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Post-Election Roundup

November 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

At WitnessLA, we have been following a handful of the 17 ballot initiatives Californians either approved or shot down on Tuesday. There were four main criminal justice-related initiatives (plus one gun control measure).

If you haven’t yet seen the final results of the California races and initiatives, you can find them: here.


On Tuesday, 64% of California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalizes marijuana for recreational use in the state.

Along with California, the states of Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine legalized recreational pot use, and Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota voters approved marijuana for medical use.

California won’t start handing out licenses to sell recreational weed until 2018, but some provisions have already kicked in. People 21-and-over can possess up to an ounce of marijuana at a time. Adults over 21 can also grow up to six plants, as long as they are out of public view. No one can use marijuana in public.

The initiative will also counteract the criminalization of marijuana use (which has disproportionately impacted people of color) by reducing marijuana-related sentences and opening up a path for people who have committed certain marijuana offenses to petition to have their records changed or expunged.

Possession of more than an ounce of weed would be a misdemeanor offense. The penalty for selling-related offenses would be reduced.

The OC Register’s Brooke Edwards has more on how the initiative will help marijuana offenders leave lock-up sooner and change their records. Here’s a clip:

…more than 6,000 people serving time…could potentially have their time behind bars shortened or even go free if Prop. 64 passes on Tuesday, according to an estimate by the Drug Policy Alliance, which is funding the measure.

Another 1 million people convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors and felonies could petition to have their records changed or cleared, the nonprofit organization estimates. That would give them wider access to jobs, housing and other services that are currently out of reach.

Beyond the obvious changes the measure will have in California, proponents say that the passing of Prop. 64 is a big blow to prohibition and the war on drugs at the national level.

The New York Times’ Thomas Fuller has more on the larger implications of the marijuana win in California—the “epicenter of marijuana cultivation for the country”—in particular. Here are some clips:

With the addition of California, Massachusetts and Nevada, the percentage of Americans living in states where marijuana use is legal for adults rose above 20 percent, from 5 percent.

Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon and a supporter of legalization, said Tuesday’s votes would add to the pressure on the federal government to treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing each state to decide on its own regulations.

“The new administration is not going to want to continue this toxic and nonproductive war on drugs,” Mr. Blumenauer said.

The federal government’s ban on the drug precludes the interstate sale of cannabis, even among the states that have approved its use. But Tuesday’s votes created a marijuana bloc stretching down the West Coast, and Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor of California, said he saw an opportunity for the states where recreational marijuana is now legal to “coordinate and collaborate” on the issue, including applying pressure in Washington to relax the federal ban.


“I think of this victory in California as a major victory,” said Lauren Mendelsohn, the chairwoman of the board of directors of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, a group that has campaigned against the government’s war on drugs. “It shows the whole country that prohibition is not the answer to the marijuana question.”


CA voters also rejected a bill that would have abolished the death penalty. There are 728 men and 21 women currently on death row in the state. The initiative only garnered 46% of the vote.

While Californians once again voted to keep the death penalty in place, a competing ballot initiative, which will speed up the death penalty appeals process, did make it past voters—barely. Critics of Proposition 66 argue that truncating the appeals process could lead to the execution of innocent people. (We’re inclined to agree.) According to the California Innocence Project, 150 people have been declared innocent after a death sentence in the United States.

In addition to speeding up the deadline for filing petitions, Prop. 66 also shortens the deadline for appointing lawyers for death penalty appeals. And if appointed by the California Superior Court, lawyers would be forced to accept the appointment if they want to stay eligible for future non-capital cases. The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has a good explanation of the potential pitfalls:

Currently, sentences are appealed directly to the California Supreme Court, which assigns lawyers to defendants from state-funded agencies like the Office of the State Public Defender or, if none are available, private attorneys who meet certain qualifications.

Given the enormous backlog of cases, even that can take years. So in order to make lawyers available to defendants upon their sentencing to death, Proposition 66 would allow the courts to also appoint attorneys who are qualified for the most serious non-death penalty appeals. Those lawyers would have to accept the appointment in order to remain eligible to receive other non-death penalty cases in the future.

There are approximately 400 death row inmates currently awaiting counsel for their appeal or some other legal challenge to their sentence. Natasha Minsker, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of California’s Center for Advocacy and Policy, said there are simply not enough private attorneys willing to take on the cases for the low compensation provided, especially given the time crunch Proposition 66 would impose on preparation.

“They would just have to do this full time, which is not practical for most people,” she said.

While mail-in and provisional ballots have not yet been counted, Prop. 66 held 51% of the vote as of Wednesday night. A California law firm has already filed a challenge to the ballot initiative, seeking a stay from the state Supreme Court.

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracey Kaplan has more on the response to Prop. 66′s win. Here’s a clip:

…The ACLU, NAACP and other groups have said they are prepared to duke it out in court. Experts said they may be able to challenge the measure on the grounds that conscripting lawyers in death penalty cases and threatening to take their livelihood away (by not appointing them in other matters) if they refuse would be illegal.

Another line of attack could be on the grounds that requiring defendants and their lawyers to challenge their convictions in trial court would require an amendment of the state constitution. To put such an amendment on the ballot, supporters would have had to collect more signatures than they did for Proposition 66.


Proposition 57 also passed in California by a wide margin—64% voted in favor of Prop. 57. We’ve written a lot about the criminal justice reform initiative in the months leading up to the elections. Now that the bill has passed, it’s time to take a look at what comes next.

For those unfamiliar, Prop. 57 will take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. Advocates expect this change to result in fewer kids being charged as adults. Prop. 57 will also increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense. This means that prisoners will be able to go before the parole board prior to completing time added onto a base sentence via sentence enhancements, consecutive sentences, and alternative sentences. Prop 57 will also boost access to early release “good time” credits.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Sarah Barr has more on the upcoming reforms. Here are some clips:

Under the new law, the only way for a juvenile in California to end up in adult court will be if a judge decides that is the most appropriate setting for him or her. The judge will have to consider criteria that take into account teenagers’ ongoing development and potential to change before sending him or her to adult court.

The criteria, which were expanded under an earlier law and included in Proposition 57, are an improvement that will give judges a fuller picture of a youth’s situation, Burrell said.

“The things that a court will look at are much more helpful to teenagers than the previous criteria were. They’re much more developmentally appropriate,” she said.

In addition, the law no longer places the burden on juveniles to prove they deserve to stay in juvenile court, said Frankie Guzman, a staff attorney at the National Center for Youth Law. Prosecutors instead will have to make their case to a judge.

Analysts and supporters expect the changes will result in fewer juveniles ending up in adult court. But that means the juvenile system has to be prepared to handle more teenagers charged with serious crimes, who likely need significant services and treatment, Guzman said.

“We also have to make sure the programs and services line up and actually meet the increased demand because we’re going have more high-needs kids. If we’re going to serve public safety well, we have to serve them well,” he said.

The state should focus on improving behavioral and mental health services, mentoring programs and other interventions that can put young people on a healthy path, Guzman said. Locking teenagers up, albeit in the juvenile rather than the adult system, is not a solution for most young offenders, he added.


Voters elected California’s Attorney General Kamala Harris to the US Senate. Harris will be the first Indian American woman in the Senate, and California’s first female African American senator.

Now that Harris is moving on, the question that presents itself is: Who will Governor Jerry Brown appoint to take the position of Attorney General. The appointee would hold the post for two years until the 2018 election. There have been many speculations as to possible candidates, including Chief Deputy Attorney General Nathan Barankin, California’s first lady, Anne Gust Brown, and any one of a number of capable current county district attorneys.

The Sacramento Bee’s Jeremy White has a good rundown of the possibilities. Here’s a clip:

Whoever Brown picks, he faces a central choice: whether to choose a placeholder candidate who would step aside rather than run for re-election in 2018 or to elevate someone with the desire to try to serve for almost a decade and the political and financial wherewithal to mount a serious run. That person also would have the huge advantage of using the ballot label, “California Attorney General,” in the 2018 election.

“Is the governor trying to pick someone who will be consistent with his perspectives and there for ten years? Or is it a caretaker to keep the office functioning well for two?” said former Attorney General Bill Lockyer. “Does he want to have an impact on who the next attorney general or maybe a future governor will be? Or does he prefer to just have an open primary scramble and whoever wins the election gets it in 2018?”

Administration officials like Brown chief of staff Nancy McFadden or First Lady and top Brown aide Anne Gust Brown, both attorneys and members of the governor’s inner circle, often surface in speculation about who could be tabbed for a short-term tenure. Chief Deputy Attorney General Nathan Barankin, who currently serves under Harris at the Department of Justice and would automatically be elevated to acting attorney general if she resigns to join the Senate, could also slide into the job.

Those options remain firmly in the realm of speculation. Barankin and McFadden did not respond to emails seeking comment. Speaking to reporters, the governor made light of the suggestion he might appoint his spouse.

“My wife is fully employed,” Brown said.

Lockyer acknowledged that “the political chattering class loves to suggest Anne” but added that Gust Brown has said she is not interested and posited that her assuming such a prominent spot “doesn’t seem to be consistent with where (the Browns’) lives together are heading” as Gov. Brown nears a potential end to decades in public service when his fourth term ends in 2018.

“It starts with (Gov. Brown) being utterly unpredictable,” Lockyer said. “It’s very hard to reliably forecast.”

Brown could also dip into the private sector. Prominent trial lawyer Joe Cotchett said the topic of a successor came up in recent conversations with the governor. Although Brown did not go into detail about whom might appoint, Cotchett said, he made it clear he preferred a long-term choice. A Brown spokesman called a report that the two had discussed an appointment accurate.

“He only wanted someone who could win in 2018,” Cotchett said.

A longer-term choice could include any of a number of prominent district attorneys. That list includes Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and San Francisco County District Attorney George Gascón, as well as Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer. Through staff, all of those district attorneys either declined comment or deflected the question by saying they were focused on their jobs. The platform of serving as attorney general would vault any of them into serious contention in a state campaign.


California Rep. Janice Hahn will step into the seat of outgoing Supervisor Don Knabe in District 4, which includes a stretch of coast from the city of Long Beach to Venice, as well as part of the San Gabriel Valley.

Kathryn Barger will take over for Supervisor Michael Antonovich in District 5, which covers the Antelope Valley, Santa Clarita, a portion of the San Gabriel Valley, and a portion of the San Fernando Valley.

With the addition of the two new supes, for the first time ever, the board will have a female majority, comprised of Hahn, Barger, Hilda Solis, and Sheila Kuehl, to work alongside Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Hahn, who created the Watts Gang Task Force in 2005 during her time as an LA City Councilmember, has come out in support of mental health diversion, the hiring of more LA County Sheriff’s deputies, and improved community policing. For more about what Hahn’s victory will mean for justice in LA County, read this April LA Daily News story by Dakota Smith.

Barger has worked for Supe. Antonovich for more than 25 years. Back in May, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback interviewed then-candidate Barger, asking important questions about her views on child welfare and juvenile justice reform. The newly elected 5th District Supervisor had some promising things to say about keeping low-risk kids out of lock-up, increasing community-based programs for justice system-involved kids, and “preventing crossover of our foster youth into juvenile justice system,” and other pressing issues.

We’ll likely have more on the two new supervisors in the coming weeks.


The Marshall Project has done an excellent job of presenting the election’s criminal justice highlights at the national and state levels, as well as clearing up what the new presidency might mean for justice in the near future. For example, TMP’s editor Bill Keller points out that the “law and order” president-elect Donald Trump has mentioned the possible appointment of former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani as US Attorney General. Keller also says that Trump may also roll back President Barack Obama’s recent criminal justice efforts, which included placing limits on when and how long locked-up kids can be placed in solitary, as well as an order to “ban the box” on federal employment applications. Here’s a clip:

Trump’s victory may be fatal to the unusually bipartisan campaign to reduce prison sentences, invest in rehabilitation, and otherwise render the federal justice system more humane and effective. The Republican Party platform adopted at the July convention nods to red states that have reduced prison populations and calls for “mens rea” legislation, which would oblige prosecutors to prove a defendant intended to break the law. In general, Trump’s law-and-order entourage — Giuliani, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke and others — constitutes a virtual counter-reform movement, favoring longer sentences, fuller prisons and militarized policing. His natural allies on Capitol Hill are men like Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who this year blocked even the most incremental reforms.

Fusion’s Casey Tolan says Trump’s victory is not a death knell for criminal justice reform in the US, however:

The president does not actually have that much power over the policies that lead to mass incarceration. Only about 12% of prisoners in America are in federal prisons run by the executive branch, while the vast majority are in local jails and state prisons. In many ways, local district attorneys have a bigger impact on criminal justice and incarceration in their districts than the president does.

Posted in elections | 2 Comments »

Election Night Snapshot

November 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Brand new LA County Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell took the stage last night around 10:45 p.m. at the Marriott hotel downtown. “I entered the race for sheriff less than one very long year ago…” he said, “because I realized the change needed in the LASD would not, and could not, come from within.” As a member of the citizens commision on jail violence, he said, he had seen “a failure of leadership” at the department’s highest levels….”But the fine men and women of the department are ready for a new day.”

After thanking everyone who needed to be thanked and then talking a bit about the department being at an historic crossroads, McDonnell paused and looked at those assembled, face flooded with emotion and resolve.

“I promise that I will not let you down,” he said.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, the new sheriff was surrounded on the stage by much of the leadership of the city and the county: Mayor Eric Garcetti was there, as was District Attorney Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe, Supervisor elect, Hilda Solis, City Attorney Mike Fuerer and acting sheriff John Scott. A good portion of the LA City Council, had showed up, including Herb Wesson who MC’d part of the festivities, and Mitch Englander who, together with Congressman Tony Cardenas kept flashing thumbs-up signs for the cameras.

The political figures who spoke to the crowd were nearly giddy in their praise for the new guy at the top of the LASD.

“He is up for the task! He is committed,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas and then urged audience members to turn to those around them and exchange high fives.

“We now have a sheriff who is worthy of that title,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.

We got back from the various election events ver-r-r-rry late last night, so this is just a snapshot post.

We’ll have more on the election—among other important topics—as the week goes on.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Reentry, Sentencing | 30 Comments »

André Birotte Gets Robed Up….Brown Foes Say Realignment Causes Crime But Stats Say Otherwise….When Mental Disabilities Lead to Harsh School Discipline….& PPOA McDonnell Interview, Part 2….

October 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


By 4 p.m. on Friday night, courtroom 650 at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building —plus two overflow rooms—were absolutely jammed with judges, lawyers, higher echelon law enforcement types, local lawmakers and others, including U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, all of whom had come to witness the formal investiture of André Birotte Jr as a United States District Judge.

Birotte, if you remember, was nominated to the federal bench by President Barack Obama on April 3, 2014, and confirmed unanimously by the Senate on July 22, 2014 (an impressive feat in itself, considering the current fractious state of that august body).

The son of Haitian immigrants, Birotte graduated from Tufts University in 1987 with a B.A. in psychology, then came to Southern California to attend Pepperdine University School of Law. He began his legal career in Los Angeles as a deputy public defender. In 1995, he moved to the prosecutorial side of things as an assistant U.S. Attorney.

In May 2003, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously selected Birotte to serve as the LAPD’s Inspector General at a time when the department was reeling disastrously from the aftermath of the Rampart scandal and struggling to redefine and reform itself. Birotte is generally acknowledged as a significant part of that reform.

In 2009, while he was still serving as LAPD IG, Birotte was nominated for the job of U.S. Attorney by President Barack Obama, after Senator Diane Feinstein strongly recommended him. Five years later, Feinstein again recommended him for the judgeship.

“In 15 years of [vetting] people for the senator,” said Trevor Daley, Feinstein’s state director who was tasked to check up on Birotte. “I’ve never gotten the kind of positive feedback on anyone as I did on André.”

Other speakers at the investiture were similarly effusive.

Birotte was a “champion on the individual as well as serving the underserved,” said former police commission chairman Rick Caruso. “Yet he never sought the spotlight.

Eric Holder praised Birotte for cracking down on public corruption and drug trafficking while also understanding that “we will never be able to prosecute and incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation.” Holder also pointed to CASA, the sentencing diversion program that Birotte championed, “which serves as a model for smart on crime initiatives throughout the nation.”

Now Birotte would be “strengthening and making more fair the justice system to which he has given so much of his life,” said Holder.

When it came time for the newly-minted judge himself to speak, Birotte quoted a poetry fragment by poet Antonio Machado, that he said had influenced him.

…Wanderer, there is no road,
the road is made by walking.

Indeed, Birotte doesn’t appear to have set his sites on the positions he has attained as part of some grandly ambitious lifeplan. Instead, according to his own account, and the accounts of those who lauded him on Friday, he has arrived at the present moment by “walking,” as the poet suggests—a.k.a. by doing the work that appeared before him, while guided by a strong sense of justice and compassion.

In fact, if it had not been for his wife’s encouragement, Birotte told investiture crowd, “I’m not sure that I would have put myself out for these positions.”

Birotte thanked a long list of people (including his faithful group of morning workout partners at his gym). He confided to the crowd that among the most important talismans he brought with him into his new courtroom were “my father’s medical bag and one of the many purses that my mom would keep by her side.”

At the mention of his mom, who died just a few years ago, Birotte choked up visably. He struggled similarly when he told his wife how much she and their kids meant to him, and also when he thanked Judge Terry Hatter, who had been a longtime hero, and who swore him in. Each time, the “baby judge,” as he called himself, was refreshingly unapologetic for his unruly emotions.

Although the investiture began just after 4 p.m., more than three hours later guests still lingered at the post-ceremony reception in the Roybal building’s lobby, as if wishing to bask a bit longer in the evening’s prevailing sentiment—namely that this particular judgeship, thankfully, had landed in very good hands.


As we noted yesterday, although realignment was not originally a big issue in this year’s gubernatorial campaign, now Jerry Brown’s opponents are bringing up the topic with increasing frequency. Yet, while critics’ contend that realignment has harmed public safety, the state’s still falling crime figures don’t agree. Still, when it comes to pointing to lasting victories for the governor’s signature policy, even Brown and other advocates admit that realignment is a complicated work in progress.

Don Thompson of the Associated Press has more on the story (via the Sacramento Bee). Here are some clips:

As Gov. Jerry Brown seeks re-election next month, Republicans say decisions he made to reduce prison overcrowding are endangering the public by putting more criminals on the streets.

About 13,000 inmates a month are being released early from crowded county jails while they await trial or before they complete their full sentences. More than 5,000 state prisoners had earlier releases this year because of federal court orders, legislation signed by the governor and a recently approved state ballot initiative.

Yet those statistics don’t tell the full story.

Crime rates statewide actually dropped last year and did so across all categories of violent and property offenses, from murder and rape to auto theft and larceny, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Justice.


Even as crime rates have dropped, realignment is presenting challenges for counties throughout the state. The total county jail population in California has increased by nearly 11,000 inmates since realignment took effect in October 2011.

Probation departments now handle offenders whose most recent convictions are for lower-level crimes but who may have serious or violent criminal histories.

County officials also say they are ill-equipped to deal with other offenders who used to go state prisons, including those with mental illness and those serving multi-year sentences.

“The population most likely to be the most problematic is the population being funneled to the counties,” said Margarita Perez, who was acting chief of the state’s parole division before realignment took effect in October 2011 and now is assistant probation chief in Los Angeles County.

Despite the tougher population, probation officers said they are becoming better at handling those inmates.

“There’s more of a culture of tolerance, more of a culture of using any resources at your disposal to try to get this individual to turn around instead of a philosophy of lock them up,” Perez said.

Dean Pfoutz is one of those trying to benefit from the new emphasis on rehabilitation.

His roughly two decade-long criminal history includes a three-year prison sentence for assault and another eight years for an assault causing serious injury to a girlfriend. He most recently served 16 months for receiving stolen property.

Despite his violent past, he is being supervised by Sacramento County probation officers instead of state parole agents because his most recent crime, possession of stolen property, is considered a lower-level offense.

Pfoutz said he is benefiting from the county’s approach.

“It’s more hands-on here than parole. With parole, it’s like, ‘Just don’t get arrested,’” he said before attending a self-help class at the probation center he visits five days a week. “They’re pulling for us to do all right.”


Although much of the concern about the disproportionate use of over-harsh school discipline has been focused on students of color, experts are increasingly aware that kids with mental disabilities are also disproportionately pushed into the so-called school-to-prison pipeline.

Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz of the Juvenile Justice Education Exchange have the story. Here’s a clip:

Cody Beck was 12-years -old when he was handcuffed in front of several classmates and put in the back of a police car outside of Grenada Middle School. Cody had lost his temper in an argument with another student, and hit several teachers when they tried to intervene. He was taken to the local youth court, and then sent to a mental health facility two hours away from his home. Twelve days later, the sixth-grader was released from the facility and charged with three counts of assault.

Officials at his school determined the incident was a result of Cody’s disability. As a child, Cody was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He had been given an Individual Education Program, or IEP, a legal document that details the resources, accommodations, and classes that a special education student should receive to help manage his or her disability. But despite there being a medical reason for his behavior, Cody was not allowed to return to school. He was called to youth court three times in the four months after the incident happened, and was out of school for nearly half that time as he waited to start at a special private school.

Cody is one of thousands of children caught up in the juvenile justice system each year. At least one in three of those arrested has a disability, ranging from emotional disability like bipolar disorder to learning disabilities like dyslexia, and some researchers estimate the figure may be as high as 70 percent. Across the country, students with emotional disabilities are three times more likely to be arrested before leaving high school than the general population.

…..The vast majority of adults in American prisons have a disability, according to a 1997 Bureau of Justice Statistics survey. Data hasn’t been updated since, but experts attribute the high percentage of individuals with disabilities in the nation’s bloated prison population – which has grown 700 percent since 1970 – in part to deep problems in the education of children with special needs.

In Mississippi and across the country, the path to prison often starts very early for kids who struggle to manage behavioral or emotional disabilities in low-performing schools that lack mental health care, highly qualified special education teachers, and appropriately trained staff. Federal law requires schools to provide an education for kids with disabilities in an environment as close to a regular classroom as possible. But often, special needs students receive an inferior education, fall behind, and end up with few options for college or career. For youth with disabilities who end up in jail, education can be minimal, and at times, non-existent, even though federal law requires that they receive an education until age 21.


In Part 2 of the 3-part interview series that PPOA Prez Brian Moriguchi has conducted with Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, the candidate talks about personnel issues, like promotion strategies, and other matters that have been subject to corruption at the LASD in the past—plus how he plans to “put the shine back” on the badge “that means the world” to so many officers.


KPPC’S Frank Stoltze reports that Jim McDonnell, the frontrunner for Los Angeles County Sheriff, “…is not yet prepared to support subpoena power for a proposed citizen’s oversight panel, although authority watchdogs say is important to reforming the troubled department.”

Read the rest of Stoltze’s report here.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Courts, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 2 Comments »

Innocent Man Freed Amid “A Legacy of Disgrace”….LA Times Pushes for Recordings of Cop Interrogations…..”Chip” Murray Slams Tanaka…Charges Filed Against LA Mom for Kid’s Gun at School

October 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday, David McCallum, a 45-year-old Brooklyn man, was freed after spending 29 years locked up for a kidnapping and murder that it has now been found he did not commit, although he and his friend confessed to the crime when they were both 16.

“I was beaten by the officers and I was coerced into making a confession,” McCallum told a parole board in 2012.

When announcing that McCallum and his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, had been cleared of the killing, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said grimly, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

McCallum called his release “bittersweet” because “I’m walking out alone.” His friend Stucky, while also cleared, had died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.

Oren Yanev of the New York Daily News broke the story of McCallum’s impending release on Tuesday, and had more on the story Wednesday.

Here’s a clip:

Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.

[Brooklyn District Attorney] Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.

McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.

McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.

“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.

“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.

Eventually Michelen, along with some of McCallum’s other supporters, did approach the DA’s office with evidence that DNA obtained from a car used in the abduction matched another suspect who had been questioned in 1985 without the defense ever being notified.

McCallum and Stuckey make ten exonerations for Thompson’s office since the Brooklyn DA took office in January— with two of those exonerations issued posthumously.

The video above is a trailer for a documentary about the efforts of famous exoneree, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, along with the filmmaker and his father, to free McCallum.


David McCallum, in the story above, was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, not California, but the issue of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions potentially affects every state in the union.

The LA Times editorial board wants California to pass a law requiring video recordings of all interrogations for serious felonies.

Here’s a clip from their editorial on the topic:

The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.

There’s a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco. (Los Angeles does not.) Federal agents in the Department of Justice began doing so in July. The benefits are clear and laudable: a chance to reduce wrongful convictions, protect police from contrived allegations of abuse or malfeasance and save the expense of defending bad cases.

California has considered this before. The Legislature passed such laws in 2005 and 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them because of his fear of constraining police.


Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.

But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.


Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray has written an unusually strongly-worded Op Ed for the Los Angeles Sentinel outlining why he feels that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka should not be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Murray, as you may or may not remember, was the Vice Chair of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence, the blue ribbon panel appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of systemic abuse within the county’s jail system and to recommend reforms.

Now he serves as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC. Yet, he is best known as former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) who in his 27 years at the pulpit, transformed a small congregation of 250 people into a powerhouse 18,000 person church recognized throughout the nation.

Murray writes that he and his fellow CCJV commissioners found their year long process to be “deeply troubling,” which led to his reason for writing the Op Ed.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

…During those hours of testimony, time and time again we were pointed back to the integral role of then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who we heard had little interest in curtailing years of abuse, failed to hold deputies accountable, encouraged LASD personnel to “work in the grey” — on the border of right and wrong — and undercut managers who tried to reign in abuses. Indeed, our report concluded that “the troubling role of [then]-Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored.”

Now, Mr. Tanaka is running for Sheriff and asking the public to ignore or forget the leadership role he had in overseeing the violence and corruption that the Commission uncovered and for which he was eventually forced out of LASD.

While I am not ordinarily vocal in political races, the race for the next Sheriff is too important for me sit on the sidelines. This election is about the future of the LASD and how we treat the men and women of our community and in custody.


The report issued by the CCJV concluded in no uncertain terms that “Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails.” Our report described in detail how Tanaka “discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct,” “vetoed efforts” to address the problem of deputy cliques and “encouraged and permitted deputies to circumvent the chain of command.” The report also recounted a system of patronage within LASD that Tanaka created: “many department members believe promotions and assignments are based on loyalty to the Undersheriff” (Tanaka) and “campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka furthered the perception of patronage.” This demonstrably poor judgment and misdirected leadership has continued beyond his tenure at LASD; in his race for Sheriff, Tanaka has accepted a large number of campaign donations from current and former employees of the Sheriff’s Department…..


All in all, Mr. Tanaka’s “leadership” has resulted in the indictment of over 20 former LASD members, federal convictions and prison sentences of seven of those individuals, and legal costs to the County based on civil lawsuits likely to exceed 200 million dollars. And Mr. Tanaka himself remains the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.


On May 13 of this year, a 17-year-old at a Van Nuys continuation high school got into a fight with another boy on campus. The next day, he reportedly brought a loaded 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school, along with an extra magazine in his backpack, and showed the gun to a friend. School police heard about the weapon recovered the gun and ammo from the kid’s backpack.

The following day, when police executed a warrant at the kid’s home, they reportedly found four other unsecured firearms that belonged to the boy’s mother in places like a bedroom drawer and inside a kitchen cabinet.

On Wednesday of this week, LA’s City Attorney charged the student’s mother with four criminal counts: allowing a child to carry a firearm off premises, allowing a child to take a gun to school, permitting a child to be in a dangerous situation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor—counts that each could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

City Attorney Mike Feuer called a press conference to announce charges against Leah Wilcken, 41, for failing to safely secure a semi-automatic handgun that her 17-year-old son took to Will Rodgers Continuation School in May.

“It has to be the case that when a parent sends their child to school, they do not fear that another child is going to have a weapon on campus,” Feuer said.

Feuer described the charges as the first ever filed in Los Angeles against a parent whose child took a gun to school. But KPCC found records of a 1995 case in which former City Attorney James K. Hahn filed similar charges against a Panorama City woman after her 9-year-old daughter took a gun to her elementary school and fired it on the playground.

California law requires weapons to be safely stored. Anyone who keeps a loaded firearm where children under 18 years can obtain it is required to store the firearm in a locked container or with a locking device that keeps it from functioning, according to state law….

According to the Kate Mather and Richard Winton of the LA Times, who also reported the story, an attorney who is a representative of the NRA thought the “charges seem inappropriate.”

Posted in 2014 election, elections, FBI, guns, Innocence, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

New Candidate for LA County Sheriff Soon to Jump into Race to Oppose Baca

July 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

A new candidate is expected to be announcing his or her candidacy
for the office of LA County Sheriff in approximately two to three weeks, according to sources.

This prospective challenger intending to try to unseat Sheriff Lee Baca, (who will be running for a 5th term in 2014) has reportedly already met with veteran political consultants and others experienced in high profile So Cal political campaigns. At least one veteran consultant is said to have formally signed on to the soon-to-launch bid.

Experts have estimated that it could take approximately $5 million in campaign dollars to be competative against a well-known and well-funded incumbent, like Baca, who was first sworn in to the office of sheriff in December of 1998, and who, despite the ongoing criminal investigations by the FBI into wrongdoing in the department under his watch, is still expected to be a formidable candidate.

Former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka is also expected to enter the race, an expectation that was further fueled over the weekend by an LA Times story suggesting that Hollywood studio exec Ryan Kavanaugh was the object of a criminal investigation by the sheriff’s department in retaliation for the Kavanaugh’s reported support for Tanaka’s as-yet-unannounced bid for sheriff.

Retired LASD lieutenant, Patrick Gomez entered the race against Sheriff Baca in mid May. Gomez, who has unsuccessfully challenged Baca before, in 1998 and in 2002, campaigned previously on—among other issues—problems with the treatment of the mentally ill in the LA County Jails, an issue that has heated up of late, due to discussions over new jail construction, and the still ongoing federal probes into deputy on inmate abuse. Little known LAPD Detective Lou Vince has also declared his candidacy.

Earlier in the year, there was word that Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell (who was also formerly 2nd in command at the LAPD under Bill Bratton) was planning to challenge Baca for sheriff. When he decided against his possible candidacy in June, both the LA Times and other editorial boards expressed dismay that McDonnell was bowing out, considering him a potentially formidable challenger.

The advent of another serious candidate on the horizon is expected to spark much interest among LASD watchers, many of whom contend that Baca is vulnerable if a strong challenger can amass the war chest necessary for a competative campaign.

Meanwhile, on NBC’s Sunday interview show, the So Cal ACLU’s head attorney, Mark Rosenbaum called in harsh terms for Sheriff Baca to be removed for his part in the jail brutality scandal.

While on ABC 7′s Newsmakers, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte was on talking about the wild card in the whole matter—namely the spectre of criminal indictments. He offered no hints as to when such indictments might come, how many there will be, and high up they will go. But, without saying so directly, Briotte strongly implied that there would indeed be criminal indictments.

Posted in 2014 election, elections, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 157 Comments »

Marijuana Arrests by Race…..Mike Feuer Picks All Star Transition Team… and the DWP’s Brian D’Arcy Sends His Love

June 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

(click to enlarge)


Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reviews the ACLU’s very comprehensive report on the black/whire marijuana arrest discrepancy.

The results are startling.

Overall, over the last decade, blacks and whites use marijuana at around the same rates, with blacks edging out whites by a few percentage points, except among the 18-25 year olds, where the ratio flips and young whites smoke a few percentage points more weed than young blacks.

It likely won’t be a surprise for most of you to find out that blacks are arrested for marijuana possession more often than whites, despite the similar usage numbers of the two racial groups.

But how much more often? Take a look.

The ACLU report (and the diagrams at WaPo) also looked at cities and counties that had the greatest descrepancy. (Yes, in LA County the ratio is out of whack, but it’s nothing when compared to, say, Cook County, IL or New York, NY, or Clark County, NV.

Click here to see the rest of WaPo’s startling charts and here for the underlying ACLU report.

The New York Times’ Ian Urbina also reports well on the ACLU report. Here are some clips from Urbina’s story:

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

This disparity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested.

During the same period, public attitudes toward marijuana softened and a number of states decriminalized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, roughly the same portion as in 2010.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have criticized the Obama administration for having vocally opposed state legalization efforts and for taking a more aggressive approach than the Bush administration in closing medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting their owners in some states, especially Montana and California.

Time to legalize, people!


On Tuesday, newly-elected City Attorney-to-be Mike Feuer announced his transition team. It’s a long, varied and very impressive list (which you can read in its entirety here: City Attorney-Elect Mike Feuer’s Transition Team)

Here are some quick examples of the kind of folks who’re on the team (three of whom were part of the Citizens Commission on Jails Violence):

Lourdes Baird, who served as U.S. District Court Judge and U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (and was on the Jails Commission).
Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law and formerly served as Chair of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission.
Miriam Krinsky, The executive director of the Jails Commission, who is also a lecturer at the UCLA School of Public Policy and is the former President of the Los Angeles County Bar and former President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
Stewart Kwoh, who is the founding President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and is a past President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission.
Jorja Leap is a Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and also serves as the Director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership; known for her research and writing focuses on gangs, community health and social justice
Carlos Moreno, (another Jails Commission member) who served as California Supreme Court Justice and Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney.
Ira Reiner, who served as Los Angeles City Attorney and Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Connie Rice, who co-founded the Advancement Project and was the Co-Director of the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
John Van de Kamp, who served as California Attorney General, Los Angeles County District Attorney and Federal Public Defender.


Interviews with utilities union guys aren’t usually part of our mission, but this one in which the stellar Patt Morrison corrals and questions DWP union powerbroker, Brian D’Arcy, is…. irresistible.

Here are two clips—one from the very beginning of the interview and one from the very end—to give you an idea of why you need to read the whole fabulous thing:

Sometimes L.A. politics seem like patty-cake, but when Brian D’Arcy gets in the game, the game gets serious. He’s a third-generation union man, and the union he heads, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, is the DWP’s biggest and a huge player at City Hall. In some quarters, the IBEW’s DWP contracts — worth as much as six figures — are a symbol of overweening union power. The political action committee he co-chairs and the IBEW supports, Working Californians, cobbled together the largest amount spent on behalf of Wendy Greuel’s mayoral bid, about $4 million. The IBEW isn’t crying “uncle.” D’Arcy has zest for the fray and one gear: forward.

First things first: John Shallman, Wendy Greuel’s campaign consultant, has said your union’s support became “damaging to the campaign.”

That doesn’t surprise me — the guy who’s directly responsible for the tone-deaf campaign she ran. What else would he say? The hit on her was, somehow, she was the DWP candidate. [Voters] merged the employer and the union. It could have been deflected. They never did, and they ran a crappy campaign. The larger message is that some people will do anything to get elected — the same people [Garcetti's camp] who wanted our endorsement all of a sudden turn it into a pejorative.

Why the antipathy toward public unions like yours?

If you sell the idea that if others are dragged down then somehow you are elevated — I find it offensive. Does it help somebody if my members make less? They are 22% of the [DWP] budget. DWP union workers could take zero [pay] and it isn’t going to fix the city budget. The right-wing apparatchik has decided workers are the enemy, and we represent them….

And our personal favorite of all the Q & A exchanges…

Did you really flip off LA Weekly writer Gene Maddaus from your office window?

[His expression says, "Of course."] My entire staff is out walking precincts, I’m here with the [staff] women downstairs, and he scared them. On most days I’d pick up my bat and walk downstairs and say, “Get out of here,” but that’s what he wanted. My assistant [told him], “You have to leave, this is not a public building.” He refused, like a jackass, so she called the police. I did flip him off — he was jumping up and down like my Labradoodle at the back door.

Posted in City Attorney, elections, Marijuana laws, race, racial justice | No Comments »

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Speaks Out Against Baca Again, This Time on KABC, Monday at 11PM

May 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

KABC 7′s David Ono sat down with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for a long on camera interview,
highlights from which will air in a special news segment at 11 pm Monday night on KABC 7.

Ono and his producers had hoped to get Sheriff Lee Baca to sit down for the same news segment since, in addition to responding to some critical questions about his own actions in the department, it is our understanding that Mr. Tanaka spent much of the interview, in essence, pulling the pins on grenades and lobbing them at the sheriff.

Unfortunately, Baca was not persuaded to come on camera, but sent LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore to answer questions in his place.

We don’t yet know what parts of the raw interview are included in the segment (which we hear will run around 4 plus minutes) and what remains in outtakes. But we’ll let you know if we learn more before the broadcast.

In the meantime, fire up your TiVos, ladies and gentlemen.



A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Illinois was passed by their state senate after an approval from the Illinois House last month. It is not clear whether or not Governor Pat Quinn will sign the bill, but he sounds positively disposed.

What makes this bill interesting is that it sets out a tight regulatory scheme for sales of medical weed, unlike California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with one of our messy ballot initiatives, and then applied some modest regulations in 2003, with SB 420. However, since then, neither the state legislature, nor municipalities like Los Angeles, managed to wrestle into being any decent regulations. As a consequence our med marijuana situation is something of a mess.

Monique Garcia reports for the Chicago Tribune on the state’s likely new law. Here’s a clip:

….The proposal would create a four-year trial program in which doctors could prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.

Patients would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be banned from using marijuana in public and around minors. Patients also could not legally grow marijuana, and they would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers.

The measure drew strong opposition from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, which sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers warning the proposal would not stop medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence. They suggested blood and urine testing be included in the legislation to allow police to determine whether card holders had marijuana in their system while driving.

Haine argued the law has safeguards to prevent that, including designating on a driver’s license whether they use medical marijuana.


It would be nice, of course, if the members of the LA City Council would bother to do their jobs and come up with a sensible scheme themselves to regulate LA’s pot dispensaries, rather than abrogate their collective responsibilities with these measures on Tuesday’s ballot.

Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the details.

While there are three marijuana measures on the ballot - Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F – there are only two active campaigns now, as the main supporters of E decided to throw their backing behind D.

Prop. D would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, the ones that were open and egistered with the city before a moratorium was created in 2007. It would impose a 6 percent tax on sales of marijuana. The current rate is 5 percent. D was crafted by the City Council to allow a finite number of dispensaries after its effort to have an outright ban on the clinics was challenged with an initiative.
Ordinance F has no cap and is backed by clinics that would be excluded under D. It also requires testing of the marijuana dispensed at the facilities, background checks on employees and auditing of their operations. It also places a tax of 6 percent on marijuana sold.

Ordinance E caps the number at 135, but has no tax increase and fewer other restrictions.

Voters have a fourth option, Councilman Bernard Parks said. They can reject all three proposals and allow the City Council to decide the issue.

But some supporters of medical marijuana think that, rather than allow them to operate unchecked, it would spell bad news for their future.

“If all the measures are defeated, it will be viewed, I think, as giving the City Council a free hand to do what they have shown they already want to do – just ban all dispensaries outright,” said political consultant Garry South, who is handling the F campaign.

A-A-AAND BACK ON THE HOMEFRONT…DENNIS ROMERO OF THE LA WEEKLY REPORTS THAT FRUSTRATED VOTERS ARE tending to lean toward Measure D, which is the most restrictive of the three. Read his rundown here.


In an editorial in Sunday’s NY Times, the Times discusses what has become an increasingly obvious problem in the justice system, where too many prosecutors seem to forget that the job of the district attorney is to seek justice, not to win at all costs.

Here’s a clip:

Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.

It might seem obvious that prosecutors with any sense of fairness would inform a defendant’s lawyer of evidence that could be favorable to the defendant’s case. But in fact, this principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.

It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. Hundreds of convictions have been reversed because of prosecutorial suppression of evidence. In many cases, the exculpatory evidence surfaces only on appeal of a conviction, and often comes to light because other aspects of the prosecution are rife with error.

The 2011 case of John Thompson is particularly instructive — as an example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated when an investigator found that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept secret more than a dozen pieces of evidence that cast doubt on Mr. Thompson’s guilt, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.

Read the whole thing.

PHOTO OF PAUL TANAKA by Scott Harms/Los Angeles County, via Zev Yaroslavsky’s blog. (The Photoshopping is, of course, ours.)

Posted in elections, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Medical Marijuana, Prosecutors, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

The Collateral Cost of CA’s Big Cuts to Mental-Health, LASD and Civilian Oversight…and More

May 6th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

After a few months hiatus, Taylor Walker is back posting at WLA. And we’re delighted to have her!

(Matt Fleischer is working on some new WLA stories so you’ll be seeing him back here shortly, as well.)


Amid all the kerfuffle last week over the interview with You-Know-Who, we missed a few important stories, most notable among them was a Mother Jones feature on cutting mental-health funding across the US, and the collateral affect on crime and incarceration. California was ranked among the highest budget-cutters with an alarming 21% cut over the last three years. The unintended consequences of those cuts that Mother Jones outlines should cause every policy maker to take note.

Here are some of the highlights:

California ($3,612.8 million in 2009 to $2,848 million in 2012, -21.2 percent): Inmates with severe mental illness often wait three to six months for a state psychiatric hospital bed. In 2007, 19 percent of state prisoners were mentally ill. By 2012, 25 percent were.


For every $2,000 to $3,000 per year spent on treating the mentally ill, $50,000 is saved on incarceration costs.

Prisoners with mental illness cost the nation an average of nearly $9 billion a year.

In 1955, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 Americans. In 2010, there was one psychiatric bed for every 7,100 Americans—the same ratio as in 1850.


In 1992, the Kolts Commission recommended that a civilian oversight panel be established for the LA Sheriff’s Dept. In an Op-ed for the LA Times, civil rights attorney R. Samuel Paz points out that two decades—and a few more recommendations—later, there is still no permanent civilian oversight. The LAPD has the police commission; the LASD has nothing equivalent.

Here are some clips from Paz’s essay.

The Kolts Commission then, just as the jails commission now, rejected the sheriff’s argument that civilian oversight was unnecessary because, as an elected official, he was accountable to the public. The commission noted: “Indeed, we know of no major metropolitan police department in the United States which is not subject to some civilian oversight — except the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”


The jails commission found the present oversight systems ineffective and inadequate. L.A. County Special Counsel Merrick Bobb’s frequent reports on systemic problems and the necessary reforms to fix them were ignored by the sheriff and lacked any enforcement mechanism or follow-up capability. The oversight by the Office of Independent Review, which was created in 2001 to monitor use-of-force and misconduct investigations, was found to be ineffective, ignored or changed by management. It also has been hampered by Sheriff’s Department officials withholding key documents on use of force in jails, in violation of the understanding that the Office of Independent Review was to have “unfettered access” to records. The ombudsman, which the jails commission described as the “clearinghouse for public complaints,” was found to be woefully inadequate in identifying patterns in complaints by civilians.


The Pentagon spends an astronomical $900,000 on each Guantanamo detainee per year. Eek and egad! Surely this money can be put to better use elsewhere?

Reuters has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Pentagon estimates it spends about $150 million each year to operate the prison and military court system at the U.S. Naval Base in Cuba, which was set up 11 years ago to house foreign terrorism suspects. With 166 inmates currently in custody, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 per prisoner.

By comparison, super-maximum security prisons in the United States spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to house their inmates, analysts say. And the average cost across all federal prisons is about $30,000, they say.


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck is reassigning three deputy chiefs, including the head of Internal Affairs, Deputy Chief Mark Perez, to bring in “fresh perspective” to that bureau. It is not yet clear what the tweaking means regarding the department’s discipline policy, but we’ll keep an eye on it.

LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

Perez’s departure from the Professional Standards Bureau, which investigates officers accused of misconduct, is certain to raise some eyebrows within the department. Appointed to the post in 2006 by Beck’s predecessor, William J. Bratton, Perez moved the department away from its traditional approach to disciplining officers that was centered on giving officers incrementally harsher punishments for repeat offenses.

Instead, Perez put in place a system that, as he frequently said, emphasized “strategy over penalty.”


In a brief interview, Beck said he is not looking for McCarthy to dismantle the current discipline system. Except in extreme instances in which he wants the officers fired, Beck said, “I still believe in using methods that reform behavior instead of punish it.”


By the way, today, May 6th, is the cut-off to register to vote in the Los Angeles mayoral runoff on May 21st. Go register! Quick! You can fill out the online application here.

Posted in Charlie Beck, elections, LAPD, Los Angeles Mayor, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

ELECTIONS: National Eyes on LA’s School Board Races…The Howls About Outsider Money…How to Choose a Mayor….PLUS Some Non-Election News

March 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


It’s big enough news that even the NY Times was driven to report on LA’s school board contests.

Here’s a clip from the NY Times’ Jennifer Medina’s story:

On Tuesday, voters in Los Angeles will go to the polls for a mayoral primary. But much of the attention will also be on the three races for the school board, a battle that involves the mayor, the teachers’ union and a host of advocates from across the country — including New York City’s billionaire mayor — who have poured millions of dollars into the races.

The outcome of the political fight for the school board seats will have a profound impact on the direction of the nation’s second-largest school district. But the clash has also become a sort of test case for those who want to overhaul public education, weakening the power of the teachers’ union, pushing for more charter schools and changing the way teachers are hired and fired.

After years of pressing to take power away from local school boards, some advocates have directed their money and attention directly to school boards in the hope that they will support their causes, as unions have done in the past.

Last month, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York City donated $1 million to a coalition formed by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa of Los Angeles to help elect candidates who will support the current superintendent and the policy changes he has promoted. Students First, a national advocacy organization created by Michelle A. Rhee, the former schools chancellor in Washington, donated $250,000 to the same cause.

(As we mentioned last Friday, we generally support the reform candidates—especially Kate Anderson.)


In an Op Ed for the Daily News, LAUSD board members Marlene Canter and Yolie Flores about the controversy over the out-of-state money coming in for the school board race.

Canter and Flores make the point that, for years, UTLA—LA’s teachers’ union--poured big buk into school board races, where the union stood to gain specific to gain by having “their” people on the board . Now, they write, the playing field has been leveled (or even tilted the opposite direction) by school reform groups and the unions are crying foul.:

Here’s a clip from their Op Ed:

Recently, there has been much talk regarding the “outside groups” who are trying to influence the LAUSD school board elections. But, as former board members with a total of 12 combined years of service, we know first hand the pressures facing LAUSD board members and candidates for the board. Both of us fought for significant changes at LAUSD, and we felt firsthand the strength of the powerful forces that are out to preserve the status quo.

When people with no vested, personal interest in the outcome try to help elect reform-minded candidates, they are branded as “outsiders” who are trying to “buy elections.” This is perplexing. These individuals have a longstanding interest in closing the opportunity gap for poor kids and kids of color, and improving educational achievement for all students.

Personally, they stand to gain exactly nothing if the candidates they are supporting get elected. They’re willing to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to improving education, and their participation is critical for leveling the playing field and keeping these school board races competitive. Yet, when “insiders” who do have a vested, personal interest in the outcome contribute significant funding, this is somehow seen as more acceptable…


Book author, and LA Times’ roving columnist, Jim Newton, is a very smart cookie, and he’s written an interesting column about the field of candidates running for mayor that flies in the face of what has become conventional wisdom—namely that the front five—or front three, really, Wendy Greuel, Erick Garcetti, and Jan Perry—are basically tepid, light-middle weights who have inspired the public to doze off.

It’s a stronger field than conventional wisdom would have you believe, Newton writes.

Here are some clips from Newton’s story:

This is a stronger field than people tend to think. All five of the leading candidates are smart and committed. Three already hold public office and have accomplished some important things while serving; the other two bring new ideas and insights. And they all seem to be driven by the opportunity to lead rather than by the prospect of skimming or doling out jobs and contracts to friends.

Still, as usual, the minutiae of the campaign has tended to swallow up big ideas, leaving instead a pile of cliches that obscure more than they illuminate.


One reason the campaign has been so banal is that the leading contenders aren’t really all that far apart on the issues. So how should you make up your mind? Here are some suggestions for what qualities to look for in a mayor.

And then he lists qualities of courage, judgement and tenacity, creativity and personality—with examples of just exactly what he’s talking about.

A good read, and a good list of ideas to help you decide, if you haven’t already.



Annenberg’s Neon Tommy will be bringing their own smart and energetic brand of coverage to Tuesday’s races all through the day. So, consider keeping NeonTommy open from morning on as we all wait for returns.



Education News rounds up a spate of the new and sadly foolish suspensions.

Here’s a clip:

On Jan. 10, five-year-old Madison Guarna unwittingly committed a “terroristic threat” while waiting in line for the afternoon school bus.

During a discussion of butterflies, ladybugs and “kitty cats,” the kindergartner told her friends she was going to shoot them and herself with her Hello Kitty bubble gun, which was not in the girl’s possession at the time.


Since the Newtown tragedy, at least 15 students have been suspended from school – or threatened with suspension – for dubious reasons.

Just last week, a seven-year-old Baltimore student was given a two-day suspension for “biting his breakfast pastry into a shape that his teacher thought looked like a gun,” reports The Daily Mail.

Six of those suspensions were given to elementary students who made “gun gestures” with their fingers.

A Pennsylvania fifth-grader was “threatened with arrest after she mistakenly brought a ‘paper gun’ to school,” reports


A 10-year-old Virginia boy was taken into police custody and fingerprinted after he showed “a toy gun with an orange tip” to a friend. He was charged with “brandishing a weapon,” and now he has “a juvenile record and a probation officer,” reports the Washington Post.

And in Colorado, seven-year-old Alex Evans was reportedly suspended from school for “throwing” an imaginary grenade into an imaginary box, which resulted in an imaginary explosion.

The Sandy Hook shootings may be the reason for school leaders’ heightened sensitivity to all things gun-related, but it’s the “zero tolerance” policies put in place by local school boards that often require administrators to hand down these absurd discipline decisions.


In the face of the vexing news about outbreaks of zero tolerance craziness, there is some good news. Michael Gardiner at the San Diego Union reports that school safety measures that, post-Newtown being introduced in Sacramento. Here’s a clip:

California lawmakers have introduced nearly two dozen school safety measures that have been largely overshadowed by the more divisive debate on gun control.

The emerging campus security bills involve: inside door locks, panic alarms, mental health services, school safety plans and funding for other prevention programs.

A similar story has unfolded in Washington where Congress remains in conflict over regulating assault weapons, background checks and the size of ammunition magazines. But there is movement on other proposals to secure schools.

“The bottom line is it’s got to get done and it’s got to get done right,” said Marc Egan, who tracks federal school safety issues for the National Education Association.

The general consensus on both coasts is it will take a comprehensive approach to prevent a repeat of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. just days before Christmas….

Posted in Charter Schools, children and adolescents, Education, elections, Los Angeles Mayor, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

“Don’t Elect me!” Two LA Newspapers Call for Candidates to Answer Lee Baca’s Challenge….and More

March 4th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

As we prepare to cast our votes in LA’s mayoral race and other local contests,
let us turn briefly to another election that will take place a bit over a year from now, the race for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

When Sheriff Lee Baca was asked during his testimony last spring before the Citzens’ Commission on Jail Violence just how the commission—or anybody for that matter—could hold the sheriff accountable, Baca replied without so much as taking an extra breath:

“Don’t elect me.

Baca, who was first sworn in to the office of sheriff in 1998, will be running for his 5th four-year term in 2014,

In the last few days, the city’s two biggest newspapers—the LA Times and the Daily News—ran editorials that said very directly that they hoped Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell—and perhaps some other serious contenders—would step up officially to answer the sheriff’s challenge.

For instance, here’s what the LA Times editorial board wrote a few days after Baca was—jawdroppingly—named Sheriff of the Year, by the National Sheriff’s Association:

[The NSA] director of operations says Baca has been an “exemplary” sheriff, providing educational opportunities for jail inmates and reaching out to religious groups in the community, while also keeping crime in the county low.

Everybody’s entitled to his own opinion. Which is exactly why we were pleased to learn recently that Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell is considering challenging Baca in next year’s election. McDonnell is the former second in command at the Los Angeles Police Department under Chief William J. Bratton, and he served on the county commission that recently criticized Baca. If he were to run, he would be Baca’s first credible challenger since he was elected 15 years ago. Baca ran unopposed in 2010.

While it’s still far too early for this page to endorse any candidate, we would be pleased to see a real race in which Baca’s strengths and shortcomings could be seriously considered by voters. We hope McDonnell will be the first of many qualified candidates to enter the race.

Late on Friday, the Daily News editorial board opined in stronger terms still:

Here are some clips:

And we thought the Awards Season silliness was over.
On the stiletto heels of the Golden Globes, Grammys and Oscars, the National Sheriffs’ Association just named the winner of its big annual award. How big an upset is it? Imagine if “John Carter” had won Best Picture.

The organization announced Monday that the 2013 honoree for national Sheriff of the Year is — the envelope, please — Los Angeles County’s own Leroy D. “Lee” Baca.

Wow, how bad a year did every other sheriff in the United States have?


But L.A. County residents who think back to Baca’s headlines over the past year probably will think first of his failure to stop or accept responsibility for an inmate-abuse scandal involving sheriff’s deputies, and allegations that deputies harassed minorities in the Antelope Valley.

That’s only one reason the public has questioned Baca’s leadership and this space looks forward to the 15-year incumbent receiving a re-election challenge in 2014 from Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell.

Baca will officially receive the Sheriff of the Year award on June 23 at the NSA’s annual conference in Charlotte, N.C. In the spirit of the moment, Baca can at least make like Jennifer Lawrence and trip on his way to the podium.

Given the way he responded to the jail-abuse allegations, he might be the first award-winner to begin his speech, “I’d like to blame all the little people …”


As a former LAPD Assistant Chief, and former Chief of Police for both Mesa, Arizona and San Francisco, SF DA George Gascon is not unfamiliar with the realities of crime and law enforcement. Yet as DA, he’s gone to bat for a sentencing reform commission for SF County, and now in a new publication called Justice in California, sponsored by the Rosenberg Boundation, Gascon writes of the importance of sentencing reform and how he hopes that that San Francisco’s commission can serve as a model for the state.

Here’s a clip from Gascon’s essay in which he talks about sentencing and other ways that prosecutors can push for productive reform:

Most criminal law is developed legislatively through the political process, with mandatory minimum sentences and sentence enhancement laws changing every year. Often, this process is influenced by political reactions to high-profile cases or attempts to be “tough on crime.”

The challenge of politically driven sentencing schemes is that the resulting hodgepodge of criminal laws is largely disconnected from the most effective strategies to prevent or reduce crime. If, for example, reducing recidivism were a major goal of the development and design of sentencing schemes, they would look very different than they do now.

Other states are using nonpartisan governmental entities, called sentencing commissions, to assess existing sentencing schemes and propose alternate approaches. Several of these commissions have succeeded at revamping major penal code sections and bringing consistency and clarity to the jurisdictions’ approach to sentencing.

In San Francisco, the District Attorney’s office led an effort to establish the first county-level sentencing commission in California, with the explicit purpose of assessing the impact on recidivism of current approaches to sentencing.

Our commission can serve as a model for other state and local efforts. While the commission is not empowered to change state law, it will be able to make recommendations and build consensus among criminal justice agencies, service agencies, victims, and other stakeholders about the most effective strategies to reduce recidivism among various categories of offenders and offenses. By holding these important discussions in a public forum, the commission can demystify sentencing laws and practices.

Read on. There’s more.


The New York Times has this story about controversial big payouts for NYU faculty stars as they go out the door, which makes one wonder if California’s state colleges and universities have similar golden parachute strategies.

Here’s a clip from the report by the NY Times’ Ariel Kaminer:

New York University attracts figures of international stature with the promise that the university is a rewarding place to work. Less well known is how rewarding it can be to leave.

That fact came into view after President Obama nominated Jacob J. Lew, a former executive vice president of N.Y.U., to lead the Treasury Department. (The Senate confirmed his nomination last week.) In 2006, the university acknowledged, it awarded him a $685,000 bonus as he was leaving to take a position at Citigroup, an unusual payment for someone who was leaving voluntarily, especially at a nonprofit institution.

But Mr. Lew is not the only one who received a sizable parting gift.

According to an N.Y.U. tax return, Dr. Harold S. Koplewicz, a psychiatrist who had served as an executive at N.Y.U. Medical Center and founded N.Y.U.’s Child Study Center, received a payment of $1,230,000 in the 2009-10 fiscal year, around the time he left to found the Child Mind Institute, a competing organization.

The documents describe that payment as severance, something that is most commonly given when an employee is forced out of a job….

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