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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 »

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 »

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