Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Operation Blue Line was a go.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | No Comments »

How LA County’s Pricey Jail Plan Fails the Mentally Ill, LA’s LGBTQ Foster Kids Report Mistreatment by DCFS, Medical Board Investigating Doctors Giving Foster Kids Psych Drugs, and Willful Defiance

August 29th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA WEEKLY QUESTIONS RUSHED $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN AND ABSENCE OF MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

Phillip Cho, a man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, was arrested for attempted commercial burglary after trying to purchase a $2,000 case of cigars while in the midst of an elaborate delusion regarding newly acquired wealth. Cho was jailed in Twin Towers for three months, causing his mental health to further deteriorate. Cho’s caseworker assured him that he would be moved out of jail to a residential treatment facility within two weeks, but the waiting list turned out to be months long.

Instead of receiving the therapeutic care he needed, Cho says he suffered abuse at the hands of Twin Towers jailers, as well as psychologically damaging solitary confinement in a silent, padded room. Cho has been released and re-incarcerated several times, not unlike many mentally ill offenders in LA. Cho has written a book about his encounters with the criminal justice system, and his time in the Towers.

Twin Towers jail was built in 1997 specifically as an upgraded facility to better address the needs of mentally ill inmates. Sound familiar? In May, LA County Board of Supervisors hastily approved a $2 billion plan to replace the dilapidated Men’s Central Jail. A staggering 3,200 out of 4,860 beds are reserved for the mentally ill.

In a crucial investigative story, the LA Weekly’s Chris Walker brings up some very important questions about the jail-replacement plan and why Los Angeles seems to be bent on warehousing people with mental illnesses instead of diverting them into treatment.

While the board was gearing up to vote on the $2 billion replacement plan, it was also working out the plans for a women’s facility in Mira Loma, for which the state’s funding of $100,000 was about to expire.

The Supervisors rushed into a vote on Men’s Central Jail plans, it seems, with the idea that they were working against the clock to secure the Mira Loma money. While the money for the women’s facility had nothing to do with the men’s facility, the Supervisors had the construction consulting firm lump the two plans together.

Here’s a clip from Walker’s assessment of the situation:

Could the vote by the Board of Supervisors — which some critics call a nod to the past that could negatively affect tens of thousands of lives — have been forced by an obscure fiscal deadline?

The Weekly’s request for public records concerning the vote and events leading up to it, made to the office of outgoing County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka, shows that the five supervisors faced a use-it-or-lose-it deadline to secure $100 million in state funding for a women’s detention center in Mira Loma — which has nothing to do with Men’s Central Jail.

The state money, made available through Assembly Bill 900, is set to expire later this year. County officials didn’t want to lose the huge sum. For reasons that remain murky, the far more complicated proposals to replace Men’s Central Jail were lumped together with the Mira Loma facility plan in the documents prepared by Vanir Construction.

In a March 18 memo to the Board of Supervisors obtained by the Weekly, CEO Fujioka told the supervisors they had to pass one of the five Vanir proposals for replacing Men’s Central Jail in order to secure the state money for Mira Loma.

Were there other reasons for rushing the vote? At the time, all but one candidate for sheriff urged the board to wait to make a decision until after a new sheriff was in place. And Los Angeles DA Jackie Lacey had launched a task force of 70 mental health professionals to look into alternatives to locking up the mentally ill. Lacey was informed of the particulars of the jail plan the day before the vote was to happen. She put together and presented to the board an early report, explaining that her task force had found better ways to work with the mentally ill and bring down the recidivism rate. Apparently, the neither the board nor Lacey were informed of the other’s work until it was too late. Neither were the Supes briefed on a trip LASD officials took to Miami to see the county’s hugely successful mental health diversion program in action.

The die was already cast, and the board voted in favor of a massive and costly new jail.

Miami-Dade, San Francisco, and Nashville, all in the same boat as LA County at one time, are now seeing major success with mental health diversion programs. Miami-Dade cut their recidivism rate for mentally ill inmates down to 20%, compared with LA County, where 75% of mentally ill offenders return to jail.

Why were the Supes not informed of the Miami trip—one in which LASD attendees received actual “how-to” guides for replicating mental health diversion in their own county?

It…raises serious questions about an $18,000 trip taken last October by a group of L.A. County law enforcement officials, including Sheriff Cmdr. David Fender, who flew to Miami and saw firsthand its success in diverting mentally ill arrestees into treatment — part of the group’s “best practices” tour around the nation. Documents obtained by the Weekly show that L.A. Sheriff’s officials met with Miami’s top brass and received detailed “how-to” guides explaining the steps required to establish a comprehensive mental health diversion program from the ground up.

Yet nothing came of what the group learned in the other cities.

Assistant DA Bill Hodgman, who was on that fact-finding trip, delivered the how-to reports to his boss, Lacey, galvanizing her mental health task force to push for change in Los Angeles.

Yet the Board of Supervisors never received the documents from the DA or the Sheriff’s Department.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky, who voted against the new jail, complained about not being briefed. “I think I have been, as a member of this board, somewhat shortchanged by not having that information available to me as I’m being asked to make a decision — a $2 billion decision.”

This fall, DA Lacey will present another task force report, at which time the Supes are expected to vote on allocating $20 million for mental health diversion. But that doesn’t change the $2 billion jail rebuild.

Steve Fields of San Francisco’s Progress Foundation, whose diversion program treats the mentally ill for a fraction of the price of jailing them, asks what’s holding LA back:

According to California’s Administrative Office of the Courts, the yearly cost to support an individual with mental illness in a housing program in Los Angeles is $20,412.

It costs about $60,000 a year to jail him.

“I don’t know what is taking [Los Angeles] so long,” Fields says. “Counties that wanted to do this in California have had access to state funding for a long time.”


LA’S LGBTQ FOSTER KIDS (20% OF FOSTER POPULATION) MORE LIKELY TO REPORT MISTREATMENT BY THE SYSTEM

LGBTQ kids in Los Angeles County’s foster care system are twice as likely to report being mistreated by the system, a new study by UCLA’s Williams Institute. The study found that one in five foster kids (1,400) identify as LGBTQ, twice that of kids in LA’s general population, and that 86% of LGBTQ-identifying kids were a racial minority.

Researchers also found that, on average, LGBTQ kids had more placements than other foster kids, were more than twice as likely to live in a group home, and three times as likely to have been hospitalized for emotional reasons.

This is the first study to put a number on LGBTQ foster population in any child welfare system—let alone Los Angeles, which houses the largest foster care system in the nation. It was commissioned by the Los Angeles LGBT Center and funded by a federal grant.

The LA Times’ Hailey Branson-Potts has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

“People refer to it as the ‘dirty little secret’ that there are so many LGBTQ kids in foster care, but nobody’s been able to document it,” said Lorri L. Jean, chief executive of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, which commissioned the study.

“We need to know who these kids are because only if we know who they are can we help them,” she said.

In any given month, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has about 7,400 youths between the ages of 12 and 21 in out-of-home care, according to the study. Of those, about 1,400 identify as LGBTQ.

The study, funded by a federal grant, is the first of its kind quantifying sexual orientation and gender identity of youths in any foster system, its authors say.

Despite their large numbers in the foster care system, LGBTQ youths have been “relatively invisible,” the study said. Many do not feel safe telling their foster families or social workers about having same-sex attractions or questioning their gender identity.

[SNIP]

“We have seen decreases in overt homophobia in the foster care system, but that doesn’t mean it’s not subtly still present,” [the executive director of the Children's Law Center of California, Leslie Starr] Heimov said. One recent case involved a child who was adopted and kicked out after her parents learned she was a lesbian.

The Williams Institute study noted that most of the LGBTQ foster youths in L.A. County were, like their straight counterparts, racial minorities. The study found that 83% of LGBTQ youths in foster care were Latino or black.

Bianca Wilson, a Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, said many of these youths can face added discrimination for “being both sexual minorities and ethnic and racial minorities.”

The California Report’s Rachael Myrow spoke with Williams Institute researcher and author of the study, Bianca Wilson, who said:

“We found that LGBTQ…were moved around more, were more likely to be in group homes, experiencing emotional distress. And these are all seen as barriers to finding permanent homes.”


CA MEDICAL BOARD INVESTIGATING DOCTORS PRESCRIBING PSYCH MEDICATIONS TO FOSTER KIDS

Earlier this week, Karen de Sá’s alarming investigative report in the San Jose Mercury News exposed the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system. It has spurred state lawmakers into planning legislation to curb the over-medication.

And now, at Sen. Ted Lieu’s request, the state medical board says it has launched an investigation into whether doctors are prescribing medication to change behavior, rather than treat mental illness, and thus, “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

Karen De Sá has the update. Here’s how it opens:

With pressure on California’s foster care system to curb the rampant use of powerful psych meds on children, concern is mounting about the doctors behind the questionable prescribing.

For months, the state has adamantly refused to release data that this newspaper sought to expose which physicians are most responsible. Now, in response to a request from state Sen. Ted Lieu, California’s medical board is investigating whether some doctors are “operating outside the reasonable standard of care.”

The action comes after this newspaper’s investigation “Drugging Our Kids” revealed doctors often prescribe risky psychotropic drugs — with little or no scientific evidence that they are safe or effective for children — to control behavior, not treat serious mental illness. Many of these drugs are approved only for schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other relatively rare mental illnesses.

To examine the problem, the newspaper spent nine months negotiating with the state Department of Health Care Services to release a decade of prescribing data that did not identify individual patients.

The numbers the state finally provided showed that almost 1 in 4 adolescents in the California foster care system have been prescribed psychotropic medications over the past decade. Of the children on medications, almost 60 percent are being prescribed antipsychotics, a powerful class of drugs with serious side effects.


ON AIRTALK, KPCC’S LARRY MANTLE DISCUSSES CALIFORNIA BILL TO END “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” EXPULSIONS

Earlier this month, the California Senate passed a bill, AB 420, that would eliminate “willful defiance” as grounds for expulsion in any grade, and suspension in grades K-3. The bill, authored by Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, is now headed for Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.

On Thursday’s AirTalk, host Larry Mantle talked about the legislation with Brad Strong, Senior Director of Education at Children Now, the organization co-sponsoring the bill, as well as Joshua Pechthalt, President of the California Federation of Teachers (which took a neutral stance on the measure).

Take a listen.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LGBT, mental health, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 7 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Will Call Lee Baca to Testify in Upcoming ReTrial

August 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, LASD Deputy James Sexton and his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, were in court
as Judge Percy Anderson decided what evidence would and would not be permitted to be used for Sexton’s defense in his retrial scheduled to begin on September 9.

Although Anderson did not issue final rulings on all of the day’s motions, for the most part he appeared to lean toward excluding what the prosecution wanted excluded.

He did appear to mostly agree, however, that Sexton’s attorneys could call former Sheriff Lee Baca as a witness.

Sexton, if you’ll recall, was one of seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant and then jail inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers in the summer of 2011.

Deputy Sexton was already tried once on obstruction charges this past May. The trial resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury, with a split of 6-6.

Initially, it was not clear that the prosecution would try Sexton a second time. Yet, after the government got guilty verdicts in early July against the six other department members charged with obstruction, federal prosecutors announced they were going to go ahead and retry the deputy.

Although Sexton will be retried on charges similar to those of which the other six were convicted, his case is dissimilar in significant ways, in that he was far lower on the food chain that the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two deputies who were convicted, and are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Also, unlike the others, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews.

(The deputy talked with the FBI so much, in fact, that, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, FBI agents gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them.)

Interestingly, among the elements from the last trial that the prosecution wishes to exclude from Sexton’s defense in the second trial are the details of this cooperation.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 46 Comments »

Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

LA’s Central Crumbling Juvenile Hall, Pepper Spray in San Diego’s Juvenile Facilities, Mental Health Diversion Vote Postponed…and More

July 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHAT WILL LA COUNTY DO WITH THE DILAPIDATED CENTRAL JUVENILE HALL

As LA County is planning to rebuild Men’s Central Jail and Camp Kilpatrick, and to replace a women’s jail, another facility, the county’s Central Juvenile Hall, is in a state of woeful disrepair. Kids housed at “the Hall,” as it is sometimes referred to, endure broken pipes, dry-rot, mold, and structures that are outdated and not conducive to the current movement toward treatment and rehabilitation.

The LA County Supervisors, other county officials, and advocates don’t all agree on one solution.

The facility is predominantly used to hold kids awaiting trial at the central court, so relocating the kids away from the court would create a transportation obstacle. While the Supes are not sure if there is adequate funding for replacing the juvenile hall (an estimated $50M), the county is pumping millions into holding the facility together.

While it’s obvious that something must be done to remedy the conditions these kids are living in, it’s not clear exactly what the right answer is.

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

…absent from the public discussions has been any long-term plan to improve or replace the 22-acre Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, which the county’s watchdog grand jury recently criticized for being in “severe disrepair,” a continuing financial drain on taxpayers and in need of a complete replacement. The facility, which mostly houses minors awaiting trials, is plagued by leaking pipes, dry-rotted support beams, decaying facades and peeling paint, the panel wrote.

“Bath towels and duct tape were used in a futile attempt to repair broken pipes and prevent seepage” in one housing unit, the grand jury reported after members inspected the hall. “There was an indistinct foul odor in the hallway suggesting that sewage or stagnant water was present.” They found a “dilapidated” modular building used to house foster youth facing criminal charges was “totally isolated from the main facility and surrounded by barbed wire fencing which gives the appearance of an adult prison, not a youth facility.”

Several high-level county officials echoed the grand jury’s concerns. Trying to repair and modernize the existing buildings “is like putting a jet engine on a Model T,” Probation Department chief Jerry Powers said in an interview.

“It’s been a horrible facility for a long time,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the hall. “We’ve tried to clean it up and rehab it and everything, but it needs to be rebuilt.”

Advocacy groups, including the Youth Justice Coalition, say the aging central hall is no longer needed and should be torn down and not replaced.

At this point, however, no detailed study of the facility or its future has been conducted. It’s unclear whether county officials will back what Powers estimated would be a $50-million replacement price tag for the hall, when so many other costly projects are underway.

“If I had my choice and had all the money I needed, I would support blowing the whole thing up and starting over again,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the southern part of the county. But funding a new central juvenile facility could be difficult, he added. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents northern areas, agreed that the hall needs to be replaced but said through a spokesman that the supervisors would have to look later this year at what funding is available for that and other projects.

In the meantime, the county board has been pouring millions into repairing and keeping open the hall’s labyrinth of buildings behind the Eastlake Juvenile Court. Supervisors allocated $5 million this year to alleviate water damage and plumbing issues.


YOUTH LAW CENTER FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST SAN DIEGO PROBATION FOR PEPPER SPRAY USE ON LOCKED UP KIDS

The San Francisco nonprofit Youth Law Center filed a 34-page complaint against the San Diego County Dept. of Probation, co-signed by nine other advocacy groups, citing excessive pepper spray use at San Diego’s East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities after finding that officers shot kids with pepper spray 461 times in 2012.

While 70% of juvenile facilities across the nation ban the use of pepper spray, the Youth Law Center investigation found that officers were spraying kids indiscriminately, “as an all-purpose behavioral management tool.”

A number of girls were reportedly sprayed for refusing to strip in front of male officers. Officers sprayed kids as young as twelve, for things like failure to follow instructions, or refusal to leave their cells. Kids with skin, respiratory, heart, and mental health problems were also sprayed.

San Diego CityBeat’s Dave Maass and Kelly Davis have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

The girl sat on the bunk in her cell in one of San Diego County’s female juvenile-detention units as staff members explained that she was being placed on suicide watch. They told her she had to strip naked in front of them—including in front of a male staff member.

She refused, twice. So, they sprayed her in the face with pepper spray, then shut the door to her cell.

Two minutes later, they asked if she was going to cooperate. She refused, and they sprayed her a second time and again shut the door.

Minutes later, they opened the door and sprayed her again. She vomited. They then sprayed her yet once more.

After the fourth blast of pepper spray, the girl finally submitted. Probation staff ordered her to crawl out of the cell, where they handcuffed her, forcibly removed her clothing, cut off her shirt and bra, strip-searched her, put her in a gown and placed her in solitary confinement for 48 hours.

This account is one of dozens of abuses of pepper spray by the San Diego County Probation Department at its East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities revealed today by the Youth Law Center (YLC), a San Francisco legal advocacy nonprofit. In a 34-page formal complaint supported by more than 170 individual exhibits, YLC has asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the probation department and order it to end the use of pepper spray and other practices that YLC says violate youths’ constitutional rights. Nine groups co-signed the complaint, including California Rural Legal Assistance, El Grupo, the San Diego branch of the NAACP, Border Angels, Latinos Organizing for Action, Alliance San Diego, CSA San Diego, American Friends Service Committee San Diego and the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association….

According to the complaint, YLC and El Grupo initiated an investigation of pepper-spray use in San Diego County juvenile facilities in 2012 after San Diego CityBeat, in collaboration with TheCrimeReport.org, reported that pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray, had been used on juveniles 461 times in a single year. As we noted then, and is noted in the complaint, only a handful of states allow juvenile-detention staff to carry pepper spray. More than 70 percent of facilities nationwide ban its use entirely. Many jurisdictions, including Los Angeles County, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice and the Texas Youth Commission have been forced to reduce pepper-spray usage after legal pressure from civil rights groups and youth advocates.

In San Diego juvenile facilities, probation officers have wide discretion to use pepper spray, whether it’s the small bottles they carry or the large canisters, nicknamed “Big Berthas,” designed to quell riots. Before deploying pepper spray, officers call out the “Cover” command; every youth within earshot is required to assume a crouch position, with hands clasped over their head to avoid getting sprayed.

[SNIP]

YLC identified dozens upon dozens of cases of improper use of pepper spray. Probation staff sprayed youth at risk of suicide; youth who simply were disobedient; youth with respiratory, cardiovascular and skin problems; and youth being treated with psychotropic medication.

They used it to gas-out detainees who refused to leave their cells. They sprayed detainees as young as 12 years old. They sprayed multiple girls who refused to strip at the request of male staff.

YLC documented evidence of 147 youths who weren’t doing anything wrong but were nonetheless exposed to pepper spray because staff had used too much on other detainees. In five separate incidents, staff used at least a pound of pepper spray.


SUPES PUSH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION VOTE TO NEXT TUESDAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors has postponed voting on a motion (made by Mark Ridley-Thomas) that would earmark at least $20 million for the upcoming fiscal year to a mental health diversion program. (Backstory here.)

Rina Palta was at Tuesday’s board meeting and has this update. Here’s a clip:

“I don’t think this is ready for primetime,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who noted that the supervisors may want to spend more than $20 million for such purposes once Lacey’s plan is complete.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsy and Don Knabe also expressed support for funding diversion through the supplemental budget process in the fall — but not yet.

The board did agree to request a report from various county agencies on where diversion funds might come from and what sorts of programs are needed.

Next week, the board is expected to vote on funding contracts for architectural plans and an environmental impact report for jail construction in L.A. County. The $14.5 million combined contracts would be a next step in building, among other projects in the county’s comprehensive jail plan, a downtown jail to house inmates with mental illness.

Despite the nay-sayers who want to wait till the fall, Ridley-Thomas told Rina Palta, “We need to match our rhetoric with evidence of commitment.”


THE HISTORY OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

The latest in the NY Times’ editorial series advocating marijuana legalization (more here, and here) lays down the historical context of the federal marijuana ban, from its racist roots, to propaganda and sensational news coverage, to taxation, to outright prohibition. Here’s how it opens:

The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason.

The cannabis plant, also known as hemp, was widely grown in the United States for use in fabric during the mid-19th century. The practice of smoking it appeared in Texas border towns around 1900, brought by Mexican immigrants who cultivated cannabis as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes as they had done at home.

Within 15 years or so, it was plentiful along the Texas border and was advertised openly at grocery markets and drugstores, some of which shipped small packets by mail to customers in other states.

The law enforcement view of marijuana was indelibly shaped by the fact that it was initially connected to brown people from Mexico and subsequently with black and poor communities in this country. Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations who were promptly labeled “fiends.”

As the legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explain in their authoritative history, “The Marihuana Conviction,” the drug’s popularity among minorities and other groups practically ensured that it would be classified as a “narcotic,” attributed with addictive qualities it did not have, and set alongside far more dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine.

By the early 1930s, more than 30 states had prohibited the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The federal push was yet to come…

Read the rest of the latest offering from this interesting (and enjoyable) series.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Probation | 8 Comments »

Will Board of Supes Vote to Fund Mental Health Diversion?…. & Does CA’s Medicaid Policy Doom More Mentally Ill Patients to Prison? …& Other Stories

July 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WILL THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS STEP UP ON MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION $$$?

The LA County Board of Supervisors are scheduled to vote at Tuesday’s meeting on a motion that would allocate at least $20 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to mental health diversion.

The board was originally scheduled to vote last Tuesday on the motion, which was introduced by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago.

But the vote was delayed, sources told us, because—surprisingly—it was not clear whether the matter had enough support to pass.

The fact that the motion couldn’t count on at least two votes in addition to that of Ridley-Thomas was particularly perplexing since both the county’s chief prosecutor, DA Jackie Lacey, and the man most likely to be the next LA County Sheriff, Long Beach Police chief Jim McDonnell, were unequivocal about their belief that a strong diversion program was essential and that adequately funding such a program was a necessity.

Lacey, in particular, was impassioned when she gave her strongly-worded interim report on the county’s progress in instituting a diversion plan.

“There’s….a moral question at hand in this process,” Lacey said to the supervisors. “Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

McDonnell had issued his own statement the day before Lacey’s report calling on the county to “…fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

To WitnessLA he added, “I think what we do here will be watched carefully by other jurisdictions across the state, and really across the country.”

It was rumored that some of the supervisors were worried about the motion’s price tag, even though the proposed $20 million is a modest amount of money when compared to the $$$ now expended unnecessarily jailing—rather than treating (which costs much less)—nonviolent mentally ill inmates and then seeing a high percentage of those same inmates return time after time.

It is “the common sense solution,” wrote So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, in his letter to the individual board members urging them to support the motion to “set aside funding so that it is available when Jackie Lacey provides her comprehensive blueprint to the board in September.”

Lacey put the matter in even stronger terms when she was interviewed for Monday’s news broadcast on Al Jazeera America. “….I am determined that we are going to lead this cause,” she said of the mental health diversion effort. “My dream is that we’ll be able to close down some wings of the jail.”

Moreover, as Eliasberg also noted, a robust program will likely go a long way to satisfy the scathing compliance letter issued in early June by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found that “…serious deficiencies in the mental health care delivery system remain and combine with inadequate supervision and deplorable environmental conditions to deprive prisoners of constitutionally-required mental health care.”

Now we await the board’s vote. Let us hope it is a wise one.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE COST/BENEFIT OF MENTAL HEALTH TREATMENT VERSUS LOCK UP….A NEW STUDY SUGGESTS STATE MEDICAID POLICIES RESULT IN MORE MENTALLY ILL GOING TO JAIL AND PRISON

According to a just-released study from USC’s Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, people suffering from schizophrenia are more likely to end up in prison in states like California, which have tight Medicaid policies requiring an extra, supposedly cost-cutting step in approval when deciding which antipsychotic drugs can be given a patient in need.

A story in USC News explains how this works:

Some health plans require an extra approval step before tests or treatments can be ordered for patients. This step – called prior authorization – is intended to encourage physicians to select cost-effective options by requiring justification for the selection of more expensive options. Likewise, prior authorization policies adopted by state Medicaid programs aim to reduce costs associated with some medications, especially those drugs used to treat schizophrenia. However, an unintended consequence of these policies may be that more mentally ill patients are being incarcerated, raising questions about the cost effectiveness of these formulary restrictions.

In the study published July 22 in The American Journal of Managed Care, researchers found that states—like California—requiring this prior authorization for what are termed “atypical antipsychotics” had a whopping 22 percent increase in the likelihood of imprisonment for schizophrenics and others, compared with the likelihood in a state without such a requirement.

Here’s more from USC News.

“This paper demonstrates that our policies around schizophrenia may be penny wise and pound foolish,” said Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center. “Limiting access to effective therapy may save states some Medicaid money in the short run, but the downstream consequences – including more people in prisons and more criminal activity – could be a bad deal for society.”

Yep. And, just so we’re clear, balking at the $20 million price tag to fund an adequate diversion program for LA County is also exactly that: penny wise and pound foolish.

We’re just saying.


LAPD PATROLLING CITY WITH “GHOST CARS?”

As the LAPD inspector general investigates the allegation that some high level department supervisors have been falsely inflating the reported numbers of officers on patrol under their watch, the police union—the LAPPL—which evidently flagged the practice to begin with, has confirmed that there are indeed reportedly “ghost cars” on patrol. (Here’s an LAPPL video that attributes the drop in patrols to budget cuts.)

KPPC’s Erika Aguilar has that story. Here’s a clip:

….Union officials, who submitted the complaint, refer to the patrol vehicles that are not on the street when they are reported to be as “ghost cars.”

The investigation began when union officers complained to the Los Angeles Police Commission and the inspector general about patrol officers who were supposed to be assigned to light or desk duty because of an injury or other condition but are asked to sign in to work as if they were in a patrol car.

LAPD Detective David Nunez, a delegate for the Los Angeles Police Protective League, said he complained to the police commission and the inspector general, saying it’s “unsafe for the community and the officers.”

POST SCRIPT: Allegations of similar “ghost patrols” have repeatedly surfaced among our sources in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The reports come from both the unincorporated areas of LA County and some of the contract cities.


MORE FROM THE NY TIMES ON MARIJUANA, SPECIFICALLY THE RACIAL INJUSTICE OF WEED ARRESTS

After the New York Times’ Sunday editorial calling for marijuana to be legalized, the paper has continued to make the case in a series of editorials on the matter, the newest being this one by Jesse Wagman on the shameful racial inequities in marijuana arrests and convictions.

Here’s a clip:

America’s four-decade war on drugs is responsible for many casualties, but the criminalization of marijuana has been perhaps the most destructive part of that war. The toll can be measured in dollars — billions of which are thrown away each year in the aggressive enforcement of pointless laws. It can be measured in years — whether wasted behind bars or stolen from a child who grows up fatherless. And it can be measured in lives — those damaged if not destroyed by the shockingly harsh consequences that can follow even the most minor offenses.

In October 2010, Bernard Noble, a 45-year-old trucker and father of seven with two previous nonviolent offenses, was stopped on a New Orleans street with a small amount of marijuana in his pocket. His sentence: more than 13 years.

At least he will be released. Jeff Mizanskey, a Missouri man, was arrested in December 1993, for participating (unknowingly, he said) in the purchase of a five-pound brick of marijuana. Because he had two prior nonviolent marijuana convictions, he was sentenced to life without parole.

Outrageously long sentences are only part of the story. The hundreds of thousands of people who are arrested each year but do not go to jail also suffer; their arrests stay on their records for years, crippling their prospects for jobs, loans, housing and benefits. These are disproportionately people of color, with marijuana criminalization hitting black communities the hardest.

NOTE: Blacks and whites use marijuana at comparable rates. Yet in all states but Hawaii, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana offenses. In California, for example, blacks are more than twice as likely as whites (2.2 times) to be arrested. In nearby Nevada, the discrepancy is double that with blacks 4.5 times as likely to be arrested than whites.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, Community Health, District Attorney, health care, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Marijuana laws, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class | 3 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

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

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 109 Comments »

This American Life Does the LASD, Garcetti Says Why He Will Do the Right Thing With Border Kids….And More

July 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THIS AMERICAN LIFE LOOKS AT THE WHEN THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT GETS MAD

This past weekend, in a show called “Mind Your Own Business” American Public Radio’s This American Life broadcast a story having to do with The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. In particular, they talked about what happened when the FBI began to investigate brutality against inmates at the LA County Jail system, and the sheriff’s department decided they didn’t like being investigated.

Here’s how the segment, produced by Nancy Updike, opened:

There’s been a big, messy, fascinating story unfolding in Los Angeles for awhile… involving two big law enforcement agencies: the LA county sheriff’s department, which is huge, and the FBI. A secret investigation got exposed. There were accusations and counter-accusations, and clandestine recordings, and by the end, a bunch of people’s careers were over.

For the story (which begins shortly after the 30 minute on the podcast) producer Updike interviews LA Times reporter Robert Faturechi. Then she plays excerpts from three of the recordings that were introduced as evidence at the recent federal trial that ended with six members of the LASD being convicted of obstruction of justice.

The first recording she plays is from 2010 in which FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the lead investigator looking into inmate abuse at the jails, is covertly recording a conversation with Deputy William David Courson (with whom she’s on a semi-date) who told her—among other things—about what he called the “unwritten rules” of how to treat inmates. For instance, he said, “… you learn that any inmate who fights with a deputy goes to the hospital.”

They don’t have to make the first move, he says, they can just be thinking about it.

There’s lots more. So listen.


MAYOR GARCETTI EXPLAINS WHY HE WILL SHELTER ENDANGERED IMMIGRANT KIDS

This weekend, as anti-immigration protestors around the country continqued to oppose any kind of government help for the more than 50,000 unaccompanied kids now detained who have crossed American borders in recent months, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti talked to Arun Rath of NPR’s Weekend Edition, about his controversial announcement last Tuesday that Los Angeles would help find temporary homes for many of these kids while the courts tried to sort out what to do about the ballooning humanitarian crisis.

Here’re a couple clips from the NPR interview:

RATH: Determining the final status of these children could take a while. Immigration hearings can take years to schedule. This take us sort of beyond housing to, you know, schools, health care, other services. Won’t this seriously strain city resources over the long-term.

GARCETTI: Well, you know, Los Angeles already faces the broken immigration system and its costs when we can’t award scholarships to students who are A-students and have only known the United States but might be undocumented, when we see, you know, emergency room visits and other things. There’s no doubt that there’s been a strain on local budgets, which is why I think we need comprehensive immigration reform. But this is a different issue here. This is an emergency situation. These are kids first and foremost. And then of course, you know, we do have to go through formal procedures on what will happen with them. I would love to see those things accelerated. I would love them to see, you know, a faster path to citizenship for people who already live here. I would love to see our borders secured, but that shouldn’t keep us from action at moments of humanitarian crisis.

[SNIP]

RATH: Mayor, what would be your message to potential immigrants or those who are considering potentially risking their children’s lives to get them to this country?

GARCETTI: Well, I don’t think – the system that we have, it’s very wise. And for me, the reason that I’m reaching out is we have children that are here. But I certainly wouldn’t encourage people to send their children or for children to cross the border. That’s an incredibly dangerous journey. And I’d want people to hear that loud and clear. But just as loud and clear, I think we have an obligation, once we suddenly have children that are in our country here, to be caring about them while we determine their final status.


THIS IS NOT AN IMMIGRATION CRISIS, IT IS A REFUGEE CRISIS

If you are newly grappling with this issue, for one of the quickest, clearest pictures of why the growing number of unaccompanied minors represents a different brand of immigration dilemma, we recommend reading the whole of last Sunday’s NY Times op ed by the Pulitzer-winning author of Enrique’s Journey, Sonia Nazario.

You’ll be missing out if you don’t read the whole chilling—and informative—essay, but here’s the opening to get you started.

Cristian Omar Reyes, an 11-year-old sixth grader in the neighborhood of Nueva Suyapa, on the outskirts of Tegucigalpa, tells me he has to get out of Honduras soon — “no matter what.”

In March, his father was robbed and murdered by gangs while working as a security guard protecting a pastry truck. His mother used the life insurance payout to hire a smuggler to take her to Florida. She promised to send for him quickly, but she has not.

Three people he knows were murdered this year. Four others were gunned down on a nearby corner in the span of two weeks at the beginning of this year. A girl his age resisted being robbed of $5. She was clubbed over the head and dragged off by two men who cut a hole in her throat, stuffed her panties in it, and left her body in a ravine across the street from Cristian’s house.

“I’m going this year,” he tells me.

I last went to Nueva Suyapa in 2003, to write about another boy, Luis Enrique Motiño Pineda, who had grown up there and left to find his mother in the United States. Children from Central America have been making that journey, often without their parents, for two decades. But lately something has changed, and the predictable flow has turned into an exodus. Three years ago, about 6,800 children were detained by United States immigration authorities and placed in federal custody; this year, as many as 90,000 children are expected to be picked up. Around a quarter come from Honduras — more than from anywhere else.

Children still leave Honduras to reunite with a parent, or for better educational and economic opportunities. But, as I learned when I returned to Nueva Suyapa last month, a vast majority of child migrants are fleeing not poverty, but violence. As a result, what the United States is seeing on its borders now is not an immigration crisis. It is a refugee crisis.


TRAINS, AMPUTATIONS AND WHY KIDS ARE ON THE RUN

And for an additional view, read this by another very experienced reporter, the Center for Public Integrity’s Susan Ferris, who writes of what she saw about kids fleeing violence ten years ago when she was based in Latin America for the Atlanta Journal-Consitution, and how much worse things have gotten now.

Ferris also writes about how dramatically different an outcome is likely to be for a child in immigration court— depending upon if he or she has a lawyer, or is without one.

Here’s a clip:

A Syracuse University project known as TRAC released a report this week analyzing more than 100,000 juvenile cases filed in the nation’s immigration courts over the last 10 years. Only 43 percent of kids in these cases were or are currently represented by lawyers who help plead for asylum or another form of legal status, according to TRAC, the acronym for the university’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.

Immigration courts are clogged with backlogs, but juvenile cases only represent about 11 percent of all cases currently pending.

Kids, like adults, do not have the right to the appointment of attorney in immigration proceedings.

But TRAC found that having a lawyer increased the odds that kids would win their claims against deportation: In cases that have been resolved, nearly half the children who had attorneys — 47 percent — were allowed to remain in the United States. When children did not have legal representation, courts allowed only one in 10 to remain here.


SUNDAY, UNACCOMPANIED KIDS WERE THE SUBJECT OF LA’S ANNUAL IMMIGRATION MASS

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has that story. Here’s how it opens:

During Sunday Mass at a sunlit cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a 22-year-old woman stepped timidly to a podium and began her story.

“My name is Dunia Cruz,” she said in Spanish. “I came here from Honduras.”

As she spoke of the gang violence that she said drove her and her toddler son from Central America in April — and of their dangerous journey across Mexico — Cruz was interrupted by bursts of applause.

Her tale resonated with many of the transplants from other countries in the crowded church pews….

Posted in immigration, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD | 9 Comments »

What the “Shocking” Rise in Racial Disparity Has to Do With the Criminal Justice System….Jackie Lacey’s Evolution…Miami-Dade & Mental Health Diversion….& More

July 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



More than two decades ago, James Smith of the Rand Corporation and Finis Welch of UCLA,
published what was viewed as a seminal paper about the progress made evolution of black-white inequality during the 20th century—-particularly between 1940 and 1980.

With electronic access to census and similar data, Smith and Welch found that, in most important areas—like years of schooling completed and earning power—black men were dramatically closing the gap between themselves and their white counterparts.

Now, a quarter century later, Derek Neal and Armin Rick, two economists from the University of Chicago, have just published their own report, which looks at the economic progress since 1980 when Smith and Welch left off. What they found is this: not only has economic progress halted in significant areas for black men, but in many cases it has gone backward.

The major factor driving their calculations, Neal and Rick concluded, was the “unprecedented” rise in incarceration beginning in the mid-1980′s among American men in general, but disproportionately among black men, who research showed were—and still are—treated differently, statistically speaking, by the U.S. criminal justice system.

They wrote:

Since 1980, prison populations have grown tremendously in the United States. This growth was driven by a move toward more punitive treatment of those arrested in each major crime category. These changes have had a much larger impact on black communities than white because arrest rates have historically been much greater for blacks than whites.

Further, the growth of incarceration rates among black men in recent decades combined with the sharp drop in black employment rates during the Great Recession have left most black men in a position relative to white men that is really no better than the position they occupied only a few years after the Civil Rights Act of 1965.

Neal and Rick’s paper, which you can find here, runs 91 pages and has a lot to offer on this disturbing topic, including graphs and charts, if you want additional details.

For more in a compact form, Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post has his own quick take on Neal and Rick’s alarming news.


RECALIBRATING JUSTICE: EXAMINING THE NEWEST STATE TRENDS IN REFORMING SENTENCING & CORRECTIONS POLICY

The Vera Institute has just put out an excellent new report outlining the recent legislative changes made last year across the U.S. at a state level that are beginning to turn around the tough-on-crime trend that has had the country in its clutches since the mid-80′s. The report is designed, not just to inform, but to provide direction for states that have yet to fully embrace the practices can produce better outcomes at less cost than incarceration.

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

In 2013, 35 states passed at least 85 bills to change some aspect of how their criminal justice systems address sentencing and corrections. In reviewing this legislative activity, the Vera Institute of Justice found that policy changes have focused mainly on the following five areas: reducing prison populations and costs; expanding or strengthening community-based corrections; implementing risk and needs assessments; supporting offender reentry into the community; and making better informed criminal justice policy through data-driven research and analysis. By providing concise summaries of representative legislation in each area, this report aims to be a practical guide for policymakers in other states and the federal government looking to enact similar changes in criminal justice policy.

Read the rest of the summary here.

And go here for the full report.


THE EVOLUTION OF DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY

We reported Wednesday on Jackie Lacey’s fact-laden, often impassioned and entirely ambivalent presentation Tuesday to the LA County Board of Supervisors regarding the necessity for a real community diversion program for a large percentage of the county’s non-violent mentally ill who are, at present, simply cycling in and out of jail.

Lacey is also a newborn champion of split sentencing for LA prosecutors, and has at least taken initial steps toward affirmative stances on other much needed criminal justice reforms, like pretrial release.

Interestingly, as those who remember Lacey’s positions on similar matters during her campaign for office are aware, it was not always so. Not by a long shot.

With this once and future Jackie in mind, a well-written LA Times editorial takes a look at the evolving views of LA’s first female DA.

We at WLA think the news is heartening. Growth and change are essential for all of us. And we admire those, like Lacey, who have the courage to become more than they were the day, week, month, year before—especially when they have to do it in public.

May it continue.

Here’s a clip from the LAT editorial.

In the closing weeks of the long and contentious 2012 campaign for Los Angeles County district attorney, Jackie Lacey fielded questions at a South L.A. church filled with activists and organizers who were advocating near-revolutionary changes in the criminal justice system. They asked the candidate: What would she do to make sure fewer people go to prison? Didn’t she agree that drug use and possession should be decriminalized? How quickly would she overhaul the bail system to make sure the poor are treated the same as the rich while awaiting trial? Would she ensure that mentally ill offenders get community-based treatment instead of jail? Would she demand so-called split sentences, under which convicted felons spend only part of their terms in jail, the other part on parole-like supervision?

Her opponent hadn’t shown up to the forum, so Lacey had the audience to herself. She could have owned it. With a few platitudes and some vague words of support, she could have had everyone cheering.

Instead, she proceeded to slowly and methodically answer questions as though she were deflating balloons, popping some immediately, letting the air slowly out of others.

Her role, she said, was not to keep people out of prison but to keep people safe. Drugs damage the users, their families and their communities, she said, and the criminal justice system should dissuade young people, especially, from using drugs. Bail is complicated, she said, but gives the accused an incentive to show up for trial.


A LOOK AT WHAT MIAMI-DADE IS DOING RIGHT WITH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION

In her story about Lacey’s presentation to the board of supervisors on Tuesday, KPCC’s Rina Palta took a very smart look at the much-invoked diversion strategies that the Florida’s Miami-Dade County has put in place and how they work—since, after all, it is these ideas that Lacey and her team have been studying as they work to figure out what will work for LA.

Here’s a clip:

“It really started not because we’re better than or smarter than anyone else, but because our needs are worse than anyone else,” said Steve Leifman, the associate administrative judge of the Miami-Dade criminal division and chair of Florida’s task force on substance abuse and mental health issues in the courts.

Leifman said that while the national average for serious mental illness in the population is about 3 percent, in his county, it’s 9.1 percent.

Meanwhile, Florida’s public mental health spending ranks near the bottom in the nation. (He estimates public health dollars provide enough care for about 1 percent of the population.)

The county held a summit — similar to the one held by Lacey in L.A. in May — and commissioned a study from the University of Southern Florida to look at its large mentally ill jail population.

Leifman said the results were striking.

“What they found is that there were 90 people — primarily men, primarily diagnosed with schizophrenia — who over a five-year period were arrested almost 2,200 times, spent almost 27,000 days in the Dade County jail. Spent almost 13,000 days at a psychiatric facility or emergency room. And cost taxpayers about $13 million in hard dollars,” he said.

To turn things around, the county has relied largely on federal aid, through Medicare, to fund treatment-based programs for its mentally ill misdemeanants and non-violent felons. It’s also learned to leverage local resources well by collaborating with community partners, Leifman said.

The main programs fall into two categories: pre-arrest and after-arrest.

Now for the details, read the rest of Palta’s story.


MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS AND OTHER BLACK LEADERS ENDORSE JIM MCDONNELL FOR SHERIFF

On Friday morning, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and more than a dozen notable African American leaders, including Pastor Xavier Thompson, President of the Baptist Ministers Conference, endorsed Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

“Chief Jim McDonnell has the integrity and foresight to lead the Sheriff’s Department into a new era of transparency and success,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Throughout his years of public service, he has shown that he is not just tough on crime, but smart on crime, with the insights to recognize the value of investing in prevention and crime reduction strategies that keep our community safe and also help promote more positive outcomes for those at risk of entry into the justice system.”

McDonnell told the crowd at the Southern Missionary Baptist Church in the West Adams District that he was proud to have the support of Ridley-Thomas, whom he said was “deeply committed to transparency and accountability in the Sheriff’s Department and a tremendous advocate for community engagement. I look forward to working together to find ways that we can protect our neighborhoods and help our children and families thrive.”

MRT’s endorsement means that McDonnell is now supported by all five members of the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, McDonnell’s rival in the contest for sheriff, has been conspicuously quiet in past weeks, and was unresponsive to WLA’s request for comment earlier this week on the issue of mental health diversion.



Graphic at top of post from Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, District Attorney, Education, Employment, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Mental Illness, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

Mark Ridley-Thomas Asks for $20 Million for Mental Health Diversion & Jackie Lacey Lays Out the Issue

July 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas surprised advocates at this week’s board of supervisors meeting with a welcome
and very timely motion to identify and set aside at least $20 million in county funds for a mental health diversion program.

In the motion, Ridley-Thomas pointed out that diversion “was a missing component of the adopted nearly $2 billion dollar jail master plan.” And yet, he noted, only a proposed $3 million was set aside for it.

“Considering that the Board-approved jail construction plan is estimated to cost $2B, the proposed investment in diversion is inadequate by comparison.”

(Um. Ya think?)

Ridley-Thomas also spelled out the fact that the claim that diversion will save money and lower LA’s jail population is hardly conjecture, that there is plenty of precedent to guide us, like, for example, “….New York City’s Nathaniel Project with a reported 70% reduction in arrests over a two-year period; Chicago’s Thresholds program with an 89% reduction in arrests, 86% reduction in jail time, and a 76% reduction in hospitalization for program participant; and Seattle’s FACT program with a 45% reduction in jail and prison bookings. The Miami-Dade County program, with access to community-based services and supportive housing resources, has reduced recidivism from 75% to 20% for program participants….”

MRT’s motion seemed well-timed for passage, coming as it did a day after Long Beach police chief and candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, called on LA County to “fund and promote an effective network of treatment programs for the mentally ill which will provide them with the support, compassion and services they need to avoid our justice system.”

It also followed LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s scheduled report to the board on Tuesday.

Lacey—the LA official who has taken the lead on the push for mental health diversion (and thereby conveyed to the concept an important validity due to her position in law enforcement)—gave a fact-laden presentation that was also often genuinely impassioned.

For example, there was this:

“There’s also a moral question at hand in this process. Are we punishing people for simply being sick? Public safety should have a priority, but justice should always come first. If you are in a mental state that you hurt others, then the justice system has to do what it can to protect the public. but there are many who do not fall into that category. When we over incarcerate those…We merely act on fear and ignorance…”

And then later:

“My position is that of being in the criminal justice system for nearly 30 years as a prosecutor. It’s like groundhog day. We continue to have the same reaction in the prosecutor’s office, which is to put people into jail. Punish, punish, punish. And if our recidivism rate in this state is 70 percent….we are failing. We are failing! All we are doing is warehousing people and putting them back out!”

And the number of mentally ill warehoused is growing, she said. “The percentage of inmates who are mentally ill has increased by nearly 89 percent since 2011.” And “…we see the same people over and over again after they have been treated in the jail and released.”

Like Ridley-Thomas, Lacey pointed to the existing programs elsewhere that make clear that LA need not be stuck in such a cycle of knee-jerk failure. “We know when we look at other jurisdictions such as Miami Dade and Memphis, we are not doing what we could and should be doing to divert those who are mentally ill out of the system.

In the end, the board thanked Lacey profusely and elected to put off voting on Ridley-Thomas’s motion until next week. But the reception by at least some supervisors, notably Zev Yaroslavsky, was demonstrably positive.

“I think it’s critical that we do this,” Yaroslavsky said. “It kind of came to a head a few weeks ago when the majority of the board vote to undertake the study of a $2 billion jail. These kinds of programs would not necessarily mitigate the need for a replacement jail, but it might mitigate the need for the size of jail we have….”

Indeed.

Let us hope that next week the board as a whole follows through with real commitment through their vote.

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, Mental Illness | 2 Comments »

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