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More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | No Comments »

SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Will Call Lee Baca to Testify in Upcoming ReTrial

August 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, LASD Deputy James Sexton and his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, were in court
as Judge Percy Anderson decided what evidence would and would not be permitted to be used for Sexton’s defense in his retrial scheduled to begin on September 9.

Although Anderson did not issue final rulings on all of the day’s motions, for the most part he appeared to lean toward excluding what the prosecution wanted excluded.

He did appear to mostly agree, however, that Sexton’s attorneys could call former Sheriff Lee Baca as a witness.

Sexton, if you’ll recall, was one of seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant and then jail inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers in the summer of 2011.

Deputy Sexton was already tried once on obstruction charges this past May. The trial resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury, with a split of 6-6.

Initially, it was not clear that the prosecution would try Sexton a second time. Yet, after the government got guilty verdicts in early July against the six other department members charged with obstruction, federal prosecutors announced they were going to go ahead and retry the deputy.

Although Sexton will be retried on charges similar to those of which the other six were convicted, his case is dissimilar in significant ways, in that he was far lower on the food chain that the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two deputies who were convicted, and are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Also, unlike the others, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews.

(The deputy talked with the FBI so much, in fact, that, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, FBI agents gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them.)

Interestingly, among the elements from the last trial that the prosecution wishes to exclude from Sexton’s defense in the second trial are the details of this cooperation.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 47 Comments »

Merrick Bobb’s Final Report is Candidly Scathing About Paul Tanaka…Among Other Topics

August 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


For 22 years, Merrick Bobb has been the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ special counsel
when it comes to oversight of the sheriff’s department.

Bobb issued his last report on the department on Thursday. Now all oversight of the LASD will be left up to Inspector General Max Huntsman, who has yet to completely gear up.

Bobb’s work provided the very first long-term civilian oversight of law enforcement in the nation’s history. There were many areas in which Bobb and the 1992 Kolts commission were able to achieve important change, as this final report points out.

Under Lee Baca, however, the cooperation that Bobb and his command staff had enjoyed under Sherman Block, began to wither.

“While relationships remained cordial with Baca,” in the jails, Bobb writes, “an anti-reform counter movement took over as certain recent Undersheriffs rose to the forefront and Sheriff Baca’s and the Supervisors’ attention seemed to be focused elsewhere.”

The report continues: “…brutality seems to have festered in the jails. Across the Department, deputies were affirmatively encouraged to ‘work in the gray zone’—an apparent green light for unconstitutional or near-unconstitutional misconduct.”

Work the gray was, of course, one of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s signature phrases, a phrase that he has repeatedly maintained had nothing to do with suggesting that deputies cross the line into illegality, although multiple independent sources suggest otherwise.

Under Baca, Bobb writes, “accountability for discovering and dealing with actual or potential misconduct was not very high on the list of priorities….”

This disregard by Baca and Tanaka for holding deputies accountable for their misconduct, Bobb writes, all but called for the involvement of the FBI to discover “….what was going on in front of their eyes.”

Bobb takes Baca to task for allowing his underling, Tanaka, too much power. Yet he reserved the bulk of his criticism regarding the problems with the department, for the former undersheriff himself.

“To say that Sheriff Baca over-delegated to Paul Tanaka understates the matter. Paul Tanaka has been considered by some to be bright, good with numbers and budgets, and skilled at handling fiscal crises. Nevertheless, with regard to police accountability, reform, rewarding constitutional policing, and engendering the active support and trust of the ever-diversifying community, the man seemed to avoid evolving substantially from his days as a Lynwood Viking.” [WLA's ital.]

“Lee Baca placed great importance on loyalty to subordinates and the duty to mentor future leaders. Paul Tanaka managed to repay Baca’s loyalty, quick promotions, and sustained mentoring by undercutting the Department’s moral authority and mocking the values that Lee Baca so often professed to be central to his vision.”

And during all this time, the board of supervisors, by and large, Bobb suggests, did nothing.

The creation and selection of an inspector general—Max Huntsman- is meant to signal a new kind of oversight of the sheriff’s department. It has also meant the elimination of Bobb’s role as special counsel and the similar elimination of Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review, (OIR).

Yet, it remains unclear how successful Huntsman will be able to be considering the fact that Bobb’s reports of problems and wrongdoing were so cheerfully ignored year after year, with no consequence whatsoever for the sheriff and those to whom he delegated.

In November, of course, we will have a new sheriff, and that sheriff will likely be Jim McDonnell, a man who has repeatedly made clear that he welcomes aggressive oversight. McDonnell was even strongly in favor of a civilian commission, in addition to an IG, an option that the board of supervisors voted down this week.

Yet, it was also this week that Paul Tanaka announced in a tweet that he was still running for sheriff, providing a potent reminder that we cannot have a system of departmental oversight that is dependant on the goodwill of the sheriff for its effectiveness or lack thereof, as has been the case in the past.

Such an arrangement—as this and other reports from Merrick Bobb vividly attest— can easily lead to catastrophe.

Under Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, catastrophe arrived.

There is much more to Bobb’s report, including an analysis of litigation against the department, a look at employee discipline, an update on the canine units, and a critique of the LASD’s strategy of gang enforcement.

The section on gang enforcement, in particular, is well-informed and thoughtful in its analysis, and should be scrutinized carefully by the next sheriff for its usefulness, as the points that it makes are remarkably consistent with what we have heard over the past decade from community members who live and work in the Los Angeles neighborhoods that are the most adversely affected by gang violence.


A large thank you to Merrick Bobb for his 22 years of commitment to improving the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for the people of LA and for the men and women who protect and serve at the LASD.

Posted in FBI, Gangs, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 51 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 109 Comments »

Report Criticizes FBI Delay in Revealing Flawed Forensics…US Magistrate Calls for Drug Case Dismissal Citing Misconduct….DA’s Office Charges LAPD Officer with Assault….and More

July 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

OIG REPORT SLAMS FBI OVER FAILURE TO DISCLOSE FAULTY LAB WORK IN 60 DEATH ROW CASES (AND MORE)

On Wednesay, the FBI’s Office of Inspector General issued a report exposing the FBI’s failure to expeditiously review potentially flawed forensic work affecting thousands of cases, including the cases of more than 60 death row defendants, and at least three people who have since been exonerated.

Back in 1997, an OIG investigation uncovered flawed forensic work done by 13 crime lab examiners. According to the new report, it took the FBI more than 5 years to identify the death row inmates whose cases needed reexamination. One of the three defendants put to death would have been ineligible for the death penalty if not for the flawed lab work.

The report said the FBI’s foot-dragging caused “irreversible harm” and urged the department to notify the approximately 2,900 people whose cases were re-examined.

Washington Post’s Spencer Hsu has more on the report. Here are some clips:

The report said the FBI took more than five years to identify more than 60 death-row defendants whose cases had been handled by 13 lab examiners whose work had been criticized in a 1997 inspector-general investigation.

As a result, state authorities could not consider whether to stay sentences, and three men were put to death. One of those defendants, who was executed in Texas in 1997, would not have been eligible for the death penalty without the FBI’s flawed work, the report said.

“Failures of this nature undermine the integrity of the United States’ system of justice and the public’s confidence in our system,” the 146-page report stated. The failure to admit errors at the time “also injured the reputation of the FBI and the Department.”

[SNIP]

As of October, the 26 surviving death-row inmates whose cases were included in the review had all been notified that their convictions had been re-examined, Steele said. The inspector general had recommended the notifications and retesting of evidence in 24 death-row cases in which the defendant was deceased.

The inspector general’s office said the department should notify all 2,900 defendants whose cases were reviewed by the task force, starting with 402 defendants whose cases were so problematic that the task force obtained a fresh scientific review. Their names were made public Wednesday for the first time.

The report said that even more defendants’ cases should have been reviewed but were omitted for inappropriate reasons, and the scope of errors never would be known. For many defendants, it said, “delays were very prejudicial and, for some, they caused irreversible harm.”


US MAGISTRATE URGES DISMISSAL OF DRUG CHARGES AFTER AGENT ALLEGEDLY FALSIFIES REPORT AND MANUFACTURES CRIME

On Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach called for the dismissal of drug trafficking charges against Jeremy Halgat, a former member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, citing alleged misconduct by the lead undercover agent in the investigation.

Ferenbach says that during “Operation Pure Luck” (a joint-investigation by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, the Las Vegas Police, and the LASD), Agostino Brancato, an LASD officer deputized by ATF, falsified a drug transaction report and “manufactured crime” by coercing an unwilling Halgat to traffic drugs—all allegedly with Brancato’s ATF supervisor’s knowledge.

The Las Vegas Review Journal’s Jeff German has the story. Here are some clips:

In a rare decision late Tuesday, U.S. Magistrate Judge Cam Ferenbach criticized Agostino Brancato, a deputized agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, for manufacturing the cocaine case against Jeremy Halgat, though Halgat had no criminal record and repeatedly told the agent in secretly recorded conversations that he did not want to traffic in drugs.

“The problem is that the government’s investigation deployed techniques that generated a wholly new crime for the sake of pressing criminal charges against Halgat,” Ferenbach wrote in his 34-page decision.

Ferenbach also said that despite Brancato’s denial, “there is no doubt” he “falsified” a report of one of the alleged drug transactions and that supervisors of his ATF-led task force “did not dissuade him” from doing it.

“This is distressing,” Ferenbach said. “Can the court rely on the chain of custody of evidence that the government will proffer against Halgat at trial? Did Brancato’s supervisors permit other falsifications?”

[SNIP]

Brancato was the lead undercover agent in “Operation Pure Luck,” a three-year joint investigation led by the ATF into drug and illegal weapons dealing by members of motorcycle gangs, including the Vagos. Las Vegas police, North Las Vegas police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were part of the task force.

The investigation launched in April 2010 with the secret help of a Vagos gang member, and two years later Brancato, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy deputized by the ATF, became a full-fledged member of the Vagos club while working undercover.

[SNIP]

In his decision, Ferenbach said Halgat “was not eager to participate in Brancato’s scheme in any capacity.” Halgat, he explained, had used cocaine and dealt drugs in the past but had “repudiated” those activities.

“His willingness to traffic in drugs only re-emerged after ATF injected itself into Halgat’s life and repeatedly solicited his services,” Ferenbach wrote.

Brancato also was unable to get Halgat to sell him illegal firearms, according to the magistrate.

Ferenbach said he was troubled that the “ATF had investigated Halgat for three years, found no contraband after executing two search warrants and indicted him for a crime designed and initiated by the ATF.”


LAPD OFFICER BEAT MAN ON HIS KNEES, ALLEGES DA’S OFFICE

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney’s Office charged LAPD officer Jonathan Lai with “assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon” for using his baton to beat a man who was kneeling with his hands on his head. A video of the incident was captured by a restaurant’s security camera. If convicted, Lai faces four years behind bars.

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story. Here’s a clip:

The cop, identified as 30-year-old Jonathan Lai, pleaded not guilty today to “one count each of assault by a police officer and assault with a deadly weapon,” the D.A.’s office stated.

The case is unusual in that it’s rare for the District Attorney’s office, which has to work closely with police to prosecute suspects, to charge a cop for an incident involving on-duty use of force:

This prosecution signals the continued willingness on the part of elected D.A. Jackie Lacey to go after LAPD officers despite their collective political power in the city.

However, the D.A.’s office says the department actually investigated the case, apparently before bringing it to prosecutors.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE SHEILA KUEHL ON CHILD WELFARE AND JUVENILE JUSTICE

Among the major challenges that will face the two new LA County Supervisors to be elected this November, is how best to implement recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, in order to reform LA’s broken Department of Children and Family Services.

With this in mind, the Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback interviewed one of the candidates for Supe Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, Sheila Kuehl (who is running against Bobby Shriver), to probe her vision for a better child welfare system.

Kuehl’s sister is a juvenile dependency court judge in Sacramento. Because of this, Kuehl says has a deep understanding of the child welfare system. She says that the additional 450 social workers hired this year are a step in the right direction, but that more must be hired. She wants caseloads to be reduced to a maximum of 20 per social worker.

Here are some clips from Loudenback’s interview with Kuehl:

“You will see paper files stacked up five feet on the floor, on the desks, on the chairs,” Kuehl said in an interview. “We have a huge caseload in the courts in family law and juvenile courts, which very seriously reduces judges’ ability to make timely decisions, especially about very young children and to be able to assess if the placement found by the social worker is adequate.”

Kuehl is hoping that she will be tapped to help find lasting solutions for the courts and other persistent challenges to the child welfare system like the sky-high caseloads faced by social workers, the large number of juvenile justice-involved foster youth and locating sufficient funding.

[SNIP]

One hurdle the new Board of Supervisors will have to contend with are the elevated caseloads faced by county social workers. Kuehl says that providing resources to social workers and other employees in the child welfare system are among the most pressing issues identified in the Blue Ribbon Commission Report. The 450 new social workers hired this year are not nearly enough to deal with a critical need.

“In my opinion that’s still inadequate to keep track of all these children and really assess whether or not they’re safe from month to month,” Kuehl said. “ I would like to see the caseload be decreased to no more than 20 cases per social worker. In terms of how social workers we would need to add, I’m not sure I have the answer to that.”

A former family law attorney, Kuehl would also like to implement provisions to improve outcomes for two vulnerable populations: the many youth who are represented in both the foster care and juvenile justice systems and older foster who are aging out of the system.

She hopes the county will experiment more with a Missouri model of juvenile justice that stresses lower caseloads for prison workers while providing greater therapeutic and educational opportunities for youth. And an expansion of transition planning for youth for aging out of the system could offer more to many foster youth who struggle with homelessness after leaving foster care.

Posted in FBI, Foster Care, Inspector General, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 19 Comments »

Mystery Message in the Sky Over LASD Headquarters

July 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Around 2 PM Wednesday, just at the time when the Sheriff Department’s executive planning committee was scheduled to meet,
A mystery banner was flown behind a small plane repeatedly over Los Angeles sheriffs department headquarters in Monterey Park.

The banner read: EPC: LEADERS DON’T FEED DEPS TO FEDERAL WOLVES

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Executive Planning Committee, or EPC, is exactly that, the inner circle of command staffers who meet on a regular basis with the LASD’s top brass—the sheriff and assistant sheriff—to talk about the running of the department.

Shortly after the banner appeared a crowd of department members and staffers spewed from the building to gaze skyward and snap cell phone photos.

Rumors circulated quickly about who could have hired the banner-flying airplane, which was in the air a bit over an hour.

Some said it was the LA County deputies’ union, ALADS, which was tired of paying the growing legal bills for deputies who were indicted. (It should likely be mentioned here that, the union has declined to pay any part at all of James Sexton’s legal representation. But that’s another subject altogether. In any case, the illogical rumor circulated.)

Others said it was an ominous warning sent by persons unknown urging department members to return to the code of silence and to cease and desist talking to the FBI “wolves” about any kind of wrongdoing committed by those in the LASD.

Still others said the plane was hired by a group of Tanaka supporters, hoping to protect their man from legal action against him by warning people not to testify or cooperate with the feds against him in any way. (Although how this airborne message would be an effective means of delivering such a warning is unclear.)

Our department sources, however, tell us that these rumors are all complete nonsense, that the banner’s appearance was paid for by an unnamed group of deputies who reportedly work within the LA County Jail system. Their point, as we understand it, was caused by anger that those indicted—and in the case of six of the defendants, convicted—-on the obstruction of justice matter were taking the hit for those higher who gave the crucial orders, all of whom still seem to manage to be in possession of a get out of jail card.

Or something like that.

That’s all we know at the moment.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 48 Comments »

Childhood Trauma Often Mistaken for ADHD….The Feds Officially to Retry Sexton…..The Question of Charlie Beck’s 2nd Term…NY Wants to Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility

July 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IS OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR ADHD

One in nine U.S. Children are diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. There have been many theories as to the reason for this consistent rise in the prevalence of the disorder. Now researchers are beginning to wonder if perhaps inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior is often not ADHD at all, but a mirror of the effects of trauma and stress—a form of PTSD—that is misdiagnosed when pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are simply going for the familiar label rather than seeing the true underlying cause.

Rebecca Ruiz delves into the issue in a story that has been co-published by The Atlantic and Aces Too High. It’s a must read.

Here’s a clip:

Dr. Nicole Brown’s quest to understand her misbehaving pediatric patients began with a hunch.

Brown was completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, when she realized that many of her low-income patients had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.

When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive.

“Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control,” she said of treating her patients according to guidelines for ADHD. “I began hypothesizing that perhaps a lot of what we were seeing was more externalizing behavior as a result of family dysfunction or other traumatic experience.”

[SNIP]

Dr. Kate Szymanski came to the same conclusion a few years ago. An associate professor at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and an expert in trauma, Szymanski analyzed data from a children’s psychiatric hospital in New York. A majority of the 63 patients in her sample had been physically abused and lived in foster homes. On average, they reported three traumas in their short lives. Yet, only eight percent of the children had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder while a third had ADHD.

“I was struck by the confusion or over-eagerness–or both–to take one diagnosis over another,” Szymanski says. “To get a picture of trauma from a child is much harder than looking at behavior like impulsivity, hyperactivity. And if they cluster in a certain way, then it’s easy to go to a conclusion that it’s ADHD.”


IT’S OFFICIAL NOW: THE FEDS WILL RETRY SEXTON

In a hearing held at 3 pm Monday in front of Judge Percy Anderson, Prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that, yes, the government had decided to go another round in trying Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice for his part in allegedly hiding inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown from any and all federal officials.

The trial is set to begin on September 9, 2014.

Fox also notified the judge of his intent to file a motion limiting testimony on Sexton’s contacts and cooperation with the FBI, which the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense is likely to argue that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made incriminating statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded.

We will know what the judge rules later this summer.

Three more federal trials of LASD department members, all of them indicted for brutality and corruption in the LA County Jails, are scheduled for the coming year, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

In a case that will come to trial November 4, 2014, Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are accused of punching, kicking and pepper spraying an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled with a waist chain, then lying about their actions in a report that, in turn, caused the inmate to be falsely criminal charged.

In a case that will come to trial January 13, 2015, deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum are charged in a six-count indictment with civil rights violations, assault and making false statements in reports. The indictment also alleges (among other things) that Brunsting, a training officer, frequently used deputies whom he was training to file reports that covered up abuse. The victims were inmates at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

A third jail brutality trial is scheduled for March 3. This indictment charges a sergeant and four deputies with civil rights violations, alleging that Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, and Noel Womack, arrested or detained five victims—-including the Austrian consul general—–when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail in 2010 and 2011. In one of the four incidents, the victim suffered a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder that has left him permanently disabled. In another incident, the Austrian consul general and her husband were handcuffed and detained.

The six department members convicted last week will be sentenced on September 8, 2014.

Deputy Gilbert Michel, of the phone smuggling case, will be sentenced on September 15, 2014.


AFTER BUMPY PERIOD WITH CIVILIAN BOSSES, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK IS BACK ON SOLID GROUND

It was assumed that popular LA Chief of Police Charlie Beck would easily get a second term at the job. Then this spring, the LA Police Commissioners started to express concerns about a series of controversies. Between then and now, Beck has done much to mend and strengthen relationships, and thus he seems once again back on solid footing.

He wants a second term because he has a lot more to do, he says. Now it reportedly looks as though he’s going to get one—which is as it should be. (Firm constructive criticism is one thing, however, replacing Charlie Beck at this juncture would have been, in our opinion, unnecessary and destructive.)

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the details on this story of how things got off track, and now are back on. Here are some clips:

Charlie Beck received a blunt message from one of his civilian bosses as he prepared to request a second term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department: He was no longer a shoo-in for the job.

Police Commissioner Paula Madison demanded a meeting with Beck in April and told him she was concerned about a recent string of controversies and his apparent lack of transparency with the five-member oversight panel he reports to.

“When I stepped into this role, I didn’t expect that we would be looking for a new police chief, but now we may need to consider it,” Madison recalled telling Beck.

Other commissioners shared her concerns. Some were displeased enough with Beck that they alerted Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appoints the commissioners and wields considerable influence on their decision. The mayor, in turn, summoned the chief.

[SNIP]

Before the recent tension with his bosses, Beck had cruised relatively unscathed through his first term in a period of relative calm for the scandal-prone LAPD. Beck established himself as a capable leader and oversaw continued declines in crime, according to department statistics.

He guided the department through budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash to pay officers for overtime. As many of the department’s roughly 10,000 officers accumulated hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, Beck oversaw a plan that forced large numbers of them to take time off each month in lieu of being paid cash. The strategy strained resources as Beck and his commanders scrambled to make do with a depleted force.

Beck, when he thought it was necessary, did not shy from confrontations with his officers and the union that represents them.

[SNIP]

Decisions Beck made on discipline set off his recent clash with the commission. In February, he opted not to punish a group of officers involved in a flawed shooting, which drew a public challenge from Soboroff. A few weeks later, members of the oversight board, along with many officers, criticized the chief for not firing Shaun Hillmann, a well-connected cop who was caught making racist comments.

Those controversies were followed the next month by revelations that officers in South L.A. had been tampering with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. Commissioners demanded to know why Beck had left them in the dark about the matter and questioned whether the chief was committed to working with his civilian bosses….

Read on.


NEW YORK GOVERNOR DETERMINED TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York have science and statistics on their side when it comes to the reasons to avoid trying most youth as adults, but will they manage to get legislation passed to actually raise the age?

Roxanna Asgarian from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange explores the pros and cons of raising the age in New York.

Here’s a clip:

In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the members of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, created in part to address raising the age of criminal responsibility. Today, New York and North Carolina are the only two states where young people 16 and older are automatically treated as adults.

“Our juvenile justice laws are outdated,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address this year. “It’s not right, it’s not fair — we must raise the age.”

The commission is tasked with serving up concrete recommendations about raising the age and juvenile justice reform by December. Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary of civil rights, said the commission has to strike a balance.

“When we think about criminal justice reform we are addressing two platforms: reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” David said. “We are very focused on advancing both objectives, so recommendations would likely factor in both goals.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, PTSD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 2 Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

WLA on Which Way LA? on KCRW 89.9 FM

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday night, WitnessLA was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with the always excellent Barbara Bogaev
(who was standing in for Warren Olney).

It was a quick news segment in which we talked about the just handed down six guilty verdicts in the LASD federal trial, recorded as I was standing outside in the hot, noisy and windy steps of the federal courthouse after the verdicts had come in.

So if you’d like to listen you can find the podcast of the broadcast here.

KCRW FM is at 89.9 FM.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

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