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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 »

LA’s Use of “Split Sentencing” Gets Worse (Can DA Jackie Lacey Help?)…..When CA Kids are “Double Charged” ….Pilot of Drug Smuggling Boat Sentenced for Coast Guard Murder

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



TUESDAY’S AB 109 REPORT SHOWS LA’S USE OF SPLIT SENTENCING GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER

At Tuesday’s LA County Supervisors’ board meeting, Probation Chief Jerry Powers will present a report about what is going on with the various AB 109 offenders who have been passed to LA County for oversight rather than the state since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

The report is dry, extremely detailed and statistic heavy (you can find it here if you’d like to peruse). However, amid the welter of figures a few numbers do jump out, namely the stats showing the progress that LA County is making when it comes to beefing up its use of “split sentencing,” an approach that justice advocates, Governor Jerry Brown and the top brass at probation—among others—would like to see expanded.

And what kind of progress are we making? Um, none. Zero. Zip. As a matter of fact, rather than progressing, LA seems to be moving rapidly in the opposite direction.

In case you’ve forgotten, split sentencing is a sentencing strategy that has been adopted to greater and lesser degrees by California’s counties as part of California’s AB 109 public safety realignment system. With a split sentence, the court can divide a low-level felon’s time to be spent half behind bars, with the other half (or more) spent out of jail but under the supervision of county probation. The idea is that most offenders do better when they receive some kind of help and oversight when they get out of jail or prison rather than just getting dumped on the street with no further follow-up.

Moreover, split sentencing has the pleasant collateral effect of lowering the jail population.

Riverside county has over 60 percent of its AB 109ers serving split sentences.

In constrast, LA County was using the strategy only around 5 percent of the time in year one and two of realignment.

Looking at the first five months of year three, that percentage has dropped to closer to 2 percent—or 109 split sentences out of 5151 sentences handed down in that period.

(See line 2 of the “Custody” table on p. 14 of the report.)


CAN JACKIE LACEY HELP? (PLEASE!)

Thus far it has reportedly been prosecutors, public defenders and judges who mostly stand in the way of split sentencing.

With that in mind, perhaps this is another issue in which DA Jackie Lacey can take a strong part, as she has with her recent—and much welcomed— leadership in diversion for the mentally ill and other forms of alternative sentencing she has begun championing.

As the members of the board of supervisors listen to Tuesday’s realignment report, perhaps they could bring up such a possibility.

Can’t hurt.

PS: For a good rundown on split sentencing in general see last summer’s story by KPCC’s Rina Palta.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…. “DOUBLE CHARGING” FOR JUVENILE JUSTICE IN CALIFORNIA’S COUNTIES

In most California counties now, when a kid is arrested, the meter starts ticking for the boy or girl’s parent or guardian. This means that, in addition to whatever stress occurs when one’s child breaks the law and is sentenced to juvenile hall, probation camp or some other form of placement, there are the mounting bills.

Myles Bess of Youth Radio has a well-reported story for Marketplace about this double charging and the impact those charges have on families.

The bill starts adding up as soon as you’re arrested, before anyone reaches the courtroom. Even if you’re innocent, in Alameda County, the investigation alone will cost you $250.

“You get fined for the public defender,” said Debra Mendoza, probation officer-turned-advocate, who can list fees off the top of her head. “You get charged for incarceration. There’s a fee for being in juvenile hall. There’s a daily fee if you’re on GPS.”

Add the fees together for a juvenile who’s been incarcerated for an average amount of time in this county, and the total bill will be close to $2,000.

It’s parents who are responsible for the bill. And that’s the trend across states.

“There are more and more criminal justice fees that are added every year in this country,” said Lauren-Brooke Eisen, legal scholar at NYU’s Brennan Center for Justice. “In recent years, about 20 state legislatures passed laws holding parents responsible for their children’s crimes,” said Eisen.

In California, parents have the right to negotiate fees, but it’s not easy. If they don’t pay, officials can garnish parents’ wages, take their tax refunds or place liens against property. In Alameda County, one of the poorest counties in the San Francisco Bay Area, half of the fees charged to parents remain unpaid. That’s according to the county’s own data, based on a recent five-year period.

“And sometimes it is more expensive administratively to collect these fees than the money you are actually receiving in revenue.” said Eisen. “That’s the great irony of the situation.

NOTE: In 2009, the LA Times’ Molly Hennessy-Fiske did some excellent reporting on the aggressive billing going on in LA County for the parents and guardians of incarcerated kids.


DRUG SMUGGLING PANGA BOAT PILOT GETS LIFE IN PRISON FOR MURDER OF COAST GUARD OFFICER TERRELL HORNE

The Mexican national who was found guilty of second degree murder in the 2012 death of Senior Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was sentenced to life in a federal prison without parole on Monday, reports the office of U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. A second man was given ten years in federal prison for his part in Horne’s death.

Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified a second suspicious vessel nearby, a 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.

After spotting the panga themselves, Coast Guard officers launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. As the four in the small boat approached the 2nd suspicious boat, the four officers activated their own boat’s police lights and ID’d themselves as law enforcement. The pilot of the panga boat reacted by throttling his engines and steering the panga boat directly toward the small Coast Guard inflatable.

Despite the coast guard officers’ frantic efforts to avoid a collision, the pilot of the panga boat deliberately rammed into the smaller boat, ejecting Senior Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. However, just before the boat was about to be
rammed, rather than dodge, Horne reached forward—toward the point of impact—pushed his coxswain to safety.

Once in the water, Horne was struck in the head by a propeller and died of the injury.

The 34-year-old Horne was an extremely well-liked father of two with a baby on the way and, along with his devastated family, Horne’s colleagues reacted with heartbreak. He was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927.

U.S. Attorney Birotte told LA Times columnist Patt Morrison that the day Terrell Horne was killed was one of his two worst days on the job. (The other worst day was in 2013 when a man walked into LAX and opened fire killing TSA agent Gerardo Hernandez.)

Birotte said he keeps a note from Rachel Horne (Horne’s wife) on his desk “to remind me what this job is about.”

Posted in Board of Supervisors, District Attorney, FBI, juvenile justice, LASD, Probation | No Comments »

LA Times’ Steve Lopez on the Jail Plan….Former Inmate Sues LASD for Alleged Abuse….Unusual Measure Would Drop Some Felonies to Misdemeanors….and California Judge Restores Voting Rights to Realignment Probationers

May 8th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE LOS ANGELES SUPERVISORS’ DECISION TO MOVE FORWARD WITH A $2 BILLION JAIL PLAN

Yesterday, we reported on the LA County Board of Supervisors’ decision to move forward with a $2 billion jail plan before a new sheriff could be involved in the decision-making process, and despite opposition. (More backstory here, and here.)

The LA Times’ Steve Lopez also reported on the issue, and had some interesting things to say about the supes’ decision. Here’s a clip:

This was not a brand new topic for the supervisors. And what I mean by that is that the supes have been dithering over the matter for about a decade.

That’s not necessarily a long time for this crew. But to put it in perspective, James Hahn was mayor back then. Barack Obama was an obscure state legislator in Illinois. And no one had heard of “Breaking Bad,” “Mad Men” or “Downton Abbey.”

Supervisors Mike Antonovich and Gloria Molina, quite clearly, were ready to move on. I’m not sure whether they truly believe that building a $2-billion jail downtown and a women’s facility in Lancaster is the best option, or if they were just tired of talking about it. But they introduced a motion to move forward on that proposal, and Supervisor Don Knabe decided he was on their side.

Here’s what seemed a little crazy, though:

After a decade of putting off a decision, why decide to act just a month before an election to pick a new sheriff?

I know, I know. I’ve just criticized them for taking forever, and now I’m wondering why they’re moving so fast. They would argue that it’s because the federal government might crack down because of inhumane conditions, but that’s been the case for a long time. My point is that we might want the new sheriff to weigh in on the jail he’s likely to be overseeing one day.

Aside from all that, though, the supervisors — as usual — didn’t disappoint. It was remarkable to watch two conservative supervisors, Antonovich and Knabe, team with a liberal woman of color, Molina, in support of one of the biggest public projects in L.A. County history.

But it was just as remarkable to watch Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky go through their moves.

Sure, the county needs a new jail, they agreed. But why hadn’t there been a harder look at diversionary programs aimed at getting more inmates with mental illness and drug addiction into community programs instead of locking them up?

That’s a very good question, and it’s been raised by many people — including me — for years. So why were Ridley-Thomas and Yaroslavsky suddenly acting like it was breaking news?

I think because the votes had already been counted, and Tuesday was about covering the bases.

Or covering something.

Read on…


AND IN RELATED NEWS…

On Wednesday, Bret Phillips, a mentally ill former inmate at Men’s Central Jail, filed a lawsuit against the LA County Sheriff’s Dept., accusing four deputies of beating him unconscious while he was in handcuffs and chains. Jail chaplain Paulino Juarez witnessed the beating and reported it to a sergeant, and later recounted it to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. (Click here for the backstory and what Phillips story suggests about LASD leadership.)

In February, two of the deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, were federally indicted for the alleged assault on Phillips.

Phillips lawsuit names former Sheriff Lee Baca and the four deputies allegedly involved as defendants. (And Phillips is being represented in the lawsuit by high-profile civil rights lawyer Gloria Allred.)

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Bret Phillips, 43, says four deputies at Men’s Central Jail punched him in the face and body while he was handcuffed and chained. The lawsuit claims deputies also used pepper spray and a flashlight during the beating, which left Phillips unconscious.

Nicole Nishida, a spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department, said the agency has not yet reviewed the lawsuit and was unable to comment on the case.

“However, we take all allegations of inmate abuse very seriously and investigate every allegation appropriately.” Nishida said.

Phillips suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is bipolar, according to the lawsuit. Gloria Allred, his lawyer, said the Sheriff’s department should have known Phillips had serious mental health issues because he had been placed in a psychiatric section of the jail during a prior incarceration. He was in the jail’s general population when the beating occurred.

“Because he suffered from mental impairment, he was completely vulnerable to any deputy who wished to abuse him and escape punishment,” Allred said.

A priest visiting the jail that day witnessed the beating and later reported it to a sergeant. But in wasn’t until February of this year that federal authorities with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles indicted two deputies…

Phillips was jailed for failing to provide his new address to his probation officer, said his long-time companion and caregiver Christine Chopurian. She said they had just moved 30 hours before he was arrested for the probation violation.

“I truly believe that if Father Paulino Juarez wasn’t there visiting the jail that day, Bret might have died,” she said…

Allred said that if Phillips had been placed in a mental health facility with trained personnel, this wouldn’t have happened to him.

“This county has been aware for quite a long time about the vulnerability and the needs and perhaps even the abuse at L.A. County jails of mentally impaired inmates,” she said.


PROPOSED BALLOT INITIATIVE WOULD REDUCE CERTAIN LOW-LEVEL FELONIES TO MISDEMEANOR STATUS

An intriguing measure likely headed for the November ballot would bring down the status of certain low-level non-violent offenses (like drug possession and petty theft) from felony to misdemeanor. In addition, the money the state saved in prison costs would be allocated for substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation, trauma services, and crime prevention efforts.

The initiative is co-sponsored by San Francisco DA George Gascón and former San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne and has garnered more than 800,000 signatures. (We will have more on this measure in the coming weeks.)

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has more on the welcome initiative. Here’s a clip:

Supporters of the proposal, intended for the November ballot, said they had a surprisingly easy time collecting more than 800,000 signatures to place the measure before voters – far more than the 555,236 needed – and were delivering those petitions to county registrars across the state Monday and Tuesday.

The measure is backed by a politically diverse and somewhat unlikely group: Its official sponsors are San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón and recently retired San Diego Police Chief William Lansdowne, and its supporters include conservatives including businessman B. Wayne Hughes Jr. They believe it could save taxpayers $150 million to $250 million on jail and prison spending each year, money that would be redirected toward crime prevention, mental health and substance abuse treatment, and trauma recovery services.

Hughes, who made his fortune from self-storage facilities, said he has become increasingly interested in incarceration issues in recent years and founded a foundation that is currently providing “moral and ethical” training to 2,000 California prisoners. He said his firsthand experience helping inmates prompted him to support the measure.

“I am not an apologist for people who break the law … (but) folks are coming out of prison better criminals than when they came in, and that is not helping to get the state where we need to be,” he said.

“When a mom or dad or kid goes to prison, a grenade goes off and the shrapnel hits everybody, and when enough homes experience this, we lose whole communities, and that’s what we have here. Twelve to 14 cents of every dollar spent in California is on incarceration, and meanwhile our infrastructure is falling down. … This is a situation where the walls of partisanship ought to come down immediately.”


CALIFORNIA JUDGE’S RULING RESTORES VOTING RIGHTS TO PEOPLE IN COMMUNITY SUPERVISION UNDER REALIGNMENT

Back in February, the ACLU of California filed a lawsuit accusing California Sec. of State Debra Bowen of illegally disenfranchising thousands of potential voters on Post Release Community Supervision (PRCS) and mandatory supervision under Realignment.

On Wednesday, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo ruled in favor of the ACLU and the former state prisoners shifted to community supervision under California Realignment (AB 109), and ordered the probationers’ voting rights be restored.

Here’s a clip from the ACLU’s announcement:

“Today’s ruling is a victory for California’s democracy,” said Michael Risher, staff attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “By following the plain language of our state’s voting laws, the court’s ruling will help ensure that in California, one of the nation’s most fundamental rights – the right to vote – will be protected and not restricted.”

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Evelio Grillo said the fact that the California legislature passed the Realignment Act with the legislative goal of better facilitating the reintegration of people with felony convictions back into society suggests legislators would have wanted people on PRCS and mandatory supervision to retain their right to vote, writing that “the plain language of the statute suggets that the integration of adult felons into society would be facilitated by allowing” these individuals to vote.

”Our democracy belongs to everyone who lives in America, not just a select few,” said Dorsey Nunn, executive director of All of Us or None, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Democracy functions best when the largest number of citizens possible participate, including formerly incarcerated people.”

Judge Grillo also followed California’s longstanding rule that every reasonable presumption be given in favor of the right of people to vote.

“The significance of this victory cannot be overstated. The right to vote gives meaning to every other right we have as citizens, and it is for this reason that our laws require every reasonable presumption in favor of the right to vote,” said Meredith Desautels, staff attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “The court’s decision affirms the voices of Californians returning to their communities, assuring them the opportunity to contribute as equal members.”

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Realignment, Sentencing | No Comments »

3 Supes Pass $2 Billion Jail Plan Despite Objections & D.A. Jackie Lacey Works on a Project for Change

May 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In a three to two vote, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors
decided to move ahead with a nearly $2 billion plan to tear down the dangerous and decrepit Men’s Central Jail, and build in its place a state of the art facility that will house 4,860 inmates, with approximately 3200 of those beds slated for LA County jail’s mentally ill population.

The project will also include a campus-like jail facility for woman to be built at the site of the now closed Mira Loma jail.

Supervisors Mike Antonovich, Don Knabe and Gloria Molina voted to give the green light to project, which was one of five differently priced plans presented by Vanir Construction Management.

Zev Yaroslavsky voted against the decision, and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

The go-ahead for the project came in spite of a raft of letters and public testimony from advocates and mental health professionals who urged the board to put a hold on the building until they could put into place a strong diversion strategy for the many mentally ill who commit non-serious crimes and are in need of treatment, not jail time, where historically the problems of the mentally ill have been exacerbated.

The vote also ran counter to the wishes of all but one of the candidates for sheriff who also favored diversion for low level mentally ill offenders, and said they believed that the new sheriff elected in November should be a part of the decision making process on a project of his magnitude, especially considering that the sheriff would have the responsibility for running the new jails.


LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY JACKIE LACEY: “THE CURRENT SYSTEM IS, SIMPLY PUT, UNJUST.”

Some of the most interesting moments in the more than three hour discussion about the building plan came when Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey surprised some watchers by making her own presentation to the board on the topic of a “comprehensive diversion plan,” that would place a large percentage of the mentally ill lawbreakers that now are housed in the county’s jail system into community treatment facilities.

Lacey spoke with with low key but seemingly genuine passion the topic.”It is clear, even to those of us in law enforcement, that we can do better in Los Angeles County,” she said. “The current system is, simply put, unjust.”

Lacy went on to explain that, together with other county officials, including judges, public defenders, prosecutors, and more, her office has created a special taskforce to “identify successful jail diversion practices in other parts of the country and to develop a model that can work here in Los Angeles County.”

Lacey said that members of the task force-—called the Criminal Justice Mental Health Project—have been meeting for a several months and have visited similar diversion programs that are already up and running successfully in Miami-Dade Florida, Memphis. Tennessee and San Antonio,Texas.

“The task force intends to develop a plan that will “relieve a significant portion of jail overcrowding,” Lacey said, adding that her goal is to add 1000 residential beds in the community as well as to set up an outpatient program for another 1000 people “who may be able to accept help and be monitored” without the need for a residential program.

The point is to leave only those in the jail those who need to be there, she said.

Since Vanir’s plan is to provide 3,216 mental health beds in the proposed new jail, if a comprehensive diversion program of the nature that DA Lacey envisions can indeed be put into place, the obvious question is whether the county needs a replacement project that is as large and expensive as the one that the board has voted to fund.

Even Lacey tried tactfully to broach the subject. “When I looked at the jail plan,” she said, “I saw that a significant amount of the cost is based on what you’re going to do with those who are mentally ill. You should know that there’s a committed group of professionals…who are looking for alternative ways to address the issue. We’re serious about it. And I am optimistic.”

When she went to visit the Memphis program, she said, she found they were doing so well with diversion that they were shutting down a wing of their jail.

“I just thought you ought to be aware,” Lacey said finally to the board, “that, quite frankly, something very profound is going on behind the scenes and just factor it in to what you’re doing today.”


A COMPROMISE, SORT OF

Prior to the vote, a dismayed Zev Yaroslavsky called the Vanir plan possibly the most costly in the nation, and urged his fellow supervisors to wait for Lacey’s task force to report before bulldozing ahead.

“I do think that it would make some sense if we could have some information…some of your conclusions” he said, referring to Lacey, “even if they’re preliminary, before we commit to spending this kind of money.”

Alas, it was not to be.

Supervisor Gloria Molina (who, along with Supervisor Mike Antonovich, co-sponsored the motion to go ahead with Vanir plan), was particularly concerned that, because of jail overcrowding, too many inmates were being let out of jail after having only served a fraction of their sentences, explained senior aide, Roxane Marquez after the vote.

Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a second motion that called for a report back from Lacey and her task for in 60 days. “Keeping people out of jail who should not be in jail is the right thing to do,” he said. “There is no comprehensive and adequate approach to diversion.

He read from his motion:

“A comprehensive diversion plan is the missing element of the jail master planning analysis. Without its inclusion, the jail master plan, in my view, is in complete. Regardless of the selections to replace men’s central jail, the County of Los Angeles must commit to develop and fun a sustained plan to divert low-level offender from incarceration who are mentally ill and/or substance abusers. the mentally ill, unfortunately, are incarcerated at higher rates than people without mental illness.”

Ridley-Thomas’s motion passed unanimously 5-0.



AND IT OTHER NEWS…JUDGE CHOOSES PRESIDENT FOR DEPUTY UNION ALADS TO BREAK CRAZY GRIDLOCK

The LA Times Cindy Chang has the update on this ongoing high stakes melodrama. Here’s a clip:

A power struggle at the union that represents Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies has entered a new phase after a judge barred the leader of one faction from entering the group’s headquarters.

For now, Jeffrey Steck will serve as president of the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. His rival, Armando Macias, will retain no power under a preliminary injunction granted by Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Luis Lavin on Tuesday.

At one point, both Steck and Macias claimed to be president. Each had an official-looking website. Business ground to a halt with uncertainty over who could sit at the negotiating table or withdraw money from union bank accounts.

On Tuesday, Lavin granted a preliminary injunction in Steck’s favor. Macias may not access union funds, represent himself as a union leader or set foot in the union’s building in Monterey Park.

But the dispute could drag on, draining money from union coffers, as Steck seeks to make the prohibitions permanent.

Here’s the back story on the unions very messy high stakes power struggle.


WHEN TAKING PHOTOS HELPS TRAUMATIZED HAITIAN KIDS

Art sometimes heals. Katy McCarthy of the Juvenile Justice Network has the story-–and copies of the photos the kids took too. Take a look.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County | No Comments »

Other Los Angeles Jail Plan-Related Stories, an Inmate Suicide at Twin Towers, More Discretionary Power for California Judges Sentencing Teens, and Arts Return to State Prisons

May 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

MORE ON THE VANIR LOS ANGELES JAIL PROPOSAL, LA’S HANDLING OF MENTALLY ILL INMATES (AND AN ARGUABLY PREVENTABLE INMATE SUICIDE AT TWIN TOWERS)

Yesterday we reported on the latest Los Angeles sheriff candidate debate as it related to plans being considered by the Board of Supervisors to tear down Men’s Central Jail and replace it with a costly new facility. The main problems are as follows: the decision should wait until a new sheriff is elected, the proposed plans do not address the issue of how to provide better treatment for more than 3000 mentally ill inmates, and other counties are successfully diverting mentally ill inmates to community treatment (while LA County thus far has no plans to do so).

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze also had good coverage of the sheriff’s debate. Here’s a clip:

“I think the new sheriff needs to be consulted on what we’re going to do with our jail system,” said current assistant sheriff Todd Rogers during a candidates’ debate Sunday at the Westside Jewish Community Center. The primary election is June 3. If no candidate wins a majority of votes, the top two face each other in November.

“I think we have plenty of jail beds,” Rogers added.

“We need to take a step back,” said another candidate, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. “A new sheriff is a major stakeholder in this.”

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider the expansion plan Tuesday.

McDonnell also pointed out that the U.S. Department of Justice is considering suing L.A. County over its handling of mentally ill inmates, which could lead to new federally required reforms under a consent decree. “Part of that consent decree may be mandates as to what our jails look like,” McDonnell said.

And in a tragically timely illustration of why a building is not going to solve LA County’s problematic handling of the mentally ill…

A Twin Towers inmate, Li Zhu, placed on suicide watch strangled himself during a period of nearly three hours in which deputies reportedly failed to check on him. While deputies are required to look in on suicidal inmates every fifteen minutes, deputies allegedly last checked on Zhu at 6:46p.m. the evening after his arrest, and did not check again until he was found dead at 9:30p.m.

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

An autopsy report by the L.A. County Coroner’s Department says Zhu, 68, was arrested on January 8 on suspicion of murdering his daughter-in-law, Xiaolin Li. The Arcadia police department arrested Li Zhu after finding Li Xiaolin stabbed to death, in an apartment where the two lived, along with a number of family members.

When he arrived in L.A. County’s jail system, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department placed Zhu on suicide watch in a Twin Towers cell due to having attempted “suicide in China during the late 1990’s by jumping off a building…and also telling family members that he did not want to live anymore after the assault on his daughter-in-law.”

Deputies are supposed to check on inmates on suicide watch every 15 minutes. The last reported check on Zhu, according to the coroner’s report, was at 6:46pm He was found dead at 9:30pm when a deputy attending to an inmate in a neighboring cell noticed Zhu sitting at an odd angle on the floor. A surveillance video viewed later showed him last walking around his cell at 8:18pm.

According to the coroner’s report, Zhu had torn off a strip of the side trim seam from his mattress, created a noose, and strangled himself by attaching the noose to the bed. There was blood on the floor and Zhu had an open bite mark and bruises on his arms. No suicide note was found.

Suicide watch protocols in L.A. County’s jails stem from an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice the county entered into in the late 1990’s, after federal inspectors found “constitutional deficiencies” in the jails. Allegations included use of excessive force on mentally ill inmates, inadequate mental health screening, and inadequate suicide prevention.

An LA Times editorial further explains why, although Men’s Central Jail needs to be torn down and replaced, a new jail facility is not going to end LA’s over-incarceration of a mentally ill inmate population that would experience better outcomes in community treatment. Here’s a clip:

Even with the Justice Department breathing down their necks over poor treatment of ill inmates, the supervisors asked for mental health treatment plans not from experts in recidivism or treatment but from a jail construction firm. The proposals naturally revolve around constructing jails.

Let’s be clear: Men’s Central does indeed need to be put out of its misery and replaced with a facility that includes treatment space for mentally ill offenders who are too dangerous to be diverted to community treatment. But any competent study must discuss protocols for distinguishing between those who could and those who could not be successfully and safely treated in community clinics. It would then project how many costly jail beds for the mentally ill will still be needed, and how much savings can instead be reaped by using a wiser non-jail diversion program. And it would be based on diversion programs already underway — if only the county would actually begin some. Other jurisdictions do it, and they save money and stop sick people from cycling in and out of jail. When will L.A. wise up?

Go read the rest.


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT GIVES JUDGES MORE DISCRETIONARY POWER IN SENTENCING JUVENILES

On Monday, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled to give judges more discretionary leeway in sentencing juveniles convicted of certain crimes for which judges would normally hand down a sentence of life-without-parole. The decision will give California judges more room to sentence teenagers to a lesser sentence of 25-to-life.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has more on the high court’s decision. Here are some clips:

Prior to the unanimous ruling, California law had been interpreted as requiring judges to lean toward life without parole for 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds convicted of certain offenses. The decision overturned decades of lower-court rulings.

The court’s action gave two men who were 17 at the time they killed the opportunity to have their sentences reconsidered by trial judges.

The court said the sentences should be reviewed because they were handed down before the court clarified state law and before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that judges must consider a juvenile’s immaturity and capacity for change.

[SNIP]

Some juvenile offenders became subject to life without parole when voters passed Proposition 115, the 1990 “Crime Victims Justice Reform Act.”

State appeals’ courts ruled that the law required judges to favor imposing life without parole over a life sentence that allowed for release after 25 years.

For two decades, those rulings stood.

But Monday’s decision said the lower courts had erred in the interpretation of the law.

“Proposition 115 was intended to toughen penalties for juveniles convicted of first-degree murder by making them eligible for life without parole upon a finding of one or more special circumstances,” Liu wrote.

But he said neither the wording of the ballot measure nor any of the official analyses resolved whether “the initiative was intended to make life without parole the presumptive sentence.” The court concluded it was not.


ARTS IN CORRECTIONS TO RETURN TO CALIFORNIA PRISONS WITH RENEWED STATE FUNDING

Late last week, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation made a welcome announcement that it would be spending $1 million on bringing art programs back to state prisons.

Here’s a clip from the CDCR announcement:

The Arts in Corrections programs will offer an array of performing, literary and visual arts disciplines, such as theater, music, creative writing, poetry, painting, drawing and sculpture.

“Research has shown that structured arts programs improve inmates’ problem-solving skills and self-discipline and increase their patience and their ability to work with others,” said CDCR Secretary Jeff Beard. “These programs also direct inmates’ energy in a positive direction, promote positive social interaction and lower tension levels, resulting in a safer environment for inmates and staff.”

CDCR has a long history of providing arts programs, as institutions and community organizations have partnered to offer visual and performing arts programs to inmates. CDCR has committed $1 million funding to add structured, contracted Arts-in-Corrections programs in select state prisons. CDCR is also committed to a second year of support for fiscal year 2014-15. The funds will be administered by the California Arts Council. Use of funds is subject to review by state control agencies.

“This investment will help inmates develop skills that may help them get jobs when they are released, which would help reduce recidivism and victimization,” Beard added.

Posted in CDCR, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LWOP Kids, Mental Illness | 7 Comments »

3 Reasons Why the Board of Supervisors Must Say No to the New Jail Plans

May 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


The latest version of the proposal to build
at least two new county jails at a cost of up to $2.3 billion will again come before the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, May 6.

The proposal was originally presented last month by the Vanir Construction Management in the form of five options, which ranged in price from $1.74 billion to $2.32 billion, and would add between $162 million to $300 million to the jails system operating costs. All of the options involve replacing the Men’s Central Jail, which nearly everyone agrees needs to be torn down.

Specifically, the Vanir plan calls for MCJ to be replaced by a state of the art facility that would primarily provide beds for the 3000 plus mentally ill inmates that, at present, are housed on any given day in the county jail system.

(The plan also includes a partially state-funded new women’s jail to be built at the now-vacant Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster, which is a matter that should likely be considered separately.)

The board members would be wise to turn down the Vanir proposal—or at the very least table it until next year—-for for the following three reasons.


1. NO LARGE DECISIONS AFFECTING THE COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM SHOULD BE MADE UNTIL A NEW SHERIFF IS ELECTED.

This reason alone should be enough for the Supes to table the plan. The jail overhaul and building proposal before the board is the baby of retired sheriff Lee Baca. Yes, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald has signed off on it. But Assistant Sheriff McDonald is not the sheriff.

A new sheriff will be elected in six months (or sooner, if by some wild chance one candidate gets over 50 percent of the vote in the June primary). It is improper to make a decision of this magnitude about the jail system overseen by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, without waiting for input from the person who will be running the department for the foreseeable future.

At Sunday night’s sheriff’s debate moderated by Warren Olney, several candidates, including Bob Olmsted and Jim McDonnell, specifically said that the decision should be put on hold until a new sheriff is elected.

Last week Lou Vince wrote all the board members to explain why he believed the board should wait on its vote until after the election. Vince wrote in part:

...the new Sheriff must take ownership of the final plan and support any decisions made by the Supervisors concerning this issue for it to be successful. It must be born of a cooperative working relationship between the new Sheriff and the Board of Supervisors. To do anything less is to be inconsistent with what all of the candidates for the Office of Sheriff have stated publicly in forums and debates during their campaigns. The candidates support a comprehensive plan to address the festering problems throughout the jail system and have all expressed support for reducing the pretrial jail population and slashing the number of mentally ill inmates. Yet….the Vanir proposal is not consistent with the vision of a reduced jail population.

Olmsted too released a statement last week that called on the board to hold off. “This new plan being discussed by the Board of Supervisors doesn’t address the real issue at hand—and that’s dealing with the mentally ill,” Olmsted wrote.

I believe it’s critical that the Board of Supervisors holds off on dealing with this issue until a new Sheriff is sworn into office. If elected Sheriff, I hope to work collaboratively with the Board of Supervisors to develop a smart, cost-effective plan to tackle this issue while simultaneously ending the corruption and the institutionalized problems within our jails.

McDonnell expressed similar sentiments in Sunday’s debate.

It is also worth noting that, in previous debates, all of the candidates for sheriff including Paul Tanaka, the most law-and-order-leaning of the group, repeatedly took a more progressive stand than the board of supes have taken on the topic of diverting a large percentage of mentally ill inmates away from incarceration.


2. THE VANIR PLAN FAILS TO ADDRESS THE PROBLEM OF HOW TO IMPROVE TREATMENT AND OUTCOMES FOR THE MENTALLY ILL

Theoretically, one of the primary reasons behind this high ticket building plan is to provide better treatment for the 3000 plus mentally ill inmates who, at present, cycle in and out of the LA County Jail system with often disastrous results.

In 1997, the Department of justice expressed concern about how the mentally ill were being treated in the jails, noting that they often failed to get treatment, and were subject to abuse. Then in 2002, the concern grew, causing the LASD to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice.

Finally, last year, the civil rights division of the DOJ launched an investigation into abuse in general inside the jails, with a special focus on the abuse and neglect of the mentally ill inside the county’s system.

So what did the board elect to do to address this serious and chronic problem? It hired Vanir, a construction management company as a “consultant” to come up with a plan to address this and other jail issues.

To the surprise of absolutely no one, construction company Vanir recommended building a snazzy new jail (or possibly three jails if you count the proposed women’s facilities)—and offered no plans or suggestions about how to divert the non-violent mentally ill offenders to appropriate treatment facilities, rather than simply locking them up in a nicer environment.

Yet bizarrely the Vanir proposal claimed the construction plan, if instituted, would reduce recidivism among the mentally ill and would satisfy the memorandum of understanding with the Department of Justice.

“There’s a tremendous amount of research that shows that incarceration for people who are mentally ill is contraindicated,” said Southern California ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg. “So the idea that simply getting a newer, cleaner building is going to make any significant difference in the outcome for mentally ill inmates is ridiculous. The jails are still going to be run by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department not by the Department of Mental Health. Inmates are still not going to get the treatment they need. And why do we think that a new building is suddenly going to give us a new and better culture in the los Angeles Sheriff’s Department? It’s a preposterous idea.”

LA Superior Court Judge Terry Smerling agrees. In an Op Ed that appears in Monday’s LA Times, he wrote:

The supervisors are right that something should change. The U.S. Department of Justice has condemned the treatment provided to inmates with mental illness in L.A. jails. These inmates cycle in and out of lockups, often for petty violations related to their mental illnesses. But building a massive new “treatment jail” is the wrong approach to solving the problem.

As a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge with more than 31 years on the criminal bench, I am all too familiar with what happens when people with serious mental illness get caught up in the criminal justice system. I have seen firsthand that jail is an inappropriate place for many of the mentally ill defendants who end up there. Being incarcerated is likely to exacerbate mental health problems and to increase the likelihood that inmates will commit new crimes upon their release.

Instead of spending large amounts on a better jail experience for them, we should spend money on local treatment programs that would keep low-risk offenders with mental illness out of jail.


3. DIVERTING NONVIOLENT MENTALLY ILL OFFENDERS TO APPROPRIATE COMMUNITY TREATMENT HAS WORKED FOR OTHER COUNTIES

Both San Francisco and Florida’s Miami-Dade counties have instituted successful diversion programs for the non-dangerous mentally ill who previously would have landed in jail.

Miami-Dade’s program in particular holds promise for LA to examine before we rush headlong into a gigantic capital expenditure that no mental health expert suggests would produce substantively improved long term outcomes for the mentally ill in the county’s care.

For example, Miami-Dade’s misdemeanor diversion program has reportedly reduced the offenders’ recidivism rate from 75% to 20%. And their felony diversion program dropped the recidivism rate to 6%.

San Francisco had equally dramatic outcomes with its diversion programs.

So why is LA so intent on persisting with its outmoded and expensive lock ‘em up strategy?

In recent a letter to the LA’s Board of Supervisors, Dr. Terry Kupers explained a little about the two courses that the Supes have open to them: the high-ticket Vanir construction plan, or a combination of more modest jail construction and a robust and well-planned diversion program.

(Kupers is a psychiatrist and mental health expert who, in 2008, wrote an extensive report about the mistreatment of inmates with mental illness in the LA County jails.)

Here’s an excerpt from Kupers’ letter:

Diversion does not mean “a slap on the wrist.” Not at all. Rather, very rigorous and well-targeted treatment and rehabilitation programs require conscientious effort on the part of participants while addressing the problems that put individuals at risk of being arrested. And diversion is safe. There are locked residential units and mechanical devices such as monitoring ankle bracelets for the minority of individuals who need close supervision in the community. There is quite a lot of expertise in the mental health and criminal justice communities on designing diversion strategies that provide the needed treatment while maintaining safety in the community.

The options Vanir Construction presents offer a much bleaker outcome. Because of the focus on punishment in jail, and because of the institutional dynamics themselves, and with likely future budget shortfalls and staffing shortages, “mental health jails” tend to become holding facilities for inmates with mental illness who remain in their cells or dormitories and take high doses of medications, which on average, tends to stifle their initiative and make them all the more likely to continue their treatment non-compliance and possibly criminal activity after they are released.

Let us hope that, on Tuesday, the supervisors think the matter through carefully and act wisely.

We’ll let you know what happens.

Posted in 2014 election, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 2 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Trade Barbs Over Deputy Cliques….& The LA Times Endorses McDonnell

April 30th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

NOTE:
On Wednesday, the LA Times endorsed Jim McDonnell for LA County Sheriff.
. You’ll find the endorsement at the end of this post, so just scroll down if you can’t stand to wait.


DEPUTY CLIQUES AND CANDIDATE ABSENCES

About halfway through Monday night’s candidate’s debate featuring five of the seven men who hope to be elected Los Angeles County Sheriff on June 3 (or at least make it into the runoff) the discussion ramped up several notches in response to a question about what each man would do about the department’s notorious deputy cliques.

Jim Hellmold, Jim McDonnell, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers and Lou Vince were the five in attendance at the debate, which was organized by one of the LASD unions, the Professional Peace Officer’s Association or PPOA.

Pat Gomez did not attend the event for reasons that were not clear. But the most conspicuous absence was that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka who said he had a scheduling conflict—although some PPOA members suggested that Tanaka might have simply chosen to skip this particular panel because he deduced that many of the event’s questions would not be friendly.

Indeed, what turned out to be the night’s most provocative question was the one about deputy cliques, which could arguably be seen as directed, at least in part, at the absent Tanaka.

It went as follows:

There has been a long history of accusations of deputy gangs and tattoo cliques within the Sheriff’s Department. The Lynwood Vikings were labeled by a judge to be a white supremacist gang that preyed on minorities, primarily blacks in the City of Lynwood, and more recently the 2000 and 3000 Boys at Men’s Central Jail were deputies accused of excessive force against inmates and even against each other. There are many other examples that have garnered negative attention in the media including the Jump Out Boys from the Sheriff’s elite gang unit, the Banditos from ELA station and the Regulators from Century station. What are your thoughts about these alleged deputy gangs and cliques? If elected Sheriff, will you put a stop to them? If so, how?

Retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted was up first. “They are not ‘alleged,‘” he said grimly. We’ve had them in the past and it’s intolerable.” With that, Olmsted held up a photo of a group of “3000 Boys,” one of the two deputy cliques that had reportedly caused problems at Men’s Central Jail. Each of the deputies in the photo was flashing a three-fingered sign.

As to whether the cliques deserved to be referred to as deputy “gangs,” Olmsted said. “When you have deputies that throw gang signs, call themselves ‘OGs,’ have [matching] tattoos, beat up other deputies…what would you call ‘em?”

If elected, Olmsted said he would deal with the cliques harshly, and that members could be fired.

“As sheriff I will not promote anybody who has a racist tattoo on his ankle,” he said. “To me that’s totally unacceptable.”


DIVISIONS IN THE RANKS

Todd Rogers (who, along with Hellmold, is one of two working assistant sheriffs in the race) also came down hard on deputy cliques. Like Olmsted, he said he did not view the groups as benign. “These cliques are divisive by their very nature,” he said, noting that some had suggested that the LASD’s clique tattoos were not any different than the military tattoos that men serving together often acquire.

“But if you’re in the military,” Rogers said, “anybody can get a tattoo, you don’t have to be sponsored, they don’t have numbers attached to ‘em.” [The tattoos of the Vikings, the Regulators and those of some of the other LASD cliques are sequentially numbered.] “They aren’t inclusive of one group, and exclusive of the rest of the deputies because they’re not ‘made’ people.’”

What Rogers thought was “really reprehensible,” he said, “is when our supervisors and our executives buy into that and perpetuate it by letting these people be promoted. We have a person commanding a station right now who has Viking tattoo, and a person running for sheriff who has a Viking tattoo on his ankle and refuses to renounce that.”

The candidate with the Viking tattoo is, of course, Paul Tanaka, who at other debates has admitted to the thing, which he acquired in the late 1980s. But he dismissed it as harmless and of no special importance.

LAPD detective Lou Vince, the next in line, was terse and to the point. “Deputy gangs and cliques are the opposite of what professional law enforcement should be,” he said.


CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR

When the question came to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, he was crisp and unequivocal. “Looking at gangs…” he said. “We absolutely have them. The 2000 Boys, the 3000 Boys, the Regulators, the Jump Out Boys, the Bandidos, the Vikings…. That’s not professional law enforcement. It’s either high school, or it’s gangs. Or it’s somewhere in between.

The LASD is the only identity that any of us should have. We should be focused on how we raise the professionalism and the image of the organization. We have core values. But do we mirror them? By having cliques and gang behavior, if we tolerate them, we don’t.

“The whole idea of having to ‘earn your ink’ by being brutal to an inmate within the custody environment,” That’s criminal behavior,” McDonnell said.

“I look at the subculture that’s created by tolerating this behavior…and it’s unacceptable. It leads to poor morale, and deviant behavior. There’s one organization and that’s the LASD. If we’re professionals, let’s act like professionals, and hold ourselves and each other to the highest standard…”


IT’S THE CONDUCT, NOT THE TATTOO

Jim Hellmold, the other LASD assistant sheriff running, was the only one on the stage who did not portray the deputy cliques as harmful.

In fact, Hellmold dismissed the notion that special tattoos or cliques were important at all.

“I’m not going to tell you old wives tales about being offered a tattoo,” he said, in a slap at Rogers who, at some point in the discussion mentioned that, as a young deputy, he’d been asked to join the infamous Regulators by a more senior deputy and, when he declined, the would-be sponsor refused to have anything more to do with him.

“We’ve made our sheriff’s department look like a bunch of gangsters and thugs to the general public,” Hellmold said, seeming curiously to imply that the fault is in the portrayal of the cliques, not in the cliques themselves.

“To me it’s about the conduct,” said Hellmold. “And I have zero tolerance for misconduct.” He explained that he knew deputies who had been shot in the line of duty “who have a tattoo. And I’ve fired deputies who did not have a tattoo.” Hellmold did stipulate that if deputies had tattoos they should not be visible. (For the record, even the worst of the LASD deputy clique tattoos are generally worn on the ankle and like areas, that not visible in work clothing.)

Later in the discussion, Hellmold switched gears, turned to McDonnell, and began making rapidfire references to the LAPD’s bad old days in the late 1990′s when the Rampart division’s gang unit was revealed to be running amok and had its own ominous-looking tattoos.

The LAPD had a group called “Shootin’ Newton,” he said. “But that didn’t meant they were all killers.”

McDonnell, whose demeanor had mostly been genial toward his fellow candidates, began to look steely. “‘Shootin’ Newton’ is not a gang,” he said. “It’s a station nickname, and it’s not professional.

Well, had McDonnell ever worn a Shootin’ Newton t-shirt?

Another laser stare look. “No. I didn’t and I never would have.”

There were more questions about what McDonnell had personally done to get rid of the LAPDs tattoo-wearing Rampart clique.

In fact, the LAPD went so far as to disband all the department’s gang units, which were known as CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums.) And, likely, more relevantly, McDonnell had been second in command under Bill Bratton when Bratton was rebooting the LAPD in order to rid it of its corrosive culture, which included the arrogant, dice-shaving, non-Constitutional policing that the Rampart CRASH elements represented.

At still another point the conversation, Rogers signaled to the moderator that he wanted to reply to Hellmold as well. He had not been talking about old wives tales, he said. “I’m talking about deputies who were ostracized when they go to the command post by the shot callers at those stations.

Olmsted broke in again and held up a photo of the Jump Out Boys tattoo which features a skull and the so-called dead man’s hand, Aces and eights, which is similar to the Rampart CRASH tattoo.). “That’s the corporate culture that we’re talking about. And it’s not acceptable,” he said. “When the public sees us with these kind of tattoos it’s unacceptable.”

And so it went. There were other lively moments in the night. But it was this segment that provided the best theater and possibly some of the best insight.



AND NOW FOR THE LOS ANGELES TIMES ENDORSEMENT

The LA Times editorial board has endorsed Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell for Los Angeles County Sheriff. But the board’s endorsement is not just an explanation of why the board members believe that McDonnell is the right man for the moment, it is also a commentary on the state of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and how the latter necessitates the selection of the former.

Here are two clips from the heart of the endorsement essay. But be sure to read the whole thing. It is too important to merely skim.

The pivotal question before voters is whether they believe the department is emerging from a chaotic but limited period in which professional standards broke down, and that with Sheriff Lee Baca’s departure and the continuing implementation of reforms urged by a citizens commission, it is now well on its way to recovery; or if instead it is continuing on a decades-long path that promotes cliques, secrecy and abuse, and needs a sweeping and dramatic change in culture.

If it’s the former situation, as some of the candidates argue, all that is needed is the right candidate from the right departmental faction to complete a sweep of troublemakers and commit to better management of the jails, and all will be well.

But if the department’s problems are not that recent or simple — and the evidence is overwhelming that they are not — what is needed is a candidate with the law enforcement credentials, the integrity, the backbone and the skills to march the deputies, their leaders and their culture through a rigorous and soul-searching reinvention, all while raising performance standards and recommitting the department to transparency and humane and constitutional treatment of suspects, inmates and the public at large.

That latter standard is the bar a candidate should meet. The one who comes closest is Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell. The Times strongly recommends a vote for McDonnell for sheriff.

Is McDonnell as good as his reputation? Does he have the will, as well as the command presence, to confront and prevail over what is sure to be resistance from entrenched elements in the Sheriff’s Department?

The Times’ editorial page is convinced. His tenure as Long Beach police chief has been short but impressive. Before that, he was a highly regarded second in command to the Los Angeles police chief, and although he was not the most publicly visible or vocal leader of the Los Angeles Police Department during the era of Rampart reforms, his leadership during that time was unmistakable to those who closely follow the LAPD. His quick mind and thoughtful analysis were apparent as he sat on the county’s Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence that cut to the heart of problems in the Sheriff’s Department and recommended decisive corrective action.

[SNIP]

Credit retired Cmdr. Robert Olmsted for his role in calling out abuse in the jails, but he is not the leader the department needs. Todd Rogers, especially, deserves notice for his commitment to community policing, and the integrity and professionalism he brings are badly needed in the department. But like other candidates, he need not hold the top spot to be part of the solution.

A note about candidate and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka: His name comes up in virtually every report or interview about command breakdown and jail violence in the last five years of Baca’s tenure. His attempts to explain some of his stunning directives — for example, his admonition to deputies to work in the “gray area” of the law and his later explanation that he meant they should use their discretion — are laughable. He is exactly the wrong person to lead the Sheriff’s Department forward.

The right person is Jim McDonnell

EDITOR’S NOTE: Tomorrow we’ll catch up on the non-LASD news.

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Paul Tanaka | 79 Comments »

Report on Monday Night’s Sheriff Candidate’s Debate Coming

April 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Monday night’s debate between five of the seven candidates
for LA County Sheriff was an unusually lively one. (Details to come.)

Posted in 2014 election, LASD | No Comments »

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