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Door-to-Door Deputies, the Hunt for the Next Probation Chief, Women with Locked-up Loved Ones, and More

September 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LASD DEPUTIES MEET WITH 500 WILLOWBROOK NEIGHBORS TO DISCUSS CONCERNS

Over the weekend, more than 100 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department walked through Willowbrook—a South LA neighborhood adjacent to Compton—going door to door to listen to residents’ concerns about quality of life issues and crime in their community. The event was held as a means of improving relationships between the LASD and underserved communities that often feel both neglected and targeted by law enforcement.

Willowbrook residents talked with deputies about gang violence, drugs, and rough treatment from officers. The most common complaints were about less serious issues like speeding down neighborhood streets and noise from parties.

Deputies met with and surveyed more than 500 people. The Century Sheriff’s Station will schedule a Town Hall meeting in the coming months to discuss the information gathered during the survey.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the event. Here’s a clip:

One 24-year-old woman who lives with her parents down the street and who declined to give her name described to deputies rough treatment by their colleagues during a recent stop in front of her house.

“They took me out, shoved me into the police car,” she said. “When I tried to record, they told me I couldn’t record, so they took my phone away.”

It turned out it was a case of mistaken identity, she said.

“It might have been an honest mistake, but they could have been more professional,” she said. “I’ll think about it twice before calling them now.”

The deputies politely listened.

“I appreciate you sharing that story with us,” one deputy said. “That’s why we are doing this survey.”

He then asked her if she’d like deputies to keep an eye on her parents’ house when the family is ever out of town. She thought about it, and nodded her head yes.

Other residents expressed concerns about gang violence. It’s down from a decade ago, but persists along with drug dealing.

But more pedestrian problems came up more often, including speeding, parking and loud parties.

Deputies interviewed more than 500 people in this area of about 1,200 homes, Perry said. They plan to conduct a town hall with the survey results in a couple of months, then tackle the problems people are most concerned about.

People seemed genuinely glad to see deputies swarming their neighborhood for something other than a shooting.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Sal Jamarillo, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than forty years. “We only see them come when there’s trouble.”


TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD URGES LA COUNTY SUPES TO CONSIDER WAITING UNTIL AFTER ELECTION TO CHOOSE PROBATION CHIEF

Unless there is an LA County Probation Chief candidate with a “magic touch” who can effectively right persistent wrongs within the probation department, the “LA Times editorial board says the LA County Board of Supervisors should hold off on selecting a new chief until after the election, when two new board members will be in place, and after current studies into issues plaguing the department are completed.

Earlier this month, we wrote about the five candidates up for consideration to head a department that has run through five probation chiefs in a little over ten years. The new chief—whom the Times says could be “the most important department leader” selected by the Supes—will inherit all the problems on both the juvenile side and adult side that have been left unsolved by past department leaders.

Today (Tuesday), the Supes are slated to consider “candidate(s) for the position of Chief Probation Officer” in a closed session. We’ll let you know when we know more.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

…in February, the supervisors called for a separate study to review the department’s many challenges, including inadequate data expertise, problems with its workforce, spotty fiscal controls and difficulties in its relationship with community-based contractors. That review, too, is still in progress.

The supervisors have their own vision of the department, embodied on the juvenile side in an “L.A. model” of individual care and closely monitored outcomes rather than punishment, and they have invested millions in remodeling a youth camp into a campus that will accommodate and enhance that approach. It’s the right one.

Yet they remain dogged by a reality in which probation officers are caught on camera abusing their young wards, and many employees have offered, at best, a lukewarm embrace of the new model. And on the adult side of the operation, criminal justice reforms have given the department increasing responsibilities but not always resources to match.

Befuddled by the many problems that beset the department, the board has a quandary: Should it hire, as quickly as possible, a talented chief probation officer to right the ship while answering the many questions they have posed? Or should they answer those questions first, and turn over the department to a leader ready to implement their vision?


ESSIE BRINGS WOMEN WITH INCARCERATED FAMILY MEMBERS TOGETHER FROM ACROSS THE NATION

Gina Clayton, a former public defender with a loved one behind bars, founded the Essie Justice Group to connect women who have incarcerated family members in order to provide empowerment and community for a group of women who often bear the burdens of loved ones’ incarceration alone. Nearly one in four women have a family member in prison, according to a study from Harvard’s Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

In an interview with the Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney, Clayton talks about the stigma of having an incarcerated loved one, and the need for a support network and advocacy platform like Essie for women with a husband, child, sibling, parent, or other family member behind bars.

Here are some clips:

One of the biggest challenges was, you can’t just look on the internet and find women with incarcerated loved ones. It’s not a thing. Well, of course, it is a thing, it’s a thing that millions of women live, but it hadn’t been a defined group. At the time we started Essie, even formerly incarcerated people were a defined group, while women with incarcerated loved ones weren’t. There were no numbers, there was no data. There was no identification with this identity among the people that were living this experience.

Secondly, there is tremendous stigma. No one’s gonna raise their hand and say, “Oh, this is me.” There is shame and humiliation that comes with having someone you love in prison or jail or an immigration detention center. It’s something that you hide away, you shield yourself from all of the blame, and women will oftentimes incur a tremendous amount of isolation as a result.

[SNIP]

These women so deeply love their partners, they love their sons and daughters who are incarcerated, but they aren’t allowed to say so. In our community, they’re allowed to love. They’re allowed to be proud, and to celebrate the small and large victories. Ordinarily, the conversation would begin and end with, “Well, he’s in prison, so why are we even talking about the fact that got his GED?” That’s not even allowed to be part of the conversation. In this community, it can be shared. That revolutionary love infrastructure that we’re creating is incredibly important, and it starts with a nomination.

[SNIP]

We know that one in four women has a family member in prison, but it doesn’t begin to describe what those numbers really look like. What does that number look like when you take into account jails (rather than just prisons), and when you take into account unmarried partners?

I also think that data would show a connection between supporting women and public safety, that supporting these women is in everybody’s best interest. Because women are the actual prison reentry system in this country ― they’re the ones who are visiting incarcerated people, talking them through what to expect when they come home, preparing the home, making sure things are ready in a physical way, in an emotional, spiritual way. Women are doing the reentry work. And a woman who is stable, strong and supported, who has a community like the one that we’re providing ― when her loved one comes out of prison, she is prepared. That family’s experience that is much more likely to end up successfully, and for the family to stay whole. But when she is stressed out, when she’s depressed, when she feels burdened, when she feels unsupported, that reentry experience is, I believe, much less likely to go well. So we want to understand the connection between that and recidivism outcomes.


LAPD INVESTIGATING WRONGFUL ARREST AND DETENTION IN CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

The LAPD is conducting an internal investigation into the wrongful arrest and 17-day lock-up of 45-year-old Guillermo Torres, a man mistakenly identified as a suspect in a murder case from 2000. Torres was arrested because of a tip from a citizen who saw a photo on the LAPD website’s “Most Wanted” page that the citizen believed to be Torres.

Through DNA testing, Torres was found to be innocent and was freed. Police Commission President Matt Johnson asked for a report back from Internal Affairs and called the situation “disturbing for all of us to hear about.”

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

Torres — whose eyes welled up outside court after the hearing — spent more than two weeks in custody following a tip to police about a photo someone spotted in the “Most Wanted” section of the Los Angeles Police Department’s website seeking the public’s assistance in finding Calvario.

“For an innocent man, it was really a nightmare. It continues to be,” Torres’ attorney, Leonard Levine, told CNS outside court after the hearing. “He’s grateful that he is free and that the matter was cleared up … It was clearly established that he was not the person sought.”

Authorities ended up comparing Torres’ DNA to DNA collected from Calvario’s child and determining that Torres was not the man police were seeking, attorneys said.

One of Torres’ employers, Joanne Weinoe, said she and another of his employers sought legal help for the 45-year-old man, who was initially detained by police July 19 in connection with the killing. He was arrested six days later and initially held in lieu of $2 million bail, then was released Aug. 10 on electronic monitoring — an unusual step in a murder case.

“We said, ‘This is crazy. This is not him,’ ” Weinoe said of Torres, who has worked for her for 24 years and is the married father of an adult son. “You don’t turn your back on somebody like that … We weren’t going to just let him sit there and rot. We just knew it wasn’t him.”

She said the case shook her faith in the justice system.

“This is so wrong,” Weinoe said.

She noted that some attorneys said they would take the case, though they believed Torres was probably guilty, but that Levine quickly grew to believe Torres had been arrested in a case of mistaken identity.

Posted in LASD | 7 Comments »

Case Going to Trial of LA Sheriff’s Investigator Claiming Retaliation for Refusing to Falsify Job Apps & to Raise Big $$ for Tanaka

September 19th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


NO SETTLEMENT, GOING TO COURT

In early 2015, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Ban Nguyen filed a civil lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated against when he refused to falsify paperwork for certain unsuitable job candidates favored by department higher ups, particularly those candidates supported by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

The retaliation got worse, Nguyen alleges in his lawsuit, when he was asked to raise money for Tanaka’s campaign to become sheriff, and he refused, explaining that he didn’t favor Mr. Tanaka for that post.

(If you remember, Tanaka was in the running from mid-2013 through November 2014 for the job that Sheriff Jim McDonnell holds today.)

After being what he describes as forced into retirement, Nguyen is suing the former undersheriff, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for alleged violations of his civil rights along with violations of the state labor code and more. Nguyen also names in his lawsuit two LASD captains, and two department sergeants. (Kevin Hebert and Judy Gerhardt, are the captains named, although both have since been promoted to commander.)

According to court documents filed late last week, the defendants attempted with reams of paperwork to get a summary judgement without going to trial. But it appears that the case is going to trial anyway.**

“For Ban it isn’t about the money,” sources close to the case told us. At this point, say the sources, Nguyen wants to “expose the corruption” he alleges, in open court.

Indeed, given some of the witness already deposed, the trial, which is expected to begin in mid October, will be well worth watching.


PRESSURE, POOR POLYGRAPHS, AND PAINTING THE PAPERWORK WHITE

Ban Nguyen, 51, has an interesting background. He was born in what was then Saigon, and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1974, when he was approximately nine-years-old, and the writing was on the wall about where the war in Vietnam was headed. (Saigon fell—or was liberated, depending upon your political perspective—on April 30, 1975.) In 1985, eleven years after his arrival, Nguyen became a U.S. citizen.

Nguyen joined the LA County Sheriff’s department in 1996, when he was in his early 30s. For the first ten years of his career as a deputy, according to court documents, things went well. Nguyen, who has a BS in Biology and and MA in Public Administration, did not try to promote past the rank of deputy. He comes from a high achieving family and reportedly had—and still has—other business interests of his own, and thus additional sources of income. As a consequence, he had no real desire to advance up the promotion ladder. He simply liked the work of being an LASD deputy.

After working in various other parts of the department, Nguyen was transferred in 2008 to the personnel division’s “Pre-Employment Unit,” where for four years he recruited deputy candidates and oversaw and reviewed parts of their application process, a job he liked and at which he seemed to excel.

In 2012, however, according to Nguyen’s court filings, he was transferred to personnel’s “Administrative/Reserve” team, where a healthy portion of his duty was to handle the job applications of “sensitive” deputy or reserve candidates, meaning those who, for one reason or another, were important to someone or other on the LASD’s command staff, most often, allegedly, the then-undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Applicants for deputy sheriff training (DST)—as opposed to applicants for “non-sworn” positions—are required to complete an 11-page application that includes questions on work history, education, family, references, along with questions designed to reveal any potential problem areas such as drug use, arrests and the like. After that, an investigator checks out references and does other probing. The candidate must also make it past such hurdles as a psych evaluation, and a polygraph test.

Once he began working on personnel’s Administration/Reserve team, according to Nguyen, he became aware that there was a practice of not only giving the “sensitive” candidates a leg up, but also the team was expected to whitewash the applications of favored candidates when necessary.

For instance, in one alleged situation, a candidate whose father was a friend of the former undersheriff failed the required polygraph test six separate times, specifically around questions relating to drug use and some other problematic issues. When Nguyen declined to recommend that the candidate be accepted for deputy training anyway, the applicant’s case was allegedly yanked from Nguyen and given to another, presumably more agreeable investigator, at which time the polygraph-challenged candidate magically passed the poly the seventh time around.

In other cases, according to court filings, Nguyen and colleagues were given a negative background report on a pet candidate, and told to rewrite the report, in effect ‘sanitizing” it, until it was shiny and clean enough to get the applicant through the gate.

Sometimes the alleged sanitization involved finding a more compliant psychologist to redo the psych evaluation, if “there were negative psychological or psychiatric issues” that had previously prevented the candidate from passing. Or, as with the earlier alleged example, Nguyen and his colleagues would be ordered to redo polygraphs, modifying or leaving out questions that produced problems.

When Nguyen refused to whitewash an application, reportedly stating to his immediate boss, Sergeant Ismael Chavez, that the practice of shoehorning “unqualified” candidates onto the force was both wrong and a potentially dangerous strategy, Chavez allegedly “berated and screamed” at him, according to court documents.

Nguyen states that he went over Chavez’s head to request to the appropriate lieutenant that the matter be investigated, but the lieutenant allegedly declined to look into the matter.


PERSONNEL AND POLITICS

The 2012 job transfer also coincided, according to Nguyen, with the discovery by the captain of personnel division at the time, Kevin Hebert, now a department commander, that Nguyen had experience and expertise with political fundraising. For instance, in 2010, he had reportedly been helpful in helping Sandra Hutchens get elected to the position of Orange County Sheriff-Coroner. (Hutchens, who was originally with the LA Sheriff’s Department, before moving to Orange County, served first as the interim sheriff after former sheriff Mike Corona resigned in the face of federal indictments.)

One day at work in mid-November 2012, according to Nguyen, his boss, Sgt. Chavez took him to see then-captain Hebert, who Chavez said wanted to talk to Nguyen. Hebert then allegedly asked Nguyen what his experience was with raising money, and how one went about raising big bucks for a political campaign, or words to that effect. Nguyen states that he told of his involvement in previous political campaigns, and explained, in general, how one goes about raising $100,000 in political funds.

A few days later, according to Nguyen, he was again brought to meet with Hebert during the work day, at which time Hebert asked if he’d like to raise money for Paul Tanaka, who was planning to run for sheriff. Would he be on the team? Hebert allegedly asked.

Nguyen says he declined multiple requests.

(For the record, Hebert has stated in a deposition that he never met with Nguyen, much less pressured him to become involved in Tanaka’s campaign.)

Near the end of 2013, according to the lawsuit, Nguyen told then Sheriff Lee Baca about the demand to “lie about or conceal damaging background information concerning Tanaka connected applicants,” and the retaliation that occurred when he would’t comply, or support Tanaka’s political campaign. Rather than helping matters, Nguyen alleges that, after he went to Baca the retaliation—which had begun after his various failures to cooperate with what he believed was wrongdoing—got worse. Hebert was no longer captain of personnel, but his successor, then-captiain Judy Gerhardt, allegedly told Nguyen “he was not allowed to go beyond the chain of command again with his complaint.”

Interestingly, when Nguyen went to meet with then Sheriff Baca, which he did more than once, a retired LASD commander who had been Nguyen’s mentor in earlier years, came with him to help bolster his case. The retired commander was Robert Lindsey, a man with his own personal story about refusing what he believed were illegal (or at the very least corrupt) orders coming from Paul Tanaka.

According to the signed declaration Lindsey made for this case, when Lindsey was still with the department, Chief Tanaka told him to make it possible for certain chosen favorites to advance up the ranks by giving these favored few the answers to the lieutenants’ exam. Additionally, according to Lindsey, Tanaka asked him to give certain applicants-for-promotion credit for non-right test answers that Tanaka allegedly claimed were “close enough.” Lindsey alleges that when he declined to facilitate Tanaka’s orders to…well….cheat, Tanaka told him that he would “live to regret it,” and that his career was over, and then allegedly triggered an internal affairs investigation against Lindsey.

(Lindsey also alleges that, years later, Tanaka took out his still existing fury on Lindsey’s LASD deputy son by ginning up a criminal case against Robert Lindsey Jr. But that’s another upcoming civil lawsuit for another day.)

Nguyen describes an increasingly hostile work environment, then a transfer to an “entry level position” in what was known as the Civilian Investigative Unit. When he tried to transfer to what he believed was a more appropriate job, he was moved to a desk job under then-Captain Gerhardt, which he alleges involved “no real duties.” At the same time, he was told that an anonymous complaint had been filed against him, and that he was being “investigated,” although according to Nguyen he was never told anything about the investigation, or whether it was criminal or administrative in nature.

Nguyen states that, around this point, his health and state of mind began to suffer.

In September 2014, he was put on sick leave. In November 2015, Nguyen retired. In between he filed his lawsuit, now slated to go to court in October.


THE UNDERLYING ISSUES

In court, the defendants will of course tell a very different story—or more accurately multiple different stories—than that which plaintiff Nguyen and his attorney, Richard A. Love, have told through court documents.

Yet, whichever side ultimately prevails in this lawsuit, many of the issues underlying Nguyen’s civil complaint call out loudly for better examination.

For years there have been credible reports of certain people in the LASD’s personnel division being asked to shave the dice, so to speak, for either unsuitable job applicants, or candidates for promotion who didn’t manage to make the grade on their own.

Perhaps this lawsuit will trigger a long overdue closer look at those stories of corruption.


**NOTE: We originally wrote that there was talk of a settlement of the case, which Ban Nguyen declined. Whether true or not, the most recent court documents pertain to a “Summary Judgement,” which is basically a kind of appeal from the defendants to dismiss the case.

Posted in LASD | 49 Comments »

Case Against LASD Deputy Dismissed…Different Views on Capital Punishment in CA…Jobs for Foster Youth

September 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

DEADLOCKED JURY LEADS TO DISMISSAL OF CASE AGAINST DEPUTY WHO REPORTEDLY LIED ABOUT ARREST

On Wednesday, LA Superior Court Judge C.H. Rehm dismissed a criminal case against Gregory Rodriguez, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy accused of perjury and of filing a false police report justifying the arrest of Christopher Gray by claiming that the man attempted to free people who were in police custody. Following a week-long trial that ended in a deadlocked jury (eight of twelve jurors voted not guilty), prosecutors from the LA County DA’s Justice System Integrity Division announced on Wednesday that they could not proceed and would drop the charges against Rodriguez.

The trial, which started July 29, included video evidence that prosecutors said proved Rodriguez lied about Gray’s actions leading up to the arrest. In the video, Gray appears to be calmly watching deputies make an arrest before Rodriguez confronted him and arrested him. (You can watch clips from the video footage here.) In an interview with NBC LA, Roger Clark, a police procedures consultant and former LASD lieutenant called the false reporting intentional, saying, “This should have been caught early, early on.”

Gray, who reportedly sustained a serious shoulder injury during the arrest and lost his job while he spent five days in jail on a felony charge, settled with the sheriff’s department for around $550,000. The LA County Board of Supervisors still has to approve the settlement amount.

If Rodriguez had been convicted, the (former) deputy would have faced up to four years and eight months behind bars.


CONSIDERING CALIFORNIA’S COMPETING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT BALLOT MEASURES

In November, California voters will decide between two competing ballot initiatives—one to abolish the death penalty in the state, and the other to speed up the appeals process for those sentenced to death.

The two measures have created considerable buzz. Critics of Proposition 66 argue that truncating the appeals process could lead to the execution of innocent people.

In an op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune, co-founder of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks, tells the cautionary story of Bill Richards, a former death row inmate who was exonerated after 23 years. The decades it took to prove that Richards did not kill his wife and to free him from death row is not unusual, either. Seven of the last ten death row exonerations nationwide occurred after inmates had been on death row for more than 25 years. And more than 150 people have been declared innocent after a death sentence in the United States. Here’s a clip:

The jury in the third and final trial relied on highly questionable evidence: a thread allegedly found under the victim’s fingernail that matched Bill’s shirt; unscientific blood splatter evidence; and testimony by an expert that an alleged bite mark on Pamela’s body matched Bill.

After years of litigation, the California Innocence Project was finally able to get access to and testing of all of the crime scene evidence. Based on photos taken during the autopsy, there was substantial evidence that the blue fiber from Bill’s shirt was planted under Pamela’s fingernails. DNA testing of hair found under Pamela’s fingernails proved it did not match her nor Bill. Male DNA found on the murder weapon also did not match Bill. Finally, the actual prosecution expert who testified at trial that Bill’s teeth matched the bite mark recanted his trial testimony and admitted it was false.

After a lengthy habeas hearing, where all of this evidence was presented, a judge who was a former tough-on-crime prosecutor reversed Bill’s conviction. That was nine years ago. Shortly thereafter, the reversal was reversed with the California Supreme Court ruling that expert testimony cannot be deemed false, even when the expert himself admits it was false. Bill remained in prison for nine more years, battling cancer, while the California Innocence Project and others fought to change the law which finally resulted in Bill’s release this past June — after 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The same opportunity to prove innocence in California may not be available to defendants sentenced to death in the future if Proposition 66 passes this November. Under Proposition 66, arbitrary timelines will be established and there may not be time within those timelines to prove innocence. The initiative would also require inexperienced attorneys to represent individuals facing the death penalty, even though ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Another example of alleged prosecutorial misconduct leading to questionable convictions is the scandal-plagued Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Read the latest in that saga: here.

Gary Tyler, a black man who was wrongfully convicted at 16 in 1974 of murdering a white high school cheerleader, supports Prop. 62—the bill to get rid of the death penalty. The Supreme Court overturned Tyler’s death sentence within two years, but Tyler spent more than four decades in prison with a life sentence before he was exonerated. Listen to Tyler speak out in support of Prop. 62 on Midday Edition.

For the most part, the death row reform bill has the support of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and other justice system groups.

But some inmates used to death row after spending decades behind bars, are anxious about the potential of rejoining the general population of prisoners, the LA Times’ Paige St. John reports. Here’s a clip:

Perry’s worries include being moved from San Quentin, where he has struck up friendships with a college professor and a poet who visit and mentor him in theology and prose. How, he wonders, does that happen if you are a lifer locked away in the north woods at Crescent City’s Pelican Bay?

And he worries that men, “after being here chained up like monkeys and animals in a cage,” will have trouble adjusting to yards where violence is frequent.

“I’ll have to hurt someone,” was the immediate reaction of James Thompson, 64, grizzled and sitting in a tennis-court-size exercise yard. A guard stood overhead with a loaded rifle while a line of aging, heavily tattooed men in white boxer shorts paced in military precision.

On a new yard he will have to “re-establish” himself. After 20 years, Thompson is “comfortable” on East Block.

He is experienced in the differences between death row and ordinary prison. Before he robbed and killed a man in California, Thompson served a long stretch locked up in Texas, also for murder. What rubs him about California is the 20 years his appeal has been in limbo. He agrees with other condemned inmates who favor the ballot proposal to keep the death penalty but speed appeals.

“If you are going to execute me, execute me,” Thompson said. “But if you are going to let me go, let me go.”

Death row experts said states that have repealed the death penalty have successfully absorbed the condemned into their general populations, though in Connecticut, two killers had to be sent to Pennsylvania to ensure their safety.


BILL INTRODUCED IN HOUSE WOULD INCENTIVIZE THE HIRING OF FOSTER YOUTH

Under a new House bill employers would be eligible to receive annual tax credits for hiring current and former foster youth.

The Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, introduced Thursday, would grant federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit up to $2,400 per year for employers who hire people between the ages of 18 and 27 who were in foster care on their sixteenth birthday.

If an employer kept a hire from the time the employee was 18 through 26, a total of $21,600 in credits could be claimed.

The bipartisan-supported bill, which was introduced by five members of the House Ways and Means Committee, was inspired by a partnership in California between a non-profit, iFoster, and Raley’s, a grocery chain, which has grown to include a manufacturing company called Mondelez International and Starbucks.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

“We pursued this path and the creation of this bill because when we talked to employers, they were not interested in the subsidized work internships or subsidized employment,” said Serita Cox, the co-founder and executive director of iFoster, who has helped develop the legislation. “Instead, they felt strongly about the tax credit offered to veterans.”

The iFoster program worked with transition-age, kinship and crossover youth ages 16 to 24 in a seven-step program that involves a screening and interview process. iFoster completes a pre-employment phase with a cohort of potential employees before they interview and start working at the company.

“The caliber of the youths and the success they’re having on the job has been tremendous,” said iFoster co-founder Reid Cox. “One of the key issues here is that none of this is trying to offset that these kids are bad employees. It’s just to level the playing field.”

Sean Hughes, a child welfare consultant who helped develop the legislation, said “at least” 100,000 youths and young adults who spent time in foster care would be WOTC eligible. The number might be far higher, based on federal foster care data from 2014.

There were 22,392 exited foster care due to “emancipation” in fiscal 2014, according to federal data. Assuming that is about average, approximately 201,000 workers would be eligible in any year.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

LASD Moves to Decriminalize Homelessness, an Interview with “Ghettoside” Author Jill Leovy, a Bill to Address Problems in Juvenile Court Schools, and More Commutations

August 31st, 2016 by Taylor Walker

INSTEAD OF ARRESTING HOMELESS, LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES WILL CONNECT THEM WITH SERVICES

On Tuesday evening, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that sheriff’s deputies will be instructed to refrain from arresting homeless people for minor crimes related to homelessness. Instead, the goal for deputies will be to connect homeless people with much-needed services. The department’s decriminalization initiative is expected to go into effect at the beginning of next year, after deputies receive training.

The initiative was discussed during a public forum held with the LA County Fire Department, and the LA Homeless Services Authority. Sheriff McDonnell said he is also “trying to get the funding to provide, across our department, crisis intervention training, so that we have the ability to give the tools necessary to our deputies, to our personnel throughout the organization.”

Decriminalization of the county’s homeless was one of 47 recommendations in a $100 million comprehensive interagency plan to combat homelessness, which was approved by the LA County Board of Supervisors Back in February.

“It’s going to take an active holistic effort from you, our non-profits, our churches, private and public entities to address this challenge,” LA County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said, addressing the audience.

Meanwhile, the county supervisors are still urging lawmakers to call on Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency over the homelessness crisis in California, in order to drum up $500 million in state funds for cities and counties grappling with serious homelessness.

The supes voted back in June to urge Sacramento to declare homelessness a state of emergency. The next day, Gov. Brown announced that he would not make the move. The governor’s press secretary said the issue of addressing homelessness is a task for local governments. Since then, the state Assembly, local officials throughout California, and more than 25,000 petitioners have joined the call for the governor to act.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas urges the state Senate to join the push, and for Brown to take action. “If [Brown] can declare a state of emergency over a fruit fly infestation, doing the same for homelessness should be a no-brainer,” said the supervisor.

Ridley-Thomas also notes that while a governor declaring a state of emergency over homelessness is rare, it has been done before. “Hawaii did it last year and again this year, with a homeless population of 7,000—less than one-tenth of those in California,” Ridley-Thomas said.


FOR BLACK COMMUNITIES, TOO MUCH, AND NOT ENOUGH, POLICING

Jill Leovy, discusses the complex problem-–spotlighted in her 2015 book, Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America—of both under-policing and over-policing black communities in an interview with Vox’s German Lopez.

In Ghettoside, Leovy writes about the disproportionate number of black men who are murdered in Los Angeles and across the nation—most of them killed by other black men—and the fact that most of those murders go unsolved by law enforcement. Yet people of color are disproportionately targeted by law enforcement and overrepresented in the justice system.

Leovy explained the issue in the context of a school playground: “…bullies beat you up every day on the playground. But the only time the playground supervisor comes around, he or she says, ‘Don’t chew gum on the playground.’ In this way, Leovy says, the playground supervisor is ignoring the much larger issue of the physical harm inflicted on the student. “You would cease to believe in the system,” Leovy said in the interview with Lopez.

Part of the problem, according to Leovy, is that we ask too much of law enforcement officers above their duty to protect the public from violence and other dangers and enforce the law. Police focus their time and resources dealing with mental illness, substance abuse, and classroom discipline, rather than public safety. Here’s a clip from the interview:

In fact, you’d probably cease to believe that it’s just the bullies picking on you, but rather that the system is a bully in and of itself. Pulling back to the criminal justice system, this is how Leovy described the situation in her book: “Like the schoolyard bully, our criminal justice system harasses people on small pretexts but is exposed as a coward before murder. It hauls masses of black men through its machinery but fails to protect them from bodily injury and death. It is at once oppressive and inadequate.”

The result, Leovy argues, is more violence. The fundamental basis of the law has long been to help people settle disputes without violence and through some sort of legal system instead. White communities have lived with this comfort, based on the higher number of crimes solved in those communities, for generations. Black communities — where people are often trapped due to severe residential segregation — have not, and that helps explain why they suffer from high homicide and general violent crime rates.

As Leovy writes, “Take a bunch of teenage boys from the whitest, safest suburb in America and plunk them down in a place where their friends are murdered and they are constantly attacked and threatened. Signal that no one cares, and fail to solve murders. Limit their options for escape. Then see what happens.”

It’s not just homicide. The clearance rate for other violent crimes, such as robbery and assault, are generally even lower: FBI data shows that in the murder clearance rate in 2014 was about 64.5 percent in 2014, but 47.4 percent for violent crime overall — and just 29.6 percent for robbery. And these rates are much lower in minority communities.

“Ghettoside has been accused of being too reductive by hanging so much on the narrow issue of homicide clearances, which is a fair criticism,” Leovy told me. “I’m not arguing that you can hang everything on homicide clearances, or that [more clearances] alone would resolve the disparities in death rates in homicide on racial lines. But I do think it’s a big deal. And homicide is an indicator; it’s actually used by a lot of criminologists as an indicator of crime, where the numbers are thought to be relatively accurate.”

Homicide also shows the vicious cycle involved. Police need witnesses and cooperation from the community to solve crimes, including murders, and therefore build legitimacy that can help prevent future crimes. But if communities feel distrustful as a result of being both overpoliced for low-level crimes and underpoliced for serious crimes, they are going to be less likely to cooperate with cops.

So most murders will go unsolved, and those unsolved murders lead to more distrust. That leads to more murders, which will subsequently go mostly unsolved. And so on.

This is why so much of the work on policing reform, such as President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, focuses largely on rebuilding trust between the police and minority communities.


BILL TO HELP MORE LOCKED-UP KIDS FINISH SCHOOL GOES TO GOVERNOR FOR FINAL APPROVAL

A bill to help more justice-system involved California kids graduate high school on time has passed out of the state Senate and Assembly, and now heads to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for a final signature.

The bill, AB 2306, would exempt kids locked up in county juvenile detention facilities from having to complete locally required coursework (like health and language courses) beyond what the state requires for graduation. Other high-needs student groups—homeless and foster youth—are already exempt from having to complete additional coursework.

The Redding Record Searchlight’s Nathan Solis has more on the bill and the ongoing problems with the juvenile court schools in California. Here’s a clip:

As the system works now, students who transition from the Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility after finishing their sentences to local high schools can fall behind in their classes as they work to meet local graduation requirements such as health or language classes. Hartman said there is not enough time to fit all the necessary course work to meet both state and local requirements while a student is at the facility.

“Simply put there were so many holes in their educational path,” Hartman said.

With the proposed law, juvenile court students who complete their second year of high school would be placed in the same category as foster care and homeless students who are exempt from local requirements.

According to Frazier, the bill would “remove barriers experienced by at-risk students when making the transition” to public high schools.


EVEN MORE PRESIDENTIAL COMMUTATIONS

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of another large group of federal inmates—including several in California—serving outdated sentences for cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and other drug-related offenses.

With Tuesday’s 111 commutations, and 214 petitions granted earlier this month, Obama appears to be ramping up his clemency efforts as he nears the end of his second and final term as president. Obama has granted more commutations just in August than any president in an entire year in approximately 100 years. Tuesday’s clemency move brings Obama’s total number of commutations to 673.

Posted in Homelessness, LASD | 16 Comments »

BEGGING TO GO TO PRISON: Former LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Wants to Begin His Federal Prison Term Right Away—If He Can Get Past the Bureaucratic Obstacles

August 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On August 31, former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton
will turn himself in to federal marshals in order to begin his eighteen month sentence in federal prison.

Weirdly, Sexton’s choice to get on with his prison term has not been a simple matter to achieve.

Sexton is the first and only former department member indicted for obstructing a federal investigation who has elected to go ahead and begin his prison time. Everyone else—including Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LASD—is still fighting their respective convictions. And former sheriff Lee Baca has yet to go to trial. But surrendering one’s self to the feds, it turns out, isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

As most readers remember, the obstruction indictments brought by the government against a total of 10 former LA County Sheriff’s Department members pertained to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, falsely threatening an FBI agent, interfering with potential federal witnesses, and generally attempting to get in the way of an undercover FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations, brutality, and corruption on the part of deputies inside the county’s troubled jail system.

Sexton is the lowest person on the departmental food chain to be convicted of the obstruction charges, and sentenced to federal lock-up. Although the government does not suggest he had anything to do with the threatening of FBI agents, or interfering with witnesses, he was involved in hiding federal informant Brown, based on orders coming from several layers of supervisors, including—according to federal prosecutors—the two people running the department.

Among the other defendants already convicted are former LASD deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, former sergeants Maricela Long and Scott Craig, and former lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, who were tried as a group and whose sentences in a federal lock-up range from 21 months to 41 months.

Paul Tanaka, the notorious former second in command of the department, was himself convicted of the dual charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role as the shot caller of the obstruction actions, and was subsequently sentenced to five years behind bars.

Tanaka has appealed to the 9th Circuit for relief thus he is able to stay out of prison until his appeal is settled.

The six—Manzo, Smith, Scott, Craig, Thompson and Leavins—-appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost with a ruling from a three-judge panel. Now they are appealing to the entire 9th Circuit for their collective case to be reheard, so they too are not yet packing for incarceration.

Former LASD captain Tom Carey, who made a plea deal with the government, has yet to be sentenced.

And of course, there is former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca who, according to the government, gave the orders that set the whole obstruction circus in motion, with Tanaka doing the micromanagement.

Baca originally agreed to a plea deal for which he expected to do somewhere between no time at all, and six months. He backed out of the deal in early August, after it became evident that U.S. District Court Judge Percy intended to go with a sentence that could be substantively longer than the maximum six months that his agreement with the feds prescribed. (It should be noted former deputy Sexton’s sentence was three times higher that the highest end of Baca’s proposed sentence 0 to 6 months.)

Now Baca is going to trial, beginning in early December, and his attorney, Nathan Hochman has indicated he will likely have experts and witnesses explain to the jury that the former sheriff was too compromised by his oncoming Alzheimer’s disease to have knowledgably committed the three crimes of which he is charged by the federal government.

(Mr. Baca has been indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of his now dynamited plea deal.)


GETTING ON WITH IT

Sexton, who is 31, has been fighting his case for the last three years, and through the whole of his three-year marriage, and says he wants to pay whatever debt he owes so that he can begin to plan a new future.

“Out of respect for the jurors who sat for my two trials,” he wrote to WitnessLA in a text, “I’m going to continue the appellate process while serving time in an effort to move on with my life…..I am grateful for the people in my life, especially my wife, family, and friends who supported me exercising my Constitutional Rights.” But now he is ready to move on, he said.

(Sexton refers to “two trials” because he was tried twice, with the first proceeding ending in a mistrial due to a hung jury that was “hopelessly divided” with six for conviction, and six against. Also, although Sexton says he has stopped fighting his prison term, he is not completely giving up on his right to appeal in the future.)

When Sexton decided to move forward with serving his time, however, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the 9th Circuit and the rest of the federal bureaucratic machinery was not ready to take him, although he was sentenced on September 16, 2014, and his appeal to the 9th—along with that of the six—was rejected on August 4 of this year.

He could turn himself in if he wanted, but the BOP has nowhere to put him. Former law enforcement officials are generally incarcerated in facilities where the BOP is better able to keep them safe from inmates who may wish to harm cops. However, they didn’t have such a facility ready. So, he might languish in a less secure private lock-up for an indefinite time.

Concerned at where his client might wind up, Sexton’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney, Tom O’Brien, attempted to blast through the logjam by filing a urgent motion with the 9th Circuit to pull Sexton out of the appeals queue, where he had landed automatically when the six decided to re-appeal, even though Sexton had not himself asked for a second appeal.

“In order to move forward with his life,” O’Brien wrote to the 9th, “Mr. Sexton now seeks to begin serving his sentence as expeditiously as possible. To do so, he respectfully requests, and the Government does not oppose this request, that the mandate should be issued as to him as quickly as possible.”

Once the 9th Circuit gave up their dominion over Sexton, O’Brian submitted a petition to Judge Anderson, in whose court Sexton was convicted and sentenced.

At first it was not clear that the various motions would shove the slow-moving governmental cogs. But finally, late on Friday Judge Anderson signed the necessary stipulation, which went then to Sexton’s probation officer and then to the US Marshals immediately. Sexton hopes the BOP will be ready for him by his wished for turn-in date of August 31. It remains to be seen what prison will be his home for the next year and a half.

“Still, I think we’re prepared now,” Sexton’s wife, Keely Sexton told WLA. “We’ve come to a peace with it. Yeah, it’s scary. I respect him for going in. But it’s scary. It is. I’m scared of coming home to an empty house, and scared of not knowing what’s going on with him, and scared of not being able to talk to him for a while. We’ve gotten to go through a lot of things that people who have been married for 30 years had never gone through. And it’s made us stronger. I wouldn’t trade any of that. Now it’s time to get on with it.”

Posted in LASD | 13 Comments »

Prosecutors Request Mental Competency Evaluation for Former Sheriff Lee Baca

August 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After a hearing on Wednesday to set a start date for the federal criminal trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
, government prosecutors filed a motion requesting a mental competency evaluation for the man who, for sixteen years, headed the nation’s largest sheriff’s department until his abrupt announcement of his retirement in January, 2014.

“Although the government believes defendant is competent to stand trial,” the prosecution team wrote, “certain statements by defendant, his attorneys, and his experts, if taken at face value, provide reasonable cause to believe that defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense.”

Their proposed motion, stated the prosecutors, will either “ensure that the defendant’s trial proceeds in the timely fashion if he is competent.” Otherwise, it will “save resources” if Baca is found not competent to stand trial.

This rather startling development came after an edgy discussion about the issue of Baca’s mental condition as it pertained to the upcoming trial. The three-way conversation took place in court earlier on Wednesday between the government’s attorneys, defense attorney Nathan Hochman, and U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson after Hochman told the court that the defense may assert what is known as a 12.2 defense, or “mental defect” defense.

In brief, a 12.2 defense is a strategy in which the defense presents “expert evidence of a mental disease or defect” that would have prevented a defendant from possessing the mental ability required to have committed the offenses of with which he or she is charged.

At some point in the discussion, Judge Anderson asked Hochman if this meant that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s “don’t know right from wrong?”

In answer to Anderson’s terse questioning, Hochman reportedly said that, no, he was not going for an insanity defense (which is one version of a 12.2 defense). Instead he might put forth another version of the 12.2 legal tactic, which is the aforementioned “mental defect” strategy.

In the request for the competency evaluation, prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui noted that, during the hearing in February in which Baca pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to federal officials, when asked if he had “recently been treated for any form of mental illness or addiction?” or if he was “currently suffering from any mental condition that would prevent him from “understanding fully the charge against” him, “or the consequences of any guilty plea” he might enter to relating to that charge, Baca answered, “no,” to each question.

The the prosecutors went on to point out that, on Aug. 1, Baca’s attorneys stated that “medical records would show Baca’s mental deterioration had already begun in April 2013, when he made the allegedly false statements to federal prosecutors.”

In their motion, the prosecutors made clear that they believe that Mr. Baca is competent to go to trial.

But they want an official determination, one way or the other.

Interestingly, in Wednesday’s hearing to finally determine the trial date, defense attorney Hochman said that he might consider filing a motion for a change in venue explaining that he was not sure that an untainted jury pool could be found, given all the publicity about the matter.

In response, Judge Anderson pointed out that it that it likely did not help matters to have attorneys holding press conferences on the courthouse steps—or words to that effect. Anderson then asked both sides to refrain from trying this case in the press.

The trial of Lee Baca for charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials is set to begin on December 6, 2016.

Here’s the actual motion for a competency evaluation if you want to take a look:

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 40 Comments »

Lee Baca: A December Trial Date, A New Lawyer, and a Pitch for Legal $$$ – UPDATED

August 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE:

At Wednesday’s hearing, although former sheriff Lee Baca’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman, pushed for any trial to be delayed until February or March of next, after considerable debate, U.s. District Court Judge Percy Anderson set a new trial date for December 6th.


On Wednesday of this week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and his new lead attorney, Nathan Hochman, will meet on the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson for a “status conference” with federal prosecutors to discuss when Baca’s criminal trial will begin.

While the trial was originally set to begin in September, then moved to October 4, our sources tell us that new and hopefully final date will likely be in December of this year. (But we’ll let you know for sure on Wednesday.)

Baca, who is now 74-years-old, was arraigned on August 12, also before Judge Anderson, at which time he pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials.

The former sheriff was indicted on the three charges after he pulled out of a plea deal with the government that had been crafted back in February, in which he’d agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying in an interview with the feds in 2013. In return for his plea, government prosecutors agreed to a sentencing range of 0 to 6 months.

In July, however, Anderson blew up the deal by rejecting the maximum six month sentence. In a sober-minded but scathing series of comments to those assembled in his courtroom, Anderson said that a six-month sentence would not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge said grimly, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct,” and would “…trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

After Anderson’s rejection of the 0 to 6 month sentencing agreement, Baca withdrew from the plea deal altogether, rather than take a chance on what promised to be a sentence from Anderson that likely would have fallen somewhere between 2-5 years in a federal prison.

But, to withdraw from the deal meant that Baca would instead go to trial, and likely face added charges—which was exactly what happened.


THE ALZHEIMER’S ISSUE

Now, the gigantic wild card in the eventual trial will be the issue of Baca’s cognitive health. He has, as most readers are aware, been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that was made public in late June (although WLA broke the news the month before).

On the day of his arraignment, Baca also filed for a change in his lead attorney. Through the course of his plea deal, and the withdrawal from it, Michael Zweiback, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has represented Baca.

Now Nathan Hochman will represent Baca. Hochman is also a former federal prosecutor, and the former head of the Tax Division for the US Department of Justice. While both he and Zweiback have strong CVs, they are reputed to have different personal styles when it comes to representing a client in a criminal trial.

Hochman has made it very clear that Baca’s mental state will be a significant issue when Baca goes before a jury, and that the defense will explore whether there was any “cognitive impairment,” during the period of the summer and early fall of 2011, when the alleged actions occurred that are the basis of the obstruction of justice charges, and in 2013, of course, when Baca was interviewed by the feds, and allegedly lied.

During the arraignment, Judge Anderson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, repeatedly asked defendant Baca if he understood the proceedings. Baca replied that his mind was “clear enough” but also added that he had a “cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile.”

When the case goes to trial, the government is expected to have its own witnesses who suggest that, while the former sheriff may be eccentric, he cognition and memory were fully operative during the periods in question.

Both Baca’s present and past attorneys have strongly hinted (but not outright stated) that they will do what they can to have Judge Anderson removed from the former sheriff’s case, pleading that Anderson is biased against Baca.


THE COST OF DEFENSE & THE PITCH FOR FUNDS

Trials are, of course, very expensive, and with this in mind, the former sheriff’s wife, Carol Baca, has recently sent out fund raising emails to friends in her husband’s behalf, two versions of which WitnessLA has obtained. (The LA Times’ Joel Rubin was the first to report on the emails’ existence.)

In one of the emails, Mrs. Baca wrote in part:

“The attorney fees for this defense will be substantial, well over $1 million, in addition to the large amount of money we have already spent on Lee’s legal fees. As a result, we are reaching out to our family and friends to help Lee beat these charges. Lee is in the fight for his life given his Alzheimer’s disease, and he hopes he can count on you to help him have the resources for this fight.

“There are two ways to contribute to help Lee. Any person can donate as a gift to Lee a maximum amount of $14,000 a year tax-free. In addition, we are setting up a legal defense fund that can accept contributions without limit (more details to follow).”

On the subject of legal bills, except for Paul Tanaka, nearly all of the other 21 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members who have been convicted by the government in the course of the multi-year federal investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD, have been provided attorneys by either the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), or the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA).

(James Sexton was the exception among the deputies who faced federal charges, as ALADS declined to pay even a portion of his bills, for reasons that make up their own disheartening tale.)

So, would Baca be eligible for any help?

We asked PPOA president, Brian Moriguchi, what he thought about whether either union could or would pay any of Baca’s bills, and he told us that “any full-member of our association in good standing is entitled to representation or financial support, regardless of whether their rank is a deputy sheriff or the sheriff himself.”

PPOA, he said, has provided financial assistance “to all of our members who were indicted related to this matter.”

Since we called Moriguchi on Sunday, he could not easily check whether or not Baca was, in fact, a full member. But if he is, Moriguchi said, “he is entitled to the same member benefits we afford all of our members, including financial assistance.”

Paul Tanaka, he said, “did not received any financial support from PPOA because he was not a member of our association.”

For the record, Mr. Baca receives roughly $328,000 annually in pension and benefits. In 2013, his total salary plus benefits was $490,727, according to Transparent California.

In 2013, Mr. Tanaka made $598,026. He also received salary and benefits as the Mayor of Gardena, which last year was $30,938.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 20 Comments »

OIG Reports New Rules for Restraints in County Jails After One Inmate Dies, and Another is “Tethered” Without Food for 32 Hours

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



A few days ago, Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman released a report
that reveals recent changes in the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s policies relating to the use of restraints on inmates in the county’s jail system. The new policies, the OIG writes, are designed to ensure that that the use of “tethering” and other restraints on inmates does not result in “a substantial risk of mental and/or physical harm,” is not used as a “punishment,” and does not break any state laws.

The new report focuses on four incidents in which prisoners were tied to a fixed object for a prolonged period of time though the use of a “restraint device”—waist chains, handcuffs, and/or a foot hobble—and the inmates were, in fact, harmed as a result.

In one January 2015 incident, a restrained inmate died when, according to the report, jail deputies who were supposed to have made regular welfare checks failed to notice evidence of distress that was later found to be visible on video.


A PUBLIC SEARCH

The first incident the report outlines occurred on August 26, 2014, in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility (TTCF), and involved an inmate who refused to be strip searched, then began physically resisting in general. In response to his recalcitrance, deputies “placed a hobble” on the inmate’s feet and “tethered the hobble to a handcuff ring on the counter of a visiting cubicle.”

The deputies then stripped the prisoner naked and conducted a search in his restrained position. The problem arose when they did so in an area that was visible “to the public.” According to the report, after the search, the inmate remained naked and restrained and visible to anyone walking by for 90 minutes or more.

(There is evidently video footage of all this, so the length of time that the naked, tethered inmate was on public view is not in dispute.)

This stripping of someone in front of other people who are not officially involved in the action appears also to be disallowed by the California penal code, section 4030, which states:

All strip, visual and physical body cavity searches shall be conducted in an area of privacy so that the search cannot be observed by persons not participating in the search.

In addition, the inmate’s 90-minute restraint—which was, according to the video, far, far longer than anyone needed to perform the necessary search—also ran contrary to the custody division’s general policy on search procedures:

“Searches are not to be used to inflict physical stress or punishment on prisoners. Prisoners shall not be required to remain in any search position for more time than is reasonable and necessary to complete a search.”


CHAINED AND INJURED

On September 2014, a week after the incident at TTCF, a prisoner who was detained in the North County Correctional Facility (NCCF) was suspected of concealing contraband in his rectum and was placed on what was called “contraband watch”—known informally as “potty watch,” which basically means that the inmate is isolated in a restricted area while deputies wait for him (or her) to use the toilet, at which point, if there is contraband, the deputies can retrieve it.

This inmate, however, was handcuffed and waist-chained for extended hours in only underpants and boxer shorts, resulting in injuries to his midsection and wrists.

The inmate mentioned in the report was reportedly one of several dozen who were similarly restrained at NCCF, according to a 2015 story by the LA Times Cindy Chang. The now-prohibited restraints-tied-to-a-fixed-object strategy during potty watch was, at the time part, of a reportedly vaguely worded policy at NCCF—a policy that was not generally used at the other jail facilities.

According to WitnessLA’s own sources, potty watch was reportedly over-used at NCCF in particular, well before 2014, to the point that inmates complained to us about being sent there after a court appearance, because they felt they might be subjected to prolonged periods of being isolated and naked, or nearly naked, even when they believed there was no indication that they were hiding contraband. Interestingly, they did not report this alleged over-use of the strategy in the county’s other jails.


DEATH IN RESTRAINTS

The third incident detailed in Huntsman’s report occurred in the High Observation Intake Housing (HOH) section of the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. This is the case in which a prisoner died while he was restrained. As with the other incidents, the inmate was attached via his handcuffs to a fixed object— his cell door—for a “prolonged period of time.”

The situation began when an inmate came back from court and began behaving strangely at the Inmate Reception Center (IRC). After having his vitals taken and seeing a psychiatrist after hours of delay, at 9:37 a.m. on January 13, 2015, the prisoner was brought into HOH where he was asked to remove his “undergarment” and put on a “safety garment.” He refused. So he was put in a cell, and tethered with his left wrist handcuffed to a waist chain that traveled through the cell door’s tray slot and then was secured to the door handle on the outside of the cell door.”

According to the report, the prisoner was kept in this restrictive position for approximately 10 hours and 25 minutes.

Much of the point of HOH, according to the OIG’s report, is to allow for an inmate to be closely monitored on a temporary basis. But, although deputies reportedly checked on this tethered prisoner on multiple occasions, no one noticed that the man was becoming more and more physically distressed. The video account of his time in the cell showed that the inmate stopped moving altogether at 7:30 p.m. but, according to the OIG (who reviewed the video), during a supposed 7:45 welfare check, “the deputy appeared not to look into the prisoner’s cell…” and reported no destress,

At 10:16 p.m. deputies finally actually entered the cell, and found the inmate “unresponsive.”

Rescue efforts were initiated, but it was too late. The inmate was pronounced dead “shortly thereafter.” The autopsy revealed that the prisoner died of methamphetamine toxicity.


THE 32-HOUR, NO-FOOD, NO-TOILET, TIE-DOWN

The last incident depicted in Inspector General Huntsman’s report may be the best known:

It began on June 19, 2015, when an inmate who was booked on an arson charge, was restrained after he “ripped up his t-shirt,” threatened to hurt himself, then head-butted a female deputy, injuring her.

As a result, for 32 hours he placed in a chair with his hands both cuffed behind his back and attached to waist chains, which were—in turn—attached to a bench. He remained in this restrained position for approximately thirty-two hours, during which time he received no meals, only one cup of water, and no access to a toilet.

We reported about the incident here.

In the aftermath, no one seemed to have a level-headed explanation as to why this treatment was deemed reasonable or appropriate.


CORRECTIVE ACTION

Much of the report is devoted to detailing the changes in policy that are being put into place as a result of each of the incidents, and in response to the incidents collectively. While different, the report notes, [the incidents] all share a “common link,” namely that in all four instances the inmate “was left tethered to a fixed object” for an extensive period of time “without proper care and supervision.”

These changes announced in the report have been a long time in coming, according to Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, which brought the massive class action suit against the department—Rosas v. Baca—the settlement of which has measurably influenced the new policies, according to the OIG’s report.

“The fact that these incidents occurred is evidence of lousy use of force policy that did not make clear how restraints should be appropriately used,” Eliasberg told us. “And bad policy often leads to bad incidents.”

On the positive side, he said, “what the OIG is reporting is that the department has had to overhaul its use of force policies” and come up with much better ones.

In addition to having to be approved by the department, and by the Rosas monitors, the policies also have to be approved by the Department of Justice, according to their settlement agreement with the department regarding correcting abuse in the county’s jail system.

“But having good policies is just one leg of the stool,” Eliasberg continued. “You have to train to those policies, and then when incidents happen, you have to hold people to the policies that are in place.

But designing good policies for a complex agency the size of the LA County Sheriff’s Department takes time, as both Eliasberg and the report make clear.

“Change is often slow,” Eliasberg said. “But you don’t just want to get it done. You want to get it right.”

Posted in LASD | 22 Comments »

LASD Says Man Shot in Compton by Deputies Was Not Involved in Earlier Carjacking

August 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On July 28, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy shot and killed 27-year-old Donnell Thompson, an unarmed man whom deputies mistakenly believed might be connected to a carjacking suspect who had fired shots at deputies three hours earlier.

On Tuesday, however, the sheriff’s department admitted in a statement that there was “no evidence that Mr. Thompson was in the carjacked vehicle, nor that he was involved in the assault on the deputies.”

The original incident began around 2:30 a.m. on Thursday, July 28, when sheriff’s deputies noticed a Honda Civic driving erratically. The deputy pulled the car over then ran the plates and determined that the car was stolen. The driver of the stolen car took off, crashing through the fence at a local elementary school driving onto school grounds to get away. As the case continued, the driver reportedly opened fire on police and eventually crashed the stolen Honda, and fled on foot. The alleged car jacker, whose name Robert Alexander was captured just before 5 a.m.

Shortly after Alexander was apprehended and arrested, deputies were alerted by a neighborhood resident that a man (Thompson) was lying in his yard. LASD Special Enforcement Bureau deputies in two armored vehicles responded to the call. The officers said Thompson was not responding to deputies’ commands. The SEB officers reportedly fired a flash bang grenade and rubber bullets at the man they viewed as a suspect. Thompson reportedly did not respond to the flash bang, but appeared to rouse in reaction to the rubber bullets, and finally stood up. Then, according to sheriff’s deputies, Thompson—who was reportedly small in stature—charged toward the deputies. A deputy fatally shot Thompson from the turret of one of the armored vehicles. That deputy has been reassigned to desk duties.

Thanks to DNA and gunshot residue testing, the department was able to make the determination that there is no evidence linkingThompson to the carjacking or the assault on the deputies involved, but department investigators are still in the process of reviewing the shooting and the events leading up to it.

Sources close to the department expressed concern to us back in July when news of this shooting surfaced. “This doesn’t add up,” one department veteran told WLA. Two weeks later, now that more information on the shooting is available, a retired department supervisor questioned why “the ‘highly trained SEB’ deputy” would shoot Thompson from “the protected turret of an armored vehicle.” (See above photo of the scene captured by ABC7.)

Friends and family members say Thompson, whom they called by the nickname “Little Bo Peep,” was kind and soft-spoken, and emotionally far younger than his 27 years. Thompson was attending classes for the mentally disabled at El Camino College, and reportedly had no criminal history.

“We just want answers as to why,” said Thompson’s sister. “We want the sheriff’s department to be held accountable for their actions.”

Thompson’s family reportedly plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the county.

“Clearly the Thompson family has some very grave concerns, and some questions that they’d like to have answers for, said LASD Captain Steven Katz in an interview with ABC7. “We believe that they’re certainly valid, and we have those same questions.”

Posted in LASD | 26 Comments »

Now That a Grand Jury Has Indicted Former Sheriff Lee Baca, Can His Trial Move Us Closer to Lasting Reform?

August 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

THE INDICTMENT ARRIVES

On Friday, former Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. These two new charges are on top of the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of a plea deal hammered out with federal prosecutors.

The new charges were not exactly a surprise.

The grand jury indictment came about after U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal at a sentencing hearing in July, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

A six-month sentence, Anderson said, does not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge continued, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct.”

Once Anderson dynamited the plea deal on July 19, at the next sentencing hearing on August 1, Baca and his attorneys had three possible ways to move forward:

Number 1: Baca could continue to plead guilty to the single charge with the understanding that the judge was going to hand down whatever sentence he saw fit, which could be as much as five years.

Number 2: Baca and his attorneys could work with the prosecutors to come up with a new deal that might please Anderson, which turned out to be nearly impossible.

Number 3: Baca could withdraw from the plea deal altogether, meaning that the only option left was to go to trial. This last option all but guaranteed additional charges, since the government had maintained in the negotiations for the plea that it could hit the sheriff with more counts, hence the motivation to plead to the single charge of lying to the feds.

On August 1, Baca went with Door Number 3, the go-to-trial option.

If Baca is convicted on the two obstruction counts, plus original count of lying to the feds, he could face as much as 20 years in a federal prison.

But that kind of lengthy a term is considered unlikely, especially since Baca’s second in command, Paul Tanaka, received a sentenced of five years—although he was, in the eyes of many, the person responsible for the day-to-day control of the operation that has thus far resulted in seven obstruction of justice convictions, on top of his own, with the sentencing of a ninth, former LASD Captain Tom Carey—who took a plea deal—still to come.

Yet, however one spins things, when it comes to the actions that have resulted in a string of convictions of LA Sheriff’s Department members in the last two years, some for obstruction of justice, others for corruption and brutality, all of that criminal misconduct—and far more, frankly—was allowed to occur on Lee Baca’s watch, which seemed to be much of Judge Anderson’s point.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

The former sheriff’s defense is expected to make Baca’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease a significant issue in the trial. His attorneys, Michael Zweiback and a new member of the team, Nathan Hochman, have already suggested that, in the summer of 2011—the period when the actions took place that make up the heart of the obstruction charges—the former sheriff “delegated more than he should have,” due to his condition. In other words, some kind of claim of diminished capacity may be in the offing.

On the government’s side, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, wrote that Baca was “well aware of the accusations of rampant abuse,” in the jails, particularly in Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There were the ever-worsening ACLU reports. Then there were things like the “allegations about LASD deputies who worked on the 300 floor of MCJ” and called themselves “the 3000 boys,” who “exhibited gang-like and violent behavior, who “used excessive force on inmates, “and “falsified reports to cover up wrongdoing.”

In the indictment, the prosecutors also hinted that they have witnesses waiting in the wings who will testify that they told Baca about brutality in the jails, and that he still made no effort to curb the problem.

As for the actual obstruction charges, the 15-page indictment of Baca is not as long or detailed as the 20 pages written by federal prosecutors in their final indictment of Paul Tanaka. For example, there are no dramatic moments when a witness describes the defendant shouting “Fuck the FBI!” as was the case in Tanaka’s indictment.

Yet, there is the mention of Baca approving an expensive bunch of overtime so that a rotating team of deputies could guard federal informant Anthony Brown round the clock, after he’d had his name changed and was moved to an out-of-the-way sheriff’s station in San Dimas, allegedly in order to allegedly keep him away from his FBI handlers. There are accounts of a meeting where Baca was reportedly present for discussions of approaching FBI agent Leah Marx and threatening her in order to obtain information. And there is the letter from Baca to then US Attorney Andre Birotte, threatening to “end the LASD’s participation in federal task forces” if Birotte didn’t yank his support for the FBI’s investigation of the jails—and so on.


A “VASTLY DIFFERENT” TRIAL

According to Baca’s attorneys, however, when it comes to the obstruction charges, the feds have themselves admitted that their case against the former sheriff is not particularly strong.

They point to passages in the prosecution’s sentencing memo, which was designed to persuade Judge Anderson that a six-month sentence for Baca was appropriate:

Indeed, there are lines in the memo such as the following: “Baca’s involvement in the obstruction is not as clear as the others,” and “may be more limited…” and “During the obstructive conduct, records show Baca was rarely in contact with any of those involved in the obstruction, with the exception of Tanaka. Tanaka himself was routinely in contact with the others.”

On the other hand, when the plea deal was first announced back in February, the government indicated that, if Baca changed his mind and the deal fell apart, they were willing and able to go to trial.

According to the feds, they laid the going-to-trial-with-additional-charges gun on the table when bargaining with Baca’s attorneys to achieve the plea. And they were fully prepared to fire that metaphorical pistol, if it became necessary.

Meanwhile, the former sheriff’s attorneys continue to express confidence.

In a text to WitnessLA, Hochman said that the new obstruction charges “represent punishment” by the feds for their client’s decision to go to trial. He also reiterated the defense’s point that the prosecutors had “admitted in court the weakness of its obstruction case” against Baca.

“This trial will be vastly different than the others,” Hochman wrote.

Well, one thing is certain: the upcoming trial of the man who led the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years presents an opportunity like no other to shine a light on what went so catastrophically wrong in the LASD, and what still needs to be done to fix it.

The trial of Lee Baca is, at present, scheduled for September of this year.

Here’s the text of the Baca indictment



THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE BACA SAGA & THE NEED FOR REFORM

Rhetoric aside, whether Baca or the federal prosecutors do or do not actually want to go to trial, it has come to pass that, barring something wildly unforeseen, the former sheriff will in fact be on trial after all—even though for several years, the likelihood of such an event occurring appeared all but impossible.

Now the trial of Lee Baca suddenly feels weirdly fated.

Given the disturbing display of departmental arrogance and wrongdoing that the previous LASD trials have have illuminated, it seems fitting that the guy at the top should also get his chance to face a jury—whatever the outcome.

After all, the whole obstruction of justice mess came about because the feds were covertly investigating accounts of brutal and corrupt behavior by deputies toward jail inmates (and, it seems, their visitors) that department higher-ups had aggressively refused to address, no matter how many awful reports of abuse were brought to their attention.

Unfortunately, based on our own investigations over the last six years, along with those of the LA Times, ABC7, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and others, the problems forced into public view by a raft of federal indictments are indicative of a larger toxicity that was allowed to spread unchecked in the department, both in the jails and elsewhere in the LASD.

Yet, despite what has been brought to light by two years of federal trials, and the many positive steps taken by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the path to lasting reform still seems to be littered with obstacles.

It was heartening to note that, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, the editorial board wrote about the fact that, while it’s a good thing that Baca will be on trial, the need for departmental reform is bigger, wider, deeper than the various prosecutions can reasonably accomplish.

Here are some clips from their essay:

Consider, for example, McDonnell’s continuing attempts to weed out of the department those deputies who have shown themselves to be unsuited to carry weapons and to wear the badge and the tan and green uniform.

Under the Los Angeles County system, fired deputies can be, and indeed have been, reinstated by a civil service commission that has no expertise in law enforcement or public safety and that makes its decisions based in part on the precedent set by previous sheriffs and commissions. So as McDonnell is attempting to raise standards of performance, the commission is judging deputies based on previous, lower standards. McDonnell then is compelled to take back — and to keep paying — deputies he and his command staff have deemed unfit for their jobs, completely undermining his power to set high standards of performance. It is an untenable system that has nevertheless become the envy of law enforcement officers in other agencies who would like to enjoy similar leniency…..

….The county Board of Supervisors voted this year to establish an oversight commission to keep tabs on sheriff reforms, but the panel has yet to be appointed or to convene. The board agreed to consider asking voters to grant that commission subpoena power, but with deadlines approaching to put measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, there has been no move forward on that issue….

….Switching out the man at the top was a solid step but it will not be enough to correct the Sheriff’s Department, and Los Angeles cannot rely on criminal prosecution of sheriffs, command staff and deputies as a substitute for oversight. Baca’s failed plea deal and his looming trial may be among the more compelling chapters in the story of the Sheriff’s Department, but the most important pages are those that lay out how we make sure that a similar meltdown does not occur again — and those pages haven’t yet been written.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

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