Tuesday, September 1, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

HACLA


LA Jail Plan to be Reconsidered….Rebuilding Jordan Downs….and Bail

August 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAST WEEK’S LA COUNTY JAIL PLAN VOTE APPEARS TO BE IN VIOLATION OF THE BROWN ACT

The LA County Board of Supervisors may have violated the Brown Act when they voted on a proposed amendment to a large-scale plan to divert mentally ill from county jails last Tuesday. The amendment, proposed by Supe. Michael Antonovich, was to launch construction on two new jails—one, a 3,885-bed replacement of Men’s Central Jail (to the tune of $2 billion), and the other, a women’s jail renovation at Mira Loma Detention Facility.

Because the board agenda did not mention there would be a discussion or vote on the jail construction, advocates and others say the vote was illegal according to the Brown Act which guarantees the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local government bodies.

Supe. Antonovich has since submitted a motion to reconsider the jail plans on September 1, but the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg is worried the new “ambiguous” motion also means the jail diversion plan it’s attached to will also be reconsidered, unnecessarily.

“The only thing that really needs to be recalendared and opened for comment is the board’s decision to go ahead with the jail plan,” said Eliasberg. “As far as I’m concerned, the diversion motion was properly noted and should be treated as properly passed.”

The Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We understood that there were members of the public concerned that there was not enough time to participate in the process,” Antonovich spokesman Tony Bell said Monday. “We recalendared the item to make sure anyone who wanted to provide input on this item had that opportunity.”

The vote to continue construction of a $2 billion new jail in downtown L.A. to replace Men’s Central Jail and the renovation of a women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Facility was tacked onto a motion during last week’s meeting on the jail diversion plan.

Antonovich proposed an amendment to the jail diversion motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl that would authorize contractors to continue construction on the two jails and proposed that 4,600 beds be built in the downtown jail that would house mentally ill inmates, inmates who have substance abuse issues and those who require medical attention.

Kuehl proposed a change to Antonovich’s amendment that the new jail have 3,885 beds, which was approved by a 3-1 vote with Supervisor Hilda Solis abstaining.

The diversion plan was approved by a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Don Knabe opposed. Knabe said he wanted to have a flexible number of beds so that if the diversion efforts were successful, the number of beds in the jail could be reduced.

The agenda did not mention there would be discussion or a vote on the jail plan.

The jail plan was discussed at the Aug. 4 board meeting, but no vote was taken. At that meeting, the supervisors discussed a consultant’s report on the number of beds required at the new downtown jail facility.

During last week’s meeting, Peter Eliasberg, ACLU legal advisor, said the vote violated the Brown Act, which governs open meetings for local government bodies. He said the board opened itself up to a lawsuit.

The problematic vote riled the LA Times’ Editorial Board. Here’s the first paragraph of the board’s response:

Why does the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors even bother with agendas? Why post them, why even write them up, if the supervisors are simply going to ignore them and barge ahead with non-agendized business, approving costly and controversial projects such as new jail construction without public notice — without sufficient notice even to one another — and without serious analysis of the consequences?

We’ll keep you updated.


EDITORIAL: LA CAN’T KEEP JORDAN DOWNS WAITING FOR MUCH-NEEDED REBUILD

Plans for major reconstruction of the once-notorious 700-unit Jordan Downs housing project in Watts have been on hold for years.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) has been sitting on a $700 million plan to clean up the subsidized housing community, and add 700 more units, as well as restaurants and shops meant to provide jobs opportunities to Jordan Downs residents and the rest of the Watts community.

Jordan Downs has a history of gang violence, but is not as bad as it once was. The housing project went nearly four years without a homicide (until this April). Before that, from 2000-2011, 25 people were killed there.

Money has been spent on substance abuse treatment, community policing, child care, job training, and other programs including, Project Fatherhood. Through the Project Fatherhood program, men from Jordan Downs meet every week to teach each other, and younger men in the community, how to be fathers.

HACLA has lost out on federal funding, and is in the middle of cleaning up an adjacent toxic factory site on 21 acres, both of which are causing delays. But the LA Times’ Editorial Board says HACLA and city officials must make the Jordan Downs rebuild a priority, and get it built. Here’s a clip:

Numerous challenges lie ahead: There are commitments for some funding but hardly all of it, and the Housing Authority has twice lost out on federal grants for the project. Residents, meanwhile, are fearful of how the rethinking and reconstruction of their homes will change their lives.

The goal of public housing has long been to provide temporary shelter to families who need time to get on their feet before moving on, but Jordan Downs has become a multi-generational village that celebrates together and mourns together. The complex has been the site of both gang warfare and truce.

Questions of ideology and pragmatism lurk in the background. Has traditional public housing failed? Will adding market-rate housing and retail better serve the people who live there? Will the new Jordan Downs be an alternative to old-style projects such as Nickerson Gardens, Imperial Courts and Gonzaque Village, or a model for them?

However those questions are answered, it’s crucial for current and future residents that Jordan Downs be rebuilt into a complex that could offer a way out of subsidized housing and up the economic ladder.

[SNIP]

Plans for the new development have it maintaining 700 units of subsidized housing, and every resident in good standing at the old Jordan Downs is being promised a home there. An additional 700 units of market-rate and affordable housing would also be built. Ideally, subsidized residents would get jobs and earn more income and graduate to nonsubsidized housing, possibly in the same complex. The retail complex would also offer job opportunities for residents in Jordan Downs and throughout Watts.

But first, it has to get built.


AMERICA’S DISEASED BAIL SYSTEM AND PRE-TRIAL DETENTION

The NY Times’ Nick Pinto takes a hard look at bail,the punishment-until-proven-innocent system that disproportionately affects the poor and keeps jails and prisons overflowing.

More than half of the nearly 750,000 people locked in city and county jails nationwide have not been convicted of a crime. And many of them remain in jail awaiting trial because can’t pay the bail amount a judge has set, not because they are a threat to public safety or in danger of absconding.

Time spent in jail pretrial, solely because a poor person gets arrested and can’t afford bail, can be extremely counterproductive for all concerned, causing loss of the person’s job, removing a parent from his or her family unnecessarily, and contributing to the cycle of incarceration that keeps jails and prisons stuffed.

The broken bail system also pressures people to take plea deals they might otherwise refuse, so as not to have to spend weeks, months, or years, behind bars without a conviction. Sometimes, like in the case of Sandra Brown (link), victims of the bail system don’t even make it out alive.

In the case of Kalief Browder, an inability to post $3,000 bail led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged solitary confinement. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of this year. He was 22-years-old.

Here’s how Pinto’s story opens:

On the morning of Nov. 20 last year, Tyrone Tomlin sat in the cage of one of the Brooklyn criminal courthouse’s interview rooms, a bare white cinder-block cell about the size of an office cubicle. Hardly visible through the heavy steel screen in front of him was Alison Stocking, the public defender who had just been assigned to his case. Tomlin, exhausted and frustrated, was trying to explain how he came to be arrested the afternoon before. It wasn’t entirely clear to Tomlin himself. Still in his work clothes, his boots encrusted with concrete dust, he recounted what had happened.

The previous afternoon, he was heading home from a construction job. Tomlin had served two short stints in prison on felony convictions for auto theft and selling drugs in the late ’80s and mid-’90s, but even now, grizzled with white stubble and looking older than his 53 years, he found it hard to land steady work and relied on temporary construction gigs to get by. Around the corner from his home in Crown Heights, the Brooklyn neighborhood where Tomlin has lived his entire life, he ran into some friends near the corner of Schenectady and Lincoln Avenues outside the FM Brothers Discount store, its stock of buckets, mops, backpacks and toilet paper overflowing onto the sidewalk. As he and his friends caught up, two plainclothes officers from the New York Police Department’s Brooklyn North narcotics squad, recognizable by the badges on their belts and their bulletproof vests, paused outside the store. At the time, Tomlin thought nothing of it. ‘‘I’m not doing anything wrong,’’ he remembers thinking. ‘‘We’re just talking.’’

Tomlin broke off to go inside the store and buy a soda. The clerk wrapped it in a paper bag and handed him a straw. Back outside, as the conversation wound down, one of the officers called the men over. He asked one of Tomlin’s friends if he was carrying anything he shouldn’t; he frisked him. Then he turned to Tomlin, who was holding his bagged soda and straw. ‘‘He thought it was a beer,’’ Tomlin guesses. ‘‘He opens the bag up, it was a soda. He says, ‘What you got in the other hand?’ I says, ‘I got a straw that I’m about to use for the soda.’ ’’ The officer asked Tomlin if he had anything on him that he shouldn’t. ‘‘I says, ‘No, you can check me, I don’t have nothing on me.’ He checks me. He’s going all through my socks and everything.’’ The next thing Tomlin knew, he says, he was getting handcuffed. ‘‘I said, ‘Officer, what am I getting locked up for?’ He says, ‘Drug paraphernalia.’ I says, ‘Drug paraphernalia?’ He opens up his hand and shows me the straw.”

Stocking, an attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services, a public-defense office that represents 45,000 indigent clients a year, had picked up Tomlin’s case file a few minutes before interviewing him. The folder was fat, always a bad sign to a public defender. The documentation submitted by the arresting officer explained that his training and experience told him that plastic straws are “a commonly used method of packaging heroin residue.” The rest of the file contained Tomlin’s criminal history, which included 41 convictions, all of them, save the two decades-old felonies, for low-level nonviolent misdemeanors — crimes of poverty like shoplifting food from the corner store. With a record like that, Stocking told her client, the district attorney’s office would most likely ask the judge to set bail, and there was a good chance that the judge would do it. If Tomlin couldn’t come up with the money, he’d go to jail until his case was resolved.

Their conversation didn’t last long. On average, a couple of hundred cases pass through Brooklyn’s arraignment courtrooms every day, and the public defenders who handle the overwhelming majority of those cases rarely get to spend more than 10 minutes with each client before the defendant is called into court for arraignment. Before leaving, Stocking relayed what the assistant district attorney told her a few minutes earlier: The prosecution was prepared to offer Tomlin a deal. Plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of criminal possession of a controlled substance, serve 30 days on Rikers and be done with it. Tomlin said he wasn’t interested. A guilty plea would only add to his record and compound the penalties if he were arrested again. ‘‘They’re mistaken,’’ he told Stocking. ‘‘It’s a regular straw!’’ When the straw was tested by the police evidence lab, he assured her, it would show that he was telling the truth. In the meantime, there was no way he was pleading guilty to anything.

When it was Tomlin’s turn in front of the judge, events unfolded as predicted: The assistant district attorney handling the case offered him 30 days for a guilty plea. After he refused, the A.D.A. asked for bail. The judge agreed, setting it at $1,500. Tomlin, living paycheck to paycheck, had nothing like that kind of money. ‘‘If it had been $100, I might have been able to get that,’’ he said afterward. As it was, less than 24 hours after getting off work, Tomlin was on a bus to Rikers Island, New York’s notorious jail complex, where his situation was about to get a lot worse.

But the bail system wasn’t always this way.

When the concept first took shape in England during the Middle Ages, it was emancipatory. Rather than detaining people indefinitely without trial, magistrates were required to let defendants go free before seeing a judge, guaranteeing their return to court with a bond. If the defendant failed to return, he would forfeit the amount of the bond. The bond might be secured — that is, with some or all of the amount of the bond paid in advance and returned at the end of the trial — or it might not. In 1689, the English Bill of Rights outlawed the widespread practice of keeping defendants in jail by setting deliberately unaffordable bail, declaring that ‘‘excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed.’’ The same language was adopted word for word a century later in the Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Posted in ACLU, HACLA, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, pretrial detention/release, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 3 Comments »

DOJ Says LASD Routinely Violated Civil Rights in Lancaster & Palmdale, Now Wants County to Pay Residents $12.5 Million…So Where Was Department Leadership?

July 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

It seems like we’ve seen this movie before:

Sheriff Lee Baca, once again, ” embraces” a new round of department reforms pressed on him by an outside watchdog agency—in this case, the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, which has painstakingly documented a pile of problems at the LASD stations in the Antelope Valley, that the sheriff is now cooperating to fix. But where was Baca during the years when all the reported racial profiling, the abusive practices, the civil rights and Constitutional violations that the DOJ has been investigating for two years were going on? Where was he when the string of civil lawsuits were being filed and settled, the resident complaints were piling up, and disregarded…?

Do those questions matter? Or is all simply forgiven?


FORK OVER 12.5 MILLION, SAY THE FEDS

On Monday afternoon, U.S. Department of Justice officials demanded that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, LA County’s Housing Authority, plus the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, pay $12.5 million to residents of the Antelope Valley who, according to the DOJ, had been subject to repeated and ongoing harassment, intimidation and civil rights violations by members of the LASD, the Housing Authority and a string of local officials.

(The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Richard Winton have more on the payout demand.)

Monday’s demand from the DOJ was a follow-up to the 46-pages of “findings” delivered to Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, as part of an agreement for widespread reform in how the department polices the Antelope Valley.

In single-spaced detail, the findings accused the LASD of:

a pattern or practice of discriminatory and otherwise unlawful searches and seizures, including the use of unreasonable force, in violation ofthe Fourth Amendment, the Fourteenth Amendment, and Title VI. We found also that deputies assigned to these stations have engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination against African Americans in violation of the Fair Housing Act.”


PATTERN AND PRACTICE IN VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND FEDERAL LAW

Specifically, the DOJ accused LASD’s Lancaster and Palmdale station deputies of such violations as:

**Stopping and/or searching African Americans, and to a lesser extent Latinos, far more often than whites, “even when controlling for factors other than race, such as crime rates.”

**The widespread use of unlawful backseat detentions violating the Fourth Amendment and LASD policy.

NOTE: A “backseat detention” is when officers put someone in the backseat of a patrol car for a period of time. The DOJ report describes instances when someone pulled over for the smallest of vehicle infractions—like a broken license plate light.—would be put in the back of a patrol car and then questioned.

In another instance, the victim in a domestic violence situation was handcuffed and given backseat detention “for no articulated reason.”

** A pattern of unreasonable force, including a pattern of the use of force against handcuffed individuals;

**A pattern of intimidation and harassment of African-American housing choice voucher holders by LASD deputies, often in conjunction with HACoLA investigators.

The report then described how:

“….more often than not, multiple deputy sheriffs, sometimes as many as nine, would accompany HACoLA investigators on their administrative housing checks. Deputies would routinely approach the voucher holder’s home with guns drawn, occasionally in full SWAT armor, and conduct searches and questioning once inside.

And so on.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department disagrees with the findings completely, but is cooperating with the DOJ. “We stand resolute that we have not discriminated against members of the public. We haven’t seen any racial profiling.”


SO WHERE WAS THE LASD LEADERSHIP ON ALL THIS??

Curiously absent from the discussions of the DOJ’s findings is the observation that the responsibility for this alleged entrenched pattern of corrosive behavior on the part of department members in the Antelope Valley ultimately must come back to supervision and leadership. The DOJ investigated for two years, but there were plenty of earlier red flags—the piles of resident complaints that were routinely ignored, a bunch of high ticket civil lawsuits that alleged discomforting abuses, the reports of Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, who warned that matters were not well in Antelope Valley.

And then there were the tattoos:

Some Antelope Valley deputies wear tattoos or share paraphernalia with an intimidating skull and snake symbol as a mark of their affiliation with the Antelope Valley stations. Though there are varying interpretations of what these tattoos may symbolize, they provide an undeniable visual representation of a gulf between deputies and the community, and are an unfortunate reminder of LASD’s history of symbols associated with problematic deputy behavior.

As noted above, the DOJ and the LASD have reached preliminary agreements to make signicant changes to policing in the Antelope Valley, which include recruiting more African American and Latino officers to the area, participating in community outreach in order to engage residents in a “collaborative relationship,” revising training and use of force polices, and more.

Whitmore told the AP’s Greg Risling that the department now has an exhaustive process to determine whether deputies need to come out during housing inspections. Deputies also carry complaint forms when they are on patrol. The forms are also available at the front desk of the two stations.

In other words, as it was with the jails. Sheriff Lee Baca is now responding to external pressures to correct what needs correcting—all of which is, of course, good. But where was he (and other department leaders) earlier? Why were years of warnings ignored? Why does it take radical action on the part of the DOJ or the FBI or the press or a Citizens Committee on Jail Violence to force the changes that should have been put in place long ago?

Posted in Civil Rights, HACLA, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 58 Comments »

Welcome to 2012: Deeper HACLA Probes, MT Challenges Citizens United & More

January 4th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


CITY CONTROLLER WENDY GREUEL GOES AFTER FREE-SPENDING HOUSING AUTHORITY’S HIDDEN NON-PROFIT MONEY SOURCES

KCET’s local news show So-Cal Connected has done a killer job digging into the appalling spending excess mess running rife through the Los Angeles Housing Authority—HACLA.

However at first, City Controller Wendy Greuel was a little slower off the mark than we’d have liked in investigating HACLA aggressively (as the LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson points out here). But now the Controller has shifted into high gear—as evidenced by her announcement Tuesday that she has expanded her probe of HACLA to include the Housing Authority’s non-profit ventures, which she notes produced a tidy $15 million a year in net income—money that HACLA execs evidently thought was their own personal expense fund to raid at will for $2000 staff lunches, rampant high ticket travel junkets, endless limo use, personal gifts, “employee incentives” in the form of ipods and ipads, and more—all with seemingly no accountability.

Now Greuel aims to go deeper, her office said in Tuesday’s statement:

In a letter to HACLA’s interim President and CEO Doug Guthrie, Greuel indicated that her probe will expand to the enterprise activities run by the Authority that together produce a profit of more than $15 million a year. These activities include rental income for the 2,500 units owned and managed by HACLA’s nonprofits as well as the activities of the LOMOD Corporations and their subcontractors, which oversee the administration of HUD contracts.

This second phase of Greuel’s audit of HACLA follows last month’s announcement which revealed that HACLA officials were involved in wasteful spending, double dipping and irresponsible expenditures coupled with news of a $1.2 million payout to recently ousted Housing Authority CEO Rudolf Montiel.

NOTE: The video above, courtesy of Ron Kaye, show’s HACLA’s second ousted directer in a row, Ken Simmons, offering a retch-producing explanation of how all that lunch and limo money taken out of the agency’s non-profit earnings wasn’t, like, really stealing from the taxpayers or anything….

Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, dude.

Go Wendy!


THE STATE OF MONTANA’S SUPREMES CHALLENGE SCOTUS’S INFAMOUS 2010 “CITIZEN’S UNITED” RULING ON CAMPAIGN SPENDING

See, this is yet one more reason to love Big Sky country:

Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal has an article on the matter but it’s hidden behind their pay wall, so go here to get it from Google News.

Here’s how the article by Jess Bravin opens:

The U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 striking down federal limits on corporate and union political spending doesn’t apply to similar state laws, the Montana Supreme Court has found, renewing a legal debate over how sweeping the high court intended its ruling to be.

In a decision released late Friday, the Montana court held that the state’s Corrupt Practices Act, a century-old voter initiative banning corporate spending to support or oppose political candidates or parties, complies with the U.S. Supreme Court’s January 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.

The justices voted 5-4 in Citizens United that corporations and unions had First Amendment rights to spend as they wished to favor or oppose candidates, regardless of the government’s view that such expenditures could corrupt elections for Congress and the presidency.

That last part about corrupting elections was what the Montana Supreme Court disagreed with. Corporate spending had, in fact, corrupted elections in the state, the MT Supremes ruled. And they had a list of instances to prove the point.

Their ruling will, of course, likely be appealed—to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Eugene Volokh has moreand he predicts that SCOTUS will agree to hear the case, then reverse the MT ruling.


AS THE NEW YEAR DAWNS, A LIST OF STATES TALK ABOUT THE HIGH COST OF THE PRISON BOOM

Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law and Policy has compiled a list of articles from around the country in which the states’ newspapers talk about the need for sentencing and corrections reforms.

Below, for example, is a snippet of what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has to say:

Stepping away from a lock-em-up philosophy might have been the equivalent of political suicide in the 1990s, but that’s hardly the case today. Many leading conservatives — including Newt Gingrich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and many others — support an approach that de-emphasizes prison for non-violent offenders.

Texas was among the first states to change course. In 2007, facing the need to spend $540 million to build new prisons expected to cost another $1.5 billion to run, the state decided to spend a fraction of the anticipated prison costs on alternative programs for non-violent offenders. Since the change, both the crime rate and the incarceration rate have declined.

In 2010, South Carolina adopted a reform package after lawmakers found that prisons were packed with repeat and non-violent offenders. The changes, projected to save up to $175 million in prison construction costs and $66 million in operating costs over five years, are designed to improve public safety. North Carolina also adopted sweeping legislation last year that will reduce spending on corrections with the goal of increasing public safety through programs that should cut repeat offenses.

[Georgia Gov. Nathan] Deal said changes enacted in other states will give Georgia models to consider. And so far, he said, he is hearing positive responses from lawmakers of all stripes. “As members of the General Assembly continue to see demands placed on them to appropriate more money for incarceration and see the numbers of inmates continue to rise substantially every year,” Deal said, “I think they’re certainly willing to embrace these changes.”

Yoooo-hooo, California lawmakers..…?! Why are you letting all these other more conservative state legislators move ahead of you, while you crouch behind your collective desks with your fingers in your ears, humming—hoping no one will notice?

I got news: We’ve noticed.


NOTE: PART 4 OF WLA’S DANGEROUS JAILS REPORT BY MATT FLEISCHER WILL APPEAR NEXT WEEK.

In the meantime, many, many thanks to those of you from the LASD—both actively working and recently retired—who have been giving us excellent tips, fact-checking help, guidance and encouragement as we continue to report. Please keep it coming.

Posted in City Controller, HACLA, How Appealing, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »