Wednesday, April 23, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




District Attorney

Latest Fed Indictment of LASD Deputies Suggests Big Failures of Leadership

February 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence
about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.

(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)

The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”

These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.

The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.

But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.


Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.

According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.

No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.

But, heck, why deal in evidence?


After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.

Not that it did any good.

According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.

Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:

“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”


The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.

Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.

“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.

The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.

Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.

(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)

We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.

I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.

Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.

(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)

In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.

May it be so.

The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.


And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.

And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.

With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.

We are counting on just that.


Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.

I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.

So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?

Sunday’s LA Times editorial explains:

While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?

It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.

Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.

The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.

Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?

Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”

(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)

Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.

As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.

Posted in ACLU, District Attorney, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Sheriff Lee Baca | 47 Comments »

Corruption Fighter from the DA’s Office Will be New Inspector General for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department

November 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has selected Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman
as the much-awaited Inspector General, tasked with forming an office to overseeing the scandal-ridden Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The selection of Huntsman is expected to be formally announced on Wednesday.

A Yale law school grad who has been with the DA’s office for 22 years, Huntsman is a supervisor in the LA district attorney’s public corruption division, and has also worked in the Public Integrity division of the DA’s office. In both positions, he appeared unafraid of confrontation and controversy. He has had a major roles in prosecuting corruption cases against local officials, such as former Los Angeles City Councilman Martin Ludlow, as well being out front on farther-reaching cases such as the recent L.A. Coliseum corruption scandal and the Bell corruption scandal.

Jack Leonard, who covers courts for the LA Times and knows Huntsman, writes of his work:

In the office’s Public Integrity Division…Huntsman has claimed several high-profile victories. Among them were the convictions of former Los Angeles city commissioner Leland Wong, accused of accepting bribes; former Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg, who was charged with voter fraud for living outside the city; and Patrick T. Lynch, former general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, one of six men charged in a sweeping corruption scandal.

According to sources at the Board of Supervisors, Huntsman was chosen from a short-list of around ten candidates for the position, which was winnowed down to four finalists by a special selection committee.

The members of the board then interviewed the final four and chose Huntsman.


When the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence handed down its report in Sept 2012, the appointment of an Inspector General was arguably the most important of its list of recommendations.

Here, for example, is what the commission wrote in the report’s introduction about the need for an IG:

...The existing oversight entities — Special Counsel, OIR, and the Ombudsman —
should be absorbed and consolidated into a single Office of Inspector General reporting to the
Board of Supervisors with responsibility for providing independent oversight of the Department,
including its jail operations and and discipline system; conducting its own investigations in a limited number of particularly sensitive cases; monitoring jail conditions and inmate grievances; and
reviewing the Department’s internal audits and inspections.

Miriam Krinsky, the Commission’s Executive Director, put it this way when she heard about Huntsman’s selection:

“The new IG is a critical component of the Commission’s recommendations for enhanced, empowered and coordinated oversight of LASD, It is my hope that the new IG will build a talented and committed office and provide the necessary leadership to ensure that a vigilant and independent eye fulfills this vitally important function.”


Although support for the idea of an Inspector General has been fairly universal among LASD watchers, many are concerned that, with no legal power, an IG is in danger of being one more oversight body—like the Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb and the Ombudsman’s Office—that can only tinker around the edges, but cannot prevent the kinds of catastrophes that necessitated the formation of the jails commission and that continue to surface now, a year after the commission made its recommendations.

However, when WLA talked with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas after we heard an IG had been chosen, he was decidedly upbeat on the matter.

“We took at important step forward today with the selection of Max Huntsman out of a field of impressive candidates.”

About the worry that an IG could make a real difference, Ridley-Thomas had this to say:

“Huntsman is a seasoned prosecutor. He’s an effective troubleshooter. And he isn’t likely to back down in the face of perceived intimidation.”

“It’s very easy to be co-opted or seduced by the culture of law enforcement,” Ridley-Thomas added. But he said he felt confident that Huntsman could avoid that particular kind of quicksand that has, at times, plagued others.

“We queried him pretty strongly about that and we were impressed by his responses. He had a keen sense of what his role as an inspector general would be…and he made it very clear that he wanted to make sure that the sheriff’s department would be abiding by the law, and where they were not, he would seek to correct that behavior. And he hoped for cooperation in so doing.

“But if he found cooperation not to be forthcoming, he would seek other methods to accomplish the goal. But he assured us the goal would be accomplished. In other words, he would be undeterred.”

May it be so.

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 12 Comments »

Reasons Why No DA Charges On Kavanaugh & His ‘Copter….What’s Up With a 2 1/2 Year Wait on the LASD Rape Case? …& Hermosa Beach Chief Chosen

August 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The District Attorney’s office announced Wednesday morning that Hollywood studio head Ryan Kavanaugh (of Relativity Media) will not face criminal charges for landing his helicopter on a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department helipad in early February of this year.

To recap: film company executive Kavanaugh was being investigated by the LASD for possible felony charges, the idea being that Kavanaugh’s ‘copter landing interfered with the then emergent Christopher Dorner investigation.

In announcing that they were not filing on Kavanaugh, the LA District Attorney’s office put out a fascinating narrative detailing how the case came about, why they didn’t file in February, and why they weren’t filing now.

You can read the DA office statement here. But in brief, here’s the deal.

1. According to Kavanaugh, he was legally empowered to land at the LASD Biscailuz helipad because he had an Oct. 6, 2010 letter signed by then-Aero Bureau captain Louis Duran saying that Kavanaugh was an “Aero Squadron Volunteer” and, as such, he could land at any FAA approved helipad as long as he had the proprietor’s prior approval.

(Just to remind you, Aero Bureau is an elite LASD division that oversees the department’s aircraft—–mostly helicopters. We wrote previously about some reported shenanigans at Aero Bureau here and here.)

2. Kavanaugh maintained that, before he landed in this instance, he talked to his pal Paul Tanaka by phone to request permission, and Tanaka texted him back with the okay to land at the LASD helipad.

3. As for all that “interfering” business, there were two LASD helicopters nearby but they weren’t occupied and their rotors were not turning, so it appeared that the Kavanaugh ‘copter did not impede anything. Or so concluded the DA’s office.

4. Louis Duran said he was contacted about the February landing, and he sent the message back that, no, in fact Kavanaugh couldn’t land, thereby, one assumes, suddenly rescinding his earlier letter on LASD stationary.

5. Paul Tanaka too said he told Kavanaugh he couldn’t touch down.

6. When the DA’s people investigated, however, they found that the LASD investigators admitted that no message from Duran ever reached Kavanaugh, telling him not to land. Plus they provided zero evidence that Tanaka had told him the film studio guy “no.”

7. Kavanaugh’s attorney, in contrast, provided an email, supposedly from Tanaka, dated this July, saying that, indeed, he’d given Kavanaugh permission to land that night. And presumably the purported text could be traced, if it came to that.

Anyway, the tale goes on from there.

From the tone of the report, one suspects that the DA’s folks felt they had better things to do than spend time on this he said/he said nonsense, in a case where, in essence, a big fat perk was given to a rich guy, and then that same big perk may or may not have been withdrawn from the same rich guy for a labyrinthine weave of reasons.

It should be noted that, when this story first broke in the LA Times, Kavanaugh’s people suggested that the reinvestigation of the ‘copter landing might be politically motivated because Kavanaugh, who has reportedly in the past given money to one or two of the sheriff’s causes, is now a political supporter of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and his much-rumored-but-not-yet-announced candidacy for sheriff.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said this theory is preposterous and that Sheriff Baca wasn’t even aware of the investigation. “It has nothing to do with politics.” Moreover Baca is fine with the fact that the DA isn’t bringing charges, said Whitmore. “The sheriff doesn’t care.”

Wise choice.

Frankly, at this point, we don’t care either.


We do care to know, however, why charges are just now being filed in the case of LASD deputy, Jose Rigoberto Sanchez, who allegedly raped a woman while he was on duty, and attempted to coerce her and another woman (in a separate incident) into sexual acts with various threat and bribes—and was accused of doing all this and more back in September 2010.

(Here’s a link to the Daily News story on the case.)

LASD spokesman Whitmore said that the delay wasn’t caused by the sheriff’s department, which he said finished its investigation into the matter in six months, and handed it over to the DA in January 2011.

When, on Wednesday, we asked at representative from the DA’s office she said that that they conducted a “very thorough investigation,” and that now they are bringing charges. As to who or what caused the delay, the DA’s spokesperson would not elaborate.


It was announced late Wednesday that, out of two finalists for the position of Chief of Police for Hermosa Beach, City Manager Tom Bakaly chose former LAPD Assistant Chief Sharon Papa.

Papa has had a breadth of law enforcement managerial experience including serving as the Chief of Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s police department until the agency merged with the LAPD in 1997. (Papa is currently a commander in the LAPD, a rank she returned to in the change of regime between Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck.)

The other finalist for the job was Cecil Rhambo, who is an assistant sheriff at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and a close friend of former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Controversy erupted briefly during the selection process when Hermosa Beach Mayor Kit Bobko abruptly announced last week that he strongly supported Cecil Rhambo. Since the final selection of the chief is left up to the city manager, the endorsement was characterized by many as an inappropriate attempt to influence the manager’s selection process.

In any case, WLA wholeheartedly congratulates Sharon Papa whom we know to be very smart, capable, personally engaging, and an all ’round terrific choice. As an LAPD insider put it when we talked this week, “she has great instincts, does not put up with the old boys network, and is an agent of change.”

Yep. Exactly.

The Daily Breeze has more on Papa’s choice as HBPD Chief.

Posted in crime and punishment, District Attorney, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

Fixing Foster Care: Does DCFS Need Its Own Citizens’ Commission?…and More

June 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

When he started 15 months ago, most felt that DCFS Chief Philip Browning was exactly the right person to turn around LA County’s chronically troubled foster care agency
, an unwieldy bureaucratic structure that, in the last two decades, has had a habit of devouring any poor soul who has the timerity to try to run it.

Many still believe that Browning may be the right guy. Yet, there is a rising chorus of voices suggesting that maybe he could use some outside help. (We’ll get back to that “help” idea in a minute.)

Worry about whether Browning is making enough of a dent in the department’s dysfunction particularly intensified with the death of Gabriel Fernandez of Palmdale, the 8-year-old who was reportedly fatally beaten by his mother and her boyfriend, after multiple people made repeated reports to DCFS that the child was being badly abused.

Yet it wasn’t just the awful death of this little boy by itself that caused concern about DCFS to spike.

It was Browning’s reaction to questioning on the topic by first LA columnist Steve Lopez, and then by LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that raised alarm, as he talked about the difficulty in changing the “culture,” among other tepid excuses.

Judge Michael Nash, the Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, had such a strong reaction to the Browning’s words when he read them Banks column, that he took the unusual step of blasting a long email to the Times along with around 40 judges, commissioners and other officials of the LA Superior Court who deal with foster kid cases—plus the staffs of various elected officials.

You can read the letter Judge Nash’s letter in its entirety. But here’s a clip from it:

….You say you want heads to roll because of what went wrong with respect to the death of young Gabriel Hernandez. Do you think that is going to fix the child welfare systemic problems that contributed to his death? I think not.

For almost 20 years, my colleagues and I have imposed sanctions on DCFS for not following court orders. They pay thousands of dollars every month but don’t fix the problems causing the sanctions.

I will tell you what else won’t work.…utterances from the DCFS Director that social workers feel “hamstrung by a departmental obsession with keeping children with their families”; that the “policy was the product of a previous culture change aimed at reducing foster care rolls and strengthening troubled families with resources”; that social workers “feel pressured to leave kids with families…But safety of the child should be the primary goal.”

I’ve got news for him. Our laws require social workers to make reasonable efforts to prevent or eliminate the need for removal from the home before a child is removed, but not at the risk of the child’s safety. To the extent that there exists this misguided notion of blind allegiance to maintaining the family without consideration of safety, that is clearly a leadership issue within the department that leadership needs to clarify as soon as possible.

What we commonly see in the courts are a significant number of cases where the opposite occurs. That is, cases which are filed and children removed because of fear of retribution in the department, negative publicity or both….


My point is that it is bad social work to remove children when there are ways to keep them safely at home as the law requires, and it is bad social work to leave children in the home when it is unsafe. The problem is that DCFS can’t seem to strike the appropriate balance. It takes leadership and more to avoid blind adherence to one direction or the other.

In truth, it would be hard to find anyone who understands the complexities of this world better than Judge Nash. He has served on the Juvenile Court bench since 1990, and since 1995, has been either Presiding Judge or Supervising Judge of the Juvenile Dependency Court. In those more than two decades, he’s won a string of honors, pushed through various innovoations in the court, including shoving open the doors of dependency court to allow in journalists, and did so with determination and good humor despite loud oposition.

Thus if he’s angry and discouraged about matters at DCFS, one suspects the rest of us should sit up and take notice.

As I was muttering to myself about these issues late Monday night, I noticed that LA Times editorial board member, Robert Greene, had posted his own expression of frustration on the matter, then suggested we may need an investigatory commission to sort things out—a la the recent Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. Here’s a clip from Rob’s essay:

(Read the rest after the jump.)
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 2 Comments »

DSM 5 Worries Attorneys…..Deportation By Association…The New World of Bi-Partisan Sentencing Reform…..and More

May 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The newest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the DSM 5-–AKA the bible of psychiatric conditions, published by the American Psychiatric Association, will be released later this month.

Among its changes and updates, the DSM 5 has revised the definition for what it considers to indicate intellectual disability (mental retardation)—a development that has a lot of defense lawyers worried because of its implications in sentencing, particularly when it comes to capital punishment.

Reuters’ Elizabeth Diltz has the story. Here are some clips:

The fifth edition of the book since it was first published in 1952, or DSM-V, is due to be released May 22. Already it has prompted concern from death penalty lawyers because of the change in the way the manual defines mental illness, or intellectual disability, the new name given in DSM-V.

Earlier editions of the DSM defined mental retardation as an IQ score below 70 accompanied by an inability to meet certain developmental norms, such as bathing regularly or maintaining work. Based on that IQ benchmark, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that it is illegal to execute a mentally handicapped person.

But the editors of DSM-V have dropped the 70 IQ score as an indicator of mental retardation and instead recommend that clinicians consider IQ scores while analyzing an individual’s behavior to determine if he or she meets the developmental standards.

Clinically speaking, most consider the change to be a welcome one. Intellectual ability is not even remotely a cut-and-dried matter, as anyone who has worked in or around the mentally disabled can describe. The nature and range of human intelligence is more complex than that which can be measured with such conventional tools as IQ tests.

However, courts tend to like firm definitions, bright lines on that ground that separate this from that, all of which concerns defense lawyers.

However, according to Reuters, some of those who were responsible for the DSM 5′s revisions are hoping the courts will embrace the new complexity, rather than using it as a cudgel.

James Harris, the founding director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the DSM-V work group, said the criteria focus on three areas of adaptive functioning: academic, social and practical.

Looking at a death row inmate’s social adaptive area, an expert can examine how gullibility may have led the inmate into a crime, which could support a claim of mental retardation, Harris said in an email.

“We believe that we are providing the courts with a more fine-grained means to consider adaptive functioning more comprehensively and more meaningfully,” Harris said.


As the bipartisan immigration reform put forth by the so-called Gang of 8 begins its journey through the congressional process, those who are less-than-friendly toward the reform are seizing the moment to tack on a string of poison pill amendments to the original bill.

One of the most loathsome of these is an amendment proposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), which would mandate the deportation of anyone who appears in either a gang database or in a gang injunction.

WLA has written before about the dangers of being falsely named in an injunction, and of the impossibility of getting off CAL GANG, California’s gang database, once you’ve been put on.

Tuesday’s LA Times editorial board has a short but excellent editorial about the creepy Grassley Amendment (penned by the very smart Sandra Hernandez).

Here are a couple of clips:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is just beginning its markup of the bipartisan immigration bill, but already opponents and supporters of the sweeping legislation are fighting over which immigrants should be allowed to legalize their status and which should be deported.


Keeping immigrants from legalizing their status because of accusations, rather than convictions, is unjust. Gang databases and injunctions are useful but imperfect tools with a troubled history. Individuals can find themselves on those lists because of such factors as tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant. Moreover, critics say individuals who may not be in a gang but have relatives or friends who are can end up in the databases. That’s guilt by association.

Those placed on such lists often face a near-impossible task when they try to remove their names. Just consider Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ appalling tactics in trying to secure an injunction against 115 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. Dozens of them went to court to challenge the designation. However, they never got a chance to present their case because prosecutors dropped their names from the list before a judge could rule

The violence prevention program Homies Unidos, is among those youth advocate groups that oppose this amendment. Here’s what they had to say:

This kind of dragnet approach targets the wrong people and risks deporting and separating from their families individuals who are not gang members. Young people living in “bad” neighborhoods will certainly be vulnerable. Moreover, these provisions do not adequately protect people who have left gangs and have stable and productive lives.

These proposals impose guilt by association and collective punishment by targeting people not for their own individual culpable conduct, but for their associations with groups considered to be dangerous. For example, this provision could impact a person who resides with or associates with a family member known to be in a gang or lives in a neighborhood where there is a high concentration of gangs…


More cheers for the Right on Crime group that is increasingly providing leadership on many criminal justice issues.

In this week’s Congressional Quarterly, for instance, the CQ’s John Gramlich notes the following:

Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands. Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations.

“I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian says.

Paul is emblematic of a quiet but unmistakable shift among conservatives in Congress when it comes to criminal justice. Not only are Republicans engaging in a serious debate about relaxing federal criminal penalties — an idea that was once anathema to lawmakers who worried that their next campaign opponent would label them “soft on crime” — they are leading the discussion.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has poured cold water on Democratic priorities since Republicans regained control of the chamber in 2010, last week created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books. (Story, p. 848)

The task force will examine “overcriminalization” in the federal justice system and evaluate what Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte calls an “ever-increasing labyrinth” of criminal penalties, some of them for relatively minor crimes in which perpetrators may not have realized they were breaking the law. The Virginia Republican cited the example of an 11-year-old girl who “saved a baby woodpecker from the family cat” but received a $535 fine because of a federal law banning the possession of a migratory bird.

The panel will be led by law-and-order Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott, an outspoken critic of more-contentious criminal policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, which the task force will also evaluate. A diverse range of groups endorses the effort, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce….


Members of the County Federation of Labor and others marched on Tuesday to protest the rumored possible sale of parts or all of the Tribune Co., including the LA Times, to the company owned by the conservative Koch siblings.

Here’s what Rory Carroll of the Guardian said about the march:

Unions, activists and artists held a rally on Tuesday, to protest the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to the Koch brothers, warning that such a sale would turn one of the US’s great newspapers into a right-wing mouthpiece.

Hundreds gathered outside the downtown Los Angeles office of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co, which owns the LA Times, to deter it from making such a deal. Some carried signs saying “No Koch Hate in LA”.

“The idea that the LA Times could be taken over by right-wing radical extremists just boggles the mind,” said Glen Arnodo, staff director of the LA County Federation of Labor, as protestors prepared to picket. “It’s impossible to believe with their brand of extremism that there would be any objectivity whatsoever.”

Musician Ry Cooder reportedly even wrote a song about the matter, with which he serenaded the crowd.

Posted in District Attorney, Gangs, immigration, Los Angeles Times, unions | 3 Comments »

CA DAs’ Creepy Death Penalty Bill Rejected…Jail Deputy Allegedly Beat Informant…. CA Submits Additional Prison Pop Reduction Strategies

May 3rd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


It used to be the CCPOA* PPOA, the prison guards’ union, that was the most reform-averse and law-and-order crazy lobbying group in the state. But now the the CCPOA PPOA* folks look positively bleeding heart next to the California District Attorneys Association that wants to lock everyone up for as long as possible, consequences be damned. They also really, really, really want to get some people executed in our state, and don’t seem to mind if it’s done very painfully.

So while Maryland’s governor signed a bill Thursday repealing the death penalty, becoming the 18th state to do so, in supposedly progressive California, the prosecutors are itching to kill somebody.

It should be noted that not ALL prosecutors feel this way. In fact, a number of the state’s leading prosecutors don’t. But the prosecutors who call the shots at the CDAA are quite the blood lusty, punishment lovin’ group—and they’re the ones either putting forth or blocking legislation.

Fortunately, in the most recent instance, the Cal Senate’s Public Safety Committee helped the DAs dial things back.

Bob Egelko at the San Francisco Chronicle has the story.

Here’s a clip that outlines the bill that the Public Safety Committee spiked:

Backers of SB779, including its author, state Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine (San Diego County), said the bill would speed up executions in California, which have been blocked by court orders since 2006. It was introduced following the narrow defeat in November of a ballot measure to repeal the state’s death penalty law.

The bill would have limited most condemned prisoners to one round of appeals in the state court system and another in federal court. Other provisions would have eliminated public review of regulations on execution procedures, barred disclosure of the suppliers of drugs used in executions and authorized a new method of gas chamber executions.

California’s last execution by cyanide gas was in 1993. A federal judge ruled a year later that the gas chamber at San Quentin caused excruciating pain and violated the constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

Lethal injections at the prison were halted in 2006 when another federal judge ruled that the executions, carried out by poorly trained staff in a dimly lit chamber, posed an undue risk of a prolonged and agonizing death. The court-imposed moratorium is likely to remain in place at least through 2013 as the state tries to validate new regulations and cope with a shortage of execution drugs.

*NOTE: Please forgive the sleep deprived typo of PPOA instead of CCPOA. (sigh.)


In the lawsuit filed last month by Deputies James Sexton and Mike Rathbun, [and reported by WLA here], among the many allegations listed in the legal complaint is the report that one of Sexton’s confidential informants was repeatedly assaulted and harassed by a deputy working in the jails, even after Sexton told the deputy that he was the inmate’s handler, that the man was a valuable informant, and to please leave him alone— Deputy Michael Camacho continued with his harassment, both physical and verbal.

Robert Faturechi has a story in Friday’s LA Times that reports more deeply on the alleged abuse of the informant by Deputy Camacho. Here’s a clip:

Prosecutors are considering whether to file criminal charges against a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy accused of assaulting an inmate who was helping federal authorities investigate a suspected international drug trafficker, according to records and interviews.

The inmate accused Deputy Michael Camacho of targeting him, at least in part, because he was cooperating with detectives as an informant, internal records show.

The records indicate that in July, the inmate told his sheriff’s handlers that Camacho punched him in his torso and ribs.
“Put me in a room by myself and your [sheriff's handler] and we will see what happens.”

The Sheriff’s Department, which runs the nation’s largest jail system, has been beleaguered by allegations that its deputies have abused inmates, often just for showing nonviolent acts of disrespect.

Records show the informant had been deemed “reliable” and was providing specifics on a drug smuggling ring’s operations, including a six-figure cash drop-off, escapes from law enforcement and kilos of cocaine hidden in warehouses.

A sheriff’s spokesman confirmed that the department completed an investigation into the allegations, and is waiting for the district attorney’s office to decide whether to file criminal charges. In the meantime, Camacho has been reassigned to a desk job.

“We don’t know if this had any effect on his ability to continue his service to the Sheriff’s Department and federal authorities,” spokesman Steve Whitmore said of the said of the inmate informant.

In the Sexton/Rathbun lawsuit, it is alleged that in August 2012, after Sexton had formally reported Camacho for abusing inmates a few weeks before, Camacho confronted Sexton and threatened him physically.

The alleged attacks and threats by Camacho took place in the Spring and Summer of 2012, after the Citizens Commissions on Jail Violence had, for months, been holding their well-publicized hearings investigating abuse of inmates by deputies, and also after Sheriff Baca had publicly and within the sheriff’s department made it clear that such abuse would not be tolerated.


On May 3, Governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Corrections submitted a list of additional strategies to lower the state’s prison population, but it did so unhappily and under protest.

Here is a summary of the state’s new suggestions, most of which require a vote of the state legislature:

The court-ordered list focuses on increasing capacity to house prisoners, but also includes provisions to increase good-conduct credit. Virtually every action identified on the list requires legislative approval with the exception of the expanded fire camp capacity. All legislative changes must be urgency measures in order to meet the December 2013 court-ordered deadline.

The list includes the following measures:
· Expanding the capacity of fire camps by allowing certain inmates who are currently ineligible to participate.
· Slowing the rate of returning out-of-state inmates to California.
· Leasing beds from county jails and other facilities where there is sufficient capacity.
· Increasing good-conduct credit for non-violent inmates.
· Expanding medical and elderly parole.

The increase in credits for good conduct will not impact realignment. Prisoners who are released under the new good-conduct rules would serve their parole under state supervision. If they violate parole prior to the end of what their sentence would have been without the increased good-conduct credits, they will return to state prison.

The full response to the court-ordered population reduction may be found here.


Aaron Sankin from the Huffington Post has the story. Here’s a clip:

A bill that passed the California State Senate earlier this week has the potential to fundamentally change the way the state deals with its non-violent drug offenders.

The legislation, introduced by State Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), gives local officials more flexibility in how they decide to charge individuals convicted of non-violent drug crimes. This flexibility could ultimately lead to California incarcerating fewer of its citizens, the measure’s backers argue.

“One of the best ways to promote lower crime rates is to provide low-level offenders with the rehabilitation they need to successfully reenter their communities,” said Leno in a statement. “However, our current laws do just the opposite. We give non-violent drug offenders long terms, offer them no treatment while they’re incarcerated, and then release them back into the community with few job prospects or opportunities to receive an education.”

Current California law mandates that certain drugs be charged as either misdemeanors or felonies, while others are categorized as “wobblers,” in which prosecutors and judges decide for themselves on a punishment. For example, marijuana possession is always a misdemeanor and cocaine is always felony; however, meth is a wobbler. The bill, which does not apply to anyone selling or manufacturing drugs, would turn all simple possession cases in wobblers.

Leno expects that giving local prosecutors and judges the ability the charge and sentence some offenses as misdemeanors instead of felonies would both direct more people into rehabilitation programs rather than having them serve hard time and also free up about $159 million annually for said rehabilitation programs.

It could also help the long term life trajectories of some offenders….

It would be an excellent step forward if California were to do something so sensible as to pass this bill.

We’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Death Penalty, District Attorney, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

LASD “COPS HIT Team” Opens Fire…CA Activist Gets Son Back After 3-Strikes Reform…..The Teen Court Option

April 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Angel Mendez, 30, and Jennifer Garcia, 27, were assuredly not model citizens. Yet they were not suspected of any crime when a specialized Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department team reportedly blew through the door of the backyard shack where they were living.

The members of the “COPS HIT” team (the unfortunately conceived acronym for “Community-Oriented Policing Services High-Impact Team”) reportedly entered the shack without knocking, calling out, or identifying themselves. They had evidently come to the shack looking for a parolee who had gone AWOL from his court-ordered drug rehab. They’d gotten a tip that he might have gone to the Mendez/Garcia shack. Or not. It might have been somewhere else.

Within seconds two of the team unloaded a total of fifteen bullets into Angel Mendez and Jennifer Garcia.

In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Patrick Range McDonald delves into the story of the shooting, the subsequent response of the sheriff’s department, and the civil case that has recently finished and now awaits a judicial verdict.

Here are two clips—one from near the first of the stort, the second from near the end.

Conley opened the shack door with his department-issued 9mm semiautomatic Beretta drawn. Mendez, who had on the bed a Daisy Powerline rifle-style BB gun that he used for shooting rats, sat up and moved the BB gun to the floor. Conley opened fire. A bullet ripped into Mendez’s right forearm, passed through it and struck his right leg — proof, his attorneys today say, that he was reaching down to put the BB gun on the floor when shot.

“I didn’t even know it was them,” Mendez later told Sheriff’s Homicide Sgt. Robert Gray. “They didn’t say ‘police’! They didn’t say ‘freeze’! They didn’t say ‘drop the weapon’! They said nothing, sir.”

Conley and Pederson fired at will, peppering the couple with 14 more bullets, one of which struck the seven-months-pregnant Garcia in the right upper back and shattered her collarbone. Mendez was critically injured, hit multiple times in his right leg, arm, back and side; blood poured from his wounds. Weeks later, his badly fractured right leg, whose key arteries had been sliced in half, had to be amputated.

In a disturbing videotape taken minutes after the shooting, as a paramedic worked to stop the bleeding, police can be clearly heard pressuring Mendez to say he’d pointed the BB gun at Conley. Mendez begs the people around him, “Oh, please, don’t let me die, sir!” then turns his head toward neighbor Charles Green, who is witnessing the drama, and tells Green: “I never pointed the gun at him, Charlie!”

And pages later…a second clip:

Tom Parker, the former head of L.A.’s FBI office, read the Sheriff’s and L.A. County District Attorney reports on the Mendez shooting, as well as David Drexler’s opening statement at trial. He has come to suspect that COPS HIT and TOP were engaged in the “very common” practice of “testi-lying” after a bad shoot.

Parker is a retired 24-year veteran of the FBI whose distinguished career included undercover investigations, police corruption and brutality cases and investigations of agent-involved shootings. Last year, the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara gave him a Heroes of Justice Award for his work on criminal-justice reform.

Parker says police sometimes lie about “drug houses” to justify unjustifiable searches. But he has even more fundamental doubts than that in the Angel Mendez case. He questions whether a deputy ever saw big, white Ronnie O’Dell at Albertsons or whether the purported informant even existed.

“From that point forward,” Parker says, referring to the deputies’ huddle outside Albertsons, “there’s really faulty police procedures happening here.” Nobody saw O’Dell leave Albertsons, so the deputies were not in a “hot pursuit” to Paula Hughes’ home. Nor was there any clear and immediate threat to the public.

Parker says, “Without a warrant or substantial probable cause … you don’t have a right to go into the backyard and search through buildings, never mind the shack.” He says the killing of Paula Hughes’ German shepherd was wrong. “If you’ve got no right to be on the property, you’ve got no right to shoot the dog.”

Professor O’Donnell agrees that if there’s not an emergency, “You need to have a warrant to go into someone’s house.” But he notes that due to institutional pressures, officers and their commanders often feel they can’t admit they were wrong.

O’Donnell adds, “If you can’t be truthful, then what are your reports going to say?”

Parker explains, “If you operate from the premise that [police] had no right to be there, that damages the self-protection aspect of the shooting. … Angel and Jennifer are innocent victims in this situation.”

O’Donnell says it’s also “interesting” that Mendez was not prosecuted for pointing an imitation gun. “He basically didn’t do a crime,” the professor says. “He was sitting in his home.”

The sheriff’s department’s own Internal Affairs investigation cleared the officers of any wrongdoing, as did the OIR—the Office of Independent Review—and the LA DA’s office.

There’s much more to the story so read the rest here.


Anyone who has reported on 3-Strikes reform has probably met or talked to Sue Reams, one of the front line 3-Strikes reform activists. Reams started her campaign to change the law after her son went away on a life sentence.

The day before Easter of this year, she and her husband were able to bring her son home from prison.

NPR’s Ina Jaffe has the story. Here’s the audio. And her’s a clip from the text:

…Before that moment, Shane had served about 17 years of his potential life sentence. He got his third strike for being involved in the sale of a $20 rock of cocaine. He says he was a bystander. The prosecution said he was a lookout. But it was Shane’s first two strikes that caused his mother such heartache, as she said in a 2009 interview with NPR. She’d been trying to get her son off drugs, she explained. Nothing seemed to work, so she tried tough love.

“Tough love tells you that you take a stand,” she said. “So I took a stand.”

That meant when her son stole some stuff from her house — and from the neighbors — to get money for drugs, Reams insisted he turn himself in. She even drove him to the police station. She told him: “Maybe you’ll get a drug program. You need a drug program.”

Instead he got convicted of two counts of residential burglary. A few years later when he got picked up on the drug charge, those burglaries counted as his first two strikes….


Los Angeles has a remarkable teen court program that we’ve visited and will report on in the future, but here’s a report on a teen court in Napa, California that is doing good things.

Michael Waterson writing for the Napa Valley Register has the story. Here’s a clip:

Recognizing the power of peer pressure, Napa County’s juvenile justice system attempts to harness it for positive behavioral change through a peer court program where teens judge teens.

Peer Court came to American Canyon on Thursday. A young defendant was tried in City Hall chambers by youth lawyers who presented the case to a teenage jury and Napa County Family Court Commissioner Monique Langhorne-Johnson. The young attorneys were mentored by real lawyers from the Napa Bar Association or experienced Peer Court youths.

The young defendant, who because of his age can’t be identified, had been arrested for allegedly smoking marijuana and concentrated cannabis. A high school senior and a good student with a 3.27 grade point average, the defendant said he used marijuana more than once for joint pain in his knees and shoulder. He said a doctor told him surgery was not an option to correct his pain.

On the day he was caught smoking with a friend in a parked car, he said he had come from work where he had stood on his feet all day. Because of his arrest, he has been given a curfew by his parents, he said.

In addition to observing another Peer Court proceeding, writing an essay about it and serving on a peer jury, student prosecutors Eric McFarland and Acee Echevarria called for the defendant to put in eight hours of community service and complete a drug education class.

A 16-year-old student at American Canyon High School, McFarland said he has always loved the idea of being a lawyer. His middle name, Kazi, means “lawyer” in the Bengali dialect he said.

Echevarria, also 16 and an American Canyon student, said he is fascinated by the law, so much so he sometimes travels to Napa to sit in on random court proceedings.

“I first heard of it in class,” Echevarria said about Peer Court. “I fell in love with the program….”

Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department via LA Weekly

Posted in Courts, District Attorney, juvenile justice, LASD, Sentencing | 25 Comments »

2012 Was a Good Year for Exonerations…..D.C. Kids Use Cameras to Protest More School Cops… More Sloppy Realignment Reporting

April 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Light posting today. Working on a number of interesting thing for next week and the following week.


According to a new report released Wednesday, 2012 was a good year for exonerations, with California adding the most exonerations to the list last year.

On notable difference in last year’s innocence cases is that more police and prosecutors assisted in the exonerations.

Maggie Clark has the story for Stateline.


Gotta love the proactive attitude of this group of students using their cameras to protest what they view as an overzealous security, post Newtown. Annie Gowen at the Washington Post has the story. Here’s a clip from the opening:

The small band of guerrilla photographers spread out in schools across the District, snapping photos of metal detectors, police pat-downs, and scuffles between security guards and students.

The dozen or so teens, who hail from some of the area’s most troubled neighborhoods, are trying to document the kind of school security issues that have taken center stage in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

Since the December tragedy, the question of whether schools are safe has gained new urgency, with the Senate weighing $40 million in funding for school security plans and the National Rifle Association — which has called for armed teachers, administrators or guards in every school — releasing recommendations from its experts Tuesday.

But H.D. Woodson High School senior Mike Ruff and other classmates have armed themselves with cameras to make the opposite point. They say that their learning environment has been scarred by relentless security. They say their high schools, among an estimated 10,000 nationwide with police on campus, feel like prisons….

Read the rest here.


Tobias Dustin Summers is suspected of kidnapping the 10-year old Northridge girl last week, and is now on the run. It seems, however, that when Summers finished his most recent prison term and got out, he was assigned to a probation officer, not a parole officer, under AB 109. His practical requirements were basically the same. And he, reportedly, hit most all his marks. He drug tested when he was required to do so. He didn’t test dirty. He met with his PO on schedule.

Then the day after one such meeting, he went out and allegedly abducted a little girl.

Unfortunately, the horrific abduction is being blamed—with a blithe lack of fact-checking—on realignment. Scads of reporters are advancing this sloppy theory, as is LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

In the midst of all this misinformation, WLA sends a gigantic thank you to Rina Palta at KPPC for reporting on the story like the smart, hard-working, clear-minded professional she is–(AKA someone who thinks that accuracy and logical thought are both good things).

You can read Palta’s story here

Posted in District Attorney, Innocence, media, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Q & A With Jackie Lacey….Gun Talk…Prosecutorial Abuse, Part 2….& MD Gov. Pushes for Death Penalty Repeal,

January 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Patt’s interview offers some brief but interesting glimpses into Jackie the D.A. and Jackie the person.

Regarding Jackie the person, there’s an affecting moment where Lacey talks about how her father died in 2008, and when she visits his grave, she keeps thinking how much she wishes he’d seen her take office.

In terms of Jackie the D.A., it is encouraging to hear that her views on realignment sound reasonably balanced. (How that translates into action is something we’ll be keeping an eye on in the future.)

Here are both those clips:

PATT M: Is your dad here to see what you’ve achieved?

JACKIE L. He died in 2008. When I’m at the grave site, the question that pops into my head is, God, couldn’t he have been here for this? While it’s important for my mother, this particular accomplishment would have been extraordinary for my father. He loved following politics. He had pictures in our dining room of Tom Bradley and Julian Bond and Kenny Hahn, Martin Luther King of course, Robert F. Kennedy, John Kennedy. So for him not to be here — I don’t want to say I’m angry; I just don’t understand it. But I feel my father’s presence.


PATT M: How is state prison realignment — pushing state prisoners to the local level — going?

JACKIE L: It happened so fast and local law enforcement just wasn’t ready for this shift. We have a limited amount of space and money to incarcerate people. We’ve run out of room at the state prisons. We have run out of room at the county jail. My office’s role is to figure out alternatives for some people, such as mental health programs or drug facilities. Let’s peel the lower-risk people off and save room for people who are very dangerous.

Right now, we have policies that mandate 10 days in jail, 15 days, 30 days. They’re not going to be in that amount of time. And for some of these people, some of these alternatives are cheaper to do, and the recidivism rate is something like 10% to 30%. We’ve got to not be fearful about having these discussions.


An interesting interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books with Paul M. Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s gun, who, by the way, isn’t particularly enthusiastic about assault weapons bans, simply because he doesn’t think they’ll do all that much good. Here’s what he says about his preferred approach:

PB: We already have a system in place right now for which there is broad support, restricting not particular kinds of guns, but who’s allowed to buy and possess them. That should be our focus when it comes to new legislation: not on guns, but on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable people. We already have laws on the books that do that, but they are not as effective as they could be, because they too have loopholes. I would be in favor of closing those loopholes.

Specifically, I’m in favor of there being a requirement for a federal background check on all sales of all firearms at all times, not just the sales by federally licensed firearms dealers. That would capture many, many thousands and thousands of transactions that today happen basically off the books.

SR: Is this the so-called “gun show loophole”?

PB: Just as some people are obsessed with — to their own detriment — assault weapons, people are obsessed with gun shows. Gun shows are not the problem. It’s not gun shows, it’s private sales of firearms. Forget about gun shows.

At gun shows you have both federally licensed dealers who do background checks, and you have so-called private collectors who don’t do the background checks. The problem is not the federally licensed firearm dealers, who are actually at most gun shows selling the majority of guns, it’s those other guys.

And even more to the point, it’s the guys who don’t even go to gun shows, because those guys publically set up their product, essentially saying, “Here I am selling guns out in public, where the police can see me, and the ATF can see me,” and so forth. It’s the guys who do that from their kitchen table or the trunk of their car who are selling, all too often, to criminals or to other people who shouldn’t be getting guns.

I would make all sales that are sneaky, where no one knows who is actually buying the gun, illegal. That would keep guns out of the hands of some number of people who right now are very purposefully avoiding the background checks. Those are people we should be very suspicious about.

Read the rest of this intriguing interview (conducted by critic and essayist, Shaun Randol) here.

(Go, LARB!)


While Aaron Swartz was an extraordinary young man, the story of relentless prosecutorial zeal aimed at Swartz for more than two years before he killed himself is depressingly ordinary.

And usually it is directed people who do not have the support and resources that Swartz had.

I am particularly aware of this as I prepare, this Wednesday morning, to attend the latest hearing in Federal Court pertaining to the case of Alex Sanchez, a RICO case in which the Feds reportedly lied to the grand jury, misidentified witnesses, all to bolster a murder conspiracy charge, which appears to have had nothing in the way of real evidence to justify it.

Writing for the Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer (who is one of many writing on the topic) points out the depressing ordinariness that Swartz’s case represents. Here’s a clip:

Federal prosecutors wanted to make an example of Aaron Swartz and they succeeded. Their wildly disproportionate treatment of his victimless trespasses exemplified the Justice Department’s disregard for fairness, decency, and the fundamental rights of the citizens it’s supposed to serve. Swartz’s prosecution was notable not because of its cruel over-zealousness, which is horribly routine, but because it involved a gifted, idealistic, emotionally vulnerable defendant, with a sophisticated and relatively powerful constituency that has the means to make itself heard.

He was not the first person to hang himself in the wake of abusive, even sadistic federal prosecution, and he may not be the last. (You can read about the case of the “posthumously vindicated” Dr. Peter Gleason here.) But Swartz’s suicide may be the first to generate widespread sorrow and outrage over common prosecutorial tactics that put ordinary as well as extraordinary citizens at risk.


Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is giving a repeal of his state’s death penalty another shot, announcing on Tuesday that he will file a bill to do away with the ultimate punishment.

“The death penalty is expensive and it does not work,” O’Malley said during a news conference. “And for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it.”

The governor said the state should instead focus on measures that have proven to reduce crime rates, such as deploying police forces strategically, collection and use of DNA evidence, and using modern policing technology.

He also tied the abolition of capital punishment to a moral imperative, pointing out that the U.S. was among the seven countries that oversaw the most state executions: Iran, China, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States.

“In whose company do we choose to walk forward?” he asked. “Will we be a society guided by the notion that two wrongs somehow make a right? Or will we be a society that’s guided by the fundamental civil and human rights that we understand are bestowed on humankind by God?”

O’Malley was flanked by members of the legislative black caucus, county executives and NAACP officials.

The NAACP has made it a priority to scrap capital punishment in Maryland this year, with the ultimate goal of abolishing it nationwide.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, District Attorney, guns, Prosecutors | 2 Comments »

DA Lacey is Sworn in, Board of Supes to Appoint Jails Reform Monitor…and More

December 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Frank Stolz of KPCC and the Daily News’s Christina Villacorte are among those who reported on Jackie Lacey’s swearing in on Monday afternoon.

Here’s a clip from Frank’s story:

Lacey, 55, born and raised in the Crenshaw District in South L.A., was the first in her family to go to college. She graduated from USC Law School and spent 26 years as a prosecutor before taking the top job. Her mother was a seamstress, her father cleaned lots for the city of L.A. The daughter will now lead the largest local prosecutors office in the country.

“How cool is that?” Lacey said at ceremony where her nine-year-old niece sang and the Inner City Youth Orchestra performed.

Well, pretty cool, actually.

We don’t yet really know what kind of DA Lacey will be. That will come soon enough. But for now we’re willing to savor the delight of the historic moment.

My friend Sal Martinez, who brought his 11-year old honor student daughter to USC’s Galen Center to see the swearing in, captured the general mood of the event. “My beautiful daughter Carol is now part of L.A. County history!” he said happily.

(It should be noted that Sal is his own kind of barrier-breaker. Now a community leader in Boyle Heights, and the Vice President of the LA County Probation Commission, he was once a teenage gang member who was shot twice and stabbed three times before he was 18. He credits his turnaround to the influence of the late and legendary probation officer, Mary Ridgway.)

Steve Cooley administered the oath of office for Lacey, and former DA John Van de Kamp presented Lacey with her badge.


Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas will introduce a motion Tuesday morning to appoint Richard Drooyan as the “Implementation Monitor,” whose job would be to watchdog “the implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.”

Appointing Drooyan is a good idea, and evidently has been in the works for a while, due to the fact that the Supes don’t, shall we say, have 100 percent trust that Sheriff Baca will make sure that all the agreed upon reform recommendations are actually put into place.

A former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Drooyan has served as the president of LA’s police commission and, more recently, as the general counsel for the Jails Commission, which meant he oversaw the work of the teams of attorney/investigators. (In his day job, Drooyan is a partner in the LA law firm of Munger, Tolles & Olson.)


And in a weird side story, Former Assemblyman Mike Feuer, who is challenging Carmen Trutanich in the City Attorney’s race), was headed for LacEy’s swearing in when a truck blew a red light and slammed in to Feuer’s Prius. Fortunately Feuer is okay—relatively speaking. But he will spend a couple of days in the hospital, according to a representative of his campaign.


This Washington Post Op Ed by an LA Teacher ran on Friday, but it’s too interesting to let slip.

Written by Michael Stryer, an LAUSD high school teacher on leave, who is a member of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and the executive director of Teachers for a New Unionism.

Here’s how it opens:

We have all heard about the dramatic changes in the American electorate and how, because he spoke to the concerns of the growing numbers of Hispanic, black, female and younger voters, President Obama was reelected despite adverse economic conditions.

Another critical demographic shift is occurring. This one is taking place, quietly, in teachers unions: Over the past several years, teachers who have spent 10 years or fewer in the classroom have become the dues-paying majority. The impact of this new majority is as important to the role of unions as the changing electorate is to presidential elections. These newer teachers, along with many longtime teachers, are looking for their unions to elevate the profession — not to sacrifice teaching quality for job security.

But the word is definitely not out. I’m a teacher and a union member — and a member of the new majority. Not long after the Chicago teachers strike ended, I had dinner with lifelong Democrats. Instead of support for a revitalized union movement or sympathy for the plight of teachers, the conversation included such comments as: “The last thing teachers unions think about are students,” “Teachers unions haven’t addressed teacher-quality issues, especially with the weakest teachers” and “Teachers unions have to start focusing on something other than pay and tenure.”

It was painful to hear this — especially because such sentiments accurately describe the situation in many large urban teachers unions. In smaller unions across the country, however, progressive teachers are committed to meeting student needs and advancing the profession. And the new majority is accelerating those changes….

Read the rest.

(And a hat tip to The LA School Report for drawing our attention to this story.)

NOTE: Pre-scribbled and pre-Instagrammed photo courtesy of Sal Martinez.

Posted in District Attorney | 1 Comment »

« Previous Entries