Tuesday, March 31, 2015
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LA Deputy Saves Stray Dogs and Cats, FBI Informant Anthony Brown Sues LA County, Task Force to Investigate SF Law Enforcement Misdeeds, One-in-Three Homicides Unsolved in US

March 31st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

[SNIP]

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in District Attorney, DNA, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

Study Shows LA County Probation Kids Not Getting Needed Help…. Mass Murder Meets Prosecutorial Madness….Local FBI Agent Indicted

March 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



INFORMATION LACKING FOR LA COUNTY PROBATION KIDS

Up until now, LA County juvenile probation—the largest juvenile justice system in the nation—knew very little about the kids in its care, what challenges those kids faced, which methods might be best suited to address a kid’s challenges, and whether or not those methods were actually working—and if not, why not.

On Thursday, however, all that changed with the release of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study, a 155-page report that took almost four years to complete, and that will hopefully be difficult to ignore.

The report shows, for example, that one-third of the kids who wind up in the county’s juvenile camps or the probation run group homes, get arrested again within a year of their release. But we pretty much already knew that. So it is more interesting to note that nearly all of the kids in either the homes or camps had been on probation prior to the arrest that sent them into the county’s care, and had not gotten the help they needed when on home probation either. Moreover, the report digs into what broke down in the kids’ lives that could have and should have been addressed for better results for all concerned.

Yet, in addition to delivering those and other pieces of bad news, the report looks deeply at the kinds of problems these youth face, then makes a series of recommendations designed to improve the probation kids’ chances of rebooting their lives. The researchers also lay out what they call “targeted reforms” to help LA County Probation fundamentally transform its approach to the youth it serves.

DATA MATTERS

In many ways, the best news out of this study is the fact that the study was done at all. Prior to its release this week, there was—as mentioned above—very little to tell us about the LA County kids who land in LA County’s care, what got those kids there, and how well or poorly they did when they got out.

As a consequence, nearly all the decisions made about how LA County Probation dealt with the kids in its care were, up until now, done flying blind. (Not that this is surprising news in that we are talking about the same probation agency that a few years ago misplaced a full third of their workforce. But those were very dark times, so we won’t return there.)

Now, thankfully, we have a rigorous piece of research and data gathering to provide a baseline, and that, by its existence, demands ongoing research and data gathering.

Moreover, the study was led by Cal State LA’s Dr. Denise Herz, who is considered one of California’s go to researchers in the realm of juvenile justice, gang violence and the like. Plus, the report was a collaborative effort that included other top notch researchers as consultants, plus youth advocates such as the Children’s Defense Fund, with the Advancement Project providing oversight in addition to getting the money to fund the thing (from the W.M. Keck Foundation and the California Wellness Foundation).

To their credit, probation fully cooperated—even if, at times, reluctantly..

“What is encouraging,” said Michelle Newell from the Children’s Defense Fund, who was one of the study’s authors, “is that many county leaders, including the Board of Supervisors, probation, and judges, seem committed to using the findings in this study to both strengthen data collection, and to improve outcomes for youth.”

We’ll have more about the study early next week. So stay tuned.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….HOW DID ORANGE COUNTY’S WORST MASS SHOOTING TURN INTO A PROSECUTORIAL DISASTER?

Impossible though it sounds on its face, Orange County DA Tony Rackauckas and his prosecutors managed to spectacularly blow the sentencing hearings in a high profile mass murder case in which the murderer confessed. The OC Weekly’s Scott Moxley lays it all out for you, and it makes for fascinating reading.

Here’s how the story opens:

Orange County’s worst mass shooting, the so-called 2011 Seal Beach hair-salon massacre, began as a traumatizing event for all, but it has devolved into one of the most polarizing legal struggles to hit our legal system. The question isn’t about Scott Dekraai’s guilt. Dekraai admitted to police that he was the killer within minutes of the shooting. Controversy swirls, however, around the tactics of prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies trying to impose a death-penalty punishment rather than a 200-plus-year prison sentence without the possibility for parole. With one embarrassing revelation after another, the battle has grown painful, especially for the baffled families of the victims. To help understand why Superior Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals, himself an accomplished former prosecutor, this month made a historic decision to recuse Tony Rackauckas and his district attorney’s office (OCDA), we are providing a chronology of events:

Read on.


LOCAL FBI AGENT INDICTED FOR….LOTS OF THINGS

On Thursday, a local FBI agent (who had a very, very small part in the feds’ investigation of the LASD) was indicted for obstruction of justice, witness tampering and more. In short, he got WAY more involved than was even vaguely appropriate with a federal witness.

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

FBI Special Agent Timothy Joel worked out of the Los Angeles FBI Field Office. The indictment relates to Joel’s alleged relationship with a woman who was arrested at the Otay Mesa border in 2007. The woman, a Korean national, was being smuggled into the United States to work as a prostitute. Joel allegedly helped her stay in the U.S. by claiming she was an important witness in a human smuggling investigation.

According to the indictment, Joel provided the woman with regular cash payments from his personal bank account totaling nearly $20,000 and later moved in with her in an apartment in Los Angeles.

In 2013, the Office of the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Justice launched an investigation into Joel’s alleged actions.

Here’s the full text of the indictment. Special Agent Joel Indictment

Posted in children and adolescents, crime and punishment, FBI, juvenile justice, Probation, Prosecutors | No Comments »

9th Circuit Grants Bail Pending Appeal for LA Sheriff’s Dept. 7 Convicted by Feds — And Why We Care

March 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted bond to the seven former members
of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted last year of obstruction of justice for their part in hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions.

The 9th first granted bond to former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was tried separately from the other six. (Actually, he was tried twice. Although he was convicted in September, 2014, his first trial, in the spring of last year, resulted in a six-six hung jury.) Then attorneys for the others were notified.

Sexton and the six were scheduled to surrender early this year to begin their various prison sentences—ranging from 18 to 41 months—but, although they were denied bail by Judge Percy Anderson, the original presiding judge in their respective trials, before their surrender dates arrived, the 9th granted all seven a stay—meaning their lock-up dates were put off while the appeals court figured out whether or not it was going to hear the cases.


OKAY, SO WHY DO WE CARE ABOUT BAIL?

The grant of bond—or bail as it is more commonly known—is significant, because, according to a source knowledgeable about the matter, this means that the three judge panel that issued the bond order thought, as the source put it, “there is a significant issue likely to result in reversal on appeal.”

The source cautioned, however, that the panel that granted the motion most likely won’t be the same three judges who will hear the case, so views of these three may not hold sway.

Yet, there is a possibility that the panel will stay the same, said our source. “I’m pretty sure the panel will shift, but sometimes on an expedited appeal (which this is) they may keep it.”



YES, BUT WILL THIS AFFECT FUTURE FEDERAL INDICTMENTS?

As we noted earlier, various members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department—present and former—were subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury in December of last year, and at the beginning of 2015. According to sources, those questioned were asked almost solely about the obstruction of justice issues for which the seven former LASD members just granted bond were convicted, in particular the actions of former sheriff Lee Baca, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and Captain Tom Carey who was relieved of duty in December of last year, pending an unnamed investigation.

One presumes that all this grand jury testifying has been in pursuit of some kind of additional indictments, although there is, of course, no guarantee.

Several we spoke to speculated, therefore, that the feds might be waiting to see the outcomes of the above appeals before moving forward with any new, high profile charges—if there are to be any such charges.

There has been, and continues to be, much criticism that, in indicting the seven convicted of obstruction—three of whom were deputies at the time, two were sergeants, and two were lieutenants—the feds were picking low-hanging fruit, so to speak, while leaving those who actually gave the orders that reportedly set the obstruction in motion, completely untouched.

In any case, this story is far from over, so…stay tuned.

Posted in Courts, FBI, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 23 Comments »

Are LA’s Foster Care & Juvie Justice Kids Being Over Drugged?….When Experts Recant in Criminal Cases….The Flawed Science of Bite Mark Evidence…..TAL’s Series: “Cops See Things Differently”

February 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



As you know, we’ve been following San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá’s important series on over drugging in California foster care system.

Then, late on Tuesday, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that the kids overseen by LA County’s juvenile probation system plus LA County’s foster care children are being drugged in greater numbers than was originally thought.

Here’s are some clips from Therolf’s story:

Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged, according to data obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

The newly unearthed figures show that Los Angeles County’s 2013 accounting failed to report almost one in three cases of children on the drugs while in foster care or the custody of the delinquency system.

The data show that along with the 2,300 previously acknowledged cases, an additional 540 foster children and 516 children in the delinquency system were given the drugs. There are 18,000 foster children and 1,000 youth in the juvenile delinquency* system altogether.

If we are reading this right, that means that more than half of LA County’s kids in the juvenile justice system are being given psychotropic medications. Is that possible?

State law requires a judge’s approval before the medication can be administered to children under the custody of the courts, but a preliminary review showed no such approval in the newly discovered cases.

Child advocates and state lawmakers have long argued that such medications are routinely overprescribed, often because caretakers are eager to make children more docile and easy to manage — even when there’s no medical need.

We’ll get back to you as we know more on this disturbing issue.


NEW CALIFORNIA LAW HELPS IN CASES WHEN EXPERTS REVERSE TESTIMONY

A new California law, which took affect in January, makes it easier to get a case overturned when experts recant. But will it help the man whose case inspired the law?

Sudhin Thanawala of the AP has the story.

Here’s a clip:

This much is not in dispute. William Richards’ wife, Pamela, was strangled and her skull smashed in the summer of 1993. A California jury convicted Richards of the slaying after hearing now-recanted bite-mark testimony.

But California judges have disagreed about whether that change in testimony was grounds for tossing Richards’ conviction. Now, almost two decades after Richards was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, his attorneys are hopeful a new state law inspired by his case will set him free.

The law, which took effect in January, makes it easier for a defendant to get a conviction overturned when experts recant their testimony. It prompted attorneys for the 65-year-old Richards, who has always maintained his innocence, to again ask the California Supreme Court to throw out a jury’s guilty verdict.

Legal experts say the law will impact a wide variety of cases where experts later have second thoughts about their testimony. And it gives attorneys fighting to exonerate their clients an important new tool.

“More and more, experts are reconsidering their opinion not because they have pangs of guilt, but because in fact the science changes,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School. “You want a legal system that recognizes that reality.”

A San Bernardino County jury convicted Richards in 1997 of first-degree murder following expert testimony that a mark on his wife’s hand was consistent with a unique feature of Richards’ teeth. That expert, a forensic dentist, later recanted, saying he was no longer sure the injury was even a bite mark.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE SCIENCE OF BITE MARK MATCHING….

According to the Innocence Project, 24 people have been exonerated after they were either convicted or arrested because of the analysis of a bite mark analyst.

Director of special litigation for the Innocence Project, Chris Fabricant, who specializes in bite mark evidence, estimates that there are still hundreds of people in prison today due to bite mark testimony, including at least 15 awaiting execution, writes the Washington Post’s Radley Balko.

Balko’s story on the flawed “science” of bite-mark matching, and those who still go to great lengths to defend it, is both important and alarming.

Here’s how it opens:

Before he left the courtroom, Gerard Richardson made his mother a promise. “I told her that one day she’d see me walk out of that building a free man,” he says.

Her response nearly broke him. “She said, ‘Gerard, I’ll be dead by then.’”

Richardson, then 30, had just been convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose half-naked body was found in a roadside ditch in Bernards Township, N.J. The year was 1995, and Richardson had just been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

There were only two pieces of evidence implicating him. One was a statement from Reyes’s boyfriend, who claimed to have heard Richardson threaten to kill her. But that statement was made only after police had shown the boyfriend the second piece of evidence: a finding from a forensic odontologist that a bite mark found on Reyes’s body was a match to Richardson’s teeth. Dr. Ira Titunik, the bite mark expert for the prosecution, would later tell jurors there was “no question in my mind” that Richardson had bitten Reyes.

“I thought it was crazy,” Richardson says. “There was no way it was possible. The FBI looked at hairs, fibers, blood, everything the police found at the crime scene. None of it came from me. Just this bite mark.”

Two decades later, DNA technology was good enough to test the tiny amount of saliva in the bite found on Monica Reyes body, resulting in the overturning of Richardson’s conviction.

Here’s Part 2 of Balko’s series on bite mark evidence telling how the bite mark matchers went on the attack when subjected to scientific scrutiny as American courts across the country welcomed bite mark evidence


THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES ON THE DIVIDE IN AMERICA ABOUT POLICING AND RACE

After the conflicts caused by events in Ferguson, along with the death of Eric Garner in New York, and other controversial shootings by police, Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life noted that there seemed to be a huge divide in the nation about how people view the issue of race and policing.

The TAL producers originally intended to a single show on the issue of these intense differences in views. But they ran across so many relevant stories, that they devoted two shows to the complex tales that they found.

In the first episode This American Life looks at one police department—in Milwaukee-–which had a long history of tension with black residents, and a chief of police committed to changing things. But although some things change, others do not. And nothing is simple. When an unarmed black man is killed by police in controversial circumstances, the battle lines form, and the two groups opposing groups agree on only one thing: they want the chief out.

By the show’s end, we glimpse change in Milwaukee, yet it comes not in steps, but in inches.

A week later, in the second hour of stories about policing and race, This American Life reporters tell about one city where relations between police and black residents went terribly, and another city where they seem to be improving remarkably.

We highly recommend both programs. They are designed to start conversations.

Posted in children and adolescents, FBI, Foster Care, How Appealing, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Probation, race, racial justice | No Comments »

The Odd Case of 3 LASD Deputies Charged With Mortgage Fraud & Their Dramatic Acquittal

February 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



JUDGE SAYS NOT GUILTY IN FEDERAL CASE AGAINST THREE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ACCUSED OF “BUY & BAIL” MORTGAGE FRAUD

The federal trial of three Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies for conspiracy to commit bank fraud ended last Thursday in a manner that no one saw coming.

Midway through the proceedings against Billy, Benny and Johnny Khounthavong,—who in addition to being LASD deputies are also brothers—U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real stunned court observers by abruptly entering a verdict of acquittal, after announcing that no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Khounthavon brothers were guilty.

The basics of the case are as follows: the three Khounthavong brothers were charged with making false statements to two different banks so that they could buy one house in Corona, CA, while simultaneously dumping another house in Chino, CA, for which they had paid too much in 2006 during the real estate boom, and which was, by 2011, disastrously under water.

The feds alleged that the brothers lied to Flagstar Bank, making their collective financial situations appear better than they were so they could qualify for a loan to buy the Corona House. At the same time, according to the prosecution, they had painted their financial status as far more dire to Bank of America, their primary mortgage holder on the underwater Chino house, so they qualify for a “short-sale”—which is the term for selling a loan-encumbered property for less than the amount of the remaining mortgage.

The allegations were slightly more detailed, but that’s the gist of it.

Yet, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter finished putting on her case late last week, before the defense could call its own witnesses, Judge Real announced the startling acquittal in what is called a Rule 29 ruling.


RULE 29

In brief, here’s how Real’s action works: In every federal criminal trial, the defense has the right to make what is known as a Rule 29 motion. This is when the defendant’s attorney stands up and says to the judge: “Your honor, I move for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the prosecution has failed to present sufficient proof from which any rational juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that my client is guilty on each and every count.” Or similar words to that effect.

The motion is generally made just after the prosecution has finished putting on its case (and before the defense puts on its case). But sometimes it can come at the end of both presentations, just before the case goes to the jury.

In most instances, the Rule 29 motion is pro forma, a legal ritual.

Yet, even if those at the defense table know they are sunk, the motion is nearly always made.

And it’s almost never granted.

For one thing, in order to acquit under Rule 29, the judge is required to see the evidence in the most favorable possible light for the prosecution before taking such a huge step. You see, unlike a jury verdict of not guilty, a Rule 29 acquittal cannot be appealed. So Rule-29-ing a case, as they say, is a big deal.

Yet, last Thursday, before the defense put on any witnesses, Judge Real—–who has a reputation for generally being pro-government, and a lengthy record for, shall we say, quirky behavior—announced that the prosecution led by Carter, had not made its case against the Khounthavong brothers.

And that was that.


JUDGE QUESTIONS UNDERPINNINGS OF PROSECUTION’S CASE

“It represents a complete failure of proof when a judge enters a judgment of acquittal,” said Adam Braun, who was Benny Khounthavong’s attorney. “We were grateful that Judge Real made the correct decision.” Braun added that now the brothers mostly wanted to rebuild their lives. “It was a nightmare,” he said. “They’ve been through the wringer. My client has a four-month old baby.”

Had the brothers been convicted they could have been sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the details of the case yet said, “We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but we accept the outcome.”

According to Braun, Real said when he announced his decision, that there was no evidence to support an attempt to deceive the banks on the part of the brothers; no evidence that any of the banks were harmed; no evidence that the brothers themselves caused the errors in question on the loan application.

During the trial, bank representatives reportedly confirmed that none of the brothers had ever had any direct interactions with bank officials about the matters in question, and neither of the banks had complained to the feds, according to testimony. In fact, according to Braun, the B of A representative told the court that, from the bank’s point of view, a short sale was actually preferable to a foreclosure, which would have been the brothers’ other legal way of getting out from under a crippling mortgage that they felt they could no longer afford. (The payments on the $492,298 mortgage for the new 3,900-square-foot Corona house, where the three brothers now live, are substantially less than the payments for the $740,000 the Khounthavongs still owed on the underwater Chino house, although the two houses are comparative in size.)

The crucial witness for the prosecution in the case, according to Braun, was the Khounthavongs’ real estate agent, who was also their loan broker. The agent/broker was evidently given immunity by the prosecution because she had her own legal issues.

It seems in certain kinds of real estate transactions in California, a real estate agent cannot also act as a loan broker, because they are both incentivized functions, involving commissions, and thus present a conflict of interest. This agent, however, was reportedly attempting to do both, and in so doing to collect two healthy commissions for her trouble. “When the bank brought up that she couldn’t be the loan broker,” explained Braun., “she whited out her signature and had a subordinate sign in her place,” then reportedly went ahead and collected the two commissions. “She committed undisputed bank fraud, but the government gave her immunity,” said Braun.

Yet, when the broker/loan agent testified at trial, she stated that the primary misrepresentation on the loan documents—namely an incorrectly high valuation for the underwater Chino house, which was crucial to the prosecutors’ case—was actually a number that the agent had personally filled in without discussing her choice with the brothers. When the brothers signed the 160-page loan docs in front of a notary, according to Braun, they just signed in the designated sections with only a cursory glance at the rest of the lengthy paperwork.

After the real estate agent/broker appeared to get the brothers off the hook for at least a part of the charges, prosecutor Margaret Carter asked to treat the woman as a hostile witness, and things reportedly went downhill from there with the judge, who had already been questioning some of the witnesses on his own.


THE OTHER LASD INDICTMENTS

The case against the Khounthavong brothers was a bit of an outlier to begin with, coming as it did in a group of 18 indictments unsealed in December 2013, the majority of which pertained to either brutality in the jails, or obstruction of justice—as in the case of the six who were found guilty last July, for hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and the case of James Sexton who was found guilty of similar charges in September 2014, after being acquitted of those same charges earlier in the year.

Then in February 2014, two more LASD deputies were indicted, also for jail brutality, specifically for allegedly using illegal force against an inmate and then covering up the incident with false reports that resulted in a false prosecution initiated against the victim.

(In addition to the case against the Khounthavongs, the other outlier case involved a deputy named Richard White Piquette, who was charged with illegally building and possessing an assault rifle. Piquette took a deal and pled guilty to building the rifle in April of 2014.)

The alleged mortgage scam involving the Khounthavong brothers was reportedly discovered by accident when the feds were looking into one of the brothers who was stationed at the department’s chronically-troubled Men’s Central Jail. According to those with knowledge of the case, the FBI reportedly hoped the MCJ Khounthavong would help them out with their investigation into deputy brutality at the facility where he worked, but the deputy reportedly proved unwilling or unable to give the feds what they wanted.

Dominic Cantalupo, attorney for one of the other brothers, told Victoria Kim of the LA Times that the fraud charges were brought after the MCJ Khounthavong refused to cooperate with investigators and give information on other deputies in the jail investigation.

It is difficult to say what Judge Real thought about the rumored provenance of the case against the Khounthavong brothers. Yet, at the end of the unexpectedly truncated court proceedings, he reportedly asked federal prosecutor Carter, “Where was this coming from if the banks weren’t harmed? Where was it coming from?”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 7 Comments »

LA State of the Union Honorees, DOJ Unlikely to Charge Darren Wilson, Raising the Age, and SCOTUS’ Religious Freedom Ruling

January 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES COPS AND FELON-TURNED-PRISON-REFORMER HONORED AT STATE OF THE UNION

First lady Michelle Obama invited LAPD Captain Phil Tingirides, of the Southeast Division, and his wife, Sergeant Emada Tingirides, to sit with her during the President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The Tingirides are responsible for the Community Safety Project, an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts.

LA Times’ Veronica Rocha and Kate Mather have more on the Tingirides duo. Here’s a clip:

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Tuesday that he was “very, very proud” of the Tinigirides’ invite, calling the captain and sergeant “a great representative of the city of Los Angeles and what’s going on here.”

“This is a national stage right now. Police legitimacy, public trust, police-community relations are all at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts right now,” he said.

“Even though we have much to do in L.A., we have done a lot,” Beck said. “And to recognize that, the president’s recognition of that, is very gratifying.”

The city’s housing authority gave the LAPD $5 million in 2011 to create the program. Focusing on some of South L.A.’s toughest housing developments, officers worked alongside residents and community members to repair frayed relationships.

Capt. Tingirides first attended a Watts neighborhood meeting more than eight years ago, and learned how deep frustrations and feelings of hopelessness ran.

“I was getting my butt handed to me,” he said.

So, he said he decided just to listen as residents expressed their frustration. Gradually, he said, he realized the anger wasn’t necessarily directed at him, but directed toward the uniform he wore.

“There is a lot of good people in Watts and South L.A.,” the captain said, “and good cops that want to make a difference.”

The inspiring prison reformer and former juvenile offender, Prophet Walker, was also honored at the State of the Union address. (We’ve written about Prophet before, here.)

The Daily Breeze has more on Prophet’s story and why he was chosen to sit with Michelle Obama during the SOTU speech. Here’s a clip:

“When I was 16 and sentenced to (jail), I couldn’t see the next six years, let alone the next 12 and that I’d be here today,” he said, soon after landing in Washington, D.C. “This is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Walker, who grew up in a housing project in Watts, the son of a heroin addict who abandoned him at 6 years old, received a six-year jail sentence for robbery and causing bodily injury.

But while incarcerated, Walker took a hard look at his life and decided to make a change, getting a college education and coming up with an innovative program to help prisoners get college degrees. He attended Loyola Marymount University’s school of engineering. More than 100 people in the program he founded have gone on to attend various universities.

Walker said he knows Tuesday’s recognition is not just for him, but for all of the people involved in the camp and prison education program.

Hoping to strengthen the bond between law enforcement, the community, parents and children of housing projects, he later co-founded the Watts United Weekend for underprivileged kids to attend weekend camp retreats.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze shares five different takes on how the LAPD is doing with its community policing efforts. Here is the clip from Capt. Tingirides thoughts on the issue:

The LAPD’s top commander in Watts is Captain Phillip Tingirides, a 35-year veteran of the department. For the past seven years, he’s worked to improve relationships, he says.

“For the first three years, it was a constant attack,” Tingirides says of how people treated him and the department. “There was a lot of listening that had to be done. There had to be a lot of owning up to the things that we as a police department had done.”

Tingirides says he also took action. He reconstituted his gang unit, bringing in officers who treat people with more respect. Officers assigned to the housing projects work there five years, and focus on solving problems not arrests. It’s considered a model of community policing.

“We have built a far more functional relationship,” Tingirides says. The veteran captain adds that the people who protest outside police headquarters are a “minute minority.”

“There are far more people who are sitting at home watching TV very supportive of us,” he says.


FEDS GEAR UP TO CLEAR DARREN WILSON IN DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN

The FBI has concluded its investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and has found no grounds for civil rights charges against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. According to a law enforcement official and a US official, Department of Justice prosecutors will not recommend that any charges be brought. While US Attorney General Eric Holder and Civil Rights Chief Vanita Gupta have the final authority on the issue, it is not expected that they will veto the decision.

The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt have the story. Here are some clips:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson. But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.

But a broader Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.

[SNIP]

The federal investigation did not uncover any facts that differed significantly from the evidence made public by the authorities in Missouri late last year, the law enforcement officials said. To bring federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department would have needed to prove that Officer Wilson had intended to violate Mr. Brown’s rights when he opened fire, and that he had done so willfully — meaning he knew that it was wrong to fire but did so anyway.


A PUSH TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY TO 18 IN ST LOUIS, NEW YORK, AND ELSEWHERE

California’s age of criminal responsibility is 18, but in 9 other states, including Missouri, 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults. And in two of those nine states, New York and North Carolina, 16-year-olds are seen as adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system.

NBC’s Seth Freed Wessler and Lisa Riordan Seville takes a look at what happens when states make kids pay adult penalties for youthful, low-level crimes, and adult fines for traffic tickets. Here are some clips:

Advocates for criminal justice reform in New York City have in recent years battled to roll back the “broken windows” model of policing. While supporters say the aggressive enforcement of quality-of-life crimes has dramatically reduced overall crime, reformers say it has done more harm than good.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown put a spotlight on that area’s municipal court system, which many say ensnares low-income residents in a cycle of legal and financial trouble for traffic and ordinance violations.

For minors—especially those from low-income families and black and Latino neighborhoods, advocates say—getting convicted of low-level crimes can lead to lasting, and devastating, adult consequences.

Teens…who can’t afford to pay fines and fees often don’t show up in court, which can trigger warrants that can lead to arrest. Unpaid fines can mar credit records.

“We assume young people have the wherewithal to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, when these young people are too young to enter into a contract, sign a lease, or even buy cigarettes,” said Mae Quinn, a director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic at Washington University Law School.

[SNIP]

New York City courts issued 1,400 warrants to 16- and 17-year-olds represented by Legal Aid each year between 2011 and 2014. During the same years, the court handed down 1,600 misdemeanor and violation convictions to Legal Aid clients under 18 annually. State courts attach surcharges of between $90 and $300 to each of those convictions. If defendants of any age fail to pay these surcharges, they can be pegged with civil judgments that blemish their credit.

New York City contracts with nonprofits to help divert juveniles out of criminal penalties but most of these programs target felony charges, the mayor’s office said. Youth advocates say lower level charges have damaging effects, too.

Nancy Ginsburg, who directs a project of New York’s Legal Aid Society focused on defending adolescents, said there’s a particular irony that youth interactions with the criminal system can lead to ruined credit since they are not legally allowed to engage in most financial activities.

Teenagers in New York “can’t even get a tattoo legally,” Ginsburg said. “There’s not one civil contract or benefit that they can get—we don’t even have legal emancipation in this state—except to be prosecuted as an adult.”


SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF MUSLIM PRISONER’S RELIGIOUS RIGHT TO GROW BEARD

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a muslim Arkansas prisoner wishing to grow a half-inch beard necessitated by his religion.

USA Today’s Richard Wolf has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Federal law bars public institutions such as prisons from imposing a substantial and unjustified burden on the free exercise of religion. In this case, a prisoner named Gregory Holt had converted to Islam and sought permission to grow a half-inch beard, citing the tenets of his faith. The state refused the request, citing security concerns — that the beard, for instance, could be used to hide contraband.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, called the state’s justifications “hard to swallow.” He noted that prison systems in the vast majority of states, and in the federal system, all allow prisoners to grow beards. And he pointed to the fact that prisoners in Arkansas are allowed to grow hair on their head and wear clothes — more plausible places to hide contraband.

Nevertheless, prisoners are not required to go about “bald, barefoot or naked,” he wrote.

Posted in FBI, juvenile justice, LAPD, Obama, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

4 LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Suspect of Theft and Bribe Taking…CA Poor Often Given Cut Rate Legal Defense, Report Finds….Will There Be Fed Indictments for former LASD Top Brass?…& LA Press Club Award to Charlie Hebdo

January 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



FOUR LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS INVESTIGATED FOR THEFT AND BRIBERY ALLEGATIONS

Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into reports that the four engaged in a scheme of thefts and bribes regarding towed vehicles or vehicles about to be towed.

According to a statement released by the LASD on Monday morning, the department became aware in December 2014 of evidence that three deputy sheriffs and a parking control officer were implicated in individual incidents of theft from towed vehicles or accepting cash from vehicle owners to avoid towing and impounding of their vehicles. All four of the department members relieved of duty worked out of Century Station located in Lynwood.

As of now, department investigators do not believe that any additional personnel were involved in the alleged theft and bribery.

“As a law enforcement organization, it is imperative that we earn the public’s trust each day,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in an email that went to all department members. “Acts such as those described above tarnish the badge all of us wear and erode the confidence the public has in law enforcement.

“We will respond swiftly and resolutely whenever acts of this nature come to our attention,” McDonnell continued. “We must demonstrate to the public and to our own Department family that conduct which violates the public trust will not be tolerated. In doing so we also reaffirm that the vast majority of our personnel perform their duties in an exemplary manner.”

The department is pointing to the announcement of the investigation as evidence of a new policy of transparency.

Those department members—working and retired—we spoke with about the matter on Monday said they appreciated the strategy.

“It sets a good tone,” said one retired LASD lieutenant. “It says the department is no longer going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.”

(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and patch photo above by Jaime Lopez, LASD)


ARE SOME OF CALIFORNIA’S POOREST CRIMINAL DEFENDANTS GETTING A CUT RATE DEFENSE?

In the 1963 landmark SCOTUS decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the assistance of counsel for a defendant who could not afford to hire a lawyer was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court’s ruling specified that such legal assistance applied to the preparation for trial as well as the trial itself.

According to a new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, more and more of the state’s counties are cutting funds formerly allocated to provide lawyers for those in need of counsel—and many defendants are getting inadequate “cut-rate” representation as a consequence.

Karen de Sá of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the story. Here are some clips:

Counties are increasingly hiring legal firms that offer cut-rate representation by failing to spend money on investigators or experts that are needed for adequate defense, said the report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created to examine ways to guard against wrongful convictions.

“This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it’s spreading,” said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms “a race to the bottom.”

Traditional public defenders in the pay of the various California counties are generally okay, said the report.

But lawyers who are paid a flat fee for representation, the report said, may be tempted to cut corners on pretrial preparation and avoid going to trial to save time and money.

As a solution, commissioners recommend that the state Legislature establish a body to oversee the way counties provide representation to criminal defendants, and also recommend a law to ensure that funding for experts and investigators is separate from the fee paid to the lawyers in publicly funded cases.

The Fair Administration of Justice Commission report cited research by California Western School of Law Professor Larry Benner, who found that inadequate investigation is a recurring problem in cases in which convictions were overturned because of poor representation….

The new California-based report reflects other dismal reports outlining a national crisis in indigent defense that prevents a growing number of Americans from getting adequate legal representation when they most urgently need it.


ARE FEDERAL PROSECUTORS GUNNING FOR BACA AND TANAKA WITH NEW GRAND JURY SUBPOENAS?

For the last month or so we’d been hearing that various current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had received subpoenas to appear in front of a federal grand jury, as part of an ongoing investigation into the events that resulted in the conviction of seven LASD members for obstruction of justice last year.

Moreover, several of those who were asked to appear were among the seven former department members who have already been convicted. Since all seven contended that the actions that led to their convictions were the result of orders that originated at the LASD’s highest echelon—namely from Baca and Tanaka—there has been much speculation that federal prosecutors are now hoping to indict some of those very former department higher ups.

Over the weekend, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on the matter of the new grandjury subpoenas.

She wrote:

The questioning has focused partly on meetings where then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, Paul Tanaka, discussed how to deal with the discovery of a cellphone provided to a county jail inmate by the FBI. In addition to the convicted officials, some current Sheriff’s Department officials have also received grand jury subpoenas.

Many in the Sheriff’s Department believe that low-ranking officials took the fall for following orders from Tanaka and Baca. Now, with the convening of the grand jury, it appears that prosecutors are attempting to target more sheriff’s officials after convicting seven last year for obstructing justice.

Of the seven, Gregory Thompson, a former lieutenant, and two ex-deputies, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, are known to have testified before the grand jury in December, according to a source.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Assn. (PPOA), the union that represents sheriff’s department supervisors, said that he knows of at least one more grand jury subpoena related to the obstruction of justice issue. But, he said, he has heard credible reports of still more such subpoenas.

So will there be new indictments?

When LASD Captain Tom Carey testified at the trials of the seven last year, he admitted that he was the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. And, as WLA has previously reported, Carey was relieved of duty in December pending the result of an internal departmental investigation.

Tanaka also admitted last year to knowing he was the subject of a federal criminal probe.

Yet, despite much pestering on the part of reporters, WLA included, federal prosecutors and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility—or lack thereof—of more indictments, and will say only that the investigation is ongoing.

Still, the new grand jury hearings have fueled new rounds of speculation.

“Of course, many of us hope the government is going to reach higher than those who have already been convicted,” Moriguchi said. “But in the end all we can do is speculate. It’s hopeful speculation, but it’s speculation, nonetheless.”

NOTE: Chang’s story has more that you’ll likely find interesting, so be sure to read the whole thing.


LA PRESS CLUB 2015 AWARD FOR COURAGE & INTEGRITY IN JOURNALISM TO GO TO CHARLIE HEBDO

The Los Angeles Press Club announced on Monday that its 2015 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism will go to Charlie Hebdo.

“We are deeply honored. Of course, we’ll accept, said Gerard Biard, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo.

“No act of terrorism can stop freedom of speech. Giving the Daniel Pearl Award to Charlie Hebdo is a strong message to that effect,” said LA Press Club President Robert Kovacik of NBC LA.

Since 2002, the Los Angeles Press Club in conjunction with Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl—who was kidnapped in 2002 by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have handed out the award to those who have displayed unusual courage in reporting.

Past recipients have included Richard Engel, the NBC correspondent who covered multiple mid east wars on the front lines, before being abducted in Syria in 2012, and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist/author who became famous for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, who was murdered in 2006 in the elevator outside her apartment in what was widely viewed as an ordered assassination to prevent her latest deeply reported story from being published.

The 2015 award will be presented by Judea and Ruth Pearl at a gala awards dinner held at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 28th.

In the meantime, Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the murderous attack on its Paris offices that killed 12 people, will feature a tearful prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” The magazine’s headline says “All is forgiven.”

The magazine, which will go on sale on Wednesday, will reportedly print as many as record 3 million copies in 16 languages, instead of its usual 60,000.

The cover cartoon, which you can see below, was drawn by the weekly’s cartoonist Luz, who survived the massacre because he was late arriving at the office.

(Click on the Charlie Hebdo cover image to enlarge it.)

Posted in art and culture, FBI, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, media, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 19 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

December 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy James Sexton became the 7th member of the LASD
to be sentenced to prison for a conviction of obstruction of justice due to his part in a plan to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Sexton to 18 months in a federal lock-up, plus an additional year of supervision after he is released.

Sexton, 30, is a former Eagle Scout who was offered an appointment to West Point and recently got his master’s in public administration at USC. He was 26, and in the department for three years, when in August 2011, he was assigned by then lieutenant Greg Thompson, his boss on the Operation Safe Jails unit (OSJ), to participate in a complex scheme to keep federal informant Brown away from the FBI and other federal representatives with whom he’d previously been in contact. Brown was, at the time, part of a civil rights investigation into brutality by deputies against inmates in Men’s Central Jail, plus other forms of LASD corruption.

According to department higher ups, the hiding of Brown was for the inmate’s own safety. Sexton and his team members were told that the order to move Brown to various secret locations within the county jail system, through the use of name changes and computer manipulation, came from the very top of the department, namely from Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who were briefed regularly on the operation that Sexton began unofficially calling Operation Pandora’s Box.

Judge Anderson gave Sexton the shortest sentence of any of the seven, stating that the deputy was “the least culpable” of the group. (Co-conspirators Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricela Long drew terms ranging from 41 months for former lieutenant Steve Levins, to 21 months for former deputy Mickey Manzo, after being convicted in July of this year in a trial separate from Sextons)

Sexton’s attorneys had pushed for a far lower six month sentence, or even probation with no jail time, pointing out that Sexton had repeatedly cooperated with the feds as a whistleblower in 37 different meetings, and had been convincingly threatened by department members once his whistleblower role became known. (Sexton was the only one of his co-defendents who was allowed by the judge to keep his personal firearms until his conviction this fall.) Anderson, however, was adamant that “the public” expected a sentence that did not trivialize the offense.

“The public expects that the police will not obstruct justice,” said the judge

At the same time, Anderson praised Sexton’s “loving family,” that the deputy “has respect of many in his hometown,” and was “smart and educated” and was “devoted to public service.”

Anderson paused, then added, “Obviously at some point he allowed the core values that had served him well to give way...to the corrupt values of the sheriff’s department.

Finally Anderson spoke directly to Sexton.

“Sir, you didn’t show courage in your misguided attempt to protect the LASD.”

While Sexton and his family looked both grim and saddened by the sentencing outcome, they seemed unsurprised. Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.
The September trial was Sexton’s second legal go-round for the same charges. His first trial, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

When questioned outside the federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said that the sentencing of Sexton was not the end of the story when it came to pursuing civil rights violations and corruption inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He ticked off some of the trials of other LASD members that will take place in 2015. “This is the end of one chapter,” Fox said, “but we have many chapters yet to come.”

As to whether the feds are focusing on other department members for possible future indictments, Fox would only say “it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Fox also declined comment on the news that Captain Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative unit, ICIB, had recently been relieved of duty, pending an LASD investigation. Carey, who testified in both Sexton’s trials, was asked by Fox when he was then on the stand if he was aware that he was the focus of an ongoing criminal federal investigation.

Sexton will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on February 2015. His six co-defendents are required to surrender on January 2.

Sexton reportedly has made plans to appeal his conviction.


Be sure to read ABC7 Lisa Bartley’s excellent account of Monday’s proceedings. Bartley has also linked to some documents pertinent to the sentencing including letters of support from such people as an L.A. County Deputy District Attorney, a retired CIA official, a Captain in the U.S. Special Forces, a Green Beret and the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 36 Comments »

Federal Profiling Policies, Addressing Incarcerated Kids’ Education Needs, LASD Civilian Oversight…and More

December 9th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW GUIDELINES: WHO (AND WHEN) FEDERAL LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENTS CAN PROFILE

US Attorney General Eric Holder has announced new profiling guidelines for federal law enforcement agencies. Now, federal officers can no longer discriminate based on religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity. Before, only discrimination based on race or ethnicity was banned.

While the move does appear to be a step in the right direction, advocates say it may not make a huge difference in curbing profiling across the nation. For instance, the guidelines are only for federal agencies—not state and local departments, and some of these new rules don’t apply to TSA and border patrol officers.

The LA Times’ Timothy Phelps has some helpful examples of changes the new policy will bring (and things that will not be changed). Here are some clips:

Will the new rules help prevent the kinds of deadly encounters seen recently in Ferguson, Mo., and New York that have left African American men dead at the hands of white police officers?

Not likely. The new guidance applies only to federal law enforcement officers, such as those from the FBI and Justice Department. Local or state police would have to abide by the guidelines only if they were working on a joint task force with federal officers.

But Justice Department officials said Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. is hopeful that the federal guidelines will become a nationwide model that is eventually embraced by local law enforcement as well.

[SNIP]

Can federal law enforcement investigate someone simply because they are gay or lesbian?

No. For the first time, sexual orientation and gender identity are protected in the anti-profiling guidelines. Gay rights advocates have praised the new language.

Does the new policy apply to terrorism and national security cases?

In theory, yes. The new guidance revoked the national security exemption that had existed under the old rules.

But like border agents, the FBI and other agencies that investigate terrorism argued that profiling was sometimes needed to protect the nation. Civil rights lawyers say other provisions in the rules appear to permit certain kinds of profiling in the name of national security.

The new guidance specifically allows the FBI and other federal law enforcement to continue to “map” communities, focusing their investigations on neighborhoods or communities based, for example, on religion or national origin. Also, some critics of the new rules are concerned that Holder was noncommittal Monday when asked whether the FBI field manual would be updated to reflect the new guidance, raising questions about whether federal agents will change their behavior.


ANOTHER DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT (WITH THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION): EDUCATION FOR CONFINED KIDS

On Monday, AG Eric Holder also announced, with the U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, a new Correctional Education Guidance Package to help states and local agencies provide better education services to locked up kids. The package comes as a result of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative aimed at improving outcomes for boys and young men of color.

The package instructs juvenile facilities to provide boys and girls with equal access to education programs, end discriminatory discipline practices, and better serve the education needs of english-learning kids.

Evie Blad has more on the new guidance in a story for Education Week. Here’s a clip:

The guidance consists of “Dear Colleague” letters that outline the education obligations of juvenile justice residential facilities under federal civil rights laws, clarify that many confined youth are eligible for federal Pell grants for higher education, and specify facilities’ obligations under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The agencies’ also released a set of “guiding principles” for providing education in juvenile justice settings.

The package includes a special focus on issues that are especially relevant to education in juvenile justice settings, including coordination with schools as students transition in and out of their care, use of highly qualified and credentialed teachers, promoting a positive and safe climate for learning, and identifying special education needs.

“Although the overall number of youth involved in the juvenile justice system has been decreasing, there are still more than 60,000 young people in juvenile justice residential facilities in the United States on any given day,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, and Vanita Gupta, the acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, wrote in the guidance.

Holder noted that the agencies released the guidance at a time of “growing national dialogue about ensuring that America’s justice system serves everyone equally.” Youth in detention facilities are sometimes recipients of inadequate instruction or no instruction at all, Holder said, calling such experiences “unacceptable failures” and “lost opportunities.”


LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT VOTE MAY COME TODAY

Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on the creation of a permanent citizens’ oversight commission for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The motion, previously submitted by Mark Ridley-Thomas and termed-out Gloria Molina, was rejected by the board. (Ridley-Thomas has championed the idea for more than two years.) Now, Ridley-Thomas and new Supervisor Hilda Solis have reintroduced the proposal. And new 3rd District Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has said before that she will support civilian oversight.

An LA Times editorial urges the board to approve the motion. Here’s how it opens:

New leaders bring fresh perspectives, so there is reason to believe that Los Angeles County government will be reinvigorated by the four officials who took office earlier this month. But sometimes it’s not enough to change faces and ideas; the structure of government itself needs an occasional shake-up. So it’s doubly heartening that the reconstituted Board of Supervisors on Tuesday will take up the idea of a citizens commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department. The action is overdue.

Sheriffs are directly elected by county voters, affording a level of independence so great that it sometimes veers into unaccountability. That was part of the problem with former Sheriff Lee Baca, whom voters returned to office repeatedly while he presided over a department in which management breakdowns led to inmate abuse in the jails and other critical and costly problems. For years, voters had too limited a view into the department to know of its failings; the Board of Supervisors had too many other things on its plate to adequately spotlight them; and outside monitors who had access and knowledge had no public forum at which to share them.

To address that structural shortcoming, new Sheriff Jim McDonnell supports the creation of a citizens oversight commission — a panel to scrutinize the department’s actions and operations and report on its findings in a public setting. A divided Board of Supervisors rejected such an idea in August but one of its new members, Hilda Solis, has joined with Mark Ridley-Thomas to reintroduce it. New Supervisor Sheila Kuehl noted numerous times on the campaign trail that she, too, is in favor.

(The Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial board is also calling for civilian oversight.)


CONVERSATION ABOUT SPECIAL PROSECUTORS BUILDS IN THE WAKE OF NON-INDICTMENT OVER ERIC GARNER DEATH

Advocates as well as New York officials and lawmakers—like state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York Public Advocate Letitia James—are pushing for cases involving death at the hands of law enforcement officers to be handled by independent state prosecutors. The calls became more urgent after a grand jury did not indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the chokehold death of Eric Garner.

The AP’s Jennifer Peltz has more on the complicated issue. Here are some clips:

The city’s elected public advocate and some state lawmakers are pressing for appointing special state prosecutors for police killings, saying Eric Garner’s death has bared problems with having DAs lead investigations and prosecutions of the police who help them build cases. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday to give Schneiderman’s office the authority to investigate deaths at the hands of police.

Similar legislation has been proposed in Missouri since the police shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson.

“This is a watershed moment,” New York Public Advocate Letitia James said by phone. “It’s clear that the system is broken and an independent prosecutor is needed.”

She’s advocating appointing such prosecutors whenever police kill or seriously injure someone. Assemblymen Karim Camara and Marcos Crespo are proposing special prosecutors for police killings of unarmed people.

Cuomo said last week on CNN’s “The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer” that the state should examine whether DAs should bring such cases and “potential roles for special prosecutors,” as part of a broad look at the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“There has to be a permanent special prosecutor for police misconduct because of the inherent conflict” in tasking local prosecutors with exploring allegations against the police who are often their partners, said civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel.

But DAs bristle at the implication that they’re too close to police for public comfort.

“Why would the people’s choice to be their elected law enforcement officer be disqualified in favor of some political appointment?” said Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick, the Syracuse prosecutor who is president-elect of the National District Attorneys Association.

[SNIP]

Some states have established permanent special prosecutors’ offices for various types of cases. Maryland’s handles everything from election law violations to misconduct by public employees, including police.

But the idea of a special prosecutor specifically for police has a particular history in New York. The state created a state special prosecutor’s office in 1972 to explore police corruption in New York City, responding to the allegations later chronicled in the 1973 film “Serpico”….

The New York Times Editorial Board agrees that an independent prosecutor should be brought in to eliminate possible bias on the part of local DAs who work closely with police. The editorial suggests that law enforcement agencies should welcome such a shift. Here’s how it opens:

It is a long-established and basic reality of law enforcement in America: Prosecutors who want an indictment get an indictment. In 2010 alone, federal prosecutors sought indictments in 162,000 cases. All but 11 times, they succeeded.

Yet the results are entirely different when police officers kill unarmed civilians. In those cases, the officers are almost never prosecuted either because district attorneys do not pursue charges in the first place or grand juries do not indict, as happened most recently in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island.

There are various explanations for this, but the most obvious is the inherent conflict of interest that exists for prosecutors, who rely heavily on the police every day. Cops arrest suspects; they investigate crimes; they gather evidence; and they testify in court, working essentially in partnership with prosecutors.

Whether or not bias can be proved in a given case, the public perception of it is real and must be addressed.

The best solution would be a law that automatically transfers to an independent prosecutor all cases in which a civilian is dead at the hands of the police. This would avoid the messy politics of singling out certain district attorneys and taking cases away from them.

The police should be among the strongest supporters of this arrangement because both their authority and their safety are undermined when the communities they work in neither trust them nor believe that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else.

For further recommended reading, Alameda County public defender Seth Morris explains how easy it is to get an indictment. Here’s how it opens (but read the whole thing):

It is, we are told, very hard to get grand jurors to indict police officers — which supposedly explains why Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo walk free, despite the men they killed in Ferguson, Mo., and on Staten Island. But as a public defender, I know exactly what it takes to get an indictment. I could get one in either case. In fact, I am ready and willing to fly to any town in this country to get an indictment in any case where a police officer kills an unarmed civilian. It’s just not that hard.

I’d start by saying this. “A man, a member of our community, has been killed by another. Only a trial court can sort out what exactly happened and what defenses, if any, may apply. I believe in our trial system above all others in the world. I ask for an indictment so that all voices can be heard in a public courtroom with advocates for both sides in front of trial jurors from the community. This room is not the room to end this story. It’s where the story begins.”

I’d do it by asking the grand juries to apply the law to these men as the law demands it be applied — equally. I’d ask them to consider the recent fateful events as the work of ordinary humans, not police officers. I’d explain that the cases are too important to be settled in a secret grand jury room. The lives lost are too valuable to avoid a public trial.

I’d ask them not to consider the defenses the men may raise at trial, because these are irrelevant to the question of indictment. Judges routinely tell my clients — indigent, poor, often young men of color — that they will face trial because probable cause is an exceedingly low standard of proof. All it requires is a suspicion that a crime occurred and a suggestion that the defendant may be responsible for the crime.

Posted in DEA, Department of Justice, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, LGBT, National issues | No Comments »

Civilian Oversight of LASD Back on the Table….LAPD Union Spokesman Unwisely Axed….Report Looks at Barriers Barring 2nd Chances for Americans With Criminal Records….New Sentencing Date for Sexton

December 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IS PROPOSED AGAIN, THIS TIME APPROVAL LOOKS LIKELY

One brand new member of the LA County Board of Supervisors, Hilda Solis, has joined veteran board member Mark Ridley-Thomas in championing the idea of a civilian oversight commission for the long-troubled sheriff’s department.

Next Tuesday, December 9, Ridley-Thomas and Solis, will introduce a motion to establish such a commission.

This past summer, MRT and termed-out supervisor, Gloria Molina, did all they could to get a similar motion passed without success. At that time, termed-out supe Zev Yaroslavsky was considered the swing vote who might provide the third favorable vote necessary for passage, but no swinging ever took place. Mike Antonovich has been firmly in the NO camp all through discussions of the matter, and Don Knabe, who was, at one time, thought to be a far outside possibility as a swing vote, never came over to the YES column either.

Now, however, Solis and Ridley-Thomas appear to have their third supporter in newly sworn-in supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who had expressed strong support for a civilian commission while on the campaign trail.

Kuehl then reaffirmed her support in an interview on Thursday.

Back in the summer, one of the strongest voices in favor of the creation of the commission was the man who, as of Monday, has taken over the helm of the sheriff’s department, Jim McDonnell. A few weeks prior to the board’s decision to vote down the commission proposal this past August, McDonnell issued a lengthy statement explaining why he supported the idea, which he called “a necessary long-term investment in creating a better-run department.”

The statement read in part:

I support this concept and believe that there is great value in creating an independent civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be part of the LASD’s pathway forward. A civilian commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding community trust in the constitutional operation of the LASD.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) – an entity that is now in the process of formation. While our Commission opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an empowered and independent citizens’ commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past problems.

Though a civilian oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me or to law enforcement in general. Indeed, I spent many of my 29 years at the LAPD working with its citizens’ Police Commission. I have also worked with a citizens’ commission as Chief of Police in Long Beach. I have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice and welcome the opportunity to work with the Board of Supervisors, legal experts and community groups in developing the best possible model of civilian oversight for the LASD…..

At the time, John Scott—who acted as interim sheriff after the unexpected resignation of former sheriff Lee Baca last January—told ABC7 reporter Robert Holguin that he was generally for the commission but felt it was too soon to form one.

The Ridley-Thomas/Solis motion (which you can read in full here) also proposes the formation of a “working group” that will have 90 days to put together recommendations regarding the citizens commission’s “mission, authority, size, structure, relationship to the Office of the Sheriff and to the Office of the Inspector General.”

(We would presume and hope that the working group would also make recommendations about the proposed commission’s relationship with the board of supervisors. While a citizen’s commission would be the board’s creation, it should not be its creature.)

The working group would be made up of the sheriff (or his designee), the inspector general (or his designee) and one group member to be appointed by each supervisor.

Barring anything unforeseen, look for the civilian oversight commission to finally get a go-head next Tuesday.


LAPD UNION CONFOUNDS OBSERVERS BY DUMPING LONGTIME SPOKESMAN

In a move that has surprised many LA reporters who cover police issues, the LAPD’s union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, has parted ways with longtime spokesman Eric Rose. A favorite of several administrations worth of department leaders, Rose is known for his breadth of knowledge of local law enforcement, and his ability to communicate with journalists in such a way that has repeatedly benefited both the union and the LAPD.

Most learned about Rose’s departure when he sent out a note early in the morning of Saturday November 29, explaining that Englander Knabe & Allen, the firm in which he is a partner, would no longer be representing the league. Rose has been the voice of the union for 19 years.

The LAPPL’s decision to acquire a new spokesman is viewed by some department watchers as a desperation-driven maneuver by union leadership frantic to find some way to pressure city officials into forking over a new-and-improved contract. (Good luck with that. In July, the department’s rank file rejected a proposed contract because, despite its multiple concessions, it contained no cost-of-living adjustment [COLA]—nevermind that, due to the city’s $242 million budget shortfall, no other city employees were getting COLAs either, including firefighters.)

On Monday, Daily News columnist Rick Orlov called the LAPPL’s action “another sign of its recent internal strife.”


REPORT CALLS FOR POLICY REFORM TO ENSURE AMERICANS WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS HAVE “A FAIR SHOT AT A SECOND CHANCE.”

A just-released report by the Center for American Progress called One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records looks at the multiplicity of ways that a single criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, can permanently damage an individual’s ability to rebuild his or her life even years after release from jail or prison.

Here’s how the report opens:

Between 70 million and 100 million Americans—or as many as one in three—have a criminal record.

Many have only minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and nonserious infractions; others have only arrests without conviction. Nonetheless, because of the rise of technology and the ease of accessing data via the Internet—–in conjunction with federal and state policy decisions—having even a minor criminal history now carries lifelong barriers that can block successful re-entry and participation in society. This has broad implications—not only for the millions of individuals who are prevented from moving on with their lives and becoming productive citizens but also for their families, communities, and the national economy.

Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.

It is a cause because having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing, public assistance, education, family reunification, and more; conviction can result in monetary debts as well. It is a consequence due to the growing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. One recent study finds that our nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society.

Failure to address this link as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle….

And there is this:

…The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record—and the stigma that accompanies one—stand in stark contrast to research on “redemption” that documents that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person’s risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population.

Put differently, people are treated as criminals long after they pose any significant risk of committing further crimes—-making it difficult for many to move on with their lives and achieve basic economic security, let alone have a shot at upward mobility.

The United States must therefore craft policies to ensure that Americans with criminal records have a fair shot at making a decent living, providing for their families, and joining the middle class. This will benefit not only the tens of millions of individuals who face closed doors due to a criminal record but also their families, their communities, and the economy as a whole.

The full report is 50 pages long, and features lots of interesting data, plus a series of recommendations for policy change, so worth reading for those of you with an interest in the topic.


LASD DEPUTY JAMES SEXTON SENTENCING RESCHEDULED FOR DECEMBER 15

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who was scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, will now be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on Monday, December 15.

(Earlier, federal prosecutors had switched Sexton’s sentencing date from this past Monday-–the day that the new sheriff would be sworn in—to December 8th. Then more recently the feds agreed to the second date change at the request of Sexton’s attorneys.)

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was the seventh sworn member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to be convicted of obstruction of justice charges in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

The September trial was the second time that Deputy Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

The other six department members, who were sentenced in late September, received sentences by Judge Anderson that ranged from 21 months to 41 months, with an additional year of superversion after their release.

The six are required to surrender for their terms on January 2.

If Sexton is sentenced to prison, he is expected to be asked to surrender within a similar time frame.

Posted in FBI, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, U.S. Attorney | 16 Comments »

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