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In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

December 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy James Sexton became the 7th member of the LASD
to be sentenced to prison for a conviction of obstruction of justice due to his part in a plan to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Sexton to 18 months in a federal lock-up, plus an additional year of supervision after he is released.

Sexton, 30, is a former Eagle Scout who was offered an appointment to West Point and recently got his master’s in public administration at USC. He was 26, and in the department for three years, when in August 2011, he was assigned by then lieutenant Greg Thompson, his boss on the Operation Safe Jails unit (OSJ), to participate in a complex scheme to keep federal informant Brown away from the FBI and other federal representatives with whom he’d previously been in contact. Brown was, at the time, part of a civil rights investigation into brutality by deputies against inmates in Men’s Central Jail, plus other forms of LASD corruption.

According to department higher ups, the hiding of Brown was for the inmate’s own safety. Sexton and his team members were told that the order to move Brown to various secret locations within the county jail system, through the use of name changes and computer manipulation, came from the very top of the department, namely from Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who were briefed regularly on the operation that Sexton began unofficially calling Operation Pandora’s Box.

Judge Anderson gave Sexton the shortest sentence of any of the seven, stating that the deputy was “the least culpable” of the group. (Co-conspirators Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricela Long drew terms ranging from 41 months for former lieutenant Steve Levins, to 21 months for former deputy Mickey Manzo, after being convicted in July of this year in a trial separate from Sextons)

Sexton’s attorneys had pushed for a far lower six month sentence, or even probation with no jail time, pointing out that Sexton had repeatedly cooperated with the feds as a whistleblower in 37 different meetings, and had been convincingly threatened by department members once his whistleblower role became known. (Sexton was the only one of his co-defendents who was allowed by the judge to keep his personal firearms until his conviction this fall.) Anderson, however, was adamant that “the public” expected a sentence that did not trivialize the offense.

“The public expects that the police will not obstruct justice,” said the judge

At the same time, Anderson praised Sexton’s “loving family,” that the deputy “has respect of many in his hometown,” and was “smart and educated” and was “devoted to public service.”

Anderson paused, then added, “Obviously at some point he allowed the core values that had served him well to give way...to the corrupt values of the sheriff’s department.

Finally Anderson spoke directly to Sexton.

“Sir, you didn’t show courage in your misguided attempt to protect the LASD.”

While Sexton and his family looked both grim and saddened by the sentencing outcome, they seemed unsurprised. Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.
The September trial was Sexton’s second legal go-round for the same charges. His first trial, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

When questioned outside the federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said that the sentencing of Sexton was not the end of the story when it came to pursuing civil rights violations and corruption inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He ticked off some of the trials of other LASD members that will take place in 2015. “This is the end of one chapter,” Fox said, “but we have many chapters yet to come.”

As to whether the feds are focusing on other department members for possible future indictments, Fox would only say “it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Fox also declined comment on the news that Captain Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative unit, ICIB, had recently been relieved of duty, pending an LASD investigation. Carey, who testified in both Sexton’s trials, was asked by Fox when he was then on the stand if he was aware that he was the focus of an ongoing criminal federal investigation.

Sexton will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on February 2015. His six co-defendents are required to surrender on January 2.

Sexton reportedly has made plans to appeal his conviction.


Be sure to read ABC7 Lisa Bartley’s excellent account of Monday’s proceedings. Bartley has also linked to some documents pertinent to the sentencing including letters of support from such people as an L.A. County Deputy District Attorney, a retired CIA official, a Captain in the U.S. Special Forces, a Green Beret and the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

Did Board of Supes Violate the Brown Act with $2 Billion Jail Vote?…WLA on KCRW’s WWLA? Monday Nite…and About That Rolling Stone UVA Rape Reporting Debacle

December 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SO CAL ACLU SEZ SUPES VIOLATED THE LAW WITH $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN VOTE

According to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, the LA County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last May when they voted to go ahead with a costly plan to replace Men’s Central Jail.

The problem, according to Eliasberg and his fellow ACLU attorneys, is that although the board listed on its agenda for the May 6, 2014 meeting in question that it would be discussing various possible pricey plans for rebuilding MCJ (along with a women’s prison at Miraloma) that had been submitted to the board by Vanir Construction Management, there was no specific listing nor any motion in the agenda that indicated the board might actually vote on whether or not to go ahead with one of the plans at the upcoming meeting, and all that such a go-ahead would entail.

But vote they did.

During the meeting, Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina—both of whom had been pushing for a robust jail rebuild and expansion—read a motion into the minutes calling for a vote to proceed with one of Vanir’s five plan options. The vote was taken and passed 3-1. (Zev Yaroslavsky voted against going ahead, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.)

Now it turns out that the non-agenda-ized vote may have been a no-no.


SO WHAT IS THE BROWN ACT ANYWAY?

In case you’re unfamiliar with the statute, the Ralph M. Brown Act was passed in 1953 by the California state legislature (and authored by Assemblymember Ralph M. Brown) to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in meetings of local legislative bodies. The Brown Act, which has expanded in length over the years due to various amendments, governs certain ways that such meetings must be conducted in order to secure public participation.

One whole section of the Brown Act has to do with requirements surrounding meeting agendas—when they must be posted and what must be on them. To wit:

At least 72 hours before a regular meeting, the legislative body of the local agency, or its designee, shall post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting, including items to be discussed in closed session. A brief general description of an item generally need not exceed 20 words.

Then in another section specifies:

No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not appearing on the posted agenda, except that members of a legislative body or its staff may briefly respond to statements made or questions posed by persons exercising their public testimony rights.

The motion for the vote was not on the agenda.

There are exceptions to the agenda rule, as in cases of emergency and the like. But the jail plan vote doesn’t appear to qualify for any of those exceptions.

On Tuesday of last week, the ACLU sent a letter to District Attorney Jackie Lacey’s office asking Lacey to look into the matter. The letter—obtained by WLA—opens this way:

Please investigate whether the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act at its May 6, 2014 meeting when Supervisor Antonovich and former Supervisor Molina read into the agenda a joint motion calling for the Board to “adopt” one of five jail plan options presented by Vanir Construction Management, Inc in its Los Angeles County Jail Plan – Phase 2. The Board voted and adopted the motion by a vote of 3-1, with Supervisor Ridley- Thomas abstaining. The written agenda for the meeting did not provide for the Board’s voting on any of the options; it provided for only a discussion on the five options by Vanir. …we believe that the vote on the oral motion was a clear violation of the Brown Act. If you agree, we request you take all appropriate action….

Lacey’s office—which has acted previously on Brown Act allegations—has yet to reply but, if the past is any guide, the DA’s office will take a while before deciding what if any action to take.


IS A POSSIBLE ILLEGALITY AN OPPORTUNITY?

The issue is a timely one because, if the vote to approve that multi-billion dollar jail plan was taken today, it would likely have a different outcome. Gloria Molina’s successor, Hilda Solis, talked last Monday at her swearing-in about the “incarceration-industrial complex that will sink our economy as well as our society if we allow it to.”

Kuehl went even further, expressing in an interview, according to the LA Times, that she wanted to revisit the costly jail plan vote altogether.

That same day, newly sworn-in Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that, while he believed Men’s Central Jail needed to be replaced, he thought the size of the replacement plan might need to be “recalibrated” in that 20 percent of the inmates in LA County’s jail facilities are mentally ill. Thus, if the diversion programs that he and Jackie Lacey favor are put into place, fewer total beds would likely be needed in the county’s facilities

Eliasberg pointed out that the ultra-expensive Vanir plan put into motion in May not only failed to include the population drop in the jails that diversion programs for the mentally ill would surely produce, but also failed to take into account “the substantial downward effect Proposition 47 will have on the jail population.”

In addition, it neglected to factor into its jail population math such programs as a greater use in LA County of split sentencing (now required by the state) and the institution of strategies like risk-based pretrial release, that could lower the need for jail beds still further.

“In other words,” said Eliasberg, “the [existing jail building] plan is both flawed in concept and was adopted in an illegal manner. The new Board members have an opportunity to rectify these mistakes.”

Let us hope so.



WITNESSLA ON WHICH WAY LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY TALKING ABOUT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT…AND ALL THAT JAZZ

I’ll be on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney Monday night at 7 pm on KCRW 89.9. We’ll be talking about the likelihood of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and similar topics.

You can listen in realtime here.

If you missed realtime, you can listen to the podcast here.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..REPORTING ON RAPE: A NECESSARY LEVEL OF JOURNALISTIC DUE DILIGENCE DOES NOT EQUAL INSENSITIVITY

The New Yorker’s Margaret Talbot has a level-headed, no nonsense take regarding the reporting debacle that erupted last friday when Rolling Stone magazine suddenly backpedaled madly regarding an explosive article they ran last month about an alleged brutal gang rape at a University of Virginia fraternity house, based on extensive, highly emotion-generating interviews with a student identified only as “Jackie.”

Talbot describes the situation, the subsequent storm of reactions that ignited among other journalists and activists, and what we can take away from the whole sad mess.

Here are some clips from her essay:

…..It now appears that key details of the story, reported by Sabrina Rubin Erdely, may not be true. Other journalists—notably, my friend Hanna Rosin and Allison Benedikt, at Slate, and Paul Farhi, Erik Wemple, and T. Rees Shapiro, at The Washington Post—raised doubts about the reporting late last month, but Rolling Stone dismissed them. Then, on Friday, the magazine issued a statement saying, “In the face of new information reported by the Washington Post and other news outlets, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account.” (An earlier version of the statement had emphasized the magazine’s trust in Jackie, and regretted that it had been “misplaced”—wording that seemed to settle too much responsibility for the story’s shortcomings on Jackie and not enough on the reporter or her editors.) Rolling Stone’s statement did not enumerate the discrepancies, but the Post did.

….According to Erdely’s story, Jackie was asked on a date, in September, 2012, by “Drew,” a lifeguard she worked with at the campus aquatic center. Drew brought her back to the Phi Kappa Psi house and invited her to an upstairs bedroom. There, she was shoved to the floor, fell through a glass table, and, while lying on shards of glass, was raped by seven men. Drew egged them on in what, horribly, seemed to be some sort of hazing ritual for new pledges. When Jackie stumbled out of the fraternity hours later, dazed and bleeding, and found her friends, they convinced her not to report what had happened to the police or campus authorities, because they were worried that it would jeopardize her social standing and theirs.

When the Post contacted the friends last week, they said the account of the attack she gave them that night differed from the version in Rolling Stone. Jackie had not appeared to be physically injured, when they saw her late that night, they said, and she told them she’d been at a fraternity party where she had been forced to have oral sex with multiple men. They offered to get her help, but she declined. While she may have given Erdely a fuller and more accurate description of the events—perhaps she was too shaken that night to tell the friends more—the discrepancies seem to be troubling her friends.

The Post also tracked down the man called “Drew” in the article, whom Jackie identified for the first time this week, and he said he had never met Jackie or taken her on a date. He could be lying, of course, but at the least, his account raises questions about Rolling Stone’s. He also was not a member of Phi Kappa Psi. The fraternity chapter issued a statement last week that said it would continue to coöperate with a police investigation into the charges, but had found no evidence for them. “Moreover, no ritualized sexual assault is part of our pledging or initiating process. This notion is vile, and we vehemently refute this claim.”

One of Jackie’s friends, “Andy,” whom the Rolling Stone article described as having advised her not to report what happened to her, told the Post he never spoke to a reporter from the magazine. (The original article leaves ambiguous whether Erdely confirmed this part of the story with anyone other than Jackie.) Andy said, “The perception that I’m gravitating toward is that something happened that night and it’s gotten lost in different iterations of the stories that have been told. Is there a possibility nothing happened? Sure. I think the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.”

[SNIP]

Neither “Drew,” the central figure the Post tracked down, nor any of the other men at the fraternity party appear in the article outside of Jackie’s recollections of them. We don’t read about them denying the charge, or unwillingly lending support to it, or complicating or corroborating or casting doubt on Jackie’s account in any of the ways they might have. That makes for a remarkably weak piece of journalism, and an enormously frustrating situation. If this story does turn out to be largely false, it will do real damage to the important new movement to crack down on sexual assault on college campuses. “One of my biggest fears with these inconsistencies emerging is that people will be unwilling to believe survivors in the future,” Alex Pinkleton, a friend of Jackie’s who survived a rape and a rape attempt at U.V.A., said to the Post. “However, we need to remember that the majority of survivors who are coming forward are telling the truth.” She went on, saying, “While the details of this one case may have been misreported, this does not erase the somber truth this article brought to light: rape is far more prevalent than we realize, and it is often misunderstood and mishandled by peers, institutions, and society at large.” She’s exactly right.

When Hanna Rosin interviewed her on Slate’s DoubleX podcast, she asked Erdely several times about whether she attempted to contact the accused men, and this is what Erdely told her:

I reached out to them in multiple ways. They were kind of hard to get in touch with because [the fraternity’s] contact page was pretty outdated. But I wound up speaking … I wound up getting in touch with their local president, who sent me an e-mail, and then I talked with their sort of, their national guy, who’s kind of their national crisis manager. They were both helpful in their own way, I guess.

That isn’t exactly journalistic due diligence in a case where such extreme allegations are being made. As a journalist, it’s hard to talk to sources who may contradict a vulnerable person with whom you empathize, and in whom you have invested your trust. I hate that part of reporting, and would skip it if I could—but you can’t.

[SNIP]

…“Believe the Victims” makes sense as a starting presumption, but a presumption of belief should never preclude questions. It’s not wrong or disrespectful for reporters to ask for corroboration, or for editors to insist on it. Truth-seeking won’t undermine efforts to prevent campus sexual assault and protect its victims; it should make them stronger and more effective.

For additional backstory on the matter, read the story by the Washington Post’s T. Reese Shapiro, which originally questioned the Rolling Stone reporting.

Posted in ACLU, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Rape | No Comments »

“A Civil War Has Torn the Department Apart” – New Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is Sworn In

December 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



“A LONG PERIOD OF UNCERTAINTY AND TRAUMA”

After a day of much needed rain, the weather had cleared and the city seemed once-again washed clean as, just after 2 pm on Monday, Jim McDonnell was sworn in as the 32nd Los Angeles County Sheriff.

McDonnell made his way up to the stage of LA’s completely packed Hall of Justice to the music of live bagpipes. The bagpipes are becoming a new tradition for the Irish cop who came to LA from Boston to join the Los Angeles Police Department nearly 34 years ago, then worked his way up the ranks until he was second in command to that other Bostonian cop, Bill Bratton. After being shortlisted for the job of chief twice, McDonnell left the LAPD to head up Long Beach’s ailing department. Now he is poised to lead the complex and spectacularly troubled LASD, the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the nation.

It is job for which many feel he is unusually well suited.

After the requisite welcome remarks were delivered by presiding LA County Superior Court Judge David Wesley, followed by an invocation by LA Archbishop Jose Gomez, and still more remarks from Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the main event arrived: LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey administered the oath of office to McDonnell. (Although most of LA County’s major elected officials would come to endorse him, Lacey was one of McDonnell’s earliest and most ardent supporters.)

Next, the newly-minted sheriff’s wife, Kathy McDonnell, along with Megan McDonnell, one of his two daughters, pinned the LASD’s six-pointed star on their man’s chest.

When finally was time for McDonnell to give his own speech. it didn’t take him long to get to the heart of the matter:

“This organization has been through a long period of uncertainty and trauma….” he said.

“I have seen the despair in many of you who sought to rise above the divisions and the turbulence of recent years.

“Many of you felt you were being asked to choose between what was best for the organization and what was best for a few people who were only trying to serve themselves.”

McDonnell paused for a beat, then went on.

“I am telling you that, as of today, those days are gone.”

It was the biggest applause line of the afternoon.

“You have been through a Civil War that has torn the department apart,” McDonnell continued. “Now is the time for us to move beyond past divisions and fractures, to heal, and to emerge as a better and stronger organization. Today, we have the opportunity to start fresh, to hit the reset button and to welcome in a new era at the Sheriff’s Department.”

For much of the speech, the new sheriff spoke directly to the department’s 18,000 employees, several hundred of whom had showed up in their dress uniforms to see the new guy sworn in.

“I want to be crystal clear about my expectations of you, as well as what you can expect of me,” McDonnell told them.

Then he ticked off some of those expectations:

* We will set aside disputes and factions of the past and focus, together, on our core mission and building our future.

* We will identify and build upon our strengths, and also be equally forthright in identifying – and working to address – our weaknesses.

* We know that Patrol is important, but so is Custody. We will treat Custody as an equally vital mission of the Department and respect this key aspect of our work, just as we respect those entrusted to us and in our care within our jails.

* We will welcome the watchful eye of our community and work with our federal partners to address past problems. We will embrace oversight as a mechanism to help us move beyond our challenges and to help achieve our shared goals.

* We will develop a culture in which career paths and promotions in the Department are the result of character, competence and compassion, as performed with a sense of humility and based on a foundation of respect.

* Everyone will be afforded a fair chance to succeed—and merit, not external considerations, will serve as the guideposts for success in this Department.

At this last, many of the rank and file who stood along the back and side walls of the hall looked relieved and actually hopeful.

Yet, some of department’s higher ups who sat together near the front, still wore expressions that were serious and difficult to read.

NOTE: You can find a full text of Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s speech here.

The LA public officials who filled the front three or four rows of the hall, however, were uniformly effusive.

“This is historic,” said former district attorney Steve Cooley. “He’s a very special person…. The right man at the right moment.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck agreed. “The right man for the moment.”


THE TONE COMES FROM THE TOP

There was a reception following the swearing in, but before he went off to socialize, McDonnell first took twenty minutes to field questions from the reporters who clustered around him on the steps outside the building.

When asked if he had talked to officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office about whether there would be further indictments of department members—present or former—McDonnell said he had not. “I needed to wait until today in order to have standing.”

But he would be having conversations, he said—then brought up the still looming spectre of a federal consent decree. His goal would be to work as closely with the feds as possible “to make whatever agreement as productive as it can be.’

He answered questions about body cameras (he’s for them), and about the diversion programs he favors for many of the mentally ill inmates, whom he said comprise 20 percent of LA’s jail population. “Diversion is a critical element,” he said.

WitnessLA asked McDonnell how he plans to undo the pay-to-play, patronage culture that became so deeply entrenched in the department. McDonnell said the change would start right now, today, “by setting the tone from the top.” Department members, he said, are “looking for clear direction.”

As to whether there are parts of the existing command structure that he’ll need to dismantle:

“As I go forward, I want to give everybody a fair shot,” McDonnell said, adding that he and his team would also take “a hard look” to see if people are where they are supposed to be.

“We’ll take care of it on a case-by-case basis.”


LEE BACA WEIGHS IN

Former sheriff Lee Baca was also present at the swearing in. He sat in the front row with former California governor Gray Davis.

After the swearing in was over, Baca praised McDonnell’s speech, and chatted volubly about the challenges the new sheriff would face. Then, when when asked to reduce his advice for his successor to elevator pitch-length, Baca thought for a moment, then offered the following:

“Being the sheriff is very personal. It’s not just a professional experience. Its failures are personal. The key is to stay in the center of what is positive. A strong sheriff knows what pain is and can handle it.”

All photos by WLA

MCDONNELL OATH OF OFFICE SPEECH TEXT VERSION DELIVERED FINAL

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

Part 3: “Drugging Our Kids,” Kindergarteners Carry Stresses to School, Lawsuit on Behalf of Disabled LA Jail Inmates Settled…and More

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“DRUGGING OUR KIDS” PART 3: A SWEET DEAL BETWEEN FOSTER CARE PRESCRIBING DOCS & PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

In August and September we linked to parts one and two of Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury on the widespread and unchecked use of psychotropic prescription drugs to medicate California’s foster kids. (links)

In part three of the powerful series, de Sá exposes pharmaceutical companies’ major targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care, who are covered under Medi-Cal. On average, these foster care prescribing doctors are rewarded—with money for travel, meals, profitable speaking gigs, and research trials—more than double what regular California doctors receive in payouts from drugmakers. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, pharmaceutical companies gave $14 million in payouts to doctors who prescribe to kids in foster care. And doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions for foster kids per year received four times as many payouts than the lower-prescribing doctors.

Here’s a clip from the findings:

Foster care prescribers reap nearly 2½ times more than the typical California doctor: From 2010 to 2013, almost 30 percent of all California doctors — and about 35 percent of foster care prescribers — received at least $100 from drug companies. But while the California doctors in that group received an average of $10,800 apiece over the four-year period, foster care prescribers typically received far more, nearly $25,000 each

Frequent prescribers are generally rewarded the most: Doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions to foster children in a year received more drug company payments than those who wrote fewer. While the margin fluctuated from year to year, on average the higher prescribers in the most recent fiscal year collected almost four times — or about $10,000 more — than the lower prescribers in 2013.

The bulk of the payments fund drug company-sponsored research: The 17 drugmakers who reported payments steered more than $11.3 million in research funds to doctors who prescribe psychotropic drugs to the state’s foster kids, with Eli Lilly — maker of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa — leading the pack by spending $6 million.

The companies kept some of their big researchers busy in other ways: Six of the doctors who earned among the largest research grants also tallied a cumulative total of almost $400,000 in speaking and consulting fees and another $45,000 in travel and meals.

We really hope de Sá’s editors put this excellent series up for prizes when the time comes.


KINDERGARTNERS IN HIGH-VIOLENCE COMMUNITIES BRING STRESSES OF FAMILY AND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO THE CLASSROOM

in an op-ed for the LA Times, Judy Belk, president and CEO of the California Wellness Foundation, tells of her daughter Casey’s experience teaching a kindergarten class in a St. Louis school not too far from Ferguson, MO.

Belk noted that many parents really strive to give their kids what they need, but often found the challenges stacked against them are overwhelming.

Here’s a clip:

Casey quickly figured out that schools are not closed systems. When a family is dysfunctional or broken, the problems follow the student into the classroom. Her principal waited with a student for hours to be picked up by a parent who never appeared. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., the principal had to turn the child over to child protective services.

Still, Casey has been impressed at how, with limited resources and parenting skills, and brutal work schedules, the parents try their best to provide for their children. She also sees a large number of involved, caring fathers countering the stereotype of the absent black male.

But the families and the school struggle to make everything work in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Shortly after school started, there was a drive-by shooting at a convenience store directly across the street from the school. Classes had just been dismissed, and several of Casey’s students were in the store as bullets flew, though none was wounded.

Casey’s text messages are discordant. One day she sends cute pictures of her kids in Halloween costumes; the next she alerts me that the school is on lockdown because of nearby gunfire. Recently, after yet another shooting, her principal canceled all outdoor recess. And now, in anticipation of a violent response to the upcoming Ferguson grand jury announcement, emergency supplies have been delivered to the school in case it becomes too dangerous for students or teachers to leave the building for a day or so.

But I’m trying hard to stay calm and take my guidance from Casey. She says she’s not scared — just angry that her kids have to live under these conditions. She intends to stay at least until the end of her two-year commitment. And after that? She’s already thinking about what more she can do: “I thought by teaching kindergarten, it would be early enough to make a difference, but … we’ve got to intervene earlier, focus in on parenting.”


LA COUNTY SETTLES COSTLY, SIX-YEAR LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISTREATMENT OF INMATES IN WHEELCHAIRS

A lawsuit challenging alleged mistreatment and appalling living conditions for inmates in wheelchairs within Men’s Central Jail has finally been settled after a six-year-long fight from the county.

Some of the changes required by the settlement have already been implemented. Wheelchair accessible toilets and showers are now in two wings of the jail, for instance. The settlement also calls for work and education opportunities for inmates with ambulatory disabilities, as well as working wheelchairs. In addition, the settlement will pay $2.2 million in attorneys fees.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two wings of the Twin Towers jail have already been fitted with wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers, as required by the settlement. The county jail system now employs an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and inmates may appeal to the jail’s chief physician if they are denied the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general will monitor the agreement for three years.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said conditions have improved recently. But she questioned why the county fought the lawsuit when the jails clearly were not providing for disabled inmates’ basic needs.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Price said. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

We had that same question, too.


RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND STRUGGLING TO GET BY ON THE OUTSIDE

As part of KQED’S Vital Signs series, Aus Jarrar, who was recently released from prison, and now interns at a service center for former inmates, shares his story. Because Jarrar is ineligible for food stamps, he struggles to eat—missing the hours the food bank is open—in order to maintain his internship toward a drug and alcohol counseling accreditation.

Here’s how his story opens:

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat?

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, LA County Jail, Trauma, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

LA Supes Set $41M Toward Mental Health Diversion, Prison Banker Cuts Controversial Fees, LBPD’s New Chief…and More

November 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY’S MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PUSH LEADS SUPERVISORS TO ALLOCATE $41M FOR TREATMENT, OTHER SERVICES

On Wednesday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report to the Board of Supervisors detailing how the county is failing the mentally ill by funneling them into the criminal justice system.

Thanks, in part, to Lacey’s urging, the Supervisors voted Wednesday to devote $41 million in state funding to opening up more 24-hour psychiatric emergency rooms, expanding the county’s mobile crisis response teams by 14 units, and increasing residential treatment programs’ capacity by approximately 560 beds.

My News LA posted this story from the City News Service. Here’s a clip:

The money will be used in part to expand mobile crisis support teams that work in tandem with police officers and sheriff’s deputies to identify mentally ill offenders.

A consultant hired by Lacey concluded that not enough law enforcement officers have been trained on how to deal with people undergoing a mental health crisis, and recommended more resources.

Health officials also plan to open three new 24-hour urgent care centers and expand residential treatment programs for the mentally ill by about 560 beds.

Civil rights activists — who protested outside the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration prior to speaking before the board — have been pushing the county to fund community-based programs in lieu of increasing the number of jail cells.

Lacey acknowledged that the county will need to do both, noting the state of deterioration of the Men’s Central Jail.

“It’s unfit even if you’re not mentally ill,” she said.

Effective community-based crisis treatment can cut costs associated with inpatient or emergency room care and jail time, officials said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky highlighted the expense involved.

“The cost of checking somebody in (to the jail) is probably greater than the cost of checking into a Four Seasons hotel,” Yaroslavsky said.

An LA Times editorial says having DA Lacey spearheading the mental health diversion endeavor has made all the difference. Here are some clips:

In the ideal world, police responding to a disturbing-the-peace or petty crime call arrive at the scene with the training to discern whether the subject’s behavior is due at least in part to a mental health problem. They defuse the situation and turn the subject over to the just-arrived psychiatric evaluation team, or else they take the subject to a crisis center where the intake process is efficient, allowing the officers to go back on patrol while the subject is stabilized, diagnosed and monitored by mental health professionals. Or, if the alleged crime is dangerous and the alleged criminal poses a risk to public safety, he or she is taken to jail.

The family is quickly contacted, and if jail is not the right track, trained experts identify available funding and choose the most appropriate clinic bed from an ample supply across the county. Services continue after the subject is stabilized. County workers and contractors find housing, if it is needed, connect the person with medical care and help him or her find work.

[SNIP]

In the real world, jail remains the easiest and sometimes the only option for police arresting mentally ill people…

But the gap between the real and the ideal worlds is slowly shrinking…

Lacey’s efforts have given renewed vigor to mental health and law enforcement professionals who got into their lines of work to help people but for too long have been beaten down by the sheer scope of Los Angeles County’s mental health needs.

Read the rest.


PRISON BANKING COMPANY DROPS FEES FOR MONEY ORDERS TO INMATES

Private financial institution, JPay, has stopped charging families fees to send money orders to inmates in Indiana, Ohio and Oklahoma, benefiting around 100,000 families with incarcerated loved ones. After the change, Kansas is the last state in which families are charged a money order fee. (There are, of course, still tons of fees charged by JPay and other companies, but this is a step in the right direction.)

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has the story. (For more backstory, read some of Daniel Wagner’s earlier reporting on this issue.) Here’s a clip:

The move comes after a Center for Public Integrity report showed that the families of hundreds of thousands of U.S. inmates had no way to send money to their incarcerated loved ones without incurring high fees. Several of the prison systems that had no free option for money transfers contracted with JPay for their inmates’ financial services.

JPay is one of the largest prison bankers, companies that provide financial services to inmates and their families, sometimes charging high fees and sharing their profits with the agencies that contract with them. The company handled nearly 7 million transactions last year and expects to transfer more than $1 billion this year.

JPay and other prison bankers have become central players in a multi-billion dollar economy that shifts the costs of incarceration onto families of prison inmates, according to the Center’s report. Families must send money to help pay for necessities like toilet paper and winter clothes that used to be provided by the government. JPay says it handles money transfers for 1.7 million offenders, or nearly 70 percent of the inmates in U.S. prisons.

JPay did not respond to several emails and phone calls requesting comment about the decision to eliminate some fees. The company’s founder and CEO Ryan Shapiro earlier said The Center’s questions about money order deposit fees forced him to consider the impact of policies that affect the company’s poorest customers. He said he would seek to convince states to provide families with a free deposit option.

The change was confirmed by John Witherow, director of Nevada CURE, an inmates’-rights group. Witherow said he received an email announcing the change from JPay’s public relations manager sometime in the past two weeks. A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Corrections also confirmed the change. Spokesmen for the Ohio and Oklahoma departments did not respond to requests for comment.


DEPUTY CHIEF ROBERT LUNA TO BECOME LONG BEACH’S FIRST LATINO POLICE CHIEF

On Tuesday, Long Beach officials appointed Deputy Chief Robert Luna the city’s new police chief. Luna, who will replace outgoing chief, Los Angeles Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell, is the first Latino to serve as an LBPD chief.

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

Luna, 48, has been with the police department for 29 years. He commanded the patrol bureau and was second-in-command to McDonnell. He will be the city’s 26th police chief and the first Latino to serve in that role.

Mayor Robert Garcia and City Manager Pat West announced the selection of Luna on Tuesday at police headquarters.

“I truly have a passion for this profession, this city and I absolutely love this police department,” Luna said after the announcement.

Luna said he plans to meet with the community to learn where the police department needs to improve. Last year, the department had a spike in officer-involved shootings compared to 2012. The deaths of several unarmed civilians have cost the city millions in legal settlements.


THE MAJORITY OF STATES SUCCESSFULLY CUT INCARCERATION RATES AND CRIME RATES

A Pew Charitable Trusts infographic released this week takes a look at the FBI’s newly released crime data against the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ incarceration data, and shows that in the 33 states where imprisonment numbers decreased, the crime rate was lowered an average of 13%. In the 17 states with increases in incarceration, crime rates still fell an average of 11%.

Posted in District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Police | No Comments »

Prop. 47, the Releases Have Begun….McDonnell Makes Plans…. How Elections Affect LA….Monday’s American Justice Summit Live Streams

November 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In the days since California voters passed Prop. 47 by a healthy margin
, real world responses to the initiative’s victory have been swift. For instance, Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that in San Diego County, teenagers were released from juvenile hall the day after voting day, while the SD Public Attorney’s Office was getting 200 calls an hour from inmates in the county’s jail hoping for reduced sentences.

In the Bay area, judges did not even wait for election results to be certified before resentencing inmates and reducing charges write Matthias Gafni and David DeBolt in the San Jose Mercury News.

And in Santa Rosa County one lawbreaker was very, very cheery when he showed up in court on November 5, according to the Press Democrat’s Paul Payne.

Here’s a clip:

When Judge Lawrence Ornell took a seat in his Santa Rosa courtroom the morning after Election Day, a man with an “I voted” sticker on his lapel walked up to the bench, beaming.

Ornell noticed the man’s sunny disposition then looked down at the charge. It was possession of cocaine, an offense that a day earlier was a felony but with the passage of Proposition 47 by California voters had been reduced to a misdemeanor.

His chances of receiving a stiff punishment vanished overnight.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” Ornell said Thursday, recounting the man’s good fortune. “He was a happy man.”

The scene is playing out frequently these days as courts, prosecutors and police grapple with a new reality intended to cut prison crowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars for rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 reclassifies nonviolent offenses that used to be felonies — including many property crimes valued at $950 or less, grand theft, forgery, shoplifting and simple drug possession — and reduces them to misdemeanors carrying lighter punishments.

Some estimate a third of all felonies, many drug-related, will be downgraded to lesser crimes, creating a domino effect that will keep petty criminals out of custody and free some who are already behind bars.

Statewide, as many as 40,000 people a year could be affected, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said.

State prison officials estimate 4,770 inmates would be eligible to petition the court for resentencing and possible release. Nineteen are from Sonoma County, local prosecutors said, and the Sheriff’s Office has identified 209 of its 1,200 jail inmates for possible consideration.

All would go before a judge who would review the details of their offenses and their records. Those previously convicted of violent or serious crimes would not qualify, Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker said.


SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL WILL GATHER INFO BEFORE STAFFING & FOCUS FIRST ON LA COUNTY JAILS

Soon-to-be LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was still in a post-election daze, with zillions of requests for meetings, interviews, and call-backs piling up, when LA Daily News reporter Rick Orlov talked to him about his plans.

Here’s a clip:

“I am not looking at any big transition team,” said McDonnell, who spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was second-in-command, and served as a chief of police in Long Beach since 2010. “I will reach out to different experts, but I want to talk to the people in the department and see the talent that is there.”

His first priority in rebuilding confidence in the troubled department, McDonnell said, will be a review of the county jail system to determine what changes have been made since the release of a critical report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which he was a member. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000 to 20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illnesses.

“I want to see what has been done and what can be done as quickly as possible,” McDonnell said. “It is our top priority.”

But before he does that, there is a long-delayed trip to Boston to see his 88-year-old mother and celebrate with his family back there.

“I’ll be there four days, but there is not a lot of time left before I take office,” McDonnell said. “I have just a few weeks before I take office on Dec. 1.”


NATIONAL ELECTIONS WON’T PARTICULARLY AFFECT SO CAL BUT STATE ELECTIONS WILL, WRITES LA TIMES JIM NEWTON

LA Times columnist Jim Newton lists those of last Tuesday’s races most likely to affect the actual lives of So Cal voters—most particularly the election of Jim McDonnell as LA County’s new sheriff, the passage of Jerry Brown’s water bond, and the victory of Sheila Kuehl in the LA County Supervisor’s race. Here’re are some clips:

The Sheriff’s Department has struggled for decades, resisting attempts to reduce violence in jails and impose meaningful civilian oversight. Sheriff Lee Baca often seemed overwhelmed by the task, and Baca’s former top deputy, Paul Tanaka, who ran against McDonnell in last week’s election, was widely seen as an impediment to reform.

McDonnell, by contrast, has pledged to move ahead with efforts to constrain excessive force and to lead the agency into a more sophisticated relationship with the public and county government. And he has the right credentials to make that happen. Most recently, McDonnell headed the Long Beach Police Department. Before that, at the LAPD, McDonnell helped lead the department to a new kind of policing that embraced community engagement, and he did it at a time when that department was trying to reconstruct trust after years of controversy — as the Sheriff’s Department is today.

It won’t be easy, but McDonnell has a chance to make real progress.

[BIG SNIP]

Most of the post-election commentary on Kuehl’s victory has focused on whether she can hold the line on county worker pay hikes, given the backing that public employee unions gave her. That’s a fair question, though Kuehl is famously stubborn and a little bit prickly, so I wouldn’t envy the person trying to call in a chit with her.

To me, the more intriguing aspect of her victory is what it might mean for one of the county’s gravest responsibilities: the operation of its foster care system, which cares for children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect and which has seen too much tragedy. This is an area that Kuehl knows and cares about.

Kuehl, whose sister is a judge in the Sacramento foster care system, speaks movingly of her determination to help young people. And as a state legislator, she wrote a slew of bills intended to protect children in the system.

Now she’s about to join a board that oversees the largest child welfare system in the nation, one that is responsible for more than 30,000 children at any given time.


DAILY BEAST’S TINA BROWN HOSTS AMERICAN JUSTICE SUMMIT LIVE STREAMING ON MONDAY

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting what is being called The American Justice Summit, which will live stream on Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, featuring the likes of John Jay College president Jeremy Travis, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Right on Crime’s Grover Norquist, and many, many more.

I’ve you’ve got an interest in criminal justice issues, it’ll likely be worth your while to tune in to this event.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, race, racial justice, Sentencing | 36 Comments »

Recommended Reading: Post-election News Roundup

November 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NEW LA COUNTY SHERIFF: JIM MCDONNELL TAKES OVER THE REINS

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell secured 75% of the vote, effectively trouncing former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. (If you missed it, WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, reported from McDonnell’s camp on election night.)

Of McDonnell’s decisive win, Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said, “Today Los Angeles County residents made history. They elected an outsider to lead the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Their vote is nothing short of a mandate for reforming the department. We look forward to working with Sheriff McDonnell to bring about the much needed changes that voters deserve and that justice requires.”

On KPCC’s Take Two, McDonnell discusses his victory, coming into the department as an outsider, and the future of Men’s Central Jail and mental health diversion.

Here’s a clip from the transcript, but take a listen for yourself:

Your predecessor Sheriff Lee Baca left under a cloud of controversy. There were charges of corruption and violence in the jails, allegations by the DOJ that mentally ill were being housed in inhumane conditions. Some policies have been put in place to deal with this, but what do you think still needs to be done?

I think it’s a work in progress. The DOJ is looking closely at it. A lot has been done since the jail commission’s report with 63 recommendations for change. Many of those have been implemented and others are in process. Moving forward, infrastructure is one issue. Mens Central Jail needs to be replaced. But also the philosophy within the jail environment. We also talked about a two-track system where deputies aren’t sent from the academy directly into the jails for the next seven years, and then on the streets until they are promoted back in or get in trouble and go back into the jail. It was for too many years treated as a dumping ground for the organization, and it’s one of the most high-liability areas of the department, and to treat it that way, if we were a business, we’d be in trouble.

What would you most like to see a new Mens Central Jail facility have?

I’d like to see a secure facility that is state of the art. It also provides for treatment of inmates who are mentally ill, but before we even deal with that issue be able to have some screening on the front end where we don’t use incarceration as the first option for those who are mentally ill and have offended based on that illness. But have community-based mental health clinics and courts that would screen an individual and provide the appropriate treatment rather than just incarceration as the only option.


MOVING FORWARD WITH PROP 47

Proposition 47—the reclassification of certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors—passed on Tuesday with 58.5% of the vote.

Prosecutors, law enforcement, and advocates are already rushing to adapt to the changes. The LA City Attorney’s Office is looking to hire 15 new attorneys and staff to help manage the coming flow of downgraded misdemeanor cases, while social workers and drug courts are working to sort out what 47 means for substance abuse treatment.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John and Marisa Gerber have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles County Public Defender Ron Brown walked into a Pomona court Wednesday and saw first-hand the impact of Proposition 47 — the voter-approved initiative that reduces penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes.

His office had deliberately postponed sentencing for a defendant facing more than a year behind bars for possessing heroin and methamphetamine to the day after Tuesday’s election, waiting to see what voters would do.

The gambit worked. The man was sentenced and released from custody with no further jail time.

“They were felonies yesterday. They’re misdemeanors today,” Brown said. “This is the law now.”

The day after California voted to reduce punishments, police agencies, defense attorneys, prosecutors and even some advocates were scrambling to figure out exactly how it was going to work.

The greatest effect, experts said, would be in drug possession cases, noting that California is now the first state in the nation to downgrade those cases from felonies to misdemeanors. Thousands of felons are now eligible for immediate release from prisons and jails.

City attorneys accustomed to handling traffic tickets and zoning violations are now responsible for prosecuting crimes that used to be felonies, including forgeries, theft and shoplifting. District attorneys who used to threaten drug offenders with felony convictions to force them into rehabilitation programs no longer have that as an option. Social workers said they worried that offenders who voluntarily seek treatment will have trouble finding services.

“It’s going to take a little while to figure out,” said Molly Rysman, who operates a housing program for the destitute who sleep on sidewalks in L.A.’s skid row. She is glad that drug users now face only brief stays in jail, if any time at all, but said options for someplace else to go in L.A. are “dismal.” Rysman said caseworkers now spend weeks trying to find an opening for clients who need a detox bed or room in a treatment program.

U.C. Berkeley criminologist Barry Krisberg says California’s passage of Prop 47 has the makings of a new national trend.

The Yes campaign brought together a wide assortment of interest groups that had not agreed about criminal justice policy in the past. Recent campaigns to challenge capital punishment and to reform the three-strike law helped forge a broad coalition of some victims’ rights groups along with powerful allies such as organized labor, the California Teachers Association, the California Nurses Association and state Democratic Party.

​The most visible advocates for Prop 47 were San Francisco district attorney George Gascón, Santa Clara district attorney Jeff Rosen and former San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne. These respected law enforcement officials viewed California’s mass incarceration policies as fiscally unsustainable and harmful to low income communities.

Even prominent national conservative figures like Newt Gingrich and Rand Paul announced their support for Proposition 47, arguing that current sentencing laws waste taxpayers’ dollars and do not curtail drug use. They prefer a focus on locking up violent offenders.

While Senator Dianne Feinstein spoke out against Prop 47, many other state leaders such as Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris remained neutral. One traditionally powerful lobby group, the Corrections Peace Officers Association took no position on Prop 47

It is significant that virtually all the past California governors and attorneys general almost always sided with the tough-on-crime position in ballot initiatives. In the case of Prop 47, their silence was deafening and hampered fundraising for the No camp.

[SNIP]

Public confidence in the state’s prison policies has eroded.

Even the US Supreme Court declared the prisons so crowded and inhumane that it ordered the release some inmates. This dramatic court judgment led Californians to reconsider who should go to prison. Harsh criminal justice laws have been on the books long enough for Californians to be able to weigh the cost and benefit of these measures. The well-publicized failure and financial drain of the so-called “War on Drugs” has created has an environment in which voters are seeking new ideas.

More generally, the popularity of Prop 47 resonates with a growing distrust of government overreach into citizens’ lives and a preference for decision making that is closer to where people live. The demographics of the voting public which is younger, more ethnically diverse, and more highly educated than ever before is also favorable towards more progressive social policies.

If California helped lead the national charge in favor of more tough on crime laws, the state could lead the charge in the opposite direction.

California has traditionally been ahead of national developments, but a good predictor of future political trends. Since California is the largest state in the country, if Prop 47 passes other states may well follow suit. As California goes, so goes the nation.


TOM TORLAKSON KEEPS HIS OFFICE AS CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS SUPERINTENDENT

Incumbent California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson landed a victory for teachers unions, with 52% of the vote, over reform-minded competitor Marshall Tuck. (Backstory: here.)

San Jose Mercury’s Katy Murphy has more on Torlakson’s win. Here are some clips:

“We knew that when Californians look for direction on how to improve education,” Torlakson said in a statement, “they don’t look to Wall Street. They don’t look to Silicon Valley. They look to the people who are in the schools in their neighborhood every day — the teachers, the school employees, the teacher’s aides, the nurses, the counselors.”

The latest tally from the California Secretary of State’s office showed Torlakson winning by about 4 points.

Tuck conceded the race Wednesday morning, releasing a statement that said: “Together we proved that in California there is a growing call for change and that parents, kids and families can have a voice in education.”

[SNIP]

The contest showed a growing rift within the Democratic Party on how to better educate poor and minority students who languish in low-performing schools.

The reform agenda carried by Tuck – and just as passionately resisted by its opponents, including the state’s teachers unions — promotes competition from independently run, taxpayer-funded charter schools and an overhaul of teachers’ pay, evaluation and job protections.

Tuck had vowed to reinvent the state superintendent’s office, turning it from a “mouthpiece for insiders” to a “voice for students and parents.”

Torlakson, the union and Democratic Party favorite, said he would bring stability and continuity as schools recovered from the devastating budget crisis triggered by the Great Recession.

“I think that resonated well in the education community,” said Maria Ott, a former superintendent and an executive in residence at USC’s Rossier School of Education Community.


SHEILA KUEHL WINS 3RD DISTRICT LA COUNTY SUPERVISOR SEAT

Sheila Kuehl beat out Bobby Shriver in a very tight race for outgoing LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze and Alice Walton have more on Kuehl’s win and what it will mean for LA County. Here’s a clip:

“It’s the biggest job I’ll ever have, and it’s a career capper for me,” Kuehl said from her campaign victory party at The Victorian in Santa Monica. “Being one of 80 0r one of 40 is very different than being one of five running something the size of Ohio. It’s a much tougher job.”

Kuehl, 73, will be the first openly gay member of the county board, which controls a $26 billion budget. Final ballots were still being counted into the morning. She won 53 percent of the vote.

Kuehl had campaigned on her experience as a member of the state Legislature. She argued it better prepared her to sit on the county board, which must implement a slew of state laws on health care, welfare and a range of other issues. She said Shriver was ill-prepared for the job.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 43 Comments »

Election Night Snapshot

November 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


IT’S MCDONNELL, OFFICIALLY, FINALLY

Brand new LA County Sheriff-elect Jim McDonnell took the stage last night around 10:45 p.m. at the Marriott hotel downtown. “I entered the race for sheriff less than one very long year ago…” he said, “because I realized the change needed in the LASD would not, and could not, come from within.” As a member of the citizens commision on jail violence, he said, he had seen “a failure of leadership” at the department’s highest levels….”But the fine men and women of the department are ready for a new day.”

After thanking everyone who needed to be thanked and then talking a bit about the department being at an historic crossroads, McDonnell paused and looked at those assembled, face flooded with emotion and resolve.

“I promise that I will not let you down,” he said.

In addition to his wife and two daughters, the new sheriff was surrounded on the stage by much of the leadership of the city and the county: Mayor Eric Garcetti was there, as was District Attorney Jackie Lacey, her predecessor Steve Cooley, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas, Don Knabe, Supervisor elect, Hilda Solis, City Attorney Mike Fuerer and acting sheriff John Scott. A good portion of the LA City Council, had showed up, including Herb Wesson who MC’d part of the festivities, and Mitch Englander who, together with Congressman Tony Cardenas kept flashing thumbs-up signs for the cameras.

The political figures who spoke to the crowd were nearly giddy in their praise for the new guy at the top of the LASD.

“He is up for the task! He is committed,” said Mark Ridley-Thomas and then urged audience members to turn to those around them and exchange high fives.

“We now have a sheriff who is worthy of that title,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti.


We got back from the various election events ver-r-r-rry late last night, so this is just a snapshot post.

We’ll have more on the election—among other important topics—as the week goes on.

Posted in 2014 election, Education, elections, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison policy, Reentry, Sentencing | 30 Comments »

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