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Federal Consent Decree Seems Almost Certain for LA County Jails – UPDATED

October 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



Failure to implement sufficient changes in the running of LA County’s huge and troubled jail system
means that federal oversight, in the form of a federal consent decree, is all but certain, reports Cindy Chang of the LA Times late Thursday evening.

Here’s a clip that provides a few of the details.

The June 4 letter described “dimly lit, vermin-infested, noisy, unsanitary, cramped and crowded” living conditions that exacerbated inmates’ mental distress. After suicides more than doubled, from four in 2012 to 10 the following year, jail officials did little to address the situation, the letter said, calling many of the suicides preventable.

In an interview Thursday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas accused the Sheriff’s Department and the county mental health department of not taking the problems in the jails seriously. A federal consent decree would be a black mark on the county, amounting to “dereliction of duty” and “absconding of responsibility,” he said.

“The federal government is saying that they’re throwing … their hands up,” Ridley-Thomas said. “In other words, they’ve given you every chance to improve up, and you’ve failed to do so.”

UPDATE: FYI, here is the November 25 letter from the DOJ to Rodrigo Castro-Silva, the assistant county counsel who appears to be representing the sheriff’s department in negotiations.


EDITOR’S NOTE: A FEDERAL CONSENT DECREE? BRING IT ON

Yes, it will cost LA County taxpayers millions of dollars, but after decades of callous disregard by those with the power to do something about the urgent problems in our jails—problems flagged by the Department of Justice, the FBI, the ACLU, a very long list of advocacy organizations, and by media outlets like this one—it appears that the feds are finally saying enough.

Somebody has to be the grown-up around here.

Ridley-Thomas is right about this news pointing to a dereliction of duty by the Sheriff’s Department and the County Mental Health Department, both of which, as recently as this past May, had the gall to use the spectre of a consent decree to bully the requisite three members of the board of supervisors into rushing to a vote on the $2 billion jail building plan, rather than, say, focusing first on a diversion program for the non-violent mentally ill to get them out of the jails. (Antonovich, Molina & Knabe, voted for it. Ridley-Thomas did not vote for the jail package, but abstained; Yaroslavsky voted no.)

The LASD and County Mental Health folks sternly told the board that galloping breathlessly forward with the pricey jail project was the one and only thing thing that would placate the feds and fend off a federal consent decree—a statement that was, of course, utter horse pucky.

But, why trouble one’s self with facts?

So, for that, and a plethora of other reasons—heck, yeah. Bring it on.

Posted in jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 43 Comments »

Gov. Signs Law Eliminating Expulsions for “Willful Defiance” But Vetoes Drone Bill…LASD Restricts Association With Convicted Dept. Members…. No More Prisoner of the War on Drugs…Running the Homeboy 5 K

September 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


GOVERNOR SIGNS FIRST IN NATION LAW TO LIMIT “WILLFUL DEFIANCE” SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS & EXPUSIONS

On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 420, a bill that limits suspensions and eliminates all expulsions for the catch-all category of “willful defiance,” which—until now—could have kids tossed out of school for such minor misbehaviors as talking back, failing to have school materials and dress code violations.

According to a statement issued by Public Counsel, the pro bono law firm that is one of the bill’s sponsors, the new law makes California the first state in the nation to put such limits on the use of willful defiance.

Brown’s signing of AB 420 is the culmination of several years worth of work by juvenile advocates, education reformers and others who have led the recent movement away from the zero tolerance discipline policies that were dominant since the 1980′s, and toward positive discipline and accountability approaches that been found to keep children in school. The issue of willful defiance has been a particularly intense focus for reformers in that the elastic designation accounts for 43% of suspensions issued to California students, and is the suspension category with the most significant racial disparities.

“In just a few short years, school discipline reform has become an important education policy priority in California because the stakes are very high,” said Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), who authored the bill. “Research has shown that even one suspension can make it five times more likely that a child will drop out of school and significantly increase the odds they will get in trouble and head into our juvenile delinquency system.”

While, AB 420 doesn’t do away with willful defiance altogether, it is considered an important step in that, as a compromise measure, it has gotten agreement from people who were initially reluctant to ax the category completely. like Gov. Brown, and certain state legislators. (The law eliminates all willful defiance suspensions for children in grades K-3 and bans all expulsions for the category for all grades. It is to be reviewed in 3.5 years.)

It should be noted that the Los Angeles Unified School District banned all suspensions for willful defiance spring.

The new law was co-sponsored by Public Counsel, Children Now, Fight Crime Invest in Kids, and the ACLU of California and supported by a statewide coalition of organizations.


BROWN VETOES BILL LIMITING LAW ENFORCEMENT USE OF DRONES SAYING IT WENT TOO FAR

The bill, which would have required law enforcement to obtain warrants before using surveillance drones, got a thumbs down from Governor Brown on Sunday night, one of about a dozen bills that Jerry nixed on Sunday.

The LA Times Phil Willon and Melanie Mason have more details on the story. Here’s a clip:

Brown, in his veto message, said that although there may be some circumstances when a warrant is appropriate, the bill went too far.

The measure appeared to impose restrictions on law enforcement that go beyond federal and state constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizures and the right to privacy, the governor stated.

The bill, AB 1327, would have required the government to secure a warrant from a judge before using surveillance drones except in cases of environmental emergencies such as oil or chemical spills. Three other states have placed a moratorium on drone use by state and local agencies

Assemblyman Jeff Gorell (R-Camarillo), the bill’s author, had argued that the expanded use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, by law enforcement has pushed the boundaries of the public’s reasonable expectation of privacy, triggering a need for protection.


SHERIFF SCOTT SAYS NO ASSOCIATION WITH CONVICTED LASD MEMBERS WITHOUT WRITTEN PERMISSION

On Friday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Scott sent out two official messages to department members regarding the conviction of seven current and former LASD members, and last week’s sentencing of six of the seven defendants.

(Deputy James Sexton was convicted in a retrial earlier this month, but will not be sentenced until December 1. Sexton’s first trial resulted in a 6-6 hung jury.)

In the first message, Scott wrote of emotional reactions to Tuesday’s sentencing of the six to prison terms ranging from 21 to 41 months, that “have left many Department members stunned,” he wrote. “The six defendants in this case were our co-workers and friends.”

It was clear, Scott wrote, that the convictions and lengthy sentences were, “in part, the result of failed leadership” at various levels of the LASD.

“The question that burns in the hearts of many is whether those who were the most responsible have been held accountable for their actions…”

The second announcement, headlined “FEDERAL CONVICTIONS AND PROHIBITED ASSOCIATIONS POLICE” clarified one of the sad artifacts of the convictions of the seven LASD defendants: All department members are aware that they are not allowed to associate with convicted felons. But this rule suddenly became confusing and in need of sorting out with the conviction of the seven LASD defendants, each of whom have long time friends—and in many cases best friends—among their former colleagues still working for the sheriff’s department.

So the following was sent out on Friday:

With respect to personally associating with the individuals who were convicted, the policy requires:

*A written request for authorization, directed to the unit commander

*Unit Commander response, whether approved or denied, to be documented in writing

*Both documents to be filed in the requesting employee’s personnel file.

The statement further instructed that the policy doesn’t prevent donations of funds to the defendants or their families. But it split hairs by stating that department members may not attended fundraisers for those convicted.

The policy prohibits doing favors for or associating with persons where the association would be detrimental to the image of the Department, such as in cases of persons adjudged guilty of a felony crime.

Therefore, Department members are prohibited from attending fundraising events for the individuals who have been convicted, whether the individuals are present or not.

Unit Commanders are not authorized to make exceptions with respect to this aspect of the situation involving the recent Federal convictions.


NO LONGER A PRISONER OF THE DRUG WAR

A wonderful longread by the LA Times’ Jenny Deam paints a journalistic portrait of Billy Ray Wheelock, who is an example of the kind of inmate that, in the last three decades, has filled the nation’s prisons to overflowing as a consequence of our ill-considered war on drugs. In the case of Wheelock, however, the story has a happy ending—even though that happy ending is very belated.

Here are two clips:

Wheelock had been sent to prison in 1993 at age 29 during an era of no-mercy drug sentencing. At the height of the country’s war on drugs, crack cocaine offenders were locked away by the tens of thousands, often with no key in sight.

Most were men, most were poor, most were black.

Wheelock was all three.

His story embodies what many, including judges and former prosecutors, now see as a judicial system gone wrong. He is the first to admit he was guilty and deserved to do time. He had been arrested three times on crack charges.

But he says he was never violent and never owned a gun. He says he only sold a bit of rock sometimes to make ends meet. “For that I got life? Life?”

Years passed and Wheelock waited, sure someday someone would see that his punishment did not fit his crime.

Here’s when such draconian sentencing began:

In 1986, Congress created a mandatory drug sentencing law and took aim squarely at crack cocaine. Under the law, a person convicted of possessing 5 grams of crack would get the same five-year sentence as someone selling 500 grams of powder cocaine.

Since 1980, there have been an estimated 45 million drug arrests in this country. The number of people in U.S. prisons for all crimes has quadrupled from about 500,000 in 1980 to 2.2 million now, “and that growth was disproportionately driven by the drug war,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, a Washington research and advocacy group.

In the beginning, many in the judicial system were true believers, certain that if a person knew harsh sentencing awaited him he might think twice about selling drugs. But as the millennium turned, judges began to complain that their discretion had been stripped away by mandatory sentencing. Lawmakers also questioned not only the fiscal responsibility of keeping so many locked up for so long but also the humanity of such a stark racial divide, since crack cocaine disproportionately imprisoned minorities.

Calls for reform were bipartisan. In 2010, Congress showed rare unity and passed the Fair Sentencing Act to reduce the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences.

Read on to discover more about Wheelock’s story.


HOMEBOY 5K: “EVERY ANGELENO COUNTS”

If you’ve got an interest in getting excellent exercise with crowd of interesting and varied companions, doing the aforementioned for an important LA cause—and coming away with a snazzy t-shirt—-the annual Homeboy Industries 5K on October 18 is likely the perfect event for you.

The race starts at 8 a.m., on Saturday, October 18, at Homeboy Industries (130 W. Bruno Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012) with registration and packet pick-up from 6 to 7:30 a.m.

If you’d like to register in advance, Wed. Oct 1 is the cutoff. But you can still show up early on the day of the race and pay a last minute registration fee ($45), to run, jog, or walk with the crowd.

The purpose of the race, as you might imagine, is to raise money for Homeboy Industries, which serves more than 12,000 former gang members each year and offers full time employment to 200 men and women in an 18-month program that allows them to redirect the trajectories of their lives and “re-identify who they are in the world.”

With this in mind, the yearly 5K is designed as more than merely a fundraiser. Here’s how the Homeboy folks explain it:

The Homeboy Industries “Every Angeleno Counts” 5k is an opportunity for us to walk, run, and stand with thousands of former gang-members whose lives are being completely transformed. Every Angeleno can help dispel the myth that some lives matter less than others.

So grab your running shoes and com’on down.


Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Homeboy Industries, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

LASD: a “Toxic Culture” or a “Few Bad Actors”…..Eric Holder Replacement…..A Head Start Program That’s Trauma Smart…Long Beach Police Chief’s Dealings With Officer Involved Shootings

September 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


DO THE RECENT SENTENCES OF THE LASD SIX POINT TO A “TOXIC CULTURE” IN NEED OF REFORM OR A “FEW BAD ACTORS”…?

A new LA Times editorial rightly points out that— contrary to what Sheriff John Scott has apparently said—”the sentencing Tuesday and likely imprisonment of six sworn Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, sergeants and lieutenants does not reflect merely the actions of a ‘few’ bad actors.”

The Times’ statement—which is really a rather sizable understatement—also applies to the rest of the 21 indicted department members, whose cases, which primarily involve brutality and corruption in the jails, will be coming to trial later this year and early next year. Those indictments do not represent “a few bad actors” either.

When the six, who were just sentenced this week, were convicted of obstruction of justice last July, then U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that the convictions represented.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Yet while all this tarnishing was going on, someone—or more accurately several someones—gave the various orders that resulted in hiding a federal informant, threatening an FBI agent, and intimidating witnesses in a federal investigation. Furthermore, it was a deeply-entrenched culture of arrogance, everyday corruption, and a venomous us-against-them contempt for anyone outside certain favored circles—a culture that had, for years, emanated from the LASD’s highest levels—which made orders to obstruct justice seem perfectly natural to seasoned department members who should have known better.

It was that same psychological environment—which U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson labeled a “corrupt culture” on Tuesday as he handed out sentences—that allowed for the actions of those who have been indicted and will likely be convicted for allegedly blithely brutalizing jail inmates and visitors. After all, such behavior had long carried with it little threat of adverse consequences. In fact, some of those in charge even signaled tacit approval.

Here’s more of what the Times wrote:

They earned their sentences; but as obstructors rather than defenders of justice, they were not self-taught. They operated within an ingrained culture of contempt, mismanagement, dishonesty and gratuitous violence. It is important to remember that they were trying to block a probe into the widespread use of excessive force, and that such force has been documented against visitors as well as inmates in Los Angeles County jails. It is important to keep in mind also that the department’s Antelope Valley stations were found to have engaged in patterns and practices of racially based discrimination and unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and detentions. Settlement talks are ongoing in a lawsuit alleging that top sheriff’s officials condoned a pattern of violence against inmates. A court-appointed monitor is operating under a similar lawsuit alleging mistreatment of mentally ill inmates going back decades, and the U.S. Department of Justice advised the county earlier this year that it too would go to court over treatment of the mentally ill in the jails. Meanwhile, a Times investigation found fluctuating hiring standards that sometimes drop so low as to suggest the department will hire, at times, almost anyone.

In other words, despite the many decent men and women who daily do good, honest, tough-but-fair-minded work as members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, this is an agency still in deep trouble, and reforming it in any meaningful way is going to be a challenging endeavor.

Which brings us back to the sentences handed out on Tuesday: at the risk of sounding like a broken record, we truly hope that this summer’s convictions are simply the starting point, and that the government’s prosecutors go on to indict some of those who gave the orders that have resulted in six department members losing their careers and—barring some kind of appellate intervention—heading for prison. (More accurately, make that seven department members, counting James Sexton, whose retrial and conviction is another topic altogether, which we’ll discuss at a later time.) Such additional indictments would signal, with more than mere rhetoric, that it is the department’s culture as a whole that needs fixing, not just the actions of 21 individuals.


LISTEN TO WHICH WAY LA? ON TUESDAY’S SENTENCING

Which Way LA? with Warren Olney did a show on Tuesday’s sentencing of the six LASD department members that features Brian Moriguchi, president of Professional Peace Officers’ Association (PPOA), and Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the Southern California ACLU. It’s definitely worth a listen.



ERIC HOLDER RESIGNATION: WHO WILL COME AFTER AND WILL THEY PAY ATTENTION TO JUVENILE JUSTICE & SENTENCING REFORM?

Attorney General Eric Holder’s surprise announcement Thursday of his resignation has many speculating who will replace him.

For justice activists Holder has been a mixed bag. They point to his unwillingness to prosecute “too big to jail” banks and others responsible for the 2008 financial crisis, and his support of government spying, and the like.

Yet in the last few years, Holder has become very active in the criminal justice reform arena, particularly when it comes to disparities in sentencing, and issues of juvenile justice.

So, as the speculation revs up about who will replace Holder, activists are preemptively worrying that many of the justice reforms Holder has recently supported, will not be a priority for his successor.

Interestingly, Yahoo News and CNN put Kamala Harris on their list of possibles, while the New York Times did not. (Thursday, Harris issued a statement saying she intends to stay in California.)

Here are the Wall Street Journal’s picks, which also include Harris. And here’s USA Today.

We will, of course, be keeping an eye on the matter of Holder’s replacement—with justice issues in mind—as it unfolds.


A HEAD START & TRAUMA SMART PRESCHOOL PROGRAM HELPS KEEP STRUGGLING KIDS IN SCHOOL

Some kids are so adversely affected by trauma at an early age that when they show up at preschool they have trouble behaving appropriately. In the past, teachers tended to expel such acting out-prone children from preschool programs, not always out of lack of compassion, but because they simply didn’t know what else to do.

Then in 2005, a study startled educators by showing that preschool kids were three times more far more likely to be suspended or expelled than those in any of the K-12 grades—numbers that have continued to worsen in the years since.

Recently, however, certain preschool programs around the country have begun experimenting with methods that address the causes of trauma-based behaviors in young children that, in the past, risked derailing a three or four-year-old’s academic future before it ever started.

The PBS Newshour with host Judy Woodruff and correspondant Molly Knight-Raskin looked at one such program last July. And, as we were surveying this year’s important stories on the issue of childhood trauma, we decided that this show was too important to miss.

Here are some clips:

Every year, thousands of children in this country are expelled from school before they reach kindergarten. In fact, studies show that preschool children are expelled at significantly rates than those in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Special correspondent Molly Knight Raskin reports on a program in Kansas City, Missouri, that’s trying to stem this trend by looking beyond the classroom to the issues these kids face at home.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: In many ways, Desiree Kazee, is a typical 5-year-old girl. She’s bubbly, bright and affectionate. Her favorite color is pink. And she enjoys drawing and dancing.

But, two years ago, when Desiree began preschool at a Head Start program near her home in Liberty, Missouri, she didn’t seem to enjoy much of anything.

[SNIP]

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Janine Hron is the CEO of Crittenton Children’s Center, a psychiatrist hospital in Kansas City. In 2008, Hron and her team developed Head Start Trauma Smart, an innovative program that evidence-based trauma therapy into Head Start classrooms.

The program was created in response to the pervasiveness of trauma in the Kansas City area. Of the 4,000 kids in Head Start, 50 percent have experienced more than three traumatic events.

JANINE HRON: This is not a one-and-done kind of a bad experience. This happens over and over and over, and it becomes rather a lifestyle of trauma.

MOLLY KNIGHT RASKIN: Studies show that one in four preschool-age children experience a traumatic event by the start of kindergarten. Because so many of these children respond to traumatic stress by acting out, they prove a challenge to teachers and caregivers, who find that traditional methods of, like scolding them or putting them in a time-out, don’t work. In fact, these methods often makes things worse, leading to suspension or expulsion.

Avis Smith, a licensed social work at Crittenton, explains why.

AVIS SMITH, Crittenton Children’s Center: Their behaviors are so extreme, that the adults don’t know how to keep everybody safe….


HOW LONG BEACH POLICE CHIEF AND SHERIFF CANDIDATE MCDONNELL DEALT WITH OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

In 2013, 15 people were shot—or shot—at by Long Beach Police officers, a rate that was about twice the average for the city. Community members were very upset. Long Beach Police Chief and candidate for LA County sheriff, Jim McDonnell, was front and center as the man held responsible.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

Nearly a year after her son was shot and killed by a Long Beach police officer, Shirley Lowery still keeps the urn holding his remains on a makeshift alter on a bar near the back door of her house.

“I was going to deposit his ashes,” Lowery said, “but I just can’t let him go.”

She still can’t sleep well either, her mind racing.

“The other night, I woke up at 3:15 and it was like a recording,” she says. “When he was born, when he learned how to walk, the first time he went snowboarding, the first time he went surfing. It keeps flashing.”

Her son, Johnny Del Real, was one of 15 people Long Beach police officers shot or shot at in 2013— about double the average in the city, records show.

The rash of shootings provoked protests, lawsuits (including Lowery’s current $10 million claim against the city) and questions about the tactics used by the Long Beach Police Department.

At the center of those questions was Jim McDonnell, the current police chief and frontrunner to win the job of Los Angeles County sheriff in the November election.

Darick Simpson, head of the Long Beach Community Action Partnership, said one of the men shot last year was friendly with kids in one of his group’s youth programs.

When Sokha Hor, 22, was critically wounded by police, at first his family was kept from seeing him in the hospital. Public outrage ensued and a lot of kids in Simpson’s program participated in protests.

But McDonnell and his staff’s willingness to share information – and desire to hear the kids’ side of the story – helped mitigate the tension, Simpson said.

“You know there’s three sides, right? Your side, my side, and the truth of any given story,” he said. “We came to a greater understanding of a truth that diffused an issue that could have been blown up into bigger than what it needed to be.”

McDonnell said he reacted to the spate of 2013 shootings by looking at the evidence in each case. Most involved people who were armed with real or replica weapons.

“To try and say why is one year higher than another year is difficult,” he said. “We look at each officer-involved shooting based on the merits of that shooting. The circumstances that led up to it, the tactics the officers used, the use of force itself. And then what they did after the use of force.”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 31 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Department 6 Sentenced: Terms Range From 21 Months to 41 Months

September 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department—who were convicted in July of obstruction of justice in connection
with their interference in an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption by members of the LASD—were sentenced Tuesday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

Although Anderson set the sentences a little lower than those the government requested, he did not lower them by much. He was not going to hand down sentences that “trivialized” the actions of the defendants, Anderson said to the overflow crowd in the courtroom.

“They had a choice between right and wrong,” he said, looking at the defendants, and they “chose to reject” the right choices. “You broke the vow you made to protect the public.”

Andersen also talked about the “corrupt culture in the sheriff’s department,” that he said the defendants’ actions fostered.

“You don’t serve the public by intimidating witnesses, hiding an informant, threatening to arrest an FBI agent for the crime of simply doing her job,” Anderson said.

The defendants acted, he said, “not to further” their own investigation into corruption in the department, “but to stop a federal investigation.”

Such actions, he said, do irreparable harm to the public trust. “It destroys the fabric of our justice system.”

Anderson also made a point of remarking several times that the defendants have shown no regret for their actions.

“None of you have shown the slightest remorse,” he said.

The exact terms are as follows:

Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program (OSJ): 37 months in prison and a $7,500 fine.
• Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, 52, then assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau: 41-months in prison.

Gerard Smith, 42, a deputy assigned to OSJ under Thompson: 21 months in prison

Mickey Manzo, 34, a deputy assigned to OSJ also under Thompson: 24-months in prison.

Scott Craig, 50, a sergeant assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB): 33 months in prison.

Maricela Long, 46, a sergeant also assigned to ICIB: 24 months in federal prison.

Following the completion of their prison sentences, each defendant will serve one year on supervised release.

Anderson also reminded each of the defendants and their attorneys that they had 14 days to file an appeal or the opportunity for appeal will evaporate.

All of the six are required to surrender on January 2, allowing them to spend the holidays with their families.

“Percy Anderson is a judge who is usually not a man of many words,” noted Miriam Aroni Krinsky, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. Krinsky is herself a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, so she is familiar with Anderson’s manner and moods. In watching him handing down verdicts on Tuesday, she said that the judge seemed unusually affected by what the case signified.

“This was as angry and as troubled as he gets,” she said.

Indeed, after the sentences were delivered, but before he dismissed the crowd, Judge Anderson looked out over those assembled, his expression anything but happy.

“There really are no winners today,” he said.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 79 Comments »

Sentencing Delayed for 6 From LA Sheriff’s Department Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

September 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

The sentencing, by Judge Percy Anderson, of Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Stephen Leavins, and Gregory Thompson was to take place on Monday, September 22.

Anderson will now hand down sentences at 9 a.m. Tuesday, September 23.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 9 Comments »

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton is Convicted

September 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday afternoon Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice by a jury of seven women and five men.

The verdict was a surprisingly swift one. After closing arguments for the four-and-a-half-day trial, the jury left Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom a few minutes after the noon hour Tuesday to begin deliberation, and returned with their decision at around 2:20 p.m. that same day.

Deputy Sexton—a former eagle scout with a West Point appointment who once interned for Vice President Joe Biden and was recently awarded a master’s degree at the University of Southern California—was 25 years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy when the events resulting in the charges against him took place in August and September of 2011. He received Tuesday’s news accompanied by his wife, brother, mother and father, plus a contingent of somber-faced LASD deputies, most of whom appeared to be close to Sexton in age.

Sexton’s father, Ted Sexton, a long-time former sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to work for Lee Baca and the LASD when the scandal-beleaguered Baca had fallen out with his once-close undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and reportedly was desperate to hire someone whom he felt he could trust.

James Sexton is the seventh LASD sworn officer to be found guilty of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

The trial that culminated Tuesday, was the second time that Deputy Sexton was tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.”

Paul Tanaka, who testified at both of Sexton’s trials and is running for sheriff, is believed to still be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

When asked about the significance of Sexton’s conviction, government prosecutor Brandon Fox said that the verdict showed that, “…no matter if you’re low or high in the rank, if you commit a crime, the jury’s going to hold you liable for that crime. It’s not an excuse to say, ‘I was just this low level guy and other people told me to do this. And I didn’t exercise my own judgement.’

“I think something that all these convictions mean,” Fox said, is that its not okay to simply remain silent and to not disclose criminal acts that are going on. The thin blue line does not benefit anybody.”

Sexton, added Fox, confessed in his grand jury testimony to all the crimes of which he was charged.

“One of the differences between this trial and the first trial is that we provided evidence that Mr. Sexton is not a naive junior deputy.”

Of course, part of Sexton’s defense in his first trial had little to do with the following-orders-strategy, but pertained to the fact that he had reportedly cooperated with the FBI for over a year, meeting with federal representatives, either by phone or in person, at least 37 separate times. In this trial, however, most of the references to Sexton’s cooperation were prohibited.

As for those at the other end of the LASD chain of command, like Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, who arguably issued the orders for whom the now-seven department members have been convicted, Fox declined to comment in any detail, but said he would welcome information from those to whom orders in question were given.

“I think here’s the message: to the extent that you’re following orders if you know that they’re unlawful, you’re going to be charged and if you’re charged you’re going to be convicted and if you’re convicted you should talk to us and tell us if there’s anybody else who ordered what you did.”

Sexton will be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on December 1. The other six defendants will be sentenced on Monday, September 22, at 8:30 a.m.


AND IN OTHER LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT TRIAL NEWS: THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRIAL INVOLVING LASD LT. ANGELA WALTON AND LASD COMMANDER JOSEPH FENNELL, BEGINS WEDNESDAY MORNING

We will have more on that trial later this week.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 26 Comments »

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 »

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