Saturday, October 25, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Homelessness


Realignment and Homeless Probationers, San Francisco to Nix Costly Jail Phone Calls, and Restorative Justice in Massachusetts Prisons

July 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

INCREASE IN HOMELESS AB109 PROBATIONERS, AND HOW COUNTIES ARE DEALING WITH THE ISSUE

The diversion of lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision through California prison realignment, AB 109, was designed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding and recidivism while saving the state money. But realignment has greatly increased the number of homeless people under county supervision, where they were previously supervised under state parole officers, and many counties are struggling with the expanded responsibility.

Los Angeles County may decide to consider homelessness a violation of an inmate’s terms of release, a “solution” that many advocates see as more destructive than effective (and WLA agrees). Other counties are increasing shelter beds or providing temporary shelter for homeless probationers.

The Associated Press’ Gillian Flaccus has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Gov. Jerry Brown based his recent overhaul of the state corrections system in part on the idea that having those convicted of lower-level crimes supervised by county probation officers instead of state parole agents when they are released would help them stay clean, find jobs and avoid committing new crimes.

A cornerstone of the law’s success is housing, yet county probation officers throughout the state say homelessness continues to undermine their ability to help ex-cons rehabilitate, get drug treatment and find jobs. Some California counties report that up to one in five of the parolees they supervise under the governor’s realignment law is homeless.

“You’ve got somebody and … they’re gang-involved, you want to get them in classes, but they live under a bridge,” said Andrew Davis, an analyst with the Santa Cruz County Probation Department. “They’re not going to show up; they don’t know what day of the week it is.”

Counties across the state are dealing with the problem in different ways. Many are trying a patchwork of solutions as they adapt.

In Marin County, probation officers sometimes pick homeless parolees up at the prison gates and pay for motel rooms until they can find a bed. Santa Cruz County has contracted with local homeless shelters, a move that stirred controversy last year.

Homeless parolees in Riverside County are required to check in at an electronic kiosk and have their photo taken daily. In San Diego County, where nearly 400 former prison inmates are reporting as homeless, there’s a plan to spend $3 million to add 150 shelter beds. Parolees who say they are homeless must check in weekly with probation.

In Los Angeles County, where 758 convicts released under realignment say they have no permanent address, county attorneys are considering whether being homeless could be classified as an automatic violation of a parolee’s terms of release. That’s in part because many counties are finding that former inmates will claim homelessness to avoid close supervision.

Los Angeles has spent more than $6.5 million on housing for convicts who would have previously been the responsibility of state parole.

Counties say the number of lower-level offenders — defined as those who have committed crimes that are non-serious, non-sexual and non-violent — who are homeless upon their release has not necessarily changed since the realignment law took effect in 2011. State officials are still tallying the number.

The difference is that previously, these felons were the state’s responsibility. Counties are not strangers to dealing with homeless probationers, but now the numbers have increased.

Read on.


SAN FRANCISCO MOVES TO LOWER EXORBITANT RATES FOR LOCAL PHONE CALLS FROM JAIL

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates (through their families) for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. But because the cap only applies to out-of-state calls, contracted companies like Global Tel-Link continue to charge inmates’ families outsized fees for in-state calls and other services.

Last week, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to modify the county’s contract with Global Tel-Link to reduce the costs of local and regional calls from SF County jails by up to 70%. San Francisco is one of the first counties to take a stand against contractors like GTL overcharging inmates’ loved ones. We hope other counties in California (ahem, Los Angeles) and other states follow suit.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has the story. Here’s a clip:

The steep charges are the result of a contracting system in which the companies pay “commissions” to correctional institutions — in some cases to pay for inmate programs — while charging fees to cover those costs, according to regulators, lawmakers and inmate advocates.

Now, San Francisco is taking steps to halt the practice — one of the nation’s first local jurisdictions to do so.

At San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi’s urging, the Board of Supervisors last week voted unanimously to amend the county contract with Virginia-based GTL to dramatically reduce the cost of calls, which can burden inmates’ families.

“We just decided to stop the bleeding of poor people,” Mirkarimi said, noting that successful reentry into society often depends on strong family ties.

The cost of a 15-minute collect in-state regional call, such as those to a neighboring county, will drop by 70%, to $4.05 from $13.35. A 15-minute collect local call will now cost $2.75 instead of $4.45 — a 38% drop.

Earlier this year, the FCC capped the cost of interstate calls from correctional facilities between 21 and 25 cents per minute, and federal regulators are exploring whether to expand those efforts to in-state calls.

So far, most state efforts have focused on prisons, not local jails, like San Francisco’s.

California and at least seven other states ban prisons from accepting commissions…

Verizon, which isn’t in the corrections business, has weighed in against the practice, telling the FCC: “Forcing inmates’ families to fund [inmate services] through their calling rates is not the answer. … Other funding sources should be pursued.”

County-run jails have opposed regulation, and have largely managed to avoid it.

Assemblyman Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) hopes to change that. He has introduced a bill that would ban commissions and require contracts to be awarded to providers offering the lowest cost of service for inmates. It would apply to all jails and juvenile facilities statewide.

The California State Sheriffs’ Assn. opposes the measure, contending the changes would “negatively impact inmates” by reducing funds for inmate services.

But Quirk said, “I think there are better ways to fund it other than taxing grandma.”

The bill, which passed the Assembly, goes before the Senate Appropriations Committee in August.


MASSACHUSETTS TO LAUNCH RESTORATIVE JUSTICE PROGRAM IN PRISONS

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a new restorative justice prison program (based on the Victim Offender Education Group at San Quentin State Prison) aimed at reducing recidivism. During the 34-week course, offenders will have the opportunity to connect with victims in a mutually healing environment and take responsibility for harm they caused to others.

The NY Times’ Dina Kraft has the story. Here’s how it opens:

For many of his 15 years behind the soaring prison walls here, Muhammad Sahin managed to suppress thinking of his victims’ anguish — even that of the one who haunted him most, a toddler who peeked out from beneath her blankets the night he shot and killed her mother in a gang-ordered hit.

But he found it impossible to stop the tears as he sat in a circle together with Deborah Wornum, a woman whose son was murdered, and more than a dozen other men serving terms for homicide and other violent crimes. Each participant — victim and inmate — had a very different, personal story to share with the encounter groups that met here on a recent weekend in a process called restorative justice.

Ms. Wornum, 58, talked about the summer night three years ago when her son Aaron, a 25-year-old musician, walked out of their home with a cheerful “Be right back.” Forty minutes later the phone rang. It was a hospital; her son had been shot. He took his final breath in her arms.

“You touched me the most because it really made me understand what I put the family through,” said Mr. Sahin, 37, who was 22 when he killed the young mother. Taking a deep breath, broad shoulders bent forward, he continued. “I really don’t know how to overcome this or if I can overcome it. I’ve done a lot of bad stuff in my life. But I’ve reached a place where I’m not numb anymore.”

Lifting his head to look directly at Ms. Wornum, he projected his crime onto the murder of her son: “I kind of feel like I caused the pain, like I’m the one who committed the crime.”

The unusual two-day gathering took place south of Boston at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Norfolk, one of the state’s oldest prisons as well as its largest, with about 1,500 inmates. Under the whirring of overhead fans in an auditorium of exposed red brick, it brought 150 inmates together with victims, judges, prosecutors and mediators. Gov. Deval Patrick attended briefly and met with a small group of those present.

Restorative justice, a process with roots in Native American and other indigenous cultures that resurfaced in the United States and abroad in the 1970s, has begun to make headway in some states, including Massachusetts, where legislation was introduced last year to promote its practice. It brings offenders and victims together voluntarily. Offenders take responsibility and acknowledge the impact their actions had on their victims and loved ones as well as their own families and neighborhoods. The victim is given a chance to ask questions of the offenders and share how their lives were affected by the crime. Advocates say it is key to rehabilitation and reduced recidivism….

In September, Massachusetts will pilot a curriculum on restorative justice, modeled on a program called the Victim Offender Education Group, which was developed for California’s San Quentin State Prison. Meeting weekly for 34 weeks, participants will undergo a probing process aimed at acquiring accountability for the harm they caused.

Posted in Homelessness, jail, Probation, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Restorative Justice | No Comments »

$5.9M LAPD Ticket Quota Settlement…Fed. Judge Orders Improved Care for CA’s Mentally Ill on Death Row…LA Social Worker Strike Ends…and More

December 11th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LAPD TRAFFIC TICKET QUOTA LAWSUIT SETTLED FOR ALMOST $6M

On Tuesday, the LA City Council approved unanimously a $5.9M settlement to 11 LAPD officers who claimed they were forced by superiors (namely West Traffic Division Captain Nancy Lauer) to comply with a traffic ticket quota of 18 tickets per shift, 80% of which were to be for major violations. The officers further alleged that they were retaliated against when the failed to make the quota or raised objection to it.

The settlement brings the LAPD’s total for legal fees and payouts from quota suits to roughly $10M, with one more case pending, according to the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Catherine Saillant. Here are some clips:

The ticket controversy has been a black eye for the Los Angeles Police Department. Ticket quotas are against state law. After the officers’ allegations were made public, LAPD officials met with police union representatives and signed a letter emphasizing that the department prohibits quotas.

Dennis Zine, a former City Council member and career LAPD motorcycle officer, said the settlement calls into question LAPD’s traffic division management. Zine is also incensed that Capt. Nancy Lauer, who ran the LAPD’s West Traffic Division at the time of the allegations, has been promoted.

“This whole thing clearly shows me that management did not do what they needed to do and taxpayers are footing the bill for that,’’ said Zine, who lost a bid for city controller in this year’s municipal elections.

[SNIP]

The lawsuits alleged that Lauer, who ran the division starting in 2006, required officers to write at least 18 traffic tickets each shift and demanded that 80% of the citations be for major violations.

Officers who failed to meet the alleged ticket minimums or raised concerns about them were reprimanded, denied overtime assignments, given undesirable work schedules, and subjected to other forms of harassment, according to the lawsuits. In a few instances, Lauer allegedly tried to kick officers out of the motorcycle unit, the lawsuits claim.

In a statement, Chief Charlie Beck defended the division’s practices. Management set “goals” to reduce traffic violations that resulted in serious injury and death, Beck said, but the jury in a separate 2009 case interpreted that as quotas, he said.

“We do not agree with the original jury’s findings,” he said. “Unfortunately the large jury award in the earlier court case made settling this case the most prudent business decision.”

Lauer, who currently runs one of the department’s patrol divisions, said she instructed officers to ticket illegal driving but did not set quotas.

The LA Daily News’ Rick Orlov also covered this story. Here’s a clip of LA Police Protective League Prez Tyler Izen’s take on the settlement:

Los Angeles Police Protective League President Tyler Izen said he hopes the suit sends a message to the department.

“I hope this is the last time any of our officers have to settle a grievance in the court system,” Izen said. “I would like to see us get to a point where we can figure out a way to enforce the laws without us ending up in court.”


FEDERAL JUDGE RULES THAT CALIFORNIA’S MENTALLY ILL DEATH ROW INMATES NEED INPATIENT PSYCHIATRIC CARE

On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that the CDCR is not providing adequate psychiatric treatment to California’s mentally ill death row inmates, and ordered state officials to come up with a solution. The ruling by US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton (a member of that three-judge panel who ordered Gov. Jerry Brown’s compliance with a prison population reduction SCOTUS ruling) is a development in a federal case brought in 1991 against the state alleging rampant abuse of mentally ill prisoners. (Here is an October WLA post about recent hearings.)

The Associated Press’ Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ordered state officials to work with a court-appointed monitor to find solutions. Options include creating a specialized inpatient psychiatric facility at San Quentin State Prison, which houses condemned inmates.

State officials are not meeting their constitutional duty to provide condemned inmates with sufficient inpatient treatment, the Sacramento-based judge said in a 28-page ruling.

“The state is committed to providing quality medical and mental health care for all inmates,” Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, said in a statement. She said the state will work with the court’s special master to make sure that mentally ill inmates on death row receive proper care.

Michael Bien, an attorney who represents mentally ill inmates in the ongoing class-action lawsuit, called the ruling “a very significant victory.”

[SNIP]

Inmates’ attorneys would not object to creating a psychiatric unit at San Quentin to treat inmates awaiting execution, Bien said. That would keep the inmates close to their families and attorneys while saving the state the expense of building a high-security mental health unit at another prison, he said.


LA COUNTY DCFS STRIKE ENDS, BUT NOT BEFORE DEMONSTRATORS ARE ARRESTED

A six-day LA County social worker strike ended Tuesday after heated rallies and the arrests of seven protestors who refused to move from the middle of an intersection. (In case you missed the story this week: the striking DCFS workers were demanding smaller caseloads in order for DCFS workers to adequately serve LA’s “most vulnerable” kids.)

DiamondBar-Walnut Patch posted this story from City News Service. Here’s a clip:

Social workers who walked off the job Thursday were expected back at work Wednesday. The resumption of labor talks was bargained by a mediator brought in by the county, officials said.

“Today the county got the message loud and clear,” according to Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union Local 721. “When they saw the incredible solidarity of our members on the street, the supervisors knew they had to act. And now I’m hopeful that we can work through the mediator to reach a settlement with the county.”

Four women and three men taking part in a strike rally were arrested in downtown Los Angeles during a planned act of civil disobedience. Los Angeles police Officer Sara Faden said the seven refused to leave the area after being warned by police…

Child welfare workers with the Department of Child and Family Services are asking for lower caseloads, a demand the county says it’s willing to meet.

“What is a little frustrating is that the department’s commitment is absolute,” county CEO William Fujioka told the Board of Supervisors.

About 100 social workers have already been hired and will take on full caseloads next month. Another 150 are set to go through DCFS training in January and February, and the department will ask the board for additional hires shortly, Fujioka said.

The union wants 35 new hires every month until 595 new social workers are brought on board to be assured of a maximum caseload of 30 children per social worker, according to SEIU Local 721 spokesman Lowell Goodman.

Based on the hires already in the pipeline, DCFS Director Philip Browning has estimated that the average caseload would come down to 29 by January and as low as the mid-20s by August.


RECOMMENDED LONGREAD: LIFE FOR A HOMELESS CHILD IN A NEW YORK SHELTER

We didn’t want you to miss NY Times’ Andrea Elliot’s excellent five-part longread that, over the course of several months, follows an eleven-year-old named Dasani who shares a room in a crumbling Brooklyn shelter with her parents and seven younger siblings. Here’s how it opens:

She wakes to the sound of breathing. The smaller children lie tangled beside her, their chests rising and falling under winter coats and wool blankets. A few feet away, their mother and father sleep near the mop bucket they use as a toilet. Two other children share a mattress by the rotting wall where the mice live, opposite the baby, whose crib is warmed by a hair dryer perched on a milk crate.

Slipping out from her covers, the oldest girl sits at the window. On mornings like this, she can see all the way across Brooklyn to the Empire State Building, the first New York skyscraper to reach 100 floors. Her gaze always stops at that iconic temple of stone, its tip pointed celestially, its facade lit with promise.

“It makes me feel like there’s something going on out there,” says the 11-year-old girl, never one for patience. This child of New York is always running before she walks. She likes being first — the first to be born, the first to go to school, the first to make the honor roll.

Even her name, Dasani, speaks of a certain reach. The bottled water had come to Brooklyn’s bodegas just before she was born, catching the fancy of her mother, who could not afford such indulgences. It hinted at a different, upwardly mobile clientele, a set of newcomers who over the next decade would transform the borough.

Dasani’s own neighborhood, Fort Greene, is now one of gentrification’s gems. Her family lives in the Auburn Family Residence, a decrepit city-run shelter for the homeless. It is a place where mold creeps up walls and roaches swarm, where feces and vomit plug communal toilets, where sexual predators have roamed and small children stand guard for their single mothers outside filthy showers.

It is no place for children. Yet Dasani is among 280 children at the shelter. Beyond its walls, she belongs to a vast and invisible tribe of more than 22,000 homeless children in New York, the highest number since the Great Depression, in the most unequal metropolis in America.

Nearly a quarter of Dasani’s childhood has unfolded at Auburn, where she shares a 520-square-foot room with her parents and seven siblings. As they begin to stir on this frigid January day, Dasani sets about her chores.

Her mornings begin with Baby Lele, whom she changes, dresses and feeds, checking that the formula distributed by the shelter is not, once again, expired. She then wipes down the family’s small refrigerator, stuffed with lukewarm milk, Tropicana grape juice and containers of leftover Chinese. After tidying the dresser drawers she shares with a sister, Dasani rushes her younger siblings onto the school bus.

“I have a lot on my plate,” she says, taking inventory: The fork and spoon are her parents and the macaroni, her siblings — except for Baby Lele, who is a plump chicken breast.

“So that’s a lot on my plate — with some corn bread,” she says. “That’s a lot on my plate.”

Dasani guards her feelings closely, dispensing with anger through humor. Beneath it all is a child whose existence is defined by her siblings. Her small scrub-worn hands are always tying shoelaces or doling out peanut butter sandwiches, taking the ends of the loaf for herself. The bond is inescapable. In the presence of her brothers and sisters, Dasani has no peace. Without them, she is incomplete.

Homeless children across the country are living in very similar conditions—many without even a shelter to provide the most basic necessities. In LA County, two-thirds of the 7,400 homeless family members are children, in addition to 819 unaccompanied minors, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority’s 2013 homeless count.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, DCFS, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LAPPL, Mental Illness, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Inmate Tech Entrepreneur Program Comes to Twin Towers…Help for LA’s Homeless Moms…Suicide of Deputy’s Girlfriend Leaves Much Unanswered…and a Bill for Brightly-Colored Fake Guns

November 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS

A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.

If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.

KPCC’s Martha Mendoza has the story. Here’s a clip:

The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.

“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…

“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.

After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.

Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.

The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.

They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.


NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.

The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:

Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.

[SNIP]

About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.

To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.

Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS

In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.

Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.

The NY Times’ Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber have an excellent interactive narrative of the case and the aftermath. (A PBS “Frontline” documentary produced concurrently with the article will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10:00p.m., but has already been released on the PBS website.)

Here are some clips:

At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.

Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.

Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.

“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”

Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.

With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.

Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.

Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.

Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.

Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.

Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.

And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.

Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.

[SNIP]

The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.

The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.

(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has the story. Here’s a clip:

The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.

“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”

De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.

That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Released After 40 Years in Solitary, Tanaka’s Denials, Baca’s Pitchman Fiasco, and Gov. Brown’s Bill-Signing

October 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

JUDGE ORDERS RELEASE OF DYING PRISONER AFTER DECADES IN ISOLATION

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has a heartening update on a piece he wrote last week about Herman Wallace, a member of a group of Black Panthers known as the Angola 3, who was held in solitary for 40 years on an disturbingly weak murder conviction. (Seriously. Go read the original piece.)

Wallace, now suffering from advanced liver cancer, was denied compassionate release by state officials. His last ditch hope for mercy was a case review by federal trial judge Brian Jackson.

On Tuesday, Judge Jackson ordered Wallace to be immediately released on the grounds that Wallace’s 14th Amendment rights had been violated when women were not allowed to serve on his jury.

Here are some clips from Cohen’s latest piece:

U.S. District Judge Brian A. Jackson did a remarkably good and decent thing today — something that every judge should aspire to do in the right circumstances. He found a way to bring a small measure of justice to a man whose entire life had been rife with injustice. He found a way to order the immediate release of Herman Wallace, a terminally ill prisoner who spent 40 years in solitary confinement at the notorious Angola prison in Louisiana in a 6′ by 9′ cell for a murder there was no valid evidence he committed.

Last week, I wrote about this case here at The Atlantic because I felt it comprised so many of the failings of the American justice system. A black man whose trial is marked by racial animus. A defendant whose attorney does unconscionable work. A lack of physical evidence or adequate investigation. Co-defendants and state witnesses with obvious incentives to lie. Punishment that was both cruel and unusual. Deliberate indifference on the part of reviewing courts. It all happened to Herman Wallace. All of it and more; his case was a disgrace from the beginning.

Here is the link to Judge Jackson’s order. If you read it, you will discover that he did not focus upon any of these constitutional infirmities in granting Wallace the relief he sought. Instead, Judge Jackson held that the original indictment against Wallace, over 40 years ago, was constitutionally flawed because women were excluded from his grand jury. So you can add “equal protection violation” to the heap of ways in which Wallace’s rights were denied by our courts for four decades.

Mother Jones’ Hannah Levintova also covered Herman Wallace’s release. Here’s a clip:

Herman Wallace was freed on Tuesday evening. His legal team issued a statement saying the “four decades which Mr. Wallace spent in solitary confinement conditions will be the subject of litigation which will continue even after Mr. Wallace passes away. It is Mr. Wallace’s hope that this litigation will help ensure that others, including his lifelong friend and fellow ‘Angola 3′ member, Albert Woodfox, do not continue to suffer such cruel and unusual confinement even after Mr. Wallace is gone.”

And the NY Times editorial board echoed Cohen’s frustration with this justice system defect. Here are the two final paragraphs:

The standard justifications for imprisonment — incapacitation, deterrence and retribution — become irrelevant in a prisoner’s final days or weeks. Elderly people near death do not commit crimes, and refusing mercy to an aged, dying prisoner does not deter anyone from criminality. That leaves retribution, or the belief that it is somehow in society’s interest to ensure that some prisoners suffer until the day they die. The state penal systems that operate under this view are not making society more just.

To the contrary, as the prison population in the United States rapidly ages — the number of prisoners older than 55 nearly quadrupled between 1995 and 2010 — this brutal mentality harms everyone. The capacity for mercy, critical to any justice system, is eroded every time those in power fail to exercise it wisely.


TANAKA DENIES COMMISSION’S FINDINGS…AND MORE

In an interview with the Malibu Times’ Melissa Caskey, former undersheriff and current sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka appeared to have an attack of truthiness in refuting allegations regarding his role in creating a culture of inmate abuse in LA County jails and his involvement in alleged unethical fundraising for Carmen Trutanich’s DA campaign. (We suspect that a lot of Tanaka’s denials are going to haunt him as the election heats up.)

Here are some clips from Caskey’s article:

The department is currently the subject of separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over allegations of corruption, inmate abuse and bribery. Tanaka was specifically accused by a blue ribbon commission of helping to create a climate in the county jail system in which aggression among deputies was encouraged, loyalty placed above merit and discipline discouraged, according to reports. Tanaka resigned following the commission’s findings in what was widely perceived as pressure from Baca.

But Tanaka, formerly a trusted lieutenant of Baca who served as his second-in-command from 2011 until his ouster, denied the allegations last week and said he has been made a scapegoat in the process.

“That [report] was by a blue ribbon commission, none of whom have ever worked inside of a jail,” he said.

“If you go back and read all the testimony, you’ll see that if you did not like Paul Tanaka, you went in there and you made all these allegations,” he said. “You never got questioned on your credibility, or your sources, or whether or not you were telling the truth.”

[SNIP]

In addition to the jails inquiry, the FBI is investigating claims by a former Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff’s deputy that the former captain at the station told him and other subordinates to sell tickets to a 2011 fundraiser for Carmen Trutanich’s unsuccessful bid for district attorney. Baca, who campaigned for Trutanich, denied issuing orders down the chain of command to raise money for allies, but the investigation has been seen to weaken his re-election candidacy.

Tanaka said he was aware of the allegations and said he had “expressed his disapproval” to Baca of “certain individuals that hung around” him, but that he had no knowledge of any improper fundraising.


THE BACA NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENT ENDORSEMENT SAGA CONTINUES

Baca’s latest embarrassment does not appear to be vanishing any time soon. Both Gene Maddaus of the LA Weekly and the LA Times editorial board have now weighed in on the controversial story.

Here’s a clip from the sharply-worded LA Times piece:

Sheriff Lee Baca, his spokesman says, wouldn’t have been so enthusiastic about the nutritional supplements he was pitching if he’d known the promotional video would be seen by the public. That backward mea culpa is just as poorly thought out as the Los Angeles County sheriff’s unseemly use of his public office to promote a company’s product.

[SNIP]

It doesn’t help that the company itself has been the target of multiple complaints to the Federal Trade Commission that it is running a pyramid scheme. But even if Baca were pitching a universally admired product, his ad-man appearance would be an embarrassment to his office and the county. We’d say it’s an embarrassment to Baca himself, especially considering that he received a campaign donation and travel money from Yor Health, though he was not paid for the video appearances. But it’s unclear at this point exactly what it would take for the sheriff — with his poor management of the jails and the continual allegations of special treatment for his friends and donors — to feel shame.

And here’s a clip from Gene Maddaus’ witty assessment:

Sheriff Lee Baca has always been a little strange, but he’s 71 now, and his eccentricities are becoming more pronounced with age. Among his more out-there ideas is his fixation on living to be 100 years old.

How’s he going to do that? So glad you asked! With YOR Health nutritional shakes!

As ABC7 reported on Monday, Baca has been doing promotional videos for YOR Health — a multi-level marketing company which, depending on whom you ask, may or may not be a pyramid scheme. Baca seems to believe that the company’s products will allow him to cheat death for decades to come.

“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” he says in one promotional video.

Well, if ex-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa can promote a multi-level marketing company, then why not the sheriff? Well, there is the small fact that Baca is still in office. Generally, you’re supposed to cash in on your government service only after you quit.


BILLS, BILLS, BILLS

Gov. Brown this week signed a multitude of bills on education, foster care, and homelessness. Here are a few of the highlights:


AB 549

A bill prompting school districts to set up clear guidelines for the role of police and mental health professionals on campus, AB 549, was signed into law.

The Associated Press has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

The bill by Democratic Assemblyman Reginald Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles encourages schools to prioritize mental health and intervention services as well as positive-behavior intervention over punitive measures such as expulsion.


AB 652

Here’s a clip from LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy about AB 652, an approved addition to the Child Abuse and Neglect Reporting Act:

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) said his bill gives those serving foster youths discretion in cases where youths might otherwise be taken into police custody or returned to a home from which they have fled.

“Young people escaping intolerant homes can now begin to get the help they need, so they don’t have to remain homeless – without ending up in police custody or being returned to unsupportive environments,” Ammiano said in arguing for his AB 652.


SB 342

Authored by Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), SB 342, says that no more than two consecutive monthly meetings between a foster child and their social worker can be held outside the foster home. At the same time, it requires social workers to inform youths that they can ask that a private conversation with the social worker take place away from their foster home and caregiver.


SB 744

A bill to establish safeguards for kids that are transferred or involuntarily transferred to community schools, SB 744, is still on Brown’s desk. Among other things, the bill would ensure that involuntarily transferred students are given “geographically accessible” schooling options. This is really important for the many kids in rural areas who are removed from traditional schools but have no means of getting to the nearest community school. (Susan Ferriss of the Center for Public Integrity has recently done some excellent reporting on this issue.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, Homelessness, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary | 12 Comments »

Central CA School Replaces Zero-Tolerance With Restorative Justice…VA Group Aids Homeless Female Vets…Baca & Yor Health…and More

October 1st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LE GRAND HIGH SCHOOL’S “RESTORATIVE JUSTICE LEAGUE” ANNIHILATES ZERO-TOLERANCE PRACTICES

In her blog, ACEs Too High, journalist/child advocate, Jane Stevens brings to our attention a little high school in Le Grand (a rural town in Central California) that has eradicated zero-tolerance school discipline and replaced it with restorative justice practices to great success. The program, funded by the California Endowment, began as a group of twelve seniors, self-titled the “Restorative Justice League” acting as peer-mediators. Now, in it’s third year, the program has expanded and become a meaningful example for other California schools. Last year, suspensions were down 70% from two years prior, and expulsions dropped from six to just one.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ story:

At Le Grand High School, all 487 students are given a tablet computer for the year. They’re free to use cell phones (appropriately). One-third of the students participate in after-school programs, including martial arts and cooking. Where there used to be regular gang brawls, only two fights have occurred over the last two years. Half of last year’s graduates attend college.

The school, which also draws students from the nearby communities of Planada and Plainsburg, isn’t wealthy. In fact, the high school is 100% “free and reduced” — education-speak for the fact that students come from farm families (workers and owners) that live just above, at, or below poverty level. But [Principal Javier] Martinez is a grant-writing machine. Over the last five years, he’s brought nearly $2 million to the school to support technology and programs for the students and their parents, including a restorative justice program.

At the core of this restorative justice program is the Restorative Justice League. Starting off as a dozen students flailing uncomfortably with their mission, they evolved into a tight-knit band that jumped in to help resolve a major school crisis. In doing so, they became the tipping point in the school’s decision to jettison its zero tolerance policy, and replace it with a supportive approach to school discipline.

[SNIP]

They trained to become peer mediators by role-playing made-up conflicts, and by discussing the confrontations they saw at school and developing strategies to intervene appropriately. Then Griggs gave them assignments, such as talking with a student they had never spoken to. Each took a different approach. For example, Briana Biagi talked with a fellow student at a college entrance exam, while Yuhuen Ceja texted to as many of the students as she could: “Who wants to be my friend?” “That got a lot of people talking to me,” she said.

[SNIP]

By June, the Restorative Justice League students have trained 50 juniors, sophomores and freshman to be mentors for the 2013-2014 school year’s incoming freshmen. They hosted a restorative justice conference for students from surrounding school districts. And, they have seven interventions under their belts.

Their first intervention was for a fellow senior, a gang member who got into a fight and broke his hand. At an intervention panel, the Restorative Justice League members listen to students who have committed an offense that would normally result in suspension or expulsion, offer ideas for restitution, and, if the students agree, follow up to make sure they carry through. In the case of this gang member, they asked him to write a formal apology, to clean up after all school dances, and to become involved in something positive after school. The process uncorked his creativity and changed his life. He founded the Modeling Club – a fashion club that attracted 20 student members who learned how to do photography and magazine shoots, and put on modeling events for the school. He’s now attending Merced College.

(The above demonstration video was made by the student members of the Restorative Justice League for their fellow students.)


VETERAN’S GROUP PROVIDES MUCH-NEEDED HELP TO LA’S HOMELESS VET WOMEN

A Los Angeles VA outreach team led by chief of community care, Michelle Wilde, has prioritized finding and aiding LA’s homeless female veterans. The team combs through areas with dense homeless populations and reaches out to women whom, Wilde says, often don’t seek help because they don’t fit the “stereotype of a man coming back from war.” Through HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH), women are provided housing vouchers and helped to find homes, support, and treatment when needed.

LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Many women, when we initially outreach to them, may not even identify themselves as veterans,” said Michelle Wilde, chief of community care at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

“They still think of that stereotype of a man coming back from war,” Wilde added.

Wilde’s department was the first in the nation to organize an outreach team specifically to find and help homeless women veterans, whether they served tours overseas or stayed stateside, in times of war or in peace.

The team formed right on time, especially in Los Angeles County, when the number of homeless women veterans rose 51 percent from 2009 to 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. That meant there were nearly 1,000 homeless women veterans living in cars, converted garages, and elsewhere across the region.

[SNIP]

With some federal funds from the Obama administration’s “Opening Doors” initiative, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) Program has given projects like Wilde’s a boost in finding housing and assistance to homeless veterans.

[SNIP]

Like men, women veterans also may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, some because of sexual assault. They may return home and find that family support has vanished. Or they may have returned to jobs that no exist.

But the outreach team’s efforts have helped. Of the 3,000 homeless veterans placed in homes, 10 percent were women. And the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles County also has shown an overall drop, from 8,131 in 2011 to 6,248 this year according to the latest figures. Among women, the stats have fallen from 909 in 2011, to 352 this year.


BEFORE ABC7 AIRS BACA PITCHMAN STORY, HIS ENDORSEMENT VIDEOS MAGICALLY VANISH

ABC7 aired a segment Monday night on Sheriff Lee Baca’s involvement as a pitchman for the company Yor Health. (Which we previewed here.)

Here’s a clip from the segment:

“Hi, I’m Lee Baca and I’m the Sheriff of Los Angeles County and I’m going to live to be 100 years old and beyond,” Baca says in a video. “You still need some nutritional support.”

Does this look like a commercial to you? The pitchman might make you do a double-take.

“The advice I give my friends who are trying to take full control of their body is to take the YOR Health products, sustain their daily nutritional needs and operate on less than 2,500 calories a day,” Baca says in the video.

“To me, this is 100 percent unethical,” says Dr. Maki Haberfeld of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

ABC7 noted that Baca has been a special guest speaker at YOR Health’s annual conferences every year since 2010, and appears in a YOR Health magazine.

Baca also stated at a 2010 Yor Health conference, “We are selling these products in the sheriff’s department emporium for the deputies,” Baca said at a 2010 conference.

So what, if anything, did the sheriff get in return?

ABC7 found that Yor Health gave Sheriff Baca a $1000 campaign donation in 2010, and a $527 reimbursement for travel expenses.

Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School, had this to say about whether the endorsement violates LA County’s conflict of interest laws:

“I’m not convinced that he’s kicked over that threshold, but when we look at the purpose of the conflict of interest statutes and the spirit of the law, then I think it’s perfectly fair to ask questions.”

ABC7 shared some complaints that had been made to the FTC:

“Yor Health is really a pyramid scheme.”

“It’s focused more on recruiting others than selling the actual product.”

“It brainwashes and manipulates people.”

…and “uses cult-like techniques to get people to join their company.”

The FTC wouldn’t disclose to ABC what was being done about the allegations, if anything.

When ABC7 did the math, they found that over a third of representatives made no money, and half of all representatives lose money.

ABC7 pointed out that today, after three years, the Yor Health videos featuring Sheriff Baca were made private and the sheriff’s photo was removed from the company’s website.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said that Sheriff Baca would now be separating himself from Yor Health, and that Baca was under the impression that the videos he shot were only for use within the company.

(CBS2 followed ABC7′s lead and also did a story on Baca’s Yor Health connection, which you can find here.)

Posted in Homelessness, Restorative Justice, Sheriff Lee Baca, Veterans, women's issues, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 16 Comments »

Skid Row Injunction May Go to SCOTUS…Fired LAPD Officers Want Cases Reopened

February 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


IN THE MIDST OF TB OUTBREAK ON SKID ROW, LA AUTHORITIES FILE WITH SUPREME COURT TO OVERTURN RULING ON HOMELESS BELONGINGS

Citing the recent outbreak of tuberculosis in downtown LA’s Skid Row, , the City of Los Angeles will try to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday to toss an earlier ruling by the 9th Circuit that prevents the random seizure and destruction of belongings that homeless Skid Row residents leave temporarily unattended on public sidewalks.

The LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein and Alexandra Zavis report on the matter. Here are some clips from their story:

The Supreme Court filing comes after two years of legal wrangling between Los Angeles officials and homeless advocates over a controversial campaign to clean up downtown’s skid row, which has the highest concentration of homeless people in the city.

“We have an obligation to the homeless, as well as to the other residents and businesses on skid row, to ensure their health through regularly cleaning skid row’s streets and sidewalks,” City Atty. Trutanich said in a statement. “The current outbreak of tuberculosis among that most vulnerable population should serve as a stern reminder to us all of just who and what is at risk.”

Carol Sobel, who represents the homeless plaintiffs, said the TB outbreak, which has infected nearly 80 people and killed 11, has nothing to do with the property left on the streets. She accused city officials of deliberately allowing conditions to deteriorate in order to bolster their case, saying: “They have a public health issue of their making.”

The dispute began when eight homeless people accused city workers, accompanied by police, of seizing and destroying property they left unattended while they used a restroom, filled water jugs or appeared in court. The seven men and one woman had left their possessions — including identification, medications, cellphones and toiletries — in carts provided by social service groups and in some cases were prevented from retrieving them, Sobel said.

In a 2-1 decision last September, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the belongings the homeless leave on city sidewalks for a short period of time may be taken only if the possessions pose an immediate threat to public health or safety or constitute evidence of a crime. In such cases, the court said, the city may not summarily destroy the possessions and must notify the owners where they can collect them.

This is a tough one. Homeless advocates had long battled the LAPD, whom they said often confiscated and trashed even those homeless-owned possessions that were tidy and clearly not abandoned, but left very temporarily.

On the other hand, Andy Bales, who heads up the Union Rescue Mission and is a deeply compassionate and dedicated advocate for the homeless, told the LA Times reporters that the 9th Circuit’s ruling has had a destructive effect.

Just days after a cleanup, trash and debris begin to pile up again, said Andy Bales, who heads the Union Rescue Mission on skid row.

“We never, ever had to battle that before the injunction, which has taken skid row back at least eight years to before all the improvements,” he said. “It has emboldened people to leave their stuff everywhere.”

It is not clear whether or not the Supremes will take the case, so all this discussion may be for naught.

(If we get news later today or Friday, we’ll update this post.)


YOUTH INCARCERATON DECLINING WITHOUT HARMING PUBLIC SAFETY

In their just published Kids Count data report, the Annie E. Casey Foundation found that the rate of young people locked up because they were in trouble with the law dropped more than 40 percent over a 15-year period—from a high of !07,637 to 70,792 in 2010, with no decrease in public safety.

The report also recommends ways to continue reducing reliance on incarceration and improve the odds for young people involved in the juvenile justice system.

It notes, however, even with the drop, that most of the kids incarcerated are in for nonviolent offenses, and that African American kids are still locked up with great disproportion (as are Hispanic and Native American kids, but not near to the degree that African American kids experience).

NOTE: The Annie E. Casey Foundation is well known for its Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative that helps persuade counties to try programs other than correctional facilities for certain kids, and to establish small, treatment-oriented facilities for those kids who are locked up, using methods that have been proven effective. The results for counties, like Santa Cruz CA, who’ve become models for AECF’s initiative has been extremely encouraging in terms of drops in youth incarceration and recidivism.


POST DORNER, FIRED LAPD OFFICERS NOW WANT CASES REOPENED.

The Post-Dorner complexities continue. After LAPD Chief Charlie Becker agreed to reexamine the whole of Christopher Dorner’s Board of Rights case that led to his termination, other fired officers don’t see why their cases can’t be reexamined too.

The AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips.

At least six fired police officers want their disciplinary cases reopened after the Los Angeles Police Department began reinvestigating the termination of a former officer who left a trail of violence to avenge his firing.

Police Protective League President Tyler Izen wouldn’t provide details on the former officers who asked to have their cases revisited, but he said the decision by Chief Charlie Beck to reopen Christopher Dorner’s case is unprecedented and “has left many of our members in absolute limbo.”

[CLIP]

Dorner’s case brings up a significant issue about what to do when allegations of police misconduct are unfounded, said Commissioner Richard Drooyan. Dorner was dismissed for filing a false report alleging his training officer kicked a mentally disabled man.

“How do you make sure that you are punishing anyone who makes a false allegation or makes a false statement, while also at the same time not discouraging people from bringing potential misconduct to the attention of the department?” Drooyan asked.

Deputy Chief Bob Green, who oversees the South LA area, which is predominantly black and Latino, said the Dorner case has reopened “old wounds of trust” in the community….

Posted in Homelessness, LAPD, Public Health | No Comments »

It Turns Out the Skid Row Homeless Have 4th Amendment Rights Too….and More

September 6th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


9TH CIRCUIT PANEL SEZ THE LAPD CANNOT SNATCH AND TRASH PROPERTY OF LA’S HOMELESS

Okay, yes, of course, it’s complicated—as most things are. But ever since the city—with the LAPD as its agent—began working to clean up Skid Row, a long list of homeless have complained that when they left their belongings for a short period to, say, take a shower (or make other uses of bathroom facilities) and similar necessary errands, that they would return to find that all of their stuff had vanished.

The trashed stashes often included crucial medication, family momentos and other items that you and I would be unhappy to lose. For a homeless person, who has next to nothing, the loss becomes more fundamental.

With this in mind, seven Skid Row residents brought suit against the city of LA.

The AP’s Christina Hoag reports on this week’s judicial response. Here’s a clip:

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that found the city’s confiscation of homeless people’s bundles violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable seizure.

One of the three judges dissented, agreeing with the city that unattended personal property can be seized in the public interest of health and safety.

Chief Deputy City Attorney William Carter said the office would evaluate whether to continue the appeal by requesting a review by the full appellate court, but noted the city is complying with an injunction issued by U.S. District Court Judge Philip Gutierrez in June 2011.

Under that ruling, the city must store items taken from sidewalks for up to 90 days and leave a notice directing property owners to the storage site so they can retrieve them. The city is permitted to discard hazardous items and trash.

Here’s the slightly more technical report from Tim Hull of the Courthouse News Service:

The “most basic reading” of the Constitution prohibits Los Angeles from unreasonably seizing and destroying the personal property of homeless residents, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Nine homeless residents of Skid Row sued the city for violations of their Fourth and 14th Amendment rights after police confiscated the property they left on the sidewalk. They say their legal papers, family pictures and other possessions were immediately destroyed.
Skid Row in downtown Los Angeles is home to one of the nation’s largest homeless populations. The men and women who dwell there say they left their property unattended but not abandoned while eating, showering or using the bathroom.
U.S. District Judge Philip Gutierrez issued a narrow injunction barring the practice in cases where the items did not pose a public hazard. A divided panel of the federal appeals court in Pasadena affirmed Wednesday.
Los Angeles had claimed that the Fourth Amendment does not protect the property in question since there can be no expectation of privacy for those who leave personal belongings unattended on a public sidewalk.
“The city has … asked us to declare that the unattended property of homeless persons is uniquely beyond the reach of the Constitution, so that the government may seize and destroy with impunity the worldly possessions of a vulnerable group in our society,” Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw wrote for the panel majority. “Because even the most basic reading of our Constitution prohibits such a result, the city’s appeal is denied.”


NPR TALKS TO THE AUTHOR OF THE NEW YORKER STORY ON CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS.

Last week we drew your attention to an excellent New Yorker story by Sarah Stillman, about the use of young confidential informants by law enforcement and how some of them had gotten killed as a result of their cooperation with the cops, who did not appear to adequately protect them. However the story was hidden behind a pay wall so, unless you suscribe to the New Yorker, you couldn’t read the full story.

Neal Conan talks to Stillman and others about the story and the issue in Wednesday’s Face the Nation. It’s long and good, and makes for very interesting listening. Here’s a clip from the transcript:

...I spoke to, you know, the family of one of the convicted murderers, who told me that essentially they’d never been planning a drug deal in the first place. What they were actually planning was to take the massive – I believe it was $13,000 that Rachel was bringing to the bust, because, you know, it was quite huge.

It was, you know, 1,500 ecstasy pills and cocaine and a handgun that she was sent to purchase.

CONAN: And they found the wire on her?

STILLMAN: Exactly. They opened up her purse, because the wire had actually been placed in her purse, which was against, you know, standard procedures there, but it had all been done in a bit of haste, and she’d been sent off with the wires in her purse. And, you know, it’s a bit unclear exactly what occurred because, you know, no one was there to witness it, but the understanding was that they took her purse and found the wire, and she was shot.

CONAN: And the police, how did they lose track of her? There was aircraft involved.

STILLMAN: Exactly. Well, it was a series of really – you know, a series of both poor planning and coincidence. You know, one big issue was that it was in a very wooded area. The location was changed a number of times, and the DEA had offered a surveillance plane. But it turned out the drug deal went down in a location that was covered in this tree canopy.

I mean, I saw it. It was thick and dripping with Spanish moss and not the kind of place that a plane had any hope of seeing the transaction.

CONAN: Your piece in The New Yorker is titled “The Throwaways,” and it’s your contention that in fact in their eagerness to get drug busts, the police do not pay anywhere near enough attention to the safety of their informants, and to some degree, in some cases, their attitudes may be pretty cavalier….


AIRPORT EVACUATIONS AND LIFE

As you can see, the posting is a little light today. This has much to do with the fact that, yesterday evening, I found myself stuck for hours in the San Jose airport due to a cancelled flight followed by the full evacuation of the airport’s large, new terminal B.

It seems that someone spotted smoke in an elevator shaft at the far end of the terminal.

The good news was that, in fairly short order, the firefighters determined the smoke was caused by overheating hydraulic fluid, and ably handled the situation. The bad news was that well after the supposed fire threat was over, for reasons that the San Jose police airport officials insisted on evacuating everyone—which looked like a couple thousand of us—and then turning us right around and running us, in a preposterously time consuming fashion, back through the TSA check. A pile up of grounded flights resulted, creating a scheduling snarl for air traffic controllers and so on.

Thus, as I said, posting will be a little light.

(I was in Santa Clara County looking at two remarkable programs for kids who break the law to help them get on the right track, both run by Santa Clara’s juvenile programs. You’ll be hearing more about these and other programs around the state in the coming months.)

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, LAPD, Life in general | 6 Comments »

SoCal Adoption Agency Takes Steps for LGBT Kids, NY’s Experimental Juvie Court Alternatives…and More

August 7th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA FOSTER FAMILY AND ADOPTION AGENCY RECRUITS RESOURCE FAMILIES FOR LGBT YOUTH

Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency, SCFFAA, is recruiting, training, and certifying prospective foster parents of LBGT youth. The agency is searching out those families and environments that can foster love and acceptance for LGBT kids who so often face grim hardships in foster care and in life on the streets.

Digital Journal has the press release. Here’s a clip:

The Child Welfare League of America reports that LGBT youth are “disproportionately represented” in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Studies show that approximately 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBT and that well over half of these youth stay on the street because they feel “safer there than living in group or foster homes.” Social workers across the country have long struggled to find foster and adoptive families that can provide LGBT adolescents with the support they need during the transition to young adulthood.

Sylvia Fogelman, Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency’s (SCFFAA) President & CEO, shares her concern for these youth. “Children who self-identify as LGBT in the foster care system are faced with extra challenges. Too often, they are displaced from their homes, then face extreme challenges in finding safe shelter.”

Southern California Foster Family and Adoption Agency (SCFFAA) is taking a bold step in its efforts to develop a targeted recruitment of resource families for LGBT foster youth. It has partnered with RaiseAChild.US, a non-profit organization that encourages LGBT people to build their families through fostering and adoption.

Rich Valenza, Founder & President of RaiseAChild.US explains the four phase plan designed to find viable solutions for LGBT youth. “We have created a survey, located at our website, http://www.RaiseAChild.US and invite the general public across the nation to participate, to help us to measure attitudes and concerns about fostering and adoption. After analyzing the data, we will build an infrastructure of support to address those concerns. Then, we go back to the public with a campaign to educate, advocate and recruit safe and loving homes for these children.”

Over the past 18 months, RaiseAChild.US has run three campaigns in Los Angeles, engaging over 500 prospective parents, with 400 attending recruitment events. SCFFAA is now training and certifying many of these recruits.

Robyn Harrod, SCFFAA Adoption Program Director, explains the goals of the collaboration. “Foster youth who self-identify as LGBT need many of the same things all youth need—but above all, acceptance. There are many prospective foster parents who can provide this—our task is to educate and cultivate these homes for this chronically neglected segment of our foster population.”


NEW YORK’S PILOT PROGRAM DIVERTS KIDS AWAY FROM CONVENTIONAL COURT SYSTEM

An experimental juvenile justice program is being piloted in nine NY courtrooms, called “adolescent diversion parts.” The program gives 16 and 17-year-old kids a chance to bypass the court system—where they would be considered adults—in favor of alternatives such as counseling, classes, and community-based programs. And it seems to be working—the Brooklyn courtroom sees an 80% compliance rate on ordered treatments from defendants.

Reuter’s Joseph Ax has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Nelson Reyes, 17, stood in a Long Island courtroom on a recent weekday, awaiting his fate on what was originally a felony drug possession charge.

But this was no ordinary hearing.

Reyes’ father accompanied his son in the attorneys’ well – a rare sight in a criminal courtroom — and Nassau County District Court Judge Sharon Gianelli’s benevolent tone was more that of a guidance counselor than a criminal judge.

“I have been monitoring your treatment,” Gianelli said, after thanking Reyes’ father for his support. “It is my hope that you’ll continue with the treatment and the counseling.”

And with that, Reyes’ criminal case was dismissed, his record cleansed and, he said after the hearing, his life put back on track.

Reyes is part of a tiny minority of 16- and 17-year-old defendants in New York being given a chance to bypass the regular criminal court system, where he would have been treated as an adult and likely received probation, a mark that could imperil future employment and educational opportunities.

New York is one of two states (North Carolina is the other) in which defendants 16 and older are considered adults, no matter how minor the offense. But that might be changing.

The courtroom in which Reyes appeared is one of nine “adolescent diversion parts,” a pilot program set up this year to provide non-traditional outcomes for 16- and 17-year-old nonviolent offenders.

A bill to establish these courtrooms statewide as part of a new “youth division” – a hybrid of criminal and family courts — stalled in the state legislature this summer, leaving it in limbo until 2013.


MISS AMERICA’S FIRST-HAND TAKE ON GROWING UP WITH AN INCARCERATED PARENT

Current Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler—an unlikely keynote speaker at the most recent American Correctional Association conference—shared her thoughts and personal experience regarding the considerable adversities kids with incarcerated parents face on a daily basis. (There are currently more than 1.7M kids with a parent behind bars. Be sure to scroll down for more statistics from the Prison Fellowship.)

Youth Today’s Robert Rosenbloom has the story. Here’s a clip:

…Miss America had an unexpected personal story that the crowd was very much interested in.

You see this Miss America is the child of an incarcerated parent. She spoke of the trauma faced by children like her with a passion born of experience; a family that struggled with the shame of an incarcerated father, the loss of economic stability and the anger that could have taken a self-destructive path.

She told us how it was difficult to go to school and face the other children who made fun of her and that she felt somehow guilty in an indescribable way. The father’s incarceration led to her parent’s divorce. Difficult as it was, she and her two sisters visited her father in prison.

“If visiting parents in prison is supposed to help heal wounds and keep family bonds connected, nothing about the experience helped foster that,” she explained in her address to the convention.

It was just one more regular reminder of the devastation her father visited upon her family. But she did help us all understand that creating the best possible experience for children visiting incarcerated parents is just as important as offender counseling.

Creating a good visitation experience also translates to juvenile secure facilities. We know that many children in juvenile facilities are parents of children and helping incarcerated young parents nurture bonds with their children helps them both. The statistics are alarming for both adult and juveniles that are incarcerated. The children of incarcerated individuals have a higher rate of crime and delinquency.

Approximately 1.7 million children in the nation have a parent in prison or jail, according to a 2009 report by the Sentencing Project. More than 10 million children have had a parent spend time behind bars, according to theAnnie E. Casey Foundation.

These children face the difficulties of growing up with this additional burden. Child neglect, drug use and dropping out of school are all by-products of failing to cope with the situation.

Our Miss America, Laura Kaeppeler, overcame the odds. She found support and encouragement. A smart girl with talent was pointed in the right direction, but she admits it could have easily gone down another less productive path.

The Prison Fellowship has compiled a wealth of facts about children with incarcerated parents. Here are a few:

—Since 1997, the frequency of contact between children and their parents in federal prison has dropped substantially; monthly contact has decreased by 28 percent, while those who report never having contact has increased by 17 percent (Sentencing Project/Research and Advocacy for Reform, Feb. 2009).

—Fifty-two percent of all incarcerated men and women are parents (Sentencing Project, 2009), and 75 percent of incarcerated women are mothers (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).

—Sixty-three percent of federal prisoners and 55 percent of state prisoners are parents of children under age 18 (Incarcerated Parents and Their Children, Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report, 2000).

—More than 60 percent of parents in state prison and more than 80 percent of parents in federal prison are incarcerated more than 100 miles from their last place of residence; only 15 percent of parents in a state facility and about 5 percent of parents in a federal facility are incarcerated less than 50 miles from their last place of residence (Sentencing Project, 2009).

Posted in children and adolescents, Courts, crime and punishment, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, LGBT | 3 Comments »

FED GRANTS HELP VETS BRIDGE GAP BETWEEN WAR & WORK by Matthew Fleischer

June 21st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

HOMELESS VETERANS REINTEGRATION PROGRAM HELPS VETS STRUGGLING TO TRANSITION TO CIVILIAN LIFE & WORK

Nearly one in four 18- to 24-year-old veterans were out of work in May, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics, as So Cal service providers scramble for funds to help

by Matthew Fleischer



This past Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis announced that her department was awarding 64 grants, totaling $15 million dollars, to help provide job training to homeless veterans across America, under the banner of the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program. “No veteran should have to go to sleep in their car or under a bridge,” she said to a group reporters on Tuesday morning, estimating that these grants would help 8,600 homeless veterans find work.

Seven providers in LA, Orange and San Diego Counties were given grants ranging from $277,796 to $300,000. The news was met with a huge sigh of relief from Southland HVRP service providers, who were sweating out the grant process, given the current political climate of austerity fetishism.

“The English call it ‘squeaky-bum time,’” Karl Calhoun of Volunteers of America, Los Angeles says of the hyper-tense moments before his organization received an official notice of renewal on its previous three-year $300,000 grant “We’ve been renewed a few times, but you can’t take these things for granted. Not in this economic climate.”

VoALA gives job training and placement assistance to 150-200 homeless veterans and veterans under “imminent threat of homelessness” annually. Those under “imminent threat” weren’t always eligible for HVRP services, but Calhoun tells me the feds have come around in recognizing the necessity. “It’s absurd to wait until a guy is on the street to provide him services.”

Calhoun cites the recent example of a VoALA client who lost a painting job after his union contract expired. The vet looked for work for months with no success, and was about to be evicted from his apartment when he finally came to VoALA looking for job placement help. VoALA was able to find him work painting massive storage drums at an oil refinery—dangerous work perfectly fitted for the adrenaline-accustomed veteran.

“He was close to being on the street. Now he makes $37 an hour,” says Calhoun. “Suffice it to say, he can pay his rent.”

Success stories like this can be difficult to come by. While the majority of military vets are diligent, hard-working, and highly skilled, their training frequently doesn’t do them much good in civilian life.

“They have discipline that far exceeds what civilians bring to the table,” says Calhoun. “But the skills they’ve learned often don’t translate to the commercial world. Knowing how to fix a tank, for instance, under severe time restraints in a hostile environment, is impressive, but not necessarily useful to potential employers when vets are applying for jobs back home.”

That gap between military training and commercial usefulness is exactly where these grants are aimed. The number of vets who need help in bridging that gap it daunting, particularly in the Southland.

According to statistics from the California Department of Veterans Affairs, 8.7 percent of all veterans in the United States live in California, with the vast majority–nearly a million–in the Southern California. As of 2010 there were 346,000 veterans living in Los Angeles County and another 234,000 living in San Diego County alone, numbers that will increase as American service people continue to come home from Iraq and Afghanistan.

There’s no exact count for the number of homeless vets in the region, but the common estimate is that more than 8,000 Los Angeles veterans are homeless. Thousands more are at-risk, due to the effects of PTSD, traumatic brain injuries, as well as the current economic malaise that has swept over the country for the past four years.

“The recovery is sputtering at best,” says Calhoun. “I think employers are willing to hire, but they’re gun-shy. They’re waiting to see what happens with the election and the economy.”

But that doesn’t mean veterans are completely out of options.

“We’ve steered plenty of our clients towards the G.I. Bill,” says Calhoun. “They were living on the street. Once they learn how to access the provisions of the bill, they get the equivalent of around $15 an hour to complete their studies.”

A little bit of guidance can go a long way.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images.

Posted in Homelessness, Veterans | 3 Comments »

Monday Must Reads: Bratton, the 2nd Amendment, Patient Dumping and More

August 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


BRATTON REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WANTED TO BECOME BRITAIN’S TOP COP

You gotta love Bill. Sunday’s Guardian reports on how much Bratton wanted to apply for the position of commissioner of the Metropolitan police—an ambition that got squashed over the weekend. The Guardian also reports in great detail about how Bill verbally thrashed anybody who suggested that one ought to be born in Britain to hold such a job.

The New York Times also has a report on the Bratton in London adventure.

Adore the aviator glasses, by the way.


CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE SAYS VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION DUMPED PATIENT AT A DOWNTOWN SHELTER

The LA Times Alexandra Zavis and Richard Winton have the alarming story. Here’s a clip:

The graying veteran in a wheelchair was found in the parking lot of a Westside cold weather shelter wearing hospital pants, carrying a urine bottle and screaming for help.

Senior officials at the Los Angeles city attorney’s office say they believe James Boykin was “dumped” Dec. 1 at the shelter after his toe was removed at the nearby Department of Veterans Affairs medical center because of a bone infection. Moreover, according to city prosecutors, VA officials blocked an investigation that could have shed light on whether there were other similar incidents.

“This was an unprecedented interference with an investigation,” said Jeffrey B. Isaacs, who heads the office’s criminal and special litigation branch.

VA officials strongly dispute the allegations involving Boykin, adding that the city does not have authority to conduct a criminal investigation on federal property.


RE: SECURE COMMUNITIES – DEAR OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, YOU’RE NOT HELPING

Julia Preston for the New York Times writes that resistance to the Secure Communities program is growing. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Thomas Menino, who often invokes his heritage as the grandson of an Italian immigrant, was one of the first local leaders in the country to embrace a federal program intended to improve community safety by deporting dangerous immigrant criminals.

But five years after Boston became a testing ground for the fingerprinting program, known as Secure Communities, Mr. Menino is one of the latest local officials to sour on it and seek to withdraw. He found that many immigrants the program deported from Boston, though here illegally, had committed no crimes. The mayor believed it was eroding hard-earned ties between Boston’s police force and its melting-pot mix of ethnic neighborhoods.

Last month, Mr. Menino sent a letter to the program with a blunt assessment. “Secure Communities is negatively impacting public safety,” he wrote, asking how Boston could get out.

On Aug. 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the program, gave an equally blunt response. Its director, John Morton, announced he was canceling all agreements that 40 states and cities had signed to start Secure Communities. Their assent was not legally required, he said, and he planned to move ahead anyway to extend the program nationwide by 2013.


A STRING OF NEW CASES COULD HIT THE SUPREMES ASKING FOR A CLARIFICATION OF THE 2ND AMENDMENT

In Monday’s Washington Post, Robert Barnes has a round up of the second Amendment cases that are likely headed to the Supreme Court.

A funny thing has happened in the three years since gun-rights activists won their biggest victory at the Supreme Court.

They’ve been on a losing streak in the lower courts.

The activists found the holy grail in 2008 when the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller said the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own a firearm unconnected to military service. The court followed it up with McDonald v. Chicago two years later, holding that the amendment applies not just to gun control laws passed by Congress but to local and state laws as well.

The decisions were seen as a green light to challenge gun restrictions across the country, and the lawsuits have come raining down — more than two a week, according to the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But it is the Brady Center that is crowing about the results.

“Three years and more than 400 legal challenges later, courts — so far — have held that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Heller was narrow and limited, and that the Second Amendment does not interfere with the people’s right to enact legislation protecting families and communities from gun violence,” the center said in a report optimistically titled “Hollow Victory?


NEW HOPE FOR FINDING A JOB—EVEN AFTER PRISON

On Monday, Jim Newton’s LA Times column profiles Chrysalis. A Los Angeles-based nonprofit with facilities in Santa Monica, Pacoima and on the edge of skid row that manages to put desperate people to work.

Read it. It’ll cheer you up.

Posted in Bill Bratton, Homelessness, How Appealing, immigration, Must Reads, Skid Row, Supreme Court | 7 Comments »

« Previous Entries