Friday, July 31, 2015
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

law enforcement


LA Supes Hold Discussion on LASD Oversight, Richmond’s Anti-Violence Program, Pell Grants for Prisoners, and Calexico’s Police Chief

July 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS HEAR RECOMMENDATIONS AND HOLD DISCUSSION ON CREATING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR LASD

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors held a discussion on the final recommendations from the working group tasked with figuring out how to structure a civilian oversight panel for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The group spent six months working toward this final report, and held 13 public meetings and 9 town halls across the county to gather public input.

Former CEO of Public Counsel and working group member, Hernan Vera, said in looking at other counties’ oversight boards, they noted three broad powers: to look into and address systemic and procedural problems within the department, to investigate individual instances of alleged misconduct and excessive use of force allegations, and building a bridge to the community through transparency, accountability, and dialogue.

The working group voted 4-3 in favor of recommending giving subpoena power to the commission. Vera acknowledged it as the “elephant in the room” jumped right into discussing the issue.

“First, we believe at the end of this process, that this commission wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without that power,” said Vera. “That was made clear to us. So much of the public testimony centered around this issue.”

Vera continued, “The majority who voted for this believed that this commission wouldn’t be able to do its job as effectively without its power. …the commission itself wouldn’t be seen as truly independent without this power because everything would have to be negotiated. And the commission, bottom line, would be dependent on the generosity or good will of the sheriff’s department to get the records that it needs.”

There may have to be changes to state law, however to make subpoena power possible. County Counsel told the board they are still looking into whether it would need to go on next year’s ballot or not.

Supervisor Mike Antonovich expressed concern over officer privacy. “We would have to ensure that anyone who has access to those records is aware of the need to keep them confidential. We’re exploring options to address that issue,” said Antonovich. “We could have confidentiality agreements drafted. And there could be penalties associated with violation of those agreements. Under the law, there’s also the Peace Officer Bill of Rights…if you violate it and breach confidentiality…there could be consequences, even misdemeanor consequences.”

Also on the working group, was LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, who said Sheriff Jim McDonnell was concerned about the idea of subpoena power, and thought it unnecessary.

The sheriff wants the county to hold off on trying to set up subpoena power, and first work on a memorandum of agreement (MOA), which could take as little as a couple of weeks to establish. Then, if that agreement does not live up to the level of access desired by the commission and board, subpoena power could go on the 2016 ballot.

In answer to this, Supe Mark Ridley-Thomas said that the issue must be looked at structurally and systematically, and that, respectfully, his “days of of deferring to a sheriff, elected or not…are over.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman, who is also part of the working group, says he has been trying to get an MOA in place for the Office of Inspector General for the last year and a half, and because the working group did not yet have an MOA from the Sheriff for the commission, the group had to consider subpoena power. “In order to accomplish the goals of this board, I think what’s important is complete access,” said Huntsman. “At the time we took that vote, there was no MOA on the table. We still do not have an MOA in place. I’ve been here for a year and a half, and haven’t been able to get an MOA. …In the working group, we had no option but to pursue something else that would allow us to implement that goal.”

Huntsman continued, “Subpoena power by itself does not get us access to the kind of detailed internal information that I think is absolutely critical in order to accomplish the goals of this board.”

Vera said that having subpoena power would be important for the commission to have as backup. “What we weard from cities like San Diego…is that the mere fact of having subpoena power facilitates broader access and a more effective commission,” said Vera. The subpoena power will not be needed 99% of the time, according to Vera, as the the commission will go through the MOA. “But the fact that it exists just creates more of an incentive to comply…the jurisdictions that haven’t had that, have had to work out a way of negotiating for records. And when the sheriff’s department says no, the conversation ends there.”

Among other important topics of discussion were whether retired sworn personnel could serve on the commission, or whether that created a conflict of interest, and whether undocumented immigrants could serve.

No consensus was definitively reached by the board on any one topic, and no date was set to vote on the commission, but the hearing was an important step toward establishing oversight.

“It is not as if we are engaged in any revolutionary act here with respect to the establishment of an oversight commission….we are rather late to the party,” said Ridley-Thomas. “Oversight commissions exist all over the length and breadth of this country, and it’s about time that Los Angeles County got with the program.”


NEW REPORT SAYS RICHMOND, CA, HAS MADE A HUGE TURNAROUND ON GUN VIOLENCE AND RECIDIVISM RATES THROUGH THEIR FIRST-OF-ITS-KIND PROGRAM

The city of Richmond, CA, is seeing incredible success with their unique anti-violence program, according to a new report from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Just under a decade ago, the city of Richmond, CA had one of the highest homicide rates in the nation. In 2007, there were 47 gun-related homicides in the city of 106,000 people. The situation was so dire, the city authorized an unheard of new program that would identify the most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and pay them to keep out of trouble.

Four times per year, the Office of Neighborhood Safety, conceived and developed by DeVone Boggan, selects 50 candidates under 25 to take part in an 18-month program. Participants receive a monthly stipend between $300 and $1000 for nine of those months, along with mentoring, education, and other services.

In 2013, 6 years after the launch of ONS, there were 15 homicides per 100,000 residents—the lowest number Richmond had seen in 33 years. And the homicide rate continues to drop.

And those participants, most likely to shoot or be shot, are, for the most part, staying alive and out of trouble: 94% of the 68 men to complete the program are still alive, and 79% have not been arrested or charged with a firearm-related crime since.

(WLA has previously written about Richmond’s Police Chief Chris Magnus, who has vastly improved officer morale and the police-community relationship.)

Mother Jones’ Tim Murphy has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

The conclusion was positive: “While a number of factors including policy changes, policing efforts, an improving economic climate, and an overall decline in crime may have helped to facilitate this shift, many individuals interviewed for this evaluation cite the work of the ONS, which began in late 2007, as a strong contributing factor in a collaborative effort to decrease violence in Richmond.”

As evidence, the study cites the life-changing effect on fellows. Ninety-four percent of fellows are still alive. And perhaps just as remarkable, 79 percent have not been arrested or charged with gun-related offenses during that time period.

“While replication of the Fellowship itself may be more arduous because of the dynamic leadership associated with the current model, the framework of the Fellowship could be used to improve outcomes for communities across the country,” the study’s authors wrote. “The steps taken to craft programming developed with clients in mind, and being responsive to their needs and the needs of the community, can serve as a model.”


OBAMA ADMINISTRATION TO TRY OUT GIVING FEDERAL PELL GRANTS TO PRISONERS

On Friday the US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch are slated to reveal A 3-5 year plan to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 1993 ban on giving such grants to inmates.

Through the grants, prisoners will receive up to $5,775 per year to spend on tuition, books, and other education expenses,

The hope is that, by opening up access to education for prisoners, recidivism rates will drop, saving tons of money in the long run.

The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Mitchell and Joe Palazzolo have the story. Here’s a clip:

Prisoners received $34 million in Pell grants in 1993, according to figures the Department of Education provided to Congress at the time. But a year later, Congress prohibited state and federal prison inmates from getting Pell grants as part of broad anticrime legislation, leading to a sharp drop in the number of in-prison college programs. Supporters of the ban contended federal aid should only go to law-abiding citizens.

Between the mid-1990s and 2013, the U.S. prison population doubled to about 1.6 million inmates, many of them repeat offenders, Justice Department figures show. Members of both parties—including President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky—have called for a broad examination of criminal justice, such as rewriting sentencing guidelines.

A 2013 study by the Rand Corp. found that inmates who participated in education programs, including college courses, had significantly lower odds of returning to prison than inmates who didn’t.

Some congressional Democrats have proposed lifting the ban. Meanwhile, administration officials have indicated they would use a provision of the Higher Education Act that gives the Education Department the authority to temporarily waive rules, such as the Pell-grant ban, as part of an experiment to study their effectiveness.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Attorney General Loretta Lynch are expected to announce the program, which likely would last three to five years to yield data on recidivism rates, at a prison in Jessup, Md., on Friday. Key details aren’t yet clear, such as which institutions and what types of convicts would be allowed to participate.


MEET CHIEF MICHAEL BOSTIC, HEAD OF THE TROUBLED CALEXICO, CA POLICE DEPARTMENT

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has a long read profile on Calexico Police Chief Michael Bostic, a former LAPD Assistant Chief, who took the helm of an agency that was drowning in officer misconduct scandals and was the subject of an FBI investigation. Chief Bostic has been very vocal about problems plaguing the department he says he has come to fix.

In April, Chief Bostic asked the DOJ to step in and help him clean up the border city’s police department. The DOJ, via its Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, said it would provide extensive training and would help build a community policing unit over the next three years.

Bostic does have critics, however, including some who question the hefty paycheck he receives for leading a rather small department.

Here’s a clip from Rubin’s story:

Since arriving in Calexico, Bostic has unabashedly presented himself as a savior, promising residents he will rid their Police Department of “the cancer living within it” — a refrain during his first months on the job.

“These people are so desperate for help,” he said. “The LAPD has given me a unique set of skills and training that you can’t get many places…. I know exactly what to do to fix this place.”

Bostic hasn’t shied away from such grand statements, touting the major role he played in reforming the LAPD. Although he did have a hand in trying to push through changes that followed some of the LAPD’s worst episodes, the reality of his time there is more modest.

In the wake of the videotaped beating by officers of Rodney King, then-Chief Daryl Gates assigned Bostic to review the department’s use-of-force and training procedures. In his role, Bostic was critical of some problems he identified but wasn’t in a position to make significant changes himself.

Bostic testified as the government’s use-of-force expert during the state trial against the officers. Defense attorneys picked him apart on cross-examination, however, forcing him to admit he had formed his opinion of the beating after only a few viewings of the tape. After acquitting the officers, jurors said that they did not find Bostic credible.

He climbed the ranks to become an assistant chief, at times running the department when the chief was away. But after Bostic clashed with William Bratton, who was hired as chief in 2002, Bratton demoted him and exiled him from his inner circle.

Soon after he took over in Calexico, Bostic said he contacted the FBI, relaying concerns he had about some of his officers. Then, on a morning in late October, dozens of agents descended on the police station, seizing computer hard drives and documents.

FBI officials acknowledged the ongoing investigation but declined to comment on its scope or focus. Bostic, for his part, has refused to elaborate on the probe. But it seems to have struck a sensitive chord with him. Twice after the raid, Bostic choked back tears when answering reporters’ questions about the investigation.

“There could be nothing more embarrassing than to have your department under that kind of scrutiny…. It was literally the most disappointing day in all my years of policing,” he said at one news conference after composing himself.

The problems, Bostic said, stemmed from half a dozen or so officers, who also held sway in the police officers union. Bostic said they effectively ran the department, threatening other officers with misconduct investigations if they got out of line and running the department’s $450,000 annual budget for overtime to nearly $1.5 million.

“They believed they were untouchable. They still believe it, even since I’ve arrived. They’ve been protected for so long.”

Posted in Education, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, prison, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Pulling Back the Blue Curtain: What Does the Public Really Have the Right to Know About Police Records?

July 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

In LA and around the country, law enforcement agencies are purchasing and deploying police body cameras as a means of increasing accountability to the public. But the use of all these new cameras means the potential accumulation of miles and miles of video footage. The question of who has the right to see all this video footage and when and under what circumstances is already the subject of debate between police, civil rights advocates, and the public.

Last week, at the Crawford Family Forum in Pasadena, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze moderated what turned out to be a very informative and often contentious discussion on the complex issues relating to law enforcement transparency, and what the public legally has the right to know.

Panelists included Peter Scheer, of the First Amendment Coalition, Jack Leonard, the LA Times’ police and courts editor, attorney Mildred K. “Missy” O’Linn, Jeff Steck, head of ALADS, the LA deputies’ union, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler, and LA Times attorney Rochelle L. Wilcox.

One of the first and most contentious topics that came up was the June 2, 2013 fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, by Gardena police officers, and a push from the Times (along with the Associated Press and Bloomberg) for the release of dash cam footage of the incident.

The city of Gardena settled the resulting civil lawsuit to the tune of $4.7 million, but fought to keep videos of the shooting under wraps, citing privacy concerns. Earlier this month, two years into Gardena’s fight to keep the videos hidden, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city to release footage from two radio car dash cams.

Panelist Missy O’Linn, who was Gardena’s attorney during the legal battle, had a great deal to say on the matter of police rights.

O’Linn argued that the videos should not have been released because they were part of a protective order. “The problem here is the process,” she said. “Technology is way ahead of the law…we need rules. We need guidelines…. as to what is to be made public.” And then a few beats later: “It appears that the first amendment has usurped state law.”

This last remark triggered a rash of noisy murmurs from the audience, which was filled with lawyers, journalists, and advocates, in addition to interested community members.

LA Times attorney Rochelle Wilcox, who successfully fought to get the names of Long Beach officers revealed last year, explained that the public is entitled to access records in federal cases, “unless the party advocating for secrecy [in this case, the city of Gardena] meets a burden of showing compelling reasons why the records should be sealed.” (The same is not true when it comes to state cases.)

O’Linn was not cowed. She argued that releasing video only presents one perspective of an incident to the public, and can create a pubic safety issue. “The public’s reaction, without information—which is controlled by mass media—has the potential to set your cities on fire, destroy your businesses…If it was no justice, no peace, marching in solidarity, and peaceful protest, that’s one thing. But call Baltimore, call Ferguson, where the business owners’ lives have been destroyed because they didn’t have a peaceful protest. And quite frankly, that is a public safety issue.”

When Stoltze asked O’Linn if it was fear of public unrest that was the most compelling reason given as to why the Gardena videos should not have been released, O’Linn was quick to answer. “Absolutely…Darren Wilson, an officer in Ferguson, Mo, will never work again as a police officer. Someone tried to beat him to death, and he will never work again. My officers do not deserve to be hung, judged in the media, without full information.”

So would she argue for a release of the entire record, including the video? Frank asked. “If you want full information out there, would that not be the logical next step?”

“The public does not go looking for that information,” said O’Linn. “The media directs the conversation.”


SO HOW DO WE DO IT?

Peter Scheer, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition, said it would not be too burdensome to release some videos, on a case-by-case, as-needed basis. “When it comes to police investigative records, they are 100 percent exempt from disclosure under the California Public Records Act. But the police have the discretion, if they wish, to release them,” said Scheer. “So why not, in some of these cases, release these videos at the discretion of the department, where the public’s need to know is compelling?“

Jeff Steck, president of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), jumped in to say that videos often do not tell the whole story about an officer-involved shooting or other use-of-force incident. “I’ve just begun to understand what I see, and I’m an expert in the field,” said Steck.

Steck did agree with Scheer’s contention that the videos should be released to the public on a case-by-case basis, but said he was worried about the protection of victims. “I saw an officer get murdered on camera. If that happens to me, I don’t want my death on TV.”

Steck also expressed concern about the effect that indiscriminate video release would have on the privacy and the safety of officers and their families in general. “There are people who want to do us harm. We lost two deputies who were killed at their homes. We are concerned for our safety. When we’re on duty, we’re aware of the risk, but we don’t to take this home to our families.”

And if all videos were to be released, O’Linn broke in to say, it would be a huge burden to taxpayers, “…because your cities and counties that want to implement body worn camera programs are going to need to hire a team of editors to blur out faces and remove private information.”


TRANSPARENCY VERSUS STATE LAW

LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler said the department is working on new website that will share crucial data with the public regarding use-of-force incidents, without naming individual officers involved. The site will include information and statistics on officer-involved shootings, as well as data on complaints from the public and officer discipline.

Tyler emphasized that Sheriff McDonnell understands that giving the public access to department records will build trust. “We’re moving towards transparency. More access. Real access. It’s a good faith effort to properly balance public safety against all the factors of democracy.”

The LA Times’ Jack Leonard broke in to challenge law enforcement’s frequent unwillingness to release officers’ names. “We give police officers a lot of power,” he said. “We invest in them the responsibility and ability to investigate serious crimes, and also we give them the legal right to use deadly and other types of force. Yet, when individual officers are found to have misused that right, we don’t get to find out who the officers are.”

The public has way of knowing how departments deal with personnel issues like sexual misconduct, or officers who have been disciplined for lying, Leonard continued. “We have no idea how departments actually deal with that because it is all secret,” he said, explaining that part of the problem is with state law, not so much individual department policy.

Leonard was referring to the Public Safety Officer Procedural Bill of Rights, sometimes called the Peace Officers Bill of Rights (POBR) which, among other things, prevents public release of officer discipline issues.

On the other side of the legal tug-of-war, the California Public Records Act, in the name of government transparency and accountability, establishes the public’s right to view public records. But it has certain exceptions to the rule. Law enforcement personnel files fall under the “exemptions” category.

During the comments portion of the discussion, the ACLU’s Peter Bibring, who was in the audience, pointed out, that California has less access to police officer records than, say, Texas and Florida, where there is “open access once there’s a finding of misconduct by the department.” Many other states have automatic open access to peace officer records, even misconduct allegations, said Bibring.

Wilcox, the Times’ attorney, added more on the topic. “The police are public employees who have a very unique kind of protection,” she said. “They perform one of the most important roles in society, and yet the transparency that the government has agreed is good, doesn’t apply to them. So while we can get public misconduct information about teachers, we can’t get any information about the people who have the ability to do harm.”

O’Linn said she and her colleagues “encourage our departments not to take what we call a ‘bunker mentality,‘ to hunker down and refuse to ask questions. And they are listening.”

“When my police chiefs terminate someone, they can’t even turn to the rest of the department and explain why,” said O’Linn. “We do encourage departments to be more forthcoming, but they also have to act within the law.”

In the end, much of the issue was about public trust, said moderator Frank Stoltze as the evening drew to a close. “I think the challenging thing is if there’s been misconduct, the public wants to know what’s happening to law enforcement officers who are engaging in bad behavior,” said Stoltze. “I think the question is confidence in law enforcement. The Sheriff’s Department may be taking care of bad cops and firing them, but we don’t know that.”

Posted in Freedom of Information, Jim McDonnell, journalism, LASD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

Judge Forces Gardena to Release 2013 Video of City’s Cops Shooting Unarmed Man…& More

July 15th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday, federal Judge Stephen V. Wilson ordered the city of Gardena to release two disturbing videos of Gardena police officers shooting an unarmed man named Ricardo Diaz Zeferino, whose brother’s bicycle had been stolen, causing someone to call the police. As they waited for police to come, Diaz Zeferino and two friends went out to look for the bike but ran into the police instead, who assumed that the three were the bike thieves. The encounter ended with a volley of gunfire that killed Diaz Zeferino and badly injured one of his friends.

The tragedy may have been in part set in motion when the police dispatcher wrongly described the called-in theft as a robbery, suggesting that it involved force.

The June 2, 2013 encounter between the three men and the police was captured by two patrol car-mounted video cameras.

City officials and the Gardena police department have been battling for two years to keep the videos from public view, even though the city had already settled with Diaz Zeferino’s family and others for $4.7 million.

In making his ruling, Judge Wilson was responding to a collective request from the Los Angeles Times, the Associated Press and Bloomberg, which challenged a blanket protective order by 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, that had prohibited the release of the videos and other evidence in the court case.

LA Times reporters Richard Winton and Joel Rueben have more details.

Here’s a clip:

In unsealing the videos, U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said the public had an interest in seeing the recordings, especially after the city settled a lawsuit over the shooting for $4.7 million. Wilson rejected last ditch efforts by Gardena attorneys, who argued the city had paid the settlement money in the belief that the videos would remain under seal.

The “defendants’ argument backfires here — the fact that they spent the city’s money, presumably derived from taxes, only strengthens the public’s interest in seeing the videos,” Wilson wrote. “Moreover, while the videos are potentially upsetting and disturbing because of the events they depict, they are not overly gory or graphic in a way that would make them a vehicle for improper purposes.”

[SNIP]

Wilson’s decision comes as law enforcement agencies nationwide increasingly have embraced the use of cameras worn by officers and placed in patrol cars to record police interactions with civilians. But few agencies have made their videos public, spurring a debate over the need to balance the privacy of those captured on the recordings and transparency in policing.


IN A MAJOR ADDRESS PRESIDENT OBAMA CALLS FOR SWEEPING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND A REEXAMINATION OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT

On Tuesday, President Barak Obama gave what turned out to be a serious policy speech when he addressed the annual conference of the NAACP in Philadelphia. The speech, which was also broadcast, had criminal justice reform advocates madly tweeting to each other: “Is anybody watching this?!!”

And, Piper Kerman, author of Orange is the New Black, (the book on which the series is based) giddily retweeted nearly all of the post speech tweets of @POTUS.

The enthusiasm was for good reason.

Among the topics @POTUS tackled was the controversy over solitary confinement-—but there was lots more.

The BBC has more. Here’s a clip:

President Barack Obama has called for sweeping reforms to the US criminal justice system including curbing the use of solitary confinement and voting rights for felons.

He said lengthy mandatory minimum sentences should be reduced - or thrown out entirely.

“Mass incarceration makes our entire country worse off, and we need to do something about it,” he said.
Mr Obama urged Congress to pass a sentencing reform bill by year’s end.

On Thursday, Mr Obama will be the first sitting president to visit a federal prison - part of week long focus by the White House on the criminal justice system.

Speaking to a gathering of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in Philadelphia, Mr Obama discussed investments in education, alternatives to trials and prison job training programs.

US Attorney General Loretta Lynch has been tasked with reviewing the overuse of solitary confinement, Mr Obama said.

“Do we think it makes sense to lock people up in tiny cells for 23 hours a day? It won’t make us safer and stronger.”

The country should not be tolerating overcrowding in prisons, gang activity or rape, which Mr Obama called “unacceptable”.


DOES THE TREATMENT OF LAUSD’S RAFE ESQUITH SUGGEST THAT BUREAUCRATS ARE WRECKING EDUCATION?

Robby Soave writing for the Daily Beast argues that “when the feelings of students are prized above all else,” talented teachers like Rafe Esquith “looking to inject a little personality into the classroom are the first to suffer.”

Here’s a clip about Esquith’s case, but read on for other examples:

Teachers with unusual, engaging methods are often mistreated by the education system—even, like Buchanan, when they win awards. Rafe Esquith, an elementary school teacher at Hobart Boulevard in Los Angeles who won numerous teaching distinctions and was dubbed the world’s most famous teacher by The Washington Post, earned a suspension this year for a familiar reason: he told a joke.

Whereas Buchanan said some mildly provocative things to a bunch of full-grown adults, Esquith made a completely inoffensive remark to a bunch of children. He runs his own nonprofit, puts on productions of Shakespeare plays, and takes his low-income LA students on educational field trips—relying on private donations to fund his activities. In March, Esquith joked with his students that unless he was able to raise more money, they would have to perform the play naked. He made this remark after reading a relevant passage from Huckleberry Finn that concerns a king “prancing out on all fours, naked.”

The joke was essentially harmless. But another teacher overheard it, divined some sinister intention, and reported it to school authorities. Esquith had to cancel his production and sit in a rubber room while administrators interrogated his students about his behavior. A California credentialing committee ruled that Esquith did nothing wrong, but the district still hasn’t let him return to teaching.

Last month, Esquith’s attorneys announced that they were filing a class action suit in behalf of “thousands of well-respected teachers deprived of their rights by the Los Angeles Unified School District.”


Posted in Education, law enforcement, Obama, solitary | 23 Comments »

CA Supremes Rule on Police Privacy v. Defendants’ Rights…The Science of Unfair Justice….The Killingest Prosecutor in the Nation’s Killingest County

July 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

THE CAL SUPREMES PICK STATE LAW OVER CONSTITUTIONAL PROTECTIONS IN A RULING ABOUT WHO CAN ACCESS POLICE PERSONNEL FILES

On Monday, July 6, the California Supreme Court ruled that defense attorneys don’t need any extra help from prosecutors in gaining the limited access that the law allows to the disciplinary records of police officers—even if the prosecutor has firm reasons to believe that the records would likely be of exculpatory value to the defendant.

If that sounds confusing….you have apprehended the situation correctly

Okay, here’s the deal. Monday’s ruling had to do with a San Francisco man, Daryl Lee Johnson, who was charged in November 2012 in a domestic violence case with hitting a girl in the head while they were both in a private home and grabbing her cell phone. (We have no idea if Mr. Johnson is guilty or innocent of the charges. That isn’t the point here.)

As the domestic violence case ground its way through the state’s justice system, San Francisco prosecutors learned from members of the SF police department that the two arresting officers in Johnson’s case, who were quite naturally witnesses for the prosecution, had things in their personnel records that could be helpful to the defense.

In that the landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling of Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense team anything that could be helpful to their client, in the case of Johnson the prosecutors let the defense know that there might be some stuff in both of the cops’ files that the defense ought to know about.

And….that’s when matters got somewhat complicated.

Under state law, the personnel files of peace officers are protected from prying eyes by the Peace Officers Bill of Rights—or POBR. However, if a defense attorney needs access to a cop’s personnel records because they pertain directly to his client’s defense, he or she can request from a judge the files that pertain exactly to the issue at hand, using what is called a “Pitchess” motion (named after the 1974 California decision of Pitchess v. Superior Court that carved out this legal way to access information located in otherwise confidential peace officer personnel records.) Then it is up to the judge to decide which information, if any, should be provided to the defense.

But in the Johnson case, the defense argued that it didn’t know enough about what might be useful in the two cops’ files to be able to make the narrow cast Pitchess motion that most judges require. So could the prosecutor, under the Brady rule, take a look at the files to see if there was something of relevance in there?

Two lower courts agreed that it would be okay for a prosecutor to look at the police files, and then to turn over to the defense (under Brady rules) anything that might affect the defendant’s case, all subject to protective orders, to also preserve confidentiality.

With me so far?

It helps to know that San Francisco is one of about a dozen California counties that have established committees made up of law enforcement officers who are supposed to review officers’ confidential files in order to tell prosecutors if they contain information that might assist a defendant—things like an officer’s history of false statements, the filing of false police reports, or write ups for excessive force.

Part of the argument in the Johnson case is that it is unealistic to expect the police to be the ones who go fishing through their fellow officers’ confidential files with the same rigor that someone else might. So couldn’t the prosecutors, who are after all an arm of the law, do it as part of their Brady obligation?

Although those two lower courts said yes, the California Supremes said: Actually no. Prosecutors were just as bound by the POBR and the Pitchess rules as anybody else.

(The full ruling may be found here.)

Interestingly, according to Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle, SF District Attorney George Gascón-–who seems refreshingly to believe that one of the prime duties of his office is to seek justice—told the court prior to their ruling that his office would continue to review the police committee reports and seek disclosure of files no matter how Monday’s case turned out.

UPDATE: The LA Times Editorial Board wrote a strong, smart and extremely sensible editorial on the ruling, which appeared early Tuesday morning. It is titled “A Setback for Due Process,” which unhappily is exactly the case.

Here’s clip from the editorial:

Prosecutors are constitutionally bound to share with criminal defendants any evidence that undermines the credibility of their witnesses, including police officers. But if that evidence is locked up in confidential police personnel files — for example, in disciplinary or complaint records — how can the district attorney find out about it to turn it over?

In a disappointing decision, the California Supreme Court on Monday denied prosecutors direct access to police personnel files and, in so doing, exacerbated the continuing tug-of-war between state statutes that protect officer confidentiality and the due process rights guaranteed to the accused by the 14th Amendment and fleshed out in the landmark 1963 case of Brady vs. Maryland.

Under the ruling, police officials in many California jurisdictions will continue to be virtual gate-keepers of potentially exculpatory evidence, deciding on their own which records rise to the level of so-called Brady material that they must flag for prosecutors (who, in turn, decide whether to share it with the defense).

But the police should not be expected to be their own watchdogs. Last year, an appeals court ruled that the district attorney should be able to look through their files — without first obtaining a court order — to search for evidence of dishonesty, bias, excessive force or other factors that could undermine officers’ credibility. Only after Brady material is found would the prosecutor have to make what is known as a Pitchess motion, seeking court permission to disclose the information.

And here, really, is the heart of the matter:

The lower court ruling seemed a workable balance between Brady and Pitchess and recognized that Brady, after all, interprets a federal constitutional right and should take precedence over state statutory protections.

(The italics are mine.) It is disappointing that the otherwise mostly sensible court was so short sighted.

The LA Times board also wrote an earlier, very informative editorial on this whole topic back in late May when the case was being argued in front of the state’s Supreme Court. So be sure to take a look at that too.


UNFAIR: A SCIENTIFIC LOOK AT HUMAN BIAS AND OTHER ROOTS OF INJUSTICE

Legal scholar Adam Benforado has written a fascinating and important new book called Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice in which he uses findings from psychology and neuroscience to suggests that our criminal justice system is riddled with tragic inequities and wrongful conclusions because of our fundamental misunderstanding of human biases and how our brains work.

On Monday, Benforado was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air with Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross where he explained how, in our flawed justice system “…good people with the best of intentions … can get things terribly, terribly wrong.”

The whole interview is more than worth your while. But here’s a clip to get you started:

DAVIES: There’s a lot of interesting stuff here about how jurors decide who they’re going to believe at trial – prosecutors, witnesses. And a lot of people would not be surprised to find that there are studies that suggest people are more likely to believe a person of their own race. There’s other fascinating stuff. Are attractive people or thin people more likely to – or confident people – more likely to be believed in court?

BENFORADO: Yeah, there is evidence that a lot of physical features play a big role in whether people treats a particular witness as credible or not credible. And that’s worrisome. But I think there’s actually a deeper problem with jurors and that is that the things that we think are determining the outcomes of cases – that is the facts and the law – are often not what determines whether someone is convicted or not convicted, how long a sentence is. What matters most are the particular backgrounds and identities of the jurors.

So I teach criminal law. One of the areas that I teach is rape law, and my casebook takes many pages, discussing all of the different nuances across the different states. And there’s a lot of emphasis on the casebook on the importance of these nuances. It really matters whether we are in a state that recognizes a defense of a reasonably mistaken belief in consent or we’re in a state that doesn’t recognize that particular defense. But when researchers looked into how important the law was to outcomes in, say, a date rape case, what they found was the particular legal nuances didn’t matter at all. What mattered were the backgrounds and experiences of the jurors. What they refer to as cultural cognition. And these subgroups of citizens didn’t break down as expected. It wasn’t that men were far more likely to let the man off in a date rape scenario. It was actually within women that the most interesting break occurred. Women who were older, who were more conservative, who adhere to more traditional gender norms, were far more likely to let the man off in this particular case than women who were liberal and younger. That’s a worry because a lot of what law professors do is emphasize the importance of legal doctrine. It may not be legal doctrine, though, in the criminal law sphere that’s really determining the trajectory of cases.

DAVIES: One of the things we see in court is jurors trying to evaluate whether a witness is testifying truthfully. And they would look for tells, you know, whether the witness appears jittery and whether they shift their eyes a lot or doesn’t make eye contact. And you write that these things – research shows these things really tell us nothing about how truthful someone’s being. In fact, they can mislead us into thinking someone is being truthful when they are not and vice versa. Do the courts encourage jurors to use these, you know, supposedly common sense evaluations of the mannerisms of both defendants and witnesses?

BENFORADO: They absolutely do. And this is one of the real challenges for reform in this area is that it’s not that our legal system just sits back and says nothing about human behavior. It actually weighs in on the side of myth. And so if you’ve ever been a juror and you are called to jury duty, you know that the starting point is this voir dire process where you’re asked a bunch of questions. I was recently called onto jury, although I didn’t make it ultimately onto the jury. And I was asked, you know, these questions of do you have any reason why you would be more or less likely to believe the testimony of a police officer? Now, on the jury pool that I was in, a number of people said yeah, they checked that box. The judge then came up and said, all right, well, let me explain to you what objectivity means. It means that, you know, we all have these feelings, but you’ve just got to put them to the side. Can you do that? Everyone in the jury pool said, yes, of course, judge I can do that. But that’s not how biases work. A lot of them are not subject to introspection and control. And so it’s not just that our legal system is sitting back on the sidelines. It’s actively promoting false notions of human behavior, and that’s really, really damaging…


A PROSECUTOR’S DESIRE FOR REVENGE KILLING IN THE NATION’S MOST DEATH PENALTY-PRONE COUNTY

Caddo Parish, Louisiana, has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand residents. Yet Caddo juries sentence more people to death per capita than juries in any other county in America, writes Rachel Aviv for the New Yorker.

Furthermore, “seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.”

Since 2011, Cado prosecutor Dale Cox has been responsible for a third of the death sentences in Louisiana. And he seeks death from a jury, he says, because he believes that vengeance is necessary.

To wit:

Last March, a former colleague of Cox’s published a letter in the Shreveport Times apologizing for causing an innocent black man to spend thirty years on death row. “We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death,” he wrote. When a journalist with the paper, Maya Lau, asked Cox for his response, he said that he thought courts should be imposing the death penalty more, not less. “I think we need to kill more people,” he told her. “We’re not considered a society anymore—we’re a jungle.”

Cox does not believe that the death penalty works as a deterrent, but he says that it is justified as revenge. He told me that revenge was a revitalizing force that “brings to us a visceral satisfaction.” He felt that the public’s aversion to the notion had to do with the word itself. “It’s a hard word—it’s like the word ‘hate,’ the word ‘despot,’ the word ‘blood.’ ” He said, “Over time, I have come to the position that revenge is important for society as a whole. We have certain rules that you are expected to abide by, and when you don’t abide by them you have forfeited your right to live among us.”

In her detailed longread story about Cox and his prosecutorial beliefs and style, Aron follows the case of 23-year old Rodricus Crawford whose one-year-old baby, according to Aviv’s reporting, likely died suddenly of pneumonia, not by his father’s hand. By the story’s end, however, rightly or wrongly Crawford has been convicted of murdering his young son and is sentenced to death, with Cox as the prosecutor possessed of formidable Biblical fury, claiming in his closing remarks that Jesus commanded that anyone who killed a child should be killed. Then Cox misquoted Luke 17.2 to prove it.

Here’s how the story opens:

A week after his son turned one, Rodricus Crawford woke up a few minutes before 7 A.M. on the left side of his bed. His son was sleeping on the right side, facing the door. Crawford, who was twenty-three, reached over to wake him up, but the baby didn’t move. He put his ear on his son’s stomach and then began yelling for his mother. “Look at the baby!” he shouted.

Crawford was lanky, with delicate features, high cheekbones, and a patchy goatee. He lived in a small three-bedroom house with his mother, grandmother, uncle, sister, and a younger brother in Mooretown, a neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, bordered by a stretch of factories and next to the airport. His mother, Abbie, a housekeeper at the Quality Inn, rushed into the room and picked up the baby, who was named Roderius, after his father. He looked as if he were asleep, but his forehead felt cool.

Crawford’s uncle called 911, and an operator instructed him to try CPR while they waited for an ambulance. Crawford’s mother and sister took turns pumping the baby’s chest.

“I’m doing it, Ma’am, but he ain’t doing nothing!” Abbie said, out of breath.

The ambulance seemed to be taking too long, so Crawford’s younger brother called 911 on another line. “The baby’s not talking, not breathing, not saying anything,” he said. “Can you get an ambulance?”

They were used to waiting a long time for city services; the alarm could go off at their pastor’s church and ring all night, and the fire department would never come. There was a saying in the neighborhood that the police were never there when you needed them, only when you didn’t. The community was populated almost entirely by black families, many of whom had grown up together. After a few more minutes, Crawford’s brother called 911 again. “We need an ambulance, Ma’am,” he said. “It’s been twenty minutes!”

Not long afterward, another 911 operator called a dispatcher and asked what was happening at the address. “They probably slept on the damn baby,” the dispatcher said. “There’s a hundred folks in that damn house.”

When the ambulance arrived, moments later, Crawford ran out of the house with the baby in his arms. The paramedics put a breathing mask over Roderius’s face, and Crawford thought he saw his son’s eyes open. He tried to climb into the back of the ambulance, but the paramedics shut the doors and told him to stay outside. They couldn’t find a pulse. Roderius’s jaw was stiff and his eyes were milky, a sign that he had been dead for more than an hour. They decided to wait in the ambulance until the police arrived before telling the family….

Read on for the rest of the story that will help you make up your own mind about what you believe happened.

Posted in District Attorney, FBI, How Appealing, law enforcement, Prosecutors, Public Defender | 5 Comments »

Conviction Review Unit for LA, Stun-Cuffs, SCOTUS’ Lethal Injection Ruling and CA’s Death Penalty, and More

June 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S NEW CONVICTION REVIEW TEAM

On Monday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced a new Conviction Review Unit to investigate innocence claims, following a wave of recent exonerations in Los Angeles and across the nation.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved $1 million to fund the unit, which will consist of three deputy district attorneys, a senior investigator, and a paralegal.

When the DA’s office is presented with potentially exculpatory information, Lacey says, “The responsibility is on us, as prosecutors, to re-examine the facts and…to seek to vacate a wrongful conviction.”

The DA’s office prosecuted a whopping 71,000 felony cases last year. This unit is meant to cover prosecutors’ “margin of error” according to DA Lacey, who told Warren Olney, on his KCRW show Which Way, LA?, that she expects the unit to review around a dozen cases per year.

In 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since 1989. LA County will join other CA counties with similar units including San Diego, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara.

Here’s how it will work, according to DA Lacey’s website:

The unit will review claims of actual innocence based on newly discovered evidence. These claims may originate from inmates, attorneys or innocence projects. The requests will be made in writing to the District Attorney’s Office. This process will not require the filing of any formal court documents.

If an initial review determines that the claim appears to have merit, a formal investigation will be opened. A prosecutor and investigator will be assigned to review trial transcripts and interview witnesses. If warranted, the case will be presented to the Conviction Review Committee composed of managers similar to the group that reviews death penalty cases.

If the committee decides the office has lost faith in the conviction, prosecutors will seek to have the conviction vacated.


STUN-CUFFS: 80,000 VOLTS OF INSTANTANEOUS DISCIPLINARY CONTROL OVER INMATES

A pair of “stun-cuffs” wrapped around wrists or legs allow officers to send 80,000 volts of electricity through an inmate’s body, remotely. In the video above, an officer at a National Sheriff’s Association meeting eagerly straps his ankles into the cuffs for a demonstration. When the button is pushed, the officer immediately drops to the ground screaming and writhing while his friends laugh and joke about his reaction.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the painful cuffs, and why the officers’ reaction to the demonstration is troubling. Here’s a clip:

The way that the man taking the video laughs as the other man writhes on the ground in uncontrollable spasms and painful screams adeptly captures the part of human nature that leads me to believe that these devices will spread with terrible results.

They’re already used on prisoners in some jurisdictions. The company itself lists some testimonials on its web site. A detention center in San Juan County, New Mexico, demonstrated the device on a prison guard back in 2012. A Missouri sheriff’s department tested a similar device from a different manufacturer in 2013. They too found it extremely amusing to debilitate colleagues with painful shocks. Lots of young men would react similarly, hence my reluctance to let them put devices they approach with jocularity rather than seriousness on people that they disdain.

I am hardly alone in finding stun-cuffs creepy and suggestive of evil––for goodness sakes, Darth Vader seems to have pioneered their use on the Death Star.

Back in the real world, there are a depressing number of news articles about parents arrested for putting shock collars intended for dogs on their children. Of course, no one would equate kids with prisoners acting up in custody. But the stories are narrowly relevant for two reasons: they’re written as though the shocks are self-evidently cruel, though they’re far weaker and less painful than what stun-cuffs deliver; and in at least one instance, a man was arrested for putting a shock collar on his kid that he never used, suggesting that on some level, even law enforcement understands that it isn’t just being shocked that matters in these situations––the burden of knowing that someone has a finger on a button that could deliver a shock at any moment matters too. When these stun-cuffs are preemptively placed on prisoners, those who don’t misbehave will still suffer that psychological trauma; and recall that many prisoners have not yet been convicted of any crime.

Those problems would give pause even if America’s police officers and prison guards were not prone to excessive force and prisoner abuse.


WILL SCOTUS RULING IN FAVOR OF OKLAHOMA’S LETHAL INJECTIONS TRIGGER LONG-DORMANT CALIFORNIA EXECUTIONS?

On Monday, in a 5-4 ruling, the US Supreme Court upheld Oklahoma’s three-drug execution method challenged by three OK death row inmates after three lethal injections were botched last year.

This ruling has particular significance in California, where executions on hold for almost ten years may soon resume. California recently agreed to develop a single drug execution method to replace the three-drug cocktail, pending the SCOTUS ruling.

San Jose Mercury’s Howard Mintz has more on the ruling and why it brings CA closer to carrying out executions. (And for more on the issue, read WLA’s pre-SCOTUS-ruling backstory on the original OK case that went before the high court.) Here’s a clip:

Under a recent settlement with families of murder victims, California prison officials agreed to propose a new single-drug execution method within 120 days of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Oklahoma legal challenge. It would mark the first progress in years toward devising a new execution procedure at San Quentin, where California has not executed a condemned killer in nearly a decade.

By upholding Oklahoma’s controversial three-drug lethal injection method in a 5-4 ruling, the Supreme Court appears to have removed a key legal hurdle for California to rely on some form of lethal drug.

“(It is) a pretty strong green light for California to go forward with whatever lethal injection protocol fits their own regulations and interests,” said Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University law professor and author of the Sentencing Law and Policy blog.

Death penalty opponents expressed alarm that California might resume executions, with one leading group, Death Penalty Focus, sending out an email seeking donations to back efforts to continue legal challenges to lethal injection.

“Today’s decision … starts off a very long, costly and wasteful process in California,” said Ana Zamora, criminal justice policy director for the Northern California ACLU.

The Supreme Court, in a decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, rejected the arguments of death penalty foes that drugs such as those used in Oklahoma risk violating an inmate’s right to a humane execution. “Holding that the 8th Amendment demands the elimination of essentially all risk of pain would effectively outlaw the death penalty altogether,” the court’s conservative majority wrote.


NPR SERIES FACILITATES MEANINGFUL CONVERSATION AMONG LA COPS, COMMUNITY, AND CREATIVES

NPR’s Michel Martin hosted an event called “Street and Beats: Personal stories of cops and community from across L.A.” at the Los Angeles Theatre Center to open up communication between former gang members, local law enforcement, artists, and other community figures.

Panelists included actor Richard Cabral, LAPD Captain Ruby Flores Malachi, Yasmeen Muqtasid, the resident of Black Women Matter Inc., LASD senior deputy, Rafer Owens, Grammy-winning East LA rock group, Quetzal, author and journalist, Sam Quinones, and LA Poet Laureate, Luis J. Rodriguez.

Street and Beats is part of an ongoing NPR live event series.

Here are a couple of the discussion topics clipped from KPCC’s write-up of the event:

1. Most cops sign up to serve

L.A. Police Captain Ruby Malachi said she wanted to join the force after a bad personal experience with the police as a teenager. “I wanted to become an officer and make a difference, treat people right. Your first encounter with an officer is a lasting, lifelong impression,” she said.

“Many police officers come on for the right reasons,” Malachi continued. “As tough as it is to police in this day and age, we are extremely proud to wear the badge. And that’s one of the things we’re campaigning at LAPD: let’s show what’s behind the badge.”

“We’re real people,” she said. “We care about the job and came onto the job to serve and protect. That’s what we’re sworn to do.”

“[Serving on LASD] is coming out of yourself and serving the community, people who need you,” said Rafer Owens, Senior Deputy, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “We are obligated and obliged to serve our community.”

Malachi said that police and the community they serve have to work to solve problems together and that there need to be more positive contacts with police officers. “We should be teaching kids to run towards us for help, not from us.”

2. Communities often don’t see the concern

Yasmeen Muqtasid, President of Black Women Matter Inc., said the good intentions Malachi and Owens described oftentimes aren’t seen by the community.

“For myself as a black woman, for our organization Black Women Matter, and for black people, the ‘Officer Friendly’ doesn’t exist. It never has,” she said.

“When I think about my first interactions with police, it’s seeing family members being beaten to a pulp,” said Muqtasid. “There’s a huge disconnect between what officers say and what the community feels and experiences.”

[BIG SNIP]

5. Cops are human and they’re needed by the community

Growing up, Poet Laureate of Los Angeles Luis J. Rodriguez said he felt he and his San Gabriel community were at war with the police. Now, he wants police to be part of the community.

“When I was a crime reporter I learned that cops are under the gun of society that says crime is their problem, and I don’t think that’s true. I think crime is a social, political, and justice issue. I do think police are given the short end of the stick when it comes to that and that they should not be in charge of everything we can’t resolve,” he said.

Posted in Death Penalty, District Attorney, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

CA Education Bill to Help Foster Kids, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, CA Wrongful Convictions,

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA BILL TO OPEN EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM TO FOSTER KIDS LIVING WITH RELATIVES, WHO NEED JUST AS MUCH HELP AS THOSE IN NON-FAMILY RESIDENCES

CA Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would beef up California’s Foster Youth Services program (FYS). FYS provides vital education-related support to foster kids through mentoring and tutoring services. FYS, which began as a pilot in 1973, had such favorable results, that it was expanded statewide 17 years later, in 1998.

FYS and Assemblymember Weber’s related bill target a population of kids who often struggle to finish high school (nearly half of foster kids do not).

FYS in its current form, only lends support to foster kids who are living with a non-relative foster family or in a group home. Foster children living with their relatives are not eligible for the program.

AB 854 would extend services to the 40,000 foster kids living with family members—that’s two-thirds of all CA foster youth—who do not actually have better graduation rates than kids in non-relative foster homes.

Anna Maier and Zefora Ortiz have more on the bill in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

A 2006 study conducted on behalf of the state legislature found that nearly half of foster youth (46 percent) drop out of high school—compared with 16 percent of non-foster youth—and less than 10 percent enroll in college.

“I feel strongly that I need the authority to serve students with the greatest need,” said Lustig.

The Foster Youth Services program began as a pilot in 1973 with four California school districts, and a 1981 statute formally established and funded FYS in the four pilot districts. In 1998, the state legislature expanded grant funding to county Offices of Education with an emphasis on serving students in group homes. The 2006-07 State Budget renewed existing FYS funding and provided additional grant money for county Offices of Education to serve a broader array of foster youth, including those in juvenile detention facilities. FYS programming looks a little different in each county. But in Mt. Diablo Unified (one of the original pilot districts), the approach is working. The program supports all foster youth, regardless of their placement type. The district partners with group homes, mental health providers and local universities in order to provide comprehensive support.

“We get to see kids who are smiling and feeling good about themselves,” said James Wogan, administrator of School Linked Services, which oversees FYS programming in the district. “Many people thought [these students] would need a higher level of placement, but they get support from their peers as well as us. The culture has really taken off here.”

Throughout the state, FYS programming is showing similarly positive outcomes. A California Department of Education report for the 2012-13 school year found that participating foster youth exceeded their 90 percent target rate for attendance, and more than 70 percent of students who received tutoring met their goals for academic growth. Less than one percent of participating foster youth were expelled from school, far surpassing the target rate of less than 5 percent expulsion.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES EZELL FORD, DISCIPLINE, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Patt Morrison (filling in for Larry Mantle), speaks with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about the Ezell Ford case, officer discipline, and transparency.

The chief said he wished the department had more liberty to discuss disciplinary actions against police officers. Because of confidentiality rules, Chief Beck says his hands are tied. Beck will not be able to explain the discipline (nor the rationale behind the decision) the two officers involved in the death of Ezell Ford will receive.

“I must follow the law,” Beck told Morrison. “Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won’t change how this will be regulated.”

Last week, after Chief Beck determined the officers acted within policy, the LA Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford in August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

Here’s a clip from Chief Beck’s interview:

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn’t? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That’s not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I’m not going to reveal that because I don’t think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable.

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn’t intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission’s support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they’re good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video.


GOV. BROWN OKAYS $$ SETTLEMENT FOR THREE OF CA’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

On Wednesday, CA Gov. Jerry Brown approved nearly $1 million in settlements to be paid to three wrongfully convicted Californians.

A former Long Beach high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction in 2012 with help from the California Innocence Project. Banks spent six years falsely imprisoned. Once on parole, Banks met with his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, and secretly recorded Gibson admitting the accusation was false. Banks will receive $197,000.

Susan Mellen, who spent 17 years in prison after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her boyfriend, will receive $597,200.

Ronald Ross was found factually innocent after being convicted in 2006 of assault and attempted murder. Ross will receive $229,000.

The LA Times’ Phil Willon and Patrick McGreevy have the story. Here’s a clip:

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison….

Banks, who as a high school player had caught the eye of coaches at USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

Claims are filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and automatically recommended to the Legislature for payment if the petitioner was wrongly convicted and found by a judge to be factually innocent.


US CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS EXPERIENCE GERMAN PRISONS: DAY TWO

On Wednesday, we pointed to a tour of German prisons organized by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Seventeen criminal justice officials and experts are examining how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has committed to a daily tour journal. Day two found the travelers at Heidering Prison, where inmates can smoke, cook for themselves, wear their own clothes, and visit family. Inmates never spend more than eight hours in isolation. And corrections officers are trained more, paid more, and even knock before entering inmates’ rooms.

Here’s a clip from Chammah’s day two offering:

Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media.

“We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride.

As the tour took turns walking through the cell, I briefly met a 24-year-old prisoner named Bryan Meyer. He was wearing his own clothes—cargo shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. One of the most visually striking aspects of German prisons is how prisoners wear regular street clothes. It adds to the sense that the only thing being denied them is their liberty.

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

Protecting Kids with Locked-Up Parents, German Prisons, LA Investigating Social Workers after Brutal Beating of Baby…and More

June 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

COALITION IN ALAMEDA COUNTY FOCUSES ON TRAUMA-INFORMED EFFORTS TO HELP AND PROTECT KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Nearly 80% of Alameda County jail inmates are parents or caregivers of kids under 25-years-old, according to a soon-to-be-released survey of 1100 inmates by the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP). (It is estimated that there are 2.7 million kids nationwide with parents behind bars.)

And out of a separate, smaller survey of 100 kids with incarcerated parents in San Francisco, nearly half had watched their parent get arrested. And more than half of those kids said they had witnessed officers rough up their parents during the arrest.

ACCIPP is comprised of advocate groups, government agencies, service providers, and others committed to bettering the lives of kids with locked-up parents, and reducing the effects of trauma. At the coalition’s fourth annual meeting in Oakland, attendees heard from kids with incarcerated parents, parents who had been locked up, as well as child welfare and law enforcement representatives.

The ACCIPP is calling on the Alameda County Police Department to implement a model policy from “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents,” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the particulars of the policy and why it’s important. Here’s a clip:

The report is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council justice initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.

The model policy is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in 1998, which shows the connection between adverse childhood experiences and health status in adulthood. Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the adverse childhood experiences that heighten a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood…

“Where possible,” the policy states, “officers shall determine whether any child is likely to be present at the location” when an arrest is planned. “When reasonably possible, officers may delay an arrest until the child is not likely to be present (e.g., at school or day care), or consider another time and place for making the arrest.”

If delaying the arrest is not possible, arrangements should be made to have child welfare services or a partner agency at the scene. The policy also calls for officers to directly ask arrestees if they are parents and whether or not a child is present.

Tim Birch, manager of research and planning for the Oakland Police Department, told the May 18 gathering that the department will incorporate as much of the model policy as is feasible for the department.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do a better job taking care of children when their parents are arrested even when the children are not present or it is not obvious that the arrestees are caretakers of children,” Birch said.


VERA AND JOHN JAY SEND CRIMINAL JUSTICE HEAVY HITTERS TO LEARN FROM THE GERMANS

The Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hand-selected a group of prison officials, prosecutors, researchers, and advocates from across the nation to send on a week-long tour of prisons in Germany.

On the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange tour, the 17 criminal justice field-trippers will have the opportunity to observe how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and more. And Germany has methods worth learning. Germany’s incarceration rates are almost 90% lower than the US.

Among those chosen to participate are Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at Charles Koch Institute (formerly of Right on Crime), and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movies and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah is also on the tour and will be providing updates along the way. Here’s a clip from his first story:

The Vera Institute has chosen these leaders in hopes that they’ll take the European lessons seriously, and that they have the clout and credibility to enact change once they return home.

The track record for this idea is short but promising. In 2013, Vera took a similar group on tours of prisons in the Netherlands and Germany. John Wetzel, who runs the prison system in Pennsylvania, adapted ideas from the trip as he revamped the way his state handles prisoners before they’re released. He learned how in Germany, correctional officers are more like therapists than guards, and when he returned, Wetzel told me, he increased training in communication skills for his employees, “shifting the whole focus around humanizing offenders and lifting the expectations for officers, to get every staff member to feel some ownership over outcomes.” Wetzel also increased mental health training because “when people understand the root cause of behavior, they are more likely to not interpret something as disrespectful.”

The point of all this, Wetzel added, is to figure out what’s causing prisoners to commit crimes so you can find out how to make sure they’re less likely to commit more once they leave prison, thereby protecting the public. “It almost smacked me in the face when they said that public safety is a logical consequence of a good corrections system, and not the other way around.”

Beyond policy, comparing American and German prisons will surely unearth some deeper undercurrents in the histories of both societies. Just as no study of American prisons is complete without looking at the history of race relations all the way back to slavery, German incarceration exists in the shadow of the 1940s and that decade’s unspeakable combination of prison, factory, and slaughterhouse.

“I’m interested in how contemporary German officials imagine the past in relation to their current practices,”f said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and will be on the trip. He has argued in the past that American public discourse is far more willing to examine the horrors of the Holocaust than to reckon with the legacy of slavery.

Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen is also a member of the group touring Germany prisons.

Contra Costa Times’ Tracey Kaplan has more on Rosen and his impression of German incarceration practices, thus far. Here’s a clip:

The group includes people from both ends of the political spectrum, from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Patrick “Dan” Malloy to a senior research fellow at the conservative Charles Koch Institute, Vikrant P. Reddy. Rosen, who also is a Democrat, was one of only three district attorneys in California to advocate easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, which had allowed life sentences even for nonviolent third felonies. He also supported Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for crimes such as petty theft.

Other members of the tour include Craig DeRoche, who helps run the largest prison ministry in the world and was once Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in Michigan, and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movie series and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.

The only other district attorney is Milwaukee’s John Chisholm, a Democrat profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker magazine recently for his uphill efforts to right the racial imbalance in American prisons.

The institute conducted a similar tour two years ago, but it was mostly for law enforcement and corrections officials.

“We wanted a broader range this time so we can reach more people,” Vera spokeswoman Mary Crowley said.

The eclecticism of the group reflects a sea change in the ranks of criminal justice reformers. An increasing number of tough-on-crime advocates now agree with social justice champions on the left that the prison-only approach for nonviolent offenders is failing and that there are more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars to make communities safe.

Rosen already has taken some steps to change the status quo. Among them: a pre-filing diversion program that allows about 1,500 people a year who trespass or commit other petty crimes to avoid having a criminal record by letting them take classes and make restitution.

“It’s saving tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Rosen said.


DCFS INVESTIGATES WHETHER A TODDLER’S TRAGIC BEATING COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY MORE PROACTIVE SOCIAL WORKERS

LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services officials are reviewing the actions of social workers leading up to the near-death beating of a 13-month-old by his mother’s boyfriend. Detectives said they did not expect the boy, Fernando Garcia, to survive. When LA deputies found Fernando last week in near Compton in his family’s home, the toddler was not breathing, and his body, covered with bruises and a burn, had gone cold.

Social workers chose to keep Fernando’s three sisters with their mother following the June 7th beating and the arrest of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez.

DCFS is investigating whether social workers should have paid more heed to callers to the child abuse hotline who gave reports of domestic violence involving men and Fernando’s mother.

DCFS has ordered the social workers to be retrained pending the investigation.

After a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended 163 important action items last year to reform the dysfunctional DCFS, county child welfare has seen some improvements, but there are still some major problem areas that need to be addressed. For instance, WLA reported recently on an audit that found, over a period of four months, at least $160,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens—but most likely $571,000 worth of those passes/tokens—were never given to foster kids in desperate need of them.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy’s home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.

Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy’s mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.

[SNIP]

In February 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hotline reported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be “unfounded” and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.

That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother’s back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations “inconclusive,” the DCFS records say.

The department closed the mother’s case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.


LAWSUIT BY FORMER OC SHERIFF’S COMMAND STAFF SAYS SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS USED BUDGET CUTS AS AN EXCUSE TO FIRE THEM, HUTCHENS SAYS THEY WERE LAID OFF TO SAVE MONEY

Former OC Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John Davis, and former captains Brian Cossairt, Deana Bergquist and Robert Eason are alleging that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens unfairly terminated them, using a $28 million budget shortfall as an excuse to get rid of them.

The plaintiffs say they were let go because of their affiliation with the former, scandal-plagued OC sheriff, Mike Carona, from whom Hutchens took over the department after Carona’s downward spiral for which he served time for witness tampering. The former command staff argue that Hutchens aimed to cleanse the department of top brass she considered to be involved in the corruption, and that she did not allow them the hearings they were entitled to. (But under Hutchens’ assertions that they were laid off to save the department millions, hearings would not be necessary.)

The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement and millions in combined damage.

The OC Register’s Sean Emery has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carona was in the midst of his downfall from being dubbed “America’s Sheriff” to serving time as a felon convicted of corruption charges. One of his closest allies, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, had already been convicted of tax evasion.

Hutchens, a veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, had been appointed by a tight 3-2 vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors with a mandate to reform the demoralized Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Among those Hutchens brought on to her newly created command staff were John Scott and Michael Hillmann, who she had worked with during her time with the LA County Sheriff’s. They joined high-level sheriff’s officials who remained with the department during the transition.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchens, Scott and Hillmann “made clear their belief” that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County was a “backwoods” territory that was still “rife with corruption,” even after Carona’s departure.

Joel W. Baruch, who is representing the five former sheriff’s officials, said Tuesday that the new leadership soon clashed with Anderson, who they accused of not informing them quickly enough about several incidents, including a reserve deputy acting inappropriately during an event involving presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and a deputy being arrested during a “peeping tom” incident.

“They told him ‘quit acting like the sheriff, there is a new sheriff in town,’ ” Baruch said.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

Alleged Abuse at a Boot Camp for LA-Area Kids….Disclosing LA County’s Legal Bills….LAUSD Program Re-Enrolls Kids Exiting Juvie Detention….Fight in Men’s Central Jail

June 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SEVEN KIDS SAY THEY WERE ABUSED DURING A BOOT CAMP PUT ON BY HUNTINGTON PARK AND SOUTH GATE POLICE DEPARTMENTS

Out of 36 kids who attended the Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) boot camp program in May, seven say they were punched, slapped, stepped on, and beaten by officers running the program. LEAD is sponsored by the Huntington Park and South Gate Police Departments.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused them, stepping on them as they did push-ups.

The program leaders would take them into a “dark room,” where the they would hold kids against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers from an officer stepping on his hand.

The kids said those responsible threatened physical harm if the kids broke their silence.

The San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating the allegations. The Gomez brothers have been suspended from the kids’ program, but are still on patrol, according to lawyers.

KTLA’s Ashley Soley-Cerro, Eric Spillman, Christina Pascucci, and Melissa Palmer have the story. Here are some clips:

Bridget Salazar said her 13-year-old son was punched, slammed up against a wall and choked.

“He just couldn’t stop crying,” Salazar said. “Right there, I knew something happened.”

Araceli Pulido said her daughters, aged 12 and 14, were among the seven alleging abuse. There are more campers who were hurt but they are too scared to come forward, Pulido said.

The children were allegedly told they were worthless and their parents did not love or want them, and that the camp was three months long rather than a week, according to Owen.

The “Gomez brothers” were primarily responsible for the mistreatment, the children reported.

“Many of the children are suffering from nightmares and other emotional trauma because the Gomez brothers are out on the streets. They are afraid the Gomez brothers will come after them,” Owen’s news release stated.


EDITORIAL: COUNTY SHOULD DISCLOSE TO TAXPAYERS $$ AMOUNTS SPENT ON PRIVATE LAW FIRMS FOR LAWSUITS AGAINST LASD

Last June, a Superior Court judge ruled in favor of civilian watchdog Eric Preven and the SoCal ACLU in a lawsuit demanding the Los Angeles Office of County Counsel release information on the exact dollar amounts paid to private law firms in lawsuits filed against the LASD and its personnel (particularly the ones alleging LASD misconduct, abuse, and excessive use of force that typically drag on for a year, or three, presumably while the meter is running).

But this April, an appeals court agreed with the county that any information between lawyer and client, including invoices, is confidential. Last week, Preven and the ACLU petitioned the CA Supreme Court to reverse the appeals court decision.

An LA Times editorial says the Supes answer to the public, and should be forthcoming with how much taxpayers are forking over for these lawsuits, and preferably before the Supreme Court has to deal with it. Here’s a clip:

Eric Preven is one such county resident, and he sought the invoices for a handful of cases under the California Public Records Act. When the county rejected much of his request, he and the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California sued. A judge ruled in Preven’s favor a year ago, but in April an appeals court sided with the county, accepting its argument that billing records — indeed, anything at all that passes between a lawyer and client — are protected from disclosure.

That’s an unduly expansive reading of the attorney-client privilege, which is widely understood to apply to a lawyer’s advice, a client’s directives and other substantive communications made in the scope of the lawyer’s representation, but not to billing records of the type sought by Preven and the ACLU, cleansed of sensitive information. In the case of Los Angeles County, where voters or residents might understandably believe they are collectively the clients and ought to have access to relevant information, the privilege protects not them but their elected representatives, the Board of Supervisors.

The public should be pleased that Preven and the ACLU are not taking the ruling lying down. Last week, they petitioned the state Supreme Court to overturn the decision.

As intriguing as the legal issue is, however, it should not obscure the basic fact that the supervisors, as the client, have the authority to waive the privilege and release the documents right now — but have opted instead to fight.


PROGRAM RE-ENROLLS AND RE-ENGAGES LAUSD HIGH SCHOOLERS WHEN THEY ARE RELEASED FROM JUVENILE DENTENTION FACILITIES

As of last year, California law mandates juvenile justice systems connect with school systems to keep kids who are released from juvenile detention facilities from slipping through the cracks. According to the Youth Law Center in San Francisco, more than 80% of kids leaving lock-up are not enrolled in school within the first month of their release.

An LA Unified School District counseling program works to catch those kids and help them re-enroll in school and keep up with classes, and also to direct them to other important services.

More than 100 LAUSD kids are released from lock-up every month. In fact, there are more LAUSD kids cycling in and out of the detention centers than in any other school district. But because of budget cuts, the program cannot sustain enough counselors to meet the needs of every justice system-involved kid.

And when the counselors do reach out, those kids have to be receptive to the idea of returning to (and completing) high school. Some are not.

KPCC’s Annie Gilbertson has more on the program.

Gilbertson’s story follows two formerly incarcerated high school kids, one who completes high school and moves on to community college while working for Homeboy Industries, the other who, unfortunately, does not triumph over the statistics. Here are some clips:

When 19-year-old Liliana Flores was in fifth grade, her parents immigrated into the United States from El Salvador. Her family was fleeing gang violence, but it only followed them to Los Angeles.

“I never had a happy home,” she said.

Social workers thought Flores would be safer in foster care. She was tossed from group home to group home packed with troubled teens.

“I started doing the same things they were doing,” Flores said.

She got into drugs, and it led to a series of stints in juvenile detention centers scattered throughout Los Angeles County. In between her time away, she attended continuation high schools filled with other at-risk students struggling to stay within the law.

[SNIP]

Even after her incarceration, Flores wears a uniform: a long-sleeve, button-down shirt with a neat collar.

It conceals the tattoos climbing her arms, inked across her chest and spread around her scalp. On her neck, a tattoo she got when she was 14 years old says “f— love” in swirling letters.

Valli Cohen, a nurse practitioner, is taking a laser to Flores’ tattoo at the Homeboy Industries medical office, which specializes in gang tattoo removal…

It’s hard to tell if the attempt to track students exiting juvenile detention is having an impact. LAUSD declined to provide the numbers of students who re-enroll and go on to graduate.

But Flores said it is working for her…

“Right now, I’m taking Criminal Justice I, and I’m taking Criminal Justice II,” she said.

Flores plans to transfer to University of California, Santa Cruz, and eventually become a probation officer. Her report card is full of Bs and she said the fact that she’s undocumented is her motivation.


FIGHT BETWEEN 80 INMATES AT MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL

At 12:30p.m. on Wednesday, a fight broke out between around 80 inmates in Men’s Central Jail in downtown LA. Deputies succeeded in quelling the disturbance in about ten minutes. One inmate was stabbed and three others were wounded in the fight. There were no serious injuries. Both Men’s Central and Twin Towers jails, which are across the street from each other, were placed on lockdown.

CBS has more on the incident.

Posted in ACLU, California Supreme Court, children and adolescents, Education, jail, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LAUSD, law enforcement | 2 Comments »

The 22-Hour Standoff, Sentencing Videos, and a Promising Housing Program in SF

May 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LASD 22-HOUR STANDOFF WITH ELDERLY WOMAN A MODEL FOR HOW LAW ENFORCEMENT INTERACTIONS WITH THE MENTALLY ILL CAN GO RIGHT

Last Thursday, beginning at 5:30a.m. in a mobile home park on the 4200 block of Topanga Blvd., a mentally ill 74-year-old woman armed with a revolver engaged members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in an intense standoff that lasted more than 20 hours.

On Tuesday, LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell called a press conference to lay out the details of the crisis situation, which would have tested “the resolve, training and tactics of any law enforcement agency.”

The woman reportedly brandished the gun at paramedics and officers who had responded to her distress call, as well as mobile home park residents (who were quickly evacuated), before taking over a neighboring mobile home. The LASD sent in its Crisis Negotiations Team, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” commanding officers, and special equipment.

The raving elderly woman reportedly shot at a robot sent in to negotiate with her, as well as at officers during the standoff. At one point, the woman approached officers, saying she had lost her gun, before pulling it out and firing two rounds.

Sheriff McDonnell said the incident “provided rare insight in to the continuum of decisions that our deputies make in life or death situations…decisions that balance the need for control in the name of public safety…with the safety and welfare of an individual.”

Officers deployed a great deal of less-than-lethal resources, including foam projectiles, tear gas, and even a fire hose, all of which failed to subdue the woman. Despite believing the woman had at least one live round left, a Special Enforcement Bureau (SWAT) “Blue Team,” stripped out of their gear, helmets, and vests. Five Blue Team members very carefully crawled under the house, and were able to take the woman into custody—all at great danger to the unarmed officers.

McDonnell praised the officers’ skillful handling of a situation that could have easily ended in tragedy. “It would be a mischaracterization to say that the SWAT team was ‘held at bay,’” said McDonnell. “The Special Enforcement Bureau’s SWAT team held themselves at bay of out an overriding desire to end the incident without having to resort to using deadly force.”

Sons of the elderly woman, who they said had never been in trouble or caused any disturbances before, expressed deep gratitude to the members of the Lost Hills Station and SWAT team: “…everyone we came into contact with exhibited the utmost in compassion, concern, patience, discipline  and restraint: for the residents of the mobile park, their fellow officers, our family and most importantly, for an elderly woman in need of help.”


SENTENCING VIDEOS BRING DEFENDANTS HUMANNESS INTO THE COURTROOM, BUT WILL THE COST KEEP THEM OUT OF REACH FOR POOR DEFENDANTS?

It is becoming increasingly more common for defense lawyers to submit mini biographical documentaries during sentencing. The new defense tool, commonly called a “sentencing video” focuses on a defendant’s history, hardships and traumas, and potential, in an effort to humanize defendants and sway judges toward handing down lighter punishment.

Advocates are concerned, however, that as the trend grows, the use of often-costly sentencing videos will not be possible for indigent defendants using public defenders.

Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice non-profit, seeks to level the playing field.

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has the story. Here’s a clip:

Even in cities with robust public defense programs, like New York, lawyers may be handling as many as 100 cases at once, and they say there is little room to add shooting and editing videos to their schedules.

“It’s hard for me to imagine that public defenders could possibly spare the time to do that,” said Josh Saunders, who until recently was a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, adding that lawyers there are often physically in court for the entire workday. He sees the humanizing potential of videos, he said, but “I would also be concerned that defendants with means would be able to put together a really nice package that my clients generally would not be able to.”

Mr. Jayadev’s nonprofit, Silicon Valley De-Bug, a criminal justice group and community center in San Jose, Calif., believes that videos are a new frontier in helping poor defendants, and is not only making videos but also encouraging defense lawyers nationwide to do the same. The group has made about 20 biographical videos for defendants, one featuring footage of the parking lot where a homeless teenage defendant grew up. With a $30,000 grant from the Open Society Foundation, De-Bug is now training public defenders around the country.

Given that a defendant has a right to speak at sentencing, a video is on solid legal ground, said Walter Dickey, emeritus professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, “though the judge can obviously limit what’s offered.” Professor Dickey said that because, at both the state and federal levels, the lengths of sentences are increasingly up to judges rather than mandated by statute, it followed that videos that “speak to the discretionary part” of sentencing were having a bigger role.

Mr. Jayadev takes a standard approach to his projects: The producers identify the defendant’s past hardships and future prospects, then select supporters or family members to describe those, usually in a visual context, like a pastor in a church pew. Mr. Jayadev said he found it was more natural to have the defendant talking to someone off-screen, rather than staring at the camera.

For Mr. Quijada, “this story is around this young man’s transformation from a life that had sort of run its course,” Mr. Jayadev said.


A COLLABORATIVE SF PROGRAM TO PROVIDE FORMER OFFENDERS WITH FREE HOUSING AND REHABILITATION SERVICES TO HELP THEM GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

Forty-two recently released low-level former offenders and more serious offenders who are currently on probation will soon move into their own studio apartments at Drake Hotel in the heart of San Francisco. Through a united effort between the SF Superior Court, Probation Department, and Tenderloin Housing Clinic, a single-occupancy hotel is being transformed to specifically house homeless former offenders who struggle with addiction.

The move is particularly meaningful in a city where the average apartment runs $3,458 per month. The goal of the housing program, which is funded with realignment money, is to help tenants find permanent housing within one year of living at the Drake Hotel.

Tenants will be given a set of responsibilities and a curfew and will be paired with case managers who will help them access public benefits and save up for a deposit and first month’s rent on their own apartment.

The SF Chronicle’s Heather Knight has more on the program. Here are some clips:

…asked why criminals should get free housing in San Francisco when law-abiding low-income and even middle-class families struggle to afford apartments, court officials seemed to be caught off guard.

“The kind of housing these folks are getting is not something to be envious of, honestly. It’s just a room,” said Lisa Lightman, director of the Superior Court’s collaborative courts, which include special courts for drug-addicted people and mentally ill people and the Community Justice Center, which handles low-level crimes committed in the Tenderloin.

Asked the same question, Krista Gaeta, deputy director of the Tenderloin Housing Clinic, said the public will benefit if people who have committed crimes are living in decent housing and provided case management.

“You can’t let someone out of jail, give them $5 and say, ‘Good luck,’” she said. “The better plan is to do things like this so they can go out and get permanent housing, find work and not commit the crimes that got them in trouble in the first place.”

[SNIP]

Fletcher said it has become increasingly difficult to help people on probation in San Francisco find any sort of housing because of the city’s sky-high rents. Last month, San Francisco landlords with available apartments were asking a record average rent of $3,458 a month.

The Drake Hotel will specifically serve people on probation who are homeless and are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The facility will be considered a clean and sober building, but tenants won’t be evicted for having relapses, Fletcher said.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Sentencing | 22 Comments »

Updates & Early Legal Challenges in the Tanaka/Carey Indictment Drama….A Call for “Smart Justice” for LA County….a New Brand of Advice for Next Generation Cops…the Death of Officer Kerrie Orozco

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FIRST STEPS TOWARD TRIAL FOR TANAKA AND CAREY

On Friday, May 29, the first “status hearing” is scheduled in the obstruction of justice trial of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LA County Sheriff’s department, and Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB).

Judge Percy Anderson will be presiding. Originally the trial was assigned to Judge S.James Otero but, as many involved had predicted, Anderson managed to snatch the high profile case from Otero and move it into his courtroom. Percy Anderson, for those who don’t remember, was the judge on both of James Sexton’s trials and that of the other six former LASD members convicted of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka’s legal team was not thrilled with the judicial switch, likely because some on the defense teams from the last trials thought Anderson had pro prosecution leanings. As a consequence, the Tanaka team filed a motion “to Return Case to Randomly Assigned District Judge Based Upon Improper Transfer.”

Anderson, however, denied the motion with vigor mere hours after it was filed.The issues raised in Tanaka’s Motion are so devoid of merit that no further briefing is required,” he wrote.

And that was that.

(Anderson is not a mincer of words.)

One of the other issues that was to have been heard on Friday was a request for a “judicial inquiry” regarding possible conflicts of interest due to the fact that Carey was being represented by Thomas O’Brian and other members of the Paul Hastings law firm.

it’s easy to see why Carey chose O’Brien. He held the post of U.S. Attorney just before Andre Birotte, which means he knows the workings of that office inside and out. (Andre Birotte is the U.S. Attorney who presided over most of the investigations and charges that are now playing out. Birotte has since gone on to a federal judgeship, and was replaced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura, the woman who unveiled Tanaka and Carey’s charges.) The potential conflict that the government has flagged is the fact that O’Brien represented LASD deputy James Sexton, one of the seven who was previously convicted of charges similar to those recently slapped on Tanaka and Carey. Moreover the attorney is still representing Sexton for his appeal to the 9th Circuit. The prosecution also noted, in their lengthy request, that some of Carey’s perjury charges had to do with questions he was asked by O’Brien when Carey was the witness stand for the defense during one or both of Sexton’s two trials.

The prosecutors made a strong argument in their request for an inquiry, with plenty of case law cited. Not too long after the prosecution filed its request, O’Brien and company withdrew as counsel for Carey.

A trial date is expected to be set at the hearing on Friday.

In the meantime, in an email that went out to the members of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), the union’s leadership urged department members who wished to support Carey to give to his family via a special website that had been set up by PPOA. There LASD members can also give to the families of any of the other six as well, thus getting around the prohibition, according to department rules, against any kind of contact with the six now that they had been convicted of felonies.

The message on the donations site reads in part:

SUPPORT FAMILIES OF THOSE CONVICTED FOR FOLLOWING ORDERS

Earlier this year, the Feds convicted 7 employees of the LASD for following the orders of their bosses. Regardless of their guilt or innocence, they and their families are facing difficult times financially. Many are struggling to make their mortgage payments and to put food on the table to feed their children.

“One thing we do well in law enforcement is support each other in times of need.” said PPOA President Brian Moriguchi. “We realize just how difficult a job we do and the risks we face. Few can truly understand that. That is why we are like family and look out for one another. The families of these convicted employees are paying the price for what was really a pissing match between two law enforcement agencies.”

Paul Tanaka’s name, however, is notably absent from the donations site, presumably because he was allegedly one of the “bosses,” whose orders the others were following.


A CALL FOR “SMART JUSTICE”

While some of California’s other counties have embraced the challenge and opportunity of realignment to create programs and strategies that both help and monitor inmates when they finish their incarceration terms and begin to attempt integrate back into their individual communities, LA County has lagged behind.

On Sunday, the LA Times editorial board urged LA County to dispense with its lagging and to start practicing “smart justice.”

Here’s a clip from the story::

Counties are working to find the best ways to provide housing, healthcare and employment, to serve not only nonviolent offenders but their victims, their families and their neighborhoods. There have been many successes and many lessons to learn.

If only Los Angeles County would learn them. The state’s (by far) largest county ought to be a leader in smart and effective justice, but as other counties have spent their state realignment dollars on programs intended to reduce recidivism, L.A. County has only dabbled in such initiatives and instead spends most of its realignment money on old-school law enforcement, monitoring and punishment.


“BE GUARDIANS NOT WARRIORS” SAYS HEAD OF JOHN JAY’S POLICE STUDIES PROGRAM TO HIS WOULD-BE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

NPR’S Robert Siegel visited John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the west side of Manhattan, and observed veteran police officer Professor John DeCarlo, who coordinates the highly respected police studies program at John Jay, as DeCarlo encouraged his next-generation law enforcement students to become “guardians” more than “warriors.”

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

SIEGEL: John DeCarlo spent 34 years as a police officer and later a police chief in Connecticut. Then he got his PhD and made the switch to teaching at John Jay. In light of this year’s stories about policing, I asked him if he talks with his students about how they as future law enforcement officers should manage their encounters with civilians, including the fear that they might feel at such moments.

DECARLO: We have not only talked about the fear that one feels at that point and the reaction that an officer might have, but we also talked about how certain people will be predisposed to different reactions, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to really increase the efficacy of police selection processes so that we do not put people on the job who would be bullies.

SIEGEL: And do you feel those people can be identified before they become police officers or early on in their police careers? How do you do that?

DECARLO: I do. You know, right now, when police officers come on, you know, we send them to an academy that is very militaristic. We are looking, very often, for big people. Women are underrepresented wildly, and we know that women are much better at talking their way out of bad situations than big guys. Right now we give cops a test called the MMPI-2, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. So we pretty much determine that they’re not psychopaths. I think that’s a low bar.

SIEGEL: In his senior seminar, DeCarlo comes off as a born teacher.

DECARLO: Good morning. We are going to talk a little bit about – Tyric (ph), how are you? – where police have gone and where we want them to go.

SIEGEL: He is dynamic, commanding attention, knowing his students, working the seminar room rather than standing at the front. The seminar draws on ideas from, among other sources, Plato’s “Republic,” in which the police are the guardians and the principles of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London’s police and namesake of London’s of bobbies, and President Obama’s 21st-Century Task Force on Policing. John DeCarlo is a strong supporter of community policing. He leads his students through a Socratic dialogue inspired by an article about the shift in our view of police from guardians to warriors….


THE HEARTBREAKING DEATH OF OMAHA POLICE OFFICER KERRIE OROZCO

It is always heartbreak-producing when a law enforcement officer is killed. But the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Omaha officer Kerrie Orozco in an exchange of gunfire with a fugitive is elliciting an unusual amount of grief in the city she was devoted to protecting and serving.

Here’s a clip from a very personal Fox News story about Orozco and the response to her death.

As the family of Kerrie Orozco grieved for the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran following her death Wednesday in a shootout with a fugitive, the city’s flags flew at half-staff, the police department rallied behing the simple phrase “Kerrie On,” and donations poured in for Olivia Ruth, the baby Orozco had just given birth to prematurely. Orozco was working her last shift before going on maternity leave to be with her baby when a criminal’s bullet struck her just above the bulletproof vest that might have saved her life.

“She was so excited to be a mother,” her aunt Laurie McNeil told FoxNews.com Friday.

Olivia was born premature Feb. 17. Orozco was set to bring her home from the hospital Thursday and go on maternity leave. Wednesday’s tragic events changed all that.

“She had the bassinet all set up by the side of the bed,” McNeil said. “She just wanted to be ready.”

Orozco was part of a fugitive task force searching for convicted felon Marcus Wheeler. He was being sought for an earlier Omaha shooting. As they closed in on the suspect Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler, 26, opened fire.

Police said one of his bullets struck Orozco in the chest and exited her back. An inch lower and it would have struck her in her bullet-proof vest.

McNeil told FoxNews.com she had a bad feeling when she looked at her phone Wednesday and saw a breaking news flash reporting an Omaha police officer had been shot.

“I immediately turned on the Internet and started watching,” the aunt said, choking back tears. “I was hoping to see her walk across the screen.”

As her deepest fears grew, McNeil sent Orozco a text asking, “Are you Ok?” She tried calling. She didn’t get an answer.

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | 55 Comments »

« Previous Entries