Friday, December 9, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts




LA City Council

Another Suicide at CIW, Photoshop Tattoo Removal, and LA “Bans the Box”

December 1st, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On November 10, 56-year-old Bong Chavez reportedly committed suicide in the mental health unit of the California Institution for Woman (CIW).

CIW has experienced a high number of suicides (7), and suicide attempts (73), since 2013. In fact, the facility has the highest suicide rate among all 34 prisons—five times the state average.

Bong Chavez, a Korean immigrant reportedly suffering from mental illness and a brain tumor, was sentenced to 12 years behind bars for voluntary manslaughter, after she stabbed her daughter, Quesi Chavez, to death.

According to witnesses within the prison, Chavez had been asking for more mental health services for two weeks before killing herself. Chavez also reportedly told a prison guard that she was suicidal the night she died.

The witnesses say the guards responded by sticking Chavez in an office to “calm down” for 45 minutes, then put her back in her cell. Once back in her cell, Chavez hung herself from the ceiling vent.

Chavez’s cellmate found the woman hanging and repeatedly screamed for help, as did inmates held in cells across from Chavez’s. Guards reportedly did not respond for 10 minutes, and then took another 8 minutes to come back with scissors. The correctional officer who cut Chavez down did not support her body as he did so. Instead, “they let her drop like she was nothing,” said an inmate across the hall named Elaine Leeon. “There was a pool of blood on the floor.” Chavez’s head reportedly cracked open upon impact with the ground.

“Make no mistake, CIW is directly responsible for Ms. Chavez’s death,” said Colby Lenz, an advocate at the California Coalition for Women Prisoners. “People are committing suicide because of the inhumane conditions at CIW, including forcing people into solitary confinement when they are the most vulnerable. Guards are indifferent to these deaths and blatantly refuse to follow CIW’s suicide prevention policy, with no repercussions.”

Back in April, 35-year-old Erika Rocha committed suicide in the mental health unit at CIW, just one day before a scheduled parole hearing. Rocha, like Chavez, hung herself from the vent in her cell.

In June, one month after Rocha’s death, 27-year-old Shaylene Graves was found hanging, with just six weeks left to go on an 8-year sentence. The San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department said Graves’ death was a suicide, but the young woman’s loved ones are challenging that conclusion.

“We as families can never get timely and accurate information about what happened to our loved ones who died in custody,” said Shaylene Graves’ mother, Sheri Graves. “We demand full transparency and full accountability.”

Concerned by the flood of deaths at CIW, California Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) started pushing for an investigation into suicides in the troubled prison.
In August, Leyva announced that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee would examine suicide prevention and reduction policies, procedures and practices at state prisons across California.

While the results have not yet been released, the audit is expected to include evaluations of the following issues:

- CDCR’s policies and procedures for inmates that express suicidal behavior and/or tendencies

- Uniformity of policies and procedures implementation across CDCR

- Comparison of suicide rates and attempts across all California prisons (male and female)

- Availability, access and use of mental health care services for and by inmates

- Potential causes and factors contributing to high suicide rates and attempts at CIW

- Appropriate implementation of CDCR’s suicide prevention and related policies at CIW

- Medical treatment and housing options for suicidal inmates at CIW

- Previous and ongoing suicide prevention and reduction training for CIW staff

LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron (who has been doing an excellent job reporting on the recent deaths at CIW) has more on the story.


Seeking to humanize men and women recovering from gang involvement with the help of Homeboy Industries, Photographer Steven Burton launched a book photography project called “Skin Deep.”

Founded by Father Greg Boyle, Homeboy Industries has helped thousands of people find healthy alternatives to gang life through mentoring, employment training and placement, mental health counseling, and more. (For those unfamiliar with the work Homeboy does—learn more here.)

One of the many free services Homeboy offers is tattoo removal.

Burton first took photos of 27 men and women, then spent hundreds of hours digitally removing their tattoos via photoshop. Burton videotaped the revealing of the final photos, which proved emotional for the photographer’s subjects, many of whom hadn’t seen themselves tattoo free since they were young teenagers. On KPCC’s Take Two, A. Martinez interviewed one of the men Burton photographed, Francisco Flores, who wants to be known as a good father to his five children, rather than the gang member he used to be. (We’ve included some of the must-see videos here, including one of Flores’ reveal, but you can watch the rest of the videos on Youtube—here.)


On Wednesday, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance barring employers from asking job seekers about their criminal background, at least in the first stages of the interview process.

The council approved the the ordinance 12-1 with Councilman Mitch Englander dissenting. The measure will have to go through a second vote because it was not unanimous, but the second vote only has to have majority approval to pass.

The ordinance will get rid of questions about criminal history from job applications for both public and private employers with more than 10 employees, as well as contractors within the city.

City News Service has more on the decision and what it means.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, LA City Council, prison | 1 Comment »

County Litigation Figures, and LA County and City Approve Big-Ticket Settlements

January 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


LA County spent $118.9 million during fiscal year 2014-2015, an increase of 24% over the $95.6 million spent in FY 2013-14 according to a new report from County Counsel.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department alone spent $61 million on litigation, up 50%—$20 million—over the previous year’s $40 million. The LASD spent more than half—$33.5 million—on excessive force incidents, most of which were patrol cases (only 3.7% were jail cases). The excessive force cost was up nearly $10 million over the previous year.

Much of these cases date back several years. So while the sum paid out for law enforcement cases has risen over the past few years, instances of excessive use of force are actually declining. A report from the County CEO’s Office, also presented to the board Tuesday, says that use of force numbers dropped 22% from fiscal year 2013-2014 to 2014-2015.

Nearly half of the total $118.9 million was spent on litigation via attorneys’ fees and costs.

“Every cent the county spends on litigation is precious funding that we cannot use to house the homeless, promote better health and wellness for children, upskill our workforce and provide countless other needed services to our communities,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement.


After County Counsel presented a breakdown of last year’s legal costs to the Supervisors, the board approved a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit against the LASD over the fatal shooting of an 80-year-old man, Eugene Robert Mallory, in his home.

The LA Times Abby Sewell has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

The deputies were serving a search warrant at Mallory’s home in the community of Littlerock near Palmdale in June 2013 while investigating reports of a suspected meth lab.

No evidence of methamphetamine was found. Sheriff’s officials at the time said that marijuana was discovered on the property.

Mallory’s wife filed a wrongful death suit against the department. According to a statement released by her attorneys at the time, deputies claimed that Mallory had confronted them with a gun, but his wife said he was “sleeping in his bed when he was confronted and shot without warning.”

In a memo to the supervisors, county attorneys said the county denies the allegations in the lawsuit but recommended settling the case “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation.”


The LA City Council has approved $24.3 million in settlements to two men, Kash Delano Register and Bruce Lisker, who spent decades behind bars for murders they did not commit.

The city will pay $16.7 million to Kash Delano Register, who spent 34 years in prison, and $7.6 million to Bruce Lisker, who spent 26 years in prison after being falsely convicted of killing his mother when he was 17.

CBS has the story. Here’s a clip:

Register had been convicted of the April 6, 1979, shooting death of 79-year-old Jack Sasson in West Los Angeles. A key witness in the case, Brenda Anderson, testified that she saw Register at the crime scene. Register was found guilty despite claims by his girlfriend that she was with him at the time.

Anderson’s sister, Sharon, testified at a court hearing in 2013 that her sibling had lied. According to attorneys for the Project for the Innocent, another Anderson sister tried to tell police investigating the shooting in 1979 that Brenda had lied to authorities, but the claim was never presented to Register’s defense attorney.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and used false testimony at Register’s trial. That ruling cleared the way for the then-53-year-old Register’s release in 2013…

Register’s New York-based attorney, Nick Brustin, said he is “hopeful that Los Angeles will build on this settlement by adopting reforms to their eyewitness identification procedures.”

“This case should also be a lesson to Los Angeles and other cities to take a hard look at other cases where inmates proclaim their innocence, even where, as here, there was no remaining physical evidence to do testing like DNA,” he said.


Lisker was convicted in 1985 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the death of his 66-year-old mother, Dorka, who was found stabbed and beaten to death in their Sherman Oaks home in 1983, when he was 17 years old.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2005 called into question much of the evidence in Lisker’s trial, and his conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a federal judge in Riverside, who ruled that false evidence had been used and that Lisker had inadequate legal representation.

Posted in LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 8 Comments »

A Good Prison Turns Bad…..Why Doesn’t CA Collect Usable Criminal Justice Data?….How Solano County Helps Lawbreaking Kids….and More.

November 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


What has caused so many of our nation’s prisons to abandon any attempt at rehabilitation in order to keep large numbers of prisoners in isolation, or near isolation, in “Special Housing Units” (SHUs} or in “Special Management Units,” (SMUs)?

Justin Peters, writing for Slate, looks at that question with an analysis of what happened to the the prison at Lewisburg, PA, that in the 1930s started out as a model of innovation, and that now typifies the trend toward SHUs and SMUs.

Here’s a clip:

Last month, I wrote about Marion, the notorious federal prison that helped pave the way for all the supermax-style facilities that are so popular today. Though Marion was under lockdown for an astounding 23 years, the prison itself became a medium-security facility in 2006, and is no longer a repository for the most troublesome prisoners in the federal system. That honor arguably now belongs to USP Lewisburg, a Pennsylvania facility where violent or obstreperous federal inmates get sent for ostensibly short-term “attitude adjustment” stints. (Before transferring out, inmates are expected to complete a four-stage, 18-to-24-month resocialization program that can actually last much longer than that.) USP Lewisburg might be the worst place in the federal prison system, so bad that some inmates there actually dream of being transferred to the famously isolating Supermax facility in Florence, Colo.

A recent article from the journal Environment and Planning D: Society and Space helps explain how Lewisburg got that way. The article, by Bucknell University geography professor Karen M. Morin, recounts the transformation of USP Lewisburg from a progressive facility to an isolating and restrictive “Special Management Unit,” or SMU—a shift that mirrors the evolution of the U.S. prison system in general. (Morin is also a member of the Lewisburg Prison Project, a nonprofit group that advocates for prisoners’ rights.) Whereas model prisons 75 years ago were designed to rehabilitate prisoners, the best-known prisons today seem specifically designed to drive their inmates mad.

Read on.

Also read Peters’ October 23 story in Slate about how, in 1983, two horrific murders at the United States Penitentiary near Marion, Ill, ushered in America’s infatuation with Supermax prisons.

In addition, take a look at the report released earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) at the request of a Congressional committee that wanted to know more about why the US Bureau of Prisons was making increasing use of SHUs and SMUs, and whether all this isolation made the prisons safer.

In their report, the GAO stated it wasn’t at all sure that widespread use of isolation did increase institutional safety and pointed to the five states that had reduced their reliance on the segregated units.

“While these states have not completed formal assessments of the impact of their segregated housing reforms, officials from all five states told us there had been no increase in violence after they moved inmates from segregated housing to less restrictive housing. In addition, Mississippi and Colorado reported cost savings from closing segregated housing units and reducing the administrative segregation population.”


This is one of those issues that one would hope would be obvious:: In order to make good criminal and juvenile justice policy (or any kind of policy, for that matter) we need good numbers—specifically, we need stats that tell us which policies work, and which do not.

Yet, incredibly, all too often, lawmakers and others fail to bother.

Take, for instance, the matter of realignment. For all the money, stress and time spent on the state’s two-year-old prison realignment policy, there was no provision in the law for any kind of evaluation to determine what part of realignment worked—either on a statewide level, or in the individual counties—and what did not.

Yes, some federal dollars and foundation money has found its way to Stanford, allowing Joan Petersilia and company to do limited research. But it isn’t the kind of money needed for meaningful programatic evaluation. So, in its most recent report, Stanford was left to make do by asking various “stakeholders’ around the state—law enforcement, probation, district attorneys and such—for their opinions of how things were going with realignment. (And we wrote about the resulting report earlier this month.] All very well and good. But—as Petersilia would be the first to point out—opinions are not numbers.

Brian Goldstein (of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice) elaborates further on the numbers issue in his short but must read essay.

Here’s a clip:

Data analysis is the basic metric to measure the success or failure of public policy. Absent useable data, researchers, policymakers, and the general public cannot accurately judge whether an approach is working and must make uneducated guesses. For example, national polling finds that people often mistakenly exacerbate crime trends. In 2011 a majority of Americans believed crime was getting worse as the country was experiencing a steady 15-year decline. Crime data is the only way to fight the undue influence of misperception and anecdotal evidence.

Corporate America recognizes the need to develop long-term strategies for collection and utilization of data. Books on “Big Data” top bestseller lists and statisticians, such as Nate Silver, have well-deserved influence over electoral politics, business, and health practices. Unfortunately, government has been slow to use data analysis for decision-making.

Data collection standards remain a central issue in California-albeit one that rarely gets the attention it certainly deserves. California’s data collection systems, specifically in the criminal and juvenile justice field, demands continued attention and resources to best serve our state.

Specifically, Goldstein points out the failure to collect usable data that plagues California’s Board of State and Community Corrections (BSCC)—AKA the board that is specifically tasked by state law with such data gathering. To wit:

“The [BSCC] board shall seek to collect and make publicly available up-to-date data and information reflecting the impact of state and community correctional, juvenile justice, and gang-related policies and practices enacted in the state…” California Penal Code Section 6024-6031.6.

So do they?

Goldstein says, No. Not really.

In March 2013, the BSCC released the Third Annual Report to the Legislature on the Youthful Offender Block Grant. The report tracks YOBG expenditures, with a total $93.4 million given to California counties in FY 2011-12. However, with the release of the report, the BSCC admits significant challenges in tracking performance outcomes. They note,

The nature of the data collected precludes our ability to draw inferences about cause and effect relationships between services and outcomes….

Collecting unusable data is unacceptable. Governor Brown, state legislators, and policy advocates must ensure that the BSCC has the staffing, resources, and leadership necessary to meet its mandate on data collection.

Yep. What he said.


Speaking of numbers: The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ) has just released a new report that looks at the innovative juvenile programs in Solano County that specifically address high risk youth.

In the report, CJCJ analyzes seven years of data to determine how Solano’s programs have affected the post lock-up outcomes of the kids they served. The report also compares Solano’s cost per kid with those of the state.

Here’s a clip from a story on Solano’s programs by Selena Teji, CJCJ’s Communications and Policy Analyst:

…In 1959, Solano County dedicated itself to taking responsibility for its high-risk youth. Fouts Springs Youth Facility was built as a regional alternative to reliance on the state youth correctional system, and it accepted youth who had serious, violent delinquent histories and who had failed to successfully complete other placements. The decision to create a local custody option for high-risk youth was developed out of a recognition that youth eventually return to their communities, which made reentry planning and aftercare essential components of effective juvenile justice programming. Unfortunately, the state has not been able to provide adequate reentry services to the youth in its care due to the sparsity of its facilities and parole services.

A new study of youth served by Fouts Springs from 2005 to 2011 shows that not only was the program more successful than the state facilities, with a 35 percent recidivism rate compared to the state’s 75 percent recidivism rate, but it was also significantly cheaper to operate. Fouts Springs cost approximately $32,100 per youth for its average length of stay, whereas an average placement in the state youth correctional facilities costs around $778,500. While counties paid a nominal $213 per month to commit youth to the state facilities until 2012 (when a larger flat rate fee was introduced), a commitment to Fouts Springs would set a county back $4,200 per month. The fiscal disincentive paired with the decrease of youth crime statewide lessened the demand for a regional program and resulted in the closure of Fouts Springs in 2011.

Yet, Solano County has continued to aggressively pursue adaptable, individually-focused, holistic approaches to serving justice-involved youth…

Read the rest of the story at the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


The Los Angeles City Council put up the first $50,000 and now LA County Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina pushed for another $50,000 to be added to the pot, in the hope of uncovering information leading to the arrest of the hit-and-run driver who caused the death of a well-like LA County Probation officer, high school coach, and father of three, Kenneth Hamilton last month.

CBS-2 News has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Kenneth Hamilton, 54, was leaving his job at the Eastlake Juvenile Facility around 6 a.m. on Oct. 28 when he was hit at the intersection of Soto Street and Lancaster Avenue in Boyle Heights.

He died instantly, the Los Angeles Police Department said.

“Someone out there knows something, saw something or may even know the driver who fled,” Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers said. “The reward money is a reminder that Los Angeles has not forgotten, the LAPD has not forgotten and that this crime must be solved and the driver brought to justice.”

Police identified the suspect vehicle as a late 1990s silver four-door Honda Civic DX from a side mirror that was sheared off in the crash.

“This is like losing one of our own,” LAPD Det. Michael Kaden said.

Anyone with information was asked to contact Det. Kaden at (213) 972-1837.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation, solitary | 1 Comment »

LAPD Chief Beck’s Alesia Thomas Report, USC Six Will Not Be Charged, and Foster Care Letters

June 28th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, in a report to the Police Commission, said that a department officer’s use of force during the arrest of Alesia Thomas violated LAPD policy. (Here’s WitnessLA’s previous post on the LA woman who was kicked in the genital area by a female officer and later died in custody.) The department has opened formal internal investigations based on Chief Beck’s findings in the report.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck was sharply critical of how several officers acted during an arrest last year in which a woman died during a prolonged struggle with police, department records released this week show.

In a report to the Police Commission, the civilian board that oversees the LAPD, Beck concluded that a veteran female officer violated department policies when she repeatedly kicked and shoved 35-year-old Alesia Thomas in her genitals and midsection. The same officer, the chief and commission found, showed “apparent indifference” toward Thomas during the messy effort to restrain her and put her into the back of a police cruiser.

Beck raised concerns as well over the actions of three additional officers and a supervisor during the July 22 confrontation in South L.A. Two of the officers disregarded Thomas’ request for medical help, while the third cop may have lied to investigators about the incident, Beck wrote in his report. A sergeant who responded to the scene may have failed to properly supervise the officers, according to the report.


On Tuesday, City Councilwoman Jan Perry filed a motion requesting a report from the LAPD and the City Attorney’s Office on their response to the allegedly racially-charged arrests made at an off-campus USC students’ party. (You can read the back story here.)

Outgoing LA City Attorney Carmen Trutanich issued a statement Wednesday in response, saying that no charges would be filed against the six students.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

The arrests and large LAPD response that night fueled allegations of racial discrimination and heavy-handed tactics. A few community meetings with students, university officials and police were held after.

Perry attended some of those meetings and watched cell phone videos taken by students who were at the party during the police crackdown.

“I felt very strongly after watching the video that the response to them was very heavy-handed,” she said.

In the city council motion, Perry asks the LAPD to report back on the possibility of officers wearing lapel cameras, when use of force is authorized on students, and a strategic plan for dealing with noise complaints within a mile radius of campus.

It also calls on the City Attorney’s Office to report back to the council with an update on the criminal investigation of six students who face potential misdemeanor charges.


Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich said in a written statement:

“After a complete review of this matter, the City Attorney’s Office has declined to file charges against the six individuals involved in this incident due to lack of sufficient evidence and no reasonable likelihood of conviction.”


The LA Times published three letters in response to Jim Newton’s Sunday column “Failing Our Children” (which WLA linked to earlier this week). The first letter is from Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the Los Angeles Juvenile Court, who was liberally quoted in the column. Here are two tiny clips (definitely go read the rest):

I want to amplify Jim Newton’s characterization of my attitude about Los Angeles County’s foster care system as “glum.”


…as long as we have more than 27,000 abused and neglected children under our court’s jurisdiction — thousands of whom are in need of safe, healthy, loving, permanent homes — I am not only not satisfied, I am glum.

There are two more letters that are worth reading, including one from the executive director of an L.A. County association of nonprofit child welfare and mental health agencies.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Foster Care, LA City Council, LAPD, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Mayoral Candidates Talk Neighborhood Safety, Cops, Gang Intervention & More

December 14th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday night LA mayoral candidates allowed themselves to be grilled for nearly two hours on issues
of neighborhood safety and violence prevention by four LA journalists.

Three of the four main candidates—LA City Controller Wendy Greuel, LA City Councilmember, Jan Perry and attorney and former radio host, Kevin James—submitted to questions by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze, the LA Times’ Jim Newton, Pilar Marrero from La Opinion, Stanley Willford from Our Weekly, and Nicole Chang from Korea Daily, who posed her questions via SKYPE. (Warren Olney from KCRW was originally scheduled to attend, but had to bow out.)

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck gave opening remarks then tossed out the first topic of the night when he said that one of the most important issues for him was whether or not the candidates intended to continue to support GRYD, the city’s gang violence prevention and intervention program that is presently housed in the mayor’s office.

Moderator Frank Stoltze made the question one step more specific and asked if the candidates would keep at least the current funding for the GRYD program and maintain the job of heading GRYD as a deputy mayor position.

Wendy Greuel said YES and YES, and followed up by saying that she planned to try to talk existing GRYD head, Guillermo Cespedes, into staying. (Cespedes was in the audience.)

Jan Perry also said YES, and talked about the need to address the trauma faced by kids in the city’s most violence-haunted communities. Kevin James was another YES, but stayed with his theme of the night, which seemed to be “Yes, but…. those City Hall insiders are doing a dreadful job, and can’t balance the budget,” or words to that effect.

In addition, James said that he thought there should be less use of former gang members as gang interventionists, that he would bring in respected community members that kids could look up to and relate to.

At this, the cadres of gang interventionists and community activists in the audience began visibly frowning.

Eric Garcetti had a conflict that night, and so was a No Show but sent his answer to Beck’s and Stoltz’s questions through civil rights attorney, Connie Rice, of the Advancement Project, who related that Garcetti would keep GRYD but move it out of the mayor’s office and, instead, establish it as a commission.

Rice made it clear that she thought the commission idea was a lousy one. In response to her follow-up questioning, all the candidates dutifully thought the idea lousy too.

“This is not something for a commission filled by part time people who have other jobs,” said James, and everyone nodded.

(WLA agrees.)

Other questions ranged from how many LAPD officers each candidate would pledge to keep (Greuel went for the full 10,000 while everyone else hedged), what they thought about gang injunctions and the gang database, and how they would lower crime in Koreatown.

By night’s end, the consensus of many of the gang interventionists and other local activists in the room seemed to be that Perry best understood the concerns of the city’s most violence plagued communities, but that they also liked Greuel, and thought her capible, yet felt that she needed to show up at a few more crime scenes and meetings in the ‘hood to gain credibility. Most thought Kevin James seemed sincere, and had interesting opinions on some topics, but was clueless on others and probably didn’t have a chance anyway.

(Since Garcetti wasn’t there he didn’t factor into the reviews.)

All I spoke with said they appreciated the fact that the candidates had been willing to hang out for more than two hours while these topics of high concern got laid on the table.

The forum was sponsored by the Advancement Project, the California Endowment, the California Wellness Foundation, Liberty Hill, the LAPPL, The Riordan Foundation, and a pile of others.


On Wednesday, the U.S. Attorney General’s Task for on Children Exposed to Violence presented its sobering report Defending Childhood.

After the first of the year, we’ll be looking much further into what we ought to be taking away from the report’s findings.

In the meantime, California Endowment Pres. Robert Ross writes for the Huffington Post about the importance of what the report has discovered.

Here’s a clip:


….At one end of Pennsylvania Avenue, members of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights took a hard look at school discipline policies and investigated how extreme rules using suspensions push students away from school and toward a life of crime. At the other end of the street, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence released the findings of a year-long study, reporting on the latest research about the impact of trauma on children’s lives.

Taken together, the two issues sound an alarm for the ways our schools and neighborhoods push kids away from the things we all want and deserve — a good education, a safe neighborhood, and a chance at the American Dream. While all this may seem less immediate than the fiscal cliff, it is every bit as urgent.

Childhood exposure to violence is a national epidemic. Every year, two out of every three of our children — 46 million — can expect to have their lives touched by violence, crime, abuse, and psychological trauma this year. It’s not hard to figure out the negative effects on society. The Task Force on Children’s Exposure to Violence describes something we all intuitively know: that witnessing traumatic events disrupts our ability to function in a healthy way, make good decisions, and move forward in our lives. For kids, the impact of trauma is even more pronounced.

Children exposed to violence are less able to concentrate in class. Their brains are consumed with processing the toxic stress in their lives and are not free to process the important things of childhood, like academic learning and developing critical interpersonal and life management skills.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m still absorbing the wealth of information from Wednesday and Thursday’s California Wellness Foundation’s Violence Prevention Conference. More on that in the weeks to come.

Posted in City Controller, City Government, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, LAPD, law enforcement, Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Unmanned LAPD ‘Copters, City Council Votes to Give LAPD Gen Services Cops & Gov. Brown Won’t Close Youth Prisons After All

May 16th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



The LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has the story:

So cops can now fly unmanned aircraft known as drones, which could be used to peek into your backyard and maybe even into your window at night.

So will the LAPD, a pioneer in the use of helicopters for law enforcement, soon be buzzing drones over your house as you smoke your favorite herb and become paranoid with fear?

Not likely, cops tell us:

The department doesn’t really the see the advantage of using unmanned aircraft and has no plans to test them out, at least for now.

In fact, the LAPD’s biggest concern, as it has been in the past, is having its manned helicopter units collide with drones.

But you can chillax.

The man in charge of the LAPD’s Air Support Division, Capt. William D. Sutton, told us the department doesn’t yet see much advantage in using drones. He thinks their safety record isn’t satisfactory yet:

” Back east a department had purchased one and lost control of it. It flew into a vehicle. We’re going to see how it goes.”

The FAA this week said that police departments could test out surveillance drones as long as they’re lighter than 4.4 pounds and fly below a 400 foot ceiling.

Given the city’s budget constraints, the LAPD is no hurry to buy drones, even if the drone-making capital of the nation is right here in Southern California…..

Whew! (For now.)


The Daily News Dakota Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Police Department will absorb the General Services police and security officers under a plan approved Tuesday.

The City Council voted unanimously to consolidate the two agencies, transferring the 220 officers and security guards from General Services to the LAPD.

With the move, the LAPD will take on the work of General Services police: patrolling libraries, City Hall offices and other city facilities.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa backed the merger, including the plan in his 2012-2013 budget.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilman Mitch Englander urged his colleagues to support the consolidation plan.

“This isn’t a divorce, this is a marriage,” Englander said. “And I say, Mazel Tov.”

Currently, General Services’ sworn officers carry guns and patrol the city’s parks, libraries, and City Hall offices and grounds. The security guards protect the Los Angeles Zoo, Convention Center and other facilities.

Following the consolidation – expected to take place July 1 – both groups would fall within a new department called LAPD’s Security Services Division.

Yeah. About that name. “The LAPDSSD” looks a lot like the hissing/yowling noise my cat makes right before coughing up a hairball. Do not even think of messing with the LAPD brand. Not possible. Don’t go there. Really.


This has long been a split decision for most who assessed it, WitnessLA included but, of late, the consensus has been to leave a few of California’s youth prisons open for the thousand or so of the state’s most troubled law-breaking kids, mainly because the counties don’t yet have the facilities or the programs to adequately serve these kids, may of whom have challenging mental and emotional health issues. It appears that Governor Jerry has now come around to this position.

Karne de Sa at the San Jose Mercury News has the story. Here’s a clip:

Responding to pressure from probation chiefs, district attorneys and prison guards, Gov. Jerry Brown has done an about-face on a revolutionary plan to shutter California’s youth prison system that was once the nation’s largest — and arguably the most notorious.

Just four months ago, a small section buried in the governor’s belt-tightening budget caused a massive stir in the juvenile justice world. With annual costs per inmate at about $200,000 and its population down 90 percent from peak years, the youth prison system should stop accepting serious and violent youthful offenders beginning next year, the Brown administration concluded.

For prison reformers who have long battled 23-hour confinement, education in cages and endemic violence, Brown’s Jan. 5 recommendation to eventually shift all the young inmates to county facilities was a startling and welcome move.

But in a revision of the budget released Monday, the governor now calls for upending his previous plan. The change came about after howls of protest from corrections officials, who flooded Sacramento budget hearings with demands that the Division of Juvenile Justice, or DJJ, remain open.

Counties, already struggling with an influx of adult prisoners shifted to their watch under other state budget reforms, simply couldn’t handle these most-difficult youths, they argued. Prosecutors warned that without state-run youth lockups, more juveniles would be sent to adult prisons.

The cost per kid, however, is nuts, and has everything to do with union issues, plus lack of economies of scale, thus has to be rethought. Put another way, it does not—I repeat, NOT—cost more than $200K to house, educate, give programs and health care to, and adequately guard these kids. Period. That money is going elsewhere. If you’d like to know where, I’d start by calling these folks.

Posted in LA City Council, LAPD | 1 Comment »

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Throws a Book Party for Connie Rice

January 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

It wasn’t your usual book party.

For one thing, Monday night’s book launching event for civil rights lawyer Connie Rice’s new memoir, Power Concedes Nothing, was held at the LAPD’s headquarters, in the over-lit Compstat room, no less—i.e. the room where the cops go to hear a rundown on the latest crime statistics and ‘crime mapping.”

Moreover, the party was hosted by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck—who seemed mildly surprised to find himself in the book party hosting business. (Can you think of another instance where LA’s Chief of Police threw a book party? I can’t either. Go, Chief Charlie! Perhaps this could be the start of a new LA event trend: Law enforcement and literature.)

And then, of course, there’s the fact that the book details, among other things, the years that Rice spent suing the Los Angeles Police Department on a regular basis—and usually winning.

Still, Connie’s suing-the-LAPD days are now mostly in the past, and the mood in the Compstat room on Monday night was so upbeat it sometimes bordered on love fest-y. (As you’ll see from the rough snippets of iPhone videos above.)

Those in attendance were a mix of law enforcement and city government types, plus a smattering of criminal justice-leaning authors and journalists—nearly all of whom passed up the red and white wine for glasses of fizzy water. (Helpful party tip: Always drink less than the cops in the room.) U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, showed up, as did City Controller Wendy Greuel, and LAPD command staff types like Deputy Chief Pat Gannon of South Bureau, and department spokesperson, Commander Andrew Smith (who was the LAPD guy you saw most often on TV throughout the whole LAPD/Occupy thingy.)

Journalist/authors Joe Domanick, Jesse Katz, and Jon Weiner, made appearances, as did Christine Pelisek from the Daily Beast, KPCC’s Frank Stoltz, KCET’s Judy Muller, the LA Times’ Pat Morrison, Sue Horton, Susan Brenneman and Deborah Vankin.

Among the others who stood around book-buying, appetizer-munching and gossiping were Police Commission head, John Mack, LA Gang Czar Guillermo Cespedes, Gerry Chaleff, who used to administer the federal consent decree for the LAPD but now has been appointed by Chief Beck as the Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing—meaning he’s supposed to be the guy tasked with making sure that LAPD officers don’t go around violating anybody’s Constitutional rights, and community activists, like Alfred Lomas, of LA Gang Tours.

City Councilman Tom LaBonge offered the night’s weirdest compliment to Rice, when in a moment of unchecked effusiveness after presenting her with an honorific city proclamation, he leaned into a microphone and told her, “You remind me of William Mulholland!”

(In case you’ve forgotten, Mulholland was the ultra powerful 1920′s era head of the Department of Water and Power on whom the John Huston-played villain of the movie Chinatown, Noah Cross Hollis Mulwray, was supposed to have been, in part, based.*) After Police Commission head John Mack began looking meaningfully at the City Councilman, and making subtle “cut it” motions, LaBonge tried to clarify things by shouting, “Forget Chinatown! Everybody drinks water.” Or something to that effect. Then he wisely divested himself of the microphone.

Still, everyone seemed to take LaBonge’s outburst as a quirky representation of the pleasant ebullience that characterized the night.

The cheery mood may have, in some ways, had to do with the fact that, unlike many book parties, where the point is to support (or meet) the writer, on Monday night, in addition to coming to support Connie, most everyone seemed to be really anxious to read Rice’s book—if they hadn’t already.

It is, as the subtitle says, “one woman’s quest for social justice in America….”—meaning it is a personal account, told through the lens of Rice’s specific experience and perceptions. Yet, much of it is also a book about certain events in Los Angeles in the last few years that many of those in the room felt they had, in some way had a part, or at the very least lived through and cared very much about—things like the battle to transform the LAPD and the struggle to get a handle on the gang violence that was corroding the emotional health of many LA neighborhoods.

In other words, they—we—think and hope that Connie’s book will add a new valuable puzzle piece to the communal puzzle that is the unfolding history of Los Angeles—a history that all of us get to claim.

PS: I’ve not yet read Connie’s book (as I just got it Monday night) but, like the rest, I’m looking forward to doing so. I’ll report back to you here when I do.


NOTE 2: I hopelessly bollixed up the Chinatown characters when I first posted this. According to the zillion essays analyzing Robert Towne’s amazing script, Huston’s character Noah Cross plus Cross’s business partner in the film, Hollis Mulwray, collectively represented William Mulholland. (And many of us have eyed the DWP with suspicion ever since.)

Posted in American voices, Civil Rights, LA City Council, LAPD, law enforcement, literature, Los Angeles writers, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Homegirl Cafe Coming to LAX

September 21st, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Although prospects had looked bleak for months, when four out of five of LAX’s wildly lucrative
food and beverage contracts were finally handed out on Monday afternoon— an unexpected beneficiary of the decision is Homeboy Industries’ popular and unique Homegirl Cafe.

In a decision that seems to have been complicated by more than the usual number of lobbyists, personal agendas, and multiple conflicts of interest (see stories byDavid Zahniser and Gene Maddaus for some of those specifics), the special five-person LA City Council panel known as the Board of Referred Powers decided (in a 4-1 vote) to award four of the five of LAX’s wildly lucrative food and beverage contracts and, at the same time, to throw out the bid by the celebrity-packed group that was originally the front-runner in the contract contest.

The fifth contract will likely be rebid in the near future and it is hoped that the whole five contract food and beverage package. (plus three additional airport vendor contracts) will be up for approval by the full city council in about a month.

(For some of the finer details on the contract squabbles, and the tortured road to Monday’s contract awards see the LA Times story, the Daily Breeze coverage, and the article in the LA WAVE.)

The Homegirl Cafe—one of Homeboy’s six businesses— is among the vendors included in the bid put forth by Miami-based Areas USA, which was originally figured to be a dark horse. When Areas USA was selected, that meant that Homegirl Cafe was too—along with other food purveyors like downtown Los Angeles steakhouse Engine Co. 28 and Culver City-based gastropub Ford’s Filling Station.

Although it is known for the fact that it trains and employs young women recovering from gang life and/or incarceration, Homegirl Cafe is also an excellent and uniquely LA food purveyor in its own right. (Homegirl describes its fare as “Latina flavors with a contemporary twist.” ) Its fully organic menu features delicate-flavored dishes designed by Chef Patricia Zarate using vegetables and herbs from its own organic garden and other local farms.

Father Greg Boyle was also among those who spoke to the panel at the meeting that concluded late Monday afternoon. When I saw him later on Monday night (at an unrelated gathering), he was extremely pleased, as would be expected, but still seemed a bit stunned by what, for Homeboy, is a very happy turn of events—yet well deserved in terms of the quality of the cafe itself.

The fifth and final contract was not awarded Monday after a winning bid involving some of LA’s best known chefs (Nancy Silverton, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken) was unexpectedly tossed out because of a possible conflict of interest that the LA city attorney’s office believed might trigger a court challenge and thus fatally delay the entire LAX project.

A clearly disappointed Silverton also spoke at the Monday’s meeting. “I want to warn you, If you don’t you’ll help us, the people of L.A. and the visitors to L.A. may be stuck with food choices and food quality that are currently available to them at every off-ramp on every freeway across America.”

(Well, not exactly. Nancy, we love you but you aren’t the only food game in town. Sorry.)

The group that includes Silverton et al, plus Boyle Heights’ la Serenata De Garibaldi and the local favorite Bertha’s Soul Food, is expected to rebid for the final contract.

(Wouldn’t it be nice if we could have Homegirl and some of our LA star chefs, La Serenata and Bertha’s Soul Food? )

In the meantime, it feels great to cheer Homegirl’s well-earned victory.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, LA City Council, LA city government | 5 Comments »

FOLLOW THE GANG MONEY: Part 1 – by Matthew Fleischer

August 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is Part One of WitnessLA’s two-part investigation into how the city of Los Angeles spends its $26 million per year in gang violence reduction dollars.

This investigation was reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines). It is the first effort to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WLA and Spot.Us.

You’ll find that both sections of this series are quite critical of multiple aspects the gang programs that have operated under the umbrella of the mayor’s office for the past two years—and with good reason. We went to great lengths to get documents and information that the mayor’s people made clear they did not want us to have. Much of what Matt found at the conclusion of his digging and reporting is, we believe, cause for concern–and rigorous rethinking.

However, just to be clear: our criticism does not suggest for a minute that the $26 million in gang dollars is not worth spending. All that money and more is needed to address the fact that hundreds of thousands of LA kids feel unsafe walking to school because of gang violence. But it is essential—particularly in these budget strapped times—that those much-needed funds are spent in ways that are measurably effective in addressing the problems for which they were allocated.

To that end, we give you Part One of Follow the Gang Money. We’ll have Part Two in a couple of weeks.

Then in September, we’ll have a wrap-up that looks at where we go from here.


Are LA’s Gang Prevention Strategies Excluding the Kids Who Most Need Our Help?
by Matthew Fleischer

On a hot day in early May, nearly 200 gang-reduction experts
under the umbrella of the city of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development program, or GRYD, gathered in the LA City Council chambers to fight for their jobs. There were too many intervention workers, some of them former gang members with extravagant tattoos and shaved heads, to cram into the rows of seats in the City Council chambers, so they spilled into the hallways instead, greeting each other fondly and chatting nervously about their fates. With the city facing a $212 million budget shortfall, the City Council was looking to do some serious fiscal trimming, and GRYD’s $26 million in operating funds were slated for the shears.

As the council meeting came to order and the public comment period began, these men and women stepped to the microphone at the center front of the chambers and told stories of bullets whizzing, children dying and the great risks they took in their daily lives to keep their communities safe. In between their testimonies, a sprinkling of tweedy academic types from the administrative ranks of these same gang-reduction programs came forward to bolster the street workers’ pleas with facts and figures.

No money should be slashed from GRYD, each of them said, in one impassioned way or another. Despite its budget woes, this is one program cut Los Angeles cannot afford.

“We’re saving lives,” was the common refrain.

Last to speak, and most eloquent, was civil rights attorney and gang intervention expert Connie Rice, whose 2007 Advancement Project report, “A Call to Action,” was part of what triggered the formation of GRYD in the first place. More recently, Rice and her Advancement Project have been tapped to run the city’s Los Angeles Violence Intervention Training Academy (LAVITA)—which is attempting to train and professionalize gang intervention workers. “We are celebrating low crime, but in the hot zones, kids still dodge bullets,” said Rice. “These [gang workers] are the people who keep the kids safe. The GRYD office is absolutely essential. We just spent $7 million for a reptile enclosure. I’m happy for Reggie [the alligator], but we need to save our kids first.”

Although some of the city council members fully intended to snip GRYD’s funds, Rice made her pitch with the knowledge that the program enjoys the unequivocal backing of LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Ever since his school reform efforts sputtered and stalled, Villaraigosa has taken to GRYD as his new flagship policy effort. He routinely touts it as “among the most innovative in the U.S.,” and has the habit of making lofty claims about GRYD’s impact: “The program has reclaimed our city for our citizens.”

Within days of the City Council hearing, the mayor, Connie Rice and the rest of the GRYD network got their way: GRYD would receive full funding for another year, which in 2009-10 amounted to $26 million, $18.5 million of which came directly from LA’s general fund. In the following weeks, virtually every other program in the city would be cut amid LA’s budget crunch—the library system, city attorney’s office and even the LAPD’s counterterrorism task force among them. GRYD was among the few allowed to remain intact.

It was a major political victory for Villaraigosa and Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

The mayor reacted to the news with a celebratory tweet: “Our GRYD programs WORK—gang crime is way down and more kids have a way out of the gang life.”

A two-month investigation by the LA Justice Report, however, has revealed that the mayor and the City Council’s confidence in GRYD’s central programs isn’t grounded in quantifiable facts. In truth, no one knows if, how well or how poorly GRYD is working—not the mayor, not the police, not GRYD itself.

Power and accountability have been consolidated in the mayor’s office, but there is still no way of determining whether the program is effective. And there are many indications that methodological errors have been made that have cost—and continue to cost—the city millions of dollars.

A recent audit by LA City Controller Wendy Greuel stated that, after nearly two years, GRYD, much like LA Bridges, still has no adequate evaluation of its effectiveness, or lack thereof—despite the city’s spending $525,000 (with another $375,000 soon to be paid out) for an assessment report from the Urban Institute (UI).

“We had years of a feel-good program under LA Bridges,” Greuel says. “Now we’ve spent more than $500,000 on a tool to see what’s working, but we still don’t have that yet.

“Transparency is the biggest problem we face.”

But while Greuel placed most of the blame on the irritatingly secretive assessment conducted by the UI, the Justice Report found the real failings to be not with the UI researchers’ evaluation of the GRYD programs, but with the programs themselves. Though it took weeks and multiple California Public Records Act requests, we acquired a copy of the UI’s 60-page evaluation and found it most revealing. After speaking with the UI head evaluator and two independent evaluation experts, we have learned that UI had a perfectly acceptable methodology in place. GRYD, however, has been hampered by serious bureaucratic blunders, prime among them poorly negotiated contracts that resulted in the loss of a year of data.

But beyond pure evaluation and data-collection screw-ups—of which there have been plenty—the Justice Report discovered gang prevention programs that may be systematically excluding many of the kids that most need their help and intervention programs that are based on a model that has little or no proven success. Further, the programs may fail to emphasize the most basic services that have been shown to help the men and women in LA’s most violent, troubled neighborhoods leave gang life behind.

As with many city and county problems, the situation is complex, so bear with us. Policy analysis can be wonky at times. But this is no academic exercise. LA is the gang capital of America, and the stakes of the gang-reduction debate are measured in blood.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Antonio Villaraigosa, Gangs, LA City Council, LA city government, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 12 Comments »

County Sups: $400K Death Payout, City Council: Vote on Trutanich Grand Jury

June 29th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Tuesday the City Council is tentatively scheduled to discuss SB 1168, the bill that would allow City Attorney Carmen Trutanich to have his own grand jury. The bill has passed the state senate and with a trip to the state assembly still ahead.

The City Council will decide whether or not it is in favor of the bill. Councilmembers Jan Perry and Bernard Parks are strongly opposed, and would like the idea to be put to a vote of the residents of Los Angeles.


Also on Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are scheduled to vote to settle a lawsuit brought by the parents of Tremayne Cole.

The bare bones of the case, which is expected to be settled for $400,000, are as follows:

According to the county’s own report, on February 5, 2008, a short, skinny, 14-year-old boy named Tremayne Cole was placed in one of LA County’s juvenile halls, Los Padrinos. Four days later, on February 9, Tremayne complained of a bad headache, a tooth ache, and he was running a fever. Although he was given medication, he was reportedly not seen by either a doctor or a dentist until around February 17 when he had grown so sick that he was transferred to LA County-USC hospital. Tremayne died of complications of meningitis on March 4, 2008.

Tremayne’s parents allege that the adults in charge dropped the ball on their son pretty much at every step.

Posted in City Attorney, City Government, Courts, Foster Care, LA City Council, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

« Previous Entries