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How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

Lawmakers Call for End to Reckless Medicating of CA’s Foster Kids….Head of State Foster Care Sez Not So Fast….Shadows & Ferguson….LAPPL Tells NYT Why Words Matter

August 27th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



CALIFORNIA LAWMAKERS CALL FOR END TO RECKLESS USE OF PSYCH MEDS ON STATE’S FOSTER YOUTH

After The San Jose Mercury News ran its eloquent and devastating investigative report by Karen de Sá about the over-use psychotropic meds on California’s foster youth, various lawmakers have come forward to call for fast-tracked action to curb the prescribing of psychiatric meds to essentially drug foster kids into submission.

De Sá writes about the various legislators who have come forward since her report appeared Sunday. Here are some clips:

“It’s easier to take care of a sleeping kid, but that doesn’t mean that it’s right,” State Sen. President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in an interview Monday. “And it certainly doesn’t mean that it’s in the best interest of the child — it’s obvious that in so many instances, it’s not.”

Steinberg said he was deeply concerned about the newspaper’s finding that the state spends more on psychiatric drugs for foster children than on any other type of drug. An analysis of 10 years of Medi-Cal data showed psych meds accounted for 72 percent of spending on the 10 most expensive drug groups for foster children, topping $226 million.

Steinberg said that wide-open spigot, fueled by pharmaceutical company marketing, has to be restricted.

“What we know now is that $226 million, 72 percent of the total spent, is being used to over-prescribe and to over-rely on medication as the primary strategy to help these kids who have already had a tough life — and that the side effects and impact on their life and their growth are serious,” Steinberg said. “This report and these numbers tell me that this money is not being well spent in many instance…

[LARGE SNIP]

One senator on Monday said he was ready to lead the charge. Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose — who chairs the Senate Human Services Committee — said his committee will consider new policies and legislation to curb overprescribing when the new session begins in December. Beall said he intends to focus on what he calls “‘trash can diagnoses’ — diagnoses that are made simply to control behavior, as opposed to diagnoses that have a medically therapeutic value.”

Beall agreed with Steinberg’s urgency, noting: “There needs to be some action taken to reduce the inappropriate use of drugs in our foster care system — this is not a lightweight issue.”

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, agreed.

“Drugging kids to make them behave isn’t care, isn’t responsible and shouldn’t be legal,” she said in a statement. “Silencing their youthful pain by inducing stupor simply leaves childhood issues to fester into adulthood — and violates the obligation to ‘do no harm’ to those in our care.”


HEAD OF CALIFORNIA’S DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES SAYS NO EASY WAY TO END OVER-MEDICATING OF KIDS IN STATE CARE

When the Mercury-News talked to Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, about their report, he told the paper that this over-drugging problem would take some time to solve.

Thankfully that answer didn’t work for the Mercury-News editorial board, the members of which seemed to think that every kid whose life was being potentially wrecked by being force-fed an untested cocktail of psychotropic meds, has a life that actually, you know, matters.

Here’s a clip from their editorial:

Will Lightbourne, head of California’s Department of Social Services, says there’s no simple way to end the pattern of thousands of foster children spending much of their youth drugged into malleability — the horror eloquently revealed by reporter Karen de Sá on Sunday’s Page One. He says it has to be part of the holistic rethinking of the entire foster care system that’s under way, giving doctors better options than prescribing psychotropic drug upon psychotropic drug to control children who act out.

Really? Really? If this isn’t a crisis, then what is?

The abusive use of powerful medications on kids with formative brains cries out for action. Each child who grows up scarred by this is a human tragedy and, in many cases, a lifetime burden on society.

Yes, the whole foster care system needs rebuilding, and yes, that could reduce the incentive to drug kids to alter behavior. But we can’t write off the children in the system now. That’s like declining to treat a cancer because the cure hasn’t been found.

It’s time to act. There are things the state can do now to at least begin to control the damage to children’s minds and physical health….


FERGUSON, & THE LONG SHADOWS OF HISTORY

Author and associate history professor, Jeleni Cobb, writing for the New Yorker, has been one of the voices consistently worth reading during the most intense days in Ferguson.

His newest essay, posted late Tuesday afternoon at the New Yorker, is another thoughtful and emotionally affecting example. Here are two clips, one from the essay’s beginning, the second taken from near its end:

When I was eighteen, I stumbled across Richard Wright’s poem “Between the World and Me. The poem, a retelling of a lynching, shook me, because while the narrator relays the details in the first person, the actual victim of that brutish ritual is another man, unknown to him and unknown to us. The poem is about the way in which history is an animate force, and how we are witnesses to the past, even to that portion of it that transpired before we were born. He writes,

darkness screamed with thirsty voices; and the witnesses rose and lived:
The dry bones stirred, rattled, lifted, melting themselves
into my bones.
The grey ashes formed flesh firm and black, entering into
my flesh.

Nothing save random fortune separated the fate of the man who died from that of the one telling the story. Errin Whack and Isabel Wilkerson have both written compellingly about the long shadow of lynching. It is, too often, a deliberately forgotten element of the American past—one that is nonetheless felt everywhere in Ferguson, Missouri, where protests followed the shooting of Michael Brown, who was eighteen years old, by a police officer. One can’t make sense of how Brown’s community perceived those events without first understanding the way that neglected history has survived among black people—a traumatic memory handed down, a Jim Crow inheritance….

And then this:

…I was once a linebacker-sized eighteen-year-old, too. What I knew then, what black people have been required to know, is that there are few things more dangerous than the perception that one is a danger.

I’m embarrassed to recall that my adolescent love of words doubled as a strategy to assuage those fears; it was both a pitiable desire for acceptance and a practical necessity for survival. I know, to this day, the element of inadvertent intimidation that colors the most innocuous interactions, particularly with white people. There are protocols for this. I sometimes let slip that I’m a professor or that I’m scarcely even familiar with the rules of football, minor biographical facts that stand in for a broader, unspoken statement of reassurance: there is no danger here…

Read on.


LAPPL CALLS OUT NY TIMES, NOTING THAT “UNARMED” ALONE DOES NOT DEFINE WHETHER OR NOT SOMEONE POSES A DANGER

Being precise with words matters, as this new post on the blog for the LAPD’s union states, calling out the New York Times for what the LAPPL suggests is a careless use of language.

Here’s a clip from the post’s opening:

Repeated descriptions of a suspect as “unarmed” when shot by a police officer does not, contrary to the belief of the New York Times and others who use the term without further describing the facts of the encounter, determine if the force used by an officer was lawful or reasonable. Labeling the suspect as “unarmed” does not begin to answer the question of the danger they posed in each instance where deadly force was used.

According to the FBI’s online database of officers feloniously killed, as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page, since 2000, there have been at least 57 occurrences where the suspects have taken officers’ weapons and murdered the police officer with it….


Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, LAPPL | No Comments »

Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

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

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, Obama, prison | No Comments »

Drugging California’s Foster Kids, Suspect Asking for Help Dies in LAPD Custody, “Reasonable Fear,” and a Bill to Seal Juvenile Records

August 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PRESCRIBING PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO CALIFORNIA’S FOSTER KIDS

The San Jose Mercury’s Karen de Sá has an excellent investigative longread exploring the issue of the high rates at which foster kids are prescribed psychotropic drugs (often a cocktail of several different pills), why they are prescribed, and the lasting negative effects the drugs are having on kids.

An investigation by the Mercury found that one-in-four of California’s foster kids are receiving psychotropic drugs—a number more than three times that of all kids across the nation. The study also revealed that kids are receiving questionable prescriptions for drugs that are not approved for children.

The story is the first in a five-part series. Subsequent installments will explore topics like group homes’ excessive use of drugs to manage kids, how young kids are being medicated, and the cost to taxpayers and kids.

Here’s how it opens:

They are wrenched from abusive homes, uprooted again and again, often with their life’s belongings stuffed into a trash bag.

Abandoned and alone, they are among California’s most powerless children. But instead of providing a stable home and caring family, the state’s foster care system gives them a pill.

With alarming frequency, foster and health care providers are turning to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children.

An investigation by this newspaper found that nearly 1 out of every 4 adolescents in California’s foster care system is receiving these drugs — 3 times the rate for all adolescents nationwide. Over the last decade, almost 15 percent of the state’s foster children of all ages were prescribed the medications, known as psychotropics, part of a national treatment trend that is only beginning to receive broad scrutiny.

“We’re experimenting on our children,” said Los Angeles County Judge Michael Nash, who presides over the nation’s largest juvenile court.

A year of interviews with foster youth, caregivers, doctors, researchers and legal advocates uncovered how the largest foster care system in the U.S. has grown dependent on quick-fix, taxpayer-funded, big-profit pharmaceuticals — and how the state has done little to stop it.

“To be prescribing these medications so extensively and so, I think, thoughtlessly, with so little evidence supporting their use, it’s just malpractice,” said George Stewart, a Berkeley child psychiatrist who has treated the neediest foster children in the Bay Area for the past four decades. “It really is drugging them.”

The state official who oversees foster care, Department of Social Services Director Will Lightbourne, concedes drugs are overused, but insists his department is wrapping its arms around the problem: “There’s a lot of work to be done here to make sure we do things right.”

No one doubts that foster children generally have greater mental health needs because of the trauma they have suffered, and the temptation for caregivers to fulfill those needs with drugs can be strong. In the short term, psychotropics can calm volatile moods and make aggressive children more docile.

But there is substantial evidence of many of the drugs’ dramatic side effects: rapid-onset obesity, diabetes and a lethargy so profound that foster kids describe dozing through school and much of their young lives. Long-term effects, particularly on children, have received little study, but for some psychotropics there is evidence of persistent tics, increased risk of suicide, even brain shrinkage.

Sade Daniels, of Hayward, became so overweight in her teens, that at age 26 her bathroom mirror still taunts and embarrasses her. Mark Estrada, a 21-year-old from Anaheim, said he felt too “zoned out” to focus on high school and so groggy he was cut from his varsity basketball team.

And Rochelle Trochtenberg, now 31 and living in Eureka, still struggles to bring a glass to her lips because her hands are so shaky from the years she spent on a shifting mix of lithium, Depakote, Zyprexa, Haldol and Prozac, among others. When people ask, she tries to cover it up with remarks about a possible hereditary condition.

The truth is too painful to explain, she said. “I don’t want to tell people I have a tremor because I was drugged for my whole adolescence.”

The interactive longread is full of great videos and photos by Dai Sugano, so be sure to click over to the Mercury for the rest of the story.


MAN DIES OF ASTHMA IN LAPD CUSTODY AFTER REPEATEDLY ASKING OFFICERS FOR HELP

Last September, Jorge Azucena died in police custody after reportedly requesting help numerous times from LAPD officers because he was having trouble breathing.

Azucena led police on a car chase for a few miles before getting out of his vehicle and fleeing on foot. Azucena gave himself up to officers at an apartment complex nearby. Audio recordings from the officers’ microphones indicated that Azucena then complied with officers’ commands to lie down on the ground. The microphones also recorded Azucena telling the officers that he could not breathe.

A new report by the Inspector General says that microphones picked up Azucena telling officers he was having a hard time breathing at least five times. The IG’s report shows that officers dismissed Azucena’s pleas for help, telling him that if he was able to talk, he was able to breathe.

Azucena continued to beg officers for help after arriving at the station. He was left in a holding cell until an officer noticed that he appeared to have stopped breathing. Forty minutes after he was brought into the station, paramedics arrived, tried to revive him, and transported him to a hospital where he was declared dead a few hours later.

While blood tests showed meth in Azucena’s system, his autopsy suggested that he died of his asthma attack.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

…as he was lying handcuffed on the ground, Azucena said again that he was struggling to breathe and told the officers he had asthma. Officers had to help him to his feet and hold him by the arms as he walked to a patrol car. One officer recalled to investigators that Azucena was “walking wobbly” and seemed “fatigued,” Beck’s report said.

Over the next 10 minutes, as various officers and sergeants watched over him, Azucena is heard on the recordings complaining about his trouble breathing at least five times, the reports showed. In one exchange, he told officers he was on drugs and believed he was having a seizure. At another point, he began yelling to onlookers.

“Help me, help me, help me,” he shouted, according to the inspector general’s report. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help me, please.”

In response, a sergeant ordered officers to place him in the back seat of a patrol car, believing he was trying to incite the crowd watching, the report said.

The patrol car’s camera recorded Azucena as he tried to lie down in the back seat. When an officer ordered him to sit up, Azucena kicked the car door and said, “I can’t breathe. Help me, help me. I can’t breathe,” according to the reports.

Several officers and sergeants told investigators afterward they did not see any indications that Azucena was in serious distress. One recalled that Azucena seemed to be trying to catch his breath as he sat in the patrol car waiting to be brought to the station but nonetheless appeared to be fine.

The inspector general’s report highlights several exchanges in which police dismiss Azucena’s complaints and tell him that he is fine because he is talking. Several officers told investigators they noticed that Azucena was sweating but believed the humid weather and his attempt to flee were responsible, the report said.

Steve Soboroff, president of the civilian commission that oversees the LAPD, declined to discuss the specifics of the case but said it was “troubling” that so many officers ignored Azucena. The case, he said, underscored the need to better train officers on department policies that require them to call for an ambulance whenever a suspect complains of breathing problems.

“I don’t think this points to a culture of officers who don’t care about people,” Soboroff said. “But it’s important that we make sure officers know they can follow their own moral compass and can feel comfortable speaking up in any situation if they have questions about what is going on.”

Read the rest.


“REASONABLE FEAR” MOST CRUCIAL FACTOR IN DETERMINING FATE OF OFFICER WHO SHOT MICHAEL BROWN

The NY Times’ Michael Wines and Frances Robles talk with a number of criminal justice experts about what factors will go into a grand jury’s determination of whether Darren Wilson should be charged in the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, earlier this month. Experts point out that while there are pages and pages of rules on officer use of force, in split-second, life-or-death decisions, “reasonable fear” of a suspect causing grave injury or death to an officer or civilian is enough cause for deadly use of force. The question of whether Wilson had an “objectively reasonable” fear will be crucial in deciding whether the shooting was within the law.

Here’s how it opens:

Each time police officers draw their weapons, they step out of everyday law enforcement and into a rigidly defined world where written rules, hours of training and Supreme Court decisions dictate not merely when a gun can be fired, but where it is aimed, how many rounds should be squeezed off and when the shooting should stop.

The Ferguson, Mo., police officer who fatally shot an unarmed African-American teenager two weeks ago, setting off protest and riots, was bound by 12 pages of police department regulations, known as General Order 410.00, that govern officers’ use of force. Whether he followed them will play a central role in deliberations by a St. Louis County grand jury over whether the officer, Darren Wilson, should be charged with a crime in the shooting.

But as sweeping as restrictions on the use of weapons may be, deciding whether an officer acted correctly in firing at a suspect is not cut and dried. A host of outside factors, from the officer’s perception of a threat to the suspect’s behavior and even his size, can emerge as mitigating or damning.

The police, the courts and experts say some leeway is necessary in situations where officers under crushing stress must make split-second decisions with life-or-death consequences. A large majority of officers never use their weapons. A handful of officers may be rogue killers, researchers say, but laboratory simulations of armed confrontations show that many more officers — much like ordinary civilians — can make honest mistakes in the pressure cooker of an armed encounter.

“It’s a difficult job for coppers out there,” Timothy Maher, a former officer and a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said in an interview. “In the heat of the moment, things are happening so quickly. If they were role-playing, they could say, ‘Time out.’ But in real life, it’s, ‘Wow — in my training, this guy stopped, but here, he didn’t.’ ”

Some citizens who read witnesses’ accounts of police shootings or view cellphone videos of them see the shootings as brutal and unjustified, which underscores a frequent gap between public perceptions and official views.

The rules dictate when an officer may move from mild coercion, such as issuing an order or grabbing a suspect’s arm, to stronger or even deadly action. In general, officers are allowed to respond with greater force after a suspect does so, and the type of response — from a gentle push to a tight grip, a baton strike to a stun gun shock to a bullet — rises as the threat grows.

Every step, however, is overshadowed by a single imperative: If an officer believes he or someone else is in imminent danger of grievous injury or death, he is allowed to shoot first, and ask questions later. The same is true, the courts have ruled, in cases where a suspect believed to have killed or gravely injured someone is fleeing and can only be halted with deadly force.

Read on.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS BILL TO AUTOMATICALLY SEAL JUVENILE RECORDS AND GIVE KIDS A CHANCE TO START OVER FRESH

Late last week, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill, SB 1038, that will automatically seal kids’ non-violent juvenile records from the public upon completion of probation. Current law allows kids to seal their records, but only through petitioning the court, which can be costly and time-consuming.

You can read more about the bill, authored by Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), on Sen. Leno’s website. Here’s a clip:

“This important legislation helps ensure that young people who have been in trouble and have paid their debt to society are given the chance to turn their lives around before it’s too late,” said Senator Leno, D-San Francisco. “Without a fresh start, a young offender could be prevented from pursuing higher education or entering the workforce, two of the best ways to keep youth from entering a life of crime as adults. I thank Governor Brown for his leadership in signing this measure.”

SB 1038 provides for the automatic sealing of juvenile records in cases where the youthful offender successfully completes all court-imposed sanctions. Existing law already allows for the sealing of non-violent juvenile records, but requires a young person to petition the court. Many young people never file a petition because it can be a lengthy process and have significant costs. Others are unaware of their right to petition, move away, or assume their record is automatically sealed when they turn 18.

The bill does not apply to serious, violent crimes, which remain un-sealable under all circumstances.

“Today California has taken a significant step to help non-violent juvenile offenders move past mistakes they made in their young lives,” said Maureen Pacheco, legislative committee member with the California Public Defenders Association (CPDA). “We are redoubling our focus on rehabilitating and reintegrating young offenders back into society, an objective that is nearly impossible to attain when that person is forever stigmatized by a past crime.”

Posted in Foster Care, juvenile justice, LAPD, mental health | 5 Comments »

$3M Proposal to Give Legal Aid to Unaccompanied Immigrant Kids, the Problem of Prosecutorial Abuse, Social Workers to Get Criminal History of Foster Providers, and CA Attorney General Appealing Death Penalty Ruling

August 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV. BROWN AND LAWMAKERS’ $3 MILLION LEGISLATIVE PROPOSAL TO PROVIDE LEGAL REPRESENTATION TO UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS

On Tuesday, Governor Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a proposal to allocate $3 million to non-profits providing legal aid to unaccompanied children in immigration court proceedings who are otherwise left to navigate the court system alone.

The LA Times’ Melanie Mason has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Helping these young people navigate our legal system is the decent thing to do and it’s consistent with the progressive spirit of California,” Brown said in a statement.

The legislative proposal would give $3 million to qualified nonprofit organizations that provide legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. There are an estimated 3,900 Central American children currently in the state who have come to the country without a parent or other relative.

“These kids face a daunting immigration process and any failures in our justice system that lead to deportation can be a death sentence,” said Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) and members of the Latino Caucus paid a visit this summer to a temporary detention center in Ventura County where some children were being housed. Atkins said that visit was a catalyst for the legislative action.

“We all came away with a feeling that these kids needed our support — that it was about their safety, their due process, the ability to look beyond bigger political considerations and deal with a humanitarian crisis,” she said.


$10 MIL SETTLEMENT TO WRONGFULLY CONVICTED MAN DOES NOT ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF UNCHECKED PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT

New York City will pay a $10 million settlement to Jabbar Collins who was wrongfully convicted of murder for which he spent 15 years in prison.

Collins’ battle with the city also helped to bring down Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, whose top aide Michael Vecchione prosecuted Collins, allegedly withholding evidence and coercing witnesses to win a conviction. Collins and his lawyer, Joel Rudin, exposed extensive prosecutorial misconduct emanating from the DA’s office.

In an editorial co-published with the NY Daily News, ProPublica’s Joe Sexton says Collins’ win does not mean that the system worked: Vecchione paid no consequences for misconduct, and it’s likely that he never will. Instead, tax payers will foot the bill for Vecchione’s misdeeds in the Collins case. Prosecutorial misconduct goes largely unchecked, thanks, in part, to laws protecting prosecutors from liability. Here’s a clip:

So many shortcomings spotlighted by the Collins case remain unresolved.

Michael Vecchione, the prosecutor who gained a murder conviction against Collins in the 1990s and who was later accused of having committed an array of misconduct in the case, has to date faced no sanction.

And history suggests he won’t. He even managed to cash out a couple hundred days of vacation as he quietly left the Brooklyn district attorney’s office last year.

The taxpayers who paid for those vacation days are now on the hook for $10 million more, footing the bill for Collins’ wrongful conviction.

The lack of consequences for Vecchione — who was accused by Collins and his lawyer of intimidating witnesses, suborning perjury and lying about it all for years while Collins sat in prison — get at larger problems with the system of prosecutorial oversight.

Two federal judges ultimately came to damning conclusions about Vecchione’s conduct. They upbraided him in open court. But there’s no evidence they reported him to the state disciplinary committees appointed to investigate complaints of attorney misconduct.

The fact that it is not clear whether any state panel charged with policing attorneys has or will take up Vecchione’s history underscores what many have complained about for years: The state’s disciplinary system operates almost entirely in secret. Its rare disciplining of prosecutors, then, often remains unknown to the public, including the men and women later facing those prosecutors in court.

The system offers the innocent and the damaged only one meaningful recourse for exposing prosecutorial misconduct: a civil lawsuit. But such suits require years of expensive effort, and, of course, are only even theoretically available to those who have managed to win their freedom.


SOCIAL WORKERS GAIN MORE ACCESS TO CRIMINAL HISTORY OF FOSTER PARENTS AND PROVIDERS TO KEEP KIDS SAFE

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed an important bill, SB 1136, to allow social workers to access foster care parents and providers criminal history data before placing kids in their care. Foster care providers have to receive a criminal record clearance or exemption from the state, according to existing law.

To help them better protect vulnerable foster kids, social workers will now be able to see if (and why) parents or providers have received a suspension, probation, or a revoked license.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The legislation, SB 1136, comes in response to Times reports documenting instances when children were harmed and taxpayer money was allegedly misspent by people with criminal backgrounds who had been granted special waivers from the state to receive foster children.

In the past, county social workers, who have the responsibility to place at-risk children in safe homes, were unable to view criminal records of foster parents or workers at agencies that help find and train foster families.

The law takes effect on Jan. 1.


CALIFORNIA AG KAMALA HARRIS TO APPEAL RULING AGAINST CALIFORNIA DEATH PENALTY

California Attorney General Kamala Harris has decided to appeal a federal judge’s ruling against California’s death penalty.

U.S. District Court Judge Cormac J. Carney ruled last month that delays keeping inmates on death row for decades amounts to cruel and unusual punishment.

Here’s what AG Harris had to say about her decision: “I am appealing the court’s decision because it is not supported by the law, and it undermines important protections that our courts provide to defendants. This flawed ruling requires appellate review.”

KPCC’s Nathan McIntire has the story.

Posted in DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, immigration, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

LAPD Chief Gets Five More Years, LA’s Child Dependency Courts Reopened, an Uncommon Public Defense Approach, and Michael Brown

August 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECEIVES SECOND TERM FROM POLICE COMMISSION

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission voted 4-1 in favor of giving Chief Charlie Beck a second five-year term. Commissioner Robert Saltzman was the lone dissenter, calling for increased transparency and more evenhanded discipline of officers.

Here’s a clip from police commission president Steve Soboroff’s statement regarding Beck’s reappointment:

This process lasted approximately three months and included numerous interviews with Chief Beck. During those interviews, my fellow Commissioners and I drilled down on every issue facing the Los Angeles Police Department. No subject was off-limits, and I can tell you, at times, the questioning was intense. In the end, we knew we had to be thoroughly confident that Chief Beck is not a good leader for the Los Angeles Police Department, but a great leader.

How did we judge Chief Beck? We looked at everything at LAPD. Chief Beck is the chief executive officer at LAPD, and at the end of the day, he is responsible for this large law enforcement agency. We looked at his ability to keep this City safe and reduce crime, his ability lead approximately 12,600 sworn and civilian employees effectively, and his ability to plan for the future.

Chief Beck demonstrated to the majority of the Commission and proved during the last five years that he is a leader who understands law enforcement and the unique needs of every part of this City. Yes, law enforcement is law enforcement, but Mar Vista is not El Sereno, and Athens Park is not Canoga Park. Chief Beck understands that better than anyone…and he knows what works in each unique community. He is the right person for this job, even though he recognizes that improvements must be made.

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez said that while Chief Beck was deserving of a second term, he must improve transparency and consistency moving forward. Here’s how it opens:

Did LAPD Chief Charlie Beck deserve the new five-year contract he got Tuesday morning?

Yes.

Did he gracefully sprint across the finish line with hands held high?

No, he stumbled and staggered, with a series of dubious disciplinary moves topped off by a Times expose Sunday on inaccurate crime statistics.

Appropriately, along with the many hard-earned pats on the back given to him by commissioners, Beck got a well-deserved kick in the pants. And so his second term won’t be a victory lap, but a test of whether he can become the leader both the department and the city need him to be.

The four commissioners who voted in support of Beck — Steve Soboroff, Paula Madison, Sandra Figueroa-Villa and Kathleen Kim — touched on areas where improvement is needed, but spent most of their time praising the chief for declining crime rates and the building of community ties and trust.

And Beck does deserve a lot of credit. But it’s worth noting that all four of those commissioners were appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a vocal supporter of Beck. And so you are left wondering precisely how independent Garcetti’s appointees really are, no matter their claims or his.

The lone vote against a second term came from Rob Saltzman, the longest-serving commissioner and the only one to have been on the job through Beck’s entire first five-year term as chief. Saltzman was appointed by former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, and on Tuesday — with Beck seated several feet away — he offered anything but a ringing endorsement of the chief.

Saltzman said that despite Beck’s many extraordinary achievements, he had decided the LAPD would be better served “with new executive leadership.”

The most important area where “significant improvement is needed,” Saltzman said, is “in ensuring fairness and consistency in discipline and transparency and respect for civilian oversight.”


JUDGE NASH THANKFULLY REOPENS CHILD CUSTODY COURT PROCEEDINGS TO PUBLIC SCRUTINY

Judge Michael Nash, the presiding judge of LA county’s juvenile court, issued an order to reopen child dependency court proceedings to the press, five months after a California appeals court struck down Nash’s earlier order to open the courts.

The new order requires judicial officers to identify those present in the courtroom. Attorneys then have the option of objecting to media presence, if there’s reasonable likelihood that press access will harm a child.

Metropolitan News-Enterprise’s Kenneth Ofgang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new order, each judicial officer will, at the outset of a hearing, determine who is present in the courtroom and which of such persons have a mandatory statutory right to be present. If any person lacks such a right, her or she will be required to state why they are there, and it will then be up to the court to determine whether “that person has a direct and legitimate interest in the particular case or the work of the court and, based on the record before it, there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

[SNIP]

Under Friday’s order, counsel for any party may object to presence of the media or members of the public, before or after the court makes the required findings regarding such presence.

“The party objecting shall produce evidence that harm to the child or family is reasonably likely to occur because access is allowed,” the order provides. “The person seeking access shall have the burden of persuading the Court that there is no reasonable likelihood that access will be harmful to the child’s best interests.”

Factors to be considered in determining whether to allow access include the age of the child, the nature of the allegations, and the likely impact on the child and the family, “consistent with the overriding purpose of the proceeding to protect the child and advance his or best interests.”

After balancing the interests involved, the order says, a person who lacks a mandatory right to attend may be excluded only if the person lacks “a legitimate interest in the case of the work or the court,” or if the person’s legitimate interest in viewing the proceedings is outweighed by the other interests addressed by the order, based on the evidence and arguments presented.


FLORIDA PUBLIC DEFENDERS OFFICE’S UNIQUE APPROACH: HIRING FORMER COPS TO INVESTIGATE POLICE AND PROSECUTORIAL ERRORS

A public defender’s office in Florida is employing former police officers to investigate things like complaints against prosecutors and cops for racial profiling and bad police work—things that public defenders with hundreds of cases could never look into. These ex-cops back up overloaded public defenders to give indigent defendants a fairer chance in the criminal justice system.

Jason Fagone has the story for Mother Jones. Here are some clips:

During his 26 years as a cop, [Allen E.] Smith thought he saw things clearly. There were good guys and there were bad guys, and he dealt with some of the worst. But then something changed.

In 1997, Smith retired from the police force. He needed a job to help cover his two daughters’ college expenses, so he signed up as an investigator in the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. He had little idea that he’d end up a key player in a bold experiment in criminal justice, one that aims to give tens of thousands of people who can’t afford lawyers a fighting chance in a system stacked against them. It’s an effort that suggests new ways for court-appointed attorneys to get at the truth, despite their insane caseloads. And a big part of it is getting former cops to police the police.

At the public defender’s office, Smith supervises 11 other investigators, 9 of whom are retired officers like him. Every day, they deploy technology, public records, and good old-fashioned legwork to dig into the sorts of complaints against cops and prosecutors that they used to brush off. In the process, they’re not only turning up evidence of sloppy police work and racial profiling. They’re also finding what they never would have guessed in their previous careers—that some of the sketchy characters they cross paths with are actually innocent.

[SNIP]

When Smith arrived at the public defender’s office in 1997, he wasn’t even sure he could do the job. A few of his cop buddies had asked why he had gone over to the “other side.” He didn’t know what to tell them. The investigative staff was smaller then and included a former Miami Dolphins cheerleader, a former Dolphins running back, a city commissioner, and a judge’s wife. The public defender, a Democratic Party stalwart who’d been in office since 1976, liked to call himself “the Boss Man.” He later came under fire for asking his employees to pony up $100 each to help his daughter’s boyfriend join the Hooters pro golf tour.

Smith kept his head down and started working cases. One involved a young woman charged with writing a counterfeit check in the amount of $4,200. She told a convoluted tale. The gist was that she had recently become unemployed and had gotten the check via FedEx from a company that was offering her a job and had asked her to cash it. As a cop, Smith would have pegged her as a grifter and never given her story a second thought. But he started digging. He traced the FedEx envelope back to a retired fire chief, the kind of guy he was inclined to trust; the chief’s wife explained that her shipping account had been hacked, and fraudsters had used it to send more than 200 bad checks to job seekers all over the country.

It wasn’t the most dramatic case, but at the moment when Smith realized his client was a victim, not a perpetrator, he experienced “a complete change of life.” The ideal of innocent until proven guilty had always struck him as a scam invented by defense attorneys. “Now, on the desk in front of me, lay the key to setting free a totally innocent person,” he later wrote in Florida Defender magazine. “It is hard to describe my exact feelings at that point.” He persuaded prosecutors to drop the charges.


KILLING MICHAEL BROWN

On Saturday afternoon in Ferguson, MO, a police officer shot and killed an unarmed black 18-year-old who was running away with his hands in the air. There are still many questions yet unanswered regarding the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death. Ferguson residents have been rioting, and the FBI has launched a civil rights inquiry into the death of Brown, who was a well-liked teenager two weeks away from starting college.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson has an essay on the issue that’s worth reading. Here are some clips:

Michael Brown didn’t die in the dark. He was eighteen years old, walking down a street in Ferguson, Missouri, from his apartment to his grandmother’s, at 2:15 on a bright Saturday afternoon. He was, for a young man, exactly where he should be—among other things, days away from his first college classes. A policeman stopped him; it’s not clear why. People in the neighborhood have told reporters that they remember what happened next as a series of movements: the officer, it seemed to them, trying to put Brown into a car; Brown running with his hands in the air; the policeman shooting; Brown falling. The next morning, Jon Belmar, the police chief of St. Louis County, which covers Ferguson, was asked, at a press conference, how many times Brown had been shot. Belmar said that he wasn’t sure: “more than just a couple of times, but not much more.” When counting bullets, “just” and “not much more” are odd words to choose.

[SNIP]

How does the choreography of Michael Brown’s afternoon form a story that makes sense? It cannot, or must not, be easier for the police to shoot at an eighteen-year-old who is running—away from the officer, not toward him—with his empty hands showing, than to chase him, drive after him, do anything other than kill him. Teen-agers may not always be prudent; there is no death penalty for that, or shouldn’t be. Michael Brown was black and tall; was it his body that the police officer thought was dangerous enough? Perhaps it was enough for the officer that he lived on a certain block in a certain neighborhood; shooting down the street, after all, exhibits a certain lack of concern about anyone else who might be walking by. That sort of calculus raises questions about an entire community’s rights. One way or the other, this happens too often to young men who look like Brown, or like Trayvon Martin, or, as President Obama once put it, like a son he might have had.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Foster Care, LAPD, Public Defender, racial justice | 2 Comments »

LAPD Misclassifying Violent Crimes as Minor Offenses, Programs for CA Lifers, Supe. Hopeful Bobby Shriver Discusses Child Welfare…and More

August 11th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LAPD MISREPORTS 1200 VIOLENT CRIMES AS MINOR CRIMES, SAYS LA TIMES INVESTIGATION

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly changing the city’s crime statistics, according to an LA Times investigation by Ben Poston and Joel Rubin. The wrongly reported crimes were almost always aggravated assaults that were knocked down to simple assaults, and thus not included in the city’s serious crime count. Between October 2012-September 2013, the misclassifications created an aggravated assault tally 14% lower than if the crimes were reported correctly, and a 7% lower overall violent crime total.

Some officers said the misclassifications stemmed from pressure from the top to hit crime reduction quotas. Others, including Chief Charlie Beck have blamed it on human error. But, the investigation found that nearly every inaccurately reported crime was misclassified as a lesser crime, not a more serious offense.

The crime statistics play a role in how departments, captains, and chiefs are evaluated. This investigation comes just days before the police commission’s expected vote on Chief Beck’s reappointment.

Here’s a clip from Poston and Rubin’s story. Here’s a clip:

The LAPD misclassified nearly 1,200 violent crimes during a one-year span ending in September 2013, including hundreds of stabbings, beatings and robberies, a Times investigation found.

The incidents were recorded as minor offenses and as a result did not appear in the LAPD’s published statistics on serious crime that officials and the public use to judge the department’s performance.

Nearly all the misclassified crimes were actually aggravated assaults. If those incidents had been recorded correctly, the total aggravated assaults for the 12-month period would have been almost 14% higher than the official figure, The Times found.

The tally for violent crime overall would have been nearly 7% higher.

Numbers-based strategies have come to dominate policing in Los Angeles and other cities. However, flawed statistics leave police and the public with an incomplete picture of crime in the city. Unreliable figures can undermine efforts to map crime and deploy officers where they will make the most difference.

More than two dozen current and retired LAPD officers interviewed for this article gave differing explanations for why crimes are misclassified.

Some said it was inadvertent. Others said the problem stemmed from relentless, top-down pressure to meet crime reduction goals.

At the start of each year, top LAPD officials set statistical goals for driving down crime in the city. As part of that process, the department’s 21 divisions are given numerical targets for serious crimes each month.

Division captains, their command staff and other senior officials worry constantly about hitting their targets, officers said.

“Whenever you reported a serious crime, they would find any way possible to make it a minor crime,” Det. Tom Vettraino, who retired in 2012 after 31 years on the force, said of his supervisors. “We were spending all this time addressing what the crime should be called, instead of dealing with the crime itself. It’s ridiculous.”

In a written response to questions from The Times, LAPD officials said the department “does not in any way encourage manipulating crime reporting or falsifying data.”

Deputy Chief Rick Jacobs defended the crime-reduction targets, saying they are an important tool for tracking the department’s performance and holding division captains accountable. Captains are not judged solely on the numbers, but on the crime-fighting strategies they use, Jacobs said.

LAPD officials also say classification errors are inevitable in a department that records more than 100,000 serious offenses each year. They say the department has tightened its safeguards and improved its reporting accuracy.

“We recognize there is an error rate,” said Arif Alikhan, a senior policy advisor to Police Chief Charlie Beck. “It’s important to us to do what we can to reduce that error rate.”

The department “is relying on that data to determine where we are going to send cops … how we actually do things to prevent crime,” he added.

Alikhan, a former federal prosecutor and Homeland Security official, said the rate of misclassification has held steady or even declined over the years, so the public can trust figures showing that crime in L.A. has fallen in each of the last 11 years.

Beck declined to be interviewed. In a statement, he said classifying crimes is “a complex process that is subject to human error.”

If the misclassifications were mainly inadvertent, police would be expected to make a similar number of mistakes in each direction — reporting serious crimes as minor ones and vice versa, said Eli Silverman, professor emeritus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.

But The Times’ review found that when police miscoded crimes, the result nearly always was to turn a serious crime into a minor one.


PRAISES AND CONCERNS REGARDING LAPD CHIEF BECK AS VOTE ON REAPPOINTMENT DRAWS NEARER

As LAPD Chief Charlie Beck heads into the police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint him for a second 5-year term, Brenda Gazzar of the LA Daily news looks at criticisms and praises of the chief. Here are some clips:

At a housing project in Watts earlier this year, gang expert Jorja Leap was leading a weekly support group for fathers that included former gang members and parolees when the topic turned to Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck.

There had been a spike in gang violence that week, Leap recalled, and some of the men in Project Fatherhood were concerned that the LAPD would go back to its old, heavy-handed ways and “come down hard” on African-Americans. The adjunct professor for the UCLA Luskin School for Public Affairs was stunned, she said, when others in the group strongly disagreed, arguing that Beck would never do that because “he was different.”

“I’ve worked in South Los Angeles all my life — all my professional life — and there has always been mistrust and outright hatred of the LAPD and its chief,” said Leap, noting that this predominantly black neighborhood in particular had witnessed decades of police brutality dating back to the 1965 Watts riots. However, “there’s something about (Beck) that has fostered great trust in the community. He has to always be respectful of that and how he uses that.”

[SNIP]

The Rev.[sic] Greg Boyle, founder of the renowned L.A.-based anti-gang program Homeboy Industries, said Beck “has a reverence for the complexity of things — and the root of gang crime and kids’ involvement in it.” Boyle said his wish is that law enforcement will now realize that gang crime is really a community health issue.

“It’s not enough for law enforcement to keep saying (endlessly) that we ‘can’t arrest our way out of this problem,’” Boyle wrote in an email. “Usually, after saying this, it proceeds to try and solve this problem alone. L.A. is ready for the wider, more aerial view … and Charlie can bring the city to that place.”

But in addition to the new issue of the wrongly categorizing crimes, some commission members still expressed concerns.

“There are a number of (discipline) decisions that trouble me, partly because I felt they were too lenient and partly because I felt they were inconsistent from cases otherwise similar,” said Commissioner Robert M. Saltzman, who has served on the panel for seven years and declined to identify the specific cases due to “personnel matters.”

Meanwhile, Soboroff has publicly disagreed with the chief on two discipline cases, one involving Officer Shaun Hillman, who was given a suspension of more than two months after he allegedly called an African-American a “monkey” in an off-duty incident and lied to investigators. The chief overruled a disciplinary board’s decision to fire Hillman, whose father is a retired LAPD officer and whose uncle is a former deputy chief. The other case involved Beck’s decision to return to duty eight police officers who mistakenly fired more than 100 rounds at a pickup truck carrying two women delivering newspapers during the search for cop killer Christopher Dorner. Beck acknowledged the officers violated department policy but opted to retrain them. However, those decisions are taken against Beck’s total performance over five years, Soboroff said.


CLASSES FOR INFLUX OF LIFER INMATES WINNING PAROLE

Over the last five years, around 2,300 California inmates serving life with the possibility of parole have been released into supervision—more than twice as many as the preceding twenty years combined.

The new population of lifers winning parole has triggered a wave of programs to help these inmates—who have been locked up for decades—successfully reenter their communities and adjust to life on the outside.

KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

On a recent weekday morning at Solano State Prison in Vacaville, inmates lined up to receive certificates. They had just completed classes that help them understand how they ended up here. The special guest is not a typical graduation speaker. Instead, they hear from Teresa Courtemanche. Six years ago, her son, Matt, who was on the Fairfield City Council, was shot and killed. He was 22 — a victim of mistaken identity. She recalls that night when her home phone rang.

“It was my friend Terri and she said, ‘I think Matt got shot,’ ” Courtemanche remembers. “ ’What?’ ‘I think he got shot.’ I said, ‘OK, let me go. Let me call his phone.’ And I kept calling his phone and he didn’t answer.”

She goes on to describe through tears how the murder tore through her family — and still does. The audience, 40 or so lifers, sits quietly, many of them nodding slowly as she speaks. It’s one of the ways inmates hear about the impact that crime has on their victims and their families. Afterward, one of the inmates, James Ward, speaks passionately about the unfairness of violent crime.

“When I hear us complaining about how unfair we are treated — you want to see how unfairness is?” Ward says, pounding the podium for emphasis. “Look at her experience. When we talk about, ‘Oh, the police didn’t let me out on the yard or came to search my house.’ How messed up that is. That is not unfair!”

Ward has spent half his life in prison after stabbing his ex-girlfriend to death over 30 years ago. After being turned down for parole five times, he was finally found suitable earlier this year. Standing in a prison courtyard, Ward says unless that his parole is reversed by the governor, he’ll leave Solano Prison Nov. 5.

“I have mixed feelings about it, actually,” he confides. “There’s the elation of being found suitable but then the sobering realization of what this has cost — in my girlfriend’s life and her relatives’ lives and my family’s lives. So, the impact is widespread, so I can’t be too celebratory.”

A couple years ago, Ward was trained to be a drug and alcohol counselor at Solano, as well as a mentor for other inmates.

“Doing this work is part of that making amends in a kind of indirect way to my victims,” Ward says. “But there’s more that I think I could do out of the confines of this limiting environment.”

Programs like these are part of a different approach that Gov. Brown has brought to criminal justice. For the first time in decades, inmate rehabilitation is a funding priority. The inmates learn things like anger management, what leads to criminal thinking, the impact crime has on victims and how to reconcile with their own family members if they’re released.

Rodger Meier, deputy director for rehabilitation with CDCR, says the goal is “to try to make sure that they are suitable for parole, that they don’t impact public safety, and they can successfully go out into society and lead a productive life.”

Nearly half of Solano’s 3,300 inmates are lifers, and many will eventually be paroled. And the hope is that programs like these will help them make better decisions than they did before they were sent here.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR CANDIDATE BOBBY SHRIVER ON CHILD WELFARE

Last month, Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback talked with Sheila Kuehl, one of the candidates running for LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat, about what she would do, if elected, to push through much-needed Dept. of Children and Family Services reforms—particularly those recommended by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety.

Now, Loudenback has interviewed Kuehl’s opponent, Bobby Shriver, about his thoughts on creating a better child welfare system for LA County’s most vulnerable.

Shriver discussed fixing DCFS’ outdated computer systems, staying on an issue—calling people “all day long and on the weekend”—until it is corrected, and finding innovators within the system to come together as champions for change.

Here are some clips:

Growing up as the son of Special Olympics founder and social worker Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Shriver says that the struggles of caseworkers in the child welfare system remind him of his mother.

“As a kid, I remember my mom was frustrated with the way with the way things were happening,” Shriver said, recalling his mother’s work in the Illinois juvenile justice system in the 1950s. “I grew up watching her assemble social workers at our house and figure out how to create programs for whatever funding streams in Illinois in the ‘50s and then in D.C. later.”

[SNIP]

Shriver has made the pursuit of new ideas at the core of his campaign for the Board of Supervisors. A self-described “innovation person,” Shriver says Los Angeles County needs to be shaken up.

“I’m more disposed emotionally and intellectually to solve a problem with a new idea that hasn’t been tried before,” Shriver says.

“I don’t want to be sitting here in 10 years with a new study showing me how the child welfare system has yet again failed this group of children. We’ve got a series of those studies already.”

“There’s has to be something that can be done that will shift us out of that and if that’s performance-based contracting in part, we have to take a serious look at it,” said Shriver.

Shriver points to a discussion at the Board of Supervisors meeting on July 29 about creating a mental-health diversion program that would route some offenders into mental-health programs instead of the county’s overcrowded system of jails as an example of how the long-serving board has not always been open to hearing new ways to address the county’s enduring issues

“Supervisor Yaroslavsky said at the meeting that the conversation about diversion was the first discussion of the topic he had heard in the 20-plus years he’s been on the board,” Shriver said. “It’s incredible to me that none of supervisors had brought forward that suggestion in 20 years.”

[SNIP]

“I would stick a fork through my hand if the computer system hasn’t been fixed in four years if I’m there, running for re-election,” he said, referring to the outmoded computer system used by county social workers. “I do have a plan, but the most important element of the plan is that when I say I’m going to absolutely do something, I mean it. I’m going to call people all day long and on the weekend. It has to be followed through on a daily basis. I’ve just never seen [change happen] by committees or consultants, that kind of way.”



See the original LA Times investigation for more LAPD documents.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, prison, Reentry | 11 Comments »

How is LA doing on DCFS Reform?….Hostage Deaths and the LASD Oversight Debate….Feds Find Unchecked Violence Against Teens at Rikers….and a Homeboy Food Truck

August 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM “CHECKUP” REPORT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA PRESSURE TO KEEP DCFS REFORMS MOVING

Fostering Media Connections has released a 23-page report stressing the necessity for “hyper-vigilance” to propel LA County’s efforts to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with a final report and 42 recommendations.

The report, the first of a series of quarterly “checkups,” says that progress is being made on some of the recommendations (the county is working toward appointing a child welfare czar, for instance), but that momentum has slowed, and no new money seems to be making its way toward implementing these recommendations meant to better protect kids involved in the child welfare system.

Here are some clips:

The problem is that the county’s public administration is immense, and its bureaucracy can grind down the highest-minded of reforms. Soon, two new supervisors will replace those who have termed out, and two more are slated to change over in two years. The county’s chief executive officer has announced his resignation.

Any chance of seeing the dramatic change envisioned by the BRC will require hyper- vigilance.
In December 2013, the 10-person commission filed an interim report with a list of recommendations that were all but ignored by the Board of Supervisors.

The commission was so incensed by the lack of action that it laced its final report, released in April of this year, with hyperbole meant to attract media attention and influence the supervisors to action.

“Sustainable reform will require the Board of Supervisors to declare something akin to a STATE of EMERGENCY within the child welfare system, since clearly, the present system presents an existential threat to the safety and protection of our children,” the commission wrote.

It worked. The news media ran headlines decrying this “state of emergency,” and two months later, the Board of Supervisors approved all of the commission’s recommendations. This included the creation of an Office of Child Protection, which would be headed by a leader with the power to alter budgets and staffing decisions across child-serving agencies. By the end of June, the supervisors had named nine members to a “transition team” charged with creating a new child protection czar.

On August 12, 2014, the transition team will present a five-page progress report to the Board of Supervisors, which includes a job description for the Office of Child Protection and describes its role in implementing the BRC’s reforms.

Besides the creation of advisory bodies, designation of roles and public hearings, what has changed for children in Los Angeles County?

[SNIP]

There has been some movement to increase law enforcement’s role in child protection, definite steps toward designating a child protection czar, and concurrent developments that align with the BRC’s recommendations on increasing payments to kinship caregivers. But we have not uncovered any evidence that new monies have followed the recommendations, or any concrete assurance that the county will follow through on the myriad child protection improvements approved by the Board of Supervisors.

If child protection reform is viewed in terms of child development, one could say that it is still in its infancy in LA County. While able to swipe at broad concepts with unsure hands, the reform movement as laid out by the BRC is as of now incapable of manipulating its nascent but growing authority with much substance. It’s likely too early to know whether or not the reform’s development is delayed, but it is clearly not precocious.

Understanding the news media’s unique power to impel action, Fostering Media Connections is offering these quarterly checkups in the hopes that they will spur continued attention and nourish the reform effort.

KPCC’s Rina Palta interviewed Fostering Media Connection’s founder, Daniel Heimpel, about the report. Here’s a clip:

“What we see is a lack of real strong urgency,” Heimpel said. “A lot of that has evaporated and that’s been a little bit disheartening.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission made 42 recommendations the board then endorsed, but Heimpel said he’s unclear how they will be carried out.

“We have not seen any evidence that any financial resources have been committed to these reforms,” Heimpel said.


LASD IG SAYS OFFICERS’ MISTAKEN KILLING OF HOSTAGES HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR ACCESS TO LASD RECORDS

Today the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider establishing a civilian panel to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The board will also discuss what kind of access to LASD records Inspector General Max Huntsman should have. (Interim Sheriff John Scott has called for an IG-LASD relationship bound by attorney-client privilege. Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell told ABC7 he doesn’t believe it’s necessary.)

Huntsman says recent officer shootings of innocent people highlight the need for his office to have open access to LASD records, including personnel files, in order to make certain the department’s internal investigations are thorough.

On Friday, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an innocent man he mistook for a suspect during a hostage standoff. Frank Mendoza’s death marked the second mistaken killing by a deputy since April, when John Winkler, an LA production assistant who had been held hostage was gunned down by officers while trying to escape. (Winkler’s family has since filed claim against the sheriff’s dept. to the tune of $25 million.)

The LA Times’ Catherine Saillant and Jeff Gottlieb have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Frank Mendoza, 54, was shot when a deputy mistook him for an armed suspect who had broken into the Mendoza home late Friday afternoon, authorities said. The gunman, 24-year-old Cedric Ramirez, took Mendoza’s wife captive and held her until a tactical team entered the house and fatally shot him eight hours later, authorities said. The wife was unharmed.

The case is now under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs unit as well as the district attorney and coroner, as is customary in officer-involved shootings.

But Max Huntsman, the new civilian monitor in the Sheriff’s Department, said Sunday the case underscores the need for his unit to also review all records, including a deputy’s personnel files, in deciding whether the department does a thorough job investigating.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Huntsman after a series of scandals in the department, which culminated with federal charges against sheriff’s officials over alleged inmate abuse in the jail system.

The Sheriff’s Department and Huntsman are still negotiating how much access the inspector general should have.

[SNIP]

Huntsman said his office will be closely involved with internal investigations that are underway in the Pico Rivera case.

The inspector general cannot conduct an independent investigation without access to the deputy files. But the office will review the sheriff’s inquiries to “make sure they are done in a correct way,” Huntsman said. If better training or changes to in-field tactics are necessary, his office will follow up with recommended changes, he said.


FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FINDS “DEEP-SEATED CULTURE OF VIOLENCE” AT RIKERS ISLAND’S JUVENILE FACILITIES

The office of United States Attorney Preet Bharara released a 79-page report detailing Rikers Island guards’ excessive (and unchecked) use of force against incarcerated teenage boys. The report says the NYC Department of Corrections does not adequately protect boys between the ages of 16-18 from unnecessary harm from guards, other inmates, and overuse of punitive solitary confinement. The investigation found that since 2012, nearly 44% of teens at Rikers had been subjected to at least one use of force, and that blows to the boys’ faces and heads occurred “at an alarming rate.”

The US Attorney’s office has given the NYC DOC 49 days to respond to the report, and threatened a federal lawsuit if the city did not begin working toward remedying the problems highlighted in the report.

The NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser and Michael Schwirtz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said.

The report, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the jail complex after a stream of revelations about Rikers’s problems, also found that the department relied to an “excessive and inappropriate” degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation, as the practice is known, for months at a time.

Although the federal investigation focused only on the three Rikers jails that house male inmates aged 16 to 18, the report said the problems that were identified “may exist in equal measure” in the complex’s seven other jails for adult men and women.

In just one measure of the extent of the violence, the investigation found that nearly 44 percent of the adolescent male population in custody as of October 2012 had been subjected to a use of force by staff members at least once.

Correction officers struck adolescents in the head and face at “an alarming rate” as punishment, even when inmates posed no threat; officers took inmates to isolated areas for beatings out of view of video cameras; and many inmates were so afraid of the violence that they asked, for their own protection, to go to solitary confinement, the report said.

Officers were rarely punished, the report said, even with strong evidence of egregious violations. Investigations, when they occurred, were often superficial, and incident reports were frequently incomplete, misleading or intentionally falsified.

Among more than a dozen specific cases of brutality detailed in the report was one in which correction officers assaulted four inmates for several minutes, beating them with radios, batons and broomsticks, and slamming their heads against walls. Another inmate sustained a skull fracture and was left with the imprint of a boot on his back from an assault involving multiple officers. In another case, a young man was taken from a classroom after falling asleep during a lecture and was beaten severely. Teachers heard him screaming and crying for his mother.


BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES’ NEW FOOD TRUCK THIS FALL

Homeboy Industries has announced the launch of a new Homeboy food truck that will grace the streets of LA this fall. The gourmet food truck will make its debut in September, creating new jobs for Homeboys and new connections with the community.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, media, Sheriff John Scott, solitary, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Compromise Bill to Limit Willful Defiance, Two Preschoolers Suspended 8 Times, LASD Missed the Mark on Metro Policing Objectives, and Former Foster Kids Struggle to Get Health Care

July 25th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GOV BROWN HELPS AMEND BILL THAT WOULD LIMIT USE OF “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” FOR SUSPENSIONS, EXPULSIONS

Governor Jerry Brown and advocates have come to an agreement on a bill to eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expelling a student. A version of the bill with broader limits on “willful defiance”—a vague term for most anything that can pass as disruptive behavior—passed through legislature last year, but was vetoed by Brown.

This bill would also prohibit school staff from suspending young children (up to third grade) for willful defiance. The compromise bill will sunset at the end of 2018, so that Brown and legislators can reassess.

In the 2012-2013 school year, “willful defiance” accounted for 43% of suspensions and 5% of expulsions. And while black children make up 9% of the student body, they amassed 16% of “willful defiance” suspensions. Back in May 2013, the LAUSD banned suspensions for “willful defiance.” (Read about it here.)

Ed Source’s Susan Frey has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Under the new agreement, no student can be expelled for being willfully defiant or disruptive of school activities. That subjective category has come under fire because it has been disproportionately used statewide to discipline African-American students and, in some districts, Latino students. In addition, under the amended bill, administrators would no longer be able to suspend K-3 students and send them home for being willfully defiant.

The law will sunset on Dec. 31, 2018, when legislators will have a chance to revisit the issue.

“Advocates for change would very much like to go further,” Dickinson said, “but we realize the governor’s willingness to agree to take steps at all is a significant move.”

A bill that put more limits on the use of willful defiance passed the Assembly and Senate last year. But that bill was vetoed by the governor, who said he thought disciplinary decisions should be made by local administrators. Jim Evans, a spokesman for the governor, said Brown declined to comment because the legislation is pending.

[SNIP]

Laura Faer of Public Counsel, a public interest law firm based in Los Angeles, said her group sees this agreement as a first step forward. She said she appreciates that “the governor is willing to walk with us on this” and sees the sunset clause as an invitation for more dialogue that will eventually lead to the elimination of willful defiance as a reason to suspend or expel.

“Students, parents, teachers and community members around the state are working passionately for this change,” Faer said. “Nobody’s giving up, nobody’s going away.”

The revised bill will go before the state Senate in August.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF THE RACIALLY DISPARATE SUSPENSION OF KIDS YOUNGER THAN NINE…

Author, motivational speaker, and cofounder of a nonprofit for those affected by fatherlessness, Tunette Powell, has an excellent story for the Washington Post about how her two generally well-behaved preschoolers have collected eight(!) suspensions between them.

Here’s how it opens:

I received a call from my sons’ school in March telling me that my oldest needed to be picked up early. He had been given a one-day suspension because he had thrown a chair. He did not hit anyone, but he could have, the school officials told me.

JJ was 4 at the time.

I agreed his behavior was inappropriate, but I was shocked that it resulted in a suspension.

For weeks, it seemed as if JJ was on the chopping block. He was suspended two more times, once for throwing another chair and then for spitting on a student who was bothering him at breakfast. Again, these are behaviors I found inappropriate, but I did not agree with suspension.

Still, I kept quiet. I knew my history. I was the bad preschooler.

I was expelled from preschool and went on to serve more suspensions than I can remember. But I do remember my teachers’ disparaging words. I remember being told I was bad and believing it. I remember just how long it took me to believe anything else about myself.

And even still, when my children were born, I promised myself that I would not let my negative school experiences affect them. I believed my experience was isolated. I searched for excuses. Maybe I was just a bad kid. Maybe it had something to do with my father’s incarceration, which forced my mother to raise me and my brothers alone.

So I punished JJ at home and ignored my concerns. Then, two months later, I was called to pick up my 3-year-old son, Joah. Joah had hit a staff member on the arm. After that incident, they deemed him a “danger to the staff.” Joah was suspended a total of five times. In 2014, my children have received eight suspensions.

Just like before, I tried to find excuses. I looked at myself. What was I doing wrong? My children are living a comfortable life. My husband is an amazing father to JJ and Joah. At home, they have given us very few problems; the same goes for time with babysitters.

I blamed myself, my past. And I would have continued to blame myself had I not taken the boys to a birthday party for one of JJ’s classmates. At the party, the mothers congregated to talk about everyday parenting things, including preschool. As we talked, I admitted that JJ had been suspended three times. All of the mothers were shocked at the news.

“JJ?” one mother asked.

“My son threw something at a kid on purpose and the kid had to be rushed to the hospital,” another parent said. “All I got was a phone call.”

One after another, white mothers confessed the trouble their children had gotten into. Some of the behavior was similar to JJ’s; some was much worse.

Most startling: None of their children had been suspended.

Read on.


REPORT SAYS LASD FALLING SHORT OF CRIME REDUCTION GOALS ON METRO LINES

As Metro Transportation Authority officials are considering a new three year security contract with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept., a report on the previous MTA-LASD contract shows that the LASD fell short of Metro policing goals. For instance, while the department was supposed to reduce crime on the transit system by 8% each year of the contract, crime rose by 28% in 2012, and another 8.5% in 2013. From 2010 to 2013, aggravated assault and robberies jumped 75% and 43%, respectively.

The LA Times’ Laura Nelson has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report, written by an outside firm and commissioned by Metro officials, found other management and safety problems over the last five years of contracted Sheriff’s Department service that had cost the transit agency more than $365 million. The criticisms come as officials weigh awarding a three-year security contract expected to cost about $400 million.

“We can have more effective law enforcement than we have right now,” Los Angeles Mayor and Metro Chairman Eric Garcetti said. The audit “raises a lot of fair questions,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Department was tasked with reducing crime on the Metro system by 8% a year, but total reported assaults, robberies and other crimes increased 28% in 2012 and 8.5% in 2013, according to audit data. Over a four-year study period, aggravated assaults climbed 75% to 280 in 2013, while robberies increased 43% to 407, according to FBI statistics included in the study.

Violent crime statistics reported to the FBI were as much as 22% higher than figures the Sheriff’s Department reported to Metro, according to the audit. The difference, the audit said, is that federal statistics require that multiple victims of assault and theft be reported as separate crimes, while Metro does not. The figures reported to Metro and the FBI also do not include crimes handled by other local police agencies.


FORMER FOSTER KIDS HAVE TROUBLE SIGNING UP FOR HEALTH CARE

Former California foster kids are allowed to stay on Medi-Cal until they turn 26, but many young kids aging out of the system are finding themselves unable to sign up for healthcare through Covered California. Child welfare advocates say the Covered California website is unequipped to enroll former foster youth, and employees are not aware of the law allowing these young adults to retain health insurance past age 18.

KQED’s April Dembosky has the story. Here are some clips:

For most young people, The Affordable Care Act allows them to stay on their parents’ insurance until they turn 26. But when California foster youth age out of the system between ages 18 and 21, they often have no one. So federal lawmakers added a special provision to the health law that allows these young adults to stay on Medicaid — called Medi-Cal in California — until age 26, regardless of their income.

“Former foster youth are extremely vulnerable,” says Jessica Haspel a policy associate at the advocacy nonprofit Children Now. She says any obstacles or delays to enrollment are especially problematic for foster youth. Many have special health needs stemming from a history of abuse or neglect and may rely on important medication for things like diabetes or anxiety. Studies show nearly one in three former foster youth exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder — which is itself about twice the rate of American war veterans.

[SNIP]

She says the Covered California website isn’t programmed properly to identify former foster youth. And call center employees aren’t educated about the new provision. As a result, some youth are being told they don’t qualify when they do, or they are put in a queue when they should be fast-tracked into coverage.

Posted in Foster Care, racial justice, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 18 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 »

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