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Pulling Back the Blue Curtain: What Does the Public Really Have the Right to Know About Police Records?

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

In LA and around the country, law enforcement agencies are purchasing and deploying police body cameras as a means of increasing accountability to the public. But the use of all these new cameras means the potential accumulation of miles and miles of video footage. The question of who has the right to see all this video footage and when and under what circumstances is already the subject of debate between police, civil rights advocates, and the public.

Last week, at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze moderated what turned out to be a very informative and often contentious discussion on the complex issues relating to law enforcement transparency, and what the public legally has the right to know.

Panelists included Peter Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, Jack Leonard, the LA Times’ police and courts editor, attorney Mildred K. “Missy” O’Linn, Jeff Steck, head of ALADS, the LA deputies’ union, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, and LA Times attorney Rochelle L. Wilcox.

One of the first and most contentious topics that came up was the June 2, 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, by Gardena police officers, and a push from the Times (along with the Associated Press and Bloomberg) for the release of dash cam footage of the incident.

The city of Gardena settled the resulting civil lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but fought to keep videos of the shooting under wraps, citing privacy concerns. Earlier this month, two years into Gardena’s fight to keep the videos hidden, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city to release footage from two radio car dash cams.

Panelist Missy O’Linn, who was Gardena’s attorney during the legal battle, had a great deal to say on the matter of police rights.

O’Linn argued that the videos should not have been released because they were part of a protective order. “The problem here is the process,” she said. “Technology is way ahead of the law…we need rules. We need guidelines…. as to what is to be made public.” And then a few beats later: “It appears that the first amendment has usurped state law.”

This last remark triggered a rash of noisy murmurs from the audience, which was filled with lawyers, journalists, and advocates, in addition to interested community members.

LA Times attorney Rochelle Wilcox, who successfully fought to get the names of Long Beach officers revealed last year, explained that the public is entitled to access records in federal cases, “unless the party advocating for secrecy [in this case, the city of Gardena] meets a burden of showing compelling reasons why the records should be sealed.” (The same is not true when it comes to state cases.)

O’Linn was not cowed. She argued that releasing video only presents one perspective of an incident to the public, and can create a pubic safety issue. “The public’s reaction, without information—which is controlled by mass media—has the potential to set your cities on fire, destroy your businesses…If it was no justice, no peace, marching in solidarity, and peaceful protest, that’s one thing. But call Baltimore, call Ferguson, where the business owners’ lives have been destroyed because they didn’t have a peaceful protest. And quite frankly, that is a public safety issue.”

When Stoltze asked O’Linn if it was fear of public unrest that was the most compelling reason given as to why the Gardena videos should not have been released, O’Linn was quick to answer. “Absolutely…Darren Wilson, an officer in Ferguson, Mo, will never work again as a police officer. Someone tried to beat him to death, and he will never work again. My officers do not deserve to be hung, judged in the media, without full information.”

So would she argue for a release of the entire record, including the video? Frank asked. “If you want full information out there, would that not be the logical next step?”

“The public does not go looking for that information,” said O’Linn. “The media directs the conversation.”


SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it would not be too burdensome to release some videos, on a case-by-case, as-needed basis. “When it comes to police investigative records, they are 100 percent exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. But the police have the discretion, if they wish, to release them,” said Scheer. “So why not, in some of these cases, release these videos at the discretion of the department, where the public’s need to know is compelling?“

Jeff Steck, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), jumped in to say that videos often do not tell the whole story about an officer-involved shooting or other use-of-force incident. “I’ve just begun to understand what I see, and I’m an expert in the field,” said Steck.

Steck did agree with Scheer’s contention that the videos should be released to the public on a case-by-case basis, but said he was worried about the protection of victims. “I saw an officer get murdered on camera. If that happens to me, I don’t want my death on TV.”

Steck also expressed concern about the effect that indiscriminate video release would have on the privacy and the safety of officers and their families in general. “There are people who want to do us harm. We lost two deputies who were killed at their homes. We are concerned for our safety. When we’re on duty, we’re aware of the risk, but we don’t to take this home to our families.”

And if all videos were to be released, O’Linn broke in to say, it would be a huge burden to taxpayers, “…because your cities and counties that want to implement body worn camera programs are going to need to hire a team of editors to blur out faces and remove private information.”


TRANSPARENCY VERSUS STATE LAW

LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department is working on new website that will share crucial data with the public regarding use-of-force incidents, without naming individual officers involved. The site will include information and statistics on officer-involved shootings, as well as data on complaints from the public and officer discipline.

Tyler emphasized that Sheriff McDonnell understands that giving the public access to department records will build trust. “We’re moving towards transparency. More access. Real access. It’s a good faith effort to properly balance public safety against all the factors of democracy.”

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard broke in to challenge law enforcement’s frequent unwillingness to release officers’ names. “We give police officers a lot of power,” he said. “We invest in them the responsibility and ability to investigate serious crimes, and also we give them the legal right to use deadly and other types of force. Yet, when individual officers are found to have misused that right, we don’t get to find out who the officers are.”

The public has way of knowing how departments deal with personnel issues like sexual misconduct, or officers who have been disciplined for lying, Leonard continued. “We have no idea how departments actually deal with that because it is all secret,” he said, explaining that part of the problem is with state law, not so much individual department policy.

Leonard was referring to the Public Safety Officer Procedural Bill of Rights, sometimes called the Peace Officers Bill of Rights (POBR) which, among other things, prevents public release of officer discipline issues.

On the other side of the legal tug-of-war, the California Public Records Act, in the name of government transparency and accountability, establishes the public’s right to view public records. But it has certain exceptions to the rule. Law enforcement personnel files fall under the “exemptions” category.

During the comments portion of the discussion, the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, who was in the audience, pointed out, that California has less access to police officer records than, say, Texas and Florida, where there is “open access once there’s a finding of misconduct by the department.” Many other states have automatic open access to peace officer records, even misconduct allegations, said Bibring.

Wilcox, the Times’ attorney, added more on the topic. “The police are public employees who have a very unique kind of protection,” she said. “They perform one of the most important roles in society, and yet the transparency that the government has agreed is good, doesn’t apply to them. So while we can get public misconduct information about teachers, we can’t get any information about the people who have the ability to do harm.”

O’Linn said she and her colleagues “encourage our departments not to take what we call a ‘bunker mentality,‘ to hunker down and refuse to ask questions. And they are listening.”

“When my police chiefs terminate someone, they can’t even turn to the rest of the department and explain why,” said O’Linn. “We do encourage departments to be more forthcoming, but they also have to act within the law.”

In the end, much of the issue was about public trust, said moderator Frank Stoltze as the evening drew to a close. “I think the challenging thing is if there’s been misconduct, the public wants to know what’s happening to law enforcement officers who are engaging in bad behavior,” said Stoltze. “I think the question is confidence in law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department may be taking care of bad cops and firing them, but we don’t know that.”

Posted in Freedom of Information, Jim McDonnell, journalism, LASD, law enforcement | No Comments »

Fresno’s Public Defender Problem…John Oliver on Mandatory Minimum Sentences…and Supes Consider LASD Oversight

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

ACLU LAWSUIT AGAINST FRESNO SAYS POOR DEFENDANTS GO WITHOUT ADEQUATE LEGAL REPRESENTATION FROM PUBLIC DEFENDERS

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the city of Fresno in Northern California over the state of the city’s indigent defense system, which is so underfunded, 60 public defenders take on 400,000 cases per year between them. That’s more than four times the maximum caseload recommendation from the American Bar Association and National Advisory Commission on Criminal Justice Standards and Goals. But this is not a problem unique to Fresno, it’s happening all over the nation, and like many other areas of the criminal justice system in need of reform, it disproportionately affects people of color.

Mother Jones’ Gabrielle Canon has more on the issue. Canon opens with the story of Peter Yepez, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit:

After being charged with burglary in 2013, Peter Yepez waited in the Fresno County, California, jail for a month before his assigned public defender came to talk to him. This delay was a sign of what was to come: Between arraignment and sentencing Yepez spent more than a year being shuffled between nine different Fresno County public defenders, who he says told him they did not have time to work his case

By then he’d missed his daughter’s graduation and his young son’s memorial service, and had fallen into depression.

Though he was originally accused of a domestic burglary, during those many months prosecutors added additional charges to his case, alleging that a victim had been present during burglary even though a police report filed at the time of the crime had claimed no one was there. The new allegations would bump his original charge to a violent felony. Still, Yepez’s public defender advised to him to accept all the charges and the punishment that would come—and so he did. Now Yepez’s record reflects a felony conviction.

Read on.


JOHN OLIVER BLASTS MANDITORY MINIMUMS, CALLING FOR REFORM AND RETROACTIVITY

Once again, John Oliver of HBO’s Last Week Tonight is staying on top of important criminal justice issues. We didn’t want you to miss his latest segment about President Obama’s recent commutations and mandatory minimum sentencing for drug offenses. (Oliver is not a fan.) Watch it above.


LA COUNTY SUPES TO CONSIDER LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT COMMISSION

Today, the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider a report from the working group convened to advise the board on what the composition and reach of civilian oversight for the LA County Sheriff’s Department ought look like. (Backstory here.)

We’ll keep you posted on the outcome.

Posted in ACLU, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Public Defender, Sentencing | No Comments »

Former LASD Deputy Accuses Feds of Editing Testimony to Get Conviction

July 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



DID EDITED TESTIMONY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The formal written brief asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was filed last Friday, and WitnessLA has obtained a copy. In it, Sexton’s defense attorneys, led by former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’brien, accuse federal prosecutors of taking crucial grand jury testimony given months earlier by Mr. Sexton and presenting it to Sexton’s trial jury in an highly edited form that fundamentally changed its meaning—rendering it misleading and false.

If you’ll remember, last September, James Sexton was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

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

It was the second time that Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of 2014, resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury that split six-six.

Sexton was the seventh former LASD department member to be convicted of obstruction with regard to the Brown case. The other six—two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies—were convicted in July 2014 and all seven were given prison sentences that ranged in length from 18 months to 41 months.

Sexton and the other six appealed their convictions to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th agreed to hear both cases.


SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

The appeals of all seven former department members convicted of obstruction are, in certain ways, similar. For instance, in the 77-page brief filed Friday, Sexton’s attorneys argue that the case was the “..unfortunate product of a turf war taken to the extreme.” The appeal then goes on to describe “two law enforcement agencies”—namely the LASD and the FBI—that “..both thought they were more important than the other.”

This “jousting” by decision makers “resulted in lower level officers facing federal convictions for obstructing justice when they thought they were serving justice,” states the brief. The filing also makes clear that Sexton and the rest did what they were ordered to do by their bosses.

“This is not criminal activity,” write Sexton’s attorneys to the appellate court. “This is not obstruction of justice. It is a tragedy that this Court should correct.”

In an appellate brief weighing in at an impressive 161 pages, that was also filed on Friday, the attorneys for the other six, made a similar argument, albeit in even greater detail, that those convicted had followed what they believed to be lawful orders that came from the very top of the organization, along with expanded versions of the orders handed down by supervisors in between.

Yet, there are also certain critical differences between Sexton’s appeal, and the appeal for the other six.


JUROR NO. 5

In one of the latter’s brief’s most interesting sections, the attorneys for the six dispute Judge Percy Anderson’s dismissal of one particular juror late in the deliberation process, who wanted out because she was feeling “threatened.” The juror, wrote attorneys for the six, “revealed” at least a “reasonable possibility that her difficulties stemmed from disagreements with another juror (or jurors) about the merits of the case. The strong implication was that the dismissed juror, had she stayed on, was reasonably likely to have voted to acquit, which would have meant a hung jury.


IS IT LEGAL TO EDIT?

In Sexton’s appellate brief what is perhaps the most intriguing section pertains to the trimming of his testimony, which Judge Anderson permitted over the strenuous objections by his defense attorneys. At trial, the core of the government’s case was Sexton’s grand jury testimony, which the prosecutors characterized as a confession.

In Sexton’s first trial, which ended up with a hung jury, the government’s central piece of evidence was also Sexton’s grand jury testimony, a long segment of which was reenacted for the jury. Yet for the second trial, the feds took the same segment read to the jury in the first trial, and edited some of its content in such a way that, according Sexton’s attorneys, changed the meaning substantially from what the jury heard in the first trial:

Not coincidentally, the Government opted to edit out essentially all of the testimony relied upon by Mr. Sexton in his closing argument during the first trial. During the first trial, Mr. Sexton relied on portions of his Grand Jury testimony to establish and to argue that he did not have the requisite knowledge of the pending investigation in order to obstruct it.

The brief argues that snips made by the feds removed important context, and what was left suggested that Sexton had knowledge and intentions that the full transcript would have made clear he did not possess.

The removal of these excerpts rendered the testimony misleading…[to the jury] and it was not harmless. This Court need look no further than the facts that, in the first trial—with full evidence—the jury hung… and in the second trial the Government specifically targeted those portions of the testimony Mr. Sexton relied on his closing to know this error was not harmless and that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding this evidence.

In other words, according to the appeal, reading the unedited version of the grand jury testimony produced one meaning, and one jury outcome. Whereas reading the line edited version produced a very different—and false—meaning for the jury, and that Sexton’s conviction was the result.


TO TARGET OR NOT TO TARGET

There are a number of other interesting points in Sexton’s appeal: It maintains, for instance, that Sexton was given the clear impression that he was viewed as a cooperating witness, not as a suspect, in his interactions with the FBI and with federal prosecutors. He had after all met with the FBI several dozen times, and had brought them documents. Then when he went to testify in front of the grand jury, according to the appeal, the feds assured Sexton that he was not a target of their investigation, when it turned out that he was. This bait and switch, the attorneys wrote, was against the feds’ own policy.

The USAM [US Attorney's Manual] instructs the USAO [US Attorney's Office] that targets of the investigation should not be subpoenaed without special consideration. Here, Mr. Sexton was specifically advised he was not a target, participated in countless interviews, and offered fulsome grand jury testimony all based on the Government’s repeated statements that he was not a target, only to find out that he was a target and his Grand Jury testimony was to form the core of the evidence against him. The Government’s failure to follow its own written policies which were enacted to prevent “unfairness,” must not be allowed to go unchecked. If the Government is allowed to subpoena targets before the Grand Jury without warning, in violation of DOJ policies, the potential for abuse is endless.

In the next 60 days the government will send the 9th Circuit its formal replies. And then likely late this year or early next year, the 9th will actually hear the two appeals and render a decision.

So stay tuned.


UPDATE: Here are the two briefs for your reading pleasure.

Sexton Opening Brief_9th Circuit Appeal

Thompson, Et Al, 9th Circuit Appeals Brief 7-24-2015

Posted in FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

DA Jackie Lacey Delivers Her Master Plan for Diverting LA’s Mentally Ill From Lock-Up

July 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


After 15 months of research, including out-of-state field trips to see what other cities and counties were doing, a slew of small and large meetings, and many, many hours of careful strategizing,
on Wednesday afternoon, Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey delivered a comprehensive plan to the LA County Board of Supervisors that, if fully implemented, could divert a significant percentage of LA’s mentally ill lawbreakers away from jail and into treatment centers in the community.

At the August 4 board of supervisors meeting, in two weeks, Lacey is scheduled to discuss the 41-page report (which WLA has obtained, and which is really more than 100 pages with its charts and appendixes). If the detailed road map that the report lays out is to succeed, it will require considerable funding from the supes—40 million of which has already been allocated.

A comprehensive program would mean, for example, greatly beefing up the number of community-based beds to house and treat mentally ill county residents, “particularly those with criminal records.” said the report. These are the nonviolent mentally ill, many of them homeless, some veterans, who would otherwise wind up in the county jail, often on a revolving door basis.

Lacey described the genuinely impressive report as “an unprecedented collaboration of stakeholders.” And, indeed, the LA County Criminal Justice Mental Health Advisory Board, which created the plan, and which was formed and chaired by Lacey, includes a wide array of law enforcement, mental health leaders, members of the judiciary, representatives of the public defenders’ office and many more.

“This is our first comprehensive attempt to fundamentally change the way we treat mentally ill people in Los Angeles County when they come into contact with law enforcement personnel,” Lacey said. “When implemented, these recommendations will provide treatment options to safely divert nonviolent mentally ill offenders from jail, which is more costly and, at times, inhumane.”


TRAINING, TRAINING, TRAINING

The roadmap created by Lacy’s task force features recommendations that fall primarily into three categories. The first of those, and the most important, according to the report’s authors, is to provide what is known as Critical Incident Training (CIT) for all Los Angeles County law enforcement personnel.

The training is designed both to help law enforcement become knowledgable and to have greater sensitivity to mental health issues—but also to supply cops with concrete, usable tools to interact “more effectively and compassionately” when they run across mentally ill persons in crisis in the field.

And how often do officers encounter the mentally ill? Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell estimates that, up to 40 percent of all the LASD’s use of force incidents in the field involve people who are mentally ill.

Accordingly the sheriff’s department is already planning to institute a six-year plan to train 5,355 patrol deputies in a 40-hour CIT course. (The report recommends to the Board of Supes that they fund this training—ASAP.)

The report also endorses plans by the District Attorney’s Criminal Justice Institute to provide a 16-hour version of the training for the 48 smaller police agencies in LA County.

In addition, the task force recommends increasing the number of specially trained teams, that include a mental healthcare clinician along with a law enforcement officer, that will co-deploy with other law enforcement to defuse potentially violent situations and to avoid escalation.


THE USE OF OFFICERS’ TIME

One of the problems facing law enforcement who encounter the mentally ill during the first 24-hours of a mental health crisis, explains the report, is that while it could take less than an hour to take a mentally ill individual to jail and book him or her, thus solving any public safety issue in the short term, if the officer instead takes his charge to a local hospital emergency room, which is usually the first step down the road to treatment, rather than lock-up, he could spend six to eight hours simply waiting—his patrol shift left uncovered. As a consequence, the report requests three more Urgent Care centers where a suspect can be immediately evaluated. (The county’s Department of Mental Health currently operates four Urgent Care Centers now with one more to open in October or November.)


THE JAIL POPULATION REDUCTION FACTOR

Lacey has been quick to say that the report delivered this week is “not a jail reduction plan. ” per se, insisting instead that if the need for mental health jails beds is reduced, it will enable serious and violent felony offenders who are not mentally ill, to serve a long percentage of their sentences.

Okay, fair enough.

However the newly constituted board of supes voted last month, 3 to 2, to put the breaks on the go-ahead for the $2 billion jail building project that was originally approved by the old board in May 2014. The new board wisely elected stop and assess just how many jail beds the county would really need, once such strategies as mental health diversion and possibly some kind of pre-trial release system, can be taken into account.

The board has even hired a consultant for a fee of $349,500 to help determine just how much the county can downsize its jail population—with mental health diversion such as Lacey’s report recommends—while also protecting public safety.

The consultants’ findings, like Jackie Lacey’s impressive new report, are due to be presented at the August 4 Board of Supervisors meeting.

So stay tuned.


PS: We just noticed that the Daily News, which also has obtained the report, has just kindly put up a copy online, in case you want to read the 100 plus pages for yourself.

Posted in District Attorney, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Mental Illness | 9 Comments »

Incarcerated Kids 3 Times More Likely to Be Hospitalized for Mental Health Issues….New LASD Mental Heath Crisis Teams in Desert….Expanding Adelanto…and Sandra Bland

July 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LOCKED UP KIDS IN CA ARE FAR MORE LIKELY TO BE HOSPITALIZED FOR MENTAL HEALTH REASONS THAN NON-INCARCERATED KIDS

Kids in CA juvenile detention facilities were hospitalized for mental health issues way more often (and for longer) than their non-justice-system-involved peers over a period of 15 years, according to a new study from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Stanford researchers analyzed data from nearly two million hospitalizations of kids and teens between 11-18 in California from 1997 to 2011. The findings surprised the study’s lead author, Dr. Arash Anoshiravani. A whopping 63% of juvenile detention hospitalizations were for mental health problems, compared with 19% for kids who were not locked-up.

“We know young people in the juvenile justice system have a disproportionate burden of mental illness,” said Anoshiravani, “But I was really surprised by the magnitude of the problem, because hospitalizations typically occur for very severe illness.”

Locked up patients were more likely to be older, boys, and black. And when you took boys out of the picture, detained girls’ hospitalizations were for mental illness 74% of the time.


LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT. LAUNCHES MENTAL EVALUATION UNITS IN SANTA CLARITA AND ANTELOPE VALLEY

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has launched three new, much-needed Mental Evaluation Units for Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster. The teams are comprised of sheriff’s deputies and a Dept. of Mental Health clinician. The LASD has such teams already in place in other parts of the county, and in the jails, but, until now, hasn’t been able to fund units for Santa Clarita and the Antelope Valley, which account for more than a third of mental health-related calls to the LASD.

LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here’s a clip:

“We had been pushing for this for years, but we couldn’t get the funding,” said Lt. Carlos Marquez, who oversees the evaluation teams for the Sheriff’s Department. “When we got these three additional teams, the logical placement was in Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Lancaster,”

Of the 1,000 calls for service that have to do with mental health, a third come from the northern part of L.A. County, Marquez said.

Those people who require emergency psychiatric care will be taken to Olive View-UCLA Medical Center in Sylmar, one of three facilities countywide with emergency psychiatric beds, said Dr. Mark Ghaly, director of community health and integrated programs at the county Department of Health Services.

There are about 130 emergency psychiatric beds throughout the county — not nearly enough, Ghaly said, noting there may be some relief later this year.

In 2011, county officials opened a $10 million mental health urgent-care center in Sylmar, next to Olive View, for walk-in patients suffering from anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and a range of other issues.


SOCAL PRIVATE PRISON BECOMES LARGEST ADULT IMMIGRANT DETENTION FACILITY IN THE NATION

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), along with 28 other legislators, sent a letter last week, urging the US Justice Dept. and the Dept. of Homeland Security to stop expanding the Adelanto Detention Center, a privately run prison for immigrants in San Bernardino County.

Last month, Adelanto, which is run by the scandal-plagued GEO Group, became the largest detention facility in the country for adult immigrants. Before the expansion, Adelanto was a men’s only facility, but has added 260 beds for women, in addition to 380 more beds for men.

GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison operator, is often accused of medical neglect and abuse. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is beholden to a “lock-up quota”—a profit-boosting tactics penalize states for not filling prison beds—of 488 prisoners through May of 2016.

In an op-ed for The Hill, Christina Fialho, who is an attorney and co-founder of Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), urges the feds to stop ignoring the medical neglect by GEO Group, and to stop the expansion, and instead defund the detention center altogether. Here’s a clip:

The Congressional letter highlights Gerardo Corrales, a nineteen-year-old who is paralyzed from the waist down. Corrales suffered a urinary tract infection because GEO Group was unwilling to provide him with a sufficient number of catheters. Doctors at a nearby hospital not affiliated with GEO told Corrales that his infection could have been fatal. Earlier this month, Corrales launched his own campaign along with three other men detained at Adelanto calling for the release of all people from the facility. Chu’s letter includes a link to Corrales’ oral testimony.

My organization, Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement (CIVIC), has been documenting medical neglect and other abuses at Adelanto since 2012 through the support of CIVIC volunteers who visit the facility weekly. Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) tells us that people detained at Adelanto who request a medical visit are seen within 24 hours, the people in detention tell us otherwise. In fact, it is our understanding that sometimes it takes weeks for the men to see medical personnel, and they rarely meet with a doctor. The nurses often prescribe ibuprofen or “drink more water” for symptoms ranging from cataracts, to a slipped disk, to infections. One man was denied treatment for a serious hip infection because “it was too expensive,” according to a letter released in May by advocates. Unbelievably, nurses even deny sweaters to people detained at Adelanto who are cold.

Despite numerous complaints CIVIC has filed with DHS’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the Office of the Inspector General about the facility, ICE decided to expand the Adelanto Detention Center to detain 640 more people, including up to 260 women. Currently, the Adelanto Detention Center is imprisoning eight women, and local ICE personnel are hopeful that the expansion will allow them to detain transgender women at the facility as well. This is very troubling because these vulnerable populations require specialized healthcare services, and GEO Group has already proven that it is incapable of providing adequate care to the men in detention at Adelanto. Meanwhile, at GEO Group’s only other California-based immigration detention facility in Bakersfield, a pregnant woman tripped and miscarried last month after GEO shackled her in violation of federal guidelines.


RACISM IN THE TEXAS COUNTY WHERE SANDRA BLAND DIED MYSTERIOUSLY IN A JAIL CELL

Recently released jail video and dash cam arrest footage further complicate the mystery of how Sandra Bland, a black woman on a road trip to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, ended up dead in a jail cell in Waller County.

The history of racial prejudice in Waller County does not prove anything—one way or the other—about Sandra Bland’s death. Yet, it should not be disregarded either.

The Atlantic’s David Graham has more on Sandra Bland’s death and racism in Waller County. Here’s a clip:

Statewide, stops and citations for black people in Texas are actually lower than their share of the overall population, and the same holds true for stops by the Waller County sheriff and police in the towns of Hempstead and Prairie View.

But this might be one of the few areas where there isn’t evidence of racially disparate outcomes in Waller County, a place with a grim history of discrimination and tension—“racism from the cradle to the grave,” as DeWayne Charleston, a former county judge, put it to The Guardian.

The history is especially painful because Waller County was for a time a beacon of black progress. During Reconstruction, an office of the Freedmen’s Bureau opened in the county seat of Hempstead, and federal troops—including, for a time, some commanded by George Custer—occupied to keep the peace. Not coincidentally, the Ku Klux Klan also set up shop. Nonetheless, Hempstead became a locus of black political activity and hosted the Republican Party’s statewide convention in 1875. In 1876, the predecessor of Prairie View A&M was established, and in the 1880 Census, the county was majority black.

But the last two decades of the century saw an influx of white immigrants from Eastern Europe, and that dilution of the black vote, along with the end of Reconstruction, reduced blacks to a minority and slashed their political power. After a 1903 law established “white primaries,” African Americans were effectively shut out of politics—such that in a county with some 8,000 black voters, only 144 Republican votes were cast in 1912, according to The Handbook of Texas. Waller County, as Leah Binkovitz notes, had among the highest numbers of lynchings in the state between 1877 and 1950, according to a comprehensive report by the Equal Justice Initiative.

This may seem like distant history, but it set something of a pattern for the county’s race relations through to the present—and as the events of the last year have made clear, a place’s history is often an effective predictor of how it treats its black residents, from St. Louis County to Cuyahoga County. In fact, the disenfranchisement of black voters in Waller County has continued to be a source of contention.

In 2004, students at Prairie View A&M fought and won a battle over their right to vote in the county…

Read on.

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LASD, mental health, race | 16 Comments »

LA Housing Authority Will Pay $2 Million for Antelope Valley Housing Discrimination…Bill to Limit Drugging of CA Foster Kids Won’t Fix the Problem

July 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

US DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE COURT-ENFORCEABLE SETTLEMENT OVER RACIAL DISCRIMINATION MEANS LA HOUSING AUTHORITY WILL PAY $2 MILLION TO RESIDENTS

On Monday, the US Department of Justice announced a settlement with the Housing Authority of Los Angeles County (HACLA), as well as the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, after a DOJ investigation into an alleged inter-agency pattern of housing discrimination.

In April, the DOJ agreed on a separate court-enforceable settlement with LA County to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale sheriff’s stations. The settlements follow two years after a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. The DOJ investigation found that officers from the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s Antelope Valley stations were conducting racially biased searches and seizures, using excessive force against people already in handcuffs, and harassing and intimidating Section 8 housing voucher holders along with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

The county agreed to 150 reform requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement, as well as paying $700,000 to compensate the Section 8 housing voucher holders whose rights had been violated—a far cry from the $12.5 million the Justice Department originally demanded of the county in 2013.

Through Monday’s settlement, HACLA will be forced to cough up $1,975,000 to compensate residents. And HACLA and the county each have to pay a $25,000 civil penalty to the United States. The Housing Authority is required to reform the way it enforces the housing voucher program, and will not be allowed to perform surprise compliance checks on residents. HACLA will also have to stop giving residents’ information to the sheriff’s department and Lancaster and Palmdale.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Decker of the Central District of California said the $2.6 million in damages and the court-enforceable reforms “will ensure [the racially discriminatory enforcement] does not recur.”


CHILDREN’S ADVOCATE SAYS THERE ARE BETTER WAYS TO FIX OVERDRUGGING OF FOSTER KIDS THAN CA BILL TO CREATE MORE COURT OVERSIGHT

A package of four reform bills addressing over-drugging in California foster care system is working its way through state legislature.

The main bill, SB 253, would put judges in charge of deciding when and how much doctors can prescribe psychotropic medications to foster kids, and would require second medical opinions for prescriptions to kids under five.

Patrick Gardner, founder of Young Minds Advocacy Project, says this bill is not the answer to the problem. Gardner argues that SB 253 will only waste time and resources, instead of getting at the root of the problem—kids’ quality of mental health care. Here’s a clip:

The problem is in its premise: that the medications are the problem. In fact, quality of care is the real challenge. Foster children who are overmedicated are getting inadequate mental health care. In an improved system of care, foster children would be offered individualized, intensive therapies that allow them to live at home whenever possible; provided interventions before crises happen; treated with effective evidence-based practices; and receive coordinated care consistent with their expressed needs and treatment goals.

By focusing on improving quality of care instead of limiting access to medication, S.B. 253 could be much improved. Mandating second opinions doesn’t directly improve health care practice. In most cases, nothing happens, except added time and costs, because the two doctors’ opinions will be the same. In cases where there’s a difference of opinion, the decision maker has more treatment options.

But, as the decision making judge has no mental health training, what you will get is a somewhat random decision on which of two proposed courses of action is “better.” Taking a quality-based approach can improve both individual interventions and the quality of mental health care overall.

Providing expert consultation to the initial prescriber (rather than a second opinion from the judge) can directly improve the quality of the assessment, diagnosis and/or prescribing, especially in cases where the prescriber is a general practitioner and the consultant is a child or adolescent psychiatrist. Systemic consulting can also improve overall care as doctors become better trained through expert mentoring. It’s been done in other states and it works.

Posted in Department of Justice, Foster Care, LASD | 5 Comments »

Private Prison Medicine, Foster Care Benefits for Dual Status Kids, Presidential Pot Pardons, Sheriff Jim McDonnell on WWLA? …and More

July 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WHEN FOR-PROFIT CORPORATIONS TAKE OVER PRISON HEALTH CARE INMATE MORTALITY RATES RISE

The private medical company, California Forensic Medical Group, is the largest prison health care provider in CA. And, not unlike the largest prison health care company in the nation, Corizon Correctional Health Care, CFMG continues to rake in money despite being mired in scandals and lawsuits alleging mistreatment, neglect, and short-staffing.

CFMG holds medical care contracts for 64 detention facilities in 27 of California’s 58 counties. Most of the counties are rural, like Imperial and Yolo, but CFMG is also responsible for thousands of inmates in counties like San Diego, Ventura, Santa Cruz, and it’s hometown, Monterey.

Around 200 inmates have died in the last decade under CFMG medical care, and more than 80 lawsuits have been filed against the company in the last 15 years, according to an investigation by FairWarning.

FairWarning’s Brian Joseph takes an in depth look at CMFG’s history (which is not unlike many other private prison companies), as well as the stories of inmates who died seemingly preventable deaths while under the care of CFMG. Here are some clips:

The outsourcing of medical care in jails and prisons reflects a nationwide push for privatizing government duties. The private sector, outsourcing advocates say, offers better services at a lower cost. But while other government services have outspoken constituencies, jails and prisons do not. Inmates usually have little clout to demand change if they believe they are receiving poor health care.

“Society doesn’t really care about prisoners,” said Neville Johnson, a Beverly Hills lawyer. Johnson sued CFMG and Yolo County, near Sacramento, over the August 2000 jailhouse suicide of Stephen Achen. A drug addict, Achen warned some jail staffers that he could become self-destructive but promised another that he wouldn’t hurt himself. “As we got into it, we were astonished at what we felt [was] the deliberate indifference of the jail staff and especially CFMG, which is nothing but a money-making machine,” Johnson said. CFMG settled with the Achen family for $825,000 after a judge found evidence of medical understaffing, according to media reports.

The private sector started providing health services to jails and prisons in the 1970s, when negligent medical care became a foremost prisoners’ rights issue. Inmates across the country filed lawsuits alleging inadequate care. Courts ruled that depriving prisoners of competent medical services was unconstitutional and in some cases ordered states and counties to take corrective action. Wardens and sheriffs, lacking backgrounds in medicine, turned to outside contractors for help.

[SNIP]

Ryan George, age 22, was serving time for domestic violence in 2007 when he experienced the onset of a sickle cell crisis, a painful, but treatable, condition where blood vessels become clogged by the misshapen cells. For days, Valerie says, Ryan called her from jail in obvious pain, complaining that he was being neglected.

Finally, when he was found “unresponsive” in his bed, Ryan was taken to the hospital, according to court records. But after a couple of days, of treatment, doctors there decided Ryan was exaggerating some of his symptoms and sent him back to jail. Shortly thereafter, Valerie said, a CFMG doctor called her, saying Ryan was getting worse. She says she demanded that the doctor take him to the hospital, but he said “that’s not a possibility.”

The company doctor acknowledged in court papers that he spoke with Valerie George, but disputed her version of what was said. CFMG executives also acknowledged that the company would have incurred more costs if Ryan was sent back to the hospital, but denied that financial concerns had anything to do with his death.

A few days later, Ryan George was found dead in his cell, with dark green fluid oozing from his mouth and eyes, according to the civil complaint. A subsequent Sonoma County Grand Jury investigation found that the “Sheriff’s (department) and CFMG medical staff failed to fully intervene” when Ryan’s condition worsened. “He was not re-hospitalized, despite exhibiting symptoms of jaundice, severe dehydration, bone pain, altered level of consciousness and loss of urinary and bowel control,” the grand jury found. Said Valerie George, whose family settled with CFMG: “They let him die like a dog in a cage because this company would not pay for him to get proper medical treatment.”

[SNIP]

“Why wasn’t an ambulance called?” a guard later recalled someone asking when he wheeled a pale Dau into El Centro Regional Medical Center at about 9:30 a.m. on July 23, 2011. A doctor rushed to her side and felt her neck. “She has no pulse!” the doctor yelled, according to a deposition given later by the physician. Hospital staff cut off her jumpsuit and attempted CPR, but it was no use: at 9:56 a.m. Dau was declared dead.

A subsequent autopsy by Imperial County Chief Forensic Pathologist Darryl Garber determined Dau died of heart disease with a contributing factor being acute drug intoxication from the multiple medications she was prescribed. Garber also discovered Dau had a bed sore on her lower back, suggesting that she had been unable to move for some time.

Later, according to the minutes from a meeting about Dau’s death, CFMG and jail staff decided that an ambulance should have been called and that Dau was “probably” going through Valium withdrawal.


CRUCIAL BILL TO CLOSE A LEGAL LOOPHOLE AND EXTEND BENEFITS TO “DUAL STATUS” FOSTER KIDS MOVES FORWARD

A CA bill to give foster kids involved in the juvenile justice system (often called “dual status” or “crossover” youth) extended foster care benefits was approved unanimously by the Assembly Judiciary Committee.

SB 12, authored by Senator Jim Beall (D-San Jose), would close a loophole in existing law, and ensure kids who turn 18 while in juvenile detention receive extended benefits like their non-justice-system-involved peers.

Sawsan Morrar has more on the bill and its progress for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

DeAngelo Cortijo, an intern at the National Center for Youth Law, spoke at Tuesday’s hearing about his firsthand experience as a crossover youth. Cortijo was removed from his home when he was two after his mother attempted suicide. He was placed with family members, and at one point returned to his mother, before he was sent to foster care amid reports of abuse. Since then, he was in over four detention facilities, and ran away from group home placements several times.

“When I was released, I faced many challenges,” Cortijo said. “I now have to fend for myself as an adult. I had to find stable and clean housing. I didn’t have an income to support myself.”

Cortijo was left depending on others for the most basic needs like purchasing a toothbrush or borrowing socks.

“Do you know what that does to a person’s confidence? It completely destroys it,” he said.

With extended benefits in place, Cortijo would have received about $800 a month, just like other transition-age foster youth, to help pay for food, housing and school.

Jennifer Rodriguez, executive director of the Youth Law Center, said these probation youth in transition are exactly who extended foster care aims to support.

“We know that the rates of homelessness, unemployment and incarceration for young people who cross from dependency to delinquency are double to triple the rates for youth who are just in dependency or delinquency,” she said.

According to the Youth Law Center there are approximately 4,000 probation-supervised foster youth in California. There are over 50,000 foster youth in the state.


WHAT IF PRESIDENT OBAMA FOLLOWED IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF FDR AND WILSON AND USED HIS PARDON POWER ON MARIJUANA OFFENDERS?

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced that he had commuted the sentences of 46 non-violent drug offenders, bringing the total number of approved commutation petitions up to 89. While this is a good step in the right direction, there are 95,265 federal prisoners serving time for drug offenses.

The Atlantic’s Zach Hindin makes the case for presidential pardons for all marijuana offenders in federal prison. Former President George W. Bush commuted 11 sentences and pardoned 189 during his 8 years in office, and Bill Clinton commuted 61 sentences and pardoned 396. Our current president has granted just 64 pardons, thus far. (If you are fuzzy on the difference between the two, a pardon wipes a person’s criminal record and restores rights, a commutation shortens a person’s sentence, but does not offer a clean slate.) Obama’s latest move seems far less historically meaningful when compared to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt’s thousands of post-prohibition acts of clemency for alcohol offenses, says Hindin.

Here’s a clip:

…Compared with the last few administrations, commuting the sentences of 46 nonviolent drug offenders may seem historic. But history sets the bar higher still.

In May 1919, Woodrow Wilson was in Paris negotiating the Treaty of Versailles. It’s hard to think of a moment when any president had a better reason to shelve domestic affairs, but on Monday, May 12, Wilson telegraphed his secretary in Washington: “Please ask the Attorney General to advise me what action I can take with regard to removing the ban from the manufacture of drink.” A week later Wilson sent another cable, this time to Congress: “It seems to me entirely safe now to remove the ban upon the manufacture and sale of wines and beers.”

Congress declined, and instead introduced a bill to shore up the Eighteenth Amendment, known as the Volstead Act. Wilson vetoed the Act. Congress overrode his veto. With no legislative recourse, Wilson chipped away at Prohibition using the executive power that Congress could not check: his pardon. By the end of his second term, alcohol offenders accounted for more than one-fifth of Wilson’s clemency recipients.

Unlike Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt had been ambivalent about Prohibition. During his time in the New York State Senate, the powerful Anti-Saloon League had praised Roosevelt’s “perfect voting record.” Even after the repeal of Prohibition became central to his presidential platform, according to one biographer, “the story persisted that whatever Roosevelt might say, there was a voting record to prove he was ‘dry’ at heart.” But when Prohibition was repealed by popular demand in 1933, FDR went on a pardoning spree that outclassed his predecessors, approving alcohol offenders who had been previously rejected or otherwise hadn’t even applied.

Wilson used his pardon to protest an impossible law. Roosevelt used his to acknowledge the change in social norms.

The time when most Americans condoned alcohol consumption despite Prohibition rhymes with our own, when 53 percent of the country supports the legalization of marijuana, and pot laws have been curtailed in 23 states and the nation’s capital. And just as Prohibition offered a legal apparatus for racism, today, the racial imbalances in marijuana arrests and sentencing are so stark that many in this country consider them a proxy for racial control. In 49 states, blacks are more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana—in the worst offending counties, by a factor of eight. The limit of this analogy is scale—together, Wilson and Roosevelt issued some 2,000 alcohol-related acts of clemency. In 2012 alone, almost 7,000 people were convicted in federal courts for marijuana offenses, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, more than for any other type of drug.


LA SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL TALKS JAIL ABUSE AND MORE ON WHICH WAY, LA?

After 10 jail employees were relieved of duty this past weekend in connection with alleged jail abuse, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss jail abuse, transparency, mental illness, and his hopes for the facility that will replace the crumbling Men’s Central Jail.

Take a listen.

In another segment, investigative reporter Jeffrey Sharlet talks about his in-depth GQ story about the March LAPD shooting of Charly Keunang, an unarmed homeless man in Skid Row, and the unreleased officer body cam videos he was able to watch of the incident.

AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF TROUBLING FOOTAGE OF OFFICER-INVOLVED SHOOTINGS…FAMILY OF UNARMED MAN KILLED BY GARDENA POLICE SEEK CIVIL RIGHTS INVESTIGATION

In 2013, three Gardena police officers fatally shot Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, an unarmed man they mistook for a robbery suspect. According to officers involved, Diaz Zeferino appeared to be reaching for a weapon. The city settled the resulting lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but refused to release videos of the shooting, because of privacy concerns.

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release the videos. And at a press conference on Wednesday, an attorney representing Diaz Zeferino’s family called for a federal civil rights investigation into the shooting.

Here’s a clip from the KPCC update:

Mercardo said the videos allow the public to see for themselves what took place shortly after police stopped Diaz Zeferino and two others suspected of stealing a bike.

“The public can be the judge of what really happened that night,” she said, adding the family had been searching for justice, not money.

Diaz Zeferino’s brother, Augustine Reynoso, holding aloft a picture of the two of them embracing, said he wanted to bring the Gardena police department to account for the death of his brother.

“Money is not what’s important in life. Life is what’s important in life,” he said through Mercado, who translated his comments. “I want justice to be done. I want the Gardena Police Department to be investigated more deeply. That’s why I’m here.”

Posted in Crossover Youth, DCFS, Foster Care, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, medical care, Mental Illness, Obama, Sentencing, War on Drugs | No Comments »

LA County Supes to Approve County’s Participation in MacArthur Foundation Grant-Driven Plot to Reform LA’s Jails

July 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



The vote on Tuesday is really just a formality.

No one really expects the LA County Board of Supervisors to vote NO on the question of whether or not to authorize Sheriff Jim McDonnell to to accept $150,000 in grant funds from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, thus committing the county to participate in round one of MacArthur’s “Safety and Justice Challenge.

But agreeing to the grant means committing to a process of jail reform that county officials have not previously managed to fully embrace.

So Tuesday’s hopefully no-controversy vote could actually be a heartening step forward.

You may remember that, at the end of May, LA County learned that it had been chosen as one of 20 jurisdictions in the nation asked to take part in the MacArthur Foundation’s ambitious Safety and Justice Challenge, a $75 million initiative that hopes to “reduce over-incarceration by changing the way America thinks about and uses jails.”

The 20 areas selected for this first phase of the challenge include New York City, New Orleans, LA, Pima County, AZ, Harris County, TX, Pennington County, SD, and the entire state of Connecticut. The idea is for these cities and counties (and one state) to be mentored by the nation’s experts in such things through the process of creating and refining a plan to reform their respective jail systems.

Then, if LA is chosen as one of 10 jurisdictions advance to the final stage of the competitive grant challenge, the county will receive a second round of mentoring plus funding of between $500,000 and $2 million annually to implement its plan for reform. (Since LA County has the largest jail system in the nation, it would likely be eligible for the whole 2 million yearly.)

In other words, if LA County is one of the final ten, then it will really, really have to be committed to certain reforms—things like a pre-trial release program, among other strategies—that it’s dragged its feet on in the past.

You’ve heard of Trojan horses? This is a Trojan grant—but one with a very positive purpose in mind.

Yet the recommendation from Sheriff McDonnell that the Supes are being asked to approve contains language that suggests that McDonnell, anyway, and presumably his friend DA Jackie Lacey, are willing to move forward on pre-trial release and more.

Here, for example, are a couple of key paragraphs. (I’ve italicized the sections that are particularly interesting.)

The County’s jails remain extremely challenged and overcrowded; currently housing 3,000 inmates above the state recommended capacity. This motivating factor propels the Department in seeking alternative measures that result in favorable outcomes. The jail system will soon exceed over $1 billion in annual operating expenses. The costs continue to grow as on going litigation requires increased accountability regarding crowding conditions, security, sanitation, and access to health care. It is clear that the revolving door of short term incarcerations has proven to have a destabilizing effect on the life of many offenders, especially when a stable home and employment is disrupted due solely to the fact that a low-risk inmate cannot afford to post bail. Throughout the County, nearly half of the Average Daily Inmate Population (ADIP) is pre-trial, and a segment of these inmates are low-risk and held due to poverty rather than risk.

Utilizing a risk-based release decision process could conservatively reduce the pre-trial population by more than 10 to 15 percent and focus on better outcomes through community treatment and supervision. Reducing our ADIP will reduce operational costs, overcrowding, and dramatically improve our ability to provide access to in-custody critical health care and rehabilitation services. Jail violence will also be affected and the predatory behavior of higher risk inmates preying upon less criminally sophisticated inmates will be reduced, along with inmate anxiety as they struggle to gain access to limited program resources in custody and upon their transition back into the community.

That’s good stuff. And it suggests that LA County’s full-hearted participation in the Safety and Justice Challenge just might be a very good thing.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 16 Comments »

Ten LA County Sheriff’s Jail Personnel Relieved of Duty Over “Troubling” Report of Inmate Abuse

July 12th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


10 RELIEVED OF DUTY IN ONE DAY

On Saturday night, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell announced that ten department members working in the county’s jail system had been relieved of duty pending an investigation of a report of “troubling” inmate abuse that allegedly occurred last month.

It seems that this past Thursday McDonnell was informed of a complaint resulting from the alleged incident, which began on June 19 at the LA County jail system’s Inmate Reception Center (IRC), where an inmate was handcuffed in a cell for approximately 32 hours without being provided food or liquid—save “a cup of water,” said McDonnell in a statement released Saturday night. (The inmate reportedly had eaten on his initial arrival at the jail.)

The inmate had allegedly assaulted a female guard during a force incident, after which he required medical attention. Then the inmate was handcuffed and restrained for a period amounting to a full day and night, and then another half day, without food.

By this past Friday (July 10), McDonnell had clearly learned enough about the alleged incident to decide that it warranted swift action. Thus by the end of the day, his staff had relieved ten jail employees of duty, “including supervisors,” while still others were reassigned to other duties pending further investigation.

Those relieved of duty include two lieutenants, one sergeant, one senior deputy, four regular deputies and two custody assistants—an unusual number to be ROD for a single incident. One could guess that messages were being sent.


INVITATIONS TO INVESTIGATE

McDonnell said the matter is being investigated by the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB), and its Internal Affairs Bureau (IAB). In addition, he and his staff have notified Max Hunstman, the LASD Inspector General—and the FBI, which still is engaged in its long-ongoing investigation into brutality and corruption in the LASD, a federal investigation that, in May of this year, resulted in the indictment of the former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and the former captain of the department’s criminal investigative unit, Tom Carey.

The same ongoing federal investigation resulted in the conviction, late last month, of one sergeant and two deputies, for brutally assaulting a handcuffed man in a 2011 incident in the Men’s Central Jail visiting center, then falsifying felony charges against the man, in order to justify the assault.

This fall, two more department members will be tried by the feds for other alleged instances of abuse in the jails, and for allegedly training newer jail deputies in methods designed to “teach” certain inmates “a lesson,” and then how to cover up said lessons.

According to a massive class action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Southern California—Rosas v. Baca—that was given its final stamp of judicial approval in April, the incidents of abuse of inmates and others that resulted in federal indictments were representative of a pattern of abuse that was allowed to occur all-but unchecked under former sheriff Lee Baca and his former undersheriff, Tanaka.


THEN & NOW

McDonnell— who served on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and thus was one of those responsible for the CCJV’s scathing report on jail abuse and misconduct that was issued in September 2012—seems determined to set a very different standard of response. Even his notifying of the FBI is a world away from the reaction of the previous administration, which—as we now are painfully aware—went to extravagant lengths to try to keep the feds from examining wrongdoing inside LA County’s jail system, in a manner outside the LASD’s control.

“The investigation into this incident is ongoing and will be thorough,” said McDonnell about the June 2015 incident, in a statement released Saturday night. “It will not only focus on employee actions, but also on corrective policies and procedures,”

McDonnell added that he was “… deeply committed to providing the highest levels of constitutional care to those in our charge.” He added that he will “quickly address and remedy any conduct, policies or practices that do not meet this expectation…”


NOTE: This story was updated on 7/12 at 12:20 pm.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 35 Comments »

Playwright Takes on School to Prison Pipeline… LAT Calls for Real Oversight of the LASD… .LAPD Praised for Handling of Mentally Ill…Update on SB 124, Juvie Solitary

July 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RENOWNED PLAYWRIGHT ANNA DEAVERE SMITH TURNS HER CREATIVE FOCUS ON RACE AND THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON PIPELINE

Playwright/actress Anna Deavere Smith has never been one to be scared off by complex subject matter.

When Smith premiered Twilight: Los Angeles 1992, her searing and revelatory one woman play about the aftermath of the Rodney King verdicts—first performing it in Los Angeles in 1993, then a year later in New York—reviewers fell over themselves praising the work. At the same time, they also argued with each other about whether Smith’s creation was really theater, or some strange new kind of journalism.

The confusion had to do with the fact that Smith had gathered the material for the play that would make her a critical success by interviewing nearly 300 people, many of whom had some direct connection to the riot, some of whom did not. Then, from those interviews, she shaped monologues for more than 40 “characters,” real people whom she inhabited on stage, one after the other, with eerie accuracy.

The parts she played included former LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates, a south LA teenager, one of the members of the Rodney King jury, a Beverly Hills real estate agent, a former Black Panther party head now living in Paris, truck driver Reginald Denny, the widow of a Korean American grocer killed during the madness, a pregnant cashier hit by a random bullet who managed, against odds, to save herself and her baby—and several dozen more.

All of this came together to produce what NY Times’ theater reviewer David Richards called, “an epic accounting of neighborhoods in chaos, a city in anguish and a country deeply disturbed by the violent images, live and in color, coming over the nightly airwaves.”

Now, 22 years later, Smith is working on another play that makes use of her signature form of documentary theater to illuminate another crucial cultural moment. (Smith has authored around 18 of these documentary plays thus far.) The new play, which has the working title of “The Pipeline Project,” investigates what the playwright describes as “the school-to-prison pipeline—the cycle of suspension from school to incarceration that is prevalent among low-income Black, Brown, Latino, and Native-American youth.”

As she did with Twilight, for the last year or so, Smith has been interviewing hundreds of people including students, teachers, parents, police, thought and policy leaders, psychologists, community activists, heads of prisons, people who are incarcerated, kids in juvenile hall, public defenders…and many more, as she fashions her theatrical characters.

Smith said that she got the idea after educators and reformers approached her to see if art could affect policy change. And so: The Pipeline Project.

Most recently, she has been performing pieces of the work-in-progress at select regional theaters in Berkeley, CA, Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. Then after each performance, Smith engages in an extended dialogue with the audience, sort of town hall meeting style, all of which she uses to continue to recalibrate her material.

Eventually Smith will have a full length theater piece, that she’ll debut around the country.

In the meantime, Californians will have the opportunity to see the work-in-progress version starting this coming Saturday, July 11, when Smith will begin previews at Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre. This pre-play play will run through August 2.

Robert Hurwitt of the San Francisco Chronicle talked to Smith while she was in rehearsal for her Berkeley opening, about what she wants from this part of the process, and from the Pipeline Project as a whole.

Here’s a clip:

“This is one of those rare moments when people do begin to think about race relations in this country,” Anna Deavere Smith says over the phone from Berkeley Repertory Theatre, where she’s in rehearsal for the premiere run of her latest solo piece. The new work, with the complicated but accurate title “Notes From the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter” is about the treatment of African American and other disadvantaged youth in our schools and what’s increasingly being called the school-to-prison pipeline.

“I started thinking seriously about these matters in 2010, and I started my work, my interviews in 2013,” Smith says. “A lot has happened very quickly in this country during that time. … You can’t really think about inequities in education without looking at the broader canvas of racial inequity in America. And you can’t think about school discipline without thinking about the ways in which the types of discipline that are of greatest concern mimic some of the practices in prisons.

“So it’s a problem, and it’s an opportunity. I did my first staged readings of this piece here at the Rep last July and left town and — boom! Ferguson. And just since then, because of technology, Americans have watched any number of bad interactions between authority and young African American males, and these videos have taken the country by storm and have caused a lot of people to go, ‘Wait. What? Something’s going on here about men of color. What is this? Wow! Whoa! No! How could that happen?’”


Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education, the California Chapter: Previews begin Saturday, July 11. Opens July 14. Through Aug. 2. $25-$89. Berkeley Rep’s Roda Theatre, 2015 Addison St., Berkeley. (510) 647-2949. www.berkeleyrep.org.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD LOOKS AT HISTORY & CALLS FOR REAL OVERSIGHT OF THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

The LA Times editorial board has called for a civilian commission with teeth before, but this time the board lays out the absolutely dismal history of attempts to oversee the department, all of which have failed utterly.

Let us hope the LA County Board of Supervisors are paying attention.

Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County has a commission created more than a half century ago, that is tasked with monitoring jail conditions and holding government accountable for improper treatment of inmates. As reports circulated in recent years of inmate beatings and abuse at the hands of sheriff’s deputies, the Sybil Brand Commission for Institutional Inspections failed to find or act on the pattern of brutality that has resulted in the county paying millions of dollars in verdicts and settlements, the resignation last year of Sheriff Lee Baca the indictment this year of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka (among others), the convictions of several deputies for obstruction of justice, and the ongoing criminal investigations into inmate mistreatment. It instead reported accomplishments such as commending the sheriff for his cooperation during jail inspections.

Following reports of numerous improper uses of force by deputies more than two decades ago, the Board of Supervisors hired special counsel Merrick Bobb, who regularly reported on problems in the jails and elsewhere in the department; but the board, distracted by other emergencies and concerns, took little action on Bobb’s recommendations. The board abolished his office just over a year ago.

In 2001, in response to concern that abusive deputies were not facing meaningful discipline, the county created an Office of Independent Review to provide civilian oversight of the discipline process. But in order to get access to confidential sheriff files, the office agreed that such documents would be privileged, and in so doing it became in essence the department’s attorney, and wound up providing in-house advice rather than actual oversight. That office, too, was abolished last year.

Those efforts illustrate the two primary avenues of failure in oversight of the sheriff’s department. The supposedly independent overseer either is absorbed into the sheriff’s world, as with the Office of Independent Review, or becomes an agent of the Board of Supervisors, ineffectual like the Sybil Brand Commission or else too easily ignored, given the board’s many duties and political pressures, like the Office of Special Counsel.

There is an urgent need for a new model that does not replicate those that so utterly failed during the jail abuse scandal. The oversight body must have sufficient independence from both the board and the sheriff, sufficient access to department documents to perform its task, sufficient standing to apply political pressure in cases when the sheriff refuses to cooperate, and sufficient professionalism and restraint to avoid becoming a runaway tribunal.

To design such a model, the Board of Supervisors appointed a panel to consider various possibilities and make recommendations. The Working Group on Civilian Oversight completed its report late last month. It falls woefully short.


LAPD’S MODEL MENTAL HEALTH UNIT IS THE NATION’S LARGEST

While, it doesn’t magically solve every single problem, with 61 sworn officers and 28 mental health workers, the Los Angeles Police Department’s mental evaluation unit is the largest mental health policing program of its kind in the nation and, by all accounts, it’s doing a lot of good, both in helping take the pressure off patrol officers while, most importantly, aiding in productive and appropriate resolutions, rather than harmful outcomes, for the city’s mentally ill.

According to LAPD spokespeople, the unit has become a vital resource for the city’s 10,000-person police force.

NPR’s Stephanie O’Neil has a good new story on the unit and how it functions.

Here’s a clip:

Officer Ted Simola and his colleagues in the unit work with county mental health workers to provide crisis intervention when people with mental illness come into contact with police.

On this day, Simola is working the triage desk on the sixth floor at LAPD headquarters. Triage duty involves helping cops on the scene evaluate and deal with people who may be experiencing a mental health crisis.

Today, he gets a call involving a 60-year-old man with paranoid schizophrenia. The call is typical of the more than 14,000 fielded by the unit’s triage desk last year.

“The call came out as a male with mental illness,” says the officer on the scene to Simola. “I guess he was inside of a bank. They said he was talking to himself. He urinated outside.”

If it were another department, this man might be put into the back of a police car and driven to jail, so that the patrol officer could get back to work more quickly. But LAPD policy requires all officers who respond to a call in which mental illness may be a factor to phone the triage desk for assistance in evaluating the person’s condition.

Officer Simola talks to the officer on the scene. “Paranoid? Disorganized? That type of thing?” The officer answers, “Yeah, he’s talking a lot about Steven Seagal, something about Jackie Chan.” Simola replies, “OK, does he know what kind of medication he’s supposed to have?” They continue talking.

The triage officers are first and foremost a resource for street cops. Part of their job entails deciding which calls warrant an in-person visit from the unit’s 18 cop-clinician teams. These teams, which operate as second responders to the scene, assisted patrol in more than 4,700 calls last year.

Sometimes their work involves high-profile interventions, like assisting SWAT teams with dangerous standoffs or talking a jumper off a ledge. But on most days it involves relieving patrol officers of time-consuming mental health calls like the one Simola is helping to assess.

The man involved in this call has three outstanding warrants for low-grade misdemeanors, including public drinking. Technically, any of them qualifies him for arrest. But Simola says today, he won’t be carted off to jail.

“He’ll have to appear on the warrants later,” Simola says, “but immediately he’ll get treated for his mental health.”


AMENDMENTS TO JUVIE SOLITARY BILL DON’T SWAY CRITICS

The bill to drastically restrict solitary confinement for California ‘s locked up kids, has one more committee to make it through, and then it goes to the assembly floor and, if passed there, on to the governor.

The bill’s author, Senator Mark Leno, has tried to address some of the concerns of the bill’s opponents, with a set of amendments, but so far they’ve not done the trick writes Kelly Davis for The Crime Report.

Here’s a clip:

In response to opposition from county probation unions and California’s influential prison guard union, Leno has agreed to several amendments since the legislation was first introduced in February. The most recent amendment allows a youth to be confined beyond four hours if he can’t be safely re-integrated into the general population.

But the amendments have not appeared to sway the critics.

At the committee hearing, Craig Brown, a lobbyist with the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, argued that the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ), which runs California’s four juvenile correctional facilities, has implemented numerous reforms over the last several years, including significant reductions the use of confinement. In 2004, the DJJ, then called the California Youth Authority, entered into a consent decree with the Prison Law Office after documented cases of young people being kept in solitary confinement—sometimes in cages—for 23 hours a day.

Leno’s bill would add another layer of regulations and “mess up all that progress” Brown said.

There are currently no laws governing the use of juvenile solitary confinement in California.

The lack of regulations has played a role in at least four lawsuits-—the one filed against the Prison Law Office against the DJJ, and three subsequent lawsuits against county probation departments.


Posted in American artists, American voices, Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Youth at Risk, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 24 Comments »

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