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PANDORA’S BOX: Will Sexton Trial End Up in a Hung Jury?

May 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the course of their deliberation thus far in the James Sexton obstruction of justice trial, the jury sent Judge Percy Anderson four notes.
If two of those notes are any guide, then the panel of five women and seven men could very well wind-up in an irrevocable deadlock.

Actually all of the notes are an intriguing peek into this jury’s process, so here they are, one by one.

The jury began deliberating just before 11 a.m. Tuesday and went home around 5 p.m.that first day. During their afternoon deliberation they sent Judge Anderson their first note, which was a request to hear a “read back” of the testimony defendant Sexton had given to the grand jury, testimony in which he freely admits that he and his team partners were instructed to keep FBI informant Anthony Brown away from the FBI, and that they used all manner of “smoke and mirrors” to do so.

Sexton’s cheerful grand jury testimony is a linchpin of the prosecution’s case against him. Thus the fact that the jury wanted it read back, might suggest that they were leaning toward a guilty verdict.

On the other hand, the tone of the testimony is that of a fully cooperating witness, not some sort of tortured or inadvertent confession. Thus it also could possibly fit a part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that Sexton had cooperated for more than a year with the FBI, consenting to 37 interviews, and doing all he could to help the feds. For his trouble, he got indicted and now finds himself fighting to stay out of prison, whereas those higher-ups who had issued the orders that were now being labeled as conspiracy to obstruct of justice—namely the sheriff and undersheriff—are walking around, perfectly indictment free.

Whatever the reason for the jurors’ interest in another go-round with Sexton’s testimony, they left for home an hour after the reading, and They were back in the court building ready to deliberate at 8 a.m. Wednesday morning

Wednesday’s first note came at 9:30 a.m. The jury wanted a readback of part of part of Leah Marx’s testimony that pertained to threats James had been receiving.

It was merely a short exchange during her testimony, but the fact that they have asked for it seemed telling.

The testimony pertains to the time when Marx set up the first meeting with Sexton, who had been reluctant to meet with her. He had, however, been already been talking for a while to another LA special agent named Patrick Hampel, whom he considered a friend.

Marx said she passed a message to Sexton through Hampel, that “there were credible threats against him and his life might be in danger.”

(The threats had to do with another LASD case, in which Sexton and his partner, Mike Rathbun, had blown the whistle on some corruption elsewhere in the sheriff’s department. The two got death threats as a consequence.)

Just before the noon hour, the jury sent a new note, this one of a different character. It read:

We wish to inform the judge. We can not, have not, and will not reach a unanimous verdict in this case.

Those in the audience who had scurried into the courtroom for the reading of the note, looked at each other. A hung jury?

The prosecution team looked quietly stricken. Judge Percy Anderson waggled his head as he has a habit of doing when contemplating some act or person in his court that he deems vexing.

“I’m included to bring them out,” said Anderson, “and tell them, ‘I’ve read your note. But it’s a little soon to reach this point. I’m inclined to let you return to the jury room to deliberate. “

The defense knew it was losing battle to ask for a mistrial at this point, but he asked for one anyway. Predictably Anderson turned O’Brien down.

When they jury was ushered into their box, Anderson sweetened the news with a little grandfatherly persuasion.

“We’re going to take you out to lunch, hopefully the fresh air will help clear your minds. Then we ask that you resume your deliberations.” Anderson stopped just short of advising the jury panel that they would surely do better once they’d raised their collective blood sugars.

The jury returned from lunch at 2 pm. By 2:30 there is a new note.

This time, Anderton did not read the text of the note aloud, but instead called for a sidebar. There was argument at the sidebar, mostly it appeared, coming from the defense.

The jury was brought into the courtroom.

“Ladies and gentleman, we received your note…” This time Judge Anderson instructed the jury to go home for the rest of the day and “sleep on it.”

The jury will return to resume deliberation at 8 am Thursday….

Obviously, we’ll let you know when we know. So watch this space……

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement | 11 Comments »

Supes Terminate Contract with LA Works over $1M in Overcharges, San Quentin’s Award-Winning Newspaper, and an Arts Initiative for Low-Achieving Schools

May 22nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AUDITS FIND LA WORKS OVERCHARGED LASD (AND ANOTHER COUNTY DEPT.) A WHOPPING $1M, SUPES END CONTRACT WITH AGENCY

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted to end LA County’s contract with LA Works, an agency that provides employment training services to inmates and the unemployed, after audits found the organization had overcharged the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Dept. of Community and Senior Services nearly $1 million. The job training jail classes run by LA Works will likely be suspended for two weeks while the board negotiates a contract with the second lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

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

LA Works, an Irwindale-based joint-powers agency that provides workforce development services, was given a sole source contract in 2011 to teach job training and life skills classes in the jails. A recent county audit found that it had overbilled the Sheriff’s Department by about $133,000 for staff time spent on non-sheriff’s programs and for vacation, sick and holiday leave costs that were earned before the contract started.

A separate audit found LA Works had overbilled the county’s Department of Community and Senior Services more than $850,000 on an on-the-job training program for unemployed and underemployed residents. Under that program, LA Works was to help people find jobs and would then pay a portion of their wages during their training period.

Auditors found that the agency billed the county for training people who had already been hired, including nurses making $32 an hour, which the auditors noted “is well over the self-sufficiency wage of $11.84 per hour” that is the most someone can earn and still qualify for the program.

LA Works initially argued that the on-the-job training bills were proper, but after auditors released a follow-up report, the agency changed its stance and agreed to repay the money. The agency did not dispute the overbilling in the Sheriff’s Department and has repaid the money, according to an audit report…

The contract for programming in the jails expires this month. LA Works was the lowest bidder on a new $32-million, six-year contract to provide the services.

But county Supervisor Gloria Molina, citing the “significant and unallowable” overbilling, proposed Tuesday that the board direct the Sheriff’s Department to instead negotiate a contract with the next-lowest bidder, Five Keys Charter School.

(LA Daily News’ Richard Irwin also reported on this issue.)


A LOOK INSIDE SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON’S AWARD-WINNING, INMATE-RUN NEWSPAPER

San Quentin State Prison may be notorious for being California’s only death row facility for male prisoners, but it is also home to the state’s only prisoner-run paper, San Quentin News. The monthly paper is circulated among 17 other prisons thanks to subscriptions, grants, and donations. San Quentin News, which recently won a James Madison Freedom of Information Award from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, provides inmates with an important creative outlet and helps build writing and communication skills. (You can read the current issue on the newspaper’s website here.)

The NY Times’ Patricia Leigh Brown has more on the paper and the men who run it. Here are some clips:

Founded in 1940 and then revived as a serious journalistic enterprise six years ago, the monthly News, which bills itself as “The Pulse of San Quentin,” is the state’s only inmate-produced newspaper and one of the few in the world. The paper’s 15 staff members, all of them male felons, write from the unusual perspective of having served an estimated 297 ½ years collectively for burglary, murder, home invasion, conspiracy and, in one case, a Ponzi scheme.

In a notorious prison best known for its death row, the men are committed to what Juan Haines, the 56-year-old managing editor, who is serving 55 years to life for that 1996 bank robbery, calls “boots on the ground” journalism, accomplished without cellphones or direct Internet access. “It’s about being heard in a place that’s literally shut off from the world,” he said.

From their newsroom trailer next to the prison yard, where inmates work out amid spectacular views, the reporters and editors delve into issues at “the Q,” as San Quentin State Prison is sometimes called, as well as those far beyond its walls. They have covered a hunger strike, crowding in California’s women’s prisons and a federal court order concerning mental health care for California death row inmates.

But the paper specializes in stories that can be written only by journalists with a “uniquely visceral understanding of the criminal justice system,” said Arnulfo T. Garcia, the paper’s editor in chief, who is serving 65 years to life for a long list of crimes that includes burglary, robbery and skipping bail to flee to Mexico.

Lately, the paper seems to be gathering momentum. Editors, who sometimes work through dinner over ramen noodles, are talking about expanding the current circulation of 11,500. Students from the Center for Nonprofit and Public Leadership at the University of California, Berkeley, have helped them develop a 12-year business plan that would increase the number of paid subscribers to help subsidize the free copies for inmates.

[SNIP]

Robert L. Ayers Jr., a former San Quentin warden who retired in 2008, said that positive outlets were important for prisoners. He said he decided to revive the publication as a quality journalistic endeavor rather than what he called an “inmate rant rag.”

“When they get involved and see they’re accomplishing something, that could be the one positive tick mark in the ‘good’ column for them,” he said. In learning how to write, he added, “they start expressing themselves in ways other than physical or violent means.”


ART EDUCATION PROGRAM EXTENDS TO TEN OF CALIFORNIA’S HIGH-POVERTY, LOW-ACHIEVEMENT SCHOOLS

On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama announced the expansion of Turnaround Arts, an initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, that uses art education to help bridge the academic achievement gap at low-performing schools nationwide. Ten high-poverty California schools serving 6,000 kids will receive musical instruments, art supplies, and other help from art organizations. (Turnaround Arts was piloted in 2012 at eight schools, helping to bring up attendance, lower discipline numbers, and boost kids’ grades.)

KPCC’s Mary Plummer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The program infuses arts education access into struggling schools by providing musical instruments, art supplies, professional development for teachers and help from arts organizations. It began as a national initiative from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and expands into six new states in the Fall.

California’s program will be the largest, serving 6,000 students in Kings, San Bernardino, San Diego, Los Angeles, Alameda, Monterey, Humboldt, Jan Joaquin and Contra Costa counties this fall. All of the schools are within the bottom five percent of the most challenged schools in the country, according to the selection criteria.

“I hope it means that arts education will become a model for all schools in the future,” said architect Frank Gehry, one of several high-profile artists recruited to work with the schools. Gehry and former California Arts Council chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver are spearheading the effort in California.

Other big names that have signed on include Jason Mraz, Forest Whitaker, Rashida Jones, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Marc Anthony, Tim Robbins, Chad Smith, Kerry Washington and Russell Simmons.

Turnaround Arts launched in May 2012 at eight low-achieving schools across the country. Officials said discipline dropped by nearly 80 percent at some schools and that English and math scores rose. They also credited the arts instruction with bringing up attendance and enrollment numbers.

Posted in arts, Education, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, prison | No Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: After Closing Arguments the Sexton Case Goes to the Jury

May 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



COLLATERAL DAMAGE

“Mr. Sexton is nothing more than collateral damage” in a conflict involving “two massive law enforcement agencies fighting like children,” said former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien as he delivered closing arguments in the week-long corruption of justice trial of his client, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton.

Sexton is one of seven members of the LASD who have been federally indicted for having allegedly hidden convicted bank robber/inmate turned federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers. Brown was part of a then-widening civil rights investigation by the FBI into corruption and brutality inside the LASD run county jails.

The weeklong trial went into the hands of the jury at around 11 a.m. Tuesday, after the prosecution and the defense each presented very different views of the defendant’s alleged crimes.

O’Brien painted both the LASD and the FBI as engaging in a huge “jurisdictional turf war” in which Sexton, who had actually cooperated extensively with the FBI for more than a year, was scapegoated, while those who actually gave the orders for the actions for which the deputy has been charged remain unindicted.

“Not [former undersheriff Paul] Tanaka, Not [LASD Captain Tom] Carey. Not the Sheriff,” O’Brien told the jury.

The events that underlie the case against Sexton were triggered in the summer of 2011 when, in the course of an undercover sting initiated by the FBI’s Los Angeles office, inmate-turned-informant Brown asked a sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michele to smuggle a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail in return for money. Brown was then to use the phone to report back to his federal agent contacts about alleged wrongdoing by deputies he observed inside the jail.

After a few weeks of use, however, the phone was discovered hidden among Brown’s possessions (inside a Doritos bag) by a sheriff’s deputy in the course of a routine search. When sheriff’s investigators subsequently discovered that the contraband phone contained a call and text log devoted almost exclusively to contacting the FBI, a firestorm erupted among the sheriff’s department’s top brass, in particular then Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. They reacted by ordering Brown to be hidden away from the FBI’s reach in farflung corners of the jail system, while he was questioned by LASD investigators. They also ordered covert surveillance, along with some in person bullying, of Brown’s main handler, Special Agent Leah Marx, who headed up the corruption investigation of which Brown was a part.

The government’s charges against Sexton are obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Conspiracy to obstruct means, loosely, that he was part of a group that knowingly tried to subvert a federal grand jury investigation. It also means that, if one of the members of the group did something that knowingly subverted the investigation—-like, say, harassing Marx—then all the conspirators are responsible for the action. According to the prosecution, the task with which Sexton was most involved was hiding Brown, as he was the one on the team with computer skills and thus was able to suggest how to game the LASD jail system database so that Brown appeared to vanish from it.

O’Brien maintains that the above actions of Sexton’s and his alleged coconspirators were lawful, even if foolish, as in the case of going after Marx. More importantly, he contends that Sexton was merely doing what he was ordered to do by his superiors, as is required in a paramilitary organization.

The prosecution believes they have proved that the actions and the rest of his team were not lawful, that they were specifically designed to impede the FBI’s investigation, and contends that just following orders is no excuse.


TALKING TO THE GRAND JURY

A large part of government’s case comes down to what Sexton said in his grand jury testimony, in which he fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box. In fact, he obligingly described the hiding of Brown in colorful detail, and acknowledged there were elaborate attempts to keep Brown away from the feds specifically through the use of “smoke and mirrors.”

O’Brien, Sexton’s lawyer, also agreed that his clients grand jury testimony was crucial. But his take on how jurors must see Sexton’s statements was very different than that of the government.

“This is the crux of the case,” he said. “It is about how an over eager deputy agreed to cooperate with the FBI, and did work with the FBI.” Special agent Leah Marx even gave him a cell phone so as to be able to get in touch with her and her colleagues without fearing the LASD would overhear and retaliate against him.”

Sexton was interviewed by the FBI 37 different times, O’Brien pointed out. And he appeared before the Grand Jury twice.

“He was trying to please the FBI,” O’Brien said in his closing. And indeed, the tone of Sexton’s testimony that was read at trial leaves that impression. Sexton seemed, as O’ Brien suggested, “eager to please.”

All Sexton did, O’Brien said, was what he was asked to do by the FBI, or in the case of his superiors in the LASD, what he was ordered to do.

“The people giving the orders here, they’ve not been indicted. Not Tanaka, Not Carey. Not the sheriff.”

But those higher ups were harder to indict, O’Brien said.

“What’s easier? Get the over-eager kid, meet with him, give him a cell phone, get him on board, ask him some sloppy questions…..and then let’s indict him, based only on his words.”

After the discovery of the existence of Anthony Brown’s informant status, his contraband cell phone, and the FBI’s part in the undercover operation, “Sheriff Baca spun out of control,” said O’Brien. “And then the FBI refused to talk to him.”

Instead of paying attention to the “business of law enforcement,” O’Brien concluded, the two behemoth agencies “got into a tiff each other.”

“Now it’s led to a young deputy sheriff facing the fight of his life.”


THE JURY

The jury made up of five women and seven men appeared to listen very closely and seriously to the presentations by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter for prosecution, former U.S. Attorney O’Brien for the defense and then the prosecution’s rebuttal to the defense’s closing present, presented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox.

“You may believe others may be guilty of the crime,” Fox told the jury, in response to O’Brien, “but that’s for another jury on another day.”

Before the jurors went home on Tuesday afternoon, they asked to hear Sexton’s hour-long plus grand jury testimony read back to them in its entirety.


THE TANAKA POLITICAL FACTOR

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, now one of seven candidates for sheriff, was a witness for the defense, and he maintained during his testimony last Friday, and cross examination on Monday, that all of his orders relating to the Anthony Brown matter were lawful. (Although he dodged quite a few other questions.)

On Monday, however, he conceded that he was the subject to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Since his appearance in court, there has been much speculation that his testimony and the outcome of the case could have an affect on his political candidacy.

Three of his fellow candidates—Robert Olmsted, Jim McDonnell, and Todd Rogers-–have called for him to withdraw from the race.

(You can find their statements here and here and here.)

Reed Galen, Tanaka’s campaign spokesman said he has no intention of doing so.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 5, A Surprise Question for Tanaka Reveals More Criminal Probes in Progress

May 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



PAUL TANAKA IS SUBJECT OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION, SAYS PROSECUTOR

On Monday in federal courtroom fifteen, it was a few minutes past 8 am, and Paul Tanaka had just taken the stand to finish up his testimony.

The former undersheriff had been subpoenaed as a witness for the defense in the trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, one of seven department members indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday Tanaka was questioned by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’Brien.

Now it was time for cross examination, with Brandon Fox questioning Tanaka for the prosecution.

Fox’s first question was nothing that anyone expected.

“Mr. Tanaka, you are aware that you are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation?”

Yes, Tanaka answered.

“And with your experience in law enforcement you’re probably aware that some cases are made from the bottom up.”

The defense objected before Tanaka got a chance to answer so the question was ordered stricken. Still everyone in the room had heard the words.

When the first group of 18 sheriff’s department members were indicted in December 2013, seven of them for the Brown issue, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte gave the very strong impression that the obstruction charges would go higher up the food chain.

But then no new indictees ever materialized in the Brown matter. In the last few months, word began filtering around that no one else was going to be charged.

So when Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox asked those two questions, many of those in the audience took this to mean that the obstruction of justice probe was ongoing and the feds were looking seriously at Tanaka.

The view that the FBI and company were still actively probing was strengthened later in the morning when another higher up in the department, Captain Tom Carey, who had also been called as a witness, admitted that he was also the subject of an investigation for his part in the alleged hiding of Brown.

One wondered what the jury made of the two high level department members (although Tanaka is retired) who admitted to directing much of the Brown operation, but who are not indicted. While deputy Sexton, who was 26 years old in 2011 when Brown first got on the department radar, is sitting among his battery of lawyers, potentially facing time in a federal prison.

There was a lot more to this full day in court.

We’ll have a longer story tomorrow.

In the meantime, colleagues at the LA Times, KPCC and ABC-7 have stories that fill in the gaps.

Here’s a smart story by LA Times Cindy Chang and Victory Kim on the day in court’s biggest news.

Here at ABC-7, Miriam Hernandez interprets Monday’s testimony with Lisa Bartley producing.

And finally, Rina Palta’s take on the trial as it wraps up for KPCC FM.

It’s all good stuff, so be sure to read….watch….listen.

Closing arguments will take place Tuesday morning.

Then we wait for the jury verdict.

The trial of the other six Anthony Brown defendants begins on Wednesday.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

California “Lifers” and Parole, Sex Trafficking in LA, Kids Unrepresented in Court, Sheriff Candidate Updates, and Oregon Legalizes Gay Marriage

May 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE FOR FORMER “LIFERS” ON PAROLE IN CALIFORNIA

Over the last six years, California has seen a considerable increase in “lifers” winning parole. This is largely due to a 2008 Supreme Court ruling that changed how the parole board and the governor handled parole decisions.

In the latest installment of the KQED California Report series “Second Chance: Lifers and Parole in California,” reporter Scott Shafer looks at the positive environmental shifts this significantly increased chance of parole is creating inside prisons, and speaks with former “lifers” now paroled and living on the outside.

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

For decades, California inmates serving sentences like 25-years-to-life had very little chance of being released. Parole was routinely denied by the Board of Parole Hearings, or blocked by the governor.

But in the past few years, there’s been a dramatic change. Since a key Supreme Court ruling in 2008, the number of so-called “lifers” winning parole has steadily climbed. Since then, more than 1,700 lifers have been released.

The change is being felt on both sides of the prison walls. At a recent graduation day at San Quentin State Prison, about 50 inmates — most of them lifers — collected their diplomas from a course in leadership.

After the ceremony, Associate Warden Jeff Lawson said that as more and more lifers are granted parole and leave prison, the inmates are taking notice.

“Most of these guys understand there is light at the end of the tunnel now,” Lawson says. “So it just helps improve the overall environment for them. And it gets the ones who were maybe straddling the fence to get off the fence and get on the right side.”

Inmate Duane Reynolds just completed the leadership course. On the way back to his cellblock, he describes the crime that sent him away more than 25 years ago.

“As a matter of fact, what I did was, I murdered my uh, my supervisor,” Reynolds says. “High on drugs. So my life was out of control.”

Reynolds was 30 at the time. His sentence: 26 years to life. He’s now 54. Despite being denied parole three times, Reynolds is hopeful. Next month, he says, the parole board will decide — once again — if he’s suitable for parole and no longer a risk to society. I ask him if he thinks he’s suitable?

“That’s a very difficult question for me,” he answers. “I will say this: I’m a changed individual. But the fact that I took another human being’s life, that’s a hard question for me.”

Reynolds says he and his fellow San Quentin inmates are very aware that after years of routine denials of parole, word is out: If you do the work, complete the programs and stay in line, release is a very real possibility.

“The fact that people are going home is really encouraging to a lot of individuals,” he notes.

Since 2009, more than twice as many lifers have been paroled than in the previous two decades combined. There are several reasons for that. State Supreme Court rulings that made it tougher to deny parole to inmates who are no longer a threat to public safety.

Also Gov. Jerry Brown’s 12 appointees on the parole board are granting parole at a much higher rate than previous commissioners.

And unlike his predecessors, who usually blocked parole for murderers, Brown is allowing 80 percent of the parole recommendations to go forward.

While you might think that freedom after decades in prison is all upside, the reality is more complicated…

Listen to/read the rest.


LA DAILY NEWS TAKES AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT SEX TRAFFICKING IN LOS ANGELES

http://www.dailynews.com/social-affairs/20140518/prostitution-in-los-angeles-court-gives-girls-in-sex-trade-a-second-chance
The LA Daily News has a compelling new series on sex trafficking in Los Angeles,
who the real victims of the trafficking are, and new ways city officials and law enforcement agencies are combatting the problem.

A particularly good story in the series, this one by Christina Villacorte, explores programs created to help teen girls escape sexual exploitation and start their lives over, through relocation, education and job training, and other crucial services. Here’s how it opens:

Her face marred by a tattoo that a pimp had used to mark her as his property, the teenage girl told the judge in a plaintive voice, “I just want to go home.”

Later, another teen girl wearing too much makeup and too little clothing admitted running away from a group home for juvenile delinquents after attacking someone there for insulting her.

“Someone called me a prostitute and I lost it,” she explained to the judge. “I blacked out.”

Her bravado faded, however, when a probation officer explained that she was found wandering the streets afterwards, having gotten lost while looking for her mother, who had abandoned her.

When she cried, she revealed the child she still was, underneath the makeup, sheer top and short skirt, with high heels and matching red purse.

This is the STAR Court in Compton, a pilot program that specializes in cases involving commercially sexually exploited girls, and Commissioner Catherine Pratt presides with a focus on rehabilitation over punishment. The acronym stands for Succeeding Through Achievement and Resilience.

Pratt does not immediately dismiss the prostitution-related charges against the girls so they can remain eligible for wraparound services offered by Los Angeles County’s juvenile justice system. These include placement in a group home or juvenile hall — a safe place away from pimps — gang intervention programs, educational opportunities, job training, and even family reunification services.

“Most of these kids have experienced betrayal, if not worse, from people in positions of authority throughout their whole lives that skews their view of the world,” Pratt said. “What we’re trying to do for these kids is to show them there are people in positions of authority who do care.”

When the girls are ready and able to leave the life, she can order their juvenile criminal records sealed, allowing them to start over.


DENYING CHILDREN THE CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY

Rolling Stone Magazine has an interesting story by Molly Knefel that looks at the reasons indigent kids often go unrepresented by an attorney in courts across the nation and what one state is doing to remedy the issue. Here’s a clip:

…In juvenile courts across the country, children often face the full weight of the criminal justice system without the protection of a defense attorney. According to a report from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, “Some systems ensure that every child in the system is represented, while others allow 80-90 percent of youth who are charged with offenses to appear without counsel.” Children may be unrepresented for a variety of reasons, including lack of access to a public defender or pressure from judges or prosecutors to waive their constitutional right to an attorney.

Earlier this month, Colorado scored a victory for juveniles in criminal proceedings by passing House Bill 1032, a law that will ensure that all children will be represented by counsel when they appear in court. The Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) found in 2012 that at least 45 percent of juveniles did not have a defense lawyer at any point throughout their case, with many more receiving counsel late in proceedings. Kim Dvorchak, CJDC’s executive director, says that early advocacy is crucial for children who have been arrested. “There are many places statewide where kids are showing up in a jumpsuit and shackles and the judge is deciding whether they get to go home,” she says, “and no one is there making an argument for them.”

Dvorchak says there’s a similar problem for children who receive summonses and have to appear in court. Those are called “first appearances,” and many children face them with literally no defense attorney in the room. “You’ll have a busload of kids and families in the room,” she says. “There will be a prosecutor there who calls out their names, talks to them right there in open court in front of all the families, let’s them know, ‘I’ve reviewed your case and I’m offering you a plea bargain.’” Without a lawyer, she says, those families have no one to tell them the potential impact of accepting a plea – and they may feel pressure to plead guilty even if their child is innocent. “They may think, ‘Oh probation, that sounds good, you’re not putting my kid in jail.’ But they’re not understanding what probation will mean for their lives.”

Read on.


LOS ANGELES SHERIFF CANDIDATES’ NEW AD CAMPAIGNS

Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey has recorded a radio advertisement in support of Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Paul Tanaka also has a new radio ad, and Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold had a glossy insert in the Sunday LA Times last week.


OREGON BECOMES 18TH STATE TO LEGALIZE GAY MARRIAGE

On Monday, a U.S. District Judge Michael McShane tossed Oregon’s ban on gay marriage. His ruling will likely not be challenged. (Hooray!)

The Oregonian’s Jeff Mapes has more on the ruling (in addition to some lovely photos of gay couples finally allowed to get marrried). Here are some clips:

Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriages was struck down Monday by U.S. District Judge Michael McShane, who ruled that the prohibition violated the federal constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.

Jubilant couples who anticipated a favorable decision from the judge began the rush to officially wed at locations around the state. McShane ordered that his ruling take immediate effect.

“Because Oregon’s marriage laws discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without a rational relationship to any legitimate government interest,” McShane wrote in his decision, “the laws violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

Deanna Geiger and Janine Nelson, two of the plaintiffs in the case, were the first couple to marry in Multnomah County following the ruling.

Oregon becomes the seventh state where a federal judge has struck down a gay marriage ban since the U.S. Supreme Court last year invalidated key sections of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Unlike in the other states — Idaho, Utah, Michigan, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas — there was no one with the immediate standing to appeal the decision.

[SNIP]

The judge said gay and lesbian families and their children were harmed by Oregon’s ban on same-sex marriage in “a myriad of ways,” including adoption rights, tax laws and spousal benefits granted by employers.

McShane said that preserving the traditional definition of marriage was not a strong enough argument for Oregon’s law to stand. If that were the case, he wrote, tradition could be used as a “rubber stamp condoning discrimination against longstanding, traditionally oppressed minority classes everywhere.

Posted in juvenile justice, LASD, LGBT, parole policy, School to Prison Pipeline | No Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand

May 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


TANAKA AS WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE

It was just before the noon hour on Friday when word evidently went round the stately old U.S. District Courthouse that Paul Tanaka was going to be the next witness called in the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy James Sexton.

Thus by the time, the witness arrived at Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom number fifteen, the place was filled with men and women in suits who apparently believed that the subpoenaed testimony of the former undersheriff—who was now running for sheriff—would be a show well worth observing.

Tanaka walked to the witness box in a well-tailed grey suit and light Wedgwood blue tie. His stride had an overlay of confidence, a candidates gait.

He had been called as a witness for the defense and his testimony pertained mostly to the central issue of this trial, which is the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s response to the discovery that a convicted bank robber and jail inmate named Anthony Brown was an informant for the FBI.

To recap: in early August 2011, Brown’s double identity was revealed when a deputy happened to find a contraband cell phone in Brown’s possession. The phone’s call log featured calls to the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, almost exclusively. After questioning Brown, LASD investigators further learned that the phone had been smuggled to him in return for money by a jail deputy, and that the smuggling operation was a covert sting designed by the FBI’s civil rights division as part of a widening probe into corruption and brutality inside the LASD-run county jail system.

Once Brown’s informant status was established, according to testimony heard earlier in the trial, the department brass ordered that the inmate be hidden from federal law enforcement. To accomplish this aim, Brown was moved between several far flung corners of the county jail system while, at the same time, all traces of his presence were made to vanish from the department’s computer database, making him impossible to locate for any but the small cadre of department members in the know.

Two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies have been indicted for obstruction of justice and related charges, for their part in the Brown affair.

James Sexton, the defendant in this trial, is one of the seven.

An important part of Sexton’s defense, has been to illustrate to the jury that, when it came to the Brown operation, Sexton— who was 26-years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy at the time—was the last guy in a very long line of people who were following orders that came—and continued to come— from the very top of the sheriff’s department, specifically from then undersheriff Tanaka, with the approval of Lee Baca.

Prior to Tanaka’s appearance in court Friday afternoon, the jury had heard from a cluster of department member witnesses who placed Tanaka as the main boss of the informant-hiding operation. In addition to that testimony, the jury had seen a number of emails that would seem to solidly back up the primacy of the former undersheriff’s involvement.

It was in this context that Tanaka took the stand.

After a flurry of context-establishing questions, Sexton’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, asked him about when and how he first learned about the cell phone and Brown.

Tanaka said initially learned through a call from the sheriff, placing the date on August 18 or 19, 2011. Tanaka also said that there was “concern that the cell phone had been introduced by a rogue FBI agent.”

(As it happened, the whole notion of the “rogue agent” had been pretty convincingly refuted an hour or so earlier when Steven Martinez, the man who, in 2011, headed up the FBI’s enormous LA office, described how he had called Baca on August 18, and explained in detail about the informant and the cell phone, and how both were part of a fully sanctioned FBI undercover operation that was part of a civil rights investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. In other words, Baca knew there was nothing “rogue” about it.)

In the next series of questions, O’Brien asked Tanaka if he had given the order for various individual parts of the operation. The former undersheriff readily admitted to giving certain orders but danced away from questions pertaining to what his part had been in relation to other elements of hiding Brown, in specific the ones that, should the feds manage to prove obstruction of justice, would be where that obstruction was most likely to be demonstrated.

For instance, Tanaka said that the Brown matter was a high priority for the sheriff and acknowledged that it was actually he who had personally authorized the large amount of overtime for the team that had worked on what would come to be known colloquially as Operation Pandora’s Box. “We had to put a 24-hour guard on [Brown] to make sure he was kept safe.

“It’s not always easy to control what every deputy sheriff does,” Tanaka said. “When somebody has been labeled a snitch and that’s against deputy sheriff’s we have a real concern for that person’s safety. “

So if he ordered the overtime, who actually ordered the 24/7 security? At this, the vagifiers switched on: It was “possible,” it was him, said Tanaka. “Possible,” it was the sheriff. “Likely,” it was one of them.

When asked if he gave the order to change Brown’s name or his housing, Tanaka backpedaled further and answered No to both questions. But he learned of it, possibly when it was being done, and he probably didn’t object, he said.

“I didn’t specify how to do it. I just ordered [Brown] to be kept safe. This unit,” he said, referring the Operation Safe Jails elite unit in which Sexton works, and that is lead by Lt. Greg Thompson, who is also indicted. “They’re the experts. I might be the undersheriff, but they’re the experts.”

In that Tanaka is known to be a very hands on manager, to the point of often disregarding the command structure to micromanage, the notion that he would blindly delegate such a tricky assignment as the hiding of Brown, without any knowledge of how it might be accomplished, did not sound terribly credible, especially given the matter was purportedly, according to Tanaka himself, of such concern to the sheriff.

Tanaka did at least admit that the approval had to come from him for the FBI to be able to talk to or see Brown, . And that he had not given approval. “The FBI visit was a security breach,” he said, referring to an hour interview that FBI special agent Leah Marx and a colleague had with Brown after the discovery of the cell phone, an interview that was abruptly shut down once LASD higher-ups realized it was occurring.

But when asked if he authorized the complicated machinations that allowed Brown’s disappearance from the jail database, Tanaka’s answers were again swaddled in legal vagaries.

“That one I’m not sure I was aware of until long after the fact,” he said then repeated the thought for good measure. “I don’t recall learning about that until long after the fact.”

In other words, the part of the Brown operation that was the most significantly unique, that would have required the most planning—and that either skated the edge of legality or, as the prosecution has been working to prove, crossed well over the legal line—were all authorized without his knowledge by persons five or six ranks below him.

Tanaka’s answer was similarly hazy when it came to any knowledge of the court order that was issued requiring Anthony Brown to be released to federal custody so that he could appear before a federal grand jury.

“I don’t believe I knew about it until long after….” he said.

At the very end of Tanaka’s testimony, O’Brien asked one last question.

“Mr, Tanaka, you have not been indicted.”

“No, sir,” Tanaka replied.

And with that, the witness was permitted to step down.


AND THEN, THERE IS THE DEFENDANT

In high contrast to Tanaka’s testimony, a few hours earlier, the prosecution called its final witness, who was not really a witness at all, but a man who took the stand and read aloud from James Sexton’s grand jury testimony while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

The dramatic recreation was weirdly affecting. Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, as if he was doing his best to be helpful—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that many of his answers would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

He talked about how the team was told that, if there was any “static,” about the elaborate mechanism required to move and hide Brown, one of four people should be “invoked,” most prominently, Greg Thompson, Sexton’s immediate supervisor, and Paul Tanaka.

Sexton described the plan to repeatedly “release and “rebook” Brown every 48 hours under different phony names and personal details, in order to avoid fingerprints, and thus remove Brown’s presence from the jail systems database. He characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he explained.

What they did in hiding Brown was akin to “kidnapping,” Sexton said. “We had [Brown] in places that we weren’t authorized [to have him]. He didn’t consent to have his identity changed, so we kidnapped him.”

And so it went.

After the reading of Sexton’s grand jury testimony, the prosecution rested.

And also, right around that same time on Friday, as his grand jury testimony was being read to the jury, Sexton had been scheduled to walk across a stage in a cap and gown to receive his master’s degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Instead, of course, he was inside the Spring Street federal court building facing federal charges.


On Monday, Tanaka will be cross-examined by the prosecution. Closing arguments are expected near the end of Monday’s session or first thing on Tuesday.



AND IN OTHER RELATED NEWS…

TEAM OF UCLA LAW STUDENTS RESEARCH AND HELP PROPOSE A “COMPREHENSIVE SYSTEM OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT” FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

At 9:30 am Monday (when, unfortunately, we’ll be in federal court), the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails will launch a report researched and drafted by students from the UCLA School of Law International Human Rights Clinic, which outlines a comprehensive model of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

In late June, the County Supervisors are expecting the new Inspector General, Max Huntsman, and Sheriff Scott to present their report and findings on the notion of a permanent civilian oversight body for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The eight-page report synthesizes research of civilian oversight models across the country. The document provides a thorough breakdown of the functions and capacities of an effective community based civilian oversight body.

· The report proposes that the Civilian Review Board will direct the functions of the new Office of Inspector General while prioritizing the input, complaints, and voices of communities directly impacted by Sheriff violence.

The report has already been submitted to the five County Supervisors, the Office of Inspector General, and the Sheriff’s Department. The Coalition urges them to “support permanent civilian oversight that has the power and community backing to hold the largest Sheriff’s Department in the country accountable for any future abuses.”

On Monday, the report will be presented at 9:30 a.m., at the Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave 90007

Speakers will include:

Patrisse Cullors – Executive Director of Dignity and Power Now/ The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence
Reverend Cecil Chip Murray – Former Commissioner of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Miriam Krinsky – Attorney and former Executive Director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Sandra Neal – Member of the Coalition and mother of a survivor of deputy violence.

For still more on the report, read Abby Sewell’s story for the LA Times.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 3: Lee Baca Personally Signed Off on Massive Overtime Hours for Deputies Hiding Brown

May 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Among the biggest revelations of Thursday,
the third day of trial for LA County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, was a document showing that former sheriff Lee Baca personally approved of the extensive and costly overtime required to pull off the elaborate scheme of hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Baca’s name was one of three approvals necessary for the overtime—two to pre-approve, one to sign off that the work had been completed.

The other pre-approval name was Lt. Greg Thompson, then Sexton’s direct supervisor, now retired and, along with Sexton, one of seven charged with obstruction of justice for their respective parts in the Anthony Brown affair.

The significance of Baca’s name on the overtime docs was not, of course, the approval of the overtime itself, but as an indication that Baca was in a position of some kind of oversight.


CONCERNED ABOUT THREATS TO THE DEFENDANT, FBI GIVES SEXTON A CELL PHONE

It was yet another day when indicted defendant James Sexton’s name was barely mentioned during the prosecution’s questioning of its various witnesses.

But when Sexton’s name finally did come up it was in a surprising context.

According to FBI special agent Leah Marx, when the FBI set up the first meeting with Sexton that would result in 37 different contacts by phone and in person, he had been already been talking for a while to another LA special agent named Patrick Hampel, whom he considered a friend.

Marx said she passed a message to Sexton through Hampel, that “there were credible threats against him and his life might be in danger.”

We are genuinely concerned for your safety. That’s all, bro. Please don’t think this was ever about the case, more like she found out some stuff that makes her think you are in jeopardy. She’s a good person and so is Dalton [her partner]. I’ve drank, played vball, hung out with both of them, and I trust them like I trust you. They know we are friends and are trying to do the right thing by me; ie warning my friend who may need some help…

(WitnessLA reported more on the email from Hampel earlier this year.)

After that, according to Marx, she and her colleagues communicated on a regular basis with Sexton either by phone or in person for the next two years.

In order to make communication with the FBI easier and safer for Sexton, given the possible threats, Marx and her team gave him a phone he could use to call the feds.

In return, Sexton gave Marx’s team information and documents.


On the topic of phones, much of Thursday’s testimony came from special agent Marx who was questioned particularly closely by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien. who challenged the wisdom of the FBI’s use of inmate Brown as an informant. O’Brien pointed out that Brown was a convicted armed robber notorious for his embroidering of the truth, and had just been sentenced to 423 years in prison.

O’Brien also questioned the ethics of smuggling a contraband telephone into a custody facility.

KPCC’s Rina Palta was at court Thursday and has focused her report on the matter of the cell phone. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Leah Marx told the jury that Brown gave information on “more than” 50 use-of-force incidents before being discovered by sheriff’s deputies working the jails.

“He provided a significant amount of information on deputies,” Marx said.

Defense attorney Tom O’Brien, however, put a less flattering pall on the relationship, pointing to the $1,500 in phone cards and toiletry money deposited into Brown’s account by the FBI over the years. O’Brien also noted Brown’s dozen or so felony convictions that have landed him a sentence of more than 400 years in state prison.

Particularly, O’Brien focused on an FBI sting in which agents smuggled a cell phone with video and photo capability to Brown through an allegedly corrupt deputy sheriff who was later charged for smuggling contraband in an unrelated case.

“The FBI has published reports on the dangers of cell phones behind bars,” O’Brien said, even as agents provided one for Brown. The dangers include making it possible for inmates to order crimes on the outside and coordinating unrest in the jails, O’Brien said.

Marx said the FBI monitored any calls or texts sent via the phone and had the option to cancel service at any time.

Under questioning, Marx also told the jury the FBI had unsuccessfully attempted to outfit Brown with prescription glasses and a cross equipped with hidden cameras to record inmate beatings.

ABC-7 also has a report on the testimony of special agent Marx.

The trial continues on Friday.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

Pandora’s Box: the Sexton Obstruction of Justice Trial Continues, Tanaka Drops F-Bombs, Baca Unlikely to Testify

May 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Thursday is Day Three of the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton,
who is charged with engaging in a conspiracy to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal law enforcement agents.

Day one consisted of jury selection and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. Then, on Wednesday, Day 2, the prosecution called its first four witnesses.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, is the youngest and the lowest ranking of seven who were indicted pertaining to the Brown matter. (His trial has been “severed” from the trial of the other six. That trial with multiple defendants will begin after Sexton’s case is completed.)

His defense team, led by former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, intends to show that, while he participated in the Brown matter, Sexton—at the time 26-years old and 3 years out of the sheriff’s academy—was following the orders from multiple layers of supervisors, most of whom have not been indicted.


SUDDEN CHANGE OF DEPARTMENT POLICY & TANAKA INVOLVEMENT

The prosecution, for its part, intends to show how Sexton and other department members conspired to keep Brown away from the reach of any federal agents.

In this regard, among the interesting points that arose in Day two, came in the testimony by two witnesses that, after investigators at the LASD figured out that Anthony Brown was a federal informant, the department suddenly changed its policy about how members of “outside law enforcement” could meet with or interview inmates.

Prior to the discovery that Brown was part of a covert FBI investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, FBI agents and others had only to sign in, show a picture ID, explained Sgt. Robert Bayes, who was, at the time of the Brown incident, working as an investigator in the jails. Afterward, any visit required a lengthy series of permissions and approvals

And, according to an internal LASD email admitted as evidence on Wednesday, when it came to Brown himself, any visit by federal agents had to be approved directly by then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Yet in a second email about the permission chain distributed more widely to department supervisors, Tanaka’s name was removed at his direction (according to another email), thereby masking the direct nature of his involvement in the hiding of Brown.

According to yet another LASD email distributed to the jury, permission to produce Brown for a writ of habeas corpus to appear in front of a federal grand jury must include the opinion of county counsel. However, the email specified—without apparent irony—that the county lawyer selected to be part of the permission process should be a particular man who conveniently happened to be on vacation for a month.

(There was also a lively moment in Bayes’ testimony when he described standing outside Tanaka’s office while his supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, briefed Tanaka about some part of Brown’s federal involvement. At one point in the meeting, according to Bayes, Tanaka expelled himself from his office with a loud and long series of f-bombs.)


FOR HIS OWN GOOD

The sheriff’s department official explanation for the hiding of Anthony Brown has always been that, once he was outed as an FBI informant, he needed to be hidden for his own good, so that no vengeful deputies would do him harm now that he’d been outed as a snitch.

Yet, in other emails entered into evidence and recordings played in court on Wednesday, various other high level department members, including then ICIB Captain, Tom Carey, and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, appeared to be involved in the direction of elaborate actions that were primarily designed to keep Anthony Brown away from any federal agents so that LASD team members could find out what he’d told the feds about wrongdoing in the jails.

Any possible danger from deputies was not mentioned, except on a couple of instances by Brown himself in a recording made when he was being questioned and expressed his reluctance to spill what he knew of deputy misconduct to the two deputies who were interviewing him.


AND WHERE IS SEXTON IN ALL THIS?

Interestingly, very little of the evidence presented on Wednesday pertained at all to the defendant, James Sexton. And when his name did come up in the testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, it was when Marx described some of what Sexton had told her and her colleagues about the Brown operation in the more than 30 meetings Sexton reportedly agreed to in order to provide information to the FBI and members of the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Among the things that Sexton told the FBI about the matter of hiding Anthony Brown, Marx testified, was that he had never heard of another instance when an inmate had been hidden from a law enforcement agency.

On Thursday the prosecution team—led by Assistant U.S Attorneys Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes—will continue with its witnesses.

When it is the defense’s turn, Sexton’s attorneys are expected to call Paul Tanaka, among others.

Although former sheriff Lee Baca is also on the defense witness list, we have learned that he is unlikely to be called.


FOR ADDITIONAL COVERAGE OF THE SEXTON TRIAL…. See ABC 7′s excellent rundowns on the first two days (here and here) and the smart report by KPCC’s Rina Palta. Plus the LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting story on the trial’s first day.

Posted in Courts, criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney | 14 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Trial: Day One, Cities Reconsidering Banning Ex-Inmates from Public Housing, Oregon Reduces Recidivism with Parent Training, and Wolves

May 14th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DAY ONE OF THE FIRST “OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX” TRIAL

Trial began Tuesday for L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who is one of seven LASD officers accused of conspiracy to obstruct justice by allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI. (Backstory here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a good rundown on Tuesday’s happenings. (And we at WLA will have more as the trial moves forward.)

Here’s a clip:

Federal prosecutors say Deputy James Sexton hid a jail inmate working as an FBI informant from federal investigators, moving him from jail to jail under fake names, and was part of a conspiracy to try to intimidate an FBI agent by showing up at her home and threatening her with arrest.

Defense attorneys, meanwhile, argue the FBI’s “well meaning but poorly planned” jails investigation sparked a turf war between the federal agency and the local sheriff’s department, and Sexton was a bit player in a game between high powered law enforcement agencies.

Sexton’s charges for conspiracy and obstruction of justice stem from a 2011 incident.

In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Rhodes said members of the sheriff’s department working in Men’s Central Jail found a cell phone in inmate Anthony Brown’s jail cell on August 18, 2011. From there, they figured out that the FBI had provided Brown with that phone — and that he was working as an informant for the federal government.

Immediately, the group of deputies and their lieutenant began a campaign to “shut down” the federal investigation, Rhodes said.

“Now they started down the road to obstructing justice,” Rhodes said…

Read on.


MAJOR CITIES RETHINKING BANS ON FORMER OFFENDERS LIVING IN PUBLIC HOUSING

A new Wall Street Journal article draws attention to the issue of banning former inmates from public housing on both the city and federal levels.

As efforts to lower recidivism by increasing rehabilitation and re-entry services for those returning to their communities, Los Angeles, New York, and housing authorities in other cities are beginning to consider and test programs to allow certain low-level offenders to access public housing.

The Wall Street Journal story by Matt Peters is behind a paywall. Here are some of the relevant clips, for those who don’t subscribe:

Most ex-convicts are locked out of public housing when released, a vestige of “one strike and you’re out” approaches that rose to prominence in the 1990s as housing authorities reeled from rampant crime and mismanagement. Housing officials said some families have long allowed ex-offenders to move into public housing illegally, while others see the risk of losing their apartments as too great.

But now, as crime rates across the U.S. have declined and many of the most notorious housing projects were torn down, an increased focus is being put on the buildup of prison populations and how the barriers ex-offenders face upon release may feed high rates of unemployment, homelessness and recidivism.

While comparative data on the situation among ex-convicts before such housing bans became prevalent and now are almost nonexistent, housing advocates increasingly are looking at the connections between homelessness and incarceration. New York department of corrections data, for example, show 22% of inmates from New York City paroled last year from state prison listed a homeless shelter as their first address. And a recent federal study tracking 405,000 prisoners in 30 states found two-thirds were arrested for a new crime within three years of release.

Encouraged by federal housing officials, Chicago and other large cities are starting to rethink the restrictions. The New York City and city of Los Angeles housing authorities are testing programs to allow certain inmates to move in with family in public housing upon release, while Chicago is planning a similar trial. The New Orleans Housing Authority is going further, with a policy that states a criminal background won’t automatically result in rejection.

Still, not everyone would qualify, as federal rules ban from public housing certain former criminals such as sex offenders and those convicted of producing methamphetamine. Local housing authorities are also setting other requirements as they test the changes…

Public housing authorities and voucher programs in many cities have considerable waiting lists. So for now, authorities are targeting inmates who want to return to family already in public housing. The New York City authority, which manages nearly 180,000 apartments, is allowing 150 former inmates, who must go through special screening and follow-up monitoring, to join family.


OREGON STUDY SHOWS SIGNIFICANT RECIDIVISM REDUCTION WHEN INCARCERATED MOTHERS AND FATHERS RECEIVE PARENT TRAINING

An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmate mother and fathers who participated in parent training were 95% less likely to report new offenses in the first year after release than the study’s control group. Mothers were 59% less likely to be arrested in that first year, and fathers were 27% less likely. The study is part of ODC’s Children of Incarcerated Parents Project, which has been in effect for 11 years, and aims to reduce recidivism and improve outcomes for kids with locked-up parents.

ThinkProgress’ Nicole Flatow has the story. Here’s a clip:

Kids whose parents are in prison are not only missing emotional support. About half of these parents had been the primary providers of their children’s financial support before going to jail.

So Oregon has good reason to be looking at ways to keep parents out of jail. And after 11 years of trying, it’s found one that seems to serve its purpose of curbing the cycle of crime. An Oregon Department of Corrections study found that inmates who underwent parenting training while behind bars were 95 percent less likely than those in a control group to report criminal activity in the year after the training. They were also significantly less likely to be arrested again. Women who underwent parenting training were 59 percent less likely to be arrested a year later, while men were 27 percent less likely to be re-arrested.

Fathers who participated in the program were also significantly more likely to give their children positive reinforcement after being released. And parents were more likely to have regular family contact, which has been associated with lower rates of repeat offenses in many previous studies.


AND IN CHEERING WOLF-RELATED NEWS…

In late 2011, the Oregon gray wolf, OR-7, made history when he wandered across the state line from Oregon into California (likely looking for a mate). He was the first wild wolf in California since 1924. In March 2013, OR-7 returned to Oregon, but has crossed the border often since.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife announced on Monday that it believes OR-7 has finally found a mate. ODFW has photographed a female wolf in OR-7′s territory and believe minimal movement from OR-7′s tracker means that they have denned and produced a litter. (Hooray!)

Sacramento Bee’s Matt Weiser has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife reported Monday it has photographic evidence that OR7 has found a female companion somewhere in the state’s Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest region. Officials, following usual policy, won’t reveal exactly where the two are located. But the agency has identified a large spear-shaped region of land as OR7’s territory, stretching north from the California border between Medford and Klamath Falls.

In early May, the same remote cameras in the national forest captured images of a female wolf as well as the first images the agency has ever captured of OR7 himself. The coinicidence of these images, as well as data from the GPS collar worn by OR7, “strongly indicate” the two have mated, said Michelle Dennehy, spokeswoman for the Oregon wildlife agency.

A recent relative lack of movement by OR7 also suggests the wolf couple has denned up and produced a litter of pups, especially given that the time of year is typical for mating.

Posted in LASD, Reentry, Rehabilitation, wolves | 2 Comments »

First Pandora’s Box Trial Begins: The Big Q: Who Called the Shots?

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday morning, the trial for Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton will begin.

Sexton is one of 7 LASD personnel indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice, pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

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.”

The other six indicted on the Anthony Brown matter will be tried together. They are deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins.

Sexton’s trial is interesting for a number of reasons.

For one thing, his case alone has been severed from the rest into a separate trial, because he revealed details of the LASD’s actions regarding Anthony Brown under oath when he appeared before a grand jury, revelations that could implicate some of the other defendants—and Sexton himself.

According to sources close to his defense, Sexton did so (rather than invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment), because he had agreed early on to cooperate with federal investigators and was told—according to his attorneys—that he was not a target of the FBI’s investigation.


Sexton’s trial also will be the first real look into the thinking behind a case that has grown increasingly perplexing due to the fact that, according to LASD supervisors, present and retired, it is all but impossible that the orders to engage in the kind of acts with which the seven Anthony Brown indictees are charged originated with any one of the seven, including the two lieutenants, Thompson and Leavins.

In fact, in a motion filed in March, deputies Manzo and Smith stated categorically that their actions in dealing with Brown were “duly authorized and supervised by LASD Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and numerous other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials.” (One of the other high ranking officials named was Captain Tom Carey, at the time a supervisor in the LASD’s internal criminal investigative unit, known as ICIB, for which Leavins then worked.)

Yet, as the motion noted, none of the LASD higher-ups have been charged with any crime. Whereas Sexton and the other six could face ten to fifteen years in a federal prison.

So, do the feds intend to move higher up in the LASD hierarchy with the Anthony Brown conspiracy, as was originally assumed they would do? Or will they call a halt with the seven underlings now indicted? If the latter is true, what is behind the decision to stop short?

Perhaps Sexton’s trial will provide some clues.

The prosecution is expected to present evidence that, at Lt. Greg Thompson’s request, Sexton, who had expertise with computers, came up with a way to make Anthony Brown appear to vanish from the LASD database (using false names and altered personal data), thus hiding him digitally from any FBI attempts to find him. (For details and backstory see this and this.) Sexton is also accused of being one of those who guarded Brown when he was hidden, and of knowing that federal agents were to be denied access to the informant, should they show up.

Sexton’s defense is expected to maintain, among other things, that Sexton—-26 at the time—was following orders from his supervisors that he believed to be lawful, that they were orders he furthermore was told were given at the direction and with the knowledge of then Sheriff Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

The defense is also expected to present evidence of Sexton’s reported early and extensive cooperation with the feds in the belief that the information he provided to the FBI would not be used to form a case against him.

We will keep you posted as Sexton’s case unfolds.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 22 Comments »

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