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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 »

LA Supes Vote $75 Mil for Kern County Jail….Brown Gets a Mini-Extension on Prison Problem…. More on the LASD Deputy & the 7 Shootings…

September 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS VOTE TO GIVE BACA $75 MILLION TO SEND INMATES TO KERN COUNTY LOCK-UP

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to give Sheriff Lee Baca $75 million over a 5-year period in order for him to ship 500 county jail inmates to a jail facility in the town of Taft in Kern County.

Speaking for the LASD, Chief Eric Parra presented the need for the money and the out-of-county jail contract as answering a pressing need for more jail space to prevent dangerous inmates from being released after serving only a fraction of their sentences—a policy that the sheriff has been employing for around a decade, but that now has quite rightly attracted notice and concern.

The vote came after last week’s approval of another $25 million to send 500 jail inmates to fire camps—a strategy that at least has rehabilitative and job training elements.

Some of those experts and advocates who opposed the Taft jail plan brought up the fact that the sheriff and the board of supervisors have declined to push for the use of pretrial release and the strategy known as split sentencing-—both of which have been used in other California counties to lower their jail populations in the wake of AB109.

ACLU legal director Peter Eliasberg reminded the board about the county-funded Vera Institute report on jail overcrowding, which found that, with the use of judicious pretrial release of certain inmates waiting for their cases to be adjudicated, the department could immediately lower the jail population substantially.

“One of the reports by Vera was that the pretrial system in LA was broken,” said Eliasberg, “and that there were 700 or more low-level offenders in the jail who would present little risk to community but who could not make bail. This board,” he said, “with one stroke of the pen could give the sheriff’s department the authority to release those pretrial inmates to electronic monitoring. You’re getting 500 beds at Taft. You could get 700 beds with one stroke of the pen, one motion of this board.”

Eliasberg also pointed out that this pre-trial strategy was already being used successfully in San Diego and Riverside along with seven other California counties.

Additional speakers pointed to the fact that, unlike most other California counties, LA County is making almost no use of “split-sentencing,” the newly instituted incarceration and reentry strategy where the inmate serves part of his or her sentence in jail, and the remainder in the community under close supervision by the probation department with the goal to reintegrate successfully into their lives, and not end up reoffending. (Split-sentencing also requires participation in certain rehabilitative programs.)

In the end, the requisite three supes voted for the $75 million/Taft Jail plan, with Mark Ridley-Thomas and Zev Yaroslavsky abstaining in the hope that they could delay the vote for a week or four in order to more fully consider other options. But no luck.

Worry about dangerous inmates being released to the countryside prevailed, and the purse strings were opened—nevermind that there were far better alternatives available than those presented in the false choice between more jail cells or the ridiculously early release of prisoners by the sheriff.

An opportunity sadly missed.


JERRY BROWN GETS 30 DAYS BREATHING SPACE TO TRY TO WORK OUT A PRISON POP REDUCTION DEAL WITH ALL THE PLAYERS

The federal judges overseeing California’s requirement to lower the state’s prison population just gave Governor Jerry Brown 30 more days after the December 31 deadline in order to try to hammer out a long term solution.

Here’s a clip from Paige St. John’s story for the LA Times:

Three federal judges have given California Gov. Jerry Brown a 30-day extension on their order to reduce prison crowding, buying time for confidential talks between lawyers for the state and those representing inmates.

The order, delivered Tuesday afternoon, was well-received by prisoners’ lawyers, who had largely been left out of negotiations between Brown and the Legislature over prison-crowding solutions.

“We’re always willing to try and negotiate an agreement that will benefit the state and the prisoners,” said Don Specter, lead attorney for the Prison Law Office. He said he did not believe a one-month delay in reducing prison crowding would make a big difference in the 23-year-old litigation.

Brown’s lawyers had asked the federal courts for a three-year delay in the Dec. 31 deadline to remove roughly 9,600 inmates from California’s overcrowded prison system, where medical and psychiatric care is so poor that incarceration has been deemed unconstitutionally cruel. The governor offered to use that time to invest in community probation and rehabilitation programs, with the aim of reducing the number of repeat offenders being sent to prison.


MORE ON THAT SHERIFF’S DEPUTY, HIS SEVEN SHOOTINGS AND HOW HE GOT BACK ON PATROL

As readers likely remember, in a startling story last week, the LA Times reported that Michael Gennaco of the Office of Independent Review wrote the LA County Board of Supervisors about his concern over a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy who had just been involved in his seventh shooting, this time a fatal one.

According to Gennaco, Deputy Anthony Forlano, who had been put on desk duty for two years after his 2011 shooting number six, was returned to field duty by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in April of this year. A few months later, the deputy and his partner shot a seventh suspect, this time fatally.

Gennaco noted that, of the deputies first six shootings, three involved unarmed suspects.

But, whether or not all Forlano’s shootings were righteous, the sheer number of shootings is alarmingly unprecedented, at least according to the collective institutional memories of all the members of law enforcement—LASD AND LAPD, both—-with whom we’ve thus far spoken in the last few days. “At least I can’t think of anyone with that kind of number,” said a knowledgable LAPD source.

Mr. Tanaka repeatedly denied to the press that he’d been the one to send the deputy back into the field, but said he gave the decision to Forlano’s supervisor, Captain Robert Tubbs.

(Tanaka also said he’d been the person to initially bench Forlano, which according to department spokesman Steve Whitmore, was not the case. Whitmore said that the deputy had been taken out of the field by a panel of command staffers. )

Sheriff Baca, meanwhile, said he knew nothing of the decision to return Forlano to patrol.

It turns out, however, that Tanaka reportedly did unilaterally give the order for Forlano to go back to patrol.

In fact, we have learned of the existence of two emails sent between Forlano and Tanaka on April 26 of this year, both referring to a meeting the day before (April 25) between the deputy and the then-undersheriff.

The first email sent in the morning of the 26th, is from Forlano thanking Tanaka for meeting with him and getting him off the desk duty and back to work in the field—-or words to that effect.

Tanaka answers a few hours later, and gives the deputy a verbal slap on the back, writing, in essence, that he believes that Forlano will make the department proud.

The emails reveal several interesting things.

First there is the timing.

If you remember, Tanaka was forced into retirement by the sheriff on March 6, 2013. Although Tanaka was still technically employed by the department until August first, his falling out with Baca was reportedly severe enough that he was rarely in the LASD’s headquarters after the first couple of weeks of March.

Moreover, in the fall of 2012, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence recommended that Baca removed Tanaka from any oversight of the jails or of patrol, the sheriff assured the board of supervisors that his undersheriff was now only overseeing the budget.

Clearly this was not the case—as evidenced by Tanaka’s actions with Anthony Forlano in April.

It is alarming that neither the sheriff, nor anyone else, seemed to know that Mr. Tanaka was still taking upon himself such significant decisions—despite assurances to the contrary—and doing so, as has been his pattern, by stepping outside the chain of command, without employing any rigorous protocol or process whatsoever.

“So it was determined that he was field ready, based on no objective criteria other than a conversation,” said Mike Gennaco.

One wonders in what other ways the former undersheriff, now candidate for LA County Sheriff, selected himself as the decider, with no one able or willing to stop him.

We are thankful that the sheriff’s department, with the OIR’s urging, plans to create a sensible system for dealing with such situations as Forlano’s. It is in the best interest of the deputy and the community that such protections be put into place.

Had they existed last April, it is possible a man would be locked up, but not dead and a deputy’s career would be recalibrated, but not be shattered.


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC….THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD SAYS THAT A STRONG INSPECTOR GENERAL MAY DO BETTER IN OVERSEEING THE LASD THAN A STANDING COMMISSION

The LA Times editorial board argues that now is not the time for a new commission to oversee the sheriff’s department, that an independent inspector general could have a much stronger effect.

We’re still debating the matter, but editorial board writer, Sandra Hernandez makes many points well worth considering.

Here’s clip:

….The fact is, there are already a number of people and offices overseeing the Sheriff’s Department, but they lack authority. The supervisors have a special counsel who has repeatedly issued reports but who does not have the power to force a discussion. There’s an Office of Independent Review, but it too often serves as an advisor to the sheriff. And the ombudsman, created to handle citizens’ complaints, fails to regularly perform that job. The jails commission noted that too often the Sheriff’s Department has only “paid lip-service to those oversight bodies.” The proposed inspector general’s office would consolidate the functions of those other offices.

No doubt, some of the supervisors will argue that any watchdog agency will have only limited influence over Sheriff Lee Baca because he is a directly elected official. It’s true that it is the voters, not the supervisors or any other overseer, who ultimately decide whether Baca stays or goes. But a strong inspector general, whose office is adequately funded and staffed, could have a profound impact on the sheriff by maintaining a public spotlight on the problems in his office….

Posted in CDCR, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Los Angeles County, pretrial detention/release, prison, prison policy, Probation, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

HOUSE OF CARDS: Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Slams Sheriff Lee Baca, Round 2

May 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was featured in a special KABC 7 News segment Monday night
in which the once-powerful second-in-command to Sheriff Lee Baca painted his former boss as a disengaged, incompetent leader who frequently gave orders that ranged from impractical to illegal, including an instance of possible obstruction of justice when he allegedly ordered staffers to hide and secretly debrief a federal informant.

It is the second such slash-and-burn interview from Tanaka who, for years, was rarely seen on camera, despite his influential position.

Then, last month, he unexpectedly sat down with the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and blasted the sheriff to a degree that shocked most LASD watchers.

Tanaka launched a similar attack through the medium of KABC’s David Ono in a lengthy and reportedly quote-rich video interview taped earlier, that had producers working until the last moment choosing the best clips for the not-quite-five minute segment that aired Monday night.

While there were no game-changing revelations among the snippets featured, there were things that could conceivably cause Baca trouble when he faces reelection in 2014.

(Tanaka told both the LA Times and KABC’s Ono that he is considering running for sheriff against Baca, and has reportedly opened an “exploratory committee” for purposes of fundraising.)


MANAGING THE SHERIFF

In much of Monday’s interview, Tanaka painted the sheriff as someone who constantly had to be managed by his underlings.

“We used to have this saying amongst the top executives that our greatest job is to manage the sheriff and make sure that he doesn’t do anything that we can’t clean up,” Tanaka said.

Tanaka also described a sheriff who was unhealthily concerned with politics and “desperate to be reelected.”

“That’s all he talks about.”

When not hyper-focused on reelection, according to Tanaka, Baca is “obsessed” by whimsical fixations like “living to be 100,” and subjects the department’s upper management to lengthy discourses on this and similar topics.

“We sit in command staff meetings, you have very high-paid people, 15-20 of us, and these are the lectures we get for two or three hours….”

Tanaka also admitted that when, in early March of this year, he unexpectedly announced his retirement, in fact, he was forced out when the sheriff became fearful of growing department scandals and “…served my head on a platter to detractors because he thought that would save him.”


BACA DISMISSES TANAKA THROUGH SPOKESMAN

While Baca declined to answer Tanaka’s accusations in person, he sent a message via LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore, who told KABC that “the sheriff is just not going to get into a bickering discussion, if you will, with a soon-to-be, seems-to-be-angry, ex-employee making allegations that seem to be fueled by rumor and innuendo, trying to exact some form of revenge for imagined slights.”


OUTTAKES

One interview tidbit that did not make it into Monday’s broadcast had to do with Tanaka’s past in the deputy clique known as a Vikings. KABC’s Ono asked him about the Viking tattoo that comes along with membership and the undersheriff said he regretted getting the thing.

One wonders, then, why the soon-to-be ex-undersheriff doesn’t simply have the controversial Vikings ink lasered off. (We’re just sayin’)

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 49 Comments »

Elections….Zev Yaroslavsky on Mentally Ill Inmates…..Merrick Bobb, the LASD & Gangs….and More

May 21st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


ELECTIONS: PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE VOTE


MAYOR:

WLA hasn’t made an endorsement in the mayor’s race, and we’re not going to do it now.

We know and like both Wendy Greuel and Eric Garcetti and can make a strong case for either candidate, both of whom we believe will also grow on the job. We have respected friends and colleagues who are maniacally in favor of one over the other—some choosing Eric, others lining up behind Wendy.

We know the LA Times has endorsed Garcetti. But we hope you’ll take the time to make up your own mind—which ever way you finally lean.

If you’re still trying to decide, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus “Five Key Differences..” rundown on how the two diverge provides some helpful food for thought.


CITY CONTROLLER

We favor Ron Galperin over Dennis Zine.

We think Zine’s a good guy, personally, and we like that he occasionally rides his Harley to Sturgis for the big bike rally in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

But we think Galperin has the right skill set and temperament to be a very good, pro-active controller—which is, after all, the point.


CITY ATTORNEY

Mike Feuer not Carmen Trutanichplease!

Feuer is smart, has the chops, and will be good.

Trutanich, while not without talent, is vengeful, mendacious, power-hungry and seems bizarrely unclear on the law when selective dis-clarity happens to serve his personal purposes, all of which we see as….you know… problematic.


PROPOSITIONS C, D, E, & F

These are the propositions that propose different schemes for regulating the sales of medical marijuana, which is long overdue.

Here’s the short form: YES ON D……NO on the rest.

For the long form, read what the LA Times says or the LA Weekly.

Among other things, D has the best shot at passing, and if the voters don’t pass one of these puppies, the City Council may try to shut down all the dispensaries, which is a very bad idea.


AND IN NON-ELECTIONS RELATED NEWS….

ZEV YAROSLAVSKY INTRODUCES A MOTION FOR JAIL RENOVATION TO BETTER HOUSE MENTALLY ILL INMATES

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky will introduce a motion as an “alternative concept for the replacement of Men’s Central Jail,” which would replace one of MCJ’s towers with a facility designed to house mentally ill inmates.

Evidently Zev was fed up with the various billion dollar jail building proposals that the sheriff keeps pushing, so came up with a different angle with the idea of jump starting a fresh conversation about the jails facility issue.

Here’s a clip:

Instead of demolishing all of MCJ and constructing a replacement facility for the general inmate population, a better approach could be to demolish one tower of MCJ and replace it with a medical/mental health/substance abuse Integrated Inmate Treatment Center designed to serve inmates with mental illness, co-occurring substance abuse and specified medical conditions. Initial studies show that by consolidating all relevant inmates in this Center, sufficient beds would be opened up elsewhere in the system to house the County’s remaining inmates. The proposed Integrated Inmate Treatment Center would be designed to meet the needs of this inmate population and could result in better and more humane outcomes for these prisoners as well as a more cost-effective solution to the problem of housing the general jail population.

Initial reviews of this idea show great promise. Studies show that recidivism on
the part of mentally ill/dually-diagnosed inmates can be substantially reduced through intensive treatment programs.

The ACLU responded to Yaroslavsky’s proposal with some suggestions of their own (detailed in their letter here: Yaroslavsky Mental Health Motion). But mostly, as So Cal ACLU Legal Director Peter Eliasberg put it, “…we appreciate the fact that the supervisor has started the conversation.”

We do too.


MERRICK BOBB’S NEWEST REPORT ON THE LASD LOOKS AT THE SHERIFF’S GANG ENFORCEMENT STRATEGY

On Monday, Special Council Merrick Bob introduced his bi-annual report on the Sheriff’s Department. This particular report focuses on gang enforcement since, although crime in general is down, gang violence still remains a pressing problem affecting LA’s communities.

You can find the report here: 32nd Semiannual Report 5-20-13.

We’ll likely return to discuss this report further in the next few days,

But, for now, suffice it to say that we appreciated the report’s analysis of what effective, targeted gang suppression looks like, versus ineffective gang surpression—which only serves to alienate the community, wrongly criminalize some gang members, and, in excess, can actually cause crime to rise. This smart outline will, we hope, be viewed by the department as valuable feedback as they hone their gang policing methods.

Where we differ a bit from Bobb’s report is that we’re not at all that sure about the notion that, in addition to smart, targeted, strategic—and community-respecting—surpression (policing), that the LASD should also be engaged in gang prevention and intervention.

The report is, of course, dead on when it points out that, historically, we’ve learned that gang surpression alone, doesn’t lower gang crime. Every study tells us that we need the prevention/intervention/reentry pieces for violence reduction and community health.

With this in mind, certainly it’s essential for law enforcement to be cooperative with those agencies that provide prevention, intervention and reentry programs, et al —places like Homeboy Industries, Communities in Schools, Homies Unidos, and Aquil Basheer’s BUILD Youth Empowerment Academy, and others. However, it’s not the job of the cops to offer those services themselves.

We’d rather see the County instead carve out some money to help the intervention/reentry folks, since they are the people actually doing—and equipped to do—that work.

All this is a longer discussion. But that’s the short form..

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Gangs, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Los Angeles Mayor | No Comments »

HOUSE OF CARDS: Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Trashes Sheriff Lee Baca

May 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



EJECTED UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA ACCUSES SHERIFF BACA OF MISMANAGEMENT, OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE…AND A WHOLE LOT MORE


NOTE: FOR WED. PM UPDATE scroll to bottom of post.



Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has given an interview with the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi
in which the powerful—and recently ousted—Tanaka accuses his former boss, Sheriff Lee Baca, of an amazing and disquieting list of faults and misdeeds:

Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:


1. Tanaka describes the sheriff’s administrative style as disturbingly erratic and impulse driven—by turns, disengaged and focused only on his pet projects, then aggressively micro-managing, demanding that the department hire his friends, family, supporters and new acquaintances, still other times issuing whimsical and problematic orders, then forgetting days later that he’d issued them at all:

Tanaka said Baca frequently gave subordinates contradictory or foolish orders that they had to ignore because they violated department policy or common sense. A few months ago, for example, he said Baca was in a meeting with command staff, talking about the department’s budget shortfall, when he asked a subordinate to study the cost savings that would come from eliminating the agency’s community policing unit.

A week later, at another meeting, that captain began discussing his findings about cutting the unit, when Tanaka says Baca interrupted.

“He stops and he says ‘What did you say? What are you talking about?…I would never do anything like that,’ ” Tanaka recounted Baca as saying.

Tanaka said he had to call the sheriff later and remind him that the captain was “following your orders and you… embarrassed him.”

Tanaka said the sheriff was silent on the other end of the phone, before meekly saying “Oh.”


2. Near the end of the interview, Tanaka said that the sheriff ordered him to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from the Feds until Brown could be debriefed by the LASD. In other words, Baca deliberately obstructed justice. In making this accusation, Tanaka tried to walk a tightrope by saying that, despite the sheriff’s orders, everybody only kinda, sorta broke the law, but not really, to avoid implicating himself. To wit:

A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating whether sheriff’s officials were hiding the inmate and the phone from the FBI, or whether they were protecting the inmate from retaliation by jail deputies he was “snitching” on, as a sheriff’s spokesman has said.

Tanaka said Baca ordered subordinates to keep the inmate from the FBI until the department finished with him. He said the sheriff explicitly denied a request from a federal official to return the phone.

“I want the inmate interviewed. I don’t want him leaving our custody. I want the phone, all of the information removed from it and I don’t want the phone to go anywhere,” Baca said, according to Tanaka.

Asked if the sheriff was obstructing the FBI investigation, Tanaka said that he and other subordinates “had to really weigh” Baca’s orders to avoid “cross[ing] the line of doing anything wrong.”

In this same vein, Tanaka said that Baca was in such a fit of pique over the FBI’s investigation of the county’s jails that he pulled the department’s participation in any joint crime-fighting task forces with the feds. “…an order Tanaka said he refused to carry out.”


3. Tanaka confirmed that he’s “considering a run” for sheriff against Baca in 2014.

In this context, “considering” means, one presumes, that he is planning to run, barring any force majeure, like, say, a federal indictment. (It has long been rumored that Tanaka has quietly put the pieces in place to, when the time comes, string together a patchwork coalition of voting blocks that he believes could allow him to win, even though he is not a well-known name.)

Otherwise, why so publicly and irrevocably blow-up his relationship with his former boss by inflicting the kind of switchblade swipes to Lee Baca’s person that the former undersheriff has just delivered via the Times? (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but this interview is driving me to it.)

On the other hand, he may be cutting the sheriff in the hope that the sharks—read: feds—will circle around the bleeding guy and indict him, not the man holding the knife.

Or both of the above.


4. Asked about his reason for speaking out, Tanaka told Faturechi that he felt like he was unjustly scapegoated by the sheriff and by Baca supporters, in particular he mentioned the withering criticism he received by those department members who gave testimony before the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. When the commission issued its report, it reserved its harshest assessments for the undersheriff.

Tanaka said his reputation was unfairly tarnished by sheriff’s officials who were upset that he was holding lazy supervisors accountable.

“They’re not used to that,” said Tanaka, who will remain on the county payroll as undersheriff until August. “In this organization, they’re used to the higher you go, the less responsibility.”

Miriam Krinsky, the executive director for the CCJV had this to say in response to Tanaka’s characterization of the commission’s findings:

The Commission conducted a comprehensive and thorough investigation. Our report reflects conclusions that stemmed from consistent and credible information. Our findings were not based on any single source or witness, but rather were the result of numerous reports, documents, memoranda and witnesses. It was based on the totality of that evidence that the Commission found that the Undersheriff had engaged in conduct — including troubling statements — that was inconsistent with the department’s Core Values and that undermined the ability of supervisors and others to address and remediate deputy misconduct and aggressive behavior that continued unabated for far too many years. And it was based on the totality of that evidence that the Commission recommended that the Undersheriff have no further responsibility for Custody operations or the disciplinary system.


POST SCRIPT: We were unable to reach Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore last night, although he’s usually very responsive. In the spokesman’s comments to the Times, however, he said, “the sheriff finds it very sad that his former undersheriff has raised these false charges motivated apparently by his personal disappointment and ambition. None of these allegations were made while he served as undersheriff. He raises them only now as he contemplates a run for sheriff.”


UPDATE – WEDNESDAY PM: Steve Whitmore did call back early this morning and we connected in the afternoon. He reiterated that the sheriff is “saddened” by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s actions. “But apparently Mr. Tanaka’s memory is clouded by his ambition. He’s welcome to his selective memory,” Whitmore added, “but it’s being driven by ambition.”

As to whether Sheriff Baca had any response to the fact that Paul Tanaka had pretty clearly accused him of obstruction of justice in his depiction of Baca’s having ordered the hiding and the debriefing of FBI informant Anthony Brown, Whitmore dismissed the notion altogether. “Sheriff Lee Baca has cooperated fully with this investigation from the beginning,” he said. “And he will continue to do so. The department’s doors are fully open to the FBI and the US Attorney’s office.”

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 84 Comments »

Progress on New Bill Re: Kids in Solitary…..How School Suspensions Backfire….Despair and Hunger Strikes at Git’mo….

April 25th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


SENATOR LELAND YEE’S BILL LIMITING USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR KIDS PASSES OUT OF COMMITTEE

SB 61, a bill that defines and limits the use of solitary confinement for kids locked up in state and county juvenile facilities passed out of the Senate Public Safety Committee on Wednesday. The bill, authored by Senator Leland Yee, (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) is something that youth advocates have been pushing.

A statement from Yee’s office outlined the following points:

**Nationally, over half of the youth who committed suicide while in a correctional facility were in solitary confinement and 62 percent had a history of being placed in solitary confinement.

***Research also shows that individuals who were forced into solitary confinement had much higher rates of recidivism as well as developing psychopathologies.

**“The use of solitary confinement on a child is wrong and should be used only in the most extreme situations,” said Yee, who is a child psychologist. “The studies are clear – holding juveniles in solitary increases recidivism rates, exacerbates existing mental illness, and makes youth more likely to attempt suicide. The overuse of solitary confinement with children destroys young lives.”

“Solitary confinement is an archaic way of dealing with incarcerated children” said Yee. “Clearly, solitary confinement does not benefit society in the long run and actually makes our communities more dangerous. If we embrace scientific evidence over the status quo, we can work to rebuild broken lives and keep California safer.”

Dr. Laura Abrams of UCLA testified on behalf of SB 61, saying, “The mission of the juvenile justice system is to offer youth an opportunity for rehabilitation while also promoting public safety. The use of solitary confinement is counter to these goals. Not only does solitary confinement undermine rehabilitation efforts, but also as the potential to return a young person to society with exacerbated trauma and mental illness that can manifest in violence toward self or others.”

We’re watching this bill and are heartened by this first step toward passage!


HOW SCHOOL SUSPENSIONS BACKFIRE

This run-of-the-mill yet heartbreaking story of the everyday manner in which the use of a school suspension fairls to serve either the student or the safety of the school, is all too common. It is by Sally Lee writing for the Huffington Post. Here’s a representative clip:

Working in the Bronx, as she writes in the Suspensions Stories blog, E.E.M. is a history teacher who helped develop a “Moot Court” project that has become one of the seminal academic experiences of upperclassmen at her school. Student teams research real First and Fourth Amendment Supreme Court cases and then develop arguments and present in front of guest “justices.” Each year students are highly engaged in this project, and one year four of them, a crew of friends who had known each other since childhood, were working hard to prepare for their presentation. But just weeks before the case presentations, three of the young men were involved in an altercation (involving many people from multiple schools in the building) that was the result of an out-of-school turf tension related to the two sets of housing projects near the school. The three young men were given a 60-day out-of-school suspension. The effect? The students never got to stand tall and present their cases in front of peers and impressed guests. Instead, one student transferred to a school that didn’t match his needs or interests, another moved out of state, one returned to the school with little trust for faculty, and the fourth, who wasn’t involved in the fights, grew listless after the destruction of what had been a positive and supportive team for him: his friends. What could have been for these young men had the school system intervened earlier and responded differently? For E.E.M. and her colleagues, stories like these are common, and they are heartbreaking. Educators see so much promise in their students, but what is their fate when time and again they are demoralized and alienated by schools without adequate and supportive resources?


HOPELESSNESS REIGNS AT GUANTANAMO

We don’t usually stray into issues that relate to national security, but for those of us concerned about humane and constitutional incarceration policies, this situation is of grave concern. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage has written a painful and shameful story about the dispair that has spread among the prisoners at Guantanamo, resulting in a mass hunger strike that is now threatening lives.

Here’s a clip from Savage’s excellent and disturbing story:

In the early afternoon quiet, guards in camouflage fatigues walked the two-tiered cellblocks of Camp Six, where the most cooperative of the 166 terrorism suspects held in the military prison here are housed. From a darkened control room, other guards watched banks of surveillance monitors showing prisoners in white clothing — pacing, sleeping or reading — in their cells.

But the relative calm on display to visiting reporters last week was deceiving. Days earlier, guards had raided Camp Six and locked down protesting prisoners who had blocked security cameras, forbidding them to congregate in a communal area. A hunger strike is now in its third month, with 93 prisoners considered to be participating — more than half the inmates and twice the number before the raid.

“They are not done yet, and they will not be done until there is more than one death,” said a Muslim adviser to the military, identified as “Zak” for security reasons, who fears there may be suicides. Only one thing, he predicted, will satisfy the detainees: if someone is allowed to leave.

The spark for the protest is disputed. Detainees, through their lawyers, say that when guards conducted a search of their cells on Feb. 6, they handled their Korans in a disrespectful way. Prison officials dispute that.

But both military officials and lawyers for the detainees agree about the underlying cause of the turmoil: a growing sense among many prisoners, some of whom have been held without trial for more than 11 years, that they will never go home.


AND THE REALLY, REALLY BAD JAIL OF THE MONTH AWARD GOES TO….THE BALTIMORE CITY DETENTION CENTER

Jail guards as inmates’ babymamas plus a thriving drug biz behind bars and more. Rochelle Ritchie of CBS reports this story (and so has nearly everyone else). Here’s a clip in case you missed the sad and jaw-dropping saga of one of Baltimore’s jail:

Twenty-five people, 13 of those female correction officers, are now behind bars facing federal charges of racketeering, money laundering and possession of drugs with the intent to distribute. Investigators say the women helped White and other gang members smuggle cell phones, marijuana, prescription pills and cigarettes into the Baltimore City Detention Center.

“It’s pretty much its own city. The guards aren’t running the jail; prisoners really run the jail,” said one former inmate.

The illegal operation isn’t surprising to former inmates.

“I was in there before. Everywhere you look, people lighting up marijuana joints, tobacco…we even get alcohol in there,” said a former inmate.

And here’s a clip from a story by Dan Rodricks for the Baltimore Sun:

I have lots of questions about the Black Guerrilla Family case, starting with this: Was the warden of the Baltimore City Detention Center asked to approve maternity leave for any of the female correctional officers allegedly impregnated by inmate Tavon “Bulldog” White?

I thought it was a pretty good question.

A taxpayer’s question.

According to the U.S. attorney’s office, White got four of his jailers pregnant. (Do you think these women knew what was going on before the indictment came down? Do you think they all got along and attended Lamaze class together?)

If the indictment is correct, if female prison guards fraternized with an inmate to the point of pregnancy — a couple of them had White’s name tattooed on their bodies, the feds say — then I don’t want to hear that they asked for paid maternity leave.

Don’t tell us that.

Bad enough that White pretty much ran the jail, according to the indictment.

If his baby mamas — excuse me, his alleged baby mamas — had the chutzpah to ask for paid maternity leave, that would add insult to injury….

Posted in Guantanamo, jail, juvenile justice, Los Angeles County, Probation, solitary | No Comments »

Why Did LASD’s Scandal-Plagued Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Announce His Resignation: Decoding the Decision

March 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



HE’S OUT

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, the #2 person in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department command structure right under Sheriff Lee Baca, announced his resignation on Wednesday during the sheriff’s Executive Planning Committee.

For most Los Angeles residents the announcement of the undersheriff’s exit was of little consequence. People were, of course, very familiar with LA’s popular—if now beleaguered—Sheriff Lee Baca, but Tanaka—the sheriff’s right hand man and longtime consigliere—had always flown largely under the media radar.

Yet for those inside and close to the nation’s fourth largest policing agency, the departure of the undersheriff was of enormous significance. The big question for Tanaka’s supporters and detractors, was what exactly did this abrupt leave-taking mean?

To begin with, according to department sources, the announcement was stunningly unexpected, and was greeted by most among the executive group who first heard it with genuine shock.

The official press release, which was put out hastily at mid-afternoon on Wednesday, did little to answer any questions. It began:

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka today announced his retirement to the Sheriff and the Department’s executive staff. His retirement will be effective August 1, 2013….

Then the release ticked off some of the undersheriff’s postings and accomplishments during his 33 years on the job with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and little more.

Those familiar with county employment rules guessed that the August 1 exit date was likely picked because it is shortly after the undersheriff’s 55th birthday in July. And fifty-five is the magic age for LA County employees who wish to get their full retirement.

But of course the real question was not so much when Mr. Tanaka was leaving, as it was why?**


THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN LOS ANGELES YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

It is hard to find a more polarizing figure in contemporary Los Angeles law enforcement than Paul Tanaka.

Until recently, Tanaka has been viewed as a sort-of shadow sheriff, the person behind Sheriff Lee Baca whom many saw as holding the real power in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer first broke the news in December 2011 that the largely unknown Mr. Tanaka wielded a startling amount of control in the LASD, which—-with 18,000 employees—is the largest sheriff’s department in the world, and runs the nation’s largest jail system.

Since our report, Tanaka has come under scrutiny by the FBI for his part in what has been described as a culture of violence inside Men’s Central Jail, and he may also be the focus of a federal grand jury probe into allegations that LASD management ordered jails personnel to hide an FBI informant from his handlers by moving the man in secret from place to place inside the county jail system, using a string of phony names and false inmate ID numbers.

Starting in early 2012, WitnessLA issued a series of additional reports on what was widely perceived inside the department as a system of patronage run by Mr. Tanaka, in which loyalty and, in many cases, cash donations to Tanaka’s political campaigns, were rewarded when it came to promotions—instead of merit.

(NOTE: Along with being the LASD undersheriff, Tanaka is the mayor of the city of Gardena.)

(See reports on alleged pay-to-play here, here and here.)

In February, the reports caused Supervisor Gloria Molina to introduce a motion to prohibit county supervisors from asking for or accepting campaign contributions.

As the year wore on, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence—which included four federal judges and a chief of police—delved further into the undersheriff’s practices as they investigated the jail violence in general. In their final report, issued in September 2012, the commission stopped just short of ordering the sheriff to fire Tanaka, but they critiqued what they saw as the undersheriff’s mismanagement and misconduct in the harshest of terms, and strongly advised that he be removed from any oversite of the custody division, and even suggested—albiet delicately, as it was outside their mission—that the same prohibition apply to any Tanaka oversight of street patrol. Here is a snippet of what they wrote:

The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored. Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The Commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct. His repeated statements that deputies should work in an undefined “grey” area contributed to a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and that their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline”

The 194-page report went on in that vein, including a description of the “belief,” among deputies regarding the unaccountably powerful undersheriff who seemed to skip, at will, over the department’s paramilitary chain-of-command, “that patronage and favoritism matter more than merit.”

Shortly after the report was delivered, the sheriff forced into retirement several of those who who had some responsibility for the deputy-abuse-of-jail-inmates scandal—most notably Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, and Chief of Custody Operations. Dennis Burns. Yet Baca seemed stubbornly disinclined to hold his second-in-command accountable, telling the Citizen’s Commission during his testimony last year, that he had no intention of disciplining or getting rid of the undersheriff, that he was too crucial, particularly when it cames to balancing the department’s $2.5 billion budget.

“Paul Tanaka is uniquely suited to be the undersheriff,” Baca said. “When you go through two recessions, you need a CPA.”

(Among his other skills, Tanaka is a certified public accountant.)

Nevertheless, in a nod to the commission’s allegations, the sheriff announced that the department had launched an internal affairs investigation into the undersheriff’s conduct. He also insisted that, from there on out, the undersheriff would mostly be the department’s CFO, applying his magic to the budget, but would no longer have any control over the jails or the patrol divisions, or over the investigative bureaus like internal affairs, which Tanaka had taken over for a period.

Yet, at the same time, as recently as late last October, Baca continued to defend Tanaka both in public and in private.

As the year came to a close, however, Baca’s attitude reportedly took a measurable turn. Sources inside and close to the department tell us of “an uneasy rift” between Mr. Tanaka and the sheriff in the last few months, which became “very noticeable” before Christmas 2012.

“I think that all the things began to add up for the sheriff,” said one source. “The talk of pay-to-play, the cigar club, the whole thing of working the grey, the way the federal investigations were handled, the problems in the jails, and all the rest.”

Another source said that Baca was also upset when Tanaka, who had promised the sheriff that he would not run for mayor of Gardena again, pulled out of the race after first registering and scaring off most other candidates, but pulling out so late that his name had to remain on the all-ready-printed ballot. Then, although he professed non-interest in running, he allowed fundraising and a surrogate campaign in his behalf to be launched by the Gardena Police Department, reportedly complete with clusters of Tanaka yard signs blooming on lawns all over the city.

Tanaka was easily re-elected mayor of Gardena on Tuesday. His retirement was abruptly announced on Wednesday.


SO WHO LEFT WHOM?

Counter to what sources inside and close to the department tell us, according to Sheriff’s department spokesman Steve Whitmore, the decision to leave was Tanaka’s alone, that he simply felt it was time to move on, and that the sheriff himself only learned of the undersheriff’s retirement plans on Tuesday, the day before the announcement.

Mr. Whitmore said that Tanaka has chosen to retire in order to spend more time with his family. “When I talked to him about it,” said Whitmore, “he pointed to a picture of his three-and-a-half year old son that sits behind his desk and told me, ‘That’s why!’ You have to remember,” said Whitmore, “the undersheriff is 54, so he didn’t become a father until he was past 50.”

The department “is losing a dedicated public servent,” said Whitmore. “He will be sorely missed. His departure leaves a big hole.”

When queried, Whitmore said that the internal affairs investigation into allegations against Tanaka will continue, despite the undersheriff’s announcement.

He also said that, in Tanaka’s time remaining on the job, he will shepherd the department’s budget to its completion date in June.


WHAT EFFECT WILL TANAKA’S DEPARTURE HAVE?

If Paul Tanaka’s resignation/retirement leaves a hole, as Steve Whitmore suggests, what does that newly-opened gap portend?

Miriam Krinsky, the Jail’s Commission’s executive director, reiterated the “troubling reports” about Tanaka that the commission uncovered in the course of its investigations, and characterized the undersheriff’s exit as very welcome news that is potentially favorable for the department.

“I certainly hope,” she said, “that the decision of the undersheriff provides the department with the opportunity to look for someone who can help create a new and really positive culture in the jails.”

Peter Eliasberg, the legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, was also surprised and pleased by the news.

“Any time you’re talking about changing the culture of a large organization, a big part is making sure that the right people are in charge and the wrong people aren’t. The change of one person like Tanaka isn’t a silver bullet, but I think it’s potentially quite significant.

Both Krinsky and Eliasberg emphasized that much will depend on who replaces Paul Tanaka.

According to Steve Whitmore, however, Sheriff Baca is “not considering any replacement” for the departing undersheriff, at least not for a while.


POST SCRIPT

It has long been actively rumored that much of Paul Tanaka’s management style has been aimed at gathering a base of power in order to succeed Lee Baca as sheriff of LA County.

Last summer, in fact, former LASD Commander Robert Olmsted told me that Tanaka had unapologetically confided to him that the reason he needed to ensure that the “right” people were in supervisory positions in the department, was so that those loyalists were in place when he, Tanaka, became sheriff. “He said Waldie (who was then the undersheriff) Cavanaugh and the Sheriff are all old, and that they would be retiring very soon, and he expected to hold the position after Sheriff Baca, ‘for the next fifteen years.’”

Unbelievably, even with the storm of scandals ever-quickening around Tanaka, as recently as the past few months, the undersheriff was reportedly working behind the scenes to make sure “his” people were elected to crucial positions on the boards of the two LASD unions—ALADS and PPOA—plus LA county’s law enforcement fraternal organizations like BPOA (Black Peace Officer’s Association of Los Angeles County) and HAPCOA (Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association)—all organizations that, if they lined up behind a single candidate, could have a significant influence.

On Wednesday, however, Mr. Tanaka told Daily Breeze reporter Sandy Mazza that he has no plans to run for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

But then again, Tanaka also said repeatedly that he was not running for Mayor of Gardena. Yet, on Wednesday, the day he announced his retirement, he officially accepted the post for a third term.


LINKS TO TANAKA TESTIMONY: When I was on Warren Olney’s Which Way LA? on Thursday, there was discussion about testimony given by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka at the Jail’s Commission hearing, and some dispute about what the undersheriff said and in what context. With those questions in mind, here’s a link to the transcript from the hearing and also a link to the audio from that same hearing. In addition to providing some excellent background information into the problems inside the jails that were being investigated, this hearing in particular is great theater.


** This section of this story was expanded on March 10, 2013


Posted in jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca | 9 Comments »

Baca Must Fork Over Unredacted Ruben Salazar Files….and More

December 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



MALDEF PRIES UNREDACTED RUBEN SALAZAR RECORDS AWAY FROM BACA AFTER 2 YEARS OF POINTLESS LEGAL WRANGLING

ON Tuesday, MALDEF settled its lawsuit against Sheriff Lee Baca and LA County, in which they had challenged the sheriff’s two-year attempt to withhold unredacted records regarding the 1970 death of Rubén Salazar, the former Times colum­nist and KMEX-TV news dir­ect­or who was killed on the day of the National Chicano Moratorium March against the Vietnam War under circumstances that have left in their wake a cloud of questions for more than four decades.

In the lawsuit, MALDEF represented award-winning documentary filmmaker Phillip Rodriguez, who is in the midst of making a film on the life of Salazar and the controvesy around his death. With this settlement, Rodriguez—and others—can finally have full access to things like unredacted autopsy reports, and coroner’s photos taken at the scene, plus unredacted investigative documents.

Here’s a clip from MALDEF’s Thursday press release:

Salazar was a KMEX-TV 34 journalist killed by a Sheriff’s deputy during the national Chicano Moratorium March in 1970. He was best known as the first Mexican American journalist to cover the Chicano community from the mainstream media. Despite the truth-seeking and investigative nature of his journalistic work, Salazar’s own death has been surrounded in secrecy for over 40 years.

“This settlement ensures that the Sheriff can no longer attempt to control the use of critical historical records on the killing of iconic journalist Rubén Salazar. The public, through the forthcoming documentary film, will immediately benefit from the availability of these unredacted records in assessing Salazar’s death 42 years ago,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel.

On December 4, 2012, the Sheriff and the County agreed to disclose unredacted autopsy and investigative documents, and coroner’s photos regarding Salazar’s death on August 29, 1970, enabling Phillip Rodriguez to reproduce copies of the documents, and use them in his film.

MALDEF began requesting the information in 2010, under the California Public Records Act, but the LASD folks refused to turn anything over claiming the documents were exempt from public records requests. However, with increasing legal prodding, a shove or two from Supervisor Gloria Molina (plus a lot of negative publicity surrounding the stonewalling), Sheriff Baca agreed to let Rodriguez and company look at the docs in March 2011, but only under strict conditions. For one thing, nobody could make copies of the reports.

According to Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel, the sheriff de facto admitted that the documents were not exempted as public records by allowing partial access to them, thus rendering the rest of the control-freaky conditions that he and the LASD placed on them, to be legally unsupportable.

Nevertheless, the sheriff and his lawyers managed to drag the whole thing out for an additional nine months—for no appreciable reason (save, one supposes, Because They Can).

Of course, for the Sheriff there is no fiscal downside to engaging in two years of basically useless and rights-hindering legal wrangling since we, as taxpayers, were footing the attorneys’ bills to help the LASD try to keep the crucial material about the 42-year-old Salazar case OUT of the public domain.

(And, what’s up with the County Counsel attorneys who gave the sheriff the swell advice that allowed him to think that he could continue all this legal foot-dragging?)

Vexing. Very Vexing.

Congratulations to Phillip Rodriquez and MALDEF for prevailing in the public interest.

Rodriguez’s documentary is eagerly awaited as what it is hoped will be the first independent and thorough investigation of the mysterious and controversial events surrounding Salazar’s death. “The film will illuminate an often neglected and misrepresented chapter of American history that was foundational in the development of the Latino cultural and political identity,” stated Rodriguez.

Rodriguez’s film, “Rubén Salazar: The Man in the Middle,” will air in the fall of 2013 on PBS primetime to national audiences.

You can read the full settlement here.


LAPD UNION USES FBI MOST WANTED ARREST TO SLAM REALIGNMENT

On Tuesday, the LAPPL LAPPL put out a statement that, in a peculiar loop-de-loop of logic, attempted to discredit the state’s realignment policy because, the recently arrested fugitive from the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list, Jose Luis Saenz, was—for entirely bureaucratic reasons—taken off parole.

Yes, I know it sounds weird. But Saenz was taken off the parole rolls because he no longer qualified, so removing him was simply bureaucratic clean up. “Having him on parole was essentially useless,” said CDCR spokesman, Luis Patino. “It was just gumming up the system, so we removed him.” They knew Saenz had warrants on him for four murders, Patino said. “He didn’t need another parole warrant in order to be arrested.”

The LAPPL writes on its blog:

The Los Angeles Police Protective League has warned the community that realignment would result in mass discharges of very dangerous felons and the deaths of innocent individuals. While realignment was enacted years after Saenz was first wanted, what justification does the Parole Department have for discharging Saenz in August, when he’s still wanted for killing four people?

It sounds sexy and like a delicious gotcha to say that the CDCR is SO out-of-it that they took the FBI’s most wanted guy off parole.

Yet, it is a cheap trick, loaded with falsehoods-–yet it is one that continues to be repeated in various guises.

Certainly, there are ways that realignment can—and should— be improved. But it is irresponsible and profoundly distorting of the issue to take big bad, high profile murder cases that have zero to do with the state’s new policy, and try to hold them up as bogeymen to scare people into counterfactually believing the state’s realignment program is damaging public safety.

Worse, such theatrics stand in the way of a genuine discussion about how to make realignment better.


OBAMA ADMINISTRATION STILL LAGGING ON APPOINTING HEAD OF YOUTH JUSTICE DEPARTMENT

There is a big push to get the Senate to force the Obama administration into getting off the dime and appointing a head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which oversees and coordinates juvenile justice reforms around the country. This administration is the first since the OJJDP was created in 1974 to fail to make the appointment.

This essay from Campaign for Youth Justice head, Liz Ryan, makes clear the importance of the issue.


Posted in Freedom of Information, LASD, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | 10 Comments »

DOJ Blinks, Gives County’s Juvie Probation Camps a New 2014 Deadline for Reforms & No Consent Decree—Despite Discouraging Lack of Progress

October 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



LA COUNTY PROBATION CAMPS FAIL (AGAIN) TO MAKE NECESSARY IMPROVEMENTS, DOJ DOES ZIP TO HOLD PROBATION ACCOUNTABLE

It was reported to us this week that, instead of slapping the LA County Department of Probation with a nice fat federal consent decree over its chronic inability to fix 41 “areas of concern” in LA’s juvenile probation camps that the DOJ blinked, and instead gave us yet another extension to make the agreed upon fixes.

(The cynical among us might say that such a pronounced unwillingness to hold anybody accountable defines the term enabling, but, sure, hey, yeah, why not. Carry on!)

Here’s a little back story taken from the post we wrote last December on this very same issue:

When, on November 6, 2006, the US Department of Justice began investigating LA’s juvenile probation camps, investigators found the facilities rife with horrors. Probation officers batted kids around, instigated fights (some of which were caught on video and wound up on YouTube) or looked the other way when one group of kids pounded another. Staff also made kids stand or sit in body-stressing positions for long periods, kept them in solitary confinement for even longer periods as punishment, randomly denied them bathroom breaks, recreational time and/or medical treatment, failed to check on kids who were on suicide watch, pepper sprayed teenagers over trivialities, and drank alcohol on the job—among other transgressions and illegalities.

Now, said the monitors in the new report, the worst of the rampant abuse and neglect in the camps had pretty much been halted, although there was still lots of room for improvement.
And thankfully the staff, for the most part, wasn’t drinking on the job.

But, after 4 years under the watchful eye of the Department of Justice, although most kids weren’t being actively abused, they weren’t being helped either, said the monitors, particularly when it came to mental and emotional health, substance abuse—and overall rehabilitation. Probation has little or nothing in the way of positive outcomes to show for its supposed progress in these areas. And in many of the camps they have they don’t have the required rehabilitative programs in place at all.

“These camps are not meant to be punishment for the kids we send there,” said a source close to the federal monitors. “They’re supposed to rehabilitate. And that’s still not happening.”

So now the big question is: Will the Feds take over the the juvenile facilities with a Federal Consent Decree?

Answer to that question: Clearly not.

And ten months later, has anything improved? Uh, not really, according to the newest response from the feds. The camps still don’t have the needed rehabilitative programs for the kids in their custody.

Moreover, in some areas things might be getting worse. The monitors reported that in the next assessment they expect four of the areas that were previously in compliance—to have back-slid out of complience. Alarmingly, these areas are in the arenas of:

1. the staff’s excessive use of force against kids.

2. the staff’s “use of practices such as slamming’ or “assuming the bob-sled
position’ for punitive or abusive purposes”

3. the “reduction of youth on youth violence,” and..

4. “record keeping” to make sure there was adequate tracking of when kids were given medications and their side effects, which kids were given “psychotropic medications,” and “adequate tracking to identify youth receiving mental health services.”

Seriously, after 5 years, staff still can’t manage to stop slamming kids against walls, making them assume stress positions as punishment, can’t keep them reasonably safe from aggressively pounding each other, and can’t keep adequate track of who’s being given what medication and has received what mental health services.

It’s honestly hard to know what to say.

More on this next week.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County, Probation | 4 Comments »

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