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LA Foster Care Documentary, Los Angeles DA Calls for Split-Sentencing, Solitary Confinement and Kids’ Brains, and LASD Oversight

July 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WATCH THIS TONIGHT: LOS ANGELES FOSTER CARE DOCUMENTARY ON OPRAH WINFREY NETWORK

Tonight (Thursday) at 7:00, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) will air an episode of “Our America with Lisa Ling,” exploring foster care in Los Angeles County and the children, families, and foster parents involved in the system.

In his publication, the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel tells us more about the documentary episode, which he co-produced, and why media access, when used to child dependency court proceedings is so important. Here’s a clip:

On Thursday July 3, the Oprah Winfrey Network will air an episode of its acclaimed docu-series “Our America with Lisa Ling,” which focuses on Los Angeles County’s foster care system. It is important to me, because as a co-producer I worked very hard to make sure that we were granted access to a world often cloaked in confidentiality.

[SNIP]

[In March,] a California appeals court struck down a court order issued by Los Angeles County Juvenile Court Presiding Judge Michael Nash, which had substantially eased media access to the largest juvenile dependency system in the nation. And despite spirited editorials by John Diaz of The San Francisco Chronicle calling for legislation that would, like Nash’s order, ease media access, no politician has stepped forward to take up the issue.

Of course, there is reason for caution. Children who have already been traumatized can be forever scarred by irresponsible media coverage. The potential costs to individual children supersedes the potential social good that exposing these systems to public scrutiny would bring, or so the argument goes.

And when journalists continue to chase the most salacious child welfare stories, it is understandable that attorneys and other child advocates are loathe to let the notebooks and cameras in. The media is hard to trust.

So into that absence of trust, I, alongside the incredible production team from Part 2 Pictures, which produces Our America, stepped lightly and came away with incredible access and an under-told story.

When you watch this episode on Thursday night, you will see what that access has won, and what we have chosen to do with it. You will see a simple, honest depiction of what the largest child welfare system in this country is up against; what every child welfare system in the country is up against. You will see, I hope, a picture not painted in black and white or even a scale of grays, but rather a story filled with color, vibrancy and the promise that the best in people can be forced to the surface by the hardest of moments.


LOS ANGELES TO (FINALLY) BOOST USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING—THANKS, DA JACKIE LACEY!

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has instructed attorneys in her office to begin seeking split-sentences—sentences “split” into part jail time, part probation—for certain low-level felons convicted under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment.

This is certainly welcome news, as the jail system is hazardously overcrowded and Los Angeles is far behind other counties successfully implementing split-sentencing and reducing their jail populations.

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

Lacey said part of her reasoning for the policy shift is due to changes under prison realignment, the state’s policy that shifts responsibility for lower-level would-be state prison inmates to California’s counties.

Previously, nearly everyone leaving prison went on parole for one to three years. Now, that same population upon leaving jail gets released to the community without any supervision.

That is, unless they’re sentenced to split time.

“It makes sense that we utilize this tool in order to make sure they successfully reintegrate into society and don’t commit any new crimes,” Lacey said.

While some counties (including many with limited jail space) have embraced split sentencing — such as Riverside County and Contra Costa County, which sentence 74 percent and 92 percent respectively of their lower-level felons to half time in jail and half time on supervised release — L.A. County’s rate has hovered between 4 to 5 percent.

[SNIP]

Probation Chief Jerry Powers said he’s not sure how many new offenders will be coming his way, but his department can handle it.

“Having the district attorney say that she’s going to look at this and she’s not opposed to it is important,” Powers, who has pushed for more split sentencing in L.A. County said. “But you still have to get the judge to impose it. It’s progress.”


MORE ON THE DAMAGING (AND STILL WIDESPREAD) USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT ON KIDS

The Atlantic’s Laura Dimon has an excellent story on the use of solitary confinement on kids in the US—the disastrous effects on young brains, and the continued use of isolation in spite of increasing research and opposition. Here are some clips:

Solitary confinement involves isolating inmates in cells that are barely larger than a king-sized bed for 22 to 24 hours per day. It wreaks profound neurological and psychological damage, causing depression, hallucinations, panic attacks, cognitive deficits, obsessive thinking, paranoia, anxiety, and anger. Boston psychiatrist Stuart Grassian wrote that “even a few days of solitary confinement will predictably shift the EEG pattern towards an abnormal pattern characteristic of stupor and delirium.”

If solitary confinement is enough to fracture a grown man, though, it can shatter a juvenile.

One of the reasons that solitary is particularly harmful to youth is that during adolescence, the brain undergoes major structural growth. Particularly important is the still-developing frontal lobe, the region of the brain responsible for cognitive processing such as planning, strategizing, and organizing thoughts or actions. One section of the frontal lobe, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, continues to develop into a person’s mid-20s. It is linked to the inhibition of impulses and the consideration of consequences.

Craig Haney, a professor of psychology at the University of California Santa Cruz, has been studying the psychological effects of solitary confinement for about 30 years. He explained that juveniles are vulnerable because they are still in crucial stages of development—socially, psychologically, and neurologically.

“The experience of isolation is especially frightening, traumatizing, and stressful for juveniles,” he said. “These traumatic experiences can interfere with and damage these essential developmental processes, and the damage may be irreparable.”

[SNIP]

The ACLU said that just hours of isolation “can be extremely damaging to young people.” In December 2012, the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence issued a report that read, “Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.”

They noted that among suicides in juvenile facilities, half of the victims were in isolation at the time they took their own lives, and 62 percent had a history of solitary confinement.

The task force requested that the practice be used only as a last resort and only on youths who pose a serious safety threat. The UN expert on torture went further and called for an “absolute prohibition [of solitary confinement] in the case of juveniles,” arguing that it qualified as “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment.”

In April 2012, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry issued a statement saying they concurred with the UN position. “In addition, any youth that is confined for more than 24 hours must be evaluated by a mental health professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist when one is available,” they wrote.

Despite these declarations, there are about 70,000 detained juveniles in the U.S., 63 percent of whom are nonviolent. And in 2003—the most recent survey data available—35 percent had been held in isolation. More than half of them were isolated for more than 24 hours at a time.


WHAT THE SHERIFF DEPARTMENT NEEDS, MOVING FORWARD

On Tuesday, jurors found six LASD officers guilty of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system. After the verdict, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte talked about the “toxic culture” within the Sheriff’s Department.

An LA Times editorial says that the issue here is not the criminal actions of deputies, but instead, the structure of a department with an elected sheriff who has no accountability to the citizens who put him in office. The editorial calls, once again, for a civilian oversight commission to “create an incentive to act wisely.” Here are some clips:

…whose idea was this whole scheme in the first place? Was top management at the department so lax or vague that deputies felt entitled to come up with such a plan on their own? Or, as the defense argued, were they instead following direct orders from their superiors, including, perhaps, then-Sheriff Lee Baca? And if they were following orders, did they believe that their only possible courses of action were to commit crimes or give up their careers?

Any of those possibilities, and a dozen more besides, underscore the central problem at the Sheriff’s Department: not deputies committing crimes, although that is one especially troubling manifestation of the problem, nor deputies beating inmates, although that’s one result of it, but rather that unaccountable management of a paramilitary organization embodied in an elected sheriff with no effective civilian oversight and few limits on his powers is an invitation to abuse.

[SNIP]

…any sheriff, no matter the degree of his or her integrity or ability, must operate within a structure that creates an incentive to act wisely. And legally. Criminal prosecution of officials should not be considered one of the basic checks or balances on power, but rather an indication that those safeguards have failed and need repair.

The six convicted sheriff’s personnel might not have brought their misgivings, if they had any, to an oversight commission, if one had existed, so it’s impossible to demonstrate that such a panel would have prevented the crimes. But they might have. And either way, its presence would have reminded the sheriff that he and his command staff would be held accountable, in a public forum, for their actions.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, solitary | 5 Comments »

WLA on Which Way LA? on KCRW 89.9 FM

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday night, WitnessLA was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with the always excellent Barbara Bogaev
(who was standing in for Warren Olney).

It was a quick news segment in which we talked about the just handed down six guilty verdicts in the LASD federal trial, recorded as I was standing outside in the hot, noisy and windy steps of the federal courthouse after the verdicts had come in.

So if you’d like to listen you can find the podcast of the broadcast here.

KCRW FM is at 89.9 FM.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX: THE JURY SPEAKS: Six Guilty On All Counts – What the LASD Verdict Means

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE JURY SPEAKS

After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.

Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.

All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.


“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”

According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.

“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”

Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”

Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE

At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.


GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.

As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.

Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.

Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”

The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?

Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?

Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.

It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.

Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.


AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:

Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7

Rina Palta for KPCC

Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang for the LA Times

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 103 Comments »

2 Jurors Replaced at LASD Fed Trial…SCOTUS Clears Way for Conversion Therapy Ban….Booker & Smith Introduce Better Options for Kids Act

July 1st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



REPLACEMENT OF 2 JURORS MEANS PATH TO VERDICT IN LASD TRIAL GETS LONGER

Jurors began deliberations last Tuesday on the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

By Friday afternoon, attorneys and trial watchers speculated optimistically that the jury might have the end of its deliberations at least in sight, and thus could possibly produce a verdict some time Monday.

Then Monday rolled around and all optimism vanished when two jurors were replaced alternates.

The first juror, a woman, was replaced Monday morning after she sent the judge a note resulting in a series of lengthy sidebars between Judge Percy Anderson and the two groups of attorneys involved, the prosecution and the defense.

Although Anderson sealed the content of the note, the reason that the juror needed or wanted to be replaced appeared to be something singular enough that it required animated discussion on the part of judge and lawyers prior Anderson making a final decision on the matter. Hence the sidebars.

Finally at 9:45 a.m., Anderson called the remaining eleven jurors back in and announced to them that an alternate was to replace one of their number. This meant, he explained, that they were now a brand new jury and must begin deliberating all over again as if their previous deliberations had never occurred.

The eleven who’d been at this for more than four days did not look thrilled at this “start your deliberations anew” set of instructions, but they filed out dutifully.

After about a half hour of deliberations the “new” jury sent a note to Anderson wanting to know if they could change their lunch location, which seemed to suggest that they had not yet gotten into any kind of deliberative stride.

Then at 12:30 or so, yet another note. This time from a second juror (also a woman) who, because of some kind of emergent personal situation, needed to be excused permanently right away. The juror appeared to be controlling distress and Judge Anderson excused her without much fuss after thanking her formally but warmly, for her time and service.

In came the rest of the jury members who were, again, told that one of their group was being replaced. This time the alternate juror was a man, disrupting the previous six-six split of males to females on the panel.

The jury was informed that it was now a new new jury, and thus must again “start your deliberations anew…” and so on.

If the panel members looked uncheery before, at this second set of instructions to totally reboot they looked visibly grim. Yet, they also still looked, for the most part, reasonably willing and determined.

With the exception of one last jury note that had something to do with a juror whose boss was getting irritated that he or she had been out so long, the rest of the afternoon was uneventful….

….and without a verdict.


U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS NO TO HEARING APPEAL OF CALIFORNIA LAW BANNING GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

California’s first-of-its-kind law banning “reparative therapies,” which are designed to turn gay kids straight, was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by governor Jerry Brown in fall 2012, but it has yet to take effect because of court challenges by those opposed to the statute.

In August 2013, the 9th Circuit ruled that the practice, which is not supported by the scientific mainstream and has been shown to be damaging to youth, often producing depression and suicidality, was not protected by the First Amendment nor could it be challenged on religious grounds.

The law’s opponents then tried the Supreme Court, which on Monday refused to hear the challenge, thus opening the path for the important ban to finally take effect.

Lisa Leff of the Associated Press has the story Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way Monday for enforcement of a first-of-its-kind California law that bars psychological counseling aimed at turning gay minors straight.

The justices turned aside a legal challenge brought by supporters of so-called conversion or reparative therapy. Without comment, they let stand an August 2013 appeals court ruling that said the ban covered professional activities that are within the state’s authority to regulate and doesn’t violate the free speech rights of licensed counselors and patients seeking treatment.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that California lawmakers properly showed that therapies designed to change sexual orientation for those under the age of 18 were outside the scientific mainstream and have been disavowed by most major medical groups as unproven and potentially dangerous.

“The Supreme Court has cement shut any possible opening to allow further psychological child abuse in California,” state Sen. Ted Lieu, the law’s sponsor, said Monday. “The Court’s refusal to accept the appeal of extreme ideological therapists who practice the quackery of gay conversion therapy is a victory for child welfare, science and basic humane principles.”


SENATORS COREY BOOKER & CHRIS MURPHY INTRODUCE BILL TO INCENTIVIZE STATES TOWARD BETTER YOUTH JUSTICE POLICIES USING EXISTING FEDERAL $$$

Last week, U.S. Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.) introduced something called the Better Options for Kids Act, a bill designed to “incentivize states to replace overly harsh school disciplinary actions and juvenile court punishment with bipartisan, evidence-based solutions that save money, enhance public safety, and improve youth outcomes.”

Interestingly, the bill uses existing funding streams to reward states that adopt policies that replace a purely punitive approach with those that improve youth outcomes. As examples, the bill lists:

Limiting court referrals for school-based non-criminal status offenses (truancy, curfew violations, et al)

Incentivizing school district to have clear guidelines regarding the arrest powers of school resource officers on school grounds

Providing training or funds training for school districts to use non-exclusionary discipline. (NOTE: “Exclusionary discipline” means suspensions, expulsions, and other disciplinary practices that keep students out of the classroom.)

Shifting funding formerly dedicated to secure detention for minors into community-based alternatives for incarceration

Adopting a reentry policy for youth leaving correctional facilities that ensures educational continuity and success.

“This bill represents a serious leap forward in the fight to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline, and to build a smarter, more effective, and more compassionate juvenile justice system” said Cory Booker in a statement announcing the bill’s introduction.

Murphy also stated strong sentiments. “When we lock up a child, not only are we wasting millions of taxpayer dollars, we’re setting him or her up for failure in the long run,” he said. “We need to quit being so irresponsible and facilitate better outcomes for youth.”

After he was elected U.S. Senator, former Newark New Jersey mayor Booker promised to make juvenile justice reform one of his top priorities. The Better Options for Kids Act looks like a promising step in that direction.

We’ll keep an eye on the bill’s progress.

Posted in Civil Liberties, FBI, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, LGBT, School to Prison Pipeline, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 15 Comments »

WLA’s Editor Wins “Online Journalist of the Year” at SoCal Journalism Awards(!)…LASD Civilian Oversight…Costly Prison Phone Calls…and More

June 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WLA’S EDITOR TAKES HOME SOCAL JOURNALISM AWARD

I am very happy to report that WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, has won 1st place at the SoCal Journalism Award for the “Online Journalist of the Year” category.

The judges called Celeste’s work for 2013: “a compelling look into problems in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Celeste did a great job decoding complex issues into a fascinating narrative.”

The rest of the winners can be found here.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL CALLS FOR CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT OF SHERIFF’S DEPT.

Citing the Inspector General’s undefined power and tenure, an excellent LA Times editorial calls on the LA County Board of Supervisors to create a nine-person citizen’s oversight commission to watch over the Sheriff’s Department. The editorial says the commission should hold public meetings, and be free of micromanagement by the Supes, and that members should serve for set terms.

Here’s a clip:

The board started out on the right foot last year when it created the Office of Inspector General. It was designed to replace both a special counsel, who presented regular reports and recommendations to the Board of Supervisors but didn’t get enough public attention to spark any follow-up, and the Office of Independent Review, which relied too much on the sheriff’s voluntary cooperation to be a credible monitor.

But the supervisors rejected the strong recommendation of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to appoint the inspector general to a set term and make him removable only for good cause. And the board still hasn’t brokered an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department over the scope of the inspector general’s powers. So no matter how strong the work ethic and integrity of Inspector General Max Huntsman, he is an at-will employee of the Board of Supervisors with no law establishing his power or authority to investigate the sheriff.

Meanwhile, the county’s contracts with its previous monitors expire Monday, so for the first time in two decades there will be no independent sheriff oversight. Despite the opportunity and necessity for improvement, the county is in danger of falling backward.

Forward momentum will depend on more than new promises by the supervisors to do a better job of keeping an eye on the sheriff. It will require the board to create a citizens oversight commission that conducts its meetings in public and has the kind of insulation from micromanaging that so far the board has denied the inspector general. There should be nine members on the commission, enough for each county supervisor to appoint one while still allowing sufficient appointments by other authorities to prevent the commission from becoming the board’s proxy. Members should serve for set, nonrenewable terms, and be removable only on a showing of good cause.


LAST YEAR THE FCC LIMITED WHAT PRISONERS PAY FOR INTERSTATE CALLS, BUT COMPANIES STILL GOUGE PRISONERS FOR OTHER SERVICES

In prisons all over the country, private companies—Global Tel-Link and JPay, in particular—are charging inmates preposterously high fees for phone, internet, and money services. Unfortunately, the brunt of the costs fall on the families of the incarcerated. And there’s no real competition from other companies who might charge lower fees. Global Tel-Link and JPay both pay cash-strapped cities, counties, and states incentives to secure their contracts within prisons. (In New York State, where these commissions are forbidden, inmates pay a fraction in comparison—72 cents for a 15-minute call.)

Global Tel-Link and JPay both have contracts in California through which they overcharge California prison and jail inmates’ loved ones.

In August of last year, the FCC placed a cap on how much companies can charge inmates for interstate calls at 25 cents per minute. That was a significant victory, but Global Tel-Link and JPay can (and do) continue to charge prisoners and their families shocking fees for in-state calls, money transfers, and other services. (For previous WLA reporting on this issue, go here.)

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg have the story. Here are some clips:

It is a lucrative proposition, in part because these companies often operate beyond the reach of regulations that protect ordinary consumers. Inmates say they are being gouged by high costs and hidden fees. Friends and families say they have little choice but to shoulder the financial burden.

But private enterprises are not the only ones profiting. Eager to reduce costs and bolster dwindling budgets, states, counties and cities are seeking a substantial cut in return for letting the businesses into prisons, a review of dozens of contracts by The New York Times found. In Baldwin County, Ala., for instance, the sheriff’s department collects 84 percent of the gross revenue from calls at the county jail. A Texas company has guaranteed the county at least $55 a month per inmate, according to a copy of the contract…

Some corrections departments use the commissions to provide services, said Steve Gehrke, a spokesman for the Washington State Department of Corrections. In Washington State, all commissions go toward compensating victims and improving services like libraries.

But even some industry executives see problems with the current setup, saying the commission system encourages providers to charge inmates more, not less, for services. Companies often win contracts based on how much they will offer states via commissions, rather than the rates they charge inmates.

Global Tel-Link, of Reston, Va., has contracts with 2,200 correctional operations serving at least 1.1 million inmates. It argued in recent comments to the Federal Communications Commission that the more states and cities demand in commissions, the more it will charge inmates. “There is no free lunch,” the company said.

[SNIP]

While the F.C.C. capped interstate telephone rates at 25 cents a minute earlier this year, after agitation from prisoners’ rights advocates, local phone rates can still be steep and other fees vary widely from state to state. For instance, using a phone to transfer $10 into an inmate’s account via JPay to the Southeast Correctional Center in Charleston, Mo., costs $3.95, while a similar transfer to the Illinois Youth Center in Chicago runs $5.95.

Placing a 15-minute in-state call from a Union County, N.J., jail costs $8.50, according to the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice, which recently filed a petition asking for lower in-state rates. In New York State, which does not accept commissions from providers, a 15-minute phone call costs just 72 cents.


CDC: WAYS TO PREVENT YOUTH VIOLENCE

Every day in the US, an average of 13 kids, teens, and young adults (between the ages of 10-24) are victims of homicide, and more than 1600 are treated in hospitals for assault-related injuries. In fact, homicide is the third leading cause of death in young people nationwide. And 10-to-24-year-olds comprised 40% of arrests for violent crimes in 2012.

A new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that youth violence and its devastating effects on kids (especially minorities), families, and their neighborhoods can be prevented, and lists evidence-based solutions communities can implement to counteract this violence.

The report suggests a number of tools and programs, from parenting and family training, to bolstering early childhood education, to data gathering, and policy-reform. Here are some examples:

The Strengthening Families program teaches parents to use discipline, manage their emotions, and communicate with their child and teaches youth strategies to deal with peer pressure, manage stress, and solve problems. Evaluations of this program have shown significant reductions in aggression, hostility, and conduct problems and improvements in parent’s limit-setting, parent-child communication, and youth’s prosocial behavior.

Multidimensional Treatment Foster Care is for youth who need out-of-home placements and includes extensive training of foster parents, family therapy for biological parents, skills training and support for youth, and school-based academic and behavioral supports. This program has been shown to significantly reduce delinquency, violence, and violent crime and sustain improvements over time.

Cure Violence (formally known as CeaseFire) works to interrupt violence, particularly shootings, and change norms about the acceptability and inevitability of violence. An evaluation found reduced shootings and killings and fewer retaliatory killings in most communities where the program was implemented.

These smart, evidenced-based recommendations are a hearteningly long way from the Superpredator theory of the mid-1980s.


TWO DIE IN LASD CUSTODY

Two people died in LA County Sheriff’s Dept. custody on Saturday. A man suspected of being under the influence of drugs was arrested in Lancaster after struggling with deputies. The man became unresponsive in the back of the patrol car, and officers were unable to revive him.

And later that afternoon, a woman was found dead in her bunk at the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station jail. The woman had been booked on possession of a controlled substance two days prior, on Thursday.

LASD homicide detectives, Internal Affairs, and the LA Coroner’s Office are investigating both deaths.

KPCC has the story.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Violence Prevention, women's issues | 27 Comments »

Impact of Criminal Justice System on Latinos….New Anti-Sex Trafficking Foster Program….Juvie Mandatory Minimum Bill Amended….and McDonnell and Tanaka Will Face Off in November

June 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LATINOS DISPROPORTIONATELY AFFECTED BY CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM AND CRIME

Latinos are heavily over-represented in the criminal justice system and as victims of crime, according to a new report from Californians for Safety and Justice and director of the Tomás Rivera Policy Institute at USC, Roberto Suro. (The report compiles existing data and research from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and elsewhere.)

The report found that Latinos are murdered at a rate more than twice that of whites in California, and are significantly more likely to be killed by a stranger. Latinos are 44% more likely to be locked up than whites for the same crimes. And Latinos awaiting trial in California also have a higher chance of being denied bail than whites, and average bail amounts are about $25,000 higher than both whites and African Americans. Latinos are also given mandatory minimum sentences more than any other race.

Here are some of the other statistics:

Latinos are more likely to be shot and burglarized than whites.

Hate crimes against Latinos rise as immigration increases.

California Latinos experienced more repeat crimes than survivors overall.

Half of Latino survivors are unaware of recovery services.

And here are some of the notable recommendations from the report:

• Arrest rates vs. convictions: California provides data on arrest rates by type of crime and racial or ethnic group, but data are lacking on conviction rates by types of crime and different populations. There is a need for comparative data on the first time someone is arrested or convicted.

• Community reintegration: Although research exists on how effectively Latino youth reintegrate into the community, there is a lack of documentation on how well Latino adults are reentering society.

• Racial Impact Assessments: Iowa, Connecticut and Oregon have laws requiring racial impact
statements before changing or adding criminal laws, as a way to guard against unintended consequences for people of a certain race or ethnicity. A racial impact statement is a nonpartisan analysis that examines the impact
of justice policy changes on racial and ethnic populations. For example, when new legislation is proposed in California, such an analysis could be conducted by an existing state agency (e.g., the State Interagency Team Workgroup to Eliminate Disparities & Disproportionality) and reported back to legislative committees on the potential adverse effects of the proposed bill.

• Racial profiling: Some law enforcement agencies have strong definitions of what constitutes racial profiling— and training on how to avoid the practice. Such standards should be in place in jurisdictions across the state and nation. Additional best practices in policing Latino communities across the country include Spanish-speaking liaisons (if officers do not speak Spanish), specific education and training of officers, Spanish hotlines and increased officer participation in community events.

• Risk assessments: When someone is arrested, determining their individual risk as they await trial (to reoffend, to show up to court, etc.) is key to managing jail space and minimizing undue disruption to families. Consistent use of proven risk-assessment tools can help local jurisdictions effectively manage their jail populations while also preventing unnecessary or biased decisions from disproportionately affecting Latinos

(The report also notes that while it focuses on Latinos’ contact with the justice system, African Americans do face greater disparities overall.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the report and its significance. Here are some clips:

Lead researcher Roberto Suro, director of USC’s Tomas Rivera Policy Institute, compiled public data available on Latinos’ interactions with the criminal justice system.

The data, he said, shows that “for Latinos, the criminal justice system has this process of cumulative disadvantage, where the disadvantages start at even the first encounters with the system.”

[SNIP]

But, until recently at least, criminal justice reform hasn’t prominently featured in Latino electoral politics, Suro said.

“In Southern California now, you have Latinos in positions of power or in positions of advocacy in a way that wasn’t the case twenty or thirty years ago when big decisions were made about a strategy of mass incarceration,” Suro said.


NEW TRAINING PROGRAM TO HELP LA COUNTY FOSTER PARENTS FIGHT CHILD SEX TRAFFICKING

The Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to create a training program to teach foster parents and group home workers how to identify kids who may be victims of sex-trafficking and how to intervene on their behalf.

Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe recommended the program, and have both been working to put a focus on child sex-trafficking in LA County.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has the story. Here’s a clip:

The supervisors voted Tuesday to ask county staff to work with local colleges and universities to develop a training program that will become mandatory for foster care providers.

“The county should move as quickly as possible to help safeguard the county’s most vulnerable population from being sexually exploited,” Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe wrote in a memo to their colleagues.

County officials said state funds may be available to carry out the training. Staff will report back in 60 days on the costs to implement the training countywide.

AND A REMINDER OF HOW MANY KIDS ARE TRAFFICKED…

Time Magazine’s Nolan Feeny has the story on the FBI’s weeklong, nationwide child sex-trafficking bust that resulted in the rescue of 168 exploited children and the arrest of 281 pimps.


UPDATE ON BILL THAT WOULD INTRODUCE MANDATORY MINIMUM SENTENCES TO CALIFORNIA JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last week, California bill that would impose the first mandatory minimum sentences in the state’s juvenile justice system, SB 838, stalled in the Assembly Public Safety Committee. The bill would have required two-year minimum out-of-home sentence on kids convicted of sexually assaulting someone who is unconscious or disabled.

On Tuesday, the committee passed the bill after the two-year mandatory minimum sentence portion was removed. Now, kids convicted of assaulting someone who is incapacitated will receive mandatory treatment and counseling. The bill still takes away the anonymity of kids charged with this crime, and includes a sentence enhancement of one year for kids who share texts or pictures of the crime.

SF Chronicle’s Melody Gutierrez has the story. Here’s a clip:

The bill was amended to take out language that would have required a two-year minimum sentence at juvenile hall or another out-of-home detention facility for teens convicted of sexual assault against a victim who is incapacitated. The bill now would require mandatory rehabilitative treatment and counseling, which could be accomplished while living at home.

SB838 by Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, maintained provisions that would open juvenile court to the public in cases where teens are prosecuted under Audrie’s Law and creates a one-year sentence enhancement for those convicted of sexual assaults who share pictures or texts of the crime to harass or humiliate the victim.

[SNIP]

Last week, the Assembly’s public safety committee delayed a vote on the bill after it was evident lawmakers would not support the mandatory minimum sentence provision.

Opponents of the bill argued mandatory minimum sentences create a “one-size fits all” model that emulates broken adult court sentencing laws. Mandatory minimum sentences have never been introduced in the state’s juvenile court system and many states and the federal government have begun to roll back the use of mandatory minimums in the adult court system.

Beall said he would have preferred to keep the mandatory minimum requirements, but he faced a deadline this week to pass the bill. The bill had previously passed the Senate unanimously.


NOVEMBER GENERAL ELECTION RUNOFF IN STORE FOR JIM MCDONNELL AND PAUL TANAKA IN BID FOR SHERIFF

The mail-in ballots have been counted, and appear to confirm a November runoff between between Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell and former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the office LA County Sheriff. The Board of Supervisors will make the results official on July 1.

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

McDonnell — the overwhelming victor in the June 3 primary election — finished just 0.65 percent short of the 50 percent plus 1 mark needed to skip the Nov. 3 election and be sworn in as head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka claimed 15.09 percent of votes to beat out third-place finisher Bob Olmsted and stay in the hunt. The department’s former second-in-command built the race’s largest campaign coffer, collecting more than $900,000 in contributions. McDonnell raised more than $760,000.

With thousands of ballots uncounted on election night, the ultimate outcome was not certain until the final count was released Wednesday.



Graphs: Traci Sclesinger, “Racial and Ethnic Disparity in Pretrial Criminal Processing,” Justice Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 2.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, racial justice, Sentencing | 4 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial: Closing Arguments, Part 2

June 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: CLOSING ARGUMENTS, PART 2

Last December, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and related actions, an assignment that came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

In May of this year, Deputy James Sexton, one of the seven obstruction defendants, was tried separately. The result was a mistrial. The remaining six—deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins—are on trial now.



SIX SEPARATE DECISIONS

Monday was the second and final day of closing arguments in the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

On Friday, the prosecution delivered its initial closing followed by hour-long presentations by each the attorneys for three of the six defendants, Lt. Greg Thompson, Lt. Steve Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo.

Monday, attorneys for Deputy Gerard Smith and Sgts. Maricela Long and Scott Craig presented closings for their clients, followed by a rebuttal by the prosecution.

(Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors get the last word.)

A trial of this kind is a challenging one for the jury because, although it is a single proceeding in which all six defendants are charged with the offenses of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the prosecution’s allegations of how that obstruction took place are substantially different for each of the six. This means, of course, that the jury must make an individual decision for each defendant about guilt or innocence. In other words, all could be found guilty, or all acquitted. Or the jury could come up with mixed results, finding some guilty, others innocent.


NOT HIS CALL

The first up among Monday’s lawyers was Bill Genego, the attorney for Gerard Smith.

In August 2011, said Genego, Deputy Smith’s commanding officer directed that Anthony Brown be isolated, that no one have access to him without the okay of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

(The suggestion that Tanaka loomed over much of the action as an unseen shot caller was something that Genego made reference to several times.)

“Gerard Smith did his job. He did not obstruct justice. He did not commit a crime.”

Interestingly, both Genego and Deputy Mickey Manzo’s attorney, Matt Lombard, have not spoken much throughout this trial, and their clients names have been largely absent from testimony, at least when compared to mentions of the other four. It is a strategy that the defense clearly hopes will pay off for the two deputies who, although they have now been placed in the narrative during the government’s closing, still could seem to the jury to be peripheral, because of their absence from much of the action described during these last three weeks of trial.

In his closing on Friday, Lombard labeled Manzo as “the fall guy,” a low-ranking department member taking orders from his superiors — orders that came from the very top of the sheriff’s department.

Monday, when Bill Genego’s turn came, he painted a similar picture of his client for the jury, contending that, while Smith was a trusted deputy, he was nothing close to a decision maker, that over and over again he had to ask his boss, Greg Thompson, about anything outside the scope of his orders.

It was not Smith’s decision to move federal informant Anthony Brown nor to change his name, Genego said. When Brown’s inmate file—his “jacket”—was moved and given to Lt. Leavins (which the prosecution has suggested was done to make it un-findable by the feds), “that was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

At the August 20, 2011, meeting called by the sheriff that set the hiding of Brown in motion, Smith was present but mostly as a bystander, said Genego. “The sheriff was upset,” he said, “and Paul Tanaka said this is one of the most important investigations in the history of the department…” But Smith was not involved in all the communications that followed.

When, three days later—after the FBI managed to get in to see Brown and was tossed out—”Greg Thompson and Paul Tanaka decided to move him. That was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

to be on Brown at all times, he organized the detail.

“Could he choose not to follow that order?” asked Genego.

“Not his call.” It was a mantra Genego repeated throughout the closing.

“He wasn’t on the task force. He’s not on any of those emails. He had no corrupt purpose. Gerard Smith did his job,” attorney Genego concluded. “He did not commit a crime. He is not guilty.”


WHERE IS BACA? WHERE IS TANAKA?

Michael Stone, Scott Craig’s bow-tie sporting attorney, and Maricela Long’s attorney, Angel Navarro, continued the defense theme of officers following what they believed were lawful orders, stressing that Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka were briefed all along the way.

“On August 18, a lawful criminal investigation was ordered,” said Stone, referring the initial meeting in which Baca set in motion the hiding of Brown, ostensibly for his protection, and the probe into the undercover operation led by FBI special agent Leah Marx.

“Conducting a lawful investigation is not a conspiracy.”

After Scott Craig and Maricela Long were assigned to that criminal investigation, “…did you ever hear any evidence that Baca put the brakes on? ” Stone asked. “No. Because it didn’t happen.”

The two sergeants were “worker bees” doing what they were asked to do, he said.

Stone had a somewhat harder time defending Craig against the government’s allegations that he had deliberately tried to persuade deputies Gilbert Michel and William David Courson not to talk to the FBI. The jury had, by this time, had clips of Craig’s and Leavins’ interviews with both men played for them repeatedly. Craig’s interactions with Michel, were particularly hard to dismiss as nothing more than interview techniques designed to get Michel to feel comfortable, which is how the defense portrayed Craig’s side of the conversation.

Both Craig and Long alone are also charged with lying to federal agents, an allegation that stems from the twosome’s visit to Marx’s home where Craig told the FBI agent that he was “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you,” a threat that Long later repeated in a phone conversation with Marx’s FBI boss.

Craig and Long’s attorneys claimed that the arrest threats were were genuine, even though the sergeants would later learn that they had no jurisdiction to make such an arrest (and their grand jury testimonies on the matter were somewhat contradictory).

After all, said Stone, “Baca believed that the FBI agents violated the law.”

It was time for Sheriff Baca to put on his big boy pants and take control of the situation,” said Stone, as he came to the end of his closing.

And then he repeated the question that continues to hang like smoke over this trial.

“Where is Baca? Where is [ICIB Capt. Tom] Carey? Where is Tanaka?”


FOREST GUMP

When prosecutor Brandon Fox began the government’s rebuttal, he talked at first, not about the allegations at hand, but about the “widespread abuse of inmates,” about “jail visitors being assaulted” when they came to see family members, about “false cases” filed against inmates to cover up assaults by deputies, and other allegations by such groups as the ACLU “going back years.”

“Deputies knew they could beat inmates with impunity” said Fox, because LASD executives “didn’t know or didn’t care about the abuse—either possibility equally damning.”

And so the federal government investigated.

“Mr. McDermott said that there was no evidence that this investigation needed to be done,” Fox continued, referring to Lt. Greg Thompson’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, whose closing was Friday.

And once the LASD learned that the feds were probing, “their purpose was to get the federal government out, to get the grand jury out.”

But “that’s not their choice,” said Fox.

And if the LASD felt “disrespected” because they weren’t told all about the government’s undercover investigation…

“That’s not their choice.”

Agent Leah Marx’s investigation was an operation that was approved all the way up to Washington D.C., Fox told the jury.

“It was her work that helped open up Pandora’s Box.”

This was no “turf war” as some of the defense attorneys had argued, he said. It was “a one-sided war on the FBI, on the federal grand jury, and the US Attorney’s Office.”

Fox recapped the government’s reasons for the charges against each one of the six but he was the most scathing when it came to Lt. Steve Leavins.

On Friday, Leavins’ attorney, Peter Johnson told the jury that his client represented “leadership, integrity, excellence and service.”

Fox now listed the words for jury members:

LEADERSHIP
INTEGRITY
EXCELLENCE
SERVICE.

Then he went about dismissing Leavins’ claim to the qualities, erasing all but the first letters of each word as he did so, leaving only….

L
I
E
S

It was a parlor trick, but an effective one when followed up by an account of how Leavins gave misleading testimony about the supposed approval of his actions by deputy county counsel Paul Yoshinaga, and the OIR’s Mike Gennaco, claims that fell apart under further examination, and rebuttal testimony from Gennaco. After that, Fox reminded the jurors how, in another instance, Leavins tried to change his testimony altogether to claim that a significant meeting in late August 2011 between Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and others—in which Birotte had told the sheriff in so many words to “But out” of the federal investigation—-had occurred instead, a month later, at the end of September,* when it would have better suited Leavins case, nevermind that Leavins appeared not to have been present at the second meeting at all.

Leavins was “the Forrest Gump” of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, quipped Fox, claiming to be everywhere, whether he was or not.

As for the fact that, as defense attorney Stone had pointed out, the primary order-giving higher-ups of the LASD remained conspicuously unindicted, Fox said, “to the extent they’re ever charged, that’s for another jury to consider on another day.”

The case went to this jury of six men and six women on Tuesday.


*We originally wrote that the second meeting Leavins said he’d attended was in early October, which was not correct. He testified that it was at the end of September.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 38 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

June 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: CLOSING ARGUMENTS, PART 1

Last December, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and related actions, an assignment that came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

In May of this year, Deputy James Sexton, one of the seven obstruction defendants, was tried separately. The result was a mistrial. The remaining six—deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins—are on trial now.



“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE

The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.


WE’LL HAVE MORE ON OTHER TOPICS TOMORROW….BUT IN THE MEANTIME, THERE IS THIS FROM THE LAT’S JIM NEWTON:

PROTECTING KIDS HAS TO COME BEFORE WORRIES ABOUT COUNTY LIABILITY. (IT’S SAD THAT SUCH A THING HAS TO BE STATED, BUT REGRETTABLY IT DOES.)

Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 17 Comments »

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX ON TRIAL: As the Complicated LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial Speeds to a close, Some Additional Back Story

June 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX GOES TO TRIAL: LEAVINS TAKES THE STAND

Last December, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and related actions, an assignment that came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

In May of this year, Deputy James Sexton, one of the seven obstruction defendants, was tried separately. The result was a mistrial. The remaining six—deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins—are on trial now.



On Friday morning, closing arguments commenced in the trial of the six defendants who are all members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and all charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Yet, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week, Lieutenant. Steve Leavins and Sergeant Scott Craig, both defendants in the trial, went on the stand to testify.

This six-defendant trial is a complicated one that is difficult to reduce to bullet points. Thus as we analyze the closing arguments, it might help to take a look at some of the previous testimony that the jury has heard—which likely both helped and harmed the defense.

With that in mind, here’s a rundown of the testimony of Lt. Steve Leavins.

On one hand Leavins and Craig were able to articulate some points that supported a part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that they believed that the hiding of Anthony Brown and the investigating, surveilling and threatening to arrest special agent Leah Marx were necessary and righteous acts. (Both Leavins and Craig worked at the time for ICIB, the department’s unit that investigates criminal wrongdoing by department members.) They also made clear that, in most cases, they were generally ordered to do what they did by others, which is another part of the theory of the defense. Yet, at the same time, they each may also have damage to their respective and and collective cases in the ways they handled the prosecutors’ more discomforting inquiries.

But first to recap a bit:

In the first part of his testimony (which began the Friday before last on June 13) Leavins had reported very convincingly that, in most instances, he was ordered by then-Sheriff Lee Baca and/or former-undersheriff Paul Tanaka to do the things that are the basis for the charges against him—at least in the broad strokes. The details of his actions, Leavins reported, he discussed with either Tanaka or Baca, or both, usually at in person meetings where he received his bosses’ approval and, often, their input and direction. In many cases, he also got approval or direction from his immediate boss, Captain Tom Carey.

Paul Tanaka and Carey each testified still earlier in the trial and reinforced much of what Leavins contended when he took the stand, although Tanaka in particular employed a lot of protective “I don’t recalls,” when asked if he had approved or directed anything that might be legally borderline.

Since Baca and Tanaka, and Carey are—for now—unindicted-–and in Tanaka’s case, actually running for sheriff—-one wonders exactly what the jury will make of this troubling discrepancy when it comes time to decide on verdicts.

Another big score Leavins made during the first half of his appearance on the stand came when he testified that he met frequently with two attorneys who have an association with the sheriff’s department and that they essentially cosigned on his crucial courses of action when it came to participating in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, and in launching a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI special agent Leah Marx, causing her to be surveilled and confronted at her home with the threat of arrest by ICIB Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long, who work directly under Leavins.

Here’s a clip from WLA’s account:

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.

The matter of the attorneys’ reported approval is a big deal, because if Leavins acted in good faith on the advice of counsel, even if those actions turned out to be legally problematic, the approval of counsel—and as Leavins told it, not any counsel but two knowledgeable and experienced attorneys who both were at the time employed by the County of Los Angeles, would be something the jury members would have to consider, and they would likely be instructed to do so by the judge.


ATTORNEY APPROVAL, A MEETING WITH THE U.S ATTORNEY, & BEING TOLD TO “BUTT OUT”

The government made points as well during the first day of Leavin’s testimony when prosecutor Brandon Fox showed that, in significant ways, the timeline of events did not support the defense’s contentions that the sole motivation for using such elaborate means to hide inmate/informant Anthony Brown was to protect the man from wrongdoer deputies who might see Brown’s informer status as a threat. Neither did the timeline support the contention that Anthony Brown/Gilbert Michel/cell phone operation was some kind of rogue action as opposed to a legitimate undercover investigation run by Leah Marx, that was both sanctioned and sorely needed.

The contention that Leavins and his team, most particularly Craig and Long, were perfectly justified in investigating Leah Marx had been damaged on Friday when Leavins admitted in cross examination that he’d been present at a meeting in late August between members of the LASD including Lee Baca and members of the US Attorney’s office including Andre Birotte himself who, according to Leavins, said things to Baca and the group that made clear Birotte’s thoughts on the FBI’s investigation:

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.


DISMANTLING THE ATTORNEY DEFENSE

So that was part one of Leavins’ testimony.

Then on the following Tuesday, June 16, when the cross-examination of Leavins continued, followed by redirect from the defense, a couple of rather interesting things happened.

The first occurred when Prosecutor Fox questioned Leavins about his conversations with Deputy County Counsel Paul Yoshinaga, whom Leavins had described as having approved his team’s actions regarding Anthony Brown and Leah Marx, and even codified his approval by helping him refine a memo summarizing those actions.

However, it seems, when queried a bit more closely, Leavins admitted that the actions that Yoshinaga “approved” failed to include any discussions of the repeated changing of Anthony Brown’s name, the deliberate failure to allow him to be fingerprinted when he was moved, and the other elaborate strategies that made Brown vanish from the reach of any federal agents who wished to find him.

With regard to meetings with the OIR’s Michael Gennaco, Fox asked if Gennaco had ever told him that Leah Marx had committed a crime. Leavings conceded that Gennaco had not.

Well, Fox wanted to know, did Leavins ever ask Gennaco if it was okay to move Anthony Brown and to change his name multiple times and all the rest. No, Leavins admitted. He’d not mentioned any of that. And, no he hadn’t asked if it was okay to hide Brown from the FBI.

Leavins also had conversations with Sergio Gonzalez, who was at the time, the head deputy of the Justice System Integrity Unit for the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, and someone Leavins had worked with before. Fox wanted to know if Leavins actually asked Gonzalez if charges could be filed against Leah Marx for conducting a covert operations in the jails. No, said Leavins, he’d not asked.

Well, did he ask if it was alright to instruct deputies not to cooperate with a federal investigation—as he and Sergeants Craig and, to a lesser degree, Long, appeared to have instructed both Deputy Gilbert Michel and Deputy William David Courson not to talk to the FBI. (In recorded interviews, clips from which members of the jury—along with the rest of us—have now heard played loudly at least three times, they also bad-mouthed the FBI and, with Michel especially, made cooperating with the feds sound like a path that was both disloyal and weak.)

No, said Leavins, he’d not asked Gennaco anything like that.

And did he research the penal codes that he’d contended that Marx had violated, specifically 4575, which is a misdemeanor prohibiting bringing cell phones into jails—unless authorized by a law enforcement agency. With regard to penal code 4575 (a misdemeanor that, incidentally, was punishable with a fine, not jail time), did Leavins ever find out if the FBI could authorize Mr. Brown to possess a cell phone as part of a covert operation?

No, he didn’t.To the extent they’re ever charged, that’s for another jury to consider on another day.”

And so it went. By the time the topic was at last yanked apart, detail after detail, Fox appeared to have demolished the argument put forth in Leavins’ earlier testimony that he had sought and received approval by lawyers Yoshinaga and Gennaco, and had relevant discussions with Gonzalez from the DA’s office.


“IDIOTS” & MORE “IDIOTS”

In an increasingly harsh cross examination, Fox pushed Leavins about his attitude toward outsiders investigating wrongdoing in LASD’s house.

“You testified that deputy abuse [of inmates] disgusted you,” said Fox, and yet in September 2011, you did not want another law enforcement agency shining a light on abuse in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?….You called Deputy Michel an ‘idiot for admitting to the beating of deputies.”

Fox provided an email in which Leavins also called the FBI agents looking into abuse in the jails “idiots.” In another email, he opined that LA Times reporter Robert Faturechi, was “a young reporter who is [looking] for the next Pulitzer” when Faturechi wrote a story about alleged abuse in the jails.


REDIRECT AND REHABILITATION OF LEAVINS

When Leavins’ attorney Peter Johnson got up for redirect, he asked his client a series of questions about the meeting at which Lee Baca, Andre Birotte and others had been present and that, according to Leavins, who was also at the meeting, Birotte had told the sheriff to, as Leavins paraphrased, to “butt out” from the ongoing criminal investigation that the feds were conducting inside the LA County Jails. This was the conversation that made clear that the FBI’s undercover investigation run by agent Leah Marx and involving Brown and the cell phone, was legitimate in the eyes of the U.S. Attorney’s office, thereby arguably removing any reason for the LASD to investigate agent Marx, much less to confront her outside her home, threatening her with arrest, all of which would occur a few weeks after this meeting that Leavins had said on Friday had occurred in late August. (The meeting date was August 29.)

Under redirect questioning by Johnson, the story Leavins had told on his first day of testimony suddenly changed. Now Leavins said that he had in fact attended, not one, but two meetings with the U.S Attorney, and the the meeting where all this stuff had been said by Andre Birotte was not, in fact, the first meeting on August 29, but at a second meeting in the first week of October—in other words after the surveillance of and confrontation with Leah Marx was already finished.

At this second meeting, Baca had calmed down, said Leavins. And by October 3, Leavins had received an email from Sergio Gonzalez from the DA’s office stating that the District Attorney would be unable to pursue charges against Anthony Brown or any FBI agents regarding the matter of the cell phone due to statute known as the Supremacy Clause, but that he would like to file on Deputy Gilbert Michel for accepting a bribe.

After this series of events, Leavins said he believed he could no longer pursue his investigation.

In further redirect Johnson reestablished that he had moved Anthony Brown out of Men’s Central Jail based on orders from Lee Baca and that anything that he, Craig and Long had said to deputies Michel and Courson was in no way intended to dissuade either deputy from cooperating with the FBI but merely to gain their cooperation.

Finally, Leavins reiterated that he had launched an investigation into the actions of the FBI because the sheriff asked him too and because he thought it made sense, “on the face of it.”


RECROSS ABOUT THAT CRUCIAL MEETING

In recross, prosecutor Fox moved directly to the matter of when the crucial meeting took place with the “three highest people” in the sheriff’s department, the Los Angeles FBI office and the U.S. Attorney’s office, namely Lee Baca, Steve Martinez, and Andre Birotte—in which Birotte told the sheriff in so many words to stand down.

Fox read Leavins’ testimony from the cross examination on Friday, in which he described the meeting as having occurred in late August, and desribed Birotte as saying to Baca “”I don’t want any more talk about the arrest of FBI agents.”

Fox continued to pound. “And yet you continued to investigate Leah Marx until early October, and continued to try to build a case against FBI agents.”

Fox also reread Leavins’ Grand Jury testimony, during which the lieutenant also stated that the meeting in which Birotte laid down his boundaries as having occurred in late August.

Without a blink Leavins continued to insist that, he was not good with dates and that when he was in front of the Grand Jury and when he talked about the meeting on Friday, he had “misremembered” the date. But that now he was sure. The meeting occurred in early October—nevermind his two rounds of earlier testimony.

There were a few more rounds of hammering on such issues as Leavins and company attempting to get the two deputies not to cooperate with the FBI and on meetings with Baca and Tanaka in Tanaka’s bug swept office regarding moving Anthony Brown, the cell phone, Leah Marx, and the FBI. (Leavins finally admitted that the paranoia about listening devices in LASD offices came, not from him, but from the former undersheriff and the sheriff).

After a short re-re-direct by defense attorney Johnson, Leavins stepped downt.


Okay, now onward to closing arguments.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 4 Comments »

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

GROUP OF LAW ENFORCEMENT UNIONS TO ANNOUNCE SUPPORT OF JIM MCDONNELL FOR LA SHERIFF

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.


CALIFORNIA BILL WOULD INFLICT HARMFUL NEW MANDATORY MINIMUMS ON KIDS IN THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

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.


STATE TO BEGIN EARLY RELEASE OF CERTAIN ELDERLY INMATES, TRANSFER OF SERIOUSLY ILL INMATES TO HEALTH CARE FACILITIES

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.


MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING FOR PEACE OFFICERS IS A BIG STEP, BUT NOT A CURE-ALL

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 »

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