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The Oakland PD Sex Scandal Gets Even Weirder…and LA Foster Kids Housed Too Long at Temp Shelters

June 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, amid a major Oakland Police Department scandal involving 14 OPD officers and the alleged sexual exploitation of a minor, Mayor Libby Schaaf removed interim Chief Ben Fairow from office—just six days after the former chief resigned.

Mayor Schaaf said she received new information earlier in the week that convinced her to oust Fairow. Because of law enforcement personnel privacy laws, Mayor Schaaf did not reveal precisely why she removed Fairow. “I own the mistake I made,” Schaaf said. “The important thing is I’m trying to fix it and fix it quickly.”

If you’ve missed the Oakland sex scandal story elsewhere, here are the basics:

Last week, a teen who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with more than a dozen OPD officers, three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014.

Guap only named one officer, Brendan O’Brien, who committed suicide last year. The young woman, whose mother works for the OPD as a dispatcher—says the officers kept her safe while she worked the streets, and kept her informed about undercover stings. In exchange, Guap says, she had sex with them.

Following O’Brien’s suicide, the OPD (quietly) launched investigations into sexual misconduct within the department. Two officers have resigned, and three more are on paid leave. The scandal isn’t contained within the OPD either: Guap says she had sex with officers from other departments, including San Francisco, Richmond, and Alameda.

Guap says many of the cops knew she was underage, and evencalled her “juve.”

DA inspector Rick Orozco was also placed on administrative leave, after Guap said she had an online friendship with the inspector (then a OPD captain) while she was still a minor. Guap says that at one point Orozco told her, “I would love your taco!”

Guap also says she talked with former OPD Chief Sean Whent’s wife, Julia, via Facebook last year, and that the woman knew she was “dating an officer.” Whent resigned last week.

Brendan O’Brien fatally shot himself on September 25, 2015. A year earlier, on June 16, 2014, O’Brien’s wife, Irma Huerta Lopez, died in the same apartment. According to the coroner’s report obtained by the East Bay Express, Huerta Lopez’s death was ruled a suicide, but both Huerta Lopez’s and O’Brien’s coroner’s reports call Lopez’s death suspicious. Lopez’s family believes O’Brien killed his wife, and that the OPD did not thoroughly investigate the death. In his suicide note, O’Brien reportedly wrote that he had been battling PTSD from his time as a marine, and due to the scrutiny from the OPD and Huerta Lopez’s family after her death. O’Brien’s note said he had been drinking a lot off duty and on duty.

Before the scandal broke, the OPD seemed to be getting closer to ending 13 years of federal oversight (which came about because of misconduct within the department).

On March 23, US District Judge Thelton Henderson pulled the plug on the OPD’s problematic internal investigation. Detectives violated procedures while investigating the sexual misconduct case, according to Henderson. The judge ordered Robert Warshaw, the court-appointed independent monitor to conduct the investigation, moving forward.

The new acting OPD chief Paul Figueroa is sort of an interim-interim, installed Wednesday for the very short term, until Schaaf can find an interim chief to serve while she searches for a permanent chief from outside the department.

The East Bay Express’s Darwin Bond Graham and Ali Winston have the full story, which at 5 pages is quite the longread, but well worth your time. Here’s how it opens:

Celeste Guap was only seventeen in February of last year when a pimp chased her down International Boulevard. She spotted an Oakland police car and approached for help. That’s when she met officer Brendan O’Brien.

“He saved me,” Guap said of the lanky ex-Marine, who joined the Oakland Police Department in 2013 after graduating from the 166th police academy.

Rather than detaining Guap as a victim of human trafficking and turning her over to guardians, she said O’Brien released her. “We flirted a little,” she recalled, adding that she told O’Brien her mother was a dispatcher in the department.

Two weeks later, Guap saw O’Brien on patrol again in East Oakland. He and his partner were making an arrest near a taco truck. She struck up a conversation and they exchanged numbers. Shortly afterward, O’Brien and the girl began “dating” — a word Guap used to describe their relationship.

Guap said she had sex with the Oakland police officer numerous times while she was a minor.

The OPD and other East Bay law-enforcement agencies have positioned themselves as national leaders in the fight against human trafficking and the sexual abuse of children. But O’Brien and other East Bay cops betrayed this reputation with their exploitation of Guap. Officers trafficked her among their ranks and used the minor for sex for half a year.

The scandal is unprecedented: According to multiple sources close to the department and the city of Oakland, and documents obtained by the Express, at least fourteen Oakland police officers, three Richmond police, four Alameda County sheriff’s deputies, and a federal officer took advantage of the teenager. (The Express is not publishing her real name because she was a minor when her abuse began.)

Three Oakland police officers committed statutory rape of Guap when she was under-age. By the state’s legal definition, they engaged in human trafficking. The victim says every law-enforcement agent who had sex with her knew she was a sex worker.


As part of a settlement in a lawsuit challenging “overstays” of foster children at two problematic Welcome Centers meant only to hold kids for one day after they are removed from their families, the LA County Department of Children and Family Services moved kids to four private temporary group homes with 72-hour stay limits.

The Youth Welcome Center and the Children’s Welcome Center—where kids were meant to stay for less than 24 hours, but instead became a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids—were closed back in February. Unfortunately, because of a severe lack of available foster families, kids are staying too long at the new emergency shelters. And at one point, when the shelters were full, children were moved back into the closed Welcome Centers.

Before it was shut down, the Youth Welcome Center, in particular, had become mired in controversy, with kids getting into brawls, staff complaining about not enough bathrooms for children’s needs and privacy, as well as rumors about younger residents being recruited for sex trafficking by older residents at the center.

At the state level, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems, by eliminating traditional group homes, and focusing on long-term placements with foster families. The changes are slated to go into effect by January 2017. But what will happen to LA County’s high-needs foster children when the long-term group homes vanish? In a story for WitnessLA, USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism students Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid explored the issue in a story for WitnessLA.

Come 2017, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs. A certain number of those (STRTCs) will be geared toward helping kids involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Elizabeth Green has more on the complicated issue. Here’s a clip:

In 2014, roughly 7 percent of youth overstayed at the Youth Welcome Center, and 16 percent overstayed at the Children’s Welcome Center. At the new transitional shelters, there were 646 entries in March and April, and about 18 percent of those, or 118, were there for more than 72 hours, Montiel said.

Montiel stressed that comparing overstay rates between the two systems is comparing apples and oranges because now the definition of an overstay has changed. In addition to the new 72-hour limit, children are now staying at the facilities during the day while their social workers look for an appropriate foster home. Before, a youth may have left the Welcome Center for the day and the clock would have restarted upon their return.

But Montiel said the hardest-to-place children are still the ones most likely to stay past the new 72-hour limit.

“It remains difficult to find sufficient homes for those babies and infants, for those sibling groups, and for those teenagers that have challenges remaining in a stable home,” Montiel said. “And those difficulties are not going to change overnight.”

Even with the longer window of time, the overstay rate reinforces the need for more foster homes in which to place these children. Dr. Astrid Heger, a clinical pediatrician who helped create the two welcome centers, is familiar with the challenges of working with hard-to-place children. Her clinic continues to provide medical screenings to children during off-hours before they are taken to a placement.

“Overstays aren’t a result of 24 hours or 72 hours, they’re a result of not having enough places to put kids downstream,” Heger said.

Posted in law enforcement | 5 Comments »

Why Wasn’t SB 1286, the Police Transparency Bill, Allowed to Go Through the Legislative Process?

June 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Late last week, SB 1286, a bill that would have allowed greater public access
to certain peace officer disciplinary records, was deep-sixed via a technical move in the state senate’s appropriations committee without any kind of discussion, or an up-or-down vote.

This is a pity. Whether one favored or opposed this particular bill, the topic of law enforcement transparency is an important issue in which there is strong interest, and both sides of the argument would have benefited if SB 1286 had gone more fully through the legislative process, complete with testimony, lively discussion, the possibility of amendments—and a public vote.

But that’s not what occurred.

If you’re not familiar with SB 1286, the broad strokes are as follows:

If it had passed in its present form, Californians would have full access to records of investigations and discipline in police shootings and other serious uses of force by police, and also in cases where law enforcement agencies have formally determined that their officers have violated the rights of members of the public.

In addition, Californians who file complaints alleging misconduct would be informed as to how the department responded. If the complaint was rejected, they would be told why. If it is sustained, they would be told what corrective action is to be taken.

On top of that, civilian oversight bodies and local governments would have access to the law enforcement records they need to carry out their duties. At the same time, those bodies would be required to keep confidential records to which they have access.

To protect the safety and privacy of officers, courts would be empowered to withhold records if there is a risk or danger to an officer or to someone else, or if disclosure would be an unwarranted invasion of officers’ privacy.


In 27 states police discipline records are either entirely public or are public, but with some restrictions.

In the rest of the 23 states—California included—law enforcement’s disciplinary records are mostly, or entirely confidential.

With some of those states that favor confidentiality, like California and New York, the laws preventing public access to records are particularly stringent, and even when an officer has been subject to severe discipline for misconduct, like a lengthy suspension, or termination, the public has no right to know.

In our state, the only exception to that rule is a legal request known as a Pitchess motion, which may be used to attempt to obtain a small portion of a police officer’s confidential personnel records if a judge deems the damage of not forking over those records for evidentiary use in a civil or criminal proceeding, to be greater than any possible consequences that disclosure might bring about.

(WNYC Public Radio investigated the laws in each state and, using their handy info graphics, you too can check out which states restrict or allow what.)

In contrast, Texas generally allows police disciplinary records to be made public. Yet, in certain areas of the state, local codes provide tighter rules. Even in those regions, however, the public may access files pertaining to disciplinary actions where the officer received at least a suspension or loss of pay (providing the discipline was in writing).

In still other states, like Washington, Utah, Arizona, North Dakota, Florida and Alabama, police disciplinary records are available to the public virtually across the board, unless an active disciplinary investigation is underway, or if the information will compromise an officer’s personal privacy or safety.


When in February of this year, California state senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), together with a bi-partisan list of co-authors, introduced SB 1286, it was not clear whether on not the controversial bill had a chance of passing, but many advocates felt it did indeed have a shot and, failing that, the believed that some version of the proposed legislation will likely pass in the next year or two. After all, in addition to law enforcement reform advocates it had gathered the vocal support of San Francisco District Attorney, George Gascon, and San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi.

The bill was strongly opposed by police unions and other law enforcement organizations, along with the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, led by Executive Secretary-Treasurer, Rusty Hicks, who sent a letter to Senator Leno announcing the group’s opposition to the bill, which he said would strip peace officers of privacy in their personnel records.

“The thing that we heard is that it was about officer safety, and officer privacy,” said Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of California. (The ACLU was another of the bill’s sponsors.) “But the bill specifically protected officer safety and officer privacy.”

And, Bibring said, “opponents have never pointed to a single instance where officers were harmed or where there was a threat of harm because of records being released.

“So it’s not really really about safety. It’s a worry about public scrutiny,” he said. “But the thing is, People mistrust decisions that are made behind closed doors Courts are open. The legislative process is open.” But we can know nothing, he said, about “when a police officer takes a civilian’s life.

“And without the facts, people react to the withholding of information. They don’t like it.”

Bibring also stressed that, “it’s only serious uses of force and actual findings of misconduct,” that would be disclosed under the proposed legislation. “So the bill, even if it had passed, would have left police with significant more confidentially that any other public employee.” Yet, he said, a change in the law would go a long way in improving public trust of their police.

George Hofstetter, the head of ALADS, the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s deputies’ union, disagreed.

“If allowing the wholesale invasion of police personnel files would lead to increased trust or accountability in law enforcement,” he wrote, “surely the proponents could cite an example. They note that twenty three states allow the type of access they seek to impose in California—yet there isn’t a single study which shows the level of trust in peace officers or accountability of law enforcement is any greater than in California.”

All points that could have come into hearing testimony for the bill. But instead, senate appropriations committee chair, Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles), simply unilaterally spiked SB 1286 by failing to call it to a vote.

In doing so he did the rest of us a disservice.

Posted in law enforcement | 7 Comments »

The Blue Curtain….How Prosecutors Accused of Misconduct Become Judges…LA City Attorney on Prop. 47…and More

April 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Gene Maddaus writes about the culture of secrecy surrounding police records, what information the public has the right to know, and the negative impact lack of law enforcement transparency has on community trust.

Maddaus talks with Mark Arner, a San Diego Union-Tribune journalist reporting on local law enforcement officers’ “dirty laundry,” who came up against opposition from police attorneys, as well as WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, the LA Police Protective League’s Kristi Eckard, and former LA Times reporter, Robert Faturechi, among others.

A bill by CA Senator Mark Leno would increase public access to officers’ personnel files in instances of serious uses of force and alleged misconduct, but has come up against serious opposition from police unions.

Here’s a clip from Maddaus’ story:

In the year and a half since Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, a national movement has spread to demand greater police accountability. A spate of incidents — most of them shootings, many captured on video — has drawn attention to police abuses across the country.

Los Angeles is used to thinking of itself as a model of police reform. But L.A. hasn’t exactly dodged controversial police shootings. Black Lives Matter activists have called for the resignation of Chief Charlie Beck over the shooting of Ezell Ford, an unarmed and mentally ill man who was killed in South L.A.

Still, L.A. has not had a recent incident of police misconduct that captured national headlines. That may be a sign that the LAPD has reformed itself. Or it could be that it is very difficult to get police records in California.

Last May, LAPD officer Clifford Proctor shot and killed Brendon Glenn, a homeless man who was panhandling outside a bar in Venice. Glenn was shot in the back. A surveillance camera captured the shooting, and it was disturbing enough for Beck to recommend that charges be filed against the officer. But the department has refused to release the video, which has kept the Glenn shooting a local story.

In the Ford case, Beck found that the two officers acted according to department policy. The Police Commission overruled him, but the consequence of that decision is unknown. The department may have disciplined them — or not.

“We don’t know what actually happened,” says Melina Abdullah, one of the leaders of the L.A. chapter of Black Lives Matter. “That has been a huge issue for us.”

“This obsession with secrecy does not make for a healthy relationship between law enforcement and the communities they police,” says Celeste Fremon, editor of the Witness L.A. blog and a former L.A. Weekly contributor, who is writing a book about brutality in the Sheriff’s Department. “If we saw the department’s rationale, then maybe we’d agree with it and maybe we wouldn’t, but we’d at least know what they were thinking. But the attitude is, ‘That’s for us to know and you to find out. Trust us.’ It infantilizes the public.”

On issues such as climate change and the minimum wage, California is on the cutting edge of progressive politics. But the state ranks near the bottom when it comes to providing access to police records. Conservative, law-and-order states like Florida and Texas allow almost unfettered access to records relating to police discipline, while liberal states like California and New York, where law enforcement unions are most powerful, have made them off-limits.

“All of this has been done to protect the job security and reputation of rank-and-file police officers,” says Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition.

(Further reading: we at WLA have written about this issue before—here and here.)


Two prosecutors tied to a string of jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals plaguing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office—Michael Murray and Larry Yellin—are currently running for Superior Court judgeships. And if elected, they wouldn’t be the first prosecutors accused of misdeeds to win a seat on the bench.

As part of a recent investigation, the New England Center for Investigative Reporting uncovered 120 wrongful convictions due to prosecutorial misconduct in Massachusetts over the last 30 years. And seven prosecutors with histories of misconduct moved on to higher positions, including judgeships.

One scholar studying prosecutorial misconduct at Yale, Laura Fernandez, called the idea of misbehaving prosecutors becoming judges “deeply disturbing.”

The Marshall Project’s Beth Schwartzapfel has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“The idea that an individual responsible for such serious misconduct could effectively stroll into the office of judge is deeply disturbing,” says Laura Fernandez, a Yale research scholar who studies prosecutorial misconduct. No one has yet faced charges related to the scandal, but one deputy district attorney resigned and four sheriff’s deputies refused to testify in a related hearing, citing their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. “More troubling still, this appears to be the tip of the iceberg,” John Van de Kamp, a former state attorney general, and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Irvine, wrote last year in a letter to the Justice Department, requesting A FEDERAL INQUIRY1. “Compelling evidence of pervasive police and prosecutorial misconduct in Orange County…has caused us grave concern.”

The judicial election is June 7.

At the heart of the scandal is a database the Orange County Sheriff’s office uses to track the placement of informers in the jail. Use of jailhouse informers is constitutional, as long as the informer happens to hear the defendant talk, unprompted. But the Supreme Court said informers can’t elicit information from someone who already has a lawyer — that would too closely resemble an interrogation. What’s more, any deals brokered with informants, and any information that might undermine the informants’ credibility — say, that they were informants in other cases, or that they have lied on the stand in the past — must be turned over to the defense.

The database first came to light when Orange County Public defender Scott Sanders combed through thousands of pages of records and pieced it together. Sanders was representing confessed mass murderer Scott Dekraai, whom DAs targeted with the scheme. Documents and subsequent hearings revealed that it wasn’t just Dekraai—the DA’s office had been violating these constitutional prohibitions for years. In a searing ruling issued last March, Orange County Superior Court judge Thomas Goethals removed the entire county DA’s office — all 250 attorneys — from Dekraai’s case, the highest-profile murder case the county has ever seen, ruling that the DA had proved himself incapable of achieving “compliance with his constitutional…obligations in this case.”


Now, armed with new revelations from the database and its fallout, defense lawyers have begun to unravel other cases in which jailhouse informers may have been used illegally against their clients. A handful of these cases raise questions about Murray and Yellin.

Read on.


Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum, LA City Attorney Mike Feuer said that voter-approved Pop. 47 has not fulfilled all of its promises.

Prop. 47, which went into effect in November of 2014, reduced six non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars. That money was supposed to get pumped into community-based rehabilitation and other services targeting recidivism.

But a report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Governor Jerry Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million. And Prop. 47 has taken much of the punch out of alternative courts’ rehabilitation strategies, says Feuer.

LA Downtown News’ Eddie Kim has the story. Here’s a clip:

“Almost no one has gotten anything close to meaningful drug rehabilitation, and we’ve prosecuted thousands of these cases,” Feuer said Monday at a luncheon at the Downtown Palm hosted by the Los Angeles Current Affairs Forum. “The system is broken at every level.”

Feuer told the audience of approximately 70 people that he understood why such reform was necessary. As a state assemblyman during the recession, he observed then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger siphoning rehabilitation funds away from state prisons. Feuer became City Attorney in 2013.

Feuer said arrests for the felonies-turned-misdemeanors have plummeted “by more than 50%.” Those who are arrested show up for court less frequently, and people who are convicted typically receive a sentence that is shorter than the minimum length for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to hold someone in a local jail, he added.

“So how do you incentivize someone to go through rehab when the consequence of a conviction is no jail time?” he asked. “Which then feeds into the lack of interest of police and sheriffs in arresting in the first place.”

Despite the shortfalls, Feuer said Prop. 47 has yielded some positives. He pointed to unprecedented collaboration and discussion with judges, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Charlie Beck, county supervisors and others.


Here are some not-to-be-missed 2016 Pulitzer prize-winners on the 100th annual awarding of the prize:

- ProPublica’s T. Christian Miller and The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong for “An Unbelievable Story of Rape.”

(For more on this incredible story, we recommend listening to “Anatomy of Doubt,” the accompanying episode of This American Life.)

- Sun Newspaper’s John Hackworth for powerful editorials following Florida corrections officers’ deadly assault on an inmate.

- The Los Angeles Times’ staff members for their reporting on breaking news after the San Bernardino terrorist attacks.

- The Washington Post staff for its eye-opening database detailing when and why law enforcement officers use deadly force.

KPCC has won a different award—an Edward R. Murrow award in the Investigative Reporting category—for it’s “Officer Involved” series on LA County law enforcement shootings.

Posted in law enforcement | 6 Comments »

AG Kamala Harris’ Law Enforcement Transparency Bill…LA County’s New Education Leader…and a Botched Raid

March 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, California Attorney General Kamala Harris and state Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) announced a bill that would modernize and speed up the way law enforcement data—like officer-involved shooting statistics—is reported and shared with the public in the name of law enforcement transparency.

“Data and technology have the power to dramatically increase transparency and accountability in our criminal justice system,” Attorney General Harris said. “This legislation will bring criminal justice data reporting into the 21st Century.”

Last September, AG Harris launched the OpenJustice website to bring transparency to the state’s criminal justice system by publishing crime and policing statistics. The website shows city, county, and state crime and arrest rates, deaths during arrest, deaths in custody, and the number of law enforcement officers killed or assaulted. Users can view data on interactive maps and graphs, and sort data groups by race, gender, and age.

Harris and Irwin’s bill, the OpenJustice Data Act, would require law enforcement agencies to start reporting data to the California DOJ electronically, rather than on paper, making frequent updates to the published data possible.

“Right now we are sitting on mountains of valuable criminal justice data that local law enforcement work hard to provide in the public interest,” Assemblymember Irwin said. We need to make sure that this information is available to the public and that we are using it effectively.”


The LA County Board of Supervisors has selected Dr. Debra Duardo, a former high school dropout, to lead the LA County Office of Education.

Besides overseeing the finances of LA’s school districts, the Office of Education provides schooling to the county’s locked-up kids, as well as disabled students.

Duardo knows first-hand the barriers to education that rise up, particularly for poor and minority kids. Duardo dropped out after her first week of ninth grade to work full time. Soon after, she eloped and had a baby. The birth of Duardo’s son, who was born with Spina Bifida, lit a fire under her to complete her high school education and work toward a college diploma. As a single, working mother, it took Duardo ten years of classes to finish high school and obtain her Associate’s Degree. (Listen Duardo tell her story in the video above.)

“Dr. Duardo is an expert administrator with years of experience in trauma-informed education systems,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “She will bring her outstanding leadership on dropout prevention strategies, restorative justice and special needs education – and she will put students first.”

Duardo currently holds the position of Los Angeles Unified School District’s executive director of Student Health and Human Services.

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has more on the appointment and LA County’s new head of the Office of Education. Here’s a clip:

“Because of her role at L.A. Unified, Debra is uniquely qualified to run the Los Angeles County Office of Education,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “I’m thrilled.”

The county’s education office also manages the payroll for nearly all of the county’s dozens of smaller school systems. In a watchdog role it also provides an early warning system about districts that face insolvency.

But the county’s own programs, including services to the disabled, also have come under scrutiny. This has contributed to a decline in revenue. In 2011-12, the education office’s special education programs received almost $84 million in state tax revenue. The estimate for 2014-15 was $38 million, according to a recent outside review.

In 2012-13, the county programs employed 772 teachers. Two years later, that number was down to 408.

“There have been some real complaints from school distrcts about the quality of programs we put together,” Kuehl said. “Some districts have already pulled out.”

Kuehl added that there also have been shortcomings in classes for juvenile offenders, but said that a new, successful pilot program showed promise and needed to be expanded. Other county-managed operations, such as a huge Head Start effort for preschoolers, are performing better, she said.


US District Judge Otis Wright denied a petition from LA County to dismiss a civil case brought by a federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement official whose house was mistakenly raided by LA County Sheriff’s Department members.

LASD officers out of the Malibu/Lost Hills Station raided ICE official Raymond Kovacic’s Westlake Village home in 2013. Two deputies on patrol, Jonathan Boden and Christopher Redenbaugh, said they heard a loud crash, and saw someone inside Kovacic’s house who appeared to be holding a flashlight and robbing the place. (Kovacic and his son had friend spending the night.) The deputies called for backup—helicopter included.

Mistaking Kovacic and his 17-year-old son, Jared, for suspects, officers ordered the federal agent, who was in his house slippers, onto his knees with their guns drawn. Jared, who had come outside in his boxer shorts, said an officer pointed a gun at his head from less than a foot away. Not listening to Kovacic’s attempts to identify himself, officers reportedly handcuffed father, son, and several house guests while the home was searched.

After the bizarre raid was over, Kovacic asked for a copy of the incident report. A sergeant allegedly replied, “Oh well, that’s easy. I’ll tell you right now there won’t be one.”

Raymond and Jared Kovacic filed a lawsuit alleging officers violated their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure and unreasonable use of force, among other complaints. Judge Wright has allowed the charges to move forward with the exception of one claim against LA County for inadequate LASD training.

Courthouse News Service’s Jon Chown has the story. Here’s a clip:

The officers went to investigate and when they approached the front of the Kovacic home, they saw a person inside holding a flashlight who looked like he was robbing the place. They called for backup and soon more police arrived and a helicopter was overhead.

All the noise startled Raymond Kovacic, so he put on shorts and slippers, grabbed his wallet and ID and went outside to see what was going on. He turned on his porch lights and opened his door to officers with their weapons drawn, ordering him on his knees. He was handcuffed and taken to a patrol car while we tried to show them his wallet and tell them he owned the house.

Jared, then 17, opened the door, wearing only his underwear and a T-shirt, to see what was going on and he was detained. Jared says one officer was pointing a gun at his head from “not even a foot away,” while half a dozen others had their guns trained on him.

“We got you Fred,” the officers allegedly told Jared while he cuffed him. When Jared told them he was not Fred, one replied, “Well, if you’re not Fred, then where’s your sister?”

Three guests were then handcuffed and then the residents were told a dog would be sent in to get the other guest, who police were told was a heavy sleeper, if he did not come out himself. The officers finally went into the home and conducted a sweep before finally realizing that their mistake.

According to Wright’s ruling, what was said and done during the exchange are in dispute. After being released, a sergeant allegedly told Raymond Kovacic that they were only responding to a security alarm. When Kovacic told him he didn’t have one, the sergeant changed his story and said they’d heard a loud crash.

Deputy Redenbaugh claimed that one of the house guests told him that he had accidentally slammed a sliding glass door and had been using his cellphone to pack his bags to leave without waking the other guests.

Raymond Kovacic said the sergeant told him, “Look, these are two of my best guys. They’re a little zealous, but they’re really good. I’d hate to see anything happen to them.” When Raymond asked for copy of the incident report the sergeant supposedly said, “Oh well, that’s easy. I’ll tell you right now there won’t be one.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on March 23, at 1:30 p.m., at which time we made a correction. Mr. Kovacic and his son live in Westlake Village, although Kovacic works in Ventura County. The new version reflects that correction.

Posted in law enforcement | 8 Comments »

LASD Deputy Union Says Jail Supervisors Misunderstand Force Policy….2 LA Sheriff’s Deputies Fight to Save Shot Baby Girl….NYPD Officer Sues to Reform His Department

February 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to a newly released statement by the board of directors of ALADS, the union that represents Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, many “frontline supervisors” in the county’s jail system do not adequately understand the department’s use of force policy, so are requiring use of force reports in cases where neither common sense nor LASD policy necessitates them. These purportedly unnecessary reports, wrote the board, serve only to falsely inflate force statistics and to make deputies jumpy about performing their duties lest they be viewed as “heavy handed.”

It is widely agreed that LA County’s chronically-troubled jails have measurably improved since the Southern California ACLU brought its massive class action lawsuit in January 2012 alleging widespread brutality in the jail system, and then in September of that same year, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing report, documenting a “troubling culture in Custody, which has produced both on duty and off duty aggressive misconduct.”

However, when organizations as large as the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department attempt fundamental reform, it is not uncommon for even the best intended efforts to be less than perfectly calibrated, thus sometimes causing new problems to be created while trying to correct old problems.

Admittedly, WitnessLA has not deeply investigated this issue, but we have heard plenty of credible anecdotal accounts from our sources that generally support what the ALADS board outlines with its statement.

Here’s a clip:

As the Department undergoes federal oversight of the jail system, a pattern has emerged of frontline supervisors in the jail incorrectly requiring “use of force” reports in cases where both common sense and Sheriff’s Department rules do not require such a report. The concept of a use of force should not be confusing. However, with an 111-page policy and supervisors who do not fully understand the force policies, this can typically lead to confusion and misinterpretation. Whatever the motivation of these supervisors, be it a failure to understand the department’s policies on use of force or a reflexive “CYA” reaction to the jail oversight, it must be addressed by Department leadership.

The problem persists that Sergeants do not fully understand the use force policy, and thus the Department is forced to either under report or over report incidents of force. The perception of the public then becomes one in which there is officer brutality occurring in the jail, when in reality deputies are just doing their job in a very dangerous environment. What makes this worse is when supervisors misinterpret department policies.

For example, is it considered a “use of force” when a deputy helps a jail inmate to his feet after the inmate had fallen? Department policy and common sense say “no”-yet recently; a jail supervisor insisted that a force report be written in that instance! If an inmate falls on their own and a deputy witnessed the fall and then comes to the inmate’s aide, a force report should not be required. In short, it appears anything and everything is being considered “force” and resulting in some Department’s management’s insistence a force report be generated.

Use of force policies must either be changed to be clearer, or there must be extra training provided so supervisors can better understand it.

The disturbing trend of requiring deputies to file a use of force report when not required both forces the line deputies into a “no win” situation, where they are in constant fear they will lose their jobs over a “new policy” that does not exist in writing, or being forced to ignore the actual current written policy that does not require such reports.

According to ALADS, LASD higher ups are aware of the problem, and concerned that the issue is artificially driving up use of force numbers..

As a solution, ALADS suggests additional training for custody supervisors and clarification of the language of the department’s written use of force policy so it is more user friendly.


Gang violence has been generally down for the last decade in Los Angeles. Yet there was a spike in homicides last year, and even “down” doesn’t mean nonexistent. Gang shootings still blow far too many holes that can never be mended in LA County lives, families and communities.

When such a shooting does occur, it is, of course, Los Angeles police officers and sheriff’s deputies who usually arrive at the scene of the tragedy first, and hear the anguished screams of the family members affected.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang writes of one such shooting that took place in Compton earlier this month. Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies, one a training officer, one newly transferred from custody to patrol, were first on the scene and—concerned that paramedics might not arrive in time—they frantically raced to the hospital with a baby girl named Autumn who had just celebrated her first birthday, but who had minutes before been shot in the head when a gangster drove up and blasted at the converted garage where she lived. It is believed that the shooter may have been aiming at her father.

Here’s a clip from Chang’s story:

The father cradled his 1-year-old daughter in his arms, screaming: “My baby’s been shot! My baby’s been shot!”

The little girl had a grievous head wound. She was ominously still, not moving or crying.

The sheriff’s deputies didn’t know how far behind the paramedics were. They decided to take her to the hospital themselves.

The father got in the back seat of the patrol car with his baby.

“We’re gonna get you there. We’re gonna get you there,” Deputy Ricardo Eguia repeated during the high-speed ride as the father sobbed.

On a night shift patrolling Compton, just about anything can happen. In six years on the city’s streets as a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy, Eguia has seen blood on the sidewalk and heard the anguished wails of family members all too many times.

But even here, gang violence reaching into a baby’s crib is not routine. The deaths of children stick with Eguia, from the toddler killed by a falling television to the baby girl named Autumn Johnson who lay motionless during the frantic journey to the hospital last Tuesday.

Autumn had recently celebrated her first birthday with cake and Minnie Mouse balloons. She was sleeping in her crib when a man stepped out of a blue Chevrolet Impala and began shooting at the converted garage where she lived. A single bullet struck her in the head.

Her father, 24-year-old Darrell Johnson, was an admitted gang member and may have been the intended target, according to investigators.

Homicide Capt. Steve Katz said Wednesday that the investigation was moving forward but he could release no new information. Authorities are offering a $75,000 reward for information leading to the identification, capture and conviction of the shooter.

“You start contemplating a lot of things because the child had nothing to do with anything,” Eguia said. “They’re sleeping in the crib, and now they’re not. Sometimes you don’t know what to make of it. Is it fair? Is it not fair? You don’t understand why those things happen.”


New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton has repeatedly stated that there are no longer any kind of arrest quotas in the New York Police Department, that he wants a focus on “quality arrests” not quantity. Judging from Bratton’s work in Los Angeles, the commissioner likely means it.

However, over the last two years, a once-idealistic 30-year-old NYPD officer named Edwin Raymond, has recorded his meetings with almost a dozen department supervisors up and down the chain of command in what he says is an attempt to show that the practice of pushing for arrest quotas isn’t dead at all. Only the rhetoric used to press for higher arrest numbers has changed.

In August 2015, Raymond and 11 other NYPD officers filed a class-action suit on behalf of the department’s minority officers, with the non-disappearance of the quota system front and center in their legal complaint.

“In Raymond’s mind, quota-based policing lies at the root of almost everything racially discriminatory about policing in New York,” writes Saki Knafo in an excellent longread about Raymond in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. “Yet the department has repeatedly told the public that quotas don’t exist.”

Here are some clips from Knafo’s story about Officer Raymond, his efforts to be a good cop in the face of pressure to produce higher arrest numbers, and the lawsuit that has resulted:

…The suit accuses the department of violating multiple laws and statutes, including a 2010 state ban against quotas, and the 14th Amendment, which outlaws racial discrimination. It asks for damages and an injunction against the practice. Although plaintiffs in other cases have provided courts with evidence suggesting the department uses quotas, this is the first time anyone has sued the department for violating the 2010 state ban against the practice.

Black and Latino officers have long contributed rare voices of dissent within a department that remains predominantly white at its highest levels. Raymond has cultivated a friendship with Eric Adams, a former police captain and the current Brooklyn borough president, who founded, during his time on the force, 100 Blacks in Law Enforcement Who Care, an organization that advocates for law-enforcement professionals of color. Adams has had a hand in several recent policing reforms. As a state senator, he sponsored the bill that led, in 2010, to the New York ban against quotas for stops, summonses and arrests. Then, in 2013, he joined several current and former minority officers in testifying against the department in the landmark stop-and-frisk case Floyd v. City of New York, which culminated with a federal judge’s ruling that the department had stopped and searched hundreds of thousands of minority New Yorkers in ways that violated their civil rights.

Between 2011 and 2013, the publicity surrounding the case prompted the department to all but abandon the tactic — the number of annual stops fell by more than two-thirds over two years — but, according to Raymond and others, the pressure to arrest people for minor offenses has not let up. ‘‘Every time I read the paper, I thought, Why do they think the problem is stop-and-frisk?’’ Raymond says. ‘‘Although stop-and-frisk is unlawful, and it’s annoying, you’re not going to not get a job because you’ve been stopped and frisked,’’ he says. ‘‘You’re going to get denied a job because you have a record.’’

The lawsuit claims that commanders now use euphemisms to sidestep the quota ban, pressuring officers to ‘‘be more proactive’’ or to ‘‘get more activity’’ instead of explicitly ordering them to bring in, say, one arrest and 10 tickets by the end of the month. ‘‘It’s as if the ban doesn’t exist,’’ Raymond says. Other cops agree. At a Dunkin’ Donuts in Ozone Park, Queens, a black officer who is not involved in the lawsuit (and who, fearing retribution, requested anonymity) spoke at length about the inconsistency between the department’s words and actions, her anger building as she spoke, the tea cooling in her cup, until she concluded, bluntly, ‘‘It’s like they’re talking out of their ass and their mouth at the same time.’’

Raymond began recording his meetings with supervisors when he suddenly started getting low performance reviews for what he believed was his resistance to quotas, when even those same supervisors admitted he was otherwise doing a good job.

‘‘He does these honorable things,’’ said Willie Lucas, one of the other black officers who worked in Raymond’s district. ‘‘The first time I worked with him, we were doing patrol out in the East New York area. There was a mother, she may have been a teenager, and she was in some kind of distress, crying and really upset. Her baby may have been around 3 or 4 months old. I remember him going to talk to her and help her out. He was willing to ride with her to the Bronx, all the way out of his jurisdiction.’’

Raymond didn’t shy away from confrontation when it was necessary. While he was still at the academy, the department awarded him a badge of honor for breaking up a street fight during one of his lunch breaks, grabbing a metal pipe from one of the brawlers and pinning him to the ground. ‘‘When it’s time to get busy, I get busy,’’ he says. He says he typically stopped about three people a day, mostly for little things like holding the doors at a station. But usually he let them go with a warning. He worried about how an arrest could follow a kid through life.

Raymond realized that his supervisors didn’t approve of his approach. Some of them came right out and told him he was dragging down the district’s overall arrest rate, and said they had been taking heat from their own bosses as a result. In the summer of 2010, a commander stuck him with the weekend shift at Coney Island, the sort of unwanted job that cops call a ‘‘punitive post.’’ Other undesirable assignments followed: sitting around with psychotic prisoners in psychiatric emergency rooms, standing at ‘‘fixed posts’’ on specific parts of subway platforms with orders not to move, staring at video feeds of the tunnels from the confines of an airless booth called ‘‘the box.’’ As the pressures intensified over the next few years, Raymond decided he needed to do something to protect himself — even though it could also put him at greater risk. Convinced that his supervisors were punishing him unlawfully, and fearing for his reputation, he started to record his conversations….

It’s a worthwhile story to read in total, so read on.

Posted in law enforcement | 16 Comments »

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

January 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

The Times writes:

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

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

In other words, is McDonnell a true reformer?

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

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

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

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

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

They write:

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

Posted in Jim McDonnell, law enforcement | 18 Comments »

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

December 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doe reported the assault to the sheriff’s office.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

Lance Block: Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

Lance Block: No.

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

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

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

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

Lesley Stahl: And the 20 cops who were nearby?

Lance Block: They lost her.

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

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

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

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

Lesley Stahl: No one’s keeping statistics?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in law enforcement | 1 Comment »

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

November 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Posted in law enforcement | 11 Comments »

DOJ Interventions and Civilian Oversight for Law Enforcement

November 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Here are some clips from Jones’ story:

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

And that’s troublesome, some experts say.

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

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


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

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

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

November 11th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

Stolze wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The shooting was found to be in policy.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Here’s a clip from Loudenback’s story:

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in law enforcement | 1 Comment »

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