Friday, December 9, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

LASD


Watts Riots 50th Anniversary News Roundup….Are Crime Rates Really Rising?….and Coroner’s Inquests

August 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOURNALISTS, AUTHORS, ACTIVISTS, AND RESIDENTS REMEMBER THE WATTS RIOTS

As America marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots this week, here are some stories we didn’t want you to miss:

Veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who covered the aftermath of the Watts riots 50 years ago for NBC, says positive changes have taken place in the neighborhood, including community policing efforts, but Watts is still very much “separate and unequal.”

The LA Times has a ton of worthwhile coverage (more than twenty stories, so far) of the anniversary, including an interview with one of the few black cops in LAPD before and during the riots, quotes dug up from the LA Times’ 1965 archives, the story of Noah Purifoy’s art made from the charred wreckage of Watts, what the ’65 LA Times editorial board had to say about the six days of rioting that left 34 people dead.

Fifty years later, the 2015 editorial board takes a look at what lessons LA has (and hasn’t) learned since then. (Read more of what today’s editorial board has to say about Watts—here and here.)

The Times also compiled a list of essential literature born of the Watts riots, featuring: “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts” by Thomas Pynchon, “The New Centurions” by 1960′s LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, and one of our favorites at WLA, the mystery, “Little Scarlet,” by Walter Mosley.

Mosley, who was twelve years old in 1965, shares his memories of the riots in an NPR interview. Here’s a clip:

MONTAGNE: Walter Mosley went on to create the classic character Detective Easy Rawlins in a series of noir novels set in Watts. In 1965, Mosley was 12 years old and a member of an acting troupe that performed plays about civil rights, which is how he found himself in the middle of what some called an uprising.

MOSLEY: The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara, now called Martin Luther King, to do our play. But nobody came because, you know, people were rioting. So either they were rioting or they were in their houses hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out. And driving out, we drove through the riots.

MONTAGNE: Do you remember what you saw? I mean, were you scared?

MOSLEY: I was scared, you know, because, number one, it was an interracial group, so, you know, there were a couple of white people in the car. And they were, like, on the floor. And – you know, and then you would see things – you know, people jumping out of windows, you know, like – you know, they were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in a car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through.

You could feel the rage. You know, you could feel that civilization, at that moment, was in tatters. And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room, which he never did, drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, Dad, what’s wrong?

Go listen to the rest.

Another LA author and activist, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, talks about what he saw and experienced as an 18-year-old during the riots and what has changed since 1965.

And until the 17th (the end of the riots), you can experience a unconventional live-tweet reenactment of the deadly week-long upheaval by @WattsRiots50.


BRENNAN CENTER: THE U.S. IS STILL SEEING A DOWNWARD CRIME TREND, DESPITE RECENT, WIDELY REPORTED UPTICKS IN CRIME RATES

In the midst of much media attention on crime spikes in states across the US, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman says the recent crime rate upswings are still part of a longterm downward trend.

LA, NYC, Chicago, DC, and other big cities have recorded higher crime stats over the past few months. And there are many different theories as to what’s behind the changes.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell blamed the higher crime rate on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Friedman says that instead of focusing on short-term fluctuations, it’s important to take a step back, and look at the prevailing trend over a period of years, rather than months.

Even a cursory study of murder totals over the past two decades shows a clear downward trend in the number of murders committed in America’s three largest cities. A “trend” indicates the general direction something moves towards. The red lines in the graphs show that the long-term trend is toward fewer homicides in all three cities.

This same trend appears in most major cities across the country.

This does not mean that crime is always decreasing in these cities; in fact you can see areas of all three graphs where crime levels rapidly increase (and rapidly decrease) over short periods of time. These fluctuations are a combination of normal seasonal cycles and random events known technically as ‘noise’. Noise denotes the transient increases and decreases attributable to happen-stance or short-run shocks, but unrelated to the long-run pattern of decreasing murder levels.

Compare New York’s annual murder totals and Chicago’s monthly totals. Both exhibit the same long-term trend: a decreasing number of murders. Also note, however, that the longer time interval used to describe New York’s homicide totals generates a smoother graph that closely tracks the trend line and is almost uniformly decreasing — making it very easy to identify that city’s crime decline. On the other hand, Chicago’s graph exhibits wild fluctuations from season to season (this is known as seasonality). Monthly totals are a great way to display homicide data if you want to understand how solstice patterns impact murder rates, but it also amplifies the cyclical and noise components of Chicago’s homicide totals — making it harder to distinguish the underlying trend.

Friedman compares the crime statistics to LeBron James’ inconsistent free-throw success rate from game-to-game between January and March of this year.

…in 14 games over three months, James’ free-throw percentage increased or decreased by more than 20 percent relative to his previous outing. In multiple instances his shooting acuity fell by half from game to game. In another, it more than doubled. To assume those spikes tell us anything about James’ basketball skills would be foolish — they are just noise.

Similarly, from day to day, month to month, or year to year, crime may rise or fall due to seasonality and noise. Only by observing these changes over a sufficient period of time can we see a trend emerge. The difficulty is figuring out how many observations are necessary to cut through the noise and show us the true trend.


CONSIDERING CORONER’S PUBLIC INQUESTS AS AN ALTERNATIVE TO GRAND JURIES

Legal experts and public officials are discussing the viability of the coroner’s inquest model as an alternative to the closed-door grand jury system, as a way to promote transparency and ease tension between communities and the police after a questionable death.

Coroner’s inquests are public inquiries to determine details of a death: how and why a person was killed.

During an inquest, witnesses give testimony, but suspects don’t defend themselves, unless the coroner’s jury verdict leads local prosecutors to indict those involved.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer-involved shooting.

The killing of 34 people during the Watts riots 50 years ago resulted in a burst of coroner’s inquests, but Los Angeles hasn’t seen an inquest in over three decades. The last coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles was held in 1981. Current LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo said he considered initiating an inquest into the death of Ezell Ford, a unarmed mentally ill man shot by LAPD officers last year, but chose not to without carefully reviewing the process.

The LA Times’ Doug Smith has more on the issue, as well as the history of the inquest in LA. Here are some clips:

At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.

Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it “troubling” that the office had no review procedures.

“I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect,” Fajardo said.

He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn’t fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.

Some municipalities, like Clark County, NV, have successfully implemented updated versions of the inquest model.

Clark County, Nev., dropped its automatic coroner’s inquest process in 2010 after the police union successfully challenged it in court.

In its place, county commissioners set up a system that achieves some transparency at the expense of immediacy.

After every killing by police, if the district attorney finds no cause to prosecute — which has almost always been the case — the county manager convenes a hearing to examine the evidence in public. The prosecutor calls witnesses, primarily the officers who investigated the slaying. A hearing officer and ombudsman, both appointed by the county manager, can call and question witnesses in a cross-examination format, but not under oath. The officers involved in the killing do not testify.

Anyone attending the hearing can submit questions to the hearing officer or ombudsman, who is appointed to represent the public and the deceased’s family. The whole proceeding is live-streamed on the county TV station and the videos are posted on the county manager’s website.

No findings are made. “It simply concludes,” said Robert Daskas, the deputy who oversees the district attorney’s response team.

There are critics, among them the Nevada ACLU, who say the new process is toothless. But Daskas credits it for easing the tension surrounding troubling events.

“We all see the protests and the riots,” Daskas said. “I would like to think that one of the reasons we have not had issues like that in Clark County is because we provide a very transparent review of officer-involved shootings.”

MacMahon, the English economist who has studied America’s inquest tradition, finds the Clark County process an admirable compromise. He argues that it is the very toothlessness of such reviews that give them the healing power that he calls “soft adjudication,” a hearing process that is investigatory, rather than adversarial, and non-binding.

“Precisely because their verdicts do not carry binding or coercive consequences…inquests can aim more squarely than other legal proceedings at establishing the truth about a contested event,” MacMahon writes in his article.


The Watts riots news roundup was updated August 14, at 7:30p.m.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, literature, media, race | No Comments »

Former LA Sheriff’s Dept. Captain Tom Carey Takes Plea Deal—Which Means Cooperation, Testimony….(And Maybe a Baca Indictment?) in the Future

August 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


William “Tom” Carey, a former captain of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the former head
of the department’s Internal Criminal Infestations Investigations Bureau*—ICIB—has just entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that was filed in federal court Thursday morning, August 13, 2015.

Both Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka were federally indicted on May 14 of this year on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, having to do with the matter of FBI informant Anthony Brown, whom members of the LASD allegedly hid from his FBI handlers, while also attempting to—allegedly—obstruct a federal investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the county’s large and long- troubled jail system. Carey was also indicted on perjury charges for things he said when testifying the trials of seven other former department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice last year.

The deal is interesting in that, in return for Carey’s plea, the feds will drop the multiple charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, leaving only the single count of perjury. (He could still get five years in prison for even the perjury conviction, but he will likely get far, far less.) The other part of the deal, obviously, is that Carey must cooperate with the feds completely and provide testimony in front of a grand jury or in any relevant trials, if he is asked to do so.

Certainly we can expect to see Carey as a witness at the November trial of Paul Tanaka. But we also think it is quite possible—based on past strategies used by the feds—for Carey to be called in front of a grand jury sometime soon, at which time he would perhaps be asked about the unidicted elephant in the room, so to speak–namely former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

There is already strong speculation from people like Paul Tanaka’s attorney, and others familiar with the LASD obstruction of justice investigation, that Baca is indeed the next target for federal prosecutors.

This presumption would seem to be bolstered, purely on a logical basis, by a quick perusal of parts of the plea deal.

For example, if one reads Attachment A at the end of the document, one finds that one of the falsehoods that Carey admitted to had to do with the following: “At the time of this testimony, and during the relevant time frame, defendant knew the orders of co-defendant Tanaka and others were in part to interfere with the federal investigation.

The italics are ours. In reading that sentence, one wonders what “others” there might be, in addition to Paul Tanaka, in a position to give orders to Tom Carey on this issue?

You’ll find the plea agreement below. Scroll down to Attachment A. We think you’ll find it an intriguing read.

TomCarey-PleaDeal


*UPDATE: Autocorrect produced an unusually bizarre mistake in this story’s first paragraph that none of us caught for more than a week. If you look, you can see the correct word and the word that Autocorrect clearly preferred.

Posted in LASD, U.S. Attorney | 58 Comments »

LA Supes to Vote on Mental Health Diversion, Differing Definitions of Solitary Confinement, Rancho Cielo, and HuffPost & WaPo Ferguson Reporters Facing Charges

August 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES LIKELY TO VOTE ON CREATING AN “OFFICE OF DIVERSION” TO KEEP MENTALLY ILL OUT OF JAIL

Today (Tuesday), the LA County Board of Supervisors is slated to vote on increasing mental health diversion efforts in the county through creating and funding an Office of Diversion.

Last week, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey presented a report full of recommendations on how to redirect LA’s mentally ill from county jails and into far more appropriate community treatment. Several of the most important pieces of DA Lacey’s report include implementation of major mental health crisis training for law enforcement, adding more urgent cares to which officers can bring people in crisis, and launching a specialized housing program.

So far, $30 million has been set aside for diversion efforts, and in a report presented to the board last week, interim CEO Sachi Hamai estimated Lacey’s diversion plan would have a total implementation cost of $83,574,841. The necessary additional funding will come from realignment money, as well as money from SB 678, the Community Corrections Performance Incentives Act.

Today’s motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl would establish a Director of the Office of Diversion position under the Department of Health Services (DHS).

The director would work with five other Diversion staff members (experts in mental health, substance abuse treatment, housing, etc.) to oversee LA County’s efforts to divert the mentally ill, homeless, and those with substance abuse problems from lock-up. The Diversion office will coordinate closely with the Jail Care Transitions Director (whose job it is to ensure inmates have access to reentry services when they’re released).

The motion would also create a committee to push diversion recommendations and to keep cross-agency collaboration running smoothly. The Permanent Steering Committee would be comprised of one official from the Chief Executive Office, the Superior Court, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternative Public Defender’s Office, the District Attorney’s Office, the Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the Fire Department, the Department of Mental Health, the Substance Abuse Prevention and the Control division of the Department of Public Health, and DHS.

“We need the Office of Diversion Services to serve as a pipeline, bringing people from one resource to the next in an effective way so they do not commit more crimes once they are released,” said Supe. Ridley-Thomas. “In fact, we need to design a game plan so that they don’t enter the system in the first place.”

The SoCal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, said that if the motion passed, “it would be a major step forward in the diversion effort.”


DIFFERENT DEFINITIONS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT POSE PROBLEMS

During a Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing that focused on conditions in federal prisons, including solitary confinement practices, criminal justice advocates and prison officials had a strange disagreement about whether the US Bureau of Prisons even uses solitary confinement.

Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, told US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) that isolation isn’t actually happening in federal facilities because in the overstuffed prisons, inmates are sharing cells in solitary confinement, and are only housed solo if they are determined to be a threat to others or if a health professional deems it necessary.

But according to the Department of Justice’s own definition of solitary confinement, if inmates are kept in their cells for 22 or more hours per day, in limited contact with other people, it doesn’t matter whether or not inmates are in their own cells or housed with others.

The ACLU’s Amy Fettig, called the confusing exchange “simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

The National Journal’s Emma Roller has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We do not practice solitary confinement,” Samuels told Booker at the hearing. “Our practice has always been to ensure that when individuals are placed in restrictive housing, we place them in a cell with another individual, to also include that our staff make periodic rounds to check on the individuals.”

“I’m sorry, I just really need to be clear on that,” Booker cut in, sounding baffled. “Your testimony to me right now is that the BOP does not practice solitary confinement of individuals singularly in a confined area?”

“You’re correct,” Samuels said. “We only place an individual in a cell alone if we have good evidence to believe that the individual could cause harm to another individual and/or if we have our medical or mental health staff given an evaluation that it would be a benefit to the individual to be placed in a cell alone. We do not under any circumstances, nor have we ever, had a practice of placing individuals in a cell alone.”

Amy Fettig, senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, said Samuels did not testify accurately.

“It’s patently untrue. The Bureau of Prisons does use solitary confinement,” Fettig said. “It is simply a word game to try to cover up a practice that harms people.”

So, what explains the two different stories? According to Fettig, the bureau has reckoned with a growing prison population by double-celling inmates in solitary confinement, then claiming that doesn’t qualify as solitary confinement.

In fact, this interpretation is at odds with the bureau’s parent organization, the Department of Justice. The DOJ defines solitary confinement as “the state of being confined to one’s cell for approximately 22 hours per day or more, alone or with other prisoners, that limits contact with others.”

Read on.


FORMER PROSECUTOR AND JUDGE OPENS RANCH TO HELP KIDS BREAK FROM THE PATH TO JUVENILE DETENTION

In an essay for the Washington Post, Monterey County Supervisor John Phillips tells the story of how he went from landing kids in detention facilities as a Monterey County prosecutor (and then as a superior court judge), to creating a camp to keep kids out of lock-up.

The 100-acre Rancho Cielo Youth Campus in Salinas, provides teens and young adults with opportunities to earn college credits, participate in job training, and other skills-building services.

Judges can recommend teens for placement at Rancho Cielo, but no one is “sentenced” to stay at the camp. Phillips said he wanted the kids to see it as a space to grow and succeed, rather than as a punishment facility.
(now a Monterey County Supervisor)

According to Phillips, around 200 kids have graduated from Rancho Cielo, and that 83% of participants are still employed or in college one year after their time in the program ends. And, all told, Rancho Cielo’s costs are around 10% that of incarceration.

Here’s a clip from Phillips’ story:

I gained firsthand knowledge of the cycle of violence here — first during a long tenure as a Monterey County prosecutor and later as a Superior Court judge. I devoted most of my 21 years on the bench to criminal cases. During my career, I was responsible for sending a lot of young people to prison. That was my job.

By the mid-1990s, California had gotten tough on crime (“Use a gun and go to prison” and the three strikes law), and the legislature was severely restricting judicial discretion. I found myself having to decide whether an 18-year-old kid would be sentenced to either 46 years to life or 52 years to life. Most of the young people who stood before me were men of color who, because of multiple factors, had never had the opportunities that are supposed to be afforded to all our kids in this great nation.

There was also a bit of economic irony. Very few services were provided for young people involved in criminal activity before they got in trouble. But once the trigger was pulled, all sorts of resources were directed to them — police, prosecutors, a defense attorney, the judge, the judicial system, probation officers, and of course, prison incarceration. After a while, I didn’t feel as good as I once did about my job; I didn’t feel as if I was making things better. So I decided to do something about it.

I had learned there was one strategy that actually worked to engage disenfranchised young people: the combination of education, job training and, eventually, employment. These critical three experiences allow youths to reconnect with communities from which they feel alienated and help build the self-esteem and self-confidence that many lack.

I knew of a county-owned, 100-acre, abandoned facility in Salinas called Natividad Boys Camp. The beautiful land and distance from the streets of Salinas made it the perfect location for programs to help struggling kids regain trust in themselves and in our community. I tried to convince our county to restore the facility as a site for youth programs, but was told it would take $20 to $30 million to reopen the doors. It took the help of some friends in the legal community to form a nonprofit and convince the county to lease me the property.

Initially, my board of directors consisted mainly of elected officials. Frankly, we didn’t accomplish much. I was able to raise enough grant money to fund a feasibility study of my idea, but that $26,000 study concluded that the Rancho Cielo project was totally impossible. I decided to change direction and replaced my board of directors with people in the business community — construction industry leaders, in particular, since they were willing to get to work revamping the old building along with the kids.

I had no money, but we moved forward anyway, commencing work on the property in 2003. When I arrived at 7 a.m. on that first Saturday, 75 pickup trucks already covered the hills; 22 dump trucks from various trucking companies lined the road. It was a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back. a beautiful sight to see. We never looked back.


WASHINGTON POST AND HUFFPOST JOURNALISTS WHO COVERED FERGUSON ARE NOW FACING CHARGES IN ST. LOUIS

The Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly, who reported on the 2014 Ferguson protests, are now being charged in St. Louis with trespassing and interfering with a police officer.

According to officers, the journalists did not leave the McDonald’s they were working in quickly enough when they were ordered to pack up and go. Reilly reportedly had his head slammed against glass during the arrest, and Lowery said he was pushed into a soda fountain.

In a statement, the Washington Post’s executive director, Martin Baron said, “Charging a reporter with trespassing and interfering with a police officer when he was just doing his job is outrageous.”

The Huffington Post, in a statement backing the reporters, said, “At least we know St. Louis County knows how to file charges. If Wesley Lowery and Ryan J. Reilly can be charged like this with the whole country watching, just imagine what happens when nobody is.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, solitary | 13 Comments »

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…”


SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THE SETTLEMENT?

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 PICKS UP THE TOOL

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.”


THE BAD OLD DAYS

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.


IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE MENTALLY ILL

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 | 29 Comments »

WitnessLA on KCRW’s Press Play With Madeleine Brand Talking About the Ins & Outs of the LASD/DOJ Settlement

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday, I was on KCRW’s news talk show, Press Play,
with the always excellent Madeleine Brand. We discussed some of the details of the newly signed agreement between the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Justice regarding treatment of the mentally ill in the LA County Jail system.

You can listen to our conversation here.

(And, yes, I know that I cheerily stated near the end of the interview that Sheriff McDonnell was formerly the Assistant Sheriff of the LAPD under Bill Bratton. Perhaps more coffee would have prevented that bobbling of titles. Perhaps less coffee was the key. Hard to say.)

PS: Later on Wednesday, I was on another KCRW show with afternoon news anchor, Steve Chiotaki. During that show Merlin-the-cat, who was sitting nearby as I talked, suddenly made an unscheduled, but very audible, comment. It was that kind of day.

Posted in LASD, U.S. Attorney | No 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

CA SECRETARY OF STATE MOVES TO END FELONY DISENFRANCHISEMENT OF THOUSANDS OF AB 109′ERS UNDER COUNTY SUPERVISION

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.”


LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY PRESENTS MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION PLAN TO SUPES

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.


CONSULTING FIRM GIVES INTERESTING REPORT ON MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL REPLACEMENT PLAN

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.


A VERY HUMAN LOOK AT THE PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

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 »

LA Supes Hold Discussion on LASD Oversight, Richmond’s Anti-Violence Program, Pell Grants for Prisoners, and Calexico’s Police Chief

July 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS HEAR RECOMMENDATIONS AND HOLD DISCUSSION ON CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors held a discussion on the final recommendations from the working group tasked with figuring out how to structure a civilian oversight panel for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The group spent six months working toward this final report, and held thirteen public meetings and nine town hall meetings across the county to gather community input.

Former CEO of Public Counsel and working group member, Hernan Vera, said that, in studying other counties’ oversight boards, they noted three broad powers: the ability to look into and address systemic and procedural problems within the department, to investigate individual instances of alleged misconduct and excessive use of force allegations, and to build a bridge to the community through transparency, accountability, and dialogue.

The working group voted 4-3 in favor of recommending giving subpoena power to the commission. Vera acknowledged it as the “elephant in the room” jumped right into discussing the issue.

“First, we believe at the end of this process, that this commission wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without that power,” said Vera. “That was made clear to us. So much of the public testimony centered around this issue.”

Vera continued, “The majority who voted for this believed that this commission wouldn’t be able to do its job as effectively without its power…the commission itself wouldn’t be seen as truly independent without this power because everything would have to be negotiated. And the commission, bottom line, would be dependent on the generosity or good will of the sheriff’s department to get the records that it needs.”

There may have to be changes to state law, however, to make subpoena power possible. County Counsel told the board they are still looking into whether it would need to go on next year’s ballot or not.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich expressed concern over officer privacy. “We would have to ensure that anyone who has access to those records is aware of the need to keep them confidential. We’re exploring options to address that issue,” said Antonovich. “We could have confidentiality agreements drafted. And there could be penalties associated with violation of those agreements. Under the law, there’s also the Peace Officer Bill of Rights…if you violate it and breach confidentiality…there could be consequences, even misdemeanor consequences.”

Also on the working group, was LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, who said Sheriff Jim McDonnell was concerned about the idea of subpoena power, and thought it unnecessary.

The sheriff wants the county to hold off on trying to set up subpoena power, and first work on a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which could take as little as a couple of weeks to establish. Then, if that agreement does not live up to the level of access desired by the commission and board, subpoena power could go on the 2016 ballot.

In answer to this, Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas said that the issue must be looked at structurally and systematically, and that, respectfully, his “days of of deferring to a sheriff, elected or not…are over.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who is also part of the working group, says he has been trying to get an MOA in place for the Office of Inspector General for the last year and a half, and because the working group did not yet have an MOA from the Sheriff for the commission, the group had to consider subpoena power. “In order to accomplish the goals of this board, I think what’s important is complete access,” said Huntsman. “At the time we took that vote, there was no MOA on the table. We still do not have an MOA in place. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and haven’t been able to get an MOA. …In the working group, we had no option but to pursue something else that would allow us to implement that goal.”

Huntsman continued, “Subpoena power by itself does not get us access to the kind of detailed internal information that I think is absolutely critical in order to accomplish the goals of this board.”

Vera said that having subpoena power would be important for the commission to have as backup. “What we heard from cities like San Diego…is that the mere fact of having subpoena power facilitates broader access and a more effective commission,” said Vera. The subpoena power will not be needed 99% of the time, according to Vera, as the the commission will go through the MOA. “But the fact that it exists just creates more of an incentive to comply…the jurisdictions that haven’t had that, have had to work out a way of negotiating for records. And when the sheriff’s department says no, the conversation ends there.”

Among other important topics of discussion were whether undocumented immigrants could serve on the commission, as well as whether retired sworn personnel could serve as commission members, or whether that would create a conflict of interest.

No consensus was definitively reached by the board on any one topic, and no date was set to vote on the commission, but the hearing was an important step toward establishing oversight.

“It is not as if we are engaged in any revolutionary act here with respect to the establishment of an oversight commission….we are rather late to the party,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Oversight commissions exist all over the length and breadth of this country, and it’s about time that Los Angeles County got with the program.”


NEW REPORT SAYS RICHMOND, CA, HAS MADE A HUGE TURNAROUND ON GUN VIOLENCE AND RECIDIVISM RATES THROUGH THEIR FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PROGRAM

The city of Richmond, CA, is seeing incredible success with their unique anti-violence program, according to a new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Just under a decade ago, the city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. In 2007, there were 47 gun-related homicides in the city of 106,000 people. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25-years-old to take part in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for nine of those months, along with mentoring, education, and other services.

In 2013, 6 years after the launch of ONS, there were 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—the lowest number Richmond had seen in 33 years. And the homicide rate continues to drop.

And those participants, most likely to shoot or be shot, are, for the most part, staying alive and out of trouble: 94% of the 68 men to complete the program are still alive, and 79% have not been arrested or charged with a firearm-related crime since.

(WLA has previously written about Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has vastly improved officer morale and the police-community relationship.)

Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The conclusion was positive: “While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond.”

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

“While replication of the Fellowship itself may be more arduous because of the dynamic leadership associated with the current model, the framework of the Fellowship could be used to improve outcomes for communities across the country,” the study’s authors wrote. “The steps taken to craft programming developed with clients in mind, and being responsive to their needs and the needs of the community, can serve as a model.”


OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO TRY OUT GIVING FEDERAL PELL GRANTS TO PRISONERS

On Friday the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch are slated to reveal A 3-5 year plan to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners across the nation, reversing a 1993 ban on giving such grants to inmates.

Through the grants, prisoners will receive up to $5,775 per year to spend on tuition, books, and other education expenses.

The hope is that, by opening up access to education for prisoners, recidivism rates will drop, saving states and the federal government piles of money in the long run.

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo have the story. Here’s a clip:

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Between the mid-1990s and 2013, the U.S. prison population doubled to about 1.6 million inmates, many of them repeat offenders, Justice Department figures show. Members of both parties—including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have called for a broad examination of criminal justice, such as rewriting sentencing guidelines.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.


MEET CHIEF MICHAEL BOSTIC, HEAD OF THE TROUBLED CALEXICO, CA POLICE DEPARTMENT

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has a long read profile on Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic, a former LAPD Assistant Chief, who took the helm of an agency that was the subject of an FBI investigation, and was drowning in officer misconduct scandals. Chief Bostic has been very vocal about problems plaguing the department he says he has come to fix.

In April, Chief Bostic asked the DOJ to step in and help him clean up the border city’s police department. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said it would provide extensive training and would help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

Bostic does have critics, however, including some who question the hefty paycheck he receives for leading a rather small department.

Here’s a clip from Rubin’s story:

Since arriving in Calexico, Bostic has unabashedly presented himself as a savior, promising residents he will rid their Police Department of “the cancer living within it” — a refrain during his first months on the job.

“These people are so desperate for help,” he said. “The LAPD has given me a unique set of skills and training that you can’t get many places…. I know exactly what to do to fix this place.”

Bostic hasn’t shied away from such grand statements, touting the major role he played in reforming the LAPD. Although he did have a hand in trying to push through changes that followed some of the LAPD’s worst episodes, the reality of his time there is more modest.

In the wake of the videotaped beating by officers of Rodney King, then-Chief Daryl Gates assigned Bostic to review the department’s use-of-force and training procedures. In his role, Bostic was critical of some problems he identified but wasn’t in a position to make significant changes himself.

Bostic testified as the government’s use-of-force expert during the state trial against the officers. Defense attorneys picked him apart on cross-examination, however, forcing him to admit he had formed his opinion of the beating after only a few viewings of the tape. After acquitting the officers, jurors said that they did not find Bostic credible.

He climbed the ranks to become an assistant chief, at times running the department when the chief was away. But after Bostic clashed with William Bratton, who was hired as chief in 2002, Bratton demoted him and exiled him from his inner circle.

Soon after he took over in Calexico, Bostic said he contacted the FBI, relaying concerns he had about some of his officers. Then, on a morning in late October, dozens of agents descended on the police station, seizing computer hard drives and documents.

FBI officials acknowledged the ongoing investigation but declined to comment on its scope or focus. Bostic, for his part, has refused to elaborate on the probe. But it seems to have struck a sensitive chord with him. Twice after the raid, Bostic choked back tears when answering reporters’ questions about the investigation.

“There could be nothing more embarrassing than to have your department under that kind of scrutiny…. It was literally the most disappointing day in all my years of policing,” he said at one news conference after composing himself.

The problems, Bostic said, stemmed from half a dozen or so officers, who also held sway in the police officers union. Bostic said they effectively ran the department, threatening other officers with misconduct investigations if they got out of line and running the department’s $450,000 annual budget for overtime to nearly $1.5 million.

“They believed they were untouchable. They still believe it, even since I’ve arrived. They’ve been protected for so long.”

Posted in Education, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, prison, Violence Prevention | 16 Comments »

Pulling Back the Blue Curtain: What Does the Public Really Have the Right to Know About Police Records?

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

In LA and around the country, law enforcement agencies are purchasing and deploying police body cameras as a means of increasing accountability to the public. But the use of all these new cameras means the potential accumulation of miles and miles of video footage. The question of who has the right to see all this video (and when, and under what circumstances) is already the subject of debate between police, civil rights advocates, and the public.

Last week, at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze moderated what turned out to be a very informative and often contentious discussion on the complex issues relating to law enforcement transparency, and what the public legally has the right to know.

Panelists included Peter Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, Jack Leonard, the LA Times’ police and courts editor, attorney Mildred K. “Missy” O’Linn, Jeff Steck, head of ALADS, the LA deputies’ union, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, and LA Times attorney Rochelle L. Wilcox.

One of the first and most polemic-producing topics that emerged was the June 2, 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, by Gardena police officers, and a push from the Times (along with the Associated Press and Bloomberg) for the release of dash cam footage of the incident.

The city of Gardena settled the resulting civil lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but fought to keep videos of the shooting under wraps, citing privacy concerns. Earlier this month, two years into Gardena’s fight to keep the videos hidden, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city to release footage from two radio car dash cams.

Panelist Missy O’Linn, who was Gardena’s attorney during the legal battle, had a great deal to say on the matter of police rights.

O’Linn argued that the videos should not have been released because they were part of a protective order. “The problem here is the process,” she said. “Technology is way ahead of the law…we need rules. We need guidelines…. as to what is to be made public.” And then a few beats later: “It appears that the first amendment has usurped state law.”

This last remark triggered a rash of noisy murmurs from the audience, which was filled with lawyers, journalists, and advocates, in addition to interested community members.

LA Times attorney Rochelle Wilcox, who successfully fought to get the names of Long Beach officers revealed last year, explained that the public is entitled to access records in federal cases, “unless the party advocating for secrecy [in this case, the city of Gardena] meets a burden of showing compelling reasons why the records should be sealed.” (The same is not true when it comes to state cases.)

O’Linn was not cowed. She argued that releasing video only presents one perspective of an incident to the public, and can create a pubic safety issue. “The public’s reaction, without information—which is controlled by mass media—has the potential to set your cities on fire, destroy your businesses…If it was no justice, no peace, marching in solidarity, and peaceful protest, that’s one thing. But call Baltimore, call Ferguson, where the business owners’ lives have been destroyed because they didn’t have a peaceful protest. And quite frankly, that is a public safety issue.”

When Stoltze asked O’Linn if it was fear of public unrest that was the most compelling reason given as to why the Gardena videos should not have been released, O’Linn was quick to answer. “Absolutely…Darren Wilson, an officer in Ferguson, Mo, will never work again as a police officer. Someone tried to beat him to death, and he will never work again. My officers do not deserve to be hung, judged in the media, without full information.”

So would she argue for a release of the entire record, including the video? Frank asked. “If you want full information out there, would that not be the logical next step?”

“The public does not go looking for that information,” said O’Linn. “The media directs the conversation.”


SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it would not be too burdensome to release some videos, on a case-by-case, as-needed basis. “When it comes to police investigative records, they are 100 percent exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. But the police have the discretion, if they wish, to release them,” said Scheer. “So why not, in some of these cases, release these videos at the discretion of the department, where the public’s need to know is compelling?“

Jeff Steck, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), jumped in to say that videos often do not tell the whole story about an officer-involved shooting or other use-of-force incident. “I’ve just begun to understand what I see, and I’m an expert in the field,” said Steck.

Steck did agree with Scheer’s contention that the videos should be released to the public on a case-by-case basis, but said he was worried about the protection of victims. “I saw an officer get murdered on camera. If that happens to me, I don’t want my death on TV.”

Steck also expressed concern about the effect that indiscriminate video release would have on the privacy and the safety of officers and their families in general. “There are people who want to do us harm. We lost two deputies who were killed at their homes. We are concerned for our safety. When we’re on duty, we’re aware of the risk, but we don’t to take this home to our families.”

And if all videos were to be released, O’Linn broke in to say, it would be a huge burden to taxpayers, “…because your cities and counties that want to implement body worn camera programs are going to need to hire a team of editors to blur out faces and remove private information.”


TRANSPARENCY VERSUS STATE LAW

LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department is working on new website that will share crucial data with the public regarding use-of-force incidents, without naming individual officers involved. The site will include information and statistics on officer-involved shootings, as well as data on complaints from the public and officer discipline.

Tyler emphasized that Sheriff McDonnell understands that giving the public access to department records will build trust. “We’re moving towards transparency. More access. Real access. It’s a good faith effort to properly balance public safety against all the factors of democracy.”

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard challenged law enforcement’s frequent unwillingness to release officers’ names. “We give police officers a lot of power,” he said. “We invest in them the responsibility and ability to investigate serious crimes, and also we give them the legal right to use deadly and other types of force. Yet, when individual officers are found to have misused that right, we don’t get to find out who the officers are.”

The public has way of knowing how departments deal with personnel issues like sexual misconduct, or officers who have been disciplined for lying, Leonard continued. “We have no idea how departments actually deal with that because it is all secret,” he said, explaining that part of the problem is with state law, not so much individual department policy.

Leonard was referring to the Public Safety Officer Procedural Bill of Rights, sometimes called the Peace Officers Bill of Rights (POBR) which, among other things, prevents public release of officer discipline issues.

On the other side of the legal tug-of-war, the California Public Records Act, in the name of government transparency and accountability, establishes the public’s right to view public records. But it has certain exceptions to the rule. Law enforcement personnel files fall under the “exemptions” category.

During the comments portion of the discussion, the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, who was in the audience, pointed out, that California has less access to police officer records than, say, Texas and Florida, where there is “open access once there’s a finding of misconduct by the department.” Many other states have automatic open access to peace officer records, even misconduct allegations, said Bibring.

Wilcox, the Times’ attorney, added more on the topic. “The police are public employees who have a very unique kind of protection,” she said. “They perform one of the most important roles in society, and yet the transparency that the government has agreed is good, doesn’t apply to them. So while we can get public misconduct information about teachers, we can’t get any information about the people who have the ability to do harm.”

O’Linn said she and her colleagues “encourage our departments not to take what we call a ‘bunker mentality,‘ to hunker down and refuse to ask questions. And they are listening.”

“When my police chiefs terminate someone, they can’t even turn to the rest of the department and explain why,” said O’Linn. “We do encourage departments to be more forthcoming, but they also have to act within the law.”

In the end, much of the issue was about public trust, said moderator Frank Stoltze as the evening drew to a close. “I think the challenging thing is if there’s been misconduct, the public wants to know what’s happening to law enforcement officers who are engaging in bad behavior,” said Stoltze. “I think the question is confidence in law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department may be taking care of bad cops and firing them, but we don’t know that.”

Posted in Freedom of Information, Jim McDonnell, journalism, LASD, law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Fresno’s Public Defender Problem…John Oliver on Mandatory Minimum Sentences…and Supes Consider LASD Oversight

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

ACLU LAWSUIT AGAINST FRESNO SAYS POOR DEFENDANTS GO WITHOUT ADEQUATE LEGAL REPRESENTATION FROM PUBLIC DEFENDERS

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno in Northern California over the state of the city’s indigent defense system, which is so underfunded, 60 public defenders take on 400,000 cases per year between them. That’s more than four times the maximum caseload recommendation from the American Bar Association and National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. But this is not a problem unique to Fresno, it’s happening all over the nation, and like many other areas of the criminal justice system in need of reform, it disproportionately affects people of color.

Mother Jones’ Gabrielle Canon has more on the issue. Canon opens with the story of Peter Yepez, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit:

After being charged with burglary in 2013, Peter Yepez waited in the Fresno County, California, jail for a month before his assigned public defender came to talk to him. This delay was a sign of what was to come: Between arraignment and sentencing Yepez spent more than a year being shuffled between nine different Fresno County public defenders, who he says told him they did not have time to work his case

By then he’d missed his daughter’s graduation and his young son’s memorial service, and had fallen into depression.

Though he was originally accused of a domestic burglary, during those many months prosecutors added additional charges to his case, alleging that a victim had been present during burglary even though a police report filed at the time of the crime had claimed no one was there. The new allegations would bump his original charge to a violent felony. Still, Yepez’s public defender advised to him to accept all the charges and the punishment that would come—and so he did. Now Yepez’s record reflects a felony conviction.

Read on.


JOHN OLIVER BLASTS MANDITORY MINIMUMS, CALLING FOR REFORM AND RETROACTIVITY

Once again, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight is staying on top of important criminal justice issues. We didn’t want you to miss his latest segment about President Obama’s recent commutations and mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. (Oliver is not a fan.) Watch it above.


LA COUNTY SUPES TO CONSIDER LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

Today, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a report from the working group convened to advise the board on what the composition and reach of civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department ought look like. (Backstory here.)

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, Sentencing | No Comments »

Former LASD Deputy Accuses Feds of Editing Testimony to Get Conviction

July 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



DID EDITED TESTIMONY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The formal written brief asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was filed last Friday, and WitnessLA has obtained a copy. In it, Sexton’s defense attorneys, led by former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’brien, accuse federal prosecutors of taking crucial grand jury testimony given months earlier by Mr. Sexton and presenting it to Sexton’s trial jury in an highly edited form that fundamentally changed its meaning—rendering it misleading and false.

If you’ll remember, last September, James Sexton was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

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

It was the second time that Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of 2014, resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury that split six-six.

Sexton was the seventh former LASD department member to be convicted of obstruction with regard to the Brown case. The other six—two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies—were convicted in July 2014 and all seven were given prison sentences that ranged in length from 18 months to 41 months.

Sexton and the other six appealed their convictions to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th agreed to hear both cases.


SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

The appeals of all seven former department members convicted of obstruction are, in certain ways, similar. For instance, in the 77-page brief filed Friday, Sexton’s attorneys argue that the case was the “..unfortunate product of a turf war taken to the extreme.” The appeal then goes on to describe “two law enforcement agencies”—namely the LASD and the FBI—that “..both thought they were more important than the other.”

This “jousting” by decision makers “resulted in lower level officers facing federal convictions for obstructing justice when they thought they were serving justice,” states the brief. The filing also makes clear that Sexton and the rest did what they were ordered to do by their bosses.

“This is not criminal activity,” write Sexton’s attorneys to the appellate court. “This is not obstruction of justice. It is a tragedy that this Court should correct.”

In an appellate brief weighing in at an impressive 161 pages, that was also filed on Friday, the attorneys for the other six, made a similar argument, albeit in even greater detail, that those convicted had followed what they believed to be lawful orders that came from the very top of the organization, along with expanded versions of the orders handed down by supervisors in between.

Yet, there are also certain critical differences between Sexton’s appeal, and the appeal for the other six.


JUROR NO. 5

In one of the latter’s brief’s most interesting sections, the attorneys for the six dispute Judge Percy Anderson’s dismissal of one particular juror late in the deliberation process, who wanted out because she was feeling “threatened.” The juror, wrote attorneys for the six, “revealed” at least a “reasonable possibility that her difficulties stemmed from disagreements with another juror (or jurors) about the merits of the case. The strong implication was that the dismissed juror, had she stayed on, was reasonably likely to have voted to acquit, which would have meant a hung jury.


IS IT LEGAL TO EDIT?

In Sexton’s appellate brief what is perhaps the most intriguing section pertains to the trimming of his testimony, which Judge Anderson permitted over the strenuous objections by his defense attorneys. At trial, the core of the government’s case was Sexton’s grand jury testimony, which the prosecutors characterized as a confession.

In Sexton’s first trial, which ended up with a hung jury, the government’s central piece of evidence was also Sexton’s grand jury testimony, a long segment of which was reenacted for the jury. Yet for the second trial, the feds took the same segment read to the jury in the first trial, and edited some of its content in such a way that, according Sexton’s attorneys, changed the meaning substantially from what the jury heard in the first trial:

Not coincidentally, the Government opted to edit out essentially all of the testimony relied upon by Mr. Sexton in his closing argument during the first trial. During the first trial, Mr. Sexton relied on portions of his Grand Jury testimony to establish and to argue that he did not have the requisite knowledge of the pending investigation in order to obstruct it.

The brief argues that snips made by the feds removed important context, and what was left suggested that Sexton had knowledge and intentions that the full transcript would have made clear he did not possess.

The removal of these excerpts rendered the testimony misleading…[to the jury] and it was not harmless. This Court need look no further than the facts that, in the first trial—with full evidence—the jury hung… and in the second trial the Government specifically targeted those portions of the testimony Mr. Sexton relied on his closing to know this error was not harmless and that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding this evidence.

In other words, according to the appeal, reading the unedited version of the grand jury testimony produced one meaning, and one jury outcome. Whereas reading the line edited version produced a very different—and false—meaning for the jury, and that Sexton’s conviction was the result.


TO TARGET OR NOT TO TARGET

There are a number of other interesting points in Sexton’s appeal: It maintains, for instance, that Sexton was given the clear impression that he was viewed as a cooperating witness, not as a suspect, in his interactions with the FBI and with federal prosecutors. He had after all met with the FBI several dozen times, and had brought them documents. Then when he went to testify in front of the grand jury, according to the appeal, the feds assured Sexton that he was not a target of their investigation, when it turned out that he was. This bait and switch, the attorneys wrote, was against the feds’ own policy.

The USAM [US Attorney's Manual] instructs the USAO [US Attorney's Office] that targets of the investigation should not be subpoenaed without special consideration. Here, Mr. Sexton was specifically advised he was not a target, participated in countless interviews, and offered fulsome grand jury testimony all based on the Government’s repeated statements that he was not a target, only to find out that he was a target and his Grand Jury testimony was to form the core of the evidence against him. The Government’s failure to follow its own written policies which were enacted to prevent “unfairness,” must not be allowed to go unchecked. If the Government is allowed to subpoena targets before the Grand Jury without warning, in violation of DOJ policies, the potential for abuse is endless.

In the next 60 days the government will send the 9th Circuit its formal replies. And then likely late this year or early next year, the 9th will actually hear the two appeals and render a decision.

So stay tuned.


UPDATE: Here are the two briefs for your reading pleasure.

Sexton Opening Brief_9th Circuit Appeal

Thompson, Et Al, 9th Circuit Appeals Brief 7-24-2015

Posted in FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 54 Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »