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Childhood Trauma Often Mistaken for ADHD….The Feds Officially to Retry Sexton…..The Question of Charlie Beck’s 2nd Term…NY Wants to Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility

July 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IS OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR ADHD

One in nine U.S. Children are diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. There have been many theories as to the reason for this consistent rise in the prevalence of the disorder. Now researchers are beginning to wonder if perhaps inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior is often not ADHD at all, but a mirror of the effects of trauma and stress—a form of PTSD—that is misdiagnosed when pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are simply going for the familiar label rather than seeing the true underlying cause.

Rebecca Ruiz delves into the issue in a story that has been co-published by The Atlantic and Aces Too High. It’s a must read.

Here’s a clip:

Dr. Nicole Brown’s quest to understand her misbehaving pediatric patients began with a hunch.

Brown was completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, when she realized that many of her low-income patients had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.

When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive.

“Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control,” she said of treating her patients according to guidelines for ADHD. “I began hypothesizing that perhaps a lot of what we were seeing was more externalizing behavior as a result of family dysfunction or other traumatic experience.”

[SNIP]

Dr. Kate Szymanski came to the same conclusion a few years ago. An associate professor at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and an expert in trauma, Szymanski analyzed data from a children’s psychiatric hospital in New York. A majority of the 63 patients in her sample had been physically abused and lived in foster homes. On average, they reported three traumas in their short lives. Yet, only eight percent of the children had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder while a third had ADHD.

“I was struck by the confusion or over-eagerness–or both–to take one diagnosis over another,” Szymanski says. “To get a picture of trauma from a child is much harder than looking at behavior like impulsivity, hyperactivity. And if they cluster in a certain way, then it’s easy to go to a conclusion that it’s ADHD.”


IT’S OFFICIAL NOW: THE FEDS WILL RETRY SEXTON

In a hearing held at 3 pm Monday in front of Judge Percy Anderson, Prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that, yes, the government had decided to go another round in trying Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice for his part in allegedly hiding inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown from any and all federal officials.

The trial is set to begin on September 9, 2014.

Fox also notified the judge of his intent to file a motion limiting testimony on Sexton’s contacts and cooperation with the FBI, which the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense is likely to argue that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made incriminating statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded.

We will know what the judge rules later this summer.

Three more federal trials of LASD department members, all of them indicted for brutality and corruption in the LA County Jails, are scheduled for the coming year, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

In a case that will come to trial November 4, 2014, Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are accused of punching, kicking and pepper spraying an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled with a waist chain, then lying about their actions in a report that, in turn, caused the inmate to be falsely criminal charged.

In a case that will come to trial January 13, 2015, deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum are charged in a six-count indictment with civil rights violations, assault and making false statements in reports. The indictment also alleges (among other things) that Brunsting, a training officer, frequently used deputies whom he was training to file reports that covered up abuse. The victims were inmates at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

A third jail brutality trial is scheduled for March 3. This indictment charges a sergeant and four deputies with civil rights violations, alleging that Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, and Noel Womack, arrested or detained five victims—-including the Austrian consul general—–when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail in 2010 and 2011. In one of the four incidents, the victim suffered a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder that has left him permanently disabled. In another incident, the Austrian consul general and her husband were handcuffed and detained.

The six department members convicted last week will be sentenced on September 8, 2014.

Deputy Gilbert Michel, of the phone smuggling case, will be sentenced on September 15, 2014.


AFTER BUMPY PERIOD WITH CIVILIAN BOSSES, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK IS BACK ON SOLID GROUND

It was assumed that popular LA Chief of Police Charlie Beck would easily get a second term at the job. Then this spring, the LA Police Commissioners started to express concerns about a series of controversies. Between then and now, Beck has done much to mend and strengthen relationships, and thus he seems once again back on solid footing.

He wants a second term because he has a lot more to do, he says. Now it reportedly looks as though he’s going to get one—which is as it should be. (Firm constructive criticism is one thing, however, replacing Charlie Beck at this juncture would have been, in our opinion, unnecessary and destructive.)

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the details on this story of how things got off track, and now are back on. Here are some clips:

Charlie Beck received a blunt message from one of his civilian bosses as he prepared to request a second term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department: He was no longer a shoo-in for the job.

Police Commissioner Paula Madison demanded a meeting with Beck in April and told him she was concerned about a recent string of controversies and his apparent lack of transparency with the five-member oversight panel he reports to.

“When I stepped into this role, I didn’t expect that we would be looking for a new police chief, but now we may need to consider it,” Madison recalled telling Beck.

Other commissioners shared her concerns. Some were displeased enough with Beck that they alerted Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appoints the commissioners and wields considerable influence on their decision. The mayor, in turn, summoned the chief.

[SNIP]

Before the recent tension with his bosses, Beck had cruised relatively unscathed through his first term in a period of relative calm for the scandal-prone LAPD. Beck established himself as a capable leader and oversaw continued declines in crime, according to department statistics.

He guided the department through budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash to pay officers for overtime. As many of the department’s roughly 10,000 officers accumulated hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, Beck oversaw a plan that forced large numbers of them to take time off each month in lieu of being paid cash. The strategy strained resources as Beck and his commanders scrambled to make do with a depleted force.

Beck, when he thought it was necessary, did not shy from confrontations with his officers and the union that represents them.

[SNIP]

Decisions Beck made on discipline set off his recent clash with the commission. In February, he opted not to punish a group of officers involved in a flawed shooting, which drew a public challenge from Soboroff. A few weeks later, members of the oversight board, along with many officers, criticized the chief for not firing Shaun Hillmann, a well-connected cop who was caught making racist comments.

Those controversies were followed the next month by revelations that officers in South L.A. had been tampering with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. Commissioners demanded to know why Beck had left them in the dark about the matter and questioned whether the chief was committed to working with his civilian bosses….

Read on.


NEW YORK GOVERNOR DETERMINED TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York have science and statistics on their side when it comes to the reasons to avoid trying most youth as adults, but will they manage to get legislation passed to actually raise the age?

Roxanna Asgarian from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange explores the pros and cons of raising the age in New York.

Here’s a clip:

In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the members of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, created in part to address raising the age of criminal responsibility. Today, New York and North Carolina are the only two states where young people 16 and older are automatically treated as adults.

“Our juvenile justice laws are outdated,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address this year. “It’s not right, it’s not fair — we must raise the age.”

The commission is tasked with serving up concrete recommendations about raising the age and juvenile justice reform by December. Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary of civil rights, said the commission has to strike a balance.

“When we think about criminal justice reform we are addressing two platforms: reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” David said. “We are very focused on advancing both objectives, so recommendations would likely factor in both goals.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, PTSD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 2 Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

LA Foster Care Documentary, Los Angeles DA Calls for Split-Sentencing, Solitary Confinement and Kids’ Brains, and LASD Oversight

July 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WATCH THIS TONIGHT: LOS ANGELES FOSTER CARE DOCUMENTARY ON OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

Tonight (Thursday) at 7:00, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling,” exploring foster care in Los Angeles County and the children, families, and foster parents involved in the system.

In his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel tells us more about the documentary episode, which he co-produced, and why media access, when used to child dependency court proceedings is so important. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

[SNIP]

[In March,] a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.


LOS ANGELES TO (FINALLY) BOOST USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING—THANKS, DA JACKIE LACEY!

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has instructed attorneys in her office to begin seeking split-sentences—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation—for certain low-level felons convicted under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment.

This is certainly welcome news, as the jail system is hazardously overcrowded and Los Angeles is far behind other counties successfully implementing split-sentencing and reducing their jail populations.

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

Lacey said part of her reasoning for the policy shift is due to changes under prison realignment, the state’s policy that shifts responsibility for lower-level would-be state prison inmates to California’s counties.

Previously, nearly everyone leaving prison went on parole for one to three years. Now, that same population upon leaving jail gets released to the community without any supervision.

That is, unless they’re sentenced to split time.

“It makes sense that we utilize this tool in order to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society and don’t commit any new crimes,” Lacey said.

While some counties (including many with limited jail space) have embraced split sentencing — such as Riverside County and Contra Costa County, which sentence 74 percent and 92 percent respectively of their lower-level felons to half time in jail and half time on supervised release — L.A. County’s rate has hovered between 4 to 5 percent.

[SNIP]

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said he’s not sure how many new offenders will be coming his way, but his department can handle it.

“Having the district attorney say that she’s going to look at this and she’s not opposed to it is important,” Powers, who has pushed for more split sentencing in L.A. County said. “But you still have to get the judge to impose it. It’s progress.”


MORE ON THE DAMAGING (AND STILL WIDESPREAD) USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS

The Atlantic’s Laura Dimon has an excellent story on the use of solitary confinement on kids in the US—the disastrous effects on young brains, and the continued use of isolation in spite of increasing research and opposition. Here are some clips:

Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day. It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the EEG pattern towards an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium.”

If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though, it can shatter a juvenile.

One of the reasons that solitary is particularly harmful to youth is that during adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural growth. Particularly important is the still-developing frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for cognitive processing such as planning, strategizing, and organizing thoughts or actions. One section of the frontal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s. It is linked to the inhibition of impulses and the consideration of consequences.

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for about 30 years. He explained that juveniles are vulnerable because they are still in crucial stages of development—socially, psychologically, and neurologically.

“The experience of isolation is especially frightening, traumatizing, and stressful for juveniles,” he said. “These traumatic experiences can interfere with and damage these essential developmental processes, and the damage may be irreparable.”

[SNIP]

The ACLU said that just hours of isolation “can be extremely damaging to young people.” In December 2012, the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued a report that read, “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

They noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

The task force requested that the practice be used only as a last resort and only on youths who pose a serious safety threat. The UN expert on torture went further and called for an “absolute prohibition [of solitary confinement] in the case of juveniles,” arguing that it qualified as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a statement saying they concurred with the UN position. “In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available,” they wrote.

Despite these declarations, there are about 70,000 detained juveniles in the U.S., 63 percent of whom are nonviolent. And in 2003—the most recent survey data available—35 percent had been held in isolation. More than half of them were isolated for more than 24 hours at a time.


WHAT THE SHERIFF DEPARTMENT NEEDS, MOVING FORWARD

On Tuesday, jurors found six LASD officers guilty of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about the “toxic culture” within the Sheriff’s Department.

An LA Times editorial says that the issue here is not the criminal actions of deputies, but instead, the structure of a department with an elected sheriff who has no accountability to the citizens who put him in office. The editorial calls, once again, for a civilian oversight commission to “create an incentive to act wisely.” Here are some clips:

…whose idea was this whole scheme in the first place? Was top management at the department so lax or vague that deputies felt entitled to come up with such a plan on their own? Or, as the defense argued, were they instead following direct orders from their superiors, including, perhaps, then-Sheriff Lee Baca? And if they were following orders, did they believe that their only possible courses of action were to commit crimes or give up their careers?

Any of those possibilities, and a dozen more besides, underscore the central problem at the Sheriff’s Department: not deputies committing crimes, although that is one especially troubling manifestation of the problem, nor deputies beating inmates, although that’s one result of it, but rather that unaccountable management of a paramilitary organization embodied in an elected sheriff with no effective civilian oversight and few limits on his powers is an invitation to abuse.

[SNIP]

…any sheriff, no matter the degree of his or her integrity or ability, must operate within a structure that creates an incentive to act wisely. And legally. Criminal prosecution of officials should not be considered one of the basic checks or balances on power, but rather an indication that those safeguards have failed and need repair.

The six convicted sheriff’s personnel might not have brought their misgivings, if they had any, to an oversight commission, if one had existed, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that such a panel would have prevented the crimes. But they might have. And either way, its presence would have reminded the sheriff that he and his command staff would be held accountable, in a public forum, for their actions.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 5 Comments »

WLA on Which Way LA? on KCRW 89.9 FM

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday night, WitnessLA was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with the always excellent Barbara Bogaev
(who was standing in for Warren Olney).

It was a quick news segment in which we talked about the just handed down six guilty verdicts in the LASD federal trial, recorded as I was standing outside in the hot, noisy and windy steps of the federal courthouse after the verdicts had come in.

So if you’d like to listen you can find the podcast of the broadcast here.

KCRW FM is at 89.9 FM.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

THE JURY SPEAKS: Six Guilty On All Counts – What the LASD Verdict Means

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE JURY SPEAKS

After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.

Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.

All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.


“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”

According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.

“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”

Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”

Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE

At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“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.”

In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.


GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.

As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.

Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.

Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”

The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?

Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?

Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.

It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.

Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.


AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:

Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7

Rina Palta for KPCC

Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang for the LA Times

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 103 Comments »

2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



REPLACEMENT OF 2 JURORS MEANS PATH TO VERDICT IN LASD TRIAL GETS LONGER

Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS NO TO HEARING APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA LAW BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


SENATORS COREY BOOKER & CHRIS MURPHY INTRODUCE BILL TO INCENTIVIZE STATES TOWARD BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE POLICIES USING EXISTING FEDERAL $$$

Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

WLA’s Editor Wins “Online Journalist of the Year” at SoCal Journalism Awards(!)…LASD Civilian Oversight…Costly Prison Phone Calls…and More

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WLA’S EDITOR TAKES HOME SOCAL JOURNALISM AWARD

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, has won 1st place at the SoCal Journalism Award for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The judges called Celeste’s work for 2013: “a compelling look into problems in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Celeste did a great job decoding complex issues into a fascinating narrative.”

The rest of the winners can be found here.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL CALLS FOR CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF SHERIFF’S DEPT.

Citing the Inspector General’s undefined power and tenure, an excellent LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to create a nine-person citizen’s oversight commission to watch over the Sheriff’s Department. The editorial says the commission should hold public meetings, and be free of micromanagement by the Supes, and that members should serve for set terms.

Here’s a clip:

The board started out on the right foot last year when it created the Office of Inspector General. It was designed to replace both a special counsel, who presented regular reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors but didn’t get enough public attention to spark any follow-up, and the Office of Independent Review, which relied too much on the sheriff’s voluntary cooperation to be a credible monitor.

But the supervisors rejected the strong recommendation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to appoint the inspector general to a set term and make him removable only for good cause. And the board still hasn’t brokered an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department over the scope of the inspector general’s powers. So no matter how strong the work ethic and integrity of Inspector General Max Huntsman, he is an at-will employee of the Board of Supervisors with no law establishing his power or authority to investigate the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the county’s contracts with its previous monitors expire Monday, so for the first time in two decades there will be no independent sheriff oversight. Despite the opportunity and necessity for improvement, the county is in danger of falling backward.

Forward momentum will depend on more than new promises by the supervisors to do a better job of keeping an eye on the sheriff. It will require the board to create a citizens oversight commission that conducts its meetings in public and has the kind of insulation from micromanaging that so far the board has denied the inspector general. There should be nine members on the commission, enough for each county supervisor to appoint one while still allowing sufficient appointments by other authorities to prevent the commission from becoming the board’s proxy. Members should serve for set, nonrenewable terms, and be removable only on a showing of good cause.


LAST YEAR THE FCC LIMITED WHAT PRISONERS PAY FOR INTERSTATE CALLS, BUT COMPANIES STILL GOUGE PRISONERS FOR OTHER SERVICES

In prisons all over the country, private companies—Global Tel-Link and JPay, in particular—are charging inmates preposterously high fees for phone, internet, and money services. Unfortunately, the brunt of the costs fall on the families of the incarcerated. And there’s no real competition from other companies who might charge lower fees. Global Tel-Link and JPay both pay cash-strapped cities, counties, and states incentives to secure their contracts within prisons. (In New York State, where these commissions are forbidden, inmates pay a fraction in comparison—72 cents for a 15-minute call.)

Global Tel-Link and JPay both have contracts in California through which they overcharge California prison and jail inmates’ loved ones.

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. That was a significant victory, but Global Tel-Link and JPay can (and do) continue to charge prisoners and their families shocking fees for in-state calls, money transfers, and other services. (For previous WLA reporting on this issue, go here.)

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg have the story. Here are some clips:

It is a lucrative proposition, in part because these companies often operate beyond the reach of regulations that protect ordinary consumers. Inmates say they are being gouged by high costs and hidden fees. Friends and families say they have little choice but to shoulder the financial burden.

But private enterprises are not the only ones profiting. Eager to reduce costs and bolster dwindling budgets, states, counties and cities are seeking a substantial cut in return for letting the businesses into prisons, a review of dozens of contracts by The New York Times found. In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail. A Texas company has guaranteed the county at least $55 a month per inmate, according to a copy of the contract…

Some corrections departments use the commissions to provide services, said Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Corrections. In Washington State, all commissions go toward compensating victims and improving services like libraries.

But even some industry executives see problems with the current setup, saying the commission system encourages providers to charge inmates more, not less, for services. Companies often win contracts based on how much they will offer states via commissions, rather than the rates they charge inmates.

Global Tel-Link, of Reston, Va., has contracts with 2,200 correctional operations serving at least 1.1 million inmates. It argued in recent comments to the Federal Communications Commission that the more states and cities demand in commissions, the more it will charge inmates. “There is no free lunch,” the company said.

[SNIP]

While the F.C.C. capped interstate telephone rates at 25 cents a minute earlier this year, after agitation from prisoners’ rights advocates, local phone rates can still be steep and other fees vary widely from state to state. For instance, using a phone to transfer $10 into an inmate’s account via JPay to the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., costs $3.95, while a similar transfer to the Illinois Youth Center in Chicago runs $5.95.

Placing a 15-minute in-state call from a Union County, N.J., jail costs $8.50, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently filed a petition asking for lower in-state rates. In New York State, which does not accept commissions from providers, a 15-minute phone call costs just 72 cents.


CDC: WAYS TO PREVENT YOUTH VIOLENCE

Every day in the US, an average of 13 kids, teens, and young adults (between the ages of 10-24) are victims of homicide, and more than 1600 are treated in hospitals for assault-related injuries. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death in young people nationwide. And 10-to-24-year-olds comprised 40% of arrests for violent crimes in 2012.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that youth violence and its devastating effects on kids (especially minorities), families, and their neighborhoods can be prevented, and lists evidence-based solutions communities can implement to counteract this violence.

The report suggests a number of tools and programs, from parenting and family training, to bolstering early childhood education, to data gathering, and policy-reform. Here are some examples:

The Strengthening Families program teaches parents to use discipline, manage their emotions, and communicate with their child and teaches youth strategies to deal with peer pressure, manage stress, and solve problems. Evaluations of this program have shown significant reductions in aggression, hostility, and conduct problems and improvements in parent’s limit-setting, parent-child communication, and youth’s prosocial behavior.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care is for youth who need out-of-home placements and includes extensive training of foster parents, family therapy for biological parents, skills training and support for youth, and school-based academic and behavioral supports. This program has been shown to significantly reduce delinquency, violence, and violent crime and sustain improvements over time.

Cure Violence (formally known as CeaseFire) works to interrupt violence, particularly shootings, and change norms about the acceptability and inevitability of violence. An evaluation found reduced shootings and killings and fewer retaliatory killings in most communities where the program was implemented.

These smart, evidenced-based recommendations are a hearteningly long way from the Superpredator theory of the mid-1980s.


TWO DIE IN LASD CUSTODY

Two people died in LA County Sheriff’s Dept. custody on Saturday. A man suspected of being under the influence of drugs was arrested in Lancaster after struggling with deputies. The man became unresponsive in the back of the patrol car, and officers were unable to revive him.

And later that afternoon, a woman was found dead in her bunk at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station jail. The woman had been booked on possession of a controlled substance two days prior, on Thursday.

LASD homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and the LA Coroner’s Office are investigating both deaths.

KPCC has the story.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Violence Prevention, women's issues | 27 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial: Closing Arguments, Part 2

June 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SIX SEPARATE DECISIONS

Monday was the second and final day of closing arguments in the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

On Friday, the prosecution delivered its initial closing followed by hour-long presentations by each the attorneys for three of the six defendants, Lt. Greg Thompson, Lt. Steve Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo.

Monday, attorneys for Deputy Gerard Smith and Sgts. Maricela Long and Scott Craig presented closings for their clients, followed by a rebuttal by the prosecution.

(Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors get the last word.)

A trial of this kind is a challenging one for the jury because, although it is a single proceeding in which all six defendants are charged with the offenses of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the prosecution’s allegations of how that obstruction took place are substantially different for each of the six. This means, of course, that the jury must make an individual decision for each defendant about guilt or innocence. In other words, all could be found guilty, or all acquitted. Or the jury could come up with mixed results, finding some guilty, others innocent.


NOT HIS CALL

The first up among Monday’s lawyers was Bill Genego, the attorney for Gerard Smith.

In August 2011, said Genego, Deputy Smith’s commanding officer directed that Anthony Brown be isolated, that no one have access to him without the okay of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

(The suggestion that Tanaka loomed over much of the action as an unseen shot caller was something that Genego made reference to several times.)

“Gerard Smith did his job. He did not obstruct justice. He did not commit a crime.”

Interestingly, both Genego and Deputy Mickey Manzo’s attorney, Matt Lombard, have not spoken much throughout this trial, and their clients names have been largely absent from testimony, at least when compared to mentions of the other four. It is a strategy that the defense clearly hopes will pay off for the two deputies who, although they have now been placed in the narrative during the government’s closing, still could seem to the jury to be peripheral, because of their absence from much of the action described during these last three weeks of trial.

In his closing on Friday, Lombard labeled Manzo as “the fall guy,” a low-ranking department member taking orders from his superiors — orders that came from the very top of the sheriff’s department.

Monday, when Bill Genego’s turn came, he painted a similar picture of his client for the jury, contending that, while Smith was a trusted deputy, he was nothing close to a decision maker, that over and over again he had to ask his boss, Greg Thompson, about anything outside the scope of his orders.

It was not Smith’s decision to move federal informant Anthony Brown nor to change his name, Genego said. When Brown’s inmate file—his “jacket”—was moved and given to Lt. Leavins (which the prosecution has suggested was done to make it un-findable by the feds), “that was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

At the August 20, 2011, meeting called by the sheriff that set the hiding of Brown in motion, Smith was present but mostly as a bystander, said Genego. “The sheriff was upset,” he said, “and Paul Tanaka said this is one of the most important investigations in the history of the department…” But Smith was not involved in all the communications that followed.

When, three days later—after the FBI managed to get in to see Brown and was tossed out—”Greg Thompson and Paul Tanaka decided to move him. That was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

to be on Brown at all times, he organized the detail.

“Could he choose not to follow that order?” asked Genego.

“Not his call.” It was a mantra Genego repeated throughout the closing.

“He wasn’t on the task force. He’s not on any of those emails. He had no corrupt purpose. Gerard Smith did his job,” attorney Genego concluded. “He did not commit a crime. He is not guilty.”


WHERE IS BACA? WHERE IS TANAKA?

Michael Stone, Scott Craig’s bow-tie sporting attorney, and Maricela Long’s attorney, Angel Navarro, continued the defense theme of officers following what they believed were lawful orders, stressing that Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka were briefed all along the way.

“On August 18, a lawful criminal investigation was ordered,” said Stone, referring the initial meeting in which Baca set in motion the hiding of Brown, ostensibly for his protection, and the probe into the undercover operation led by FBI special agent Leah Marx.

“Conducting a lawful investigation is not a conspiracy.”

After Scott Craig and Maricela Long were assigned to that criminal investigation, “…did you ever hear any evidence that Baca put the brakes on? ” Stone asked. “No. Because it didn’t happen.”

The two sergeants were “worker bees” doing what they were asked to do, he said.

Stone had a somewhat harder time defending Craig against the government’s allegations that he had deliberately tried to persuade deputies Gilbert Michel and William David Courson not to talk to the FBI. The jury had, by this time, had clips of Craig’s and Leavins’ interviews with both men played for them repeatedly. Craig’s interactions with Michel, were particularly hard to dismiss as nothing more than interview techniques designed to get Michel to feel comfortable, which is how the defense portrayed Craig’s side of the conversation.

Both Craig and Long alone are also charged with lying to federal agents, an allegation that stems from the twosome’s visit to Marx’s home where Craig told the FBI agent that he was “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you,” a threat that Long later repeated in a phone conversation with Marx’s FBI boss.

Craig and Long’s attorneys claimed that the arrest threats were were genuine, even though the sergeants would later learn that they had no jurisdiction to make such an arrest (and their grand jury testimonies on the matter were somewhat contradictory).

After all, said Stone, “Baca believed that the FBI agents violated the law.”

It was time for Sheriff Baca to put on his big boy pants and take control of the situation,” said Stone, as he came to the end of his closing.

And then he repeated the question that continues to hang like smoke over this trial.

“Where is Baca? Where is [ICIB Capt. Tom] Carey? Where is Tanaka?”


FOREST GUMP

When prosecutor Brandon Fox began the government’s rebuttal, he talked at first, not about the allegations at hand, but about the “widespread abuse of inmates,” about “jail visitors being assaulted” when they came to see family members, about “false cases” filed against inmates to cover up assaults by deputies, and other allegations by such groups as the ACLU “going back years.”

“Deputies knew they could beat inmates with impunity” said Fox, because LASD executives “didn’t know or didn’t care about the abuse—either possibility equally damning.”

And so the federal government investigated.

“Mr. McDermott said that there was no evidence that this investigation needed to be done,” Fox continued, referring to Lt. Greg Thompson’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, whose closing was Friday.

And once the LASD learned that the feds were probing, “their purpose was to get the federal government out, to get the grand jury out.”

But “that’s not their choice,” said Fox.

And if the LASD felt “disrespected” because they weren’t told all about the government’s undercover investigation…

“That’s not their choice.”

Agent Leah Marx’s investigation was an operation that was approved all the way up to Washington D.C., Fox told the jury.

“It was her work that helped open up Pandora’s Box.”

This was no “turf war” as some of the defense attorneys had argued, he said. It was “a one-sided war on the FBI, on the federal grand jury, and the US Attorney’s Office.”

Fox recapped the government’s reasons for the charges against each one of the six but he was the most scathing when it came to Lt. Steve Leavins.

On Friday, Leavins’ attorney, Peter Johnson told the jury that his client represented “leadership, integrity, excellence and service.”

Fox now listed the words for jury members:

LEADERSHIP
INTEGRITY
EXCELLENCE
SERVICE.

Then he went about dismissing Leavins’ claim to the qualities, erasing all but the first letters of each word as he did so, leaving only….

L
I
E
S

It was a parlor trick, but an effective one when followed up by an account of how Leavins gave misleading testimony about the supposed approval of his actions by deputy county counsel Paul Yoshinaga, and the OIR’s Mike Gennaco, claims that fell apart under further examination, and rebuttal testimony from Gennaco. After that, Fox reminded the jurors how, in another instance, Leavins tried to change his testimony altogether to claim that a significant meeting in late August 2011 between Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and others—in which Birotte had told the sheriff in so many words to “But out” of the federal investigation—-had occurred instead, a month later, at the end of September,* when it would have better suited Leavins case, nevermind that Leavins appeared not to have been present at the second meeting at all.

Leavins was “the Forrest Gump” of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, quipped Fox, claiming to be everywhere, whether he was or not.

As for the fact that, as defense attorney Stone had pointed out, the primary order-giving higher-ups of the LASD remained conspicuously unindicted, Fox said, “to the extent they’re ever charged, that’s for another jury to consider on another day.”

The case went to this jury of six men and six women on Tuesday.


*We originally wrote that the second meeting Leavins said he’d attended was in early October, which was not correct. He testified that it was at the end of September.

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

Realignment and Untapped Solutions to Overcrowding at the Local and State Levels, Federal Sentencing Reforms Stalled, and More

June 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA REALIGNMENT THREE YEARS IN: STILL OVERCROWDED WITH MINIMAL SAVINGS

California prison realignment, AB 109, (which diverts lower-level offenders from state prison to county supervision) was supposed to alleviate severe prison overcrowding while saving the state money. Three years into the implementation of AB 109, however, California is spending $2 billion more per year locking people up, jails are overcrowded, and the state prison population is on the rise, once again.

Through realignment, counties were allotted money to spend on things like community-based alternatives to incarceration, but some counties (Los Angeles, for instance) have failed to use available methods like split-sentencing and other programs to lower recidivism.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the realignment issue. Here are some clips:

Nearly 15 months after launching what he called the “boldest move in criminal justice in decades,” Gov. Jerry Brown declared victory over a prison crisis that had appalled federal judges and stumped governors for two decades.

Diverting thousands of criminals from state prisons into county jails and probation departments not only had eased crowding, he said, but also reduced costs, increased safety and improved rehabilitation.

“The prison emergency is over in California,” Brown said in early 2013.

The numbers tell a different story.

Today, California is spending nearly $2 billion a year more on incarceration than when Brown introduced his strategy in 2011. The prisons are still overcrowded, and the state has been forced to release inmates early to satisfy federal judges overseeing the system.

Counties, given custody of more than 142,000 felons so far, complain that the state isn’t paying full freight for their supervision. Many jails are now overcrowded, and tens of thousands of criminals have been freed to make room for more.

“The charts are sobering,” Senate Public Safety Committee Chairwoman Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) said at a hearing this year on crime, prison costs and inmate numbers.

Still, Brown insists his plan is working, although he has conceded that change can be slow. “It is not going to create miracles overnight,” he said as he returned to his office from a Capitol rally for crime victims earlier this spring.

The governor’s office has embraced the idea that much of the incarceration, probation and rehabilitation cycle should take place on the local level, instead of being left to the state.

Putting prisoners back in local hands “is encouraging and stimulating creative alternatives,” he said.

[SNIP]

The prison population fell sharply at first, dropping from 162,400 to 133,000, but it is rising again. There now are 135,400 inmates in state custody, a number expected to grow to 147,000 in 2019.

The state Finance Department originally projected that realignment would reduce prison spending by $1.4 billion this fiscal year and that about two-thirds of that savings would be passed on to counties to cover the costs of their new charges.

Instead, the state’s increased costs for private prison space and the compensation it pays out for county jails, prosecutors and probation departments adds up to about $2 billion a year more for corrections than when Brown regained office.

Without stemming the flow of prisoners into the system, the problems created by crowding continue. The Little Hoover Commission, an independent state agency that investigates government operations, said in a May report that realignment simply “changed the place where the sentence is served.”


OVERCROWDING AT THE COUNTY LEVEL, AND WHAT LOS ANGELES COULD BE DOING ABOUT IT

Los Angeles County is facing A $1.7 billion (or more) plan to tear down and replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail. Currently, 4,000 more men are crammed into the facility than allowed by the government. There is no question that the aging and grossly overcrowded facility needs to be replaced, but there are ways to fix the population problem.

Before we get to that, LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story on the overpopulated jail. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s Capt. Daniel Dyer, commanding officer of the downtown Men’s Central Jail, couldn’t help but grimace during a recent inspection of Dorm 9500.

More than 200 low-security inmates were crammed inside the room, every now and then tripping over each other’s bunks spaced a foot apart.

The space was not originally intended to serve as living quarters, so toilets were an afterthought, installed haphazardly in the middle of a row of bunks in the 1980s. They’re exposed to the room with no stall walls and only a few feet from the nearest bunk.

“That’s just wrong,” Dyer said, gesturing toward the inmates who have to eat and sleep next to the toilets.

[SNIP]

“We are at serious risk of litigation,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald warned. “If the courts take over, we’ll end up spending a lot of money which could have gone toward rehabilitation and treatment.”

County Assistant Chief Executive Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Jerry Brown’s 2011 decision to ease overcrowding in state prisons by diverting inmates to county jails created a crisis.

“As a result of AB 109, Los Angeles County is now operating the population equivalent of two to three state prisons without the necessary infrastructure or adequate resources to do so,” he said. “Something must be done.”

Alsop called for additional funding support to ensure inmates’ “appropriate and effective supervision and rehabilitation.”

[SNIP]

The jail population peaked at about 23,000 in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sheriff’s Lt. Sergio Murillo recalled, “We used to have inmates all over the place — they were on the roof, in the chapel, on the floors of the cells.”

The number dropped to about 15,000 three years ago, but AB 109 pushed it up to 19,000 currently. That’s 4,000 more than government regulations allow.

“That’s horrific, horrendous and unacceptable,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, a court-appointed monitor of the jails.

“It raises very significant questions as to whether this is an unconstitutional level of overcrowding, especially when they have space they are not utilizing,” he added.

Dyer admitted the East Facility at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic has room for 1,500 inmates but isn’t being used because of budget problems.

SoCal ACLU Director Peter Eliasberg told WLA that if LA County is worried about getting sued by the federal government, we might want to find a way to use those 1500 beds in Pitchess.

Eliasberg also shared three ways to further lower the jail population, including amping up the county’s currently minimal use of split-sentencing (dividing sentences into part jail time, part probation):

1. Have the Board of Supervisors authorize the Sheriff to do risk-based pretrial release, rather than having the county rely on the bail system, which is not risk-based and leaves lots of poor low risk individuals in jail awaiting disposition of their cases. If the Sheriff were to use a sound risk assessment tool to do non-bail pretrial release, it would likely lower the average daily jail population by about 1,000.

3. If the proposed state criminal justice trailer bill (AB 1468) passes, it will likely increase the amount of split sentencing in LA County significantly because it contains the presumption that an N3 [a non-violent, non-serious, and non-sex offender] will receive a split sentence “Unless the court finds, in the interest of justice, that it [a split sentence] is not appropriate in a particular case…”

Los Angeles has one of the lowest, if not the lowest rates of split sentencing in California at about 3%. By contrast, 87% of the N3s in Contra Costa receive split sentences; the figure is 67% in Riverside and 39% in Orange County. The best estimates are that if LA raised its rate of split sentencing to 30%, it would lower the average daily jail population by about 900 a night.

If the District Attorney achieves her goal of cutting the number of inmates with mental illness by about 1,000 through a diversion program, the Board of Supervisors gives the Sheriff pretrial release authority, and LA raises its level of split sentencing to 30%, the County would be looking at a reduction of the average daily jail population of about 2,900 below the projections that were used to justify the jail plan the BOS voted to move forward on in May.


BIPARTISAN SENTENCING REFORM BILLS DELAYED IN CONGRESS

Over the last few years, there has been a significant bipartisan push to reduce incarceration. Unfortunately, two promising and far-reaching criminal justice reform bills have stalled in Congress.

The first bill, the Smarter Sentencing Act, would, among other things, cut certain non-violent drug sentences in half. The second bill, the Recidivism Reduction and Public Safety Act, would allow low-risk offenders to earn credits toward release by completing rehabilitation and reentry programming.


An NY Times editorial explains why the bills have stalled,
and calls on Congress to “do its job” and fix the defective laws feeding our over-stuffed prison system. Here’s a clip:

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of federal inmates — many of whom have already served years of unjustly long drug sentences — continue to sit in overstuffed prisons, wasting both their lives and taxpayer dollars at no demonstrable benefit to public safety.

The slowdown is all the more frustrating because there is mounting evidence that criminal justice reform works. States from South Carolina to Ohio to Rhode Island have cut back on mandatory minimums, improved rehabilitation services and reduced their prison populations while seeing crime rates go down, or at least not go up.

So why the delay? One major factor has been resistance from members of the old guard, who refuse to let go of their tough-on-crime mind-set. In May, three senior Republican senators — Charles Grassley of Iowa, John Cornyn of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama — came out against the sentencing reductions, arguing that mandatory minimums are only used for the highest-level drug traffickers. This assertion is contradicted by data from the United States Sentencing Commission, which found that 40 percent of federal drug defendants were couriers or low-level dealers.

Another factor was the Obama administration’s April announcement that it would consider clemency for hundreds, if not thousands, of inmates currently serving time under older, harsher drug laws. Republicans complained that this — along with other executive actions on criminal justice by Mr. Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. — took the wind out of reform’s sails.

But with the exception of some old-line prosecutors and resistant lawmakers, everyone still agrees on the need for extensive reform…


LA PROGRAM HELPS PARENTS COMBAT EFFECTS OF TRAUMA IN BABIES AND TODDLERS

A Children’s Hospital Los Angeles program is targeting trauma and toxic stress experienced by babies, in hopes of averting mental health problems as they get older. The program provides in-home therapy and coaching for parents of babies and toddlers exhibiting signs of toxic stress. (For more WLA posts about trauma and toxic stress in children, go here and here.)

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

Through its “early childhood mental health program,” the hospital sends therapists into the homes of hundreds of kids who are showing signs of anxiety, trauma and stress that can pile up causing what experts call “toxic stress.”

…counselors in this program teach parents how to diffuse stress in the home and to understand and meet their children’s emotional needs. About 400 families are served every year.

Among them are Shantoya Byrd and her toddler, Anmarie Paz.

When Anmarie was just weeks old, her aunt committed suicide in the home they shared.

“I was so, so, sad,” Byrd said. “And then you feel really bad because you’re like, now I have a baby, and the baby sees you so sad.”

Byrd was also living with her mother, who was struggling with drug addiction. When Anmarie was six months old, social workers found the home unfit and removed her. She was reunited with her mother a few days later, when Byrd moved out on her own.

“When I got her back, I couldn’t walk to the kitchen without her like following behind me screaming,” she said. “If she could not like touch me, she would scream, she would cry.”

Anmarie was suffering from severe anxiety. She cried and yelled nonstop. Byrd didn’t understand why or how to deal with it.

[SNIP]

Child welfare workers referred Byrd to the program, which sent psychotherapist Lorena Samora to her Los Angeles apartment.

During weekly visits, Samora was able to coach the young mother on techniques for helping her toddler to self-soothe and lessen anxiety.

Posted in LA County Jail, mental health, prison, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Trauma, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

June 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,
” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE

The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.


WE’LL HAVE MORE ON OTHER TOPICS TOMORROW….BUT IN THE MEANTIME, THERE IS THIS FROM THE LAT’S JIM NEWTON:

PROTECTING KIDS HAS TO COME BEFORE WORRIES ABOUT COUNTY LIABILITY. (IT’S SAD THAT SUCH A THING HAS TO BE STATED, BUT REGRETTABLY IT DOES.)

Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 17 Comments »

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