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House Votes to Deport “Dreamers,” Tar Pits Cold Case…and More

June 7th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

(Video of Thursday’s House decision getting booed.)


The House of Representatives voted Thursday to block funding for the Obama administration program (similar to the Dream Act) that defers the deportation of young immigrants who are in school or the military. The change came in the form of an amendment added to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill currently being considered by the House.

Huffington Post’s Elise Foley has the story. Here are some clips:

The House voted 224-201 on Thursday to end Department of Homeland Security discretion policies that allow it to delay deportations for young, undocumented immigrants and other people deemed low-priority, effectively demanding the government force out Dreamers who came to the United States as children.


The King provision was added to the Department of Homeland Security spending bill currently being considered by the House. It’s almost certain to be opposed by the Democratic-run Senate, or by President Barack Obama, who has expanded the use of discretion in deportation proceedings.


White House Press Secretary Jay Carney issued a statement on Thursday vowing the amendment will not be signed into law. The full statement:

As the Senate prepares to debate bipartisan commonsense immigration reform next week, House Republicans chose to spend today passing an extreme amendment to strip protections from “Dreamers.” These are productive members of society who were brought here as young children, grew up in our communities, and became American in every way but on paper. This amendment, sponsored by Representative Steve King, runs contrary to our most deeply-held values as Americans. It asks law enforcement to treat these Dreamers the same way as they would violent criminals. It’s wrong. It’s not who we are. And it will not become law.


A law enforcement task force sent an LAPD diver into the oozing La Brea Tar Pits in search of cold case evidence on Thursday.

LA Times’ Andrew Blankstein has the story (and there’s a short video). Here are some clips:

LAPD Lt. Andrew Neiman would not discuss details of the case and wouldn’t say exactly what authorities were searching for, other than that it involved investigators from a joint task force.

“They requested the assistance of our dive team to search for an item of evidence related to an ongoing homicide investigation,” Neiman said.


“It’s horrible in there,” Neiman said. “There’s a diver in the water in a full dry suit which is completely enclosed. He’s covered with tar. It’s a mess.”

On the warm afternoon when this story broke, LA Times writers couldn’t resist coming up with an endless series of tweet-puns. Here are our favorites from Andrew Blankstein and Joel Rubin:

Joel Rubin ‏(@joelrubin)
.@anblanx Sources tell me it’s a homicide from the Ice Age – a very cold case.

Andrew Blankstein (‏@anblanx)
Cold Case-La Brea Tar Pits @joelrubin: @RobertFaturechi says they are trying to find who killed the dinosaurs. #VeryColdCase #LAPD #FBI


A promising new Santa Barbara investigative and narrative non-profit news site, Mission & State, launched Thursday. M&S has some big journalistic talent behind it, including Joe Donnelly, the former deputy editor of LA Weekly and the founding publisher and co-editor of the quarterly reader Slake: Los Angeles.

They have a page full of interesting articles already up, like this one on Santa Barbara County Main Jail’s problematic releasing of inmates in the middle of the night. Here’s a clip:

There were 8,602 people released from county jail between January and April, according to Santa Barbara County Main Jail Custody Lieutenant Tim McWilliams. Approximately 2,508 people were released between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., about 20 per day. While the jail provides bus vouchers, Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District buses generally don’t run between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m., and the bus serving the section of Calle Real adjacent to the jail doesn’t run between 5 p.m. and 8 a.m.

Pressure to release inmates early is coming from two sides—court-ordered caps on the county jail population and AB 109, the state-mandated prison realignment that diverts low-level criminals from state prisons to local jurisdictions. The average daily population has increased from 887 in 2011 to 1,009 as of March 2013 partially because of the realignment, according to Lt. McWilliams.

Posted in immigration, journalism, LAPD, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Executions in CA Still on Pause, Virginia Gives Vote to Some After Prison…and More on DOJ/Media Spying

June 3rd, 2013 by Taylor Walker


The CA stay on executions will remain in place after a three-judge panel of the lst District Court of Appeal in San Francisco upheld a lower court ruling that the CDCR has failed to comply with procedural law when establishing lethal injection regulations.

The Sacramento Bee’s Denny Walsh has the story. Here’s a clip explaining what might come next in the process:

Steve Mayer, lead appellate counsel for the condemned inmates challenging the regulations, estimated it will take “at least nine months to a year, and maybe longer,” if the state decides to craft revised regulations and jump through the rule-making hoops set out in the Administrative Procedure Act.

On the other hand, if the Brown administration petitions the California Supreme Court for review, Mayer said, “we are looking at anywhere from two to four years” before the court issues an opinion. It depends on how long it takes the seven-member court “to get four justices to sign off on something.”

Mayer said the case is unique in that “the CDCR did such a bad job. There wasn’t a single step in the process they did right, so it’s not surprising there is no case law right on point.”


Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he would automatically restore the voting rights of disenfranchised non-violent offenders who meet certain criteria–a big step in the right direction for a state where over 7% of the adult population is disenfranchised.

In California, voting rights are restored automatically once a person is released from prison and discharged from parole (probationers can vote). You can look up the voting laws for ex-offenders in the rest of the states here.

Here’s a clip from an NY Times editorial on restoring the voting rights of the disenfranchised:

Governor McDonnell’s order, which could cover more than 100,000 people, reflects a growing awareness that disenfranchisement serves no rehabilitative purpose — and may, in fact, contribute to further criminal behavior by forcing former offenders to the margins of society.

In all, nearly six million Americans — about 2.5 percent of the voting-age population — are barred from voting by a confusing patchwork of state laws that strip convicted felons of the right to vote, often temporarily, but sometimes for life. Nearly two dozen states have softened their disenfranchisement policies since the late 1990s, with several states repealing or scaling back lifetime bans.


To address the controversy over recent outrageous cases of spying on journalists by the Department of Justice, Attorney General Eric Holder assured media editors in a private meeting that the administration would push for a federal “media shield ban” to protect journalists from unreasonable and invasive subpoenas. (Thanks, Eric. Nice to know that you plan to protect us from…um, you.)

Wall Street Journal’s Devlin Barrett has the story. Here are some clips:

Mr. Holder and aides said they were open to changing the guidelines the department uses to broaden the circle of officials who have to agree that subpoenas are justified as a last resort. The officials also said they were open to annual reviews with news organizations, according to a Wall Street Journal editor who attended the meeting.

The department’s guidelines haven’t been revised in more than two decades, and the officials said they needed to be updated to deal with significant changes in news gathering that have occurred in that time.


Mr. Holder and the other Justice officials told the editors they were committed to protecting the role journalists play in reporting on the government. Mr. Holder and his top aide, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, have been criticized by press organizations and First Amendment advocates for what have been called overly broad seizures of reporters’ phone records, as well as a search warrant to read one reporter’s personal emails.

Mr. Holder and his aides also said the administration would throw its weight behind an effort to pass a federal media shield law, though such legislation would likely have little impact on the two cases at the center of the current controversy, according to the editor.


And with good reason, we think.

Here’s a clip from the Huffington Post’s story about why NYT’s Executive Editor Jill Abramson decided the paper wasn’t going.

Jill Abramson spoke out on Sunday about the New York Times’ decision to boycott Eric Holder’s meeting with news organizations, saying that the newspaper is worried that “the process of news gathering is being criminalized.”

Attorney General Holder recently met with outlets to review the DOJ’s guidelines for investigating journalists. The meeting, however, provoked even more controversy when it was announced that it would be off-the-record, prompting the Times among others to abstain from attending.

“To have this private meeting with the attorney general and not be able to share anything about it with our readers didn’t seem to have a point to me,” Abramson told Bob Schieffer on Sunday’s “Face the Nation.” “The Times and our readers are quite concerned about the six active criticism leak cases that the Obama administration has pursued. That’s more than all the other administrations combined. And, you know, we are concerned that the process of news gathering is being criminalized.”

Later, she added that it was important to remember that the public is probably less invested in the case than journalists, and more preoccupied with other issues like the state of the economy and the cost of health care.

The AP and the Huffington Post were among the other outlets that declined to attend once it was announced that the meeting was off-the-record—an extraordinarily tone-deaf decision on the part of the the administration.

At the meeting Holder reportedly announced to those assembled that, regarding the whole spying-on-media thing: “I get it.”

And yet the meeting remained off-the-record— although finally Holder agreed that journalists could report “in general” on what was discussed.

This leads many of us to believe that, although Holder is trying mightily to diffuse the media’s anger toward him and the DOJ, he still doesn’t, in fact, “get it.”

Posted in Death Penalty, Government, journalism | No Comments »

Miranda and Dzhokhar Tsarnaeve….Apologies in Criminal Law….More on the Koch-Bros & the LAT

April 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Of course we want the feds to have gotten everything possible our of Dzhokar Tsarnaev before he started clamming up. But is that merely an emotional position or a legally justifiable one? (Do remember, that the rights we give away in exceptionally moments often tend to stay given away.)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev talked for 16 hours before he was read his rights. Emily Bazelon of Slate thinks that’s too long. Here’s a clip from her discussion-provoking essay on the matter.

According to the AP, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev answered questions for 16 hours before he was read the Miranda warning that he could remain silent and could ask for a lawyer. Once Tsarnaev was told that, he stopped talking. (So much for the idea that everyone has heard Miranda warnings so many times on TV that they have become an empty ritual.) The AP also reports that the investigators questioning him were “surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room.” The investigators “had planned to keep questioning him.”

Wow. That’s bad no matter your point of view. If you think Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve the normal protections American law affords criminal suspects, then you’d want the FBI to keep at him as long as they chose. Or if, like me, you’re worried about how far the Obama administration’s Justice Department has stretched the limited “public safety” exception the Supreme Court has allowed for questioning suspects about ongoing danger without Miranda warnings, 16 hours sounds expansive.

It’s true that Miranda offers protection only after the fact. Technically, the rule is violated not when investigators fail to give the warnings, but when they try to introduce in court a confession or other facts a suspect revealed before he was read his rights. It’s also true that given the mountain of evidence against Tsarneav, he could be convicted without his own statements. But that may not be true with the next terrorist suspect—or the next hated man for whom the government decides to stretch the public safety exception. The Justice Department is setting a precedent here. And how does that precedent directly involve public safety, when all of law enforcement reassured the public that safety had been restored once Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, and that the authorities strongly believed he and his brother, Tamerlan, had acted alone?

Read on. There’s a lot more.


This research paper on the value of—and legal difficulty with—apologies by defendants in criminal court, by Professor Michael Jones of the Phoenix School of Law, covers an interesting question.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper is written for the purpose of addressing the power and possibility of early apologies in the criminal justice system. As constructed, our criminal justice system rewards defendants that learn early in their case to remain silent, and punishes those that talk. Defendants that may want to offer an apology or allocution for the harm they’ve caused are often required to wait until a sentencing hearing, which may come months, or even years after the event in question. This paper proposes that the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure be modified to provide an exception for apology to criminal defendants. Apologies can play an invaluable role in the healing process for victims, defendants, family members and others tied together by the unfortunate events of a criminal prosecution. This paper seeks to further the comprehensive law movement approach that promotes a healing process for those involved in the criminal justice system.

An here’s the full paper if you’d like to take a look.

(A thank you, once again, to the excellent Doug Berman of Sentencing, Law & Policy, for flagging this paper.)


Now that the shock of the Koch duo’s possible purchase of the LA Times and other Tribune Corp papers is nearly a week old, a whole second wave of reactions has been surfacing, some of them….odd.

Take, for example, this somewhat untethered column by the Washington Post’s Steve Perlstein in which Perlstein breathlessly suggests that he knows a sure fire way that the LAT employees can save the paper from the marauding Koch-sters.


Everyone should quit. (Right, Steve. That’d show ‘em.)

“If the Times journalists,” he writes…

….”….decide collectively to walk out the door one day, the readers and advertisers are almost certain to follow.

“A new owner, of course, could hire new journalists, and certainly there are plenty of them out there looking for a job. But it would take time to attract them, get them working as a team and weed out the inevitable clunkers…

“And in the meantime, competing news organizations would be quick to pick up Tribune’s stars and use them to lure away readers and advertisers at a time when circulation and revenue are already under pressure. Hell, in the age of the Internet, the rebellious journalists could easily start their own news organizations and grab a good chunk of their old readership within weeks.
This is a rare moment for Tribune’s beleaguered journalists. For the first time in a long time, they actually have leverage. They’d be crazy not to use it….”

This is, of course, quite nuts.

But read the rest anyway.


Washington Post columnist Herold Meyerson spent years as a political journalist in LA, so it’s understandable that he would feel moved to weigh in on the possibility of the Koch brothers as buyers for the LA Times, and about the necessity of remembering that a newspaper isn’t just a business; it’s also a civic trust.

Here’s a couple of clips:

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Who will govern Los Angeles, however, is only the second-most important local question in the city today. The most important, by far, is who will buy the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is one of the eight daily newspapers now owned by the creditors who took control of the Tribune Co. after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Others include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant. The Tribune board members whom the creditors selected want to unload the papers in favor of more money-making ventures.
Fans of newspapers are a jumpy lot these days. And in the past couple of weeks, their apprehension has gone through the roof with word that right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch are looking to buy all eight papers.


Being human beings, all newspaper owners have politics of their own. Since the 19th century, however, most haven’t gone into business primarily to advance a political perspective. Profit, professional and civic pride, and recognition have largely motivated them. It’s hard to see how any of these factored into the Koch brothers’ calculations.

In their very brief no-comment on the sale rumors, the Kochs took care to note, “We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions” owned by Tribune, but the staffs at those papers fear that, once Kochified, the papers would quickly turn into print versions of Fox News. A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sports writers and arts writers). Those who stayed would have to grapple with how to cover politics and elections in which their paper’s owners played a leading role. It’s also unclear who in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, would actually want to read such a paper, but then the Kochs don’t appear to view this as a money-making venture.

Though slimmed down from its glory days, the L.A. Times remains a great newspaper, as its recent stories on increasing employer surveillance of blue-collar workers illustrate. But the paper that, under the reign of publisher-owner Otis Chandler in the 1960s and ’70s, moved to the apex of American journalism has suffered a string of indifferent-to-godawful owners, ranging from Mr. Chandler’s cousins to Mr. Zell — that rare journalism mogul who actively hated journalism and journalists….

MEANWHILE…Marcelle Pacatte writing for Crains Chicago Business urges his fellow Chicagoans not to be afraid of the “big, bad Koch Brothers.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, criminal justice, journalism, Los Angeles Times | 5 Comments »

Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.


All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.


Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.

Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Sheriff Baca’s Racked Up Absences from LA During Jails Scandal, Flawed Civilian Oversight of LASD, Automatic Arrest-Tracking Software…and More

September 25th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


As we look toward the Jails Commission report Friday, LA Weekly calls our attention to data showing that Sheriff Lee Baca was absent from the county for over a month between January and July at the height of LASD’s expanding scandal. The information came to light as a result of a records request by eagle-eye county-watcher Eric Preven.

LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Instead of providing answers to dozens of black-and-blue L.A. County jail inmates and the ACLU, or addressing his deputies’ brutal, gang-like policing tactics…

… Baca apparently split town as much as his travel budget would allow, making himself into some kind of international ambassador for feel-good cop philosophies like “public trust policing” and “education-based incarceration.” (Although we’re really not sure how anyone takes him seriously on those issues, considering that the level of mistrust between his department and the Los Angeles public is at an all-time high.)

Baca’s travel record shows that he took a total of 18 trips between January and July, spending thousands of taxpayer dollars on flights and hotel rooms so that he could sprinkle his L.A. Sheriff’s wisdoms all across the globe.

Here, his five strangest/silliest appearances in 2012 so far:

Feb. 11 in Washington, D.C.: Meeting with Foreign Minister of Turkey
April 13-14 in Seattle, Washington: The Pacific Institute Spirit Board Meeting
April 21-23 in Las Vegas, Nevada: Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay
May 18-22 in Doha, Qatar: Doha Forum
June 22 in Washington, D.C.: Keynote Speaker at American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee Conference


The LA Times reports flaws in civilian oversight of the sheriff’s dept. Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Revelations of brutality by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies and cover-ups inside the jails have exposed significant shortcomings in the department’s civilian watchdog system, which was created to prevent such misconduct.

The watchdogs have come under scrutiny from county supervisors and investigators for a commission examining jail abuse. The investigators found that neither of the two main civilian monitors regularly analyzed data that tracks violent encounters between deputies and inmates or examined how the department handled inmate complaints.


Pennsylvania reporter Andrew McGill developed an arrest-tracking tool called Philly Rap Sheet. “It’s a small entry in the growing tradition of data-journalism innovation on the cops-and-courts beat — from to EveryBlock to Crime L.A. and many more,” writes Adrienne LaFrance of Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab. This may be a good thing to consider for compiling statistics in other parts of the nation. While this technology is pulling data from public records that anyone can access, there seem to be some questions of ethics in regard to publishing—via mass email alerts—the names of those who later get their charges dropped or their records expunged.

LaFrance interviewed Andrew McGill on his arrest-tracking tool. Here’s a clip from the Q & A:

LaFrance: So what’s your vision for this thing?

McGill: I don’t know. It’s tough. I want to add historical data. So I spent a little bit of money to get data back to around 2005, which is not that far back, but at least it’s historical data. I want to backload that in. But in terms of the next step, it’s tough to say.

I want to get into a little bit more analytics. I think it’d be nice to add more realms of information to cross reference. I might look again at some things and see if I can pull some more data out of the existing sheets. Geography-wise, I do have what police district arrests are in, and I haven’t done a lot with that. So I want to try to start doing that, and maybe have a newsletter. Right now, I just have alerts.

LaFrance: And as a reporter, those are so helpful, I’m sure. You can be tracking all the murders.

McGill: That’s what I have set up for my alert. Unfortunately, it also pulls in attempted murder and stuff like that. I want to be able to get a summation newsletter out that you sign up for and say, “Okay, you’re in this neighborhood, and these crimes happened in your vicinity, and this is how it compared to last year,” and you would get this once a month or something. I don’t want to inundate people, but I think there’s room for a little more statistics pushing.


By the way, this Saturday is Smithsonian’s “Museum Day Live!”, a day of free museum entry across the nation. Of course, there are lots of museums and art exhibits you can visit for free all year long (like the California Science Center’s permanent exhibits and the Getty), but for those participating museums you can’t visit any time, you can download two free tickets per person here. Beware: this weekend is Carmageddon Part 2, so take that into consideration and plan accordingly.

Posted in art and culture, journalism, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

Bill to Lift Media Ban on Interviewing Inmates, LAUSD Police Still Ticket Too Many Kids, and More…

May 24th, 2012 by Taylor Walker


A controversial new California bill, if passed, would rescind the 1996 ban on in-person interviews of inmates by the media. The purported intent of the ban was to keep inmates from promoting themselves and attaining celebrity status, it has actually served to shield areas of the corrections system that need serious reform from public scrutiny.

This LA Times editorial has the details. Here’s a clip:

Under court order, the state is finally addressing the overcrowding problem by sending newly convicted nonviolent offenders to county detention facilities. But there are indicators that inhumane conditions persist; hunger strikes have arisen to protest the state’s use of Security Housing Units, where suspected gang members are isolated in tiny cells under solitary conditions that psychologists consider mentally destabilizing. Some inmates have been warehoused in these units for decades.

How bad is the situation? In truth, we don’t really know, because inmates in these units have no visitation, telephone or interview privileges. A much-needed bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) would change that.

AB 1270 allows the media to request interviews with California inmates, including those in Security Housing Units. Officials at the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could still turn down these requests for reasons such as excessive risk to the reporter or prison guards, but they would have to submit a written explanation for such denials.

KPCC Air Talk’s Larry Mantle interviews Julie Small, KPCC’s Sacramento Reporter, and  Jim Ewert, California Newspaper Publishers Association and General Counsel and Legislative Advocate on the issue.


The non-profit Center for Public Integrity has compiled data pointing to the fact that not only did LAUSD school police write an excessive number of tickets for African American and Latino students in 2011, but that 40% of those tickets were for kids under the age of 14. There were 438 citations given to middle-school-aged African Americans, 1394 citations given to Latinos, and 28 given to all other ethnicities for things like tardiness, vandalism, and disturbing the peace.

KPCC’s The Madeline Brand Show addresses the issue. Here’s a clip:

The district recently reported that during the last three years school police issued more than 33,000 tickets for alleged violations like vandalism, tardiness, and disturbing the peace.

The non-profit Center for Public Integrity is one of several groups compiling data about school policing throughout the country. It reviewed L.A. Unified’s numbers and found that 40 percent of those tickets went to kids 14 and younger — mostly middle schoolers.

The Center also found that school police wrote an overwhelming number of tickets at schools with large numbers of Latino and African-American students.


Through the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. High School, Claudia Gomez interviews students who have been incarcerated to shed light on juvenile corrections and those youth that have come out on the other side.

The California Story’s Jake de Grazia interviews Claudia Gomez about her work at Free L.A. Here’s a clip from the introduction, but the entire interview is extremely worthwhile:

South Los Angeles has a long history of feeding California’s overflowing prisons. And for a school that accepts previously incarcerated youth, the goal is to prevent young people from flowing back in. This is the story of a young woman who wants to make change through intimate conversations widely broadcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the Youth Justice Coalition’s Free L.A. site:

FreeLA High School, a partnership between the John Muir Charter School, the Youth Justice Coalition and the Workforce Investment Act, is dedicated to helping young people earn a high school diploma and find work with a focus on careers in social justice movement building. We serve 16-24 year olds based on their probation requirements and difficulty enrolling in other schools. Most of our students have been pushed out of several other high schools before coming to FreeLA, including Probation School or Los Angeles County Education programs within juvenile facilities.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, Education, jail, journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, race | 3 Comments »

Saving “LA Youth”—The Nation’s Largest Youth Newspaper Needs Help ASAP

May 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

We want our kids to be informed, thinking, confident compassionate, educated people, such a goal is in everyone’s interest, for heaven’s sake, and yet increasingly, as the economy continues to wobble, the commitment to this obviously worthy goal on the part of those with resources seems to be faltering.

It doesn’t help that education has been slashed to a horrific degree. while, at the same time, nonprofits that serve kids and families at risk have watched their funding shrink down to nothing.

And now LA Youth, the Los Angeles based newspaper for and by kids— the largest of its kind in the nation, and an institution that always seemed safe—-is right at the edge of closing its doors at the end of this school year, one more possible casualty of the economic tsunami of 2008.

(Thanks again, Wall Street. Really. Your giant vampire squid-osity is a gift that keeps on giving.)

However, all is not lost. What LA Youth needs to rescue it from disaster is $500,000 in operating funds, and then it can make do with some of the other grants it will receive for specific programs.

They’ve already raised some of what they need, but it ain’t close to enough. They must hit that $500K mark by May 15.

I’ve been a friend and admirer of LA Youth for years now, and have spoken to kids and read essays by other kids, who explain in detail how their lives and sense of self would be far, far different had it not been for the mentoring they received as writers/editors/mentees for this stellar organization.

The video above is by a teacher at Locke High School, where LA Youth runs a weekly program. Just listen. She explains how writing for the newspaper allows kids—many of whom come out of risky personal circumstances—to discover that they count for something, that they have a voice, that what they think/feel/perceive/know can matter.

Put another way, a lot of kids who were struggling in school have now graduated from college, because of the intellectual/emotional lifeline this program tossed to them.

Okay, that’s the pitch. You can check out LA Youth here, and CLICK HERE to donate, if you are so moved. I am told that every little bit helps. (And if you happen to know a wildly wealthy philanthropist, feel free to drop a hint.)

Posted in academic freedom, American voices, journalism, media | No Comments »

HACLA Banditry, Race & Pardons, Deputy Assaults, & Kids Pay for Parents’ Sins

December 5th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


This is just incredible.

Earlier this year, investigations by KCET’S So Cal Connected exposed corruption and fraud at the Los Angeles Housing Authority—or HACLA—the agency responsible for providing shelter for the city’s poorest residents, and for overseeing LA’s Federal public housing projects. Then this past week, the show broadcast a whole new round of investigations into the shocking level of waste and abuse of tax payer money by top managers at the agency..

So Cal Connected’s investigation, plus audits by City Controller Wendy Gruel, resulted in the ouster of HACLA head guy Rudolf Montiel. However, it turns out that, instead of being sanctioned, Montiel was given a $1.2 million departure package by the HACLA board, reports the LA Times.

KCET has an interactive database here that allows you to check out the HACLA managers’ thousands of dollars worth of dinners, gifts and “employee incentives.”

There’s lots more to this story, so stay tuned.


Dafna Lindzer and Jennifer LaFleur of ProPublica did this important 2-part series that it co-published with the Washington Post

Here’s how Part 1 opens:

White criminals seeking presidential pardons over the past decade have been nearly four times as likely to succeed as minorities, a ProPublica examination has found.

Blacks have had the poorest chance of receiving the president’s ultimate act of mercy, according to an analysis of previously unreleased records and related data.

Current and former officials at the White House and Justice Department said they were surprised and dismayed by the racial disparities, which persist even when factors such as the type of crime and sentence are considered.

“I’m just astounded by those numbers,” said Roger Adams, who served as head of the Justice Department’s pardons office from 1998 to 2008. He said he could think of nothing in the office’s practices that would have skewed the recommendations. “I can recall several African Americans getting pardons.”

The review of applications for pardons is conducted almost entirely in secret, with the government releasing scant information about those it rejects.

ProPublica’s review examined what happened after President George W. Bush decided at the beginning of his first term to rely almost entirely on the recommendations made by career lawyers in the Office of the Pardon Attorney.

The office was given wide latitude to apply subjective standards, including judgments about the “attitude” and the marital and financial stability of applicants. No two pardon cases match up perfectly, but records reveal repeated instances in which white applicants won pardons with transgressions on their records similar to those of blacks and other minorities who were denied.

And here’s Part 2, a fascinating piece which tracks the circuitous process of trying to get a pardon for a well-connected, well-off guy who eventually did get the 12th pardon of George W. Bush’s presidency.

ProPublica’s editors write that this is “the kind of journalism that demands action.” Yep.


The LA Times’ Jack Leonard and Robert Faturechi, who have been covering the jail abuse scandal for the Times, report that the “L.A. County Sheriff’s Department does not always share with prosecutors the results of investigations of possible inmate abuse.”

Here’s a clip:

Even as a sergeant shouted, “Stop hitting him! Stop hitting him!,” Deputy Marcos Stout continued punching an inmate in the head. Then, with the inmate on the concrete floor, Stout landed his knee on the man’s skull.

Lawyers for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department described the deputy’s actions as “callous and brutal behavior toward a helpless and unresisting person.”

Though Stout’s excessive force was egregious enough to get him fired, prosecutors did not charge him with a crime — but not because they concluded that the violence wasn’t criminal, according to interviews. They never knew about it.

In several cases in recent years, deputies who were disciplined or even fired for abusing inmates escaped criminal scrutiny because Sheriff’s Department officials chose not to give the evidence to the district attorney’s office, opting to handle the cases internally.

Law enforcement experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times said the department should routinely conduct criminal investigations of brutality claims and forward the results to prosecutors to determine whether criminal charges should be filed.

“Just because you’re part of the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t mean you can commit battery with impunity,” said Dennis Kenney, a former Florida police officer and current professor studying police use of force at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York.


This story by NYTimes Opinionator contributor Linda Greenhouse truly falls into the You’ve-Got-To-Be-Kidding category.

Here’s how it opens:

In the current race to the bottom to see which state can provide the most degraded and dehumanizing environment for undocumented immigrants, Arizona and Alabama have grabbed the headlines. But largely unnoticed, it is Florida, home to nearly one million Cuban refugees and their descendants, that has come up with perhaps the most bizarre and pointless anti-immigrant policy of all.

Beginning last year, the state’s higher education authorities have been treating American citizens born in the United States, including graduates of Florida high schools who have spent their entire lives in the state, as non-residents for tuition purposes if they can’t demonstrate that their parents are in the country legally.

Yes, you read that correctly – although when I first came upon a description of the policy a few weeks ago, I was sure that I had misunderstood something. It’s a basic tenet of equal protection law that the government can’t single out citizens for disfavored treatment without a good reason. The Supreme Court is serious about this, even ruling unanimously a decade ago that an Illinois village violated an individual homeowner’s 14th Amendment right to equal protection by demanding from her a bigger easement than it required of her neighbors as the price of connecting her home to the municipal water supply.

A few feet of land more or less may not have made a life-changing difference to the plaintiff in that case. But consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. The disparity is similar at the state’s community colleges, although the price tags are lower. It is the difference between a college education and none.

It seems grossly unfair, as the Supreme Court acknowledged 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe when it held that Texas could not deprive undocumented children of a free public K-through-12 education, to blame children for the wrongdoing of their parents. Unfair and, as Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed in his concurring opinion, socially self-destructive, in creating a permanent underclass of uneducated people.

Posted in immigration, jail, journalism, LA County Jail, Must Reads | No Comments »

Heartbreak: “Restrepo” Co-Director Tim Hetherington Killed Covering Libya

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

“In it’s desire to sanitize war, society dehumanizes it….I’ve come to realize the war machine is, in fact, very human. Take a group of young men, train them together, put them on the side of a mountain and they will kill and be killed for each other.”

– Tim Hetherington, November 2010

The brave and brilliant photojournalist Tim Hetherington, who co-directed with Sebastian Junger the profoundly affecting and deeply humanizing war documentary, “Restrepo,” about U.S. soldiers in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan, was killed Tuesday in Misrata, Libya.

This is terrible, terrible news.

Here are the details from Reuters.

Photojournalist Tim Hetherington, the co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary “Restrepo,” died in the besieged Libyan town of Misrata on Wednesday, doctors said.

Getty photographer Chris Hondros was in critical condition in intensive care, doctors at the hospital where he was being treated said. He had suffered brain injuries.

The photographers were among a group caught by mortar fire on Tripoli Street, the main thoroughfare leading into the center of Misrata, the only major rebel-held town in western Libya and besieged by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces for more than seven weeks.

“It was quiet and we were trying to get away and then a mortar landed and we heard explosions,” Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera said.

UPDATE: Chris Hondros has died of his injuries. Hondros was a finalist for the Pulitzer in 2004 for his photos of conflict in Liberia, and got the Robert Capa Gold Medal for photography in 2005 (among others) for this amazing set of images.

This is from the Human Rights Watch statement:

Hetherington was a brilliant photographer and videographer who covered many of the world’s most critical human rights stories: conflicts in Liberia, Afghanistan, Darfur, and now Libya. In every assignment, he demonstrated a remarkable sensitivity to his subjects, a tender insight into their human ordeals, and a keen sense of how visual imagery could be used to effect positive social change.

“Tim Hetherington was much more than a war reporter,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. “He had an extraordinary talent for documenting, in compassionate and beautiful imagery, the human stories behind the headlines. We are saddened by his death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and countless friends.”

Roth reiterated Human Rights Watch’s call on the Libyan government to cease unlawful attacks against civilian areas in Misrata.

Hetherington lived in Monrovia, Liberia for eight years during the brutal civil war that engulfed Liberia and neighboring countries. The film that Hetherington co-directed, “Liberia: An Uncivil War,” and his book, “Long Story Bit by Bit: Liberia Retold,” did more than any other body of work to tell the complete story of the conflict, focusing on individual Liberians and allowing them to tell their own stories in their own words.

And here’s Hetherington in his own words in an OpEd from last year.

Posted in journalism, War | No Comments »

Teaching Gay History, Angry Judges & More

April 20th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


The AP gets this story exactly right:

California conservatives were outraged in 1966 when the state Board of Education adopted a new junior high school history textbook. The book’s inclusive treatment of the civil rights movement and influential black Americans would indoctrinate students, undermine religious values and politicize the curriculum, they said.

Forty-five years later, gay rights advocates say similar arguments are being advanced to defeat a bill that would make the state the first to require the teaching of gay history in public schools. The California Senate approved the landmark measure last week, but it needs to clear the Democrat-controlled Assembly and Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

Yet the debate about what children should learn about sexual orientation mirrors earlier disputes over whether groups such as 20th Century German immigrants, women, Muslims and Jews would have a place for their heroes and heartbreaks in the history books.

The AP points out that, right now, California requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor.

Advocates point to studies that suggest that bullying dramatically decreases in schools where gay history is added to the curriculum.


A new study by an Appalachian State University professor finds that the state’s death is expensive, ineffective and racially biased—and should therefore be repealed.

The Winston-Salem Journal has the story. Here’s a clip.

The study was done by Matthew Robinson, a professor of government and justice studies. Robinson analyzed data from more than 20 studies on the death penalty and released his findings Monday at a news conference in Raleigh.

“In the past six years, three states have abolished the death penalty: Illinois, New Mexico and New Jersey,” Robinson said in an interview after the news conference. “They did it for the same reason. They found racial bias, they found it to be costly, they found it to be ineffective and a threat to innocent people.”

Robinson said the studies he looked at were remarkably consistent in their conclusions — that the death penalty doesn’t deter crime, is racially biased and has led to people being wrongfully convicted.


A few weeks ago the radio show This American Life profiled a Georgia drug court program that, in the words of the producers, ” we believe is run differently from every other drug court in the country, doing some things that are contrary to the very philosophy of drug court. The result? People with offenses that would get minimal or no sentences elsewhere sometimes end up in the system five to ten years.”

The show, called Very Tough Love, reported by TAL’s host, Ira Glass was an excellent and very affecting piece of journalism that was very critical of Judge Amanda Williams who presides over the court and seemed, by all accounts, to misuse her power as a jurist.

Judge Williams didn’t take very kindly to Glass’s criticism and was very vocal about her displeasure. First she released a press release about her vexation. Now, most recently, through her lawyer, Williams has publicly accused Glass of libel, plus has threatened a lawsuit.

Listen to the story here. Then read the letter from Williams and company, and Ira Glass’s response.

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Death Penalty, journalism, LGBT, media, Must Reads | No Comments »

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