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How Has Jim McDonnell Done in His First Year as LA County Sheriff?

January 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



How has Sheriff Jim McDonnell done in his first year since he was sworn into office on December 1, 2014?

WitnessLA will be looking the question in a few weeks, but the LA Times has taken their own look in an editorial on Sunday.

In their report card, the Times made two main points:

The first had to do with whether or not McDonnell has adequately “de-Tanakafied” the department. The Times felt that he’d made a great deal of progress in that endeavor, writing that the sheriff has spent a year quietly overhauling the organization chart to remove those “most closely associated” with the discredited former undersheriff.

Critics feel that McDonnell hasn’t gone nearly far enough with de-Tanakization. (But, as we have seen very recently, removing people simply because they have an association with someone you don’t like can lead to large lawsuits, so such cleaning projects can be tricky.)

Yet, the Times points to the fact that McDonnell was a member of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence and, while the CCJV was mandated only to look at problems in the jails, the problems they saw in custody pointed to more fundamental problems that affected the department as a whole, and that started at the very top. In its final report, the commission stopped just short of saying that Sheriff Lee Baca had to go. But, with the then undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, the commissioners pulled no punches at all. They wrote:

The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct. His repeated statements that deputies should work in an undefined “grey” area contributed to a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and that their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline. The Undersheriff also made numerous statements disparaging the Internal Affairs Bureau (“IAB”) and the disciplinary process — remarks that undermined the authority of IAB and the ability of Department supervisors to control or remediate inappropriate deputy behavior….

Campaign contributions accepted by Tanaka from many Department employees furthered perceptions of patronage and favoritism in promotion and assignment decisions.

And so on.

In other words, when he came into office, McDonnell was very clear about the deleterious effect that Mr. Tanaka—-who has been federally indicted and will go to trial in March—has had on the department over which he had so much control.

The Times writes:

“The organization has a different tone,” McDonnell said recently, and that new tone was exemplified last year by the resignation of Assistant Sheriff Michael Rothans, following a Times report that he had purchased a stolen car that deputies had seized from a suspected gang member. Rothans had been a trusted part of McDonnell’s effort to reboot the department, but he violated policy, and he was out.

Where the editorial board is less sure is in the arena of “whether McDonnell’s reform vision is limited to a thorough de-Tanakafication of the department, or if instead it will embrace the sweeping and overdue reinvention of the criminal justice system now under discussion and underway to some degree around the nation.”

In other words, is McDonnell a true reformer?

The Times, right now, has mixed feelings on that question. They write:

There are some discouraging signals on that front. We are dismayed at McDonnell’s hostile reaction to Proposition 47, the landmark California ballot measure that decreases penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. The sheriff acknowledges that instead of arresting suspects on misdemeanor charges, his deputies are often not arresting them at all. Yet he blames an uptick in crime not on his department’s practices, but on the ballot measure.

Supervisor Sheila Kuehl did not mention McDonnell by name at a board hearing on Proposition 47 last fall, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that she was talking at least partly about him when she noted that there was no evidence to support claims that the measure is increasing crime.

“I would really encourage those spreading this disinformation to reconsider and be more responsible,” Kuehl said.

However, in noting an emerging—albeit still polite–struggle for power between the sheriff and the board of supervisors, the Times’ board is not prepared, for the moment anyway, to root against the sheriff.

They write:

The question should instead be who, or what, will bring Los Angeles County a Sheriff’s Department that protects safety on the streets and in the jails, constantly improves standards and performance and holds itself accountable for failures. It has been only a year, and McDonnell still deserves a bit of patience. For now.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, law enforcement | 18 Comments »

Sexual Assault at the Hands of Kern Deputies, Follow-Up on Pasadena Police Reforms, Preschool Suspensions, and Confidential Informants

December 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WOMEN ASSAULTED BY KERN DEPUTIES ARE HUSHED UP WITH SMALL SUMS OF CASH

Part three of the Guardian’s five-part series on Kern County, home to the nation’s deadliest cops, looks at the culture of sexual abuse and coverups plaguing the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the lack of gender diversity in both the sheriff’s department and the Bakersfield Police Department.

Kern County residents alleging sexual assault and harassment at the hands of deputies say they are molested, and then quickly and quietly paid off.

When the victims report the misconduct, sheriff’s officials offer the women a small amount of money, a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, to keep quiet and waive the right to sue the department. When an accuser doesn’t immediately accept the cash, the offered sum grows further into the thousands, but still a far cry from the millions many of the women would receive if they successfully sued the Kern Sheriff’s Office.

David Cohn, an attorney for one of the women accusing Kern officers of sexual assault, says he suspects the department does not psychologically vet future officers carefully enough.

But Kern Sheriff Donny Youngblood says trainees are given polygraph tests that include questions about their sexual behaviors, as well as a 500-question psychological exam.

Here’s a clip from the third installment of the Guardian’s series, written by Oliver Laughland and Jon Swaine (video by Mae Ryan and Alex Parker):

“That night was the worst night of my life,” said another woman, named only as Jane Doe in court to protect her identity. Her abuser, 28-year-old Kern County deputy Gabriel Lopez, was sitting in court awaiting sentencing in September this year. “I did absolutely nothing wrong and yet this man used his badge to take advantage of me and sexually assault me,” she continued, at the judge’s invitation. “I will be scarred for the rest of my life because of what he did to me.”

The assault occurred on 25 March 2013, just two weeks after Lopez had completed his field training and qualified as a patrol officer.

He and deputy Christopher Escobedo entered Doe’s apartment in Tehachapi, a small city in the county’s south-west, and conducted a spot check on her boyfriend who was out on probation. They then moved to her bedroom and found the 21-year-old woman stirring from sleep. The officers placed her in handcuffs. Lopez patted her down and then, according to a civil lawsuit, proceeded to move his hands down her shorts, grab her crotch and grope her. The handcuffs were removed. Then the officers left.

Ten minutes later Deputy Lopez arrived back at the apartment. This time, he was alone.

He told Doe he needed to perform a cavity search on her to check once more for drugs. He took her back to the bedroom and instructed her to take off all her clothes. He touched her all over her naked body as she bent over with her hands against the bed. She sobbed throughout. She begged him to stop, but he refused. And then he left.

Doe reported the assault to the sheriff’s office.

A week later, on 1 April, two senior officials from the Kern County sheriff’s office – Commander Shaun Beasley, who ran the human resources division, and civil litigation coordinator Michael Mahoney – arrived at her door. They brought with them $5,000 in cash, taken from a safe kept in a locked human resources office at the sheriff’s headquarters.

An internal sheriff’s office memo, obtained by the Guardian, shows the two men started with an offer of $1,000 in exchange for waiving the department’s liability. Doe declined, but gradually the men moved their offer upwards, reaching $7,500.

In Mahoney’s sworn deposition he recalls Commander Beasley left the meeting at this point. “He had to make some calls to get the right money,” Mahoney said.

“And then he came back in and said: ‘The money’s on the way.’”

Doe considered their final offer, and thought about how it might help pay off her bills. But then she refused, after her father called telling her not to settle.


PASADENA CITY COUNCIL DISCUSSION ON POLICE REFORM ONE MONTH AFTER THE RELEASE OF A 26-RECOMMENDATION REPORT FOLLOWING THE 2012 DEATH OF KENDREC MCDADE

Last month the OIR Group released a report with 26 reform recommendations for the Pasadena Police Department, in response to the troubling 2014 death of 19-year-old Kendrec McDade at the hands of two police officers.

At a meeting between the Pasadena City Council and the city’s public safety committee to discuss the report, Pasadena Police Chief Philip Sanchez said the department has initiated or completed 19 of the 26 reforms.

Among the seven recommendations Chief Sanchez rejected were banning officers from reviewing video and audio of an shooting before submitting a statement, and discontinuing use of the “box in” tactic on fleeing suspects, which the report says puts officers in danger and ups the likelihood of officers having to shoot the suspect.

Sanchez also said that he found the shooting to be within department policy without conducting administrative interviews with the officers and witnesses. This is problematic because the administrative review is what leads to departmental actions like re-training, discipline, or dismissal of the officers involved. The criminal investigation, on the other hand, is what may or may not lead to actual charges. The criminal investigation, Sanchez said, was so comprehensive, that he felt the administrative interviews were not necessary.

The Pasadena Star-News’ Jason Henry has the story. Here’s a clip:

In its report, the OIR Group called the department’s administrative review inefficient because it failed to do separate interviews. An administrative interview would cover different topics than one in a criminal case, the report says.

The report’s authors, Michael Gennaco and Robert Miller, said Monday that an interview focused solely on policies and procedures is critical for learning from the incident. Pasadena police conducted separate criminal and administrative investigations in past officer-involved shootings, as recently as the 2009 shooting of Leroy Barnes, they said.

“You get different information from a professional standards interview, even if it’s of the same person and it covers roughly the same ground,” Miller said. “We’ve seen it work in literally hundreds of officer-involved shootings that we’ve reviewed. The fact that the department decided not to do this came as kind of a shock and took us aback.”

The department also failed to corroborate the officers’ statements with witnesses or probe into certain tactical decisions, according to the OIR Group.

Gennaco and Miller said Sanchez asked the OIR Group for suggestions on questions to ask during an administrative interview but later learned that interview never happened.

The department’s leadership cleared the officers of any wrongdoing without allowing the OIR Group to sit in on the administrative review, as required under the city’s contract with OIR Group. The department provided only a memo on what happened at that meeting nearly a year later.


PLUGGING THE PRESCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

Nationwide, 8,000 preschoolers were suspended during the 2011-2012 school year, often for actions befitting, you know, toddlers—things like crying, bathroom accidents, and kicking off shoes. Not surprisingly, in 2014, black children comprise only 18% of kids enrolled in preschool, but represent nearly half of preschoolers suspended more than once in a year. And while boys accounted for just over half of kids enrolled in preschool, nearly all of the children who received repeat suspensions were boys.

The Atlantic’s Melinda Anderson has more on this issue, which has been gathering national attention from lawmakers, education administrators, and government representatives. Here’s a clip:

From a 3-year-old suspended for too many toileting mishaps to a 4-year-old booted out of school for kicking off his shoes and crying, toddlers are racking up punishments that leave many parents and child experts bewildered. Overall the rise in school suspensions and disproportionate impact on youth of color has triggered a flurry of interest from activists and high-ranking government officials, and for good reason: A February 2015 report from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project examined out-of-school suspension data for every school district in the country and found that nearly 3.5 million children—about six out of every 100 public school students—were suspended at least once during the 2011-12 school year, with close to half of those (1.55 million) suspended multiple times.

But for some more astounding than these discipline statistics were the thousands of the nation’s youngest learners—nearly 8,000 preschoolers—suspended from school in the same year, often for relatively minor disruptions and misbehaviors. For researchers and educators immersed in this work, why preschoolers are put out of school and the entrenched racial disparity seems most closely tied to reasons such as teacher bias and children living in poverty whose hitting, biting, and pinching is frequently labeled misconduct rather than developmental delays.

[SNIP]

What makes preschool-age suspensions and expulsions further problematic is how out-of-school punishment feeds the school-to-prison pipeline. Research shows that repeated suspensions breed student disengagement, making youth more likely to dropout and more susceptible to entering the juvenile justice system. This was the definitive conclusion of an October report from the Center for American Progress and the National Black Child Development Institute that highlights the trends, underlying causes and lasting harm of preschool suspension and expulsions. Pertinent to the groups’ findings is how little preschool discipline is rooted in young children’s behaviors as opposed to adult behaviors—due to implicit biases and a gross misunderstanding of toddler development.


THE “SHADOWY UNDERWORLD” OF COPS USING YOUNG COLLEGE STUDENTS AS CONFIDENTIAL INFORMANTS IN THE WAR ON DRUGS

60 Minutes has an excellent story about law enforcement’s controversial use of college students caught selling small amounts of weed as confidential informants, often putting them at serious risk of harm in exchange for promises of leniency or dropped charges.

Here’s a clip from the accompanying transcript, but go over to CBS to watch the full episode:

Lance Block is an attorney in Tallahassee, Florida, who opposes using young people caught for relatively minor offenses as confidential informants.

Lance Block: These kids are being recruited to do the most dangerous type of police work. They’re going undercover, with no background, training, or experience. They haven’t been to the police academy.

Lesley Stahl: So they are basically doing the same work as a trained undercover cop?

Lance Block: Absolutely.

Block says he was unaware police were using young people as confidential informants until he was hired seven years ago by the family of Rachel Hoffman, a recent college graduate who was caught with a large stash of marijuana and a few Valium and ecstasy pills. It was her second marijuana arrest.

Lance Block: She was caught by the Tallahassee Police Department and told that if she didn’t become a confidential informant, she was looking at four years in prison.

She signed up, and a few weeks later was sent out to make her first undercover drug buy. It was to be one of the biggest in Tallahassee’s recent history — 1,500 ecstasy pills, an ounce and a half of cocaine, and a gun.

Lesley Stahl: Had she ever dealt in any of those things?

Lance Block: No.

Lesley Stahl: A gun? Had she ever fired a gun?

Lance Block: No. Rachel was a pothead. And Rachel sold marijuana to her friends out of her home, but Rachel wasn’t dealing in ecstasy or cocaine, much less — of course not weapons.

Rachel drove her car alone to meet the dealers in this park with $13,000 cash from the police and a wire in her purse. She was to be monitored by some 20 officers. But then the dealers changed the location of the deal, so Rachel drove away from the police staging area, and that’s when things went terribly wrong.

Lance Block: The drug dealers have her out on this road. One drug dealer gets into the car with her –

Lesley Stahl: And the 20 cops who were nearby?

Lance Block: They lost her.

Lance Block: They shot her five times when they found the wire in her purse and dumped her body in a ditch 50 miles away.

Rachel Hoffman’s tragic death turned Block into an advocate. He sued the City of Tallahassee and won a $2.8 million settlement for Rachel’s parents, and he has argued for more openness and greater protection for confidential informants ever since.

Lesley Stahl: Do you have any sense of how many confidential informants there are?

Lance Block: Law enforcement is loaded with statistics. But you cannot find out any information about the number of confidential informants that are being used across this country, much less the number of people who are being killed or injured.

Lesley Stahl: No one’s keeping statistics?

Lance Block: No one. It’s a shadowy underworld, is what it is.

No states collect data on law enforcement agencies’ use of confidential informants, and there are only a handful of states that even have laws governing the use of CIs. Attorney Lance Block tells 60 Minutes host Lesley Stahl that when reforms crop up, law enforcement lobbies fight to keep the system as it is.

Lesley Stahl: I’ve been told that a lot of these kids are not really looking at jail time.

Lance Block: In the vast majority of cases, these kids would be diverted into a drug court program. They’d be on probation for six months to a year, and at the end, if they’ve done everything successfully, then the cases are dismissed.

Lance Block has been advocating for laws to regulate the recruitment and use of confidential informants across the country, but he says law enforcement lobbies have opposed the reforms.

Lance Block: They want to keep the C.I. system as it is.

Lesley Stahl: Law enforcement people have told us, “We see it as a win/win. The kids get a reduced or charges completely expunged, and we get to arrest drug dealers.”

Lance Block: But there are kids that are being killed. And they’re arresting small-time possessors. That’s a lose/lose.

Posted in law enforcement | 1 Comment »

Well-liked Downey Police Officer Killed in Attempted Robbery Turned Tragic – UPDATED X2

November 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday night around 11 PM, Downey Police officer Ricardo Galvez—Ricky to his friends-
–was sitting in his own car in the parking lot of the Downey police department, when two young men and a teenager spotted him and, reportedly intended to rob him.

Instead reportedly two of the three ran up from behind, and one shot him. Galvez died while still in his car.

The 29-year-old officer had been on the force for five years and was well-liked. “A tremendous young man,” said Downey Police Chief Carl Charles, of Galvez. He was also a Marine reservist, serving two tours of duty, first in Iraq, then Afghanistan.

When the news of Galvez’ death was initially being reported Thursday morning, it was thought he may have been targeted. But that idea was dispelled when police apprehended the two men and a teenager—21, 18 and 16-years old, respectively—who are now being held as suspects responsible for the fatal shooting. The three admitted they’d been trying to rob the officer—whom they’d not recognized as a police officer.

According to a report by Cindy Chang, Richard Winton and Brittny Mejia for the LA Times, Glavez was just back from a K-9 training class, had gone off duty and was wearing his own clothes as he sat in his personal BMW.

The LA Times has more on the heartbreaking death of Officer Rickey Galvez.

Here’s a clip:

“The man was full of joy. He always brought a smile,” said Eleazar Aguilar, who served with Galvez in Pico Rivera.

“He was always the leader in the unit, there was no question about that. My heart goes out to his family. Every single Marine feels their pain today,”

Lloyd Vernis, 29, served with Galvez in Ramadi, Iraq. When Vernis opened a barbershop called The Pride on Firestone Boulevard, Galvez persuaded his fellow Downey police officers to patronize the business. Galvez got a haircut there about once a week, Vernis said.

“He loved the Corps. He loved the police force,” Vernis said before breaking down in tears.

Galvez is survived by a mother, a brother who is a jailer at the Downey Police Department, and two younger sisters.


UPDATE: Sixteen-year-old Abel Diaz is being charged as an adult with murder for his part in the killing of Downey Police officer Ricky Galvez on Wednesday night.

Diaz will be arraigned on Monday. Prosecutors are expected to ask for $1 million in bail. If Diaz is convicted, he will face life in prison.

The other suspects in the case have not been identified by name, but are describe as two young men, ages 21 and 18.

Diaz’s sister, Maricela Alvarado, 24, told reporters that her younger brother was not the shooter and had no intention of harming the officer.

According to the LA Times, Alvarado showed several reporters a text message she said her brother sent her a few minutes after Officer Galvez was fatally shot.

The text reportedly read: “Mari I love all y’all my homie fucked up n did something.”


UPDATE FRIDAY, 10:35 PM

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detectives have identified the other two suspects in the murder of Downey Police Department Officer Ricardo Galvez.

The suspects have been identified as brothers Steven Knott, 18, and Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, 21.

Knott and Alvarez have been charged with murder and are being held without bail.

LASD detectives reportedly believe that Diaz and Knott crept up on Galvez, while Alvarez acted as the getaway driver.

Posted in law enforcement | 11 Comments »

DOJ Interventions and Civilian Oversight for Law Enforcement

November 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WHEN THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT INTERVENES, LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES HAVE MIXED RESULTS, AND THE DOJ DOESN’T TRACK LONG-TERM OUTCOMES LIKE WHETHER POLICE SUSTAIN THE REFORMS

Over the past 20 years, the US Department of Justice has intervened to overhaul 16 local law enforcement agencies plagued by officer misconduct (like frequent excessive use of force) and other systemic failures. But the Justice Dept. hasn’t closely examined the long-term outcomes of the interventions, according to Frontline’s Sarah Childress and Washington Post reporters Kimbriell Kelly and Steven Rich,who looked at the unintended consequences of those DOJ interventions, traveling to Los Angeles and some of the other 16 locations.

The reporters interviewed officials from the 16 law enforcement agencies, the federal monitors, and civil rights advocates about the interventions, their purpose, and what impacts they have on communities and law enforcement officers.

When the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by re-training officers and forcing policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s reform agreement. But once the feds leave, it’s up to the department to continue those reforms, and some backslide.

The Frontline and WaPo reporters looked at available use-of-force and budget-related data and reports from the monitors, and found that results have been mixed. Out of ten police departments for which enough data was available, use of force rates at five departments actually rose after federal intervention. In five others, use of force rates either stayed the same or dropped.

And when the DOJ steps in, taxpayers have to foot the bill. Thus far, Los Angeles has been the must expensive intervention with a price tag of $300 million for 12 years of post-Rampart-scandal federal oversight that ended in 2013. But the DOJ’s efforts produced desperately needed reforms in the scandal-plagued department.

Albuquerque is another of the more obvious success stories. The DOJ went in to address a spike in officer-involved shootings, particularly of the mentally ill. Since 2012, the Albuquerque police have dropped use-of-force incidents by 57% thanks to crisis intervention training.

For many law enforcement agencies, federal oversight lowered officer morale and led to a high officer turnover rate. During Detroit’s 11-year intervention, the police department went through eight police chiefs.

For New Orleans police officers, the DOJ’s 1996-2004 intervention was not enough to carry lasting reform. The feds returned in 2010 after cops were again racking up excessive use of force incidents and illegal stops and searches. One of the latest mandated reforms came in the form of officer-worn cameras. Capt. Mike Glasser told reporters that the enforced videotaping has stopped officers from proactive policing.

Here are a few clips, but the issue is a complex one, so be sure to go over to Frontline and read the whole thing:

Officer morale in some of the departments plummeted during the interventions, according to interviews. Collectively, the departments have cycled through 52 police chiefs as the agencies tried to meet federal demands. Some departments have struggled to sustain reforms once oversight ended, and in some cities, police relations with residents remain strained.

In interviews, Justice Department officials defended the interventions and said that in recent years they have significantly improved the reform process. Those changes have led to greater oversight of police departments and to policing that better protects the civil rights of residents, they said.

“The goal isn’t that we have a perfect police department when we leave,” said Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general of the department’s civil rights division. “The goal is that they actually know what to do when there’s a problem.”

[SNIP]

“The police departments that we go into, small or big, are ones where there have been findings of pretty significant systemic pattern-or-practice constitutional violations,” Gupta said. “Whether they’re the worst, I don’t know. Whether they are in crisis, yes.”

[SNIP]

The Justice Department’s only broad assessment of its interventions occurred as part of a 2010 roundtable with police chiefs from some of the departments targeted. One of the conclusions: Federal officials had no universal way to measure impact and needed better data to determine whether reforms worked.

But numbers will not tell the full story, experts said.

“The hard question – have you stopped doing the things that got you into court in the first place – is something that these consent decrees seem to have trouble answering,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a professor of law at Columbia University who has studied reform agreements.

Justice officials said the newest generation of reform agreements, starting with Seattle in 2012 and 11 police departments since, includes benchmarks to indicate whether the reforms are taking hold. Gupta, the civil rights division chief, said Justice can then adjust as needed. She also said Justice officials are working more closely with local law enforcement and community members to build trust.

She cited federal reforms of police in East Haven, Conn., Seattle and Los Angeles as successes that have produced “transformation.”

“And transformation is more than just…enactment of specific reforms,” Gupta said. “It really is a fundamental change in how the community relates to the police department and vice versa.”
But she said once the monitoring ends, so does Justice’s involvement.

“We don’t tend to evaluate…after we have left,” Gupta said. “There’s a limit to how much we can…remain engaged with a particular jurisdiction given our limited resources.”

Some critics have complained that federal interventions leave abusive officers in uniform because the agreements target policies and practices of an agency, not individual employees. But experts said reforming departments is more important than trying to punish officers.


THE CHALLENGES OF CREATING MEANINGFUL CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

Independent civilian oversight commissions are popping up in jurisdictions across the country as a way to hold law enforcement agencies accountable to the public. But how much power do they actually have to address problems within the agencies and investigate misconduct allegations?

Scripps News’ Ross Jones contacted 200 civilian oversight groups across the nation as part of a special “Focus on Force” series. Jones found that almost two-thirds of those watchdog groups don’t have their own independent investigators. Instead, the majority of the civilian panels work directly with law enforcement agencies’ own internal affairs officers.

Because most oversight groups don’t have teeth and can only make recommendations, they must rely on the cooperation of the departments they monitor.

This year, Los Angeles County officials has wrestled with whether to grant subpoena power to a planned civilian oversight commission that would be tasked with monitoring the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and how to best protect deputies’ privacy without compromising transparency and accountability. The working group tasked with making recommendations as to the reach and composition of civilian oversight recommended the commission use the county’s Office of Inspector General staff for investigation purposes.

Here are some clips from Jones’ story:

[Civilian oversight commissions] rely on police department internal affairs officers to determine if a fellow officer went too far.

And that’s troublesome, some experts say.

“They may not have asked the appropriate follow-up questions or investigated contradictions in what the officer has said,” said Samuel Walker, an expert in police oversight and professor emeritus of Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska Omaha.

“Some (boards) do have the power to reject what internal affairs does and send it back for further investigation,” Walker said. “That’s good, but you still have to take on faith that they’ve reinvestigated, asked the questions and have got it right this time. But I think taking it on faith isn’t good enough.”

[SNIP]

Today, Walker and other experts advocate for another form of police oversight – one that reacts to complaints of misconduct and proactively audits officers’ investigations, collects arrest data and reviews department policies.

Posted in Civil Rights, Department of Justice, law enforcement | 4 Comments »

A Look at Police Shootings in LA……Supes Agree to Pay $8.85 Million for LASD Killing….Ix-Nay on Mass Incarceration for Kids…Another Alarming Wrinkle in Foster Care’s Group Home Problem

November 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

For some reason there is no official tally of police shootings in America, although it seems like an accurate and detailed tally would benefit everyone. For one thing, facts would replace the conjectures and generalizations that both activists and law enforcement spokespeople are too often prone to lobbing, grenade-like, into the public discourse. Several news organizations have attempted to take up the tasking of counting, most notably the Washington Post and the Guardian.

Even more recently, one of LA’s main NPR stations, KPPC, has stepped in with its own count. But in KPCC’s case, they are appropriately counting the police shootings in LA County.

The KPPC count is based on information from the LA District Attorney’s office, along with medical examiner data, all gathered between 2010 and 2014. The count has also resulted in a a series of excellent stories by Frank SToltz, Annie Gilbertson, Martin Kaste, Rina Palta, Chris Keller and Aaron Mendelson—and other KPPC staffers—that look a multiple sides of the topic.

For instance, Frank Stoltze reports on Eric Avendano and Miguel Ruano, two LAPD officers who received the department’s medal of valor last month.

Stolze wrote:

In the summer of 2011, Ruano shot a man who had stabbed his partner inside a church in Boyle Heights — and was charging at Ruano.

Avendano’s decision to fire was not to save his own life, but that of an innocent woman.

“Right here in this room are the human stories of bravery,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “It is an honor to come here.”

As for the stats: KPPC found that during those five years they counted, the Los Angeles Police Department, LA County Sheriff’s Department, and various other agencies that police in the LA County, shot 375 people, of whom, about one in four was unarmed. 148 people were shot for moving their hands out of sight or reaching for their waistbands; of those, 47 turned out to be unarmed.

In New York City, the ratio is slightly better, with one-in-five out of those shot found to be unarmed.

Among LA law enforcement, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department has the least comforting record, with one-in-three shootings involving an unarmed person.

In a related story, Annie Gilbertson, Frank Stoltze and Chris Keller look at those shootings of unarmed LA residents. .

Reporters asked LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell about LASD’s one-in-three ratio KPCC found, and McDonnell defended his troops:

Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that would be “troubling to anybody,” but maintains the shootings were unavoidable.

“You have to do what you have to do to be able to protect your own life and the lives of others,” McDonnell said.

There’s lots more in the way of breakdown of the numbers here, where you can view the data through various filters. For instance, you can find how many people during each year were shot while police were defending some other civilian or civilians, or when the shooting occurred during or after a chase or pursuit, and how many of the shootings were fatal, and so on.

No matter where you sit on the issue, there’s a lot in the series to look at and listen to. We at WLA recommend diving in.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF LA COUNTY POLICE SHOOTINGS: ON TUESDAY THE LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTED TO GIVE $8.85 MILLION TO THE FAMILY OF AN UNARMED MAN KILLED IN 2009 BY SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES IN LYNWOOD

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to pay $8.85 million to the family of Alfredo Montalvo, a fork-lift operator and married father of two, who was fatally shot in 2009 by nine Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies in Lynwood, CA, after a short pursuit.

The shooting took place after deputies in an an unmarked sheriff’s car started tailing Montalvo deciding he was drunk after he rolled over a curb while leaving a Circle K. parking lot. Trying frantically to escape the unmarked car following him, Montalvo eventually crashed into two cars. As more than a dozen deputies reportedly arrived for back-up, and Montalvo was told to exit his car.

Surrounded by multiple law enforcement vehicles by that time, Montalvo—who was, by the way, not drunk at all (his tox screen did not show alchohol)—reportedly tried to reverse his hemmed in car so he could open his car door and exit the vehicle as the deputies had demanded, and in so doing struck one of the sheriff’s vehicles.

Saying later that they feared for their lives, the group of deputies opened fire, and shot at Montalvo 61 times. The 29-year old Montalvo later died at the hospital.

The shooting was found to be in policy.

Nevertheless, in 2012, a Compton jury awarded Montalvo’s wife, Annette Montalvo, and their two children $8.76 million in a wrongful-death civil case.

Naturally, the county appealed, and, as the case made its way through the appeals process, the award gathered interest, plus attorneys’ fees. Thus now, in late 2015, if the county lost the appeal, it would have owed Montalvo’s family $11 million. So the Supes unanimously and wisely voted to settle for $8.85 million.

The LA Times’ Jack Dolan has more on the story.


WHAT DOES MASS INCARCERATION FOR KIDS LOOK LIKE? INEVITABLY BAD, VERY BAD, SAYS VINCENT SCHIRALDI—WHO OUGHT TO KNOW

Long admired juvenile justice expert, Vincent Schiraldi, has run two problem-fraught juvenile incarceration facilities—one in Washington, D.C., the other in New York City. Plus he has visited many more of the places in the course of his work in justice research and reform.

In an Op Ed for the New York Times Schiraldi—who is now a senior research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Program in Criminal Justice—says that horrific institutional conditions are “common, not exceptional,” in such facilities. He points out that, since 1970, “systemic violence, abuse and excessive use of isolation and restraint”s have been documented in juvenile institutions in 39 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Here’s a clip that gives a glimpse into what Schiraldi found in the D.C. kids’ lock-up that he took over in 2005:

Beatings of children in custody were commonplace, inmates stuffed clothing around the toilets to keep out rats and cockroaches, young people were locked up for so long that they often defecated or urinated in their cells. Youths who came in clean tested positive for marijuana after 30 days of confinement, suggesting that it was easier to score drugs in my facility than on the streets of the District of Columbia.

My staff and I quickly uncovered more abuses. Staff members were sexually harassing the kids and one another. One of my corrections officers married a youth shortly after the boy was released from custody. A teacher who had been confined in the facility when she was a teenager confided to us that she had been sexually assaulted by a staff member who was still in our employ years later. The female staff members widely complained that, if they didn’t perform sexually for their supervisors, they were threatened with finding themselves alone and unaided with the facility’s inmates in dangerous situations.

These abuses are not meted out equally in the United States, with African-Americans and Latinos incarcerated at far higher rates than whites. In my five years running the Washington system, I never saw one white youth (other than volunteers) in my correctional facility.

Cleaning this up was no mean feat. When a boy complained that he had been savagely and publicly beaten by a staff member (the medical staff said his bruising was consistent with his account), only a single corrections officer came forward as a witness. Because of the strong taboo against “snitching” inside correctional facilities, the witness was so harassed by fellow corrections officers that his testimony during an arbitration hearing was shaky and deemed not credible.

From what he saw in his ten years on the inside, Schiraldi says, he thinks all kids’ incarceration facilities should be shut down in favor of community-based programs, the sooner, the better. “Conditions [inside these facilities] poison staff members and kids alike and harm, rather than improve, public safety.”

Editor’s Note: Schiraldi was one of the juvenile justice reform experts who spoke eloquently at the Smart on Safety summit that WitnessLA attended last week.


AS CALIFORNIA MOVES TO FORCE MAJOR CHANGES ON THE STATE’S FOSTER CARE GROUP HOMES, ONE LOCKED FACILITY FOR MENTALLY ILL KIDS WILL LIKELY REMAIN THE SAME, BUT WITH DWINDLING RESOURCES

Only those involved with the foster care system seem to be aware of California’s Assembly Bill (AB) 403, that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown early this fall. The new law, that has been widely praised by child advocates, was passed in response to an increasing body of research, not to mention plain old common sense, that has found that long-term stays in group homes for foster kids is, almost without exception, really harmful to a kid’s emotional health, well-being and to his or her general statistical outcomes when the kid moves into adulthood.

But finding healthier substitutes for the hard-to-place kids who usually wind-up in California’s group homes is a challenging matter, as even the most ardent child-advocates will tell you.

The matter becomes even more complicated with the highest-needs kids in foster care who, as Jeremy Loudenback reports for the Chronicle of Social Change, “continue to face waiting lists and uncertain futures under so-called congregate-care reform.”

Here’s a clip from Loudenback’s story:

Located in Torrance, a mid-size town south of Los Angeles, Star View Adolescent Center is one of only two secure residential facilities in California, also known as community treatment facilities (CTFs). Originally designed as an alternative to out-of-state placements and the state’s psychiatric hospitals, CTFs provide mental health treatment to children ages 12 to 18 who are deemed seriously emotionally disturbed.

Nearly all of these children are involved with the child-welfare and juvenile-justice systems in California and have a history of severe abuse and trauma. The most common diagnoses include bipolar disorders, serious depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with substance abuse issues.

Youth in residential care at Star View also attend South Bay High School on campus, a learning institution that’s only open to the 40 youth in the program as well as the 16 youth who reside at the psychiatric health facility that’s part of the campus. The population is predominately female and is drawn from across the state, though most come from Los Angeles County through contracts with that county’s Department of Children and Family Services. About 30 percent of the youth have endured commercial sexual exploitation. [Our italics.]

But Star View is unlike other group homes in California designed to handle foster youth with the greatest mental health needs. All foster youth at Star View are confined behind locked doors, and the staff is authorized to use restraints and seclusion, though state law mandates that such measures must be overseen by a psychiatrist and a registered nurse….

Loudenback notes that there are many questions remaining as California officials gear up to reimagine the use of so-call congregate care, and dispiritingly few concrete answers, particularly when it comes to the state’s most traumatized children.


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Governor Signs AB 953, Racial Profiling Bill; Advocates Thrilled, Law Enforcement Not So Much

October 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN SIGNS RACIAL PROFILING BILL, THRILLING SOME, IRRITATING OTHERS

On Saturday, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 953, The Racial and Identity Profiling Act of 2015, a bill that, since its introduction, has aroused strong passions, pro and con.

The bill requires the collection of data by California law enforcement agencies on the racial makeup of all those stopped by the police, along with the outcomes of those stops. All the data, once compiled, will be made public.

AB 953 will “collect data to validate what black people experience very day,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) when she spoke to her fellow senators in favor of the bill’s passage. Mitchell is one of the bill’s co-authors.

The newly signed legislation was written by Assemblymember Shirley Weber’s (D-San Diego), who thanked Gov. Brown in a statement after the signing, describing him as being, along with his father, “on the forefront of civil rights” for the last half century.

“AB 953 will be the state’s first step toward not only understanding the problem of racial profiling,” said Weber, “but also toward formulating policies to reduce the practice and its devastating consequences. California is going in a new direction on this issue; hopefully, this will set an example for other states.”

Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), another co-author, tweeted cheerily after the signing, “Justice wins today…”

AB 953 was sponsored by such reform-minded groups as the ACLU of California, the Youth Justice Coalition, PICO California, Dignity and Power Now, and others.

In statement released after the signing, the Nor Cal ACLU called AB 953 a “monumental step toward fair policing with first-ever bill to collect, analyze, and make public data on all police stops.

“California holds the ominous record for the highest number of deaths in the country, with 149 people killed by law enforcement in the state this year,” the ACLU wrote. “However, the state still does not collect, analyze, or make available basic information about who the police, stop, search or even shoot.”

Interestingly, the bill also received impassioned support from clergy up and down the state, a diverse group of whom signed a letter addressed to the governor encouraging him to sign the bill.

It read in part:

We people of faith imagine a new California where Black, Brown, and Native people rejoice knowing their leaders, particularly their Governor, have done everything possible to ensure safeguards are in place that create understanding, accountability, and trust with law enforcement. Research has shown that race plays an unconscious role in everyone’€™s decision-making, particularly in split-second decisions on perceived crime and danger. Unfortunately, when it comes to policing we still don’€™t have data at the statewide level to address this. Policing that wrongfully uses discriminatory practices will only lead to more unjust deaths, and reaffirms distrust in law enforcement, which makes all of us less safe.

AB 953’s passage in California would send a signal to the whole country that California is leading the nation on fair policing during the urgency of this moral crisis. We should not be afraid of data – in fact, data will help us empower reform and facilitate reconciliation with police officers at the neighborhood level.

On the other side of the issue, however, opinions also ran strong, especially among law enforcement organizations, many of which described AB 953 as a costly headache that would provide little information of real use. For instance, The Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) urged a veto, telling the governor:

Our communities are frustrated in the wake of high profile incidents involving officer use of force. PORAC understands the concerns of the public and wants to work together to address these issues and move forward together. However, the additional reporting requirements under AB 953 will prove burdensome, and implementation and maintenance for such record keeping will prove costly and be of little benefit to the community.

Brown, who has generally been very attentive to the views of law enforcement since his stint as California Attorney General,, reportedly called several of the heads of the big LE groups that had opposed the bill, in order to explain his thinking.

(LA Times reporters Kim Christensen and Matt Hamilton have a longer story on the reaction of law enforcement around the state to Brown’s signing of the law. So take a look.)

The new law does not require the new data collection to actually begin until March 1, 2018, giving all those concerned more than two years to create systems to gather and analyze the data in question.

AB 953 was one of around a dozen criminal justice bills that Brown signed over the weekend. Tomorrow, we’ll have a run down of some of the rest of the bills for your reading pleasure.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF LAW ENFORCEMENT: SHERIFF JIM MCDONNELL TALKS ABOUT OREGON SHOOTING, ICE IN JAILS, AND NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH FEDS

Los Angeles County Sheriff, Jim McDonnell, was interviewed Sunday on NBC4 where he talked about such topics as the Oregon shooting, the controversial decision to have ICE agents back in LA’s jails, and a new partnership between the LASD and the U.S. Attorney’s office to combat sex trafficking in LA County, a crime that U.S. attorney Eileen Decker said is on the increase and has become a “priority issue” for the Department of Justice.

McDonnell too pointed to the issue as a priority. “The average age of a girl in California getting involved is 12 years old,” he said, explaining that the LAPD plus smaller LA County police agencies were also involved in the newly created task force.

On the tragedy in Oregon, and what should be done to prevent such horrors, McDonnell said, “While the gun is the vehicle, and after every one of these, we focus on that….the underlying cause is mental illness…”

Forty percent of the uses of force in the sheriff’s department, McDonnell said, “are dealing with the mentally ill.”

The sheriff called again for community based treatment for the mentally ill, so that the jails aren’t “the default mechanism…” for their treatment, as has been true in the past.

The interview has lots more, including a detailed explanation of the ways that ICE will and will not have access to LA County jail inmates. So take a look.


…AND ABOUT THOSE GUNS USED IN THE MOST RECENT OF AMERICA’S MASS SHOOTINGS

The New York Times has a sort of info-graphic feature on how the various shooters got their guns.

The Times’ writers note that, “criminal histories and documented mental health problems did not prevent at least eight of the gunmen in 14 recent mass shootings from obtaining their weapons, after federal background checks led to approval of the purchases of the guns used.”

The charts are disturbing but important, so take a look.

Posted in law enforcement | 10 Comments »

Texas Governor Calls for Law Enforcement Supporters to Wear Blue

September 4th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott asked supporters to wear blue Friday as a way to honor Harris County Deputy Sheriff Darren Goforth, who was gunned down on the evening of August 28, as he was pumping gas. Goforth was reportedly targeted simply because he was wearing a law enforcement uniform. A 30-year-old Houston man has been arrested for the crime and charged with capital murder.

Thousands of officers turned out for Deputy Goforth’s funeral on Friday morning, September 4. The church where the ceremony was held holds 7000 people, and was reportedly filled past overflowing, with some officers standing quietly outside as bagpipes played Amazing Grace.

The National Sheriff’s Association was one of the national law enforcement groups that urged its members and others to wear or display blue on Friday, Sept. 4.

We at WLA are in favor of the idea and are wearing blue today ourselves.

Have a good and safe weekend.

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‘Roid Rage With a Badge: Is Anabolic Steroid Use a Problem for Cops?

August 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Could steroid use by cops cause officers to escalate in encounters with suspects, when deescalation might prevent tragedy?
In a new story for AlterNet reporter David J. Krajicek talks to police experts and others who express concern over a rise in secret steroid use, now that pricy and complicated random testing has fallen out of favor with budget-minded law enforcement agencies.

While we don’t necessarily agree with every single one of Krajicek’s conclusions, his story brings up some worthwhile questions.

But first here is some background on the issue in general:

In 2004, the DEA became concerned enough about a pattern of steroid use among law enforcement personnel that, together with the U.S. Department of Justice, they created a seven-page booklet titled “Steroid Abuse by Law Enforcement Personnel” to help police agencies understand the problem and how to avoid it.

“Anabolic steroid abuse, once viewed as a problem strictly associated with body builders, fitness ‘buffs,’ and professional athletes, has entered into the law enforcement community,” the DEA wrote in its brochure.

“Law enforcement personnel have used steroids for both physical and psychological reasons,” added the DEA. “The idea of enhanced physical strength and endurance provides one with ‘the invincible mentality’ when performing law enforcement duties.” Especially when those duties are of a nature that can easily turn dangerous.

But whatever upsides the drugs might provide, the downsides could be considerable, warned the DEA, citing the following psychological side-effects:

- Mood swings (including manic-like symptoms leading to violence)
- Impaired judgment (stemming from feelings of invincibility)
- Depression
- Nervousness
- Extreme irritability
- Hostility and aggression

When the problem seemed to get worse, not better, in 2008 the International Association of Chiefs of Police passed a resolution that “calls upon state and local law enforcement entities to establish a model policy prohibiting the use of illegally obtained steroids” by officers.

That same year, Police Chief Magazine, the publication put out by the IACP, ran a story about dangers of steroid “use and abuse,” in which the authors (which included a high ranking Arizona cop, an army doctor, and several medical specialists and researchers) explained why the steroid issue was an essential one to face, despite the admitted difficulties with testing:

“Officers carry weapons, are authorized to use lethal force, and are often involved in physically controlling or restraining people,” the authors noted. “If the stories of ’roid rage are true, how often are the officers who use anabolic steroids involved in unnecessary use-of-force incidents that could become a major liability for their agencies? Considering the legal issues, health effects, and commensurate costs associated with inappropriate use, agencies should proactively address this issue. Rather than look back on what could be an embarrassing “steroid era” of law enforcement—one in which the profession might be riddled with lawsuits, corruption, and claims of heavy-handedness—it is critical to address the current and future impact of this issue head-on.

Some agencies, like the NYPD did introduce testing during that era.

But according to more recent stories, even many of the cop shops that did test have dropped testing, including the Phoenix police, whose testing protocol was considered a pioneering model. Yet the problem has not gone away, as demonstrated by this 2014 story in the Augusta Chronicle about a brewing steroid scandal among law enforcement in Georgia—and elsewhere. Here’s a clip:

One of the largest cases occurred in New Jersey in 2007 when 248 officers and firefighters from 53 agencies were obtaining fraudulent prescriptions of anabolic steroids from a doctor. According to news accounts, the discovery was made after the doctor’s sudden death.

But smaller cases have occurred throughout the country, including one in Atlanta last year.
Five firefighters and one police officer from Cobb County were included in the investigation. Two of the employees resigned almost immediately.

Earlier this year in Washington state, investigators learned a King’s County sheriff’s deputy had been using steroids and dealing them to others inside and outside of the agency.

The sheriff told news outlets he suspected members of his SWAT team bought steroids, but he would not try to prove it because he needed the 20-man team intact.

(Interestingly, back in 2009, LA County’s Office of Independent Review reported, according to the LA Times, that the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had lowered its hiring standards to the degree that, among other questionable hires, it accepted a recruit who “had abused marijuana and steroids and been convicted of underage drinking shortly before he applied to become a deputy.” Such standard dipping has since been corrected, which is good. However, it is no guarantee that steroid use is not continuing under the radar, at both the LASD and the LAPD. As a matter of fact, anecdotally speaking, we hear stories….)

The truth is, exactly no one reports that steroid use among cops is now on the wane, or even less prevalent than it was in the mid 2000s.

In fact, Dr. Harrison G. Pope, director of the Biological Psychiatry Laboratory at Harvard’s McLean Hospital told Megan Cassidy of the Arizona Republic last month, “There’s no real way to stem the tide, so to speak, as far as access to steroids, and there’s no prospect in the near future that use of them is going to decline,” said Pope.

“We are going to continue to see its use with law-enforcement officers.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS: WILL THE JJDPA OPEN THE WAY FOR OTHER JUVENILE JUSTICE REFORM?

The Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act (S 1169) will be the piece of legislatation most closely watched by juvenile justice activists when Congress returns from summer recess in September. The JJDPA, as it is commonly known, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on July 23, and is headed to the Senate floor.

First enacted in 1974, the JJDPA has been due for reauthorization since 2007. On April 30, 2015, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) introduced S. 1169, the bipartisan bill to accomplish the necessary reauthorization. The bill would also strengthen the JJDPA’s core protections for kids involved in the juvenile justice system.

Sara Barr, writing for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

If the Senate passes the bill, other juvenile justice legislation could gather momentum in JJDPA’s wake, said Naomi Smoot, senior policy associate at the Coalition for Juvenile Justice.

Such reform-oriented legislation introduced in late July and August include bills that deal with solitary confinement, shackling, alternatives to incarceration and record expungement.

Smoot said juvenile justice reforms are a natural fit within broader bipartisan negotiations to reform the criminal justice system.

“Juvenile justice reform really is the first line in those criminal justice efforts,” she said.

Barr lists some of the legislation that the JJDPA could tow behind it, including the MERCY Act (S 1965), which is the bipartisan bill introduced by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., with Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Mike Lee, R-Utah, that would prohibit solitary confinement for juveniles in the federal system or held in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.



AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT: HERE’S HOW SOLITARY CONFINEMENT GOT HARDWIRED INTO THE POLICIES OF AMERICAN PRISONS

NPR’s Brian Mann has just kicked off a 3-part series on solitary confinement in America’s lock-ups, that is very much worth your time.

Here’s a clip from Part 1, which looks at the history of solitary:

In the yard at Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia, gray-haired men make their way up to a small stage. A towering stone prison wall rises overhead. One by one they sit at a scratchy microphone and tell their stories — of being locked up 23 hours a day in a place that just about broke them.

“This place here really did something to me psychologically,” says former inmate Anthony Goodman.

Eastern State is the prison where solitary confinement was pioneered in the U.S. It’s a museum now, but the reunion here is a chance for former inmates to talk about what it meant to do time here.

“Because this place would make you go insane if you didn’t know how to handle it,” Goodman says.

Fred Kellner was a psychiatrist charged with looking after inmates’ mental health. He says he knew conditions at Eastern State were hurting people, but he felt powerless.

“I remember being bothered by various situations. You can’t do much about it because the most important thing in a prison is control. And that rules,” he says. “If you expect to change it, you’re in for depression.”

Here’s one of the first things you learn when you study the history of solitary confinement: People have had deep doubts about isolating inmates for a really long time.

The earliest experiments were carried out here at Eastern State in the 1800s in tiny, monastic cells. Sean Kelley, director of education at Eastern State, says at first people really believed that isolating criminals for long periods might help them heal, make them more virtuous.

Critics didn’t buy it. The British author and activist Charles Dickens who visited in the 1840s described long-term isolation as “ghastly,” a form of “torture.” Kelley says the people running Eastern State didn’t listen. Decade after decade they kept trying to make the system work.

“The officers and the administrators would write about the inmates becoming agitated. They would have to carry out really extreme physical punishments to maintain silence. They would literally put them in strait jackets and douse them in water in the wintertime and leave them outdoors,” he says.

Posted in juvenile justice, law enforcement, solitary | 6 Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WEIGHING THE HARMFUL EFFECTS OF DIFFERENT CRIMES ON COMMUNITIES TO BETTER FOCUS POLICE ENERGY AND RESOURCES

In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


LAPD DEPUTY CHIEF WILLIAM MURPHY ON THE IMPORTANCE OF TRAINING, TRAINING, AND MORE TRAINING FOR OFFICERS

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


NEW ORLEANS’ MAYOR IS ON A CAMPAIGN AGAINST VIOLENCE IN POOR BLACK COMMUNITIES

The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.

Why?

“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.

[SNIP]

As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


FORMER LASD CAPTAIN TOM CAREY’S OFFICIAL GUILTY PLEA, AND WHY FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SHOULD WORRY

On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.

[SNIP]

Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

Gov. Brown Signing Bills, Hearing on Overmedication of Foster Kids, Defining Solitary, and the Folsom Riot

August 13th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

IT’S BILL-SIGNING SEASON IN SACRAMENTO: GRAND JURIES BLOCKED FROM USE-OF-FORCE CASES, RECORDING COPS, PRISON DATA TRACKING…AND MORE

CA Governor Jerry Brown has signed several noteworthy bills, so far this week:

SB 411, the Right to Record Act, clarifies the First Amendment right to photograph and record video of law enforcement when officers are in a public place or where the recording citizen has a right to be.

Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill’s author, said, “With the stroke of a pen, Governor Brown reinforces our First Amendment right and ensures transparency, accountability and justice for all Californians. At a time when cell phone and video footage is helping steer important national civil rights conversations, passage of the Right to Record Act sets an example for the rest of the nation to follow.”

And here’s why this bill is important, according to Sen. Lara’s website:

In California and beyond, members of the public have been arrested while recording or photographing police activity in public places. News accounts and videos have surfaced showing that some civilians have been arrested for recording officers in the cities of Los Angeles, Torrance, and San Diego, as well as the County of Orange. This conflict extends past police officers and civilians to professional photographers and media personnel. In Berkeley, CA a journalist was arrested after recording law enforcement officers in a public place. Last week, a bystander caught a police officer in North Charleston, S.C. in a shooting incident that has led to charges being filed against that officer.

In May, the ACLU of California launched a “Mobile Justice” app that allows users to take video (of an officer-involved incident, for instance) and immediately send it to the ACLU by pressing a button. According to the ACLU SoCal’s Twitter page, the app has been downloaded over 160,000 times as of this week.

Another bill, SB 227, bans the use of criminal grand juries to investigate cases involving alleged fatal excessive use of force and fatal shootings by law enforcement officers.

The bill follows controversial secret grand jury decisions not to indict the officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner in Ferguson and Staten Island.

“One doesn’t have to be a lawyer to understand why SB 227 makes sense,” said Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who authored the bill. “The use of the criminal grand jury process, and the refusal to indict as occurred in Ferguson and other communities of color, has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise our justice system.”

The governor also signed a bill by Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley), SB 601, which aims to boost transparency and accountability by increasing the amount of required public data reporting from California prisons.

The data will be published quarterly online as a “data dashboard,” which will include inmate population numbers; rehabilitation program numbers, including enrollment and achievement statistics; the number and nature of deaths in the facility; use of force incidents; staff overtime, vacancies, pay, and positions; inmate appeals; solitary confinement population; budget and money spent; and information on lockdowns.


MEANWHILE, IN THE CALIFORNIA SENATE…A HEARING ON THE OVER-PRESCRIBING OF PSYCHOTROPIC DRUGS TO FOSTER KIDS

A three-hour joint oversight hearing between two CA Senate committees focused on a package of four California reform bills addressing the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system.

Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsberg), chairman of the Senate Human Services Committee, and Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), chairman of the Senate Health Committee, voiced frustration at the lack of data tracking and transparency to explain why foster kids are so heavily medicated.

Here’s a quick explanation of the bill package from California Healthline:

SB 238, by state Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Jim Beall (D-San Jose), which would require the state to provide more data on the number of children in foster care who are prescribed psychotropic drugs, along with other medications that might cause harmful drug interactions;

SB 253, by state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel), which would change the juvenile courts’ process for authorizing psychotropic drugs by prohibiting such drugs from being authorized without prior medical examination and ongoing monitoring of the child;

SB 319, by Beall, which would establish a system for public health nurses to monitor and oversee anyone in foster care who is prescribed psychotropic medications; and

SB 484, by Beall, which would establish treatment protocols and state oversight of psychotropic drugs in group-home settings (California Healthline, 5/18).

The four bills are on their way to the Senate Appropriations Committee next week, and if passed there, will land on Gov. Brown’s desk.

(For more on this issue, read Karen de Sá’s powerful five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids.”)

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Seipel has more on the hearing. Here’s a clip:

The hearing was intended to look more closely at the standards and tools used by state and local governments in evaluating psychosocial services for foster care youth that minimize the need for the reliance on psychiatric drugs.

“You can imagine the challenges our vulnerable kids faced when they were trying to access care within the foster health care system,” McGuire said.

The senator said he was having trouble getting answers to basic questions, including: How many of the youths had been prescribed prescription drugs? How many were taking multiple prescribed drugs? How many doctors had the youths seen?

“How can we treat them if we don’t have their medical history?” McGuire asked, noting that much of this data is submitted to state departments on a voluntary, but not mandatory, basis.

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Hernandez told the panel that after this newspaper’s series brought the problem to his attention he wanted some answers.

“The questions I have are: Why is it that this population is being prescribed drugs at the rates they are being prescribed? Is that normal, standard protocol? How do we compare to other states?”

Anna Johnson, a policy analyst with the National Center for Youth Law, told the senators that California lacks a system capable of tracking prescription practices about psychotropic medications for foster youth.

“Care coordination should be provided immediately upon entry into foster care,” Johnson said, noting that California can learn from states.


INMATES REACT TO US BUREAU OF PRISONS’ COMMENTS ABOUT THE ABSENCE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT IN FEDERAL LOCK-UPS

At a Senate hearing focusing on conditions in federal prisons, Charles Samuels, the director of the Bureau of Prisons, insisted that solitary confinement is not used in federal detention facilities.

Samuels said that inmates are housed two to a cell. Because of this, even if the prisoners are held for 22 or more hours per day and experience every other aspect of isolation, the practice no longer qualifies as solitary confinement, according to Samuels.

(Read more about the Senate hearing: here.)

Vice’s Seth Ferranti and Robert Rosso gathered some reactions to Samuels’ statements from federal prisoners. Here are some clips:

“Reading what Samuels said was like watching Bill Clinton change the meaning of ‘sexual relations’ when he denied that Monica Lewinsky gave him head,” says Jay Martt, a federal inmate serving 14 years for robbery at FCI Terre Haute, a federal prison in Indiana. “He’s redefining what solitary confinement means in modern times.”…

“We do not, under any circumstances, nor have we ever had the practice of putting an individual in a cell alone,” while housed in the SHU, Samuels swore before members of the Senate.

“How can he get away with saying such a bald-face lie?” wonders Martt. ” Of course they put guys in single-cells in the SHU. All that one of these senators needs to do is subpoena any log-book from any SHU in the BOP and they could prosecute Director Samuels for lying to members of Congress.”…

“Prison officials like to tell the public and the courts that when we are put in the hole, or the ‘SHU,’ that we get one hour out of our cells every day for recreation. It’s a lie,” Martt, who gets released from prison next year, tells VICE. “Sometimes, when the staff feels like it, they might let us go from our cell into a cage that’s the size of two cells combined with up to six other people in it, and we stand around looking stupid. That’s what the BOP calls our ‘one hour’ out of the cell per day.”…

Troy Hockenberry, serving a ten-year sentence for a gun charge, says it’s the misuse of the special housing units that concerns him. “I know a guy who was sent to the hole for not tucking in his shirt. He stayed back there for over a month—for not tucking in his shirt! That’s absurd,” he said. Hockenberry argued that staff will target inmates that they don’t like and have them placed in the SHU for an “investigation.” According to BOP policy, an inmate can remain in the SHU under investigation for a period 90 days, at which time a decision must be made: Charge the inmate, or place them back into general population.

“But they’ve got a trick for that, too,” Hockenberry tells VICE. “They ask for an extension.” An officer investigating an alleged wrong doing can request three extensions, meaning that an inmate can be held in the SHU for nine months without ever being charged. “The bottom line is they can do whatever they want to us and nobody cares,” Hockenberry concludes.


RIOT AT NEW FOLSOM PRISON ENDS IN DEATH OF ONE OF THE “SAN QUENTIN SIX” INMATES

On Wednesday, 71-year-old Hugo “Yogi” Pinell, one of the “San Quentin Six” inmates who attempted to break out of the state prison in 1971, was killed during a 70-inmate riot at New Folsom Prison in Sacramento.

Pinell and other inmates were reportedly stabbed with makeshift weapons. Eleven prisoners were taken to hospitals. No prison staff members were injured in the brawl.

Pinell was locked-up in 1965 for rape, and in 1971 was given a life sentence with the possibility of parole after killing a guard at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad. That same year, Pinell was part of a prison break that resulted in the death of two guards and four inmates, including George Jackson, founder of the Black Guerrilla Family prison gang.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Richard Chang have the story. Here’s a clip:

At least 11 other inmates at California State Prison, Sacramento, were taken to hospitals Wednesday, officials said. No staff members were injured in the riot, which began at 12:55 p.m. in a general-population yard at the prison, which houses 2,300 maximum-security inmates. The combatants inflicted stab wounds with weapons furnished in prison, according to the state corrections department.

Pinell’s attorney, Keith Wattley of Oakland, said he learned Tuesday that his client – the target of prison attacks in the past – had been moved into the general population before his death.

“The threat of harm to him has been well known by prison officials,” Wattley said. He added that Pinell had been the target of “long-standing threats,” but said he could not elaborate Wednesday.

Posted in ACLU, CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, law enforcement, mental health | 11 Comments »

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