Released After 40 Years in Solitary, Tanaka’s Denials, Baca’s Pitchman Fiasco, and Gov. Brown’s Bill-SigningOctober 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker
JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF DYING PRISONER AFTER DECADES IN ISOLATION
The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has a heartening update on a piece he wrote last week about Herman Wallace, a member of a group of Black Panthers known as the Angola 3, who was held in solitary for 40 years on an disturbingly weak murder conviction. (Seriously. Go read the original piece.)
Wallace, now suffering from advanced liver cancer, was denied compassionate release by state officials. His last ditch hope for mercy was a case review by federal trial judge Brian Jackson.
On Tuesday, Judge Jackson ordered Wallace to be immediately released on the grounds that Wallace’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated when women were not allowed to serve on his jury.
Here are some clips from Cohen’s latest piece:
U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson did a remarkably good and decent thing today — something that every judge should aspire to do in the right circumstances. He found a way to bring a small measure of justice to a man whose entire life had been rife with injustice. He found a way to order the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a terminally ill prisoner who spent 40 years in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana in a 6′ by 9′ cell for a murder there was no valid evidence he committed.
Last week, I wrote about this case here at The Atlantic because I felt it comprised so many of the failings of the American justice system. A black man whose trial is marked by racial animus. A defendant whose attorney does unconscionable work. A lack of physical evidence or adequate investigation. Co-defendants and state witnesses with obvious incentives to lie. Punishment that was both cruel and unusual. Deliberate indifference on the part of reviewing courts. It all happened to Herman Wallace. All of it and more; his case was a disgrace from the beginning.
Here is the link to Judge Jackson’s order. If you read it, you will discover that he did not focus upon any of these constitutional infirmities in granting Wallace the relief he sought. Instead, Judge Jackson held that the original indictment against Wallace, over 40 years ago, was constitutionally flawed because women were excluded from his grand jury. So you can add “equal protection violation” to the heap of ways in which Wallace’s rights were denied by our courts for four decades.
Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova also covered Herman Wallace’s release. Here’s a clip:
Herman Wallace was freed on Tuesday evening. His legal team issued a statement saying the “four decades which Mr. Wallace spent in solitary confinement conditions will be the subject of litigation which will continue even after Mr. Wallace passes away. It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3′ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone.”
And the NY Times editorial board echoed Cohen’s frustration with this justice system defect. Here are the two final paragraphs:
The standard justifications for imprisonment — incapacitation, deterrence and retribution — become irrelevant in a prisoner’s final days or weeks. Elderly people near death do not commit crimes, and refusing mercy to an aged, dying prisoner does not deter anyone from criminality. That leaves retribution, or the belief that it is somehow in society’s interest to ensure that some prisoners suffer until the day they die. The state penal systems that operate under this view are not making society more just.
To the contrary, as the prison population in the United States rapidly ages — the number of prisoners older than 55 nearly quadrupled between 1995 and 2010 — this brutal mentality harms everyone. The capacity for mercy, critical to any justice system, is eroded every time those in power fail to exercise it wisely.
TANAKA DENIES COMMISSION’S FINDINGS…AND MORE
In an interview with the Malibu Times’ Melissa Caskey, former undersheriff and current sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka appeared to have an attack of truthiness in refuting allegations regarding his role in creating a culture of inmate abuse in LA County jails and his involvement in alleged unethical fundraising for Carmen Trutanich’s DA campaign. (We suspect that a lot of Tanaka’s denials are going to haunt him as the election heats up.)
Here are some clips from Caskey’s article:
The department is currently the subject of separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over allegations of corruption, inmate abuse and bribery. Tanaka was specifically accused by a blue ribbon commission of helping to create a climate in the county jail system in which aggression among deputies was encouraged, loyalty placed above merit and discipline discouraged, according to reports. Tanaka resigned following the commission’s findings in what was widely perceived as pressure from Baca.
But Tanaka, formerly a trusted lieutenant of Baca who served as his second-in-command from 2011 until his ouster, denied the allegations last week and said he has been made a scapegoat in the process.
“That [report] was by a blue ribbon commission, none of whom have ever worked inside of a jail,” he said.
“If you go back and read all the testimony, you’ll see that if you did not like Paul Tanaka, you went in there and you made all these allegations,” he said. “You never got questioned on your credibility, or your sources, or whether or not you were telling the truth.”
In addition to the jails inquiry, the FBI is investigating claims by a former Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy that the former captain at the station told him and other subordinates to sell tickets to a 2011 fundraiser for Carmen Trutanich’s unsuccessful bid for district attorney. Baca, who campaigned for Trutanich, denied issuing orders down the chain of command to raise money for allies, but the investigation has been seen to weaken his re-election candidacy.
Tanaka said he was aware of the allegations and said he had “expressed his disapproval” to Baca of “certain individuals that hung around” him, but that he had no knowledge of any improper fundraising.
THE BACA NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT ENDORSEMENT SAGA CONTINUES
Baca’s latest embarrassment does not appear to be vanishing any time soon. Both Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly and the LA Times editorial board have now weighed in on the controversial story.
Here’s a clip from the sharply-worded LA Times piece:
Sheriff Lee Baca, his spokesman says, wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about the nutritional supplements he was pitching if he’d known the promotional video would be seen by the public. That backward mea culpa is just as poorly thought out as the Los Angeles County sheriff’s unseemly use of his public office to promote a company’s product.
It doesn’t help that the company itself has been the target of multiple complaints to the Federal Trade Commission that it is running a pyramid scheme. But even if Baca were pitching a universally admired product, his ad-man appearance would be an embarrassment to his office and the county. We’d say it’s an embarrassment to Baca himself, especially considering that he received a campaign donation and travel money from Yor Health, though he was not paid for the video appearances. But it’s unclear at this point exactly what it would take for the sheriff — with his poor management of the jails and the continual allegations of special treatment for his friends and donors — to feel shame.
And here’s a clip from Gene Maddaus’ witty assessment:
Sheriff Lee Baca has always been a little strange, but he’s 71 now, and his eccentricities are becoming more pronounced with age. Among his more out-there ideas is his fixation on living to be 100 years old.
How’s he going to do that? So glad you asked! With YOR Health nutritional shakes!
As ABC7 reported on Monday, Baca has been doing promotional videos for YOR Health — a multi-level marketing company which, depending on whom you ask, may or may not be a pyramid scheme. Baca seems to believe that the company’s products will allow him to cheat death for decades to come.
“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” he says in one promotional video.
Well, if ex-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa can promote a multi-level marketing company, then why not the sheriff? Well, there is the small fact that Baca is still in office. Generally, you’re supposed to cash in on your government service only after you quit.
BILLS, BILLS, BILLS
Gov. Brown this week signed a multitude of bills on education, foster care, and homelessness. Here are a few of the highlights:
A bill prompting school districts to set up clear guidelines for the role of police and mental health professionals on campus, AB 549, was signed into law.
The Associated Press has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:
The bill by Democratic Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles encourages schools to prioritize mental health and intervention services as well as positive-behavior intervention over punitive measures such as expulsion.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said his bill gives those serving foster youths discretion in cases where youths might otherwise be taken into police custody or returned to a home from which they have fled.
“Young people escaping intolerant homes can now begin to get the help they need, so they don’t have to remain homeless – without ending up in police custody or being returned to unsupportive environments,” Ammiano said in arguing for his AB 652.
Authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), SB 342, says that no more than two consecutive monthly meetings between a foster child and their social worker can be held outside the foster home. At the same time, it requires social workers to inform youths that they can ask that a private conversation with the social worker take place away from their foster home and caregiver.
A bill to establish safeguards for kids that are transferred or involuntarily transferred to community schools, SB 744, is still on Brown’s desk. Among other things, the bill would ensure that involuntarily transferred students are given “geographically accessible” schooling options. This is really important for the many kids in rural areas who are removed from traditional schools but have no means of getting to the nearest community school. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has recently done some excellent reporting on this issue.)