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GARAGE GATE: The LA Times, Mark Ridley-Thomas & the Scandal that Isn’t

February 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WHY IS THE LA TIMES STILL REPORTING ON MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS’ GARAGE?

As of this week, the LA Times has published six articles on the matter of installing a tax-payer-funded security system in LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ refurbished garage.

“Garage-Gate” is the way LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has wryly tagged the Times’ series of provocatively-headlined reports (one of which was even featured on the paper’s front page).

If you somehow have have missed reading this investigative juggernaut, here are a few of the basic facts:

Because they are public figures, the LA County Supervisors are each urged to have security systems installed in their homes at the county’s expense. Gloria Molina has one. So does Don Knabe. Zev Yaroslavsky has a security system that the county put in during his first term and it is reportedly still working just fine. We’re not sure about Mike Antonovich, but it is generally presumed that he has a system too, but that it was put in quite a while ago.

Mark-Ridley Thomas also has a system. His was installed early last October in the converted garage that he has started using as his home office. The Ridley-Thomas system cost the taxpayers of LA County $6,278.61—which is about a thousand dollars less than Molina’s cost. (We don’t know the costs of the other supervisors’ systems.)

It seems, however, that when MRT’s security system was put in, the county workers also mounted a flat screen TV, and installed an air conditioning unit and a 4.3 cu ft. mini-fridge, bringing the total cost of the county’s work to around $10,038.

(If you’re curious, you can see photos of the extra items we’re talking about if you click on the various links above.)

In addition to installing them, the county guys picked up and bought the AC unit, the mini-fridge and the TV.

On October 23—a couple weeks after the work on the garage was completed—the county CEO’s office sent MRT two invoices totaling $3,759.39 for the extra work, and the purchases.

Invoice1
Invoice2

On October 29, the supervisor paid the invoices by check. (The very check in question is pictured at the top of this post.)

End of story, one would think.

But one would be wrong.

The LA Times began reporting on the matter in mid-January in response to a tip.


ITS ALL ABOUT THE WOOD PANELS

January was a busy month, so I didn’t catch up with the reporting on this pressing issue until story number 3, which ran on January 19.

(Here is story 1 and story 2.)

The headline and the subhead for this newest story caught my eye as they seemed to suggest real wrongdoing:

Work at Ridley-Thomas’ residence went beyond security system: taxpayer-funded project to install the system at L.A. County supervisor’s residence included other improvements, interviews and records show.”

When I finished reading the Times’ account, however, I was confused. So where exactly was the….you know….story here?

Although the Times reporters had made public records act requests, the county counsel’s office was slow to hand over the required information. So, the reporters had not yet gotten their hands on any proof of MRT’s reimbursement for the cost of the TV, mini-fridge and AC unit. Still it appears they’d heard about it.

The other issue that that seemed to alarm the Times’ folks was whether or not the county workers really had to take out some wall panelling to install the necessary wiring for the project. (Then, after it was taken out, the missing panelling was replaced with drywall, which then had to be painted.) The workers also dug a trench across the yard to the garage to bury the wiring that brought the necessary power to the outbuilding, a fact that the reporters mentioned several times, suggesting that all this trench digging might be suspicious too.

In an effort to further illuminate the the paneling problem, the LA Times reporters located a security system expert in Tenafly, New Jersey, who opined that the wood paneling likely didn’t really need to be taken down.

That was pretty much all there was when it came to anything that purported to be newsworthy-–although the piece ran more than 1000 words.

Hmmmmm, I thought. As the daughter of a construction engineer, the sister of a mad do-it-yourselfer, and the mother of 28-year-old software engineer who, in his much younger years, did systems wiring for several small companies, I know that, without seeing the actual site, one would be unwise to opine from afar about whether or not one has to take down a section of wall paneling to properly wire a new…anything.

So why in the world did the Times have two reporters chasing this tepid thing, with a third reporter listed as having contributed?

I am not personally acquainted with one of the two reporters who were bylined in the series. But I do know the other to be an excellent journalist whose work I normally admire and respect a great deal.


THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STEPS IN…OR NOT

When Story number 4 and story number 5 ran about whether or not Ridley-Thomas should have gotten building permits to put in the new system and install the TV or whatever, they seemed to be the same weak soup.

Then finally story number 6 showed up in our LA paper of record this week.

“D.A. probes work on Ridley-Thomas’ garage” the headline announced.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is looking into whether thousands of dollars in taxpayer money was misspent on improvements to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ home last year, an office spokeswoman said Tuesday.

That didn’t sound good. If the DA’s office was looking into the security system hullabaloo, surely there must be something to it.

Looking for clarification, I called the district attorney’s office and talked to their main spokeswoman, Jean Guccione.

Guccione told me that, yes, they were investigating the matter, but they were doing so in response to a citizen’s complaint.

Oh.

So it wasn’t something that they’d initiated on their own because they were concerned that something untoward had gone on?

No, she said. She went on to explain that when a citizen complains about possible wrongdoing, the DA is required to take at least a nominal look to find out if there’s anything to it.

In fairness to the Times, they did mention the citizen complaint angle in their story, but they did so all the way down in paragraph number five and then wrote ominously that the DA’s spokeswoman “declined to elaborate.”

Right.


OTHER GRUMPY JOURNALISTS

Just about the time I was getting irritable regarding this series, both Dennis Romero at the Weekly and Bill Boyarsky at LA Observed were putting together their own thoughts.

Here’s a clip from Romero’s story Why Is the L.A. Times Obsessed With Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Garage?:

The five county supervisors, who represent more constituents than some United States senators, run county government, including the sheriff’s department, probation, child and family services, animal control and more. They’re fair game for a newspaper looking to hold public officials accountable, no doubt.

But the Times seems absolutely obsessed with what amounts to $6,278.61 of your money spent on a security system for Ridley-Thomas’ converted garage-office — even though such security work is allowed under county policy, and even though the reporter who first pursued the story, CBS L.A.’s David Goldstein, essentially passed on it:

County policy entitles the supes to taxpayer-funded security. That includes sheriff’s deputies who escort them to public events, and security systems installed at their homes. The south county’s Ridley-Thomas and east county supervisor Gloria Molina represent the most crime-challenged districts in greater L.A., even as the law requires the two officials to live in the communities from which they were elected.

The $6,278.61 spent on Ridley-Thomas’ home is less than what the Times acknowledges was spent on similar security upgrades to the home of fellow supervisor Molina — $7,406.72 worth.

[GIGANTIC SNIP]

And, in fall, while Mark-Ridley Thomas was getting $6,278.61 worth of home security at your expense, City of Los Angeles taxpayers were footing the bill for about $375,000 worth of improvements to Getty House, the official mayoral residence in Windsor Square, which is operated by a nonprofit group.

That’s 59 times the dollar amount attributed to Ridley-Thomas’ now-controversial garage alarm system.

And now here’s a clip from Boyarsky’s column,Behind the Ridley Thomas garage caper:

Ridley-Thomas told me that when he notified county officials he intended to move his home office, including his county computer, into the garage, they said they would have to revamp his county-supplied home security system. In addition, they said they, themselves, would have to move his county computer, with its high-speed Internet connection, into the new office. They had to do this, they said, to protect the county computer system from hackers.

Besides linking up with the Internet, the high-speed connection reaches the sheriff’s office and other security agencies, Ridley Thomas said. Each task requires wiring. In addition, the alarm system needs a wire to draw power from the home supply. So there must be wiring for a few purposes—high-speed Internet connection, law enforcement notification for emergencies and power for the computer and the security alarm system , Ridley-Thomas explained.

County employees and the contractors looked at the garage wall and said they wouldn’t be able to install so much wiring behind the wall without ripping it out. Since the garage was 30 years old, they said they couldn’t find replacements for the old wooden wall. Let’s hang dry wall over the wiring and paint it, they said. They preferred that solution to hanging the wires on outside of the old wall and covering them with molding. Fine, replied Ridley Thomas.

Reporters Leonard and Pringle quoted number a home security experts who said there was no need to rip out the wall to install wiring for the security system. “Ripping the walls out? That’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Nigel Smithers, Southern California general for Absolute Security Alarms. Ridley-Thomas is angry about the coverage and called me at home, hoping I would look into it. He said it was always clear that he would pay for the air conditioner, television and refrigerator. “This was above board, there was no attempt to hide anything, it was completely appropriate and legitimate,” he said.

The real dispute is over the amount of wiring needed and whether the wall should have been replaced. Was so much wiring required that the contractors had to rip down the wall? Would a cord from Home Depot sufficed? Was taxpayer money wasted?


WHY YOU AND I SHOULD CARE

So why are we writing about this in WitnessLA? After all, we’re a criminal justice news site.

Answer: Because, if as journalists we don’t kindly hold each other to account, who will? And at WLA, we are truly dismayed that the LA Times would spend this much time and reportorial energy attempting make something out of an obvious non-scandal that they, frankly, seem to justify mostly by the use of misleading headlines and very questionable lead paragraphs.

There are so many potential stories of real consequence in our county that are crying out for attention.

(I mean the corruption and malfeasance still awaiting documentation in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, is one….um…random example.)

So we’d like to gently and respectfully say: C’mon guys. You’re much better than this.

We need you to be better than this.


EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s lots more to report on topics other than Mark Ridley-Thomas’ garage. We’ll catch up on those issues Tuesday morning. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

WHO SHOULD BE A COP? LAT’s Disturbing Window into the Hiring Practices of the LA County Sheriff’s Department…and More

December 2nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On Sunday, the LA Times published an exceptionally well-reported—and disturbing
look into some of the hiring practices used by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The focus of the data-informed story by Robert Faturechi and Ben Poston is a hiring period that occurred in 2010 after the department took over the patrols of county parks and government buildings from the L.A. County police force. Following the takeover, it seems that the ousted LA County cops were given first consideration as the LASD began hiring to fill the new positions.

Out of 400 county officers who applied, the Times learned that around 280 were hired. Through the acquisition of a pile of LASD internal hiring files, Faturechi and Poston were able to determine that approximately 188—or 67 percent—of those hired from the county cop pool had been rejected for jobs at other law enforcement agencies.

Around one third of those same hires had been disciplined previously by other police agencies for “significant misconduct on duty.”

Slightly over 10 percent—39 people—were either fired or pressured to resign from previous jobs in law enforcement.

If the LASD management has hired that many people who’ve been discipline by other agencies—or actually bounced out of other cop jobs—what kind of background problems have they overlooked in brand new recruits whom they believe they can train from scratch?

NARROWING THE FOCUS

There have long been reports from LASD insiders that during certain periods, department higher-ups have put pressure on background investigators to push through questionable applicants in order to raise the number of sworn officers to a particular threshold.

Yet for this story, the LA Times reporters focused solely on the County police hires, which was a smart decision. By limiting their reporting to that single pool of applicants, it allowed the Times to analyse and quantify a given hiring pattern in hard numbers—numbers that are both startling, and difficult to explain away.

The Times also tells many of the stories behind those numbers, and they too are not reassuring.

For example:

About 50 disclosed to sheriff’s background investigators misdeeds such as petty theft, soliciting prostitutes and violence against spouses.

One hire told investigators of having inappropriate sexual contact with two toddlers as a teenager.

In another case, Linda Bonner was given a job after revealing that she used her department-issued weapon to shoot at her husband as he ran away from her during an argument. He wasn’t hit; he was lucky he was running in a zigzag pattern, she told investigators, because if not the end result “would have been a whole lot different.”

And then there is:

Another officer, Niles Rose, was hired despite being the subject of several unreasonable force allegations.

Rose had been investigated for misconduct 10 times at the Office of Public Safety since 2001. In three of those cases, the allegations were found by investigators to be true, according to the sheriff’s background file. A former supervisor said Rose developed a reputation as being heavy-handed with suspects.

“If you want smart force used, you make sure he’s in the locker room,” Marc Gregory, a former county police captain, said in an interview with The Times.

Once hired by the sheriff’s department, Rose’s behavior reportedly did not appear to improve. Instead, multiple allegations of misconduct seemed to accompany his every assignment, according to the Times.

AND WHAT DOES THE DEPARTMENT HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE LA TIMES REPORT?

When asked for a response to what the Times found, the reactions were what we have, sadly, now come to expect.

Sheriff Lee Baca declined to comment, but his spokesman said Baca was not aware people with such backgrounds were hired.

Before he knew of the newspaper’s investigation, Baca told Times reporters that people with records of violence or dishonesty have no place in law enforcement. He said applicants who had been fired from other agencies shouldn’t be given a second chance, and that he would not hire applicants with histories of illegal sexual conduct.

“Men that take women and use them as a sexual object are going to always come up against my wrath,” he said.

In addition to the “I’m shocked, shocked…!” excuse there was the devil-made-me-do-it excuse. To wit:

Baca’s then second-in-command, Larry Waldie, and a small circle of aides, were responsible for scrutinizing applicants.

Waldie, now retired, said he personally reviewed many of the applicants’ files. He said he was unaware of any hires with histories of significant misconduct.

Presented with some of The Times’ findings, Waldie said: “That information was not brought to me … I don’t recall any of these specifics so don’t ask me anymore.”

Waldie then said he and his aides were under “significant pressure” from the county Board of Supervisors and other officials to hire as many county officers as possible.

“We had to have grave reasons for not hiring them,” Waldie said.

Since the Supervisors have not succeeded in pressuring the sheriff’s department into doing much of anything it didn’t want to in the past decade, the claim of “the board made us do it” is reasonably laughable.

Moreover, other agency heads—such as LA County Probation Chief Jerry Powers—have been under “significant pressure” from the board to get their hiring numbers up, ASAP, in Powers’ case, in order to finish staffing up for realignment. And yet Powers has, if anything, tightened his hiring standards during the intense hiring period.

According to the Times’ repot, the LASD’s reaction to word that reporters had acquired the department’s internal records, was also dismaying predictable.

After sheriff’s officials learned The Times had access to the records, they launched a criminal investigation to determine who had leaked them.

(The Times also reports that sheriff’s officials said they would review whether some applicants had been improperly hired. But it appears that tracking down the leaker was Job One.)

There is a lot more in the article itself, so read it.

Let us hope this issue does not go away, but is investigated further.



AND IN OTHER NEWS:

ON THE TOPIC OF INVESTIGATING THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT…WARREN OLNEY INTERVIEWS NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL MAX HUNTSMAN

It’s just a short, preliminary interview (which you can find here), but it gives us an interesting glimpse of Huntsman and how he sees his new job. Take a listen!

And thanks to Warren for giving us this early window.


NATION’S LARGEST SCHOOL POLICE FORCE—NAMELY THE LAUSD POLICE—WILL STOP TICKETING KIDS 12 YEARS OLD AND YOUNGER

For years, childrens’ advocates have been saying that some school administrators have been bringing in school police too quickly to solve minor issues with young students, most often in lower income areas.

Some of the best reporting on the issue has been that of Susan Ferris and the Public Integrity Institute.

Here are a couple of clips from Ferris’ most recent story:

Responding to demand for reforms, the nation’s largest school police force — in Los Angeles — will stop issuing tickets to students 12-years-old or younger for minor infractions allegedly committed on or near campuses during school hours.

A memo this month to officers from Los Angeles Unified School Police Department Chief Steven Zipperman outlined the new policy, which goes into effect in December. The announcement comes in the wake of community demands for the school district to “decriminalize” minor school disciplinary matters and use more discretion when involving law enforcement personnel.

The move by the LAUSD police came after a new report released this fall showed how frequently younger kids were being ticketed for minor issues.

In October, the Labor-Community Strategy Center issued a report analyzing recent police ticketing data. The group found that more than 48 percent of approximately 4,740 school police tickets issued during the 2012-2013 school year were given to kids 14 or younger. Students who were 12 or 11 received 545 tickets. The single biggest offense for younger kids was disturbing the peace.

In calendar year 2011, records examined by the Center for Public Integrity showed that more than 960 kids 12 and younger were ticketed. More than 10,200 tickets in all were issued to students that year, with more than 43 percent going to kids 14 and younger.

In April of 2012, two first graders, six and seven, were ticketed after they got into a shoving match and the mother of one called police, the principal of the kids’ school told the Center. In September, the Center found, a 10-year-old was ticketed for trespassing.

Getting a ticket used to mean that students were forced to miss school and appear in court with parents — and pay dollar fines or perform community service. Students were saddled with misdemeanor records if they didn’t show up at court, which many failed to do.

We applaud the LAUSD Police Chief Zipperman from taking this much needed step, and thank Ferris and the Center for Public Integrity for staying on the issue.


STATEWIDE ACTIVIST GROUP ISSUES REALIGNMENT “REPORT CARD” FOR COUNTIES & LOS ANGELES GETS A “DOUBLE FAIL”

The San Bernardino Sun reports on the five counties who merited the “double fail’ designation for their productive use of realignment funds, in a rating issued for the statewide activist group CURB.

Here’s a clip from Melissa Pinion-Whitt’s report:

“A lot of counties are not utilizing a lot of the alternatives to incarceration that are available to them,” said Diana Zuñiga, statewide program coordinator.

The group, known as CURB, has released report cards the last three years, grading counties based on their use of realignment funding.

Only two of the 13 counties graded by CURB passed, another six failed and five more received a “double fail” grade. Kern, Riverside, Los Angeles and San Mateo counties joined San Bernardino with the lowest grades.

CURB supports funding to “connect people to housing, health care, education, job training and re-entry services that reduce recidivism…”

And here, for your viewing pleasure, is CURB’s report card that includes LA’s double fail

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles Times, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 45 Comments »

LA Jail Deal with Kern County May Be Nixed, a New Women’s Facility, California Prison Pepper Spray Policy Update…and More

October 24th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

CONTRACT TO MOVE LA COUNTY JAIL INMATES TO KERN COUNTY MAY BE VOIDED NEXT WEEK, AND A NEW WOMEN’S JAIL IS IN THE WORKS

A controversial $75M contract to move 500 LA county jail inmates to Taft Correctional Institution in Kern County that the Board of Supervisors approved last month will likely be canceled at next Tuesday’s board meeting. Supe Gloria Molina has introduced a motion to void the deal after learning of an ongoing legal dispute between the state and Kern County over leased beds. (Find the backstory here.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved the contract in late September as a means of alleviating crowding in the jails. Two supervisors, Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Riddley-Thomas abstained from the vote, citing questions about funding the contract and where the move fit into the county’s long-term jail plans. Supervisors Gloria Molina, Mike Antonovich, and Don Knabe supported the contract as a way of adding jail space and potentially reducing the practice of releasing inmates early because of a lack of beds.

Now, Supervisor Gloria Molina has indicated she’s withdrawing her support for the contract and introduced a motion to void it. That item will likely be on the board of supervisors’ agenda on October 29. The motion will need three votes to pass.

Roxane Márquez, a spokeswoman for Molina, said the supervisor changed her mind after the county uncovered legal hurdles to quickly sending inmates to the Community Correctional Facility. It is run by the City of Taft, which is near Bakersfield.

“We did not know that the State of California and the City of Taft were involved in litigation about the use of those beds,” Márquez said. “We’re not interested in getting involved in the lawsuit.”

The Supes also moved forward with a plan to fund a new women’s jail facility in Lancaster at the Mira Loma Detention Center. (EDITOR’S NOTE: Is it just us, or does it feel like the board approves a gigantic new jail expenditure nearly every week without ever having approved any kind of overall plan or strategy? Seriously, people!)

The LA Daily News has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to shift $100 million in state funding for a women’s jail facility near Castaic to a new project site — the Mira Loma Detention Center in Lancaster.

The county was in danger of losing that grant money, which had been allocated for a “women’s village” at Pitchess Detention Center, but easements owned by oil and utility companies have stalled the planning process.

Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka recommended moving the project to Mira Loma, previously used as a federal detention site for undocumented immigrants but now closed. “If we don’t take today’s action … we will lose that $100 million,” he said, warning the deadline is the end of this month.

Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald supported the change, saying a Mira Loma Women’s Village would offer more capacity for innovative programs and the possibility of a re-entry facility to help ease the transition back to society.

The village would operate under “indirect supervision,” with guards moving freely among inmates rather than being stationed in a central control room, and housing in the proposed re-entry facility would be outside the confines of the jail, so women would have some freedom to come and go.

“The county has an opportunity with this facility to design a national model for the treatment of female offenders,” McDonald said, though she added that the site was “not without its challenges.”

One obstacle is the traveling distance for inmates’ families as compared with the Century Regional Detention Center in Lynwood, currently the county’s all-female jail.


CDCR SAYS PEPPER SPRAY POLICY CHANGES ARE ON THE WAY

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation announced Wednesday that it will be changing protocol on when and how much pepper spray can be used on mentally ill inmates. The policy shift comes amid federal hearings on alleged abuse of California’s mentally ill prisoners. (You can catch up on that story here, if you missed it.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

In testimony Wednesday before a federal judge, the state official in charge of adult prisons said he sought the changes in part because of videotapes, introduced as evidence in the case, showing half a dozen inmates who were repeatedly sprayed with large amounts of pepper spray — even while naked and screaming for help.

Those tapes, he said, “are honestly one of the reasons we will be revising our policy to provide additional guidelines,” said Michael Stainer, deputy director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Stainer said the new rules would limit the amount of pepper spray guards may use on a prisoner, including banning the use of pepper spray canisters — designed for crowd control — on prisoners in small cells.

“I would love to have this policy in practice by the end of the year,” Stainer told the Los Angeles Times.

The Associated Press also reported on the CDCR’s policy changes. Here are some small clips:

The corrections department will limit how much pepper spray can be used and how quickly, said spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman. The rules are still being written and would not apply to emergency situations.

[SNIP]

“Obviously, it’s our goal to use a minimal amount of force. Having it spelled out may help these situations stay more in control,” Hoffman said.


LA TIMES GETS IPAD NUMBERS WRONG, OTHER PUBLICATIONS FOLLOW SUIT

The LA Times falsely reported yesterday that the LAUSD’s deal with Apple to buy thousands of iPads would cost more than originally agreed upon. Many publications picked up the info and ran with it without bothering to fact-check.

LA School Report’s Chase Niesner has the story. Here’s a clip:

“This is not new news and [is] part of the original board-approved contract,” said LA Unifed spokesperson Shannon Haber.

The article, “School iPads to cost nearly $100 more each, revised budget shows,” circulated by numerous media outlets including LA School Report, reported that the iPads now cost $770 per tablet, stating, “the newly disclosed price, a 14 percent increase per iPad, appeared in a revised budget released in advance of a public meeting Tuesday on the $1-billion project.”

But there was no revision. The “newly disclosed price” was available by reading the July contract, which states that the district would receive a significant discount upon purchasing 520,000 devices, totaling $400 million.

The folks at the LA Times weren’t the only ones confused about the iPad deal, another story by the LA School Report’s Vanessa Romo says that the LAUSD school board was shaky on the details. Here’s a clip:

...two months into the school year, with more than 30,000 iPads deployed, $50 million already spent and another $500 million on the line, school board members still have more questions than answers about the most basic details of getting a sleek new(ish) tablet into the hands of every student. And what has become painfully obvious is that school board and committee members alike are only now asking questions that should have been asked long before the project got off the ground.

For instance, board members seemed not to know what was actually in the contract with Apple, or what it would actually cost per unit.

(Read the details here.)


LA COUNTY DEPUTY CHARGED WITH ASSAULTING HIS GIRLFRIEND MULTIPLE TIMES, THREATENING TO KILL HER AND MOTHER OF HIS CHILD

LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Mark Eric Hibner was convicted Tuesday of beating his girlfriend after she found out that he was seeing another woman. He was also charged with threatening to kill both his girlfriend and the mother of his child. (Yet another story that makes the case for more thorough background checks.)

Here’s a clip from the Orange County DA’s website:

On Dec. 25, 2012, Hibner got into an argument with Jane Doe #1 after the victim discovered a sexually suggestive voicemail from another woman on the defendant’s cell phone.

The following day, Dec. 26, 2012, Hibner continued to argue with Jane Doe #1 over his relationship with the other woman. Over the next few days, Hibner physically assaulted Jane Doe #1, spit on the victim, repeatedly swore at her, and threatened to kill her.

On Dec. 30, 2012, Hibner woke Jane Doe #1 and dragged her to the living room by her hair. Hibner threw the victim on the floor and got on top of her. Jane Doe #1 cried, begged Hiber to stop, and banged her foot on the floor to wake the neighbors. Hibner then covered the victim’s mouth, pinched her nose, and threatened to make her pass out. He got off of Jane Doe #1, spit on her, threw a lit cigarette at her, and called her derogatory names.

On Feb. 19, 2013, Hibner met with Jane Doe #2, with whom he formerly had a romantic relationship and minor child, for a child custody exchange. During the meeting, Hibner threatened to kill Jane Doe #2 if she appeared in court at a hearing scheduled for two days later regarding a protective order for the crimes against Jane Doe #1.


LA WILL LIKELY BECOME FIRST CITY TO BAN ELEPHANT BULL HOOKS

On Wednesday, LA City Council moved to ban the use of bull hooks and other objects used to inflict pain on circus elephants, and asked that a city ordinance be drafted and presented to the council for a final vote.

The LA Daily News’ Dakota Smith has the story. Here’s a clip:

Swayed by graphic undercover video showing elephants being prodded with the tools, City Council members unanimously backed a ban on the steel-pointed rod resembling a fireplace poker. The tool is used to inflict pain on the animals, argued City Councilman Paul Koretz, who has sponsored numerous laws in support of animals’ rights.

“It causes great harm and great pain to elephants,” said Koretz, who held a bull hook aloft as he spoke on the council floor.

With the vote, the City Council ordered a draft ordinance, which must return to the council for a final vote. If ultimately approved, the ban would take effect in three years.

The delayed ban allows local workers dependent on Ringling Bros.’ annual show to find replacement work, officials said.

With the move, Los Angeles is set to become only city in the country to ban the bull hook. Animal activists contend the tools are cruel, and point out that progressive zoos and habitats ban their use.

Posted in CDCR, Homeboy Industries, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAUSD, Los Angeles Times, Mental Illness | No Comments »

Judge Refuses LA Deputies Union Attempt to Bar LA Times Use of LASD Background Screenings

September 11th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



The LA Times scored a victory in court for the First Amendment on Tuesday
after ALADS—The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs—filed an emergency motion to prevent an LA Times reporter from publishing information from department members’ background screenings.

One presumes that most of the screenings are a part of the hiring process. And while there are some privacy issues to consider, since the Times and others have reported on possible irregularities in the LASD’s screening and hiring process that may have, in certain instances, allowed people into the department who are not suited for law enforcement, it is understandable that a Times reporter would consider the screening material important.

The LAT’s Victoria Kim has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs filed an emergency motion against The Times and a Times reporter Tuesday morning, alleging that the reporter unlawfully possessed background investigation files containing personal information of about 500 deputies.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Joanne O’Donnell denied the union’s motion, writing that the union failed to present “the evidence most critical to the showing of irreparable harm or immediate danger.”

“The court declines to issue [an order] imposing a prior restraint on defendants’ free speech based on the speculative hearsay testimony of anonymous witnesses,” she wrote.

Attorneys for The Times had argued that prior restraint, or restricting speech before publication, was a grave infringement of the 1st Amendment. The attorneys said prior restraint has been considered unconstitutional by courts except in extraordinary circumstances such as troop movements in wartime or to “suppress … information that would set in motion a nuclear holocaust.”

[SNIP]

The newspaper’s attorneys also wrote that the union had no basis for seeking an emergency order, noting that The Times has published other stories based on information from employment records in the past.

The Times has reported since last October on the department’s hiring of employees who had personal ties to top officials or Sheriff Lee Baca despite histories of violence and brushes with the law.

In August, the Sheriff’s Department announced in a news release that it had launched a criminal investigation into an apparent leak of personnel information to a Times reporter….

Posted in How Appealing, LASD, Los Angeles Times | 46 Comments »

California Locks Up Too Many Undocumented Kids…Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers…Holder’s Reforms Won’t Stop Racial Disparity…and Andrew Blankstein Leaving LA Times

August 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

EXCESSIVE DETENTION OF UNDOCUMENTED YOUTH IN CALIFORNIA

According to a newly compiled fact sheet, undocumented kids in California are often unnecessarily incarcerated in local detention facilities.

In the report released Tuesday, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice says that the lock ups are happening despite Attorney General Kamala Harris’ 2012 announcement that law enforcement officers are not required to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests, the government’s low prioritization of kids for immigration enforcement, and other safeguards.

Here’s a clip from the introduction:

The federal government has identified youth as low priority for immigration enforcement, and implemented relief programs such as DACA to facilitate undocumented youth integration, yet they still make requests to detain youth in local detention centers. Additionally, the juvenile justice system has recognized the importance of serving all youth in the least restrictive setting, yet local law enforcement still actively respond to detainer requests. Responding to ICE requests to detain youth longer than is necessary for immediate public safety concerns, defies the purpose of the juvenile justice system and wastes public safety resources. Counties should reconsider their responses to ICE hold requests for youth in accordance with public safety and juvenile justice best practices.

And here are a few of the statistics listed on the fact sheet:

Orange County detained approximately 43 percent of California’s youth subject to ICE holds.

The data include records for 697 ICE hold requests against youth in California during the 41-month period. Only 13 counties were listed as responsible for detaining these youth (percent): Orange (43), San Francisco (13), Santa Barbara (12), San Mateo (12), Monterey (2), Los Angeles (2), San Luis Obispo (1), San Diego (1), Santa Cruz, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, Tehama counties (<1).

[SNIP]

45.6 percent of youth with an ICE hold had no documented criminal history.

Of those that did, approximately 50 percent were for non-violent, non-serious crimes. In fact, of the youth with documented criminal records 15 percent were for immigration related charges, including possession of false immigration documents and illegal entry. Detaining youth for low-level crimes is detrimental to their development as it exposes them to a more sophisticated
criminal element and isolates them from pro-social supports in the community (Mendel, 2011).

Most youth are detained in local juvenile halls, subjecting youth to unnecessarily prolonged detention and costing taxpayers an estimated $127,978 per year.

Eighty-nine percent of all youth ICE holds were detained in local facilities. At an average $352.06 per
day for confinement in local juvenile halls, holding a youth for an extra 48 hours increases costs and
uses bed space that should be reserved for youth who present a danger to public safety (BSCC, 2012).


CALIFORNIA HUNGER STRIKE FORCE-FEEDING DECISION: DOES IT BREAK INTERNATIONAL LAW?

As we reported yesterday, A federal judge ruled Monday that California prison officials have permission to force-feed hunger striking inmates if it is believed that their life is in danger.

An attorney for the striking prisoners, Jules Lobel, says that force-feeding inmates against their will violates international law and should only be used when there are no other alternatives.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

A prisoners’ rights lawyer says Monday’s federal judge’s order allowing California prison doctors to force-feed inmates on hunger strike “violates international law and generally accepted medical ethics.”

Force-feeding “should only be used as a last resort, but here there are a number of reasonable alternatives,” said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents many of the hunger strike leaders in their related lawsuit over solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison.

[SNIP]

Lobel said prison officials could avoid the need for forced feedings by allowing protesters to drink juice, or even to hasten an end to the hunger strike by negotiating with inmates over issues the state finds reasonable. The hunger strike at one prison ended last week when the warden agreed to expand canteen and television privileges.

The Associated Press spoke with a prison medical official who said that if California prisoners are force-fed, it will likely be intravenously—not via a feeding tube through the nostril as is done with Guantanamo hunger strikers.

Here are a couple of clips from the AP story:

Dr. Steven Tharratt, director of medical services for the federal official who oversees medical care for California’s prisons, said if the state employs force-feeding, it’s most likely to be done by pumping nutrient-enriched fluids into the bloodstreams of unconscious inmates.

“It’s not really a forced re-feeding at that point,” Tharratt said. “It doesn’t evoke images of Guantanamo Bay or anything like that. It’s actually a totally different setting.”

[SNIP]

Many of the hard core strikers are likely to reach crisis stage in the next two weeks as they reach 60 to 70 days without significant nutrition, Tharratt said. They already are risking irreversible kidney damage, he said, and eventually they won’t be able to make decisions about their own care.


AG HOLDER’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS STILL LEAVE MINORITIES AT A DISADVANTAGE, CRITICS SAY

Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package (announced last week), including the news that Holder is working toward ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, was seen as a significant step for criminal justice reform. (You can read about it here.)

Some critics, however, believe that requiring all drug offenders to participate in drug treatment programs to avoid being locked up is a problematic approach, and fails to address racial disparities.

The Atlantic’s Jeff Deeney has the story. Here are some clips:

…as the excitement over the mandatory minimum announcement cools, some public health and drug policy professionals are finding devils in the details of Holder’s statement. Specifically, critics are troubled by the latter parts of Holder’s address that highlight the requirement of mandatory court stipulated drug treatment as a requirement for nonviolent drug offenders to stay out of jail. Laura Thomas, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in California, says, “It’s always good to have someone like Eric Holder talking about the counterproductive harms of over incarceration, that’s really fantastic. But there is a concern that putting people into coerced drug treatment is not a health based approach, it’s a criminal justice approach.”

[SNIP]

The problem, critics say, with the new system the administration envisions is that while addiction may be a great equalizer, who gets arrested for drug crimes is not. Holder’s address noted this fact, stating that “…some of the enforcement priorities we’ve set have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color.” And yet while Holder is willing to shift the policy towards sentencing people convicted of drug offenses, there’s nothing in his address stating that law enforcement will be any less likely to arrest people for them. Presumably the racial disparities in arrest rates will continue.

[SNIP]

Criminal justice policy reformers say that when courts flood the drug treatment centers with the kinds of drug offenders who more often get arrested, the outcome is no longer a system for treating drug addicts who want help with their drug problems. Instead, the treatment system becomes an extensive community-based surveillance network whose primary purpose is to monitor the behavior of people who are primarily black and poor. In fact, as some sociologists have argued, this changes the definition of what a drug problem is and who requires treatment. This suits perfectly the needs of a justice system that refuses to decriminalize drugs, but now has to put offenders somewhere other than jail.

(Read the rest.)


BLANKSTEIN BIDS FAREWELL TO THE LA TIMES

We want to congratulate our talented pal and colleague, Andrew Blankstein, who is leaving the LA Times after 23 years to be an on-air investigative reporter for NBC news. We are bereft to lose Andrew’s stellar reporting on crime and law enforcement from our hometown paper. But we’re delighted that his great instincts, unassailable ethics, and fine and indefatigable journalism will soon be coming to our TV screens.

Kevin Roderick has the LAT staff memo over at LA Observed. Here’s a clip:

Sadly, Andrew’s amazing run at The Times is coming to end. After 23 years and nearly 4,000 bylines (not including innumerable blog posts and his many contributions to other reporters’ work), he is leaving to take a job at NBC News as an on-air reporter focusing on West Coast investigations. In many ways, this is the culmination of his growing interest in broadcast news reporting.

It is impossible not to feel happy for someone who has contributed so much to The Times. Still, we will miss him, and we will feel his loss keenly.

Posted in CDCR, juvenile justice, Los Angeles Times, prison, racial justice, U.S. Attorney, War on Drugs | No Comments »

DSM 5 Worries Attorneys…..Deportation By Association…The New World of Bi-Partisan Sentencing Reform…..and More

May 15th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



CHANGES IN THE OFFICIAL DEFINITION OF MENTAL DISABILITY WORRIES DEFENSE LAWYERS

The newest revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—the DSM 5-–AKA the bible of psychiatric conditions, published by the American Psychiatric Association, will be released later this month.

Among its changes and updates, the DSM 5 has revised the definition for what it considers to indicate intellectual disability (mental retardation)—a development that has a lot of defense lawyers worried because of its implications in sentencing, particularly when it comes to capital punishment.

Reuters’ Elizabeth Diltz has the story. Here are some clips:

The fifth edition of the book since it was first published in 1952, or DSM-V, is due to be released May 22. Already it has prompted concern from death penalty lawyers because of the change in the way the manual defines mental illness, or intellectual disability, the new name given in DSM-V.

Earlier editions of the DSM defined mental retardation as an IQ score below 70 accompanied by an inability to meet certain developmental norms, such as bathing regularly or maintaining work. Based on that IQ benchmark, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Atkins v. Virginia in 2002 that it is illegal to execute a mentally handicapped person.

But the editors of DSM-V have dropped the 70 IQ score as an indicator of mental retardation and instead recommend that clinicians consider IQ scores while analyzing an individual’s behavior to determine if he or she meets the developmental standards.

Clinically speaking, most consider the change to be a welcome one. Intellectual ability is not even remotely a cut-and-dried matter, as anyone who has worked in or around the mentally disabled can describe. The nature and range of human intelligence is more complex than that which can be measured with such conventional tools as IQ tests.

However, courts tend to like firm definitions, bright lines on that ground that separate this from that, all of which concerns defense lawyers.

However, according to Reuters, some of those who were responsible for the DSM 5′s revisions are hoping the courts will embrace the new complexity, rather than using it as a cudgel.

James Harris, the founding director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Program at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a member of the DSM-V work group, said the criteria focus on three areas of adaptive functioning: academic, social and practical.

Looking at a death row inmate’s social adaptive area, an expert can examine how gullibility may have led the inmate into a crime, which could support a claim of mental retardation, Harris said in an email.

“We believe that we are providing the courts with a more fine-grained means to consider adaptive functioning more comprehensively and more meaningfully,” Harris said.


KNOW A GANG MEMBER, BE DEPORTED

As the bipartisan immigration reform put forth by the so-called Gang of 8 begins its journey through the congressional process, those who are less-than-friendly toward the reform are seizing the moment to tack on a string of poison pill amendments to the original bill.

One of the most loathsome of these is an amendment proposed by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), which would mandate the deportation of anyone who appears in either a gang database or in a gang injunction.

WLA has written before about the dangers of being falsely named in an injunction, and of the impossibility of getting off CAL GANG, California’s gang database, once you’ve been put on.

Tuesday’s LA Times editorial board has a short but excellent editorial about the creepy Grassley Amendment (penned by the very smart Sandra Hernandez).

Here are a couple of clips:

The Senate Judiciary Committee is just beginning its markup of the bipartisan immigration bill, but already opponents and supporters of the sweeping legislation are fighting over which immigrants should be allowed to legalize their status and which should be deported.

[SNIP]

Keeping immigrants from legalizing their status because of accusations, rather than convictions, is unjust. Gang databases and injunctions are useful but imperfect tools with a troubled history. Individuals can find themselves on those lists because of such factors as tattoos, style of dress or identification by an informant. Moreover, critics say individuals who may not be in a gang but have relatives or friends who are can end up in the databases. That’s guilt by association.

Those placed on such lists often face a near-impossible task when they try to remove their names. Just consider Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas’ appalling tactics in trying to secure an injunction against 115 alleged members of the Orange Varrio Cypress gang. Dozens of them went to court to challenge the designation. However, they never got a chance to present their case because prosecutors dropped their names from the list before a judge could rule

The violence prevention program Homies Unidos, is among those youth advocate groups that oppose this amendment. Here’s what they had to say:

This kind of dragnet approach targets the wrong people and risks deporting and separating from their families individuals who are not gang members. Young people living in “bad” neighborhoods will certainly be vulnerable. Moreover, these provisions do not adequately protect people who have left gangs and have stable and productive lives.

These proposals impose guilt by association and collective punishment by targeting people not for their own individual culpable conduct, but for their associations with groups considered to be dangerous. For example, this provision could impact a person who resides with or associates with a family member known to be in a gang or lives in a neighborhood where there is a high concentration of gangs…


ONCE OBSTRUCTIVE REPUBLICANS NOW LEAD ON SENTENCING REFORM IN HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE

More cheers for the Right on Crime group that is increasingly providing leadership on many criminal justice issues.

In this week’s Congressional Quarterly, for instance, the CQ’s John Gramlich notes the following:

Congressional Democrats have argued for years that too many low-level drug offenders are locked away in federal prisons and that mandatory-sentencing laws disproportionately harm minorities and tie judges’ hands. Lately, they have been joined in those criticisms by Sen. Rand Paul, a tea-party-backed Republican with White House aspirations.

“I think the Republican Party could grow more if we had a little bit more of a compassionate outlook,” the Kentuckian says.

Paul is emblematic of a quiet but unmistakable shift among conservatives in Congress when it comes to criminal justice. Not only are Republicans engaging in a serious debate about relaxing federal criminal penalties — an idea that was once anathema to lawmakers who worried that their next campaign opponent would label them “soft on crime” — they are leading the discussion.

The House Judiciary Committee, which has poured cold water on Democratic priorities since Republicans regained control of the chamber in 2010, last week created a bipartisan, 10-member task force that will conduct a six-month analysis of the estimated 4,500 crimes on the federal books. (Story, p. 848)

The task force will examine “overcriminalization” in the federal justice system and evaluate what Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte calls an “ever-increasing labyrinth” of criminal penalties, some of them for relatively minor crimes in which perpetrators may not have realized they were breaking the law. The Virginia Republican cited the example of an 11-year-old girl who “saved a baby woodpecker from the family cat” but received a $535 fine because of a federal law banning the possession of a migratory bird.

The panel will be led by law-and-order Wisconsin Republican Jim Sensenbrenner and Virginia Democrat Robert C. Scott, an outspoken critic of more-contentious criminal policies such as mandatory minimum sentencing, which the task force will also evaluate. A diverse range of groups endorses the effort, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce….


LA UNIONS MARCH ON TUESDAY TO PROTEST POSSIBLE SALE OF LA TIMES TO KOCH BROTHERS

Members of the County Federation of Labor and others marched on Tuesday to protest the rumored possible sale of parts or all of the Tribune Co., including the LA Times, to the company owned by the conservative Koch siblings.

Here’s what Rory Carroll of the Guardian said about the march:

Unions, activists and artists held a rally on Tuesday, to protest the possible sale of the Los Angeles Times to the Koch brothers, warning that such a sale would turn one of the US’s great newspapers into a right-wing mouthpiece.

Hundreds gathered outside the downtown Los Angeles office of Oaktree Capital Management, the largest shareholder in Tribune Co, which owns the LA Times, to deter it from making such a deal. Some carried signs saying “No Koch Hate in LA”.

“The idea that the LA Times could be taken over by right-wing radical extremists just boggles the mind,” said Glen Arnodo, staff director of the LA County Federation of Labor, as protestors prepared to picket. “It’s impossible to believe with their brand of extremism that there would be any objectivity whatsoever.”

Musician Ry Cooder reportedly even wrote a song about the matter, with which he serenaded the crowd.

Posted in District Attorney, Gangs, immigration, Los Angeles Times, unions | 3 Comments »

Miranda and Dzhokhar Tsarnaeve….Apologies in Criminal Law….More on the Koch-Bros & the LAT

April 26th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


MIRANDA AND DZHOKHAR TSARNAEV: WHEN WE’RE SURE THAT SOMEONE HAS DONE SOMETHING TERRIBLE, WHEN MUST WE READ HIM HIS RIGHTS?

Of course we want the feds to have gotten everything possible our of Dzhokar Tsarnaev before he started clamming up. But is that merely an emotional position or a legally justifiable one? (Do remember, that the rights we give away in exceptionally moments often tend to stay given away.)

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev talked for 16 hours before he was read his rights. Emily Bazelon of Slate thinks that’s too long. Here’s a clip from her discussion-provoking essay on the matter.

According to the AP, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev answered questions for 16 hours before he was read the Miranda warning that he could remain silent and could ask for a lawyer. Once Tsarnaev was told that, he stopped talking. (So much for the idea that everyone has heard Miranda warnings so many times on TV that they have become an empty ritual.) The AP also reports that the investigators questioning him were “surprised when a magistrate judge and a representative from the U.S. Attorney’s office entered the hospital room.” The investigators “had planned to keep questioning him.”

Wow. That’s bad no matter your point of view. If you think Tsarnaev doesn’t deserve the normal protections American law affords criminal suspects, then you’d want the FBI to keep at him as long as they chose. Or if, like me, you’re worried about how far the Obama administration’s Justice Department has stretched the limited “public safety” exception the Supreme Court has allowed for questioning suspects about ongoing danger without Miranda warnings, 16 hours sounds expansive.

It’s true that Miranda offers protection only after the fact. Technically, the rule is violated not when investigators fail to give the warnings, but when they try to introduce in court a confession or other facts a suspect revealed before he was read his rights. It’s also true that given the mountain of evidence against Tsarneav, he could be convicted without his own statements. But that may not be true with the next terrorist suspect—or the next hated man for whom the government decides to stretch the public safety exception. The Justice Department is setting a precedent here. And how does that precedent directly involve public safety, when all of law enforcement reassured the public that safety had been restored once Tsarnaev was captured Friday night, and that the authorities strongly believed he and his brother, Tamerlan, had acted alone?

Read on. There’s a lot more.


CAN I SAY I’M SORRY? IS THERE A PLACE FOR APOLOGIES IN CRIMINAL COURT?

This research paper on the value of—and legal difficulty with—apologies by defendants in criminal court, by Professor Michael Jones of the Phoenix School of Law, covers an interesting question.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper is written for the purpose of addressing the power and possibility of early apologies in the criminal justice system. As constructed, our criminal justice system rewards defendants that learn early in their case to remain silent, and punishes those that talk. Defendants that may want to offer an apology or allocution for the harm they’ve caused are often required to wait until a sentencing hearing, which may come months, or even years after the event in question. This paper proposes that the Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure be modified to provide an exception for apology to criminal defendants. Apologies can play an invaluable role in the healing process for victims, defendants, family members and others tied together by the unfortunate events of a criminal prosecution. This paper seeks to further the comprehensive law movement approach that promotes a healing process for those involved in the criminal justice system.

An here’s the full paper if you’d like to take a look.

(A thank you, once again, to the excellent Doug Berman of Sentencing, Law & Policy, for flagging this paper.)


THE KOCH-BROS, THE LA TIMES, AND A NOT-SO-MODEST PROPOSALS

Now that the shock of the Koch duo’s possible purchase of the LA Times and other Tribune Corp papers is nearly a week old, a whole second wave of reactions has been surfacing, some of them….odd.

Take, for example, this somewhat untethered column by the Washington Post’s Steve Perlstein in which Perlstein breathlessly suggests that he knows a sure fire way that the LAT employees can save the paper from the marauding Koch-sters.

Ready?

Everyone should quit. (Right, Steve. That’d show ‘em.)

“If the Times journalists,” he writes…

….”….decide collectively to walk out the door one day, the readers and advertisers are almost certain to follow.

“A new owner, of course, could hire new journalists, and certainly there are plenty of them out there looking for a job. But it would take time to attract them, get them working as a team and weed out the inevitable clunkers…

“And in the meantime, competing news organizations would be quick to pick up Tribune’s stars and use them to lure away readers and advertisers at a time when circulation and revenue are already under pressure. Hell, in the age of the Internet, the rebellious journalists could easily start their own news organizations and grab a good chunk of their old readership within weeks.
This is a rare moment for Tribune’s beleaguered journalists. For the first time in a long time, they actually have leverage. They’d be crazy not to use it….”

This is, of course, quite nuts.

But read the rest anyway.


WA PO’S HEROLD MEYERSON SAYS MANY TIMES STAFFERS

Washington Post columnist Herold Meyerson spent years as a political journalist in LA, so it’s understandable that he would feel moved to weigh in on the possibility of the Koch brothers as buyers for the LA Times, and about the necessity of remembering that a newspaper isn’t just a business; it’s also a civic trust.

Here’s a couple of clips:

On May 21, Los Angeles voters will go to the polls to select a new mayor. Who will govern Los Angeles, however, is only the second-most important local question in the city today. The most important, by far, is who will buy the Los Angeles Times.

The Times is one of the eight daily newspapers now owned by the creditors who took control of the Tribune Co. after real estate wheeler-dealer Sam Zell drove it into bankruptcy. Others include the Chicago Tribune, the Baltimore Sun, the Orlando Sentinel and the Hartford Courant. The Tribune board members whom the creditors selected want to unload the papers in favor of more money-making ventures.
Fans of newspapers are a jumpy lot these days. And in the past couple of weeks, their apprehension has gone through the roof with word that right-wing billionaires Charles and David Koch are looking to buy all eight papers.

[BIG SNIP]

Being human beings, all newspaper owners have politics of their own. Since the 19th century, however, most haven’t gone into business primarily to advance a political perspective. Profit, professional and civic pride, and recognition have largely motivated them. It’s hard to see how any of these factored into the Koch brothers’ calculations.

In their very brief no-comment on the sale rumors, the Kochs took care to note, “We respect the independence of the journalistic institutions” owned by Tribune, but the staffs at those papers fear that, once Kochified, the papers would quickly turn into print versions of Fox News. A recent informal poll that one L.A. Times writer conducted of his colleagues showed that almost all planned to exit if the Kochs took control (and that included sports writers and arts writers). Those who stayed would have to grapple with how to cover politics and elections in which their paper’s owners played a leading role. It’s also unclear who in Los Angeles, one of the nation’s most liberal cities, would actually want to read such a paper, but then the Kochs don’t appear to view this as a money-making venture.

Though slimmed down from its glory days, the L.A. Times remains a great newspaper, as its recent stories on increasing employer surveillance of blue-collar workers illustrate. But the paper that, under the reign of publisher-owner Otis Chandler in the 1960s and ’70s, moved to the apex of American journalism has suffered a string of indifferent-to-godawful owners, ranging from Mr. Chandler’s cousins to Mr. Zell — that rare journalism mogul who actively hated journalism and journalists….

MEANWHILE…Marcelle Pacatte writing for Crains Chicago Business urges his fellow Chicagoans not to be afraid of the “big, bad Koch Brothers.”

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Contemplating Crime & Consequence, criminal justice, journalism, Los Angeles Times | 5 Comments »

Jittery Talk at LAT Book Fest About Koch Bros. Bidding for LA Times…How CA Can Get Back Control of its Prisons….and More News

April 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NY TIMES REPORTS KOCH BROTHERS MAY BE FRONT RUNNERS IN BIDDING TO BUY LA TIMES

On Sunday the USC Campus was gloriously packed with tens of thousands of Lit Lovers as the yearly LA Times Festival of Books entered its second event-jammed day.

However in the “green room” area where author/panelists and LA Times staffers gathered before and after their respective events, amid the upbeat book chatter there were grim conversations about the report by Amy Chozick in the NY Times that politically conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch may be the front runners among suitors to buy the LA Times.

The article suggested that the Koch brothers may have an edge on some of the other would-be buyers like, say, Austin Beutner, who only want to buy the Los Angeles Times and not the rest of the Tribune Corp’s stable of newspapers, whereas the Koches will reportedly bid on the whole shebang. This could be crucial, as the Tribune Corp would reportedly prefer to sell the whole bunch, not piecemeal, paper by paper.

In March the Hilel Aron of the LA Weekly broke the story that the Koch siblings were strongly rumored to be potential bidders.

Here’s a clip from the NY Times story:

Other than financing a few fringe libertarian publications, the Kochs have mostly avoided media investments. Now, Koch Industries, the sprawling private company of which Charles G. Koch serves as chairman and chief executive, is exploring a bid to buy the Tribune Company’s eight regional newspapers, including The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Baltimore Sun, The Orlando Sentinel and The Hartford Courant.

By early May, the Tribune Company is expected to send financial data to serious suitors in what will be among the largest sales of newspapers by circulation in the country. Koch Industries is among those interested, said several people with direct knowledge of the sale who spoke on the condition they not be named. Tribune emerged from bankruptcy on Dec. 31 and has hired JPMorgan Chase and Evercore Partners to sell its print properties.

The papers, valued at roughly $623 million, would be a financially diminutive deal for Koch Industries, the energy and manufacturing conglomerate based in Wichita, Kan., with annual revenue of about $115 billion.

Politically, however, the papers could serve as a broader platform for the Kochs’ laissez-faire ideas. The Los Angeles Times is the fourth-largest paper in the country, and The Tribune is No. 9, and others are in several battleground states, including two of the largest newspapers in Florida, The Orlando Sentinel and The Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale. A deal could include Hoy, the second-largest Spanish-language daily newspaper, which speaks to the pivotal Hispanic demographic.

One person who attended the Aspen seminar who spoke on the condition of anonymity described the strategy as follows: “It was never ‘How do we destroy the other side?’ ”

“It was ‘How do we make sure our voice is being heard?’ ”

(BIG SNIP]

“So far, they haven’t seemed to be particularly enthusiastic about the role of the free press,” Ms. Mayer said in an e-mail, “but hopefully, if they become newspaper publishers, they’ll embrace it with a bit more enthusiasm.”

A Democratic political operative who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said he admired how over decades the brothers have assembled a complex political infrastructure that supports their agenda. A media company seems like a logical next step.

This person said, “If they get some bad press that Darth Vader is buying Tribune, they don’t care.”

Alarming X a zillion.


CALIFORNIA WANTS ITS PRISONS BACK

The NY Times also reports on the issue of whether or not the State of California has done enough to justify taking the state’s prisons out of federal receivership. Near the end of the story, criminal Justice expert Barry Krisberg explains what he thinks it will take.

Here’s the relevant clip from Norimitsu Onishi’s story:

Barry Krisberg, a law professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and an expert on California’s prisons who testified in the 2011 Supreme Court case, said it was unlikely the state would succeed in its appeals because of that 2011 ruling.

“He can’t win these cases,” Mr. Krisberg said, referring to the governor. “In my view, it’s nearly impossible to go to the same Supreme Court and within a year ask them the same question.”

Instead of looking only to realignment, Mr. Krisberg said, the state must consider the politically difficult option of shortening sentences for good behavior, a policy that previous governors have carried out without an increase in crime.

“If they were to restore good-time credits for the people who are doing everything we’re asking of them in prison, they could get these numbers,” he said, referring to the 137.5 percent goal.


CHIEF CHARLIE BECK GIVES “SOUTHLAND” APPEARANCE MONEY TO HOMEBOY INDUSTRY

This story is a small but sweet one. (And we could use sweet stories right now.)

TMZ reports:

Beck did a cameo for “Southland” recently … and got a check for more than a grand. The Chief could have spent the cash on scores of donuts … but decided there was a worthier cause — he’s donating the money to Homeboy Industries…..

Turns out Beck has another cause celeb … he and some of his boys in blue are lobbying for the return of “Southland” — which is currently on the bubble.

NOTE TO TMZ: We are grateful to you for nosing out this cool little story, but we could have done without the condescending donut cliché. (Just sayin’.)


DENNIS ZINE SAYS, IF ELECTED, CITY CONTROLLER HE WOULD AUDIT THE LAPD’S RISK MANAGEMENT SECTION TO FIND OUT WHY SO MANY OFFICERS ARE INVOLVED IN LAWSUITS (DOESN’T MENTION OWN SEX HARASSMENT LAWSUIT)

Here’s a clip from the story by the LA Times Catherine Saillant:

As he campaigns to become the city’s next controller, Councilman Dennis Zine said his first job in office would be to audit the Los Angeles Police Department’s risk management division to find out why so many officers are involved in lawsuits.

The city has spent as much as $50 million on legal settlements in recent years on cases it could have avoided if commanders did a better job supervising officers, says Zine, a former LAPD motorcycle officer who faces lawyer Ron Galperin in a May 21 runoff election.

What Zine doesn’t mention is a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a female officer claiming that as a police sergeant he made inappropriate sexual advances during a 1997 business trip to Canada. Zine said that the two were dating and that the officer made up or exaggerated her claims….

Whatever the situation with Zine’s own lawsuit, an audit of this nature never hurts, and needn’t be adversarial. In fact, we’d like to see one for the LASD as well.


PS: THE LAPD OFFICERS ACCUSED OF PERJURY WERE AQUITTED

This happened last week, but it bears mentioning. The Daily News’ Eric Hartley has the story. Here’s a clip:

A jury acquitted a Los Angeles police officer and a fired former officer Friday of charges they lied under oath about witnessing a drunken driver.

Lawyers for Craig Allen and Phil Walters admitted the two were wrong when they said they had seen a woman blow through two stop signs and pulled her over. In fact, other LAPD officers had stopped the woman, then called Allen and Walters to the scene to administer sobriety tests.

But the defense attorneys said the two officers made honest mistakes and had no reason to risk their careers by lying about a routine traffic stop.

“We’re all extremely relieved that this nightmare is over,” Walters’ lawyer, Joel Isaacson, said Friday afternoon. “Officer Walters had faith in the system, but it’s a scary situation to go through. ”

The two were charged with perjury and filing a false report, both felonies.

The LAPD fired Allen, now 40, before criminal charges were filed. His lawyer, Bill Seki, said Allen is “praying that he gets his job back” and will ask the department to reconsider the firing.

Walters, 58 and a 23-year veteran, still faces a departmental trial called a Board of Rights that could result in his being cleared, punished or fired. He has been relieved of his police powers and is not being paid, an LAPD spokesman said.

Here’s the back story (scroll to the bottom of the post).

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Future of Journalism, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Times, media, prison | 14 Comments »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend: Be There! (My “Guns in America” Panel Is Sunday)

April 19th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend—Saturday and Sunday—on the USC campus. If you’re a book person of any kind, this is the happiest of events—and it’s all free.

At 10:30 am on Sunday, you can see me moderate a panel on Guns in America with three stellar authors: Adam Winkler, who wrote Gun Fight: the Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America, and Paul Barrett who wrote GLock: the Rise of America’s Gun, and Erwin Chemerinsky, the dean of UC Irvine’s law school, Constitutional scholar, and the author of The Conservative Assault on the Constitution.

These are all very bright people with a lot to say on the topic, and I promise we will have a lively and informative time.

But there’s something for absolutely everyone at this two day event.

There are panels featuring fiction writers, political writers of al leanings, poets, wildly funny book authors, deadly serious noirish mystery writers, graphic novelists…..and so on.

There’s even a panel at 12:30 on Sunday about why you should care about the mayor’s race.

It’s hard to go wrong.

For instance, there are back-to-back panels on Sunday in Mudd hall at 1:30 and 3 pm. One features such persons as my pal Tod Goldberg, plus the wildly talented authors Hector Tober, Laila Lalami, and Nina Revoyr. (Rule of thumb for the LAT FOB, if the panel has Tod Goldberg on it, you should automatically go. It doesn’t matter the topic, just go. Trust me on this. Otherwise it will be the panel you wish you’d seen.)

The other panel is moderated by David Ulin, who—along with Patt Morrison is the absolute best at the whole moderater thingy, and features my pal Tom Bissell, who is one of the smartest people I know and a great prose stylist and he designs video games. With them is D.T. Max, author of the riveting and heartbreaking book about David Foster Wallace, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story, and deliciously talented travel writer and essayist, Pico Iyer.

But these are just two of many. Right after our Sunday 10:30 a.m. Guns panel at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center, Henry Wienstein is moderating a panel called Today’s Dangerous World, that includes terrorism expert, Brian Michael Jenkins (who in his photos has an impressively intense stare), Pulitzer winner, Mark Mazzetti, who writes about the CIA (and not comfortingly), and Jess Bravin, whose book “Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, is not calming either. In short, the panel sounds like it will be terrific!

The schedule is here. And if you happen to attend my Sunday panel, stop by and say hi.

But if you’re a reader at all, go to the festival. Just go.

Posted in American artists, American voices, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

DA declines to file on LASD Captain Bernice Abrams for Protecting Accused Drug Dealer

November 26th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Over the weekend, another chapter surfaced in one of the many perplexing sagas that continue to unspool
at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The latest installment pertains to Captain Bernice Abram, the head of the department’s Carson station who has been on administrative leave since mid-April 2011, after she was reportedly caught on tape warning Dion Grim, the alleged head of a drug-trafficking ring, of some impending police surveillance. The “surveillance” was in fact part of a sting operation—-which had been specifically designed to catch Abram in the act of passing police info to the 36-year-old Grim.

Abram also reportedly used her position to get Grim and his sister out of various low-rent legal scrapes, tickets and more, by leaning on various subordinates—in one case reportedly to the point of attempting to discredit a department deputy who was investigating Grim and his friends.

Now, 19 months later, according to a report in the LA Times, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has declined to charge Abram with anything. In the case of the ticket fixing, et al, the statute of limitations on the various incidents had simply run out.

As for the more serious potential crimes of warning an alleged drug dealer of law enforcement activity that might adversely affect him, the DA’s office said they couldn’t prove that Abrams knew that Grim was engaged in illegal activities. Nevermind that in August 2011, four months after Abram was relieved of duty, Grim and fourteen of his alleged associates were arrested after a 2-year-long multi-agency investigation into two inter-state drug trafficking rings, one allegedly headed by Dion.

Here are the basics of this maddening tale as outlined in an excellent story by the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi.

The trap was set. All that was left for Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators to do was wait and see if the unthinkable was true.

Suspicions had grown that one of their colleagues — a respected captain with more than 150 deputies under her command — was funneling secret information to an alleged Compton drug trafficker. So investigators sent out a phony plan as bait, according to records and interviews, detailing their intention to do surveillance on a house near the suspected trafficker’s home.

A few minutes after receiving the fake plans, Capt. Bernice Abram was heard on a phone tap placing a call to Dion Grim, the suspected drug dealer.

Authorities listened in as she tipped him off about the location of the planned surveillance. Stay away, she warned.

That day, in April 2011, sheriff’s officials placed Abram on leave, and for more than a year afterward her ties to Grim were investigated. Prosecutors recently declined to file charges against Abram, saying they couldn’t prove the captain knew that Grim, a documented gang member, was involved in illegal activities.

But a district attorney’s memo explaining that decision provides the most detailed description yet of how the Sheriff’s Department came to believe one of its up-and-coming leaders was betraying the agency and shows the efforts officials pursued to prove it. The memo also documents several occasions when Abram appeared to use her authority to help Grim avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

An FBI investigation into Abram is ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

The Sheriff’s Department placed Abram on leave along with her niece, a custody assistant who prosecutors said improperly accessed a law enforcement database for Grim. They remain on leave and together have collected more than an estimated $300,000 in salary as the sheriff’s internal probe continues, based on posted county salaries….

A department source tells us that, now that the DA’s office has declined to prosecute, the LASD’s Internal Affairs investigation will likely begin—although the FBI’s continuing probe could further delay an IA investigation.

He also said that Abram’s actions as reported by the Times contained multiple firing offenses.

Another source familiar with the workings of the Carson station that Abram oversaw, and with the reputation of Grim and his friends, said that the notion that Abram was unaware of Grim’s extralegal activities was simply not credible.

Several LASD sources expressed concern that, even if Abram’s actions are found to be cause for her termination, she could be allowed to retire ahead of any findings, thereby retaining all pension and benefits that she has accrued at that point.

Back in April of 2011, Sheriff Baca told KABC’s John North that he expected the investigation into Abram’s possible wrong-doings to be wrapped up in approximately 30 days.

KABC also noted that Bernice Abram and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka have been friends since junior high school but said that the undersheriff assured press that there was no conflict of interest.


POST SCRIPT: The fact that the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office filed on nothing and allowed the statute of limitations to run out on the lesser matters, is hard for those of us observing to understand. To be frank: absent some more rigorous justification than we have yet heard, it suggests a dispiriting double standard.

It should be noted, however, that whatever the reasons behind all this non-filing-–whether righteous or deeply questionable—-it was the decision of the DA’s office under Steve Cooley’s tenure.

District Attorney-elect Jackie Lacey will be sworn in next Monday, December 3. Let us hope that she will choose a more agressive route in such matters in the future.

Posted in District Attorney, FBI, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca | 55 Comments »

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