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Peace Officer Unions Back McDonnell for Sheriff….CA Kids May Face Mandatory Minimums….State Starting Early Release of Elderly and Sick Inmates…and More

June 17th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Today, a number of law enforcement unions will be announcing their unified endorsement of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for the office of Sheriff of LA County. Representatives from the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), the LA County Professional Peace Officer Association (PPOA), Probation Officers, AFSCME Local 685, the Los Angeles Police Protective League (LAPPL), and the Long Beach Police Officers Association will gather at a press conference at 10:30a.m., at the ALADS offices in Monterey Park.

PPOA announced their endorsement last Thursday afternoon, and many were waiting to see what ALADS would do, as both PPOA and ALADS had declined to endorse anyone during the primary election. A source close to the unions said that the LAPPL and the Long Beach Police Officers Association had been interested in endorsing McDonnell during the primary, but due to something called “the hometown rule” they had to wait until the unions to which LASD personnel belong (ALADS and PPOA) made their moves.

Thus far, no one has announced that they will be giving money along with their endorsement, but that may (or may not) come later.


A California bill that would impose the first ever mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, is currently making its way through California legislature. The bill, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), directed at kids convicted of certain sex offenses, would eliminate judges’ discretion and ability to choose community-based rehabilitative options, and replace it with mandatory incarceration.

The California Senate has unanimously passed the bill, and today (Tuesday), the Assembly Public Safety Committee will vote on the measure. (And we at WLA will be keeping an eye on it.)

The Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice has more on the bill (and why they are opposing it). Here’s a clip:

Mandatory minimums violate the foundational principles of the juvenile justice system. If SB 838 becomes law and introduces mandatory minimum sentences into the juvenile justice system, the consequences would be significant for California’s youth. The bill would upend a system grounded in rehabilitation — and the understanding that young people can change — and replace it with one focused on retribution and punishment for California’s most troubled and vulnerable youth.

Mandatory minimums do not prevent crime. Research on mandatory minimum sentencing schemes across the nation has failed to find evidence that they have reduced crime — but substantial evidence that they have driven the nation’s skyrocketing incarceration rates, exacerbated racial disparities in the criminal justice system, and dramatically increased the length of prison sentences. SB 838 would replicate these same failed policies for California’s youth, at great public expense.


The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation has announced the state will commence with the early release of elderly and seriously ill prisoners who meet certain requirements to either parole or nursing facilities. The move is part of the state’s ongoing efforts to comply with a federal order to ease prison overcrowding. (Backstory here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmates who are over 60 and have spent at least 25 years in prison will be eligible for release if they are not sentenced to death or serving life without parole sentences. Those hearings are to begin in October, board executives said.

Prisoners whose health conditions require they receive skilled nursing care will also be eligible to be moved to health care or nursing facilities — but if they recover they face a return trip to prison. Hearings under the new rules, which reflect an expansion of existing medical parole, are to begin by July 1, a board attorney said.


Ventura County law enforcement officers have been receiving comprehensive training in how to deal with the mentally ill, and thus far, it’s making a big difference. Experts say that law enforcement mental health training offerings like Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program can help officers prevent tense encounters with the mentally ill from escalating unnecessarily.

Currently, 72% of Ventura officers have received 40 hours of instruction in handling situations involving people with mental disorders. While this is a welcome step in the right direction, in Ventura and other counties (cough, Los Angeles, cough), often the training does not extend to jails, prisons, and other agencies where things can fall apart.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has the story. Here’s a clip:

Debbie is a Ventura County mother of a 23-year-old son diagnosed with bipolar disorder. At times his condition becomes so severe that he gets delusional and requires hospitalization.

“He doesn’t understand that he’s ill and that he needs help,” Debbie says. “He thinks he’s fine.”

Debbie, who asked that her last name be withheld for privacy reasons, says when that happens, she calls the sheriff’s department for help – as she did earlier this year. Their response, she says, was heartening.

“The police officers…were so great, because they kept telling him, ‘You’re not in trouble, we’re here to help you,’ ” she says. “So they weren’t threatening; they didn’t scare him. It stayed really, really calm.”

And that allowed the deputies to take Debbie’s son to the county psychiatric hospital for emergency observation without incident.

“As far as a bad experience goes, it was as good a bad experience as was possible in this situation,” she says.

The responding deputies included several who had received 40 hours of training in handling the mentally ill through Ventura County’s “Crisis Intervention Team” program. The training is based on a renowned model started in Memphis, Tennessee in 1988 that is now taught worldwide.

Tragedies such as the Isla Vista massacre and the Kelly Thomas case in Orange County have highlighted the need for improved training for law enforcement personnel who come into contact with the mentally ill.

So far, 72 percent of all law enforcement officers have completed the Crisis Intervention Team training in Ventura County, says Kiran Sahota, who oversees the program for the county.

“The idea is to hopefully help to deescalate and slow down the situation,” Sahota says. “And sometimes by just knowing ahead of time that (law enforcement officers) are going to be listening and spending a little extra time, it really can defuse a situation.”

But even in Ventura County, breakdowns can happen…

Read the rest.

Posted in juvenile justice, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, parole policy, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 29 Comments »

LASD Lt. On Trial Tells of Orders Given by Baca and Tanaka, and Admits to “System Failure” Re: LASD Ability to Investigate Its Own Wrongdoing

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Lieutenant Steve Leavins, one of six defendants in the ongoing obstruction of justice trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department,
took the stand on Friday morning in a packed federal courtroom. In the testimony that followed, Leavins described a chain of events that began with a meeting on August 20, 2011, at which Sheriff Lee Baca (whom Leavins said he’d never met before that day) gave him the orders that set in motion a sequence of actions by Leavins and his five fellow defendants—Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith—that ultimately led to the charges for which Leavins and the other five are now on trial.

According to the prosecution, those actions include, but are not limited to, allegedly helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and endeavoring to bully and cajole sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI.

The jury had already heard in earlier testimony, how the August 20 meeting was called by the sheriff on an emergency basis on the Saturday after Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka first learned that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been found with a contraband cell phone, and that Brown was not any inmate, but an FBI informant. The jury had also heard previously that, two days before the August 20 meeting, Baca had been told by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office that the cell phone and Brown were part of an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails, meaning the whole matter of the cell phone was fully sanctioned by FBI higher-ups.

Nevertheless, according to Leavins, Baca ordered him to launch a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, who was the lead agent on the feds’ undercover probe, and thus responsible for Brown and the cell phone. He also ordered Leavins to “safeguard” Brown, which ultimately led to Brown being hidden—using an elaborate strategy of repeated name changes and avoidance of the normal fingerprinting process—from the FBI.


It is usually considered a risk for a defendant to get on the stand because, in cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant is suddenly subject to questioning that may not be in his or her best interest. Yet on Friday the risk appeared to be mostly paying off for Leavins in that much of what he said bolstered an important part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that all six defendants were good cops following lawful orders that were not of their own making.

In that vein, Leavins described the meetings subsequent to August 20 in which he said he briefed, got approval, and/or had been given orders by Baca or then undersheriff Paul Tanaka (or sometimes both men) about each action he and other defendants took to hide inmate Brown.

On the stand, Leavins’ painted a picture of a hyper-involved sheriff and equally present undersheriff who collectively directed him to circumvent the normal chain of command and report directly to them in meetings that were generally held in Tanaka’s office.

He also told how he had obtained “authorization” from Tanaka before he ordered surveillance of special agent Marx and how, in a meeting in Tanaka’s office, Sheriff Baca had instructed him to contact Marx at her residence “to get facts and information about the introduction of the cell phone.”

Another significant revelation that came out in Friday’s testimony was the fact that, according to Leavins, at least two department-related attorneys gave advice and signed off on the legality of many of the actions that are the now the basis of the government’s criminal charges. These included the hiding of Brown, and the investigation of FBI special agent Marx.

One of the attorneys Leavins said he consulted multiple times was Paul Yoshinaga, a deputy county counsel who was assigned to the sheriff’s department and had his office in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. (Yoshinaga is reportedly also a long-standing personal friend of former undersheriff Tanaka, with the friendship dating as far back as high school when the two were in the same 1976 graduating class from Gardena High.)

The other attorney with whom Leavins said he consulted on repeated occasions about the legality of his actions was Mike Gennaco, head attorney for the Office of Independent Review (OIR). According to Leavins, at one point in a meeting in which the sheriff was also present, Gennaco said that “the FBI was going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone,” meaning the contraband cell that LASD deputy Gilbert Michel had brought in illegally to informant Brown as part of the FBI’s undercover sting. Baca, said Leavins, was in agreement.

“This furthered my belief that we were on firm legal ground to proceed,” Leavins testified of that meeting with Gennaco and Baca.


In another interesting and unexpected feature of both his direct testimony and in cross-examination by prosecutor Brandon Fox, Leavins admitted that he had “become aware that the sheriffs department’s internal mechanism to investigate…abuse” and brutality by deputies toward jail inmates “had failed,” that there was a “systemic breakdown” in supervision, discipline and investigation of abuses “that were occurring on a wide scale.”

Under questioning from Fox, Leavins conceded that, in one instance, he had become aware of a video of an inmate being abused by a deputy while restrained by chains. And yet, despite the presence of the video, both the department’s internal affairs investigators, and an “executive force review panel” concluded that the incident was fine and required no action. Leavins further conceded that, because of the “lack of discipline” signaling “tacit approval” for the deputy’s actions, the man committed more assaults on inmates, and has since been charged with the original assault.

While the theme of deputy abuse of inmates and “systemic breakdown” in the LASD’s ability to investigate such matters was originally brought up during the defense’s questioning of Leavins, it seemed mostly to support the prosecution’s contention that the FBI’s launch of an undercover investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jail system was more than warranted.


Although the just-following-orders part of the defense strategy seemed measurably strengthened by Leavins’ testimony, the contention that these were lawful orders that he and the others were following seemed a harder theme to maintain, due to problems with the timeline in which the actions occurred.

For instance, Leavins had repeatedly insisted that Brown was only moved to outlying areas of the jail system with his name repeatedly changed, not to hide him from the feds, per se, but out of fear for the inmate’s safely because, due to his informant status, corrupt deputies might wish to do him harm. However, in cross examination Leavins conceded that, after Brown stopped cooperating with members of Leavins’ task force in early September 2011, he was moved virtually immediately back to Men’s Central Jail where he remained for 10 days (making him presumably within reach of deputies who might wish him ill) before finally being transferred to state prison.

Also in cross examination, Leavins described his attendance to a meeting on August 29, 2011, that included—among other people—Sheriff Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. It was at that meeting that Birotte told the sheriff to—as Leavins’ put it—”butt out” of the feds’ civil rights investigation into wrongdoing in the LA County Jails. Birotte further said, according to Leavins, that he didn’t want any more discord in the matter, and that he hoped the sheriff’s department would cooperate.

Yet, despite what was made clear at the August 29 meeting, according to Leavins’ earlier testimony, he kept on, as ordered, with a criminal investigation of FBI agent Marx and, in late September, with the sheriff’s encouragement and approval, sent Craig and Long to Marx’ home where the two sergeants falsely threatened to arrest her.

Leavins’ testimony will continue on Tuesday morning.

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

Supes Unaware of DOJ’s Jails Concerns (Really?)…A New Child Protection Czar To Be Created….Adult Interrogation Techniques Not Good for Kids…..and More

June 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times Abby Sewell reports that, on Tuesday, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas expressed that he and his fellow board members were in the dark about the seriousness of Department of Justice officials’ concerns regarding the reported ongoing mistreatment of mentally ill jail inmates.

The supervisor’s remarks were made in reaction to the blisteringly critical assessment of the issue released last Friday by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.

While we genuinely commend the fact that the supervisor came right out and admitted that the board should have been more aware, we also wonder how exactly the supes managed to blinder themselves so thoroughly.

There were, after all, lots of red flags. For instance, there was the jump in suicides in the jails: In 2012, there were four “completed” suicides. In 2013, there were ten inmate suicides. And, mind you, these stats came after all the much-touted improvements were made in the running of the jails.

Plus, in January of this year there was a suicide that the DOJ especially noted as being emblematic of “systemic deficiencies in the Jails’ suicide prevention practices.” The case in question involved a vocally suicidal inmate with a history of mental illness, who—according to proper protocol—should have been checked on every 15 minutes, but who instead remained unobserved and unchecked in his cell for at least three hours during which time, surprise! he killed himself.

As Hector Villagra, the executive director of the So Cal ACLU wrote on Friday when the DOJ report was released, “…a number of today’s Justice Department findings are eerily similar to those reported by Dr. Terri Kupers, a nationally recognized expert, in a 2008 ACLU of Southern California study – a study that the Board of Supervisors, Department of Mental Health and the Sheriff’s Department ignored.”

Moreover, even after getting the bad news in September that the DOJ had launched a civil-rights investigation into problems in the LA County Jail system (this is on top of the FBI’s ongoing probe into abuse and corruption in the jails), during the discussion of whether or not to approve the county’s hugely expensive new Vanir jail building plan, those advocating for the plan from the LASD and from county mental health claimed that this multi-year jail-building strategy was exactly what the DOJ folks wanted. Without it, the building plan supporters threatened, we’d end up with a federal consent decree or some other equally onerous (and expensive) form of federal oversight.

So….the supes approved the building plan and a month later almost to the day the DOJ sent its letter informing the county that that it had run out of patience, and it was now time for “corrective action in the form of a court-enforceable agreement”—AKA federal oversight.

That certainly worked out well.

Okay, enough of our lecturing. Here’s a clip from Sewell’s story:

….Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said board members and their staffs were not privy to communications sent by the U.S. Justice Department to Sheriff’s Department and county mental health officials regarding ongoing problems until September. That’s when county officials received a letter announcing a federal civil-rights investigation of the jail system.

“That was our notification,” Ridley-Thomas said. “From my point of view, that’s hugely problematic.”

The issue gained urgency last week, when federal officials issued a scathing report on jail conditions for mentally ill inmates, citing a recent surge in jail suicides. The Justice Department said it would seek court oversight of reforms.

In 2002, the county approved an agreement with federal officials requiring improvements in the handling of mentally ill inmates. But unlike a similar — and more recent — agreement with the federal government involving the county’s treatment of juveniles in the probation system, board members neither requested nor received regular updates on efforts to resolve the federal jail issues.

There were conflicting portrayals Tuesday of who was responsible for the communication breakdown. Some county officials and staff — including Ridley-Thomas, who joined the board in 2008 — said they didn’t know until September that the county had entered into a formal agreement with the federal government concerning jail problems.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors took an important step when they voted 4-1 to create a “child protection czar” who will head up a new Office of Child Protection. This move was one of the urgent recommendations made by The Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection in their final report issued on April 18 of this year.

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

The vote, split four to one, came after hours of debate on how to proceed with dozens of recommendations put forward by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection. In April, the panel declared L.A.’s system in a “state of emergency” and said the only fix would be going outside the county’s current patchwork of law enforcement, health, and foster care officials currently responsible for ensuring child safety in the county.

They recommended establishing a new Office of Child Protection to coordinate the departments and oversee broad changes to the system.

The Board, with the exception of Supervisor Don Knabe, agreed to the proposal.

Knabe said a brand new bureaucracy would hardly solve the issues the child welfare system faces.

“We started out DPSS and then we went Department of Children and Family Services, now we’re going to have an Office of Child Protection, next we’ll have an Office of Child Protection Protection, and another committee and commission,” Knabe said, before voting “no” on the proposal.


According to an ongoing psychological study at the University of Virginia some of the confrontational and deceptive interrogation techniques commonly used by law enforcement to question subjects are deeply problematic when used with teenagers and their still-developing brains. For one thing, the techniques can result in false confessions.

Fariss Samarrai of Science Daily has the story. Here’s a clip:

Some interrogation techniques commonly used by police departments throughout the United States to obtain confessions from adult suspects may be inappropriate for use on juveniles, according to an ongoing University of Virginia psychology study.

Such techniques purport to detect deception in criminal suspects and use methods to heighten suspects’ anxiety during interviews, with the goal of obtaining an admission of guilt. Such psychologically manipulative interrogation techniques are considered contentious by critics because they can result in false confessions.

The risk of this is heightened for juvenile suspects, whose still-developing brains make them impressionable and vulnerable to interviewing methods in a stress-filled interrogation room.

“Teenagers are good at making bad decisions,” said Todd Warner, a U.Va. Ph.D. candidate in psychology who is conducting the study. “More than 90 percent of juvenile suspects waive their Miranda rights and begin talking after an arrest. Because they are young and the areas of the brain responsible for executive function are undeveloped, they are more likely than adults to make impulsive decisions, are more suggestible to authority figures, and weigh short-term gains, such as leaving the interrogation room, over long-term consequences, [like] remaining in custody.

“These decision-making tendencies can make teenagers more vulnerable to making incriminating statements or even false admissions of guilt when under the pressure of an interrogation.”


On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined without comment to hear an appeal by the State of California of a court order that holds state officials responsible for making sure that inmates with disabilities receive appropriate accommodations in the various county jails. (PS: These are inmates that, pre-realignment, would have been the responsibility of the state.)

When they appealed the lower court ruling, Governor Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, maintained that the ruling, if allowed to stand, would make the California “liable for alleged ADA violations in the county jails”

Uh, yeah. And your point would be…..?

Reuter’s Jennifer Chaussee has the story.

Here’s a clip:

….The court’s denial highlighted tensions between the most populous U.S. state and federal courts about crowding and conditions in California’s troubled prison system.

The state has been under court orders to reduce its prison population since 2009 and has sought to comply partly by funneling some non-violent offenders to county jurisdiction.

In 2012, a U.S. District Court judge ordered state officials to notify the counties when inmates have disabilities entitling them to accommodations under federal law while in jail. The state must also take complaints from prisoners who say they are not getting assistance they need.

“They were essentially refusing to pass that on to counties,” said Lisa Ells, part of the legal team representing disabled inmates. “So the counties would receive an inmate and have no idea if that person was disabled.”

In her 2012 order, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken required the state to track the roughly 2,000 disabled inmates in its custody and report to county jails when someone was transferred to county jurisdiction who was entitled to accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Those accommodations can include wheelchairs, tapping canes for the blind or accessible beds and toilets. Once the state makes the county aware of an inmate’s needs, it is the county’s legal obligation to provide the necessary accommodations.

After the order was issued, the state complied, but also submitted a series of appeals aimed at overturning the requirement.

Posted in children and adolescents, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 3 Comments »

Is Paul Tanaka the “Subject” of a Criminal Investigation….or the “Target”

June 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

It was near the end of Monday’s cross examination of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka
that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox asked Tanaka a curious question.

Monday was Tanaka’s second day of testimony at the federal trial of six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The six—which included two deputies, two sergeants and two lieutenants— were being tried for obstruction of justice having to do with their respective parts in allegedly hiding a federal informant by the name of Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and other similar actions that, in the summer and fall of 2011, according to the government’s lawyers, were intended to get in the way of the feds’ undercover investigation into wrongdoing by deputies in the LA County jail system.

Last month, Tanaka testified at the trial of a seventh department member, Deputy James Sexton, who was also charged with obstruction of justice. (Sexton’s case resulted in a mistrial due to a hopelessly deadlocked jury.)

At the Sexton trial, prosecutor Fox made news when he asked the former undersheriff—who is also still a candidate for sheriff—if he was aware that he was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Now, Fox seemed to be continuing that same conversation when he asked—mid-cross—if Tanaka “received the the letter that informed you that you that you were not the target of a criminal investigation before your grand jury testimony…?”

“Yes,” Tanaka replied. The jury and others in the courtroom already knew that the former undersheriff had testified before the grand jury regarding the whole obstruction of justice issue in December 2012, which pegged the “not-a-target” letter to around eighteen months ago.

Fox followed up. “You’ve not been given any representation about whether or not you’re a target since then?”

Tanaka’s expression shuttered.

“I have not,” he said.


The twosome of questions was particularly interesting in that last month, at the Sexton trial, Fox specifically said Tanaka was the subject of a criminal investigation, which is reportedly one step less ominous than being the target.

At the opening of Monday’s cross examination Fox again brought up that the former undersheriff is the “subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Then some minutes later, while Fox didn’t say Tanaka was a target, he seemed to strongly imply that any not-a-target assurances the former undersheriff may have received back in 2012, were now null and void.

The remark was additionally provocative in that it came after a series of exchanges during Fox’s cross examination of Tanaka in which Fox confronted the former undersheriff with the fact that certain elements of his testimony at this trial (and at Sexton’s trial, for that matter), differed in important ways from his December 2012 grand jury testimony, and also with the way he answered in a separate FBI interview in November 2012.

In his testimony at this and Sexton’s trial, Tanaka had made a point of saying that an LASD team had moved inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown around to outlying areas of the jail system, and changed his name and other identifiers, as part of a “mission” to “insure the inmate’s safety,” which had been his and the sheriff’s primary concern, he said.

However in his November 2012 FBI interview and his 2012 grand jury testimony, it seems that Tanaka “never talked about Anthony Brown’s safety and security.”

“In assessing the whole situation over a period of three years,” Tanaka said on Monday when confronted with the discrepancy, he had the “clear recollection” of having given the order to keep Anthony Brown safe.


At another point in his testimony, Tanaka admitted to Fox that “it’s possible” that he and the other LASD higher-ups had the LASD executive offices swept for bugs, evidently out of the conviction that the FBI may have planted hidden microphones. And, yes, it was also possible they’d had the “task force offices” swept as well, meaning the temporary task force formed to handle the Anthony Brown matter, and related.

More on the trial later this week.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 65 Comments »

The Significance of Paul Tanaka Testimony at 2nd LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial—and Other Trial Analysis

June 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


It was 11:40 am on Friday, June 6, and the second federal obstruction of justice trial involving six members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department was exactly at the halfway mark. The prosecution had just rested its case and the defense was preparing to call its first witness: former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is also still a candidate for LA County Sheriff, having barely squeaked into a runoff with Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell.

As had been true in the first obstruction of justice trial a few weeks ago, word of Tanaka’s impending appearance caused the courtroom presided over by Judge Percy Anderson to go from half-filled to jammed.

Prior to Tanaka’s arrival, the trial had already proved to be a complicated one. The government was prosecuting six different LASD defendants at once, each of whom it accused of some variation on the theme of deliberately attempting to get in the way of a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county’s jails. This included but was not limited to: helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and/or endeavoring to bully and cajole a sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI. This occurred after Michel had been nailed by the feds for bringing a contraband cell phone into the jail and giving it to inmate Brown, in return for a bribe.

Last month, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. The feds had yet to decide if they would come after Sexton again.

This second cluster of cases on trial is somewhat different in that most of the defendants—which include two sergeants and two lieutenants, along with two deputies—are farther up the departmental food chain than was Sexton. There is also the fact that Sexton, unlike any of the six in this proceeding, had cooperated extensively with the FBI for more than a year.

Yet despite any dissimilarities in the two trials, the government’s lawyers appear to have drawn lessons from their losses in trial one, and have worked vigorously to shore up any weak points in their theory of the case.

Essentially, the prosecutorial theory is as follows: In August of 2011, members of the LASD learned that the FBI had launched an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by deputies inside the county’s jail system. The LASD higher-ups learned of the undercover probe through the discovery of a contraband cell phone in the possession of an inmate named Anthony Brown. They then further discovered that the inmate was a federal informant, and that the cell had been smuggled to Brown as part of an FBI sting, brought by a jail deputy named Gilbert Michel who muled in the contraband phone in return for cash payments, and whom the feds subsequently were trying to flip into becoming an informant. Upon learning of all this, the department’s sole focus became, not cleaning up its own clearly dirty house, but shutting out the FBI and any other federal agents from the jail and from contact with Brown and Michel, in doing so materially hampering the feds’ undercover probe, at least according to the prosecution.


Thus far, the most dramatic testimony for the prosecution had been from Deputy Michel, who not only told the jury how he smuggled in the phone and other contraband for Brown, but also described the manner in which, when he first began working the 2000 and the 3000 floors of Men’s Central Jail, he’d learned as part of his initiatory training the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel went into harrowing and sometimes tearful detail about some of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been involved in, or administered himself.

His lengthy testimony portrayed not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to paint a picture of an entire subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates accompanied, in many instances, by falsifying criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

This latter point seemed to be demonstrated when the prosecution played a recording of an interview with Michel conducted by three of the defendants after it was discovered that Michel had smuggled a contraband cell phone to Anthony Brown. In the recording, Sgt. Maricela Long, Sgt. Scott Craig, and Lt. Steve Leavins seemed far less concerned with Michel’s accepting bribes from Brown to bring the inmate a contraband cell phone, a legal slip that they assured him “could happen to anybody,” and far more concerned with frightening and hectoring the deputy out of telling the FBI anything about the ongoing brutality against inmates that he’d both witnessed and perpetrated.

The jury was also able to read an email from Leavins to his immediate superior, Captain William Carey, written after Deputy Michel began, in the middle of an interview with LASD higher ups, suddenly blurting about the inmate beatings in which he’d participated, admissions that LASD supervisors seemed to view as awfully inconvenient rather than in any way useful. In the email Leavins wrote:

“That idiot Michel is confessing to beating handcuffed inmates with other deputies…Not looking good…They are still interviewing him….Will advise.”

In addition, the jury heard readings of the grand jury testimony by Sergeants Long and Craig in which both admitted—among other things—to being told by a judge that they had no legal jurisdiction to investigate FBI special agent Marx prior to going to her house and falsely threatening her with arrest.

And, as they had in the Sexton trial, the prosecutors presented a string of witnesses who told of the byzantine methods the defendants and and others had employed to hide Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.


Now it was the defense’s turn to present its view of events.

The defense—which, due to the plethora of defendants, consisted of around a dozen lawyers—originally planned to call the former undersheriff as their third witness. But, it seems that, after nearly a year of a campaigning to become the next LA County sheriff, Tanaka had planned to take a vacation the week of June 9, so hoped his testimony wouldn’t string over until Tuesday. (The court is dark on Monday.) To try to accommodate, the various defense teams shuffled the list to make the former undersheriff first up.

Tanaka’s purpose as a witness seemed to be to help the defense prove its theory, which was in simplest terms that A. anything that the defendants might have done wrong was done pursuant to orders by either the sheriff or the undersheriff, or both, and B. that none of this was unlawful.

Although Tanaka’s testimony is not complete (he will have to return on Tuesday morning after all) what he said thus far will likely be helpful to the defense in some areas, less so in others.

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence and herself a former Assistant US Attorney, was also at the trial and explained it this way.

“I think the problem with alternative defenses, as well as the way that Mr. Tanaka’s testimony played out, is that the narrative doesn’t always hold together.

“This was a situation where the narrative and the explanation— that the inmate was moved around because Brown was a snitch and had to be kept safe from other inmates and deputies—isn’t fully consistent with the actions that were taken. If the concern was to keep Brown safe, its hard to reconcile why the sheriff deputies and supervisors would have terminated an interview between him and the FBI, and why they would have locked the FBI out of jail. And why they would have gone to such great lengths to keep this cooperator away from another law enforcement bureau.”

Krinsky suggested that Tanaka’s testimony was more useful to the defense when he put either himself or Baca in the role of giving orders. Although he was careful to place himself, in most instances, as the one who conveyed Baca’s orders to others, not the one who originated them.

This was, by the way, an interesting contrast to Tanaka’s description at the beginning of his testimony when he was asked to describe his job as the undersheriff for the jury. He answered that the undersheriff is “the one who oversees the day to day operations of the department” while “the sheriff is more the face of the organization.”

When it came to the touchier matters of the trial, however, Baca was suddenly no frontman at all, but the primary nuts and bolts decider and giver of orders.

According to Krinsky, the part of Tanaka’s testimony that is most likely to cause the defendants some problems was his repeated attempts to distance himself from some of the more problematic actions of which the defendants are accused, acts which someone above them had to have ordered. For instance, Tanaka said that he had no knowledge that members of the sheriff’s department were planning to approach an FBI agent at her home and threaten her.

“Tanaka also claimed to be unaware of the approach that was taken vis-à-vis deputy Gilbert Michel,” said Krinsky, “when members of the department were discouraging Mr. Michel, through the type of questions and statements they made, from ongoing cooperation with the federal government. In other parts of his testimony,” she said, “it was telling that Mr. Tanaka claimed that he was being briefed constantly and, then when pressed about one of the more troubling acts, he claimed to have no recollection, no recall, or no knowledge about whether he’d been told.”

And when he could not reasonably dodge knowledge of the actions of the defendants that were part of the prosecution’s theory of obstruction of justice, he carefully handed off actual authorship of the actions to those below him, claiming that he had only ordered that inmate Brown be kept safe, not how it was done. When asked if he “agreed” with this strategy or that one, he answered in the vaguest terms. “I don’t believe I disagreed,” he said repeatedly.


Two of the more startling moments in the former undersheriff’s testimony came when he was rebuked twice by Judge Anderson for answering a question with a statement, when the inquiry properly required only a yes or no.

In the first instance, Tanaka slipped in his opinion that, “A cell phone introduced in custody is very, very dangerous,” nevermind that prosecutor Brandon Fox shot up to object immediately before the statement was fully out.

“Don’t volunteer information,” the judge instructed Tanaka. “Just answer the question, yes or no. And when Mr. Fox stands, you stop talking.”

Tanaka nodded that he would do so.

Sometime later, however, the incident repeated itself. In response to another yes or no question Tanaka answered with a full and decededly provocative sentence. It occurred when one of the defense attorneys asked Tanaka about a time when, sometime after the discovery of the cell phone, he had accompanied an angry Sheriff Baca to a meeting with U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and other members of Birotte’s office.

In answer to a far simpler question, Tanaka said this:

“The sheriff was able to communicate to [the U.S. Attorney] that the FBI had committed a crime.”

Before the sentence had made it even half way out into everyone’s hearing, prosecutor Fox had flown to his feet to object.

Judge Anderson’s reaction was just as immediate. He quickly sustained Fox’s objection, then ordered the former undersheriff’s statement stricken from the record. After that, his head snapped around to look directly at Tanaka.

Don’t do that again!” Anderson said, visibly furious.

When I talked about the incident later with Krinsky, she told me that Judge Anderson’s reaction was extremely unusual.

“It takes a lot to get a federal judge to admonish a witness in front of a jury,” she said. “What the defense was clearly trying to do was to get from the witness confirmation of its main theories, which was that the FBI took it upon themselves to commit a crime as part of investigating a crime, and that the sheriff’s department was appropriately responding by taking dramatic steps to shut the FBI down.

“This is an incredibly professional and even-handed and even tempered judge,” Krinsky continued. “So for him to be sufficiently upset at the witness to have reacted as he did is not something you see terribly often in federal court and not from a judge who has the temperament of Judge Anderson.”

So why would the presumably legally savvy former undersheriff risk angering a federal judge?

“Witnesses will often try to get out an opinion if they have a vested interest in trying to get that message out,” said Krinsky. “Mr. Tanaka might well have viewed this as an opportunity to deliver his own argument as to why his conduct would justify his own actions as well as that of the defendants.

“It is, after all, highly unusual for a candidate for elected office to be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation,” she said.


This trial is expected to conclude in the next week or so. Then late in June, the prosecution will announce whether or not it intends to refile on James Sexton. Most trial watchers assume that the outcome of the present trial will have at least something to do with that decision.

But what of the other looming question? You know, the one about whether or not the charges for obstruction of justice will ever reach further up the department ladder. What about that pesky topic? After all, during each of these two trials we’ve seen plenty of testimony that makes clear that orders for most of the acts that caused seven department members to be federally indicted originated with people who have, at this point, not been charged with anything.

When I asked Krinsky what she thought, the former Assistant U.S. Attorney Krinsky had this to say. “While it’s incredibly hard to speculate, I think that the government is likely taking this one trial at a time. I think their focus right now is, appropriately, what they have in front of them. Then once these cases have made their way through the system, they’ll start to reassess where they are in terms of any further indictments. But it’s telling that they referred to this case as an ongoing investigation,” Krinsky said. “That sends a clear message that the book has yet to be closed by the government in regard to these acts.”


For instance, we need to talk about the fact that, on Friday, while many of us were watching this trial, the word came down from the U.S. Department of Justice that the DOJ was so fed up with the way that LA County treats its mentally ill inmates inside the jails that it will likely seek federal oversight. More on that later.

In the meantime, while you’re waiting, here’s what the LA Times editorial board had to say on the matter on Sunday. Here’s a clip:

It should come as no surprise that Los Angeles County’s treatment of mentally ill jail inmates falls so short of acceptable standards that the U.S. Department of Justice is seeking federal court oversight. County officials did too little for too long to correct egregious problems. Recent efforts to improve jail management and to identify and better serve mentally ill and suicidal inmates came too late.

County leaders may be tempted to argue that Friday’s notice from the Justice Department shows that they were right to move ahead with a plan to raze the decrepit and rat-infested Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles and to build a more modern and humane facility in which mentally ill inmates would be better treated.

A better lesson would be that for nearly two decades, the county has moved at an unnecessarily glacial pace in responding to long-standing concerns about poor treatment of incarcerated people who more properly should have been treated as patients in medical and mental health treatment facilities.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 41 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Announce Support for McDonnell, Say Never Considered Tanaka

June 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

Election officials continue to count the approximately 148,680 provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots
that, if the numbers break just right, could still give Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell an uncontested victory in the race for LA County Sheriff.

In the meantime, however, four of McDonnell’s recent opponents stood with him at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon at LA’s Hall of Justice, and pledged their support to their former rival.

Stepping to the microphone, one after the other, assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers talked about the fact that McDonnell took over the position of Long Beach Police Chief “as an outsider,” but soon won over his critics, said Rogers.

Retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted called speaking in support of McDonnell “a great opportunity,” and that he’d be “available if he wants input from me.”

Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold called McDonnell the “clear cut choice,” embraced by both “front line people” and “members of the community.” Like Olmsted, he was vocal about the desire to work with McDonnell in remaking the troubled department.

LAPD detective supervisor Lou Vince offered “my enthusiastic endorsement, adding that, since he is the only one of the bunch who has actually worked under McDonnell in the past (during McDonnell’s long LAPD tenure), he could assure everyone that “the members of the LASD have a great person to look forward to.”

When it was McDonnell’s turn, he thanked “my partners up here for a hard-fought race, as well as for their decades of service to our community,” stopping to praise each recent opponent for individual strengths and accomplishments.

Their presence, he said, “speaks volumes about their commitment to rejecting failed leadership and coming together around a better future for the LASD….”

As for the ongoing vote count? “I was up until 3:30 watching the numbers,” McDonnell admitted after the press conference was over, referring to election night when, in the wee hours, his totals crept past 49 percent but did not cross the magical 50 percent mark.

Before the group dispersed, a reporter asked the four if any of them had, at least briefly, considered backing McDonnell’s adversary in the upcoming runoff, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

As one, they shook their heads in a vigorous NO.

Tanaka, meanwhile, has been subpoenaed to testify in the second obstruction of justice trial being held a few blocks away, at the federal courthouse on Spring Street.

Barring any last minute changes, Mr. Tanaka is expected to be called to the stand sometime on Friday morning.


Sheriff Scott continues to shuffle personnel in the LASD. In the most recent series of shifts, he moved Jim Hellmold out of the position of Assistant Sheriff in charge of patrol, replacing him with Chief Michael Rothans.

Hellmold will now act as Chief of Countywide Services Division.

While Scott’s early moves were welcomed by most, more recently critics have asked if these and other seemingly non-urgent choices would not be better left to the new sheriff who will, after all, take office just eight months from now.


In court on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked to delay their decision as to whether to retry Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice. Sexton’s trial, if you’ll remember, resulted in a “hopelessly split” jury, with a 6-6 division. The conference to discuss retrying Sexton was originally set for June 9, but has now been moved to June 23. Sources speculate that the prosecution wants to wait to see the outcome of the trial now in progress before making up its mind on Sexton.

In the second obstruction of justice trial, six department members are on trial for charges nearly identical to those faced by Sexton.

(Lots more on this trial next week.)

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 43 Comments »

Study Sez Letting Prisoners Out Early On Supervision Lowers Crime, County Counsel Must Disclose $$ Paid to Private Attorneys in LASD Suits…and More

June 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


Nationwide, in 2012, one-in-five prisoners maxed out their sentence in prison and reentered their communities without supervision (a rise of 119% from 1990), according to a new Pew Charitable Trusts report. Conversely, data collected on prisoners in New Jersey showed that offenders who served part of their sentence on parole were 36% less likely to return to prison within three years of release than those who served the entirety of their sentence behind bars.

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

Adam Gelb, director of the Public Safety Performance Project at Pew, said studies the group conducted in New Jersey and elsewhere found that, overall, offenders who serve a portion of their sentence on supervision were arrested or returned to prison 30 percent less than those who served their entire sentence in custody.

“It just doesn’t make sense to take somebody who’s been institutionalized, locked up in a prison 24/7, and put them straight back on the street without any supervision or accountability or monitoring or support whatsoever,” Gelb said.

Yet nationwide, the number of offenders serving their full sentences has gone up over the past two decades. Between 1990-2012, the number of inmates released without supervision went up 119 percent.

That could change, Gelb said, and has already started to. In the past few years, eight states — including California — took steps to make it easier to release offenders early to supervision.

California’s policy — called “split sentencing” — came out of prison realignment, which passed in 2011.

The policy — a response to a U.S. Supreme Court order to cut the state prison population — shifted the job of punishing lower-level felons from the state to the county level. It also gave the counties a tool to use if they choose: permitting these felons to be sentenced partially to time in county jail and partially to community supervision by the local probation department…

In California, prison realignment (AB 109) has reduced the number of max-outs in state prison to less than 1%, but it’s unclear to what extent max outs have transferred to the local level. Some counties (Contra Costa, for instance) have used their realignment funds to implement split-sentencing—in which sentences are “split” into part jail time, part probation—with favorable results. (Unfortunately, Los Angeles is actually backsliding in its use of split-sentencing.) Here’s what the Pew report has to say about the issue:

In 2011, Governor Jerry Brown of California signed Assembly Bill 109, the Public Safety Realignment Act. The landmark legislation transferred jurisdiction of lower-level offenders from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the counties. Felony offenders who are classified as nonserious, nonviolent, nonsex registrant, known as “non-non-nons,” are now sentenced to county jail instead of prison, supervised by county probation departments under post-release community supervision, and sent to local jails if they violate the terms of their release. As a result, the number of inmates released from California prisons fell by more than half between 2011 and 2012, from 109,467 to 49,574.

Other elements of realignment also affected the number of California prison releases. All revocations for state parolees, except those with an original sentence of life, go to county jail instead of state prison for a maximum of 180 days. Additionally, the non-non-nons are being diverted from state prison at sentencing, reducing both admissions and releases.

As a result of these changes, the number of max-outs from state prisons fell in the first full year of realignment from 12 percent in 2011 to less than 1 percent in 2012. Under the new system, non-nonnons—more than 30,000 offenders who accounted for 62 percent of releases—are released to their county of last legal residence and supervised under post-release community supervision. Offenders diverted to supervision are eligible for discharge at six months, and sanctions for violators are capped at 180 days. Counties have discretion to determine the type of supervision provided. The remaining 36 percent of inmates released in 2012 were serving sentences for serious or violent crimes; they remained under the jurisdiction of state parole agents.

The extent to which realignment has shifted max-outs to the local level is unclear. County judges can now exercise their discretion to impose either a straight jail sentence without supervision or a split sentence that combines a jail term with a period of mandatory supervision to follow. Current use of split sentencing varies widely among the counties. Some order it in more than 80 percent of cases, while several, including Los Angeles and Alameda counties, use it less than 10 percent of the time. Without greater use of split sentences, large numbers of non-non-nons may be returning to California communities without supervision.

And here’s what the Pew report suggests to both lower the max-out rate and keep former inmates from reoffending:

1. Require a period of post-prison supervision for all offenders.
2. Carve out community supervision period from prison terms.
3. Strengthen parole decision-making.
4. Tailor supervision conditions to risk and need.
5. Adopt evidence-based practices in parole supervision.
6. Reinvest savings in community corrections.

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Attorney General Kamala Harris praises the Realignment Act for easing overcrowding in California prisons, but calls for implementation of alternatives to incarceration and evidence-based rehabilitation and re-entry services to lower recidivism. Here’s a clip:

Realignment shifted responsibility for the incarceration and supervision of low-level, nonviolent offenders from the state prison system to California’s 58 counties. It also directed significant financial resources to counties to handle their increased responsibilities and to create localized alternative solutions to incarceration.

Three years in, Realignment has achieved one of its primary purposes — reduction of the population of California’s prison system. Following implementation of Realignment, the state redirected 30,000 recently convicted offenders who would have gone to state prison to county jail and shifted supervision of 50,000 offenders from state parole agents to county probation departments. Realignment has also forced an examination of California’s return on its investment in incarceration. The state spends an estimated $13 billion per year on criminal justice, but almost two thirds of those released from state prison go on to commit another crime within three years. This rate of recidivism is a waste of taxpayer dollars, and it is a threat to victims of crime and to public safety in general.

As a career prosecutor, I firmly believe there must be swift and certain consequences for all crime, and that certain offenses call for nothing less than long-term imprisonment. But I also believe that the way our system deals with low-level, nonviolent and non-serious offenders wastes resources needed to fight more serious crime.

Rather than a one-size-fits all justice system that treats all crime as equal, I have argued for a “smart on crime” approach — one that applies innovative, data-proven methods to make our criminal justice system more efficient and effective. Such an approach will not only hold offenders accountable for their actions; it will make our communities safer by taking steps to ensure that they don’t commit new crimes.

Read on.


Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel.

Here’s an ACLU clip from last October when the lawsuit was filed:

ACLU SoCal and Mr. Preven submitted several California Public Records Act (CPRA) requests for the documents that list not only money paid to private attorneys, but also the contracts between the County and individuals hired to oversee implementation of the recommendations of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The County Counsel denied the requests. Lawyers from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and the law firm of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP are representing ACLU SoCal, and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California is representing Mr. Preven.

During the fiscal year 2011-12, lawsuits against the Sheriff’s department cost the county $37 million, not including the costs the County paid to private lawyers to defend LASD, according to Supervisor Gloria Molina. The cost of defending LASD likely adds millions of dollars to the total. In just the first six months of fiscal year 2012-13, the total the County spent on verdicts and settlements on lawsuits against LASD was $25 million, not including the costs of defending those suits.

“We are asking the officials of Los Angeles County to be transparent and tell taxpayers how their money is being spent on private attorneys to defend deputies accused of savage beatings and other illegal actions,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the ACLU Foundation of SoCal.

John F. Krattili, county counsel, responded to the CPRA requests saying that billing records that document the tasks and time for which private firms were billing the County are exempt from disclosure.

“The County is paying out millions of dollars to private law firms, and when we, the people, ask to learn more about how that money is being spent, the answer is ‘none of your business!’ Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.” said Petitioner Eric Preven. “We’re demanding an end to the secrecy around practices that may well have cost the taxpayers far more than they’ve saved.”

And here’s a clip from what we at WLA said about the lawsuit when it was filed:

…of course, what the ACLU/Preven lawsuit rightly points out is that the $37 million total we have been given for last year is not, in fact, the real total. It’s not real because it doesn’t include the money paid to the private attorneys hired to defend the county in lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department—suits like the recently concluded Willis case that we wrote about here.

Willis v. Rodriguez is the one where, after a week-long trial, a federal jury unanimously found Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for punitive damages in relation to the brutal beating Mr. Willis received from deputies when he was a guest at Men’s Central Jail. (The jury also found 4 other present and former department members liable for damages as well.)

Willis’ attorney, Sonia Mercado, told me that originally Willis wanted to settle, that he wasn’t interested in punitive damages. He simply wanted his doctor bills and injury-related expenses paid for.

But the county’s hired gun lawyers refused to settle. Instead they pushed for a trial. And guess what? They lost resoundingly at trial. Now, we’ve been told that Baca intends to appeal—which means a brand new round of attorneys’ bills.

And, as with every other case filed and eventually settled against the sheriff’s department, we, the taxpayers, will pay the tab for all of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clue how much those tabs are really costing us.


This week, a federal judge granted class action status to a lawsuit filed by Pelican Bay inmates challenging the prison’s solitary confinement conditions and the policies keeping a number of prisoners in isolation for decades. (Backstory here and here.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

The inmates allege physical and psychological abuse when California puts inmates in Pelican Bay’s windowless isolation cells. The prisoners are confined 22 hours a day and, in some cases, have been in solitary for years and decades at a time.

The Pelican Bay inmates, in their federal lawsuit, also challenged the administrative process California uses to determine who to send to the super-maximum security cells for an indefinite stay….

In courtroom proceedings, lawyers for the state have argued that isolation is necessary to keep the peace within prisons, and to hinder gang activity inside and outside prison walls. They said that by creating a so-called “step-down” program last year that allows some prisoners to eventually earn their way out of isolation, the state had made sufficient improvements.

In her ruling Monday, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken narrowed the class action case to just those Pelican Bay inmates who have not been accepted into the state’s step-down program.


The class action motion was filed by 10 Pelican Bay inmates in solitary confinement, but California has since moved five of them to other quarters. Wilken’s order allows the remaining five prisoners to represent the larger class of some 500 Pelican Bay prisoners who have spent more than a decade in isolation, and some 1,100 put into solitary because of alleged gang associations.

And in another piece of good news, on Thursday, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals allowed an ACLU lawsuit alleging mistreatment of Arizona prisoners to proceed as a class action case. The suit alleges denial of adequate healthcare and unconstitutional use of isolation. East Valley Tribune’s Howard Fischer has more on the issue.

Posted in LASD, Los Angeles County, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, solitary | No Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.


Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.


TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

Runoff for Sheriff: It’s McDonnell! Tanaka a Distant 2nd…A Rematch in November!

June 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

With 100 percent of precincts reported, McDonnell skated mighty close to the magic 50.1 percent, but did not quite cross over. Tanaka is second, Olmsted third, Hellmold fourth….followed by Gomez, Rogers & Vince

Onward to November!

Update: 3:00 AM

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 63 Comments »

VOTE, VOTE, VOTE!! ….& Some Last Minute Sheriff’s Race Updates

June 3rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Warren Olney of Which Way LA played brief but interesting debate clips from six of the seven candidates for Los Angeles County Sheriff. (Candidate Patrick Gomez did not attend the debate but is also mentioned.)

You can find them here at minute 13:10.


Robert Faturechi ‏@RobertFaturechi 2h
the moment we’ve all been waiting for: Leonardo DiCaprio’s selection for LA sheriff


The Weekly’s Gene Maddaus has drawn up a cheat sheet for the five top candidates out of the seven running for LA County Sheriff. (Sadly, Lou Vince is not included, nor is Pat Gomez.)

We don’t agree with absolutely everything Maddaus has written (but then again, we likely know far too much for our own good). All that said, Gene is a very smart, discerning guy, so his take is assuredly worth your time.

Here’s the opening clip:

Never before has L.A. seen such a wide open race for sheriff. But the campaign has been a bit of a muddle. Much of the energy in recent weeks has gone into denunciations of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is running for sheriff even though he is the subject of an FBI investigation into obstruction of justice.

While Tanaka has been fairly well defined, the other candidates are a little harder to differentiate. There’s the handsome one, the guy with the mustache, the Irish guy, and the one who looks like Sam Elliott. Who are these guys? What’s the difference between them?

For Maddaus’ answer, read on.


Whose robocalls, newspaper inserts, radio ads, door knocking, endorsements and/or last minute media interviews and appearances at pancake breakfast….will matter most?

Thomas Himes at the Daily News takes a look. Here’s a clip:

As Los Angeles County voters prepare to pick a sheriff in the first incumbent-free race in 16 years, the seven contenders have been crisscrossing the county in a last-minute bid for votes in Tuesday’s primary election.

The seven are contending to succeed longtime former Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down earlier this year amid numerous accusations of deputy corruption and abuse in the county jails.

With a crowded field and a relatively low turnout expected for the primary vote, the candidates have been relying on door-knocking and targeted campaigning to reach those dedicated voters who are expected to show up Tuesday….

Read on for the details.


Nothing you haven’t heard, but still interesting to watch.


We think there are a couple of genuinely capable and experienced people running for Zev Yaroslavsky’s seat for LA County Board of Supervisors. We are not, however, endorsing anyone, nor would we dream of telling you for whom any of us are voting.

Still and all, we can’t resist posting this last minute ad put out by longest of longshot candidates, Eric Previn, our favorite ad hoc LA County citizen watchdog. Whatever happens with the race, we hope that Previn keeps on paying attention to county business. We need him.


You can find your correct local polling place right here.

Posted in 2014 election, LA County Jail, LASD | 18 Comments »

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