California Funds Gun Research, LASD Mental Health Crisis Efforts, a Collaboration of Arts Groups in Juvie Camps, and Possible Settlement in Gabriel Fernandez CaseJune 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker
FIVE MILLION ALLOCATED FOR GUN VIOLENCE RESEARCH CENTER AT A UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
A pot of $5 million dollars for a gun violence research center at a University of California campus was included in the $170 billion budget California lawmakers approved on Thursday. The center, which will likely be established at UC Davis, will work to gather evidence that can be the foundation for sound firearm violence prevention programs and policies.
The original bill was authored by CA Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis). “Acts of firearm violence like Sunday’s horrific mass shooting in Orlando leave us searching for answers. California made finding those answers a priority, taking leadership once again where Congress has failed,” Wolk said.
In 1996, Congress banned funding for gun-related research by the federal government, because—said the NRA—gun violence is not a disease, and does not fall under the Center for Disease Control’s domain as a public health issue. Supporters hope California will set an example for the rest of the country.
The research center garnered the unlikely support of Jay Dickey, an NRA member and former congressman who authored the amendment that killed federal funding for gun violence research at the CDC. “It is crazy for any state to expect its legislators to vote on gun violence legislation if they do not know that it will be effective in both protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners and reducing gun violence,” said Dickey in a joint statement with his former adversary, Mark Rosenberg, CEO of The Task Force for Global Health. “California is setting a very good example by supporting the research that will empower their legislators to protect both its citizens and their gun rights.”
LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S EFFORTS TO HAVE BETTER INTERACTIONS AND OUTCOMES WITH MENTALLY ILL
As the LA County Sheriff’s Department grapples with an increase in mental health emergency calls and use-of-force incidents involving the mentally ill, the department is working on ways to better serve the county’s mentally ill population (and keep them out of jail).
Between 2010 and 2015, the number of mental health-related calls to the LASD jumped by 55% from 11,660 calls to 18,061 calls. In 2014, 29% of uses of force by deputies on patrol involved someone with mental illness, and 47% of uses of force by deputies in jails involved a mentally ill person.
One focus is on increasing mental health crisis training for deputies. LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wants to implement a new week-long training for department members, but must wait for the LA County Board of Supervisors to approve $2.8 million in funding to launch the project.
The sheriff’s department also deploys mental health crisis teams, each comprised of one officer and one mental health clinician. Unfortunately, the department only has eight teams, which are not all on duty at once, and are stretched extremely thin.
In a 2015 report on diverting the county’s mentally ill from jails into community treatment, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey suggested boosting the number of teams to 23. This, too, requires county funding. (WLA will be tracking these issues.)
The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:
The officer-and-clinician duos “take a step back and provide someone the space they need to feel safe. They take a slower approach,” said Mark Gale, criminal justice chair for the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Los Angeles County Council.
But there is a chronic shortage of teams.
Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna said staffing reductions prevent him from expanding his mental health teams beyond the single one on duty each shift.
In sheriff’s territory, there are only eight teams, with fewer on duty at a given time, for the more than 4,000 square miles patrolled by the Sheriff’s Department. Often, deputies don’t bother to call because it can take hours for a team to arrive.
Last year in Lakewood, a federal law enforcement officer tried to summon a team to help his mentally ill brother, but all were busy on other calls. Sheriff’s deputies fatally shot the brother when he refused to get out of his car and drove it towards them.
In Long Beach, though, when a woman who had been brandishing a hunting knife locked herself in a McDonald’s restroom, Long Beach Police Officer Chris Costa spent 10 minutes coaxing her to slide the knife under the door. The effort may have avoided a violent encounter with other officers, said Costa, who has worked as the law enforcement half of a mental health team for nearly two decades.
The LAPD’s mental health teams are relatively well-staffed but still have only been able to respond to about a third of mental health calls, said Det. Charles Dempsey, who heads the department’s mental evaluation unit.
With a recent expansion from eight to 17 teams on duty, Dempsey anticipates that up to 70% of mental health calls will now be answered by specialists.
In August 2015, an advisory board convened by Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey produced a long list of recommendations to improve mental health care in the county, among them nearly tripling the number of sheriff’s mental evaluation teams to 23. Sheriff’s officials hope to reach that target by gradually obtaining more funding from the county, adding two additional teams this year and more in the future.
“Our struggle has been we don’t have enough teams to handle the need, especially for the geography we serve,” said Chief Stephen Johnson, who heads the new mental health initiative. “The ones we have don’t have the capacity to move around the county and really be a resource to deputies.”
ARTS GROUPS COME TOGETHER TO TEACH LOS ANGELES KIDS BEHIND BARS, PREPARE THEM FOR EMPLOYMENT
The Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network (AIYN) is made up of nine organizations providing arts education to kids locked up in 10 LA County juvenile lock-ups. These interdisciplinary groups are teaching kids skills like acting, African drumming, screenwriting, poetry, and painting.
The collaborative group model helps the network members to have a larger impact and cover more ground. The goal is to help kids heal their trauma, break away from destructive trajectories, and gain marketable arts-related skills they can use upon their release.
The AIYN is part of a larger effort, called the Create Economy Create Autonomy Project that aims to boost access to arts-focused employment for formerly locked-up young people in Southern California. Among the participating groups are the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, InsideOUT Writers, The Actors’ Gang, and Street Poets.
AIYN’s governing council includes Homeboy Industries artist Fabian Debora, Alex Johnson of the Children’s Defense Fund, Janice Prober of Sony Pictures Entertainment, and Melissa Denton of the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, among others. Poet Luis Rodriguez has a seat on the advisory council.
Twenty-year-old professional actor Johnny Ortiz got his first lessons in acting at age 15 through a ten-week program run by the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company, held at Camp David Gonzalez, the juvenile probation camp in Calabasas where he was serving a sentence for robbery. Ortiz has since appeared on the shows “Southland” and “American Crime,” and McFarland, USA, a Disney Movie.
KPCC’s Priska Neely has more on the network. Here’s a clip:
Growing up in Highland Park, Johnny Ortiz always wanted to be an actor, but he had no idea how to get started.
At the age of five, he recently recounted, he called 4-1-1, asking for advice. The operator gave him a phone number.
“I called the number but it was a false number,” he said. “I guess she just didn’t want to break my dreams, you know?”
Instead of chasing his acting dreams, Ortiz ended up joining a gang at 10 years old. At 15, after being charged with robbery, he landed in juvenile detention.
But it was there that Ortiz was finally exposed to formal acting classes.
Four years ago, the Unusual Suspects Theatre Company came to do a ten-week workshop at Camp David Gonzales in Calabasas. Through the program, inmates learn about performing and write their own plays. At the end of the workshop, professional actors come in and perform what they’ve written.
This experience made Ortiz even more determined to turn his life around and pursue acting once he got out. When he was released, he started volunteering and taking acting classes through the Boyle Heights theater CASA 0101. And eventually started booking gigs – including on the TNT show “Southland,” ABC’s “American Crime” and with Kevin Costner in the Disney film “McFarland, USA.”
POSSIBLE SETTLEMENT IN GABRIEL FERNANDES BRUTAL BEATING
A $2.63 million dollar settlement is expected in a lawsuit against LA County following the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and fatally beaten in 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite numerous reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused. Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including burns all over his body, broken ribs, and a fractured skull.
Attorneys will appear in court Monday at a hearing to dismiss the case, pending the settlement, although the LA County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted to approve the settlement.
Back in April, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against four social workers involved.
City News Service has the story. Here’s a clip:
Two county claims boards voted earlier this month to recommend that the Board of Supervisors pay $2.63 million to settle the claim. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has not yet voted on the matter, but a Lancaster court hearing is set for Monday to dismiss the case pending settlement.
The plaintiff’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.
Family members of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez — including his father, two grandparents, siblings and four other relatives on his father’s side — filed two separate suits alleging that the departments of Children and Family Services and Public Social Services were culpable in the boy’s death, the result of alleged serial abuse by his mother and her boyfriend.
The boy’s mother, Pearl Fernandez, 32, and then-boyfriend, Isauro Aguirre, 36, are charged with murder in Gabriel’s death and prosecutors announced last year that they would seek the death penalty against the two. Both are being held without bail and awaiting a pretrial hearing July 28.