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Are LA’s Foster Care & Juvie Justice Kids Being Over Drugged?….When Experts Recant in Criminal Cases….The Flawed Science of Bite Mark Evidence…..TAL’s Series: “Cops See Things Differently”

February 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



As you know, we’ve been following San Jose Mercury News reporter Karen de Sá’s important series on over drugging in California foster care system.

Then, late on Tuesday, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that the kids overseen by LA County’s juvenile probation system plus LA County’s foster care children are being drugged in greater numbers than was originally thought.

Here’s are some clips from Therolf’s story:

Los Angeles County officials are allowing the use of powerful psychiatric drugs on far more children in the juvenile delinquency and foster care systems than they had previously acknowledged, according to data obtained by The Times through a Public Records Act request.

The newly unearthed figures show that Los Angeles County’s 2013 accounting failed to report almost one in three cases of children on the drugs while in foster care or the custody of the delinquency system.

The data show that along with the 2,300 previously acknowledged cases, an additional 540 foster children and 516 children in the delinquency system were given the drugs. There are 18,000 foster children and 1,000 youth in the juvenile delinquency* system altogether.

If we are reading this right, that means that more than half of LA County’s kids in the juvenile justice system are being given psychotropic medications. Is that possible?

State law requires a judge’s approval before the medication can be administered to children under the custody of the courts, but a preliminary review showed no such approval in the newly discovered cases.

Child advocates and state lawmakers have long argued that such medications are routinely overprescribed, often because caretakers are eager to make children more docile and easy to manage — even when there’s no medical need.

We’ll get back to you as we know more on this disturbing issue.


NEW CALIFORNIA LAW HELPS IN CASES WHEN EXPERTS REVERSE TESTIMONY

A new California law, which took affect in January, makes it easier to get a case overturned when experts recant. But will it help the man whose case inspired the law?

Sudhin Thanawala of the AP has the story.

Here’s a clip:

This much is not in dispute. William Richards’ wife, Pamela, was strangled and her skull smashed in the summer of 1993. A California jury convicted Richards of the slaying after hearing now-recanted bite-mark testimony.

But California judges have disagreed about whether that change in testimony was grounds for tossing Richards’ conviction. Now, almost two decades after Richards was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison, his attorneys are hopeful a new state law inspired by his case will set him free.

The law, which took effect in January, makes it easier for a defendant to get a conviction overturned when experts recant their testimony. It prompted attorneys for the 65-year-old Richards, who has always maintained his innocence, to again ask the California Supreme Court to throw out a jury’s guilty verdict.

Legal experts say the law will impact a wide variety of cases where experts later have second thoughts about their testimony. And it gives attorneys fighting to exonerate their clients an important new tool.

“More and more, experts are reconsidering their opinion not because they have pangs of guilt, but because in fact the science changes,” said Laurie Levenson, a criminal law professor at Loyola Law School. “You want a legal system that recognizes that reality.”

A San Bernardino County jury convicted Richards in 1997 of first-degree murder following expert testimony that a mark on his wife’s hand was consistent with a unique feature of Richards’ teeth. That expert, a forensic dentist, later recanted, saying he was no longer sure the injury was even a bite mark.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF THE SCIENCE OF BITE MARK MATCHING….

According to the Innocence Project, 24 people have been exonerated after they were either convicted or arrested because of the analysis of a bite mark analyst.

Director of special litigation for the Innocence Project, Chris Fabricant, who specializes in bite mark evidence, estimates that there are still hundreds of people in prison today due to bite mark testimony, including at least 15 awaiting execution, writes the Washington Post’s Radley Balko.

Balko’s story on the flawed “science” of bite-mark matching, and those who still go to great lengths to defend it, is both important and alarming.

Here’s how it opens:

Before he left the courtroom, Gerard Richardson made his mother a promise. “I told her that one day she’d see me walk out of that building a free man,” he says.

Her response nearly broke him. “She said, ‘Gerard, I’ll be dead by then.’”

Richardson, then 30, had just been convicted for the murder of 19-year-old Monica Reyes, whose half-naked body was found in a roadside ditch in Bernards Township, N.J. The year was 1995, and Richardson had just been sentenced to 30 years in prison.

There were only two pieces of evidence implicating him. One was a statement from Reyes’s boyfriend, who claimed to have heard Richardson threaten to kill her. But that statement was made only after police had shown the boyfriend the second piece of evidence: a finding from a forensic odontologist that a bite mark found on Reyes’s body was a match to Richardson’s teeth. Dr. Ira Titunik, the bite mark expert for the prosecution, would later tell jurors there was “no question in my mind” that Richardson had bitten Reyes.

“I thought it was crazy,” Richardson says. “There was no way it was possible. The FBI looked at hairs, fibers, blood, everything the police found at the crime scene. None of it came from me. Just this bite mark.”

Two decades later, DNA technology was good enough to test the tiny amount of saliva in the bite found on Monica Reyes body, resulting in the overturning of Richardson’s conviction.

Here’s Part 2 of Balko’s series on bite mark evidence telling how the bite mark matchers went on the attack when subjected to scientific scrutiny as American courts across the country welcomed bite mark evidence


THIS AMERICAN LIFE TAKES ON THE DIVIDE IN AMERICA ABOUT POLICING AND RACE

After the conflicts caused by events in Ferguson, along with the death of Eric Garner in New York, and other controversial shootings by police, Ira Glass and the producers of This American Life noted that there seemed to be a huge divide in the nation about how people view the issue of race and policing.

The TAL producers originally intended to a single show on the issue of these intense differences in views. But they ran across so many relevant stories, that they devoted two shows to the complex tales that they found.

In the first episode This American Life looks at one police department—in Milwaukee-–which had a long history of tension with black residents, and a chief of police committed to changing things. But although some things change, others do not. And nothing is simple. When an unarmed black man is killed by police in controversial circumstances, the battle lines form, and the two groups opposing groups agree on only one thing: they want the chief out.

By the show’s end, we glimpse change in Milwaukee, yet it comes not in steps, but in inches.

A week later, in the second hour of stories about policing and race, This American Life reporters tell about one city where relations between police and black residents went terribly, and another city where they seem to be improving remarkably.

We highly recommend both programs. They are designed to start conversations.

Posted in children and adolescents, FBI, Foster Care, How Appealing, Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Probation, race, racial justice | No Comments »

Erroneous Convictions for Less Serious Crimes….SCOTUS, Alabama, and Gay Marriage….Loretta Lynch….and Efforts to Reduce Racial Tension Between Cops and Communities

February 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WRONGFUL CONVICTIONS FOR LOWER-LEVEL CRIMES FALL THROUGH THE CRACKS

The Crime Report’s David Krajicek has an outstanding longread about the lower-priority wrongful convictions that fly under the radar while innocence groups zero in on people serving life sentences, or those on death row.

While no one truly knows the scope of wrongful convictions in America, experts feel certain that each year, thousands of people receive undeserved convictions for lower-level crimes, like robbery and assault, without ever being exonerated. The wrongfully convicted in this category will likely take plea deals, serve their time, and forgo hiring an expensive lawyer to fight for their exculpation.

And, when innocence groups win exonerations for murder (and rape) convictions, it is, more often than not, through new DNA testing. Unfortunately, DNA evidence is rarely collected or tested for more minor crimes. It makes more sense for lifers and those on death row to be given priority, not just because of the severity of the punishment, but because it usually takes more than five years to prove innocence. People convicted of lower-level offenses generally will not serve that much time behind bars.

Here’s the opening of Krajicek’s multilayered project (we recommend reading all of the side stories, if you can):

When Rachel Jernigan was falsely accused of robbing a Gilbert, Ariz., bank 15 years ago, she expected the American criminal justice system to do the right thing.

“They tried to get me to plead guilty,” Jernigan says. “They told me they were going to give me 27 years (in prison). But I said I’m not going to plead guilty for something I didn’t do. I really believed I was going to come home from my trial. I was shocked when the jury found me guilty.”

Sentenced to 14 years, she spent more than seven years in prison before the real robber was identified by Jernigan’s determination and a fluke twist.

“If it can happen to me,” Jernigan says, “it can happen to anyone.”

And it does.

In a sense, Jernigan was a lucky exception.

Experts believe that thousands of people are wrongfully convicted each year in America for the types of crimes that Jernigan was charged with—second-tier felonies like robbery, burglary and assault. And when misdemeanors and driving infractions are included, the number of flawed convictions increases exponentially.

Yet only a tiny fraction of these cases are ever exposed. The cadre of criminologists and law professors who study wrongful convictions regard these missing exonerations as one of the great mysteries of American criminal justice.

Many believe the victims are likely the low-hanging fruit of the justice machine, poor men and women who don’t have the wherewithal to pursue justice.

They likely do what Jernigan was not willing to do: suck it up and accept a plea deal.

“My own somewhat unstudied, seat-of-the-pants estimation is that a lot of working-class folks are probably pretty cynical about the world,” says Marvin Zalman of Wayne State University, a leading wrongful convictions scholar. “And I think that when they get convicted of relatively minor stuff where they didn’t do anything wrong, they just chalk it up to a bad experience, do their time, and simply move on.”

Most who are convicted of minor crimes are unlikely to pony up a retainer—typically $25,000 or much more—to hire a lawyer to seek justice. Nor can they expect help from the community of innocence advocates, who focus on cases where DNA can provide irrefutable evidence of innocence—usually homicides and rapes.

“Unfortunately, the Innocence Project would never take cases like these,” says Mitchell Beers, a South Florida criminal defense attorney who won an assault exoneration in 2006.

About 6,000 people a year ask for help from the Innocence Project, a network of about 65 largely autonomous organizations. It has about 250 active cases at any given time, and nearly all of them focus on DNA evidence, says spokesman Paul Cates.

“We are still very committed to taking cases where DNA evidence is available to prove innocence,” says Cates. “That might change at some point down the road, but the thinking is that DNA is still kind of the gold standard in proving innocence.”

The Innocence Project has had a role in 325 exonerations since it was founded in 1992; just eight of them did not involve DNA cases: four home invasions, three car carjackings and one robbery…

Biological evidence is collected in just one of five crimes, nearly all of them murders or rapes. A 2010 study for the National Institute of Justice said fewer than 10 percent cent of assaults, burglaries and robberies had physical evidence examined in crime labs, compared with 81 percent for murders.

So how vast is the trove of undiscovered wrongful convictions? No one knows for sure, because there is little empirical evidence. Zalman calls wrongful convictions “one of the most remarkably loose areas of analysis in the criminal justice field.”

As Sam Gross, a University of Michigan law professor and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, has written, “The fundamental problem with false convictions is also one of their defining features: they are hidden from view…”


US SUPREME COURT GIVES GO AHEAD FOR GAY MARRIAGES IN ALABAMA, POINTS TO FUTURE HIGH COURT DECISION

In a meaningful 7-2 ruling that shut down Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore’s eleventh-hour attempt to suspend gay marriage for Alabamians, the US Supreme Court may have indicated which way the justices will rule when they hear four gay marriage cases this spring.

The New Yorker’s Amy Davidsonhas the story. Here’s a clip:

The Supreme Court has stopped the efforts of Justice Roy Moore, the chief judge of the Alabama Supreme Court, to stand in the wedding aisle and block the marriages of same-sex couples in his state. There was no case on marriage before Moore; he had intervened, loudly, when U.S. District Judge Callie V. S. Granade, whose courtroom is in Mobile, ruled that the state’s anti-marriage laws were unconstitutional. Her ruling was stayed, but only until Monday morning. That, apparently, made Moore angry. First, he said that probate judges didn’t have to abide by the federal decision if they didn’t want to—a remarkable stance in itself. Then, when it seemed that judges might not turn away loving couples, he issued an order declaring that they were forbidden to respect the decision. The Alabama Attorney General asked for an emergency stay from the Supreme Court, saying that the state would be irreparably harmed if couples went ahead and married. The Court turned them down. By noon on Monday, news reports were full of pictures of people holding bouquets, bearing rings, and kissing their new spouses. [Update, 6:30 P.M., Monday: By the end of the business day, probate judges in more than a dozen of Alabama’s sixty-seven counties had issued same-sex marriage licenses; many others, though, denied them, only took applications, or closed their doors entirely.]

The Supreme Court’s decision was important on a number of counts. First, for the families of Alabama that have been denied the protection and respect that comes with marriage. Second, it is a strong sign that the Court, which is set to hear arguments this spring on whether there is a fifty-state constitutional right to same-sex marriage, knows where it is headed, and it is in the direction of equality. (The order was accompanied by a dissent signed only by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, whose main argument was that the Court should allow states to wait for its final ruling on “this important constitutional question.”) Third, it made it clear that there is a definite federal interest in the marriage issue.


BILLS DRAFTED ACROSS THE NATION AFTER DEATHS OF UNARMED BLACK MEN

In the aftermath of a spate of controversial killings by police officers of unarmed black men (Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice), bills have cropped up in at least thirteen states to increase law enforcement transparency and improve police-community relations. Efforts include bipartisan bills to put body cameras on cops and proposed changes to the way deaths at the hands of cops are recorded.

The Washington Post’s Reid Wilson has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“There is a concrete coherent legislative agenda that we are pushing for,” said Cornell Brooks, president and chief executive of the NAACP. “We’ve been doing this from state capital to state capital, as well as here in Washington, D.C.”

Some of the proposed responses have bipartisan support. In other cases, familiar partisan divides between Republicans and Democrats, and civil rights groups and police organizations, are emerging and slowing down legislative action.

Those partisan fissures are exacerbated by events beyond Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland. In Albuquerque, N.M., two officers were charged last month with first-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of a homeless, mentally ill man who had been camping illegally. In Springfield, Mo., a police officer was shot in the head while on patrol; he suffered career-ending injuries.

“Our citizens deserve to be and feel safe, and our law enforcement deserve our respect and support,” said Missouri Rep. Lincoln Hough (R). “I say all that to illustrate the complexity of these issues. There is not a one size fits all approach to this issue.”

Brooks and other civil rights leaders have vowed 2015 will be a year of legislative strategy, pressuring statehouses to pass state-level laws concerning special prosecutors and grand juries while pushing for broader legislative steps in Washington D.C.

Body camera legislation is at the forefront of that push. Civil rights groups like the NAACP, The Advancement Project and the American Civil Liberties Union are behind many of the body camera proposals, and the Obama administration has allocated $263 million for a three-year program to expand training for local police departments, including $75 million that would purchase 50,000 cameras through a matching program.


IN THE SAME VEIN…US AG NOMINEE LORETTA LYNCH POISED TO TAKE ON POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

US Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, will be the first black female AG if confirmed, and says she will focus on mending relations and calming racial tensions between law enforcement agencies and their communities.

The Hill’s Tim Devaney has more on the issue and why advocates and lawmakers believe Loretta is suited to the task. Here’s a clip:

As a black woman with strong law-and-order credentials, Lynch, observers say, would be uniquely positioned to ease strained relations between police and minority communities they serve.

Lynch’s reputation for being a hard-nosed, impartial prosecutor has won her wide support from civil rights advocates, law enforcement, Democrats and even some Republicans.

This will serve her well as she seeks to “resolve the tensions” between law enforcement and the African American community, said Sen. Patrick Leahy, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee.

“She has prosecuted those who have committed crimes against police officers, as well as police officers who have committed crimes,” Leahy (D-Vt.) said during her confirmation hearing.

Lynch has earned the trust of civil rights groups by pursing cases of police brutality.

During her time as a federal prosecutor in New York, Lynch went after a police officer accused of sodomizing a Haitian immigrant with a stick in a precinct bathroom.

More recently, she was assigned to investigate the Eric Garner case.

As the “face of law enforcement,” Lynch will have the opportunity to improve public perceptions of police, said Hilary Shelton, Washington bureau director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People…

Lynch promised to “draw all voices” into the conversation about reforming law enforcement and cracking down on cases of police misconduct.

“She has to be a person who brings both sides together, police and the community,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told The Hill.

Posted in Department of Justice, DNA, Innocence, law enforcement, LGBT, racial justice, Supreme Court | No Comments »

Richmond PD Chief Improves Cop Morale….DOJ Calls Albuquerque Police “Reckless” ….Prop 47 Lowers Jail Pop….Luis Rodriguez’s Words Save Lives…..Saying Goodby to Rick Orlov

February 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



RICHMOND, CA, POLICE CHIEF STRESSES COMMUNITY POLICING OVER SHOW OF FORCE

When Richmond CA hired Chris Magnus, an openly gay white guy from Fargo, North Dakota, to take over its scandal ridden police department, local cops and members of Richmond’s primarily minority communities were….how to put it?….skeptical.

But Magnus didn’t blink at the initially less-than-enthusiastic reception. He immediately disbanded the department’s “street teams,” units of heavily armed officers deployed in high-crime areas. He didn’t like the impression that the the street teams gave of being an occupying army that arrested people for small amounts of drugs and other minor crimes. Instead, he asked his officers to attend community meetings and employed a system he called a “Neighborhood Beat Policing” model. “Our goal is to build continuity of presence and the strongest possible relationships between officers and the public in every area of the city, he wrote on the Richmond PD website.

Now crime is down and morale in the Richmond PD is up.

Aron Pero of the Associated Press has more. Here are some clips:

Magnus also eliminated the seniority system that allowed officers to choose the areas they would patrol. He required officers to take on more responsibilities on their beats beyond responding to calls. Beat officers are required to attend neighborhood meetings and to maintain a high profile at churches, schools and businesses. They’re encouraged to hand out their mobile phone numbers and email addresses to residents.

“A lot of people were skeptical at first … I know I was skeptical. I mean, not only was he coming from outside the department, he was coming from Fargo, of all places,” said Officer Virgil Thomas, a 19-year veteran of the force and the newly installed president of the police union. “But he came in with a plan and stuck to it, and the image of the city and of the police has changed dramatically. Morale has improved greatly.”

Controversy erupted in December, however, when at a local protest over events at Ferguson and in New York City, Magnus held up a sign reading “#blacklivesmatter.” But even that criticism dissolved quickly.

The [police] union initially objected to the police chief’s participation in the Dec. 9 demonstration. The association’s lawyer said Magnus’ appearance in uniform “dishonored the department” and violated a law barring political activity on duty. But Thomas said the union backed away from those claims after sitting down and talking with Magnus about the demonstration.

“We talked about it, and I understand what he was trying to do,” Thomas said. “He’s trying to bridge the gap, like we all are.”

It helped, of course, that policing in Richmond is effective under Magnus’ stewardship.

The city in 2014 recorded 11 murders, the lowest rate per capita in recent decades. It was the fifth straight year the murder rate declined in Richmond. Violent crimes and property crimes alike have plummeted, as have officer-involved shootings. The U.S. Department of Justice recently added Magnus to a panel of experts investigating police relations with the community in Ferguson, Missouri.


ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: A RASH OF KILLINGS

While the relationship between members of the Richmond PD and those it serves has blossomed, in Albuquerque matters appear to be going in a less positive direction.

In 2007, crime was higher than the national average in Albuquerque, NM, and the city’s police department was having trouble recruiting police officers, despite the perks the APD offered to those who signed up. Pressured, the department higher-ups started cutting corners. They stopped consistently using psych exams for applicants, and began taking men and women who had washed out of other departments, and others whom the department’s training officers warned had….issues.

By 2011, the rate of fatal shootings by police in this city of five hundred and fifty thousand, was eight times that of New York City. More half of those killed were mentally ill. No officer had ever been charged, and few were disciplined.

Writing for the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv tells the story of one of those fatal shootings. It’s a tale that involves threats, intimidation, the DOJ and one more shooting last March. But this time the shooting of a homeless mentally ill man named James Boyd was caught on video and, in January, resulted in charges.

Here’s a clip from Aviv’s story:

Stephen Torres was meeting with a client at his law office, in downtown Albuquerque, on April 12, 2011, when he received a call from a neighbor, who told him that police officers were aiming rifles at his house. He left work and drove to his home, in a middle-class suburb with a view of the mountains. There were more than forty police vehicles on his street. Officers wearing camouflage fatigues and bulletproof vests had circled his home, a sand-colored two-story house with a pitched tile roof. Two officers were driving a remote-controlled robot, used for discharging bombs, back and forth on the corner.

Stephen’s wife, Renetta, the director of human resources for the county, arrived a few minutes later, just after three o’clock. A colleague had heard her address repeated on the police radio, so her assistant pulled her out of a meeting. When Renetta saw that the street was cordoned off with police tape, she tried to walk to her house, but an officer told her that she couldn’t enter the “kill zone.” “What do you mean ‘kill zone’?” Renetta asked. “Ma’am, you can’t go any further,” the officer said.

Renetta knew that the only person at home was the youngest of her three boys, Christopher, who was twenty-seven and had schizophrenia. Two hours earlier, he had stopped by her office for lunch, as he did a few times a week. Then he visited an elderly couple who lived two houses away. He said that he needed to “check up on them”; he often cleaned their pool or drove them to the grocery store. Because he found it overwhelming to spend too much time among people, he tried to do small, social errands, so as not to isolate himself.

When Stephen asked the police what had happened to Christopher, he was told only that there was an “ongoing criminal investigation.” Stephen offered to let the officers inside the house, but they refused. Stephen called a close friend on the force, who said that a person had been taken off in an ambulance earlier in the afternoon, at around two o’clock. Stephen called the three main hospitals in Albuquerque, but Christopher hadn’t been admitted to any of them.

Stephen called a neighbor, Val Aubol, who lived across the street, to find out what she could see. Aubol peeked through the shutters of her front window and saw ten officers lined up against a neighbor’s garage, next to the Torreses’ house. The SWAT team’s Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck was parked in front of them. When Aubol went into her back yard, she saw a rope dangling from her roof. An officer had climbed up and was pointing his gun at the Torreses’ house. Another officer was crouching behind the gate at the side of her house. She told the officers that she’d spoken with Christopher’s father, but an officer waved her back inside. “Stay in the house!” he shouted.

At around five-thirty, a female officer stepped out of a mobile crime unit, an R.V. where detectives processed evidence, and waved the family over. “She was so detached,” Renetta said. “All she said was ‘I regret to inform you that your son is deceased.’ ” She did not tell them how their son had died or where they could find his body. The Torreses asked if they could go home, but the officer said that it was still an active crime scene.


RECKLESSNESS & DEADLY FORCE

Nick Pinto at RollingStone has another feature on the Albuquerque police, which has the details on the James Boyd shooting.

Here are some clips from Pinto’s story:

…On the afternoon of March 16th, 2014, Albuquerque police received a 911 call from this part of town, a man complaining that someone was illegally camping in the foothills. Two Albuquerque officers responded and, sure enough, encountered James Matthew Boyd, a 38-year-old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia. Boyd was clearly not well, ranting, telling police that he was an agent for the Defense Department.

Unauthorized camping is a petty misdemeanor. The officers could have told Boyd to move along and left it at that. But as Officer John McDaniel approached, Boyd wouldn’t show his hands and McDaniel drew his gun. When the officers moved to pat him down, Boyd pulled out two small knives; the cops stepped back and called for backup, setting off a spectacular circus, with as many as 40 police officers reportedly joining the standoff. Among them were uniformed cops and members of the SWAT team, the tactical K-9 unit and the Repeat Offender Project squad.

Not present, Boyd’s family would later allege in a complaint, was anyone clearly in charge. Keeping Boyd surrounded, often with guns drawn, officers tried to get him to surrender his knives. Finally, after three hours, Boyd prepared to come down from the hills. “Don’t worry about safety,” he told the police. “I’m not a fucking murderer.” But as Boyd packed his stuff, both hands full of possessions, Detective Keith Sandy — who hours before, on arriving at the scene, boasted on tape that he was going to shoot “this fucking lunatic” with a Taser shotgun — tossed a flash-bang grenade, a nonlethal weapon designed to disorient and distract. Another officer fired a Taser at Boyd, and a third released a police dog on him. Boyd drew his knives again. Advancing on him, officers ordered Boyd to get down on the ground. Boyd began to turn away, and Detective Sandy of the ROP squad and Officer Dominique Perez of the SWAT team each fired three live rounds at him, hitting him once in the back and twice in his arms. Boyd collapsed, face down, crying out that he was unable to move. “Please don’t hurt me,” he said. Another officer fired three beanbag rounds from a shotgun at Boyd’s prone body. The K-9 officer again loosed his German shepherd on Boyd, and the dog tore into his legs. Finally, officers approached and handcuffed him.

After roughly 20 minutes, Boyd was transported in an ambulance to the University of New Mexico hospital. In the final hours of his life, Boyd had his right arm amputated and his spleen, a section of his lung and a length of his intestines removed. At 2:55 a.m., he was pronounced dead. He was the 22nd person killed by the Albuquerque police in just more than four years.

Boyd’s death conformed to many of the patterns governing deadly police violence in Albuquerque. Living with mental illness, Boyd fit the profile of the marginal Albuquerqueans most likely to find themselves shot to death by the city’s police. The escalation of a low-level encounter to a standoff involving numerous heavily armed officers wasn’t anything new, either. Few were surprised when footage from the lapel camera that Officer Sandy was required to keep running was inexplicably absent. And, as in so many previous officer-involved shootings, Boyd’s death was followed by a press conference by the chief of police, who declared the shooting justified and painted Boyd as a dangerous criminal….

Finally, a group of families whose loved ones had bend killed by members of the APD persuaded the Department of Justice to take a look at what was going on with the high number of deadly shootings.

Reviewing 20 fatal police shootings from 2009 to 2012, the [DOJ] report found a majority of them to be unconstitutional. “Albuquerque police officers shot and killed civilians who did not pose an imminent threat,” the report found, noting that “Albuquerque police officers’ own recklessness sometimes led to their use of deadly force.”


PROP 47 ALREADY BRINGING DROPS IN JAIL POPS ACROSS CALIFORNIA

It’s early still, but the effect of Prop 47 on the state’s jail populations, thus far, has been to lower them. This drop is particularly welcome after jail numbers had been driven higher due to the state’s 2011 AB 109 realignment strategy that shifted the incarceration burden for certain low level offenders to the various counties.

The AP’s Don Thompson has the story. Here’s a clip:

Inmate populations are falling in once-overcrowded California county jails since voters decided in November that certain drug and property crimes should be treated as misdemeanors instead of felonies.

While some are avoiding jail, many of those who are sent to county lock-ups for crimes not covered by the ballot initiative dubbed Proposition 47 are spending more time there because jail officials no longer must release them early due to overcrowding.

Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside and San Diego counties are among those with fewer early releases, according to an Associated Press survey of the 10 counties that together account for about 70 percent of California’s total jail population.


LUIS RODRIGUEZ & THE POWER OF WORDS

KCET’s So Cal Connected is doing a story on Los Angeles poet laureate, Luis Rodriguez, on Wednesday at 8 pm. If you’re around, be sure to tune in. Rodriquez is the best known for his classic memoir Always Running– La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A, about how he escaped Los Angeles gang life in the 1960′s. It’s a wonderful book, and one that dozens of disaffected kids I’ve met over the years told me was the first book they’d ever read, cover to cover, a book that introduced them to the joys of reading ever after.

Rodriguez has also published poetry, fiction, and other works of nonfiction, along with acting as the publisher for Southern California poets and writers. If that was not enough, he founded and runs Tia Chucha’s, a bookstore and cultural center in Sylmar, teaches writing inside California’s prisons, and mentors at risk young men and women looking to get out or to stay away from gang membership. He changes lives. I’ve seen it happen.

“Luis is a great man,” Father Greg Boyle once said to me, summing the matter up with simplicity.

Yes, He is. And we’re so lucky to have him here in LA. So, check out So Cal Connected Wednesday evening, and get to know him.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF ICONIC LA WRITERS…WE ARE GOING TO MISS REPORTER/COLUMNIST RICK ORLOV, R.I.P

Respected LA Daily News city hall reporter Rick Orlov died on Monday of complications of diabetes and the city’s reporting community is completely in shock.

Mayor Eric Garcetti had this to say about Orlov on Twitter:

Posted in American artists, American voices, CDCR, jail, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Los Angeles writers, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

Closing Unsolved Homicide Cases in LA, Outside Investigations of Cops’ Use of Force, “Tactical Retreat,” and “Suicide-by-Cop”

January 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CLOSED HUNDREDS OF UNSOLVED MURDER CASES

As part of the Los Angeles News Group’s cluster of investigative stories about the magnitude of unsolved homicides in Los Angeles, the LA Daily News’ Mike Reicher reveals an alarming classification trend in LAPD homicide records.

Between 2000-2010, 596 unsolved homicides—11.5% of the total number of homicides recorded, and a large portion of which came from the Valley Bureau—were classified as “cleared other,” a category for “solved” cases in which no suspects were arrested, and no charges were filed. LA’s “cleared other” homicide cases were often cleared on technicalities, or when the DA’s office decided not to prosecute.

The national average is 4.9% for the classification. The LA County Sheriff’s Department does not clear a homicide unless a suspect is charged.

Here are some clips from Reicher’s story:

The LAPD cleared some of these cases because the D.A. declined to prosecute, but when asked for the reason each case was cleared, police officials did not respond. The data excludes fatal shootings by officers.

Out of all homicides for which the LAPD provided the Los Angeles News Group a case status, 11.5 percent fell into this “cleared other” category. The national average was 4.9 percent, according to FBI statistics from 2011 through 2013, the only published years. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department didn’t classify any cases this way.

When agencies voluntarily report their crime-solving statistics to the FBI, they are supposed to only count a crime solved, or “cleared,” if they make an arrest, or if they have identified an offender and have enough evidence for an arrest but can’t for a reason outside their control. The classic example is a murder-suicide, in which the suspect is dead.

LAPD officials say they follow FBI guidelines when clearing cases. But others outside the agency say they are interpreting the FBI standards incorrectly.

“They should not let the prosecutors dictate if they solve a case,” said Cassia Spohn, professor and director of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Arizona State University. “It really confuses the role of the police and the prosecutor.”

The LAPD Detective Operations Manual says that clearing a case, by arrest or by other methods, “means that the detective has solved the crime and has taken all possible, appropriate action against at least one suspect.”

The Sheriff’s Department keeps cases open unless someone is actually prosecuted, said Lt. Mike Rosson of the Homicide Bureau. He said his department strictly follows the FBI rules.

“If we can’t give a family closure through prosecution, why would we want to call it solved?” Rosson said.


THE QUESTIONS POLICE USE OF FORCE INVESTIGATIONS ANSWER VS. THE QUESTIONS OUTRAGED COMMUNITIES WANT ANSWERED

In the wake of non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, cries for independent investigations into killings by officers have escalated.

An LA Times editorial says establishing independent investigations may not be the straightforward solution proponents expect.

When a questionable use of deadly force occurs, citizens want to know whether the officer could have done something to change the fatal outcome, whether the officer feared for their life, whether the officer was racist, and whether he or she could have received better training.

The editorial points out that investigations aim to answer just three things: whether the officer committed a crime, whether the officer’s actions violated department policy, and whether those policies are unjust—not the more simplistic notion of whether the killing was “good or bad.”

Here’s a clip:

The police and the policed alike too often view the results of an internal or grand jury investigation in a binary way, conflating what ought to be distinct questions into one: Was the killing “good” or “bad”? That leaves people to conclude, in the event of a decision not to indict, as in the Brown and Garner cases, that the justice system or society as a whole has adjudged the killing to be justified.

The various layers of investigation are meant, instead, to ask at least three separate questions: (1) Did the officer commit a crime? (2) Did the officer violate policy? (3) Is the policy unjust or otherwise unsound?

Those fairly dry questions aren’t necessarily the ones that people ask after a police shooting. They want to know whether the officer who shot reasonably believed he was in danger; whether he was properly trained to defuse such a situation; whether he is racist, and is part of a racist system of law enforcement and justice. But any investigation, whether internal or independent, will have trouble with such subjective questions.

Prosecutors, grand juries, judges and trial juries determine whether an officer committed a crime, not whether a deadly encounter was handled properly from beginning to end. But investigations must tell us more than whether an officer is a callous murderer…

Read on.


MORE ON USE OF FORCE: POLICE AGENCIES EXAMINE “TACTICAL RETREAT” AS TRAINING METHOD

A new police training technique called “tactical retreat” has been cropping up in law enforcement agencies’ reevaluations of training approaches.

In this training method, officers are instructed to withdraw from certain suspects or situations until reinforcements arrive.

Supporters of this idea say tactical retreat could save lives on both sides of the badge. Both St. Louis city and county police chiefs are considering this approach as they analyze their current policies for possible revision. But some critics say tactical retreat could give a suspect the upper hand, potentially making the situation even more dangerous.

Law enforcement leaders in other jurisdictions, like Richmond, California, are seeing fewer officer-involved fatalities after implementing scenario-based training like tactical retreat.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Christine Byers has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Had [Darren] Wilson been coached in tactical retreat, Stoughton said, he instead might have stepped on the gas to drive away from the encounter, and kept Brown in sight while waiting for backup.

Wilson “could have been trained to do something different to allow him to apprehend Michael Brown without putting himself in a situation that made him feel deadly force was the only safe response,” Stoughton explained. “Train police officers to avoid putting themselves in danger, and you will see them use less force to get themselves out of danger.

“That’s good for everybody.”

Chiefs of the St. Louis and St. Louis County police have said in recent interviews they are reviewing training with the principles of tactical retreat in mind.

But it’s a delicate dance, warned Sam Dotson, the city chief.

“Society has to realize that we pay police officers to keep us safe. And if every criminal knows, ‘If I confront an officer, they will take four steps back, that’s my escape route,’ then that becomes the new norm.”

Tactical retreat can be a hard sell to police traditionally trained to subdue an adversary — and to keep pouring on force until that is accomplished. Most departments have policies that provide discipline for cowardice.

Gabe Crocker, president of the St. Louis County Police Association, called the tactical retreat concept “cowardice retreat,” and complained that it is “shameful” to consider.

“Why should we have to change law enforcement nationwide to make exceptions for this violent few when what we should be doing is making it harder for this violent few to have such a powerful lobby on their side?” Crocker asked. “Police officers are trying to uphold the laws of society and protect people. Instead, people are labeling us as aggressive and people who need more training.”

A misjudgment with tactical retreat could get an officer killed, said David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, who urges caution in the way it’s used.

“If you retreat, you’re giving the guy an opportunity to win the fight, and you have to be bold,” said Klinger, a former Los Angeles officer. “However, if you have the advantage of horsepower, you should break away.


ANALYZING AND QUANTIFYING LA’S “SUICIDE-BY-COP” DATA

LAPD Inspector General Alex Bustamante examined 35 cases of “suicide-by-cop” in a 30-month span, and presented his findings to the Los Angeles Police Commission. Bustamante identified nine common indications that a person has used a police officer to help them commit suicide (for instance: when a person tells officers they have a gun when they actually do not).

Bustamante calls on the LAPD to go over their policies regarding these kinds of encounters with potentially suicidal people and the mentally ill, to determine whether there are some ways to avoid tragic outcomes.

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

Most incidents do not include suicide notes or people yelling for officers to shoot them, so its impossible to determine how many officer involved shootings are in fact suicides.

The inspector general urged the LAPD to review its policies regarding suicide by cop to determine if there are ways to avoid such scenarios. He also identified six recurrent features in the incidents:

The subject calls 911 or takes some other form of action to prompt an encounter with police officers;

The subject does not attempt to leave the scene, but instead actively seeks confrontation with officers;

The subject makes verbal threats to kill officers and/or tells officers to shoot him;

A subject who is not, in fact, armed with a firearm verbally indicates that he has a gun;

The subject brandishes or simulates a weapon in a manner that appears to threaten officers with death or serious injury; and,

When officers do not initially resort to the use of force, the subject does not comply with verbal commands and instead escalates the apparent threat until such time as force is used against him.

Posted in Inspector General, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement | 12 Comments »

Cops, Group Homes & Criminalized Kids — by Brian Rinker

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

COPS, GROUP HOMES & CRIMINALIZED KIDS

Is There Collateral Damage If Law Enforcement is Called When Foster Kids Act Out?  

by Brian Rinker


This story was produced in collaboration with The Chronicle of Social Change.


Allyson Bendell wasn’t always the most well behaved girl, but that didn’t make her a criminal either.

In the world of group homes, however, where staff who are often undertrained and overwhelmed try to manage the severe behaviors that foster youth disproportionately exhibit, calling the police, for some, has become a go-to method for controlling kids. A new law that went into effect the first of the new year is trying to change all that by forestalling excessive calls to police and, in so doing, mitigating the stigmatizing effect that contact with law enforcement invariably has on the kids.

Bendell, 17, is one of those kids, who for years, was frequently on the receiving end of the kind of unnecessary police intervention that the new law hopes to eliminate. She wound up bouncing through group homes and foster families because her emotional and behavioral issues made her difficult for less trained staff to handle. She was defiant, prone to outbursts—screaming, yelling, cussing—and running away. She threw temper tantrums. A lot.

She spent most of her life in foster care, beginning when she was age 5. Bendell said her mother and father’s parental rights were terminated when she was 7. One of her parents was in prison, the other homeless.

“The anger came from being alone,” Bendell said. “I wanted someone to love me.”

In her 12 years in the system, she moved through more than 30 foster care placements, including a string of foster families, two group homes and many emergency shelters, temporary housing for foster youth in between placements.

While Bendell admitted that her behavior made life difficult for those trying to care for her, she said that none of her foster families called the police. It was only the group facilities that got the cops involved.

“I was trying to be heard and feeling like no one would really listen,” Bendell said. “I needed a one-on-one connection and a group is the worst situation for that.”

Joan Berry, who was Bendell’s Court Appointed Special Advocate, or CASA, agreed with the assessment.

“Ally has had really good experiences in foster care, but her temper tantrums made it difficult,” Berry said. “Ally is a child of the system and it is very hard to overcome that.”

At 13, she went to live in a San Joaquin County level-14 group home, run by Valley Oak Residential. Level-14 homes are meant to serve youth with serious emotional issues, a designation that Bendell said she did not fit. She said that most of the girls there were older and violent, and that the staff regularly called the police.

“The group home staff used the police to intimidate the girls to keep them in check,” Bendell said. If the kids acted out, fought each other, yelled, threw chairs at the wall, the police would come and each girl would have to sit on their bed as the cops lectured them. “The police were used as a ruling hand. They were used as control. They were used as a behavioral correction.”

Valley Oak Residential did not respond to requests for comment.

“Being in a group home with that much police involvement made it so much harder to be normal,” said Bendell, “It was worse than a correctional facility, more like a holding cell. There was no correction going on, you’re just being kept there.”


HOPING FOR NORMAL

Providing foster youth with the most normal, homelike experience possible-—while making sure that the experience is a safe one—-is what’s at the heart of the new law, AB 388, which means minimizing the presence of law enforcement in group homes, and curtailing extended stays in juvenile hall for foster kids who are detained because they have nowhere else to go.

“The purpose of [the law] is to prevent foster youth from being arrested and charged for misbehavior that wouldn’t happen to anyone other than a foster youth,” said Martha Matthews, an attorney for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm that represents children. “The mere fact that someone is in foster care should not result in their being detained.”

With these goals in mind, AB 388, will trigger a state investigation once a year into any group home that calls the police “a greater than average number” of times. What “greater than average” actually means is still to be determined. That number will probably arise from the new data the law is requiring group homes to collect and release. From now on group homes will have to report every time one of its youth comes in contact with law enforcement, and provide a follow-up report within six months to the state Community Care Licensing Division, a division of Social Services charged with overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

For foster youth who are detained at juvenile hall, the law requires immediate notification of child welfare services and an attorney for alternative placement.

The law also mandates the creation of a committee of stakeholders, including government agencies, foster youth, advocates and providers, its purpose to strategize and research programs and interventions in order to further minimize law enforcement contact in group homes.

Former Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D) introduced the law, which Public Counsel and the other co-sponsors had drafted. (Chesbro termed out in November.) In a fact sheet on the bill circulated in July, Mathews cited case examples including that of a bipolar teen who spent 36 days in juvenile hall for punching a hole in the wall of her group home.

“We didn’t have scientific data (on how many times group homes called the police) but we had the experience of a lot of advocates,” said Matthews who, prior to coming to Public Counsel worked for Children’s Law Center, which represents all 25,000 foster youth in Los Angeles County.

Matthews said she hopes the law makes it clear to group homes that they must find better and more therapeutic methods than involving police when youth in their care act out.


BUT IS THERE A DOWNSIDE TO THE LAW?

The California Alliance and Family Services, an association that represents more than 100 youth service providers including many group homes, worked with the authors of AB 388 last year as it made its way through the State Legislature. The alliance ended up neither endorsing nor opposing the law. The bill passed unanimously.

Yet some professionals in the field worry that the law will have unintended consequences, like preventing staff from calling the law enforcement at those times when police intervention is needed, for fear of triggering an investigation. Worse still, they say, is the concern that certain providers will be hesitant to take in the highest needs kids.

“I’m not sure the net affect of AB 388 will keep foster kids from being referred to the criminal justice system,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca, a nonprofit service provider for children with serious emotional issues, which also ran group homes until 2012. “I fear the net affect will be kids who are most at risk will have a harder time being placed.”

Despite his reservations, Berrick sees no problem with the intent of the bill. “Using law enforcement as a behavioral tool is fundamentally a bad idea.”

Matt Madaus, CEO of Edgewood, a 48-bed, level-14 residential facility in San Francisco also had misgivings. “It is unclear to me what [AB 388] will actually achieve,” he said in an email. “Group Homes are already required to report all police contacts related to a resident to Community Care Licensing.”

Community Care Licensing is the state agency in charge of overseeing residential facilities, including group homes.

The new law “will not add any value to the lives of the foster youth that Edgewood serves,” Madaus said. “We do not use the police as an intervention or to punish or scare a youth,” he added “As a policy and cultural practice, we do not contact the police for property destruction, verbal or physical aggression, or other manageable behaviors.”

According to documents obtained from the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management, there were 460 calls for police service to Edgewood during the last three years, averaging three calls a week. The reasons stated included attempted suicide, juvenile beyond control, assault or battery and mental detention. The majority of calls—204 in all—were for runaways.


OFFICERS & RUNNERS

Bendell was a runner. And running away is one of the most common types of group home incidents that end up involving cops. At her very first group home she got in an argument with staff and took off. Staff and police found her walking alone on the highway. She was 10 years old.

At Valley Oak Residential, where she landed when she was 13, she went AWOL several times. Sometimes she returned on her own. Other times, officers brought her back.

“It’s not like [the Valley Oak staff] are horrible people,” said Berry, Bendell’s CASA. “They just don’t have the resources. And these are tough kids.”

Bendell said she wasn’t violent and never threw a punch at Valley Oak. But her earlier group home located in northern California, she got into a scuffle with another 11-year girl.

“It went bad and I needed to escape,” said Bendell. She yelled and screamed and attempted to run away.

In that instance, to keep her from leaving and to calm her down, staff members sent her to what was known at the home as the “safety room,” a barren, cement room where problem children went to cool down, she said. It wasn’t a locked facility, so they couldn’t lock her in a room. But every time she tried to leave she said a staffer pushed her back inside.

When Bendell continued to be upset, the staff called the police and she was taken to juvenile hall, she said. The group home never came to get her; they didn’t want her back.

“I was an 11-year-old girl who threw a tantrum,” Bendell said. “I wasn’t acting acceptable, but I felt I was acting in a way they could have handled.”

She ended up at Valley Oak, which was the very last home to kick Bendell out. At 14, no other group home would take her in.

With nowhere to go, she asked a high school friend she had made during her time at Valley Oak if she could move in with the friend’s parents. They agreed, and everything changed. Bendell finally found a real home, with a family who didn’t called police if she lost her temper.

“They gave me a chance when no one else would,” said Bendell.

After years in a stable environment with adults who made clear that her wellbeing mattered to them, Bendell began to thrive. She was able to graduate from high school early, and got a job working in a restaurant. She is now living in transitional housing as she moves toward full independence.

She is also an advocate for foster youth with the California Youth Connection.

Bendell credits her turnaround to the support of her new family. “They showed me love and patience. They embraced my goals and dreams. They truly listened to me. They loved me,” Bendell said. “That’s why I am successful now. That’s my home.”



Photos by Max Whittaker of Prime Collective

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement | No Comments »

Blue is the New White: The Complexity of Talking About Police Reform – by Bill Boyarsky

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE:

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barak Obama said of the events of Ferguson and New York: “…Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

Let us hope so.

In Los Angeles as we talk about those issues, the worried father Obama mentioned is not necessarily African American. He is just as likely to be Latino. More likely, really.

And the police officers working patrol whose husbands and wives are fearful for their safety are widely diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and gender.

So, yes, the conversation we need to have is, in part, about race—but it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In the story below—which originally appeared in TruthDig—columnist Bill Boyarsky explores the complexity of law enforcement reform with members of the Youth Justice Collation, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, journalist/author Joe Dominick and others.

In the end, Boyarsky admits he finds no quick answers. But he brings up some worthwhile questions.

Happy reading.



BLUE IS THE NEW WHITE

Why Talking About Law Enforcement Reform in LA is Not a Simple Matter

by Bill Boyarsky


This story originally ran in TruthDig, which has generously allowed WitnessLA to reproduce it in full.



“It’s not the person that fills the uniform, it’s what the uniform does to the person,” said Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “Blue is the new white.”

“We have to change the culture of law enforcement and create real community authority over police if we want to address system violence and transform the treatment of black and brown communities,” she added.

Or, as another Youth Justice Coalition member, Abraham Colunga, told me, “It’s cop versus black and brown, any minority. It’s more a matter of cop versus us, no matter what the cop is, black, brown, Filipino.”

I visited the coalition headquarters, at the western edge of South Los Angeles, in search of an answer to a question raised by the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally ill African-American, in a poor black and Latino neighborhood of South L.A. on Aug. 11.

He was killed two days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and a month after Eric Garner, another African-American man, died after a white New York cop subdued him with an illegal chokehold. Then, in Cleveland in November, a white officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a replica gun. The officer and another cop threw Rice’s 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffed her and forcibly put her into a patrol car when she ran to her fatally wounded brother’s aid.

But Ford’s death in Los Angeles did not follow the black-white narrative that has framed news coverage of these police shootings. One of the cops who shot Ford, Sharlton Wampler, is Asian-American. The other, Antonio Villegas, is Latino.

White law enforcers have been killing black men since slavery. A study by ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, analyzed federal data from 2010 to 2012 and found that young black males were at a 21 times greater risk of being shot to death by police than young white men.

ProPublica’s black-white analysis, however, seemed incomplete for Los Angeles. Its multiethnic population—49.6 percent white, 48.5 percent Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent black—is now policed by a multiethnic department. Latinos, numbering 3,547, are the largest ethnic group in the LAPD, followed by whites, 2,756, blacks, 861, and Asian Americans, 634.

The analysis by McGill, who is white, and Colunga, who is Latino, seemed more to the point.

The coalition, which knows what’s going on with the police and communities, was organized by youths of color who have been arrested, served time behind bars, subjected to stop and frisks and police abuse, and threatened with deportation. Coalition members have helped lobby local and state lawmakers to reform laws and to increase civilian supervision of the police. They also keep statistics on the number of people killed by police in Los Angeles County.

From their close contact with crime-heavy neighborhoods, they see that police shootings of young men go beyond the black-white way journalism frames the issue.

For example, McGill said a cause of the shootings is the war on gangs being waged by the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies around the country.

Gang suppression cops, operating in neighborhoods prevalent with gangs, “treat all like criminals,” McGill said. “People are going to be roughed up and hurt.”

The two officers who killed Ford were members of a gang suppression detail operating in a high crime part of South Los Angeles, where four African-Americans and two Latinos have been slain by cops since 2000.

The victim was well known in the neighborhood. Brandy Brown, another member of the Youth Justice Coalition, lived in an apartment above where Ford was shot. Brown, who is African-American, told me that she and others around 65th Street and Broadway knew him as a pleasant, longtime resident who, as his teens turned into his 20s, became severely disturbed. He wandered through the neighborhood, cadging cigarettes and meals from people who had known him for years. Her mother occasionally fed him and let him use the shower. The two police officers, she said, should have known him too.

Brown was working in her kitchen when she heard the gunshots. She ran downstairs to where her 4-year-old nephew was playing and saw people gathered around Ford.

The autopsy report showed he was shot three times. One bullet hit him in the right side, another in the back and a third in the right arm. The wound in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” the autopsy report said, suggesting the shot was fired at close range.

Police said Ford was walking on 65th Street when the two officers got out of their car and tried to talk to him. Why they did this is unknown so far.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Ford walked away. The two officers followed him to a nearby driveway. Ford, the chief said, crouched between a car and some bushes. When one of the officers reached toward Ford, Beck said, he grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. The policeman shouted to his partner that Ford had his gun, Beck said. The partner fired two rounds, which hit Ford. The officer on the ground pulled out his backup weapon, reached around Ford and shot him in the back at close range.

Ford joined the long list of those who have been killed by the police in Los Angeles County, which contains 88 cities, Los Angeles being the largest by far.

The Los Angeles Times painstakingly reports all these deaths in its invaluable Homicide Report, which compiles and analyzes coroner’s figures. A total of 594 gunshot victims have died in officer-involved shootings from 2000 through 2014. Of these, 114 were white, 300 Latino, 159 black, and 16 Asian.

With African-Americans a much smaller part of the population, the black toll is disproportionately high. The Youth Justice Coalition reports a slightly higher total of deaths, probably because it supplements coroner’s reports with information gleaned from neighborhoods.
In any case, ethnic minorities comprise the largest number of victims by a huge number. David R. Ayon, senior strategist at Latino Decisions and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Latinos are underrepresented in a lot of positions of authority, but not when it comes to being shot by the police in Los Angeles.

“African-Americans are underrepresented in a lot of areas of society, but are overrepresented in being shot by the police. The group that is underrepresented [in police shootings] is whites.”

I talked to two criminal justice experts about the complex racial dimension to these police shootings.

Connie Rice is an attorney long active in civil rights who heads the Advancement Project, a national organization that fights for criminal justice reform and voting rights, among other issues. She was a leader in the reform of the Los Angeles Police Department after major scandals and the 1992 riots.

Rice said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in violent crime areas. “Do I think the cops are too quick to shoot in South L.A.? Yes, I do. They give themselves permission to shoot in South L.A. where they don’t anywhere else.”

She added, “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class. It is compounded by race.”

Neighborhood figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report support this.

Some examples: The Florence neighborhood in South Los Angeles is listed by the report as the ninth most deadly area in Los Angeles. Nine blacks and four Latinos were shot and killed by police there between 2000 and 2014. The count was four blacks and two Latinos in impoverished South Central Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, a poor Latino area, eight Latinos and one black died. But in middle-class Leimert Park, a largely black neighborhood, there were no police-caused shooting deaths in those 14 years.

Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the author of “Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD,” to be published by Simon & Schuster this summer.

Domanick also believes police attitudes in high crime areas influence behavior. “The explosion of guns and the lack of any kind of gun control make cops very edgy,” he said. He added, “I think there is also racism on the part of white, Asian and Latino cops that is endemic in our society, which doesn’t value black lives unless they are Denzel Washington.”

For those seeking quick answers, this column may leave you unsatisfied. Solutions glibly floated from New York and Ferguson have been tried to some extent in Los Angeles, a city that may be the picture of the nation’s urban future.

The police department has been integrated. Its all-white occupying army tactics in poor black and Latino areas were moderated after the riots and federal supervision. Bill Bratton, now New York police commissioner, and his successor, Beck, forced the cops to interact with communities, at least much more than in the past. “Charlie Beck did a superlative job in implementing community policing, especially in African-American communities and he built up a big stack of goodwill when he was chief of the South Bureau [covering South Los Angeles],” Domanick said. “He has continued that as police chief. He has deep relationships with people. They like him.”

Friday, Beck met with representatives of demonstrators who have been camping in front of police headquarters, demanding that he fire the cops who killed Ford. He didn’t do that, insisting that he has to follow department procedures on discipline. “It’s a first step,” Youth Justice Coalition’s McGill said. “It opened communications.”

Beck and other police chiefs and mayors can do more: Give communities more of a say in policing, which cops hate. Take every complaint seriously. Investigate police killings quickly and openly without relying on bureaucratic or legalistic barriers created to protect police officers. Let the community know what’s going on. And show respect to the residents. Be as polite to people in poor neighborhoods as the police are in more affluent neighborhoods that are nearly free of violent crime. Economic class shouldn’t determine whether you get an even chance with the law.

None of these small steps would make a headline or a mention on the Internet or in cable news. But they’re important in a country that is so racially divided and resistant to change.


Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, and a columnist for LA Observed.



Photo of LAPD academy graduation from LAPD Blog




AND AS A REMINDER OF ONE MORE FACET OF THE POLICE REFORM ISSUE…THE STORY OF A COP DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A FATAL SHOOTING

If by some chance you haven’t been following the account of Billings, MT, police officer Grant Morrison who was involved in a fatal shooting in the Spring of 2014, this nuanced story by Zach Benoit of the Billings Gazette, shows the grief and self-doubt Morrison has struggled with since the shooting, which was recorded by a dashboard video.

A later widely-destributed video shows Morrison sobbing after the incident after realizing he had fatally shot an unarmed man.

Both videos make for harrowing viewing.

Morrison was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter by a coroner’s jury after a two day inquest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Police, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


AFTER MUCH STALLING BY THE OLD BOARD, THE NEW LA BOARD OF SUPES QUICKLY MAKES 2 NEW FOSTER CARE FIXES

It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


SAN FRANCISCO TURNS TO COMMUNITY COURT TO BREAK THE INCARCERATION CYCLE

With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


NEW YORK CITY BANS SOLITARY FOR INMATES 21 OR UNDER AT RIKERS

In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.

[SNIP]

A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


SAM QUINONES ON “DEADLINE LA” TALKING ABOUT DRAMATIC REDUCTIONS IN GANG CRIME

For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


THE PAIN OF LOSING AL MARTINEZ

Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

Independent Investigations into Police-Killings, Restorative Justice in LA, Broken City Poets, and Streetcraft LA

January 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STATES WEIGH ESTABLISHING OUTSIDE INVESTIGATION OF POLICE-INVOLVED DEATHS

Several states, including California, are considering legislative measures that would require outside investigation of killings by police officers, which are ordinarily investigated by the local District Attorney’s office. In the wake of non-indictments for the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, there is rising concern that the connections between county district attorneys and law enforcement agencies may create a conflict of interest.

If passed, the California bill, authored by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), would transfer the investigation to a state Department of Justice panel that would then issue a recommendation to the local DA’s office as well as the California Attorney General. (Read more about the bill, which is still in its early stages, on Assemblymember McCarty’s website.)

New Jersey, Missouri, Colorado, and New York are all also looking into taking these particular investigation responsibilities out of the hands of district attorneys, following in the footsteps of Wisconsin where an independent panel must review officer-involved deaths.

But reactions to such legislation are mixed.

The Wall Street Journal’s Zusha Elinson has more on this interesting and complex issue. Here are some clips:

Maki Haberfeld, professor and chairwoman of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, said that such changes don’t get at the real issues involved in American policing and use of force.

“Political decisions are based on how little I can pay to satisfy people: ‘Let me create a new entity and I will call it the special prosecutor or whatever,’ ” she said. “That’s a reactive approach, not proactive: There is a need to invest in recruitment, selection and training and then we will have less need for investigations.”

[SNIP]

William Johnson, executive director of the National Association of Police Organizations, said there is no need to pass laws such as the one in Wisconsin. “I think it would be better to have a common-sense approach and utilize outside agencies on an as-needed basis,” he said.

But Jim Bueermann, a former Redlands, Calif., police chief who heads a research organization called the Police Foundation, believes more states will follow Wisconsin.

“I just don’t see that it would be overly problematic for most police departments,” he said. “Best practices would indicate that you wouldn’t investigate yourself in criminal investigations.”

But Mr. Bueermann said that a balance must be struck, arguing that too much scrutiny of split-second decisions can have consequences on the streets. “When police feel they are being judged inappropriately or too harshly, there is a phenomenon called ‘de-policing’ and they stop being proactive and become entirely reactive,” he said.


RESTORATIVE JUSTICE TRANSFORMING LOS ANGELES SCHOOLS

As the restorative justice school discipline model spreads to school districts across the nation, suspension numbers are rapidly shrinking. Last year, in Los Angeles, suspensions were down 89% from five years ago, thanks, in part, to swapping out harsh zero-tolerance policies, and engaging students, their peers, and teachers in conflict resolution activities. And in 2013, the Los Angeles Unified School District mandated that all schools adopt the restorative justice system by 2020.

The AP’s Christine Armario tells the story of Augustus Hawkins High School in South LA, which was built in 2012, and has experienced a dramatic discipline turnaround in just a few short years. Here’s a clip:

In the last three years, Marcquees Banks has been taken out of class twice and sent to another school for getting into fights.

The third time he got into a scuffle, something different happened: A counselor at Augustus Hawkins High School in South Los Angeles pulled Banks and the other teen aside and told them they needed to talk.

Seated face to face, Joseph Luciani asked them to explain why they’d fought and how they felt — part of the school’s new approach to discipline that is catching on in urban districts and focuses more on students working out their differences with counselors than suspensions.

“I realized we had a lot of similarities,” said Banks, 17, who said his father is involved in a gang and his mother jobless.


YOUNG “BROKEN CITY POETS” USE POETRY AND JOURNALISM TO MAKE SENSE OF LIFE IN BANKRUPT STOCKTON, CA

The Center for Investigative Reporting and Youth Speaks (a non-profit that helps kids in SF and around the world find their voices through spoken-word poetry) together commissioned Bay Area slam poet and activist, Josh Merchant, to teach workshops mixing poetry and investigative journalism to Stockton kids.

The goal was to help kids find and use their voices to cope with issues in their struggling city. We encourage you to watch the resulting documentary, Broken City Poets (above), in its entirety.


DIVERTING LA TEENS FROM TAGGING INTO A SAFE SPACE FOR ART AND ENTREPRENEURIAL DEVELOPMENT

The Santa Monica non-profit, Streetcraft LA, redirects gifted young taggers from the streets, teaching them how to channel their talents to earn an income—selling their designs on clothing, wall art, and other merchandise. Streetcraft LA has provided a positive and profitable outlet to around 75 Los Angeles kids, who are either at risk or have spent time behind bars for tagging.

KPCC’s Adrian Florido has the story. Here are some clips:

Bobby Rodriguez started tagging when he was 13, spray painting illegal graffiti art from San Pedro to San Bernardino. Life in that world led to other illicit activity and several arrests…

Today, at 25, Rodriguez is an aspiring commercial artist, thanks in part to the efforts of a Santa Monica-based nonprofit called Streetcraft L.A.

Streetcraft co-founder Jonathan Mooney calls it a social venture, designed to show talented but troubled kids like Rodriguez that their art can be a source of legitimate income.

“There’s this misconception that graffiti is gang related,” Mooney said, adding that most is not. “It’s often creative young people who don’t have a different channel for their creativity.”

[SNIP]

In the two years since Streetcraft was founded, about 75 young artists have taken its classes, though the organization doesn’t track how many kids give up illegal tagging after going through its program.

Streetcraft co-founder Mooney said the nonprofit is also working to become something of a diversion program for kids arrested for graffiti.

“We have begun the process of building a relationship with folks in the juvenile justice system to see Streetcraft as a way to perhaps give a kid a second chance to apply that creativity in a different way,” he said.

Posted in journalism, juvenile justice, LAUSD, law enforcement, Prosecutors, Restorative Justice, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Brooklyn DA Targets Questionable Convictions….a “Suicide by Cop”….MacArthur Genius Probes Unconscious Racial Bias….and the MacArthur Foundation’s Juvenile Justice Reform Push

January 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

BROOKLYN’S DISTRICT ATTORNEY FOCUSED ON JUSTICE OVER CONVICTIONS

The New Yorker’s Matthew McKnight tells the story of Kenneth Thompson, the Brooklyn district attorney who established a “conviction integrity unit” last year to investigate a slew of possible wrongful convictions. Thompson took over as DA after Charles Hynes, who was defeated after a wrongful conviction lawsuit unearthed systemic prosecutorial misconduct in the DA’s office.

Thompson’s Conviction Review Unit is made up of ten lawyers who have examined around 100 cases in around 9 months, and exonerated eleven people in 2014.

While other counties have made considerable efforts to right justice system wrongs via conviction integrity systems, Thompson’s is the largest DA’s office in the country to make such a strong push.

Here are some clips from McKnight’s story:

The Conviction Review Unit has been the most profound reform that Thompson has implemented in his year as district attorney. A team of ten lawyers has been tasked with reviewing wrongful-conviction claims and questionable convictions, many of which occurred under the leadership of the previous D.A., Charles Hynes, whose twenty-three-year tenure is suspected of being marked by negligence and questionable ethics—including using faulty eyewitnesses, manipulating his prosecutorial responsibilities in order to appear tough on crime and win elections, and relying on the work of discredited detectives. One retired detective in particular, Louis Scarcella, has been connected with roughly seventy cases that have come up for review by Thompson’s office, including Hamilton’s. Meanwhile, one of Hynes’s assistant district attorneys, Michael Vecchione, was named in a wrongful-conviction lawsuit brought against the city by Jabbar Collins, who spent sixteen years in prison for murder. Collins claimed that Vecchione and others in the prosecutor’s office had threatened a man in order to solicit testimony of Collins’s guilt. (Collins was awarded a settlement of ten million dollars last summer. Both Scarcella and Vecchione deny any wrongdoing.)

The C.R.U. represents Thompson’s attempt to correct systemic flaws in Brooklyn’s criminal-justice apparatus, which have included poor oversight, inadequate independent review, and a lack of prosecutorial and police transparency—and which have enabled problems ranging from mistakes in judgment to deliberate misconduct. Thompson’s is the third-largest district attorney’s office in the nation, behind those of Chicago and Los Angeles, with five hundred prosecutors who litigate roughly a hundred thousand cases a year, and it is certainly the largest to make such a thorough effort to review past convictions. In scope, the Kings Country C.R.U. follows an earlier effort by Craig Watkins, the district attorney in Dallas, who, in 2006, formed a conviction-integrity unit that sought, at first, to review potentially tainted convictions that could be tested with DNA evidence that wasn’t available at the time of the original trials.

Thompson’s unit differed from Watkins’s in that it sought to consider an expanded notion of justice. “They’re not simply looking at wrongful convictions in cases in which a person can prove his or her innocence. They’re also looking at cases where they may be innocent—we don’t know—but, definitely, the conviction has no integrity,” Peter Neufeld, the cofounder of the Innocence Project, told me. Watkins later expanded his unit in Dallas to include convictions not resting on DNA evidence, but Thompson’s office has not yet widened its scope to include cases in which retroactive DNA testing can be applied. Rather, the questionable convictions that the Kings County office has sought to review can largely be traced to human error—negligence, misconduct, or errors in judgment—and not necessarily to poor technology. “It is much more difficult to set aside convictions in non-DNA cases, so Kenneth Thompson’s work in that regard has been especially impressive,” Karen Daniel, the co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at the Northwestern University School of Law, wrote to me in an e-mail.

[SNIP]

According to Hale, the unit has accepted about a hundred cases for review since March, 2014, and has made a determination in thirty-one. Most of the cases that the unit has handled so far involve crimes that were committed in the early nineteen-nineties, during the highest period of criminal activity in the history of Brooklyn, which were also Hynes’s first years as D.A. The highest priority for the unit, Thompson says, is to give freedom to people who were convicted during the concomitant era of mass incarceration but don’t belong in prison. He likens the work of the C.R.U. to that of a hospital’s triage center.

For the moment, two important challenges remain outside the scope of Thompson’s unit: understanding precisely why mistakes happened and instituting measures to prevent wrongful convictions from happening in the future. Neufeld argues that the means for accomplishing these goals already exists. “The only sector in society which has not used root-cause analysis”—a formal methodology for determining the source of an undesirable result—“routinely to deal with its issues has been the criminal-justice system,” he said. “And I don’t want to single D.A.s out. It’s true of public defenders; it’s true of crime laboratories; it’s true of police departments; it’s true of the courts.”


USING COPS TO COMMIT SUICIDE

On Sunday, two San Francisco sergeants shot and killed Matthew Hoffman after the 32-year-old aimed an air rifle at them, deliberately committing “suicide by cop.” Hoffman left a suicide note absolving the officers of his death.

Committing “suicide by cop,” essentially forcing officers unaware of the motive to use deadly force in self-defense, is not an uncommon occurrence. And in such incidents, even training in crisis intervention will not change the outcome, which officers must live with the rest of their lives. The mental health intervention must occur long before those final catastrophic moments.

SF Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

San Francisco police as well as experts said it appeared to be a clear case of “suicide by cop,” a tragic but often murky phenomenon that lies at the intersection of law enforcement and mental health and can devastate all involved.

“You have a note saying, ‘I used you’ — but it doesn’t make (the officers) feel any better,” said Vivian Lord, a University of North Carolina professor and author of “Suicide by Cop: a Comprehensive Examination of the Phenomenon and its Aftermath.”

[SNIP]

While suicide by cop is a familiar term, it is difficult to study, experts said, and there is little definitive data on how many such incidents occur nationwide each year. One problem is assessing the motives of a person who is often deceased. Another is that many departments don’t seek to differentiate between officer-involved shootings.

A 1998 FBI study looking at 240 cases over a 15-year period found that 16 percent of people shot by police had possible suicidal motivations. Another study published in the Journal of Forensic Studies in 2009, which looked at more than 700 shootings throughout North America, determined that 36 percent of them were suicides, while 5 percent more featured subjects who were suicidal during the encounter.

Lord and Stincelli, though, said the numbers in the 2009 study seemed high. They estimated that 12 to 15 percent of all police killings nationwide are provoked for the sake of suicide.

[SNIP]

Lord said law enforcement agencies and mental health professionals need to work together more closely. While police officers are often the first to come in contact with people in distress, she said, “Suicide by cop is just a result of things that should have been done before then.”


MACARTHUR GENIUS TRAILBLAZING RESEARCH ON UNCONSCIOUS RACIAL BIAS

The New York Times’ Claudia Dreifus interviews 2014 MacArthur Genius, Jennifer Eberhardt, who investigates the adverse impact of implicit racial bias on the criminal justice system, and then partners with law enforcement agencies to raise awareness of the issue. Here are some clips from Dreifus and Eberhardt’s discussions:

WHEN YOUR MACARTHUR WAS ANNOUNCED, IT WAS SAID YOU HAD SHOWN HOW CRIMINAL SENTENCING WAS RELATED TO SKIN COLOR AND RACIAL STEREOTYPING. HOW DID YOU DO THAT?

The particular study they were referring to was on the death penalty. We gathered photographs of people convicted of capital crimes and who were eligible for a death sentence. We then cropped them and asked Stanford students to rate how stereotypically black the faces appeared to be.

We told our subjects to use any dimension they wanted with which to make that judgment: skin color, width of nose, thickness of lips. Interestingly, though we didn’t give them clear direction of what we meant by “stereotypically black,” there was a lot of agreement about what that was.

Now, the students had no idea where these pictures came from or that these were convicted felons. We wondered if their ratings of blackness could predict whether the person had received a life or a death sentence.

AND WERE THEY PREDICTIVE?

Oh, yes. People who were judged to be most black were, in reality, most likely to have drawn a death sentence. In fact, they were over twice as likely to get a death sentence.

[SNIP]

WHAT HAPPENED WHEN YOU HAD STUDENTS PLAY COMPUTER GAMES THAT CENTERED ON SHOOTING BLACK PEOPLE WHO MIGHT BE CARRYING GUNS?

This is an experiment that another social psychologist, Josh Correll at the University of Colorado-Boulder, has done. But we’ve done it, too.

You have a computer game simulation where a subject sees someone holding an object. If it’s a gun, they hit a button labeled “Shoot.” If it’s a harmless object, they hit another labeled “Don’t Shoot.”

It turns out that if they are shown a black person with a gun, they’ll respond with “Shoot” faster than when flashed the image of a white person with a gun. People are more likely to mistakenly respond with “Shoot” to a black person with no gun than to a white person with no gun.


AND IN OTHER MACARTHUR FOUNDATION NEWS… REFORM RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HARMFUL JUVENILE JUSTICE POLICIES

Citing growing research on teenagers’ still-developing brains (notably the areas of the brain governing impulse control, critical thinking, and consideration of consequences), a report from the MacArthur Foundation calls for major policy changes in five areas of the juvenile justice system.

These reforms include banning use of solitary confinement on kids, keeping kids out of adult courts and jails, sealing kids’ juvenile records, and keeping kids off sex offender registries.

Here’s a clip from the report that lays out ideal policy changes regarding kids and the adult justice system:

Laws and policies that funnel youth into the adult criminal justice system solely based on age or crime are contrary to the research on adolescent development and successful interventions for youth in trouble with the law. Such policies are also out of line with public sentiment, which favors rehabilitation and does not support transfer. The following would be hallmarks of a model system’s approach to transfer:

• Transfer is never automatic; whenever possible, youth remain in the juvenile justice system. Youth are transferred to the adult system only on an individualized basis and after careful deliberation by a judge, who takes into account the experiences, characteristics, and vulnerabilities that can place adolescents at greater risk of becoming involved in criminal activity, as well as their ability to change. Prosecutors are no longer granted the unilateral ability to file cases in adult court without judicial review.

• Adult sentencing guidelines are not applied to youth. Given their mitigated responsibility and capacity to change, youth receive more lenient dispositions than adults, even for the same crime. Extreme sentences that have a disproportionately harsh impact on youth, such as life without parole, are not imposed on adolescents and there is a lower ceiling for punishment for youth.

• Adolescents are not placed in adult jails or prisons. Placement of youth in adult jails and prisons, even for a short time, is recognized as damaging to the child and contrary to public safety. Policies are influenced by research showing that transferring youth to criminal court bears no relationship to changes in the rates of youth violence and that holding adolescents with adults can actually make youth more likely to commit new crimes.

• If youth are nevertheless placed in an adult facility, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) is strictly enforced to protect them. The three prongs of PREA are enforced: the prohibition on youth under 18 being housed in the general adult population of an adult prison or jail; the requirement that adult facilities maintain “sight and sound” separation between adults and youth; and the prohibition on youth being subjected to isolation as a means of complying with the regulations. PREA regulations are used as a guide for the development of statewide policies to protect youth who are placed in adult facilities.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the report.

Posted in Innocence, juvenile justice, law enforcement, racial justice | No Comments »

The End of Gangs? Uh, No. WLA Discusses This Particular New Contention on KCRW’s Which Way LA?

January 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE END OF GANGS—THAT WASN’T.

A story called “The End of Gangs” by veteran So Cal journalist Sam Quinones appeared late last month in Pacific Standard Magazine, and the thesis it contains—that the damaging affect and visible presence of Southern California gangs has all but vanished, or at least been drastically reduced—has produced a large stir among many experts on violence and safety in California communities.

Here’s a clip from Quinones’ story:

In the past few years, street gangs have been retreating from public view all over Southern California. Several years ago, I spent a couple of days in the Florence-Firestone neighborhood, in an unincorporated part of Los Angeles County, interviewing some Florencia 13 gang members. One nearby garage was never free of graffiti for more than a few minutes a week. (This was the amount of time it took after the graffiti clean-up truck left for the 76th Street clique of Florencia 13 to re-deface the thing.) That garage wall has now been without graffiti for more than four years. I go by it every time I’m in the neighborhood.

Fifteen miles southeast of Florence-Firestone, much of the tiny city of Hawaiian Gardens used to be scarred with the graffiti of HG-13, a local gang that absorbed several generations of the town’s young men. The last three times I’ve been to Hawaiian Gardens, I’ve seen nothing on the walls, and young black men freely visit taco restaurants on the main drag, something that would have been inconceivable a few years ago. In Oxnard’s Colonia Chiques neighborhood in Ventura County, the decades-old neighborhood gang is not outside, and their graffiti is gone.

Some of this is a state and national story, as violent crime declined by about 16 percent in both California and the nation from 2008 through 2012. But the decline has been steeper in many gang-plagued cities: 26 percent in Oxnard, 28 percent in Riverside, 30 percent in Compton, 30 percent in Pasadena, 30 percent in Montebello, 50 percent in Bell Gardens, 50 percent in El Monte.

Santa Ana once counted 70-plus homicides a year, many of them gang-related. That’s down to 15 so far in 2014, even as Santa Ana remains one of the densest, youngest, and poorest big cities in California. “Before, they were into turf,” says Detective Jeff Launi, a longtime Santa Ana Police gang investigator. “They’re still doing it, but now they’re more interested in making money.”

No place feels so changed as the city of Los Angeles. In 2014, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that gang crime had dropped by nearly half since 2008. In 2012, L.A. had fewer total homicides (299) citywide than it had gang homicides alone in 2002 (350) and in 1992 (430). For the most part, Latino gang members no longer attack blacks in ways reminiscent of the Jim Crow South. Nor are gangs carjacking, assaulting, robbing, or in a dozen other ways blighting their own neighborhoods. Between 2003 and 2013, gang-related robberies in the city fell from 3,274 to 1,021; gang assaults from 3,063 to 1,611; and carjackings, a classic L.A. gang crime born during the heyday of crack, from 211 to 33.

“Being the member of a gang doesn’t have the panache it did,” says George Tita, a criminology. “Things have changed radically in the last five years.”

So what’s the deal? We know violent crime is down all over the nation. Does this also mean that Los Angeles law enforcement has “tamed” its gang problem as Quinones’ story suggests?

I was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with Warren Olney discussing the issue Monday night. Sam Quinones was on too.

Here are some of the topics we talked about—plus a bit more:


ARE GANGS GONE?

So, does the fact that most gangsters now rarely wield spray cans to mark territory mean that gangs are no longer wreaking havoc in LA’s communities?

No, experts I spoke with told me. But gangs have changed a great deal. During the height of the gang conflicts in the late 1980′s and early to mid 1990′s, gangs primarily fought about turf and drug sales and identity.

Now gangs are all about business.

Moreover, according to UCLA gang anthropologist Dr. Jorja Leap, gangs are less visible because they have gone underground.

“They are extremely sophisticated about social media, and expert in many markets,” Leap said when we talked Monday morning.

Gentrification and the drop in violent crime all over the U.S. does not translate into the end of gangs, she said. “They relocate,”—to places like Riverside and San Bernardino and the Inland Empire, where you do see gangsters on the street. “And then commute back in to commit crimes.”

Leap said she has been called in to consult on several criminal cases having to do with an active gang pipeline running from LA to Las Vegas that involves drug dealing, guns—”and now they have expanded their operations to human trafficking.”

Much of the organization needed to facilitate this commuter gang action, Leap said, “is achieved using social media.

“And I don’t mean guys throwing gang signs on Facebook,” she said, adding that she was talking about sophisticated websites, the purpose of which is well disguised, “sometimes using shadow businesses.”

Leap’s points are depressingly easy to support. For instance, a look at the 110-page RICO indictment filed against 38 members of the Mexican Mafia-associated Big Hazard gang filed by the U.S. Attorney’s office in mid-December 2014, details the long-time gang’s elaborate actions to conceal its very healthy drug distribution business.

The place that gangs still thrive with perhaps the most strength and influence, Leap and others I spoke with Monday reminded me, is in California’s prisons and also in many of the state’s county jails, most particularly in LA County’s jail system and jails in the inland empire.

Elie Miller, a former alternate public defender now well known for her nonprofit legal work for places like Homeboy Industries and the Union Rescue Mission, told me this week about a young client who is afraid to go to jail in San Bernardino County, where he has a warrant, because of the heavy gang presence. He was fearful, said the attorney, “he have to comply with requests [from the gangs] to do things if in jail.”

From LA County jails I hear repeatedly about how those from gang-affected neighborhoods cannot receive money from family members “on their books,” without paying a percentage tax to the gang shot callers, whether they themselves are gang-involved or not.

“One other thing,” added Leap, “Quinones writes mostly about Latino gangs. And some of the mothers I know in South LA, would be really surprised to learn that gang crime is gone from their neighborhoods.”


WHAT ABOUT GANG VIOLENCE AND COMMUNITY SAFETY? THE TRAUMA

As I mentioned earlier, we know that violent crime is down all over the nation, Los Angeles County included.

There is much argument about the exact reasons for the crime drop, but most agree that it is due to a complex stew of causes that include smarter strategies in policing, along with the work of nonprofits like (in California) Father Greg Boyle’s Homeboy Industries, the Toberman Foundationin San Pedro, Youth Uprising in Oakland, and a long list of like agencies that are on the front lines when it comes to addressing community health and safety,

Gang homicides are down too, but as for gang crime in general? Those in law enforcement I spoke with about the issue said that those stats are far less solid.

Moreover, while gangs are less visible, the collateral damage done to families and communities—along with the former gang members themselves—is still all too present and visible.

Violence reduction experts now talk less about gangs and more about the pressing issues of prison reentry and about addressing the now multi-generational trauma that the worst old days of gang violence left in its wake.

And then there are the still discomforting stats like the fact that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for black children and teenagers.

“I’d love to have the gang problem solved. Trust me,” said Leap. “But to say so is not just incorrect, it risks abandoning the programs we need to address the damage that’s already been done.”

And the damage that is still being done.

For more read Quinones’ story and then listen to the Which Way LA? podcast, starting at around minute 12:20.

And, by the way, in the end, Quinones and I agreed on far more than we disagreed on this important and complicated topic.

Posted in Gangs, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, PTSD, Public Health, Reentry, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 5 Comments »

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