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Alternative Sentencing Program LA Graduation Feat. AG Eric Holder, a SWAT Convention, Prosecutorial Power, and Ezell Ford

October 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

US ATTORNEY GEN. ERIC HOLDER TO SPEAK AT GRADUATION OF ALTERNATIVE SENTENCING PROGRAM SPEARHEADED BY ANDRE BIROTTE

SoCal graduates of a unique alternative-to-prison program will celebrate their success with the help of US Attorney General Eric Holder today (Friday). Holder will be speaking at the Conviction and Sentence Alternatives (CASA) Los Angeles graduation ceremony, as part of his “Smart on Crime” tour.

CASA gives a second chance to certain federal defendants charged with low-level felonies in Southern California. Participants are assigned a special CASA judge and must agree to enter a guilty plea, then they must satisfy a number of requirements, including regularly appearing before a CASA panel and engaging in assigned programs. When participants complete the CASA program, they will either have their charges dismissed or will receive a reduced sentence that does not include prison time, depending on their criminal history.

Although there are state programs of a similar nature, CASA was brought to life by former US Attorney André Birotte who saw the need for such a program at the federal level.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, when asked about the program’s success rate, said that it’s going “very well.” Also, when WLA talked to Birotte about the program last year, he was visibly enthusiastic.

For more reading on CASA, we suggest Jill Cowan’s October 2013 story for the LA Times.

By the way, André Birotte’s formal investiture as a federal judge will take place Friday afternoon.


SWAT-CON: LARGE-SCALE CATERING TO POLICE MILITARIZATION

Mother Jones’ Shane Bauer attended the September 2014 Urban Shield conference, a Department of Homeland Security-funded event for domestic and international SWAT teams. The convention showcases cutting edge military gear, vehicles, and prototypes, as well as things like t-shirts bearing an AR-15 sight that reads, “This is my peace sign.”

Here’s a clip from Bauer’s story:

The event felt surprisingly open at first—vendors talked to me freely and I could sit in on workshops—but by the second day, I started noticing cops whispering to each other while looking in my direction. Some came over to feel me out, asking what I thought of the term “militarization.” One of them worked for the Northern California Regional Intelligence Center, a Homeland Security project to coordinate intelligence from local cops and federal agencies like the FBI. As I flipped through the counterterrorism handbook at his booth, he snatched it away. “That’s for law enforcement only,” he said. He told me he knew who I was.

Bauer explains that SWAT teams were originally created by the LAPD to respond to things like hostage situations and mass shootings, but now the majority of SWAT deployments are to serve search warrants, mostly for drugs, and (surprise) disproportionately affecting minorities.

Special weapons and tactics teams were created in the late 1960s for extreme scenarios like saving hostages and taking down active shooters. But police departments soon began deploying them in more mundane situations. In 1984, just 40 percent of SWAT teams were serving warrants. By 2012, the number was 79 percent. In all, the number of SWAT raids across the country has increased 20-fold since the 1980s, going from 3,000 per year to at least 60,000. And SWAT teams are no longer limited to large cities: In the mid-1980s, only 20 percent of towns with populations between 25,000 and 50,000 had such teams. By 2007, 80 percent did.

Much of the increase has been driven by the drug war, says David Klinger, a former Los Angeles cop and a professor of criminal justice at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “If we didn’t think that drugs were the most evilest thing in the history of God’s green earth,” he says, “and weren’t running hither and yon trying to catch people with dope in their house, none of this would have happened.”

Today, 85 percent of SWAT operations are for “choice-driven raids on people’s private residences,” Peter Kraska, an Eastern Kentucky University researcher who studies tactical policing, said in a recent Senate hearing. According to a study released by the American Civil Liberties Union earlier this year, 62 percent of SWAT deployments were for drug raids. The study found that in these raids, drugs were found only half of the time. When weapons were “believed to be present,” they were not found in half of the cases for which the outcome was known.

Besides the gear, the convention included a two-day training in which SWAT teams completed 35 scenarios in 48 hours. The winning SWAT team would receive a trophy.

Bauer was able to film a UC Berkeley SWAT hostage rescue session (click over to Mother Jones for the video) before he was banned from the conference.

I left the training site feeling unsettled. If you were the hostage in a real-life version of one of these scenarios, would you want someone to come and save you? Of course you would. If you were a cop, would you want to be protected against anything that might come your way? Of course. And yet, nearly every SWAT cop I talked to at Urban Shield was spending most of his time doing drug busts, searching houses, and serving warrants.

“When equipment is requested for SWAT teams, it’s common to talk about the threat of terrorism [and] other rare but highly dangerous situations like hostage taking, barricaded suspects, and riots,” David Alan Sklansky, a Stanford law professor who studies criminal law and policing, told me. “But the majority of times that SWAT teams have been deployed, it’s been for more conventional kinds of operations.”

“SWAT teams definitely have legitimate uses,” he added. “But like lots of other things, when they are sitting around they can wind up getting used when they are not required and may do more harm than good.”


MORE POLICE MILITARIZATION, OVERCRIMINALIZATION AND PROSECUTORIAL POWER

Washington Post’s Radley Balko shared two noteworthy videos depicting an unjust criminal justice system.

The first video, by Reason’s Anthony Fischer, tells of a drug raid on a smoke shop in Alpine, TX. While federal charges against the owner, Ilana Lipsen, were eventually dropped, she faced a coercive bond deal, prosecutorial misconduct, and, of course, a violent police raid that resulted in the arrest of her sister and mother.

The second video is from the folks at Right on Crime, a Texas-based, conservative criminal justice reform group. The video tells the story of a retired couple, Jack and Jill Barron, who were handed four felony charges for building on a wetland (that actually was found to be a site just plagued by poor drainage). While the Jack was found not guilty, they sunk their entire life-savings into the legal fees and are still prohibited from building on their own land.


LA CITY ATTORNEY SAYS LAPD OFFICERS SHOT EZELL FORD IN SELF-DEFENSE

According a court filing by the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, LAPD officers acted in self defense when they shot and killed Ezell Ford in August. The filing says that the mentally ill man knew what he was doing when he allegedly tried to grab one of the officer’s guns, and caused a necessary use of force by the officers involved.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has the story. Here’s a clip:

The two officers shot Ezell Ford, who was unarmed, after he tried to grab one of their guns, according to LAPD officials and the court filing.

The shooting occurred August 11 on West 65th Street in South LA. Ford was 25.

Ford “knew and understood the degree of risk, and voluntarily assumed such risk,” according to documents the city filed in response to a lawsuit by the family. “The forced used…was caused and necessitated by the actions of the decedent, and was reasonable and necessary for self-defense.”

Posted in law enforcement, Prosecutors, Right on Crime, Sentencing, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

Innocent Man Freed Amid “A Legacy of Disgrace”….LA Times Pushes for Recordings of Cop Interrogations…..”Chip” Murray Slams Tanaka…Charges Filed Against LA Mom for Kid’s Gun at School

October 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



A CASE OF INNOCENCE, TEENAGERS MAKING FALSE CONFESSIONS AND “A LEGACY OF DISGRACE”

On Wednesday, David McCallum, a 45-year-old Brooklyn man, was freed after spending 29 years locked up for a kidnapping and murder that it has now been found he did not commit, although he and his friend confessed to the crime when they were both 16.

“I was beaten by the officers and I was coerced into making a confession,” McCallum told a parole board in 2012.

When announcing that McCallum and his co-defendant, Willie Stuckey, had been cleared of the killing, Brooklyn District Attorney Kenneth Thompson said grimly, “I inherited a legacy of disgrace with respect to wrongful convictions.”

McCallum called his release “bittersweet” because “I’m walking out alone.” His friend Stucky, while also cleared, had died in prison of a heart attack in 2001.

Oren Yanev of the New York Daily News broke the story of McCallum’s impending release on Tuesday, and had more on the story Wednesday.

Here’s a clip:

Stuckey’s mother, Rosia Nealy, sat in her dead son’s stead and she comforted McCallum as he broke down after the judge announced his exoneration. The two then embraced as some in the jam-packed courtroom cheered and clapped.

[Brooklyn District Attorney] Thompson said there “is not a single piece of evidence” that connected the two suspects to the crime — except for their brief confessions, which prosecutors have now concluded were false.

McCallum and Stuckey were both convicted for the kidnapping and murder of 20-year-old Nathan Blenner and were sentenced to 25 years to life.

McCallum’s lawyer, Oscar Michelen, said he had brought up the case with the conviction integrity unit of ex-DA Charles Hynes, who was defeated a year ago in large part because of the ballooning wrongful convictions scandal.

“Our pursuit of justice for David fell on deaf ears,” he said of the two years or so they’ve been communicating with prosecutors.

“They basically told us, ‘Call us when you find the real killer,’” the lawyer recalled.

Eventually Michelen, along with some of McCallum’s other supporters, did approach the DA’s office with evidence that DNA obtained from a car used in the abduction matched another suspect who had been questioned in 1985 without the defense ever being notified.

McCallum and Stuckey make ten exonerations for Thompson’s office since the Brooklyn DA took office in January— with two of those exonerations issued posthumously.

The video above is a trailer for a documentary about the efforts of famous exoneree, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, along with the filmmaker and his father, to free McCallum.


LA TIMES SAYS CALIFORNIA LAW NEEDED TO REQUIRE VIDEO RECORDING OF ALL INTERROGATIONS FOR SERIOUS FELONIES

David McCallum, in the story above, was convicted in Brooklyn, New York, not California, but the issue of false confessions leading to wrongful convictions potentially affects every state in the union.

The LA Times editorial board wants California to pass a law requiring video recordings of all interrogations for serious felonies.

Here’s a clip from their editorial on the topic:

The Innocence Project says that over 15 years, 64 of 102 erroneous murder convictions nationwide were based on false confessions. About 22% of all wrongful convictions involved coerced or otherwise improperly obtained confessions.

There’s a simple step that can help address this: Require police to videotape interrogations of suspects in serious felony cases. More than 40 California cities or agencies already do this, including San Diego and San Francisco. (Los Angeles does not.) Federal agents in the Department of Justice began doing so in July. The benefits are clear and laudable: a chance to reduce wrongful convictions, protect police from contrived allegations of abuse or malfeasance and save the expense of defending bad cases.

California has considered this before. The Legislature passed such laws in 2005 and 2007, but Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed them because of his fear of constraining police.

[SNIP]

Since 2010, Congress has considered several bills that would have provided matching federal funds to install recording systems, but it has failed to pass them. It should do so.

But even if it doesn’t, the Legislature should work with Gov. Jerry Brown to recraft legislation requiring the recordings. It would protect both the integrity of the criminal justice system and the innocent.


REV. “CHIP” MURRAY WRITES THAT PAUL TANAKA SHOULD NOT BE SHERIFF

Rev. Cecil “Chip” Murray has written an unusually strongly-worded Op Ed for the Los Angeles Sentinel outlining why he feels that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka should not be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.

Murray, as you may or may not remember, was the Vice Chair of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence, the blue ribbon panel appointed by the LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of systemic abuse within the county’s jail system and to recommend reforms.

Now he serves as the John R. Tansey Chair of Christian Ethics in the School of Religion at USC. Yet, he is best known as former pastor of the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME) who in his 27 years at the pulpit, transformed a small congregation of 250 people into a powerhouse 18,000 person church recognized throughout the nation.

Murray writes that he and his fellow CCJV commissioners found their year long process to be “deeply troubling,” which led to his reason for writing the Op Ed.

Here’s a clip from his essay:

…During those hours of testimony, time and time again we were pointed back to the integral role of then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who we heard had little interest in curtailing years of abuse, failed to hold deputies accountable, encouraged LASD personnel to “work in the grey” — on the border of right and wrong — and undercut managers who tried to reign in abuses. Indeed, our report concluded that “the troubling role of [then]-Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored.”

Now, Mr. Tanaka is running for Sheriff and asking the public to ignore or forget the leadership role he had in overseeing the violence and corruption that the Commission uncovered and for which he was eventually forced out of LASD.

While I am not ordinarily vocal in political races, the race for the next Sheriff is too important for me sit on the sidelines. This election is about the future of the LASD and how we treat the men and women of our community and in custody.

[SNIP]

The report issued by the CCJV concluded in no uncertain terms that “Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails.” Our report described in detail how Tanaka “discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct,” “vetoed efforts” to address the problem of deputy cliques and “encouraged and permitted deputies to circumvent the chain of command.” The report also recounted a system of patronage within LASD that Tanaka created: “many department members believe promotions and assignments are based on loyalty to the Undersheriff” (Tanaka) and “campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka furthered the perception of patronage.” This demonstrably poor judgment and misdirected leadership has continued beyond his tenure at LASD; in his race for Sheriff, Tanaka has accepted a large number of campaign donations from current and former employees of the Sheriff’s Department…..

[SNIP]

All in all, Mr. Tanaka’s “leadership” has resulted in the indictment of over 20 former LASD members, federal convictions and prison sentences of seven of those individuals, and legal costs to the County based on civil lawsuits likely to exceed 200 million dollars. And Mr. Tanaka himself remains the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation.


LA CITY ATTORNEY FILES CHARGES AGAINST MOM WHEN SON BRINGS LOADED GUN TO SCHOOL

On May 13 of this year, a 17-year-old at a Van Nuys continuation high school got into a fight with another boy on campus. The next day, he reportedly brought a loaded 45-caliber semiautomatic pistol to school, along with an extra magazine in his backpack, and showed the gun to a friend. School police heard about the weapon recovered the gun and ammo from the kid’s backpack.

The following day, when police executed a warrant at the kid’s home, they reportedly found four other unsecured firearms that belonged to the boy’s mother in places like a bedroom drawer and inside a kitchen cabinet.

On Wednesday of this week, LA’s City Attorney charged the student’s mother with four criminal counts: allowing a child to carry a firearm off premises, allowing a child to take a gun to school, permitting a child to be in a dangerous situation and contributing to the delinquency of a minor—counts that each could carry a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

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

City Attorney Mike Feuer called a press conference to announce charges against Leah Wilcken, 41, for failing to safely secure a semi-automatic handgun that her 17-year-old son took to Will Rodgers Continuation School in May.

“It has to be the case that when a parent sends their child to school, they do not fear that another child is going to have a weapon on campus,” Feuer said.

Feuer described the charges as the first ever filed in Los Angeles against a parent whose child took a gun to school. But KPCC found records of a 1995 case in which former City Attorney James K. Hahn filed similar charges against a Panorama City woman after her 9-year-old daughter took a gun to her elementary school and fired it on the playground.

California law requires weapons to be safely stored. Anyone who keeps a loaded firearm where children under 18 years can obtain it is required to store the firearm in a locked container or with a locking device that keeps it from functioning, according to state law….

According to the Kate Mather and Richard Winton of the LA Times, who also reported the story, an attorney who is a representative of the NRA thought the “charges seem inappropriate.”

Posted in 2014 election, elections, FBI, guns, Innocence, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 3 Comments »

LA Supes Votes YES on Controversial ICE Partnership….Prop 47 Gathers Support & LA Times Endorses……& A New Tanaka Fan

October 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to keep a controversial immigration policy
known as 287(g), making LA only one of two counties in the state to continue to implement the 1996 statute that permits the federal government to delegate immigration enforcement powers to state and local law enforcement.

Both Riverside and San Bernardino recently chose to halt participation with 287(g), making Orange County and LA the sole California holdouts.

LA would use 287(g) only in the the LA County jails, where immigration agents are embedded, and custody personnel are trained to screen inmates for immigration status.

Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich and Don Knabe voted for the measure, while Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained.

According to KPCC's Leslie Berestein Rojas, one of the biggest reasons that the Supes and the LASD leadership favored the policy has to do with money.

Here's a clip from Berestein Rojas' story:

"It helps us maintain better records for the purpose of reimbursement from the federal government," said Anna Pembedjian, justice deputy for County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a supporter of 287(g).

What Pembedjian is referring to is a federal grant program known as SCAAP, for State Criminal Alien Assistance Program. Counties like Los Angeles are partially reimbursed by the Department of Justice for incarcerating certain foreign-born criminals, and the better they can document their inmate population, the better their reimbursement chances.

[SNIP]

But in recent years, funding has been cut. Los Angeles County’s annual SCAAP award has gone from roughly $15 million in the late 2000s to about $3.4 million in 2014.

The county now gets reimbursed roughly 10 cents on the dollar for every SCAAP-eligible foreign inmate, Pembedjian said. Less than before, but it’s money the county would otherwise still have to spend.

“When these individuals are arrested and serving time in our jails, we have no alternative but to provide them with the housing, the mental health care, the medical care, food and security, which costs the county taxpayers millions of dollars every year,” Pembedjian said. “It is imperative for the county to recover the money from the federal government, otherwise if forces cuts in other vital services.”

Supervisor Gloria Molina, who was one of the three on the board who voted to keep the program, cited public safety as the her primary motivation.

But Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California, said such a rationale was flawed.

"Sadly, the supervisor has chosen to ignore a mountain of evidence, including DHS’ own published statistics on the program that clearly indicate that vast majority of individuals deported under the 287(g) agreement had not been convicted of a serious crime, or had no criminal history. In 2010, 80% of the people identified for deportation under this program were not convicted of a serious felony."

Indeed, according to a 2011 report by the Migration Policy Institute, nationally, 50 percent of those snatched by the program have committed felonies or other crimes that ICE considers serious. The other half of those detained have committed misdemeanors and/or have been involved in traffic accidents.

Prior to the vote, Villagra and the So Cal ACLU had urged board members to wait until a new sheriff is chosen in November to make up their minds on 287(g). But, as with the two billion dollar jail building decision (about which they were similarly asked to hold off until November) the board declined to delay the vote.

"It is inconceivable that our County leadership has chosen to continue a failed program that has already been abandoned in over 250 jurisdictions throughout the nation- including the City of Los Angeles," said Maria Elena Durazo, of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, and Angelica Salas, Director of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), in a joint statement.

Yes, well, apparently it's not so inconceivable. But it is very disappointing.


PROP 47 AHEAD IN THE POLLS & THE LA TIMES ENDORSES IT

The New York Times' Erik Eckholm reports that, at the moment, Proposition 47 appears poised to pass, with the September poll by the Public Policy Institute showing 62 percent of voters in favor, 25 against. As you likely know, Prop 47 is the initiative that would reclassify a list of low-level felonies as misdemeanors making them punishable by at most one year in a county jail and, in many cases, by probation and counseling. The changes would apply retroactively, shortening the sentences of thousands already in prison or jails.

Although most district attorneys, and many law enforcement organizations (including the California Police Chief's Association) are against the initiative, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón, the former SF police chief and former second in command for the LAPD, has become one of the measure's champions. And 47 has gathered strong support among some prominent conservatives, as well as liberals, and moderates, writes the Times' Eckholm.

Large donations in support have come from the Open Society Policy Center, a Washington-based group linked to George Soros; the Atlantic Advocacy Fund, based in New York; Reed Hastings, the chief executive of Netflix; and Sean Parker, the former president of Facebook.

But the largest single donor is B. Wayne Hughes Jr., a conservative Christian businessman and philanthropist based in Malibu. In one of the most tangible signs yet of growing concern among conservatives about the cost and impact of incarceration, Mr. Hughes has donated $1.255 million.

Mr. Hughes said he had been inspired by the late Chuck Colson to start prison ministry programs in California, and that his firsthand contact with prisoners and their families convinced him that the current heavy reliance on incarceration is often counterproductive.

“This is a model that doesn’t work,” he said in an interview. “For the $62,000 cost of a year in prison, you can send three kids to college,” he said. “But for me, it’s not just about the money, it’s about our fellow citizens who are hurting.”

Mr. Hughes was joined by Newt Gingrich as co-author of an op-ed in The Los Angeles Times urging citizens to vote yes....

The LA Times is the latest to endorse Proposition 47, saying that it will help California make more intelligent use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources, including the allocation of resources "to curb the likelihood of [lawbreakers] committing new crimes."

The San Francisco Chronicle endorsed 47 late last month.

Here's a clip from the Times' endorsement editorial:

Proposition 47 would do a great deal to stop the ongoing and unnecessary flow of Californians to prison for nonviolent and nonserious offenses and would, crucially, reduce the return flow of offenders from prison back to their neighborhoods in a condition — hardened by their experience, hampered by their felony records, unready for employment or education, likely mentally ill or addicted — that leaves them only too likely to offend again. It is a good and timely measure that can help the state make smarter use of its criminal justice and incarceration resources. The Times strongly recommends a "yes" vote on Proposition 47.

The measure has three parts. It would reduce sentences in California for a handful of petty crimes — drug possession and some types of theft, such as shoplifting — that currently are chargeable as either misdemeanors or felonies but should be just misdemeanors. It would open a three-year window during which inmates serving felony sentences for these crimes could apply to have their sentences reduced. And it would direct the savings from lowering the prison population to be spent on the kinds of things that, as data have shown time and again, keep significant numbers of former inmates from re-offending: substance abuse and mental health treatment, reentry support and similar services that also help crime-battered neighborhoods. Much of the savings would also be spent on truancy prevention and support for crime victims.

Opponents offer arguments that are familiar for their fear-mongering tactics but are new in some of their particulars: baseless yet ominous warnings that waves of dangerous criminals will be released; odd predictions about, of all things, date rape; acknowledgment that current sentencing is often excessive and counterproductive, but excuses for not previously having made sensible changes.

The LA Times board notes that it's too bad that such sentencing reform requires an initiative, that changes of this nature should ideally be accomplished by a non-political sentencing commission, or at the very least by state lawmakers but....dream on.

...experience shows that lawmakers, so comfortable with adding new crimes and increasing sentences, are generally incapable of lowering them in the face of pressure from law enforcement and victims' interest groups, even when overwhelming evidence points to better safety, greater savings and other positive outcomes from decreased penalties.

So a proposition is what we have---and one the Times contends will be a boon for even some of its critics:

One likely benefit of Proposition 47 is not advertised but could make a real difference: With fewer crimes charged as felonies, there would be far fewer preliminary hearings (they are not needed for misdemeanor charges), which means fewer police officers pulled off the streets to wait around in courthouses to testify, less preparation time needed by deputy district attorneys and deputy public defenders, and less of a drain on local law enforcement and criminal justice budgets. It is one of many ways in which Proposition 47 would be a step forward for California.


FORMER CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF ENDORSES PAUL TANAKA. (YES, REALLY.)

In a slightly odd turn of events, former candidate for LA County Sheriff, retired LASD lieutenant Patrick Gomez, just endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka for the job according to a release from Tanaka's campaign.

This wouldn't be quite so peculiar were it not for the fact that Gomez spent part of nearly every candidate debate during the primary slamming Tanaka in particular.

For instance, here is what the Daily News reported after one of the early debates:

“Gomez, meanwhile, attacked Tanaka, who had been Baca’s second in command…. “I’m going to request that the FBI request a forensic audit,” Gomez said. “Tanaka talked about being a CPA, yet the auditor released a report in January that said $138 million were mishandled from special accounts within this department. Who was responsible for that?

‘These people talk about there’s been a lack of leadership — (but) these are the leadership people — they’re the assistant sheriff and the undersheriff, current and past. We’ve got to hold them accountable when we vote on June 3rd.’ ”

We guess that everyone's entitled to change his mind if he so desires. We'd just be very curious to know what new points of view persuaded Lt. Gomez to change his in this matter.

Posted in immigration, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing | 32 Comments »

Citizenship Largest Criminal Justice Disparity, Non-returnable Military Gear, Gay Marriage…and More

October 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: CITIZENSHIP STATUS BIGGER SENTENCING DISCREPANCY THAN RACE

Until now, an abundance of research has emerged illustrating colossal racial discrepancies in the criminal justice system (and many other systems). But according to a forthcoming study, citizenship is even more influential than race in determining if a person will go to prison and how long they will be locked up.

In the United States, undocumented immigrants are four times more likely to be incarcerated, and spend two to four months longer in jail for the same crimes as legal citizens, according to the groundbreaking study authored by Michael Light of Purdue University, which will published in the American Sociological Review.

The gap between citizens and non-citizens is larger than the gap between black and white offenders. The study looked at non-immigration-related offenses in the non-citizen federal prison population (which is a quarter of the entire federal prison pop.).

Yahoo News’ Liz Goodwin has more on the study. Here are some clips:

This sentencing gap between citizens and noncitizens is even larger than ones found between black defendants and white defendants, according to Michael T. Light, the study’s author and an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University. Lacking citizenship appears to be worse news for a defendant than his or her race. A white noncitizen faces more jail time, on average, than a black U.S. citizen convicted of the same crime, the study found.

Citizenship “appears to trump race and ethnicity when determining punishments for those who violate U.S. law,” the study concludes. The effect was starkest for undocumented immigrants, but even legal immigrants faced significantly longer sentences than citizens convicted of the same crimes, regardless of their race. Most of the sentencing disparity between Hispanics and whites could be explained by the higher percentage of noncitizens in the Hispanic group, the study found.


POLICE AGENCIES’ UNWANTED MILITARY GEAR HARD TO RETURN, JUST GETS MOVED TO ANOTHER TOWN

Since Ferguson, law enforcement agencies have felt considerable pressure to get rid of military surplus armored vehicles, firearms, and gear. But agencies have found that not only is it very difficult to return military gear, when the military does take it back, it’s because a different agency wants it. So, for forces like the LAUSD police department agreeing to give back unnecessary grenade launchers, and the San Jose police department trying to get rid of a mine-resistant vehicle, the gear and vehicles they return will likely just be handed off to another town.

Mother Jones’ Molly Redden has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…some agencies have found the process of getting rid of unwanted military gear next to impossible. Agencies can’t return or trade large pieces of tactical equipment without Defense Department approval, and because the Pentagon technically still owns that equipment, they can’t sell it.

According to interviews with state officials running point between the Pentagon and police, the Defense Department prefers to leave equipment in circulation whenever possible. “It’s a low-cost storage method for them,” says Robb Davis, the mayor pro tem of Davis. His town is trying to shake its MRAP. “They’re dumping these vehicles on us and saying, ‘Hey, these are still ours, but you have to maintain them for us.’”

[SNIP]

“The federal government is just not interested in getting this stuff back,” says Davis Trimmer, a lieutenant with the Hillsborough, North Carolina, police department. Local law enforcement officials and Pentagon liaisons interviewed by Mother Jones all agree that the Defense Department always prefers to keep working equipment in circulation over warehousing it. Trimmer has twice requested permission to return three M14 rifles that are too heavy for practical use. But the North Carolina point person for the Pentagon insists that Hillsborough can’t get rid of the firearms until another police department volunteers to take them. Police in Woodfin, North Carolina, are facing the same problem as they try to return the town’s grenade launcher.

In fact, the first move for state liaisons when a police department wants to dump its military equipment is to alert the rest of the state’s police force that the item is up for grabs. This poses a moral dilemma for communities that are getting rid of their weapons and armored vehicle out of protest: ditching your MRAP just makes it another town’s problem.

“I have a lot of discomfort about that,” Davis says. “A lot.” Jarred by the clashes in Ferguson, the Davis city council voted in late August to come up with plans for getting rid of the city’s newly acquired MRAP—which arrived with the machine gun turret still attached.

But officials in Davis are finding that the cheapest way to unload the armored vehicle may be to ship it to a police department in a neighboring town. At best, says Davis, the Defense Department will ask the city to ship the vehicle to a police department out of state. “The bottom line is, if we send it back, we know what will happen to it. It will go on to be used in another community,” Davis says. “In the broader scheme of things, we will not have done anything but make a symbolic gesture.” At least two law enforcement agencies, both located in Northern California, have already expressed interest in the MRAP.


THE US SUPREME COURT’S DECISION (OR LACK THEREOF) ON GAY MARRIAGE, WHAT IT MEANS, AND WHY IT WAS SURPRISING

On Tuesday morning, the US Supreme Court unexpectedly chose not to hear any of the seven cases before them challenging states’ rights to ban gay marriage. Everyone (experts included) expected the high court to take up at least one of the cases.

By refusing to hear any of the cases, SCOTUS let gay marriage stand in Utah, Virginia, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Six additional states under the those states’ circuit courts will also be affected by this decision. This would mean that a majority of states (30) would boast legal gay marriage. (Hooray!)

There’s a lot of coverage on this, but if you only read one piece of reporting on this issue, Lyle Denniston’s analysis over at SCOTUSblog makes some interesting points.

For instance, Denniston lays out six reasons why the high court’s decision was surprising. Here are the first four:

First, for all seven petitions, both sides had urged the Court to grant review — a rare thing, and one that almost never fails to assure review.

Second, last year the Court had agreed to decide on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage, but wound up not deciding that issue because of a procedural defect in the appeal in that case (involving California’s “Proposition 8″). That was a sign that the Justices were prepared to confront the basic issue, at least at that time.

Third, during this year, the Court itself has three times blocked lower court rulings striking down state bans — an indication that the Justices did not want same-sex marriages to occur until they had weighed in on their constitutionality.

Fourth, the Court surely knew what the practical impact would be of turning aside all seven petitions — that is, the early implementation of same-sex marriages in a good many more states, without the Court ever having ruled on the core question and, in fact, with the Court having never said anything, one way or the other, on that basic issue.

USA Today’s Brad Heath also has good coverage (and a nifty interactive map).


EXONEREES TO SHARE THEIR STORIES AT LOYOLA’S DTLA INNOCENCE DAY CELEBRATION

Today (Tuesday) five exonerated men will speak at an Innocence Day celebration co-hosted by Loyola Law School, Los Angeles’ Project for the Innocent and Death Penalty Focus. The speakers, Mario Rocha, Kash Register, Obie Anthony, Arthur Carmona, and Nick Yarris, have spent more than 80 years (combined) behind bars for crimes committed by someone else. (WLA has shared Mario Rocha’s story—here—and Kash Register’s—here.) The Project for the Innocent helped secure the release of both Kash Register and Obie Anthony, who had spent 34 years and 17 years, respectively, in prison while innocent.

The celebration will take place from 12:00-1:00p.m. at Loyola’s Downtown LA campus. You can find out more about the event on Project for the Innocent’s Facebook page.

they had something to do with the exoneration of one or two of them

Posted in Innocence, law enforcement, LGBT, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Prison Financial Service Fees Punish Families, Police Brutality Lawsuits, Fixing Eyewitness Testimony Flaws, and Homeboy Crowdfunds Tattoo Removal

October 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AN IN-DEPTH LOOK AT THE PRISON MONEY TRANSFER SYSTEM: CASH COW FOR PRIVATE VENDOR JPAY, BURDEN ON FAMILIES

The Center for Public Integrity’s Daniel Wagner has an excellent two-part series examining how private financial institutions are making huge profits by charging inmates’ families outrageous fees to transfer money to their loved ones behind bars.

According to Wagner, in some states, the private company JPay—which provides money transfers to nearly 70% of inmates in US prisons—charges families nearly 45% of what they are sending.

While the fees are nowhere near that high in California, it costs $6.95 to send $50 (over 10%) and $9.95 to send $120 to an inmate through JPay.

These fees overburden families, often forcing them to visit their loved ones less often in order to be able to send money for necessities like toothbrushes and toilet paper.

Here are some clips from Wagner’s story:

JPay and other prison bankers collect tens of millions of dollars every year from inmates’ families in fees for basic financial services. To make payments, some forego medical care, skip utility bills and limit contact with their imprisoned relatives, the Center for Public Integrity found in a six-month investigation.

Inmates earn as little as 12 cents per hour in many places, wages that have not increased for decades. The prices they pay for goods to meet their basic needs continue to increase.

By erecting a virtual tollbooth at the prison gate, JPay has become a critical financial conduit for an opaque constellation of vendors that profit from millions of poor families with incarcerated loved ones.

JPay streamlines the flow of cash into prisons, making it easier for corrections agencies to take a cut. Prisons do so directly, by deducting fees and charges before the money hits an inmate’s account. They also allow phone and commissary vendors to charge marked-up prices, then collect a share of the profits generated by these contractors.

Taken together, the costs imposed by JPay, phone companies, prison store operators and corrections agencies make it far more difficult for poor families to escape poverty so long as they have a loved one in the system.

[SNIP]

Funding prisons out of the pockets of families and inmates has non-financial costs too, says Brian Nelson, who spent 28 years in an Illinois state prison for murder. Nelson says he has “become an asset to society” since he was released four years ago because he stayed in touch with family and priests even when he was in solitary confinement. When inmates can’t afford to maintain contact with the outside world, he says, they are less equipped to transition smoothly to civilian life.

The effect on poor families is especially harsh, Nelson says: “It’s a wife that has three children at home, and her husband is in jail, so now she has a choice: Do I send money to him so he can afford to stay in touch with the kids, or do I feed the kids?”

Part two of Wagner’s series explores the lucrative no-bid contracts that .. have with the US Treasury to provide debit cards for just-released prisoners that charge unusually high fees for use. It’s a complex story—read the whole thing here.

And the Center for Public Integrity’s Amirah Al Idrus has a companion story about how JPay also gouges inmates upon their release. Many prisons give released inmates the money they’ve made working jobs on the inside, as well as any balance of money sent to them by relatives on a JPay debit card. The card incurs fees for each transaction, fees for checking the balance, making withdrawals, and even for not using the card within 60 days. Here’s how it opens:

When Clarence Justin Aldred was released from Macomb Correctional Facility in New Haven, Michigan, in July 2013, he left with the balance of his inmate account, which consisted of his prison wages and any leftover money sent by family.

Aldred received no cash. The money was accessible via a debit card issued by JPay Inc., a Miami-based company that provides financial services to inmates. After 29 years inside, the card was Aldred’s only way to make most purchases. After using it a few times, Aldred, 57, noticed that $15 was missing.

“They kept charging me every time I used it. Nobody told me that,” he said.

Michigan is one of at least 15 states where prisoners are given their inmate account balance on a prepaid card when they are released. The cards usually carry a variety of fees that eat away at the small amount of money most former inmates are left with to restart their lives. Inmate release cards have drawn criticism from consumer lawyers and faced litigation in at least two states.

One county in Arkansas agreed to pay $71,609.58 to settle charges that the fees illegally deprived people of access to their own money. A federal judge refused to approve the proposed settlement and invited the parties to submit a modified agreement.

JPay provides the cards in at least 11 states. In most cases, the fees exceed what consumers would pay for similar services.

In Michigan, for example, JPay charges users 50 cents to check the card’s balance at an ATM, $2 to withdraw cash, 70 cents to make a purchase and 50 cents a month for a maintenance fee. Even not using the card costs money. Doing nothing draws a $2.99 fee after 60 days. To cancel the card, it costs $9.95.


WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE MILLIONS IN TAXPAYER $$ SPENT ON EXCESSIVE USE OF FORCE LAWSUITS

When people wronged by police officers win settlements and lawsuits against police departments, cities, and thus taxpayers, get the bill.

Big cities have big bills, too—Los Angeles paid $54 million last year, Chicago $85 million, and so on. Having taxpayers foot the bill is supposed to create better accountability and police work.

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko says this may not be the case, in part, because cops are personally protected by “qualified immunity,” people alleging police brutality don’t often win, and either way, the officers themselves are not financially responsible. Balko says that one way around this may be making officers pay a portion of the damages over time. Here are some clips:

The Chicago Sun-Times reported earlier this year that the city has payed out nearly half a billion dollars in settlements over the past decade, and spent $84.6 million in fees, settlements, and awards last year. The Chicago Police Department is about three times the size of the Baltimore PD. Chicago the city has about four times as many people as Baltimore. Crunch those numbers as you wish. Bloomberg News reported that in 2011, Los Angeles paid out $54 million, while New York paid out a whopping $735 million, although those figures include negligence and other claims unrelated to police abuse. Oakland Police Beat reported in April that the city had paid out $74 million to settle 417 lawsuits since 1990. That’s a little more than $3 million per year. The Denver Post reported in August that the Mile High City paid $13 million over 10 years. The Dallas Morning News reported in May that the city has forked over $6 million since 2011. And last month, Minneapolis Public Radio put that city’s payout at $21 million since 2003.

[SNIP]

Cops themselves are protected by the doctrine qualified immunity, which makes it difficult for a plaintiff to even get into court. But even if you do, and you win (also far from a given), in the vast majority of cases, the cop himself won’t have to pay any damages. (It happens, but it’s rare.) Some critics have called for police to be required to pay these damages themselves, as a deterrent. That might well work. The problem is that an officer did significant damage to someone, they’re unlikely have the money to make that person whole. Perhaps the best option is to take money from the cops at fault over a long period of time, then supplement that with public money. I’ve also seen suggestions that settlements be paid from police pension funds. I can see the appeal there, but it doesn’t seem wise to penalize all cops for the bad ones.


HOW TO CHANGE PROBLEMATIC EYEWITNESS TESTIMONY PRACTICES THAT LEAD TO WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS

Experts say that eyewitness’ mistaken identifications account for the majority of wrongful convictions (the Innocence Project says a whopping 72%).

A welcome new report from the National Research Council lays out recommendations for how to overhaul the flawed use of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases.

Recommendations for police forces include creating double blind line-ups, videotaping the process of identification, and special training for law enforcement officers.

The Crime Report has more on the report’s recommendations. Here’s a clip:

Research during the last few decades has made it increasingly clear that eyewitness testimony in criminal cases can be prone to inaccuracy or error, according to the report, which dozens of academics and law enforcement experts contributed to.

The report notes that human visual perception and memory is limited and law enforcement often gives unintentional cues that can compromise eyewitness identifications.

Conditions such as dim lighting, stress, or the presence of a “visually distracting element such as a gun or knife,” can compromise perception, according to the report.


HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES NEEDS HELP FUNDING TATTOO REMOVAL PROGRAM

Homeboy Industries has launched an Indiegogo campaign to bolster their tattoo removal program for former gang members. Homeboy’s current ability to remove gang-related tattoos relies on one bad-tempered machine to serve more than 3,000 men and women a year hoping to better their lives.

Here’s a clip from the campaign page:

Many of the thousands of former gang members and previously incarcerated men and women who come to Homeboy Industries each year come through the tattoo removal program. Gang-related tattoos on their faces, neck, hands and wrists are some of their first of many hurdles to employment and how the world views them.

Homeboy’s tattoo removal program is a gateway to a better life. We know that those who come here for ink removal generally end up staying and taking advantage of our other services such as life skills, anger management and parenting classes; legal referral program; job training and placement; support groups and education.

“Our clients are done with the hate and bad decisions,” said Homeboy’s Medical Director, Dr. Paula Pearlman. “These brave people endure a long wait for an appointment and the terrible pain of the removal process over and over again.”

Here’s what donations are providing:

Two new lasers – current technology improves efficiency of the machines, we can remove more ink with fewer treatments

Two skin cooling machines – decreases the pain of the removal process; with the new lasers leads us into the 21st c. with a state-of-the-art program

New desktop computers for treatment rooms to increase efficiency of the documentation process

Machine maintenance, supplies, skin numbing cream, sunblock and staff support.

Additional funds raised will support greater growth of the tattoo removal program, helping even more people reclaim the truth of who they are and become contributing members of the community.

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Innocence, law enforcement, prison policy | No Comments »

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

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was more of that nature.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Keeping Foster Parents in the Loop, “Mass Incarceration on Trial,” IG Report on LAPD Misconduct-Flagging System, and Obama Orders Probe of Police Militarization

August 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

EDITORIAL: FOSTER PARENTS SHOULD INFORMED OF COURT DATES AND DECISIONS AFFECTING THEIR KIDS

A lawsuit filed this month accuses the LA County Department of Children and Family Services of failing to inform foster parents of their foster kids’ court dates, as well as neglecting to give foster parents the 7-day notice required by law when children in their care are going to be taken and placed elsewhere. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the non-profit group Advokids and three foster parents.

The LA Times’ Jim Newton, who has been watching foster care issues closely, says lapses in communication between DCFS workers and foster parents are detrimental to the wellbeing of the kids they care for. Here’s how it opens:

Heather Whelan has been a foster mother to some 20 children. She has nurtured broken babies back to health and worked closely with parents to fix families. She has also cringed as social workers made life-changing decisions about her charges without consulting her. In one case, she says, the county abruptly separated a pair of sisters she’d been caring for, traumatizing the baby girls because the social worker did not know how much the girls had come to rely on each other.

Carrie Chung is a professional social worker who became a foster parent in 2008. She describes how she once cared for a very young infant who required special foods and exercise to grapple with a difficult ailment. When a hearing was scheduled to decide whether the child could be safely returned to her family, Chung says, no one even bothered to tell her it was taking place.

Over the past three years, I’ve spent a lot of time in the Los Angeles foster care system — in courtrooms and waiting rooms, with children and lawyers, birth parents and foster parents. And while I can’t say whether Whelan and Chung are the exception or the rule when it comes to how the county’s Department of Children and Family Services relates to foster parents, I can say that there are persistent breakdowns in communication between social workers and foster parents — and that kids are suffering as a result.

Of the 20,000 or so Los Angeles County children who were living outside their homes this summer under DCFS supervision, about 6,500 were placed with non-relative foster parents. The children have social workers, but they only see them once a month or so. Their lawyers are often overwhelmed. Foster parents are often the only people who see these children every day and can know if they’re having nightmares or trouble with bullies or if they are sinking or recovering.


LOOKING AT CALIFORNIA PRISONS TO UNDERSTAND MASS INCARCERATION NATIONWIDE

A promising new book by legal scholar and Berkeley Law Professor Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America, takes a look at the issue of nationwide mass incarceration through the lens of California’s prison history, from the 70′s and 80′s when “tough on crime” triggered the rise of incarceration rates, to SuperMax prisons, to Brown v. Plata—the precedent-setting Supreme Court ruling that said California’s prison overcrowding amounted to cruel and unusual punishment, and put a population cap in place.

Mass Incarceration on Trial challenges the belief that locking more people away promotes public safety.

Publisher’s Weekly gave it a starred review, calling it “an eloquent critique of the American prison system.”

The Crime Report’s Cara Tabachnick interviewed Simon about his book. Here are some clips:

The Crime Report: Considering that mass incarceration is a national problem, why did you focus on California?

Jonathan Simon: California is the Mississippi of mass incarceration. When people think of states that would follow the worst practices in incarceration you may think of Texas, Mississippi, or other Southern states because they have struggled with issues of segregation and racism that would crossover to how they treat their inmates. Historically California has been so progressive. It started out as the second most lenient region behind the Northeast, but then from the 1970s through the 1990s the rate swung all the way to be one of the most punitive regions. There was a 500% increase in incarceration—the biggest increase for any of the big states. The state defends itself by saying they in line with the national average of incarceration, but I say who wants to be part of the national average?

But in a way Californians are lucky, because it’s a state that has bad incarceration with good lawyers. And the story couldn’t be told—and the future of mass incarceration may be different—without the work of the California’s Prison Law Office, and the firm Rosen Bien, Galvan and Grunfeld, which brought so many of the game-changing prisoners’ rights suit.

TCR: The California corrections system official title is “California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation,” yet you note that the idea of rehabilitating prisoners has almost completely disappeared from the system.

JS: Governor (Arnold) Schwarzenegger actually added rehabilitation back into the title in 2004-2005. He saw that the system was in catastrophe. Putting that word back in was a clear sign that he knew things needed to change. Rehabilitation used to be a central theme of California prisons until the 1970s and the move towards determinate sentences in California. The purpose of the 1976 Determinate Sentencing Act is punishment. Rehabilitation was no longer the goal of the prison. The idea was to give criminals short and just sentences and then they would return home from prison.

But in reality that is not what happened, mass incarceration began to grow as legislatures and politicians added more punishments such as three strikes, and corrections lost their ability to parole. Long sentences replaced short sentences. It was a layer-cake effect. But by then, the idea of rehabilitation had been out of the system for so long, that corrections had stopped thinking of prisoners as human beings. The system began to treat people as a mass, instead of individuals.

[SNIP]

TCR: Should judges should be required to routinely visit correctional institutions so they can be kept apprised of the conditions?

JS: I think that’s a great idea. In Plata v. Brown our courts functioned almost as human right investigatory body. They went into these prisons and brought videos out of inhumane conditions happening in the prisons, overcrowding, bad -beds, unchecked mental illness. And with these videos they’ve opened a visual pathway through which the public can really confront what our nation has been doing with mass incarceration.

TCR: How can the American system learn from European correctional systems?

JS: In Europe they have the European Prison rule. The rule has three core features: individualization of the inmate; normalize the prison to make it as consistent with the community as possible, (provide equal medical care, employment rights, human rights); and be progressive—offer prisoners who obey the rules opportunities. These rules make a difference. In the United States (such an approach) could conserve the dignity of the prisoner and create a better system then we had in the past.


LAPD SYSTEM FOR FLAGGING OFFICER MISCONDUCT FALLS SHORT, SAYS INSPECTOR GENERAL

The LAPD’s system for flagging questionable officer behavior triggers warnings against officers that turn out to be unfounded, while proving unsuccessful at flagging officers who go on to commit serious misconduct, according to a report by the LAPD inspector general, Alex Bustamante.

The department has asked a research group to analyze all the databases used to track officer behavior, and whether the system actually, created under a federal order, has any influence on officer conduct.

The Police Commission will discuss Bustamante’s findings during their meeting today.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the story. Here are some clips:

The report by the Police Commission’s inspector general, Alex Bustamante, scrutinized an early warning computer program that the LAPD has used since 2007 to track patterns of excessive force and other misconduct by its roughly 10,000 officers. The analysis casts doubt on the usefulness of the computer system, which federal officials forced the LAPD to build after years of corruption and abuse.

[SNIP]

The Police Commission, which oversees the LAPD, will discuss the inspector general’s report at a meeting Tuesday. Commissioner Robert Saltzman said the department’s current tracking system appears to be “providing limited predictive capabilities,” adding that Bustamante’s report raises “significant questions.”

“I look forward to understanding how the department is responding to correct the issues,” he said.

In his report, Bustamante examined nearly 750 warnings about officers generated over a recent four-month period. In 70% of the cases, supervisors took no action after determining that the conduct flagged by the computer system did not point to any problems, the report found.

The lack of action after so many red flag notifications raises questions about the criteria being used to trigger warnings — called “action items” in LAPD jargon. Currently, the system attempts to compare several aspects of an officer’s conduct to that of other officers in similar assignments. A warning is triggered when an officer exceeds acceptable limits for each benchmark. The various benchmarks include the number of times an officer uses force on a suspect, as well as complaints and lawsuits filed against the officer.

Maggie Goodrich, the LAPD’s chief information officer, said it could be that the system currently is too quick to issue a warning. The risk, she said, is that the department might narrow its assessment of officers too much and, in doing so, miss some misconduct.

“The challenge is finding a balance,” she said.


OBAMA RESPONDS TO FERGUSON CONFLICT BY ORDERING REVIEW OF POLICE MILITARIZATION

President Barack Obama is ordering a review of law enforcement militarization. The probe, to be conducted by White House officials, will focus on military surplus programs and federal grants that help civilian police forces buy military equipment, whether police should be receiving the equipment, how state and local police are using the equipment now, and what kind of training they should have in the future.

The president’s decision comes in the wake of images and reports of Ferguson, MO, police in combat gear and heavy weaponry clashing with people protesting the death of Michael Brown.

McClatchy News’ Christi Parsons has the story. Here’s a clip:

The review, to be led by White House staff, will also look into whether the federal government is sufficiently auditing the use of the equipment it helps facilitate, according to the official, who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s in-house directive.

The federal government has been helping police purchase military equipment for more than 10 years, ever since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, raised concerns about police readiness for a serious attack. Through grant programs and transfers from the military, the U.S. government has helped make the gear available to law enforcement agencies across the nation that have asked for it.

But the gear hadn’t been widely noted until unrest broke out in Ferguson early this month over the shooting by a white police officer of Michael Brown, an unarmed, 18-year-old black man. The incident stirred protests, looting and some anti-police violence, which in turn inspired the police to get out their body armor, heavy vehicles and automatic rifles.

[SNIP]

After seeing images of the police gear in video footage, Obama asked senior advisers to look into the programs that provided them. He also spoke about the images in a news conference with reporters a week after Brown’s death. Some post-9/11 equipment upgrades have been useful, he said, noting in particular the improvements to radio communications and to equipment for dealing with hazardous material.

But Obama said he wanted to make sure that what police are buying is “stuff that they actually need.”

He also warned that “there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement, and we don’t want those lines blurred. That would be contrary to our traditions.”

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, Obama, prison | 1 Comment »

Lessons the LAPD Can Teach……What About Body Cameras?…..John Oliver on Police Militarization….”Toxic Stress” and CA Kids…..& More

August 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT FERGUSON CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD

Yes, the Los Angeles Police Department is far from perfect. There was, for instance, the recent revelation that they appear to be deliberately cooking some of their crime stats to shower better numbers than they actually have. Yet, they’ve also undeniably made a huge amount of significant progress in the last decade.

With that in mind, the LA Times editorial board listed a few lessons that the staggeringly problematic Ferguson police department might want to learn from the LAPD

Here’s a representative clip:

….More than two decades ago, civic leaders here grasped the importance of diversity on the police force. Today, the LAPD mirrors the city quite closely — Latinos are the department’s largest ethnic group, and blacks make up just over 10% of the force, roughly equivalent to their representation in the city. Ferguson’s force is almost entirely white — only three of 53 commissioned officers are black — even though the population of the city is two-thirds black. It is difficult for residents to trust a force that feels foreign.

The riots forced deep reflection in Los Angeles over how police should best handle unruly crowds. The department today attempts neither to yield to violence nor to provoke it. It’s not always successful — by its own admission, its handling of a May Day rally in 2007 was cause for “great concern.” Still, the LAPD’s reputation for restraint in crowd control is generally deserved. By contrast, authorities in Ferguson responded to initial protests with heavy arms and tactics; the situation escalated rapidly….

For the rest, read on.


WHAT ABOUT THOSE BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE?

The shooting of Michael Brown has brought up the topic of body cameras for police again and, in his story on the issue, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims notes that the Ferguson police department, like many law enforcement agencies, has a supply of the cameras but has not actually deployed them to officers.

The LAPD has been testing body cameras out but has not gone into any wholesale ordering of the things.

Rialto, California, however, is one of the cities that has required all its officers to use cameras (which are no bigger than pagers).

“In the first year after the cameras’ introduction,” Mims writes, “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.”

Mims had more to say about the benefits and potential challenges of camera use when he was on Madeleine Brand’s Press Play on Monday.


JOHN OLIVER’S SCATHING TAKE ON POLICE REACTION IN FERGUSON & LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOCK & AWE

John Oliver covered the behavior of the police in Ferguson and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement in his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight.” He makes one false step in calling the convenience store video of Michael Brown irrelevant, but most of the rest of Oliver’s commentary is well-researched, sharply on target, and scathing.


CALIFORNIA SENATE PASSES RESOLUTION ASKING GOV TO LOOK AT INTERVENTION POLICIES TO ALLEVIATE “TOXIC STRESS” AND TRAUMA IN CHILDREN

With a bipartisan vote of 34-0, on Monday, the California Senate passed a resolution aimed at getting the governor to begin to focus on the issue of the effect of childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences”—-or ACES— on a kid’s future.

Big sources of trauma are things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness or incarceration of a household member, domestic violence, community violence….and so on.

The resolution notes that studies now have tracked the effects of too many “ACES,” and the results are alarming. For instance, a child with 4 or more ACES is 46 times more likely to have learning or emotional problems, and far more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system…and more.

It also notes that prolonged “toxic stress” can “impact the development of a child’s fundamental brain architecture.”

Yet research has shown too that intervention in a child’s life can mitigate and heal the potential for damage caused by these toxic traumas.

The resolution—-introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice— is largely symbolic.

But it is also viewed as a big step in acknowledging the importance of early childhood trauma in the lives and future of the state’s children, and the need for policy that provides trauma-informed intervention for the kids most affected.

A concurrent resolution unanimously passed the California Assembly on August 11.


CA PRISONS BEGIN TO REFORM POLICIES TOWARD THE MENTALLY ILL DESCRIBED AS “HORRIFIC”

As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation begins to comply with the federal court ordered revisions of its long-criticized use-of-force policy with the mentally ill, the California Report’s Julie Small looks at mental illness and California prisons with a series of reports. Here’s a clip from her Monday story, with more to come.

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury.

The issue was brought to light last year through graphic videos shown in court in a lawsuit that was begun in 1990, a lawsuit brought by inmates to improve psychiatric care.

[SNIP]

One video showed custody staff at Corcoran State Prison struggling to remove an inmate who was hallucinating and refusing to leave his cell in order to receive medication.

The inmate had taken off his clothes and smeared feces on himself. When he refused to submit to handcuffs, guards in gas masks sprayed a potent pepper spray into the cell, causing the inmate to gasp for air.

The video showed that as the inmate screamed for help, an officer ordered him to “turn around and cuff up.”

The inmate screamed back, “Open the door!”

When the inmate still wouldn’t “cuff up” the officers sprayed him again, repeatedly.

Later, the video showed guards rushing in and wrestling the inmate to the floor and into restraints.


IF INMATES DESIGNED A PRISON, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

In an innovative restorative justice program run out of one of San Francisco’s jails, men who are awaiting trial on violent crimes rethink their own lives and actions by rethinking what a prison could look like.

Lee Romney of the LA Times has this story, and it’s a good read. Here are a couple of clips to get you started:

All the students wore orange. And on this final day, their paper models were taking shape.

Architect Deanna VanBuren adjusted a piece of tracing paper over Anthony Pratt’s design, showing him how to mark the perimeter to show walls and windows, then urging him to use dots to indicate open spaces.

A towering, broad-chested man with full tattoos adorning both arms, Pratt, 29, was among those sketching out new visions: an airy room with a skylight to cure vitamin D deficiencies and a fountain with a cascading waterfall to represent resilience and adaptability. Privacy barriers for the shower and toilet. A healing center with lots of windows and, in the middle, a talking circle with a sun emblazoned in its center.

The spaces they were planning could be at a New Age retreat, but these were conceived by inmates at San Francisco’s County Jail No. 5.

Most inmates on this 48-man jail pod are awaiting trial on violent crimes. All must agree to participate in a program called “Resolve to Stop the Violence,” which involves concepts of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional criminal justice that focuses on healing victims and offenders alike. This day’s class allowed them to explore their feelings about the system that landed them here and how its physical contours might be altered…..

[BIG SNIP]

Restorative justice concepts were first promoted in the 1970s by global practitioner and theorist Howard Zehr, now a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The goal was to make the needs of victims central, and by doing so effect broader healing for all, communities included.

Critics of restorative justice contend the process is too subjective and could lead to proposed remedies that are wildly disparate. As a result, some victim organizations and hard-line prosecutors reject it.

But the practice has nonetheless spread globally and throughout the U.S. as a body of evidence grows showing it helps reduce school expulsions, keep youths out of the criminal justice system and prevent youths and adults who have already been sentenced from re-offending.

The conversation has now turned to space.


NOTE: The video at the top was recorded by reporter Mustafa Hussein of Argus media,who was live streaming from Sunday’s protest when a Ferguson police officer allegedly pointed a weapon at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t turn off his camera light. Hussein is a graduate student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, media, prison, prison policy, PTSD, Restorative Justice, Trauma | 5 Comments »

Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

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