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Deputy James Sexton Trial, Day 4: Should the Prosecution Be Able to Edit Testimony?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the final “witness” for the prosecution in the retrial
of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was James Sexton himself.

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

As they had done in Sexton’s first trial, the government finished up its case with someone from the prosecution’s camp reading an excerpt from Sexton’s November 28, 2012 grand jury testimony, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

At Sexton’s first trial, the approximately 75-minute dramatic recreation provided the prosecution with plenty of legal ammunition since, in it, Sexton cheerfully admitted to such things as having helped to hide inmate Anthony Brown. Yet the testimony seemed to produce a variety of effects on its listeners, in that Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, rather than defensive or guarded, as if he was doing his best to be helpful to the feds, overly so, really–—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that much of many of his words would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

Interestingly, the jurors for that first trial took the grand jury testimony so seriously that, as they were deliberating, they asked to have the whole thing read to them, one more time. Then, although six of those jurors voted to convict, six voted to acquit.

Friday’s grand jury presentation was structured in much the same way as that of the first trial, with someone reading Sexton’s part, and prosecutor Liz Rhodes playing the prosecutor. Again, the reading was taken from Sexton’s November 28, 2012, grand jury appearance. (Deputy Sexton appeared in front of the grand jury twice, first in August 2012, then in November, more than a year after the events in question took place in August and September 2011.)

Yet Friday’s excerpt was quite a bit shorter than that of last May, lasting around 45 minutes, not the 75 minutes of the first trial. More importantly, various topics, contexts and shadings of meaning present in the first trial’s version, are absent from the second.

They have been edited out.

For instance, in a couple of instances in the first trial, Sexton talked about orders that he had been given having come from higher up than just his then immediate boss, Lt. Greg Thompson; that the orders were coming from Paul Tanaka, and/or Lee Baca. He also talked about how, in some cases, he and other deputies had to use Tanaka’s name to get others to cooperate.

In the version read on Friday, the references to higher ups, to the “big bosses,” or to Tanaka or Baca, are cut—leaving the impression that Sexton is not merely one more team member following orders that come from the department’s highest levels, but more of a planner and an originator of strategies, along with Lt. Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Micky Manzo—three of the six who have been convicted.

In another instance, a paragraph is deleted that explains the fact that the adversarial attitude to the FBI expressed by some of the OSJ personnel—namely by deputies Smith and Manzo—was not one shared by Sexton and his closer friends on the squad, and that they’d talked with each other about this division.

(Operation Safe Jails, or OSJ, was where Sexton worked in 2011, and was the squad that was tasked with hiding federal informant Brown.)

When the qualifying statements that separate Sexton and his buddies from this adversarial attitude toward the feds are edited from Friday’s version, one is left with the impression that the attitude is pervasive throughout the squad and that Sexton surely shares it—giving his actions with Brown a critical intent that might otherwise be absent had the edits been restored.

In other cases, some of Sexton’s impressions are made to appear as solid knowledge, rather than the gossip-driven surmises, or conclusions likely drawn after the fact, that they are shown to be in the longer, less-edited versions.

And so on.

In other words, a strong argument can be made that these and other similar edits change the context and meaning of some of Sexton’s testimony in very crucial ways.

Certain of the changes that the snips produce are subtle, but cumulatively they could make a difference to a jury.


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

Sexton’s attorneys say no, and point to legal precedents that agree with them.

In a motion in Limine [a pretrial request] made in August, Sexton’s lawyers asked the judge to fix the matter by ordering that the problematic cuts be put back in. The motion reads in part:

Deputy Sexton will and hereby does move for an order requiring the Government to present an accurate rendition of his testimony before the Federal Grand Jury on the grounds that the excerpts of testimony offered by the Government are misleading and incomplete and that Deputy Sexton will be prejudiced by the Government’s failure to include testimony (included in his first trial) regarding (a) the fact that Deputy Sexton was acting on orders issued by the command and control structure of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”); (b) the fact that Deputy Sexton did not have credible, first-hand knowledge necessary to find him guilty of obstruction of justice; and (c) the fact that Deputy Sexton offered demonstrably mistaken testimony regarding the facts of this action. Failure to include this testimony suggests, contradictory to his testimony as read into the record at the last trial, that Deputy Sexton was not acting on orders from LASD authority reaching as high as Sheriff Leroy Baca, and that Deputy Sexton was aware of certain facts of which he had no knowledge. This renders his testimony, as heavily edited by the Government, misleading.

Judge Anderson evidently sided with the government that the cuts were fine. Thus the edits remained.


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will testify Monday morning. Unless something changes, however, it now does not appear that former sheriff Lee Baca will be called.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 40 Comments »

LA Times Re-Endorses Jim McDonnell & Paul Tanaka Re-Starts Campaign

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LA TIMES ENDORSES JIM MCDONNELL (ONCE MORE) FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF

The LA Times endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff in the primary, and they have just endorsed him again for the runoff vote in November. Yet, this time their endorsement is far more full-throated and detailed when explaining to voters why the paper’s editorial board believes McDonnell is the right person to lead the troubled and badly fractured department at this moment in the LASD’s history.

Here’s a clip:

….He is a consummate law enforcement professional, with an outstanding record as a Los Angeles police officer who rose from the academy to patrol to second-in-command at the LAPD at a time when the department was facing a crisis not unlike the Sheriff Department’s today. When the LAPD needed to leave behind the “thin blue line” style of occupation policing and commit itself to a community-engagement model, McDonnell was one of the department’s leading thinkers and implementers. When evidence of perjury and evidence tampering turned into the Rampart scandal, and when the U.S. Department of Justice threatened suit over civil rights violations, McDonnell helped overcome resistance to a consent decree and was instrumental in getting the LAPD to embrace it and meet its requirements. As second-in-command to Chief William J. Bratton, he guided a wholesale change in department culture, and he saw firsthand the degree to which that change was made possible by strong leadership and smart training.

McDonnell was qualified to lead the LAPD, but when city leaders instead chose Charlie Beck, McDonnell accepted the job as chief of the Long Beach Police Department. While there, he has piloted the department through some difficult times and has earned the respect of officers who were at first wary of an outsider as their leader. Significantly, he also won plaudits from department critics.

When reports of inmate beatings and management breakdowns at the Sheriff’s Department became too numerous and too shocking to ignore, and county supervisors convened a citizens commission to examine problems and recommend remedies, McDonnell was an inspired appointment, but also an obvious and perhaps even a necessary one. In the panel’s year of hearings, interviews, site visits and reports, McDonnell saw firsthand the depth of problems at the department and was in a position to be able to distinguish between those ills that could be attributed to individual deputies or leaders and those that were inextricably wound up in a culture of defiance and dysfunction.

As a candidate, McDonnell has boldly embraced structural reforms such as a civilian oversight commission, even though such a body could curb his power, or anyone else’s, as sheriff. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that position. All of the candidates embraced the concept, but McDonnell put himself on record in favor of particular structural details and demonstrated, in so doing, a commitment to transparency and public participation badly needed at the department. Some proponents back oversight to guard against the actions of a bad sheriff, and some consider the move less necessary with McDonnell at the helm. McDonnell, presumably, recognizes that oversight can make a good sheriff better and can help guard against the corrupting influence that unchecked power can have on even the most talented and well-motivated leaders.



PAUL TANAKA RE-STARTS CAMPAIGN—SORT OF—WITH SATURDAY VIDEO

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka is, of course, the other candidate for sheriff and he has been startlingly silent since the primary election in June, save for one tweet posted in early August (and again on his Facebook page) saying he was giving his supporters the summer off.

Then over the weekend, he directed supporters and others to the video above that was posted on YouTube on Saturday.

So Tanaka’s not out of the race. But is he really…you know…campaigning?

Hard to say.

Mr. Tanaka will be testifying for the defense on Monday morning at the Sexton retrial, so perhaps we will learn more at that time. (Or not.)

Posted in 2014 election, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 1 Comment »

Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 3: The Prosecutors’ Case….Prop. 47 Would Save LA Big $$ Says Report….and More

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, after the testimony of multiple witnesses,
the prosecution neared the end of its presentation of its obstruction of justice case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton.

This is the second time Sexton has been tried on the same charges. In May, his previous trial resulted in a hung jury that was split 6 to 6.

The prosecutors worked to set a context for the charges against Sexton when two FBI agents—Special Agent David Dahle and Special Agent Leah Marx—testified about the importance of the government’s civil rights investigation into reports of alarming brutality by deputies against jail inmates along with other forms of corruption by LA County Sheriff’s Department members, especially those stationed in Men’s Central Jail.

Both Dahle and Marx also testified about the ways in which members of the department reportedly attempted to obstruct their investigation after their confidential informant, jail inmate Anthony Brown, was discovered to have a contraband cell phone that he was using to contact the FBI as part of an undercover investigation into wrongdoing inside the jails.

In order to demonstrate this obstructive activity and intent, prosecutors presented such evidence as audio clips of recently convicted department members, Deputy Gerard Smith, Deputy Micky Manzo and Lt. Stephen Leavins, interviewing Brown a few days after the discovery of the cell phone, and trying to get the inmate to reveal what he’d been telling the feds, while also expressing irritation that “somebody else”—namely the FBI—had come in to “clean our house.”

In addition, the prosecutors played the video of Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long waylaying Agent Marx outside her apartment and threatening her with arrest.

And there was more of that nature.

Yet surprisingly little of the evidence and testimony presented in the last two days has had anything directly to do with James Sexton, who is accused of helping to manipulate the department’s computer system in order to deliberately hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday, the feds plan to read sections from one of Sexton’s 2012 grand jury appearances, in which—a year after the the Anthony Brown affair took place—the deputy is self-incriminating in what the defense will argue is his eagerness to help the feds, whom he then believed did not regard him as a target.

The grand jury testimony is at the center of the government’s case against Sexton.

Then the government will rest, and it will be the defense’s turn.

Former undersheriff and current candidate for sheriff, Paul Tanaka, will be called as a defense witness, among others. It is still unclear whether or not former sheriff Lee Baca will also take the stand.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….NEW REPORT SAYS PROP. 47 COULD SAVE LA COUNTY $175 MILLION

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the potential county-level savings and jail population reductions resulting from Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The report contends that Los Angeles County would save $100 million to $175 million per year, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed. (LA County jails currently release approximately 1,500 people early each month due to overcrowding.)

According to the report, Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot, would reduce the status of certain low-level property and drug offenses from felonies or wobblers to misdemeanors.

The report also estimates that San Diego County would save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million, per year with the implementation of the proposition.

(The CJCJ report used Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties as examples to look at the potential savings for all California’s counties.)

The report calculates that the state-level savings would range from $100 million and $300 million—$$$ that would then be transferred to a fund that would support victim services, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and drop-out prevention.


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

After learning that the LAPD was misclassifying violent crime as minor crime, the LA County Supervisors, led by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman to take a look at the LA Sheriff’s Department’s reporting.

Huntsman found misclassification at the LASD too but, weirdly, the trend seemed to be to overstate the number of violent crimes, rather than the reverse. Moreover the errors seemed to be something that could be cured with better training, and did not appear to be deliberate manipulation.

Out of all the LASD’s stations, only Marina del Rey had zero errors.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has the story. Here’s a clip:

An initial review of crime statistics at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Thursday found that the agency tends to overstate violent crime.

An audit of 240 assaults from six sheriff’s stations found that department personnel misclassified more than 31% of minor assaults as serious offenses, while incorrectly filing about 3% of serious attacks as minor ones.

The report was issued by Inspector General Max Huntsman, the newly installed Sheriff’s Department watchdog….

[BIG SNIP]

The overreporting errors at the Sheriff’s Department occurred primarily at the initial crime classification stage when deputies make a decision on how to title a crime report, according to the audit. Deputies commonly classify an assault case as a felony when the crime could be charged by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor, the inspector general’s report states.

In one example, Huntsman said, a deputy initially classified a domestic violence incident as an aggravated assault because the victim was struck repeatedly and sustained a bump and cut on the head. The case should have been filed as a minor assault. To meet the FBI’s definition of aggravated assault, a victim must suffer serious injury, such as a broken nose or a cut that requires stitches.

Of the six sheriff’s stations analyzed, Marina del Rey was the only one with zero errors. The other stations — Century, Compton, East L.A., Lancaster and South L.A. — overreported between 25% and 50% of aggravated assaults during the one-year period reviewed. Meanwhile, the Century station underreported 15% of its serious assaults as minor offenses.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT HAS ISSUED 12,000 BAYONETS TO LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS SINCE 2006

Last month, President Obama asked for a review of what equipment the federal government has been supplying to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

NPR decided to take a look at what the president’s report might find. Their story appeared more than a week ago, but we didn’t want you to miss this rundown on bayonets and MRAPS distributed.

FYI: Los Angeles, it seems, has been a big winner in the world of combat gear distribution.

Posted in Department of Justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 2 – Opening Statements

September 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



We’ll have more on the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton
later in the week. In the meantime, take a look at this story by Douglas Morino of the Los Angeles Register about Day 2 of the proceedings.

The day featured opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, plus testimony from FBI Special Agent David Dahle.

Here’s a clip:

Jurors began hearing evidence Wednesday in the retrial of [James] Sexton, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Sexton’s first trial ended in May with the jury deadlocked 6-6.

U.S. prosecutors say Sexton was part of an effort to block a federal probe into allegations of corruption and deputy violence against inmates inside the county’s jails. The conspiracy stretched through a roughly two-month period in 2011 and was aimed at blocking FBI agents from interviewing Anthony Brown, an inmate providing information about corrupt deputies and other misconduct, prosecutors said.

“James Sexton and his co-conspirators took steps to ensure the evils and troubles inside the jail system would never see the light of day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury of five men and seven women in his opening statement. “The defendant knew what the goal was – he titled it ‘Operation Pandora’s Box.’”

Thomas O’Brien, Sexton’s attorney, said the deputy was simply following orders that came from the Sheriff’s Department’s highest levels – former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – to protect Brown, a career criminal facing a 423-year sentence in state prison, from other inmates and rogue deputies who labeled him a “snitch.”

“A junior deputy is facing charges for doing nothing more than following orders and keeping an inmate safe and out of harm,” O’Brien told jurors during his opening statement….

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 25 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton ReTrial, Day 1: What Jurors Won’t Hear & Possible Arrest Warrants

September 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



THE JURY IS SELECTED & THERE IS TALK OF WHAT TESTIMONY THE JURORS WON’T HEAR

Tuesday, September 9, was Day One of the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, and the main thing that got accomplished was the selection of the jury, which is made up of seven women and five men.

Both the prosecution and the defense thought the court would manage to choose the jury panel, plus two alternates, and still have plenty of time for each side to deliver 30 minutes worth of opening statements. But it was not to be.

The attorneys also figured that Judge Percy Anderson would likely rule on the series of motions made by the prosecution having to do with areas of evidence and testimony that the government wanted excluded, even though most of the topics, material and possible witnesses had been part of the defense’s case in Sexton’s first trial, which ended up in a hung jury in late May of this year and thus a mistrial.

But Percy didn’t rule on those motions either.

In a hearing last month, however, Anderson had given a pretty good indication of how he was leaning.


A STORY WITHIN THE STORY

In fact, one of the stories of this trial is likely to be an analysis of exactly what Sexton’s newly selected jury will not be allowed to hear, that the jury from his first trial was able to take into account in their deliberation.

For instance, if Judge Anderson rules the way he previously indicated he was leaning, only 7—or at the most 8—of the 37 times that Sexton was interviewed by the FBI as a cooperating witness may be disclosed or mentioned to the jury. The rest of the deputy’s instances of cooperation with the feds are excluded.

Sexton’s extensive cooperation with the feds is one of the things that the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense has argued that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded. Nevertheless it appears that much of that cooperation is on the road to being nixed for this trial.

Another likely forbidden topic will be former sheriff Lee Baca’s emotional reaction to learning that the FBI was poking around with an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by LASD deputies in what he regarded as his jails. (Baca was extremely pissed off.)

For instance, the jury may hear about orders Baca gave to Paul Tanaka and others pursuant to the discovery of what the feds were doing, but not the fact that he was demonstrably angry when he gave the orders.

Also likely excluded will be the fact that, prior to the incidents on which the indictments are based—i.e. the hiding and moving of federal informant Anthony Brown—Sexton applied for jobs to a list of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

One more topic slated for exclusion is the matter of the reported threats had been receiving from members of the sheriff’s department began he began cooperating with the feds. According to the defense, Sexton had been threatened to the degree that the feds expressed concern about Sexton’s safety. (Interestingly, the threats were convincing enough that Sexton is the only one of the LASD’s federal defendants who was allowed to keep a firearm. He kept two of his guns. All the other defendants, had to surrender their firearms.)

We’ll talk more about these exclusions if and when they occur as the trial goes on.


WITNESSES & ARREST WARRANTS

On Tuesday, at the very end of the day a weird moment occurred when prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that one of the government’s witnesses, Deputy Jason Pearson, who is a work teammate and friend of Sexton’s, had—in a fit of fury at the feds—talked about not showing up on Wednesday, despite being subpoenaed. Fox said that the judge might need to issue an “order” on the matter. Some speculated that this meant an arrest warrant.

Others figured that—once the anger was passed—Pearson would just show up.

On the topic of witnesses, both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka are still on the witness list for the defense. Of course, whether one or both will be called, remains to be seen.

Opening arguments will be presented Wednesday. Then the government will begin calling witnesses.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

Sentencing Postponed for Six Members LA Sheriff’s Department Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

September 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Sentencing has been postponed for six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who were convicted
of obstruction of a federal investigation in connection with hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his fed handlers.

The six defendants—LASD deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long, Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, and Gregory Thompson, a now-retired department lieutenant—were originally scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson next Monday, September 8. But on Wednesday afternoon Anderson signed the order to postpone sentencing for two weeks, until Sept. 22.

The postponement was granted at the request of Deputy James Sexton and his attorneys, led by Thomas O’Brien, who contended that the sentencing of the six LA Sheriff’s Department members was bound to draw extensive press attention, thus making it challenging for Sexton—who is about to be retried for the same obstruction of justice charges of which the six were convicted—to find the kind of untainted jury pool necessary for a fair trial.

Sexton’s trial (or rather his retrial, since he was already tried for this whole mess once, resulting in a 6-6 hung jury) is set to begin on September 9, the day after the six defendants were originally scheduled to be sentenced.

The prosecutors objected to the postponement, pointing out, in essence, that there had been plenty of press about the indictments, et al, before the previous trials of Sexton and of the six, and yet no one had complained of a tainted jury. “In neither trial did any juror indicate that they had been prejudicially exposed to media coverage of the trial…” the prosecutors wrote. And Sexton’s attorneys hadn’t given any reasons why this trial would be any different.

Yet, it didn’t appear that their hearts were really into their objections.. After all, with the sentencing postponed they could use that same day for trial prep, which presumably wouldn’t hurt.


SO WHAT KIND OF SENTENCES COULD THE SIX LASD DEFENDANTS RECEIVE?

The government filed its sentencing reports and recommendations for each of the six defendants last month, and the sentences requested are sobering.

The suggested sentences for the two deputies and one of the sergeants are the lowest.

For Deputy Mickey Manzo who, together with Deputy Gerard Smith, was on the team that reportedly hid Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, the feds requested 30 months, or two and a half years.

The recommendation for Gerard Smith, who has a special needs child, is slightly shorter at 28 months, or two years and four months.

When it came to Sergeant Maricela Long, who—along with Sgt. Scott Craig—was involved in the investigation of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the feds went back up to 30 months.

They viewed Long’s partner, Sergeant Scott Craig, with far more severity. Craig was the person who threatened FBI Agent Marx with arrest, and also appeared to deliberately try to persuade deputy Gilbert Michel not to talk to the FBI. (Michel was the guy who accepted a bribe to smuggle a cell phone into Anthony Brown.) Craig also took the stand in his own behalf and said things that the prosecutors maintained were “demonstrably false,” thus were “further acts of obstruction.”

With all that in mind, the government asked that Craig’s sentence be 51 months, or 4 years, three months.

Surprisingly, the government requested a longer sentence for Craig than they did for retired Lt. Gregory Thompson, who actually ran the Operation Safe Jails team that hid Anthony Brown, and he was the guy for whom Smith, Manzo and Sexton worked. Thompson’s suggested sentence was 48 months, or 4 years.

The feds reserved its very longest suggested sentence for Lt. Stephen Leavins. Leavins, who was the supervisor for Craig and Long, also allegedly attempted to persuade Michel and others not to talk to the FBI. Like Craig, Leavins took the stand for himself, and denied wrong doing, for instance, claiming that he moved Anthony Brown only for Brown’s own safety, when other factors suggested the main purpose was to keep Brown away from the feds, all of which added up to perjury said the prosecutors in their sentencing memo. More than Craig, according to the feds, Leavins told some true doozies when he was on the stand, claiming to be at meetings where others testified he could not have been, claiming other officials said things that, they and others flatly denied, and other alleged falsehoods.

For Leavins, the feds requested a sentence of 60 months or 5 years.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 38 Comments »

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 | 7 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 | 87 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 »

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