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Video Shows San Bernardino Deputies Beating Man…Nurses Say Health Care in Alameda Jails is Broken…and Walter Scott

April 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HELICOPTER FOOTAGE SHOWS A GROUP OF SAN BERNARDINO DEPUTIES BEATING A MAN ON THE GROUND AFTER A HORSE CHASE

On Thursday, video captured from NBC’s NewsChopper4 appeared to show a small crowd of San Bernardino County deputies beating a reportedly unarmed man during an arrest.

The man, Francis Jared Pusok, 30, lead officers on an intense chase, by car, on foot, and finally, on a stolen horse. When deputies caught up with Pusok, the horse bucked, throwing Pusok to the ground. The man, still on the ground, then spread his arms out and then put them behind his back, after which, deputies appear to taser him. Then, the video shows a number of deputies gather around Pusok, punching, kicking, and kneeing the man dozens of times for more than two minutes.

Allegedly the man was then left lying on the ground for at least 45 minutes without medical attention. Pusok is now in a hospital being treated for unknown injuries.

San Bernardino Sheriff John McMahon said he was “disturbed” by the video and quickly launched an internal investigation.

NBC’s Jason Kandel and Tony Shin have the story. Here are some clips:

In the two minutes after the man was stunned with a Taser, it appeared deputies kicked him 17 times and punched him 37 times and struck him with batons four times. Thirteen blows appeared to be to the head. The allegedly stolen horse stood idly nearby.

The man did not appear to move from his position lying on the ground for more than 45 minutes. He did not appear to receive medical attention while deputies stood around him during that time…

Three deputies were injured during the search. Two suffered dehydration and a third was injured when kicked by the horse. All three were taken to a hospital for treatment.

[SNIP]

Deputies said the Taser was ineffective due to his loose clothing and a use of force occurred.

“I can certainly understand the concerns in the community based on what they saw on the video,” McMahon told NBC4. “I’m disturbed by what I see in the video. But I don’t need to jump to conclusions at this point, until we do a complete and thorough investigation. If our deputy sheriff’s did something wrong, they’ll be put off work and they’ll be dealt with appropriately, all in accordance with the law as well as our department policy.”


PRIVATE HEALTH CARE CO. NURSES IN ALAMEDA JAILS THREATEN TO STRIKE IF MEDICAL CONDITIONS DO NOT IMPROVE FOR INMATES

Nurses employed by a troubled private company in charge of health care in Alameda County jails say they will strike if the company doesn’t improve the substandard care provided to inmates.

The Corizon nurses are calling on the company to add more nurses to the rotation. One worker said the ratio can sometimes be as bad as 23 inmate patients to one nurse. She says, at most, the ratio is five patients to one nurse in regular hospitals. The nurses also say medical equipment is often broken or unsanitary.

The understaffing means that medication often goes out hours late, medical intakes are rushed, and sometimes inmates die due to lack of adequate and timely health care, according to the nurses.

The National Union of Healthcare Workers is sending around a strike petition. If union members vote in favor of striking, the decision will be announced to the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors.

Corizon is no stranger to lawsuits. In February, Corizon (and Alameda County) agreed to a record-breaking $8.3 million wrongful death settlement to the family of a jail inmate who was tasered to death by ten deputies while suffering from severe, untreated alcohol withdrawal.

As part of the settlement, Corizon agreed to stop hiring less expensive Licensed Vocational Nurses instead of Registered Nurses (as state law requires) to perform inmate medical intakes.

Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein has the story. Here are some clips:

Clara, who works as a Registered Nurse at the jail, described abysmal conditions including broken or dirty equipment, rushed procedures and severe understaffing.

For example, when inmates are first booked, nurses examine them and ask them about their full medical history. Clara said Corizon’s procedures in this phase, designed to save time and money, puts everyone at risk.

“The patients come in right off the street. They’re often under the influence of drugs. You don’t know what their mental state is,” she said. “They’ve got three nurses seeing three inmates at once in one little cramped room, maybe 15 by 15 feet. So there’s no confidentiality. One inmate is sitting so close he could touch the next one, and we’re asking them very personal questions, like if they’re HIV positive. HIPAA [privacy] laws are totally violated there.”


DEATH OF WALTER SCOTT: LAPD CHIEF SAYS SHOOTING WAS UNLAWFUL…WHAT NEWS REPORTS WOULD HAVE SAID IF THE INCIDENT HAD NOT BEEN TAPED…THE DASH CAM VIDEO…AND SC’S RACIAL HISTORY

On Thursday, LA Police Chief Charlie Beck said that as far as he could tell, South Carolina officer Michael Slager’s fatal shooting of the allegedly unarmed, fleeing Walter Scott was “a criminal act.”

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here are some clips:

Beck said he would have similarly had the officer arrested based on the video by the bystander. But he also said he’d typically do a more detailed investigation before making such a judgment.

“I will tell you this, based on what I have seen, based on the video, it is a criminal act,” Beck said. “It is well beyond any policies of the Los Angeles Police Department.”

[SNIP]

Beck said such an incident impacts all officers, but it doesn’t diminish his pride in their willingness to take risks daily.

“To have somebody 3,000 miles away take away from that by a criminal act, it’s disheartening,” Beck said. “All of us suffer when somebody in the profession acts illegally.”


The Huffington Post’s Ryan Grim and Nick Wing have penned a version of what they believe news reports would have looked like, had a bystander not videotaped the shooting. Here’s how it opens:

A North Charleston police officer was forced to use his service weapon Saturday during a scuffle with a suspect who tried to overpower him and seize the officer’s Taser, authorities said.

The man, who has a history of violence and a long arrest record, died on the scene as a result of the encounter, despite officers performing CPR and delivering first aid, according to police reports.

The shooting was the 11th this year by a South Carolina police officer. The State Law Enforcement Division has begun an investigation into the incident.

Police identified the officer involved as Patrolman 1st Class Michael Thomas Slager and the suspect as Walter Lamar Scott, 50, of Meadowlawn Drive in West Ashley. Slager, 33, served honorably in the military before joining the North Charleston Police Department more than five years ago. He has never been disciplined during his time on the force, his attorney said.

The incident occurred behind a pawn shop on Craig Street and Remount Road. Slager initially pulled Scott over for a broken taillight. During the stop, police and witnesses say Scott fled the vehicle on foot. When Slager caught up with him a short distance from the street, Scott reportedly attempted to overpower Slager. Police say that during the struggle, the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.


On Thursday, the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division released dash camera footage of the incident. The video shows the initial traffic stop for a broken tail light, which wasn’t captured by the anonymous bystander’s video.


And for some interesting context, the New Yorker’s Jack Hitt delves into South Carolina’s complicated racial history. Here’s a clip:

The police officer was fired and charged with murder. North Charleston’s mayor, Keith Summey, announced, “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong” and said that police officers can’t hide a bad decision “behind the shield.” He said that the police force’s “thoughts and prayers are with the family.” North Charleston’s police chief, Eddie Driggers, said he was “sickened.” South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who rose to office as a darling of the Tea Party, said that the shooting was “unacceptable.” Senator Lindsey Graham called the video “horrific.” Senator Tim Scott, an African-American Republican who grew up in North Charleston, called the shooting “senseless” and “avoidable.” The South Carolina Law Enforcement Division, known as SLED, immediately took control of the investigation, and the F.B.I. has opened its own investigation, as well. The victim’s brother told the local paper, “We don’t advocate violence. We advocate change.”

I grew up in Charleston, and, as someone close to North Charleston’s mayor told me, “Before the sun was down, everyone was unified.”

It’s crucial to point out that had the bystander not turned on his smartphone camera, that creaky counter-narrative—I thought he was reaching for my weapon—would almost certainly have given Slager a pass. And no doubt, the swiftness of the political and narrative unity in the shooting death of Scott owes much to the lessons of Ferguson. But South Carolina is not Missouri—its racial past, in fact, is more violent, but its attempts to move away from that history, while less known, have been more bold. The state’s history of violence against black men and women is excruciating to know, or to read. If you are unfamiliar, then Google “George Junius Stinney, Jr.,” “Julia and Frazier Baker,” the Hamburg massacre, or the Orangeburg massacre. That is South Carolina at its worst. But there is a streak of fair-mindedness in the state’s history—an ancient ideal that Mark Twain parodied as coming straight out of the chivalric fiction of Sir Walter Scott’s mist-filled novels of courtly knights. While reserved exclusively for whites for most of its history, this tendency appears from time to time and is always surprising, especially to outsiders.

All Charlestonians are required to know the story of their Civil War-era representative, James Petigru, the state’s only Unionist, who voted against secession. Charlestonians have made a centuries-long career out of tweaking the rest of the state for its rustic views. Petigru opposed withdrawing from the United States back then because, as it is often quoted, “South Carolina is too small to be a Republic, and too large to be an insane asylum.”

But even during the collapse of Reconstruction, when racist Democrats took back control of the state’s government from Republican politicians backed by federal troops, there was a streak of fair play in the reformed Confederate General Wade Hampton, who was elected governor in 1876, and who, in his inaugural speech, said, “It is due, not only to ourselves, but to the colored people of the State, that wise, just, and liberal measures should prevail in our legislation.” (To those writing rebuttal posts right now to argue that this was mere racist palaver, I will note that however rhetorical Hampton’s views were, those earliest attempts at sane post-bellum racial decency in South Carolina were relatively real efforts at moderation, despite the fact they were, absolutely, crushed underfoot by pro-lynching extremists, like “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman, who thought that Hampton was out of his mind.) In the mid-twentieth century, a famous Charleston judge named Julius Waties Waring sought to steer a number of criminal cases toward the ideal of fair play, including a hideous police beating of a black man and later a local desegregation case that would eventually merge with others to become Brown v. Board. A cross was burned in the judge’s yard, and he eventually fled the state.

Posted in Charlie Beck, jail, LAPD, law enforcement, medical care, racial justice, unions | No Comments »

LA Officials to (Belatedly) Crack Down on Over-Drugging LA Kids….A Juvie Lifer Artist…and the Shooting of Walter Scott

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



MENTAL HEALTH OFFICIALS TO CRACK DOWN ON OVER-DRUGGING OF KIDS IN COUNTY CARE (UM…THAT WOULD BE NICE.)

In the past year, it has come to light that kids are being over-drugged in many of California’s various foster care and juvenile systems, LA County’s included. Then more recently, we learned that powerful medications are unnecessarily being jammed down the throats of poor kids via the Medicare system. (See here and here and here for some of the latest stories.)

Tuesday, however, there was a piece of good news when the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health officials plan to crack down on doctors who appear to be inappropriately prescribing powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs to kids in LA County’s foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The question is, however, knowing the serious dangers posed by overprescribing or wrongly prescribing antipsychotics for children or teenagers, why weren’t the county’s mental health officials paying better attention?

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs.

Once problematic doctors are identified, the department will recommend that judges no longer approve their prescriptions for youth under court supervision.

Additionally, Los Angeles County mental health workers will fan out across the county to randomly interview children, caregivers and doctors about the reasons behind the prescriptions and how they are working.

The hope is that the in-person reviews will allow the county to go beyond the information doctors submit in their paperwork, offering a more complete picture of the youth’s mental health and whether less-intrusive interventions were used before turning to drugs.

“We know there is really a need to do this,” said Fesia Davenport who was recently named interim director of the county Office of Child Protection, a new agency charged with coordinating services across county departments for abused and neglected children. “Once we start to look at the data I think we’ll identify patterns and really understand why the use of the drugs seems to be high.”

In February, Therolf, writing for the LA Times, noted that “51% of California’s foster youth who are prescribed mental health-related drugs took the most powerful class of the medications — antipsychotics.” (And, of course, Karen de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News, reported extensively on the over-drugging of foster kids in her multi-part series.)

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

The risks of using antipsychotics on kids are considerable—except in certain very closely monitored situations. (For further details, read last week’s WLA story by Taylor Walker about the most recent study released showing the disturbing overuse of antipsychotics on Medicaid kids, with California one of the five states studied.)

The crack-down Therolf reports is a very welcome step, albeit distressingly belated. Yet, another underlying issue still calls out to be discussed, namely that, every study we have on the matter shows that most kids who land in foster care or the juvenile justice system, or both, are suffering from high degrees of childhood and adolescent trauma. This kind of toxic stress almost inevitably results in some kind of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms—which are crucial to address. But, in most cases, powerful drugs are neither an appropriate nor safe way to ameliorate and heal these issues.

Of course, real healing of trauma-harmed kids is labor intensive— and cannot be done from the remove at which one can prescribe drugs.

But that’s a discussion for another day.


A JUVENILE LIFER WHO MAKES MEANING WITH ART COULD BE AMONG THOSE GETTING NEW SENTENCE IF SCOTUS AGREES

In 1999, when Kenneth Crawford was fifteen, he was the getaway driver for a brutal murder of strangers. He did not himself beat, rob and shoot Diana Lynn Algar, 39, and her friend Jose Julian Molina, 33, at a campground in Pennsylvania. The admitted killer was an 18-year-old fellow drifter and carnival worker, David Lee Hanley. Nevertheless, Crawford was tried as an adult, and given a sentence of life without parole in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, which was still legal for juveniles as the time.

Although nearly all of his upbringing was horrific, Crawford makes no excuses for his involvement in the crime for which he was convicted.

“I was too drunk and full of pills and have only myself to blame,” he wrote to a couple who have befriended him during his time in prison.

The victims “were good people and their families did not deserve the pain and suffering they endured. I have begged the Lord for forgiveness and I believe I have been forgiven. But I will never forgive myself.”

One of the primary ways Crawford, now 31, finds meaning and solace in his life behind bars is painting miniature scenes on fallen leaves he collects. The results are remarkably beautiful.

Crawford is also one of the 2100 inmates given life sentences as teenagers, whose prison terms could possibly be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the question, likely in September of this year, of whether their historic ruling of Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively. Miller, if you remember, which was presented by civil rights attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson, ruled that mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole were unconstitutional.

Gary Gately has delved further into Crawford’s story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Here are some clips:

Five years ago, Kenneth Carl Crawford III returned to that woods behind his childhood home in Oklahoma, but only in his mind — the only way he can go back now, perhaps the only way he’ll ever go there again in his time on this Earth.

After a storm, he had been gazing at a thick forest about 100 yards away when he noticed a bunch of leaves had blown over the high electric fences topped by razor wire and landed in the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, here in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Crawford picked up one of the leaves. “It had been a long time since I had touched a part of a tree, let alone held a piece of it in my hands,” he would write in his journal.

He kept looking at the leaf, mesmerized, nostalgic for so much of a bit of boyhood paradise lost.

Then he took the leaf back to his 8-by-12-foot cell and decided to recapture some of what he missed so dearly — and ultimately painted on it a scene right out of the woods he remembered.

He’s been painting wildlife scenes — and painting them superbly — on leaves ever since.

Crawford, 31, has plenty of time to create his miniature masterpieces. He’s serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for his involvement in a double murder at age 15 in 1999.

[SNIP]

Crawford, a lean man with the beginnings of a mustache and beard, calls the Sanfords “Mudder” and “Peepaw.” [The Sanfords are a couple who ran across his art and have gradually befriended him.]

“I’ve had ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and none of them turned out too well,” he says.

Indeed, his alcoholic father beat him, his brother and his two sisters with extension cords and switches in drunken rages and often left them home alone in their ramshackle trailer with no electricity or heat and little food. And he forced them to tend to his marijuana plants behind the trailer.

Crawford’s mother ran off with one of her boyfriends to work the carnival circuit when Ken was 5…..

When he was 9, Child Welfare Services came to remove Ken and his siblings from their father’s custody — and promised the children their lives would be much better with foster parents.

They weren’t.

Crawford recalls one 400-pound foster father who forced the children to scratch and bathe his legs because he could not reach down to them.

Another foster father showed off Ken’s ability to play football — until he outshone the man’s biological son, at which point the foster father made Ken quit the team.

A third foster father told him he’d be in prison by the time he was 18.

When Ken was 10 and wetting the bed, his foster mother screamed at him and ordered him to strip naked and lie on a towel on the living room floor. As other children in the home laughed, she put a diaper on him and made him wear it to school the next day.

He wet the bed again that night, and she forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

If he could change two things in his life, Crawford says now, he would have never have hung out with David Lee Hanley, and, if it were somehow possible, he would have eluded Child Welfare Services workers.

“If I could go back in time, I would have hid from Child Welfare Services. I should have hid. I shouldn’t have let them find us,” he says.

Speaking of his father’s abuse and neglect, he says: “That’s what we knew. It was nothing out of the ordinary for us. We still had something, and the physical abuse we grew up with I was used to.

“In foster care, it was mental abuse, and the mental abuse was much worse.”

Still, he’s quick to add that he doesn’t blame anybody for the circumstances that led to the double homicides. “I made the choices,” he says.


THE SHOOTING OF WALTER SCOTT

As most of you probably know by now, a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott was fatally shot on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., after being stopped for a broken tail light by a white Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, 33.

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

Initially, Officer Slager reported that he made a traffic stop and was in foot pursuit after the subject. Next Slager reported shots fired and that the subject was down. “He took my Taser,” Slager said on the radio. Later, in the police report, Slager stated he had feared for his life because the suspect, Scott, had taken his taser in a scuffle.

However when a video taken by a bystander surfaced, and it told a very different story.

Here’s how the South Charleston Post and Courier describes what is on the video:

The three-minute clip of Saturday morning’s shooting starts [shakily], but it steadies as Slager and Scott appear to be grabbing at each other’s hands.

Slager has said through his attorney that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle.

The video appears to show Scott slapping at the officer’s hands as several objects fall to the ground. It’s not clear what the objects are.

Scott starts running away. Wires from Slager’s Taser stretch from Scott’s clothing to the officer’s hands.

With Scott more than 10 feet from Slager, the officer draws his pistol and fires seven times in rapid succession. After a brief pause, the officer fires one last time. Scott’s back bows, and he falls face first to the ground near a tree.

After the gunfire, Slager glances at the person taking the video, then talks into his radio.

The cameraman curses, and Slager yells at Scott as sirens wail.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer shouts before he handcuffs Scott as another lawman runs to Scott’s side.

Scott died there. [Actually, in the beginning Scott appears to be alive.]

Slager soon jogs back to where he fired his gun and picks up something from the ground. He walks back to Scott’s body and drops the object.

At no time, does Slager or the next officer on the scene, attempt to help the dying Scott, although one of the officers searches him and then eventually feels for a pulse.

According to the Post & Courier, Mr. Scott “had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through an assault and battery charge in 1987″—in other words, 27 years ago, when Scott was 23.

A family member told reporters that Scott likely ran because he didn’t want to be arrested for back child support.

In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Senator Tim Scott (R) said “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” Senator Scott said that he would be watching the case closely.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, mental health, Youth | 7 Comments »

Prisoner Reentry Study, LA County Slow to Stop Funding Problem-Ridden Foster Care Group Home, another troubled CA Group Home, and Rolling Stone

April 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STUDY TAKES A CLOSE LOOK AT FORMER OFFENDERS’ PERSONAL HISTORIES AS THEY REENTER COMMUNITIES

A team consisting of Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, Rutgers criminologist Anthony Braga, and Rhiana Kohl of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections followed 122 male and female state prisoners as they reentered their Boston neighborhoods between 2012 and 2013.

The Boston Reentry Report researchers aimed to analyze the connection between poverty and violence by recording the life stories of the participants through many interviews. The researchers identified a number of meaningful commonalities between the former offenders. They experienced a high degree of childhood trauma (including violence at home), received little help at school, and were often previously victims of the same violent crimes for which they were later incarcerated. The recidivism rate was also higher among those who were supervised upon release, mostly for violating their probation or parole.

The team will continue to track these men and women through the coming months and years.

The Marshall Project has a good run-down of the main findings of the report. Here’s a clip:

Getting a job can be transformative — but very difficult.

Previous research shows employment is one of the few proven safeguards against recidivism, but the study participants were not an eminently employable group. Only 59 percent were employed before they were incarcerated. Six months after reentry, 57 percent of the men were working, and just 27 percent of the women — even though more than half of those women had held jobs before they were incarcerated. The gender disparity could have several causes. Women in the study were more likely to be mentally ill or drug addicted, and were also much more likely to have financial or housing support from family members, perhaps making employment less of a pressing necessity.

Of those men who did find work, most were in low-wage, temporary jobs. (An exception was a handful of white men, including Patrick, who used family connections to win union employment at up to $40 per hour.) Western said there is little evidence that former prisoners are being aided by a 2010 Massachusetts law that “banned the box” on job applications, making it illegal for companies to ask applicants if they have a criminal record. Employers are still able to look up criminal histories later in the interview process. “The theory was that if you delay the criminal background check, the employer has the opportunity to collect other info and it will offset the negative effect,” Western said. “But we’re not seeing much evidence of that.”

A paradox: the more closely supervised are more likely to end up back in prison.

The researchers have yet to release their findings on which former prisoners in the study were most likely to return to prison or jail, and why. Yet Western said there is a paradox emerging in the data: Those on parole and probation, and thus under the closest supervision, were more likely to be re-incarcerated. They were arrested most often not for committing new crimes, but for violating the rules of probation or parole.

Automatic re-incarceration for those violations “needs careful review,” Western said. “At times it feels like the system is simply cavalier in its treatment of the deprivation of liberty.” The study’s overall findings, he believes, should increase our empathy for people who go to prison, most of whom come from “brutal poverty.

From the point of view of justice, we have to ask ourselves if we were in these situations and we were to encounter these complex combinations of circumstances, could we be confident that we would exercise our moral agency to do something different? For me, that’s a really challenging question.”

And here’s an interview clip from the reentry report:

Interviewer: When you were growing up was anyone in your household ever a victim of a crime?

Yes.

Interviewer: Who was that?

My mother.

Interviewer: Was that just one time or more than one time?

She used to get beat up by her boyfriends.

Interviewer: How old were you when that was going on?

Between twelve and fourteen, I believe. Could have been earlier,
but I probably don’t remember earlier ages.

Interviewer: So, what would happen after one of the boyfriends would
beat her up?

Well, while it was going on, I would run in there with my Louisville slugger bat that I used to sleep with.

Interviewer: And did you ever get involved?

Oh, yeah. Definitely. Every single time.

Interviewer: And then what would happen?

Well, the very last time when I hit one of her boyfriends, they fell down the stairs, with the bat, and then… my mother basically hit me and said why did I do that. So I just left the house and went to live with my grandmother for a few years… I was about fourteen, yeah.


AFTER REPORTS OF EMBEZZLEMENT AND ABUSE, AND FORMAL CHARGES FROM THE DA’S OFFICE, LA COUNTY FINALLY CUTS TIES WITH FOSTER CARE PROVIDER

LA County paid Little People’s World, a non-profit running several foster care group homes, around $2.5 million annually despite multiple child abuse and embezzlement allegations.

Two investigations (in 2011 and 2013) by the county auditor-controller found that owners CSJ and Kitaji Kidogo had possibly embezzled hundreds of thousands of dollars, in part, by buying property with the money, and giving themselves and their daughters large raises.

During that same time period, the California Department of Social Services investigated two reports that staffer Rashard McMorris had been abusive to children in his care. One video reportedly showed McMorris throwing a kid against the wall so hard that the boy’s head broke through the drywall. The other surveillance tape allegedly showed McMorris dragging a 6-year-old on the ground through the facility. Both times he received a slap on the wrist and more training. The third report of abuse in 2014 finally got McMorris fired.

Amazingly, the LA County Department of Children and Family Services did not break ties with Little People’s World until late 2014, when LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey filed embezzlement charges against the Kidogos.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has more on the issue and its implications. Here’s a clip:

The criminal allegations against the Kidogos raise questions about the effectiveness of reforms implemented in recent years by the county’s Department of Children and Family Services to better monitor the foster care providers it hires. Two years ago, the agency hired additional staff to guard against financial misconduct following a series of stories by The Times that revealed that money intended for the care of children was often misspent by contract providers.

In some cases, money was spent on personal vacations, luxury cars, fine china and salaries for employees who didn’t exist, The Times found. More than $11 million of county funds allegedly had been misappropriated by nonprofits between 2000 and 2010, county audits show.

[SNIP]

In 2011, state regulators reviewed surveillance video of Little People’s World staffer Rashard McMorris dragging a 6-year-old across the floor and into another room. He was given a two-day suspension and training on how to respect foster youths’ rights, according to county investigation reports.

Two years later, the records show, investigators from the California Department of Social Services reviewed another video of McMorris pushing an 11-year-old into a wall. The force of the child’s head hitting the wall left a hole in the drywall, the records state. McMorris received training on emergency intervention techniques and was placed on conditional employment status under a plan approved by the state, according to the county reports.

Neither incident was reported to law enforcement, a spokesman for the California Department of Social Services said.

[SNIP]

Dove, one of the Kidogos’ attorneys, said the embezzlement charges were at odds with years of communication his clients had with the DCFS. He said Little People’s World had been a licensed contractor for 30 years, often passing county audits, and “received numerous accolades” from the department.

“DCFS regularly drops the ball on training and oversight of its contractors. Then it abdicates its shortcomings to the district attorney’s office for prosecution,” Dove said. “DCFS should focus on getting its own house in order. Ultimately, the victims of this process may be the children in the foster care system.”


CALIFORNIA GROUP HOME SHUT DOWN BY POLICE MAY LEAD TO CHILD WELFARE REFORM

ProPublica’s Joaquin Sapien has an excellent longread about the takedown of a toxic group home for troubled kids in California, and how it sparked real reform action in the state Department of Social Services. Sapien’s story follows Alex Barschat-Li, who arrived at the level 14 (the highest, most restrictive level) group home called FamiliesFirst when he was just 12-years-old. The downward spiral began soon after Alex’s arrival, when the cash-strapped facility had to drastically downsize its staff and services. And when FamiliesFirst decided to house girls of all ages in the same space, the environment became even more volatile.

Kids (including Alex) ran away frequently, slept on the streets, and sometimes hitchhiked. There were reports of rape and drug use. One week the police responded to a grand total of 74 calls.

Davis Police finally raided and shut down FamiliesFirst mid-2013.

The FamiliesFirst debacle has contributed to the conversation about how to best protect kids in the child welfare system. The California Department of Social Services delivered a report to state lawmakers detailing how to keep the FamiliesFirst horrors from happening again. Among other recommendations, the report called for an end to group homes except as a short-term placement for kids.

The report’s much-needed recommendations have been drafted into bill-form and could be signed into law by July 1.

Here are some clips from Sapien’s story (which was co-published with the California Sunday Magazine):

Alternately affectionate and sullen, Alex was prone to radical mood swings, speaking in a rapid staccato one minute, turning almost monosyllabic the next. According to an evaluation report sent to Wendy six months into his stay, he suffered from “an inability to build or maintain satisfactory interpersonal relationships with peers and teachers.” A minor annoyance or a denial of a privilege could set him off, and he would hurl himself at whoever irked him.

In time, though, he began to show signs of progress. In the fall of 2012, he moved into a dorm called Adventurer, which was led by a group of experienced staffers who connected with him. He was still easily distracted and easily angered, but the extremes had leveled off. Where once he threw tantrums during chores, he would now take a break in his room, gather his composure, and get back to the task at hand. He was less confrontational, less violent — happier.

Toward the end of 2012, Alex noticed that there were fewer counselors on campus — he had heard there had been layoffs — and that they seemed to be under more stress than usual. They also had become more lenient. He could now walk off the campus without anyone stopping him, and whenever someone had a manic episode, the staff was less likely to employ restraints, the term for the physical holds staff are allowed to use to prevent children from harming themselves or others.

At first, Alex left campus by himself, often hanging out at a bicycle shop where the employees liked him. He went to a Dairy Queen and moped until an employee gave him an order of fries on the house. Soon he was tagging along with a group of eight to twelve children from the home who stole food and clothing from stores around Davis. They started staying out all night, drinking alcohol, smoking pot, and having sex in parks. Before long he and others were hitchhiking out of town. Alex got as far as Sacramento.

“We had different jobs for different kids,” says Alex, whose task was to shoplift. “Kids who begged, kids who found bikes for us, kids who went back to campus to get blankets and stuff. We’d be gone for days.”

Early in the spring of 2013, Alex and his friends took over a homeless encampment on the outskirts of a park, a tangle of blankets and mattresses, abandoned furniture and trash, all jammed into a thicket dense enough to obstruct the view of passersby. It was one of several places where the children began to sleep at night. Another favorite, which Alex calls Plan B, was behind a Comcast building alongside Interstate 80.

[SNIP]

The report called for increased minimum qualifications and training for group-care workers; more-varied therapeutic services; and better screening of children to more appropriately determine their needs and where they should be placed.

Most dramatically, the report called for group homes to be eliminated, or at least limited to offering short-term stays. “It is well-documented,” the report states, “that residing long-term in group homes with shift-based care is not in the best interest of children and youth. Not only is it developmentally inappropriate, it frequently creates lifelong institutionalized behaviors and contributes to higher levels of involvement with the juvenile justice system and to poor educational outcomes.”

As long as group homes exist, they will still present challenges of oversight. The Department of Social Services report says little about improving its own performance in inspecting and investigating the homes. To many, the department has long been poorly positioned or equipped to monitor Level 14 group homes. Inspections are required only once every five years, and records show they are perfunctory, mostly involving a review of physical conditions, food supplies, and water temperatures. The inspections typically do not include interviews with residents and staff or extensive examinations of records. The department employees charged with performing the inspections are not required to have backgrounds in social work, even though they are often called to look into what for an experienced police officer are the most sensitive kinds of cases — sex crimes and battery involving minors.


REPORT FINDS ROLLING STONE IGNORED “BASIC, EVEN ROUTINE JOURNALISTIC PRACTICE” WITH UVA RAPE STORY

Last November when Rolling Stone Magazine published a story about a violent gang rape in a University of Virginia frat house, doubts about the rape allegations and the reporter’s due diligence quickly emerged.

A report from the Columbia School of Journalism (commissioned by Rolling Stone) found that author Sabrina Rubin Erdely relied solely on the account of he alleged rape victim “Jackie.” Erderly did not speak with Jackie’s three friends who were quoted in the story, nor did she speak with any of the alleged attackers. The report faults Rolling Stone’s fact-checking and says the sensitive subject matter should not have caused the magazine to stifle doubts about Jackie’s account.

Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner said the “fabulist” source, Jackie, was where the trouble started.

The New York Times’ Ravi Somaiya has more on the report. Here are some clips:

In an interview discussing Columbia’s findings, Jann S. Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone, acknowledged the piece’s flaws but said that it represented an isolated and unusual episode and that Ms. Erdely would continue to write for the magazine. The problems with the article started with its source, Mr. Wenner said. He described her as “a really expert fabulist storyteller” who managed to manipulate the magazine’s journalism process. When asked to clarify, he said that he was not trying to blame Jackie, “but obviously there is something here that is untruthful, and something sits at her doorstep.”

[SNIP]

The first misstep during the reporting process, the Columbia report said, was that Ms. Erdely did not seek to independently contact three of Jackie’s friends, who were quoted in the piece, using pseudonyms, expressing trepidation at the idea of Jackie telling the authorities that she had been assaulted. The quotes came from Jackie’s recollection of the conversation. Those friends later cast doubt on Jackie’s story in interviews with The Washington Post and denied saying the words Rolling Stone had attributed to them. The three told the report’s authors that they would have made the same denials to Rolling Stone if they had been contacted.

Rolling Stone, the report said, also did not provide the fraternity with enough information to adequately respond to questions from the magazine. Later, when the article had been published, the fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, said it did not host a function on the weekend Jackie had specified.

And the magazine failed to identify Jackie’s attacker, the report said. It was content to give him a pseudonym, Drew, when Jackie resisted Ms. Erdely’s request to help find him. The fraternity, The Post and the police have been unable to find anyone who matches Jackie’s description of Drew.

The reporting errors by Ms. Erdely were compounded by insufficient scrutiny and skepticism from editors, the report said. And the fact-checking process relied heavily on four hours of conversations with Jackie.

Posted in Foster Care, law enforcement | No Comments »

San Jose Veteran Officer Killed by Suicidal Shooter After Answering Call for Help

March 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


When 14-year veteran San Jose police officer Michael Johnson
was fatally shot Tuesday evening, he was responding to a call for help from a family member who reported a despondent drunk man, possibly suicidal, possessing one or more guns.

The SJPD community is reeling as they mourning the loss of a fellow officer who gave his life in the line of duty, on a callout to protect the safety of others.

The San Jose Mercury News has additional details.

Here’s a clip:

San Jose officers were initially called at 6:48 p.m. Tuesday by a female family member who said that [shooting suspect Scott] Dunham was intoxicated, despondent and possibly meant to harm himself or others, {SJPD Chief] Esquivel said. As the officers approached the apartment building on Senter Road and spotted a person on a balcony, they were fired upon without warning.

Police dispatch recordings show that officers told dispatchers they believed the man they were searching for had one or two handguns in the apartment.

At one point, as they approach the apartment, an officer says, “we have movement from the blinds at the apartment.”

An officer calmly reports that a male has stepped out onto the balcony, describing him as having gray hair, a gray mustache and a black T-shirt. Seconds later, the “shots fired” call can be heard, followed almost immediately by the “officer down” call.

Dispatchers immediately called for the area to be secured and put out a citywide call for assistance. Another officer reported that shots were fired at the suspect, and that he possibly “went down as well.” Esquivel confirmed the gunfire exchange and the possibility that Dunham was wounded.

“This person had the nerve, the audacity, to shoot at our officers who were on a call for assistance,” Esquivel said.

An outpouring of grief flowed from both members of the public and law enforcement agencies throughout California and across the nation Tuesday night. Hundreds of social media users sent their condolences to San Jose police through the department’s Twitter account.

WitnessLA joins San Jose in grieving for their brave officer.

Posted in law enforcement, Life in general | No Comments »

LA Sheriff McDonnell, LAPD Chief Beck, CHP’s Farrow and More Meet with Religious Leaders for Post-Ferguson Conversation

March 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell
, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and a cluster of other LA law enforcement figures got together with around two dozen local religious leaders for a two-hour, no-press-allowed post-Ferguson chat in the hope that everyone might speak candidly about the tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The meeting, which took place on the 8th floor of the newly renovated Hall of Justice, on Temple Street in downtown LA, was the inaugural event for the historic building.

Judging by what WitnessLA was able to gather as everyone was dispersing, most came away with the feeling that some real and relevant things had been said. Moreover, everybody wanted to do it again.

“We don’t want to have this be one-and-done,” said Sheriff McDonnell when we spoke after the event. The idea was to build ongoing relationships, he said.

The gathering was billed as being co-hosted by McDonnell, Beck and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. District Attorney Jackie Lacy, LA City Attorney Mike Feurer, and Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura were also on hand.

But, it was clearly an LASD-organized affair. Still everyone had reportedly had things to say—a lot of it straight talking from both the faith leaders and the cops. “It was not a booster club,” said McDonnell.

Interestingly, the faith leaders didn’t just raise issues with law enforcement, they also spoke frankly to each other. One issue in particular that reportedly caused discussion, according to those present, was the necessity of the clergy to engage when there is a police/community problem “not Just read about it.”

On this topic, one pastor reportedly said, ‘It breaks my heart that [when something happens] we close the doors of he churches.”

Another subject that caused much discussion was the religious leaders’ acknowledgement that affluent communities tend to view—and experience—the police very differently than do lower income communities

McDonnell and Beck both talked about interaction with the clergy as a being “critical piece of community policing.” They also spoke of the need to bring what occurred on Tuesday, “to the station level,” said McDonnell, for the LASD and the LAPD.

Community oriented policing is not something law enforcement agencies should do on the side or merely to appease critics,” he said. “Rather, a focus on community oriented policing ensures law enforcement is viewed by the community as legitimate.”

“We are very fortunate in this community to have law enforcement leadership that recognizes and understands the importance of strengthening community relations,” said Reverend Chip Murray, in a pre-meeting statement. “This timely event will help us build upon the strong foundations that already exist and enable us to do even more, working together.”

A pastor from Compton, who was leaving just as WLA arrived, pronounced the meeting, “Good. Very good.” Things were said that needed to be said, he told me. “And that’s a very good thing.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, City Attorney, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

Prop 47 and Drug Courts, Ex-lifers Mentor Each Other, Prosecutorial Power, and Young Cops and Use of Force

March 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

WHY PROP 47 DRASTICALLY REDUCES USE OF DRUG COURTS …AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS TO THE PROBLEM

Before Proposition 47 reduced many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process. Those who completed drug court requirements had a much lower chance of reoffending than than if they had instead served out a sentence.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses. Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

In LA County, drug court applications are 50% lower than pre-Prop 47 numbers.

There may be ways to resolve this problem, however.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here are some clips:

[A former public defender involved with L.A.'s drug courts, Mark] De Wit believes expanding eligibility for drug court could be the answer. And – for those who fail, a gentler sentence at county jail instead of prison.

Another proposal from Loyola Law Professor Eric Miller, include more serious felonies.

Miller admits however that there’s little political appetite for such a move locally, and it would be complex determining who would respond best to different kinds of treatment.

Miller adds that one of the shortcomings of the program already is that drug courts don’t engage in sophisticated enough screening process to weed out people who won’t succeed.

That very quandary has left many who work in this field with complicated feelings. De Wit, for instance, voted for the proposition, but simultaneously criticizes what it has done to drug courts.

And the California District Attorney’s office says a new policy is in the works that will change the qualifications for entering drug court.


FORMER LIFERS MENTOR FORMER LIFERS IN A FOUR-CITY CALIFORNIA PILOT PAROLE PROGRAM

KQED’s Scott Shafer visited a pilot support group in San Francisco through which paroled ex-lifers mentor each other. The participants discuss things like guilt and responsibility, as well as how to live successfully on the outside after spending decades behind bars.

This particular parole program is also being piloted in Los Angeles, as well as Pomona and Sacramento, with hopes to expand with the goal of helping the more than 2,100 paroled ex-lifers in California stay out of prison.

Shafer has more on the program for KQED’s California Report. Here’s a clip:

This meeting is a support group, an experimental peer mentoring program. It’s voluntary and those who come share practical advice, like tips on looking for work and dealing with one “no” after another from employers who just aren’t willing to take a chance on hiring an ex-felon.

One of the men, Steve Monger, said the last thing he wanted to do was work in a fast-food joint. But the rejections kept piling up.

“So me and another lifer, we just went in, we was honest with the guy,” Monger said. “We said we recently got out of prison. I was in 27, he was in 25, and we want a job. We’ll be here on time, we’ll work hard for ya. We don’t steal from ya. We don’t do drugs. You ain’t gotta worry about us. You call us, we’ll be here.”

Taco Bell hired them both. They’ve been working there five months.

Now let’s be clear here — there are plenty of inmates serving life sentences with the possibility of parole who will never, or should never, get out. It’s just too risky. They’re sociopaths, or they don’t show any remorse for what they did.

But over the past few years I’ve interviewed quite a few lifers — in and outside prison. And I’m always surprised at how thoughtful and reflective they are — especially given what they did to land them in prison.

Like Alisha Nolan Taplett. She was living in Sacramento when she got behind the wheel of a car with some friends out to settle a score.

“I was just looking at myself as the driver in the beginning,” she admitted. “Well, I didn’t kill anybody. But at the end of the day and every day, I still have to remind myself if it hadn’t been for me driving that vehicle, that young woman could still be alive.”

I asked Taplett what she’d say to a young person today who finds himself or herself in a situation where they’re being asked to drive a getaway car.

“If someone asks you to drive a car and you know that a homicide is going to take place, maybe you should pick up the phone and call 911,” she said without hesitation. “But that’s one of the things that we fail to do in our communities as well, because we don’t want to be labeled as that snitch. If I don’t save that person’s life by dialing 911, at least I know I tried.”


FOUR WAYS PROSECUTORS CAN MAKE BETTER USE OF THEIR VAST DISCRETIONARY POWER

In an op-ed for the Marshall Project, Brian Elderbroom, senior research associate at the Justice Policy Center at the Urban Institute, and Lauren-Brooke Eisen, senior counsel at Brennan Center’s Justice Program, lay out four reform-minded changes prosecutors can make to the way they wield their prosecutorial authority. (Instead of this way, and this way, for instance.) – links

Here are some clips:

Considering that crime has declined significantly, with violent crime falling by almost half since its peak in 1991, do prosecutors still need the leverage of mandatory minimums and long sentences for even the least serious felony offenses? To what extent have prosecutorial practices contributed to the high incarceration rates that are rallying Democrats and Republicans alike to seek alternatives to prison?

[SNIP]

Campaign rhetoric should more closely match the national dialogue. Based only on DA elections, one wouldn’t know that crime was at historic lows or that members of both political parties are advancing policy reforms that aim to reduce incarceration. Prosecutors still regularly tout their success at securing the longest prison sentences and rarely campaign on the number of people they helped get treatment or avoid harmful incarceration. Instead of promising to pursue increasingly punitive policies, and then advocating for them in state legislatures, prosecutors should focus on expanding proven crime-prevention strategies.

Rather than trying to secure convictions and long sentences, prosecutors should focus on reducing recidivism and overall harm to the community. There is evidence that putting people in prison for longer than necessary can actually increase their propensity to commit crimes. There is also a growing body of research that suggests we have reached a point of diminishing returns with regards to incarceration and that additional increases to imprisonment rates will have no impact on public safety. According to a recent report from the Brennan Center for Justice, prison expansion since 2000 had effectively zero impact on crime rates. Prosecutors are uniquely positioned to create opportunities to improve public safety while also reducing the nation’s incarceration footprint…

States and the federal government should require prosecutors to provide data on their charging, plea bargaining, and sentencing decisions. One way to ensure this outcome is for Congress to incentivize states to participate in a national prosecutor reporting program…


YOUNG OFFICERS USE FORCE, INCLUDING DEADLY FORCE, MORE OFTEN THAN OLDER COPS

There is a growing body of research indicating that younger officers are more likely to be involved in shootings and other uses of force.

The officers who killed Michael Brown, Darren Thomas, Eric Garner, and Tamir Rice were all in their twenties.

A number of law enforcement veterans and experts argue that recruitment ages should be raised, and that officer training should be tailored to the individual, and include stress-management instruction.

Buzzfeed’s Mary Ann Georgantopoulos has this story we didn’t want you to miss. Here’s a clip:

The risk of officer-involved shootings drops as officers age, according to a study conducted by James P. McElvain, formerly of the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department and Loma Linda University and Augustine J. Kposowa of the University of California, Riverside.

The data used in that 2008 study, published in Criminal Justice and Behavior, was collected from McElvain’s department, the 44th largest law enforcement agency in the country at the time. The results match what two researchers found in a 2007 study, published in the same journal, that found that incidents in which officers employ verbal and/or physical force diminished with each year of experience gained by the officer.

Researchers told BuzzFeed News they are not surprised that officers who use excessive, and sometimes lethal, force are young. Studies conducted by academics and police departments alike said age is a factor — one of many, but still a factor — in an officer’s use of deadly force.

Experts who have researched the issue said most people in their young adulthood — from ages 18 to 29 — haven’t developed full maturity of judgment to make, as the Justice Department called it in the Brown shooting analysis, “split-second judgements in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving.” (Federal investigators cleared Wilson of criminal wrongdoing this week, calling his account “credible,” but found evidence of discriminatory policing throughout the Ferguson Police Department.)

And police orientations do little to address the emotional needs of future police officers. Across the country, police training includes little to no guidance on the psychological and emotional aspects of using force and stress management, said Maria Haberfeld, chair of the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College.

“We place a great deal of responsibility” on young officers, said Tom Nolan, a retired 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department and current professor of criminology at Merrimack College.

Nolan, who became an officer when he was 22 years old in 1978, said he was overwhelmed when he began the job. “I in no way had the requisite maturity and wisdom,” he said. “I had never held a gun before. It’s a dirty little secret that we’re hiring police officers too young.”

“I was in over my head,” he said about his start. “The tendency for someone that is overwhelmed or fearful is to react with excessive force, and I say that from personal experience.”

Posted in law enforcement, prison, Prosecutors, psychology, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 4 Comments »

DOJ Picks Stockton for Community Policing Pilot, Dorsey Nunn, Pasadena Police Misconduct Audit, and Fullerton’s Homeless Liaison Unit

March 16th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

STOCKTON, CA ONE OF SIX CITIES TO PILOT DOJ’S COMMUNITY POLICING INITIATIVE

Hours after the shooting of two Ferguson officers late last week, the Department of Justice announced the first six pilot cities to take part in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, a program meant to help build better relationships between cops and the communities they serve.

The pilot cities included Stockton, California, as well as Minneapolis, MN, Birmingham, AL, Fort Worth, TX, Gary, IN, and Pittsburgh, PA.

Each city will assess their current police-community relations, and apply strategies focusing on implicit bias, procedural justice, and racial reconciliation.

The process will be guided by a panel of criminal justice professionals, experts, and faith-based groups, and advocates, and includes a three-year grant to the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, as well as Yale Law School, UCLA’s Center for Policing Equity, and the Urban Institute.

The Stockton Record’s Jason Anderson has more on the initiative as it relates to Stockton. Here’s a clip:

“The Stockton Police Department is excited that we have been selected as one of six cities to be part of this national initiative,” Stockton Police Chief Eric Jones said. “The men and women of the Stockton Police Department are very committed to building police/community trust within our community.”

City Manager Kurt Wilson lauded Stockton’s selection as a pilot site and praised Jones, who has created a number of community outreach initiatives aimed at easing tensions following a rash of officer-involved shootings in recent years.

“Chief Eric Jones is one of the most respected law enforcement leaders in the country,” Wilson said. “He has been fully engaged locally, statewide and nationally. We are thankful for his leadership, and by his team joining this initiative, we feel it will boost these leading-edge efforts, because some of his evidence-based strategies that are already under way fit into this model.”

[SNIP]

…the program will highlight three areas that hold great promise for concrete, rapid progress: racial reconciliation, procedural justice and implicit bias.

The racial reconciliation component is described as the facilitation of frank conversations between minority communities and law enforcement that allow them to address historic tensions, grievances and misconceptions between them.

The procedural justice element will focus on how the characteristics of law enforcement interactions with the public shape the public’s views of the police, their willingness to obey the law and actual crime rates.

The implicit bias aspect of the initiative will focus on how largely unconscious psychological processes can shape authorities’ actions and lead to racially disparate outcomes even where actual racism is not present.

Pilot sites were chosen based on a list of factors such as geographic diversity, jurisdiction size, ethnic and religious composition, and population density. Also considered were each site’s history of social tensions, level of violence, economic conditions, police department size and historical strategies for addressing procedural justice, implicit bias and racial reconciliation at the local level.


A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH: DORSEY NUNN, FROM INMATE TO A CRIMINAL JUSTICE ADVOCATE

Once drug-addicted and sentenced to life with the possibility of parole for being involved in a fatal armed robbery, Dorsey Nunn, is now the co-founder of All of Us or None and executive director of Legal Services for Prisoners With Children in San Francisco. Through these platforms Dorsey takes on monumental projects like fighting jail expansions, solitary confinement, and (successfully) pushing for “ban-the-box” legislation.

The LA Times’ Lee Romney has Dorsey’s remarkable story. Here are some clips:

A decade ago, All of Us or None scored its first victory when Nunn and dozens of others filled the chambers of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors to demand that the box on city employment applications that asks about felony convictions be removed and the question saved for later in the hiring process.

San Francisco’s successful “ban the box” ordinance was the first in the nation, cementing the city’s ultra-left reputation and changing Nunn’s life.

He now had a voice in a debate upon which public safety and billions of taxpayer dollars hinged — one that ignites emotions over such primal questions as retribution versus redemption.

All we wanted was to have a job, be skilled, be trained and be ethical.

Susan Burton, executive director of A New Way of Life, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated women
The California District Attorneys Assn. was among opponents of statewide ban-the-box legislation in 2013, saying “all this bill will do is ensure that local agencies waste public time and resources” screening applicants who “will almost certainly be rejected” once their criminal histories are known.

But the statewide ban also passed, and Nunn is now regularly consulted by national civil rights groups and policymakers. Ban-the-box legislation has been passed in 96 cities and counties and in 13 states led by Republicans and Democrats alike, according to the National Employment Law Project. (Applications for jobs where criminal history is relevant — such as child care or law enforcement — are exempted.)

The voices of those who know the criminal-justice system from the inside have been “absolutely essential,” said Michelle Rodriguez, a senior staff attorney with the employment law project.

The movement dates to March 2003, when Nunn helped convene a crowd of about 40 formerly incarcerated men and women at Oakland’s Center for Third World Development.

They spoke for many: 70 million Americans have an arrest or conviction record, and 725,000 are released yearly from prison to communities where laws, regulations and private sector practices curtail their access to employment, housing, education and even the vote.

“All we wanted was to have a job, be skilled, be trained and be ethical,” recalled Susan Burton, 63, executive director of Los Angeles-based A New Way of Life, which provides housing to formerly incarcerated women and oversees a Southland All of Us or None chapter.

Priorities were listed on butcher paper: jobs, housing, family reunification. “Ban the box” came first.

The group would take its name from a Bertolt Brecht poem.

Slave, who is it who shall free you?/Those in deepest darkness lying,/Comrade, these alone shall see you,/They alone can hear you crying./Comrade only slaves can free you./Everything or nothing. All of us or none.

Thanks in part to All of Us or None’s amateur lobbyists, bills recently signed into law in Sacramento forbid the shackling of pregnant women, remove the prohibition on food stamps for California recipients with drug felonies, and ban the box from all state and local government applications. San Francisco extended ban-the-box practices to private employers and affordable housing, and efforts are underway to expand the ban in Los Angeles and Long Beach.


AUDIT FINDS MISCONDUCT IN PASADENA POLICE DEPARTMENT, NOT ENOUGH TRAINING, OVERSIGHT

An independent audit of the Pasadena Police Department from 2005-2009 found that homicide detectives at the Pasadena Police Department were undertrained and under-supervised, and used questionable interrogation tactics among other misdeeds.

The city requested the audit after the dismissal of a 2007 homicide case during which detectives allegedly threatened and coerced witnesses and withheld evidence.

The audit will be presented to the City Council’s Public Safety Committee today (Monday).

Pasadena-Star News’ Sarah Favot has more on the audit. Here’s a clip:

“Some officers were allowed to operate extremely close to the line of legality with little or no visible oversight from supervisors who either knew or clearly should have been aware of their subordinates’ actions,” the audit said. “These supervisors had a responsibility to the department, their subordinates and the people of Pasadena to correct theses deficiencies, but they did not. Equally important, their managers did not hold them accountable.”

[SNIP]

The Pasadena Police Department has been under heightened scrutiny since the police shooting of Kendrec McDade, an unarmed black teen who officers shot to death on March 24, 2012.

The slaying resulted in city officials paying a $1 million settlement to Anya Slaughter and Kenneth McDade, the boy’s parents.

Local defense attorneys said the department was dirty and pointed to several instances were officers withheld evidence, beat suspects and threatened witnesses.

One of those attorneys, Andrew Stein, said Friday members of the Pasadena Police Department were no better than the gang members they sought to imprison.

“They shouldn’t have a police department,” Stein said. “It’s a farce. It’s a joke. The sheriff’s department should take over the city of Pasadena. … This conduct is not tolerable. It’s wrong and it’s only going to change when some rich, white person in Pasadena has something bad happen to them by these cowboys and then it’ll matter.”

And here’s a handful of other findings:

• When interrogations weren’t recorded, no reason was given and a supervisor wasn’t involved;

• A lack of consistent training in basic detective skills for both detectives and their supervisors;

• Supervisors weren’t involved before cases were brought before a prosecutor or before a search warrant was filed;

• When juvenile informants were used, there was no evidence the Police Department received court approval;

•The Police Department has no signage explaining to members of the public the process of making a personnel complaint;

• Detectives bargained with informants offering to charge lesser crimes for cooperation without supervisory approval…


COMMUNITY POLICING AT WORK: FULLERTON’S HOMELESS LIAISON UNIT BUILDS BETTER RELATIONS BETWEEN COPS AND HOMELESS

In 2011, Fullerton police officers beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death while he screamed for his father.

Since then, the Fullerton Police Department have made considerable strides, boosting mental health training for officers and increasing their Homeless Liaison Unit from a one-man-show to a team of four. The unit works with a mental health care professional, connects people they meet on the streets with much-needed services, and meets with advocates and other agencies to discuss issues related to homelessness.

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

On a warm afternoon at a Fullerton park, a homeless mentally ill man, rolling his head from side to side, carelessly revealed to a pair of officers that he might have a warrant out for his arrest. But he wasn’t sure.

“Can you check for me?” the man asked.

Fullerton police Cpl. Michael McCaskill held back.

“If I check, it might be bad for you,” he warned. “So I’m going to give you a number where you can check.”

This is the type of work four Fullerton police officers assigned to the department’s Homeless Liaison Unit are doing: building relationships with the homeless and mentally ill people in the city and guiding them to services.

Nearly four years after the brutal police beating death of Kelly Thomas — which sparked a national debate on the treatment by police of the homeless and mentally ill — police here have forged partnerships with homeless advocacy groups to connect the people officers meet on the street with service providers. They also participate in regional meetings with other law enforcement and advocacy groups on homelessness.

The reforms came after a series of reviews and reports — both internal and external — about what happened that night in October 2011.

But Fullerton Police Chief Dan Hughes said Thomas’s death isn’t the only reason the agency has increased its focus on the this vulnerable population.

As Orange County has become more urban, its homeless population has swelled. Hughes said the number of calls police get regarding homelessness in Fullerton has increased from about 1,400 in 2010 to more than 4,000 calls last year. That’s something no police agency could ignore.

“Even though, I don’t believe it is necessarily a police issue, it has been put on our shoulders to deal with,” said Hughes. “And so we’re trying to do that as effectively as we possible can.”

Posted in Department of Justice, Homelessness, law enforcement, mental health, race | 1 Comment »

LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit a National Model, Oakland Policing Turnaround, Early Trauma-informed Healthcare…and More

March 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LAPD’S MENTAL EVALUATION UNIT A MODEL TO BE REPLICATED IN LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES NATIONWIDE

The Los Angeles Police Department’s nationally celebrated Mental Evaluation Unit pairs police officers with mental health care professionals into “System-wide Mental Assessment Response Teams” (SMART) to respond to people in the midst of a mental health crisis. The goal is to cut down on police use-of-force incidents and to refer people suffering from mental illness to intervention programs and other services instead of just locking them up.

Altogether, there are 61 officers and detectives and 28 clinicians in the MEU.

The “Case Assessment Management Program,” (CAMP) division of the Mental Evaluation Unit takes on the most challenging cases and has likely saved the LA city and county millions of dollars by diverting the mentally ill from lock-up (with just six two-man teams), according to MEU detective Charles Dempsey.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The unit, which is the largest and among the oldest mental health policing programs in the nation, is highly regarded by law enforcement and by mental health and civil rights advocates. A 2009 report by the LAPD’s independent federal monitor [who oversaw the consent decree] praised the operation, saying the department “now has the recognized best practice in law enforcement for this subject area,” and is “in the national forefront of this important policing issue.”

“They’re setting a great example for other departments to emulate,” says Jerry Murphy, a criminal justice mental health policy specialist at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. In 2010, that nonprofit organization designated the LAPD one of six national training sites for specialized mental health policing. Since then, the unit has shared its approach with nearly 60 law enforcement agencies throughout the U.S. and with 10 agencies in five other countries.

The Burbank Police Department is among those that have sought training here.

“As it evolved, it got more and more comprehensive,” Michael Albanese, captain of Burbank PD’s patrol division, says of the LAPD’s Mental Evaluation Unit. Albanese says he considers the operation to be “on the leading edge as far as how to manage incidents and/or individuals with mental health disorders.”

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell says he, too, is open to considering the LAPD program as model for his department, which has a spotty record when it comes to dealing with the mentally ill. Last month, McDonnell told the 21st Century Policing Task Force in Washington D.C. that in 2013, nearly 40 percent of all use of force incidents “involved individuals suffering from mental illness and in too many cases we arrest our way out of these encounters rather than diverting individuals to the community treatment and care they need.”

For more on the how the program works, read the rest.


THE OAKLAND POLICE DEPARTMENT’S INCREDIBLE (AND LENGTHY) REFORM JOURNEY

Scott Johnson has a not-to-be-missed essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine about the Oakland Police Department’s complete about-face from what many called one of the worst departments in the country, to a complete overhaul resulting in dramatic declines in use-of-force incidents and officer-involved shootings.

It has been a hard-won fight. The department officials and officers (including a group of corrupt officers called the Rough Riders) spent years digging their heels in as lawyers John Burris and James Chanin, costly lawsuits, and a consent decree dragged them slowly toward reform.

Very little progress was made for more than a decade until complete federal oversight was on the horizon. The police union settled with Chanin and Burris, allowing the city to appoint a compliance director with the ability to fire officers and officials, including the chief. The compliance director did just that.

Now, with the help of a new chief and steady pressure from Chanin and Burris and the compliance director4`, the OPD has implemented body cameras and taken up community policing. Officers garnered roughly 40% fewer complaints in 2014 over 2013, and greatly reduced their officer-involved shootings.

Here are some clips:

Before Ferguson, there was Oakland. In the fall of 2011, as the Occupy Wall Street movement spread across the country from New York’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy Oakland quickly became one of the biggest protest sites. By early October, demonstrators had set up an encampment in front of City Hall and named the site after Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who in 2009 had been shot in the back and killed by an officer for BART, the local rail transit system.

Oakland, with a population of roughly 400,000, may sit just across the bay from increasingly glitzy San Francisco, but it can sometimes seem a world away in poverty and race relations. The city had long been known as a stomping ground for radical activists, matched in their aggression by one of the most brutal police forces in the country…

[SNIP]

Although the situation deteriorated steadily in the 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t until early in this century that a series of disturbing allegations against the police shocked the system into action. The most serious legal troubles began in 2000, when a 21-year-old named Delphine Allen alleged that police brought him to a remote location and beat him while he was in handcuffs; he described being dragged under a freeway overpass and hit repeatedly on the soles of his feet with police batons. The Rough Riders case, as it came to be known, grew to include at least 119 plaintiffs—the vast majority of whom were people of color—all with similar complaints and stories of abuse.

The Riders case eventually resulted in two extensive trials during which four OPD officers were charged with kidnapping, planting evidence and beating witnesses. Of the four, three were acquitted. A fourth officer, Francisco Vasquez, fled the country and is now believed to be in hiding in Mexico; the FBI is searching for him. The more lasting impact of the Riders case, however, is a legal and judicial marathon now in its 12th year that has required the intervention of a district court judge, two outside monitoring teams, a compliance director, six police chiefs, four mayors and tens of millions of dollars in legal fees. The goal of it all has been to reinvent the police department—to prevent another Rough Riders case from ever happening again.

[SNIP]

Chanin and Burris had had enough. In October 2012, the two lawyers filed the necessary papers to put the police department into full federal receivership with Judge Henderson. But before he had a chance to rule, Chanin and Burris finally reached a compromise with the powerful police union, allowing stronger oversight powers. In the settlement, the lawyers agreed to limit their disciplinary action to the top brass of the police department, and in exchange, the union—which represented the rank and file—agreed not to oppose them. The city could now hire a compliance director with the power to fire the chief and his deputies.

Change finally arrived at the top of the Oakland police in the unexpected form of a baby-faced young internal affairs officer named Sean Whent. In May 2013, Chief Howard Jordan had taken early retirement, and all but one person on his command staff was demoted. Then, in early 2014, the judge overseeing the consent decree fired Thomas Frazier, the compliance director he had hired the year before, and gave monitor Robert Warshaw full control over the department. That set the stage for the new chief, 39-year-old Whent, who quickly made it clear that compliance with the consent decree was going to be a priority.

[SNIP]

The new leadership helped, but Chanin and Burris also finally started playing hardball. The department had owned lapel cameras for years but never used them much. Now Chanin said that unless cops began using them more, and more effectively, he would talk to Henderson about “creating a scenario where if you didn’t use a camera, the presumption was that you did what the complainant said you did.” In other words, the cops would be guilty until proven innocent.

Lapel camera usage quickly shot up—exactly the kind of critical reform that President Barack Obama would mention months later in the wake of the Ferguson shooting. There were other changes, too. New training procedures, both in the academy and on the job, stress de-escalation of potentially violent interactions. There are more frontline supervisors deployed in the field, and many officers have started attending a procedural justice course in which community members and police can interact. “It took a few years to adjust and get everybody doing the right thing,” Whent told me. “Now it’s more of an organizational philosophy, and we’ve made it one of the highest priorities.”

Chanin and Burris now say they’ve seen confidential data indicating that complaints against the police have fallen at least 40 percent in the past year. What’s more, the department went nearly two years without an officer-involved shooting from May 2013 until early in February this year. There were no shootings at all in 2014, whereas from 2000 to 2012, there was an average of eight such shootings a year. Two shootings occurred this February. In one, early on the morning of February 7, two Oakland officers responded to a call about a psychiatric crisis and encountered a man who tried to strike them with two golf clubs; the officers fired at him—but didn’t end up injuring the suspect. He was successfully restrained, the officers’ body cameras were on and functioning correctly, and police leaders quickly released detailed information to the public. It really did seem like a corner had been turned.

Despite major policing breakthroughs, the OPD is not quite out of the woods, yet, still turning up data that is indicative of persistent racial bias with regard to who cops stop and who they arrest:

The intersection of race and policing remains tense—even in a city focused closely on reform. On the long list of compliance tasks, only one now remains, and it concerns racial bias: “test 34,” which refers to the “stop data” that police gather after traffic stops, arrests and detentions. Late last year, a study revealed that African-Americans, who make up roughly 28 percent of Oakland’s population, account for about 62 percent of police stops. But the “yield” from those stops—the amount of contraband—was no higher for African-Americans than any other group. “It means a large number of African-Americans are being stopped and searched without any recovery,” Burris says. “We’re trying to get to the roots of that because the mandate is to reduce racial profiling.”


A PEDIATRICIAN AND A PRENATAL CARE PROGRAM TAKING THEIR PATIENTS’ ACES INTO CONSIDERATION TO PROVIDE TRAUMA-INFORMED CARE

As part of an NPR health series, Laura Starecheski tells of a pediatrician and a community clinic in Philadelphia that are successfully incorporating trauma-informed healthcare into their practices. (We pointed to Starecheski’s previous, related story as well as an ACEs test you can take, here.)

At Cobbs Creek Clinic in West Philly, Dr. Roy Wade measures his young patients’ Adverse Childhood Experiences to see the broader picture, trauma and toxic stress, at home and elsewhere, adversely affecting kids health and well-being.

And the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center in North Philly has expecting parents answer an ACE questionnaire to better help parents end the trauma cycle.

Here are some clips:

Wade is working on his own screening tool, a short list of questions that would give every young patient at the clinic an “adversity score.” The list will include indicators of abuse and neglect (which pediatricians already are on the lookout for) and also check for signs of poverty, racial discrimination or bullying.

Wade wants to take action because research suggests that the stress of a tough childhood can raise the risk for later disease, mental illness and addiction. The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a call in 2011 to doctors to address what the Academy characterizes as “toxic stress” among young patients.

Of course, not every kid with a rough childhood will suffer long-term effects. But asking every patient (or their parents) about adversity in their lives, Wade says, could help identify the kids who are at higher risk.

If a patient has a high adversity score, Wade says, he’s likely to track the child’s development more closely. “That’ll be the kid where I’ll say, ‘Come back to me in three months, or two months,’ ” he says. ” ‘Let’s see how you’re doing. Let’s check in.’ ”

Take 11-year-old Tavestsiar Fullard. When I met Tavestsiar at the Cobbs Creek Clinic last summer, he smiled with shy excitement about starting middle school, and told stories about his new puppy, Midnight. But just a few years ago, he was a very different kid.

“He wouldn’t talk,” says Tavestsiar’s dad, Silvester Fullard. “He didn’t want to be around other kids. If you’d just say something, he’d go into a little shell.”…

[SNIP]

It’s easy from that launching pad to start talking with the adults about their own smoking, or drinking, Wade says. “Instead of looking at the parent, you say, ‘Well, these are the impacts that [your smoking or drinking] could have on your kid.’ It helps you address an array of different problems within a family.”

So how early can you start? At Tavestsiar’s age? Or even earlier — age 5 or 6?

Across town, at a community clinic in North Philly — the Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services Center — the staff is determined to start even earlier than that…


SAN DIEGO #1 IN TEN BIGGEST CITIES FOR FEWEST MURDERS PER CAPITA

In 2014, San Diego had the lowest homicide rate—2.4 murders per 100,000 residents—out of the ten biggest cities in the United States. This is the fourth year San Diego has claimed the title.

(Los Angeles is number four with 6.7 homicides per 100,000, trailing after San Jose and New York with 3.2 and 4.0 respectively.)

The San Diego Police Department’s community policing efforts have been named as having the largest effect on the low murder rate, in addition to better medical care, advanced policing methods, and less gang violence.

U-T San Diego’s Lyndsay Winkley and Michelle Gilchrist have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

The department investigated 32 homicides, down from 39, giving San Diego, the eighth largest city in the nation, a murder rate of 2.4 killings per 100,000 residents, according to data compiled by U-T San Diego.

By comparison, Phoenix, which has a slightly larger population than San Diego, had a murder rate of 7.7 per 100,000, while San Antonio, another city of similar size, had a rate of 7.3. Philadelphia had the highest rate of the nation’s ten top cities, with 16 killings for every 100,000 residents.

Those closest to the department’s homicide investigations credit a continued drop in gang violence for fewer slayings, but no factor gets more credit than community policing.

San Diego police homicide Lt. Paul Rorrison said it is contributor No. 1 to the city’s low count.

“It’s directly related to the fact that homicides are down so low,” he said. “… It’s been huge.”

Community policing hinges on departments forging close relationships with the communities they serve. It took hold in San Diego in the early ’90s, around the time homicides across the nation started to decline…

Posted in ACEs, LAPD, law enforcement, mental health, Trauma | 2 Comments »

Homeboy’s New Digs, Appealing Compassionate Release Denials, Today’s Faces of Civil Rights…and More

March 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOMEBOY SPREADS INTO NEW BUILDING TO RAMP UP SERVICES FOR FORMER GANG MEMBERS

Homeboy Industries—the gang recovery program founded by Father Greg Boyle that, for over 25 years, has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—has bought a much-needed new building that will add 6,000 square feet of space in which to provide employment, job training, and other crucial services.

Homeboy’s financial situation is on the upswing after a drastic downsizing in 2010, but the program still only receives 2% of their budget from government money.

The LA Times’ Brittny Mejia has the story. Here are some clips:

The desperately needed new space will provide welcome relief and allow Homeboy to provide better services to existing clients, said Thomas Vozzo, Homeboy’s chief executive. In addition to job training and counseling, Homeboy provides mental health services as well as job placement, tattoo removal and educational services.

“With that steady financial footing we’ve been on over the last couple of years, it’s time to take on a little bit of an expansion,” Vozzo said.

For all the praise Homeboy Industries has received for its work, it has struggled to raise revenue. The recession saw private donations drop, and the number of jobs available for graduates of Homeboy’s various programs declined.

Boyle conceded that he had to think more like a businessman.

Homeboy’s board of directors has raised $10 million in each of the last two years through individual donors and foundations and has even managed to build up a reserve. Homeboy also has received a $600,000 line of credit and a $700,000 loan for the new building acquisition through Wells Fargo.

But the expansion doesn’t reduce the need for funds — the program receives less than 2% in government funding, Vozzo said. More space, for example, doesn’t necessarily translate into being able to serve more trainees.

“By getting that one building there, it’s not going to allow us to have more people in our program, it’s just going to allow us to do a better job of providing them services in a better environment,” Vozzo said.

Homeboy Industries is planning a grand opening for the new building in April, with the full facility occupied in May. The goal is to eventually take over a whole city block in Chinatown, where the organization can construct a larger building and provide more services to more people, Vozzo added.

For now, employees and volunteers are forced to get creative with space…


CALIFORNIA HIGH COURT SEZ INMATES CAN APPEAL WHEN THEY ARE DENIED COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

Late last week, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled that state prisoners with terminal illnesses could appeal a judge’s decision to deny them compassionate release. The decision overturned a lower court decision that only the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation could appeal a denial of the state parole board’s recommendation of a prisoner for medical parole.

The Associated Press has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

A few dozen inmates were recommended for a release annually between 1991 and 2009, according to statistics filed with the court by the prisoner advocacy group Justice Now. In an effort to ease prison overcrowding and cut costs, state lawmakers have made more incapacitated and ill inmates eligible for early release.

The ruling was made in the case of James Alden Loper, a San Diego man sentenced to six years in prison for insurance fraud in 2011. The next year, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation recommended he be released because of health reasons, including incurable heart disease.

But a San Diego judge refused to let the agency release Loper after a prison doctor testified that it was unclear how long Loper had left to live…


FIFTY YEARS LATER, THE CIVIL RIGHTS ADVOCATES FIGHTING FOR EQUALITY STILL MISSING IN THE UNITED STATES

Here are three things out of the coverage of the 50th anniversary of the “Bloody Sunday” march for voting rights that we didn’t want you to miss…

The LA Times’ Matt Pearce and Kurtis Lee have a group of profiles on this era’s newly emerging civil rights leaders. The list includes Michelle Alexander, the author of the New Jim Crow, Susan Burton, founder of A New Way of Life, Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now (and #BlackLivesMatter), Bryan Stevenson, MacAurthur “Genius” and founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Fania Davis, founder of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, as well as heavy hitters in immigration reform and LGBTQ rights.

Here are clips from two of the profiles, but do go read the rest:

Patrisse Cullors
CO-FOUNDER OF #BLACKLIVESMATTER
AGE: 31
LOS ANGELES

A self-described “freedom fighter” and “wife of Harriet Tubman,” Cullors founded the group Dignity and Power Now in 2012 to battle for law enforcement reform in Los Angeles County. Cullors came up with the #BlackLivesMatter hashtag after George Zimmerman was found not guilty in 2013 of criminal charges for fatally shooting Trayvon Martin. The #BlackLivesMatter social media campaign she helped foster caught on in Ferguson, Mo., after the death of Michael Brown in 2014 at the hands of a police officer.

“This post-racial Obama era has sort of bamboozled a lot of us into thinking that we’ve come much further than we actually have,” Cullors told California Sunday recently, explaining the significance of the #BlackLivesMatter message. “Obviously we haven’t had enough both talk and practice around what it means to save black lives, because we keep dying. We need to stop being fearful of talking about ourselves.”

Bryan Stevenson
FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, EQUAL JUSTICE INITIATIVE
AGE: 55
MONTGOMERY, ALA.

Stevenson belongs to a wave of civil rights advocates who focus on prison reform. A MacArthur “genius” grant winner and a Harvard Law School and Harvard Kennedy School of Government graduate, Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative represent death-row prisoners in the Deep South and advocate on behalf of young or poor prisoners. His 2012 TED talk in Long Beach, titled, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” has been watched more than 2 million times.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent,” Stevenson said in the talk. “Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes. And yet, we seem to be very comfortable. The politics of fear and anger have made us believe that these are problems that are not our problems. We’ve been disconnected.”


WHY BLACK AMERICANS ARE AFRAID OF THE POLICE

Nikole Hannah-Jones has a thought-provoking essay in the March/April issue of Politico Magazine illustrating the rift between black Americans and white Americans on the subject of the cops who are supposed to “protect and serve,” but often instead stop-and-frisk, harass and detain, and even kill black Americans at highly disproportionate rates.

Here’s how it opens:

Last July 4, my family and I went to Long Island to celebrate the holiday with a friend and her family. After eating some barbecue, a group of us decided to take a walk along the ocean. The mood on the beach that day was festive. Music from a nearby party pulsed through the haze of sizzling meat. Lovers strolled hand in hand. Giggling children chased each other along the boardwalk.

Most of the foot traffic was heading in one direction, but then two teenage girls came toward us, moving stiffly against the flow, both of them looking nervously to their right. “He’s got a gun,” one of them said in a low voice.

I turned my gaze to follow theirs, and was clasping my 4-year-old daughter’s hand when a young man extended his arm and fired off multiple shots along the busy street running parallel to the boardwalk. Snatching my daughter up into my arms, I joined the throng of screaming revelers running away from the gunfire and toward the water.

The shots stopped as quickly as they had started. The man disappeared between some buildings. Chest heaving, hands shaking, I tried to calm my crying daughter, while my husband, friends and I all looked at one another in breathless disbelief. I turned to check on Hunter, a high school intern from Oregon who was staying with my family for a few weeks, but she was on the phone.

“Someone was just shooting on the beach,” she said, between gulps of air, to the person on the line.

Unable to imagine whom she would be calling at that moment, I asked her, somewhat indignantly, if she couldn’t have waited until we got to safety before calling her mom.

“No,” she said. “I am talking to the police.”

My friends and I locked eyes in stunned silence. Between the four adults, we hold six degrees. Three of us are journalists. And not one of us had thought to call the police. We had not even considered it.

We also are all black. And without realizing it, in that moment, each of us had made a set of calculations, an instantaneous weighing of the pros and cons.

As far as we could tell, no one had been hurt. The shooter was long gone, and we had seen the back of him for only a second or two. On the other hand, calling the police posed considerable risks. It carried the very real possibility of inviting disrespect, even physical harm. We had seen witnesses treated like suspects, and knew how quickly black people calling the police for help could wind up cuffed in the back of a squad car. Some of us knew of black professionals who’d had guns drawn on them for no reason.


CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS TWEETS HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCES AND PHOTOS OF BLOODY SUNDAY

By the way, Congressman John Lewis live-tweeted Bloody Sunday anniversary with his own memories and photos from the march. We highly recommend reading through them.

Posted in California Supreme Court, CDCR, Civil Rights, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, racial justice | No Comments »

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 »

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