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New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & Miss

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.

Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:

…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.

“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”

He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”

Gennaco disagreed.

“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.

“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.

However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.

Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.


Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.

Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”

In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.

For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.


Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.

Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.

Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.

In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”


CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.

“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”

Read on!

Posted in Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, OIR, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

OC Supervisors Block Plan to Release and Monitor Low-Risk Felons…Officers Who Shot at Women in Dorner Hunt to Return to Work…California Judges May Be Prohibited from Boy Scout Affiliation

February 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


The Orange County Board of Supervisors shot down Sheriff Sandra Hutchens’ plan to open up the county’s successful electronic monitoring system—which is already being used to monitor those serving time for misdemeanors—to include some inmates serving time for low-risk, non-violent felonies. By releasing certain low-level felons, Hutchens intended to prevent overcrowding in the OC jail system.

The LA Times’ Jill Cowan has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I understand they need to find an alternative to incarceration, and I appreciate the sheriff’s efforts,” Supervisor Janet Nguyen said Tuesday. “But I’m still uncomfortable allowing felons to be out on the street.”

The move came as the county, like many jurisdictions across the state, grapples with a ballooning jail population and scant resources to house inmates.

Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said her department has struggled to accommodate an influx of inmates from a variety of sources…

Hutchens said there are about 900 more inmates in Orange County’s system as a result of the realignment.


This week, Hutchens said those home-monitoring programs have been successful, adding that inmates who are being monitored electronically are still technically in custody.

Assistant Sheriff Lee Trujillo told the board Tuesday that the only inmates who would have been eligible for electronic monitoring are “low-risk” felons — those who are nonviolent, with limited criminal records and just days remaining on their sentences.

(Our new LA Sheriff John Scott is on loan from the Orange County Sheriff’s Dept., and will be returning to his position as OC’s Undersheriff when our permanent LASD leader is elected.)


The eight officers who fired over 100 rounds at two women in a pickup truck during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last February will return to the field after they receive additional training, according to LAPD Chief Charlie Beck.

Both the civilian police commission and Chief Beck found that the shooting (which injured both women) violated department policy, but no disciplinary action will be taken against the officers involved.

The commission also found the department to be at fault in the incident. President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, Tyler Izen, says the officers were “placed into a highly unreasonable and unusually difficult position.”

AP’s Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I have confidence in their abilities as LAPD officers to continue to do their jobs in the same capacity they had been assigned,” Beck said in a department message to officers obtained Wednesday night by The Associated Press. “In the end, we as an organization can learn from this incident and from the individuals involved.”

Both the chief and an independent commission found the 2013 shooting that injured two women violated department policy. The seven officers and one sergeant could have faced penalties including being fired.

Other discipline not outlined in the chief’s message could be handed down, police Lt. Andrew Neiman said, but department policy prevents him from discussing it.

Attorney Glen Jonas, who represented the two women who won a $4.2 million settlement from the city, said he was concerned by the chief’s decision not to terminate any of the eight officers.

“If either of the women had been killed, you can bet your bottom dollar somebody would be fired and maybe prosecuted,” Jonas said. “A stroke of luck, firing more than 100 rounds and missing, should not mean the discipline is lighter.”


The California Supreme Court’s ethics committee unanimously recommended the court forbid judges from affiliation with the Boy Scouts of America, based upon the Boy Scouts’ ban on LGBT leaders. California prohibits judges from being a part of organizations with discriminatory policies, but make an exception for non-profits like the Boy Scouts. The committee will take public comments on the issue until April 15. If the state Supreme Court decide’s to approve the ban, it will go into effect on August 1.

SF Gate’s Bob Egelko has the story. Here’s a clip:

If the court agrees, California will join 21 other states whose judicial ethics codes have antidiscrimination provisions that forbid judges from affiliating with the Boy Scouts.

Banning scout membership would “promote the integrity of the judiciary” and “enhance public confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary,” the ethics committee said Wednesday.


The panel noted that 22 states, including California, prohibit judges from belonging to organizations that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, but only California exempts “nonprofit youth organizations” from that prohibition. The state’s high court, which sets judicial ethics standards, adopted that exemption in 1996 to accommodate judges affiliated with the Boy Scouts.

“Selecting one organization for special treatment is of special concern, especially in light of changes in the law in California and elsewhere prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation,” the committee said.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Orange County, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Interim Sheriff John Scott is Sworn In as Baca Steps Down…ABC7 Investigates LA Field Deputy’s Duties…and California Prisons Can Learn from San Francisco Jails

January 31st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Two hours after (now former) Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement went into effect on Thursday, John Scott, the new interim LA County Sheriff, was sworn in. Scott has taken leave as Orange County Undersheriff, and will head the LASD until December when a new sheriff is elected.

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

“What I’d like to do is restore dignity to the department … and restore the trust and confidence to the office,” Scott said.

“I look forward to serving Los Angeles County and doing all that I can in the next 10 months to bring about the appropriate change that is in order, and to see that the next sheriff — the elected sheriff — comes in somewhat seamlessly.”


He vowed not to be a mere “placeholder” until Baca’s replacement is elected either during the June 3 primary or the Nov. 4th runoff, and is sworn in Dec. 1. He plucked former LASD Division Chief Neil Tyler out of retirement to serve as his second-in-command and had a ready answer when asked about his top priorities.

He plans to ask all the captains to conduct a “SWAT” analysis, so that he can assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within respective bureaus, and to work closely with the jail chief and county budget manager to implement the changes recommended by the blue-ribbon Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

EDITOR’S NOTE: New Sheriff John Scott has just 10 months to make his mark on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. After he took the oath of office on Thursday at Monterey Park Sheriff’s headquarters, he sounded refreshingly clear-eyed about the fact that real changes were required at the department he will now lead, and indicated he felt up to the challenge. Scott was also forthright when asked by reporters about such topics as why he left the LASD in 2005. At that time, he said, he saw the department going in the wrong direction. “I saw inaction and a certain level of neglect,” the new sheriff told ABC-7′s Robert Holguin.

Welcome, Sheriff John Scott!


Three of Lee Baca’s civilian field deputies have retired alongside the former Los Angeles County Sheriff. One of the civilian advisors, Bishop Edward Turner, was relieved of duty after an ABC7 investigation in November found that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across the street from his church.

But the field deputy controversy doesn’t end with Turner.

ABC7 investigated the circumstances of another resigning civilian aid, Michael Yamaki, who took home $171,000 a year. Yamaki seemed to have a questionable working relationship with the super-exclusive Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, and was spotted several times by ABC7 reporters driving his LASD-issued car to and from the golf course. As for his duties as a civilian field deputy, the investigation turned up…not much. Here are some clips:

Yamaki loves the game of golf. He’s appeared on the Golf Channel’s “Golf Central” TV program leading a tour of the legendary Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, where stars like Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg hit the links. And the initial fee just to join the club will set you back a reported $250,000.

Yamaki has been identified in various publications as the “general manager,” the “managing corporate officer” and “chief executive” of the Riviera Country Club.

So we wondered: Is he holding down two jobs?

“No he doesn’t,” said sheriff’s departments spokesman Steve Whitmore. “The only job he has is working for the sheriff’s department. He’s an investor. But he doesn’t have a job there. The only job he has is the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.”


Michael Yamaki refused to speak with Eyewitness News about this story and we couldn’t get in to see him, because the Riviera is a very private club. But we were able to learn from public records that of the $120,000 worth of gifts Sheriff Baca has received since taking office, there were nine rounds of golf paid for by Yamaki, most at the Riviera Country Club.


The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have a story about the controversial legacy that Lee Baca leaves behind, as John Scott steps in. Here’s how it opens:

For Sheriff Lee Baca, it was a legacy moment. He was on Capitol Hill, testifying before a congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims. Conservative lawmakers were grilling him, pressing him to acknowledge that the Muslim groups he embraced after 9/11 may have had criminal elements.

Baca wasn’t having it.

“We don’t play around with criminals in my world,” he shot back.

With dozens of cameras trained on him, the sheriff made the case that American Muslims were being unfairly persecuted and should be treated as partners, not suspects, in the fight against terror.

The tense exchange in 2011 made national news, burnishing Baca’s image as a lawman who bucked law enforcement stereotypes and embraced a softer side of policing.

Back in Southern California, a different narrative was playing out in his department.

Just two weeks earlier, Baca’s deputies allegedly beat a man visiting his brother in the Los Angeles County jail in an incident that would later result in federal indictments. Baca’s subordinates had recently hired dozens of officers with histories of serious misconduct. And in the Antelope Valley, Baca’s deputies were involved in searches and detentions that federal authorities would later say violated the constitutional rights of black and Latino residents.

Baca’s defense of Muslim Americans on the national stage would turn out to be a high point in his 15-year tenure. Since then, the Sheriff’s Department has been rocked by one scandal after another. And a different take on Baca emerged: a disengaged manager who lacked the managerial skill and sway to get his 18,000-person department to follow his vision.

As a federal investigation into jail brutality grew, Baca admitted he was out of touch.

“People can say, ‘What the hell kind of leader is that?’ The truth is I should’ve known,” Baca said a few months after his triumphant Washington trip…

(Read on…)


While California is desperate for another extension on a federal court order to ease prison overcrowding, the San Francisco jail population has been consistently dropping over the last few years through a more treatment-based approach to incarceration.

Governing Magazine’s Ryan Holeywell has an excellent piece on what California can learn from the San Francisco, several decades after the county faced similar litigation against major overcrowding in its jails.

San Francisco has also taken advantage of realignment funds, using them to bolster their rehabilitation and reentry programs. Some counties have been slow on the uptake, or have used the money to build more facilities to house the state prisoners that were transferred to county custody during realignment.

Here are some clips:

If long prison sentences were a criminal deterrent, [Paul] Henderson [San Francisco Public Safety Director and Deputy Chief of Staff] says, crime would have been nearly eliminated in California long ago, and repeat offenders would be almost nonexistent. That, of course, isn’t the case at all, and it’s why federal judges have ordered California to drastically reduce the number of inmates in state custody. The result has been a dramatic shift in corrections policy called “realignment.” The change came via legislation in 2011 that requires many criminals who previously would have served their sentences in state prison to instead serve them in county jails. Realignment has been painful for local leaders who are charged with huge new responsibilities as they work to prevent their own facilities from eventually confronting the same overcrowding as the state’s prisons.

But it’s also caused many to turn to San Francisco to see if it’s found an approach to criminal justice that should be emulated across the state. That’s largely because in the wake of realignment, the population of San Francisco’s jail is actually declining. It’s the result of a longstanding approach to corrections that predates the state’s crisis. “San Francisco was ahead of the game before realignment ever began,” says Linda Penner, chair of the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections, which oversees county jails. “They had a community that embraced treatment. They had the capacity. And they had the political will. With realignment, they’ve just accelerated and stepped on the gas.”


San Francisco had a head start in dealing with realignment, largely as a result of litigation in the 1980s that challenged overcrowding of its own jails. That prompted an increased focus on evidence-based practices in criminal justice, aimed at using statistics to determine which methods actually succeeded in reducing crime. The thinking was that the city could beat overcrowding, save money and actually increase public safety if it took an approach that was more nuanced than simply throwing the book at offenders. The result: Even in the wake of realignment, the city’s average daily jail population has declined from 1,954 in 2009 to 1,281 today, says Wendy Still, San Francisco’s chief adult probation officer.

Still represents, in many ways, San Francisco’s approach. When she discusses the population of offenders her office supervises, she refers to them as “clients.” It’s jarring, at first, to hear a probation officer describe convicted felons that way, but she says it makes sense. “We know they have needs,” Still says. “Yes, they’re offenders, but our job is to try to assist them.” In San Francisco, the prosecutors, public defenders and judges have all been trained on evidence-based approaches to justice that can help put them on the same page when it comes to sentencing. “We have a lot of cases that go to trial, and we fight over our cases in court,” says Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender. “But where we agree is once a person is convicted of a crime—particularly a person convicted of a low-level felony—the goal is to find the support and services necessary.”

When it’s time for an inmate to leave prison or jail, San Francisco’s counselors find out what’s needed in housing, employment, health care and drug rehabilitation. The probation department has gone as far as picking people up from prisons to help them return to San Francisco. And little steps—like trying not to release people from county jail in the middle of the night when they’re more prone to slip up—have become part of the culture. “Other counties have taken realignment money and invested it in more jails,” Adachi says. “We haven’t done that.” Instead, San Francisco has focused on alternative sentencing and re-entry programs that hook offenders up with drug treatment, education and employment services.

Krisberg, the Berkeley fellow, says the Bay Area warrants attention from other parts of the state. “San Francisco is, in some ways, a road map for how to get organized and do it well,” he says…

Other states are following San Francisco’s lead. Since 2011, at least seventeen states have reduced their prison populations by a combined 35,000, and in 2013, at least six states closed (or considered closing) twenty correctional facilities, according to a report released on Thursday by the Sentencing Project. Here’s a clip from the report’s offerings on California’s prison population actions:

In California, officials opened a new prison that holds more than 1,700 inmates. The California Health Facility in Stockton reportedly cost $839 million to construct and is designed to address the medical and mental health needs of incarcerated persons. The state opened this prison while accounting for the largest share in population declines in 2012. During a 2013 press conference, Governor Jerry Brown estimated that the prison expansion plan would cost $315 million in the short term and total $715 million by 2015.35 Additionally, to deal with continued overcrowding, Governor Brown has proposed sending approximately 12,000 incarcerated persons to private prisons out of state.

A companion report (also released Thursday) detailed 47 important criminal justice policy reforms that were put into effect in 31 states last year—including two in California. (Take a look.)

Posted in CDCR, jail, LASD, prison, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 65 Comments »

Homeboy Needs Funding to Continue Crucial Services…Cams in LA Jails a Success…More LASD Indictments?…and Drug Sentencing Reform and the State of the Union

January 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.

This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.

This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez has the story. Here’s a clip:

For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.

Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.

Making ends meet.

“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.

And then he had this pithy observation:

“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”


Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.

“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”

But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.

“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”


…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.


Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.

“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.

Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.

Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.

A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.

In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:

…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.


David Ono of ABC7 digs into rumors of further indictments headed for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. (Here’s the backstory, if you missed it.) Here’s how it opens:

Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?

Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?

Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.

That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.

What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.

“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.

Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.

“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.

(Read the rest.)


In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:

In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.

As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”

President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.

The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, jail, LASD, Obama, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | 7 Comments »

Federal Indictments, Part 2: Where—and To Whom—-Will They Lead?

December 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

On the day after United States Attorney Andre Birotte unveiled five criminal cases that have thus far resulted in the 18 federal indictments, it is instructive to look beyond Monday’s charges to see what they might mean in terms of the feds ongoing probes.


Birotte made it clear that the 18 indictments unsealed on Monday—which he characterized has alleging “a wide scope of illegal conduct”—-were by no means an endpoint, that investigations were aggressively ongoing into these and other areas.

When asked by Warren Olney how high up the food chain he expected future indictments to go, Birotte said that the feds would “go where the investigations take us.”

If looked at as auguries of things yet to come, the three groups of indictments pertaining to the LA County jails are particularly interesting because they point to much broader indictments possibly on the horizon alleging a “pattern and practice” of abuse of inmates by deputies, and of related corruption in the jails.

For instance, one of the five clusters of indictments pertains to incidents at Twin Towers jail facility in which a training officer, Bryan Brunsting, along with Twin Towers deputy Jason Branum, is charged with planning an assault on an inmate “to teach him a lesson,” and then together with several other deputies, allegedly assaulting the inmate with kicks, punches and pepper spray to the point of “bodily injury.”

The indictment further alleges that Brunsting used deputies he was training to file reports that covered up the abuse and caused the beaten inmates to be falsely criminally charged to mask the beatings.

This alleged strategy of using accusations of violence against inmates to cover-up deputy assualts is one that has frequently turned up in high ticket lawsuits and incidents like the one WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on here last week. In other words, it suggests something more widespread than a few bad apples, but rather “pattern and practice.”


The second cluster of indictments, labeled “the visiting center indictment,” charges that a sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, and four deputies, with civil rights violations, and alleges they arrested or detained five victims—including the Austrian consul general and her husband—when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail.

According to Birotte, one of those victims suffered injuries that resulted in a permanent disability.

The indictment further alleges that Gonzales, who is no longer with the department, “encouraged deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force”….and to “criticize deputy sheriffs’ who were not aggressive.”

When Gonzales left Men’s Central Jail, the indictment charges that the attitudes he promoted continued.

Again, this cluster suggests possible “pattern and practice” allegations to come.

The visiting center indictment is also interesting because none of the people who were allegedly unlawfully detained and/or assaulted, were inmates. Instead they were simply the friends or family of inmates who had come to the jail to visit.


So how responsible are Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka for the actions alleged in the indictments?

When Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, was interviewed Monday on KCRW as part of the station’s coverage of the indictments, Krinsky talked about “failures of leadership at the highest level,” leadership that, among other things, failed to address a culture in the jails where “a code of silence and excessive force was the norm.”

A failure for leadership to address such attitudes, “…causes small problems to become large problems,” said Krinsky.

You can listen to the rest of what Krinsky had to say here.


Kevin Roderick of LA Observed made an interesting point in his KCRW segment on Monday, when he suggested that one of the reasons the sheriff, who has rarely spoken to the press these past months, felt he had to hold a press conference Monday afternoon after the indictments were unsealed, was because he feared a gaggle of reporters with cameras and mics would show up at his Monday night $1500-a-plate campaign fundraiser co-sponsored by Grey Davis, Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Mark Geragos. (“They probably showed up anyway,” Roderick said.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze went even further with his report on what the indictments might mean for Baca’s reelection race. Here are some clips.

When Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca woke up Monday morning, he was probably looking forward to the fundraiser being held that very evening for his 2014 re-election campaign.

But his mood probably changed about 9:30 a.m., when news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted 18 current or former members of the Sheriff’s Department on a wide range of misconduct charges that include excessive force, unlawful arrests and obstruction of a federal investigation.

At a morning press conference, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. pointedly said the incidents “did not take place in a vacuum – in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”


…The sheriff faced a daylong deluge of criticism from various corners.

Former federal judge and former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Robert Bonner, served on a blue ribbon commission that just over a year ago issued a report that faulted both Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

“I think [the charges] are reflective of what we found on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence,” said Bonner, “that there has been, in the past, a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that fosters the use of unreasonable and unnecessary force.”

Bonner called the indictments something akin to a thermonuclear bomb delivered by the U.S. attorney, noting how unusual it is for the federal government to indict law enforcement officials.

Since, along with his other past jobs, Jails Commissioner Bonner also ran the DEA, and the US Border Patrol, he is likely in a position to know a bit about law enforcement.


Bob Olmsted, the retired LASD commander who is challenging Lee Baca for sheriff, pointed unequivocally to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven indictments on Monday.

Olmsted was on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, and spoke to Frank Stoltze at KPCC, along with putting out a statement of his own about the indictments.

Regarding the cluster of indictments stemming from the Anthony Brown matter, Olmsted told Stoltze that the directions to hide FBI informant Brown, and to try to intimidate his FBI handler, could not have originated with the lieutenants and two sergeants who were indicted.

“Lieutenants do not have the capability to make decisions,” Olmsted said. “Those came from higher-ups. Being an investigator for years and years and years, I can tell you what’s going on: The Feds grabbed the low-lying fruit.”

Olmsted also pointed out that when Paul Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, Tanaka claimed that Baca ordered him to hide prisoner Anthony Brown. “He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” Olmsted noted both to WitnessLA and to Olney. “This could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Interestingly, when asked by Olney, if he would have the wherewithal to challenge two very well financed candidates with deep pockets—meaning Baca and Tanaka—Olmsted said he did, that by the end of the year he expected his fundraising to hit the same dollar amount that now LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey had raised at the same point in her campaign against the better financed and better known Carmen Trutanich.


Backing Olmsted’s observations about the involvement of top leadership, Bradley Gage, attorney for department whistleblower, LASD Lt. Katherine Voyer (among others), told KNBC reporters on Monday that Voyer—-who was a supervisor in the jails at the time when Anthony Brown’s identity as an informant was discovered—was told that if federal agents showed up to see inmate Brown, Paul Tanaka was to be called immediately on his personal cell phone, and that no one should use department phones or email, because those forms of communications might be tapped by the feds.


Molina issued a statement late Monday that read, in part:

“This morning’s Department of Justice arrests are disappointing but not surprising – and, in some ways, expected. These arrests reveal that Sheriff Lee Baca’s claim ‘there is no institutional problem within the Sheriff’s Department when it comes to correcting itself’ is untrue – especially since 18 current or former Sheriff’s Deputies were arrested. Saying you embrace change is not enough. Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform – they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years…..”

Ridley-Thomas also put out a statement, and told LA Times reporter Seema Mehta that the indictments were yet another indication of the need for strong oversight of the department.

“Ultimately, the next step in this process of reform is oversight and this should not be taken lightly because of the need to make sure that we are building a culture where no one operates under the impression they are above the law,” he said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas said the mechanism would be a blue-ribbon panel that he and Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed earlier this year that has stalled for the lack of a third vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They will revisit the proposal in January.

NOTE: Obviously, there are lots of important news stories that have nothing to do with the sheriff’s department or with new federal indictments. And we’ll be diving into those issues tomorrow morning.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »


December 9th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


At 1 pm Monday, United States Attorney Andre Birotte announced the filing of 5 criminal cases that include indictments for a total of 18 current or one-time deputy sheriffs of various ranks that were unsealed today as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, that Birotte described as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

Four grand jury indictments and one criminal complaint allege crimes that include “unjustified beatings of jail inmates and visitors at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail.”

Federal authorities announced the charges after 16 of the defendants were taken into custody earlier today. Those defendants are expected to be arraigned on the charges this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.

“The five cases allege a wide scope of illegal conduct,” said US Attorney Birotte. “This investigation started by focusing on misconduct in county jails, and we uncovered examples of civil rights violations that included excessive force and unlawful arrests.

“Our investigation also found that these incidents did not take place in a vacuum,” said Birotte. “In fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.

“The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law. Instead of cooperating with the federal investigation to ensure that corrupt law enforcement officers would be brought to justice, the defendants in this case are accused of taking affirmative steps designed to ensure that light would not shine on illegal conduct that violated basic constitutional rights.”

Many of those listed in the five groups of indictments were already been arrested when the feds announced the indictments Monday morning, however other arrests were still taking place by the time of the 1 pm press conference.


Among the five criminal cases announced Monday, is the case known as United States v. Thomson, et al, which has to do with the department’s hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown. (We wrote extensively about the circumstances underlying the case here.)

Seven people were indicted with regard to the operation in which two LASD teams allegedly hid and/or aggressively debriefed federal informant Anthony Brown who, while an inmate in the jails, was recruited by the FBI to report on possible wrongdoing by deputies, as a part fo the feds’ then widening investigation into brutality and corruption on the county’s jails.

Among those indicted Monday on the Brown matter are Gregory Thompson, Steven Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mikey Manzo, James Sexton, Scott Craig and Marcella Long.

Thompson, now retired ahead of being fired by the LASD, was the lieutenant whose team of more than a dozen deputies did the physical (and cyber) hiding of informant Brown. Smith, Manzo, and Sexton worked under Thompson.

Leavins was the leader of the team that reportedly did the secret debriefing of Brown.

Craig and Long are the two sergeants in the Internal Criminal investigations Bureau (ICIB) of the LASD, who were allegedly sent out to threaten and intimidate Brown’s FBI handler, showing up at her private home late at night, telling her they planned to arrest her in the hope of getting information out of her.

Many LASD watchers were surprised to hear that James Sexton was on the indictment list since, along with his LASD work partner, Mike Rathbun, he was—and still is—a whistleblower, both in the Anthony Brown federal case and in another case involving a jails deputy who was allegedly doing favors for an inmate who was reportedly a shot caller in the jail for white supremacist groups. (Details on that case are here.)


Clearly Thompson, Leavins, the two ICIB sergeants, and the deputies working under Thompson, did not take it upon themselves to hide Anthony Brown. They were ordered to do so.

According to multiple sources, the person to whom Thompson and Leavins reported on the operation was former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka. However there are several reports that Sheriff Lee Baca was briefed on the operation all along the way.

It is unclear who ordered Sergeants Craig and Long to go to the FBI agent’s home to allegedly try to get information from her using threats and intimidation, but according to our sources, at least one of the sergeants reported about the trip to Sheriff Lee Baca.

So will people higher up the food chain be indicted?

We would be stunned if that were not the case. As to how high those indictments might go….that’s the zillion dollar question.


At a press conference held at 3:30 on Monday afternoon, Sheriff Baca first made a brief statement, then responded to reporters’ questions about the just handed down indictments.

“While the indictments were not unexpected,” he said, “it is a sad day for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.” The sheriff also assured the crowd that the LASD was fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation.

Reporters asked Baca if federal informant Anthony Brown was deliberately kept away from the FBI and whether he, Baca, was aware that two of his sergeants went to a federal agent’s house.

Baca essentially did not answer either question, but said that he could not comment on the feds’ facts. “It’s not my desire or to probe their investigation before it’s completed,” he said specifically when asked about the sergeants and the wee hours visit.

When the sheriff was asked whether either of the lieutenants-–Thompson or Leavins—reported to him, he denied that they did. “There are no direct reports to me outside the chain of command,” answered Baca.

“There are no institutional problems with regard to correcting itself,” Baca said. “Fourteen or fifteen people under indictment is not an institutional number.”


You can tune in and listen live here or on your radio at 89.9 FM. Here’s a link to the podcast of the show.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 49 Comments »

Hearing on Isolation in California Prisons, California Inmates Medi-Cal Enrollment, Foster Care Reform Package…and More

October 10th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


In a meeting between the California Senate and Assembly public safety committees on Wednesday, lawmakers heard testimony from CDCR officials, inmate advocates, and a former Security Housing Units (SHU) resident on the humaneness and practicality of solitary confinement in state prison. The hearing, hosted by State Senator Loni Hancock and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, came after a historic 59-day state-wide prisoner hunger strike over SHU conditions and protocol, among other things.

(For some of the backstory, go here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I wonder if there’s been any reduction in gang membership as a result of putting so many people in SHU,” Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said to officials from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“I don’t know that that’s the case at all,” said CDCR Deputy Director Michael Stainer. Stainer said CDCR lacked the resources to keep real data that would track the results of policies like the SHU.

Stainer also said it’s too early to tell whether a policy change that’s granted the release of about 343 SHU inmates to the general prison population so far has had any negative effects on prison safety.

“We need this informational gathering system to judge whether or not these policies are effective,” Stainer said.

Stainer estimated housing an inmate in a SHU costs about $15,000-$20,000 more per year than housing an inmate in a high-security general population yard.

Lawmakers also questioned prison officials about conditions inside the SHUs — whether inmate complaints about food are justified, whether inmates are allotted visitations and whether mentally-ill inmates can participate in group therapy sessions.

CDCR Deputy Director Kelly Harrington explained that inmates participate in group therapy while in individual, cage-like “treatment modules.” Similarly, SHU inmates in some prisons, like Corcoran, exercise in outdoor cages.

“I’ve got to say this,” Ammiano said. “There’s just so many comparisons to a zoo. Feeding terms, ‘treatment modules.’ I don’t know, we’ve got to do something about that.”

California Congressional Representatives Tony Cardenas and Karen Bass sent a letter Wednesday before the hearing, cheering on the state Senators and Assemblymen and stressing the importance of these hearings. Here’s a clip from the letter, which WitnessLA obtained:

We are very pleased to hear that you will be holding a Joint Hearing in the Assembly and Senate Public Safety Committees on the conditions in California prisons. As leaders in California’s state legislative bodies, you have an important platform with which you can review these pressing issues and encourage changes to our correctional system that promote effective rehabilitation of California’s prison population.

We have serious concerns with the solitary confinement of inmates, often for indefinite periods of time. Beyond the question of whether the physical and social isolation of individuals in a cell for 22-24 hours per day qualifies as cruel and unusual punishment, it has been recognized as leading to or intensifying mental illness among inmates. In fact, individuals in solitary confinement attempt suicide at higher rates than those who are in the general population, further showing that this practice is counterproductive to rehabilitation efforts.


AB 720, a bill still awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s deliberation, would suspend inmates’ Medi-Cal while they are behind bars, rather than the terminating their coverage as current law dictates. It would also allow inmates to enroll in Medi-Cal that will kick in upon their release.

An LA Times editorial calling on Gov. Brown to sign AB 720, says the bill would help reduce gaps in medical care for California’s mentally ill, lower recidivism rates, and save counties money.

Here are some clips from the editorial:

When people leave jail without medical coverage, their ailments often go untreated and they wind up in the emergency room with more expensive, acute problems. The ultimate cost usually ends up being covered by taxpayers in any case because hospitals can sign them up for Medi-Cal retroactively. What’s more, former jail inmates who suffer from mental health issues and substance-abuse problems but who don’t receive treatment are more likely to end up back in jail, according to studies of jail populations in Florida and Washington.


The changes are sensible and will increase the continuity of care while reducing recidivism. Currently, many people fail to re-enroll in Medi-Cal when they are released from jail, often because they are too ill, mentally or physically, to navigate the process.

The bill could also help counties save money by providing local law enforcement agencies greater flexibility in managing their jail populations, especially those inmates who are mentally ill but not considered dangerous. In L.A. County, an estimated 15% of inmates suffer from some form of mental illness, and taxpayers spend about $160 a day to house them — nearly twice the cost of housing other inmates. If more of those inmates were covered, the county might be able to release them and divert them to more effective and less costly programs.


Before the present government shutdown, the Senate Committee on Health, Employment, Labor and Pensions (HELP) held the first in a set of hearings on higher education.

Foster care journalist/advocate Daniel Heimpel, in his publication, The Chronicle of Social Change, explains how the hearings will provide a podium for foster child advocates to push a reform package to make attending college more feasible for foster and homeless youth.

Here’s a clip from Heimpel’s story:

While yet to be scheduled, subsequent hearings will cover issues such as college affordability, student access and financial aid, and will influence the re-authorization of the Higher Education Act of 1965 (HEA), which governs the disbursement of federal monies to universities and student assistance programs.


“We need all hands on deck when it comes to these young people,” said Barbara Duffield, policy director at the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth.

Duffield, who has already corralled 17 national groups including the Alliance for Children and Families and the National Alliance to End Homelessness, is advocating for reform package that would improve outcomes for foster and homeless youth by removing barriers to financial aid, making college more affordable and building up supports for college retention.

One of the recommendations calls for federal programs to better identify, recruit and prepare homeless and foster students for college. This would entail amending the TRIO and GEAR-UP programs — which are both administered by the Department of Education and aim to improve college access and retention of disadvantaged and first generation students — to explicitly include students in foster care and those who are homeless.

“I have certainly heard many [foster] youth say that they didn’t even know college was a possibility,” said Jessica Feierman, a supervising attorney at the Juvenile Law Center, one of the advocacy groups supporting the recommendations. “Unless someone reaches out, they often won’t know they have this option. Including these provisions is extremely valuable.”

Even in a state like California, which is often pointed to as a leader in helping foster youth through high school and onto college, the majority of students in foster care remain woefully underprepared for college.

Only 45 percent will graduate from high school compared to 79 percent of the general student population, according to a report released in May. While three quarters of foster youth in one California survey reported the goal of attending college, national studies have shown that only 3-11 percent will ever receive a bachelor’s degree.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved $89.8M three-year jail fund to carry out many of the reforms recommended by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence in September 2012. (We would still sure like to see a very rigorous forensic audit done on the Sheriff’s Dept., in general, and the custody division, specifically, but that’s just us.)

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has faced federal scrutiny and a barrage of lawsuits over allegations that there has been a pattern of mistreatment of inmates by jailers and deputies.

The money approved Tuesday will go to hire 130 staff members, including more supervisors in the jails, lieutenants to oversee use-of-force investigations, internal affairs and training staff, and to install more cameras to capture the actions of inmates and guards.

Separately, the board is moving to hire an inspector general for the Sheriff’s Department as recommended by the jail violence commission. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina have also proposed setting up a permanent citizens’ oversight commission, but the proposal has so far failed to get support from the rest of the board.

And by the way, on Wednesday, LA County Superior Court Judge Michelle Rosenblatt blocked an attempt by the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs to prevent the LA Times from publishing LASD deputies’ background screening files. (Read about the decision here.)

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Reentry, solitary | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Vote $75 Mil for Kern County Jail….Brown Gets a Mini-Extension on Prison Problem…. More on the LASD Deputy & the 7 Shootings…

September 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to give Sheriff Lee Baca $75 million over a 5-year period in order for him to ship 500 county jail inmates to a jail facility in the town of Taft in Kern County.

Speaking for the LASD, Chief Eric Parra presented the need for the money and the out-of-county jail contract as answering a pressing need for more jail space to prevent dangerous inmates from being released after serving only a fraction of their sentences—a policy that the sheriff has been employing for around a decade, but that now has quite rightly attracted notice and concern.

The vote came after last week’s approval of another $25 million to send 500 jail inmates to fire camps—a strategy that at least has rehabilitative and job training elements.

Some of those experts and advocates who opposed the Taft jail plan brought up the fact that the sheriff and the board of supervisors have declined to push for the use of pretrial release and the strategy known as split sentencing-—both of which have been used in other California counties to lower their jail populations in the wake of AB109.

ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg reminded the board about the county-funded Vera Institute report on jail overcrowding, which found that, with the use of judicious pretrial release of certain inmates waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, the department could immediately lower the jail population substantially.

“One of the reports by Vera was that the pretrial system in LA was broken,” said Eliasberg, “and that there were 700 or more low-level offenders in the jail who would present little risk to community but who could not make bail. This board,” he said, “with one stroke of the pen could give the sheriff’s department the authority to release those pretrial inmates to electronic monitoring. You’re getting 500 beds at Taft. You could get 700 beds with one stroke of the pen, one motion of this board.”

Eliasberg also pointed out that this pre-trial strategy was already being used successfully in San Diego and Riverside along with seven other California counties.

Additional speakers pointed to the fact that, unlike most other California counties, LA County is making almost no use of “split-sentencing,” the newly instituted incarceration and reentry strategy where the inmate serves part of his or her sentence in jail, and the remainder in the community under close supervision by the probation department with the goal to reintegrate successfully into their lives, and not end up reoffending. (Split-sentencing also requires participation in certain rehabilitative programs.)

In the end, the requisite three supes voted for the $75 million/Taft Jail plan, with Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky abstaining in the hope that they could delay the vote for a week or four in order to more fully consider other options. But no luck.

Worry about dangerous inmates being released to the countryside prevailed, and the purse strings were opened—nevermind that there were far better alternatives available than those presented in the false choice between more jail cells or the ridiculously early release of prisoners by the sheriff.

An opportunity sadly missed.


The federal judges overseeing California’s requirement to lower the state’s prison population just gave Governor Jerry Brown 30 more days after the December 31 deadline in order to try to hammer out a long term solution.

Here’s a clip from Paige St. John’s story for the LA Times:

Three federal judges have given California Gov. Jerry Brown a 30-day extension on their order to reduce prison crowding, buying time for confidential talks between lawyers for the state and those representing inmates.

The order, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was well-received by prisoners’ lawyers, who had largely been left out of negotiations between Brown and the Legislature over prison-crowding solutions.

“We’re always willing to try and negotiate an agreement that will benefit the state and the prisoners,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office. He said he did not believe a one-month delay in reducing prison crowding would make a big difference in the 23-year-old litigation.

Brown’s lawyers had asked the federal courts for a three-year delay in the Dec. 31 deadline to remove roughly 9,600 inmates from California’s overcrowded prison system, where medical and psychiatric care is so poor that incarceration has been deemed unconstitutionally cruel. The governor offered to use that time to invest in community probation and rehabilitation programs, with the aim of reducing the number of repeat offenders being sent to prison.


As readers likely remember, in a startling story last week, the LA Times reported that Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review wrote the LA County Board of Supervisors about his concern over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who had just been involved in his seventh shooting, this time a fatal one.

According to Gennaco, Deputy Anthony Forlano, who had been put on desk duty for two years after his 2011 shooting number six, was returned to field duty by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in April of this year. A few months later, the deputy and his partner shot a seventh suspect, this time fatally.

Gennaco noted that, of the deputies first six shootings, three involved unarmed suspects.

But, whether or not all Forlano’s shootings were righteous, the sheer number of shootings is alarmingly unprecedented, at least according to the collective institutional memories of all the members of law enforcement—LASD AND LAPD, both—-with whom we’ve thus far spoken in the last few days. “At least I can’t think of anyone with that kind of number,” said a knowledgable LAPD source.

Mr. Tanaka repeatedly denied to the press that he’d been the one to send the deputy back into the field, but said he gave the decision to Forlano’s supervisor, Captain Robert Tubbs.

(Tanaka also said he’d been the person to initially bench Forlano, which according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore, was not the case. Whitmore said that the deputy had been taken out of the field by a panel of command staffers. )

Sheriff Baca, meanwhile, said he knew nothing of the decision to return Forlano to patrol.

It turns out, however, that Tanaka reportedly did unilaterally give the order for Forlano to go back to patrol.

In fact, we have learned of the existence of two emails sent between Forlano and Tanaka on April 26 of this year, both referring to a meeting the day before (April 25) between the deputy and the then-undersheriff.

The first email sent in the morning of the 26th, is from Forlano thanking Tanaka for meeting with him and getting him off the desk duty and back to work in the field—-or words to that effect.

Tanaka answers a few hours later, and gives the deputy a verbal slap on the back, writing, in essence, that he believes that Forlano will make the department proud.

The emails reveal several interesting things.

First there is the timing.

If you remember, Tanaka was forced into retirement by the sheriff on March 6, 2013. Although Tanaka was still technically employed by the department until August first, his falling out with Baca was reportedly severe enough that he was rarely in the LASD’s headquarters after the first couple of weeks of March.

Moreover, in the fall of 2012, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence recommended that Baca removed Tanaka from any oversight of the jails or of patrol, the sheriff assured the board of supervisors that his undersheriff was now only overseeing the budget.

Clearly this was not the case—as evidenced by Tanaka’s actions with Anthony Forlano in April.

It is alarming that neither the sheriff, nor anyone else, seemed to know that Mr. Tanaka was still taking upon himself such significant decisions—despite assurances to the contrary—and doing so, as has been his pattern, by stepping outside the chain of command, without employing any rigorous protocol or process whatsoever.

“So it was determined that he was field ready, based on no objective criteria other than a conversation,” said Mike Gennaco.

One wonders in what other ways the former undersheriff, now candidate for LA County Sheriff, selected himself as the decider, with no one able or willing to stop him.

We are thankful that the sheriff’s department, with the OIR’s urging, plans to create a sensible system for dealing with such situations as Forlano’s. It is in the best interest of the deputy and the community that such protections be put into place.

Had they existed last April, it is possible a man would be locked up, but not dead and a deputy’s career would be recalibrated, but not be shattered.


The LA Times editorial board argues that now is not the time for a new commission to oversee the sheriff’s department, that an independent inspector general could have a much stronger effect.

We’re still debating the matter, but editorial board writer, Sandra Hernandez makes many points well worth considering.

Here’s clip:

….The fact is, there are already a number of people and offices overseeing the Sheriff’s Department, but they lack authority. The supervisors have a special counsel who has repeatedly issued reports but who does not have the power to force a discussion. There’s an Office of Independent Review, but it too often serves as an advisor to the sheriff. And the ombudsman, created to handle citizens’ complaints, fails to regularly perform that job. The jails commission noted that too often the Sheriff’s Department has only “paid lip-service to those oversight bodies.” The proposed inspector general’s office would consolidate the functions of those other offices.

No doubt, some of the supervisors will argue that any watchdog agency will have only limited influence over Sheriff Lee Baca because he is a directly elected official. It’s true that it is the voters, not the supervisors or any other overseer, who ultimately decide whether Baca stays or goes. But a strong inspector general, whose office is adequately funded and staffed, could have a profound impact on the sheriff by maintaining a public spotlight on the problems in his office….

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

LA Supervisors Call for Permanent LASD Oversight, Ex-Inmate Gets $585K After Losing Eye…and More

September 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


LA County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina are calling for a permanent LASD citizens oversight commission in light of the newest DOJ investigation into allegations of abuse in Los Angeles County jails that was announced last week.

If passed by the board on Tuesday, (WLA hopes it will be) the motion will require each supervisor to choose one commissioner by Oct. 15.

Here’s a clip from the announcement from MRT’s office:

The latest probe into the county jails, which will focus specifically on the treatment of mentally ill inmates, significantly expands the federal government’s ongoing investigations into the jails. A criminal investigation into allegations of excessive force and other wrongdoing has been underway since 2011. Similar concerns about use of force and abuse by jail deputies are also the centerpiece of the civil probe.

“The seriousness of this new investigation and the allegations of abuse that prompted it cannot be ignored,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The sheriff’s department has long required a level of scrutiny that has been missing, and although the board only controls it’s budget, the department is there to serve the citizens of L.A. County, and that’s who should have greater oversight.”

“Transparency, without question, is needed to ensure that there is proper oversight of the sheriff’s department,” said Supervisor Molina. “A sheriff’s department oversight commission is the best vehicle to ensure accountability.”


Frank Lucero, a former inmate at the California state prison at Chino, has received $585K by the state for the loss of his eye due to alleged inadequate medical treatment while incarcerated.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Frank Lucero was in the state prison at Chino in 2008 for a parole violation when pressure inside his eye, which was stricken with glaucoma, caused the cornea burst. He alleged that prison officials had taken away his pressure-relieving medication and had failed to send him to see an eye doctor despite growing pain.

After the cornea burst, Lucero was taken to an outside hospital, but returned again to the prison for two weeks before surgeons removed the eye as well as connective tissue he would have needed for a transplant. Lucero now wears a prosthetic eye in the empty socket. He finished his prison term and now lives in Arizona, his lawyer said.

Lucero sued the state corrections department, alleging a violation of his civil rights, as well as the court-appointed agency put in charge of prison medical services after judges ruled that California’s care was so poor it was responsible for unnecessary deaths.

And, in case you missed it: Gov. Jerry Brown signed the prison population reduction compromise bill Thursday. (You can go read about it over on the Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Alert blog.)


Marsha Rosenbaum, director emerita of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance and author of Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs, in a piece for the Huffington Post, says that “Zero Tolerance” discipline in schools needs to be replaced with counseling and “restorative” alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, along with better, and more relevant drug education. Rosenbaum also sites examples of schools having retooled their approach to discipline with measurable success.

Here’s a clip from the Huffpost article:

Last year, the annual federally-sponsored Monitoring the Future survey indicated that 45 percent of students — nationwide — had used marijuana by the time they had graduated from high school, and nearly one-quarter had used another illegal drug. Many more (69 percent) had used alcohol. The struggle to determine what schools and families can do about it persists.

Despite more than four decades of lecture-style, abstinence-only, drug education programs — replete with messages designed to frighten students and backed up with “zero tolerance” punishment — the use of alcohol and marijuana is common among high school students, and most young people accept it as part of teenage social life.

So what can be done?

In his new, updated booklet, Beyond Zero Tolerance: A Reality-Based Approach to Drug Education and School Discipline, UCLA Professor Emeritus Rodney Skager urges educators to take a critical look at prevention programs and recommends honest, science based drug education content.


When schools choose to move “beyond zero tolerance” in handling school discipline, they stop merely reacting to student misconduct — and can begin to address its root causes. As Pennsylvania middle school principal Ed Baumgartner said:

“I’ve had an epiphany, a metamorphosis. I used to be one of these black and white, law-and-order guys. Kids had to be held accountable, and the only way to do that was to kick them out of school — to show the other kids that you’re the boss. That doesn’t work. I didn’t solve problems, I just postponed them… and then somebody else had to deal with them. Restorative practices work. We now fix and solve problems.”

Drug education motivated by fear and lacking in credibility weakens young people’s confidence in law enforcement, parents, teachers and other adults. Whether at home or at school, we need reality-based approaches to drug education that foster open, honest dialogue about the potential risks and consequences of drug use. Teens need drug education that respects their intelligence and gives them the tools to stay safe and healthy.

Posted in jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

California Leaders Strike a Deal on Overcrowding Solutions, Bill for Youths with Adult Sentences Moves Forward, and the LA Times on Pre-trial Release

September 10th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


Governor Jerry Brown and California legislative leaders agreed to a compromise Monday regarding their competing prison overcrowding plans: First they will present to the panel of three federal judges Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg’s request for a deadline extension to implement a series of rehabilitative strategies. If the judges don’t agree, Jerry’s $315M for-profit prison proposal will be the fallback position. (For WLA’s previous post on the issue, go here.)

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

The deal relies on the state persuading three federal judges to give California time to let rehabilitation programs work rather than spend $315 million to lease cells in private prisons and county jails.

The leaders agreed that if the judges don’t extend the deadline, the state will fall back on Brown’s plan to lease the cells.

“There’s insurance here against early release” of prisoners, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said at a news conference outside the governor’s office, where he was joined by the governor and Democratic and Republican leaders of each chamber.


The agreement reached Monday resolves the impasse as lawmakers race toward the end of the legislative session this week.

However, there is no guarantee the judges will go along.

While California lawmakers are asking for more time to reduce the prison population, Chris Megerian of the LA Times presents a timeline of California’s overcrowding problems spanning almost two decades.

KQED’s Mina Kim talks to the station’s Sacramento Bureau Chief Scott Detrow about the agreement between Brown and the Steinberg coalition. Here’s a clip from the discussion (scroll down for the sound clip):

MK: Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg put forward the alternate plan, but his plan relies on federal judges granting a three year extension. The special panel has already rejected requests for more time. The US Supreme Court rejected a request last month. What makes the governor and lawmakers think that the federal judges will change their minds now?

SD: That’s the big question, and that’s the big hole in this compromise that the governor is pushing today. …He has spent all of 2013 fighting this court order, and time after time the federal courts have come back and said, “No, we’re sticking to our deadline.” Brown says this is different because California is putting legislation in place that would in theory reach these hard goals that the courts have set for the state…

Option A does exactly what the courts want. Option B will reach that goal, but over a longer period of time and in a way, at least according to the authors of this proposal, will have more of a long-term effect than simply expanding the prison system. He’s banking on the fact that the court, when given these two options, will say, “Okay, we’ll ease our deadline because this is a better plan for the long term.”

Even if it seems slightly off point, this article from Bloomberg about the effect of California’s incarceration decisions on two the big private prison corporations makes for interesting reading. It makes one wonder how these profitability issues might influence California politics. Here’s a clip:

Corrections Corp. of America, the largest U.S. prison company, and Geo Group Inc. (GEO) stand to gain in California Governor Jerry Brown’s plan to rent thousands of their cells as part of a $1 billion effort to meet a federal court deadline to reduce prison overcrowding.

Brown seeks to spend $315 million in the year that ends June 30 and an estimated $415 million annually for two more years to remove 12,500 inmates from state penitentiaries. The plan calls for leasing a Corrections Corp. (CXW) prison in the Mojave Desert, shipping more inmates to private lockups out of state, and renting beds at public and private jails in California.

The proposal is an about-face by Brown, who sent Corrections Corp. shares tumbling 8.9 percent in one day in April 2012 when he said he planned to reclaim almost 10,000 inmates held by the company in Arizona, Mississippi and Oklahoma. California is Corrections Corp.’s biggest state customer and accounted for 12 percent of revenue, or $214.8 million, in 2012, according to corporate filings.


The California Assembly approved a bill Friday, SB 260, that would provide a possibility of parole to many inmates who were sentenced to adult prison as teenagers. (For backstory on the bill go here, and here.) The bill, authored by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), now has to make it through the Senate before it lands on Gov. Brown’s desk.

The Eurasia Review has the story on SB 260. Here’s a clip:

Senate Bill 260 (Hancock) passed in the Assembly with bipartisan support by a vote of 51 to 21. Next week it will return to the Senate, where an earlier version passed with a two-thirds majority, for a concurrence vote.

The bill would create a parole process that would account for the age of the youth offender at the time of the crime and would focus on subsequent rehabilitation as a key factor in determining suitability for parole.

“California law does not recognize what every parent and teacher knows: children are different from adults,” said Elizabeth Calvin, senior children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “If passed into law, this bill will help put many young offenders on a path to being productive members of society.”

California sentences many youth to adult prison terms, even when the person was under 18 at the time of the crime. More than 6,500 youth offenders are in California state prisons. Some were as young as 14 when the crime was committed and over half are serving life sentences.

The bill would provide review for young offenders who were convicted as adults and who have served at least 15 years. Many, however, would have to serve 20 or 25 years before going before the parole board.


While we were (partially) off the grid last week, the LA Times published a noteworthy editorial on the merits of pre-trial release for a portion of the 10,000 inmates awaiting trial as a means of reducing overcrowding in LA County jails. Here are some clips:

With some county jail inmates serving only a fraction of their sentences due to overcrowding, as The Times reported Sunday, Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich has called on Sheriff Lee Baca to provide ideas on how to increase the portion of their terms that inmates actually spend behind bars. The supervisor asked specifically about contracting for more lockups throughout the state — while failing to mention an option that could immediately free up space to house the most serious offenders.


Thousands of beds are currently occupied by people awaiting their trials in jail instead of at home simply because they can’t afford to post bail. Money, not public safety, is often what determines whether someone charged with a crime walks free and helps his lawyer prepare a defense or stays locked up.

AB 109, the same legislation that gave counties new responsibilities and new funding for dealing with some felons previously handled by the state, also authorized sheriffs to release pretrial detainees, on electronic monitoring when appropriate, even if they can’t pay their bail. The catch is that the sheriffs must first be given the go-ahead by their county boards of supervisors — and Los Angeles County’s supervisors haven’t budged.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, pretrial detention/release, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

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