Thursday, September 18, 2014
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

Innocence


More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

CA to Spend BIG $$ on Youth Lock-ups. So Can We spend it Well?…..”Getting Life” – What It’s Like to Be Wrongfully Convicted…….

July 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CALIFORNIA PLANS TO SPEND $79 MILLION ON YOUTH, & ADVOCATES PRESS FOR $$ TO GO TO COUNTIES WITH CLEAR REHAB GOALS

Right now the California Board of State & Community Corrections (BSCC) is working on structuring an RFP so that it can give away $79 million to various counties in the state for the construction of new juvenile facilities.

The $79 mil is the second round of post-realignment funding for county youth lock-ups; $220 million has already been awarded to 14 California counties.

With this new round of money, research and advocacy organizations like the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ), the National Center for Law, and the Ella Baker Center see a rare opportunity to stimulate reform through the enticement of funding, so have been trying to educate and persuade the BSCC about what kind of youth facilities are likely to produce the best results.

According to Kate McCracken, CJCJ’s Director of Policy & Development, the the BSCC’s Executive Steering Committee, which is responsible for developing the crucial RFP, has “demonstrated openness” to crafting a competitive process would give the edge to county proposals that are designed with “clear rehabilitative goals.”

Ideally, McCracken writes, “the language of this RFP will guide the way counties develop their own proposals, and is thus essential to the development of long-term dispositional options and rehabilitative services available to young people in the community.”

Thus she hopes “the RFP will be rooted in what we know works for young people.”

“Research has proven time and time again that facilities are not effective when they have artificial environments, living quarters designed to confine large numbers of youth, and minimal programming space. If California is going to spend $79 million dollars — plus matching funds from the counties — on more juvenile facilities, let’s do it in a meaningful way.”

Some counties, like Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, are already committed to juvenile programs that emphasize rehabilitation and treatment over conventional youth corrections facilities.

Los Angeles County, which has the state’s (and the nation’s) largest juvenile justice system, was stuck for years in a punitive pattern that has resulted in years of federal monitoring along several class action lawsuits. Now LA County’s juvenile probation is moving toward some reform, with such programs as the in-the-works transformation of Camp David Kilpatrick. But, the tentative move in the direction of rehabilitation over containment is nothing close to system-wide.

If the purse-string-holding BCSC were to make clear that future $$ will be linked to reform, such fiscal incentives cannot help but have a salutary effect on counties like Los Angeles and others that may have made some improvements, but need to make many more.

“The future of California’s juvenile justice system is in the 58 counties,” writes McCracken, “as we observe pockets of innovation throughout the state that require support and incubation in other counties. There is significant evidence that a continuum of community-based services is the most effective approach to serving youth, as well as promising programs available to promote a new way of justice in California. This RFP is just one example of an opportunity for the state to rethink its approach to justice and challenge the status quo with innovative development.”

Yep. Exactly.


CHP HEAD MEETS WITH CIVIL RIGHTS LEADERS OVER FREEWAY BEATING VIDEO

Concerned about a building furor over the bystander-taken video of a California Highway Patrol officer beating a woman next to the 10 freeway, on Tuesday, CHP head Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders.

KPCC’s Frank Stolze has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an indication of the agency’s increasing concern over the videotaped altercation between an officer and an African-American woman on the 10 Freeway, California Highway Patrol Commissioner Joe Farrow met Tuesday with civil rights leaders in Los Angeles.

“I believe that right now, we are somewhat wounded because of what people have seen,” Farrow told reporters afterward outside the CHP’s West L.A. office. “I was deeply concerned when I saw the videotape. I was shocked.”


AN INNOCENT MAN TELLS OF HIS 25-YEARS BEHIND BARS, AND MORE

Michael Morton’s memoir, “Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace,” about the wrongful conviction that led him to serve a quarter century in prison for murdering his wife, has just been released to reviews that, thus far, are uniformly glowing.

For instance, here’s a clip from the review by Jesse Sublett of the Austin Chronicle:

Even for readers who may feel practically jaded about stories of injustice in Texas – even those who followed this case closely in the press – could do themselves a favor by picking Michael Morton’s new memoir, Getting Life: An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey From Prison to Peace. It is extremely well-written, insightful, infuriating, and, in places, quite funny. The “peace” part of the title is no exaggeration, either. For everything he’s been through, Michael Morton seems to be a very well-adjusted person with a sense of Zenlike calm…

Morton’ wife, Chris, was bludgeoned in their bed while he was at work. When he returned home to find the family home surrounded by yellow police tape he became frantic. Morton was arrested soon after and railroaded by Williamson County D.A. Ken Anderson, who withheld crucial information and documents from the defense. Morton was eventually cleared by the Innocence Project using DNA evidence. After that, the DNA led officials to the actual killer.

Here’s a clip from what NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof said about Morton’s book:

A great deal has been written about the shortcomings of the American criminal justice system, but perhaps nothing more searing than Morton’s book, “Getting Life.” It is a devastating and infuriating book, more astonishing than any legal thriller by John Grisham, a window into a broken criminal justice system.

Indeed, Morton would still be in prison if the police work had been left to the authorities. The day after the killing, Chris’s brother, John, found a bloodied bandanna not far from the Morton home that investigators had missed, and he turned it over to the police.

Morton had advantages. He had no criminal record. He was white, from the middle class, in a respectable job. Miscarriages of justice disproportionately affect black and Hispanic men, but, even so, Morton found himself locked up in prison for decades.

Then DNA testing became available, and the Innocence Project — the lawyers’ organization that fights for people like Morton — called for testing in Morton’s case. Prosecutors resisted, but eventually DNA was found on the bandanna: Chris’s DNA mingled with that of a man named Mark Alan Norwood, who had a long criminal history….

Parade Magazine has an excerpt from “Getting Life”.

Here’s an excerpt from the excerpt:

The door closed.

Not with a click or the sound of tumblers finally hitting their marks or the sturdy clunk of wood and metal meshing as if they were made for each other.

This was different.

It began with the long, hard sound of steel sliding against steel.

Like a train, the heavy door built speed as it barreled along its worn track, the portal to the real world growing smaller as the barrier of thick and battered bars roared into place.

It locked with a cold, bone-shaking boom that rattled me— literally—me, the guard outside my door, and any other inmates unlucky enough to be nearby.

I was alone in my cell, alone in the world, as alone as I had ever been in my life.

And I would stay there—alone—listening to that door close, over and over and over again, for the next twenty-five years.

Twenty-five years.

My wife, Chris, had been savagely beaten to death several months earlier. Before I had time to begin mourning, I was fighting for my own life against a legal system that seemed hell-bent on making me pay for the murder of the woman I would gladly have died for.

I was innocent.

Naïvely, I believed the error would soon be set right.

I could not have been more wrong.


Posted in American voices, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, Probation, Realignment, State government, writers and writing | No Comments »

Combatting Crime by Paying People to Not Kill, Repaying the Wrongfully Convicted, and SoCal Districts Cutting Suspensions

June 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

RICHMOND, CALIFORNIA PAYS PEOPLE AT RISK OF VIOLENT CRIME TO STAY AWAY FROM TROUBLE

In 2006, the Contra Costa city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25, and enrolls them in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for 9 of those months, along with education, mentoring, and other services.

The program has its critics, and it has yet to be thoroughly evaluated, but it may actually be working. In 2013, Richmond saw its lowest homicide rate in 33 years, and 65 of 68 of the young men who had been enrolled in the program over the previous four years were still alive.

Tim Murphy has the story for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine. Here are some clips:

It was a crazy idea, but Richmond, California, wouldn’t have signed off on DeVone Boggan’s plan if it had been suffering from an abundance of sanity. For years, the Bay Area city had been battling one of the nation’s worst homicide rates and spending millions of dollars on anti-crime programs to no avail. A state senator compared the city to Iraq, and the City Council debated declaring a state of emergency. In September 2006, a man was shot in the face at a funeral for a teenager who had been gunned down two weeks earlier, spurring local clergy to urge city hall to try something new—now. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten,” says Andre Shumake Sr., a 56-year-old Baptist minister whose son was shot six times while riding his bicycle. “It was time to do something different.”

Richmond hired consultants to come up with ideas, and in turn, the consultants approached Boggan. It was obvious that heavy-handed tactics like police sweeps weren’t the solution. More than anything, Boggan, who’d been working to keep teen offenders out of prison, was struck by the pettiness of it all. The things that could get someone shot in Richmond were as trivial as stepping out to buy a bag of chips at the wrong time or in the wrong place. Boggan wondered: What if we identified the most likely perpetrators and paid them to stay out of trouble?

Boggan submitted his proposal. He didn’t expect the city to come back and ask him to make it happen. “They asked me for a three-year commitment and told me to put on my seatbelt,” he recalls.

In late 2007, Boggan launched the Office of Neighborhood Safety, an experimental public-private partnership that’s introduced the “Richmond model” for rolling back street violence. It has done it with a mix of data mining and mentoring, and by crossing lines that other anti-crime initiatives have only tiptoed around. Four times a year, the program’s street team sifts through police records and its own intelligence to determine, with actuarial detachment, the 50 people in Richmond most likely to shoot someone and to be shot themselves. ONS tracks them and approaches the most lethal (and vulnerable) on the list, offering them a spot in a program that includes a stipend to turn their lives around. While ONS is city-funded and has the blessing of the chief of police, it resolutely does not share information with the cops. “It’s the only agency where you’re required to have a criminal background to be an employee,” Boggan jokes.

So far, the results have been promising: As this story went to press, 65 of the 68 “fellows” enrolled in the program in the previous 47 months were still alive. One had survived a shooting and three had died. In 2007, when Boggan’s program began, Richmond was America’s ninth most dangerous city, with 47 killings among its 106,000 residents. In 2013, it saw its lowest number of homicides in 33 years, and its homicide rate fell to 15 per 100,000. Rates are dropping nationwide, but not so steeply. (In 2013, nearby Oakland’s homicide rate was 23 per 100,000; Detroit’s was 47 per 100,000.)

[SNIP]

Here’s how it works: A team of seven “neighborhood change agents” patrol the streets like beat cops, keeping tabs on the 50 high-risk members of what Boggan calls the “focus group.” The coordinators, most of them former convicts, check in with their sources at corner stores, barbershops, and churches and report back daily on what they’ve heard. “I want us to hunt ‘em like they hunt, and I want us to hunt for information,” Boggan says. “We have better information than the police.” Once a certain level of trust has been established between the coordinators and their targets, a meeting is arranged, and the pitch is made.

In exchange for shunning dangerous behavior, ONS fellows receive anywhere from $300 to $1,000 per month, depending on their progress following a “life map” of personal and professional goals. If they team up with someone from a rival community to renounce violence altogether, they can get even more money—though that’s yet to happen. Fellows can receive stipends for 9 of their 18 months in the program. The city gave ONS $1.2 million for its operating budget last year, but the money for the stipends came from a handful of private donors, including the health care giant Kaiser Permanente. (A Kaiser spokeswoman says the program is good for “diffusing community tensions and reducing violence,” thereby limiting stress-related health risks like heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.)

ONS staffers help fellows take concrete steps toward stability, from providing assistance in getting a driver’s license or a GED to helping raise $5,000 for a merchant-marine training class. Though the program officially cuts off when fellows turn 25, Boggan says ONS tries to stay in touch with them as long as possible.

[SNIP]

“The analogy here is infectious disease,” says Barry Krisberg, a UC-Berkeley criminologist who has advised Boggan. For years, crime fighters had combated epidemics of violence by quarantining criminals in prison. Boggan took what he’d seen in other cities and adopted a new course of treatment: By inoculating the carriers of violence, perhaps you can protect an entire community.


HOW MUCH DO INNOCENT PEOPLE RECEIVE AFTER THEY ARE EXONERATED?

NPR’s Planet Money takes a look at what kind of payment people who are wrongfully convicted receive for every year of their incarceration.

The federal government and 17 states pay a fixed amount per year, and some states evaluate compensation case-by-case, but there are 21 states that offer no money to innocent people who go to prison.

From the pool of states paying a fixed amount to people who have been exonerated, Texas pays the most at $80,000 per year spent behind bars, and Wisconsin pays the least at $5,000. Experts say that the states offering a moderate fixed amount are likely trying to avoid a lawsuit and a higher settlement later.

Here’s a clip:

Several states and the federal government offer $50,000 per year for people wrongly convicted in federal court. Why is that such a common figure?

Federal payments were set by a law passed a decade ago. At that time, Alabama had the highest compensation at $50,000 per year, so the feds simply decided to match that, according to Stephen Saloom, policy director at the Innocence Project. Other states may have followed the lead of the federal government.

“There doesn’t seem to be any other rationale behind the number,” said Paul Cates, also at the Innocence Project.

Unfortunately, even in states that offer compensation, the claim process is often complicated. For instance, California pays $36,500 per year of wrongful incarceration, but (as of 2013) only 11 of 132 exonerees from the year 2000 on, have actually received the money. (Late last year, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that would make the process easier.)


SOCAL SCHOOL DISTRICTS LOWER SUSPENSIONS, BEAT THE STATE AVERAGE

According to a new UCLA study, four out of five Southern California counties achieved lower suspension rates than the statewide average. The study compares data from the 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 school years. Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, and San Bernardino together reduced their suspensions by 37,325 over the previous year, while also decreasing the racial disparity.

The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has more on the data. Here’s a clip:

Districts in Los Angeles, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura counties imposed 37,325 fewer suspensions last year than the year before and posted sharper declines in their respective suspension rates than the statewide average, according to an analysis of selected California counties by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.

L.A. County, for instance, reduced its rate by about 42% more than the state; the other counties outperformed the state by 12% for San Bernardino, 59% for Riverside and 60% for Ventura.

Orange County’s reduction equaled the state average. But Orange reported the lowest number of suspensions per 100 students last year — 3.4 compared with 9.12 for San Bernardino County and 5.10 for Los Angeles County, according to the analysis of state discipline data released last week.

“These are unquestionably positive results. California school districts are beginning to understand that extreme suspension-first policies neither improve school climate nor boost academic achievement,” said Daniel J. Losen, the study’s lead author and director of the UCLA project.

Losen added, however, that suspension rates remained too high and that students are still sent home on a daily basis for minor infractions unrelated to fighting or drugs.

In another interesting example of why stamping out harsh school discipline is so critical, data from the New York Dept. of Probation shows that, last year, kids entered the juvenile justice system at a rate 53% higher in May than in August. Because summer is traditionally a higher crime season, the data suggests that schools are pushing kids into the juvenile justice system.

WNYC News’ Kathleen Horan has the story. Here’s how it opens:

New York City has the largest school district in the country and a reputation for doling out harsh penalties. Even the Justice Department has warned that routine infractions should land a student in the principal’s office — not in a police precinct. As another school year wraps up, pressure is on Mayor Bill de Blasio to announce discipline policy reforms.

The kind of trouble that can land students in jail is more likely to happen while while they’re in school rather than out on summer break. Fifty percent more juveniles went through the criminal justice system in May 2013 than in August that year, according to Department of Probation intake data. “They aren’t better behaved during the summer than the winter,” observed former DOP Commissioner Vincent Schiraldi, in February. “They’re just less surveilled.”

As senior advisor in the administration’s Office of Criminal Justice, Schiraldi is now focused on coming up with a plan that will help reduce the number of kids getting hauled out of school in handcuffs, attempting to close what has come to be known as the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Posted in Innocence, juvenile justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Violence Prevention, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

What Does CA’s Use of Juvie Isolation Look Like?…..Stop Locking Up Truant Kids in CA! ….The Lousy State of Education in Juvie Lock-Ups, CA’ s included….North Carolina Sheriff Takes On Wrongful Convictions….Farewell to Gabriel Garcia Marquez

April 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CENTER FOR INVESTIGATIVE REPORTING LOOKS HARD AT CA’S JUVIE SOLITARY

In addition to the shock and perplexity felt by many over California State Senator Leeland Yee’s arrest for what is alleged to be extravagant corruption and wrongdoing, the even larger disappointment is over the loss of his extremely valuable work in the arena of juvenile justice now that he’s been disgraced.

A case in point is, the legislation Yee (Dem-San Francisco) introduced earlier this year to ban solitary confinement as a form of punishment for juvenile inmates in California. Now, sadly, bill appears to have nearly zip chance of passing after Yee’s indictment last month on corruption charges.

Trey Bundy reporting for the Center for Investigative Reporting, takes a look at the way California juvie lock-ups are still using solitary confinement. Here is what he found in one of the state’s most progressive juvenile facilities in Santa Cruz, CA.

Although solitary confinement for extended periods is considered one of the most psychologically damaging forms of punishment – particularly for teenagers – no one knows how many juveniles are held alone in cells in California.

Neither the state nor the federal government requires juvenile halls to report their use of isolation for minors – and no laws prohibit them from locking down youth for 23 hours a day.

One thing is clear: Even the county considered one of the most progressive in the state sometimes resorts to solitary confinement to control adolescents.

The Center for Investigative Reporting was given a rare glimpse inside juvenile isolation cells at the Santa Cruz County Juvenile Hall. Considered a model youth detention facility by many juvenile justice experts, Santa Cruz still places youth in 23-hour isolation, sometimes for days on end.

But amid a growing national debate over juvenile solitary confinement, the way Santa Cruz manages its youth population could serve as a guide for lawmakers as they attempt reform in various states.

The cells at Santa Cruz look like what you would find in a prison: gray concrete floors, cinderblock walls, a bunk, a window, a heavy green door and a metal sink-toilet combo.

When isolation is used at the hall, teenagers usually are kept in their own cells for up to 23 hours a day. Guards check on them every 15 minutes, and they can receive visits from nurses, lawyers, pastors and administrators. Officials refer to the practice as room confinement. In extreme cases, inmates can be placed in one of three isolation cells with no windows that sit behind two sets of doors off the main hall. It’s clear by talking with youth here that even a few days alone in a cell can take a toll.

Sitting on a bunk in his 8-by-10-foot cell, one 15-year-old boy described throwing a fit when he thought he was unfairly locked inside for several days.

“I started, like, banging on my wall all day,” he said. “I got all kinds of toilet paper and I covered my light and was throwing up on my walls and making a big old mess.”

Santa Cruz probation officials allowed CIR to interview juvenile inmates on the condition that their names not be revealed.

The boy, who is now 16, has been detained at the hall nine times since April of last year on charges ranging from gun possession to auto theft. His stays lasted between two days and three weeks. This time, he was in room confinement for trying to pick a fight with an inmate from a rival neighborhood.

His mother has had drug problems and doesn’t always have a fixed address, so he couch-surfs a lot. He sometimes has to wear an ankle monitor as a condition of release. Occasionally, he said, life becomes so draining and chaotic and that he violates the monitor on purpose to get back here.

“I kind of feel safe here,” he said. “I come here back and forth, and in a couple weeks, I’ll be back in here.”

The boy was released a week after speaking with CIR and, as he predicted, was back 14 days later. “I’m probably my own worst problem when I’m in here,” he said.


JUDGE MICHAEL NASH SAYS STOP LOCKING UP TRUANTS IN CALIFORNIA

It doesn’t happen in every county, but the locking up of kids for so called status offenses like truancy has to stop says head Juvenile Court Justice Michael Nash, explaining that kids are just made worse by this kind of incarceration, and that most often truancy is a symptom of a family situation or an emotional issue that the kid is dealing with.

The Juvenile Justice Exchange has Nash’s Op Ed.

Here’s a clip:

With all the talk about ending the school-to-prison pipeline, many people may be surprised to learn that California still, in the year 2014, allows kids to be locked up for not going to school. On its face, state law prohibits this, but court decisions have created a loophole that allows incarceration when truants are deemed to be in contempt based on their truancy. Although a majority of California counties do not use this practice, a few persist in locking up truants. Senate Bill 1296 — the Decriminalization of Truancy Act, authored by state Sen. Mark Leno of San Francisco, would close the loophole. It deserves widespread support.

The loophole stems from the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974, which originally prohibited the incarceration of “status offenders” — including truants, runaways and incorrigible youth — because Congress didn’t want youth who had committed no crime to be treated like criminals. Unfortunately, the law was later amended to allow confinement if the young person continued to violate court orders. A few California courts have used that amendment to justify locking up truants.

Over the past decade, there has been increasing opposition to the needless incarceration of truants through loopholes in state law. Fourteen states have changed their laws already, and elimination of the federal exception has been a central part of efforts to reauthorize the law. Most recently, U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas of Los Angeles has introduced the Prohibiting Detention of Youth Status Offenders Act aimed at eliminating the exception once and for all.


HOW BAD ARE THE EDUCATIONAL OUTCOMES IN AMERICA’S JUVENILE LOCK UPS? VERY, VERY BAD.

A new study by the Southern Education Foundation looks at how well or poorly various states are doing in getting kids who are locked up to the goal line of a high school diploma. The answer in most states—California prominently included—we are doing very, very badly.

Here’s a clip from the report’s introduction:

There is every reason to predict that today most of these students, like those who came before them in the juvenile justice systems, will never receive a high school diploma or a college degree, will be arrested and confined again as a juvenile or adult, and will rarely, if ever, become self-supporting, law-abiding citizens during most of their lives. Yet, substantial evidence shows that, if these children improve their education and start to become successful students in the juvenile justice systems, they will have a far greater chance of finding a turning point in their lives and becoming independent, contributing adults. The cost savings for states and state governments could be enormous.


NC SHERIFF BECOMES INNOCENCE CHAMPION—AND SAYS ITS GOOD FOR PUBLIC SAFETY

One day, after reading a nonfiction novel by popular author John Grisham, North Carolina Sheriff Chip Harding arrived at a blinding conclusion; one of the best ways to convict the right person for a serious crime, he concluded, is to avoid convicting an innocent.

Lisa Provence has the story for C-Ville.com Here’s a clip:

Albemarle County Sheriff Chip Harding has always approached his work as a cop through his background as a social worker and through his Baptist faith. But after a four-decade law enforcement career that includes nearly 30 years putting criminals behind bars as a Charlottesville Police Department investigator, he had a come-to-Jesus moment reading John Grisham’s The Innocent Man. The true story of a once major-league baseball player named Ron Williamson who spent 11 years on death row for a brutal Oklahoma rape and murder before being cleared by DNA evidence hit Harding like a punch to the stomach.

“It embarrassed me, that I’m part of law enforcement that did that,” he said.

Last month, Harding sent a rallying letter to the 123 sheriffs and 247 police chiefs in Virginia asking for their support in forming a justice commission to help prevent wrongful convictions like Williamson’s in the Commonwealth.

“I think we can change practices to lessen the likelihood of convicting the innocent while strengthening our chances of convicting the actual offender,” Harding wrote. “If police chiefs and sheriffs were to propose and or support reform—we would be taken seriously.”

That Harding would be the one leading the charge to overhaul the criminal justice system, one known for its resistance to change, shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s long been on the cutting edge of investigative work as the guy who pushed for the General Assembly to fund Virginia’s DNA databank in the 1990s. And while he aggressively—and successfully—pursued hundreds of felony cases during his years as a detective, he also serves as the vice chair of the Good News Jail and Prison Ministry, which provides Bible classes and counseling services to inmates at the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.

Realizing he was part of a system that put innocent people behind bars—or worse, to death—was “humbling and shameful,” Harding said. “And it induced a rage. From there I started wondering how often that was going on.”

Here’s a hint at how often: Nationwide, 1,342 people have been exonerated, often after spending decades in jail, according to the National Registry of Exonerations, a joint effort of the University of Michigan and Northwestern University law schools. In Virginia, 36 people have been cleared of committing heinous crimes, 17 of those thanks to DNA evidence.

“That’s not even the tip of the iceberg,” said Harding, who went on to read UVA law professor Brandon Garrett’s Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong, an examination of the first 250 people exonerated by DNA.


FAREWELL TO GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, LATIN AMERICA’S MYTHO POETIC TRUTH TELLER, COLUMBIAN ALCHEMIST WITH WORDS, IRREPLACEABLE GENIUS

Nobel Prize winning author, Gabriel Garcia Marquez died Thursday at age 87. He had been ill for a long time.

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Garcia Marquez to literature in general, and to Latin American writing specifically.

And of course to his legions of entranced readers. (Your editor included.)

To glimpse the power of the man referred to in the Spanish speaking world as Gabo, one has only to read the opening sentence to Garcia Marquez’ masterpiece One Hundred Years of Solitude, long considered one of the best first line’s in literature:

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.

(What book lover with any sense would not wish to read on after that?)

Each of his ten novels produces its own kind of revelation. But for me, after One Hundred Years of Solitude, the book of his I most treasure is Love in the Time of Cholera Gabo’s novel about lovers whose story takes fifty years, nine months, and four days to finally entirely bloom.

It has its own great opening line as well:

It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love.

NPR’s Mandalit del Barco has more in a wonderful appreciation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez here.

Gabo, rest in peace. We will miss your light, of course. But we are grateful beyond words that you left so much of it behind for us.

Posted in art and culture, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Life in general, literature, solitary, Trauma, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Fixing the “Truancy Crisis,” NYC Art Program Diverts Teen Taggers, Exonerated After 30 Years on Death Row…and More

March 12th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

)

KEEPING CALIFORNIA KIDS IN SCHOOL AND ON TRACK

On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and state lawmakers proposed a group of bills targeting elementary school truancy, which they describe as having reached crisis-level.

Harris’ office put together a report on the issue of “chronic” absence and truancy across California. The report found, for instance, that an alarming one out of five elementary school kids were reported as truant during the 2011-12 school year. Here’s a clip from the executive summary:

…In the 2012-2013 school year, approximately one million elementary school children in California were truant and almost 83,000 were chronically truant (missing 10% or more of the school year – calculated from the date of enrollment to the current date – due to unexcused absences).

The same sample reveals that hundreds of thousands of students in California are chronically absent from school. Over 250,000 elementary school students missed more than 10% of the school year (over 18 school days); and a shocking 20,000 elementary school children missed 36 days or more of school in a single school year.

Given these disturbing statistics, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris commissioned a study to examine the scope, causes and effects of truancy and absenteeism in California. The study also focused on what law enforcement, parents, educators, non-profits, public agencies and concerned community members can and must do about this problem. The findings are stark. We are failing our children.

Truancy, especially among elementary school students, has long-term negative effects. Students who miss school at an early age are more likely to struggle academically and, in later years, to drop out entirely. One study found that for low-income elementary students who have already missed five days of school, each additional school day missed decreased the student’s chance of graduating by 7%. Lacking an education, these children are more likely to end up unemployed and at risk of becoming involved in crime, both as victims and as offenders.

The five bills proposed by Harris and lawmakers address some of the report’s recommendations, with an overall goal of keeping kids in class without turning to harsh school discipline. Several of the bills focus on attendance data-gathering by the AG’s office, the Department of Education, and county School Attendance Review Boards (which would be made mandatory by one of the five proposed bills).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Harris said California needs to better collect student attendance data and put it to use instead of waiting for that person to be deemed a menace to society and pouring billions into the criminal justice system.

[SNIP]

“We need to try to get ahold of our young people early and make sure they end up in the classroom and not the courtroom,” said Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, who authored one of the bills.

“With this slate of bills, we are not putting more students in the juvenile justice system, but inviting communities to intervene before they end up in the penal system.”

Harris’ report was the first statewide assessment of the truancy crisis, specifically examining elementary schools in each county and relaying the financial impact.


NEW YORK CITY NON PROFIT PARTNERS WITH PROBATION DEPT. TO GIVE YOUNG TAGGERS FORMAL ART LESSONS

In partnership with NYC Dept. of Probation, a nonprofit, “Paint Straight,” takes kids arrested for tagging and redirects them with formal painting lessons and mentorship. At the end of the 8-week program, parents, friends, and probation officers attend Paint Straight’s art show where the kids’ paintings are sold through a silent auction.

We at WLA think this is a much better way to address the issue of young people tagging, than former city attorney Carmen Trutanich’s push for gang injunctions against taggers back in 2009.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Laura Bult has the story. Here’s how it opens:

Elijah Henriques, 15, always loved to draw. He began drawing on paper, then on his schoolbooks and eventually he started making graffiti. After a neighbor witnessed Henriques tagging mailboxes in his Ozone Park, Queens, neighborhood, police officers pulled him off a city bus and arrested him and his friends.

Two months later on a Saturday afternoon, his graffiti was exhibited at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in the East Village in Manhattan. His artwork was part of a show organized by the “Paint Straight” program, a nonprofit that’s designed to encourage teenagers who have been arrested for vandalism to express their art in safe and legal ways.

“It helps you understand that doing it illegally is a waste of time. That you can do it on canvas, too,” Henriques said at the “All-City Paint Straight Program Finale.”

Eighteen other young artists who had been arrested for graffiti displayed their work alongside Henriques. Colorful 18-by-21 canvases rested on easels throughout the small dark bar. A DJ spun hip-hop records as probation officers and family and friends of the artists streamed in to view and bid on the art in a silent auction.

Ralph Perez, 49, founded “Paint Straight” five years ago in collaboration with the New York City Department of Probation for teens who have been arrested for nonviolent crimes. The program lasts eight weeks and is often a requirement of probation or offered as an alternative to community service.

“Paint Straight” participants meet once a week at their respective borough’s family court facilities and receive art education and mentorship. Perez said that, out of the 111 kids whom he has helped in the last year, only four have been re-arrested for vandalism…

(Read the rest.)


LOUISIANA MAN EXONERATED AND FREED AFTER A STAGGERING 30 YEARS ON DEATH ROW

Glenn Ford, a man who spent 30 years on death row in Louisiana for a murder he didn’t commit, was exonerated and released Tuesday afternoon. Through a massive miscarriage of justice—by police, prosecutors, judges, “experts,” and the defense attorneys—Ford was convicted by an all-white jury in 1984. His release makes him one of the longest-serving death row exonerees, to date.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen has the story. Here’s a clip:

Isadore Rozeman, an elderly white man with cataracts, a man fearful of crime in his neighborhood, was murdered in his small jewelry and watch repair shop in Shreveport on November 5, 1983. Ford had done yard work for Rozeman and several witnesses placed him near the scene of the crime on the day of the murder. When he learned that the police were looking for him he went to the police station where, for days, for months, he cooperated with the investigation.

Ford told the police, for example, that a man he identified as “O.B.” had given him jewelry hoping that he, Ford, could pawn it. The police would later discover that this jewelry was similar to merchandise taken from Rozeman’s store. Ford identified one possible suspect in Rozeman’s murder, a man named Jake Robinson, and later suggested that “O.B.” was Robinson’s brother, Henry, who also may also have been up to no good.

With all signs pointing to the Robinsons, and with police under the impression that the one or both of the brothers still possessed the murder weapon, Ford was not immediately charged with Rozeman’s murder. He and the two Robinsons were instead charged three months later—only after Jake Robinson’s girlfriend, Marvella Brown, incriminated them by telling the police that Ford was with the Robinsons, and in the possession of a firearm, on the day of Rozeman’s murder.

Louisiana also relied on “experts” to build its case. The first, the parish coroner who had not personally examined Rozeman’s body, testified about the time of death and the fact that the shooter was left-handed. The second expert found a few particles unique to or characteristic of gunshot residue on Ford’s hands. The third, a police officer not certified as a fingerprint expert, concluded that a “whorl” pattern on Ford’s fingers was consistent with a single partial fingerprint lifted from a bag the police believed was used in the murder.

There was no murder weapon found. There were no eyewitnesses to the crime. There were legitimate reasons why Ford would have been around Rozeman’s store. The primary witness against Ford was a person, Brown, whose credibility and reliability were immediately challenged. Expert opinions were not definitive. The police had reason to believe that one of the Robinsons had killed Rozeman. And most of all Ford had not acted suspiciously in any way.

Ford’s murder trial was constitutionally flawed in almost every way. The two attorneys he was assigned were utterly unprepared for the job. The lead attorney was an oil and gas attorney who have never tried a case—criminal or civil—to a jury. The second attorney, two years out of law school, was working at an insurance defense firm on slip-and-fall cases. Both attorneys were selected from an alphabetical listing of lawyers at the local bar association.

During jury selection, prosecutors used their peremptory strikes to keep blacks off the jury. The reasons they gave for precluding these men and women from sitting in judgment of Ford were insulting and absurd. And leading up to and during the trial Louisiana did not share with the defense all evidence favorable to it as they were required to do under the United States Supreme Court’s constitutional command in Brady v. Maryland.

The prosecution’s case was based largely on the testimony of Brown, the girlfriend. Under cross-examination, however, she told jurors that the police had helped her make up the story she had told about Ford. When Ford’s attorneys later called her to the witness stand, she told jurors that a bullet left from an old gunshot wound to her head had affected her thinking. “I did lie to the Court… I lied about it all,” she said in court (remember, it was Brown’s story that led to Ford’s arrest).

After Brown’s credibility imploded on the stand, prosecutors turned to their “experts.” It was a case that cried out for rebuttal experts to make simple and obvious points. A coroner who did not examine the body could not accurately determine time of death or whether the shooter was left-handed. That sort of thing. But no experts testified for the defense. Why? Because Ford’s lawyers believed, mistakenly, that they would have to pay for the costs of these experts…


LA TIMES SEZ SUPE. MOLINA IS -MOSTLY- RIGHT TO BE FRUSTRATED BY COUNTY COUNSEL DENYING ACCESS TO LASD INTERNAL INVESTIGATION DOCS

Last week, LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina insisted county counsel should grant the board access to LASD internal investigation documents on questionable use of force incidents that wind up triggering lawsuits against the county. For instance, Molina wanted access to documents on one investigation in particular, regarding a deputy’s seventh shooting (after which he was placed back on patrol). Molina said, without being able to look at the files, the board could not hold the sheriff’s department accountable to the county, which last year had to pay $89 million in judgments and settlements. (We pointed to the story—here.)

An LA Times’ editorial says Molina is right to be frustrated by the county counsel’s withholding, but there’s more to it. Here are two clips:

She is correct that the county counsel prevents too much information from coming to people who need it to do their jobs. That’s in part because he must obey canons of legal ethics requiring him to protect the interests of his client — which is not simply the Board of Supervisors.

Like all municipal lawyers, the county counsel’s position is curious. His client is the county, a governmental entity consisting of elected officials such as the sheriff and the district attorney as well as the Board of Supervisors; thousands of workers; and in the case of Los Angeles County, 10 million constituents. With so many people who claim to be the client, and with so many competing legal interests to balance, the county’s lawyer can take on enormous power. He sometimes seems to be on both sides of the attorney-client privilege, directing the supervisors’ actions instead of taking directions.

The Times then points to the Supervisors’ own tendency towards secrecy in these cases:

But the supervisors have rarely hesitated to make that awkward relationship work in their favor. They frequently withhold information from the public or meet behind closed doors, then seek to excuse their actions by hiding behind legal advice that they are perfectly free to reject. The county counsel is their tool at least as often as he is their obstacle.

When it comes to obtaining confidential reports on the actions of sheriff’s deputies, members of the Board of Supervisors may have their hands tied by the Peace Officers’ Bill of Rights, a state law that, in the name of privacy, keeps far too much information about deputies’ use of force out of the hands not just of the supervisors but of the public. If the supervisors wanted to, they could put their not inconsiderable clout behind a legislative measure to modify that law.


REMINDER: SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

The first debate among Los Angeles County Sheriff candidates (save for Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold) is scheduled for tonight (Wednesday) at 7:00 pm, at the Van Nuys Civic Center (6262 Van Nuys Blvd.).

Posted in Death Penalty, Education, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Big Problems With Idaho’s Private Prison…. A New Sheriff Candidate Debate!….CA Needs Sentencing Reform…Out of Control Prosecutors…..& Paul Tanaka Has a Plan – UPDATED

March 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FEDS INVESTIGATE AWFUL PRIVATE IDAHO PRISON (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA??)

The FBI has launched an investigation into Idaho’s largest and most violent prison, a for profit facility run by the private prison behemoth, Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA. The chronically understaffed prison has a reputation for being so out of control that inmates reportedly call it “Gladiator School.”

The facility got bad enough under CCA’s management that, in January of this year, Idaho decided to take back oversight of the place.

And now the FBI is stepping in.

It is sobering to note that California also contracts with CCA. Right now they house approximately 8000 of our state’s inmates, with that number scheduled to rise, making us CCA’s second largest customer.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press has the story on this latest CCA scandal Here’s a clip:

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

[BIG SNIP]

The understaffing has been the subject of federal lawsuits and a contempt of court action against CCA. The ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2010, saying the facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School” and that understaffing contributed to the high levels of violence there.

In 2012, a Boise law firm sued on behalf of inmates contending that CCA had ceded control to prison gangs so that they could understaff the prison and save money on employee wages, and that the understaffing led to an attack by one prison gang on another group of inmates that left some of them badly injured.

The Department of Justice requested a copy of a forensic audit done for the Idaho Department of Correction earlier this year. That audit showed that CCA understaffed the prison by as much as 26,000 hours in 2012 alone; CCA is strongly contesting those findings. CCA’s Owen has said the company believes the audit overestimates the staffing issues by more than a third.


VAN NUYS HOSTS FIRST SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE’S DEBATE ON WED. NIGHT, MARCH 12

The debate will take place this Wednesday night starting at 7:00 pm.

It will be held at the Van Nuys Civic Center, at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., on the ground floor of the building.

The only candidates for LA County Sheriff who are, at the moment, not coming are Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Perhaps that will change. Let us hope so.

UPDATE: Paul Tanaka is now confirmed and, with luck, they’ll also get Hellmold. (Note to Jim: Call these people back. Now!)

PS: THIS NEWLY ANNOUNCED VAN NUYS DEBATE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ACLU/LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTORS DEBATE that will take place next week on March 20. We’ll remind you again when we’re closer to the date.


CALIFORNIA NEEDS A SENTENCING COMMISSION SEZ THE NY TIMES

We may have modified our Three Strikes statute, and that’s a welcome step, but California still has a great many laws on the books that are not in the best interest of public safety, and which have much to do with why we have been struggling with overcrowded prisons.

The NY Times weighs in on the topic of our need for sentencing reform.

Here’s a clip:

California should move quickly to set up a commission. Over the past few decades, the federal government and about one-third of the states, from Alabama to Washington, have established commissions to address overcrowding and other issues. By using data-based assessments of who is more or less likely to re-offend, they help correctional systems both protect public safety and save money. A 2010 report by the California state auditor estimated that the longer sentences imposed under the three-strikes law will cost the state an additional $19.2 billion.

As important as reducing prison populations is making sure that people don’t go right back in. That will require postprison programs focusing on jobs, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. California has budgeted for this as part of a statewide reform initiative, but the money needs to be spent wisely. (A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move prisoners to county jails and private prisons. It said the state should focus on longer-term solutions, like reducing sentences for some crimes and diverting more offenders away from prison.)

Governor Brown, who has thwarted meaningful reform in the past, has begun to show some openness to change — for example, in signing off on parole releases at a far higher rate than any governor in decades…


PROSECUTORS SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW? A NOVEL CONCEPT?

It is fairly well established that American prosecutors have too much power, and too little accountability.

A 2009 study that looked at the primary causes for wrongful convictions overturned based on DNA evidence found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions. And what happens to those prosecutors whose shaving of the legal dice has resulted in someone doing time for something he or she didn’t do?

For the most part, nothing.

Finally, however, a few judges in various areas of the country are starting to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, Alex Kozinski of California’s 9th Circuit did so memorably.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about other judges who have also spoken up—basically saying that prosecutors have to abide by the law.

And how have prosecutors reacted to this criticism? Not well, writes Balko.

Here’s a clip:

….Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way.


CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF PAUL TANAKA RELEASES HIS “POSITIVE VISION” FOR THE LASD

On Monday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka released his eight topic plan for “changing the direction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The plan divides its recommendations into eight categories: executive staff, accountability, transparency, budget, officer training, patrol, jail operations and crime.

Among its notable points, Tanaka pledges “100% cooperative effort with the Inspector General.” If elected, he also intends to “establish a promotional testing process, which will ensure that only the highest qualified employees are considered – based on experience, knowledge and effort,”

There’s lots more so read the details here.

Posted in 2014 election, Innocence, Paul Tanaka, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

More on the NY Mag Prisoner Hunger Strike Story, LASD Inspector General Wants Town Hall Meetings, a Rundown on Sheriff Candidates…and More

March 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR’S FRESH AIR: HOW CALIFORNIA’S LARGEST PRISON HUNGER STRIKE WAS COORDINATED

On Tuesday, we pointed to an NY Magazine story by Benjamin Wallace-Wells about how an unusual foursome of California prison gang leaders in solitary confinement coordinated a hunger strike over isolation conditions that more than 30,000 prisoners participated in.

NPR’s Fresh Air host Terry Gross speaks with Wallace-Wells about the NY Mag article. Gross also talks with UC Santa Cruz professor of psychology Craig Haney, who has been studying the psychological effects of solitary for decades (and is cited in the NY Mag story).

Here’s a clip of the transcript (but definitely take a listen, especially if you missed the NY Mag piece):

Wallace-Wells: In 2006, prison officials at Pelican Bay reorganized the SHU; they reallocated the prisoners into different spots in the Security Housing Unit. They thought that the gangs had found ways to work even within these extremely isolated environments. Gang leaders ended up next to gang lieutenants and they wanted to break that up.

So what they did, effectively, was they took all the people who they thought were the most influential, of whom they were the most scared, and they put them all together in one small part of the SHU — it’s called the Short Corridor. The theory was you would separate the guys who were very heavily monitored … from the guys who had become accustomed to doing their bidding, the more junior players. One thing that this did, effectively, was it brought all of the most senior and most influential men in the prison system into physical proximity with one another …

Every cell in solitary is part of a pod of eight cells, and though the prisoners don’t see each other, they can shout to the people in those other seven cells. Also, prisoners are ingenious, and they have figured out how to shout through toilet drains in their own cell to people in other cells and nearby parts of the prison. They figured out how those drain networks go.

On how long it took for the strike leaders to come together:

Wallace-Wells: I think it took a long time. These four men who led the hunger strike — Todd Ashker, [allegedly] of the Aryan Brotherhood, had the initial idea; Sitawa Jamaa, who is allegedly from the Black Guerilla Family; and Arturo Castellanos, allegedly a senior leader of the Mexican Mafia; and Antonio Guillen, allegedly one of the three “generals” of Nuestra Familia — they were put together in basically the same space years ago, in 2006, and it took five years for them come together.

That was a long process. They were very wary around one another at first, but they are each in their own way political and both Ashker and Sitawa Jamaa in particular had been reading revolutionary texts for years. In their own way, each of them had come to see their fight as fundamentally with the system itself rather than fundamentally with each other.

They also are all about the same age. They’re now in their late 40s and early 50s and they had a ton of time in the pod and they had nothing to do but talk. So what they will say is that they first came together, they first developed some intimacy, not by talking about the abuses that they believed they were suffering and not by talking about gang politics, but by talking about their families. The kind of catalyst, after all, of that was Ashker and the other white inmate on the pod … had become a kind of revolutionary book club and they would talk about these books by shouting through the pod. The impact for Ashker was to kind of highlight that they were members of a prisoner class, that the racial divisions among them were artificial and had been coached along by the guards.


LASD IG MAX HUNTSMAN WANTS INPUT FROM COMMUNITY REGARDING DEPARTMENT ISSUES

Inspector General for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Max Huntsman, says he wants to hold town hall meetings to give LA County residents a voice regarding the Sheriff’s Dept. matters. Hunstman, who was hired in December to provide oversight of the LASD, says he wants to build a stronger connection between the department and the community it serves.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I view my job to be, in part, reaching out to the community and getting input from them over to the Sheriff’s Department,” he said. “At the same time, I’ll act as a buffer because there are certainly some people in the community who have very extreme views, and you can’t just vomit out that whole collection of thoughts on the Sheriff’s Department.”

Patrisse Cullors, who founded the community organization Dignity and Power Now after accusing deputies of assaulting her mentally ill brother in jail, believes town hall meetings are critical to restoring public trust. She even offered to help host and organize them.

“People who have been impacted by deputy violence are extremely angry,” she said. “They expect to get answers at these town hall meetings about what happened to their loved ones, who may have been beaten, shot, brutalized.”

American Civil Liberties Union legal director Peter Eliasberg said town hall meetings could indicate the seriousness of problems at the LASD.

“If people are coming in routinely angry, it doesn’t mean everything they say is true, but it’s a form of early warning.”

A Sheriff’s Department representative pointed out town hall meetings have been held at various stations for years. Those, however, suffered from a lack of public trust.

Huntsman wants his town hall meetings to create a bridge between the people and the LASD.

“It certainly has its limitations, but it’s very helpful,” he said. “I’d like to create something like that, because my job is to bring the community and the Sheriff’s Department together, try to get them to the same place as much as possible about what they want policing to look like.”


A GUIDE TO THE SEVEN LA SHERIFF HOPEFULS

WLA’s editor put together a comprehensive LA County Sheriff candidate rundown for LA Magazine. Here’s the intro:

In the March issue of Los Angeles, Celeste Fremon details the jaw-dropping details about the breakdown in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department under the leadership of Sheriff Lee Baca. This June, L.A. County voters have an opportunity to cast their vote for a new sheriff and, hopefully, a new approach to policing within the LASD. You can’t complain if you don’t vote, but how to vote if you don’t know much about the candidates? Here, Fremon provides a rundown of each of the men who want to run the fourth largest police force in the country.


STATE BAR OF TEXAS TO INVESTIGATE PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT CLAIMS MADE BY EXONERATED DEATH ROW INMATE

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske has a worthwhile story about Texas death row exoneree Anthony Graves, who is taking on the prosecutor in his case, after being wrongly imprisoned for 18 years (where he faced scheduled execution twice). Graves announced on Wednesday that the State Bar of Texas would be investigating the grievance he filed against Charles Sebesta, a former Burleson County district attorney.

Here’s a clip:

Graves was convicted in 1994 of killing a 45-year-old woman, her 16-year-old daughter and four grandchildren in a single stoplight town about 90 miles northwest of Houston in 1992. The victims were variously beaten, stabbed, strangled and shot.

The sole witness to the crime, Robert Carter, was also charged and initially implicated Graves, but later recanted.

Sebesta said he did not withhold a statement from Carter, and that it was the job of Graves’ attorney to question Carter more closely.

Both Carter and Graves were convicted. Carter was executed in 2000. Sebesta retired the same year.

Graves appealed. In 2006, his conviction was set aside by the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which found the prosecutor not only withheld evidence that would have helped Graves, but that he also encouraged witnesses to commit perjury. Four years later, the new district attorney dismissed the charges and declared Graves innocent…

Graves’ attorney filed a grievance with the state bar against Sebesta in 2007, but it was dismissed because the statute of limitations had expired, he said (Sebesta disputes this). This year, Texas lawmakers extended the deadline for filing.


Above photo courtesy of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Posted in CDCR, Innocence, LASD, solitary | 1 Comment »

LASD News Roundup, the Post-Release Life of the Exonerated, Solitary Confinement Debate Gains Steam…And More

February 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN LASD CAMPAIGN WEBSITE PRANK

When Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, both candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff, tried to set up campaign websites, they found most of their viable options were already purchased. Not only that, the bought up sites (JimHellmoldforSheriff.com, for instance) redirected to a site for former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s campaign denied any involvement when contacted, and asked the web hosting company to shut down the redirecting sites shortly thereafter.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

When Jim Hellmold decided to run for sheriff of Los Angeles County last month, he knew that one of the first things his campaign needed was a website. He figured JimHellmoldForSheriff.com would make the most sense.

Except when he typed the address into his browser it took him to an already established site promoting one of his competitors: former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

So he tried another: JimHellmold2014.com.

Again, he was directed to a site boosting Tanaka.

“I was left with ‘Hellmold-the-number-four-sheriff-dot-com,” the assistant sheriff said. “I look rinky-dink.”

Across town, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who decided to run for sheriff around the same time, was having a similar experience. Basic domain names with his name were already taken and leading him to a site for Tanaka…

“Apparently he bought everything he thought I wanted,” McDonnell said. “I was disappointed. I thought, you know what, we’re all cops trying to run for a job and hopefully we respect each other.


AN ASSEMBLY BILL TO CREATE INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT OF THE LASD

A new California bill, introduced by Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would create a permanent civilian oversight committee for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

For months, the LA County Board of Supervisors have been discussing the possibility of an oversight commission. On Tuesday, the Supes voted to have IG Max Huntsman, (interim) Sheriff John Scott, and county counsel to look into what kind of oversight would work for the department. (Read about it here, if you’ve missed it.)


THE PLIGHT OF EXONEREES IN THE UNITED STATES

People who are exonerated after spending time in prison rarely receive monetary compensation, and when they do, it takes years to travel through the court system. Exonerees given the assistance that everyone else released from prison receives.

In 2013 alone, 87 people were freed after wrongful incarceration.

Over the weekend, the NY Times’ Alan Feuer had a worthwhile story (we didn’t want you to miss) about the lack of support offered to the unjustly imprisoned upon their release. Jeffrey Deskovic, a fellow exoneree who is working to bridge that gap. Here are some clips:

A sprawling literature exists describing the challenges of re-entering society after serving time in prison, an experience that is marked by depression and disorientation, and is hard enough for those who have been rightfully punished for their crimes. But what about those who are wrongly sent away as the victims of mistaken identity or prosecutorial error? The justly incarcerated are likely to have access to a battery of post-release services like health care, housing aid and social-work assistance, but those who should not have been locked up in the first place are rarely given treatment to address their special needs, and are often left to fend for themselves, finding the cure for their “disease” in one another’s company.

“There was a gap for men like us and I wanted to fill it,” said Mr. Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and a murder he did not commit. After his release in 2006, he filled that gap with the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a product of a settlement with his jailers that is focused on helping the innocent who found themselves imprisoned to manage the financial and emotional results of their own release.

A combination of advocacy organization and support group, the Deskovic Foundation, since its creation in 2012, has collected a small, tightknit brotherhood of exonerated inmates, a society of the wronged whose members have been forced to come together and assist one another in the absence of assistance from anyone else.

When Eric Glisson, improperly imprisoned on a murder charge for 17 years, was recently planning at age 40 to open Fresh Take, his juice bar in the Bronx, Mr. Deskovic offered him marketing advice and bolstered his credit by co-signing the lease. When Mr. Lopez, convicted of a killing he did not commit, was freed from prison last winter after serving more than 23 years, Mr. Deskovic replaced the clothes he was arrested in with an outfit from Macy’s and put him up for six months — rent free — in the foundation’s apartment in Washington Heights.

[SNIP]

“People who have been wrongly convicted don’t have any reason to trust authority,” said Karen Wolff, a social worker with the Innocence Project. “The irony is it impacts their ability to deal with the people there to help them — with their lawyers, the social-service agencies they go to, even with potential bosses down the line.”

Then, of course, there are “bitterness issues,” Ms. Wolff said.

“The first year out is critical in their ability to transition back to life,” she added, “and there is no central place, no single institution that can tell them, ‘O.K., this is what we took from you, now here’s what we’re going to give you back.’ ”

It is widely assumed that exonerated inmates can simply make a claim against their jailers and walk away, like Mr. Deskovic, financially set for life. But only 29 states have laws that permit the wrongfully imprisoned to sue for compensation, and even in those states, the cases often languish in court for years.


JAM-PACKED CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HAS TO FIND A BIGGER ROOM

The debate about solitary confinement, an issue we often point to on WLA, has really been heating up, at both the congressional and state levels.

On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue had so many attendees that the committee had to move to a larger room.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson talks about the hearing with Melissa Block on All Things Considered. Here’s a clip:

BLOCK: And it was just last week that we saw New York announce sweeping changes to solitary confinement for inmates in state prisons there. Why are we hearing so much about this practice right now?

JOHNSON: In the last couple of years, a lot of different factors have come together. There have been efforts by states to save a lot of money and reduce violence in prisons and also a critical massive advocacy by the ACLU and some researchers. And now, today, we saw some bipartisan interest in the U.S. Senate.

One fact that came out today was that it cost about $78,000 a year to house somebody in the federal prison system in solitary. That’s three times as much as it cost to put somebody in a regular prison unit. And, Melissa, here, as in so many areas of law and order around the country, states are leading the way. Mississippi and Maine have been early adopters of reforms in this area. And even in Texas, state lawmakers last year have passed legislation to study solitary confinement.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO END USE OF “GAY PANIC” AND “TRANS PANIC” AS CRIMINAL DEFENSE STRATEGIES

Another new California bill, AB 2501, would ban the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic” as a defense strategy in criminal cases. Under the bill (to be introduced by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla in partnership with Equality California), a defendant would no longer be able to blame an alleged crime against another person as having occurred due to fear caused by the victim’s orientation or gender identity.

Here’s a clip from Assemblymember Bonilla’s website:

“It is reprehensible to learn that criminal defendants are encouraged by their defense counsel to employ a ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in an attempt to receive a possible lesser charge or avoid conviction,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla. “A panic attack defense allows a criminal defendant to claim that violence against the LGBT community is somehow understandable or acceptable due to the victim’s orientation or gender identity. With this bill, we are making it very clear that it is never acceptable, and that there is no place for prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

AB 2501, sponsored by Equality California, a statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community, would prohibit the use of a “panic defense” to qualify for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter instead. Current law calls for the jury to be instructed that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

(And a quick shout out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing the bill that would have allowed businesses to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to refuse service to the LGBT community.)

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LGBT, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, solitary | 24 Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

More on the LASD Hiring Story, False Confessions via the “Reid Technique,” and LAUSD’s Vanishing Libraries

December 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISOR YAROSLAVSKY SAYS NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL SHOULD EXAMINE LASD HIRING

On Monday, we shared the LA Times story about disturbing LASD hiring practices in 2010.

On Tuesday, LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said that Max Huntsman, the incoming inspector general for the sheriff’s dept., should make taking a deeper look at this hiring issue one of his first priorities.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston have the update on the controversial story. Here’s a clip:

“I think the Sheriff’s Department needs to take a look at each and every one of these hires to see what remedies they have,” Yaroslavsky said, “and they need to do it immediately.”…

He said he would meet with Max Huntsman, who is expected to start soon as the Sheriff Department’s new inspector general, and ask him to look at the 2010 mass hire and the sheriff’s hiring in general.

“This should be one of the first things he looks at,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is a very frustrating situation. There’s a rigorous vetting process that goes with hiring any law enforcement employees, and corners should not be cut.… The sheriff needs to be sure this kind of situation does not reoccur.”

In an interview earlier Monday, Huntsman said he was particularly troubled by the finding that dozens of officers who had showed evidence of dishonesty were hired. Investigators noted that some of the new hires had made untrue statements or falsified police records.

“The hiring of people who have not been honest is a dangerous thing to do,” said Huntsman, who is expected to start work as the agency’s inspector general early next year. “Dishonesty is a particularly dangerous area. A use of force can be placed in context … it may or may not reoccur. But dishonesty, that’s always going to be a problem.”

[SNIP]

“At a minimum we would ask questions, gather information and hopefully make suggestions on how to avoid this in the future. Even though I think some of those suggestions are pretty obvious: Don’t do this,” he said. “Hopefully, if we would have existed at the time, this wouldn’t have happened.”

Another county supervisor, Michael D. Antonovich, said in a statement that the Board of Supervisors “was assured that full background investigations would be conducted and only those qualified would be hired by the Sheriff’s Department.”
“Those who breached that process should be held accountable,” he said.


MISCARRIAGE OF JUSTICE: COMMON INVESTIGATION METHOD INDUCES FALSE CONFESSIONS

The New Yorker has an fascinating story about how an oft-used law enforcement interrogation tactic called the “Reid Technique” can (and does) elicit false confessions. The technique involves a series of steps on the part of investigators, including assessing whether the suspect is lying, to pretending to have evidence and minimizing the consequences of the alleged crime.

Unfortunately, the article is hidden behind the New Yorker’s usual paywall. Here’s a small clip from the beginning of the piece (do go read the rest if you have a subscription):

On December 14, 1955, Darrel Parker came home for lunch from his job as a forester in Lincoln, Nebraska. A recent graduate of Iowa State, he had moved to Lincoln with his wife, Nancy, who worked as a dietician for a flour-and-noodle company and had a cooking show on the local television station. He found her dead in their bedroom. Her face was battered, her hands and feet were bound, and a cord had been knotted around her neck. The medical examiner later determined that she had been raped before the murder.

Parker called the police and spent the next several days in a fog of grief and sedation. After the officers questioned him, he took his wife’s body home to Iowa for burial. Several days later, while mourning with her family, he got a call from the attorney for Lancaster County, Nebraska. There was some new information, the attorney said, and he asked if Parker could come in and help with the investigation. When Parker arrived, he was led into a windowless room and introduced to a large, well-dressed man named John Reid.

Reid was a former Chicago street cop who had become a consultant and polygraph expert. He had developed a reputation as someone who could get criminals to confess. Rather than brutalize suspects, as police often did in those days, he used modern science, combining his polygraphic skills with an understanding of human psychology…

The author, Douglas Starr, is co-director of the graduate Program in Science and Medical Journalism at Boston University. (Business Insider’s Erin Fuchs also wrote about the New Yorker piece—you can read it here.)


MANY LAUSD SCHOOL LIBRARIES HAVE GONE DARK WITHOUT $$$

Approximately 145 LAUSD schools may have been forced to shut down their libraries due to lack of funding, according to staffing information obtained by KPCC this week. Because the district no longer pays for school library workers, and state law says that the libraries cannot be run by volunteers, many LAUSD schools (especially middle schools) have lost a crucial tool to help shrink the learning gap between students from lower and higher income families.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has the story. Here’s a clip:

The district has 457 elementary schools, but only 380 schools have at least a part time library aide, according to statistics provided by L.A. Unified. That translates into about one in five schools that can’t open their libraries.

Shortages have hit middle schools the hardest — 83 percent of them are without a librarian, according to district staffing numbers.

Some schools are working around the district the same way they’ve gotten around insufficient arts instruction — with parents chipping in to pay for it.

That’s what parents at Wonderland Avenue Elementary, in Canyon Hills, did.

“We can allocate $40,000 to have our library opened,” said parent Stacey Gonsalves. “I don’t know how many schools in LAUSD are sitting with their doors locked and the lights turned out” because they can’t.

The shuttered libraries are a legacy of years of budget constraints. The district used to pay for library workers directly, but cut them from the budget in 2011. Schools that wanted them had to find room in their discretionary funds, which can create difficult choices.

“You have to make the choice between a school nurse, an office tech, the library aide, counselors, everything – because you can only afford one,” said Franny Perish, a library aide at Dixie Canyon Community Charter School and a member of the The California School Employees Association.

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD | 2 Comments »

« Previous Entries