Michael Bostic. (He was so vocal, in fact, that the police union decided to sue him.)

JILL REPLOGLE: The new police chief, who started in October, says that when he got there, there was no real police work going on. He says the investigations unit didn’t have any investigations going on. He found internal investigations scattered all over the place – a safe, in desk drawers, in somebody’s car. He found that the department had used a lot of money from seized assets to buy spy equipment like spy glasses and, you know, lapel cameras, things like that. And then when they’re looking through the footage, they find that they’re spying on City Council members. They also found that they had bought a bunch of equipment to break into buildings and cars, but they have no search warrants for those searches.

RATH: Now, that new police chief, Michael Bostic, who took over in October after his predecessor was fired - some of the most damning public allegations have actually come from him. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MICHAEL BOSTIC: They’re recording City Council members, and they’re using it for extortion. I can say that. That’s just true. That’s what they were doing.

RATH: Jill, it was an amazing moment. The police chief actually broke down and cried at one point he was so disturbed by the corruption allegations. And this guy’s a 34-year veteran of the LAPD.


WHY EVIDENCE OF A WRONGFUL CONVICTION DOES NOT ALWAYS MEAN EXONERATION AND FREEDOM

The Marshall Project’s Andrew Cohen has a great longread about Davontae Sanford, a young man convicted of killing four people when he was fourteen. Despite an abundance of evidence pointing to Sanford’s innocence, including an air-tight confession by a hit-man, Sanford’s efforts toward exoneration have been blocked at nearly every turn, and he remains behind bars (and will likely stay there for years more). Cohen explores why exonerations are so hard-won. Here’s how it opens:

We know more every day about the ways wrongful convictions happen. An indigent defendant gets an incompetent attorney. Or prosecutors hide exculpatory information from the defense. Perhaps there is a false confession, coerced by sly detectives, or undue reliance on faulty eyewitness testimony or junk forensic science. Maybe a key witness turns out to be an unreliable informant, or the jury or judge is racially biased. Often, it is some combination of these factors that puts an innocent person behind bars, sometimes for life.

What gets far less notice, however, is how wrongful convictions stay that way, even after evidence of injustice appears to bubble to the surface. This is why the already well-chronicled saga of Davontae Sanford, a 14-year-old boy convicted of a 2007 quadruple murder in Michigan, is worth following closely again as it enters its latest and most bizarre phase.

Later today, Sanford’s lawyers will ask a Michigan judge to grant their client a new trial based on evidence and arguments that state judges and county prosecutors have never before addressed. The defense team essentially will be asking Michigan’s criminal justice system to finally make a choice between two confessions to the same crime; one by a boy whose story was contradicted by independent evidence, the other by a professional killer who accurately told the police where to find the murder weapon.

Posted in Department of Justice, District Attorney, FBI, Homelessness, Innocence, Rehabilitation, The Feds | 5 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 DA Jackie Lacey Chats Candidly With Community Experts Re: Mental Health Diversion

April 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


MORE THAN THE USUAL SUSPECTS

Last Friday, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey held a meeting with a line-up of mental health experts, community service providers, and local policy advocates to discuss how best to create a rigorous diversion system to keep LA County’s mentally ill out of the street-to-jail cycle that has been the rule in the county—a cycle that Lacey is determined to break.

With the DA was Nedra Jenkins, the executive director of Lacey’s mental health diversion task force.

According to those whom we spoke with, this particular meeting was refreshingly unique in that it didn’t feature the usual suspects, but instead was packed with those working the front lines with some of LA’s most troubled populations. Furthermore, many of those invited are known for saying what they think, particularly when it comes to public officials. Yet, most were reportedly pleasantly surprised at the forthright and candid exchange that took place between Lacey & co, and those experts from the community.

The event was organized by So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, and, he too, was encouraged by the outcome.

“When some of us first proposed the idea,” said Eliasberg, “we originally were going to organize a town hall. But then we realized that it made sense to first have a meeting with the people who are really in the trenches on this stuff.

“And not only did the DA and Nedra Jenkins like the idea,” he said, “they didn’t look at it as just an opportunity to talk. They said, ‘We really want to listen and hear what these people have to say. We want to learn from them.’”

And the sentiments turned out to be more than lip service.

Lacey was at the meeting for more than two hours, Jenkins even longer. “And I’m quite sure she will be following up with everybody, either in smaller groups or individually. They want to build on this.”

Rev. Peter Laarman of Justice not Jails, had a similar take to that of Eliasberg. In a commentary he posted over the weekend, Laarman wrote that the meeting was “the kind of event that is highly unusual in Los Angeles County: a candid exchange of information and opinion between top leaders of a public agency and community stakeholders.”

Among the things the discussion revealed, wrote Laarman, was “how terribly broken the current ‘system’ for service delivery is: e.g., the separation of drug treatment from mental health treatment on account of bureaucratic silos, the mismatch between various programs related to housing, even the fact that while the LAPD brags about having specialist teams to deal with the mentally ill, those teams aren’t actually available 24-7: it appears that they work what we used to call ‘bankers’ hours.’”

Mark-Anthony Johnson from Dignity & Power Now noted that the mentally ill in LA County Jail are disproportionately African American.

Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition, talked about how conditions of confinement can exacerbate mental illness (an issue that is part of what may still result in a federal consent decree for LA County’s jail system).

Not everyone agreed. But the back and forth was respectful.

Afterward, Lacey too called the meeting very productive.

“I gained more insight into what will be needed in the futureee to provide a comprehensive diversion plan…” she said when we asked what she thought the exchanged accomplished. Lacey also said that “a significant impediment to progress is the lack of funding for supportive housing.” But some of those at the meeting, she said, came up with new ideas as to how the county might come up with the necessary dollars. “I look forward to continuing this discussion…”

Good idea. Go, Jackie!

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, Mental Illness | 1 Comment »

Incompetent to Stand Trial and Warehoused in Jails, SFPD Chief Blasts SF DA’s Task Force, 22 Pardons, and P22

April 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

NO HOSPITAL BEDS: LA’S MENTALLY ILL AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED DEFENDANTS DECLARED INCOMPETENT WAIT IN JAIL

Porterville Developmental Center is California’s only hospital that admits developmentally disabled criminal defendants. Because Porterville has a lengthy waiting list, there are around fifty inmates declared incompetent to stand trial waiting more than two years, on average, in jails across the state for space to free up at the hospital.

The number is even higher for mentally ill defendants declared incompetent. There are more than 300 waiting for beds at the five state hospitals that can accept them.

When defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they are supposed to be sent to a mental hospital for treatment until they can understand the charges against them.

But it’s not as easy as just spending money to create more hospital beds. Counties, including LA, are waiting to see if Prop 47 (the reduction of many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors) will help alleviate the problem. But the state is leaning on counties to implement jail treatment programs for the mentally ill inmates awaiting transfer.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

In January 2014, Edward Lamont Mason allegedly attacked and injured a woman with a baseball bat.

He was arrested and has been in jail ever since, even though a judge ruled he was unfit to stand trial.

Mason, it turns out, is developmentally disabled. The victim of the alleged assault was his caretaker. And while the judge ordered him sent to Porterville Developmental Center — the only state hospital set up to house and treat developmentally disabled criminal defendants — there is no room.

So while the case against the Hayward, Calif., resident has been temporarily suspended, he remains an inmate in Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail, not receiving the treatment that would allow his case to move forward.

Mason’s lawyer, assistant public defender Brian Bloom, said if his 37-year-old client had been convicted and sentenced, he probably would have served less time than he has now spent waiting for a hospital bed.

“He’s confined in jail for no other reason than he’s developmentally disabled, which is really quite horrific when you think about it,” Bloom said.

State officials say there is nothing they can do about it…

Both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have set up small programs to treat mentally ill defendants in jail. Los Angeles, already under fire for poor treatment of mentally ill inmates, is looking into doing the same, but there is no easy solution to the problem.

The program would have some financial advantages, as the state would pay to house and treat the inmates in the county jail. Currently, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department receives no reimbursement for housing inmates awaiting transfer to state hospitals.

Some advocates, attorneys and treatment providers are adamantly opposed to the proposal.

“I think it’s a foolhardy idea,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who specializes in jails. Mentally ill jail inmates spend most of their time in a cell and, in some cases, in isolation, which can exacerbate their symptoms, he said.

“Of course it’s possible to do quality treatment in the jails,” Kupers said. “I’ve just never seen it happen.”


SAN FRANCISCO POLICE CHIEF BUTTS HEADS WITH SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY OVER MISCONDUCT TASK FORCE

On Monday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced a new task force would look into some troubling misconduct allegations within the SF Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, and the DNA crime lab. (More on that here.)

SFPD Chief Greg Suhr criticized the DA’s move as good press for an election year, and said Gascon was overstepping boundaries by launching the task force.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:

The chief said police were already cooperating with the district attorney’s office in both the DNA and text-messaging cases, but that Gascón “has no role in supervising or overseeing either the Sheriff’s Department or the Police Department.”

“But then again it’s an election year, and task forces generate press conferences,” Suhr said.

Suhr also said the crime-lab supervisor who was put on leave after failing a DNA proficiency exam, Cherisse Boland, was also a supervisor while Gascón was police chief. A defense attorney complained about her during Gascón’s tenure, Suhr said, but she remained on staff.

“It’s important that we have a hand-in-glove relationship to make the best cases, and I don’t think that’s in jeopardy,” Suhr said of Gascón’s office. “But I’m the chief of police. I’m responsible to and accountable for anybody and anything that goes on in my department, just as he should be as the district attorney and Sheriff Mirkarimi should be as the sheriff. As our systems connect, I think we need to be respectful of everybody’s charge.”

The investigation into the text messages should be done by the end of the week, Suhr said, and the crime lab investigation should take four to six weeks.

[Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said he supports a third party looking into the allegations against his department, but he thinks the district attorney is too connected to the two departments and would not be able to clearly evaluate the cases.

“A task force could be a good idea, but the district attorney’s office is entwined with many of the systemic issues that implicate the police and sheriff’s departments,” he said. “Rather, a true independent task force would not be burdened by potential conflicts. In our case, this is why I initiated a request to the U.S. attorney and attorney general.”


PRESIDENT OBAMA PARDONS 22, HIS LARGEST NUMBER OF INMATES YET

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 non-violent drug offenders.

All of those pardoned have spent more than ten years behind bars, and the majority would have received shorter sentences if they had been sentenced under current drug laws.

Obama has faced criticism from activists in past years for granting so few people clemency. These 22 new recipients make up the largest group Obama has pardoned thus far, bring the president’s total up to 43. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Sari Horwitz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The 22 inmates whose sentences were commuted Tuesday were nonviolent offenders serving time for the possession, sale and distribution of substances including methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. One, Terry Andre Barnes of East Moline, Ill., was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced in July 2005 to 246 months in prison, a term that would have kept him behind bars until 2025.

Obama wrote a letter to each of the inmates — all but one of whom, including Barnes, will be released July 28 — urging them to use the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity,” Obama wrote. “It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. . . . But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices.”

“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong,” the president concluded, “So good luck, and Godspeed.”


HOW NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE WINTER SHOT ICONIC LA COUGAR (P22) PHOTOS

National Geographic photographer Steve Winter tells LA Magazine’s Marielle Wakim about how he captured rare photos of P22, LA’s most famous cougar, over the course of fifteen months with cameras hidden around Griffith Park.

Here are some clips (but definitely go over to the LA Mag interview for the photos):

You have built a career on photographing much larger, scarier cats for National Geographic—although personally, I find mountain lions scary. How was the challenge of shooting in Griffith Park different from shooting in wilder areas?

All my work in the middle of nowhere helped when thinking about the fact that I needed to get an image of a cougar in an urban setting. I first started in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and that didn’t pan out. I went to a mountain lion meeting in Bozeman, Montana, where I met L.A. wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich. I told him, ‘Jeff, I really need to get this picture, do any of the cats in the Santa Monica Mountains walk into suburban or urban areas?’ because I had heard there used to be a cat that would walk onto Cher’s property. But Jeff said no, that they’re smart cats—they’ll go into urban areas at night, but if they don’t see any prey, they’ll turn around and come back.

After he said this, I had said to him jokingly—but never really jokingly— wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of a mountain lion with the Hollywood sign? He later told me he thought I was crazy, but he was being polite, so he said, “Well it would, except that there are no cougars or mountain lions in Griffith Park.” I told him to let me know if something changed. Eight months later, I was in the dentist’s chair, and my phone vibrates: it’s a text from Jeff saying ‘Call me now.’ He said that there was a bobcat study being done with remote cameras in Griffith Park. There’s a hill with a cross on it on the other side of the 101, and there was a remote camera right by that cross—the beginning of Griffith Park. And boom: they got a picture of a mountain lion. That’s how it all started.

What was your ultimate goal with this shot?

I was visualizing two things: Getting a picture of a cougar with L.A. in the background, and [having the image] speak to everyone around the world. City lights say ‘city lights,’ but they don’t say ‘L.A.’—everyone recognizes the Hollywood sign. Those were my goals, and we got both of them, but it took forever to figure out. It took me 15 months to get that picture and to figure out what trail that cat walks on. Nobody had seen the P22, so figuring out where to put these cameras was hard. Griffith Park is not that big, and there aren’t that many trails. There are even fewer where you can see the Hollywood sign or where you can see L.A., especially from the height of a cat. So figuring out a place to put the cameras in Griffith Park where I could get the shot and where the cameras wouldn’t get stolen was a big issue.

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Mental Illness, Obama | No Comments »

LA Deputy Saves Stray Dogs and Cats, FBI Informant Anthony Brown Sues LA County, Task Force to Investigate SF Law Enforcement Misdeeds, One-in-Three Homicides Unsolved in US

March 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD PARKS DEPUTY GOES ABOVE AND BEYOND, MOONLIGHTS AS ANIMAL RESCUER

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Brittany Fraser rescues animals—lots of them. Off and on duty patrolling LA County parks, Fraser picks up stray dogs, cats, and other animals in need. Other deputies now also bring found animals to Fraser instead of leaving their fate in the hands of animal control. If Fraser can’t find the animal’s human family, she bathes and vaccinates them and cares for them until they are adopted through her Brick Animal Rescue. Thus far, Fraser has saved more than 100 homeless animals.

The Daily Breeze’s Carley Dryden has the story. Here’s a clip:

“As much as I want to help people, it’s the same for animals,” Fraser said. “When people need help, they can ask for it. But dogs can’t. They don’t have a voice. You have to be paying attention.”

Sgt. Craig Berger recalled the night he came across two pit bulls eating trash on the on-ramp to the 110-105 freeway interchange. One was clearly young and starving, its ribs sticking out.

“Pre-Brittany Fraser, I probably would have had no choice but to take them to animal control, and that would have been a death sentence,” he said. “But I was able to call her from the freeway, tell her what happened and drive them to her house. She took care of them and took them to the vet.”

Berger, Fraser’s former supervisor, said Fraser has changed the mind-set of deputies when they see or approach stray animals.

“Before, they would just ignore the problem, or maybe occasionally, if they had time, they might call animal control,” he said. “Eventually, the culture was created to call Deputy Fraser.”

[SNIP]

“She is the animal whisperer,” said her husband, Nick Resendez, who met his wife when they were partners at the Lomita sheriff’s station…

Resendez acknowledged that he didn’t have pets growing up, so having a dog in his bed at night now has been quite the adjustment.

“She’ll come home, and I’ll say, ‘What do you have under your coat jacket?’ She’ll smile and reveal a Chihuahua or a cat,” he said. “One time she came home with a raccoon and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ But this is the woman I married. She is compassionate and loving. To know that she has the ability to put those feelings into animals is amazing.”


SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY LAUNCHES TASK FORCE TO LOOK INTO WAVE OF SHERIFF’S DEPT. AND POLICE MISCONDUCT ALLEGATIONS

Moving quickly, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced Tuesday the launch of a new three-team task force to investigate three separate allegations of law enforcement misconduct.

On Monday, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced that at least four deputies allegedly forced inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. (We linked to that story here.) There have also been allegations of racist text messages between veteran police officers. DA Gascon says there has also been a breach of protocol in the DNA labs, affecting 1,400 cases.

CBS has more on the new task force. Here are some clips:

[SF District Attorney George Gascon] said that during his more than 30 years in law enforcement, he has seen a great deal of misconduct and scandals involving law enforcement officials, but that the frequency and magnitude of these recent allegations are “unusual” and “repulsive,” as well as some of the worst allegations he’s heard.

Gascon said he is concerned that if these allegations are determined to be true, there could be serious potential repercussions for criminal cases, including some which were possibly prosecuted years ago.

Gascon said that these alleged incidents are concerning not only because of “the level of hate that is reflected” but because of “the impact they may have on the criminal justice system.”

He said his office, as well as the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, will be taking a second look at cases from the past 10 years involving officers and deputies named in recent allegations.

[SNIP]

Regarding the gladiator-style fights reported this month at the San Francisco County Jail on the seventh floor of the Hall of Justice, Gascon said that it is unlikely only four deputies knew about the alleged abuse and misconduct…

Gascon said he wants to know who else knew about the alleged fights, when they knew and if there have been similar cases of misconduct at the sheriff’s department.

Regarding racist and homophobic text messages from police officers that were recently released in federal court documents, Gascon said he wants to know if other people were involved and to see if any prosecutions could be impacted.


FBI INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN SUES LA COUNTY, SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS, AND 7 DEPUTIES CONVICTED FOR HIDING BROWN WITHIN JAIL SYSTEM

FBI informant Anthony Brown is suing LA County, former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, former captain Tom Carey and the seven deputies convicted last year of obstruction of justice for hiding Brown from his federal handlers. (More about that here.)

Brown is alleging cruel and unusual punishment, as well as retaliation, conspiracy, failure to provide medical care, and municipal and supervisory liability.

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

Brown was moved around the jail system, his name was changed multiple times and computer records were falsified to make it appear that Brown had been released from LASD custody.

“I was kidnapped, my name was changed,” said Brown. “They put me in cars late at night and took me places. I think I had more than a dozen guards on me 24/7.”

The lawsuit seeks punitive damages for cruel and unusual punishment, municipal and supervisory liability, failure to provide adequate medical care, retaliation and civil conspiracy.

“As soon as defendants became aware of plaintiff’s cooperation with the FBI’s investigation, they conspired to retaliate against plaintiff for his participation as an informant and obstruct that investigation intentionally… hiding and/or kidnapping plaintiff in the jail system under fictitious identities, covertly moving him about and throughout LASD’s jail system, and unreasonably kept him in isolation without cause,” the lawsuit states.

Brown says he was in “dire fear for his life that defendants would carry out a threat on his life or order/allow other jail inmates/gangs to kill plaintiff because defendants told him, ‘No witness, no conviction.’”


WHY HAVE HOMICIDE SOLVE RATES DECLINED BY 26% SINCE THE 1960′S?

In the 1960′s law enforcement officers solved homicides at a rate of about 90%, fifty years later (and despite the advent and development of DNA testing), the national clearance rate is just 64%.

NPR’s Martin Kaste has more on the numbers and what factors may be adversely affecting murder case clearance. Here are some clips:

…that’s worse than it sounds, because “clearance” doesn’t equal conviction: It’s just the term that police use to describe cases that end with an arrest, or in which a culprit is otherwise identified without the possibility of arrest — if the suspect has died, for example.

[SNIP]

Vernon Geberth, a retired, self-described NYPD “murder cop” who wrote the definitive manual on solving homicides, says standards for charging someone are higher now — too high, in his opinion. He thinks prosecutors nowadays demand that police deliver “open-and-shut cases” that will lead to quick plea bargains.

He says new tools such as DNA analysis have helped, but that’s been offset by worsening relationships between police and the public…

Since at least the 1980s, police have complained about a growing “no snitch” culture, especially in minority communities. They say the reluctance of potential witnesses makes it hard to identify suspects.

But some experts say that explanation may be too pat. University of Maryland criminologist Charles Wellford points out that police are still very effective at clearing certain kinds of murders.

“Take, for example, homicides of police officers in the course of their duty,” he says. On paper, they’re the kind of homicide that’s hardest to solve — “they’re frequently done in communities that generally have low clearance rates. … They’re stranger-to-stranger homicides; they [have] high potential of retaliation [for] witnesses.” And yet, Wellford says, they’re almost always cleared.

Posted in District Attorney, DNA, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 65 Comments »

John Oliver Blasts Municipal Fine Swindle-System, LAPD Empathy Training, LA City Crime Rates, and Former LA DA Paid to Lobby for New Jail

March 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOHN OLIVER SHINES A LIGHT ON MUNICIPAL FINES AS ABUSIVE MEANS TO FUND CITIES

Many cities use the revenue from tickets for municipal violations to fund public services, and happily heap on further penalties for inability to pay—fines for the fines. Obviously, this system disproportionately affects the poor. In addition to incurring impossible debt, people who cannot pay their tickets can also lose their drivers licenses in many states. This, in turn, means that they can no longer drive to a job to earn money to funnel into the city’s coffers, and the pockets of private probation debt-collecting companies. Sometimes an inability to pay these fines can even land them in (debtor’s) prison.

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales, including the story of a grandmother who racked up thousands of dollars in insurmountable late fines. The grandmother lost her car, lost her license, and spent ten days in jail.

We highly suggest watching the above segment in its entirety.


NEW LAPD TRAINING: EMPATHIZING TO DE-ESCALATE

LAPD officers are receiving a new one-week empathy-focused training on how to de-escalate encounters with people who are mentally ill and showing signs of aggression. The goal to equip cops with better techniques for interacting with people suffering a mental health crisis who do not pose an immediate threat, to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. Officers are taught to use humor, first names, and other non-threatening conversational strategies while slowly backing away. The safety of officers and the public are, of course, still of highest priority.

Participants are also taught about various types of mental disorders they may come in contact with. Thus far about 1,000 of the 10,000 sworn have taken the new course.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the new training. Here are some clips:

The scene was tense: Two Los Angeles Police officers approach a man yelling and screaming at the end of a cul de sac. He looks angry and aggressive as he paces back and forth in the middle of the street.

“I just got back two weeks ago,” he shouts. “Two weeks ago!” The man is an Iraq War veteran.

“Tell me about it,” an officer calmly asks. He is met with anger. “What are you trying to do? Don’t try to talk to me. Nobody understands what it was like over there.”

“Sir, I’m here to help you,” the officer responds. He watches the man’s hands closely to see if he grabs a weapon.

The man is unarmed. He starts to calm down.

Suddenly, lights come on.

The two officers are standing in front of a screen inside the LAPD’s “force option” simulator.

[SNIP]

Peter Moskos, who teaches at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the techniques taught at this class only work if everyone uses them.

Too often, he said, a patrol officer may be bringing down the stress when a more aggressive “obnoxious” cop swoops in and makes a mess of things.

“This frustrates cops to no end,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer. “You could be de-escalating the scene, and someone in your squad shows up, and you go, ‘Oh, my god, now it’s going to explode, because they just don’t know how to talk to people.’ Because they don’t have that empathy.”


BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN LOS ANGELES CRIME RATES

The LAPD reported Tuesday that shootings have risen 31% (54 incidents) over last year. Violent crime went up 27% overall, and property crime increased 12%. Several other types of crime experienced similar spikes. Homicides, however, dropped 2%.

The sizable disparity in crime numbers may be due, in part, to the LAPD correcting crime classification issues (more on that here), but it’s hard to tell this early. Department officials believe gang-related violence may be behind the the jump in shootings.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton and Ben Poston have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

[SNIP]

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.


FORMER LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY LOBBYING FOR NEW JAIL DEAL

Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley has taken up lobbying for an Adelanto jail plan…for pay.

Back in December, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 in favor of building a new 3,264-bed jail, with the idea that LA County would lease the $324 million facility and fork over what, for the small San Bernardino city, would be some much-needed cash.

Private developer Doctor R. Crants hired the former DA to throw his weight behind the controversial jail proposal, and hopes to pitch the idea to the LA County Board of Supervisors as soon as possible.

The Hesperia Star’s Brooke Self has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re working on it (but) we haven’t been able to schedule a vote yet (with the Board of Supervisors),” Johns said about progress and potential support from LA County. “We (hope) to be able to have a presentation with the Sheriff next week. Once we meet with the Sheriff and get the green light there — we won’t go to the Supervisors until we get encouragement from the Sheriff.”
When asked how he thought Cooley’s influence might impact L.A. County’s decision, Johns said “trust me, we wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t think so.”

“He’s one of the foremost public safety officials in the state,” Johns said of Cooley. “He’s been serving in that capacity for a very long time. I would think his support would be meaningful for those people looking to receive direction and input. I think he’ll be very helpful.”

Cooley, 67, was the longest-serving DA in L.A. County history, serving from 2000 to 2012. He worked for 39 years and four months as a county prosecutor. Last year, he was a public supporter of new L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s successful campaign for the top law enforcement post.

McDonnell’s office is in charge of producing the county’s jail plans and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. On Thursday, Cooley said the two have been friends for 15 years, but he didn’t believe that there were any ethical concerns with him lobbying his office.

“I don’t have legal issues,” Cooley said. “I’m a private person, an attorney to practice law. I have some degree of expertise in this arena and I can advocate for whatever I think is in the client’s best interest. And certainly this is in the county’s best interest. The fact that I have a 15-year relationship with the county Sheriff is irrelevant. Adelanto wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen when I was out there supporting McDonnell. Any suggestion of any ethical issues are misplaced and not even logical. When I do register as an L.A. County lobbyist, then certain rules come into place and I’ll honor those rules.”

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, Mental Illness, prison policy, racial justice | No Comments »

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