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More Pandora’s Box Indictments? …”Electronic Backpacks” for Dual-Status Foster Kids…LA Mayor and LAPD Chief Missed Important Opportunity…Two Mississippi Officers Murdered…and More

May 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

RECORDINGS AND DOCUMENTS SUGGEST RESPONSIBILITY FOR OBSTRUCTING PANDORA’S BOX MAY LIE WITH LASD HIGHER-UPS, INDICTMENTS LOOMING

Last year, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were convicted of obstruction of justice for hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers. (Backstory here, here, and here.)

New court documents and FBI recordings obtained by ABC7′s Lisa Bartley once again suggest that fault may lie higher up in the LASD chain of command.

In the recordings, an indignant then-Sheriff Lee Baca can be heard loudly accusing the FBI of breaking the law by sending a phone into the jail. Upset that he was kept out of the loop while the feds investigated reports of abuse and corruption in Men’s Central Jail, Baca launched his own investigation into the matter.

Sources have told WLA that more indictments could come as soon as this month or next.

Here are some clips from Bartley’s story (but go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: The FBI doesn’t have a right to break the law!

At the heart of this case is Baca’s anger: How could the feds infiltrate HIS jail and go after HIS deputies, without telling Baca himself? Baca fervently believed the FBI had broken the law by setting up a sting that led a corrupt deputy to smuggle a cellphone into the jail and to inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka told FBI agents about the angry phone call he received from Baca.

UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA: I just remember him being mad, mad, mad! A lot of colorful language – just mad! And – you find out that F-ing phone, you get that phone you hold onto that phone. I don’t want it to leave our custody!

Baca convenes a high-level Saturday meeting. Despite FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez telling him that the phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI operation, Baca wants an investigation of his own. How did the phone get into jail? Who is responsible?

It’s NOT a crime, because it’s all part of a sanctioned, undercover operation by the FBI. Still, Baca issues the order: No one can get into see inmate Anthony Brown without permission from Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In the days and weeks to come, Anthony Brown is hidden from the FBI – his name is changed and computer records are falsified. The sheriff’s department puts Brown’s FBI handler Special Agent Leah Marx under surveillance and later threatens her with arrest.

Two sergeants harassed and threatened to arrest Special Agent Leah Marx, Brown’s federal handler, outside of her home (more about that here).

Baca told federal investigators that he was unaware that “we have an interest in arresting an FBI agent. That…strikes me as extreme.”

Yet, Captain Tom Carey testified that he, Baca, Lieutenant Steve Leavins and Paul Tanaka met prior to the incident, to discuss what to do about Special Agent Marx. According to Carey, Baca said “Just don’t put handcuffs on her.”


KEEPING IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS ON A “CLOUD” SYSTEM FOR KIDS INVOLVED IN BOTH JUVENILE JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE SYSTEMS

The Sierra Health Foundation, in collaboration with ZeroDivide, are working to create what they are calling “electronic backpacks” for California’s dual-status foster kids (kids who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems).

Dual-status (or “crossover”) kids often face trauma, neglect, and instability. And communication between agencies serving dual status kids, including school districts, can be patchy or nonexistent, making it hard for kids to access important services and enroll in school.

The “electronic backpacks” would allow kids to easily access their important documents (like birth certificates, proof of vaccination, and school records) from computers and mobile devices anywhere, by storing them on a “cloud” system.

Health Affairs’ McCrae A. Parker and Matt Cervantes have more on the effort, which is part of the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative. Here’s how it opens:

“And despite all best intentions, when youth leave the foster care system as adults, they are typically only given a sheaf of papers that detail their complicated histories. These records are easily lost and usually incomplete, which often creates burdens these young adults must carry for life.” –Wendy Lazarus, Founder and Co-President of the Children’s Partnership

Over the past year, ZeroDivide has collaborated with Sierra Health Foundation to serve as a thought partner in the integration of technology into the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative, which aims to create a major shift in California’s juvenile justice practice and policy at the county level. The initiative focuses on crossover youth—that is, young people with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma, and engagement in the child welfare system, who currently are involved with county juvenile justice systems.

As part of our exploration of promising practices in the use of technology in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, we discovered the “electronic backpacks.”

The central idea behind the electronic backpack is that a youth’s important life documents, medical records, and program reports “live” on an easily accessible, secure, “cloud” system. For crossover youth, the design, use, and adoption of the electronic backpack concept can potentially lead to better coordinated services and outcomes. Mobile technology provides a greater level of access to critical intervention and service records for youth, their families, and their friends or supportive adults.

Crossover youth are in particular need because of interaction with two systems (child welfare and juvenile justice), and the delay and withholding of services that they may experience without specific documents. For example, a youth who arrives at a new group home placement may have difficulty registering at his or her new school without vaccination records. With an electronic backpack, this issue can be eliminated.


STEVE LOPEZ: MAYOR AND LAPD CHIEF SHOULD HAVE ATTENDED TOWN HALL MEETING ABOUT BRENDON GLENN’S DEATH AT THE HANDS OF POLICE

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote that, by not attending a Venice town hall meeting to discuss the recent shooting death of an unarmed homeless man by a police officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti missed an important opportunity to show that Brendon Glenn’s death mattered. Here’s a clip:

When Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police last August in South Los Angeles, Beck and other top LAPD brass went into full damage control mode, meeting with a crowd of concerned citizens at Paradise Baptist Church.

Does Venice not matter as much as South L.A.?

Does Brendon Glenn not matter as much as Ezell Ford, both of them black, and both of them unarmed?

If City Hall wanted to send a message that these shootings matter, two people in particular should have gone to that meeting together Thursday night.

“Where is the mayor?” Mike Neely, a commissioner with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, asked from outside the standing-room-only Venice meeting. “Where is the chief of police?”

They were missing in action, that’s where they were.

The first matter the city needs to attend to is the police killing of an unarmed man. That in itself is worthy of the police chief’s and mayor’s attention…

But figuring out why Brendon Glenn was killed is only a small beginning. The next step is to address the underlying failures that foster these killings and so many other woes…

Being a cop isn’t easy, particularly when you’re asked to deal with the fallout from the city’s failure to help people off the streets and into services that can transform their lives, make neighborhoods safer and even deliver a savings to taxpayers.

A scuffle broke out near the Venice promenade, police were summoned, they wrestled with the suspect, and Brendon Glenn — said to have been intoxicated — ended up dead.

It happens too often.

Chronic homelessness is rampant in Venice. The first thing to consider, when there’s a call about a disturbance near the boardwalk, is that it might involve someone who is homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted. The situation might call for backup help, or one of the mental health/police units, or use of a disabling, less lethal weapon than a gun.

And yet, here we are once again, with police as the designated default agency when it comes to homelessness.


FATHERS OF TWO MISSISSIPPI POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY TALK ABOUT THEIR SONS

The nation got heartbreaking news on Saturday night when it learned that two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers, Liquori Tate, 25, and Benjamin J. Deen, 34, had been shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.

On Sunday morning, four suspects were arrested.

Benjamin Deen was a K-9 officer whose father, Dan Deen, told NY Daily News reporter Joel Landau, that his son, a former “officer of the year” in the department, chose his profession so he could follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was a very good cop. He loved his family, he loved his job,” he told The News. “He did his job to the best of his ability.”

Benjamin Deen was married and had two children, a 9-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, his father said. The family is devastated by what happened, he said.

Ronald Tate, father of Liquori Tate, who was not yet a year out of the police academy, talked with CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet about his son’s passion for policing and the way he treated those he was charged with protecting and serving.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul, and I knew he meant that,” Ronald Tate said.

That doesn’t mean Liquori Tate didn’t know he was putting his life in danger when he joined the force.

“He really knew the risk,” Ronald Tate said, “but I think my son just thought people…are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”


Late last week, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban grand juries from investigating officer-involved shootings and excessive use of force incidents.

Eliminating the grand jury option would give local district attorneys no choice but to handle such cases. And because DAs are elected officials, the bill supporters believe there would be a higher level of public accountability involved.

The bill, SB 227, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-LA, must next be approved by the state Assembly.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Protests sprouted up nationwide last fall after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict white police officers who had killed unarmed black men during confrontations. The system, in which a jury of citizens weighs the evidence to decide whether to bring charges, came under fire for its secrecy.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who introduced Senate Bill 227, argued that the lack of transparency and oversight in grand jury deliberations, which do not involve judges, defense attorneys or cross-examination of witnesses, did not serve the public.

“The use of the criminal grand jury has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise the nature of our justice system,” she said.

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

DCFS Likely Never Distributed $571,000 in MTA Passes Needed by LA’s Foster Kids Says Report

May 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


THE VANISHING MTA PASSES

In an audit released Friday afternoon, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office revealed that, in a four month period, at least $160,000 word of MTA passes and/or tokens—and very probably $571,000 worth of those same passes/tokens—were never given out to the foster kids who urgently need them.

Here’s the deal: The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—AKA foster care—provides transit passes or tokens to eligible foster youth who need to use public transportation in order to get to school, counseling sessions, family visitations, and and other required activities.

Transit passes/tokens are, as you might imagine, considered cash equivalents thus, as the auditor controller’s report put it, “should be safeguarded in the same manner as cash to prevent theft or misuse.”

And just give you an idea of the kind of “cash equivalents” we’re talking about, in FY 2012-2013, DCFS gave out approximately $12 million in passes.

With the above in mind, the A-C reviewed DCFS’s pass/token policy and record keeping, starting in FY 2014-2015, to make sure that the chronically troubled agency was safeguarding its inventory of passes and—even more importantly—to determine if the passes and tokens were getting to the kids who depend on them.

The results were not cheering.

We verified that during a four-month period, DCFS regional offices never distributed 1,906 transit passes valued at $160,000. We also reviewed MTA usage records for the same four months and noted that an additional 4,818 transit passes valued at $411,000 may have expired without being used. Based on our findings throughout this review, it is unlikely that all 4,818 of the transit passes were distributed to clients.


“MISAPPROPRIATED” WITHOUT DETECTION??

So what happened to the half-million $$ in passes that appear to never have been used in that four month period?

And are there more discrepancies where those came from?

Despite much looking into the matter, the auditor-controller’s office ultimately wasn’t sure. The report points to finding “critical internal controls and recordkeeping which could result in County funds being misappropriated without detection.”

To try to get to the bottom of the issue of the non-used passes, the A-C referred its concerns to its investigative arm, the Office of County investigations, or OCI—hoping that the sleuths could determine if the passes were stolen, lost, or just stuck in drawers and forgotten about. But because of DCFS’s sloppiness in record keeping, the investigators reportedly found themselves stymied.

Due to the lack of accountability and poor internal controls, OCI was unable to conclude whether County funds were misappropriated.”

Great.


SO WHERE DID THE PASSES AND TOKENS GO?

When the investigators visited 7 local DCFS offices and interviewed samplings of social workers, they found that 90 percent of the MSWs they interviewed kept the passes and tokens (that are, remember, the equivalent of cash) in unlocked desk draws, in overhead cabinets, unsecured in their purses, and like locations. In the case in one office, 38 of the things—all unused, and worth a total of $2,300—were sitting in the employee’s inbox in full view of anybody who strolled by.

Worse, when asked to produce the most recent monthly passes/tokens the workers had been issued, 30 percent of the 20 interviewed, couldn’t locate or account for all the tokens they had received.

In addition to the physical carelessness with the passes and tokens themselves, the A-C reported that, due to the shockingly bad record keeping maintained by regional offices, there was no way to know if small or large numbers of passes and tokens were vanishing regularly.

Regional offices do not maintain perpetual inventory records, and do not accurately complete reconciliation forms – None of the seven regional offices we visited maintain perpetual inventory records of transit passes/tokens. The regional offices also do not conduct monthly physical inventory counts, as required, or accurately complete monthly reconciliations. For example, one office’s reconciliation showed an ending balance of 6,452 tokens, but their beginning balance for the following month was 2,972 tokens. Regional office staff could not explain this discrepancy.


PASSES? WHAT PASSES?

When the passes actually were theoretically given out to foster kids, they were not necessarily given to the right people, or in a timely fashion. In some cases, they were simply not given out at all. And records of who got what were either sloppy or nonexistent.

For instance, in a random sampling of 65 kids who were marked as having to gotten passes/tokens, 20 percent reported to investigators they “did not receive any or all of the transit passes/tokens.”

In one instance, the guardian of a kid indicated that the child in his/her care had not received any of the required transit passes for six months. When confronted by this, the social worker “subsequently admitted that he had given the child’s transit passes to other clients. He could not recall who actually received the passes, but he claimed that he did not ‘keep or sell them.’”

Never mind that, for a kid to be issued the monthly passes/tokens, the distribution must be justified with a court order or case plan.

Out of the sampling, another 20 percent of the kids who had requested monthly passes got the passes, but “an average of 14 days afterthe month began, even though the requests had been submitted at or before the beginning of the month.”

And then there was the case of the social worker who had a form signed by the “client,” indicating that he or she had gotten the monthly passes when, in fact, the passes were still sitting on the MSW’s desk.

(And what sanctions have been levied against these people? Or never mind. Forget we asked.)


THE DOG ATE OUR ABILITY TO DISTRIBUTE MTA PASSES

The report also includes the response from DCFS, which—while no doubt well meaning—feels full of excuses.

For instance, among its plans to solve this lovely mess the department intends to reissue the rules and regulations around the passes, and institute—what else?—new rounds of training.

ln September 2014, the Department began working with the Auditor-Controller’s OCI Division to coordinate training for nearly 250 DCFS management supervisory level staff regarding Fraud Awareness. Training commenced on January 14,2015, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2015…..

And so on. There’s more if you wish to read it. But the above is representative.

From sources close to the board of supervisors we have heard that the Supes are really.., really not happy with all this nonsense.

Good.

Laissez les têtes tomber.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 3 Comments »

Manifesting Justice This Week in Los Angeles

May 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CURTAIN RAISED FOR POP-UP ART EXHIBIT AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONVERSATION SPACE, MANIFEST JUSTICE

As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”

The 10-day event, called Manifest Justice, put on by Yosi Sergant of TaskForce PR, along with the California Endowment and Amnesty International, features the work of more than 190 artists, discussions with criminal justice leaders and activists, as well as music, poetry, plays, workshops, and a lot more.

Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)

At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.

There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.

Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.

From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.

When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”

That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.

(For more of Chandler’s story, watch her TEDx talk at Ironwood State Prison.)

Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.

Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.

Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.

Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”

Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.

Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.

Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.

Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).

“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:

Jordan Weber:

Yolanda Guerra:

Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.

But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.

There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.

Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 15 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

Loretta Lynch, Baltimore, and Two Important Decisions Before the LA County Supes…and More

April 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LORETTA LYNCH SWORN IN AS 83RD US ATTORNEY GENERAL

On Monday, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first female US Attorney General. Lynch replaced Eric Holder, who was the first black Attorney General.

Here are a few clips from AG Lynch’s speech at the Justice Department:

…my mother, who could not be here today but is never far from my thoughts or my heart. She grew up in a world where she was always told what she could not do or could not be, but always knew in her heart that she could soar. She did what would have seemed impossible in the small North Carolina town of her youth. She raised a daughter whom she always told, whatever the dream, whether lawyer, prosecutor or even Attorney General, “of course you can.”

[SNIP]

Because I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see “way up high, Granddaddy,” can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything.

We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them. We can protect the most vulnerable among us from the scourge of modern-day slavery – so antithetical to the values forged in blood in this country. [my ital] We can protect the growing cyber world. We can give those in our care both protection from terrorism and the security of their civil liberties. We will do this as we have accomplished all things both great and small – working together, moving forward, and using justice as our compass.

I cannot wait to begin that journey.

But while Vice President Joe Biden was swearing Lynch in, the turbulent situation in Baltimore, MD further deteriorated.

This afternoon, the new Attorney General issued a statement on the riots, urging Baltimore citizens to put an end to the violence.

Here’s a clip:

“I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore. Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful. The Civil Rights Division and the FBI have an ongoing, independent criminal civil rights investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray…

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence.”


BALTIMORE RIOTS: WHAT’S BEHIND THE VIOLENCE

To keep track of the latest developments in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun has a live update feed.

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb writes about the complex weave of underlying causes that led to Monday’s violence. Here’s a clip:

The sliver of hope that Baltimore might not fully teeter into bedlam went up along with the neighborhood CVS, the police vehicles, and the buildings that were ignited on Monday. The day began with a plea for a moratorium on protests from Fredricka Gray, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, so that her family might bury her brother in peace. But by the afternoon, there was no peace for Gray’s family, nor any other in the city. On Monday afternoon, the governor of Maryland issued a state of emergency. Flyers for a Saturday rally issued by the Black Lawyers for Justice urged protestors to “shut the city down.” Two days later, the city is a theater of outrage. The flames leaping into the sky underscored a crucial concern: if the pleas from Freddie Gray’s family could not forestall violence in the streets of Baltimore, the difficult question will be what can prevent more of it.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf shines a light on a pile of underreported police department abuses that fueled the Baltimore protests (and now, the riots). In one instance, a cop allegedly beat an 87-year-old woman while she tried to help her 11-year-old grandson who had been shot. Another cop allegedly tased a hospitalized meningitis patient to death.

Here are some clips, but read the rest of Friedersdorf’s story:

Let’s start with the money.

$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations.” What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?

[SNIP]

There was a murder-suicide, with a policeman killing a firefighter, his girlfriend, and himself. There was a different officer who killed himself in jail after being charged with killing his fiancée. In yet another case, “Abdul Salaam, 36, says he was beaten in July 2013 after a traffic stop by officers Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz and that he never got a response to his complaint filed with internal affairs,” The Sun reported. “Those officers would be implicated less than three weeks later in the death of 44-year-old Tyrone West while he was in police custody.” Also in 2013, a jury acquitted an off-duty police officer on manslaughter charges after he chased down and killed a 17-year-old boy who may or may not have thrown a rock that thumped harmlessly into his front door.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, former Baltimore Sun reporter, and author also called for an end to the tidal wave of violence in Baltimore.

Here’s a clip from his blog, The Audacity of Despair:

…the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS LIKELY TO VOTE ON UNIQUE PROGRAM TO PREVENT ABUSE BY HELPING FORMER FOSTER KIDS WITH THEIR OWN KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are slated to vote on whether to launch and fund a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. The program would cost $202,000 and would provide parenting assistance to recently aged-out foster kids who have children of their own (or are expecting). The program, to be run by the non-profit, Imagine L.A., would pair the young parents with five volunteer mentors to help with every day activities like taking kids to sports practice and tutoring.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposed pilot program. Here’s a clip:

Harvey Kawasaki of the Department of Children and Family Services said many young adults depend on their parents to help with those kinds of things when they have children of their own. But these youths, who are aging out of foster care, don’t necessarily have that relationship.

“Having a family-mentoring service is creating a surrogate family,” Kawasaki said.

He said the idea is unique in L.A., as most DCFS programs deal with either responding to reports of child abuse or preventing it from reoccurring. This project would target the children of former foster children, something that hasn’t been done before. An estimated 200 foster youth in L.A. County are parents themselves.

“In some sense, this project is trying to test out whether or not this family-mentoring model will prevent intergenerational child abuse,” Kawasaki said.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY APPROVE DOJ SETTLEMENT OVER LASD PALMDALE AND LANCASTER DEPARTMENTS’ RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

In 2013, the US Justice Department slammed the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with 46 pages of “findings” regarding Lancaster and Palmdale deputies’ alleged systemic racial bias against minorities. The DOJ also ordered the LASD, LA County’s Housing Authority, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, to cough up $12.6 million to pay residents who had allegedly been subject to harassment, discriminatory search and seizure, excessive use of force, and more. (Read the backstory.)

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a settlement with the DOJ. The full details of the proposed settlement are not available, but the Sheriff’s Dept. will reportedly have to compensate those whose rights have been violated and agree to (and comply with) orders regarding excessive force, training, and community relations.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on expected settlement. Here’s a clip:

The details of the settlement slated for approval Tuesday have not been publicly released, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the settlement will require the sheriff’s department to comply a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to ongoing monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress.

The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The justice department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.

The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement agreement that will pertain to the Housing Authority. That settlement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.


JUDGE ORDERS LAPD TO RELEASE CLINTON ALFORD BEATING VIDEO

US Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg ordered the LAPD to release surveillance footage of an officer allegedly kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head. The video is to be released Wednesday to Alford’s attorney. (Here’s the backstory.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

“Today a judge validated my client’s right to have a copy of the raw video footage of the brutal beating that included him being kicked and hit by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division,” Harper said. “I said six months ago that if Chief [Charlie] Beck were sincere about transparency he would have released the video then. He wouldn’t have made me compel the production of evidence showing what was done to my client.”

Under the order, Harper can pick up the video Wednesday. She said she will have a forensic expert on hand to examine it. A prior order forbids the public release of the video.

[SNIP]

Beck last week acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident, but he said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.” Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Rights, Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice | No Comments »

LA to Get a Conviction Integrity Unit, LA’s Judge Michael Nash is Back, Bridging the Gap Between Homelessness and Employment, and Crime Victims

April 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY DA JACKIE LACEY TO LAUNCH UNIT TO HUNT FOR WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey is establishing a conviction integrity unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The team will consist of three prosecutors, a senior investigator, and a paralegal. DA Lacey has asked the Board of Supervisors for around $1 million in funding.

(Read about conviction integrity units elsewhere in the US: here and here.)

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the new unit. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said he expects that a new conviction review unit would particularly help people of color, who he said are wrongfully convicted at disproportionately high rates.

“It sends the message to law enforcement officers that trumped-up charges will not work,” he said. “It’s another dimension of checks and balances in the criminal justice system, which I think is sorely needed.”

The units have already had an effect in other places in California.

On Wednesday, at the request of the Ventura County district attorney’s office, a judge dismissed a murder case against Michael Ray Hanline, who was convicted in 1980. The office said it made the request after an investigation by its conviction integrity unit, along with the California Innocence Project, which turned up new evidence casting doubt on Hanline’s guilt.

[SNIP]

Barry Scheck, co-founder of the New York-based Innocence Project, said that setting up a unit won’t necessarily translate into meaningful change or exonerations.

“There are lots of people who can say, ‘Oh gee, I have a conviction integrity unit,’ because that’s now the necessary fashion accessory,” he said.

To be successful, Scheck said, Los Angeles County should search for someone with “a different way of looking at the cases” —- like a former defense attorney — to lead the unit. The other key, he said, is fostering robust relationships between prosecutors and defense lawyers in which neither side expects to be “sandbagged.”

“It’s no longer an adversarial relationship,” he said. “It’s a joint search for the truth.”


FORMER HEAD OF LA JUVIE COURT, JUDGE MICHAEL NASH, OUT OF RETIREMENT AND INTO DELINQUENCY COURT

Judge Michael Nash retired in January after serving for nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Fortunately, he did not remain retired for long. Judge Nash is back, and working as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and the Department of Children and Family Services, here.)

Holden Slattery interviews Nash for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Nash discusses the differences (and commonalities) between delinquency and dependency courts, and the kids he strives to protect. Here’s a clip:

He had shown interest in taking a lead as the county’s Director of Child Protection, a new office created after recommendations by a blue ribbon commission established to overhaul L.A.’s child protection system. But when the Board of Supervisors dithered on hiring him, he recalibrated his sights.

For a couple of months, he enjoyed relaxing at home with his puppy, doing projects, and watching TV shows that had never fit his schedule in years past.

But Nash wanted more than a cozy seat on the couch. He applied for California’s Assigned Judges Program, which assigns retired judges to benches where they are needed. Nash was appointed to the Juvenile Court in Compton. He now sits in Judge Donna Groman’s courtroom on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays while Groman does administrative work.

As presiding judge, Nash was responsible for all of the delinquency courts and dependency courts in Los Angeles County—more than 40 courtrooms in total. In delinquency courts such as Los Angeles County’s Juvenile Court, a judge determines whether children have broken laws and takes corrective action. In dependency courts, a judge decides whether children have been victims of maltreatment. Before being elected as presiding judge, Nash worked in a dependency court. This is his first time working on the delinquency side of the county’s vast judicial system for minors.

“This is a new experience for me, and it’s great,” Nash says in Groman’s office during a break. “This court is really a hybrid between two systems.”

“On the front end of this process, it’s like a criminal court because kids are charged with crimes and you have to deal with that. But once you get to resolve that issue, it’s the same thing we do on the dependency side. We have to work with these kids and their families to ensure that they’re in stable settings and getting the services they need to become productive members of the community.”


LA TRADE TECH PROGRAM COMBATS SOUTH LA UNEMPLOYMENT RATE, HELPS THOSE IN NEED LAND JOBS

Los Angeles Trade Tech’s nonprofit WorkSource Center, which opened in November, makes finding work an attainable goal for low-income men and women in the eastern part of South LA, where the unemployment rate is more than twice as high as the state average. The center serves as a hub, providing everything from employment training and job fairs, to work clothes and tools, and connecting participants to housing assistance and other indispensable services.

The program runs on a $1.1 million grant from the City of Los Angeles.

KPCC’s Brian Watt has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Job seekers take online classes, and complete resumes and job applications at the center’s computer terminals. Private meeting rooms are available for job interviews. The center will host a job fair on May 7.

Carlon Manuel, who works at the WorkSource center, said many of the people who come for help are homeless and hungry.

“We can help them find housing, food banks, rental assistance,” Manuel said, standing in a large closet full of donated suits, ties, dress shoes and business-casual sweaters. “We can give you everything but underwear and a T-shirt and socks. The underwear, T-shirts and socks you work on your own.”

Manuel’s colleague, John Wilson, added: “We’ve put gas in someone’s car so they could get to an interview.”

On a recent Thursday, Manuel, Wilson and other staffers at the center helped a group of men sign up for a construction apprenticeship program. Some were military veterans. Others were what Manuel called “veterans of the streets,” who were referred to the center by representatives at Homeboy Industries, a local nonprofit that helps current and former gang members.

Applications and training are the first steps for job seekers. As they near the end of that process, and are at the cusp of getting hired, other needs can get in the way. Construction work might require tools and boots that the employer doesn’t pay for. The same goes for culinary knives for line cooks in restaurants. If the aspiring worker doesn’t have the cash to cover those items, the center tries to find a way.


CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS WEEK: POLICE WIDOW AND ADVOCATE CALLS FOR EQUAL ACCESS TO VICTIM SERVICES

In the summer of 2005, Dionne Wilson’s police officer husband, Dan, was talking with three drunken young men outside of an apartment building when one of them pulled out a gun and shot him.

In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in honor of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, Dionne Wilson explains how her husband’s murder led her to become a member of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice. Wilson says that while she received excellent support as a victim of crime, her experience did not fall within the norm. Not all crime survivors are treated the same by the criminal justice system, and many do not have easy access to support and resources. Wilson helped secure funds for one-stop-shop trauma recovery centers in California to combat these problems. Currently, there are just three centers in Los Angeles and one in San Francisco. Wilson says more are needed, and lauds the allocation of anticipated Prop 47 funds for future trauma recovery centers.

Here’s a clip:

Responding to a minor disturbance outside an apartment complex, Dan spoke with some young, very intoxicated men. One man, who had been in jail for drugs and feared a return trip, drew his gun and shot Dan. The man was caught, convicted and received the death penalty. But the healing I expected did not come. I was angry, depressed and broken.

As a police widow, I had all the support you could want: Friends brought me food, Dan’s colleagues helped me navigate the justice system and everyone always saw me as a victim. Without this support, I would not have made it.

However, the entire experience led me to view the system itself as broken…

This endless cycle of incarceration is largely driven by mental health and drug addiction issues that continue to be punished instead of healed. This is exactly what happened with the man who shot my husband.

The current approach is not working; it’s expensive and not making us safer. This realization led me to work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a statewide network whose members were in Sacramento on Monday and Tuesday to call for new priorities that better aid survivors.

For example, the support I received after Dan’s death is the exception, not the rule. After meeting with survivors, I realize that the justice system does not respond to victims equally. Equally troubling is that a vast majority of crime survivors don’t know about, or have access to, services for victims.

Posted in DCFS, District Attorney, Foster Care, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

Santa Clara Does it Right With Dual Status Kids….Defining Violent Felony….Freddy Gray’s Voice

April 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Earlier this month we introduced you to Angel,
a young woman, now-20, who had spent much of her adolescence in the care of [tk] County juvenile probation, not because she was particularly breaking any laws (save things like lying about her name when approached by cops), but because after years of chronicled abuse by her mother, she finally fought back, although she was reportedly the one with the bruises. As a consequence Angel wound up a juvenile lock-up. Then, when her term was finished, she stayed under the care of probation, because—although she should have long-ago been in the foster care system, now that she was a teenager, no one seemed sure where else to put her.

Angel was a “dual status” or crossover kid, which in many California jurisdictions makes kids like her nobody’s child.

As defined by the Robert F. Kennedy Children’s Action Corps, the term “dual status youth” refers to young people who come into contact with both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems, and occupy various statuses in terms of their relationship to the two systems. A growing body of research has consistently shown that, in comparison to kids involved in only one of the two systems, dual status youth are usually dealing with more in the way of childhood trauma and other daunting challenges. Sadly, despite their needs, these kids often get less consistent help and attention than singly involved young people.

The RFK National Resource Center for Juvenile Justice (a division of the RFK Children’s Action Corps) is trying to change all that by offering consultation, technical assistance, and training to local, state and national “youth-serving agencies” to improve the lives and the outcomes of dual status kids.

With this in mind they have worked with 13 jurisdictions around the nation on efforts designed appropriately synchronize the two systems—child welfare and juvenile justice—in order to give dual status kids the consistant care and services they need to begin to thrive.

One of RFK’s earliest “demonstration” sites is California’s Santa Clara County, which is located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay and encompasses 1,312 square miles.

Heidi Benson, writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, has written an excellent profile of what Santa Clara is doing with RFK’s guidance, who is involved, and how it is changing kids’ lives for the better.

Here are some clips:

SAN JOSE, Calif. — At 8 years old, Marco had spent most of his life in the child welfare system. When an uncle took him in, to the first stable family environment he’d ever known, the boy finally began to thrive.

When he turned 13, his behavior changed. He started fighting at school and smoking marijuana daily. His uncle feared for the family’s safety. Marco was sent to a group home. Soon, he was living on the street, addicted to methamphetamine.

The scenario is all too common, said Laura Garnette, chief probation officer for Santa Clara County. “Kids hit adolescence and something snaps.

“We don’t know why, whether it’s memories or the onset of puberty,” said Garnette, who first studied to be a psychologist. “Something triggers past trauma.”

[SNIP]

Previously, Marco might have fallen into the bureaucratic and philosophical gap between probation and child welfare. Today, he is back in school and in treatment for substance abuse. Though he is still in a group home, he now lives four days a week with his uncle, whose family is getting supportive services.

“Marco will probably be our first graduate,” said Garnette, who sat in on his hearing in January. “Soon, he’ll be out of both systems. He’ll be living full-time with his uncle. That’s our goal.”

[SNIP]

Once a case is labeled “dually involved,” another team convenes — a family meeting, organized by a facilitator who is also a youth advocate.

“They bring in everybody under the sun,” Tondreau said, including parents or foster parents, social workers and probation officers. The group stays on board until a case is decided. The anecdotal evidence is encouraging, he said. “Kids are saying, I really like my team, I’m glad they’re involved in my life.”

A growing body of scientific research shows that the adolescent brain is more malleable and more complex than previously known. The findings have informed progressive legislation: In 2014, taking a cue from recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, the California Supreme Court acknowledged that “children are constitutionally different from adults for purposes of sentences.”

The distinction has come into play in Santa Clara.

[SNIP]

Even in the best of circumstances, adolescents are vulnerable to poor judgment while their brains are developing. “You’re not weighing consequences because you don’t have the ability to do it quite yet,” said [Presiding Juvenile Court Judge Patrick] Tondreau, who confessed that he knows this through personal experience.

“Part of the reason for my love of juvenile court is that I was in juvenile delinquency court myself,” he said. “I was a good kid, but I got involved with a couple of guys and we snuck out every night and were going for joy rides. Nobody locked their cars back in 1961. We’d get in the car. We’d drive around. And we’d park it right where we’d found it. We weren’t trying to hurt anybody. Then one night, we hit a telephone pole. Everybody got hurt. Not badly. We were lucky.”

At the time he was an Eagle Scout and on the basketball team of his Jesuit high school in Portland, Ore.

He never forgot the sadness he felt, or how deeply upset his parents were. “The shame that they had, that cured everything. The judge couldn’t have done anything to me,” he said.

“Even as a really good kid, with really good parents, I made some terrible mistakes. Adolescents screw up. It’s what happens.”

Now, as a judge of adolescents, he brings that awareness to the bench.

And so does Santa Clara County.


WHEN A VIOLENT FELONY ISN’T VIOLENT

In federal criminal law, the definition of “violent felony” is an extremely fuzzy one. The LA Times Editorial Board hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court will force Congress into making some needed changes.

Here’s a clip:

Twice recently the Supreme Court has chastised the U.S. Department of Justice for stretching criminal laws beyond their rational application in order to secure a conviction. Beyond their consequences for individual defendants, these decisions sent a welcome message to prosecutors that they must not uproot a statute from its clear context in order to get their man (or woman).

Sometimes, however, prosecutors are aided in their overreach by laws that are so vaguely written that it’s not clear exactly what conduct is being targeted. On Monday, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to one such law, which allowed the government to define illegal possession of a gun as a “violent felony” justifying an extended prison term.

The exceedingly unattractive defendant in this case, Samuel Johnson, is a white supremacist from Minnesota who pleaded guilty in 2012 to being a felon in possession of a firearm. Under the Armed Career Criminal Act, he was sentenced to a 15-year prison term because he had three prior “violent felonies” on his record. Johnson conceded that two of his previous convictions, for robbery and attempted robbery, were violent felonies. But he disputed the government’s decision to classify a third conviction, for possessing a short-barreled shotgun, as a “violent felony.”

The notion that the mere possession of an illegal firearm is a violent act defies the dictionary and common understanding, and Johnson initially argued — plausibly — that it was not. But Monday’s arguments focused on a broader issue: whether the violent felony provision in the Armed Career Criminal Act was unconstitutionally vague. The answer is clearly yes.


AND NOW….FREDDY GREY’S VOICE & A NEW DOJ INVESTIGATION

Now there is an other front-and-center death of a young black man in the nation’s vision; that of Baltimore’s Freddie Gray. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that it would launch a civil rights investigation into Gray’s death in police custody, which is sparking ongoing demonstrations.

Gray, 27, died this past Sunday, April 19, a week after he was chased by Baltimore officers on April 12, when he took off running after exchanging eye-contact with one of the cops. It is not clear why the BPD chased him, other than the fact that he ran. He was found to have a knife on him, which is not necessarily illegal in Baltimore, and which was not known until he was caught and searched. None of the officers who apprehended Gray described any kind of use of force on the man.

And yet…..Gray reportedly died of a complication of a spinal injury that, barring out-of-season lightening strikes or other forces majeures, almost certainly were sustained during his arrest or during his transport in a police van, or possible both, with the van ride worsening a first injury. According to The Baltimore Sun, members of Freddie Gray’s family have said he sustained three fractured vertebrae in his neck and that his larynx was crushed. Since anyone with the slightest amount of first aid training knows that moving a spinal injured person can exacerbate the problem, the van ride, particularly if he travelled without a seatbelt, could have turned a bad situation tragic. The Sun has also reported that officers present in the van said that Gray repeatedly asked for medical attention.

And was Gray spinal-injured in the course of being apprehended by police? A cell-phone video taken by a local observer would certainly suggest so, given the strange limpness of Gray’s legs as he is being dragged to the police van, shouting what appears to be intense pain.

Baltimore officials like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and police Chief Anthony Batts, (formerly of Long Beach PD, followed by Oakland PD) have struck most of the right notes, promising an unusually quick and transparent investigation, and being very careful to humanize Freddy Gray with believable empathy, while not demonizing officers as they do so. The BPD has, however, suspended the six officers most involved.

The BPD investigation is due to be handed over to prosecutors on May 1. Mayor Rawlings-Blake said she will launch an investigation by an independent commission. And now we have the feds.

If you haven’t yet watched the cell-phone video of Mr. Gray’s arrest, you can find it above. It is harrowing. Not so much the look of it. It is the sound of Gray’s voice.

Here, if you’d like to read a little further, is a commentary by The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson that talks mostly about that voice.


Photo of Angel by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Department of Justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, law enforcement, racial justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

SB Supervisors Swiftly Settle with Horse Thief After Beating…Bills to Protect CA’s Over-drugged Foster Kids…LAPD Won’t Release Video of Officer Charged with Assault…and Death Penalty in LA

April 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SAN BERNARDINO SUPERVISORS APPROVE LIGHTNING-FAST SETTLEMENT IN ALLEGED POST-HORSE-CHASE BEATING, SAVING TAXPAYER $$

The San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors agreed to pay $650,000 to Francis Jared Pusok, who was allegedly beaten by a group of deputies for more than two minutes after an intense horseback chase earlier this month. (Backstory and video are here.)

Wishing to avoid costly legal fees, the San Bernardino Supes made the decision in a remarkably quick eight days, before Pusok’s attorneys even filed a claim.

Legal experts (and WitnessLA) were pleasantly surprised that the board assessed the situation and prepared a settlement so quickly.

The SB Supes efficiency in handling the issue was in stark contrast to LA County’s history of dragging out litigation, only to settle anyway, sticking county taxpayers with the legal bills.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“I support the action by the Board of Supervisors to handle this matter promptly,” Sheriff John McMahon said in a statement…

“This is the fastest settlement I have ever heard in a case of alleged officer abuse,” said Loyola Law School Professor Stan Goldman. “Usually these things go on for months and years.”

He said the county likely saved money with the early deal. Cities and counties often hire outside counsel to handle police abuse cases, and that can be expensive. “Attorneys fees can really add up,” Goldman said.

[SNIP]

According to the terms of the agreement, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors in closed session Friday, the county acknowledges no wrongdoing, according to the statement. The agreement settles all potential claims from Pusok.

“The sole purpose of this agreement for both parties is to avoid the costs involved in litigation,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman James Ramos. “This agreement is a fair outcome for everyone involved, including the taxpayers.”


CA SENATE COMMITTEE PASSES BILLS TO PROTECT FOSTER KIDS FROM BEING OVER-PRESCRIBED PSYCH MEDS

On Tuesday, the California Senate Human Services Committee unanimously approved a package of four bills designed to combat the excessive and alarming prescribing of psychotropic medications to California’s foster kids. (For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.)

Among other changes, the bills will improve prescription tracking and oversight, and push doctors to choose non-medical treatments before psychotropic drugs.

The bills will have to jump through a few more legislative hoops.

De Sá has more on the bill package and what comes next. Here are some clips:

The foster youth told the Senate’s Human Services Committee they’d been kicked out of residential treatment programs for refusing drugs that caused them debilitating side effects, had been prescribed four and five medications at once, and often suffered in silence when no one was there to listen.

Joined by public health nurses, social workers, advocates, county leaders and welfare directors, the former foster youth urged support for four bills that would improve court oversight of prescribing, better track medication use and call for non-drug therapies before medication. The legislation — authored by Sens. Jim Beall, D-San Jose; Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel — comes after a yearlong investigation by this newspaper called “Drugging Our Kids.”

[SNIP]

The chair of the Human Services Committee, Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, insisted Tuesday the four bills were only the beginning. His committee will soon hold a hearing on the pharmaceutical industry’s role in the excessive prescribing to foster youth. California has to stop “drugging our kids,” McGuire said. “We have to take the tens of millions of dollars we are spending on psychotropic medications and put it into trauma care.”


LAPD OFFICER CHARGED WITH ASSAULT FOR ALLEGED BEATING, LAPD CHIEF EXPLAINS WHY THE VIDEO WILL NOT BE RELEASED

Last fall, a store security camera captured video of an officer allegedly kicked Alford in the head while he was being restrained on the ground. LAPD officials said Alford was not resisting arrest, and one viewer described it as “a football player kicking a field goal.”

On Monday, the officer, Richard Garcia, was charged with assault for the alleged excessive use of force.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck (backed by LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey) chose not to release the video of the incident, saying that it had the potential to compromise the criminal case against Garcia.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the case and Chief Beck’s decision. Here are some clips:

Beck acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident – which was captured by a security camera posted on a South L.A. building — but said Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.”

Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

“My desire here is justice,” Beck told reporters Tuesday. “I know that there are other things that could be met by the release of the video. … But I want to get justice. And I think that’s what this city deserves.”

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Beck said that after watching the video, he called Lacey and asked her office “to not only look at this case but to file criminal charges.”

“I was shocked by the content of the video,” he said.


ACLU SLAMS US MARSHAL WHO REPORTEDLY DESTROYED WOMAN’S PHONE WHEN SHE VIDEOTAPED AN INCIDENT

The US Marshals Service announced an investigation into a video captured in South Gate, CA, in which a deputy marshal appears to grab, throw to the ground, and kick the cell phone of a woman who was reportedly recording an incident between marshals and a biker gang.

In response to the video, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California said, “The ACLU of Southern California is deeply disturbed by the video released yesterday on YouTube, showing a law enforcement officer approaching a woman who appears to be lawfully filming a police operation from the sidewalk, grabbing her phone, smashing it to the ground and kicking it.

“There is no situation in which an officer can intentionally grab and destroy a camera being used to lawfully record law enforcement. The officer’s conduct is a blatant and deliberate violation of the Constitution and his duties as an officer to abide by the law. Members of the public, on a public street, unquestionably have a First Amendment right to record law enforcement officers, acting in the course of their duties. Indeed, as recent events have shown, video recording of law enforcement activity plays a crucial role in holding police accountable for misconduct — particularly in California, where public access to information about officer misconduct is limited by state law.”

Andrew Blankstein, Robert Kovacik and Willian Avila have more on the story for NBCLA.


A TINY FRACTION OF COUNTIES IN THE US STILL SENTENCE PEOPLE TO DEATH, LOS ANGELES IS ONE OF THEM

The US is in the midst of a decline in the use of capital punishment. While the death penalty is still legal in 32 states, the real work is being done at the county level. Out of the nation’s 3,144 counties, only a handful of those are still carrying the torch: in 2012, just 59 of the country’s 3,144 counties gave all of the death penalty sentences.

Los Angeles was among the overachievers.

The Atlantic’s Matt Ford takes a closer look at the numbers and their implications. Here are some clips:

Los Angeles County is only twice the size of [Illinois’s] Cook County, but Los Angeles County sentenced nearly five times as many people to death from 2004 to 2009. [Texas’s] Harris County has roughly one million fewer people than Cook County, but Harris County sentenced almost three times as many people to death. [Arizona’s] Maricopa County is roughly the same size as Harris County, but Maricopa County sentenced thirty-eight people to death while Harris County rendered twenty-one death sentences. [Florida’s] Miami-Dade County, which has a population of approximately 2.5 million, only sentenced four people to death, whereas Oklahoma County, which has a population of approximately 750,000, sentenced eighteen people to death.

The effect is even more dramatic in the aggregate. Of the 3,144 counties or their equivalents in the United States, just 29 counties averaged more than one death sentence a year. “That 1 percent of counties accounts for roughly 44 percent of all death sentences” since 1976, Smith observed. A 2013 report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that 59 counties—fewer than 2 percent of the total—handed down all U.S. death sentences in 2012.

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, Innocence, LAPD | 1 Comment »

Crucial Bill to Give More Crossover Kids a Chance at Extended Foster Care Benefits Passes Out of Committee

April 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday of this week, a bill was passed out of committee
that, if passed by the full California legislature, would offer extended foster care benefits to groups of what are known as “crossover youth”—kids affected by both the juvenile justice and the foster care systems. An earlier bill (AB 12), that passed in 2010, gave many crossover youth the crucial three-years of extra help that research has shown can dramatically improve outcomes for kids as they begin to navigate adulthood without the help of stable families. But, due to quirks in the law, still other crossover youth were excluded from receiving the all-important extended benefits.

The new bill, SB 12, which was introduced by Sen. Jim Beale (D),, was the focus of a recent story by Daniel Heimpel, that was co-published by WitnessLA and the Chronicle of Social Change. The story, called Who is Watching Out for Angel, told of a now 20-year-old young woman who entered the foster care system through the doorway of juvenile probation when she was arrested following a fight with her mother, after years of reported abuse at home.

While Angel now hopes to qualify for extended care, the need for the bill was made particularly clear by two earlier stories written by Brian Rinker (here and here) for the Chronicle of Social Change.

Rinker wrote of three brothers who entered foster care together but were immediately split up, and each sent to different placements. Due a variety of circumstances, only the youngest brother, Joseph Bakhi, was eligible for extended care, while his two older brothers, Terrick and Matt, were not. The outcomes for each of the three brothers differed dramatically. Joseph attended UC Berkeley with scholarships and financial aid available only to foster youth. In contrast, the other two brothers—Terrick and Matt—had no support after turning 18, either from family or from the state, and faced constant struggle, were at times homeless, and began battling with drug addition.

On Tuesday, Joseph Bakhi attended the committee hearing in support of his brother Terrick, who was hit particularly hard by the lack of support after he turned 18.

“I am a proud recipient of AB 12,” Joseph told Chronicle of Social Change reporter Sawssan Morrar. “And with assistance like this I could only imagine the difference in Terrick’s outcome. Issues like these are prevented by AB 12 and other resources, but the criteria to receive them are exclusive to kids that fall under dependency status.”

We will be following the progress of SB 12, as it makes its way through the legislative process.


Photo by the excellent Max Whittaker, a freelance photojournalist and founding member of Prime.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation | No Comments »

LA County’s Proposed Budget…Feds Investigate SF Jail Abuse Allegations…CA Bill to Reduce Drivers License Suspensions…and Criminal Justice Questions for Presidential Candidates

April 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S REFORM-MINDED BUDGET PROPOSAL ALLOCATES MORE $$ TO MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION, JAIL SERVICES, FOSTER CARE

In a press conference Monday morning, the office of LA County interim CEO Sachi Hamai released the 2015-16 budget proposal.

A spokesman for the CEO emphasized that the new budget is focused on “major programatic reforms, with new positions and funding” going toward “improvements in the criminal justice system, child protection, and improvements in health care delivery.”

Out of $26,923 billion, only an additional 10.2 million is going to mental health diversion, but it’s a big step in the right direction. In June, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is expected to present to the Board of Supervisors her task force’s report on creating a comprehensive mental health diversion plan for the county.

An even larger step is the $66.9 million to fund 542 additional child protection positions, in order to lighten social workers’ cases loads, a crucial move in the name of child safety. Over-stressed social workers are more likely to miss things.

Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in a statement that the proposed budget “provides critically needed resources to support ongoing efforts by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to ensure the compassionate treatment of inmates in the nation’s largest jail system, while also continuing to develop smarter justice system approaches to those in our community suffering from mental illness.”

Public budget hearings are slated to begin in mid-May.

The LA County Supervisors are also scheduled to vote today on a motion to institute some additional oversight for probation in the form of an audit.


FBI JOINS THE GROUP OF AGENCIES PROBING REPORTS OF SF DEPUTIES FORCING INMATES TO FIGHT AND BETTING ON THEM

The FBI has initiated an investigation into allegations that four San Francisco deputies forced jail inmates to brawl in gladiator-style fights and placed bets on them. SF District Attorney George Gascon, the SF Police Department, and the sheriff’s department have also launched investigations into the matter. (WLA will continue to track this story.)

KQED’s Alex Emslie has the updated story. Here are some clips:

The four deputies named at the center of an independent investigation initiated by [San Francisco Public Defender] Jeff Adachi remain on paid leave, [SF Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said. Their names are Scott Neu, Eugene Jones, Clifford Chiba and Evan Staehely. The law firm representing the deputies did not return a call seeking comment.

The federal inquiry officially started April 3. Special Agent Greg Wuthrich said the FBI investigation is at a very early stage.

“Civil rights allegations are definitely huge for the bureau,” Wuthrich said. “These kind of things, we take very seriously.”

[SNIP]

Adachi said in a statement that he is pleased with the FBI’s involvement and commended Mirkarimi for taking the unusual step of inviting the federal probe.

“Eliminating this sort of brutal and sadistic conduct starts by leading an investigation that isn’t tainted by conflict of interest or misplaced loyalty,” Adachi said. “I look forward to a thorough and fair investigation that includes determining whether additional deputies were aware of the abuse and complicit in their silence. To ensure this never happens again, there must be accountability — not only for the perpetrators, but for those who fail to speak up.”


CA BILL WOULD CUT DOWN ON ALL-TOO-COMMON LICENSE SUSPENSIONS FOR NON-VIOLENT TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

A new bill by CA Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) aims to reduce the number of drivers whose licenses are suspended after failing to pay (often exorbitant) fines for non-violent traffic offenses.

SB 405 follows closely behind a report condemning California’s policing-for-profit system as not unlike the situation in Ferguson, MO. In both places, fines pile on top of fines when a driver is unable to pay a ticket, burying the person (often poor to begin with) under a mountain of debt. And often failure to pay these fines results in a suspended license, which prevents the person from driving to a job to earn money to pay the fines. One in six California drivers have had their licenses suspended, and according to a separate report, nearly half of people whose licenses are suspended lose their jobs.

The bill would reinstate drivers licenses lost due to non-violent traffic infractions, as long as the licensee then paid back the debt through the state’s proposed Traffic Amnesty program.

A New Way of Life Reentry Project, the East Bay Community Law Center, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and Legal Services for Prisoners with Children cosponsored the bill.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Hertzberg’s website:

Hertzberg said suspended licenses can trap the working poor in an impossible situation: unable to reinstate their license without gainful employment and unable to access employment without a license.

“This is a Catch 22 that traps people in a cycle of poverty,” Hertzberg said, pointing to a recent New Jersey study that found that when a license was suspended, 42 percent of drivers lost their jobs. Of those, 45 percent were unable to find a new job. Even accounting for those that kept their job, 88 percent of people with suspended licenses reported a reduction in their income.

In California, the number of licenses suspended during an 8-year period from 2006 to 2013 exceeded 4.2 million. In that same timespan, only 71,000 driver licenses were reinstated.

Under existing law, it is virtually impossible for the driver’s license to be restored until all the unpaid fees, fines and assessments are completely paid. This jeopardizes economic stability in the state, limits the available workforce, and forces employers to bear the cost of replacing workers and finding qualified replacement workers with valid licenses.

In addition to trapping many Californians in a cycle of poverty, the sheer number of suspended licenses poses a threat to public safety. Evidence suggests that when people lose a license for reasons unrelated to safety, they take the suspensions less seriously. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, at least 75 percent of people who have had their licenses suspended just keep driving – often without insurance.


RADLEY BALKO: CRUCIAL CRIMINAL JUSTICE QUESTIONS WE SHOULD ASK ALL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has a “quick and dirty” list of important criminal justice reform questions for all presidential candidates.

If you are wondering who has thrown their hat in, thus far, the NY Times has a nice little chart (updated as of yesterday, April 13).

Here are four from Balko’s list, but there are … more where these came from:

The Obama administration has made heavy use of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division to investigate patterns of abuse and civil rights violations by local police departments. Would you continue this policy in your administration? To what extent is the federal government obligated to step in when local police and prosecutors are either habitually violating or failing to protect the constitutional rights of citizens in their jurisdiction?

[SNIP]

Several media reports, advocacy groups and judicial opinions (including a recent opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit) have described an epidemic of prosecutor misconduct across the country. Do you believe there is a widespread problem of prosecutor misconduct in America? Do you believe the federal government has a responsibility to address it?

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.

[SNIP]

Do you believe the criminal justice system is infected with institutional racism? I’m not asking you to assess whether individual cops, judges, or prosecutors are racist; I’m asking if you believe there is inherent bias built into the system.


Posted in Board of Supervisors, DCFS, District Attorney, FBI, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, mental health, Public Defender | No Comments »

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