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Fed Jury Takes Less Than 90 Min to Convict Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies in Latest Jail Brutality Trial

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After three days of dramatic testimony
in the trial of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies accused of brutalizing a mentally ill jail inmate, the seven woman, five man jury deliberated for just over an hour.

The jury was given the case for deliberation at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, after nearly four hours of lengthy and contentious closing arguments.

Then, once they left the courtroom, the jurors had to settle down in the jury room, elect a jury foreperson, and hit the restrooms. After that, arriving at a unanimous decision reportedly took surprisingly little time.

Still, the lawyers from both sides of the case were startled when they got word just before 4 p.m. that the federal jury had a verdict on the charges against deputies Bryan Brunsting, 31 and Jason Branum, 35, who were accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying an allegedly unresisting schizophrenic inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor who should be criminally prosecuted.

The jury panel found Brunsting and Branum guilty on all three counts, which were, conspiracy to violate jail inmate Philip Jones’s civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsification of records.


TWO LESSONS

The jurors arrived at their verdict after closing arguments—with the prosecution going first: Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told jurors that the heart of the case was “about the defendants teaching two lessons.”

The first lesson was for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, who would be taught the lesson that “disrespect will be met with physical violence.” Jones had talked back, brief, to a female custody assistant.

And when we’re done, “we’ll have you charged” for a felony “you didn’t commit.”

The second lesson, according to Fox, was for the benefit of “honor recruit,” Joshua Sather, “the future of this sheriff’s department.” For Sather, said Fox, “it was Training Day.” The message was, he said, “we’re going to teach you how it’s done at Twin Towers.”

As part of the lesson, said Fox, Brunsting and Branum decided to test the new deputy “to see if he could be trusted” not to be a snitch. And so it was that Sather became part of the group teaching inmate Jones his lesson.

“For one day Joshua Sather passed their test with flying colors.” said Fox. But then a few days later, the promising deputy became troubled and “decided to walk away from his promising career. He decided to come forward.”

Similarly, custody assistant Porscha Singh “told the truth about what she saw” and heard.

What the defendants didn’t expect, said Fox, “was that these two people—Porscha Singh and Joshua Sather—would cross the thin blue line” to tell the truth.


JUDGE & JURY

“As long as you’re in the United States you have the right not to have excessive force used on you,” continued Fox. “You have the right not to be prosecuted with false evidence.” But for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, “‘he went down that hallway with deputies who were both judge and jury.”

Force was not justified, said Fox. “There was no law enforcement reason to beat Mr. Jones. He was not kicking or hitting. He could not escape. There was no place for him to go.”

The defendants wrote in their reports that Jones took a swing at deputy Sather. “Instead he was on the floor, curled up and crying and screaming” after being kicked in the groin, beaten, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Fox pointed to the “nearly identical reports written by Brunsting and Sather at Brunsting’s direction,” which say “that inmate Jones clenched his fists and said, ‘Fuck you and fuck that bitch in the booth!’” And then, according to the reports, said Fox, Jones “took a swing at Joshua Sather,” but Sather stepped back and dodged the punch.

“But that never happened.”

Sather never wavered on the main facts, said Fox. For instance, “he told his uncle, internal affairs, the FBI, and the grand jury about the groin kick.”

But the defense wants the jury to think that Sather would gain by calling his uncle to “make up a story where he commits multiple felonies.”

As for Singh, said Fox, “Porscha Singh knew that lying to the FBI is a crime.” So when called to the grand jury, she was about to shut down and take the fifth. Instead, “she decided to come forward and tell the truth.”

In her testimony last week, Fox pointed out, Singh admitted that she’d lied to the LASD’s internal affairs. “Now the sheriff’s department knows about it.” But she told the truth anyway.

“The defendants are not above the law. They are part of the problem,” said prosecutor Fox. “They were ready to train new deputies in how to beat and how to lie.”


LIARS, LIARS EVERYWHERE

When it was the defense’s turn, their main thesis was that the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Sather and Singh, were clumsy liars

Of Sather, Brunsting’s attorney, Richard Hirsch, said, “His testimony was dramatic,” but “would anyone buy a house from that man? Or buy a car from him—let alone a used car?”

As for Singh, “her motivation” was to give the feds “a story that would be beneficial to me.”

“But liars ought to have good memories,” said Hirsch using a phrase that he would repeat often.

Branum’s attorney, Donald Re, continued the theme.

Sather, he said, would tell you that “two experienced deputies would commit a felony” around someone “they’d known for a day and a half.”

If he [Sather] “came to your door selling magazines, you’d probably call the police.”

In fact, Donald Re said, Sather likely made the whole story up as “an excuse to give his uncle” when, after his first encounter in the “real world” of law enforcement, “he couldn’t deal.”

Before he finished Re pulled out all the stops. He brought up the many wrongful convictions we’ve seen in the news in recent years. There’s no DNA, he said, but “what if we find out (later) that there’s a video of the whole thing?” Then, “imagine hat this is a trial of a family member of yours. How would you feel about that?”

Since prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors are allowed a rebuttal closing after the defense has finished.

“You can see why people don’t want to come forward,” prosecutor Fox said to the jury, almost as an aside, as he got up for the government’s final round. “They’re treated as outcasts….”


THE VERDICT

In the end it didn’t matter. The jury didn’t buy what the defense was selling.

Instead, the jurors said later, the panel believed custody assistant Porscha Singh and former deputy Joshua Sather.

Thus they came back with a verdict after a little over an hour of discussion.

US District Judge George W. Wu will sentence the two defendants on August 22. Each faces a statutory maximum penalty of 40 years in federal prison.

As a result of today’s guilty verdicts, 21 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.

Former sheriff Lee Baca is now due to be sentenced on June 27.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will be sentenced a week earlier on June 20, both by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson..

Posted in LASD | 25 Comments »

A Federal Jury Weighs Competing “Truths” After “Honor Recruit” Deputy Tells About Kicks to the Crotch of a Mentally Ill Inmate and Other Alleged Brutality

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


COMPETING NARRATIVES & DECIDING WHOM TO BELIEVE

The most recent jail brutality case brought by the federal government against members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is, as usual, a case of whom do you believe.

In the trial that began on Tuesday of last week in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, the prosecution’s case rides on a former sheriff’s deputy named Joshua Sather who was most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer.

Thus far, 19 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County Jail system.

The defendants in this latest trial, are LASD deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum who are accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying the allegedly unresisting mentally ill inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor.

According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson also alleged in her opening statement that training officer Brunsting “set out to teach a lesson to a new deputy” about how to use and how to “get away with” excessive force. The “new deputy” was Joshua Sather.

In the course of the trial, the government produced five witnesses to support their case. But, it is Sather, and another witness named Porscha Singh, whom the prosecution most needs the jury to believe.

Conversely, for the defense to prevail, it must convince the jury that Sather and Singh are unreliable or out-and-out lying for self-serving reasons.


THE CUSTODY ASSISTANT

Porscha Singh was the first witness called by the prosecution. Singh was, at the time of the 2010 incident, a custody assistant working on the 6th floor of the Twin Towers jail. Custody assistants—or CAs—are jail workers who work for the sheriff’s department, but who are not slaw enforcement officers.

Before CA Singh began to tell her story, both she and prosecutor Dotson made clear that she did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed,” she said, “and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

Singh also told the jury that had been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring any kind of charges against her, “as long as my testimony is truthful.” If she lied, she said, “I could be sent to prison.”

Singh was the custody assistant whom schizophrenic inmate Philip Jones “disrespected,” thus setting the chain of events that allegedly led to his beating.

On the day in question, Singh said that she was stationed in “the control booth,” an elevated multi-windowed perch at one end of the 6th floor module where she generally worked, when at once she noticed that there was one more inmate than there should be in unit’s visiting center, the entrance to which was across the module from the control booth, thus in her direct line of sight.

In order to sort out the discrepancy, Singh keyed up the intercom in the visiting room and asked the inmates each to say their names then recite the last four digits of their booking numbers, so she could check IDs against the list of people who were supposed to have visitor passes. All but one of inmates dutifully complied. The inmate who failed to do so was Philip Jones who instead said, “Fuck that bitch.”

At that, according to her testimony, Singh came down out of the control room, unlocked the visiting area, and confronted inmate Jones.

“I told him ‘What the fuck was his problem?!” she said. Then she asked to see his wristband. He complied. She checked it, then went back to the booth.

And, no, Singh said in answer to prosecutor Dotson, “I was never afraid.”

She was, however, irritated. So, according to Singh, she then called out to deputy Branum who was standing within shouting range of the control booth, “Somebody needs to check that motherfucker because he has a bad attitude!”

Jason Branum allegedly told her not to worry about it, that he was going to handle it.

“Nobody disrespects my CA”—meaning custody assistant—Singh said that Branum said.

Singh said she told him to “leave it alone,” and additional F-Bomb laden words to that effect.

(Singh is short and curvy with a slightly pugnacious demeanor, and during the whole of her testimony and cross-examination, displayed a breezy verbal mastery of the art of F-bomb usage.)


LISTENING IN

Around five minutes after that exchange, according to Singh, deputies Brunsting and Branum asked her to “pop’ the door to the visiting area—-“pop” being slang for “unlock.” She popped the door, and moments later she saw Jones being escorted by the three deputies.

Q: Did you see him resist at any time? A. No.

The deputies then escorted the inmate inside another door that led to a hallway connecting two modules, but where there were no cameras. Singh said that, on instinct, she pushed the intercom button allowing her to listen in on whatever went on in the camera free connecting hallway the deputies and their charge had entered, without anyone knowing she was listening.

Sign said she first heard training officer Brunting say, “Nobody disrespects my boot CA!”

Then a voice she assumed was Jones said, “Are you guys going to mess me up?”

“Then I heard a commotion.” Finally, she said, one of the deputies put out a “415” radio call, meaning deputy involved fight. Within a minute, other deputies ran into the area. A minute or two later still a “Code 4” was broadcast on the radio meaning everything’s okay.

When it was their turn, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re did what they could to dent Singh’s credibility by pointing out some inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her grand jury testimony and noting that in an interview with the LASD’s internal affairs, she told an altogether different story.

Yet, Singh freely admitted that she had lied to internal affairs to protect herself and her deputy colleagues.


THE HONOR RECRUIT

Former deputy Joshua Sather was next. Sather is broad shouldered, on the low side of medium height, and has good bones. He did not look happy to be on the stand.

In answer to questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, Sather told the jury that when he joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, it was October of 2009, he was 23-years-old and had been working in Colorado as a paralegal, but felt he wanted a more meaningful career.

I wanted to do something to help people,” he said. It was this desire that led him to law enforcement.

Sather’s uncle, his father’s brother, was a gang detective at the department’s Carson station, and told his nephew he loved what he did and that the LASD was a good place to work. “My uncle had an influence,” said Sather.

Sather told how, after he was accepted into the department, he went through 19 weeks of academy training along with approximately 49 other recruits. Upon graduating in February of 2010, was selected as the “honor recruit,” which meant, he explained when Fox probed, he was the top performer in all areas in his class.

After graduation, he went through a few additional weeks of training to work in the county’s jails, where nearly all newly-minted deputies are stationed for a few years before they can transfer to patrol. In March of 2010, he started at the Twin Towers, the newer custody facility built next to the county’s decrepit and infamously troubled, Men’s Central Jail.

All new deputies are assigned to training officers. But a day or two after Sather began work, his training officer’s wife had a baby, and he took paternity leave.

Sather‘s second T.O. was Bryan Brunsting.


BAD KICKS

On March 22, 2010, when the event in question occurred, Sather said he had been on the job about seven days, and was working with some other deputies on the 4th floor of the jail when he said he received a call from Brunsting, who told him to return to the 6th floor’s 161 unit, where he was met by Brunsting, Branum and a third deputy.

It was then, according to Sather, that Brunsting talked of the necessity to teach inmate Jones “a lesson.”

Sather described how the door to the interconnecting hallway area that Singh had described earlier was opened and inmate Jones was directed by Brunsting to go down the hallway.

As the door to the hallway closed, effectively locking the group into the narrow passage, according to Sather, Jones took a few steps then turned and said, “Oh, shit. I’m going to get my ass kicked!” Or words to that general effect.

“Then he began running down the hallway toward the door at the far end.” But that door was closed and locked.

“I ran after him and tackled him,” said Sather. Then he described striking Jones in the ribs and legs “because we were teaching him a lesson.”

Jones was not resisting in any way, according to Sather. Not kicking, attempting to punch, simply going limp and attempting to protect himself with his hands.

At that point, Sather stood up, because, “the inmate wasn’t doing anything.”

But Brunsting reportedly indicated that things weren’t finished.

Sather then said he saw Brunsting spread the inmate’s legs. “And then he kicked him hard in his privates.”

Jones cried out, according to Sather, and curled sow-bug-like into a fetal position in reaction to the pain of the kick.

“He was crying like a little kid who’s hurting but is also scared.”

Sather remembers more blows being directed toward the still unresisting Jones.

Sometime after that, according to Sather, deputy Branum pepper-sprayed Jones directly into his face.

As much of this activity went on, Sather said, he heard the other deputies say, “Stop resisting, stop resisting.”

Eventually the “lesson” was over, Brunsting radioed and more deputies arrived. As they came, Sather helped to handcuff Jones.

Then the inmate was escorted to the infirmary by yet another deputy, and was treated for injuries.


REPORTS, REVISIONS & RESIGNATIONS

Next, according to Sather, Brunsting ordered the beating participants to convene in the observation booth. Once there, custody assistant Singh was asked to leave, so the rest could sort out what should appear in the various incident reports that were required after any use of force. Brunsting told Sather he was to write the primary report, so he could learn how it was done, with Brunsting and Branum writing the “supplementary reports.”

According to Sather, Brunsting gave him his own report to use as a model. After writing several rejected drafts, Sather said, he eventually wrote a report that matched Brunsting’s almost word-for-word.

The jury was able to see both reports—Brunsting’s and Sather’s—which each described a violently uncooperative Jones who verbally and physically assaulted two of the deputies and was restrained only with great difficulty and a 3-5 second blast of oleoresin capsicum spray, also known as OC spray or pepper spray.

“Was what you wrote true?” prosecutor Fox asked Sather after the deputy read multiple passages from the matching reports in front of the jury.

“No, sir,” said Sather.

“So why did you write it?”

“I was told to do it.”

Eventually, the reports were approved by Brunsting and turned in to the proper higher-ups. Yet when Sather got home, he said his involvement with the beatdown of inmate Jones and the reports that followed, “began to bother me.”

In a state of upset he called his uncle and told him what had happened.

The next day, Sather resigned. When asked to explain his reason for leaving, he said he told the jail’s then watch commander, Lt. Elisabeth Sachs, that he needed to go back to Colorado because of a family matter involving his brother, none of which was true.

So, why didn’t he tell Lt. Sachs about the beating? asked Fox.

“I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be a snitch.”

The lieutenant told Sather to take his upcoming weekend days and think matters over, that she would hold on to the resignation paperwork until he returned on March 28, at which time he could make a final decision.

Sather’s uncle and his dad took the unhappy deputy to Las Vegas for the weekend to talk things through. (The dad lives in Colorado, so Las Vegas was considered a sort of midpoint, Sather explained.)

But, despite all the talking, after they all came home, on March 28, Sather called Lt. Sachs and asked her to put through the paperwork for his resignation.

A week later, according to Sather, his uncle persuaded him that, if he was leaving, he owed it to himself and to the department to tell some LASD higher up the truth about why he was leaving.

So on April 6, Sather gave an accounting of the events of March 22, including the beating of inmate Jones and the subsequent allegedly false reports, to Captain Anthony Ward.

A few months later, he was interviewed by internal affairs, to whom Sather said he was far less truthful.

A few months later still, the FBI contacted Sather in the course of their ongoing investigation into brutality in the jails, and interviewed him where he was, by then, living back in Colorado.


“TRUTH” VERSUS “TRUTH”

As with Singh, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re energetically fished out any inconsistencies between the various accounts Sather gave to the LASD Captain, to the grand jury, and to internal affairs.

In closing arguments that will take place Monday morning, the defense is expect to tell the jury that Sather—perhaps together with his detective uncle—completely fabricated the account of a non-resisting Jones being viciously and unnecessarily beaten, for his own purposes.

(Uncle Michael Sather was one of the prosecution’s additional witnesses. Lt. Sachs was the defense team’s sole witness.)

The defense is also expected to argue that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity. 


During closing, the prosecution will counter with its own narrative of the beating of mentally ill inmate Philip Jones.

And then, likely around noon on Monday, the case will go to the jury who will, in turn, decide whose story to believe.


POST SCRIPT:

One thing that the jury will not hear is the fact that the feds have a second case of jail brutality filed against Brunsting. The alleged incident occurred on August 20, 2009 and, it too, involved a deputy trainee who was allegedly asked to falsify incident reports, accusing the inmate of assaulting deputies, rather than the other way around. The charges are mentioned, in brief, in the original indictment, but then were severed into a separate case by the judge. One assumes that the question of whether or not the prosecutors will actually bring this additional case to trial will likely depend on the outcome of the trial that ends on Monday.

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

The Twin Towers Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Continues With More Courtroom Drama to Come

May 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



The latest federal trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department
accused of brutalizing jail inmates has been unfolding since Tuesday (with one day off due to an attorney’s sudden illness), and is expected to wrap up closing arguments on Monday.

As you may remember, the defendants in this newest courtroom drama are two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, who are charged with beating, kicking, and pepper spraying a reportedly non-resistant, mentally ill inmate named Phillip Jones in order to ‘teach” Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant in the county’s Twin Towers jail facility.

The government’s star witness is a third deputy named Joshua Sather who had been out of the sheriff’s academy and on the job at the jail for only a week, with Brunting was his training officer. According to Sather, he was told by Brunting to participate in the beating, and then directed afterward to write a false report blaming the inmate as the out-of-control aggressor.

But then the night after the beating, according to prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson, Sather “developed a conscience.”

According to the defense, it wasn’t a conscience that Sather developed, but “a fabrication,” for self-serving reasons of his own.

Another crucial witness is Porscha Singh, the custody assistant who was the object of the inmate’s insult. Singh was compelled to testify by U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, and given immunity by the feds, as long as she testified truthfully. When on the stand, she told the jury the did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

She said she had also been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring charges against her, “…as long as my testimony is truthful.”

Defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re maintained that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity.

Witness testimony continues on Friday, and we’ll have a full report for you on Monday, so….stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 8 Comments »

LASD Deputies Sentenced in Jail Abuse Trial

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Monday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months, respectively, in a federal prison for falsifying incident reports. The two deputies were also charged with (but ultimately, not convicted of) assault for allegedly punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips, on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez reportedly falsified reports after the beating, in order to portray the mentally ill Phillips as the violent, out-of-control aggressor.

Aguiar and Ramirez were convicted only of the latter charge of falsifying the reports. The charges of wrongly beating Phillips resulted in a hung jury, with 10 jurors voting to convict.

Why did two jurors decline to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of unlawfully beating Phillips if they unanimously voted to convict the deputies of falsifying their official reports?

Jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli shared some of the things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict the men of assault.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

The forewoman said the two holdouts were also bothered by perceived inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. Maestez testified that he had seen the beating, and been very disturbed by it, but had not wanted to testify (and received nothing in exchange for his testimony).

Speaking personally, Giampaoli said that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

In handing down the sentences, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the defendants used excessive force. O’Connell also said she bought the accounts of the prosecution’s two main eyewitnesses.

On the other hand, Judge O’Connell noted that Aguiar, who is now 29, was much younger at the time of the Feb. 2009 beating, and had no other criminal record. And, Ramirez, a 40-year old father of two, had overcome a difficult background, and also had no prior criminal record. So, she said she gave the two a break, handing down less than the 2 years called for by sentencing guidelines. (In addition to the prison time, both men must also do 100 hours of community service.)

Still, O’Connell said, “there has to be a penalty.”

When he spoke to the judge, Aguiar said his family feared for his safety if he was to go to prison, because of his background in law enforcement.

“Phillips feared for his safety,” the judge replied, referring to the mentally ill inmate whom Aguiar and Ramirez were accused of beating and unnecessarily pepper spraying, even though his hands were handcuffed to a waist chain. “You put his life in danger.’ And the defendant’s actions resulted in charges against the victim, said O’Connell.

Both the of the defense attorneys—Vicki Podberesky, representing Ramirez, and Evan Janesse, counsel for Aguiar—questioned why the two deputies should get sentences that were so much higher that the 0 to 6-month sentence that is laid out in the plea deal that former Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted.

“It’s troubling,” said Judge O’Connell, looking, well…troubled. But, she noted, Judge Percy Anderson has yet to actually sentence Baca, possibly implying that Anderson could decide to go outside the agreed upon sentencing guidelines. (Both Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to be sentenced on different days in June.)

When O’Connell asked federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins about Baca’s far lower proposed sentence, Williams said the matter was “apples and oranges.” In Baca’s case, Williams said, there was no use of force at issue, and Baca is elderly—73 years old. Moreover, Baca admitted to what he’d done before the deal was made, whereas Aguiar and Ramirez had not admitted to using undue force. And if the charges of excessive force were not true, why did they need to falsify their reports?

Jenness, Aguiar’s defense attorney, broke in to opine that the Baca sentence was not apples and oranges, but “politics.”

When the sentences were announced, there were lots of tears from the family members of Aguiar and Ramirez who filled several rows in the courtroom.

“Our whole system relies on the fact that police officers swear to uphold the law,” O’Connell told Ramirez and the rest of the observers.

Posted in LASD | 16 Comments »

Latest LA County Sheriff’s Dept. Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Begins Tuesday

May 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, jury selection begins for one more federal trial
involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of abusing jail inmates.

The incident in question, which occurred at the county’s Twin Towers Correctional Facility, involves an LASD training officer named Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, a young deputy who was under Brunsting’s supervision.

According to the federal indictment, on March 22, 2010, Brunsting allegedly ordered Branum—and another unnamed deputy identified as Deputy B— to assault an inmate named Philip Jones for “verbally disrespecting” a custody assistant. Brunting and Branum then reportedly escorted inmate Philip Jones to an out-of-the-way area that was “not visible to others in the module.” And then, according to the indictment, the three hit, kicked, pepper sprayed “and otherwise assaulted” Jones for his perceived disrespect.

After the incident, Brunting allegedly guided Branum and “Deputy B” in writing up reports that would portray Jones as the aggressor in the situation, to the point that Jones would be charged criminally.

The implication was that the alleged beating and cover-up was not isolated, but that Brunting routinely instructed his trainees in the art of retaliation against perceived slights or acts of “disrespect,” along with methods of disguising any questionable beatings as necessary uses of force to control aggressive inmates.

Deputy B, as it turns out, is Joshua Sather, a then-23-year-old deputy who, at the time, was reportedly only a few weeks out of the academy, who graduated at the top of his recruit class, and who resigned from the department six days after the beating incident. Prior to resigning over the alleged incident, Sather told his uncle, a veteran LASD detective, that his supervisor made him beat up a mentally ill inmate, and then told him to lie about the beating in a report.

The uncle, Steven Sather, after hearing his nephew’s story, drove to twin Towers and had words with Brunsting, about making his nephew “beat up ‘dings,’ ” slang for mentally ill or mentally disabled.

(Robert Faturechi, writing for the LA Times, broke the story of Sather, the “muscled, tattooed rookie” who was deeply distressed at what he was allegedly being “trained” to do, and the detective uncle attempted to protect his nephew from allegedly unethical training officers.)

Following Sather’s allegations, LASD officials launched an investigation and, as had become all too predictable, the department concluded that this had merely been a case of an uncooperative inmate being subdued with appropriate force. The DA’s office also declined to file charges.

The FBI, which was already investigating reports of brutality in the jails, was not so willing to dismiss the deputy’s account so easily.

Now, six years later, Sather will likely be the federal prosecutors’ most crucial witness.

Here’s the indictment that outlines the charges.

The trial comes approximately ten months after the county signed a far reaching agreement for reform with the U.S. Department of Justice concerning the sheriff’s department’s failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment for mentally ill inmates inside the county’s jail system. The agreement, signed in August 2015, was the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners,” specifically the mentally ill.

The trial also comes a little over a year after the settlement of a massive class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU—-Rosas v. Baca—-which alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails.

More on the new trial later this week.


MONDAY MORNING SENTENCING FOR FORMER SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES IN PREVIOUS JAIL BEATING CASE

And while we’re on the topic of jail abuse and cover-ups, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies, Joey Aguiar, and Mariano Ramirez, will be sentenced on Monday morning by U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, pursuant to their conviction in early February of falsifying reports against Men’s Central Jail inmate, Bret Phillips, portraying Phillips as the aggressor in a 2009 use of force incident that resulted in the inmate being beaten with fists, sprayed with pepper spray, and struck multiple times with a flashlight, according to the deputies’ own accounts.

The Aguiar/Ramirez verdict was confusing in that the jury voted to convict Aguiar and Ramirez of falsifying official reports, but also acquitted the deputies on the charge of conspiring to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights.

Then, on a third charge for the alleged beating of Phillips—who according to the government’s witnesses was nonresistant—–ten jurors voted to convict, while two voted to acquit, producing a mistrial on the single count.

Federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins originally planned retry the deputies on the beating charge.

The retrial was prevented when, a few days after the verdict, a deal was struck in which Assistant U.S. Attorneys Williams and Jenkins agreed not to retry. In return, Aguiar and Ramirez, along with their attorneys, Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, agreed not to appeal the deputies’ convictions, or to in any other way challenge them.

Aguiar and Ramirez are expected to receive sentences of around two years in a federal prison.

The case was differed from lot of jail beating allegations in that the 2009 incident was witnessed by a civilian, Chaplain Paulino Juarez, who has been working as a Catholic chaplain at LA County’s Men’s Central Jail since 1998.

The Aguiar/Ramirez sentencing and the new Brunting/Branum trial echo each other in certain ways in that both alleged victims were classified as mentally ill.

More after the sentencing.

Posted in LASD | 7 Comments »

Tom Angel Timeline, Asset Forfeiture, Deputies Shooting into Cars, and a Story of Reconciliation

May 5th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA DAILY NEWS ASKS WHY IT TOOK FOUR DAYS FOR LASD TO BOOT TOM ANGEL

Last week, news broke via the LA Times about racist, sexist, and anti-Muslim emails that Tom Angel, the chief of staff for LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, forwarded between 2012 and 2013 while he worked for the Burbank Police Department. At first, Sheriff McDonnell said he did not plan to discipline Angel because the incidents did not occur within the sheriff’s department. The news dismayed department members and advocates alike, who felt that not holding a higher-up like Angel responsible for his actions sent a questionable message to rank-and-file as well as the public.

Four days later, Angel tendered his resignation.

The LA Daily News editorial board wants to know: what took so long for McDonnell to dump Angel?

Police and sheriff’s departments must apply the law without discrimination. Being found to have passed along a joke like that raises serious doubt about at least one cop’s ability to do this.

We mean serious. This isn’t about political incorrectness, but about how the appearance of racism can jeopardize convictions, potentially helping criminals to go free and wasting public money.

The idea that a high-ranked official thinks the high incarceration rates of African Americans and Latinos is a topic for jest is especially harmful to an agency that runs the county jails. An agency trying to recover from, among other scandals, the finding that deputies engaged in racial profiling in the Antelope Valley.

[SNIP]

Now who’s disappointed? Only everybody who has seen McDonnell as an effective antidote to the corruption that grew under former Sheriff Lee Baca.

The good news is that McDonnell finally did recognize that Angel had to go, and the sheriff used the occasion of Angel’s resignation to announce that he would “turn this situation into a learning opportunity for all LASD personnel,” emphasize “ethnic sensitivity and professionalism,” and hold meetings with county groups to discuss tolerance.

The bad news is that McDonnell didn’t seem to recognize the severity of the problem until pressure from Muslim and minority leaders built up.


US REP. DARRELL ISSA CALLS ON CONGRESS TO COMBAT UNFAIR ASSET FORFEITURE PRACTICES

In California, police cannot keep assets under $25,000 unless the owner is convicted, and for amounts above $25,000, officers have to be able to give “clear and convincing evidence” beyond a reasonable doubt, that the cash or property was connected to a crime.

But California (and other states) circumvent their own forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes local law enforcement agencies to bring feds into an investigation, and thus be able to skirt state restrictions against using seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, not actual convictions. The federal program was suspended in December due to budget cuts, but was brought back to life last month.

In an op-ed for the LA Times, US Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) urges Congress to take action against the Equitable Sharing Program, and calls for a higher burden of proof to be required before property can be seized, to thwart “treasure hunting” police who are “beefing up their budgets on the backs of innocent Americans.” Here’s a clip:

Civil asset forfeiture allows police to seize property as long as they believe that the assets in question were somehow connected to criminal activity.

“As long as they believe” — that’s the key part.

Authorities don’t have to actually prove the person was guilty of a crime. They don’t have to even file charges. The presumption of innocence is thrown to the wayside.

It’s an egregious violation of the 4th Amendment, but that’s not even the most glaring problem with the system.

Under current law, most states allow police departments to absorb up to 100% of the value of the confiscated property — whether it’s cash, cars, houses or guns — and use the proceeds to pad their budgets. It’s an obvious conflict of interest — and boy, is it profitable for law enforcement agencies.

In 2014, the latest year for which data is available, police officers took more property from American citizens under civil asset forfeiture ($5 billion) than criminals took in burglaries ($3.5 billion), according to research from the Institute for Justice.

Granted, there’s a lot of nuance to these statistics. The numbers don’t include state seizures — just federal seizures — and they exclude other types of theft, such as larceny. But the central point here remains: Civil asset forfeiture is dangerously profitable, prompting civic leaders, lawmakers and state legislatures to consider significant reform.

In 1994, California attempted to rein in civil asset forfeiture abuse, passing a bill that requires a criminal conviction before police can seize assets worth up to $25,000, and that caps the amount of money authorities can keep at no more than 65% of the total.

But unless Congress takes action, state efforts to stop civil forfeiture abuse mean very little.


LASD DEPUTIES SHOOT AT SUSPECTS IN MOVING CARS FAR MORE OFTEN THAN LAPD, DESPITE POLICY RESTRICTIONS

Back in 2005, both the Los Angeles Police Department and the LA County Sheriff’s Department made policies against shooting at moving vehicles.

But while the LAPD shot into vehicles only twice between 2010 and 2014, members of the LASD shot into moving cars at least nine times during that time, according to an investigation by KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson with Aaron Mendelson.

The deputies involved justified the shootings by saying that they feared they would be hit by the cars. In only one of the nine instances of LASD deputies shooting into cars was the suspect armed. “We are probably shooting at moving vehicles too much,” Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told KPCC.

WLA reported on one such shooting of an unarmed 18-year-old in Studio City by a deputy and a DEA agent in plainclothes. (Read the two-part story of the death of Zac Champommier: here and here.)

Here’s a clip from the KPCC story:

KPCC based its investigation on Los Angeles District Attorney narratives, civil litigation records, deputy discipline archives, press releases, interviews with individuals shot by officers and their family members as well as law enforcement officials and policy experts. Among the shootings since 2010:

- Deputy Benjamin Alvarado shot and wounded Darren Thompson after he fled a traffic stop in 2010. Deputies suspected him in a nearby burglary.

- Detective Rudolpho Santana fired at Anthony Michael Axe in 2012 after he fled a questioning about an assault with a firearm and backed his RV into a patrol car, which was positioned to block him in. Axe died.

- Deputy Cuauhtemoc Gonzalez shot and wounded Gonzalo Martinez in 2013. He was with a friend allegedly spray painting when the deputy arrived. The driver of the car said he was trying to get away when a deputy opened fire.

“I feel the department itself was using that excuse—that I was trying to run him over—when all I was doing was trying to leave,” said Michael Lobrono, a 38-year-old construction worker and delivery driver.

Lobrono was shot by Deputy Ray Huang in 2013. Huang had detained Lobrono’s girlfriend, Lisa Puente, in Walnut on suspicion of burglary and Lobrono pulled up to the scene in his truck.

“I got upset, and I flipped him off,” Lobrono said. Then he tried to speed off and the deputy opened fire. Deputy Huang said he was standing in the street near his patrol car when the truck came towards him, according to D.A. records.

Lobrono said he tried to duck, but a bullet penetrated the back of his arm and continued to tear through his flesh until it came to rest in his chest, where it remains today.

Huang did not respond to KPCC’s requests for comment, but told district attorney investigators he thought Lobrono was going to hit him with his truck.

Lobrono was still recovering when prosecutors charged him with “threat with a deadly weapon.” The “weapon” was his truck. A jury acquitted Loborno of criminal charges and he sued, alleging excessive force. He settled for $335,000 though county officials maintained the shooting was within policy.

“No systemic issues were identified,” wrote Scott Johnson, then captain of the Risk Management Bureau, to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors of the settlement in 2014. “Consequently no further personnel-related administrative action was taken, and no other corrective action measures are recommended nor contemplated.”

Sean Van Leeuwen, vice president of the deputies’ union, declined to comment on specific cases but said there are steps the Sheriff’s department can take to prevent shooting: “Training. Training. Training.”

“When was the last time you trained us on how to shoot at a moving vehicle or how to avoid shooting at a moving vehicle?” asked Van Leeuwen, who is also a field training officer. “The answer will probably be never.”


SF JAIL PROGRAM BRINGS VICTIMS AND OFFENDERS TOGETHER FOR HEALING THROUGH SHARING STORIES

As part of the Resolve To Stop Violence Program (RSVP), inmates at the San Francisco County Jail in San Bruno meet with victims of crime. Through these painful stories, the victims connect with the inmates—many of whom were often victims themselves before they became offenders.

In one such example, a father and son shared their story of trauma, abuse, crime, and ultimately, healing. Joe Loya Jr. was convicted of robbing multiple banks in the ’80s, and spent seven years in federal prison (including two years in solitary) but his story begins much earlier than that. When Joe Loya Jr. was nine years old, his mother died. Unable to process his grief, Joe Loya Sr., once a loving father, started beating his sons. After one particularly bad beating, Joe Loya Jr. stabbed his father in the neck

KQED’s Sandhya Dirks has the story. Here’s a clip:

After the beating, Joe Loya Sr. left the house. Joe Jr. remembers locking his brother in a bathroom and going to the kitchen and grabbing a steak knife. He describes going to his bedroom, hiding the knife underneath his pillow and then waiting for his father to come home. It was as if he took the lessons of violence he learned and put them to work.

“He comes to the bedroom door and it’s round two, I think. And I stand up and I pull out the knife. He tells me to put the knife down. One thing leads to another, we wrestle in the middle of the room, and I end up getting the better of him,” Joe Jr. says. He had stabbed his father in the neck.

He remembers twisting the blade, trying to break it off. He remembers his father falling on the ground, yelling out, “You killed me, you killed me!”

“So up until now, I’ve been a victim. And now like, whoa, that felt interesting. Everything comes out. And as soon as it hit, I felt power. And I liked that feeling,” Joe Jr. says.

Joe Jr. was not charged with anything, and after the stabbing he and his brother were sent to foster care for a little bit. He ended up back in his father’s house, but not for long. Soon he was out on his own, and he turned to crime, making victims as a way to never be one again.

The jail room is quiet. Some men stare at their feet, others watch Joe Jr. intensely. And then he does something I don’t think the men were expecting.

He invites his father to speak. “This is Joe Loya Sr.,” he tells them. “I love him very much — show him respect.”

Where Joe Jr., is big and brash, Joe Sr. is shorter, a slender man with an elegant figure. It doesn’t seem possible that this is the same man who was as violent as Joe Jr. described.

But Joe Sr. admits to what he did, everything. It wasn’t easy, and it didn’t happen overnight, but it was his idea to accompany his son on jail visits like this.

“I did beat him up, and I did punch him,” Joe Sr. says. “I never should have, that was way over the line. I was angry, I don’t want to go into details why, because it’s just an excuse, it’s just another excuse why I was angry. I hit him, and I remember very clearly that when he stabbed me, I was in shock.”

Joe Sr. touches the wound that his son left in the back of his neck. He says that every now and then he touches it, feels the scar, and it all comes flooding back — the fight, that night, all of it.

“When it happened I was completely in shock. But when he turned the knife, I said, ‘What an asshole.’ That’s how I felt. He didn’t have to turn the knife — he already had it in there.”

Joe Sr. says what he remembered then was a “moment of enormous clarity.”

He remembered when he was a young parent, not much older than 16, coming home from work, and little Joe Jr. was banging on his high chair, so thrilled to see his father.

“I said, ‘We’ve gone from that to this. Who’s responsible?’ ” Joe Sr. pounds his chest for emphasis. “I was.”

“I had a beautiful little guy that loved me, that when he saw me would run to me — Daddy, Daddy — and now he’s put a knife in my neck. There is no book that’s given to a child, ‘Here’s how you can dust your dad.’ Nobody gets that book. We make that book in the heart of a child.”

Now they are working to rewrite the ending as a love story. Joe Jr. says this rewriting is possible in part because he recognized that his father’s pain was so similar to his own, that they were both shaped by the loss of his mother. It’s possible in part because Joe had a daughter, and they made a decision — that it ends here.

But they had to start sharing their stories in words — rather than blows — in order to make that shift.

Posted in LASD | 36 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Department Chief of Staff Tom Angel Resigns Over Racist and Anti-Muslim Email Controversy

May 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Tom Angel, who is the chief of staff for LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell, has just resigned his post, according to a statement released on Sunday afternoon by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The resignation comes after news broke last week via the LA Times about racist, sexist, and anti-muslim emails Angel forwarded between 2012 and 2013 when he worked for the Burbank Police Department. Angel worked for the LASD for 33 years before retiring and taking a position as second in command at the Burbank PD. Then after Sheriff McDonnell took office in December 2014, he recruited Angel to be his right hand.

In the statement released Sunday, McDonell said the following:

“Very recently I learned that three to four years ago LASD Chief Tom Angel shared inappropriate and unprofessional e-mails with others, during his service as Burbank Police Department Assistant Chief. This incident is one that I find deeply troubling. Chief Angel has offered his resignation, and I have accepted it. I thank him for his many years of service, and wish him and his family well.

“Despite the Sheriff’s Department’s many recent efforts to fortify public trust and enhance internal and external accountability and transparency, this incident reminds us that we and other law enforcement agencies still have work to do. I intend to turn this situation into a learning opportunity for all LASD personnel.”

While Angel was reportedly well liked in the department, and the emails were sent several years ago when he was no longer with the LASD, many in and around the department expressed concern when news of the emails became public, and the sheriff said he did not plan to discipline Angel. Critics argued that, if a higher-up such as Angel was not in some significant way held responsible for forwarding email “jokes” on a work computer that were racist and derogatory about Muslims, it sent a problematic message to the rank-and-file and to the communities policed by the LASD, especially since this administration was elected with a reformist mandate.

Justice advocates expressed even stronger objections to the idea that Angel’s actions were being given what appeared to be a pass by the sheriff.

Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, wrote a letter late last week saying that the So Cal ACLU felt that “the only appropriate response is Angel’s resignation or dismissal.”

Like others, Villagra pointed to the fact that McDonnell ran for office “vowing to clean up a department plagued by decades of corruption, violence and impunity. He has pledged to seek out ‘the right people with the right moral compass in hiring, promotions, training, mentoring and supervising our people.’ Yet here, he has chosen to ignore behavior that is contrary to those goals…”

Advocates also found it disturbing that, as Villagra noted, “Angel’s attempt to apologize was couched in a denunciation of the Public Records Act. ‘I apologize if I offended anybody,’ he told the Los Angeles Times, ‘but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.’”

For a person serving near to the top of a public agency not to understand that all of his or her workplace activity is rightly subject to public scrutiny was….startling.

In Sunday’s statement, McDonnell also said he would be “meeting with constituent groups throughout the county to share thoughts and ideas about improving our understanding of the varied cultures and orientations and deepening our appreciation of the many ethnicities and religions that are part of the vibrant fabric of the population we serve.”

He said the department would also assess existing policies and training to ensure “accountability” on such issues. McDonnell added that the department would implement a new system of random audits of the e-mail accounts of LASD personnel.

LA County Supervisor had this to say after the news broke about Angel’s resignation: “..While I support the deputy’s decision, there is still much work to be done. We must move forward and strive for a law enforcement work culture that values diversity and promotes tolerance.”

Posted in LASD | 56 Comments »

A Top LASD Official’s Racist and Sexist Emails

April 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S CHIEF OF STAFF, TOM ANGEL, FORWARDED RASIST CHAIN EMAILS

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s chief of staff, Tom Angel, forwarded emails filled with racist, anti-Muslim, and sexist “jokes,” during his time as second in command at the Burbank Police Department between 2012-2013, according to city records obtained by the LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Alene Tchekmedyian. (As it happens, Angel was hired to help reform the Burbank PD, which had been mired in allegations of racism, abuse, and sexual harassment.)

One of the emails lists 20 reasons Muslim terrorists “are so quick to commit suicide.” The reasons include: no nude women, rags for clothes, towels for hats, constant wailing from some idiot in a tower, you can’t wash off the smell of donkey, your wife smells worse than your donkey, and you cook over burning camel shit.

In another email forwarded by Angel, one “joke” reads, “I took my Biology exam last Friday. I was asked to name two things commonly found in cells. Apparently, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Mexicans’ were NOT the correct answers.”

Another reads, “As I went into my bank, I walked past a black kid sitting at a bus stop. When I came out, he looked at me and said, ‘Any change, sir?’ I said, ‘Nope, you’re still black.’”

When asked about the matter, Angel told the LA Times that “anybody” will forward emails they shouldn’t in the workplace, now and then. “I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”

Angel was a member of the LASD for 33 years. After his retirement, Angel then spent five years with the Burbank PD, during which time the racist emails were sent. In 2015, Sheriff McDonnell brought back to the LASD as chief of staff as an at-will employee, which. according to an LASD spokesman, means that Angel can be fired or demoted without the protection of civil service rules.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), told WitnessLA that more is called for to address the email revelations. Moriguchi suggested that the sheriff and Angel should immediately visit community groups affected by the offensive emails and apologize. Angel has only visited one Muslim group, according to the LA Times, and the sheriff has reportedly scheduled meetings with community groups that will take place next week.

“The other big concern is whether the sheriff is going to treat Tom Angel differently than the rest of his employees,” said Moriguchi. With this in mind, he said that Angel might send a video message to the department members apologizing for “bringing disgrace on the department.” Some kind of action is needed, Moriguchi said.

Sheriff McDonnell told the LA Times that the released emails are a “teaching moment,” and that all who are familiar with Angel would characterize him as “professional and respectful of everyone” he comes into contact with.

“Chief Angel’s decision-making and actions in his long prior career with the Sheriff’s Department and since his return in 2015 reveal more about his actual character and typical good judgment than the instances from four years prior currently reported in the media,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Although there is no doubt that such instances, if occurring within the Sheriff’s Department, would result in disciplinary action, there is also no doubt that Chief Angel understands and respects that fact.”

Another well-placed department member, who asked not to be named, said that, from what he is hearing, the Angel emails are a very big deal indeed.

“Everyone working patrol is watching to see what the sheriff will do.” They want to know, he said, if there is one set of rules for those close to Sheriff McDonnell and a completely different set for the rank and file.

In addition, the source said, those on patrol are the one’s who have to deal with anger from the communities who feel that the department will tolerate these kinds of “jokes.”

You can find all of the emails that the Times obtained: here.


WILLIE WILLIAMS, FIRST BLACK LAPD CHIEF, DIES AT 72

Willie Williams, who took over as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, has died. Williams was the first African American to serve as LAPD Chief.

Williams died in Fayetteville, GA, after battling pancreatic cancer.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has more on Willie’s life and legacy in Los Angeles. Here’s a clip:

The challenge facing Williams was all the more daunting given his predecessor, Daryl F. Gates, a deeply polarizing figure who had won fierce loyalty from rank-and-file officers but had long been criticized as running the LAPD like a brutish, occupying quasi-military force that mistreated blacks and other minorities.

“Willie Williams was appointed to do some healing, and in many ways he succeeded, building and rebuilding positive, constructive relationships between the African American community and the police,” said John Mack, a longtime civil rights leader who served on the city’s civilian Police Commission. “But the deck was stacked against him from the start. The Los Angeles Police Department was not ready to accept him for two reasons: He was an outsider and he was African American.”

Chosen by then-Mayor Tom Bradley to replace Gates over several high-ranking LAPD officials, Williams arrived promising to follow the same blueprint he had used to run the Philadelphia department. At the heart of the plan was his belief in community policing, a relatively novel idea at the time that emphasized the need for police to integrate themselves closely into the communities they serve in order to build trust.

It was a message that resonated with residents, as polls showed Williams enjoyed strong approval ratings among residents throughout the city. City officials praised him for stabilizing the department and repairing its reputation.

Williams showed a willingness to fight for changes. He pushed for increased hiring of female officers and spoke out about the need to address rampant sexual harassment and discrimination within the ranks. He increased the size of the department and advocated for reforms drawn up in 1991 by the Christopher Commission, which had been formed by Bradley after the King beating to review LAPD training, discipline and complaint systems.

But doubts and resistance to Williams’ leadership soon took root…

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 72 Comments »

White House Recognizes LASD, Reentry Week, LASD Deputy Cleared of Felony Charges in Inmate Beatings, Tackling Bail

April 26th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

WHITE HOUSE HONORS LA COUNTY FOR IMPLEMENTING ONE OF THREE MODELS FOR TRANSPARENT POLICING

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is among 53 jurisdictions participating in the Obama Administration’s Police Data Initiative (PDI), which focuses on data as a means to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community trust.

At a PDI event, the White House honored three jurisdictions with model programs, including LA County, which was was recognized for its data sharing project.

The county’s open data program publishes detailed information on deputy-involved shootings, including incident date and location, suspect’s age, race, mental health concerns, criminal history, whether the suspect was wounded or killed, on probation or parole, under the influence, weapons involved, the number of involved deputies, whether force and tactics were within policy, and whether the deputy received training or discipline.

The other California jurisdictions involved in the initiative are the cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Rosa, Vallejo, Oakland, Richmond, Menlo Park, and Chula Vista.


MORE FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: HUNDREDS OF EVENTS IN LOS ANGELES AND ACROSS THE NATION MARK NATIONAL REENTRY WEEK

The US Department of Justice has designated this week (April 24-30) National Reentry Week. The 94 United States Attorney’s Offices and Bureau of Prison facilities are holding more than 570 events across the country aimed at improving outcomes for people touched by the criminal justice system.

As part of National Reentry Week, the DOJ and Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced a pot of $1.75 million to go to Public Housing Authorities teamed up with non-profits to help youthful offenders successfully return to their communities, by helping them with housing and employment.

The Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles in collaboration with the non-profit Public Counsel, was selected as one of the 18 grant recipients, and was awarded $100,000. LA’s project will be bolstered by an in-kind match of $1,390,650 ($1.3M of that funding will come from the Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development), which will provide case management for hundreds of youth. (Read more on the individual local efforts: here.)

“The future of our nation depends upon the future of our young people – including young people who have become involved with our justice system,” said Attorney General Lynch. “By helping justice-involved youth find decent jobs and stable housing after they return home, these critical grants provide a foundation for a fresh start and offer a path towards productivity and purpose.”


LASD DEPUTY CLEARED ON FELONY ASSAULT, CONVICTED OF MISDEMEANOR ASSAULT, IN JAIL BEATINGS

On Monday, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Jermaine Jackson, accused of beating three jail inmates—Cesar Campana, Derek Griscavage and Jonathan Murray—in separate incidents between 2009-2011, was acquitted of the final felony charge in a string of charges against him.

Jackson was acquitted of three felony counts of assault likely to cause great bodily injury, three felony counts of assault by a public officer, and three felony counts of filing a false report, but was convicted of three misdemeanor counts of simple assault.

Jackson says he punched Murray in the eye after the inmate kicked him in the groin. He also says he punched Campana in the ear and kicked him in the head while trying to gain control.

During the trial, Deputy District Attorney Ann Marie Wise said that Jackson “solves problems in the jail with his fists,” and then covers up his actions with falsified incident reports. But defense attorney Richard Hirsch said LASD officials made Jackson a scapegoat.

Jackson, who is relieved of duty without pay, is scheduled to be sentenced June 6.

City News Service’s Elizabeth Marcellino has the story. Here’s a clip:

“We feel that Jermaine Jackson was sort of made a scapegoat for all of the failings of the Sheriff’s Department,” defense attorney Richard Hirsch told City News Service outside court.

“Because of a lack of training” and because of approvals he received from superiors, “he was led to believe that certain ways of dealing with inmates were OK,” Hirsch said…

Hirsch said the three misdemeanor convictions were “inconsistent” with jurors’ other findings and that he planned to file a motion for a new trial.

Wise focused on the acquittals, saying, “Despite the increase in public awareness of police abuse, this shows just how difficult it can be to secure a conviction against a member of law enforcement.”

Jackson was accused of assaulting three inmates — Cesar Campana, Derek Griscavage and Jonathan Murray — in separate incidents between 2009 and 2011.

During the trial, Jackson took the stand and admitted to punching Murray in the eye when “he tried to kick me in the groin.”

Jackson also agreed that he punched Campana in the ear and kicked him in the head, saying that was the only way he could control the inmate.

Griscavage head-butted the deputy during a physical encounter, Jackson said.

[SNIP]

“Deputy Jackson solves problems in the jail with his fists” and then “filed false reports … to justify his actions,” Wise argued.


SF PUBLIC DEFENDER JEFF ADACHI TAKES ON BAIL IN SAN FRANCISCO WITH INNOVATIVE PRE-TRIAL INTERVENTION TEAM

While black defendants in San Francisco are more likely than their white counterparts to be qualified for pre-trial release, judges were far less likely to allow black defendants to await trial at home instead of jail, according to a report commissioned by San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi in 2015.

The cash bail—punishment-until-proven-innocent—system has a disproportionately negative impact on poor and minority Americans, and contributes to overcrowding in jails.

(John Oliver has an excellent segment on the horrors of the cash bail system.)

To address this issue, Adachi established a Bail Unit to help more defendants win pre-trial release. Of the 220 cases handled by the team of two lawyers, two paralegals, and a few interns, 70 defendants have either had their bail reduced or eliminated altogether.

Kamala Kelkar has more on the issue for PBS NewsHour. Here’s a clip:

“This is often the most important decision that can be made in the case,” Adachi said. “If the client is not released, the chances of them pleading guilty, the chances of them losing their housing and their job and everything else are much higher.”

In San Francisco, only about six percent of the population is black, according to the U.S. Census, yet an analysis commissioned by Adachi found nearly half of the city’s inmates are black. Nationally, the Federal Bureau of Prisons reports that 37.6 percent of its inmates are black while the U.S. Census reports that black people encompass about 13.2 percent of the national population.

[SNIP]

“Part of what we’re trying to do is get the court to acknowledge that there is an implicit bias,” Adachi said.

In Adachi’s view, many defendants behind bars may not pose a public safety or flight risk, but are awaiting trial in jail because they cannot afford to post bail, the monetary deposit levied to ensure a defendant will be present at trial. In San Francisco, bail is set by a judge during a quick hearing within 72 hours of the arrest and it is based on a predetermined fee schedule that is weighted by the severity of the charges.

Bail fees in general are intended to incentivize a defendant to return to court when needed, preserving public safety. Under California law, every defendant in the state has the right to a hearing to reevaluate his or her initial bail. But public defense lawyers rarely have enough time to do the vigorous work of collecting evidence that might merit an inmate’s release. That’s where Adachi’s team comes in.

Since September, almost all of the public defender’s cases have been sent to the Bail Unit for investigation.

District Attorney George Gascón has also been in favor of restructuring the city’s bail system, but is engaged in a different approach.

In May, San Francisco will start using an automated survey called the Public Safety Assessment. It uses nine factors that predict on a scale of one to six whether the defendant will flee or offend before the trial. The results will be given to the judge for consideration.

Posted in LASD | 3 Comments »

Lie & Deny: What Does the Still Unsolved Death of Mitrice Richardson Say About the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?

April 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Lost Compassion Trailer 2015 from Chip Croft on Vimeo.


“EVERYTHING ABOUT THE HANDLING OF THE RICHARDSON CASE IS HORRIFIC, BUT NONE OF IT IS SUPRISING”

In February, six years after Mitrice Richardson’s body—or what remained of it— was found in a nearly impenetrable area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Dark Canyon, the Office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed to launch a formal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled the Richardson case. Whether the investigation will be pro forma or truly aggressive remains to be seen.

(WLA reported on the AG’s decision to take up the case here.)

Now Newsweek’s Alexander Nazaryan, has taken a new and very interesting look at the matter of Mitrice Richardson—her arrest, her incomprehensible release in the middle of the night, without her car, purse, cell phone or any cash, the staggeringly clumsy treatment of her remains.

But instead attempting to reinvestigate Richardson’s case, Nazaryan has instead examined the larger departmental context in which these actions involving Richardson occurred.

The result is disturbing.

Here’s a clip from Nazaryan’s excellent longread story. We strongly recommend you read the whole thing.

We hope the relevant people in the California Attorney General’s Office will also read the story.

Sitting in a car parked outside an Albertsons supermarket, Ronda Hampton was sobbing. “I can’t do this,” she cried, holding a bouquet of flowers, afternoon shoppers pushing past us, the Santa Monica Mountains aflame with sunlight in the distance. Chip Croft, a documentarian, made some feeble attempts to calm her down, but Hampton kept crying, so the three of us sat there awkwardly, two white men somberly watching a black woman wail over the death of another black woman.

After a time, Hampton’s tears subsided, and we headed off into the hills of Malibu Creek State Park, around where the 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson disappeared on September 17, 2009, several hours after being released from police custody in the middle of the night. Croft, who did not know Richardson but recently made a documentary about her with Hampton, drove, at times pointing out where celebrities lived, as if we were on one of those Hollywood tours.

Richardson had been arrested at a popular restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway, just down the road from the beachfront estate of Steven Spielberg; Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies towed her car and took her inland to the Malibu/Lost Hills station, close to the Albertsons where Hampton broke down. That’s the station made briefly famous in 2006, when Mel Gibson was transported there after being pulled over for drunken driving. Deputies eventually escorted Gibson from Lost Hills to his towed car; the department tends to treat the famous with deference. Richardson had competed in beauty contests, but she was not a celebrity. She was released into the night at 12:38 a.m. without money or phone, expected to hike the 11 miles to the tow pound, which is on the Pacific coast.

Richardson was last seen the following morning in a residential area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Monte Nido, near the house of retired television news reporter Bill Smith, not far from the vast estate of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith (no relation). Richardson’s half-decomposed body was found several months later, in a remote stretch of the park called Dark Canyon, the clothes she’d been wearing scattered nearby. Some law enforcement officials surmised that Richardson, who suffered from bipolar disorder, walked into the canyon, took off her clothes and succumbed to anaphylactic shock from extensive poison oak exposure. This is highly unlikely, but so is every other hypothesis about her death: violent vagrants, drug cartels, neo-Nazis. Nobody knows anything, though most everyone suspects something. The most grave of these suspicions are aimed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Mitrice Richardson was a young woman who became a case but also cause. To many in Los Angeles, she is a symbol too, as potent as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, of a law enforcement culture that has grown contemptuous of both laws and men. “I consider Mitrice Richardson to be a victim of police brutality,” says Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles journalist who writes frequently about race.

To those familiar with the LASD, everything about the handling of the Richardson case is horrific, but none of it is surprising. “The Sheriff’s Department is much worse than LAPD,” one lawyer said in a Knight Ridder investigation into the LASD. That was in the summer of 1991, blurry footage of Rodney King being beaten by four Los Angeles Police Department officers haunting the nation. The lawyer continued: “A growing joke in our circles is you never would have had the Rodney King videotape if they were sheriff’s deputies, because they just would have shot him.”

The sheriff at the time was Sherman Block, who died in 1998 and was replaced by Leroy “Lee” Baca, who had spent three decades rising steadily through the LASD ranks. The department was his from 1998 until 2014.

Now, though, Baca is probably headed to prison for lying to federal investigators looking into abuses in the jails run by his department. Because he took a plea deal, the sentence, to be doled out in May, won’t be longer than six months. The sentence for Baca’s longtime undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who was convicted earlier this month on a similar array of charges, could be up to 15 years. Neither man had any direct connection to Richardson’s disappearance, but the secrecy, tribalism and cynical dishonesty that tarnished that investigation have manifested elsewhere: in the horrific abuses in the Los Angeles jail system, the nation’s largest, which the LASD operates; in the racial profiling by LASD deputies across the Antelope Valley; in charges of fawning favoritism for celebrities but often belligerent disdain for the average citizen.

Bob Olmsted, a former LASD commander who mounted a failed bid for the department’s top spot in 2014, tells me the men in charge of the department had an modus operandi for all potentially troublesome situations: “lie and deny.”

“They destroyed the organization,” he says of Baca and Tanaka. “They destroyed the public trust.”

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