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LA Elementary School Kids Still Without Libraries, Interrogating Kids, LA Times on LAPD “Ghost Cars,” and Jim McDonnell’s New Radio Ad

October 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAUSD ELEMENTARY SCHOOL LIBRARIES STAFFING ISSUES EVEN WORSE AFTER BOOSTED FUNDING

Despite increased money for staffing libraries this year, the number of trained aides running LAUSD elementary school libraries has actually decreased by 20%, leaving around 100,000 LA kids without access to a school library. The problem, LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy says, is that it is very difficult to find specially trained staff willing to work just three hours per day.

(WLA has been following this issue for a while, now. Backstory can be found here.)

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has the story. Here’s a clip:

During budget hearings last spring, Superintendent John Deasy promised to spend $6 million to bring back the 192 library aides who would help open shuttered elementary libraries across the district this school year.

In 2011 budget cuts, Deasy and the school board laid off half of the district’s library aides and reduced the hours of many who were left. Without trained staff, schools can’t run a library under state law.

“Students don’t learn literacy skills (in the library). They learn that through trained teachers,” Deasy told KPCC in 2011, after the cuts were announced.

But despite a commitment to rehire staff, the number of elementary library aides have decreased by about 20 percent since last fall.

District officials said its difficult to recruit workers to work just three hours a day, five days a week – the schedule of many library aides.


PROBLEMS WITH USING ADULT INTERROGATION METHODS ON KIDS

The NY Times’ Jan Hoffman has an interesting story on interrogation techniques and why they elicit false confessions from teenagers. Hoffman points to a recent study of 57 interrogations of teens across the country. None of the teens exercised their constitutional rights: they did not remain silent, they did not leave, and they did not ask for a lawyer. Around 37% fully confessed, and 33% incriminated themselves.

Other research shows that kids do not fully understand their rights, and are easily worn down by persuasive interrogators trying to scare out a confession.

(For other WLA posts about problematic interrogation practices and false confessions, go here, here, and here.)

Here’s a clip from Hoffman’s story:

Teenagers, studies show, are not developmentally ready to make critical decisions that have long-term impacts.

“Adolescents are more oriented to the present, so they are less likely than adults to be thinking about the future consequences of what they’re saying,” said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University who writes about teenagers in the justice system and was not involved in this study.

Teenagers, he added, are also less likely than adults to know that the police can lie during interrogations.

“The police often promise kids things in the present. ‘If you just tell me you did it, you can go see your mom,’ ” he continued. “And because the brain’s reward systems are hypersensitive during adolescence, that immediate reward of confessing will trump the thinking of, ‘What will happen when I come back to court in a month?’ ”

Moreover, research shows that teenagers aged 15 and younger will unwittingly comply with authority figures. They are very suggestible, so that during an interrogation, they are more likely than adults to change their answers in response to interviewers.


LA TIMES: FALSE DATA REPORTING SYMPTOMS OF LARGER LAPD ISSUES?

Within the last three months, two reports have emerged revealing false data reporting within the LAPD. The first, an August LA Times report, found nearly 1,200 violent crimes misclassified as minor crimes, resulting in lower city crime rates.

Then, on Friday, an Office of Inspector General report found that department supervisors were boosting patrol numbers by deploying “ghost cars,” reporting officers as out on patrol who were actually filling out paperwork or performing other duties.

An LA Times editorial says that either the LAPD administration is unaware of what’s going on at the ground-level, or they are enforcing a culture in which department supervisors can only achieve goals by fixing the numbers. The editorial says the department needs to be held responsible for the false data reporting, but that the police commission should also examine why these errors are occurring.

Here’s a clip:

The Inspector General’s revelation is troubling for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s dishonest. False data lead city leaders and the public to believe the streets are more heavily patrolled than they really are. That undermines our sense of how safe we are, and also influences policy decisions on, for example, whether the city should hire more civilians for administrative tasks or keep hiring officers. And if supervisors can justify lying about staffing levels in order to keep the bosses happy, what other transgressions or omissions will they allow?

Most worrisome is that this is the second report in recent months to conclude that the LAPD has been relying on bad data and inaccurate reporting. A Times investigation in August found that the department understated violent crime in the city by misclassifying nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses during a one-year period. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck chalked that up to human error, although department insiders said deliberate miscoding had become common as captains and other supervisors were — again — under intense pressure to meet crime-reduction targets set by the brass.


NEW RADIO CAMPAIGN BY “FRIENDS OF MCDONNELL”

The independent expenditure committee, Friends of McDonnell for Sheriff 2014, has launched a $250,000 radio campaign on LBPD Chief Jim McDonnell’s behalf.

In the 60 second ad, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey calls on listeners to vote McDonnell for Los Angeles Sheriff. Here’s the transcript:

This is Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey. There is no better choice for Los Angeles County Sheriff than Jim McDonnell. Jim is recognized as a leader in law enforcement leader. He has decades of experience with LAPD and as Chief of the Long Beach Police Department.

I respect and endorse Jim because he has integrity, independence, and has served on the front line of law enforcement. Proven leadership is why Jim McDonnell is endorsed by four previous DA’s.

Jim McDonnell is endorsed by all 5 County Supervisors and Mayor Eric Garcetti. Every daily newspaper in Los Angeles County has also endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff. I know Jim McDonnell can get the job done as Sheriff. I have seen him in action.

Whether you vote by absentee ballot or at the polls, be sure to vote for Jim McDonnell for L.A. County Sheriff.

While Paul Tanaka is technically still in the race, he has been rather quiet in his campaigning, opting to speak at smaller events, and posting a couple of videos on his social media pages (including a video of former sheriff contender Pat Gomez endorsing him).

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, LAUSD, Paul Tanaka | 14 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

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

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

They wrote:

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

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

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

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

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

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

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

Leifman said the results were striking.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

LA County Board of Supes to Vote on Laura’s Law… as Sheriff Candidate McDonnell Commits Strong Support for Mental Health Diversion

July 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


EXPANDING LAURA’S LAW IN LA COUNTY

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider the issue of how best to help LA County’s mentally ill from two different perspectives.

First of all the supervisors are expected to vote to expand and fund something called the Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) Demonstration Project Act of 2002—more commonly known as Laura’s Law.

Although Laura’s Law was passed by the California legislature in 2002, the statute was controversial, thus the state gave counties the option of adopting it or not.

In brief, Laura’s Law allows a family member, roommate, mental health provider, police officer or probation officer to ask the court to order a seriously mentally ill person into outpatient treatment. The law only applies to a narrow subset of people—namely the mentally ill who have landed in jail or in hospitals, or who appear to be a danger to themselves or others, but who don’t qualify for a “5150,” which mandates a psych hold. Moreover, the court can issue such an order for treatment only after an extensive and multi-layered review process.

Los Angeles and Yolo Counties already have pilot programs. Orange County has adopted the whole thing, as has Nevada County, which was where the law originated.

San Francisco approved the provision last Tuesday.

If the LA supervisors approve the expansion of the Laura’s Law pilot,—as they are expected to do—the county is expected to do approximately 500 evaluations for the program per year (up from around 50 evaluations per year during the pilot period). The expanded program would allow for around 300 people to be enrolled in outpatient treatment any given time (up from 20), plus 60 crisis residential beds.

Some mental health advocates have been adamantly opposed to Laura’s Law maintaining that it not only violates the rights of the mentally ill, it also compromises any therapeutic relationship by forcing people into treatment.

However, a similar law enacted in New York in 1999, called Kendra’s law, featured few of the feared problems and showed a range of improved outcomes for the mentally ill involved.

Some of the main supporters of Laura’s Law have been family members who say they need better tools to keep their loved ones out of jail, and off the street when they are too ill to realize they need treatment.

Supervisor Supervisor Michael Antonovich has been the board’s lead supporter for Laura’s Law.


NOW WHAT ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION?

The second important discussion at Tuesday’s meeting regarding mental health will be centered on a board-requested status report from District Attorney Jackie Lacey, in which she is expected to present recommendations for “the next interim steps to be taken for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.”

Although most of the board members seem to be, at least in general theory, for the notion of diverting some of LA County’s non-violent mentally ill away from the jails and into community treatment, the supes have been short on action on the matter. A couple of months ago, however, after voting to go ahead with a giant jail expansion plan, the board did pass a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to ask DA Lacey to produce a 60-day progress report about what might be done with this whole diversion matter—hence Tuesday’s presentation. Yet, since the board has since showed no interest in factoring diversion into their calculations when ordering up a new jail, it was hard to view their commitment to the matter as full-throated.

Thus it was heartening when, on Monday, Long Beach Chief of Police and candidate for LA County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, put out a strong policy statement supporting Lacey’s work and calling in no-nonsense terms for LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

In other words, it’s time for a firm commitment by the county.

“Our Sheriff’s Department currently runs what amounts to the largest mental health institution in the nation,” wrote McDonnell, “yet our jails are not a place for those who are suffering from mental illness and who would be better served by community-based treatment options that can address the underlying problems, while still maintaining community safety. I applaud District Attorney Jackie Lacey for her leadership and her vision in developing a comprehensive plan for mental health diversion in Los Angeles County.

McDonnell also praised the recent report released by the ACLU and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health,—which provided research showing why diversion works far better for non-violent inmates, and outlined the success of diversion programs in Miami-Dade and San Francisco. (Note: The ACLU report has already drawn support from organizations and individuals such as Chairman of the LA Police Commission, Steve Soboroff.)

As for the nuts and bolts of how he would aid in getting a comprehensive diversion program funded if he is elected to head the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said that the position of sheriff offers the “influence and the ability” to help “create priorities in the county.” He also stressed that all funding need not come from the county alone, that he’d seek out other sources—noting that once those sources saw that formerly siloed groups like the sheriff’s department, the DA’s office and the board of supervisors were able to “talk to each other” and work “collaboratively and strategically” on the issue, funds were far more likely to be forthcoming.

“I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country,” said McDonnell.

We think so too.

All the more reason to get going sooner rather than later.


PS: IF WE NEED ONE MORE REASON TO PUSH HARD AND SOON for a robust mental health diversion program, let us not forget that, in June, the U.S. Department of Justice found that Los Angeles County violates the constitutional rights of inmates by failing to provide adequate mental health care and appropriate suicide prevention policies in its jails. The DOJ also encouraged the county’s efforts to expand diversion programs for those inmates with mental illness.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC: BRUTAL ATTACKS BY STAFF ON MENTALLY ILL INMATES IN NY’S RIKER’S ISLAND “COMMON OCCURRENCES”

As the LA County Board of Supervisors considers the above issues pertaining to LA County’s mentally ill, the results of a 4-month investigation into violence by staff against the mentally ill of Riker’s Island (the nation’s second largest jail) seemed perfectly—and painfully—timed to demonstrate the problem with using jails as default mental health facilities.

Here’s a clip from the opening of the alarming NY Times report, written by Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz:

After being arrested on a misdemeanor charge following a family dispute last year, Jose Bautista was unable to post $250 bail and ended up in a jail cell on Rikers Island.

A few days later, he tore his underwear, looped it around his neck and tried to hang himself from the cell’s highest bar. Four correction officers rushed in and cut him down. But instead of notifying medical personnel, they handcuffed Mr. Bautista, forced him to lie face down on the cell floor and began punching him with such force, according to New York City investigators, that he suffered a perforated bowel and needed emergency surgery.

Just a few weeks earlier, Andre Lane was locked in solitary confinement in a Rikers cellblock reserved for inmates with mental illnesses when he became angry at the guards for not giving him his dinner and splashed them with either water or urine. Correction officers handcuffed him to a gurney and transported him to a clinic examination room beyond the range of video cameras where, witnesses say, several guards beat him as members of the medical staff begged for them to stop. The next morning, the walls and cabinets of the examination room were still stained with Mr. Lane’s blood.

The assaults on Mr. Bautista and Mr. Lane were not isolated episodes. Brutal attacks by correction officers on inmates — particularly those with mental health issues — are common occurrences inside Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail, a four-month investigation by The New York Times found.

Reports of such abuses have seldom reached the outside world, even as alarm has grown this year over conditions at the sprawling jail complex. A dearth of whistle-blowers, coupled with the reluctance of the city’s Department of Correction to acknowledge the problem and the fact that guards are rarely punished, has kept the full extent of the violence hidden from public view.

But The Times uncovered details on scores of assaults through interviews with current and former inmates, correction officers and mental health clinicians at the jail, and by reviewing hundreds of pages of legal, investigative and jail records. Among the documents obtained by The Times was a secret internal study completed this year by the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, which handles medical care at Rikers, on violence by officers. The report helps lay bare the culture of brutality on the island and makes clear that it is inmates with mental illnesses who absorb the overwhelming brunt of the violence.

The study, which the health department refused to release under the state’s Freedom of Information Law, found that over an 11-month period last year, 129 inmates suffered “serious injuries” — ones beyond the capacity of doctors at the jail’s clinics to treat — in altercations with correction department staff members.

The report cataloged in exacting detail the severity of injuries suffered by inmates: fractures, wounds requiring stitches, head injuries and the like. But it also explored who the victims were. Most significantly, 77 percent of the seriously injured inmates had received a mental illness diagnosis….

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 19 Comments »

LA’s Use of “Split Sentencing” Gets Worse (Can DA Jackie Lacey Help?)…..When CA Kids are “Double Charged” ….Pilot of Drug Smuggling Boat Sentenced for Coast Guard Murder

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TUESDAY’S AB 109 REPORT SHOWS LA’S USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ board meeting, Probation Chief Jerry Powers will present a report about what is going on with the various AB 109 offenders who have been passed to LA County for oversight rather than the state since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

The report is dry, extremely detailed and statistic heavy (you can find it here if you’d like to peruse). However, amid the welter of figures a few numbers do jump out, namely the stats showing the progress that LA County is making when it comes to beefing up its use of “split sentencing,” an approach that justice advocates, Governor Jerry Brown and the top brass at probation—among others—would like to see expanded.

And what kind of progress are we making? Um, none. Zero. Zip. As a matter of fact, rather than progressing, LA seems to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, split sentencing is a sentencing strategy that has been adopted to greater and lesser degrees by California’s counties as part of California’s AB 109 public safety realignment system. With a split sentence, the court can divide a low-level felon’s time to be spent half behind bars, with the other half (or more) spent out of jail but under the supervision of county probation. The idea is that most offenders do better when they receive some kind of help and oversight when they get out of jail or prison rather than just getting dumped on the street with no further follow-up.

Moreover, split sentencing has the pleasant collateral effect of lowering the jail population.

Riverside county has over 60 percent of its AB 109ers serving split sentences.

In constrast, LA County was using the strategy only around 5 percent of the time in year one and two of realignment.

Looking at the first five months of year three, that percentage has dropped to closer to 2 percent—or 109 split sentences out of 5151 sentences handed down in that period.

(See line 2 of the “Custody” table on p. 14 of the report.)


CAN JACKIE LACEY HELP? (PLEASE!)

Thus far it has reportedly been prosecutors, public defenders and judges who mostly stand in the way of split sentencing.

With that in mind, perhaps this is another issue in which DA Jackie Lacey can take a strong part, as she has with her recent—and much welcomed— leadership in diversion for the mentally ill and other forms of alternative sentencing she has begun championing.

As the members of the board of supervisors listen to Tuesday’s realignment report, perhaps they could bring up such a possibility.

Can’t hurt.

PS: For a good rundown on split sentencing in general see last summer’s story by KPCC’s Rina Palta.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…. “DOUBLE CHARGING” FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA’S COUNTIES

In most California counties now, when a kid is arrested, the meter starts ticking for the boy or girl’s parent or guardian. This means that, in addition to whatever stress occurs when one’s child breaks the law and is sentenced to juvenile hall, probation camp or some other form of placement, there are the mounting bills.

Myles Bess of Youth Radio has a well-reported story for Marketplace about this double charging and the impact those charges have on families.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you’re arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000.

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states.

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen.

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.

NOTE: In 2009, the LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske did some excellent reporting on the aggressive billing going on in LA County for the parents and guardians of incarcerated kids.


DRUG SMUGGLING PANGA BOAT PILOT GETS LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDER OF COAST GUARD OFFICER TERRELL HORNE

The Mexican national who was found guilty of second degree murder in the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was sentenced to life in a federal prison without parole on Monday, reports the office of U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. A second man was given ten years in federal prison for his part in Horne’s death.

Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified a second suspicious vessel nearby, a 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

After spotting the panga themselves, Coast Guard officers launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. As the four in the small boat approached the 2nd suspicious boat, the four officers activated their own boat’s police lights and ID’d themselves as law enforcement. The pilot of the panga boat reacted by throttling his engines and steering the panga boat directly toward the small Coast Guard inflatable.

Despite the coast guard officers’ frantic efforts to avoid a collision, the pilot of the panga boat deliberately rammed into the smaller boat, ejecting Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. However, just before the boat was about to be
rammed, rather than dodge, Horne reached forward—toward the point of impact—pushed his coxswain to safety.

Once in the water, Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and died of the injury.

The 34-year-old Horne was an extremely well-liked father of two with a baby on the way and, along with his devastated family, Horne’s colleagues reacted with heartbreak. He was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927.

U.S. Attorney Birotte told LA Times columnist Patt Morrison that the day Terrell Horne was killed was one of his two worst days on the job. (The other worst day was in 2013 when a man walked into LAX and opened fire killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez.)

Birotte said he keeps a note from Rachel Horne (Horne’s wife) on his desk “to remind me what this job is about.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation | No Comments »

Los Angeles DA Speaks Out Against Over-Incarceration, NYC Theater Troupe Hires Troubled Teens to Write & Perform…and Mother’s Day

May 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY SAYS LA NEEDS TO BE DOING MORE TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT OF JAIL

Last Tuesday, during the Board of Supervisors’ discussion about whether to move forward with a new $2 billion jail plan, LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented to the board a plan in progress that would divert a considerable portion of the county’s mentally ill inmates away from jail and into community treatment programs.

While the board voted in favor of the jail proposal, they also asked DA Lacey and her jail diversion task force to report back in 60 days with a more complete picture of their plan.

In a refreshing interview with the LA Times Steve Lopez, DA Lacey discusses LA’s over-incarceration of people who would experience better outcomes in community-based treatment, other counties with successful diversion programs, and some of the justice reforms she wants to help Los Angeles achieve. Here are some clips:

“It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said, which is why she’s leading a task force that is studying less expensive and more effective alternatives than incarceration. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Despite hearing this, the supervisors voted to proceed with a nearly $2-billion jail construction project designed to accommodate about 3,200 inmates with a mental illness — the same number currently locked up.

If you’re scratching your head, you aren’t alone.

The supes also voted to study diversion, which was nice, except that they got it backward. If they’d scoped out better options first, they might have discovered that it makes sense to build a smaller and less expensive jail and invest more in drug and alcohol and mental health treatment, cutting into both the jail and homeless populations. The county already has roughly 1,200 people in diversion programs, a number that could grow if not for funding and resource limitations.

Lacey didn’t want to talk about the politics of the matter when I visited her Thursday. But she was happy to explain how she came to believe in diversion as the more humane and effective option in some cases.

“It has been an evolution,” she said. “If you spend day in and day out in a courtroom, it becomes like Groundhog Day…. You’re seeing the same people with the same issues — drug addiction and mental illness,” many of them in for low-level, non-violent crimes. “You start to wonder: Are we really making a difference, especially when you consider that California has such a high recidivism rate?”

[SNIP]

On a tour of the overstuffed mental wards in county jail last year, Lacey was disturbed by conditions there — specifically the chaining of inmates to tables for therapy sessions. She and jail commander Terri McDonald began sharing ideas last December on a better system, and Lacey formed a task force that includes McDonald, court and law enforcement officials, the county mental health department and numerous other public and nonprofit agencies.

Lacey sent Assistant D.A. Bill Hodgman to Miami and San Antonio to study successful diversion programs, and she went to see another one for herself.

“I’m the district attorney of progressive Los Angeles, and I’m down in Memphis, Tenn., where police officers are spending 40 hours of training learning how to deal with mentally ill people so they don’t have a Kelly Thomas situation like they had in Orange County,” she said of the young mentally ill man who died after an altercation with police officers in Fullerton.

Lacey said she wants that same kind of training to be mandatory for all police officers. She wants more emergency units composed of police officers and mental health workers, and pre-arrest diversion to crisis and referral centers. She wants guidelines for prosecutors on which cases to divert. And she wants to explore funding options for more community-based treatment and housing.


STARGATE THEATRE PROGRAM IN NYC AN ALTERNATIVE-TO-INCARCERATION PROGRAM THAT PAYS KIDS TO WRITE AND ACT

Last week, we pointed to the California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s announcement that the state would begin funding vital prison art programs once again.

Yet another example of why arts programming is so important for justice system-involved kids and adults, in NYC, the Stargate Theatre Company (a pilot program of the Manhattan Theatre Club) hires at-risk teenage boys, mostly low-level offenders, to write and act in their theatre troupe. The program is run by entertainment professionals, including four-time Emmy-winning writer Judy Tate, and the kids get to rehearse on the same stage as big-name actors in the Manhattan Theatre Club.

Nationswell’s David Wallis has more on the Stargate program, and the ways it empowers the kids involved. Here’s how it opens:

Last summer, on his first day on the job as an actor and writer for the Stargate Theatre Company in New York City, Christopher Thompson contemplated quitting. While many might consider getting paid to create performance art a step up from janitor’s assistant — his previous summer job — Thompson initially thought otherwise. Fear consumed the 17-year-old from Flatbush, one of Brooklyn’s less fashionable neighborhoods; he worried about being mocked for his grammar, handwriting and morbid humor. “I was afraid of people finding my form of expression really bad, really effed up,” says Thompson, who bears a resemblance to the Cat in the Hat with his lanky frame, long striped-knit cap and mischievous grin. He remembers feeling “extremely defensive” and thinking to himself, “This is awful. Why am I here? I’m not a talker, but I need the money.”

Thompson’s bumpy path to the stage began after a brief stint in New York’s notorious Rikers Island prison. Police arrested him last year for punching a classmate; it was his first offense. He contends that the kid he slugged during lunch harassed him about his black skin, but Thompson acknowledges that he has “anger problems.”

An alternative-to-incarceration program recommended Thompson to Stargate, a pilot project founded last year by the prestigious Manhattan Theatre Club (MTC), which produces Broadway and Off-Broadway plays. The unconventional Stargate theater troupe pays “court-involved” and at-risk teenage boys (most participants have committed low-level crimes) to stage a performance piece in a quest to reduce recidivism, teach literacy and provide work experience that looks far better on a CV than time in jail. The cast members — who applied to be part of the program — worked for a minimum of 12 hours a week for six weeks last summer to develop an autobiographical show, which they performed at New York City Center – Stage II, a sleek theater in Midtown Manhattan. After the premiere in August 2013, the teens returned to high school, though they reconvened for an encore performance of the show in October.

“We’re hiring these young men to be members of a theater company,” says David Shookhoff, education director of the Manhattan Theatre Club and an acclaimed director, most recently of the Off-Broadway hit “Breakfast With Mugabe.” “Their job is to write and to perform and to operate as an ensemble.” Shookhoff believes Stargate’s seven charter members learned to be timely, collegial and cooperative, valuable traits in the workplace.

Read on.


MOTHER’S DAY BEHIND BARS

With Mother’s Day just behind us and Father’s Day around the corner, Mother Jones’ Katie Rose Quandt reminds us that over three percent of kids in America have at least one parent behind bars.

Here’s the intro, but head over to the actual story (infographics abound):

My foster sister is in prison. Her four children see her briefly once a month, as part of a 368-mile round-trip that takes up their entire Saturday. (Before she was transferred last month, the trip measured 404 miles). She has missed so many milestones and special events in her children’s lives: first days of kindergarten, Christmases, birthdays, Halloweens, first school dances.

More than three percent of American children have a parent behind bars; so many that even Sesame Street thought to address the issue in a heartbreaking video and a recent initiative. With Mother’s Day upon us, I have to wonder: As kids grow up, what’s it like when the person they love most is locked away?

(For other WLA posts about kids with incarcerated parents, go here, and here.)

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

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.


1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED

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?


2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.

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…”


3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

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.


4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?

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.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)

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.


A VIGILANT AND INDEPENDENT EYE

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.”


YES, BUT CAN AN IG MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

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

DA’S OFFICE EXPLAINS WHY THEY ARE NOT FILING CHARGES IN THE CASE OF THE RICH GUY’S ‘COPTER LANDING ON AN LASD HELIPAD

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.


ON THAT 2010 ACCUSATION OF RAPE AGAINST AN LA SHERIFF’S DEPUTY, WHY DID IT TAKE UNTIL 2013 TO FILE?

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.


LAPD’S SHARON PAPA IS HIRED AS NEW HERMOSA BEACH CHIEF OF POLICE

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….

[BIG SNIP]

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 »

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