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LASD Deputy to Donate Liver to Partner….a Misused Federal Sentence Enhancement…and More

June 3rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTY FINDS HE IS COMPATIBLE TO DONATE PARTIAL LIVER TO HIS DYING TWIN TOWERS PARTNER

On Thursday, LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Javier Tiscareno will donate part of his liver to save the life of his deputy partner, Jorge Castro, whose own liver is failing.

After numerous unsuccessful treatments, and learning that none of his family members were a match for a liver transplant, Castro was placed on a waiting list.

California is not an ideal place to live if you need a liver transplant. Once you’re on the UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing) waiting list, the wait in the golden state is commonly 12-36 months. (With this in mind, Apple founder Steve Jobs got on the list in Tennessee, instead of California.)

When Castro, told his partner about his health issues, Tiscareno decided to get tested for liver donation. The two deputies were a match.

At a press conference outside Twin Towers jail, where both men are correctional officers, Tiscareno said, “He told me he would be dead by the end of the year. That was unacceptable to me.”

A partial liver transplant is considered a relatively safe procedure for the donor, but it is still a major surgery, and complications do sometimes occur. Tiscareno said, regarding his decision, “I’m not going to a funeral knowing I could have helped.”


OP-ED: FED PROSECUTORS MANIPULATING A 45-YEAR-OLD STATUTE TO FORCE LOW-LEVEL DRUG OFFENDERS TO TAKE UNFAIR PLEA DEALS

Enacted in 1970, statute “851″ was originally intended to give federal prosecutors the ability to seek double or more the usual sentences for serious drug dealers, while exempting those with lower-level drug charges from the sentencing “enhancement” that 851 provided.

But that’s not how things turned out.

Mona Lynch, a professor of criminology, law, and society at UC Irvine, says federal prosecutors have severely misused 851, employing it, instead, as a tool to force low-level drug offenders to take plea deals.

By filing the 851 enhancement against defendants with prior convictions, prosecutors can turn what would normally be a 10-year mandatory minimum into life without parole in the most extreme cases.

Lynch says this weapon federal prosecutors use to coerce plea deals must be eliminated.

Here’s a clip from Lynch’s op-ed for the NY Times:

I have conducted in-depth qualitative research and interviews in four federal districts; in each, the 851 threat loomed for nearly everyone with the eligible prior record. In the words of one of my interviewees, “the 851 is the ultimate lever” used by prosecutors to force a guilty plea. And it almost always worked: Defendants were compelled to waive their rights and plead guilty to ensure that their sentences were not doubled, or worse.

What happens to the defendant who doesn’t go along? The threat becomes a reality. Take the case of a former defendant whom I’ll call Brandon.

Brandon may not have been squeaky clean when he landed in federal court on drug charges, but he certainly was no drug kingpin. A week or two before his arrest, he reignited a friendship with a high school classmate — I’ll call him Frank — at the time a relatively large-scale crack dealer. After reconnecting, Brandon went for a drive with Frank and Frank’s girlfriend on a single drug-supply run, something the couple did on a weekly basis.

On the way home, a state trooper pulled over Frank’s car, searched it, retrieved the drugs and arrested them. Each was charged with conspiracy to distribute hundreds of grams of crack cocaine.

All three had prior drug convictions, so the 851 threat loomed. Frank and his girlfriend succumbed to the pressure and pleaded guilty. But Brandon had a strong case. By all accounts, including law enforcement’s, he was neither Frank’s partner nor involved in any continuing conspiracy with the couple.

So Brandon went to trial. And the prosecutor played her ace card, filing the 851 on the eve of trial. He was convicted. At sentencing, Frank received 20 years in prison and his girlfriend received probation. Brandon, who chose to exercise his right to trial, received a life sentence with no possibility of parole.

[SNIP]

Between 1992 and 2012, about 2,300 black men have been sentenced to life for federal drug convictions, 72 percent of whom had asserted their right to trial. While data cannot pinpoint the 851 as the trigger of those life sentences, it does indicate that 96 percent were subject to drug mandatory minimums at sentencing.


LEGAL EXPERT GIVES 40 REASONS WHY POOR AND MINORITY PEOPLE MAKE UP SUCH A LARGE PORTION OF THE US JAIL POPULATION

Bill Quigley, Director of the Law Clinic and the Gillis Long Poverty Law Center at Loyola University New Orleans and Associate Legal Director at the Center for Constitutional Rights, put together a noteworthy list of 40 reasons why jails across the US are full of racial minorities and poor people. Here’s a clip:

One. It is not just about crime. Our jails and prisons have grown from holding about 500,000 people in 1980 to 2.2 million today. The fact is that crime rates have risen and fallen/a> independently of our growing incarceration rates.

Two. Police discriminate. The first step in putting people in jail starts with interactions between police and people. From the very beginning, Black and poor people are targeted by the police. Police departments have engaged in campaigns of stopping and frisking people who are walking, mostly poor people and people of color, without cause for decades. Recently New York City lost a federal civil rights challenge to their police stop and frisk practices by the Center for Constitutional Rights during which police stopped over 500,000 people annually without any indication that the people stopped had been involved in any crime at all. About 80 percent of those stops were of Black and Latinos who compromise 25 and 28 percent of N.Y.C.’s total population. Chicago police do the same thing stopping even more people also in a racially discriminatory way with 72 percent of the stops of Black people even though the city is 32 percent Black.

Three. Police traffic stops also racially target people in cars. Black drivers are 31 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers and Hispanic drivers are 23 percent more likely to be pulled over than white drivers. Connecticut, in an April 2015 report, on 620,000 traffic stops which revealed widespread racial profiling, particularly during daylight hours when the race of driver was more visible.

Four. Once stopped, Black and Hispanic motorists are more likely to be given tickets than white drivers stopped for the same offenses.

Five. Once stopped, Blacks and Latinos are also more likely to be searched. DOJ reports Black drivers at traffic stops were searched by police three times more often and Hispanic drivers two times more often than white drivers. A large research study in Kansas City found when police decided to pull over cars for investigatory stops, where officers look into the car’s interior, ask probing questions and even search the car, the race of the driver was a clear indicator of who was going to be stopped: 28 percent of young Black males twenty five or younger were stopped in a year’s time, versus white men who had 12 percent chance and white women only a seven percent chance. In fact, not until Black men reach 50 years old do their rate of police stops for this kind of treatment dip below those of white men twenty five and under.

Six. Traffic tickets are big business. And even if most people do not go directly to jail for traffic tickets, poor people are hit the worst by these ticket systems. As we saw with Ferguson where some of the towns in St. Louis receive 40 percent or more of their city revenues from traffic tickets, tickets are money makers for towns.

Posted in jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Prosecutors, racial justice, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 8 Comments »

What Happens When Predictive Analytics Enters the World of Child Protection?….How Do You Define a Gang Member?……The LAPD & the Guardian’s Count

June 2nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WHERE ABUSED CHILDREN MEET THE WORLD OF PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS AND BIG DATA

Much has rightly been made of the unbearably tragic child deaths in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the state, at the hands of those who should have kept them safe, deaths like that of 8-year old Gabriel Fernandez. To refresh your memory, when paramedics showed up at Gabriel’s mother’s home in May 2013, they found the little boy with a fractured skull, three broken ribs, bruises and burns in too many places to count, and his mouth absent two of his teeth. BB pellets were embedded in his lungs and his groin.

Both LA County’s Department of Children Services and the LA County Sheriff’s Department had received complaints that Gabriel was being abused. But somehow nobody acted. And the two-agency non-action resulted in the torture and violent death of an eight-year-old.

Yet, there are other documented cases where DCFS seems to act too quickly, yanking kids out of less-than-ideal but non-dangerous homes and putting them through encounters with the foster care system that were, at best, traumatic and, at worst, deeply damaging.

So how does one tell the difference? Certainly, in some cases, it seems that a modicum of caring attention and common sense would have helped. But in others, the lines may not be so clearly drawn.

Some counties and states around the nation think they might have found at least part of the answer in the realm of what numbers geeks call predictive analytics.

Take for example, the case of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, which had nine child deaths in the state’s Hillsborough County area between 2009 and 2012. All of the kids were under three years old, and all but one were killed by either a parent or paramour.

At the time, the region’s child protective services were contracted out, at a cost of $65.5 million a year, to private youth services agency called Hillsborough Kids.

Florida dumped Hillsborough Kids, bumped up the budget for social workers and, perhaps most significantly, Florida officials contracted to use a new decision-making tool to help the agency prioritize calls of suspected child abuse. It is called Rapid Safety Feedback.

Darian Woods, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, takes a look at where predictive analytics has entered the world of child protection, who is involved, and what that entry could mean in terms of the future safety of kids.

Here’s a clip:

So in 2012, the department made changes. It commissioned a comprehensive analysis of the data behind the child deaths that were concentrated in Hillsborough County. Hillsborough Kids lost out on the $65.5 million contract and went into liquidation. A private youth services agency, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, was selected by the department to take care of approximately 2,900 abused children in Hillsborough County. The next year, Florida Governor Rick Scott boosted funding for new social workers. Perhaps most radically, a new decision-making tool called Rapid Safety Feedback was introduced in the county.

Rapid Safety Feedback uses — in the parlance of big data crunchers and, increasingly, social scientists — predictive analytics to prioritize calls of suspected child abuse.

Predictive analytics in child protective services means assigning suspected abuse cases to different risk levels based on characteristics that have been found to be linked with child abuse. These risk levels can automatically revise as administrative data is updated. Administrative data may be as simple as school reports or could delve deeper into other information that the state holds: the parents’ welfare checks, new criminal offenses or changing marital status.

Combining predictive analytics with more investigators seems to be producing results in Hillsborough County. According to Eckerd, who also holds contracts in Pasco and Pinellas counties, since it took over the contract in 2012, the quality of reviews has improved 30 percent. There is a significant increase in completed documentation by caseworkers. There have also been zero child homicides in the county since the handover.

LA County is one of the counties that is looking hard at the use of predictive analytics, but they are less positive that big data can solve the problem.


HUMAN JUDGEMENT VERSUS THE MACHINE: CAN SAVVY PEOPLE KEEP KIDS SAFER THAN PREDICTIVE ANALYTICS? OR IS BIG DATA THE ANSWER?

Holden Slattery, also writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, looks further into what LA County is doing as it “struggles to strike the right balance between human judgement and increasingly sophisticated predictive tools when determining the risk that a child will be abused.”

Here’s how Slattery’s story opens:

On weekdays, calls to Los Angeles County’s child abuse hotline reach their peak between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.—right after school. On average, 70 to 80 calls about child maltreatment in Los Angeles County reach the hotline per hour during that span, according to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), the agency charged with responding to alleged abuse.

There are about 85 social workers manning the phones at any given time. They ask callers to explain how child abuse or neglect took place.

The number of calls made to the largest child welfare system in the United States creeps up each year, said Carlos Torres, an assistant regional manager for the DCFS hotline. In 2014, the hotline received 220,000 calls, he said.

After listening and marking down answers on a computer program, the social workers decide whether a situation meets the criteria for an in-person response. They also decide whether DCFS should respond by the end of their current shift, within 24 hours, or within five days, Torres said.

These decisions, based on small bits of information shared by a caller, determine where DCFS directs its limited human resources. DCFS responds with an in-person investigation to 35 percent of the calls, Torres said. In these cases, a social worker drives to the home, interviews the family, gathers information, and enters his or her findings into a web-based decision-making tool, which, like a questionnaire that an insurance company gives to prospective clients, estimates risk; in this case, risk that a child will be abused.

When everything goes right, DCFS can save a child from harm. When something goes wrong, the result can be heartbreaking. A 2011 report on recurring systemic issues that led to child deaths in Los Angeles County put the onus largely on flawed investigations and problems with the decision-making tool employed. In the search for solutions, public officials have looked toward new technologies, such as analytics software used primarily by private companies, to see if that can keep more children out of harm’s way. As public officials make these kinds of inquiries, in Los Angeles County and across the globe, they confront the conundrum of human judgement versus machine. Some say technological advances hold the answers, while others say that only savvy people are up to the task.

Slattery notes that a number of experts cite research that suggests all this predictive analytics isn’t particularly effective when it comes to assessing if a kid is safe or not.

In any case, read on.


IS IT TIME TO REFORM CALIFORNIA’S “STEP ACT?”

One night in January 1988, rival gang members were shooting each other on the streets of Westwood and mistakenly hit and killed a young woman named Karen Toshiba.

The murder of Karen Toshiba became a flashpoint, as such tragic deaths often do, and 1988 became the year the so-called war on gangs was declared in Los Angeles and, in Sacramento, the state legislature passed the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Protection Act (STEP Act), Statute 186.22 of the penal code.

Among its other functions, the the STEP Act imposed greater punishment for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a criminal street gang. In the beginning, the sentencing “enhancements” were no more than a few years. But it 2000, crimes that were “serious” or “violent,” as defined by the California Penal Code, could be enhanced by five or ten or, in certain cases, a life sentence.

The STEP Act can be brought to bear even when a young man or woman is at the periphery of a gang, with a relationship that has more to do with where he or she lives, than any kind of actively committed or formalized association.

It has resulted in multi-decade sentences for juveniles tried as adults as a consequence of their proximity to violent acts in which they did not participate, even in cases when no one was injured.

If a so-called gang expert can successfully label a defendant as a gang member, even if he or she is not, then the enhancement can kick in, and conviction is also much more likely.

In a story by Daniel Alarcón in this week’s New York Times Magazine called “How Do You Define a Gang Member?” Alarcón
describes a case that shows the STEP Act in action.

The story has to do with a case in Modesto, California, where the primary gangs are variation on the theme of Norteño, or northerners, or Sureños—southerners.

Here’s a clip:

On a rainy day last December, in a courtroom in downtown Modesto, Calif., a 24-year-old white man named Jesse Sebourn, along with five co-defendants, sat accused of second-degree murder. The victim, Erick Gomez, was only 20 when he was shot to death. He was a reputed Norteño gang member who had lived just a few minutes’ drive from the working-class Modesto neighborhood where Sebourn was raised. The police estimate that there are as many as 10,000 gang members in Stanislaus County, where Modesto is, most either Norteños and Sureños, two of California’s most notorious Latino street gangs. The feud between them often turns deadly, and according to Thomas Brennan, the district attorney, this was one such instance: Sebourn and his co-defendants were Sureño gang members hunting for rivals on Valentine’s Day in 2013, when they found Gomez, out on a walk with his girlfriend.

Brennan was not saying that Sebourn had fired the gun; in fact, the accused shooter, Giovanni Barocio, had evaded arrest and is believed to be in Mexico, while witnesses and time-stamped 911 calls made it difficult to believe Sebourn had even been present at the scene when Gomez was killed. But according to the prosecution, Sebourn had set the entire chain of events in motion a few hours before the shooting, when he and two of his co-defendants tagged a mural eulogizing dead Norteños in an alley behind the building where Gomez lived. Sebourn and the others were caught in the act and beaten by Norteños, though they got away with little more than scrapes and bruises. But the prosecution argued that spray-painting over a rival’s mural was an aggressive act intended to incite violence — the equivalent of firing a shot. By this interpretation of events, the afternoon scuffle led directly to that evening’s murder: tagging, fisticuffs and finally, hours later, homicidal retaliation, each escalation following logically and inevitably from the previous. “Ask yourself,” Brennan said to the jury in his opening statement, “what are the natural and probable consequences of a gang fight?”

But this time the defense has a gang expert of its own, a former gang member turned PhD named Jesse De La Cruz…

In any case, read on.


THE LAPD HAS THE MOST POLICE KILLINGS IN 2015 OF ANY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCY IN THE NATION, SAYS THE GUARDIAN, WHICH HAS DECIDED TO COUNT

The Guardian newspaper has launched a project it is calling The Counted, the purpose of which is to count people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015.

It’s an interactive project, which you can find here.

Over at KPCC, Aaron Mendelson writes that, according to the Guardian’s database, the Los Angeles Police Department has killed more people (10), than any other law enforcement agency in the United States this year, that’s twice as many as the four law enforcement agencies, one of which is the LASD, that are in second place.

Anyway, it’s interesting so take a look, both at what KPCC has isolated from the database, and at the Guardian database itself.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, DCFS, families, Foster Care, LAPD, LASD, Sentencing | 17 Comments »

Two Deputies Take Deals on Fed Jail Beatings Indictment & Abruptly Change Stories – UPDATED

June 1st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


One of the largest difficulties in proving cases of brutality by deputies toward inmates
in LA County’s troubled jail system is that, absent a camera, it is the word of two or three or four deputies against that of an inmate.

Even if the inmate is telling the truth, and has injuries that support his story, the deputies have traditionally almost always unfailing supported each other, going so far as to accuse the inmate of criminal wrong doing to support their reports.

Such was the case with the four deputies and one sergeant who were indicted in December 2013 for the cluster of alleged beat downs and brutalizing of visitors to Men’s Central Jail. The case is set to come to trial later this month.

But while the case (known, for short, as U.S. v. Gonzalez) involves accusations of brutality in the LA County jail system, as mentioned above, the alleged abuse was not visited on inmates, but on family and friends who came to visit jail inmates. And it wasn’t one instance, but a series of incidents that involved the same five people, four deputies and one supervisor.

The events described in the charges include the alleged abuse of five different visitors to the jail, in one instance, the bizarre manhandling of an Austrian consular official who, by the way, had diplomatic immunity.

Prominent among the incidents named is the the beating of Gabriel Carrillo, allegedly when Carrillo was in handcuffs and not resisting the officers, after Carrillo had come to the jail to visit his brother.

(Arresting officers had also reportedly beat up the brother. But that’s another story altogether.)

The indictment involving the visitors’ center differs from the other federal indictments alleging abuse inside the LA County jails in that there were civilian witnesses to at least some part of the defendants’ actions. Recently, however, the case gained a pair of very large advantages when two of the indicted deputies abruptly changed their descriptions of events in the process of making deals with the feds.

Joel Rubin at the LA Times broke the story of the deputies’ deals, which are thought to be in return for likely no prison time (although the judge could modify the no-prison part of the deal).

Here’ s clip from Rubin’s story:

Under the terms of the agreement he signed last week, Deputy Noel Womack gave prosecutors a new version of the violent 2011 encounter in a windowless, secluded room in the Men’s Central Jail facility. Deputies, he said, beat the jail visitor even though the man was handcuffed and not resisting as he was held on the floor, according to a copy of the agreement reviewed by The Times.

Womack has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge that he lied to FBI agents during an interview last month when he told them he did not know if the visitor was handcuffed, the agreement said. He admitted to lying again when he told the agents his supervisor had ordered him to punch the man and a third time when he said the strikes he inflicted on the man had been necessary, the agreement said.

The second deputy, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, entered a guilty plea earlier this year, court records show. The agreement between prosecutors and Zunggeemoge, who faced several allegations of abuse and dishonesty, was sealed by U.S. District Judge George H. King, keeping its details secret.

[SNIP]

The plea agreements mark the first time in the last two decades that a sheriff’s deputy has been convicted in federal court of crimes related to excessive force, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office said. Last year, the office secured convictions against seven sheriff’s officials accused of obstructing the FBI’s investigation into claims of brutality by deputies in the jail.

A Rubin wrote, one of the deals is sealed by the court, but there is some paperwork for the other indicating the changes in the deputies’ stories, in particular the admission that Carrillo was, in fact, handcuffed and non-resistant.

This should be a very interesting trial, involving as it does what the indictment describes as a supervisor—namely former LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez—who allegedly created an environment where abuse could flourish. Gonzalez, states the indictment, “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if those visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’” the deputies through words or conduct.

Gonzalez would also reportedly “encourage” deputies under his command “to make unlawful arrests, engage in unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force.”

He allegedly “praised overly-aggressive behavior” by his deputies, and “criticized” those who were not aggressive enough.

Again, these were not inmates against whom the behavior was aimed, but visitors.

And, although it has no real legal bearing on the case, it might be instructive to note that, on Thursday of last week, Carillo’s lawyer, Ron Kaye, announced that his client is being paid nearly $1.2 million by the county to settle his civil rights lawsuit.


NOTE: This story was updated on Monday afternoon, June 1, 2015.

Posted in FBI, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 47 Comments »

LA County Selected for 1st Round of MacArthur $75 Million Jail Reform Challenge (This is a Very Good Thing)….& Holding on to Humanity at Pelican Bay

May 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY ONE OF 20 SELECTED OUT OF 200 ENTRANTS IN $75 MILLION NATIONAL CHALLENGE TO REFORM U.S. JAILS

On Monday, Los Angeles County received news that it has been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation that will take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

This is very good news.

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

Then in phase two of the Justice Challenge, the 20 jurisdictions, will be whittled down to ten. Those fortunate ten will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement their respective plans for reform.

In other words, those who are part of the 20 are, by their participation, committed to a real, no-kidding substantive plan for jail reform, which will include strategies to reduce the jail system’s population and more. Then if they’re chosen to be one of the ten, they’re committed to implementing that plan, and will get an infusion of cash to better make that implementation possible.

(The 20 that were recently selected have jails systems that range in size from 239 beds in Mesa County to LA County’s 21,951 bed system, so for the second phase, the yearly funding for the remaining ten, will depend on the size of the jurisdiction’s jail system.)

According to MacArthur, the criminal justice organizations that will provide “technical assistance and counsel” to the 20 jurisdictions as they design and prepare their “comprehensive plans for local reform” are the Center for Court Innovation, the Institute for State and Local Governance at the City University of New York, the Justice Management Institute, Justice System Partners, the Pretrial Justice Institute, and the Vera Institute of Justice.

The Vera institute of Justice in particular, has been deeply involved in MacArthur’s jail reform initiative with two MacArthur-funded studies released this year that both illuminate problems in the nation’s jail systems and point toward the way toward solutions.

For instance, we learned from this month’s study by Vera that U.S. jails are draining a lot more dollars from our public coffers than most people think. And in February of this year, another Vera study, Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America, showed the ways that the nation’s jail policies can do harm.

Vera’s February study makes clear that jails serve an important function in local justice systems, both for short term incarceration, and to hold those charged with crimes who are either deemed too dangerous to release pending trial, or who are considered flight risks unlikely to turn up for trial.

Yet, according to what the study’s authors found, the above categories no longer represent what jails primarily do or whom they hold. Instead, Vera reported, three out of five people in jail are unconvicted of any crime, yet are simply too poor to post even a low bail in order to be released while their cases are being processed.

For instance, in 2013 in New York City, more than 50% of the jail inmates who were held until their cases were settled, stayed in jail solely because they couldn’t afford bail of $2,500 or less. Most of these inmates were arrested on misdemeanor cases.

All of this time spent in jail purely for fiscal reasons, the report states, has collateral consequences in terms of lost wages, lost jobs, loss of a place to live, and loss of time spent with spouses and children, producing further harm and destabilization of those incarcerated and, by extension, their families and communities.

Moreover, nearly 75 percent of both pretrial detainees and sentenced offenders are in jail for nonviolent traffic, property, drug, or public order offenses—some of which could be more successfully handled through diversion programs that utilize community based services. “Underlying the behavior that lands people in jail,” write the Vera authors, “there is often a history of substance abuse, mental illness, poverty, failure in school, and homelessness.”

(The report notes that, in Los Angeles County, they found that the single largest group booked into the jail system consisted of people charged with traffic and vehicular offenses.)

It is these problems and others that the Justice Challenge of which LA County is now a part hopes to help cure.

The fact that jails can do harm is, of course, a fact with which LA is very familiar, what with the scathing report on our jails delivered in September 2012 by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, the looming federal consent decree pertaining to the way the mentally ill are treated in LA’s jails, and the recent landmark settlement of “Rosas v. Baca,” the giant federal class action lawsuit brought by the So-Cal ACLU that has resulted in a court enforceable roadmap to correct the use of force policies inside the jail that led to a pattern of brutality by sheriffs deputies against inmates.

Back in February, when the challenge was first announced we spoke to one of the MacArthur people, and also to one of the Vera study authors, both of whom said they hoped very much that LA County—the home of the nation’s largest jail system—would be one of those jurisdictions that applied.

To its credit LA County—which, in this instance, means the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Departmentdid apply and, as we know now, was selected.

We look forward to hearing about LA’s strategy for reform of its massive system as that plan evolves.

And, of course, but we cannot help but hope that LA will be one of the final ten that get MacArthur bucks to put their stellar plans into action.

The full list of jurisdictions selected for the first round of Justice Challenge is as follows:

· Ada County, ID
· Charleston County, SC
· Cook County, IL
· Harris County, TX
· Los Angeles County, CA
· Lucas County, OH
· Mecklenburg County, NC
· Mesa County, CO
· Milwaukee County, WI
· Multnomah County, OR
· New Orleans, LA
· New York City, NY
· Palm Beach County, FL
· Pennington County, SD
· Philadelphia, PA
· Pima County, AZ
· St. Louis County, MO
· Shelby County, TN
· Spokane County, WA
· State of Connecticut


AND IN OTHER NEWS…..A USC DEAN OF SOCIAL WORK ENCOUNTERS MEN WORKING HARD TO HOLD ON TO HUMANITY IN CALIFORNIA’S PELICAN BAY PRISON

In the Chronicle of Social Change, Wendy Smith, an Associate Dean and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work has written an extraordinary story about her trip to Pelican Bay Prison to meet with men who were incarcerated for crimes they’d committed as teenagers.

Smith traveled to Pelican Bay with a group of lawyers, advocates, and law students with the purpose of talking to 250 of these inmates convicted as juveniles about California’s Senate Bill 260, a law passed and signed in 2013, which allows youth offenders given life sentences, the possibility of a new type of parole hearing at their 15th, 20th or 25th year of incarceration.

But the trip was much more than simply an imparting of information. In many instances, it was a walk back into humanity with men who were terrified that humanity was lost to them.

Here are some clips. But be sure to read the whole thing. It’s more than worth it.

During the small groups, we learned that some men had not been to the visiting room to receive a visitor for a long time; some had never been there. Some had exchanged no conversation with anyone but another prisoner or a guard in months or years. During the groups, described in the evaluations by many as the best part of the workshops, some men spoke and asked questions readily; others did not speak at all.

In the insight groups, some struggled with the distinction between excuses and explanations of crime, wondering if there was one. We spoke of examining and reflecting on the people and events in their early lives, and the environments in which they grew up as steps along the road that led to the crime and to where they are now.

Several men recognized aloud that they did not know how to begin this work. They wondered if there could be someone to ask the questions that could help them see into their own lives, to see the boy who was and the man who might yet be. Hope had entered the room, bringing with it fear and worry about how to make a turn from habitual ways of feeling and being, and especially, how to conceive of such a turn without help.

And then here’s a section from her meeting with men in solitary:

I told them that their crime was not the total of the person they were, and asked them to try to remember the very first illegal act they ever committed. In a moment or two, they all did. Most told me they were eight, nine, 10, or 11 at the time. A few were five or six, and a few were teenagers. All were old enough to remember a self that existed before that first act. I asked them to remember the boys they were before the crime.

We talked about how to begin to remember and piece together what happened after that, trying to dig deep to include the many steps along the road to the moment of a crime, and the decisions they made at the time and since. We acknowledged together the difficulty and shame of thinking and talking about their crimes.

In the SHU, as in the general population the day before, many men told me that they wished there were someone they could speak with on a regular basis to be able to do this work—they could not imagine how they would be able to do it. Some believed their inability to put things into words would make it impossible, now and at any parole hearing in the future.

Our conversations were brief and constantly interrupted by movement – our own as we rotated among the groups, and those of the guards and inmates, as bathroom trips and meal and water deliveries were made, as men were taken back to their cells and new groups of men were brought in.

Somehow, amid the locking and unlocking of cells and cuffs, and the congestion in narrow halls crowded with our group and guards, conversations continued. It became clear that for many of these men, we were the first people other than prison personnel or other inmates that they had spoken with in years. Some were nevertheless able to engage with little apparent difficulty, asking questions, enjoying the opportunity to interact with us.

For others, speech came slowly or not at all, and for some, even eye contact was too much to manage. These men spend all their time alone, in their cells or in the exercise area. The solitude of their confinement is absolute. Many had been there for five or ten years. Some had been there 20 years or more.

One man had spent the previous four months “debriefing,” telling what he knew about the gang life he had decided to renounce. Debriefing is the primary avenue by which inmates can obtain transfer out of solitary confinement. It is dangerous, as gang members often retaliate when someone leaves.

Those who debrief must be isolated from other inmates and their locations kept secret. For this reason, each of us met individually with this man in a separate visiting corridor. It was a relief to have the relative quiet of this space and a full twenty minutes in which my focus could be undivided.

He had been incarcerated at 17, already the father of two very young children. Now he is 41 and a grandfather. We spoke little about his crimes—he lived the gang life both before and during his imprisonment—but rather about the rocky course of his marriage over many years and how his wife helped him to get sober and to find the religious faith that strengthened his will to leave the gang life.

His eyes filled as he described his hopes for the future and his pain over how he had lived his life. Only lately had he begun to understand the impact of events of his early life: the loss of his baby brother, his mother’s wild grief that led her to cruelly abuse him, habitually pouring scalding water over his hands and body.

We wept together. There was much more he needed to say, but already the next advocate was waiting to meet and speak with him, and another group of inmates waited around the corner for me. It was awful to leave him with only the hope that he had found comfort in the humanity of those few shared moments….

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

The 22-Hour Standoff, Sentencing Videos, and a Promising Housing Program in SF

May 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD 22-HOUR STANDOFF WITH ELDERLY WOMAN A MODEL FOR HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERACTIONS WITH THE MENTALLY ILL CAN GO RIGHT

Last Thursday, beginning at 5:30a.m. in a mobile home park on the 4200 block of Topanga Blvd., a mentally ill 74-year-old woman armed with a revolver engaged members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in an intense standoff that lasted more than 20 hours.

On Tuesday, LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell called a press conference to lay out the details of the crisis situation, which would have tested “the resolve, training and tactics of any law enforcement agency.”

The woman reportedly brandished the gun at paramedics and officers who had responded to her distress call, as well as mobile home park residents (who were quickly evacuated), before taking over a neighboring mobile home. The LASD sent in its Crisis Negotiations Team, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” commanding officers, and special equipment.

The raving elderly woman reportedly shot at a robot sent in to negotiate with her, as well as at officers during the standoff. At one point, the woman approached officers, saying she had lost her gun, before pulling it out and firing two rounds.

Sheriff McDonnell said the incident “provided rare insight in to the continuum of decisions that our deputies make in life or death situations…decisions that balance the need for control in the name of public safety…with the safety and welfare of an individual.”

Officers deployed a great deal of less-than-lethal resources, including foam projectiles, tear gas, and even a fire hose, all of which failed to subdue the woman. Despite believing the woman had at least one live round left, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” stripped out of their gear, helmets, and vests. Five Blue Team members very carefully crawled under the house, and were able to take the woman into custody—all at great danger to the unarmed officers.

McDonnell praised the officers’ skillful handling of a situation that could have easily ended in tragedy. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that the SWAT team was ‘held at bay,’” said McDonnell. “The Special Enforcement Bureau’s SWAT team held themselves at bay of out an overriding desire to end the incident without having to resort to using deadly force.”

Sons of the elderly woman, who they said had never been in trouble or caused any disturbances before, expressed deep gratitude to the members of the Lost Hills Station and SWAT team: “…everyone we came into contact with exhibited the utmost in compassion, concern, patience, discipline  and restraint: for the residents of the mobile park, their fellow officers, our family and most importantly, for an elderly woman in need of help.”


SENTENCING VIDEOS BRING DEFENDANTS HUMANNESS INTO THE COURTROOM, BUT WILL THE COST KEEP THEM OUT OF REACH FOR POOR DEFENDANTS?

It is becoming increasingly more common for defense lawyers to submit mini biographical documentaries during sentencing. The new defense tool, commonly called a “sentencing video” focuses on a defendant’s history, hardships and traumas, and potential, in an effort to humanize defendants and sway judges toward handing down lighter punishment.

Advocates are concerned, however, that as the trend grows, the use of often-costly sentencing videos will not be possible for indigent defendants using public defenders.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice non-profit, seeks to level the playing field.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has the story. Here’s a clip:

Even in cities with robust public defense programs, like New York, lawyers may be handling as many as 100 cases at once, and they say there is little room to add shooting and editing videos to their schedules.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that public defenders could possibly spare the time to do that,” said Josh Saunders, who until recently was a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, adding that lawyers there are often physically in court for the entire workday. He sees the humanizing potential of videos, he said, but “I would also be concerned that defendants with means would be able to put together a really nice package that my clients generally would not be able to.”

Mr. Jayadev’s nonprofit, Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice group and community center in San Jose, Calif., believes that videos are a new frontier in helping poor defendants, and is not only making videos but also encouraging defense lawyers nationwide to do the same. The group has made about 20 biographical videos for defendants, one featuring footage of the parking lot where a homeless teenage defendant grew up. With a $30,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation, De-Bug is now training public defenders around the country.

Given that a defendant has a right to speak at sentencing, a video is on solid legal ground, said Walter Dickey, emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, “though the judge can obviously limit what’s offered.” Professor Dickey said that because, at both the state and federal levels, the lengths of sentences are increasingly up to judges rather than mandated by statute, it followed that videos that “speak to the discretionary part” of sentencing were having a bigger role.

Mr. Jayadev takes a standard approach to his projects: The producers identify the defendant’s past hardships and future prospects, then select supporters or family members to describe those, usually in a visual context, like a pastor in a church pew. Mr. Jayadev said he found it was more natural to have the defendant talking to someone off-screen, rather than staring at the camera.

For Mr. Quijada, “this story is around this young man’s transformation from a life that had sort of run its course,” Mr. Jayadev said.


A COLLABORATIVE SF PROGRAM TO PROVIDE FORMER OFFENDERS WITH FREE HOUSING AND REHABILITATION SERVICES TO HELP THEM GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

Forty-two recently released low-level former offenders and more serious offenders who are currently on probation will soon move into their own studio apartments at Drake Hotel in the heart of San Francisco. Through a united effort between the SF Superior Court, Probation Department, and Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a single-occupancy hotel is being transformed to specifically house homeless former offenders who struggle with addiction.

The move is particularly meaningful in a city where the average apartment runs $3,458 per month. The goal of the housing program, which is funded with realignment money, is to help tenants find permanent housing within one year of living at the Drake Hotel.

Tenants will be given a set of responsibilities and a curfew and will be paired with case managers who will help them access public benefits and save up for a deposit and first month’s rent on their own apartment.

The SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight has more on the program. Here are some clips:

…asked why criminals should get free housing in San Francisco when law-abiding low-income and even middle-class families struggle to afford apartments, court officials seemed to be caught off guard.

“The kind of housing these folks are getting is not something to be envious of, honestly. It’s just a room,” said Lisa Lightman, director of the Superior Court’s collaborative courts, which include special courts for drug-addicted people and mentally ill people and the Community Justice Center, which handles low-level crimes committed in the Tenderloin.

Asked the same question, Krista Gaeta, deputy director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said the public will benefit if people who have committed crimes are living in decent housing and provided case management.

“You can’t let someone out of jail, give them $5 and say, ‘Good luck,’” she said. “The better plan is to do things like this so they can go out and get permanent housing, find work and not commit the crimes that got them in trouble in the first place.”

[SNIP]

Fletcher said it has become increasingly difficult to help people on probation in San Francisco find any sort of housing because of the city’s sky-high rents. Last month, San Francisco landlords with available apartments were asking a record average rent of $3,458 a month.

The Drake Hotel will specifically serve people on probation who are homeless and are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The facility will be considered a clean and sober building, but tenants won’t be evicted for having relapses, Fletcher said.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

WitnessLA on KPFK’s Deadline LA Talking About the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Subpoena Power & Indicting Paul Tanaka…(& Also on KCRW’s Press Play)

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON DEADLINE LA WITH BARBARA OSBORN AND HOWARD BLUME TALKING ABOUT LASD INDICTMENTS AND MORE

On Memorial Day I was on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts, Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, discussing issues concerning the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, including the significance of the recent indictments of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former LASD captain Tom Carey. We also talked about the proposed civilian oversight commission for the LASD and whether or not that commission should have subpoena power.

Last, we touched on the recent report showing crime in California has gone down not up since realignment began in October 2011.

Here’s a link to the podcast. (Scroll down through the archives until you see DEADLINE LA and you’ll find it.)


AND…EARLIER WITNESSLA WAS ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND TALKING ABOUT WHY PAUL TANAKA WAS INDICTED AND WHETHER WE’LL SEE A FUTURE INDICTMENT FOR LEE BACA

On the day that the indictments were unsealed charging Tanaka and Carey with obstruction of justice, I was on KCRW’s Press Play, where I discussed with host Madeleine Brand the significance of the indictment, and whether or not these new charges meant that there was a possibility that former sheriff Lee Baca—who, for a host of reasons, has been believed by many to be essentially unindictable—might now be in the U.S. Attorney’s sights for future charges.

We thought you might enjoy listening to the conversation.

Here’s the link.

Posted in Bill Bratton, FBI, Jim McDonnell, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

Updates & Early Legal Challenges in the Tanaka/Carey Indictment Drama….A Call for “Smart Justice” for LA County….a New Brand of Advice for Next Generation Cops…the Death of Officer Kerrie Orozco

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FIRST STEPS TOWARD TRIAL FOR TANAKA AND CAREY

On Friday, May 29, the first “status hearing” is scheduled in the obstruction of justice trial of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LA County Sheriff’s department, and Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB).

Judge Percy Anderson will be presiding. Originally the trial was assigned to Judge S.James Otero but, as many involved had predicted, Anderson managed to snatch the high profile case from Otero and move it into his courtroom. Percy Anderson, for those who don’t remember, was the judge on both of James Sexton’s trials and that of the other six former LASD members convicted of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka’s legal team was not thrilled with the judicial switch, likely because some on the defense teams from the last trials thought Anderson had pro prosecution leanings. As a consequence, the Tanaka team filed a motion “to Return Case to Randomly Assigned District Judge Based Upon Improper Transfer.”

Anderson, however, denied the motion with vigor mere hours after it was filed.The issues raised in Tanaka’s Motion are so devoid of merit that no further briefing is required,” he wrote.

And that was that.

(Anderson is not a mincer of words.)

One of the other issues that was to have been heard on Friday was a request for a “judicial inquiry” regarding possible conflicts of interest due to the fact that Carey was being represented by Thomas O’Brian and other members of the Paul Hastings law firm.

it’s easy to see why Carey chose O’Brien. He held the post of U.S. Attorney just before Andre Birotte, which means he knows the workings of that office inside and out. (Andre Birotte is the U.S. Attorney who presided over most of the investigations and charges that are now playing out. Birotte has since gone on to a federal judgeship, and was replaced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura, the woman who unveiled Tanaka and Carey’s charges.) The potential conflict that the government has flagged is the fact that O’Brien represented LASD deputy James Sexton, one of the seven who was previously convicted of charges similar to those recently slapped on Tanaka and Carey. Moreover the attorney is still representing Sexton for his appeal to the 9th Circuit. The prosecution also noted, in their lengthy request, that some of Carey’s perjury charges had to do with questions he was asked by O’Brien when Carey was the witness stand for the defense during one or both of Sexton’s two trials.

The prosecutors made a strong argument in their request for an inquiry, with plenty of case law cited. Not too long after the prosecution filed its request, O’Brien and company withdrew as counsel for Carey.

A trial date is expected to be set at the hearing on Friday.

In the meantime, in an email that went out to the members of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), the union’s leadership urged department members who wished to support Carey to give to his family via a special website that had been set up by PPOA. There LASD members can also give to the families of any of the other six as well, thus getting around the prohibition, according to department rules, against any kind of contact with the six now that they had been convicted of felonies.

The message on the donations site reads in part:

SUPPORT FAMILIES OF THOSE CONVICTED FOR FOLLOWING ORDERS

Earlier this year, the Feds convicted 7 employees of the LASD for following the orders of their bosses. Regardless of their guilt or innocence, they and their families are facing difficult times financially. Many are struggling to make their mortgage payments and to put food on the table to feed their children.

“One thing we do well in law enforcement is support each other in times of need.” said PPOA President Brian Moriguchi. “We realize just how difficult a job we do and the risks we face. Few can truly understand that. That is why we are like family and look out for one another. The families of these convicted employees are paying the price for what was really a pissing match between two law enforcement agencies.”

Paul Tanaka’s name, however, is notably absent from the donations site, presumably because he was allegedly one of the “bosses,” whose orders the others were following.


A CALL FOR “SMART JUSTICE”

While some of California’s other counties have embraced the challenge and opportunity of realignment to create programs and strategies that both help and monitor inmates when they finish their incarceration terms and begin to attempt integrate back into their individual communities, LA County has lagged behind.

On Sunday, the LA Times editorial board urged LA County to dispense with its lagging and to start practicing “smart justice.”

Here’s a clip from the story::

Counties are working to find the best ways to provide housing, healthcare and employment, to serve not only nonviolent offenders but their victims, their families and their neighborhoods. There have been many successes and many lessons to learn.

If only Los Angeles County would learn them. The state’s (by far) largest county ought to be a leader in smart and effective justice, but as other counties have spent their state realignment dollars on programs intended to reduce recidivism, L.A. County has only dabbled in such initiatives and instead spends most of its realignment money on old-school law enforcement, monitoring and punishment.


“BE GUARDIANS NOT WARRIORS” SAYS HEAD OF JOHN JAY’S POLICE STUDIES PROGRAM TO HIS WOULD-BE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

NPR’S Robert Siegel visited John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the west side of Manhattan, and observed veteran police officer Professor John DeCarlo, who coordinates the highly respected police studies program at John Jay, as DeCarlo encouraged his next-generation law enforcement students to become “guardians” more than “warriors.”

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

SIEGEL: John DeCarlo spent 34 years as a police officer and later a police chief in Connecticut. Then he got his PhD and made the switch to teaching at John Jay. In light of this year’s stories about policing, I asked him if he talks with his students about how they as future law enforcement officers should manage their encounters with civilians, including the fear that they might feel at such moments.

DECARLO: We have not only talked about the fear that one feels at that point and the reaction that an officer might have, but we also talked about how certain people will be predisposed to different reactions, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to really increase the efficacy of police selection processes so that we do not put people on the job who would be bullies.

SIEGEL: And do you feel those people can be identified before they become police officers or early on in their police careers? How do you do that?

DECARLO: I do. You know, right now, when police officers come on, you know, we send them to an academy that is very militaristic. We are looking, very often, for big people. Women are underrepresented wildly, and we know that women are much better at talking their way out of bad situations than big guys. Right now we give cops a test called the MMPI-2, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. So we pretty much determine that they’re not psychopaths. I think that’s a low bar.

SIEGEL: In his senior seminar, DeCarlo comes off as a born teacher.

DECARLO: Good morning. We are going to talk a little bit about – Tyric (ph), how are you? – where police have gone and where we want them to go.

SIEGEL: He is dynamic, commanding attention, knowing his students, working the seminar room rather than standing at the front. The seminar draws on ideas from, among other sources, Plato’s “Republic,” in which the police are the guardians and the principles of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London’s police and namesake of London’s of bobbies, and President Obama’s 21st-Century Task Force on Policing. John DeCarlo is a strong supporter of community policing. He leads his students through a Socratic dialogue inspired by an article about the shift in our view of police from guardians to warriors….


THE HEARTBREAKING DEATH OF OMAHA POLICE OFFICER KERRIE OROZCO

It is always heartbreak-producing when a law enforcement officer is killed. But the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Omaha officer Kerrie Orozco in an exchange of gunfire with a fugitive is elliciting an unusual amount of grief in the city she was devoted to protecting and serving.

Here’s a clip from a very personal Fox News story about Orozco and the response to her death.

As the family of Kerrie Orozco grieved for the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran following her death Wednesday in a shootout with a fugitive, the city’s flags flew at half-staff, the police department rallied behing the simple phrase “Kerrie On,” and donations poured in for Olivia Ruth, the baby Orozco had just given birth to prematurely. Orozco was working her last shift before going on maternity leave to be with her baby when a criminal’s bullet struck her just above the bulletproof vest that might have saved her life.

“She was so excited to be a mother,” her aunt Laurie McNeil told FoxNews.com Friday.

Olivia was born premature Feb. 17. Orozco was set to bring her home from the hospital Thursday and go on maternity leave. Wednesday’s tragic events changed all that.

“She had the bassinet all set up by the side of the bed,” McNeil said. “She just wanted to be ready.”

Orozco was part of a fugitive task force searching for convicted felon Marcus Wheeler. He was being sought for an earlier Omaha shooting. As they closed in on the suspect Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler, 26, opened fire.

Police said one of his bullets struck Orozco in the chest and exited her back. An inch lower and it would have struck her in her bullet-proof vest.

McNeil told FoxNews.com she had a bad feeling when she looked at her phone Wednesday and saw a breaking news flash reporting an Omaha police officer had been shot.

“I immediately turned on the Internet and started watching,” the aunt said, choking back tears. “I was hoping to see her walk across the screen.”

As her deepest fears grew, McNeil sent Orozco a text asking, “Are you Ok?” She tried calling. She didn’t get an answer.

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | 55 Comments »

Realignment Revisited, CA Bill to Conceal Child Abuse Death Cases, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Crowdfunding Lawsuits Against Law Enforcement

May 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CALIFORNIA PRISONER REALIGNMENT AND ITS SUCCESSFUL IMPLEMENTATION, WILL BE PART OF GOV. BROWN’S LEGACY

California’s prisoner realignment, which went into effect in October of 2011, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the CDCR (California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation) to the states’ 58 counties.

In 2013, the Public Policy Institute of California looked at what effect, if any, realignment had on crime in its first year of existence. It found a slight uptick in violent crime, but noted that it was comparable to similar increases in violent crime elsewhere in the country in states that had no new realignment strategy. (There was however, an anomalous uptick in auto theft, for which the researchers had no explanation.) At the same time, in that first year, the state’s prison population dropped by around 27,000 to 133,400 inmates.

On Tuesday, the Public Policy Institute of California released a second report, finding that in 2013, crime rates dropped several percentage points (or more) in all categories of violent crime and property crime calculated.

And, thanks to realignment, and more recently, Prop 47, the state’s prisons are now 2,200 inmates below the 137.5% capacity deadline set by a panel of federal judges. (Prop 47 reclassified certain non-violent drug and property-related felonies as misdemeanors.) County jail population growth has also slowed down.

A Sacramento Bee editorial lauds California Governor Jerry Brown’s criminal justice reform efforts, calling realignment an important accomplishment and a model for the nation.


UNDER-THE-RADAR CALIFORNIA “TRAILER BILL” WOULD CONCEAL RECORDS OF KIDS KILLED BY THEIR PARENTS’ SIGNIFICANT OTHERS…AND MORE – UPDATED

A “trailer bill” tucked away in the CA budget proposal would hide records of child deaths at the hands of a parent’s boyfriend or girlfriend. It would also limit access to other case notes, and keep social workers’ identities secret in such cases. Interestingly, the bill would also implement a federal order to release case files when kids are brought close to death.

Because the bill is attached to the budget, it will bypass the usual committee review process.

According to the Times, the bill could be voted on as early as today (Thursday).

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the bill. Here are some clips:

…state and county officials implemented a battery of child protection reforms that child welfare advocates credit with reducing the number of children who die because of abuse and neglect.

But the bill currently under consideration would relax deadlines for the release of records, and keep the names of social workers secret. It would deny the public access to original case notes, instead providing abbreviated summaries of how the government attempted to protect vulnerable children.

It would also exclude the public from reviewing case files concerning children who were killed by their parents’ boyfriends or girlfriends.


[EDITOR'S UPDATE: We have just deleted a sentence in our clip from this LA Times story. It had to do with DCFS's purported sponsoring of this worrisome bill, which---according to information we have subsequently received---turns out to be incorrect. (A DCFS spokesman said that those at his office first learned of the bill's existence this morning from the LAT's and WLA's reporting. He assured me that DCFS is not at all in favor of the information-restricting proposed legislation.)

The Times too has removed the problematic sentence, although without notifying readers that they have done so. Instead the faulty information just unaccountably vanished. (Bad LAT, no cookie!)]


[SNIP]

Pete Cervinka, the deputy director of the social services department who reportedly led efforts to draft the rollback, declined to answer questions about the proposal.

A spokesman noted that the department had not yet publicly introduced the language of the bill, which he said will implement a federal mandate to release records for the first time in cases where children are injured to the point that they are “near death.”


DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV AND THE DEATH PENALTY, AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF SOMEONE PAID TO HUMANIZE DEFENDANTS IN CAPITAL PUNISHMENT CASES

In a story for the Nation, Debbie Nathan, a journalist and freelance “mitigation specialist” for death penalty cases, gives an interesting take on Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s case from the eyes of someone whose job is to “de-monster the monsters.”

In death penalty cases, when guilt is already established, mitigation specialists dig through the defendant’s past to present a humanizing narrative that will sway jurors to spare the defendant’s life. Often, according to Nathan, the investigations turn up prior abuse, mental illness, and other traumas. But, Nathan says, the concepts and practices of mitigation investigations, vilification, and even innocence claims are indicative of a broken criminal justice system. Nathan argues that humans should be allowed to make bad decisions, even catastrophic ones, and remain among the living.

Here are some clips from Nathan’s insider take on the issue:

We search out hardship in early life. In death-penalty cases, this is usually like shooting into barrels of fish. Capital murder is an extreme behavioral outlier and almost always is associated with a gross inability to control one’s frustration, anger, and other antisocial impulses. The problem is most often associated with conditions like intellectual disability, mental illness, exposure to environmental and workplace toxins, and substance abuse. Learning this background can liberate a jury from simplistic and legalistic notions of “guilt,” toward the more complicated understanding that when terrible things happen to someone, even grotesquely violent responses are imbued with a quantum of moral innocence.

[SNIP]

Exposition. Rising action. A plot gone awry and a horrible climax. The denouement remains to be written. We mitigation specialists hope the poetics of our client’s life will move the jury to consider their own poetics. To think, as they lie in bed at night after court: “There but for the grace of God go I. Or my child!” They might vote to kill a monster, but not a human. Mitigation narratives don’t work all the time—witness what’s just happened with Tsarnaev. But they work often enough, and they save lives.

As a result of this work, I see capital cases from the inside. I see privy things. Very occasionally, I see strong evidence that someone is actually innocent: they seem truly to have done no wrong. These cases underscore the State’s outsized and often corrupt power, exercised though egomaniacal and dishonest district attorneys, lying cops, inept “experts.” These cases have become a powerful argument against the death penalty.

But I’ve also seen cases in which the defendant and his lawyers have publicly claimed innocence—yet during my work I’ve found evidence suggesting my client is guilty. I’ve seen attorneys hide the “bad facts” of the case—facts, kept quiet by the defense, which suggest that my client did commit murder. These are the moments in which I question the corrosive role that “innocence” plays in criminal justice, and in our effort to reform that broken system.

Claims of innocence can be tremendously useful tools. In court they can rout a death sentence, particularly when raised on appeal to contest an execution that is imminent. Politically, innocence claims are a potent argument against capital punishment, because who, even among the most die-hard of capital punishment advocates, wants to mistakenly execute the blameless?

But innocence claims, even in far lesser crimes than murder, can be as corrosive to our struggling comprehension of humanity as is the prosecutor’s rant about “monsters.” Handed down in courtrooms and in the court of public opinion, a judgment of innocence gives indigent people, people of color, and immigrants the right in America to live. But the other side of the shiny coin of innocence is the crumpled currency of guilt. You’re not innocent? You fucked up? Then you deserve your exile—prison for an eternity, ejection from the United States, your life injected away on a gurney. After all, you’re not innocent.


CROWDFUNDING FOR PEOPLE ALLEGEDLY ABUSED BY LAW ENFORCEMENT, WHO CANNOT AFFORD LEGAL FEES

Anoush Hakimi turned to crowdfunding to “level the legal playing field” by helping indigent victims of alleged police abuse pay their attorney’s fees.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the unusual story. Here’s a clip:

The effort is designed to address a perennial problem in police abuse litigation: most victims are poor and their attorneys only get paid when there’s a settlement or a jury finds in their favor.

In the meantime, attorneys spend their own money to hire expert witnesses, conduct discovery and prepare the case.

“So naturally, plaintiff attorneys are reluctant to take on cases unless they are a slam dunk,” said Hakimi, 37, a Century City finance lawyer. “This leaves a lot of people out in the cold.”

Too often, he argued, victims are forced to settle a case on the cheap because their lawyers can’t afford to fight. The Iranian immigrant, who graduated from UCLA Law School, said he co-founded TrialFunder.com to raise investor money to bolster good cases.

Hakimi said investor money will “level the legal playing field” against deep-pocketed cities, counties and corporations.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Innocence, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, prison, Realignment | No Comments »

Special Committee to Recommend Subpoena Power & More to Give Teeth to LA Sheriff’s Dept. Civilian Oversight Commission

May 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



SUBPOENA POWER, YES, LASD MEMBERS ON THE COMMISSION, NO

After nearly five months of work and nine town hall meetings held around Los Angeles County, a specially-appointed working group has is nearly finished hammering out a comprehensive strategy for civilian oversight of the nation’s largest—-and, in recent years, most troubled—-sheriff’s department.

The seven-member working group charged with coming up with a plan for the formation and function of the civilian oversight commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department voted Friday on some of the last and most crucial recommendations for the oversight body that is soon due to be formed by the LA County Board of Supervisors.

Most notably, the working group voted 4-3 to recommend that the commission be granted subpoena power in order to get the documents and information it needs from the department to function adequately. To make subpoena power possible, however, would require the Board of Supervisors to vote to put a measure on the ballot.

The other vote that caused arguments among the working group members—who reportedly have been operating on most issues with great cooperation—was the 4-3 decision to prohibit any members of the LASD, currently working or retired, to serve on the oversight commission for the sheriff’s department.

The three who voted against the recommendation to go for subpoena power and also the motion to nix anyone from the LASD, were the present department undersheriff, Neal Tyler, Les Robbins, a past president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), and former FBI agent, Brent Braun.

According to group member, Hernán Vera, subpoena power and excluding members of the sheriff’s department emerged as important issues to the community at the string of well-attended town hall meetings that the working group sponsored.

“We really got an earful from people at the town halls telling us that the commission would not have the public trust if department members were on it,” said Vera, the former longtime president of the public interest law firm, Public Counsel, now an attorney in private practice. “After all, it’s a civilian oversight commission, and having sheriff’s department members would harm public confidence and present a conflict of interest.”

As for subpoena power, Vera explained that, “after looking at other jurisdictions like San Diego we found out what had been most successful,” and subpoena power was one of the ingredients, he said.

Advocate groups and inspector general, Max Huntsman, who is one of the working group members, have all expressed strong support for subpoena power. Huntsman, in particular has said he’s already been having trouble getting documents.

Peter Eliasberg, the legal director for the ACLU of Southern California, agreed on both issues. “It’s a no brainer that they need subpoena power,” he said. “Any argument against it is laughable. I don’t know a single expert on the issue of civilian review commissions who would say otherwise.”

Eliasberg also agreed that having LASD members on the commission would present “an obvious conflict of interest. I’m afraid they’ve dug their own grave on both these issues. The department has proven over and over that it can’t police itself.”


WHY THE COMMISSION….?

The creation of a civilian oversight commission for the LASD was approved by the newly configured LA County Board of Supervisors last December, with the idea that the oversight body would “help restore public trust and promote transparency” in the sheriff’s department, which had been lacerated by scandal in the last few years.

In order to facilitate the commission’s creation, the board nominated the seven-member working group to study how best to proceed, then to make recommendations about the commission’s mission, authority, size and structure.

Although the department is widely considered to be moving forward with substantive reform under Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the wisdom of creating a permanent external oversight body was once again emphasized by the recent indictments of the department’s once powerful second in command and sheriff’s candidate, Paul Tanaka, along with the former head of ICIB, the LASD’s internal criminal investigations bureau. Both men are alleged by the feds to have turned away from investigating reports of egregious wrongdoing by department members, along with allegedly actively obstructing an FBI investigation into brutality in the jails.


…AND HOW IT WILL BE CHOSEN

The groups other big vote on Friday had to do with how many members ought to be on the commission, and how those commission members should be chosen—a decision that, unlike the previous two, was reportedly made with little controversy: After considering six different possible configurations, the group went with nine commission members, the first five of whom would be chosen by the board of supervisors, with each picking one out of the five. The remaining four would be selected by a majority vote of the full board from a field of vetted applicants, meaning that community members could apply.

The working group is expected to deliver its final report to the supervisors in June.

“All seven of us have worked together very productively and professionally,” said Vera. “And the final product will incorporate the community’s comments,” along with “real life language to flesh out our recommendations.

“It’s something I’ve very proud of.”

Posted in Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 5 Comments »

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX FINALLY GOES UP THE LADDER: The Day That Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Were Federally Indicted

May 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

- David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge, LA offices of the FBI



THE ARRAIGNMENT

On Thursday, May 14, the day it actually happened, the mood among even the observers was of an almost theatrical unreality.

For weeks sources had dropped hints that former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, with him, former LASD captain William “Tom” Carey, were going to be federally indicted for obstruction of justice—and soon. But who knew? Eight months ago several sources close to the U.S. Attorney’s office said that a Tanaka indictment simply was not going to happen.

Carey, maybe, but not the former undersheriff. He was too wily, too untouchable.

Yet seven lower-ranking members of the department had been charged, convicted and handed prison terms for charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Specifically, according to government prosecutors, the seven deliberately got in the way of an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. They reportedly did so by hiding a jail inmate turned confidential informant from his FBI handlers, falsely threatening an FBI agent with arrest, and trying to persuade potential witnesses to wrongdoing in the jails not to cooperate with the feds. These actions and others, which came to be known unofficially as Operation Pandora’s Box, were ordered, according to all credible accounts, by Tanaka, and to a much lesser degree, Carey. So were the feds really going to let the underlings take the whole big, bad hit, while the shot-calling guys at the top walked away unscathed?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is: no.

Both Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey learned for certain late Wednesday afternoon through their attorneys that a grand jury had indeed handed down indictments. In reality, however, both the indictees and the lawyers had all but known for weeks. And then there were subtle hints that went out to both the Carey and Tanaka camps that planning a vacation in May would likely be….unwise.

Paul Tanaka is, of course, the former number two of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and, at one time, the man who most insiders believed was all but guaranteed the top job after then-sheriff Lee Baca stepped down. But that was before a string of departmental scandals became public, before Baca “finessed” (his word) his once blindly trusted second in command into early retirement, before Tanaka hit back with verbal stiletto strikes delivered via the press, and before Baca resigned under still ambiguous circumstances on January 7, 2014.

Prior all that, Tanaka was Baca’s anointed successor, the crown prince, the guy whom nearly everyone in and around the department—everyone save Baca himself—believed truly ran the show. It was Tanaka who reportedly micro-managed nearly all important promotions, civil service rules be damned. He was also the person who could and would tank your career if you crossed him. He had to put his “people.” in place, Tanaka once confided in former LASD Commander Robert Olmsted. Because, he said, after Baca, he was going to be sheriff for the next 16 years.

Plus he’s the three term mayor of the city of Gardena.

Instead, at around 6:30 am on Thursday, Tanaka self-surrendered to federal agents at the FBI head quarters building in Westwood. Tom Carey too self-surrendered at around the same hour. Later that day, both men were led, in handcuffs, to holding cells inside the Edward Roybal federal building. Then at approximately 3:05 p.m. Tanaka was arraigned on 5 counts of obstruction of justice. Carey was arraigned right afterward. Tanaka wore a baby blue shirt, no tie, and sport coat, for the arraignment. Carey wore a bright white, long-sleeved Oxford shirt that looked very J. Crew-ish, no jacket. Neither were handcuffed anymore.

Both men were granted bail. Tanaka’s bail was set at $50,000, to be secured by a condo in Diamond Bar that is in his wife’s name. Carey’s bail was $100,000 but it was unsecured by either property or other assets. During the bond discussion, Judge Victor B. Kenton, the jurist presiding over the arraignment, wondered to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox why Tanaka needed to be a bond at all—before acceding to the government’s wishes with some reluctance. (Since we’ve seen people charged with a couple of hand-to-hand sales of dime bags of meth slammed with a $100,000 in bail, no kidding, we wondered about his honor’s thinking, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

As is customary, both men were required to surrender their passports and firearms. (Carey didn’t have a passport, and Tanaka’s was out of date.) There was a small kerfuffle over the fact that Tanaka’s wife is an LASD detective thus legitimately needs her gun. Carey’s son, who lives in his father’s household, is also a sworn member of the sheriff’s department, so needs his gun as well. With a bit of back and forth, everyone settled on the notion of acquiring new lock boxes forthwith for the weapons of the spouses and offspring.

A joint trial for the two “co-conspirators” was set for July 7 in the courtroom of Judge S.James Otero—although absolutely no one involved thinks the trial will commence anywhere near that soon. Moreover, sources rate the chances at approximately 80 percent that Judge Percy Anderson will elect to snatch this juicy trial for himself, thereby moving Otero out. Anderson, those following closely will remember, presided over both of the trials of James Sexton (whom it took two trials to convict), and the trial the other six former department members who, along with Sexton, were convicted of obstruction of justice concerning the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown and other actions designed to thwart the FBI’s investigation into chronic corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system.

UPDATE: Judge Percy Anderson did indeed manage to snatch the Tanaka-Carey case. But there are still no new trial dates.

Both men were released on bond at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. They left the building with their lawyers, looking grim and rattled. Tanaka also had his wife beside him, a pretty woman who, on this particular afternoon, looked like she’d been through one hell of a 24 hours.


THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The news that two of the guys near the top of the LASD’s hierarchy were facing federal indictments was officially announced at Thursday’s 9 a.m. press conference where Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura laid out the charges:

Tanaka was charged with obstructing a federal investigation for allegedly “directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil right violations by sheriff’s deputies” in two of the county’s jail facilities, Men’s Central Jail, and Twin Towers, she said.

Tom Carey, the former head of ICIB-–the LASD’s unit that oversees criminal investigations within the department—was indicted along with Tanaka for “participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation.” In addition, Carey was charged with two counts of “making false declarations” (basically perjury) for things he said in last year’s trials of former deputy James Sexton and six former members of the department, including two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two more deputies.

As she spoke to the hyped-up crowd of reporters, Yonekura used unusually descriptive language to describe the context in which the obstruction of charges against the two men were filed, particularly concerning Tanaka, whom she said (allegedly) didn’t merely obstruct justice regarding the Anthony Brown matter, but “had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department” as a whole.

David Bowdich, the new the Assistant Director in Charge for the LA offices of the FBI, went further when he took the podium after Yonekura. “The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

As mentioned above, the charges against Carey and Tanaka are similar to the obstruction of justice charges levied against the seven former department members convicted last summer and fall (and whose cases are being heard on appeal by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this coming fall). Except, of course, Tanaka’s and Carey’s roles were supervisory in nature. In other words, they were the ones who allegedly gave the orders that led to the obstruction charges—and the convictions—of seven department members, not the ones who mostly carried out what higher-ups told them to do.


THE INDICTMENT

The joint indictment of Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey is a 25-page document that makes for interesting reading.

The first nine pages cover what are called Introductory Allegations. These are the sort of back story that puts the rest of the legal tale—namely the various “counts” that comprise the charges—into a larger narrative context. On page three, for example, the document states that:

“Defendants TANAKA and CAREY were well aware of allegations of rampant abuse of inmates at MCJ and TTCF [Twin Towers] and of allegations of insufficient internal investigations and enforcement of deputy misconduct by the LASD.”

It then goes on for the next two or three pages to give a list of examples of how Tanaka and, in some instances, Carey, ignored reports of deputy abuse of inmates when they were brought to them by such varied sources as a jail chaplain, an ACLU monitor, an LASD deputy, a lieutenant, a commander, and more.

The indictment also describes how Tanaka, in particular, allegedly seemed to foster misbehavior—as with his infamous “work the gray” speeches, or his reported 2007 threat to “put a case” on captains “who were putting the most cases on deputies,” and so on.

The remaining pages outline the “counts,” which basically have to do with ordering and/or overseeing the alleged hiding of inmate/informant Anthony Brown from the feds, surveilling and threatening FBI special agent Leah Marx, and attempting to threaten and cajole potential deputy witnesses from talking to the FBI—plus other related actions.

A careful reading of 25-pages is also intriguing in that it suggests, among other things, a list of possible witnesses that the feds could call at trial. (It most cases, the individuals mentioned in the indictment are not named, but comparing the anecdotal material in the document with, say, accounts of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence hearings, and WLA’s own coverage of the LASD over the last few years, may offer relevant clues.)

In response to the indictment, both in a written statement and in conversation outside the courtroom, Tanaka’s two attorneys said that the charges against their client were “baseless,” and they were confident he would be exonerated of any wrongdoing.

“We’re not going to roll over, we’re going to fight it.”

If convicted of all the charges, Tanaka could get fifteen years in a federal prison. Carey, with his extra two counts, could do 25. Yet, judging by the sentences handed down to the other seven department members last year, where the longest term ordered was 41 months, should Tanaka and Carey be found guilty, their sentences too would likely be far shorter than the maximum.


AND WHAT ABOUT BACA?

At Thursday’s press conference, a good number of the questions asked by reporters weren’t about the recently indicted Tanaka and Carey, but about the man who most conspicuously was not indicted—namely former sheriff Lee Baca. He was, after all, present at many of the meetings laid out in the charges. And in several instances he was reportedly the guy who called the meetings.

Acting US Attorney Yonekura declined to say whether or not Baca was or was not the focus of any ongoing investigation. She mostly answered the blizzard of questions by stating that “Mr. Baca is not charged at this time,” and “We will continue to look at any evidence that comes to us.” As to how they could indict the number two guy, without indicting the number one guy, she said, “We’ve charged the cases we feel we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile, back among the non-indicted working department members, once the news broke about Tanaka and Carey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell sent out this message to the troops:

Today, the Department of Justice announced the indictments of former Sheriff’s employees Paul Tanaka and William Carey. The last several years have been hard on everyone. The indictments are part of a process that will run its course. During this time it is important for us to focus on our mission and look toward the future in demonstrating what the LASD is all about.

The US Attorney’s announcement is by no means a reflection on the tremendous work that you consistently do and the commitment that each of you provide to make a difference in the communities that we serve. The Sheriff’s Department is a national leader in law enforcement, an agency second to none.

I look forward to the future and continuing to work with you in moving the Department forward, not only in leadership, but in the eyes of the public.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 83 Comments »

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