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LA Supe Molina Asks for LASD Internal Investigation Files…Breaking Out of Men’s Central Jail Cells…One Problem with “My Brother’s Keeper”…and More

March 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISOR MOLINA REQUESTS LASD FILES ON USE OF FORCE INSTANCES

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina is calling on County Counsel to give the board access to LASD internal investigation files regarding use of force and officer-involved shootings.

Molina says, without access, the board cannot provide thorough oversight, or know whether it is valid to settle with claimants in use of force cases against the LASD. Molina introduced a motion that would request immediate access to LASD reports on a 2013 shooting involving an officer who had been involved in six other shootings. Board members will likely vote on it at next week’s meeting.

Here’s a clip from Supe. Molina’s website:

“Our county lawyers don’t seem to understand whom they’re representing here,” Molina said. “It appears we have Sheriff’s Deputies involved in violating policy over and over again, often the same ones. Management allows this to happen. And yet when I ask for a copy of basic investigations into these cases, County Counsel has denied me access time and again. I have explained myself continuously as to my duty and responsibility. I have outlined that I am asking for nothing but our own materials.”

Under Government Code Section 25303, the Board of Supervisors is required to oversee the conduct of all county officers to ensure that they “faithfully perform their duties.” Moreover, in Dibb v County of San Diego (1994), the California Supreme Court ruled that a county Board of Supervisors has the legal obligation to monitor the conduct of Sheriff’s employees as long as it does not interfere with the investigation and prosecution of criminal conduct.

“I have reminded our legal counsel that this is not the District Attorney’s investigation and the District Attorney is not their client – we are,” Molina continued. “I’m willing to view this report with a bank of lawyers surrounding me and yet I’m still continually denied access to it. The Sheriff’s Department has investigated the incident and claimed to have taken appropriate corrective action. But we don’t know if that is true. I am told that the Board of Supervisors must pay for these claims, that we have no choice. Yet our lawyers constantly refuse to fight for our access to the reports that would help us get to the root causes of our problems. I have no interest in interfering with D.A. investigations – only ensuring the fundamental integrity of the investigations. But I have significant questions about officer-involved shootings and whether or not our use-of-force policies are being followed not just in our county jail system but in the field, where residents live and work. In the absence of a fully operational Office of Inspector General or a legally constituted Civilian Oversight Committee with subpoena power, it falls to the Board of Supervisors to directly exercise its duty and authority on behalf of the public.”


EASY CELL BREAKOUTS AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

ABC7 spoke with inmates and jail officials, including CJ captain Dan Dyer, who said it’s not all that hard to escape from a cell, even a high security one, in the outdated Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail.

Dyer says inmates usually break out of their cells and handcuffs to attack other inmates (less often deputies and custody assistants).

Here’s a clip from the ABC7 report:

“For my staff, every time they walk one of these rows, they’re in danger,” said Men’s Central Jail Captain Dan Dyer.

One inmate, whom we agreed not to identify, is housed in a high-security area known as “2904.” He told Eyewitness News he’s accused of murder and selling drugs and guns. The inmate was locked up behind a cell door constructed from heavy steel mesh and iron bars. Despite the tight security, the inmate told us he could break out of his cell at any time.

“Yeah, like most doors when you unlock them, some doors are racked and if you know how to do it right, you can push your gate in and it will open right up, you know? And whether you catch an active or non-active gang member, your enemies, you could attack them while they’re walking to the showers and handcuffed with deputies,” said the inmate.

Escapes from the jail facility itself are rare, but inmates breaking out of their cells is another matter.

“There’s probably not a housing location in my building that they can’t get out of,” said Capt. Dyer. “We’ve watched them. We’ve had them show us how they do it. Simply the design of some of these cells makes it very easy. These guys that have been in and out of here over the years. It’s an art to it and they know how to do it.”

The inmate in 2904 says he learned how to break out of his cell from his “homies” and years of cycling into and out of the criminal justice system.

“When you’re facing life already, you have nothing to lose,” he said.

Dyer said a small number of inmates may want to attack a deputy or custody assistant, but most are looking to assault a fellow inmate.

“What’s commonly called a ‘green-lighter,’” said Dyer. “Somebody who’s a drop-out from a gang on the street or somebody who has committed an act inside the jails in violation of gang codes. Those are the individuals they’re after.”


“MY BROTHER’S KEEPER” …WHAT ABOUT YOUNG GIRLS AND WOMEN OF COLOR?

Last week, President Barack Obama launched an important initiative to help boys and young men of color break free of the school-to-prison-pipeline and build successful lives.

The Nation’s Dani McClain says—that’s great, but minority girls need just as much help. Here are some clips:

If streets corners, classrooms, workplaces and court systems are inhospitable to and dangerous for black and Latino boys and men, how do they affect the girls and women who are often right by their sides? After all, boys and men don’t exist in a vacuum.

In fact, black and Latina girls and women also struggle to succeed in school, avoid the criminal justice system, and find and keep good jobs. Nearly 40% of black and Latina girls fail to graduate high school on time. Black girls experience sexual violence at rates higher than their white and Latina counterparts, and intimate-partner homicide is the leading cause of death among black women between the ages of 15 and 35. This is perhaps not the kind of violence Obama’s initiative is drawing attention to, but it’s violence just the same.

[SNIP]

In the past thirty years, women have entered US prisons at nearly double the rate of men, with the female population behind bars growing by more than 800 percent, according to the Center for American Progress (CAP). Racial disparities exist for the female prisoner population, too. Black women are three times more likely than white women to be incarcerated and Latina women are nearly 70 percent more likely.

The president’s initiative promises to create economic opportunities for boys and young men, and girls and young women could use a hand in this arena as well. A study of black unemployment found that black teenage boys and girls experienced similar rates of joblessness during 2011—a low of 35 percent for black girls and 39 percent for black boys and a high of 48 percent for both. The same UC Berkeley Labor Center study found that between 2009 and 2011, the unemployment rate declined slightly for black men but joblessness actually increased for black women. Unemployment rates fell for both white men and white women during this time.


LAPD MAKES HAPPY BIRTHDAY / GET WELL VIDEO FOR YOUNG BOY WITH LEUKEMIA

The LAPD put together a very sweet video for Tyler Seddon, a young boy celebrating his seventh birthday while fighting leukemia for a second time. Tyler’s mother set up a Facebook account asking her son’s heroes, first responders, to send him birthday cards.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Obama, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 6 Comments »

WitnessLA on KABC 790 With Peter Tilden at 10 p.m.

March 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

A QUICKIE NOTICE…

I’ll be on Peter Tilden’s show tonight, Tuesday, a on KABC 790. The show starts at 9 pm, but I should be on minute or two after 10 pm. talking about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, former sheriff Lee Baca and more.

So tune in! It should be interesting!

UPDATE: I had fun talking with Peter (who makes being interviewed easy).

Here’s a link to the podcast.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Obama Launches Initiative to Help Minority Boys and Men, This Week at the Supreme Court, ALADS’ Sheriff Candidate Debate, and an Open Letter from Paul Tanaka

February 28th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

HELPING BOYS AND YOUNG MEN OF COLOR BREAKING FREE OF THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE

On Thursday, President Barack Obama officially launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” the initiative to end the school-to-prison pipeline for young men and boys of color nationwide. “My Brother’s Keeper” will connect with non-profits and businesses to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color succeed.

Here’s a clip from President Obama’s speech (the entirety of which you can watch in the video above):

…we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.

That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.

We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future.

And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.

…we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.

And that means then they’re more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.

We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.

We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.

And here’s a clip from the Advancement Project’s announcement and response to the newly launched initiative:

“It is momentous that in the first 60 days of this year, both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have addressed barriers to opportunity that are facing people of color, especially young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis…

“We are pleased that the Obama Administration will focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline caused by overuse of suspensions and arrests, pushing young people off of an academic track and onto a track to prison…

[SNIP]

“We are encouraged to see President Obama use his platform to specifically support boys and young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Constance L. Rice. “From our work in the city of Los Angeles’ gang violence hot zones, we know that community safety is of paramount importance to this demographic, with young Black men 10 times more likely and young Latino men three times more likely to be killed by guns than young White men. We need a comprehensive, public health-based community safety strategy to reverse this trend…


SCOTUS ON WARRANTLESS SEARCHES AND ASSET FORFEITURE

This week, the United States Supreme Court issued two noteworthy criminal justice rulings.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that if a person objects to a warrantless search of his home, but then leaves the residence (in this case, by arrest), officers can still conduct the search with the consent of a different occupant. (Here’s some backstory.)

The LA Times editorial board says this ruling may give officers a reason to arrest someone just to sidestep a refused search. Here are some clips:

The 6-3 decision eviscerated a 2006 ruling in which the court ruled that police must respect “a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search” even if a spouse or roommate gives consent.

Walter Fernandez, a robbery suspect, made it abundantly clear to LAPD officers in 2009 that he didn’t want them to search his apartment, saying: “You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights.”

Or at least he thought he did. Police arrested Fernandez, and an hour later an officer returned and asked Roxanne Rojas, Fernandez’ companion, for permission to search the apartment. The search turned up gang paraphernalia, a knife and a gun, and Fernandez was eventually convicted of robbery and domestic abuse.

[SNIP]

By blessing the warrantless search of Fernandez’s apartment, the majority not only undermined its previous ruling but also sent a message that police can skirt the 4th Amendment and not be punished for it by the courts.

In another 6-3 Tuesday ruling, the Court said that a defendant who has been indicted by a grand jury has no right to contest pre-trial asset forfeiture.

Slate’s Chanakya Sethi has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, thus concluded Justice Elena Kagan that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial. In an odd ideological lineup, the dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.

The Kaleys’ saga began more than nine years ago when Kerri, a medical device salesperson, learned that she was under investigation by federal authorities for stealing devices from hospitals. Kerri admits she took some devices and later sold them with Brian’s help, but she says the devices she took were unwanted, outdated models that the hospitals were glad to be rid of—in effect, that she couldn’t steal something that was given to her…

With charges looming, the Kaleys sought an estimate from their lawyers of how much mounting a defense would cost. The answer: $500,000. (That figure may seem high, but sadly the government agreed it was reasonable.) The Kaleys took out a home equity loan and used the $500,000 to purchase a certificate of deposit, which they planned to spend on lawyers.

Then came the grand jury indictment and with it a nasty surprise: an order freezing essentially all their assets, including the CD that was meant to pay their legal bills. The only assets exempt from the order—Kerri’s retirement account and their children’s college funds—weren’t enough to cover the $500,000 estimate. And if the Kaleys liquidated those funds, they’d have owed $183,500 in tax penalties. The bottom line: They could no longer pay for their lawyer of choice even though, as the government agreed, that’s what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects.


CLOSED-DOOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE

Last week, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) held a members-only debate at the county Hall of Administration between the candidates running for sheriff. The debate had some interesting moments, and focused on the need for department reforms, along with other issues important to deputies.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who has been criticized for helping foster a culture of abuse inside the jails, criticized the department’s inmate education program.

“Deputies should not be teaching inmates how to read while they should be manning security posts, OK?” he said, prompting loud cheers.

In a statement to The Times, Tanaka said he wasn’t opposed to educating inmates “as long as it does not take away from the limited resources which are needed to run the jails and protect the public.”

In interviews afterward, the other candidates took aim at Tanaka, who seemed to be the crowd favorite based on applause. His opponents said Tanaka’s comment showed his shortsightedness about the role education can play in keeping inmates from re-offending after they are released.

“To show that lack of compassion for people who can’t read is exactly why I’m running,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold said.

The candidates acknowledged during the debate, which took place last week, that the recent federal indictments against deputies and reports of poor hiring show that reform is needed. But they also assured the audience that they believed that a great majority of deputies follow policy.

Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the deputies that he took exception with some outside criticisms of the department. Some time after Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell promised to “restore that shine and that luster to the badge,” Rogers said: “Others talk about our badge being tarnished. With all due respect to all of them, my star is just as shiny as it used to be, and so is yours.”


PAUL TANAKA “SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT”

On Thursday, (a day after the new issue of LA Magazine hit newsstands) former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka published an open letter to “set the record straight” about his involvement in a number of LASD scandals.

Here’s how the letter opens:

After dedicating three decades of my life to public safety, I have suffered overwhelming character attacks over the last two years by nameless “sources” who have continuously falsified accounts of my behavior and my leadership for their own self-purpose and notoriety. I have always believed that the focus of law enforcement officials should remain on public safety and the community rather than combating the latest news story, however, I can no longer remain quiet as others continue to paint fiction and call it truth. I would like to Set the Record Straight regarding my character and my record once and for all.

First and foremost, during my 33 years in law enforcement I have never condoned nor encouraged excessive force or deputy misconduct. In fact, in the past I have been highlighted as a strict no-nonsense disciplinarian. It wasn’t until there were talks throughout the Department that I may run for Sheriff that these accusations began. Many of my accusers feared the standard of accountability they would be held to should I become Sheriff. Throughout my career, I have always demanded our Department employees, particularly high-ranking executives, perform the duties and tasks the people of Los Angeles County pay them for, and expect from us, with no exception.

And here are Tanaka’s thoughts on a certain online publication’s stories about a private smoking patio, and his alleged pay-to-play system:

Furthermore, an online publication has written countless stories about a secret patio that was supposedly reserved for a secret circle of department employees that had to possess “challenge coins” in order to gain entrance. In addition, this same publication has also alleged that those who donated to my Mayoral campaign would then be promoted in the Department. First, the process for promotion in the Sheriff¹s Department is an uncompromising and strictly defined process. Promotions are based on a set of qualifications determined by the Department and the County. In addition, promotions to Lieutenant and higher were appointed solely by the Sheriff. No one who has ever donated to my City Council campaign has ever been given special treatment. Period. Second, the employee patio that was mentioned is an open air, out-door patio with poles that support its roof. It is open to all civilian and sworn employees and was commonly used for cigarette breaks, barbecues, meetings, etc. The coins they referred to were created, passed out and sold by Chief Buddy Goldman and retired Captain Joe Gonzales. To my knowledge, they were nothing more than a souvenir item anyone in the department could obtain.

Posted in LASD, Obama, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Supreme Court | 54 Comments »

LASD News Roundup, the Post-Release Life of the Exonerated, Solitary Confinement Debate Gains Steam…And More

February 27th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN LASD CAMPAIGN WEBSITE PRANK

When Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, both candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff, tried to set up campaign websites, they found most of their viable options were already purchased. Not only that, the bought up sites (JimHellmoldforSheriff.com, for instance) redirected to a site for former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s campaign denied any involvement when contacted, and asked the web hosting company to shut down the redirecting sites shortly thereafter.

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has the story. Here’s a clip:

When Jim Hellmold decided to run for sheriff of Los Angeles County last month, he knew that one of the first things his campaign needed was a website. He figured JimHellmoldForSheriff.com would make the most sense.

Except when he typed the address into his browser it took him to an already established site promoting one of his competitors: former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

So he tried another: JimHellmold2014.com.

Again, he was directed to a site boosting Tanaka.

“I was left with ‘Hellmold-the-number-four-sheriff-dot-com,” the assistant sheriff said. “I look rinky-dink.”

Across town, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who decided to run for sheriff around the same time, was having a similar experience. Basic domain names with his name were already taken and leading him to a site for Tanaka…

“Apparently he bought everything he thought I wanted,” McDonnell said. “I was disappointed. I thought, you know what, we’re all cops trying to run for a job and hopefully we respect each other.


AN ASSEMBLY BILL TO CREATE INDEPENDENT OVERSIGHT OF THE LASD

A new California bill, introduced by Steven Bradford (D-Gardena), would create a permanent civilian oversight committee for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

For months, the LA County Board of Supervisors have been discussing the possibility of an oversight commission. On Tuesday, the Supes voted to have IG Max Huntsman, (interim) Sheriff John Scott, and county counsel to look into what kind of oversight would work for the department. (Read about it here, if you’ve missed it.)


THE PLIGHT OF EXONEREES IN THE UNITED STATES

People who are exonerated after spending time in prison rarely receive monetary compensation, and when they do, it takes years to travel through the court system. Exonerees given the assistance that everyone else released from prison receives.

In 2013 alone, 87 people were freed after wrongful incarceration.

Over the weekend, the NY Times’ Alan Feuer had a worthwhile story (we didn’t want you to miss) about the lack of support offered to the unjustly imprisoned upon their release. Jeffrey Deskovic, a fellow exoneree who is working to bridge that gap. Here are some clips:

A sprawling literature exists describing the challenges of re-entering society after serving time in prison, an experience that is marked by depression and disorientation, and is hard enough for those who have been rightfully punished for their crimes. But what about those who are wrongly sent away as the victims of mistaken identity or prosecutorial error? The justly incarcerated are likely to have access to a battery of post-release services like health care, housing aid and social-work assistance, but those who should not have been locked up in the first place are rarely given treatment to address their special needs, and are often left to fend for themselves, finding the cure for their “disease” in one another’s company.

“There was a gap for men like us and I wanted to fill it,” said Mr. Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and a murder he did not commit. After his release in 2006, he filled that gap with the Jeffrey Deskovic Foundation for Justice, a product of a settlement with his jailers that is focused on helping the innocent who found themselves imprisoned to manage the financial and emotional results of their own release.

A combination of advocacy organization and support group, the Deskovic Foundation, since its creation in 2012, has collected a small, tightknit brotherhood of exonerated inmates, a society of the wronged whose members have been forced to come together and assist one another in the absence of assistance from anyone else.

When Eric Glisson, improperly imprisoned on a murder charge for 17 years, was recently planning at age 40 to open Fresh Take, his juice bar in the Bronx, Mr. Deskovic offered him marketing advice and bolstered his credit by co-signing the lease. When Mr. Lopez, convicted of a killing he did not commit, was freed from prison last winter after serving more than 23 years, Mr. Deskovic replaced the clothes he was arrested in with an outfit from Macy’s and put him up for six months — rent free — in the foundation’s apartment in Washington Heights.

[SNIP]

“People who have been wrongly convicted don’t have any reason to trust authority,” said Karen Wolff, a social worker with the Innocence Project. “The irony is it impacts their ability to deal with the people there to help them — with their lawyers, the social-service agencies they go to, even with potential bosses down the line.”

Then, of course, there are “bitterness issues,” Ms. Wolff said.

“The first year out is critical in their ability to transition back to life,” she added, “and there is no central place, no single institution that can tell them, ‘O.K., this is what we took from you, now here’s what we’re going to give you back.’ ”

It is widely assumed that exonerated inmates can simply make a claim against their jailers and walk away, like Mr. Deskovic, financially set for life. But only 29 states have laws that permit the wrongfully imprisoned to sue for compensation, and even in those states, the cases often languish in court for years.


JAM-PACKED CONGRESSIONAL HEARING ON SOLITARY CONFINEMENT HAS TO FIND A BIGGER ROOM

The debate about solitary confinement, an issue we often point to on WLA, has really been heating up, at both the congressional and state levels.

On Tuesday, a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the issue had so many attendees that the committee had to move to a larger room.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson talks about the hearing with Melissa Block on All Things Considered. Here’s a clip:

BLOCK: And it was just last week that we saw New York announce sweeping changes to solitary confinement for inmates in state prisons there. Why are we hearing so much about this practice right now?

JOHNSON: In the last couple of years, a lot of different factors have come together. There have been efforts by states to save a lot of money and reduce violence in prisons and also a critical massive advocacy by the ACLU and some researchers. And now, today, we saw some bipartisan interest in the U.S. Senate.

One fact that came out today was that it cost about $78,000 a year to house somebody in the federal prison system in solitary. That’s three times as much as it cost to put somebody in a regular prison unit. And, Melissa, here, as in so many areas of law and order around the country, states are leading the way. Mississippi and Maine have been early adopters of reforms in this area. And even in Texas, state lawmakers last year have passed legislation to study solitary confinement.


CALIFORNIA BILL TO END USE OF “GAY PANIC” AND “TRANS PANIC” AS CRIMINAL DEFENSE STRATEGIES

Another new California bill, AB 2501, would ban the use of “gay panic” or “trans panic” as a defense strategy in criminal cases. Under the bill (to be introduced by Assemblymember Susan Bonilla in partnership with Equality California), a defendant would no longer be able to blame an alleged crime against another person as having occurred due to fear caused by the victim’s orientation or gender identity.

Here’s a clip from Assemblymember Bonilla’s website:

“It is reprehensible to learn that criminal defendants are encouraged by their defense counsel to employ a ‘gay panic’ or ‘trans panic’ defense in an attempt to receive a possible lesser charge or avoid conviction,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla. “A panic attack defense allows a criminal defendant to claim that violence against the LGBT community is somehow understandable or acceptable due to the victim’s orientation or gender identity. With this bill, we are making it very clear that it is never acceptable, and that there is no place for prejudice against people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

AB 2501, sponsored by Equality California, a statewide advocacy organization for the LGBT community, would prohibit the use of a “panic defense” to qualify for a conviction of voluntary manslaughter instead. Current law calls for the jury to be instructed that their verdict should not be influenced by bias against a victim.

(And a quick shout out to Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer for vetoing the bill that would have allowed businesses to use their religious beliefs as an excuse to refuse service to the LGBT community.)

Posted in Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LGBT, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, solitary | 24 Comments »

DOWNFALL: Lee Baca, Paul Tanaka & the LASD

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


DOWNFALL: FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA, HIS SECOND IN COMMAND PAUL TANKA AND THE STORY OF HOW THINGS AT THE LASD GOT SO BAD

The insanely long story (more than 11,000 words) I wrote about former sheriff Lee Baca for Los Angeles Magazine is both online and on the news stand.

It is, of course, about way more than Lee Baca as the title suggests.

Regular readers of WitnessLA will find that much in the story covers material with which you’re already very familiar. But I think you’ll find some new nuggets. More than anything, I hope the tale gathers most of the main puzzle pieces together to form a larger, explanatory picture that will have some impact, particularly for those LA residents who are not obsessive LASD watchers, but who want a deeper understanding of what the hell is going on in the sheriff’s department and why they need to care about it.

You can find the online version here.

Here’s a small snippet:

Scores of other LASD members, working and retired, have described similar experiences to me. “The requests would come in a bunch of different ways,” said a female officer. “You would be told that it would be good for your career to walk precincts for Paul. I never walked precincts, but I’ve been to three of his events and another fund-raiser he threw for [former city attorney] Carmen Trutanich. I gave money each time. There wasn’t a choice.”

In one instance she gave $350, at the request of her boss. He in turn was required to collect checks from his underlings, she said, because he was prominently “in the car” with Tanaka. “In the car” was the term for those who operated in the slipstream of the undersheriff’s patronage. “If you were single, like I was at the time,” she explained, “you were told things like, ‘You don’t have any kids, so you can afford more.’ ”

The ring kissing worked in two ways, both directly and in tiers. “In other words,” she told me, “I wasn’t just writing a check to stay in Tanaka’s good graces, I was doing it to get along with my boss. It sounds crazy, but that’s how it worked. And if you said no, they’d tell you, ‘Then you have nothing coming.’ Those were the terms they’d always use—in the car and nothing coming.”

One meant you were protected. The other meant you were screwed.

And here again is a link the teaser Q & A that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me, along with a clip to give you an idea of the exchange below:

Q: When you began the assignment for this story a year ago, Baca was still very much in office. He had every intention of running for sheriff again and looked like a shoo-in to win in June. But he “retired” a month before we went to press and not long after the US Attorney’s office delivered a multicounty indictment against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. As far as LASD critics may be concerned, problem solved, right? So why do you think the story is still necessary?

A: Mainly because I believe the story is far from over. The FBI is looking at a number of new areas of alleged corruption that fall well outside the problems in the jails. And, although Lee Baca is has yanked himself from the LASD’s helm, his controversial second in command, Paul Tanaka, is running for sheriff. But no matter who is elected next November, for real reform to take place, the new sheriff will need to have a clear-eyed view of the dysfunction that still plagues this department. I hope this story can provide a bit of that perspective.

A NOTE ON RADIO SHOWS: As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on KCRW’s show Press Play with Madeleine Brand today, Wednesday, at noon. You can listen to it online here (or at 89.9 FM) in real time.

Here’s a link to the podcast. The LASD segment begins at just about the 26 minute mark.

Then tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll be on KPCC’s AirTalk with Patt Morrison sitting in for Larry Mantle. Airtalk is on from 11 am until 1 pm, and you can listen live at 89.3 FM. And naturally I’ll post the podcast for this show too when it goes up.

Okay, whew! I guess that’s it. There’ll be one more web extra about the LASD on LA Mag later in the week. I’ll let you know when it goes up.


PHOTO OF LEE BACA BY SAXON BRICE

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 53 Comments »

Contra Costa Does Realignment Right….Supes Take Small Step Toward Civilian Oversight for the LASD….LA County’s Problematic GPS Monitoring….Justice Reform: the Good & the Bad News….

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


CAN CONTRA COSTA COUNTY TEACH THE REST OF CALIFORNIA HOW REALIGNMENT SHOULD BE DONE?

Yes, Contra Costa is smaller than counties like LA, Orange and Riverside. But it has a crime rate roughly equivalent to that of the rest of the state, and its success with the ins and outs of realignment since the effects of AB109 kicked in, has been dramatic.

A new report looks at what exactly Contra Costa is doing right and how it might be replicated. Christopher Nelson at Cal Forward has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The time between when the three judge panel ordered California to dramatically reduce its state prison population to when AB 109 went into effect was quick by any measure, especially for something of this magnitude.

Naturally, some counties have fared better than others under realignment, including new responsibilities for non-violent, non-sexual and non-serious criminal offenders who in the past would have been sent to prison. But according to a study commissioned by Californians for Safety and Justice and released last month by the JFA Institute, there is one county that already had so many cultural and institutional elements in line that is has risen above the rest and serves as a model for how realignment should be implemented. That county is Contra Costa.

“I think it would be fair to say we came from a unique position from the very beginning,” said Philip Kader, Chief of Contra Costa County Probation and by virtue of that title, chair of the Community Corrections Partnership (CCP) that allocates AB 109 funding throughout the county.

In many ways, Contra Costa doesn’t differ too much from other California counties. It has a population of about 1 million, making it the 9th largest county in the state. Its crime rate is about on par with the rest of the state, lest anyone think that a smaller Northern California county might be exempt from some of the troubles that plague its larger brethren down south.

But it differs in one major way: a culture of mutual respect exists between probation, sheriff, the district attorney and public defender without which Contra Costa would not be able to achieve the astounding statistical success it has seen since 2010.

According to the report, which was prepared by the JFA Institute, which is headed by James Austin, PhD (the same guy who did the report on how the LA County Jail system cold best handle its overcrowding problems), Contra Costa allocated about 60% of its AB109 funds to programs and services (probation, public defender, health services and contracted programs) designed to assist people convicted of crimes.

There’s lots more in the report and in Nelson’s story about the report.


THE LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPES TAKE FIRST SMALL STEP TO (POSSIBLY) CREATE CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD FOR LASD—BUT WOULD IT HAVE ANY POWER?

On Tuesday morning the Supervisors voted to ask new LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman and new interim LASD Sheriff John Scott (along with the county counsel) to look into what kind of civilian oversight body they believe would work when it comes to the sheriff’s department.

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

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to study creating a civilian body to monitor the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.

The Board has debated for months a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a civilian oversight commission, but Ridley-Thomas could not muster the three votes needed for passage.

On Tuesday, the Board agreed instead to ask Interim Sheriff John Scott, Inspector General Max Huntsman and the county counsel to study what sorts of oversight might be appropriate for the department.

[BIG SNIP]

In December, the Board hired Huntsman away from the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office to start an Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department.

But Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that move was not enough – that the Sheriff’s Department needs a civilian oversight body, akin to the LAPD’s Police Commission, to serve as a transparent, public watchdog. Supervisor Gloria Molina cosponsored the proposal.

Critics, however, wondered how much “oversight” a commission would actually have. Voters elect county sheriffs in California, meaning that by law they are independent from other county leaders. The Board of Supervisors oversees the sheriff’s budget, but, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told KPCC in December the Board can hardly threaten the sheriff by withholding funding.

The report is due this June—right about the time LA County residents will be voting for a new sheriff in the election primary.


PROBATION CHIEF POWERS REPORTS TO SUPES ON DRAMATIC PROBLEMS WITH GPS MONITORING SYSTEMS

Also in Tuesday’s meeting of the Supervisors, Probation Chief Jerry Powers gave a lengthy report on his agency’s use of an electronic monitoring system to track criminal offenders who, for one reason or another, qualify for GPS monitoring.

Powers was refreshingly candid in his assessment that the system was something of a mess.

“I think we have to spend some time taking our lumps, frankly, in reviewing how probation implemented the program,” Powers said. “It was very clear to me that it was not close to a best practice.”

Then he added that probation didn’t really have good policies in place to sort out which people were put on GPS and why. Plus there was the matter of losing track of around 80 offenders altogether.

He also outlined the agency’s failure to give probation officers adequate training to oversee the monitoring system.

Yet, although Powers did not present an encouraging picture, his transparency, forthrightness and thoroughness in facing up to the unwanted reality went a long way in giving the county a clear path to follow in order to greatly improve matters.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John takes a detailed look at the problems Powers presented and their implications. Here’s a clip:

By the end of this week, the probation department intends to reduce thousands of alerts created when offenders drive or ride through about 4,800 violation zones that blanket Los Angeles County, including every school and park. It will use software to calculate the speed of monitored offenders and ignore alerts created by those moving quickly.

The department ultimately intends to remove those default zones and establish prohibited areas unique to each offender, a goal set for this spring. Officials are also in the midst of creating a 12-person unit of deputies trained to use electronic monitoring. Some officers told The Times that they never were instructed how to use the system and were unaware that they could determine a felon’s past or current location.

Los Angeles County officials said they were also tackling equipment problems they have had with the GPS ankle monitors provided by vendor Sentinel Offender Services of Irvine. An internal audit in September found that one in four GPS devices used to track serious criminals was faulty. The vendor attributed many of those problems to poorly trained county deputies.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who is not a fan of GPS monitoring, noted during the meeting that Sentinel, the vender that provides LA County with its GPS devices, had failed to meet its contractual obligations, and that probation should seek a new vender.

“We shouldn’t be a partner in allowing this vender to continue to operated after their past record of failing to abide by the contract,” he said.

Last November, if you’ll remember, WitnessLA reported that the board was poised to approve a new contract with Irvine, California based Sentinel Offender Services. Nevermind that last summer, Orange County Probation had broken its contract with Sentinel after finding that the company had repeatedly been guilty of what amounted to gross incompetence.

And there were other red flags… (You can find the backstory here.)


YES, WE ARE SEEING SOME REAL JUSTICE REFORM, BUT THERE’S A LONG WAY TO GO

The so-called “tough on crime” era that came to full flower in the early to mid 1980s, resulted in the US having 25 percent of the world’s prisoners and only 5 percent of its population (to use the much quoted statistic).

In the last few years, as we have often mentioned here at WLA, the tide has slowly begun to turn.

Timothy P. Silard, a former prosecutor and the president of the Rosenberg Foundation, lays it out well in an essay for the Huffington Post. Here’s a clip.

For those of us who consider criminal justice reform to be one of the leading civil rights issues of our time, these are hopeful signs that we might be entering a new era. We are no longer turning a blind eye to the damage being done to our communities by an out-of-control criminal justice system, or ignoring the pervasive racial bias that undermines the very legitimacy of the system itself.

Racial disparities deeply persist in our justice system at all levels, from how we treat victims to whom we arrest and send to jails and prisons. Victims of violent crime are more likely to be Latino or African American, and nearly half of all homicide victims are Black men and boys. But the perception that our young men are dangerous, rather than vulnerable, is one that is reinforced daily by our justice system.

Nationally, 25 percent of those behind bars are there for drug offenses, and the racial disparities in drug enforcement are staggering. While African Americans use and sell drugs at lower rates than whites, they are are incarcerated for drug charges at 10 times the rate of whites.

[BIG SNIP]

More states, including California, must continue to shift from an “incarceration only” approach and toward the evidence-based programs and services that have been proven to actually reduce crime and racial injustice in the system, while also saving precious taxpayer dollars. For example, education and job-focused programs like San Francisco’s Back on Track program and New York’s Bard Prison Initiative have dramatically reduced re-offense rates to less than 10 percent, creating pathways to productive lives for the sons, daughters, fathers and mothers caught up in the criminal justice system, at a fraction of the cost of incarceration.

Posted in criminal justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, pretrial detention/release, Probation, Realignment, Reentry | No Comments »

WLA on Madeleine Brand Show Wed. Talking About Baca & LASD….Closing the Camp Kilpatrick Sports Program?…. How Has Prez Done on Criminal Justice?….Farewell to Harold Ramis

February 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON MADELEINE BRAND SHOW AT 12 NOON WED TALKING ABOUT LEE BACA & THE LASD: UPDATED

I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).

UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.

You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.

(And here’s a link to a sort of teaser interview that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me about the story.)

Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!


CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.

We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:

A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.

For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.

The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.

But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.

It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.

Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….

We agree. Read the rest here.


NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING

In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.

Here’s a clip:

I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.

It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.

Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.

In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..

[HUG SNIP]

“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”


A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!


Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny.
It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.

Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.

Posted in American artists, American voices, criminal justice, juvenile justice, LASD, Life in general, Obama, Probation, racial justice, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 12 Comments »

LA’s $2M Child Abuse Reporting System Underused, Texas’ Example of Successful Prison Reform…and More

February 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SYSTEM FOR CHILD ABUSE REPORTING BETWEEN LA DCFS AND LAW ENFORCEMENT NOT USED ENOUGH BY AGENCIES

The Electronic Suspected Child Abuse Reporting System, or E-SCARS, was launched in 2009 to give the Los Angeles DCFS, law enforcement agencies, and prosecutors’ offices connected access to a comprehensive database on suspected child abuse. But the system, created to keep all parties informed and keep LA’s kids safe, is not uniformly used by all agencies involved in child welfare, and E-SCARS’ operational funding has run out.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

“We can’t require or order anyone to use anything, we’re all separate entities,” said Mike Gargiulo, assistant head of the DA’s Family Violence Division. “We’re working on a memo of understanding between law enforcement and DCFS that might make it required, as sort of a best practices kind of thing, but right now it isn’t.”

[SNIP]

E-SCARS is an online reporting system that provides child welfare agencies with one central database containing histories of all abuse or neglect allegations, investigative findings and other information pertaining to a child or suspected perpetrator.

This system links DCFS’s Child Protection Hotline with the District Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and 45 other municipal police departments, and all city prosecutors’ offices.

“From a prosecutor’s standpoint, it helps us get a better sense of who our suspect is, helps us see if there’s a pattern or if the alleged victim has a history of making things up,” said Garjiulo.

E-SCARS was designed to make police work and social work more efficient. Its promise on that account earned it two Productivity & Quality Awards from the Quality and Productivity Commission back in 2010. From the nominee descriptions:

“One of the significant results of E-SCARS is the elimination of multiple responses by law enforcement. Overall, investigation time is reduced, children are less traumatized since they no longer experience multiple interviews, and there is greater cooperative effort among children’s social workers and police officers.”

But four years after the praise and almost a decade since the system was conceptualized to fulfill state law, it is still underutilized. One reason is that none of the original $2 million grant from the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission was set aside for system maintenance and upgrades, or if it was the money has run out.

By the way, better communication between agencies was one of the top recommendations made by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. (Backstory here.)


CALIFORNIA LOOK TO TEXAS FOR PRISON REFORM, SAYS STATE SEN. HANCOCK

In an op-ed for the SF Gate, California Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) says California does not have to funnel more money into prisons to meet federal judges’ two year deadline to reduce severe overcrowding in state facilities.

Texas, once faced with a similar overcrowding crisis, built up incarceration alternatives and rehabilitation and reentry programs instead of more prisons. Because of these reforms, Texas is now closing prisons, and saving millions of dollars. Texas’ reform agenda has been led by Right on Crime, the Texas-based conservative program that has been pushing nationally for criminal justice reform. Here’s a clip:

…unlikely as it might seem, Texas seems to be leading the way. Surprised? So was I after hearing testimony before the state Senate Budget Committee a few weeks ago from Chuck DeVore, a former California Republican Assembly member and conservative candidate for the U.S. Senate.

DeVore moved to Texas to become a leader of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he runs a program called “Right on Crime” (get it?). Among the members of his board of directors are national conservative leaders Grover Norquist and Newt Gingrich…

Texas is investing in alternatives to incarceration that are proving to be cheaper and more effective at keeping people out of prison. It is also doing a better job of rehabilitating people to keep them from reoffending and ending up back in prison.

Texas uses risk-assessment and better probation procedures to divert large numbers of nonviolent offenders away from the prison system, keeping them away from hard-core criminals. It requires strict implementation of victim-restitution measures, while offering alternatives to prison such as civil sanctions, drug courts and drug-abuse and mental health treatment. It also offers rehabilitation programs like job training for those in prison to prepare them to re-enter society. And Texas has invested heavily in reducing the caseloads of parole and probation officers so the state can keep better track of the people it supervises and help them move in a new direction.

It’s paying off. Texas has closed three state prisons, and almost two-thirds of Texas parolees are employed. In California, 80 percent of parolees are unemployed – meaning that Texas parolees are three times as likely to have a job. That’s a big step forward on the path to becoming a taxpayer and living a stable life.


SENTENCING DISCREPANCIES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN, REPUBLICANS AND DEMOCRATS, AND DIFFERENT DISTRICTS…ARE BETTER THAN FORCED SENTENCING UNIFORMITY

On average, in the US, female judges are more likely to give shorter sentences than their male counterparts in similar cases, according to a forthcoming study by University of Chicago Law Professor Crystal Yang. The study, which used data from over 600,000 convictions from 2000 to 2009, also found that Democrat judges are more lenient than Republican judges, and that there are significant sentencing variations between district courts.

In a story for the New Yorker, Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of The Master Switch, explains why these outcomes are more desirable than the alternative—mandatory sentencing guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Sentencing decisions change lives forever, and, for that reason and others, they’re hard to make. It is often suspected that different judges sentence differently, and we now have a better idea of this. A giant, forthcoming study of the federal judiciary reveals clear patterns: Democrats and women are slightly more lenient. Where you’re sentenced matters even more. Judges in the South are harsher; in the Northeast and on the West Coast, they are more easygoing.

The study’s author is Crystal Yang, a fellow at the University of Chicago Law School, who based it on data from more than six hundred thousand convicted defendants between 2000 and 2009. (Impressively, in certain ways her study exceeds the work of the United States Sentencing Commission.) She writes, “Female judges sentenced observably similar defendants to approximately 1.7 months less than their male colleagues.” In addition, judges appointed by a Democratic President were 2.2 per cent more likely to exercise leniency. Regional effects are more challenging to measure, because, for example, the kinds of crime that happen in New York might differ from those in Texas. But recent data suggest that, controlling for cases and defendant types, “there is substantial variation in the sentence that a defendant would receive depending on the district court in which he is sentenced”—as much as eleven months, on average…

Yang’s findings of judicial variation might make you think that we now need new laws to promote uniformity…

But mandating uniformity, if it sounds good, creates a different kind of unfairness. In fact, as those who follow this issue know, we’ve experimented with enforced uniformity: from 1987 until 2005, Congress took much of sentencing out of judges’ hands by setting mandatory federal guidelines, which made sentencing formulaic. Judicial discretion mattered only at the edges, for things like reduced sentences when guilty parties accepted responsibility. In 2005, the experiment ended, when the Supreme Court decided that the guidelines were unconstitutional, for reasons too complex to summarize here. Since then, the guidelines have been purely advisory: followed if the judge wants, and yielding, as Yang finds, to increased variation among judges.


QUICK SHERIFF SCOTT UPDATE

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte interviewed LA’s (interim) Sheriff John Scott about what he plans to do with his limited time as sheriff (until a new sheriff is elected in June or November), and what he’s done so far. Here’s a clip:

“I’m very much action oriented,” Scott said. “Some of the symbolic things that existed out there, I dealt with. The cigar room, viewed as an exclusive club — is gone. The field deputy program, which had four individuals reporting directly to Baca, and yet the rest of the department wasn’t really privy to what they were doing, other than community outreach. That’s gone, too. It shouldn’t be based on personal connections.”

He’s creating a new command that “deals with inspections, audits, monitoring” as well as a “Sheriff’s Cadre,” which would be made up of a group of retired personnel who would assess operations and make recommendations.

Finally, Scott wants to ensure a seamless transition to the new sheriff.

He plans to meet with all of the candidates and try to put some of their initiatives in place before they arrive — something that would not have happened if the sheriff were running for re-election.

“Basically, I want to see what their plan of action is, and if there are any pieces that I could put into place earlier that might assist in a smoother transition,” Scott said. “I want to get us to that point on Dec. 1 where the elected sheriff steps in, and a lot of his initiatives are already under way.”

(Tip: to the left of Villacorte’s story, there are links to videos of the interview.)

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, Sheriff John Scott | No Comments »

Restorative Justice Transforms Colorado High School, Recommended Longreads, $6.4M for a Wrongful Murder Conviction…and More

February 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

REPLACING HARSH SCHOOL DISCIPLINE WITH CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Once consumed by chronic suspensions and expulsions, Hinkley High School in Aurora, Colorado has seen significant success using a “restorative justice” student discipline model. (We’ve pointed to other schools successfully swapping zero-tolerance policies for practices that foster positive behavior changes and keep kids in class—here, and here.)

The above PBS NewsHour video and transcript can be found here.


LIFE AS AN LAPD TRAINEE, AND A SQUAD BUILT TO FOSTER GOOD POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONSHIPS IN THE JORDAN DOWNS PROJECTS

This week the LA Times featured two longform stories we didn’t want you to miss. Both are a testament to the value of narrative journalism’s ability to communicate the things standard reporting cannot.

For several years, Joel Rubin and photographer Brian van der Brug followed a class of LAPD recruits, from their first day in the academy, through graduation, and beyond.

Here’s how it opens (read the rest and watch the video by van der Brug):

Before they hit the streets as new cops, the recruits took a final run together.

It was a fitting end, given all the miles they had logged over the last six months. In a few days, they would graduate from the Los Angeles Police Department’s training academy and scatter to stations throughout the city for their rookie years.

On this misty morning in November 2010, they sang like soldiers do as they jogged from a training facility near LAX to the beach. “Everywhere we go, people want to know who we are. So we tell them, ‘We are the LAPD! Best department in the world!’”

In the front was Clay Bell, a young ex-Marine from Texas who had emerged early as the class leader. In the pack behind him, Ed Anderson sang the loudest. At 46, Anderson was the oldest in the class and the most unlikely cop among them. Vanessa Lopez lagged in the back. Lopez hated running. Barely cracking 5 feet, she had come to the LAPD after the Army told her she was too short to be a helicopter pilot. The LAPD had helicopters.

“Up early with the California sun. Pride run! Last run! Oh, yeah! Almost done!”

They arrived at a bluff overlooking the Pacific and scrambled down to the beach. They stared out onto the water, each of them lost for a moment in their own thoughts. The quiet was broken when a few charged into the water. Others who held back were tossed in. Anderson walked up to Lopez. Still dry, she crossed her arms and shook her head.

They had come to the academy from different worlds — she was a Mexican American from Compton, Anderson a father of two from a wealthy Bay Area town.

They had forged a tight bond over the one thing they had in common: They wanted to be LAPD cops.

“It feels like we’re just getting started,” Anderson said. “Like the hard part is only about to begin.”

In the other LAT longread, Kurt Streeter follows an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts. Here’s how it opens:

Officers Keith Linton and Otis Swift stopped their patrol car, rolled down a window and motioned to a hoodie-wearing teenager. In this part of South L.A., such encounters can be tense — or worse.

“Hey, Linton. Hey, Swift,” the teen said. “How y’all doing?”

“Doing good, my man,” Linton replied, launching into a conversation about basketball.

Similar scenes played out all afternoon as the cops worked their beat in Jordan Downs, a housing project in Watts with a violent reputation and a history of ill will between residents and police.

Part of an experimental LAPD squad trying to bring a softer style of policing to the area, Linton and Swift didn’t make arrests or issue tickets. Instead they greeted every resident they could — even giving respectful nods to the gang members hanging out in an area known as the “parolee lot.”

“We haven’t had anyone cussing us out and no one has flipped us the middle finger,” Swift said. “Around here, that’s progress. Not long ago we’d pop in, make an arrest…. We were the invading army.

“We’ve found out that way doesn’t work.”

Jordan Downs, once predominantly African American, is now mostly Latino. More than half its adult residents are unemployed, only two in 100 have college degrees and the average family earns about $1,250 a month. It is home turf for the Grape Street Crips, whose reputation largely defines the development’s identity and whose blood-soaked feuds with rival gangs created the feel of a war zone.

But Los Angeles officials are pinning their hopes on a transformation. They have launched a nearly $1-billion plan to tear down all 700 units and replace them with up to 1,800 mixed-income apartments and a shopping center. The hurdles are significant. The plan leans partly on federal funds that may not materialize. And a parcel of land slated for construction needs cleanup after the discovery of lead and arsenic in the soil.

Anticipating that a makeover eventually will occur, the city’s housing authority is attempting to change the culture of Jordan Downs. The idea is to fill the new buildings with residents who have a fresh outlook and brighter prospects. The authority has poured at least $6 million into programs like job training classes, gang intervention and support groups for parents.

It also wants to do what would have been unthinkable just a few years ago: heal the community’s relationship with police…

(Read on.)


MAN EXONERATED AFTER 23 YEARS IN PRISON GETS COMPENSATED $6.4M

A New York man who spent 23 years in prison on a wrongful murder conviction will receive a $6.4 million settlement from New York City.

Former detective Louis Scarcella allegedly manufactured David Ranta’s confession and coerced witnesses to lie about Ranta’s involvement in the murder. And Ranta may not be the only victim. Brooklyn DA Kenneth P. Thompson has created a panel to review more than 50 of Scarcella’s suspiciously obtained convictions. (Go here for WLA’s previous post on the issue.)

The NY Times’ Frances Robles has the story. Here’s how it opens:

A $150 million claim filed last year by the man, David Ranta, was settled by the city comptroller’s office without ever involving the city’s legal department — which the lawyers involved in the negotiations described as a “groundbreaking” decision that acknowledged the overwhelming evidence the city faced.

The comptroller’s quick acceptance of liability in the high-profile conviction is also significant because the case is the first of what is expected to be a series of wrongful conviction claims by men who were sent to prison based on the flawed investigative work of the detective, Louis Scarcella, who has been accused of inventing confessions, coercing witnesses and recycling informers.

“While no amount of money could ever compensate David for the 23 years that were taken away from him, this settlement allows him the stability to continue to put his life back together,” Mr. Ranta’s lawyer, Pierre Sussman, said. “We are now focusing our efforts on pursuing an unjust conviction claim with the State of New York.”


CREATING AN EFFECTIVE LASD COMMISSION

In part three of his editorial series this week, LA Times’ Robert Greene says the Board of Supervisors should consider the structure of the LA Police Commission and the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority when (and if) they create independent oversight of the embattled sheriff’s department.

The format cannot be exactly the same as either. Nor would it be as powerful: the sheriff (unlike the police chief) is an elected leader, and answers to the public. But, Greene says, bits and pieces can, and should, be taken from both the LAPD commission and MTA oversight models to build an influential LASD commission that is more than just an extension of the Board of Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The city commission actually heads the LAPD and has an essential role in the mayor’s selection of a chief. It conducts weekly sessions which the police chief skips at his peril, and the chief or his staff must answer commissioners’ questions, usually in public although sometimes in closed session.

The commission has its own staff, including an inspector general who is independent from the chain of command. The commission is in some sense the eyes and ears of the mayor, who appoints the members as well as the chief. But because it holds its sessions regularly and mostly in public, and because the chief must appear, present documents, and answer questions as demanded, the commission is also the eyes and ears of the public.

And because the chief knows that in reporting to the mayor, the commissioners have a loud voice in determining whether the chief gets appointed to a second term, the body’s oversight of the Police Department is genuine.

No sheriff’s oversight commission could have any such voice in a second, third or any term for an independently elected sheriff, at least not under current law, and it could only request, not demand, that the sheriff appear and produce documents. How, then, could it exercise genuine oversight?

[SNIP]

On its own, the Board of Supervisors can push forward with reforms, as it did with some recommendations offered over the last two decades in 33 substantive reports on the Sheriff’s Department by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb; or it can ignore them, as it did with many others. The task is to make the commission more than just the eyes and ears of the board; like the Police Commission, it must be the eyes and ears of the public.

Because it lacks the Police Commission’s formal power, it must be adept at using moral suasion and focusing public attention; and to do that it must have the credibility of a body that transcends the Board of Supervisors and is not merely the board’s proxies.

(Read the rest of Greene’s suggestions here.)

Posted in Innocence, journalism, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Restorative Justice, Uncategorized, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

NY Ends Solitary Confinement of Kids, LA Times Book Award Finalists Announced, People of Color in Private Prisons…and More

February 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NY BECOMES LARGEST PRISON SYSTEM IN THE US TO BAN ISOLATION OF INCARCERATED KIDS

On Wednesday, the state of New York agreed to stop using solitary confinement as a punishment for inmates under 18, in response to a New York Civil Liberties Union lawsuit. The state will also limit its use of solitary confinement for other inmates: it will no longer be an option for disciplining pregnant prisoners, and isolation of the developmentally disabled will be capped at 30 days.

NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

State correction officials will also be prohibited from imposing solitary confinement as a disciplinary measure for inmates who are pregnant, and the punishment will be limited to 30 days for those who are developmentally disabled, the court filing says.

The agreement imposes “sentencing guidelines” for all prisoners, specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run, the civil liberties group said. No such guidelines exist, except in cases involving certain violent and drug-related offenses.

“New York State has done the right thing by committing to comprehensive reform of the way it uses extreme isolation, a harmful and inhumane practice that has for years been used as a punishment of first resort” in the state’s prisons, said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the organization.

Several states, including Colorado, Mississippi and Washington, had begun to address the issue of how to reduce the use of solitary confinement; a Senate judiciary subcommittee is holding a hearing next week on the issue.

Taylor Pendergrass, the lead lawyer in the case for the civil liberties group, said a small number of states had also banned or limited the use of solitary confinement for inmates under 18, in adult or juvenile detention facilities.

But given New York’s size and visibility, the agreement places the state “at the vanguard” of progressive thinking about how to move away from “a very punitive system that almost every state has adopted in one form or another over the last couple of decades,” Mr. Pendergrass said.

[BIG SNIP]

Under the agreement, 16- and 17-year-old prisoners who are subjected to even the most restrictive form of disciplinary confinement must be given at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells. The state must also set aside space at designated facilities to accommodate the minors who would normally be placed in solitary confinement.


LA TIMES BOOK AWARD FINALISTS

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Wednesday.

This year, WLA’s editor judged Current Interest in nonfiction, of which there were five outstanding books shortlisted:

“Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital” by Sheri Fink (Crown)
“Thank You for Your Service” by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff (The Penguin Press)
“Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom” by Barry Siegel (Henry Holt & Co.)
“Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief” by Lawrence Wright (Knopf)

There are a number of great books in every other category, as well, so go check out the rest of the finalists. Award winners will be announced on April 11 (followed by the LAT Festival of Books on April 12-13 at USC).


HIGHER RATE OF PEOPLE OF COLOR HELD IN PRIVATE PRISONS THAN PUBLIC PRISONS

An even larger racial disparity exists in private prisons than in public prisons, according to a new study by UC-Berkeley researcher Christopher Petrella. All nine states analyzed in the study, including California, showed higher percentages of people of color in private prisons than in public facilities.

Mother Jones’ Katie Quandt has more on the study’s implications (including some very helpful graphs). Here’s a clip:

Once sentenced, people of color are more likely than their white counterparts to serve time in private prisons, which have higher levels of violence and recidivism (PDF) and provide less sufficient health care and educational programming than equivalent public facilities.

The study compares the percentage of inmates identifying as black or Hispanic in public prisons and private prisons in nine states. It finds that there are higher rates of people of color in private facilities than public facilities in all nine states studied, ranging from 3 percent in Arizona and Georgia to 13 percent in California and Oklahoma. According to Petrella, this disparity casts doubt on cost-efficiency claims made by the private prison industry and demonstrates how ostensibly “colorblind” policies can have a very real effect on people of color.

Private prisons have consistently lower rates of older inmates because they often contractually exempt themselves from housing medically expensive—which often means older—individuals (see excerpts from such exemptions in California, Oklahoma, and Vermont), which helps them keep costs low and profits high. This is just another example of the growing private prison industry’s prioritization of profit over rehabilitation, which activists say leads to inferior prison conditions and quotas requiring high levels of incarceration even as crime levels drop. The number of state and federal prisoners housed in private prisons grew by 37 percent from 2002 to 2009, reaching 8 percent of all inmates in 2010.

(Read on.)


ASSEMBLING AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

In an LA Times editorial (part two in a series this week), Robert Greene says that a civilian oversight commission for the LASD should not be comprised of five members chosen by the five LA County Supervisors. This format would not be far enough removed from the influence of the Board of Supervisors to provide real, independent oversight, he says. Instead, the board should consider a larger number of commissioners, appointed, in part, by people other than the Supervisors.

Here are some clips:

The size and composition of a citizens’ oversight body is inextricably linked both to its mission and to the nature of the authority to which it reports. If it’s a five-member panel, with each member appointed by and answerable to the supervisors, why not just have the supervisors exercise oversight directly? Isn’t that what we already have, and what already failed to hold the sheriff to account for the beatings of jail inmates, the inept hiring of deputies, the enormous liability payouts?

In fact, such a commission might be even worse than the status quo, because it would provide a misleading veneer of independence and lend political cover to the supervisors, who could attempt to pull the sheriff’s strings via their commission appointees without being quite as obvious about it.

Consider, for example, the 10-member redistricting commission that the supervisors appointed in 2010 to redraw the county election map. In this case, each supervisor got two appointees, all of whom are fairly well-regarded people, but all of whom were selected to in at least some sense do the bidding of the supervisor who appointed them. They voted accordingly, becoming proxies for the supervisors. It was obvious whose bidding they were doing. Why bother with such a commission?

No doubt members of the Board of Supervisors would protest: We never told our Boundary Review Committee appointees how to vote! But they didn’t have to. The appointees knew who they were working for, and they knew that they could be replaced.

There was far less of a concern with the seven-member Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the panel that the Board of Supervisors created and appointed in 2011 to examine improper use of force in county jails and recommend corrective action.

Yes, each of five members was appointed by a county supervisor. But then those five appointed two more, establishing a measure of separation from the board.

[SNIP]

The mission was limited, as was the panel’s duration. And because the same news stories and lawsuits that moved the board to create the commission also focused public attention on its proceedings, there was little chance of supervisors trying to sway their appointees without being noticed.

But a permanent commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department would continue to operate during times of both great and paltry public attention, and would have to resist influence by the Board of Supervisors or, again, what’s the point?

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison, racial justice, solitary | No Comments »

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