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Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton is Convicted

September 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday afternoon Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice by a jury of seven women and five men.

The verdict was a surprisingly swift one. After closing arguments for the four-and-a-half-day trial, the jury left Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom a few minutes after the noon hour Tuesday to begin deliberation, and returned with their decision at around 2:20 p.m. that same day.

Deputy Sexton—a former eagle scout with a West Point appointment who once interned for Vice President Joe Biden and was recently awarded a master’s degree at the University of Southern California—was 25 years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy when the events resulting in the charges against him took place in August and September of 2011. He received Tuesday’s news accompanied by his wife, brother, mother and father, plus a contingent of somber-faced LASD deputies, most of whom appeared to be close to Sexton in age.

Sexton’s father, Ted Sexton, a long-time former sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to work for Lee Baca and the LASD when the scandal-beleaguered Baca had fallen out with his once-close undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and reportedly was desperate to hire someone whom he felt he could trust.

James Sexton is the seventh LASD sworn officer to be found guilty of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

The trial that culminated Tuesday, was the second time that Deputy Sexton was tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.”

Paul Tanaka, who testified at both of Sexton’s trials and is running for sheriff, is believed to still be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

When asked about the significance of Sexton’s conviction, government prosecutor Brandon Fox said that the verdict showed that, “…no matter if you’re low or high in the rank, if you commit a crime, the jury’s going to hold you liable for that crime. It’s not an excuse to say, ‘I was just this low level guy and other people told me to do this. And I didn’t exercise my own judgement.’

“I think something that all these convictions mean,” Fox said, is that its not okay to simply remain silent and to not disclose criminal acts that are going on. The thin blue line does not benefit anybody.”

Sexton, added Fox, confessed in his grand jury testimony to all the crimes of which he was charged.

“One of the differences between this trial and the first trial is that we provided evidence that Mr. Sexton is not a naive junior deputy.”

Of course, part of Sexton’s defense in his first trial had little to do with the following-orders-strategy, but pertained to the fact that he had reportedly cooperated with the FBI for over a year, meeting with federal representatives, either by phone or in person, at least 37 separate times. In this trial, however, most of the references to Sexton’s cooperation were prohibited.

As for those at the other end of the LASD chain of command, like Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, who arguably issued the orders for whom the now-seven department members have been convicted, Fox declined to comment in any detail, but said he would welcome information from those to whom orders in question were given.

“I think here’s the message: to the extent that you’re following orders if you know that they’re unlawful, you’re going to be charged and if you’re charged you’re going to be convicted and if you’re convicted you should talk to us and tell us if there’s anybody else who ordered what you did.”

Sexton will be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on December 1. The other six defendants will be sentenced on Monday, September 22, at 8:30 a.m.


AND IN OTHER LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT TRIAL NEWS: THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRIAL INVOLVING LASD LT. ANGELA WALTON AND LASD COMMANDER JOSEPH FENNELL, BEGINS WEDNESDAY MORNING

We will have more on that trial later this week.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 26 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton Convicted

September 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

We will have the story shortly.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Uncategorized | 51 Comments »

Deputy James Sexton Trial, Day 4: Should the Prosecution Be Able to Edit Testimony?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the final “witness” for the prosecution in the retrial
of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was James Sexton himself.

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

As they had done in Sexton’s first trial, the government finished up its case with someone from the prosecution’s camp reading an excerpt from Sexton’s November 28, 2012 grand jury testimony, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

At Sexton’s first trial, the approximately 75-minute dramatic recreation provided the prosecution with plenty of legal ammunition since, in it, Sexton cheerfully admitted to such things as having helped to hide inmate Anthony Brown. Yet the testimony seemed to produce a variety of effects on its listeners, in that Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, rather than defensive or guarded, as if he was doing his best to be helpful to the feds, overly so, really–—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that much of many of his words would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

Interestingly, the jurors for that first trial took the grand jury testimony so seriously that, as they were deliberating, they asked to have the whole thing read to them, one more time. Then, although six of those jurors voted to convict, six voted to acquit.

Friday’s grand jury presentation was structured in much the same way as that of the first trial, with someone reading Sexton’s part, and prosecutor Liz Rhodes playing the prosecutor. Again, the reading was taken from Sexton’s November 28, 2012, grand jury appearance. (Deputy Sexton appeared in front of the grand jury twice, first in August 2012, then in November, more than a year after the events in question took place in August and September 2011.)

Yet Friday’s excerpt was quite a bit shorter than that of last May, lasting around 45 minutes, not the 75 minutes of the first trial. More importantly, various topics, contexts and shadings of meaning present in the first trial’s version, are absent from the second.

They have been edited out.

For instance, in a couple of instances in the first trial, Sexton talked about orders that he had been given having come from higher up than just his then immediate boss, Lt. Greg Thompson; that the orders were coming from Paul Tanaka, and/or Lee Baca. He also talked about how, in some cases, he and other deputies had to use Tanaka’s name to get others to cooperate.

In the version read on Friday, the references to higher ups, to the “big bosses,” or to Tanaka or Baca, are cut—leaving the impression that Sexton is not merely one more team member following orders that come from the department’s highest levels, but more of a planner and an originator of strategies, along with Lt. Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Micky Manzo—three of the six who have been convicted.

In another instance, a paragraph is deleted that explains the fact that the adversarial attitude to the FBI expressed by some of the OSJ personnel—namely by deputies Smith and Manzo—was not one shared by Sexton and his closer friends on the squad, and that they’d talked with each other about this division.

(Operation Safe Jails, or OSJ, was where Sexton worked in 2011, and was the squad that was tasked with hiding federal informant Brown.)

When the qualifying statements that separate Sexton and his buddies from this adversarial attitude toward the feds are edited from Friday’s version, one is left with the impression that the attitude is pervasive throughout the squad and that Sexton surely shares it—giving his actions with Brown a critical intent that might otherwise be absent had the edits been restored.

In other cases, some of Sexton’s impressions are made to appear as solid knowledge, rather than the gossip-driven surmises, or conclusions likely drawn after the fact, that they are shown to be in the longer, less-edited versions.

And so on.

In other words, a strong argument can be made that these and other similar edits change the context and meaning of some of Sexton’s testimony in very crucial ways.

Certain of the changes that the snips produce are subtle, but cumulatively they could make a difference to a jury.


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

Sexton’s attorneys say no, and point to legal precedents that agree with them.

In a motion in Limine [a pretrial request] made in August, Sexton’s lawyers asked the judge to fix the matter by ordering that the problematic cuts be put back in. The motion reads in part:

Deputy Sexton will and hereby does move for an order requiring the Government to present an accurate rendition of his testimony before the Federal Grand Jury on the grounds that the excerpts of testimony offered by the Government are misleading and incomplete and that Deputy Sexton will be prejudiced by the Government’s failure to include testimony (included in his first trial) regarding (a) the fact that Deputy Sexton was acting on orders issued by the command and control structure of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”); (b) the fact that Deputy Sexton did not have credible, first-hand knowledge necessary to find him guilty of obstruction of justice; and (c) the fact that Deputy Sexton offered demonstrably mistaken testimony regarding the facts of this action. Failure to include this testimony suggests, contradictory to his testimony as read into the record at the last trial, that Deputy Sexton was not acting on orders from LASD authority reaching as high as Sheriff Leroy Baca, and that Deputy Sexton was aware of certain facts of which he had no knowledge. This renders his testimony, as heavily edited by the Government, misleading.

Judge Anderson evidently sided with the government that the cuts were fine. Thus the edits remained.


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will testify Monday morning. Unless something changes, however, it now does not appear that former sheriff Lee Baca will be called.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 40 Comments »

LA Times Re-Endorses Jim McDonnell & Paul Tanaka Re-Starts Campaign

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LA TIMES ENDORSES JIM MCDONNELL (ONCE MORE) FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF

The LA Times endorsed Jim McDonnell for Sheriff in the primary, and they have just endorsed him again for the runoff vote in November. Yet, this time their endorsement is far more full-throated and detailed when explaining to voters why the paper’s editorial board believes McDonnell is the right person to lead the troubled and badly fractured department at this moment in the LASD’s history.

Here’s a clip:

….He is a consummate law enforcement professional, with an outstanding record as a Los Angeles police officer who rose from the academy to patrol to second-in-command at the LAPD at a time when the department was facing a crisis not unlike the Sheriff Department’s today. When the LAPD needed to leave behind the “thin blue line” style of occupation policing and commit itself to a community-engagement model, McDonnell was one of the department’s leading thinkers and implementers. When evidence of perjury and evidence tampering turned into the Rampart scandal, and when the U.S. Department of Justice threatened suit over civil rights violations, McDonnell helped overcome resistance to a consent decree and was instrumental in getting the LAPD to embrace it and meet its requirements. As second-in-command to Chief William J. Bratton, he guided a wholesale change in department culture, and he saw firsthand the degree to which that change was made possible by strong leadership and smart training.

McDonnell was qualified to lead the LAPD, but when city leaders instead chose Charlie Beck, McDonnell accepted the job as chief of the Long Beach Police Department. While there, he has piloted the department through some difficult times and has earned the respect of officers who were at first wary of an outsider as their leader. Significantly, he also won plaudits from department critics.

When reports of inmate beatings and management breakdowns at the Sheriff’s Department became too numerous and too shocking to ignore, and county supervisors convened a citizens commission to examine problems and recommend remedies, McDonnell was an inspired appointment, but also an obvious and perhaps even a necessary one. In the panel’s year of hearings, interviews, site visits and reports, McDonnell saw firsthand the depth of problems at the department and was in a position to be able to distinguish between those ills that could be attributed to individual deputies or leaders and those that were inextricably wound up in a culture of defiance and dysfunction.

As a candidate, McDonnell has boldly embraced structural reforms such as a civilian oversight commission, even though such a body could curb his power, or anyone else’s, as sheriff. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that position. All of the candidates embraced the concept, but McDonnell put himself on record in favor of particular structural details and demonstrated, in so doing, a commitment to transparency and public participation badly needed at the department. Some proponents back oversight to guard against the actions of a bad sheriff, and some consider the move less necessary with McDonnell at the helm. McDonnell, presumably, recognizes that oversight can make a good sheriff better and can help guard against the corrupting influence that unchecked power can have on even the most talented and well-motivated leaders.



PAUL TANAKA RE-STARTS CAMPAIGN—SORT OF—WITH SATURDAY VIDEO

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka is, of course, the other candidate for sheriff and he has been startlingly silent since the primary election in June, save for one tweet posted in early August (and again on his Facebook page) saying he was giving his supporters the summer off.

Then over the weekend, he directed supporters and others to the video above that was posted on YouTube on Saturday.

So Tanaka’s not out of the race. But is he really…you know…campaigning?

Hard to say.

Mr. Tanaka will be testifying for the defense on Monday morning at the Sexton retrial, so perhaps we will learn more at that time. (Or not.)

Posted in 2014 election, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 1 Comment »

Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 3: The Prosecutors’ Case….Prop. 47 Would Save LA Big $$ Says Report….and More

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, after the testimony of multiple witnesses,
the prosecution neared the end of its presentation of its obstruction of justice case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton.

This is the second time Sexton has been tried on the same charges. In May, his previous trial resulted in a hung jury that was split 6 to 6.

The prosecutors worked to set a context for the charges against Sexton when two FBI agents—Special Agent David Dahle and Special Agent Leah Marx—testified about the importance of the government’s civil rights investigation into reports of alarming brutality by deputies against jail inmates along with other forms of corruption by LA County Sheriff’s Department members, especially those stationed in Men’s Central Jail.

Both Dahle and Marx also testified about the ways in which members of the department reportedly attempted to obstruct their investigation after their confidential informant, jail inmate Anthony Brown, was discovered to have a contraband cell phone that he was using to contact the FBI as part of an undercover investigation into wrongdoing inside the jails.

In order to demonstrate this obstructive activity and intent, prosecutors presented such evidence as audio clips of recently convicted department members, Deputy Gerard Smith, Deputy Micky Manzo and Lt. Stephen Leavins, interviewing Brown a few days after the discovery of the cell phone, and trying to get the inmate to reveal what he’d been telling the feds, while also expressing irritation that “somebody else”—namely the FBI—had come in to “clean our house.”

In addition, the prosecutors played the video of Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long waylaying Agent Marx outside her apartment and threatening her with arrest.

And there was more of that nature.

Yet surprisingly little of the evidence and testimony presented in the last two days has had anything directly to do with James Sexton, who is accused of helping to manipulate the department’s computer system in order to deliberately hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday, the feds plan to read sections from one of Sexton’s 2012 grand jury appearances, in which—a year after the the Anthony Brown affair took place—the deputy is self-incriminating in what the defense will argue is his eagerness to help the feds, whom he then believed did not regard him as a target.

The grand jury testimony is at the center of the government’s case against Sexton.

Then the government will rest, and it will be the defense’s turn.

Former undersheriff and current candidate for sheriff, Paul Tanaka, will be called as a defense witness, among others. It is still unclear whether or not former sheriff Lee Baca will also take the stand.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….NEW REPORT SAYS PROP. 47 COULD SAVE LA COUNTY $175 MILLION

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the potential county-level savings and jail population reductions resulting from Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The report contends that Los Angeles County would save $100 million to $175 million per year, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed. (LA County jails currently release approximately 1,500 people early each month due to overcrowding.)

According to the report, Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot, would reduce the status of certain low-level property and drug offenses from felonies or wobblers to misdemeanors.

The report also estimates that San Diego County would save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million, per year with the implementation of the proposition.

(The CJCJ report used Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties as examples to look at the potential savings for all California’s counties.)

The report calculates that the state-level savings would range from $100 million and $300 million—$$$ that would then be transferred to a fund that would support victim services, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and drop-out prevention.


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

After learning that the LAPD was misclassifying violent crime as minor crime, the LA County Supervisors, led by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman to take a look at the LA Sheriff’s Department’s reporting.

Huntsman found misclassification at the LASD too but, weirdly, the trend seemed to be to overstate the number of violent crimes, rather than the reverse. Moreover the errors seemed to be something that could be cured with better training, and did not appear to be deliberate manipulation.

Out of all the LASD’s stations, only Marina del Rey had zero errors.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has the story. Here’s a clip:

An initial review of crime statistics at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Thursday found that the agency tends to overstate violent crime.

An audit of 240 assaults from six sheriff’s stations found that department personnel misclassified more than 31% of minor assaults as serious offenses, while incorrectly filing about 3% of serious attacks as minor ones.

The report was issued by Inspector General Max Huntsman, the newly installed Sheriff’s Department watchdog….

[BIG SNIP]

The overreporting errors at the Sheriff’s Department occurred primarily at the initial crime classification stage when deputies make a decision on how to title a crime report, according to the audit. Deputies commonly classify an assault case as a felony when the crime could be charged by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor, the inspector general’s report states.

In one example, Huntsman said, a deputy initially classified a domestic violence incident as an aggravated assault because the victim was struck repeatedly and sustained a bump and cut on the head. The case should have been filed as a minor assault. To meet the FBI’s definition of aggravated assault, a victim must suffer serious injury, such as a broken nose or a cut that requires stitches.

Of the six sheriff’s stations analyzed, Marina del Rey was the only one with zero errors. The other stations — Century, Compton, East L.A., Lancaster and South L.A. — overreported between 25% and 50% of aggravated assaults during the one-year period reviewed. Meanwhile, the Century station underreported 15% of its serious assaults as minor offenses.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT HAS ISSUED 12,000 BAYONETS TO LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS SINCE 2006

Last month, President Obama asked for a review of what equipment the federal government has been supplying to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

NPR decided to take a look at what the president’s report might find. Their story appeared more than a week ago, but we didn’t want you to miss this rundown on bayonets and MRAPS distributed.

FYI: Los Angeles, it seems, has been a big winner in the world of combat gear distribution.

Posted in Department of Justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 2 – Opening Statements

September 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



We’ll have more on the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton
later in the week. In the meantime, take a look at this story by Douglas Morino of the Los Angeles Register about Day 2 of the proceedings.

The day featured opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, plus testimony from FBI Special Agent David Dahle.

Here’s a clip:

Jurors began hearing evidence Wednesday in the retrial of [James] Sexton, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Sexton’s first trial ended in May with the jury deadlocked 6-6.

U.S. prosecutors say Sexton was part of an effort to block a federal probe into allegations of corruption and deputy violence against inmates inside the county’s jails. The conspiracy stretched through a roughly two-month period in 2011 and was aimed at blocking FBI agents from interviewing Anthony Brown, an inmate providing information about corrupt deputies and other misconduct, prosecutors said.

“James Sexton and his co-conspirators took steps to ensure the evils and troubles inside the jail system would never see the light of day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury of five men and seven women in his opening statement. “The defendant knew what the goal was – he titled it ‘Operation Pandora’s Box.’”

Thomas O’Brien, Sexton’s attorney, said the deputy was simply following orders that came from the Sheriff’s Department’s highest levels – former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – to protect Brown, a career criminal facing a 423-year sentence in state prison, from other inmates and rogue deputies who labeled him a “snitch.”

“A junior deputy is facing charges for doing nothing more than following orders and keeping an inmate safe and out of harm,” O’Brien told jurors during his opening statement….

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 25 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton ReTrial, Day 1: What Jurors Won’t Hear & Possible Arrest Warrants

September 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



THE JURY IS SELECTED & THERE IS TALK OF WHAT TESTIMONY THE JURORS WON’T HEAR

Tuesday, September 9, was Day One of the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, and the main thing that got accomplished was the selection of the jury, which is made up of seven women and five men.

Both the prosecution and the defense thought the court would manage to choose the jury panel, plus two alternates, and still have plenty of time for each side to deliver 30 minutes worth of opening statements. But it was not to be.

The attorneys also figured that Judge Percy Anderson would likely rule on the series of motions made by the prosecution having to do with areas of evidence and testimony that the government wanted excluded, even though most of the topics, material and possible witnesses had been part of the defense’s case in Sexton’s first trial, which ended up in a hung jury in late May of this year and thus a mistrial.

But Percy didn’t rule on those motions either.

In a hearing last month, however, Anderson had given a pretty good indication of how he was leaning.


A STORY WITHIN THE STORY

In fact, one of the stories of this trial is likely to be an analysis of exactly what Sexton’s newly selected jury will not be allowed to hear, that the jury from his first trial was able to take into account in their deliberation.

For instance, if Judge Anderson rules the way he previously indicated he was leaning, only 7—or at the most 8—of the 37 times that Sexton was interviewed by the FBI as a cooperating witness may be disclosed or mentioned to the jury. The rest of the deputy’s instances of cooperation with the feds are excluded.

Sexton’s extensive cooperation with the feds is one of the things that the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense has argued that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded. Nevertheless it appears that much of that cooperation is on the road to being nixed for this trial.

Another likely forbidden topic will be former sheriff Lee Baca’s emotional reaction to learning that the FBI was poking around with an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by LASD deputies in what he regarded as his jails. (Baca was extremely pissed off.)

For instance, the jury may hear about orders Baca gave to Paul Tanaka and others pursuant to the discovery of what the feds were doing, but not the fact that he was demonstrably angry when he gave the orders.

Also likely excluded will be the fact that, prior to the incidents on which the indictments are based—i.e. the hiding and moving of federal informant Anthony Brown—Sexton applied for jobs to a list of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

One more topic slated for exclusion is the matter of the reported threats had been receiving from members of the sheriff’s department began he began cooperating with the feds. According to the defense, Sexton had been threatened to the degree that the feds expressed concern about Sexton’s safety. (Interestingly, the threats were convincing enough that Sexton is the only one of the LASD’s federal defendants who was allowed to keep a firearm. He kept two of his guns. All the other defendants, had to surrender their firearms.)

We’ll talk more about these exclusions if and when they occur as the trial goes on.


WITNESSES & ARREST WARRANTS

On Tuesday, at the very end of the day a weird moment occurred when prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that one of the government’s witnesses, Deputy Jason Pearson, who is a work teammate and friend of Sexton’s, had—in a fit of fury at the feds—talked about not showing up on Wednesday, despite being subpoenaed. Fox said that the judge might need to issue an “order” on the matter. Some speculated that this meant an arrest warrant.

Others figured that—once the anger was passed—Pearson would just show up.

On the topic of witnesses, both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka are still on the witness list for the defense. Of course, whether one or both will be called, remains to be seen.

Opening arguments will be presented Wednesday. Then the government will begin calling witnesses.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

Funding for Relatives Caring for Kids, Bill to Keep Kids Exiting Detention Enrolled in School, LA Metro May Boost Oversight of LASD Contract, and a Non-profit Prison Idea

September 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WILL LA COUNTY ACCEPT MUCH-NEEDED STATE FUNDING FOR KINSHIP CAREGIVERS?

In June, Gov. Jerry Brown allocated $30 million from the state budget for giving relative caregivers the same CalWORKS financial support as non-relative foster parents.

Counties have until October 1 to opt-in to receive the crucial funding. The LA County Department of Children and Family Services says it is considering whether to opt-in, but will make its decision by the deadline.

Giving equal funding to kinship caregivers was one of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s top recommendations for reforming a troubled DCFS.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue and why it is so important. Here are some clips:

With the highest number of foster children in the state, Los Angeles County could see as much as $25 million in state funds go to family caregivers, according to advocates with the California Step Up coalition. They say the county’s participation in the Relative Caregiver Funding Option Program would lead to greater placement stability, better outcomes for foster children and significant cost savings to the county by avoiding more expensive placement alternatives such as group homes.

“It’s kind of a no-brainer from where we sit,” said Laura Streimer, the legal director at the Alliance for Children’s Rights. “Why not roll the dice and use it now? The majority of the $30 million allocation state budget would come to L.A. County because we have the most children who qualify for it. Why wouldn’t you take that?”

The county’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is weighing whether or not to opt in. According to a statement emailed to The Chronicle of Social Change by DCFS Public Affairs Director Armand Montiel, Los Angeles County will “resolve the issue” by October 1.

“The Department supports equity for relative caregivers and is preparing a recommendation for our Board regarding this program,” Montiel wrote in an email. “At this point, the State has not finalized the methodology it will use to determine each county’s base caseload and funding level. Understanding the State’s methodology for determining the base caseload and funding is essential in making accurate projections regarding the potential county costs of this program for the first year and for outlying years.”

The clock is ticking.

[SNIP]

Despite recent research that shows that living situations with family members translate to better educational outcomes for foster youth than congregate-care placements like group homes, most relative caregivers receive a paucity of funding that lags behind the support given to unrelated caregivers.

Because of arcane eligibility rules based on the poverty standard from 1996, more than half of all foster children living with relatives do not qualify for federal foster care benefits. For relative caregivers who aren’t eligible for federal money, this means that the only support California offers them are CalWORKs benefits. This ends up being less than half the amount of money non-relative caregivers typically get from the foster care system.

The yawning gap in funding and support has hit family caregivers particularly hard, according to advocates. The scant funding and support provided to family caregivers is seldom enough to care for children who often have specialized care needs that result from experiencing trauma or abuse.

California is “forcing families—primarily low income, single women, and a disproportionate number of African Americans and Latinos—into deep poverty to keep their families together,” Kinship in Action Director Joseph Devall wrote in an email to The Chronicle of Social Change. Kinship in Action supports the rights of family caregivers in South Los Angeles.

The LA Times’ editorial board is also urging the county to opt-in to boosting funding for relatives caring for kids that would otherwise be placed with strangers or sent to group homes. Here’s how it opens:

Thousands of California children who have suffered abuse or abandonment are sent to live with strangers in foster homes. That often happens even if there are extended family members ready and willing to take them in, despite California laws requiring placement with relatives when possible, and even in the face of countless studies that show the kids do better in the long run after stays with relatives rather than strangers.

So why do we keep doing it? Because so many of those relatives, retired or with their budgets maxed out raising their own kids, need a bit of financial assistance to be able to take in their nieces and nephews, siblings or grandchildren — and because under a complicated and outdated set of state, federal and local laws and rules, they can get only a tiny fraction of the funding that non-related foster parents get. Worse yet, there is a shortage of foster parents, so the children often end up being sent to group homes, which are the most expensive option and produce the least desirable outcomes. Government foolishly requires itself to pay more to get worse results.


BILL TO REQUIRE THAT KIDS LEAVING DETENTION CENTERS ARE PROMPTLY RE-ENROLLED IN SCHOOL

Over 42,000 kids attend school in California juvenile detention facilities on average each year, yet only 20% of those re-entering their communities re-enroll in public schools within the first 30 days of their release.

Experts say these kids fall through the cracks due to broken communication between the government agencies responsible for these kids.

An important bill awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, AB 2276, would address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities will be immediately enrolled in school.

New America Media’s Michael Lozano has more on the bill authored by Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra. Here’s a clip:

In high school, Tanisha Denard struggled to get herself to class on time. Her walks from home to John C. Fremont High School in South Central Los Angeles were long, the buses were crowded and when there was space, Denard rarely had the fare. “I got passed by the bus a lot and I didn’t have money,” she recalls.

The truancy tickets piled up – Los Angeles municipal code allows schools to issue citations of up to $250 to tardy and absent students – and so Denard, now 20, whose family was unable to cover the cost, paid her debt by serving time at a county juvenile hall. When she was released, school officials informed her that reenrolling at her old public high school wasn’t an option — she would need to begin the much lengthier process of finding a new school and getting herself enrolled.

Although Denard was eventually able to navigate her way into another school, she is by far the exception. The story of young people leaving the juvenile justice system with no clear academic transition plan is a familiar one to youth advocates, despite existing laws that are meant to avoid such scenarios.

“They’re supposed to be coordinating – there are laws that talk about coordination and communication – but that’s not happening the way it needs to happen,” says Laura Faer, Education Rights Director with Public Counsel, a pro-bono law firm.

What makes AB 2276 different from current laws, says Faer, is the requirement that juvenile probation and county education departments work together to form transition policies in collaboration with local education agencies. In addition, the bill would create a statewide stakeholder group headed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction and Board of State Community Corrections that would study best practices and be required to report back to the state legislature.

Faer has seen plenty of past instances where court school records are not transferred from probation officials to the county office of education immediately upon a child’s release, which in turn creates a negative outcome for the student.

“A student shows up at the school and the school says, ‘you don’t have any of your documents, so you can’t come.’ Or worse, even if they are allowed to go to school, [the schools] don’t know anything about them,” says Faer. “A child [may have] already taken algebra when they were in the hall or in the camp, then they’re put in the exact same classes. Then they get disaffected and they drop out, because they keep getting shuffled and doing the same things over and over again. So that handoff, that transition, is really critical.”


LA METRO WORKS TOWARD ROBUST OVERSIGHT AFTER AUDIT REVEALED LASD MISSED POLICING GOALS

In July, an audit found that the LA County Sheriff’s Department had fallen short of Metro policing goals for reducing crime. The audit came as Metro was considering renewing a three-year contract with the LASD.

Part of the problem, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti says, is a failure to administer adequate oversight.

The mayor (who is also chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority) has proposed a motion to hire several Metro staff to keep track of contract goals, and to have the department’s inspector general audit the LASD-Metro contract every two years.

The LA Times’ Laura J. Nelson has the story. Here’s a clip:

In a motion proposed by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, the chairman of the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority, board members asked for several new Metro staff members who would keep tabs on key contract benchmarks, including fare evasion, system safety and response times. The board also asked Metro’s inspector general, the internal agency watchdog, to audit the transit police contract every two years.

The audit, written by an outside firm and commissioned by Metro officials, also faulted the transit agency itself for weak oversight of the contract.

“We didn’t hit some of the most basic things that are part of the contract,” Garcetti said during a meeting at Metro’s downtown headquarters. “We have failed on the oversight.”

The push comes as officials weigh awarding a three-year security contract expected to cost about $400 million. The transit police agreement with the Sheriff’s Department expires Dec. 31.

Sheriff’s Department officials said they agree with the majority of the findings and are working to correct the issues raised in the audit.


TRANSFORMING A PRIVATE PRISON INTO A NON-PROFIT FACILITY

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants (CURE), a 20,000-member activist group, has proposed that a privately run D.C. jail be transformed into a non-profit-run jail focused on rehabilitating rather than warehousing inmates.

The jail is currently operated by the controversial private prison group, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), but its contract will end in 2017.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the unique idea. Here’s a clip:

Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, or CURE, a prison reform group comprised mainly of former inmates, wants to convert a private jail in D.C. into what they say would be the first nonprofit lockup in the country, if not the world. At this point, the idea is just that — an idea. The group, which claims some 20,000 members throughout the country, convened its first meeting about the proposal on Friday at D.C.’s Harrington Hotel, but has yet to figure out any of the logistics of what they admit would be a complicated, even quixotic effort.

Charlie Sullivan, the executive director of CURE, acknowledged that the idea might make him sound like a knight “chasing after one of those windmills.” Still, he argues that his idealism may be exactly what is needed.

“What both the private and government-run prisons are doing is just holding people,” said Sullivan. “They’re playing defense; we need to play offense. We need to give people an opportunity to change their lives.”

The group has set its sights on the Correctional Treatment Facility, one of the city’s two jails. For nearly two decades, the facility has been run by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit, private prison company based in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the last few years, criticisms of such companies have grown louder, with advocates for inmates saying that private prisons are incentivized to lobby for harsh laws that keep beds filled while skimping on rehabilitation services, training programs for corrections officers, and anything else that could cut into their profit margins.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, jail, juvenile justice, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor | 1 Comment »

Sentencing Postponed for Six Members LA Sheriff’s Department Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

September 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Sentencing has been postponed for six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who were convicted
of obstruction of a federal investigation in connection with hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his fed handlers.

The six defendants—LASD deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long, Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, and Gregory Thompson, a now-retired department lieutenant—were originally scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson next Monday, September 8. But on Wednesday afternoon Anderson signed the order to postpone sentencing for two weeks, until Sept. 22.

The postponement was granted at the request of Deputy James Sexton and his attorneys, led by Thomas O’Brien, who contended that the sentencing of the six LA Sheriff’s Department members was bound to draw extensive press attention, thus making it challenging for Sexton—who is about to be retried for the same obstruction of justice charges of which the six were convicted—to find the kind of untainted jury pool necessary for a fair trial.

Sexton’s trial (or rather his retrial, since he was already tried for this whole mess once, resulting in a 6-6 hung jury) is set to begin on September 9, the day after the six defendants were originally scheduled to be sentenced.

The prosecutors objected to the postponement, pointing out, in essence, that there had been plenty of press about the indictments, et al, before the previous trials of Sexton and of the six, and yet no one had complained of a tainted jury. “In neither trial did any juror indicate that they had been prejudicially exposed to media coverage of the trial…” the prosecutors wrote. And Sexton’s attorneys hadn’t given any reasons why this trial would be any different.

Yet, it didn’t appear that their hearts were really into their objections.. After all, with the sentencing postponed they could use that same day for trial prep, which presumably wouldn’t hurt.


SO WHAT KIND OF SENTENCES COULD THE SIX LASD DEFENDANTS RECEIVE?

The government filed its sentencing reports and recommendations for each of the six defendants last month, and the sentences requested are sobering.

The suggested sentences for the two deputies and one of the sergeants are the lowest.

For Deputy Mickey Manzo who, together with Deputy Gerard Smith, was on the team that reportedly hid Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, the feds requested 30 months, or two and a half years.

The recommendation for Gerard Smith, who has a special needs child, is slightly shorter at 28 months, or two years and four months.

When it came to Sergeant Maricela Long, who—along with Sgt. Scott Craig—was involved in the investigation of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the feds went back up to 30 months.

They viewed Long’s partner, Sergeant Scott Craig, with far more severity. Craig was the person who threatened FBI Agent Marx with arrest, and also appeared to deliberately try to persuade deputy Gilbert Michel not to talk to the FBI. (Michel was the guy who accepted a bribe to smuggle a cell phone into Anthony Brown.) Craig also took the stand in his own behalf and said things that the prosecutors maintained were “demonstrably false,” thus were “further acts of obstruction.”

With all that in mind, the government asked that Craig’s sentence be 51 months, or 4 years, three months.

Surprisingly, the government requested a longer sentence for Craig than they did for retired Lt. Gregory Thompson, who actually ran the Operation Safe Jails team that hid Anthony Brown, and he was the guy for whom Smith, Manzo and Sexton worked. Thompson’s suggested sentence was 48 months, or 4 years.

The feds reserved its very longest suggested sentence for Lt. Stephen Leavins. Leavins, who was the supervisor for Craig and Long, also allegedly attempted to persuade Michel and others not to talk to the FBI. Like Craig, Leavins took the stand for himself, and denied wrong doing, for instance, claiming that he moved Anthony Brown only for Brown’s own safety, when other factors suggested the main purpose was to keep Brown away from the feds, all of which added up to perjury said the prosecutors in their sentencing memo. More than Craig, according to the feds, Leavins told some true doozies when he was on the stand, claiming to be at meetings where others testified he could not have been, claiming other officials said things that, they and others flatly denied, and other alleged falsehoods.

For Leavins, the feds requested a sentence of 60 months or 5 years.

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

More Exonerations, but Fewer Resulting from DNA Testing….CA’s Mentally Ill Prisoners to Receive Better Care in Specialized SHUs….Unarmed Suspects “Reaching for Their Waistbands”….and an Abandoned FBI Sting Against the LASD

September 2nd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EXONERATIONS AT A RECORD HIGH, BUT NOT BECAUSE OF DNA TESTING…ATTRIBUTED INSTEAD TO OTHER BREAKDOWNS IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Last year, the National Registry of Exonerations documented 87 exonerations—the highest number on record. The relatively new registry has identified over 1,400 such exonerations since 1989. In the beginning, most of those exonerations came as a result of advances in DNA testing. Now, in California and across the nation, groups like the California Innocence Project are dealing predominantly with convictions involving justice system failures such as alleged prosecutorial misconduct, coerced confessions, and junk science.

Kevin Davis has more on the issue in an interesting essay for the ABA Journal. Here’s a clip:

The use of DNA to both clear and implicate suspects prompted much of the early media attention on wrongful convictions. But exonerations due to DNA evidence have been on the decline for much of the past decade. According to the registry, the number of exonerations in which DNA played any role dropped from 23 in 2005 to 20 in 2012 and 18 in 2013.

One of the reasons for the decline is that many of the cases in which DNA testing was available to clear the wrongfully convicted have played out. DNA testing is now routine, and it often clears suspects long before trial.

Many of the defendants convicted when DNA testing was either not routine or nonexistent are losing hope for exoneration through DNA evidence because the evidence collected in their cases may no longer be available for testing.

“You have a certain number of cases in which DNA testing was never done or was not available, and a lot of those have been worked through—they’ve been sized up by an innocence project or someone who has requested DNA testing,” says Nick Vilbas, executive director of the Innocence Project of Texas.

The downward trend in DNA cases holds true for Texas and many other states that have innocence projects. “Once word got around that DNA was exonerating people, a lot of people started asking for DNA testing and a lot of those cases have been worked through,” Vilbas says. “That doesn’t mean it’s the end of DNA exonerations. We still have several DNA cases in the process right now. But they are not the bulk of our work anymore right now.”

It’s the same thing in California. “Most of our cases are non-DNA,” says Justin Brooks, a professor at California Western School of Law and project director of the California Innocence Project. “There have not been many in California in the past 15 years.”

Brooks describes the early DNA cases as “low-hanging fruit,” many involving cases in which rape kits could provide evidence to help exonerate those convicted when DNA testing became more prevalent.

The bulk of the work for innocence projects like the one in California is on cases involving false confessions, discredited scientific evidence and unreliable witnesses, along with other factors, including prosecutorial misconduct. One of the benefits of the registry is that it offers insights into how people were wrongfully convicted and where the system failed, which can be useful in bringing about legislative and judicial reforms.

“It shines the light on the entire criminal justice system,” Brooks says. “If we’re making mistakes in the biggest kinds of cases, such as death penalty cases, what does that say about lower-level crimes?”


FEDERAL JUDGE APPROVES REFORMED PRISON POLICIES TO BETTER PROTECT RIGHTS OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES

On Friday, US District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton approved new California prison policies for isolating the mentally ill in a more humane manner.

In April, Judge Karlton ordered the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to update its policies regarding the handling of mentally ill prisoners, which he said were in violation of inmates’ rights.

The CDCR’s new policies include moving mentally ill prisoners currently in isolation into new units created specifically for those with mental illness, giving them twice as much time outside of their cell and better mental health care.

The CDCR says it will also conduct a case-by-case assessment as to whether the inmates currently in isolation should be moved to the redesigned units, or if they can safely reintegrate into the general population.

The NY Times’ Erica Goode has the story. Here’s a clip:

Under the new policies, developed by department officials working with a court-appointed special master who ensures that the judge’s order is being followed and with consultants from the plaintiffs’ legal team, mentally ill inmates in three of the state’s four security housing units — about 740 prisoners, according to the department — will be moved to less restrictive settings. Mentally ill inmates have been excluded by court order from the state’s fourth security housing unit, at Pelican Bay State Prison, since the 1990s.

More than 2,000 inmates with less serious psychiatric disorders who for disciplinary reasons are currently kept in administrative segregation units — another type of isolation housing — will also be moved out. Most will be transferred to newly created units where intensified mental health treatment will be provided and prisoners will be allowed more time out of their cells for recreation and other activities.

In several areas, the Corrections Department said, it had decided to move beyond the scope of Judge Karlton’s order. Over the next months, for example, it will begin conducting case-by-case reviews of all inmates currently in prison psychiatric units after spending extended lengths of time in solitary confinement, with the goal of returning those who no longer pose a safety threat to less restrictive units.

Training of staff in the new policies will begin immediately, the department said.

KQED’s Julie Small also reported on the issue.


HIGH RATE OF OFFICER SHOOTINGS OF UNARMED SUSPECTS “REACHING FOR THEIR WAISTBANDS” POINTS TO CHANGES IN TRAINING, SAYS RADLEY BALKO

A US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel has reinstated a lawsuit filed by the family of an unarmed Anaheim man who was shot around 20 times by five officers who said the man had reached for his waistband, as if for a weapon. (Although no weapons were found on Caesar Cruz’s body, officers had received a tip that he was armed.)

In his opinion on the case, Judge Alex Kozinski says it makes no sense for an unarmed Cruz to have reached for his waistband as if armed while five officers had guns trained on him. Kozinski points out that one of the officers involved in Cruz’s death had been involved in a very similar shooting in which a different man, one running away from officers with guns drawn on him, moved his hand toward his waistband.

Kozinski says the circumstantial evidence “could give a reasonable jury pause”:

In this case, there’s circumstantial evidence that could give a reasonable jury pause. Most obvious is the fact that Cruz didn’t have a gun on him, so why would he have reached for his waistband?3 Cruz probably saw that he was surrounded by officers with guns drawn. In that circumstance, it would have been foolish—but not wholly implausible—for him to have tried to fast-draw his weapon
in an attempt to shoot his way out. But for him to make such a gesture when no gun is there makes no sense whatsoever.

A jury may doubt that Cruz did this. Of course, a jury could reach the opposite conclusion. It might believe that Cruz thought he had the gun there, or maybe he had a death wish, or perhaps his pants were falling down at the worst possible moment. But the jury could also reasonably conclude that the officers lied. In reaching that conclusion, the jury might find relevant the uncontroverted evidence that Officer Linn, one of Cruz’s shooters, recited the exact same explanation when he shot and killed another unarmed man, David Raya, two years later under very similar circumstances.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about the recent shootings of unarmed men who officers say appeared to be reaching for guns hidden in their waistbands, and what these deaths suggest about the evolution of police training.

Back in March I noted a recent series of police shootings in the San Diego area in which the cops also claimed an unarmed man was reaching for his waistband. A September 2011 investigation by the Los Angeles Times found that in half the cases in which police shot at someone they claimed was reaching for his waistband, the suspect was unarmed. (There was another incident in Long Beach, California, in April.) A 2013 Houston Chronicle investigation found multiple incidents there. There have been other recent “unarmed man reaches for his waistband” shootings in Pierce County, Washington; Pasadena, California; and Portland, Oregon. It’s also the story we heard from BART Officer Johannes Mehserle after he shot and killed Oscar Grant in an Oakland subway station.

I doubt that these cops are gunning people down in cold blood, then using the waistband excuse to justify their bloodlust. It’s likely more a product of inappropriate training. A few years ago, a guy who trains police in the use of lethal force told me that he had grown quite concerned about the direction that training has taken in recent years. He said that police departments are increasingly eschewing training that emphasizes deescalation and conflict resolution for classes that overly emphasize the dangers of the job, teach cops to view every citizen as a potential threat, and focus most of the training on how to justify their actions after the fact to avoid disciplinary action and lawsuits.


INTRICATE FBI STING AGAINST LASD, OPERATION BLUE LINE, DERAILED BY OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on an elaborate FBI sting to obtain information on Los Angeles jail abuses that jumped the tracks after jail informant Anthony Brown’s smuggled cell phone was discovered, and Operation Pandora’s Box was initiated. Here’s how it opens:

Operation Blue Line was a go.

In August 2011, FBI agents were gearing up to launch the next phase of their wide-ranging investigation into suspected brutality and corruption by sheriff’s deputies in the Los Angeles County jails.

The plan was to rent a warehouse, spread the word that it was full of narcotics and hire corrupt deputies from the jails to moonlight as guards. Included in the budget was $10,000 for bribes and kickbacks, according to an internal FBI memo reviewed by The Times.

The deputies lured into the purported drug enterprise would then be used to get information about abuses in the jails.

Two days after it was greenlighted by headquarters in Washington, Blue Line came to an abrupt halt. Sheriff’s officials had caught an inmate with a cellphone and traced the phone back to the FBI, exposing an investigation that had been kept secret from them, even though they ran the jails.

Instead of moving forward with Blue Line, the FBI spent the next few months doing damage control with sheriff’s officials who hid the inmate informant and threatened an FBI agent with arrest. Of the 21 criminal cases eventually filed by federal prosecutors, seven were obstruction of justice cases stemming from the cellphone incident.

With the federal investigation into the jails still ongoing, Blue Line stands as the undercover operation that might have been. Whether it would have led to more informants and more indictments will never be known. What is certain is that after the discovery of the cellphone, the federal investigation temporarily stuttered and the warehouse scheme never got off the ground.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, Innocence, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, prison policy, solitary | 7 Comments »

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