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DOWNFALL: Lee Baca, Paul Tanaka & the LASD

February 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


DOWNFALL: FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA, HIS SECOND IN COMMAND PAUL TANKA AND THE STORY OF HOW THINGS AT THE LASD GOT SO BAD

The insanely long story (more than 11,000 words) I wrote about former sheriff Lee Baca for Los Angeles Magazine is both online and on the news stand.

It is, of course, about way more than Lee Baca as the title suggests.

Regular readers of WitnessLA will find that much in the story covers material with which you’re already very familiar. But I think you’ll find some new nuggets. More than anything, I hope the tale gathers most of the main puzzle pieces together to form a larger, explanatory picture that will have some impact, particularly for those LA residents who are not obsessive LASD watchers, but who want a deeper understanding of what the hell is going on in the sheriff’s department and why they need to care about it.

You can find the online version here.

Here’s a small snippet:

Scores of other LASD members, working and retired, have described similar experiences to me. “The requests would come in a bunch of different ways,” said a female officer. “You would be told that it would be good for your career to walk precincts for Paul. I never walked precincts, but I’ve been to three of his events and another fund-raiser he threw for [former city attorney] Carmen Trutanich. I gave money each time. There wasn’t a choice.”

In one instance she gave $350, at the request of her boss. He in turn was required to collect checks from his underlings, she said, because he was prominently “in the car” with Tanaka. “In the car” was the term for those who operated in the slipstream of the undersheriff’s patronage. “If you were single, like I was at the time,” she explained, “you were told things like, ‘You don’t have any kids, so you can afford more.’ ”

The ring kissing worked in two ways, both directly and in tiers. “In other words,” she told me, “I wasn’t just writing a check to stay in Tanaka’s good graces, I was doing it to get along with my boss. It sounds crazy, but that’s how it worked. And if you said no, they’d tell you, ‘Then you have nothing coming.’ Those were the terms they’d always use—in the car and nothing coming.”

One meant you were protected. The other meant you were screwed.

And here again is a link the teaser Q & A that my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me, along with a clip to give you an idea of the exchange below:

Q: When you began the assignment for this story a year ago, Baca was still very much in office. He had every intention of running for sheriff again and looked like a shoo-in to win in June. But he “retired” a month before we went to press and not long after the US Attorney’s office delivered a multicounty indictment against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. As far as LASD critics may be concerned, problem solved, right? So why do you think the story is still necessary?

A: Mainly because I believe the story is far from over. The FBI is looking at a number of new areas of alleged corruption that fall well outside the problems in the jails. And, although Lee Baca is has yanked himself from the LASD’s helm, his controversial second in command, Paul Tanaka, is running for sheriff. But no matter who is elected next November, for real reform to take place, the new sheriff will need to have a clear-eyed view of the dysfunction that still plagues this department. I hope this story can provide a bit of that perspective.

A NOTE ON RADIO SHOWS: As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on KCRW’s show Press Play with Madeleine Brand today, Wednesday, at noon. You can listen to it online here (or at 89.9 FM) in real time.

Here’s a link to the podcast. The LASD segment begins at just about the 26 minute mark.

Then tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll be on KPCC’s AirTalk with Patt Morrison sitting in for Larry Mantle. Airtalk is on from 11 am until 1 pm, and you can listen live at 89.3 FM. And naturally I’ll post the podcast for this show too when it goes up.

Okay, whew! I guess that’s it. There’ll be one more web extra about the LASD on LA Mag later in the week. I’ll let you know when it goes up.


PHOTO OF LEE BACA BY SAXON BRICE

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 53 Comments »

Latest Fed Indictment of LASD Deputies Suggests Big Failures of Leadership

February 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence
about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.

(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)

The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”

These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.

The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.

But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.


1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED

Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.

According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.

No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.

But, heck, why deal in evidence?


2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.

After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.

Not that it did any good.

According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.

Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:

“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”


3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.

Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.

“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.

The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.

Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.

(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)

We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.

I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.

Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.

(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)

In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.

May it be so.

The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.


4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?

And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.

And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.

With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.

We are counting on just that.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)

Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.

I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.

So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?

Sunday’s LA Times editorial explains:

While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?

It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.

Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.

The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.

Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?

Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”

(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)

Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.

As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.

Posted in ACLU, District Attorney, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Sheriff Lee Baca | 47 Comments »

OC’s John Scott Named Interim Sheriff—& So Far the News Seems Good

January 29th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN IS OC’S JOHN SCOTT

On Tuesday after much speculation, a couple of closed meetings between the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and many side meetings in the individual Supes’ offices, the board members finally agreed upon a selection for the interim LA County Sheriff.

Their pick is John Scott. And the early word is good on the selection of Scott who, for the last few years, has been the undersheriff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department under OC Sheriff Sandy Hutchins. Prior to his Orange County job, Scott worked for the LA County Sheriff’s Department for over 3 1/2 decades—-from 1969 to 2005. One of his final postings at the LASD was as Chief of the Custody Division, making him familiar with—among other things— the difficulties of running the country’s largest jail system.

Scott will attend his first LASD executive staff meeting on Wednesday at department headquarters.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Department had its own kind of challenges when Hutchens lured Scott out of retirement to help her clean up the mess left behind by the federally indicted former Sheriff Michael Carona. (Hutchens was appointed in 2008 to finish out Carona’s term after he was arrested.)

Scott told the Supes he will go back to his OC job after he finishes his tenure in LA County this coming December when a new sheriff will be sworn in. Hutchins has said she is holding the job open for Scott.

“The fact that Scott had a place to go back to had a big appeal,” said a county insider of the supervisors’ choice. It meant, said the source, that that Scott wasn’t angling to run for LA sheriff himself. “It also solved the problem of, ‘How do you get an A-lister for the short term?’”

According to another well-placed source, additional selling points for the board members include the fact that, due to his decades in LA, Scott has a working knowledge of the embattled LASD, without being caught up in all the factions and intrigue to which many insiders are subject. And yet, “he knows where a lot of the bodies are buried,” said the source.

When Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement on January 7 of this year, he named Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald as his pick for interim sheriff—a choice that some of the Supes embraced more than others did, although all seem very pleased with McDonalds work as head of the department’s long-beleaguered custody division. The possibility of her stepping in to run the entire department was nixed when attorneys from the county counsel’s office said that McDonald did not have the proper certification to run the whole department.

McDonald came to the LASD from her position as undersecretary for operations California Department of Corrections starting her career a quarter century earlier as a corrections officer, making her an appealing choice to run LA County’s scandal-racked jail system—yet not, thought some, an ideal fit for the department-wide job.

Scott, in contrast, explained to the supervisors how involved he had been in in helping Sheriff Hutchens implement her five point action plan to reform the OC department.

The plan’s outline ends this way:

The ultimate goal of law enforcement in America is to reduce crime by honoring every aspect of American law. This includes the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The foundation of any law enforcement agency must be built on the public trust.

The Supes approved Scott by a vote of 4-0 (with Mark Ridley Thomas abstaining).

At the Tuesday afternoon press conference where he was introduced, Scott told the crowd of reporters and onlookers that he was returning to the department “I love.” He also assured those listening that he would not be “a placeholder.”

“I will begin the process, immediately, of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and the trust of the public that they serve,” Scott said.

On Thursday at noon, Lee Baca will leave the office he has held for 15 years and the department he has served for 48.

When Scott left the LASD in 2005, he did so in part, according to our sources, because of a dissatisfaction with the some of those to whom he felt Sheriff Baca was ceding too much power.


HE’S THE SHERIFF, NOT THE “INTERIM” SHERIFF

LA Times editorial board member, Rob Greene, opines interestingly that the Supes pick, John Scott, is a great combination of LASD insider and outsider.

Here’s a clip:

The Board of Supervisors could have picked an insider to succeed Lee Baca and serve as Los Angeles County sheriff for the next 10 months. A top deputy would have given the Sheriff’s Department someone already acquainted with the policies and pecking orders that give the place its culture, and with the people who patrol the streets and the jails. But that’s just the point: Continuity isn’t always a plus. The department needed an unmistakable break from its past, so choosing an insider wouldn’t have been the best move.

So the board could have gone with an outsider, a person from another law enforcement or corrections agency with a solid resume of experience untainted by any time in Baca’s department. But that would have meant a person trying to fix, or even just run, the department without much knowledge of its particular assets and problems. Such a sheriff might have had trouble gaining support or even respect from either internal would-be reformers or old-school foot-draggers, all of whom would have recognized that their boss was a short-termer who would be gone by Dec. 5, when the newly elected sheriff is sworn in.

In picking Orange County Undersheriff John Scott, the board went with someone who’s got a foot in each camp…..

Posted in LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 27 Comments »

SHOCKER: Sheriff Lee Baca to Announce His Retirement on Tuesday at 10 AM.

January 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice for WitnessLA


In a surprising turn of events, WitnessLA has learned that Sheriff Lee Baca will announce
that he will not finish out his term as the head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department. The announcement will reportedly come at 10 am Tuesday morning.

Up until now, 71-year-old Sheriff Baca has continued to reaffirm that he was running for a fifth term as sheriff. And that he wasn’t at all worried about challengers Bob Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, who are considered to be the most serious of the candidates running against him. Yet, with the unveiling of 18 federal indictments in December, and many more reportedly still to come, plus a rising tide of department scandals that still shows no sign of abatement, observers were no longer calling Baca’s reelection a sure thing.

Baca is presently serving his fourth term in office. He was sworn in for his first term as sheriff on December 7, 1998.

The pending announcement comes as a shock to even most of those who know the sheriff, sources told us. Baca reportedly spoke to each of the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors individually on Monday night. He reportedly briefed members of his command staff days before, meeting with many of them individually.


WHO WILL TAKE BACA’S PLACE?

It will be up to the LA County Board of Supervisors to choose an interim sheriff to replace Baca, although attorneys from the County Counsel’s office are expected to brief the board in the near future on the fine points of this process.

With the sitting sheriff removing himself from the race, at least one, possibly two additional candidates are likely to enter the contest to join the existing top contenders—Olmsted and Tanaka.

One of those, Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers, is expected to announce his candidacy as early as Tuesday—reportedly with Baca’s blessing, and possibly the support of some of the sheriff’s high ticket donors.

The other possible new entry is Long Beach Chief of Police/former LAPD Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, who was considering stepping into the race even before word of Baca’s impending announcement was confirmed. (Last summer McDonnell came close to declaring his candidacy, but then decided against it.)

In the meantime, Tanaka is said to have acquired some deep pocket campaign donors. While Olmsted’s campaign is now being run by heavy hitter veteran campaign consultant, John Shallman, who most recently ran Mike Feuer’s campaign for City Attorney.

More soon.


Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 59 Comments »

Head of LA Anti-Gang Dept. Resigns…Realignment, “Flash” Arrests, and the Battle Against Recidivism…and More

January 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

GUILLERMO CESPEDES TO LEAVE POST AS “ANTI-GANG CZAR,” AND WHAT THAT MEANS FOR LA

Director of LA’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development, Guillermo Cespedes—whose innovative gang violence reduction efforts were considered an integral element in the city’s crime decrease over his nearly four-and-a-half-year tenure, and in helping kids stay out of gangs altogether—will be resigning this Thursday. Cespedes will be taking a position at Creative Associates International, in the organization’s crime and violence prevention division for Honduras and El Salvador.

On Thursday’s Air Talk, Frank Stoltze (filling in for Larry Mantle) talks to Cespedes, along with LA City Councilman and Chair of Public Safety Committee, Joe Buscaino, and UCLA violence reduction expert, Jorja Leap, about Cespedes’ move, his legacy and what the future holds for gang intervention in LA.

Here are a few clips from the highlights:

[Cespedes] On why he is leaving his post as anti-gang czar:

“I think that for me this is a natural evolution of the work that we’ve done in LA. It’s sort of interesting that people are framing it as me leaving LA, rather than the work is evolving. To me it’s a logical next chapter.

“Most of this started back in 2011, I was called into an officer involved shooting in Rampar/Pico-Union, a 17-year-old got killed, he happened to be gang-involved. I’m giving the mother the news and about 14 members of his family. She says to me, ‘I need to call his father and give him the news’…It dawned on me that she was calling El Salvador. I went back to the office and said to the staff that our concept of a grid zone is much larger than what we think, and probably about three months later I made my first trip to El Salvador. The motivation for it was to connect the work that we’re doing here with I think very important work that is being done there and those two elements need to connect.

[SNIP]

[Cespedes] On the basis of his programs to reduce gang violence:

Number one, you have to engage the people who are perpetrating the violence if you want to reduce violence. You cannot put up a lightbulb and hope that lighting up the neighborhood is going to reduce violence. You have to physically engage in an ethical way with the people who are perpetrating the violence. Number two, I believe we have to focus on behavior, not identity. We learned that from LAPD that blanketing a neighborhood based on a person’s identity backfired all through the ’70s, the ’80s and the ’90s. You have to look at specific behavior, who i perpetrating that behavior, not the entire neighborhood.

“Statistically, what we know from empirical data is little at 3 percent and as high as 15 percent of youth living in those marginalized communities…will likely become gang members… We used to think of dangerous neighborhoods, we used to think of youth violence, as if that came with the term, youth. I think if we look at data, this might not be the most violent generation of youth in decades, but yet youth violence seems to be like a first and last name… In LA we really had to break apart some assumptions, including what we think a family is.”

[SNIP]

[Buscaino] We’re excited…to work with the new mayoral administration and expanding the success of the grid program, as well as working forward with the county, and improving coordination and communication amongst the departments…

[SNIP]

[Jorja Leap] I do think there’s work to do… And I think we’ve got to look at reentry. We’ve got AB109—we’ve got prison realignment—and I think this is going to be a challenge…let’s celebrate the success, but let’s look to sustaining it. We need to stay the course.

(There’s a lot more, so be sure to go listen to the rest.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WLA are fans of Cespesdes and are sorry to see him go—even though we know that LA’s loss will be Central America’s gain.


LA COUNTY’S STRUGGLE AGAINST RECIDIVISM, POST-REALIGNMENT

Since realignment began two years ago, and thousands of state prisoners were put under county oversight, LA County’s Probation Dept. has made considerable efforts to reduce recidivism. It has been no simple task.

One tactic the department has utilized, with mixed success, “flash” incarceration, allows probation officers to send supervision-violators to jail for up to ten days. Before realignment, probation-violators were usually sent back to state prison, which was expensive, mostly ineffective, and jammed the prison system.

So far, the new methods have had a small measurable success against rearrests, but the probation department has struggled to break the jail cycle. In December, nearly 20% of the realignment probationers had a current arrest warrant for absconding.

The LA Times’ Abbey Sewell has the story. Here are some clips:

Though hundreds of millions of dollars in increased state funding has been allocated to the county for the realignment program, local officials say it’s not enough to lock up, rehabilitate and keep track of the expanded population of criminals. Moreover, they contend that most of those the state indicated would be non-serious offenders have been assessed by local law enforcement officers to be high risks for committing new crimes.

[SNIP]

Use of the new ["flash" incarceration] tactic in Los Angeles County jumped nearly 300% in the second year of realignment to 10,000 “flash” arrests, a county analysis shows. Nearly half of those ex-inmates were incarcerated two or more times, with one jailed 13 times.

About 60% of a group of 500 felons shifted to county supervision in the first year of realignment were arrested for new crimes or violating probation — slightly higher than the 56% recidivism rate for former state prisoners overall, according to data from county and state studies.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman with the state’s corrections department, noted that those statistics show a slight reduction in rearrests of former prison inmates. That is cause to be “cautiously optimistic” that the program will disrupt cycles of crime in the future, he said.

However, the figures also show more churning through the jail system among ex-prisoners like Azevedo. Since realignment began, the proportion of former state inmates arrested four or more times in the first year after their release increased from 7% to 12%.

That’s partly the result of an increasing reliance on flash jail stays. They are seen as a less costly and less severe option for getting nonviolent offenders off the street — and getting probationers to change their behavior — than longer sentences that exacerbate overcrowding in county jails.

Supporters of realignment say the mini-sentences appear to be working: Most felons jailed for the short terms haven’t been rearrested on similar violations. They also note that repeat offenders can be sentenced to three months in jail.

[SNIP]

“If there’s anything we can do while they’re sitting in the county jail, a captive audience, to keep them from absconding when those gates are opened, we’re going to do it,” said county Probation Department Assistant Chief Margarita Perez, whose agency sought a lead role in realignment and is getting $80 million for the program this year.

Ultimately, prison reform advocates and state officials predict the new system will encourage alternatives to incarceration, allow offenders to be near their families and help them break drug habits and patterns of criminal behavior that return them to state prison.

So far, that hasn’t worked for Azevedo, 27, a self-described third-generation street gang member whose criminal history began when he was a child in the small northern Orange County city of Placentia…

After leaving Calipatria State Prison in April 2012, Azevedo ignored a requirement to report to an L.A. county probation officer and went back to the streets in Pacoima, where a girlfriend waited.

He was flash incarcerated six times and had his probation revoked four of those times. After each release from jail, he fled from county supervision…


THE IMPORTANCE OF REHABILITATION OUTSIDE OF JUVENILE CAMPS

KPCC’s Rina Palta has a worthwhile story about the finite value of juvenile camps and the new and welcome shift of focus toward youths’ reentry into the community. Here’s a clip:

L.A.’s Deputy Probation Chief Felicia Cotton says even when kids are successful in camp, once they go home, they often fall back to old behaviors.

“You’ll hear many people, and even parents that come to us and say, ‘hey take this kid and when we get him back, he’s going to be perfect,’” Cotton says. “Camp is not a cure-all.”

This belief – that camp is of limited value – is a cultural shift that’s growing inside L.A. County’s Probation Department. Now, Cotton says, camp is seen more as an intervention that momentarily plucks a kid from their ecosystem and tries to give them the skills to deal with whatever caused the behavior that led to detention.

“Because the real rehabilitation comes when they get in their natural ecology,” Cotton says.

Under a policy change being implemented over the past few months, more and more attention goes into planning for life back in the community. Each child leaving camp now has a team to plan his or her transition.


A SMALL UPDATE FROM THE LA SHERIFF CAMPAIGN-FRONT

Downtown News named sheriff-hopeful Bob Olmsted in their top seven Los Angeles political figures to watch in 2014, saying that if Olmsted “raises enough cash and gains steam, he could topple the king [Sheriff Lee Baca].”

Read about Olmsted and the other expected movers and shakers of 2014 here, at the top of page two.

Posted in Gangs, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, Realignment, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Violence Prevention | 4 Comments »

LA Sheriff’s Department Had Special Hiring Program for Pals……Citizen Previn, LA County’s WatchDog…The Dangers of LA’s Private Foster Care System…Mississippi Contemplates Serious Sentencing Reform…

December 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT’S SPECIAL FAVORS HIRING SCHEME

The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi has a new story about questionable hiring practices at the LASD. This time the story centers around a program called “Friends of the Sheriff,” that “granted preferential treatment to the friends and relatives of department officials, including some candidates who were given jobs despite having troubled histories…”

According to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore, the program did indeed exist, and the department shut the thing down last Thursday after the sheriff became aware of the Times’ reporting.

The Times characterizes the program as a project stamped with the approval of the Sheriff, but Whitmore is emphatic that Baca did no such thing. “He didn’t authorize it. He didn’t approve it! He didn’t sponsor it,” Whitmore said hotly.

Whitmore does not, however, dispute the Times’ reporting of the involvement of former undersheriff Larry Waldie with the project. He also said that the program started in 2005 and that one of those who helped to jump start it was former LASD captain Bernice Abrams.

Abrams, if you’ll remember, is a longtime friend of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, a year ago, was allowed to retire ahead of being terminated for her alleged protection of a reported drug dealer.

(For more on Abrams, go here and here. and here.)

It appears that the idea of lowered standards to increase hiring is not a new one for the LASD.

In the February 2009 report by the Office of Independent Review, OIR chief attorney, Michael Gennaco, delivers a harshly critical 31-page assessment of the department’s background checking process in 2005-2007, during which time Gennaco notes that the department’s application of its standards “changed dramatically” resulting in far “fewer disqualifications.” He also described how independently contracted psychologists were pressured to lower their standards during the background process…and provided a series of individual case studies showing how the lowering of hiring standards had unpleasant results.



CITIZEN PREVIN: LA COUNTY’S FEROCIOUS AD HOC WATCHDOG

LA County watchdog Eric Previn often drives the staffs of the LA County Board of Supervisors and other county officers absolutely crazy because when he grabs hold of an issue, he does not relinquish it. His missives to selected press persons and to denizens of county government are long and full of wordplay, but his institutional knowledge is broad and deep, and his willingness to dig for facts indefatigable.

Reporters frequently gain from the information Previn uncovers.

Elected officials ignore Previn at their peril.

Above is a video portrait of Citizen Previn by Matthew Hamilton, a grad student at USC’s Annenberg School of Journalism.


DOES LA’S PRIVATE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM ENDANGER KIDS?

In 1986, the California state legislature allowed for the creation of private non-profit foster care agencies with the idea that these new privatized agencies, known as FFAs, would be safer and better for kids, a lot less expensive for the state, and would take some of the heat off the state and counties’ often disastrously over-burdened systems.

As the FFAs proliferated it turned out that they were more expensive, not less. Moreover, while many of the new private agencies were quite good. Some were affected by the system’s perverse fiscal incentives to get kids into placement faster, keep them in foster care longer and to cut corners on the quality of care.

A report by the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf looks at the numbers on these FFAs, and tells some of the worst of the FFA horror stories that point to a system painfully in need of reform.

Unfortunately, the problem is not new as shown in this 2009 news story by Daniel Heimpel in which he paints an almost identical picture of the FFAs and their unhappy potential for abuse and tragedy.

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

….Today, the state’s private foster family system — the largest in the nation — has become more expensive and more dangerous than the government-run homes it has largely replaced.
Those living in homes run by private agencies were about a third more likely to be the victims of serious physical, emotional or sexual abuse than children in state-supervised foster family homes, according to a Times analysis of more than 1 million hotline investigations over a recent three-year period.

In Los Angeles County, at least four children died as a result of abuse or neglect over the last five years in homes overseen by private agencies, according to county officials. No children died in government-run homes during that period.

The flow of money to private foster care — now about $400 million a year — introduced a powerful incentive for some to spend as little as possible and pack homes with as many children as they could.

Those agencies are so short of homes that they accept convicted criminals as foster parents. The state has granted waivers to at least 5,300 people convicted of crimes. In the most egregious cases, people with waivers later maimed or killed children.

The system is so poorly monitored that foster care agencies with a history of abuse can continue caring for children for years. Substantiated cases of wrongdoing can bring little punishment from regulators.

Private agencies now care for 15,000 children statewide. The care comes at greater cost — an additional $327 million between 2001 and 2010, the state auditor found.
Los Angeles County has come to heavily rely on this system; five out of six foster children who are not placed with relatives go to private homes.

It is “as bottom of the barrel as you can imagine,” said Jill Duerr Berrick, co-director of the Center for Child and Youth Policy at UC Berkeley. “They are clearly not keeping track of quality issues. It’s really quite surprising we don’t have more tragedies.”


SWEEPING PRISON AND SENTENCING REFORMS PROPOSED IN MISSISSIPPI (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA?)

There is serious talk about big reforms going on the Magnolia State reports Geoff Pender of the Clarion-Ledger. (Hat tip to Doug Berman at Sentencing, Law & Policy for flagging this development.)

After taking a look at the fact that the state had the second highest incarceration rate in the nation, which was resulting in ghastly fiscal burdens on the state budget (sound familiar, California?) Mississippi’s lawmakers decided they needed to stop tinkering around the edges and go for serious reform without sacrificing public safety.

Here’s a clip:

A criminal justice task force on Tuesday recommended sweeping reforms to reduce Mississippi’s soaring prison population and costs, standardize sentences and reduce recidivism.

“This is the first time in my career — 32 years — that we have taken a comprehensive look at corrections in this state,” said Mississippi Department of Corrections Commissioner Chris Epps. “… We all know the cost of doing nothing.”

The recommendations include providing more discretion for judges to impose alternatives to prison and creating “true minimums” on when violent and nonviolent offenders are eligible for release. They also call for defining what constitutes violent crime — something officials said isn’t clear in state law. Proposals also include increasing the threshold from $500 to $1,000 for felony theft and lowering drug sentences for possession of small amounts while cracking down on large drug dealers.

Epps headed the bipartisan, 21-member task force of lawmakers, judges, prosecutors, law enforcement and defense attorneys. The group, after working for seven months with assistance from the Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project, developed recommendations for the 2014 Legislature.

Gov. Phil Bryant, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, House Speaker pro tem Greg Snowden and others voiced their support for the proposal after the task force adopted it. The task force was created by a bill Snowden authored this year.

Bryant said the reforms “put victims first,” protect public safety and provide “clarity of sentencing.” Reeves praised the recommendations as “evidence-based, data-driven, fiscally sound criminal justice reforms.”

Posted in Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 41 Comments »

Should the LA Board of Supervisors Approve An Electronic Monitoring Contract With the Company That OC Just Fired for a String of Failures? – UPDATED

November 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


UPDATE:

The vote on the Sentinel Offender Services contract was postponed until next Tuesday, November 26.


WHAT IS SENTINEL OFFENDER SERVICES AND WHY IS LA COUNTY OFFERING THEM A CONTRACT—AGAIN?

On Tuesday, November 19, the LA County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on a pending contract to provide an adult electronic monitoring program (or EMP) for offenders, so that some of those who might have served their sentences in jail can instead spend their time at home—with restrictions.

Some form of Electronic Monitoring Program has been utilized by LA County probation since 1992 and, in recent years, the county has contracted for its monitoring services with a company called Sentinel Offender Services.

However, in November 2011, Probation and the LA County Sheriff’s Department hoped to expand their collective use of EMP to help better deal with the influx of AB109 inmates that, post realignment, had been landing in the county’s care, not the state’s.

With this in mind, the county began a search for the best firm to replace Sentinel.

An RFP went out on November 16, 2012, and out of a cluster of potential applicants, two finalists emerged—one of them, Sentinel Offender Services. When the smoke cleared this summer, according to the most recent report from Probation Chief Jerry Powers, Sentinel got the highest rating.

And so it was that the brand new EMP provider that the board is slated to approve on Tuesday, turned out to be the old EMP provider.


HOWEVER, TWO RATHER LARGE CAUTIONARY NOTES HAVE EMERGED WITH REGARD TO SENTINEL OFFENDER SERVICES

It turns out there are issues with Sentinel that the Board of Supervisors might want to consider—or at the very least discuss—before it rubber stamps the proposed contract.

Large Cautionary Note Number 1: In June of this year, Orange County Probation found that Sentinel—which was also OC’s provider—had been guilty of what amounts to gross incompetence.

When OC Probation notified the company of the problems it had discovered, Sentinel assured probation officials that the people responsible for the issue had been reassigned or let go.

But in July the problems reportedly continued.

Here is what as Sal Hernandez of the Orange County Register wrote on the matter:

Most of the failures in the units appear to have been discovered by probation officials June 4, when deputy probation officers and supervisors reviewed the tracking data for 13 convicts wearing ankle devices, a June 13 memo said.

Officers found a number of the units had stopped providing coordinates for days, yet the company never notified officers

In one case, the last location sent by the unit was May 7 – that’s 28 days without a signal even though the devices are supposed to transmit coordinates every 60 seconds.

In another incident, officials found one convict required to use a breath-alcohol testing device failed the test 81 times in a 35-day period, yet probation officials were never notified. After the error was discovered, the convict was arrested for violating the terms of his release.

Documents reviewed by the Register show Sentinel attributed most of the errors to mechanical failures, including water damage of internal computer boards, defective units and “sporadic and insufficient length of battery recharging.”

“Fortunately, these issues were not universal, and there were no absconded clients, but the extent of these reporting failures is greater than we have ever experienced,” a June 27 letter from the company said. “We are confident that these oversights will not occur again.”

But in their report to supervisors, probation officials said problems persisted.

“It was alarming,” [OC Supervisor Todd] Spitzer said in the statement. In a June board meeting, he suggested the board consider issuing a 60-day notice of termination. “These untracked individuals posed an immediate threat to public safety, and I could not just sit back and watch.”

Later OC Probation Department officials also found that the company failed to take photos of participants in the monitoring program, a requirement under their contract.

In early August, the LA Times reported that a fed-up Orange County Probation fired Sentinel.


BUT ORANGE COUNTY ISN’T THE ONLY GROUP THAT HAS HAD SERIOUS PROBLEMS WITH SENTINEL

This brings us to Large Cautionary Note Number 2: In September 2013, the story broke that Sentinel had, on its own, illegally extended the sentences for hundreds—and possibly thousands—of Georgia probationers in order to make extra bucks in the form of fees that probationers were required to pay the company for monitoring them.

(Unlike California, the state of Georgia has contracted with private for profit companies to handle its probation services altogether, not just their EMP.)

Here’s a clip from a September 24, 2013 report on the matter by Nicole Flatow of Think Progress:

In January, Nathan Ryan Mantooth was sentenced to 12 months of probation for an improper lane change by a county judge in Georgia. He was ordered to pay a $420 fine, attend a driver improvement course, and pay a monthly probation supervision fee of $35 to Sentinel Offender Services, a private probation firm. He paid the fee and completed the course within a week of his sentencing. Twice, he went to Sentinel to submit his certificate of completion but was told his name was not yet in the computer. But when he was pulled over two months later for failure to wear a seatbelt, police found an outstanding warrant filed by Sentinel for a probation violation, and took him into custody.

Last week, a Georgia county judge ruled that Sentinel Offender Service had illegally extended the sentence of Mantooth and potentially thousands of others who were required to pay the firm monthly probation fees, and was illegally ordering electronic monitoring for misdemeanor offenders — prohibited by state law — while charging probationers for their own monitoring.

So should LA be concerned about what happened in Georgia, where the system is so different than ours? We think LA should be concerned. The Sentinel that got in trouble in Georgia, is the same Irvine-based company that operates here. Moreover the apparent fraud it was perpetrating on low-income lawbreakers, was not a brief flurry of wrongdoing. To the contrary, it went on over time.

For instance, in 2012 NBC News reported on lawsuits by Georgia probationers against the company that, along with documents obtained by NBC reporters, suggested a history of overcharging and or defrauding probationers going back to 2009, meaning even in the face of a bunch of legal action and bad press, Sentinel was mighty slow to learn its lesson—and didn’t appear to cease and desist with this ethically loathsome behavior until it was absolutely forced to do so in 2013.


MAYBE THERE ARE VERY GOOD REASONS WHY THESE TWO RECENT LARGE-ISH SCANDALS PLAGUING A SINGLE COMPANY AREN’T DEAL BREAKERS FOR LA COUNTY.

But they are big enough red flags that the Supervisors must not rush to vote on the Sentinel contract without asking some very probing questions.

And those questions must be asked in public—not behind closed doors.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Orange County, Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

New Approach to Juvie Crime is Working in Red Hook….Should Taxpayers Pay the LASD’s Punitive Damages?…..Paul Tanaka Says Sheriff Baca Shut Down Narco Investigation…..Insane Justice ….and More

November 18th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



A HUMANE, COMMUNITY-ORIENTED APPROACH TO JUVIE & ADULT CRIME IS WORKING IN RED HOOK, SAYS NEW REPORT

In April 2000, a new courthouse called the Red Hook Community Justice Center opened its doors in a vacant schoolhouse in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY. Over the previous few decades, Red Hook had declined from a vibrant, working-class waterfront community into crime and drug-ridden place that residents fled when they could.

The Justice Center hoped to change all that by “halting the revolving door” of the traditional criminal justice system. Justice Center planners believed that “community courts foster stronger relationships between courts and communities and restore public confidence in the justice system.”

It was a bravely optimistic concept.

Yet, according to a fascinating report released last Tuesday by the National Center for State Courts, evaluating the program’s outcomes, the approach that launched 13 years ago, is working impressively well.

The report found, among other things, that juvenile defendants were 20 percent less likely to re-offend when their cases had been heard at the Justice Center—instead of at the Kings County Family Court, where cases would have normally been heard.

After reading the report, the New York Daily News described the Center as “a success for defendants and taxpayers.”

(The Center hears adult cases as well. For adults, thus far recidivism has dropped by 10 percent.)

Roxanna Asgarian of the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange has more on the Justice Center-–and the report. Here’re some clips:

On a recent afternoon in a Red Hook courtroom, a disheveled young woman in a baggy blue sweatshirt was being sentenced for a drug-related offense. The judge had seen her in court before, always for arrests related to her heroin addiction.

Judge Alex Calabrese, a paternal-looking middle-aged man, asked her to approach the bench.

“Are you ready?” he asked her, looking into her eyes. “Yes,” she responded.

He reached out and took her hand.

“Are you gonna get on the bus? Are you gonna stay on the bus?” he asked, and she nodded. “Yes.”

Calabrese signed the paperwork for her to enter a mandatory detox and rehabilitation center, and she was to leave on a bus from the courtroom to the rehab facility in ten minutes.

“She got picked up last night at 6:30 p.m., and she’ll be on a bus to rehab at 3:30 today,” Calabrese said. “That’s good work.”

[SNIP]

Where in traditional courts, the defendant may meet with their public attorney just minutes before their trial, at the Justice Center, onsite social workers can meet with the defendant and come up with alternatives to incarceration, like mandated community service or treatment, before the offender meets with a judge.

For young residents of Red Hook, where 70 percent of the neighborhood lives in public housing, the chance to keep their record clean, or clear it, can make a world of difference in the opportunities they’ll have for their future.

“It’s not that complicated an idea,” said Julian Adler, the Justice Center’s director. “It’s just something that you don’t typically see in the criminal justice system.”


THE LA TIMES ASKS IF COUNTY TAXPAYERS SHOULD HAVE TO PAY FOR PUNITIVE DAMAGES AGAINST THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT SUPERVISORS

In Monday’s editorial, the LA Times asks what a lot of people have been asking of late: Should Sheriff Baca and others in the department have to personally pay injured inmates?

It’s a question that has two sides to it, as the Times points out.

The arguments on indemnification can cut both ways. On the one hand, if those held liable were just doing their jobs, or if they had no way of knowing they behaved wrongly or if they were following orders, perhaps they shouldn’t have to pay. It doesn’t make sense to punish a few rank-and-file deputies if the culture of the department is what’s really to blame. Nor does it make sense to create a environment in which officers feel they must act with excessive caution….

On the other hand…..

Here’s another snip from the end of the editorial:

….at the very least, we’d like to see the county Board of Supervisors hold a public discussion and a public vote on the subject. No doubt some on the board will argue that they need to make such decisions behind closed doors, because they will require confidential advice from their lawyers as they consider whether to pay the awards and whether to appeal the verdicts. But the truth is that the supervisors routinely get legal advice in closed session on matters such as whether to transfer inmates out of the county, and then go on to hold a robust public debate on the same subject.

The decision of whether to indemnify these defendants isn’t merely a legal matter. It’s a public policy issue that requires the supervisors to explain why taxpayers should continue to pay out millions of dollars for public officials who break the law. Perhaps declining to indemnify the deputies and the sheriff who leads the department would help reform this deeply troubled agency.

Oh, Board of Supes…? Are you listening…?


FORMER UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA ACCUSES SHERIFF LEE BACA OF SQUASHING A NARCOTICS INVESTIGATION AIMED AT BACA’S FRIEND BISHOP TURNER

On Thursday of last week, KABC-TV reported on LA County Sheriff Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner—who was making $105,000, per year plus percs—but who had recently been relieved of duty by the sheriff in response to a series of decidedly curious issues that the ABC-TV folks uncovered in their reporting.

The most startling of those issues had to do with a mystery package addressed to Turner’s church that was intercepted in 2005 by an LASD narcotics squad. After the squad’s drug-and-money sniffing dog (whose name was Jake) did everything but point a paw at the package in question, investigators opened the thing and found, among other things, more than $84,000 in shrink wrapped cash inside. The narcotics squad believed the cash was part of a drug transaction.

An investigation ensued but went nowhere, according to Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Then on Friday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, put out a statement saying that back in 2005, while he had personally pressed for the Turner/cash incident to be vigorously investigated, the sheriff had ordered the probe to be squashed.

“In 2005, I was made aware that detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Narcotics Bureau had intercepted a parcel package destined for Bishop Edward Turner’s church. The package contained in excess of $80,000 in cash. The detectives believed that the money was a direct result of selling and distributing illegal narcotics,” said former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. “Although I did not have chain-of-command responsibility for Detective Division in 2005, I directed my aide to advise the detectives that they needed to conduct a full investigation, despite the fact that Bishop Turner was a Field Deputy to Sheriff Lee Baca. Subsequent to this direction, I was advised that Sheriff Baca had personally ordered the investigation terminated. This is appalling, unacceptable, and just another reason why the Sheriff’s Department needs new leadership.”

On Friday night, Tanaka appeared on KABC to reiterate these charges. However, Steve Whitmore—who was also interviewed—asked why Tanaka, as a law enforcement officer, had not made sure the investigation went forward anyway.

Reporter Marc Brown posed that very question to the former undersheriff—at which time Mr. Tanaka paused conspicuously, then phumphered something about how “you won’t last long” if you go against the sheriff.

Meanwhile, knowledgeable sources inside the department told us that someone at the LASD squashed the investigation.

There is also much speculation among department members about who might have leaked the internal LASD documents showing the existence of the narcotics investigation against Turner, to KABC, and why? (The suggestion is that there may have been a political agenda behind the leak.)

With all this competitive finger-pointing going on, one cannot help but hope that some outside law enforcement agency—like, say, the FBI—has taken an interest in the case of Bishop Turner, the mystery box-of-cash, and the possibly-aborted narcotics investigation.


SPEAKING OF THE LASD & ELECTIONS….

We reported a few weeks ago on the battle for control of the board of one of the LASD unions, PPOA. On Friday, the ballots were counted and it appears that the slate of candidates rumored to be aligned with Paul Tanaka were defeated by the incumbent board members.


INSANE JUSTICE: DO WE REALLY WANT THESE PEOPLE TO BE SERVING LIFE SENTENCES?

As we noted last week, the ACLU has released a new and devastating report about Americans serving life sentences without the possible of parole for non-serious crimes, very often drug related, nearly all people with no violent crimes in their backgrounds.

Over the weekend the New York Times published an impassioned editorial that points out the utter madness of such sentencing.

Here are some clips:

If this were happening in any other country, Americans would be aghast. A sentence of life in prison, without the possibility of parole, for trying to sell $10 of marijuana to an undercover officer? For sharing LSD at a Grateful Dead concert? For siphoning gas from a truck? The punishment is so extreme, so irrational, so wildly disproportionate to the crime that it defies explanation.

And yet this is happening every day in federal and state courts across the United States. Judges, bound by mandatory sentencing laws that they openly denounce, are sending people away for the rest of their lives for committing nonviolent drug and property crimes. In nearly 20 percent of cases, it was the person’s first offense.

As of 2012, there were 3,278 prisoners serving sentences of life without parole for such crimes, according to an extensive and astonishing report issued Wednesday by the American Civil Liberties Union. And that number is conservative. It doesn’t include inmates serving sentences of, say, 350 years for a series of nonviolent drug sales. Nor does it include those in prison for crimes legally classified as “violent” even though they did not involve actual violence, like failing to report to a halfway house or trying to steal an unoccupied car.

The report relies on data from the federal prison system and nine states. Four out of five prisoners were sentenced for drug crimes like possessing a crack pipe or acting as a go-between in a street drug sale. Most of the rest were sentenced for property crimes like trying to cash a stolen check or shoplifting. In more than 83 percent of the cases, the judge had no choice: federal or state law mandated a sentence of life without parole, usually under a mandatory-minimum or habitual offender statute.

[SNIP]]

It is difficult to find anyone who defends such sentencing. Even Burl Cain, the longtime warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary, which holds the most nonviolent lifers in the country, calls these sentences “ridiculous.” “Everybody forgets what corrections means. It means to correct deviant behavior,” Mr. Cain told the A.C.L.U. “If this person can go back and be a productive citizen and not commit crimes again,” he asked, why spend the money to keep him in prison? “I need to keep predators in these big old prisons, not dying old men…..”

There are two bills before congress that, if passed, would give judges a bit more discretion.

But as the NY Times notes, this gesture toward reform isn’t close to enough—either on a federal or a state level.

Let us remember, we incarcerate more of our fellow Americans per capita than any other country in the world. No one else even comes close. These kind of sentencing policies are a large part of why.


THE U.S. CONSTITUTION, THE SUPREME COURT, & LOCKING UP THE INNOCENT

Michael Kirkland, UPI’s Senior Legal Affairs Writer takes a look at the U.S. Supreme Court’s complicated and often troubling relationship with the concept of innocence.

Here’s how his report opens:

The case of Ryan Ferguson, the Missouri man freed after spending 10 years behind bars for a murder he says he didn’t commit, shows the nation’s justice system, one of the fairest in the world, occasionally convicts the innocent, puts them in prison and throws away the key.
Does the U.S. Supreme Court give a damn?

Ferguson improbably was convicted on the “repressed memories” of a friend for the 2001 killing of Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune Sports editor Kent Heitholt in the newspaper parking lot as Heitholt was leaving work early in the morning.

The friend recanted at trial and another witness putting Ferguson at the scene also recanted. He was not connected to fingerprints, bloody footprints and hair found at the crime scene.

Ferguson, now 29, was sentenced to 40 years. He was finally freed last week.

So far the Innocence Project has freed more than 300 people based on DNA evidence, Kirkland notes.

Still other people have been freed by the dogged work of attorneys who believed that an injustice had been done, and find the evidence to prove it.

But in some of those cases, even when new evidence surfaces that indicates those convicted are likely factually innocent, lower courts fail to act. At those times, SCOTUS is split about whether innocence is a legal reason for the high court to wade in.

Here’s what Kirkland writes:

On one side, Roberts and his fellow conservatives warn at some point, judicial proceedings have to be final, and opening the floodgates of judicial review might return the justice system to the days when death row inmates and others delayed their sentences for decades with claim after claim, despite the overwhelming evidence that convicted them.

After all, Congress, fed up with endless federal appeals, enacted the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act in 1996 to limit habeas review.

On the other side, Stevens and his fellow liberals made the practical argument: If a DNA test or rape kit test can make a conviction even more certain, or expose a miscarriage of justice, why not do it?

Such divisions probably will continue. How do you effectively punish the great mass of the guilty without damning the innocent few?


And then Kirkland notes this statement from Antonin Scalia who said in his dissent in a 2009 case
in which the majority of the Supremes granted a new evidence hearing for a Georgia death row inmate.

“This court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a [constitutional] court that he is ‘actually’ innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged ‘actual innocence’ is constitutionally cognizable.”

As is often the case, Scalia makes a distressing—but legally interesting—point.


Posted in Courts, crime and punishment, criminal justice, DNA, Innocence, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

Hiding the Real Cost of Lawsuits Against the LA County Sheriff’s Department…..Sentencing 101…..& Do We Need a Permanent LASD Citizen’s Commission?

November 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WHY WON’T LA COUNTY DISCLOSE THE REAL $$ COST OF DEFENDING THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT AGAINST ALL THOSE LAWSUITS?

Thursday afternoon the ACLU of Southern California and civilian watchdog, Eric Preven, filed a lawsuit demanding that Los Angeles County and the Office of the County Counsel release invoices detailing the exact dollar amount billed by private law firms in each of the lawsuits filed against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and its personnel.

They are particularly interested in the cost of defending the lawsuits that the LASD and the county loses.

This new ACLU/Preven lawsuit speaks to a question a number of us have been discussing for some time.

We know that, during the fiscal year 2011-12, lawsuits against the LASD cost the county taxpayers $37 million.

We also know that, for the first six months of FY 2012-2013, the $$ paid out for lawsuits against the department have already come to around $25 million (a figure that obviously does not suggest anything good about what the 2012-2013 totals will look like).

But, of course, what the ACLU/Preven lawsuit rightly points out is that the $37 million total we have been given for last year is not, in fact, the real total. It’s not real because it doesn’t include the money paid to the private attorneys hired to defend the county in lawsuits filed against the sheriff’s department—suits like the recently concluded Willis case that we wrote about here.

Willis v. Rodriguez is the one where, after a week-long trial, a federal jury unanimously found Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for punitive damages in relation to the brutal beating Mr. Willis received from deputies when he was a guest at Men’s Central Jail. (The jury also found 4 other present and former department members liable for damages as well.)

Willis’ attorney, Sonia Mercado, told me that originally Willis wanted to settle, that he wasn’t interested in punitive damages. He simply wanted his doctor bills and injury-related expenses paid for.

But the county’s hired gun lawyers refused to settle. Instead they pushed for a trial. And guess what? They lost resoundingly at trial. Now, we’ve been told that Baca intends to appeal—which means a brand new round of attorneys’ bills.

And, as with every other case filed and eventually settled against the sheriff’s department, we, the taxpayers, will pay the tab for all of it. Unfortunately, we don’t have a clue how much those tabs are really costing us.

Why don’t we know? (I know that I’ve inquired after some of those figures a couple of times in the past and gotten nowhere. But admittedly I didn’t keep at it.) Eric Preven has persistently filed California Public Records act requests asking for the information, and gotten next to nothing back.

“We are asking the officials of Los Angeles County to be transparent and tell taxpayers how their money is being spent on private attorneys to defend deputies accused of savage beatings and other illegal actions,” said the So Cal ACLU’s legal director, Peter Eliasberg, who has also been trying to get the information.

According to the ACLU’s statement announcing the lawsuit, here is what Eliasberg and Preven were told in return:

John F. Krattili, county counsel, responded to the CPRA requests saying that billing records that document the tasks and time for which private firms were billing the County are exempt from disclosure.

Horse-pucky.

Not if we’re paying the bills, dearie.

“The County is paying out millions of dollars to private law firms, and when we, the people, ask to learn more about how that money is being spent, the answer is ‘none of your business!’ Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.” said Petitioner Eric Preven. “We’re demanding an end to the secrecy around practices that may well have cost the taxpayers far more than they’ve saved.”

“The County has no valid legal basis to keep these records hidden from the public,” said Jennifer L. Brockett, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine. “The County should turn the records over, not defend withholding records that the law does not permit them to withhold.”

Damn straight.


SENTENCING 101: IF A CONVICTED LAWBREAKER IS GIVEN A SENTENCE OF 5 YEARS IN PRISON, HOW LONG WILL HE OR SHE REALLY SERVE….AND WHY? AND WHO GETS TO DECIDE THESE THINGS?

In a wonderful essay from the LA Times Editorial Board, Rob Greene answers these questions and more.

Here are some clips:

Did Dr. Conrad Murray get out early?

The short answer is no. Murray, the doctor who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Michael Jackson, had served nearly two years of a four-year sentence when he was released from Los Angeles County Jail just after midnight Monday. That’s only half the sentence, but it’s also the full amount of jail time provided for by law.

How is that not getting out early? Since when does four years equal just under two?

It’s complicated.

And it’s important — not because Murray is any different from most California inmates, but rather because he is so typical — and because his high-profile sentence is a window onto the state’s convoluted and misleading sentencing rules.

It would be simplistic to say that those rules alone are what caused the state’s current criminal justice crisis, with the prison system under federal receivership and a court order looming to require the release of more than 8,000 convicted felons by late February. The sentencing rules are, rather, one especially vexing result of years of so-called tough-on-crime laws fueled by fear, anti-drug frenzy and political opportunism.

It’s not merely that sentences were lengthened during those years; they were lengthened haphazardly, one by one, crime by crime, responding to particular incidents, with no comprehensive examination of the state’s sentencing system and with few questions asked about the purpose of prison time. Often the same Legislature that adopted longer jail and prison terms undermined them by requiring more good-conduct credits — and later reversed itself by revoking or limiting credits. The result is a mish-mash that conditions time served not merely on what crime was committed, but when it was committed, when the sentence was handed down, when it was to be served, and where. Courts have had to interpret apparently conflicting sentencing statutes, and trial judges are often unable to figure out how much incarceration time to order without the help of a computer…..

[BIG SNIP]

It would be more honest if the sentence on the books, and the one sought by the prosecutor, handed down by the judge and reported by the media, were called a two- to four-year term rather than a four-year sentence. As it is, the public is led to believe that felons are routinely let out “early,” which in turn suggests, incorrectly, that punishment in California is lax, even in an era of tough sentences.

That’s something an Assembly select committee should keep in mind next month at its hearing on state sentencing. For sentencing reform to work, the public must have confidence in the criminal justice system and must recognize that “early release” isn’t necessarily early at all. Lawmakers can go a long way toward restoring that confidence by allowing an independent commission, de-linked from the political process, to review and revamp sentencing….

Read the rest here.

And, yes, an independent sentencing commission. Please. We’d like that very much.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT OF COMMISSIONS…DO WE NEED A PERMANENT CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT BOARD TO KEEP AN EYE ON THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT?

Loyola law professor Laurie Levinson says yes—and explains why in an Op Ed in the LA Times.

Here are some clips:

It is time to seriously consider a civilian oversight board for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider such a proposal next week. If approved, it could be a big step toward remedying some of the ongoing problems in our county jails.

The last few years have been tough for the department, which has been plagued by jail scandals, committee inquiries and even a federal investigation. Despite the efforts of committed professionals within and outside the department to monitor abuses in the jail system, the problems have continued. Meanwhile, the public has only been invited into the process once the situation has reached crisis dimensions…

[SNIP]

For years, I have taught law students about our county jail system. We seem to be caught in an endless loop of crises. It begins with revelations of problems in the jails and the board’s criticisms of the sheriff. Then follows a promise of reforms, but these reforms do not include any mechanism for the public to monitor their implementation or efficacy. The next the public hears of the jails is another round of criticism and another set of reform pledges.

The Board of Supervisors is in the process of selecting an inspector general for the Sheriff’s Department. It is hoped that individual will have the expertise to investigate allegations of improper conduct by the department. But this will not break the cycle. Rather, for public confidence to be fully restored, there must be civilian overseers who will not only react to allegations of misconduct but also be proactive in making reforms. And such a board must have the power to ensure that its members’ voices will truly be heard.

Yes, well, therein lies the rub. Without some kind of legislation, no civilian commission will have the power—and the independence—needed to make any kind of difference.

This is why we at WLA are still undecided about the idea of such a commission unless its creation is accompanied by an appropriate change in the law.

It will be interesting to hear what the Board of Supervisors have to say on the matter next week.

Posted in 2014 election, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 23 Comments »

Oakland Advocacy Center’s New Future, LA County & the Death Row 2%, and California Media Shield Bill Signed

October 4th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

AN OAKLAND HUMAN RIGHTS CENTER’S CHEERING NEW EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR

Had his life played out a little differently, Zachary Norris, the new executive director of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights in Oakland, could have been one of the statistics he seeks to prevent.

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Katy McCarthy has the story. Here’s a clip about what Norris says was his defining moment:

Handcuffed during an act of civil disobedience protesting a new mega detention center in the area, Norris was taken to the nearby Santa Rita Jail in Dublin. That night, sharing a cell with a crowd of other young black men, he recalled, “I had this sense it was all too normal, too normalized.”

Wearing a shirt that read, “Stop the Super Jail,” Norris’ fellow inmates constantly asked him what it meant. When he told them that they were trying to stop a juvenile hall from being built across the street, the response, Norris recalled, was that it was “messed up.” The young men he met that night said building the facility sent a message to a kid that once they got out of juvenile hall they would just end up across the street.

Before becoming executive officer, Norris was essential to the creation of Ella Baker’s Books Not Bars program, a campaign to reform the California juvenile justice system that pulled parents and families into the advocacy team:

While the broad mission of the Ella Baker Center has historically been to advance racial and economic justice for low-income people and people of color, Books Not Bars focused solely on reforming the California youth prison system, with families testifying and advocating every step of the way.

“His work was the first in really bringing family members into the equation,” Burrell said. “Before that, it was all advocates and agency people and it was really an important contribution to bring the parents of children who are affected by all of these policy decisions into the picture.”

Among many accomplishments, Books Not Bars lists closing five of the state’s youth prisons, facilitating the youth prison population’s decline from 4,800 to 922 children, and defeating the 2008 “tough on crime” Proposition 6.

Norris has three promising new core strategies in the works for the Center:

On a local level, the Center is working to create a justice hub for families in Alameda County to assist them in navigating juvenile and criminal justice systems. As Norris foresees it, it will be a peer support group focusing on community-based organizing strategies to impact individual court cases. It will be “families getting together around a table discussing what cases are in front of them or their family members and developing strategies to impact those cases,” Norris said. “I think that often times, policy objectives could come out of that as well.”

Statewide, the Center is continuing to push for legislation that will “move resources from locking people up toward more supportive programs.”

On the national level, Norris said the Center is working with Justice For Families, Strong Families and other coalitions to plan and develop a national, community-driven research project looking at the multi-generational impact of incarceration on families from an economic and public health standpoint. “In some ways, families unlocking futures was the tip of a larger iceberg and we want to look at the iceberg,” he said.

Norris also co-founded of Justice For Families with social justice advocate Grace Bauer, and put out an excellent report on failings of the juvenile justice system, which we pointed to this time last year. (We don’t know a lot about the Ella Baker Center, but what we hear makes us want to know more.)

In the above video, Zachary Norris gets emotional at a downtown Oakland gathering after the Mehserle/Oscar Grant verdict is announced (which we reported on here, in 2010).


LA COUNTY LEADS THE NATION IN DEATH ROW NUMBERS

A report by the Death Penalty Information Center found that just 2% of counties are accountable for more than half of the nation’s population of death row inmates and those who have been executed since 1974.

Los Angeles County is number one on the list of counties responsible for the death row populace with 228 inmates. The second highest, Harris County, Texas, has 127 fewer inmates than LA with a total of 101. Four other California counties (San Diego, Riverside, Alameda, and Orange County) also made it on the top ten list.

Here’s what the DPIC had to say about the report:

Contrary to the assumption that the death penalty is widely used in the U.S., only a few jurisdictions employ capital punishment extensively, according to a new report released today by the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC). Only two percent of the counties in the U.S. have been responsible for the majority of cases leading to executions since 1976. Likewise, only two percent of the counties are responsible for the majority of today’s death row population and recent death sentences.

“Eighty-five percent of the counties in the U.S. have not had a single case resulting in an execution in over 45 years,” said Richard Dieter, DPIC’s Executive Director and author of the report. “The relatively few prosecutors who drive the death penalty create enormous burdens for those outside their district. The rest of the country is paying a high tariff on behalf of the small percentage of the counties that are actually using the death penalty.”

The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for more than half of the nation’s death row population are: Los Angeles County, CA; Harris County, TX; Philadelphia County, PA; Maricopa County, AZ; Riverside County, CA; Clark County, NV; Orange County, CA; Duval County, FL; Alameda County, CA; and San Diego County, CA.

The top ten counties among the two percent of counties responsible for over half of the executions since 1976 are: Harris County, TX; Dallas County, TX; Oklahoma County, OK; Tarrant County, TX; Bexar County, TX; Montgomery County, TX; Tulsa County, OK; Jefferson County, TX; St. Louis County, MO; and Brazos County, TX.

Just four counties in Texas (out of 254) account for almost half of all executions in the state.

Three counties in California produce more than half of the state’s death row – the largest in the country.


GOV. BROWN SIGNS LAW PROTECTING JOURNALISTS FROM SECRET SUBPOENAS

On Thursday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law an important media shield bill, SB 558, authored by Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance). The new law will ensure that any government agency or investigator gives journalists five days’ notice before going after a subpoena of phone records, internet records, or other third party information.

Reuters’ Sharon Bernstein has the story. Here’s a clip:

The California law, which was sponsored by the California Newspaper Publishers Association, mirrors the new regulations put in place at the federal level, said the association’s general counsel, Jim Ewert.

“If a reporter stores information in the cloud or on Google or on a server off-site, now the reporter is going to get notice and the publisher or the station manager is going to get notice of that subpoena,” Ewert said.

The new law, which takes effect on Jan. 1, will require any government agency or individual to provide five days’ notice to reporters and their news organizations before seeking a subpoena of journalistic information from a third party, such as an internet service provider or cell phone company.

California’s existing shield law provides journalists with five days’ notice of subpoenas for information in their possession, but does not apply to information on cloud servers, telephone bills, etc.

The Associated Press says that’s how investigators got away with the secret subpoenas served to AP journalists (and Fox News’ James Rosen) earlier this year. Here’s a clip:

California has a strong shield law for reporters that already requires law enforcement agencies to give five days’ notice to news organizations for subpoenas served on them or their reporters. But Lieu has said the Justice Department probe shows that investigators can bypass that law by secretly subpoenaing telephone or Internet companies for journalists’ personal and work-related information.

(By the way, the remarkably sane and sound legal definition of a “journalist” per the California Constitution’s Article 1, Section 2(b) can be found here.)

Posted in Death Penalty, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), journalism, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Uncategorized | No Comments »

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