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Far-Reaching DOJ Settlement With LA County Sheriff’s Department to Trigger Major Jail Reform

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

The long-expected settlement between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
and the U.S. Department of Justice was officially announced Wednesday morning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown LA.

The settlement concerns the failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment, including “adequate mental health services,” for the mentally ill in the LA County’s long-troubled jails. It is the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span what is now nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners.”

Now, 19 years later, those investigations have resulted in a lawsuit that was filed in federal court, also on Wednesday, in which the DOJ alleges that indeed the County of Los Angeles “deprived” inmates in its jails of “rights, privileges or immunities” protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

Wednesday’s settlement is an agreement in lieu of the feds’ legal complaint going forward. The agreement required a stamp of approval by the LA County Board of Supervisors, who did the requisite stamping in a closed door meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Deckerhich said in a statement she hopes the settlement helps the county avoid “protracted litigation” and “provides a blueprint for durable reform.”

For the most part, however the tone at the press conference was cooperative and non-adversarial. For instance, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff made a point of reaching out to deputies and others working in the jails, whom he thanked as “dedicated professionals…. who are in the front lines at the jails every day. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement…”


The agreement spells out in detail the series of marks that the department needs to hit within the next year, if it wants to stay out of legal hot water. It includes sections on new “scenario-based” training for LASD staff, suicide risk procedures, appropriate data gathering, the use of restraints, use of force and more. The settlement also delves deeply into what kind of review procedures should kick in within the department, if and when things go wrong—in other words, if there is a suicide, attempted self harm, or a “critical incident.”

As to how the settlement actually works: if the department fails to hit the agreed upon marks specified, the federal judge in charge of the settlement can step in and institute penalties—i.e. the oversight period can be extended. The department’s progress will be overseen most closely by an independent monitor, who will also have the help of a small team of “content experts.”

Attorney Richard Drooyan was named as the monitor. As a former head of the Los Angeles police commission, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney and—most relevantly—the general counsel for the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence—Drooyan is considered to be an excellent choice. Plus, due to their time spent together on the CCJV, he is someone with whom Sheriff McDonnell already has a good and established relationship.


The sheriff seems genuinely to welcome the agreement, which he described a “…comprehensive approach to reform” that he and the department’s custody leadership “fully embrace.”

McDonnell also rightly sees the 60-page document as a useful tool that—as he told radio host Warren Olney Wednesday on KCRW’s Which Way LA?—will give him the needed leverage “to get the resources necessary,” to accomplish long lasting reform.

When asked about the personnel training that the settlement requires, McDonnell quickly gave what he said was a representative example of why it was badly needed. “We teach deputies in the academy to be assertive, to raise your voice where appropriate…” but, he said, “if you do that with someone with autism, that is exactly the wrong thing to do, it sets someone off” and you end up in a confrontation that could have been avoided.

In a letter sent to department members, McDonnell was similarly upbeat about the potential positive effects of the deal with the feds, describing the agreement as an opportunity.

Even prior to the agreement, he wrote, the department had already been able to use requirements contained in the coming settlement to make needed changes and put in place additional resources—with, of course, the fiscal support of the board of supervisors. Those changes included:

· 500 additional LASD personnel
. Over 160 additional DMH personnel
· Multiple jail modifications to reduce suicide risks
· More frequent safety checks
· Additional cleaning crews
· Increased training opportunities for interaction with the mentally ill
· Enhanced inmate assessments and additional treatment
· Drug treatment and community re-entry planning
· Additional out of cell therapy and recreation time

“You are part of an historic time for the LASD,” McDonnell wrote, “and this agreement will establish us as being on the leading edge of modern correctional systems. While I have always said I welcome outside eyes on the Department, this will continue to be a collaborative process, and one that we will accomplish together, as a team.”


So, if things have improved, how how bad were they before?

Actually, really bad—at least in certain quarters.

As recently as four years ago, the LA Times reported the story about a young deputy, an “honor recruit” who was a standout at the academy, was allegedly forced to beat up a mentally ill inmate, then to participate in a cover up. According to the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi, the deputy, Joshua Sather, “said that shortly before the inmate’s beating his supervisor said, ‘We’re gonna go in and teach this guy a lesson,” according to the records.” The attack, according to Sather, was then covered up.”

By the way, reportedly no one was disciplined over the whole mess.

Many of the worst examples of the kind of conduct that brought on the law suit and the settlement have to do with the mishandling and/or neglect of suicidal inmates, too often resulting in tragic and unnecessary inmate deaths, such as the death of 22-year-old John Horton, whose suicide in Men’s Central Jail we wrote about in 2009.

And, although the DOJ admits that there has been much laudable reform, there are more recent incidents, like the circumstances last month that led the sheriff to relieve 10 department members of duty after learning that an inmate who had displayed “suicidal ideation,” and was believed to have other mental problems, had reportedly been in some kind of restraints for 32 hours without being fed or given more than a cup of water, after head-butting or pushing a female deputy causing her to sustain a concussion.


The settlement also makes it very clear that, while most of the reforms it requires have to do with the treatment of the mentally ill, the DOJ is equally concerned with the treatment—or more properly mistreatment—of inmates in general, such as the abuse of a jail visitor that resulted in the recent conviction of three former department members, and the plea deals for two others.

In that regard, the settlement points to the ACLU’s massive class action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, that was settled earlier this year, known as the Rosas agreement.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2012, alleged that then Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies of inmates in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

The Rosas settlement, like the DOJ settlement, resulted in a roadmap for reform, complete with required goals, the accomplishment of which, is to be overseen by three independent monitors, and enforced by a federal judge who can find the department in contempt.

Wednesday’s DOJ settlement repeatedly mentions the Rosas agreement, suggesting that it is filling in what Rosas didn’t cover: “…this Agreement addresses remaining allegations concerning suicide prevention and mental health care at the Jails…”

Peter Eliasberg, the Southern California ACLU’s legal director, and the prime mover behind Rosas, was very heartened by the DOJ settlement. “For far too long, the County Board of Supervisors turned a blind eye to evidence of savage abuse by deputies and failure to provide even minimally adequate treatment to inmates with mental illness, even after presented with 2008 and 2010 ACLU reports that specifically outlined many of the same problems this agreement seeks to fix.” This oversight, he said, along with the Rosas agreement…”will finally bring much needed change to the nation’s largest jail system.”

At the press conference, McDonnell expressed similar sentiments, but understandibly gave them a slightly more buoyant spin. “This is our collective opportunity,” he said, “to be on the leading edge of reform and to serve as a model for the nation.”

We genuinely hope so.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 24 Comments »

Thousands of CA’s Disenfranchised Will Soon Gain Voting Rights, LA Supes Hear Reports on Mental Health Diversion and Jail Building, and 20-Year Interviews in Solitary

August 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, two days before the 50th Anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that voting rights would be restored to thousands with felony convictions under county supervision through Realignment.

(If you need a refresher: California’s Public Safety Realignment Act, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration and supervision burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties.)

Sec. of State Padilla’s move is a reversal of a decision his predecessor, Debra Bowen, made to disenfranchise realignment probationers. Before Bowen’s move, only people with felonies who were still incarcerated or who were on state parole were barred from voting.

Last year, Alameda County Judge Evelio Grillo ruled against Bowen’s 2011 removal of voting rights. By the time Bowen was leaving office she had appealed Grillo’s decision. Padilla, who inherited the appeal, chose to drop the challenge, saying, “Civic engagement and participation in the election process can be an important factor helping former offenders reintegrate into civil society.”

“If we are serious about slowing the revolving door at our jails and prisons, and serious about reducing recidivism,” Padilla continued, “We need to engage—not shun—former-offenders.”


On Tuesday, at the LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report detailing a plan to divert mentally ill offenders from county jails into community treatment.

“We have some resources, we have some diversion occurring, but it’s simply not to the scale that we need to do it,” said DA Lacey.

The most imperative part of the plan is implementing major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, but Lacey also wants to add more urgent cares where officers can bring people in crisis, as well as launch a specialized housing program.

Too many of our low-level offenders leave jail in worse shape than if their behavior was addressed in treatment,” said LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Our jails simply were not built as treatment centers or with long-term treatment in mind.”

Lacey also stressed the importance of interagency communication (for instance, between the Department of Mental Health and the sheriff’s department) through a central data system, and adding more co-deployed teams of officers and clinicians to better serve the needs of people in the midst of a mental health emergency.

WLA previously posted about Lacey’s diversion report. Read more about it here.

LA County’s interim CEO Sachi Hamai presented her own report to the board–a fiscal review of the DA’s mental health diversion plan. The report breaks down estimated costs for each of Lacey’s 29 recommendations

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and the CEO estimates a total implementation cost of $83,574,841.

According to the CEO’s report, the board should made a decision by at least August 17, so as not to lose state funding for a proposed $100 million renovation of a Mira Loma detention facility to accommodate female prisoners.


Another important issue before the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday came in the form of a report from Health Management Associates explaining to the board what kind of population needs to be accommodated by a new jail, while taking into consideration Prop. 47, mental health diversion, and other major factors.

The report recommends the Men’s Central Jail replacement have a 4,600 to 5,060 bed capacity, a range very similar to the capacity of a jail plan tabled by the Supes last month in order to explore the feasibility of a smaller jail. If the county does not move forward on the diversion initiatives, the jail will need to hold 6,773 inmates, according to the report.

HMA predicts jail population growth, from 17,000 to 21,599 in the next 10 years, despite successful efforts to lower the population via things like split-sentencing and the passage of Prop 47—which reclassified certain non-serious felony offenses as misdemeanors.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

By 2025, 4,600 to 5,060 beds will be needed in the new facility for inmates who require medical and mental health care if the county pursues its current diversion and community treatment initiatives. If the county does not dedicate those resources, 6,773 beds will be needed to house a mentally stressed population by 2025, the consultants from Health Management Associates projected.

Drastic measures are needed to avoid violating the civil rights of inmates, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said.

“The current state of the jails in the County of Los Angeles strikes a note of unconstitutionality and a violation of civil rights,” Ridley-Thomas said. “To the extent that this the case, the status quo cannot be and will not be tolerated. Therefore, what is before us is how to uphold public safety and make sure those who require incarceration are incarcerated without the violation of their rights.”

Finding other facilities outside of the jails to house mentally ill inmates could open space to treat high-risk inmates with substance abuse issues, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Based on county population projections and sentencing trends, the consultants estimated that the total jail population will grow to more than 21,000 by 2025. There are about 17,900 inmates currently within the county’s eight jail facilities, and about 3,500 of those inmates have some form of mental illness.

The percentage of inmates who require medical and mental health treatment is projected to grow from about 20 percent in 2015 to about 34 percent in 2035, the consultants said.

The supervisors will likely vote on the jail plan next week since the construction of the proposed jail is tied to the construction of a new women’s jail at Mira Loma Detention Center. The county is applying for a $100 million state grant for the Mira Loma Detention Center plan, which has an Aug. 17 deadline, according to the county interim CEO.


In 1993, a social psychologist named Craig Haney conducted interviews with prisoners locked in solitary confinement in Pelican Bay State Prison. Dr. Haney’s aim was to study the psychological effects of isolation.

When Dr. Haney came back two decades later for more interviews, he was shocked to find some of the same inmates still in solitary confinement. For more than 20 years, these prisoners had spent 23 hours per day in windowless boxes, separated from other humans.

As part of a report for a class action lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s use of solitary confinement, Haney interviewed dozens of inmates who had been locked in isolation for 10-28 years.

Because most researchers have used either test subjects or inmates who have not been in solitary for very long, Haney’s interviews provide a rare look into what happens to a person who experiences long-term isolation.

The New York Times’ Erica Goode has more on Dr. Haney’s interviews and findings. Here’s a clip:

…the inmates, Dr. Haney found, still had many of the same symptoms. “The passage of time had not significantly ameliorated their pain,” he wrote.

For comparison, Dr. Haney also interviewed 25 randomly selected maximum-security inmates at Pelican Bay who were not in solitary confinement.

While 63 percent of the men in solitary for more than 10 years said they felt close to an “impending breakdown,” only 4 percent of the maximum-security inmates reported feeling that way.

Similarly, among the prisoners in isolation, 73 percent reported chronic depression and 78 percent said they felt emotionally flat, compared with 48 percent and 36 percent among the maximum-security inmates.

In depositions prepared for the Pelican Bay lawsuit, the inmates in long-term solitary also described having anxiety, paranoia, perceptual disturbances and deep depression.

One plaintiff, Mr. Reyes,said he had severe insomnia and that in the silence of the isolation unit, he sometimes heard a voice calling his name and cell number. Other times, he said, “I just see spots, just little things move.”

Mr. Redd, said that his dreams were often violent but that they became that way only after coming to Pelican Bay.

“I didn’t even have dreams,” he said. “I didn’t even have thoughts of looking up at the top of my bunk and you see cracks on the bunk and say, ‘Hey, man, if they got a little earthquake, this wall, this top bunk is going to fall down on you.’ You know, you start getting a little nervous thing.”

Locked in his cell, Mr. Redd said, he often plunged into despair.

“It’s not to the point where you want to commit suicide,” he said, “but sometimes, I’m at the point that I’d be wanting to write the judge and say, ‘Just give me the death penalty. Just give me the death penalty, man.’ ”

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

DA Jackie Lacey Delivers Her Master Plan for Diverting LA’s Mentally Ill From Lock-Up

July 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

After 15 months of research, including out-of-state field trips to see what other cities and counties were doing, a slew of small and large meetings, and many, many hours of careful strategizing,
on Wednesday afternoon, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey delivered a comprehensive plan to the LA County Board of Supervisors that, if fully implemented, could divert a significant percentage of LA’s mentally ill lawbreakers away from jail and into treatment centers in the community.

At the August 4 board of supervisors meeting, in two weeks, Lacey is scheduled to discuss the 41-page report (which WLA has obtained, and which is really more than 100 pages with its charts and appendixes). If the detailed road map that the report lays out is to succeed, it will require considerable funding from the supes—40 million of which has already been allocated.

A comprehensive program would mean, for example, greatly beefing up the number of community-based beds to house and treat mentally ill county residents, “particularly those with criminal records.” said the report. These are the nonviolent mentally ill, many of them homeless, some veterans, who would otherwise wind up in the county jail, often on a revolving door basis.

Lacey described the genuinely impressive report as “an unprecedented collaboration of stakeholders.” And, indeed, the LA County Criminal Justice Mental Health Advisory Board, which created the plan, and which was formed and chaired by Lacey, includes a wide array of law enforcement, mental health leaders, members of the judiciary, representatives of the public defenders’ office and many more.

“This is our first comprehensive attempt to fundamentally change the way we treat mentally ill people in Los Angeles County when they come into contact with law enforcement personnel,” Lacey said. “When implemented, these recommendations will provide treatment options to safely divert nonviolent mentally ill offenders from jail, which is more costly and, at times, inhumane.”


The roadmap created by Lacy’s task force features recommendations that fall primarily into three categories. The first of those, and the most important, according to the report’s authors, is to provide what is known as Critical Incident Training (CIT) for all Los Angeles County law enforcement personnel.

The training is designed both to help law enforcement become knowledgable and to have greater sensitivity to mental health issues—but also to supply cops with concrete, usable tools to interact “more effectively and compassionately” when they run across mentally ill persons in crisis in the field.

And how often do officers encounter the mentally ill? Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell estimates that, up to 40 percent of all the LASD’s use of force incidents in the field involve people who are mentally ill.

Accordingly the sheriff’s department is already planning to institute a six-year plan to train 5,355 patrol deputies in a 40-hour CIT course. (The report recommends to the Board of Supes that they fund this training—ASAP.)

The report also endorses plans by the District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Institute to provide a 16-hour version of the training for the 48 smaller police agencies in LA County.

In addition, the task force recommends increasing the number of specially trained teams, that include a mental healthcare clinician along with a law enforcement officer, that will co-deploy with other law enforcement to defuse potentially violent situations and to avoid escalation.


One of the problems facing law enforcement who encounter the mentally ill during the first 24-hours of a mental health crisis, explains the report, is that while it could take less than an hour to take a mentally ill individual to jail and book him or her, thus solving any public safety issue in the short term, if the officer instead takes his charge to a local hospital emergency room, which is usually the first step down the road to treatment, rather than lock-up, he could spend six to eight hours simply waiting—his patrol shift left uncovered. As a consequence, the report requests three more Urgent Care centers where a suspect can be immediately evaluated. (The county’s Department of Mental Health currently operates four Urgent Care Centers now with one more to open in October or November.)


Lacey has been quick to say that the report delivered this week is “not a jail reduction plan. ” per se, insisting instead that if the need for mental health jails beds is reduced, it will enable serious and violent felony offenders who are not mentally ill, to serve a long percentage of their sentences.

Okay, fair enough.

However the newly constituted board of supes voted last month, 3 to 2, to put the breaks on the go-ahead for the $2 billion jail building project that was originally approved by the old board in May 2014. The new board wisely elected stop and assess just how many jail beds the county would really need, once such strategies as mental health diversion and possibly some kind of pre-trial release system, can be taken into account.

The board has even hired a consultant for a fee of $349,500 to help determine just how much the county can downsize its jail population—with mental health diversion such as Lacey’s report recommends—while also protecting public safety.

The consultants’ findings, like Jackie Lacey’s impressive new report, are due to be presented at the August 4 Board of Supervisors meeting.

So stay tuned.

PS: We just noticed that the Daily News, which also has obtained the report, has just kindly put up a copy online, in case you want to read the 100 plus pages for yourself.

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness | 9 Comments »

LA County Supes to Approve County’s Participation in MacArthur Foundation Grant-Driven Plot to Reform LA’s Jails

July 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

The vote on Tuesday is really just a formality.

No one really expects the LA County Board of Supervisors to vote NO on the question of whether or not to authorize Sheriff Jim McDonnell to to accept $150,000 in grant funds from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, thus committing the county to participate in round one of MacArthur’s “Safety and Justice Challenge.

But agreeing to the grant means committing to a process of jail reform that county officials have not previously managed to fully embrace.

So Tuesday’s hopefully no-controversy vote could actually be a heartening step forward.

You may remember that, at the end of May, LA County learned that it had been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation asked to take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

The 20 areas selected for this first phase of the challenge include New York City, New Orleans, LA, Pima County, AZ, Harris County, TX, Pennington County, SD, and the entire state of Connecticut. The idea is for these cities and counties (and one state) to be mentored by the nation’s experts in such things through the process of creating and refining a plan to reform their respective jail systems.

Then, if LA is chosen as one of 10 jurisdictions advance to the final stage of the competitive grant challenge, the county will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement its plan for reform. (Since LA County has the largest jail system in the nation, it would likely be eligible for the whole 2 million yearly.)

In other words, if LA County is one of the final ten, then it will really, really have to be committed to certain reforms—things like a pre-trial release program, among other strategies—that it’s dragged its feet on in the past.

You’ve heard of Trojan horses? This is a Trojan grant—but one with a very positive purpose in mind.

Yet the recommendation from Sheriff McDonnell that the Supes are being asked to approve contains language that suggests that McDonnell, anyway, and presumably his friend DA Jackie Lacey, are willing to move forward on pre-trial release and more.

Here, for example, are a couple of key paragraphs. (I’ve italicized the sections that are particularly interesting.)

The County’s jails remain extremely challenged and overcrowded; currently housing 3,000 inmates above the state recommended capacity. This motivating factor propels the Department in seeking alternative measures that result in favorable outcomes. The jail system will soon exceed over $1 billion in annual operating expenses. The costs continue to grow as on going litigation requires increased accountability regarding crowding conditions, security, sanitation, and access to health care. It is clear that the revolving door of short term incarcerations has proven to have a destabilizing effect on the life of many offenders, especially when a stable home and employment is disrupted due solely to the fact that a low-risk inmate cannot afford to post bail. Throughout the County, nearly half of the Average Daily Inmate Population (ADIP) is pre-trial, and a segment of these inmates are low-risk and held due to poverty rather than risk.

Utilizing a risk-based release decision process could conservatively reduce the pre-trial population by more than 10 to 15 percent and focus on better outcomes through community treatment and supervision. Reducing our ADIP will reduce operational costs, overcrowding, and dramatically improve our ability to provide access to in-custody critical health care and rehabilitation services. Jail violence will also be affected and the predatory behavior of higher risk inmates preying upon less criminally sophisticated inmates will be reduced, along with inmate anxiety as they struggle to gain access to limited program resources in custody and upon their transition back into the community.

That’s good stuff. And it suggests that LA County’s full-hearted participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge just might be a very good thing.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 16 Comments »

Ten LA County Sheriff’s Jail Personnel Relieved of Duty Over “Troubling” Report of Inmate Abuse

July 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Saturday night, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that ten department members working in the county’s jail system had been relieved of duty pending an investigation of a report of “troubling” inmate abuse that allegedly occurred last month.

It seems that this past Thursday McDonnell was informed of a complaint resulting from the alleged incident, which began on June 19 at the LA County jail system’s Inmate Reception Center (IRC), where an inmate was handcuffed in a cell for approximately 32 hours without being provided food or liquid—save “a cup of water,” said McDonnell in a statement released Saturday night. (The inmate reportedly had eaten on his initial arrival at the jail.)

The inmate had allegedly assaulted a female guard during a force incident, after which he required medical attention. Then the inmate was handcuffed and restrained for a period amounting to a full day and night, and then another half day, without food.

By this past Friday (July 10), McDonnell had clearly learned enough about the alleged incident to decide that it warranted swift action. Thus by the end of the day, his staff had relieved ten jail employees of duty, “including supervisors,” while still others were reassigned to other duties pending further investigation.

Those relieved of duty include two lieutenants, one sergeant, one senior deputy, four regular deputies and two custody assistants—an unusual number to be ROD for a single incident. One could guess that messages were being sent.


McDonnell said the matter is being investigated by the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB), and its Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). In addition, he and his staff have notified Max Hunstman, the LASD Inspector General—and the FBI, which still is engaged in its long-ongoing investigation into brutality and corruption in the LASD, a federal investigation that, in May of this year, resulted in the indictment of the former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and the former captain of the department’s criminal investigative unit, Tom Carey.

The same ongoing federal investigation resulted in the conviction, late last month, of one sergeant and two deputies, for brutally assaulting a handcuffed man in a 2011 incident in the Men’s Central Jail visiting center, then falsifying felony charges against the man, in order to justify the assault.

This fall, two more department members will be tried by the feds for other alleged instances of abuse in the jails, and for allegedly training newer jail deputies in methods designed to “teach” certain inmates “a lesson,” and then how to cover up said lessons.

According to a massive class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Southern California—Rosas v. Baca—that was given its final stamp of judicial approval in April, the incidents of abuse of inmates and others that resulted in federal indictments were representative of a pattern of abuse that was allowed to occur all-but unchecked under former sheriff Lee Baca and his former undersheriff, Tanaka.


McDonnell— who served on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and thus was one of those responsible for the CCJV’s scathing report on jail abuse and misconduct that was issued in September 2012—seems determined to set a very different standard of response. Even his notifying of the FBI is a world away from the reaction of the previous administration, which—as we now are painfully aware—went to extravagant lengths to try to keep the feds from examining wrongdoing inside LA County’s jail system, in a manner outside the LASD’s control.

“The investigation into this incident is ongoing and will be thorough,” said McDonnell about the June 2015 incident, in a statement released Saturday night. “It will not only focus on employee actions, but also on corrective policies and procedures,”

McDonnell added that he was “… deeply committed to providing the highest levels of constitutional care to those in our charge.” He added that he will “quickly address and remedy any conduct, policies or practices that do not meet this expectation…”

NOTE: This story was updated on 7/12 at 12:20 pm.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 37 Comments »

Playwright Takes on School to Prison Pipeline… LAT Calls for Real Oversight of the LASD… .LAPD Praised for Handling of Mentally Ill…Update on SB 124, Juvie Solitary

July 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.

When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.

The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.

The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.

All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”

Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”

As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.

Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.

Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.

Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.

In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.

Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle talked to Smith while she was in rehearsal for her Berkeley opening, about what she wants from this part of the process, and from the Pipeline Project as a whole.

Here’s a clip:

“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.

“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”

Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949.


The LA Times editorial board has called for a civilian commission with teeth before, but this time the board lays out the absolutely dismal history of attempts to oversee the department, all of which have failed utterly.

Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.

Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.

In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.

Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.

There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.

To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.


While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.

According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.

NPR’s Stephanie O’Neil has a good new story on the unit and how it functions.

Here’s a clip:

Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.

On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.

“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”

If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.

Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.

The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.

Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.

The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.

“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”


The bill to drastically restrict solitary confinement for California ‘s locked up kids, has one more committee to make it through, and then it goes to the assembly floor and, if passed there, on to the governor.

The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.

Here’s a clip:

In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.

But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.

At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.

Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.

There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.

The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 24 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Convictions: What the Jury Didn’t Know

June 29th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


As most readers are aware, a seven-woman five-man jury deliberated for just about four hours last Wednesday before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

In order to arrive at their verdict, the jury was appropriately only exposed to the facts and testimony having directly to do, or leading up to, that beating and phony report writing.

As a consequence, when defense attorney Joseph Avrahamy said multiple times in his closing arguments, “This has never happened before!”— meaning, one assumed, that the beating of someone for no reason in the jail or its visiting center, and the falsifying of charges to cover for such a beating, was all quite anomalous—the jury had no way of knowing that the statement was extravagantly untrue.

“Someone just mouthing off would never cause [these deputies] to use excessive force,” continued attorney Avrahamy. “Why would these deputies and their sergeant risk their careers and criminal charges by beating up a suspect and falsifying reports?”

Why, indeed? Well, perhaps it was because the defendants felt, quite rightly, that they were not risking much of anything—which would almost surely have been the case had the feds not stepped in. The truth was, in February 2011, when the beating of Gabriel Carrillo occurred, jail personal who engaged in such behavior were very, very unlikely to be held even the tiniest bit accountable for their actions.

This sad fact was documented in detail in such quarters as the department’s own internal reports, by testimony of department supervisors at the public hearings held by the Citizens Commission for Jail Violence, in the CCJV’s scathing final report– and in WitnessLA’s own reporting.

In answer to the spurious claim that “this has never happened before,” there are myriad accounts of similarly senseless beatings having taken place in the county’s jail system, often accompanied by the fabrication of charges against the beating victims to cover the brutality.

The ACLU’s massive class action suit, Rosas v. Baca, featured 70 signed declarations by victims of—or witnesses to—such incidents. The abuse described in the declarations was deemed credible enough that it forced a landmark settlement that was approved by the LA County board of supervisors last December, and then given final approval in April 2015 by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. (The settlement, just to remind you, was not for money, but to force a system of jail oversight that is intended to help prevent such incidents from happening in the future.)

Moreover, the name of Fernando Luviano, one of the just-convicted defendants, is featured prominently in several of the Rosas declarations, plus in the accounts of still other former inmates who were not part of the lawsuit.


At WLA we have read declarations by eight different former jail inmates, some of them also witnesses, who described beatings, pepper spraying, outsized threats of retaliation, and similar actions in which Luviano allegedly took part. In the majority of cases, he was the main player, or at least one of them.

This spring I spoke to one of the Rosas victims, a 35-year-old named Michael Hoguin, who works for a car auction company. Holguin explained how he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, Luviano prominently among them.

Holguin was, at the time, in jail on a charge of possessing an illegal weapon—-namely a cop baton, which was inside the compartment on his motorcycle, where he’d reportedly stashed it, then forgotten about it.

According to Holguin’s civil complaint, in October of 2009, he and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy chanted the requisite “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after inmate Holguin had been knocked—still handcuffed—to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Holguin with a long stream of pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes, a description that now sounds creepily similar to Luviano’s close range and entirely punitive and gratuitous spraying of the handcuffed Gabriel Carrillo, who by then had open wounds on his face.

Although he declines to disclose the dollar amount, Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services (see above), Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

But, again, Holguin’s report is only one of eight we read. There are also declarations by Robert Dragusica (2009), Antonio Candelario (2010), William Littlejohn (2011), Jonathan Goodwin (2011), Alex Rosas (2011), Jabaar Thomas (2011), and Arturo Fernandez (2011)—all naming Luviano.

And, yet, despite these reports, at least two of which have resulted in high ticket civil settlements, when Luviano was convicted by the jury last week, incredibly he was still employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (albeit relieved of duty, as was required once he had been indicted).


Part of the reason that department members like Gonzalez, Luviano, and Ayala were so rarely disciplined for excessive uses of force in Men’s Central Jail can be laid at the feet of Dan Cruz, the man who was the captain of Men’s Central jail from April 2008 until December of 2010—in other words, during the years immediately before Gonzalez, Luviano, Ayala and three other deputies pounded and pepper sprayed Carrillo on February 26, 2011.

During his tenure as captain, Cruz—and those below him—okayed questionable uses of force after only the most cursory review. As a consequence, during the first year of Cruz’s watch, force jumped from 273 to 330 incidents. Concerned about the spiking numbers, Cruz’s direct supervisor, then-commander Robert Olmsted, asked one of his lieutenants, Steven Smith, to randomly pull 30 force reports and then to start looking for some commonality.

When a stunned Smith came back, he told Olmsted that, out of the 30 randomly yanked force reports, all of which had been approved by higher-ups as essentially fine, he found that 18 were clearly out of policy. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the sampling of force reports that had been approved by supervisors—in some cases as high up as Cruz—had something obviously wrong with them.

What Olmsted didn’t know at the time was the fact that the bad approvals were not the worst of the matter. It turned out that, even more alarmingly, in many instances neither Cruz nor anyone else ever reviewed the force cases at all. Instead, he buried the force reports in drawers or on shelves until the year-long statue of limitations expired, and the reports were useless.

This report burying finally became very public when now-captain, then-lieutenant Michael Bornman testified before the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence and described what he found when he was transferred into MCJ to work under Cruz.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the CCJV’s report:

The most disturbing examples of a systemic breakdown occurred at MCJ in 2010 when LASD Lieutenant Michael Bornman analyzed approximately 100 unprocessed and incomplete use of force reports spanning several years that had not been entered into the Department’s data tracking systems. As Bornman acknowledged in testimony before the Commission (discussed in greater detail in the Discipline Chapter), dozens of use of force cases were deemed unfounded years after the fact to simply close cases that had missing files, no witness statements, missing video tapes, and incomplete information upon which to assess deputy performance.

When Bornman tried to question all the deep-sixed reports, he said he was told to back off, that then-assistant sheriff Paul Tanaka, who was the man who had put Cruz in as captain, had no problem with what his protege was doing.

Here a clip from WLA’s 2012 story by Matt Fleischer regarding what Bornman told the CCJV:

Bornman testified that despite having three immediate supervisors in the chain of command between Cruz and Paul Tanaka—Commander Olmsted, Chief Dennis Burns and the assistant sheriff in charge of custody, Marvin Cavanaugh—bizarrely Cruz felt he needed to be accountable only to Tanaka who, as the assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, technically had no control over the jails at all.

In fact, in one instance, when Bornman suggested Cruz’s supervisor Bob Olmsted needed to be briefed on the massive backlog of administrative investigations at CJ that had been allowed to slide, Cruz told him: “Fuck Bob Olmsted. I don’t work for him. Lee Baca is my sheriff, but I work for Paul Tanaka.”

Cruz’s contempt for the chain of command went so far that, incredibly, he had a side access door to CJ alarmed so that Olmsted couldn’t make a surprise inspection. If Olmsted wanted to visit the facility, he had to check in through the front entrance.

And yet when Olmsted or anyone else tried to go over Tanaka’s head to Lee Baca about the use of force problem, they were roundly ignored.

For more on the Cruz-Tanaka era at Men’s Central Jail see WLA’s reports here and here and here and here.


Another document that the jury didn’t see was the original indictment, which got trimmed down after two of the five indicted department members—former deputies Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—made deals with the feds.

If they had seen the lengthier indictment, the jury would have been aware of three additional incidents of alleged abuse against people who came to the jail to see friends or loved ones, including the beating of a jail visitor who was slammed around by deputies to the point that his arm was fractured, all reportedly because he asked to see a supervisor when his combat veteran brother repeatedly couldn’t be located in the jail. (And, yes, that incident has resulted in potentially high dollar a civil lawsuit.)

Knowledge of the original indictment would also have informed jurors of additional charges against Sussie Ayala for allegedly helping to falsify records against the victims of some of these other visitors center beatings, in addition to reportedly engaging in aggressive behavior herself.

Plus they would have seen the allegation by the feds that former Sergeant Gonzalez would “maintain, perpetuate and foster an atmosphere and environment” in the visiting area “that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law, including the use of unjustified force….” among other abuses.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if the visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.” He allegedly would “praise overly-aggressive behavior by deputy sheriffs and criticize” deputy behavior “that was not aggressive” and would “encourage deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force,” according to information the FBI and the prosecutors gathered.


The jury did hear that Robert Carrillo, the younger brother whom Gabriel Carrillo had come to visit in MCJ on the day of his beating, had also been beaten a few days at the time that he was arrested.

Then the jury heard that, the day after Gabriel’s beating, there had been an exchange of texts between defendant Eric Gonzalez and a deputy out in the field named Julio Martinez, who was the primary officer who had arrested Robert Carrillo.

In a screen shot taken of Gonzalez’ cell phone, the jury and the rest of the trial watchers, saw that Martinez—whom Gonzalez had known since the days when the two worked together at Century station—had texted Gonzalez a photo of Robert Carrillo’s bruised and swollen post-arrest face. In return, Gonzalez texted to Martinez a booking photo of Gabriel Carrillo’s grotesquely swollen, lacerated and elaborately discolored face, with the following message: LOOKS LIKE WE DID A BETTER JOB. WHERE’S MY BEER BIG HOMIE.

Gonzalez’ lawyer, Avrahamy, tried to dismiss the text exchange, first as a joke, then as a legitimate search for information by Gonzalez from his colleague, Martinez, who was a member of the department’s gang detail, Operation Safe Streets, or OSS.

The jury bought neither explanation for the gleeful exchange of images of the brothers’ damaged faces.

What the jury did not know is that, Martinez is a member of the deputy gang called The Jump Out Boys, and that, together with his OSS partner, Anthony Paz, also a Jump Out Boy, in April of this year, Martinez was charged with conspiracy, perjury and altering evidence, in relation to the alleged planting of guns at a marijuana dispensary in order to make an arrest. (For the details see the LA Weekly story by Gene Maddaus and this LA Times story by Kate Mather).

Martinez and Paz are involved in another case where there are allegations of a planted gun to justify a fatal shooting by Paz of an unarmed 22-year old, killed at his South LA home. In June 2014, the 22-year-old’s family was awarded $1.2 million in a settlement with LA County.

Yet, despite all the information the jury did not have, they still arrived with a cross-the-board guilty verdict—reportedly without any doubts or dispute whatsoever.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 41 Comments »

2 LA County Deputies & 1 Sergeant Convicted on All Counts for Beating Jail Visitor, Then Falsifying Charges in Cover-Up

June 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The jury members sent their note to Judge George H. King, announcing that they had a verdict, just before 12 noon on Wednesday. The seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for just about four hours before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

When the verdict was read aloud in Judge King’s courtroom on the 6th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Courthouse on Temple Street, Ayala and Luviano sat motionless next to their attorneys. Gonzalez, however, uttered a agonized guttural sigh before slumping forward into himself, his head in his hands.


Jury Foreman, 35-year-old Tony Tran, said that, from the beginning there were no dissenters among the jurors.“The whole case was dependent on whether or not the suspect was in handcuffs,” he said. “And that photograph that showed the marks on wrists erased any doubts.”

Tran, who is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, with plans to teach high school history, said that the jurors also found the testimony of two former deputies—Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—to be particularly persuasive. “They were very credible,” he said.

When asked whether he and the others were affected by the defense team’s suggestion that Womack and Zunggeemoge—who made deals earlier this year with the government in return for their testimony—were simply telling the feds what they wanted to hear and lying to the jury, Tran shook his head.

“When we looked at the evidence, we had no doubts,” And nothing the defense said could rattle that certainty, said Tran. “We considered them whistle blowers, and trusted their testimony completely.”

And now that his job as juror was finished, did Tran hope the verdict sent any kind of message? “I hope the message does go out that this code of silence, and the feeling on the part of some law enforcement that they can violate people’s rights with impunity….it has to stop.”


Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisabeth Rhodes, and fellow A.U.S.A Brandon Fox were the prosecutors on the case and, in an impromptu press conference in front of the courthouse after the verdict was announced, they characterized the case as important one.

“I believe that an individual who carries a badge and a gun and who uses their authority and power to violate people’s constitutional rights, as was the case here, is one of the worse kind of criminals, and should be brought to justice,” said Rhodes. “We believe justice was done here.”


Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the Southern California ACLU, also talked about the importance of the case. “The thing that amazed me,” he said, “was that, not only were the deputies willing to savagely beat a jail visitor, who had done nothing more than not offer them what they believed was enough respect. Then they were willing to lie about the abuse, and those lies became the basis of the criminal case against Mr. Carrillo that could have resulted in years in state prison. That’s where he’d be right now if he didn’t have a really good criminal defense attorney.

Carrillo’s attorney, Ronald Kaye, was present for much of the federal trial and had a particularly strong reaction to the testimony of deputies Womack and Zunggeemoge, who, when on the stand, both described in detail the way the charges against Carrillo were falsified, and the thinking behind it, namely that anything other than backing one’s partner was considered absolutely unthinkable, no matter the lies or damage that resulted.

“It was so, so vindicating,” said Kaye. “In the criminal case against Gabriel, we were a week from trial. He was looking at a possible fourteen years in prison, if we lost. And in the case, we were facing five sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant who all had completely consistent reports.” But in that week, Kaye said, they found the photos of Carrillo’s wrists. “Grace took phone pictures of his wrists along with a bunch of other photos of him, but then she forgot about them, and didn’t realized how important they were.” Plus Kaye found a neutral witness who had been in the visiting center, sitting right outside the break room, a middle-aged woman with no criminal record, who was able to describe what she heard coming out of the room. “She was really important,” said Kaye.

Thus, instead of going to prison, Carrillo works in construction as a fork lift operator and is married to his former girlfriend, Grace Torres, who was with him on the day of the beating. The couple has two young children. And this past weekend, Kaye said, with their court appearances behind them, they were able to have a belated wedding reception, after which the two spent a few days in Las Vegas for a honeymoon. “That’s all the time they could take,” said Kaye, who attended the reception. “Gabriel had to get back to work.”

Last year, there was one more piece of very good news for Gabriel Carrillo when LA County agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle a civil lawsuit arising out of the beating and the false charges that formed the basis of Wednesday’s conviction.


The conviction of the three LASD defendants, which will almost certainly be appealed, could mean 70 months in a federal prison for the deputies. Gonzales, who was the group’s supervisor, and signed off on all the falsified reports, and who could receive a an even longer sentence. The statutory maximum sentence on such charges, however, is up to 30 years, Gonzales could face up to four decades, although such lengthy sentences are considered unlikely.

Judge King will sentence the threesome on November 2, the day that the trial of former LASD Captain Tom Carey, and former undersheriff is due to will begin jury selection.

VIDEO NOTE: The video above shows Carrillo being interviewed a few hours after his beating by then LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who had, a few hours before, supervised the beating and the cover-up. It was shown at trial and the jury watched it with rapt attention. ABC-7 News producer Lisa Bartley obtained the video, so we have her to thank for being able to show it to you. For further insight to the trial and it’s aftermath see these excellent reports by Bartley and ABC-7 reporter, Miriam Hernandez here and here.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD | 38 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Trial: Day 5 – Closing Arguments: It’s About the Handcuffs

June 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

After nearly five hours of closing arguments, the federal trial involving three former and present members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of brutally beating jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to cover up the beating by portraying the alleged victim as the aggressor, the whole matter could hinge on a single photograph of Carrillo’s bruised wrists.

When the case went to the jury at around 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, both the federal prosecutors and the three different defense attorneys (one for each of the three defendants) had marshaled an array of facts and photos they said proved that the other side was lying about the most crucial elements of the events in question. Yet neither side was able to point to any tie-breaking eye witness who could be characterized as being entirely unbiased.

Everything comes down to whether or not Carrillo was handcuffed on the afternoon of February 26, 2011, when he was being pummeled and pepper sprayed by five sheriff’s deputies with the reported approval of their supervising sergeant in the visiting center of LA’s Men’s Central Jail. If the jury of five men and seven women concludes that Carrillo was not handcuffed during the beating, then jurors should vote to acquit former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and suspended deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano of all the government’s charges.

However, if the men and women of the jury believe that Carrillo was handcuffed when he sustained the panoply of injuries at the hands of the defendants and their colleagues, then they should vote to convict.

For the full story on the final day of the LASD Visiting Center trial check back later today.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 3 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial – Day 3: A Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater, and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control said narrative.

The trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano will wind up with closing arguments on Tuesday of this week, and then the case will go to the jury.

When it came to the three federal trials that took place last year, in which seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department were accused of obstruction of justice, the jury’s task was less about determining whether certain events and actions occurred, as it was about deciding what those events and actions meant.

In this trial, however, the outcome depends on which group that the jury believes is telling the truth. Either the three defendants are straight up lying about their account of the events of February 26, 2011, or it is the witnesses for the prosecution who are the bald-faced liars. There is no middle ground.

No one disputes that Gabriel Carrillo was badly beaten by LA County Sheriff’s deputies on that Saturday when he and his girlfriend and his grandmother went to the visitors’ center at Men’s Central Jail, in order to see Carrillo’s brother who had been arrested a few days before, and who had also been beaten by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the course of his arrest.

Nor does any one dispute that both Carrillo and his girlfriend brought their cell phones into the jail visiting area, although phones are clearly prohibited, and to bring one in is a misdemeanor. It is agreed that Carrillo and his now wife, Grace Torres, got caught with their phones, and were each at different times escorted back to an enclosed area off the visiting area called the “break room.”

Once Gabriel Carrillo was taken to the break room, however, the description about what occurred between him and a cluster of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies plus their immediate supervisor, a sergeant, heads in two radically divergent directions.


According to the defense, when former deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—whom his former LASD colleagues refer to as “Z” or “Deputy Z”—learned that Carrillo had a cell phone in his possession, he handcuffed the man, then marched him into the small break room at which point he, shut the door, and uncuffed one of Carrillo’s wrists in order to fingerprint him. But, rather than cooperate, the angry and out of control Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously at Z as a weapon. Zunggeemoge was hurt by Carrillo, at which point a “violent fight” ensued when other deputies came to Deputy Z’s aid.

Carrillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” defendant deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching defendant Luviano as well. In order to subdue the highly aggressive jail visitor, physical force had to be applied, which included blows to Mr. Carrillo’s face and body, plus the use of OC spray also known as pepper spray.

Even after Carrillo was “taken down” and sprayed multiple times, he continued to try to assault deputies by spitting and kicking them, until finally the deputies were able to successfully subdue the man.

Zunggeemoge, was one of the five department members originally indicted in December 2013 for abusing Carrillo and others in the visitors’ center, and then writing false reports to cover up the abuse. But in early 2015, Zunggeemoge reversed his story and said that the above narrative was carefully concocted to cover what had been a brutal beatdown of a man who may have mouthed off slightly but who, while committing a misdemeanor with his possession of the cell phone in the visiting area, cooperated when the phone was discovered—albeit unhappily—and presented no threat.

On Wednesday of last week, “Deputy Z” was the first witness for the prosecution and was not easily rattled by the three defense attorneys who cross-examined him.

On Thursday, first Carrillo’s former girlfriend, now wife, Grace Torrez, then Carrillo himself testified, and each were consistent with their descriptions of what happened on February 26, 2011. Carrillo, 27, who is 5’5″ and weighed around 150-155 lbs at the time of he incident, gave a harrowing description of the day’s events and was not easily rattled by cross examination. (More on Carrillo later.)

After Carrillo stepped down, next up was former deputy Noel Womack.


Former sheriff’s deputy Womack is 6’4,” in his late 30’s, married with kids, and has the body of a defensive linebacker. He worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 8 ½ years—much of that time spent working in the visitors’ center—and reportedly he liked his job very much. Now, he works in a warehouse and drives a forklift.

He is the second out of the five originally charged in the so-called visiting center indictment, who asked his attorney to find a way to make a deal with the feds.

The other deputy who flipped was Zunggeemoge, as mentioned above. But Z made his deal early in 2015. Womack did not have his come-to-Jesus moment until near the end of May.

Womack’s involvement in the actions that led to this case, began around midday of February 26, 2011, when he heard what is known as a 415 call over his radio. The 415 means that there is a some kind of fight going on and deputies need assistance. The call was made by his supervisor, former sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who is one of the defendants. The call indicated the trouble was occurring in the break room of the visitors center, which is a small, enclosed room used by deputies for rest and sometimes booking, accessible only by department members.

Womack said that, as he headed for the break room, he saw that the deputy who was his main work partner was also headed that direction. “So I followed him,” said Womack.

When he got to the break room, he saw various deputies inside the room and, most importantly, he saw two visitors’ center deputies—Z and Fernando Luviano (who is one of the five defendants)—hitting a “suspect” who was face down on the room’s floor.

“And there was a lot of blood on the floor.”

Assuming his colleagues were trying to subdue an aggressive dangerous man, Womack rushed to their aid and piled on, grabbing one of the suspect’s legs. His partner rushed in too. But when Womack actually reached the threesome he saw that the man—whom he later learned was Gabriel Carrillo—was actually handcuffed. He was “kicking,” Womack said, but given his facedown position, it was more of a squirming to dodge blows combined with a swimming “flutter” kick.

“He was no threat to anyone.”

“Typically, when a suspect is in handcuffs,” said Womack, “that means the use of force is concluded.”

Plus, as Womack noted in response to questioning by government prosecutor, Brandon Fox, Carrillo was a small man—around a 150 lbs. at the time—he was face down, and he had approximately 800 lbs worth of sheriff’s deputies on top of him. And that was in addition to the fact he was handcuffed.

In this case, however, use of force went on, according to Womack. Luviano OC sprayed Carrillo several times close-up in the face.

Shortly after the spraying, Womack said he heard Luviano say, “Stop spitting! Stop spitting!”

Although Womack knew that the man on the floor posed no danger, the notion that he was spitting at a colleague, even though he did not actually see any spitting action, caused the big deputy to join with the aggressive actions of the other deputies now surrounding Carrillo. Womack slugged Carrillo five times in the leg.

When asked by prosecutor why he repeatedly hit a man whom he saw was no threat, Womack paused for a moment or two, his expression pained.

“I was angry at the fact that he was spitting at my partner.”

Womack hit Carrillo hard enough that he injured his hand, a fact that was demonstrated to the jury with a projected photo of the former deputy’s red and slight scraped right hand in the area surrounding the knuckles.

According to Womack, he, Luviano and Ayala all sought medical treatment for scraped appendages and the like.


After his health clinic visit to get his scrapes looked at, Womack returned to the visiting center to write up his obligatory Use of Force Supplemental Report. But before he did so, Womack said he first checked with his main work partner to see what he had written in Womack’s absence. He checked with Zunggeemoge’s report as well.

Womack said he was not surprised to find that both reports told a completely different story than the events Womack had actually observed. For instance, in the new and improved version, Carrillo was portrayed as not being handcuffed.

Womack said he dutifully fashioned his own report to match the other two, using his partner’s writing as his main “guideline.”.

Although he didn’t copy “word for word,” Womack said, the made sure that his report contained the same essential points as those of his colleagues: Carrillo wasn’t handcuffed, he kicked “violently” at the deputies, attempted “to push himself off the ground, then rolled on his back and spat at deputy Luviano causing Sgt. Gonzalez to tell Luviano to pepper spray Carrillo… and so on.

So was his account true? prosecutor Brandon Fox asked him.

No it wasn’t, Womack said. But he felt he needed to protect his partners and colleagues.

The former deputy said he also lied on the stand at the preliminary hearing for the criminal case against Carrillo that had resulted from the reports Womack characterized as false. Similarly, he lied he said to the investigators from Internal Affairs, and the department’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB.

“Whatever is put on paper, that’s pretty much what you have to stick with.”

And, yes, he lied to the feds, when they came knocking. And kept lying to them.

“I know what’s right and wrong. I’m not denying that I lied,” he said.

But then in the spring of 2015, Womack said he heard a recording of former deputy Zunggeemoge’s revised account of the events February 26, 2011, and learned that Z had made a deal with the prosecutors.

Womack said that, after hearing the recording, he asked his attorney to approach the U.S. Attorney’s office and tell the feds he wanted to plead, and to try to get the best possible deal.

However, at his meeting with the feds on May 11, 2015, Womack wasn’t really ready to come clean. Instead, he basically stuck to a slightly modified version of the description of events that would continue to back up that of his colleagues. “I was still holding on to the defense of my partners,” he said, with an unhappy glance at those “partners” sitting at the defense table.

The prosecutors were not thrilled and made it clear, according to Womack, that he better fork over the full truth, if he wanted to even have any kind of conversation about deals—and even then, no guarantee..

Eleven days later, on May 22, Womack met again with the prosecutors. This time, he said, he told all.

Before he was protecting his partners, he said. This time he decided to protect himself.

“It wasn’t worth it for me to defend a lie and have it affect everything.”


When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Patrick Smith and his colleagues hammered Womack hard. If Womack lied on official reports, Smith said, and perjured himself at a preliminary hearing, why in the world should anyone believe him now?

I mean, wasn’t it true that, in order save his own skin, he’d done an about face and was just telling the feds what he knew they wanted to hear?

“I lied to protect my partners,” Womack countered, then said it again for good measure. “I lied for my partners. And, yes, I told the truth to help myself.”

As the cross examination continued, Womack’s composure, which had been solid in the beginning, began to slip.

I’m not denying that I lied. I’m not denying that,” he said. “But I got to the point when I couldn’t continue with the lie.”

As Smith continued to slam his veracity and his motives, Womack struggled for a few seconds to control his now very visible angst. Then, suddenly, he swiveled to face the jury directly.

“I lied!” he said to them, his voice laced with emotion. “I lied!”

The jury members stared back at him, quietly goggle-eyed.

Womack seemed prepared to go further with his jury-directed monologue. However, Judge King quickly pointed a parental finger, and barked at Womack to stop.

Womack stopped.

To be continued…

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

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