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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 »

Death Penalty Initiative Qualifies, DA Candidates Opine (Badly), LA Thinks About April 30, 1992…& Much More

April 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Celeste Fremon and Taylor Walker

While WLA was dark earlier this week,
a few things happened that we wanted to make sure you didn’t miss:


First of all, on Monday, the initiative known as the SAFE California Act, officially qualified for the ballot. This means that, in November, Californians will have the opportunity to vote on a measure that would ban the death penalty in the state, in favor of life without the possibility of parole.

The death penalty is alarmingly disproportionately applied to people of color, particularly African Americans.

Jeanne Woodford, who was formerly the head of the California Department of Corrections, and the former warden of San Quentin prison, is one of the ballot measure’s most vocal supporters, and was quoted in the press release announcing the measure’s official approval by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen.

“I oversaw four executions at San Quentin,” said Woodford. “I can tell you as a law enforcement officer with 34 years of experience those executions did not make any one of us safer. What they did do was consume millions of dollars in resources that would be better spent on solving crime. Now, Californians will have a real chance to improve personal safety by replacing the death penalty with life in prison without parole, and directing some of the savings to solving more rape and murder cases.”

The fact that the initiative has qualified in California is eliciting a lot of comment from outside the state.

For example, there is this from the International Business Times by Ashley Portero:

….Studies conducted in multiple states have concluded that carrying out inmate executions is ultimately more expensive than sentencing them to life without parole, further leading capital punishment opponents to question the logic of the system.

California taxpayers alone have spent more than $4 billion on the 13 inmate executions the state has performed since 1978, according to a three-year study published in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review last year. The study estimated the costs of capital trials, enhanced security on death row and legal representation for death penalty defendants adds $184 million to California’s budget each year.

Similar studies have been conducted in at least 9 other states since 2000, all of which have concluded imposing the death penalty is exorbitantly more expensive than a life-without-parole sentence. A 2001 report from the National Bureau of Economic Research concluded that capital crime trials place huge and unexpected burdens on country budgets, often leading them to counter those high costs by defunding public projects and increasing taxes….

Also, the Death Penalty Information Fact Sheet has some interesting statistics pertaining to the topic….such as these:

-California had 723 death row inmates as of Jan. 2012 (the second highest, Florida, had 402).

-Over 130 people have been exonerated since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1973.

-”A 2010 poll by Lake Research Partners found that a clear majority of voters (61%) would choose a punishment other than the death penalty for murder.”

There’s more, so check it out.


The LA Times video-taped five of the candidates for DA speaking on questions that are crucial for any potential LA D.A. to be able to answer coherently. In the videos posted on Wednesday, nearly to a person, the candidates’ answers seemed to indicate a horrifying cluelessness on realignment. On the issue of the death penalty, there’s mostly a lot of pandering and very little reasoned opinion.

Not cheering.

Watch the videos here and then read the LA Times editorial that takes the candidates to task for their inexcusable lack of willingness to say anything that might be actually thought through, fact-based and responsible.

Here’s a clip:

Voters should expect the six candidates for district attorney to have mastered the facts of realignment and to be able to present well-thought-out policies for re-creating the justice system in Los Angeles County and making the reforms stick.

But today, none of the candidates seems completely prepared to grapple with what to do next. Some repeat falsehoods as if they were gospel: Los Angeles County’s jails are overcrowded (false; they are at about half capacity). California’s recidivism rate is 70% (meaningless, without distinguishing between a new criminal offense that should land an offender back behind bars and a technical parole violation, such as failing to report to an agent in time). Realignment puts parolees on our streets unsupervised (a blatant falsehood). State prisoners are being released early under realignment (false). But it’s true that if prosecutors, the courts and the sheriff are not careful, they will release people whom they should keep. And it’s true that under realignment, more jail inmates (as opposed to prison inmates) may be unsupervised upon release.

Alan Jackson has two answers to realignment: repeal it (which is not going to happen, and Jackson knows it) and allow counties to send prisoners out of state instead of seeking alternative treatment and supervision for those who can respond to it. Carmen Trutanich repeats the old saw that “we cannot start crying, ‘The sky is falling.’ ” We know that, but what would he do as D.A. to make realignment work? “This is a terrible mistake,” Jackie Lacey offers somewhat wearily. “But it’s also an opportunity.” Very well, but how will she respond to that opportunity?


Did we mention that Governor Jerry Brown announced on Thursday that he would be supporting City Attorney Carmen Trutanich in the upcoming Los Angeles District Attorney’s race? Okay, consider it mentioned.


An initiative to modify California’s Three Strikes Law is headed for the November ballot with almost twice as many signatures as necessary. SF DA George Gascon (who is also the former Assistant Chief of the LAPD), and LA DA Steve Cooley, have both publicly endorsed the measure which would eliminate the mandatory 25 to life for non-violent and less grievous third strike felonies.

Sacramento Bee’s Torey Van Oot writes:

…Under the proposal, only offenders convicted of a “third strike” felony that is violent or serious would face a minimum sentence of 25 to life in prison. The measure, which is modeled after proposed legislation, would also allow some offenders currently behind bars for a “third strike” that was a minor crime to seek a re-sentencing.

Voters rejected a similar measure, Proposition 66, in 2004.

San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon, who has endorsed the new measure, said in a statement that the initiative “saves California taxpayers money and restores the original intent of the law,” which was approved by voters in 1994, “by focusing on truly dangerous criminals.” A fiscal analysis estimates the measure could reduce prison costs by up to $100 million a year in the future.

Tracy Kaplan for the San Jose Mercury News has a nicely informative piece on the newly ballot-ready initiative, in which she quotes Steve Cooley and others.


Isaac Ontiveros reports for the San Francisco Bay View. (EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s not entirely clear if the meeting is really an “emergency meeting,” or if the “emergency” part is a bit of hyperbole from the Bay View editors.) In any case, here’s the deal:

A little over a month after the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) released its “Security Threat Group Prevention, Identification and Management Strategy,” which proposes new gang validation and Security Housing Unit (SHU) step down procedures, the department has called a meeting with members of the mediation team advocating on behalf of SHU and Administrative Segregation (Ad-Seg or ASU) prisoners around the state as well as legislative aides in Sacramento….


Warren Olney and his producers have done an unusually good series of programs this week on different aspects of the LA Riots of 1992. You can listen here.


This is from the press statement:

At 9 a.m. Friday, April 27, 200 civic leaders will return to the First A.M.E., gathering at the FAME Renaissance building at 1968 West Adams Boulevard, to participate in a Day of Dialogue. In small groups, participants will discuss the causes and impacts of the 1992 upheaval, and they will assess what progress has been made and what challenges remain….

I know from talking to various community organizers that this is going to be a very large and interesting event that will be well worth your time if you can get over there.


This is from Thursday’s U.S. Attorney’s Office statement:

The former mayor of Upland pleaded guilty today [Thursday] to a federal bribery charge, admitting that he accepted a $5,000 payment in exchange for helping a business obtain a conditional use permit from the city.

John Victor Pomierski, 58, who resigned as mayor last year after he was named in a grand jury indictment, pleaded guilty this morning before United States District Judge Virginia A. Phillips. Pomierski becomes the third defendant to be convicted in relation to a corruption investigation in the city of Upland.

As a result of today’s guilty plea to the bribery charge, Pomierski faces a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Judge Phillips is scheduled to sentence Pomierski on August 6.

(We don’t usually report on Upland. But we thought that a lot of you might like to know that the feds are on a roll—since they’re also very busy with ever widening investigations closer to home.)

EDITOR’S NOTE: WitnessLA has linked before to the TED talk about justice and injustice by civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

But, it’s worth listening to again. (And again.)

Stevenson was the dinner speaker on the first night of the symposium I attended in New York, and the 31 experienced and sometimes jaded reporters in the room were utterly riveted

Posted in CDCR, Death Penalty, Los Angeles Times, solitary | 11 Comments »

The LA Times Festival of Books This Weekend! Just Go!

April 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Today, Friday, Festival of Books weekend begins with the LA Times Book Awards
tonight, followed by two full days of fest-ing on the USC campus, featuring author interviews, panels, readings, cooking demonstrations, kids activities, and all manner of other events centered around the celebration of writers and readers.

I’m moderating a panel on Saturday at 3:30 pm called Crime Fiction: Out of the Box

It features a stupendously cool line up of gifted authors, each with an ardent following. (If you like very smart, very literary, very original and culturally savvy noir-ish crime fiction, that also has something interesting to say, these are your guys.)

Nelson George
Gary Phillips
P.G. Sturges
Paul Tremblay

I pre-interviewed them all Thursday, and trust me, the audience is in for a treat.

As for what else you should see? Oh, there’s an embarrassment of riches. Susan Orlean, John Green (author of the new, hot book, “The Fault in our Stars), Joseph Wambaugh….. Just page through the list.

As always, you should go to any panel that involves my pal Tod Goldberg in any way-–either as a panelist or a moderator. (Really, just trust me. Every year there’s a legendarily funny Tod-related panel that everyone talks about in the Festival’s Green Room, causing those who have missed it to look….you know….sad. But even his non-legendary panels will be good. Just go.)

And my brilliant friend, Tom Bissell, has recently moved into town and is on a panel both Saturday and Sunday. If you know his work, you already understand why one would be wise to do whatever it takes manage to catch one of his panels. If you don’t know who he is….well, take a look. (To intellectual gamers, he’s a god, but he’s also beloved by literary types.)

My pal David Ulin has a terrific panel on Sunday at 1 pm with Steve Erickson, Hari Kunzru, and Dana Spiotta—any one of whom alone would be a hot ticket.

Just go to USC and walk in a panel at random. Honestly, you can’t go wrong.

I asked WLA’s new news aggregator Taylor Walker, who is, like me, a mad reader, for her picks to click. Here are Taylor’s LATFOB suggestions:


I LOVE the Festival of Books. I’ve attended almost every year with my dad as a quasi-father/daughter tradition.

Here are some of the Saturday panels we will be sitting in on:

1. Robert Kirkman‘s Q&A with Geoff Boucher at 10:30AM

We’re both [not so] secret comic book fans, so this Q&A session is a MUST. Robert is most famous for writing The Walking Dead, a graphic novel series (and TV show) about a zombie-infested dystopian earth and its human inhabitants’ struggle for survival. What’s not to like?

2. Cheryl Strayed‘s on the Memoir: Over the Edge panel moderated by Amy Wallen at 1:30.

Cheryl’s new memoir Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail follows her on her 1,100 mile trek from Mohave to Washington along the Pac. Crest Trail as she hazards physical extremes to find herself. Her hyper-realistic style and literary flourish make her novels that much more delightful for the lit. nerd in me. She’s the witty, slightly vulgar best friend I wish I had.

3. Celeste Fremon’s Crime Fiction: Out of the Box panel at 3:30. (A whim, of course, but I may have heard a thing or two about the fabulous panelists.)

I won’t be able to go on Sunday this year, but here are a few of the events I would have caught:

Rodney King’s Q&A with Patt Morrison at 12:30,

Betty White at 1:20

T.C. Boyle at 4:30.

I’m also entirely content spending a few hours meandering through the crowd, looking at the booths, inevitably getting lost, and enjoying the ambiance created by hundreds of book lovers.

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

Juvenile Justice Cuts, Death Penalty Deterrence, The Controversial LA Times Photos….& More

April 19th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

by Taylor Walker


More than three decades after the moratorium against capital punishment was lifted, the prestigious National Research Council released a report that, after reviewing dozens of studies, failed to find reliable evidence that the death penalty is actually a homicide deterrent. In fact, the Committee of Deterrence and the Death Penalty said that any past research on the subject should be disregarded in death penalty debates as incomplete and unsupportable.

The LA Times has the story.

Here’s a clip:

The Committee of Deterrence and the Death Penalty concluded that studies on the death penalty and its potential effect on homicide rates — both pro and con — contain fundamental flaws that essentially make them moot.

For example, the studies do not include the effects of other forms of punishment – such as life in prison without possibility of parole, and whether it too acts as a deterrent. The studies, study authors wrote, don’t “consider how the capital and noncapital components of a regime combine in affecting the behavior of potential murderers.”

In other words, previous studies don’t determine whether potential killers think about the possibility of spending their lives in prison or ending up on death row before they commit their crimes.

The lack of comprehensive information makes the research inconclusive, the study authors said. “We recognize this conclusion will be controversial to some, but nobody is well served by unfounded claims about the death penalty,” committee Chairman Daniel Nagin said in a telephone news conference.

“Nothing is known about how potential murderers actually perceive their risk of punishment,” he said.


Funding for juvenile justice programs is likely about to get slashed—again.

The Crime Report’s Ted Gest has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

Federal funding for state and local juvenile justice programs seems likely to take another big hit as Congress continues to slash federal “discretionary” spending.

The Republican-controlled House committee that appropriates money for the Justice Department today issued its proposal for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. It would cut juvenile justice funding to $209 million–a figure that stood at $424 million in fiscal year 2010.

Federal aid for juvenile justice already had fallen more than 50 percent to its lowest level in more than a decade, says the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, which represents state advisory committees in Washington, D.C. The coalition is asking Congress for $80 million for “formula grants” that helps states comply with mandates in a key 1974 juvenile crime law, such as separating juvenile and adult defendants in jail and keeping minor offenders out of custody.

House appropriators, rather than adding funds for those purposes, would cut them to $33 million.

The Obama administration’s funding request of $140M for three important juvenile justice programs would be slashed to just $53M under the House committee’s proposal.


A Senate committee hearing for the End Racial Profiling Act featured testimony from 225 different organizations on Wednesday. If passed, the legislature would forbid officers from using race as a component in standard law enforcement decisions.

Salon’s Jefferson Morley has the story.

Here’s a clip:

….as profiling has become entrenched in drug enforcement, counterterrorism and immigration control, said criminologist David Harris, research shows it is an ineffective law enforcement tool. “In many contexts, in many types of police agencies, the results all fall in the same direction: when racial or ethnic profiling is used, police are less likely, not more likely, to catch bad guys,” Harris said.

Ron Davis, police chief in East Palo Alto, Calif., said his experience as a cop on the streets confirmed that finding. Admitting that he himself had engaged in profiling, he called profiling “an ineffective tactic that wastes scarce law enforcement resources and it harms our relations with communities whose cooperation we need.”

Davis said passage of S. 1670 would help police nationwide.

“Without the legislation and updated Department of Justice guidance
we will continue business as usual and only respond to this issue when it surfaces through high-profile tragedies such as Oscar Grant case in Oakland, Calif., and the Trayvon Martin case in Sanford, Fla.,” he said.

The Obama Administration has yet to have joined the bill’s supporters.


There has been, and continues to be, a lot of controversy around whether or not the LA Times should have posted the two graphic photos of American soldiers posing with dismembered Afghan corpses. The Pentagon asked the Times not to publish the photos, contending that the publication would incite violence.

It is a thorny question. I happen to think the Times did the right thing.

Yet, I’m grateful that I wasn’t one of those who had to make the decision.

On To the Point, Warren Olney interviewed David Zucchino, the award-winning LA Times reporter who wrote the story accompanying the photos.

The New York Times has a report on the Pentagon’s objections—and how the Times’ came to be in possession of the photos in the first place.

And here the Poynter Institute weighs in, with two stories.

As of this writing, there are more than 2000 comments on the LA Times website regarding the issue.

Photo by Phil Sandlin for the AP

Posted in Death Penalty, juvenile justice, Los Angeles Times, media, Must Reads, race, racial justice | 1 Comment »

Finalists for LA Times Book Awards Announced

February 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

The finalists for the LA Times Book Awards were announced on Tuesday.
(The full list is here.)

This year, I was one of the three judges for the Mystery Thriller category, along with Dick Lochte and Michele Slung. (for the last two years, I’ve judged Current Interest in nonfiction, so this year it was fun to leap into genre fiction.) Frankly, our main challenge was selecting between a lot of worthy books. Once we narrowed the choices down to ten—twice the number of finalists the contest permitted—it was hard to want to lose any of them off our list.

Yet, when the winnowing was completed, we were quite pleased with our final selections:

“Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

“Plugged” by Eoin Colfer (Overlook Press)

“11/22/63” by Stephen King (Scribner)

“Snowdrops: A Novel” by A.D. Miller (Doubleday)

“The End of Wasp Season” by Denise Mina (Reagan Arthur Books/Hachette Book Group)

By the way, since I’m a reading fool, I’ve read quite a number of the finalists in the other categories, thus I can assure you that there are some terrific books in there. (The Art of Fielding, The Cat’s Table, Leaving the Atocha Station, Thinking Fast and Slow, The Malcom X biography….and lots more.)

So take a look. Lots of stuff to put on your reading list.

The LA Times Book Awards will be presented on Friday night, April 20, and the LA Times Festival of Books follows on Saturday and Sunday, April 21 and 22, at USC.

Mark it on your calendar now. I’ll be on a panel, so I’ll see you there!

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

SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Sheriff’s Department Investigates Ret. Cmr. Olmsted’s Accounts of Jail Violence and Higher Ups Lack of Response

February 6th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

In an interesting turn of events, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
has launched an investigation into whether or not retired custody commander, Robert Olmsted, was blocked from from correcting problems at Men’s Central Jail that he said he repeatedly reported to command staff.

Olmsted worries that the new probe is merely an attempt to blame him for higher ups’ failure to correct what is now a widely reported pattern of abuse of inmates by deputies.

Looking at past statements coming from the LASD-–both officially and through back channels—there is much to support Olmsted’s concerns.

This is from a report published Monday in the LA Times:

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the investigation was launched to determine if anyone had stopped Cmdr. Robert Olmsted from correcting the problems he had seen with excessive force and jailer cliques. But Olmsted is accusing sheriff’s officials of rigging the probe to scapegoat him and insulate high-ranking officials from culpability, saying he has seen them protect people in the past.

As Matt Fleischer reported for WitnessLA last year, Olmsted explained how he warned top ranking department —including Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—about growing problems in Men’s Central Jail but the command staff to whom he spoke declined to do anything about the problems, or in the case of Paul Tanaka, in some instances, actively got in the way of reform.

In response to reports on the matter by WitnessLA and the LA Times, in past weeks, Sheriff Baca has repeatedly insisted that it was in fact Olmsted who was at fault for not fixing the problems himself. Here, for instance, is some of what the sheriff said in mid-January in an interview with a Finnish American publication.

[Robert Olmsted] told me he tried to warn his supervisors, but when I spoke to his supervisors, they said he didn’t try to warn them. So, the guy strikes me as being a little odd. If he knew about these things, why didn’t he tell me while he was working there instead months later when he is retired and left the department…..”

Baca went on to claim that all Olmsted did was to say, “let’s just fix the problem in terms of painting over graffiti….”

The sheriff’s characterization flies in the face of reports of multiple department sources familiar with events at Men’s Central Jail during the period in question—and is contrary to Olmsted’s own accounts.

According to the LA Times, Olmsted initially tried to cooperate with the new investigation and “…consented to one interview with Cmdr. Joseph Hartshorne, who is heading up the probe.” However, Olmsted has reportedly since declined to cooperate further, fearing that the department’s intentions are disingenuous and that this probe is not designed to get to the bottom of matters at all, but instead will attempt to whitewash the sheriff and undersheriff’s actions and blame Olmsted.

The LA Times reporters listened to a recording of the interview between Olmsted and Hartshorne, in which Olmsted talked to Hartshorne about many of the issues regarding Captain Dan Cruz that Matt Fleischer has reported in WLA’s Dangerous Jails series. (Cruz was put on administrative leave last fall while his actions at Men’s Central Jail are investigated.)

For example there is this:

Olmsted told Hartshorne that well before the department put Cruz on leave, sheriff’s brass protected Cruz from a lackluster performance review Olmsted tried to give him, altering it to be a good one. He said the alterations were ordered by Burns.

(For more details of the Cruz performance review incident see Dangerous Jails Part 2, and scroll to the section: NO ACCOUNTABILITY.)

The Times also reported this:

During the interview, Olmsted and Hartshorne also discussed a perception of favoritism created because Baca and Tanaka — who is mayor of Gardena — accept campaign contributions from department employees. Baca and Tanaka have collected thousands of dollars in donations over the years from deputies.

In an interview with The Times last week, Olmsted suggested that Cruz’s contributions to Tanaka were part of the reason Cruz wasn’t transferred from his jail post sooner.

Ah, yes, the campaign contributions.

More specifically, as Matt reported here, according to documents we’ve acquired with Public Records Act requests, just about the time that Olmsted was reporting Cruz’s actions to higher ups, Dan Cruz made two very timely donations to Paul Tanaka’s political campaign—on December 18, 2008, and on January 6, 2009.

In addition, Matt reported that when Cruz was finally moved out of his troubled custody assignment, rather than being sanctioned, to Olmsted’s shock, plans were made for Cruz to be promoted—by Paul Tanaka.

As luck would have it, the now infamous Christmas fight occurred, involving the 3000 boys and others, with Cruz the senior officer on site. The planned promotion, which had yet to take place, reportedly evaporated. (Here’s a clip from that story to remind you.)

Could these donations have been a contributing factor to why Cruz was never reprimanded by Tanaka for his performance inside CJ? Sources claim that they were. As evidence, they point to the way Cruz’s exit from the jail was handled.

In the fall of 2010, Olmsted’s insistence that CJ was out of control under Dan Cruz finally forced Tanaka to investigate what was happening. Up until that time Tanaka had been relying almost exclusively on Cruz’s word that all was well at the facility. Tanaka sent his close ally and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead an investigation. Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail—which, in turn, forced Tanaka’s hand in transferring the captain from his post.

Bob Olmsted says he met with Tanaka to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Olmsted says he was surprised to find that the plan was not to punish Cruz for his inaction and incompetence, but to transfer and then reward him. Cruz would be made a commander.

“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” says Olmsted. “And this was after he had received Harris’ report that Cruz was 100 percent at fault for what was happening in the jail. The plan was for Harris to come in as the operations lieutenant, I would be his commander, and together we’d sandwich Cruz and turn him into a viable candidate.”

[See Dangerous Jails Part 3 for more.]

Interestingly, according to the Times, Olmsted reports that Hartshorne—the man heading the probe of Olmsted’s claims— made a $100 political contribution to Tanaka in 2009.

The Times goes on to report that Sheriff’s officials reject the suggestion that small donations affect personnel decisions.

On Tuesday, WitnessLA will post all 2009 donations to the undersheriff’s Gardena elections campaign.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the previously posted 2008 donations to the Friends of Paul Tanaka.

Dangerous Jails, Part 5, coming next month, will have lots more.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 8 Comments »

Friday Justice Round Up: Old Prisoners, Why LA’s Media Should Ride Buses

January 27th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The fact that aging prisoners are a growing issue has been reported on a lot lately as reporters and policy makers start to snap awake to the fact that locking up more people for longer is going to eventually produce a bunch of old guy (and old girl) inmate.

California, with its long troubled prison health care system, is one of the states that cannot help but be hit hardest by the demands of an aging inmate population.

Human Rights Watch has issued a new report that looks at the scope of the problem nationally. Here’s a clip from their press release:

Human Rights Watch found that the number of sentenced state and federal prisoners age 65 or older grew at 94 times the rate of the overall prison population between 2007 and 2010. The number of sentenced prisoners age 55 or older grew at six times the rate of the overall prison population between 1995 and 2010.

“Prisons were never designed to be geriatric facilities,” said Jamie Fellner, senior adviser to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Yet US corrections officials now operate old age homes behind bars.”

All in all, HRW has produced a thoughtful, informative report that surveys the issue, makes some practical recommendations, and then asks a series of questions that challenge us to ask ourselves from a common sense perspective about when imprisonment might no longer be justified or sensible, as certain kinds of prisoners gets older.

Read the whole report here.

The New York Times also has a story on the issue.


The Vera institute has just released a new report titled The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers. The report shows that however much we think our prisons are costing us as taxpayers—we’re likely wrong. They’re costing us more than we think.

On a state by state basis, the Vera people looked at such extra costs as staff pensions and retiree benefits— and more—that, in many cases, are not listed in a state’s corrections budget.

In California, for example, our corrections budget is $7 billion. But when we look at the full cost, as Vera calculates it, the budget goes up to $7.9 billion—nearly a billion dollars more than our corrections budgets would suggest, bringing the cost of locking up each inmate in our prisons to $48 thousand per year, one of the higher price tags in the nation..

And if we look at the collateral costs of incarceration, (costs that Vera mentions as important, but that they did not cover in this report) the taxpayer’s bill goes still higher:

When a person is in prison, taxpayers may incur additional—or indirect—costs, such as the costs of social services, child welfare, and education, for example. For the most part, these indirect costs are borne by government agencies other than the department of corrections. They are not included in the calculations presented here, however.

Incarcerated men and women also bear economic and social costs associated with prison—as do their families and communities.* As a 2005 study concluded, “Incarceration impacts the life of a family in several important ways: it strains them financially, disrupts parental bonds, separates spouses, places severe stress on the remaining caregivers, leads to a loss of discipline in the household, and to feelings of shame, stigma, and anger.”** Although these costs—typically referred to as collateral costs—are important for policy deliberations, they are no tallied in this report.


A smart new LA blog called Frying Pan News did an interview with LA Mag’s editor Mary Melton about what the LA Times is doing wrong—and more.

Here’s a clip:

What is missing from the city’s journalistic landscape?

The mainstream press needs to reintroduce beats, cover California and L.A. issues, have more reporters devoted to local politics and politicians. Websites don’t have the resources to do deep reporting.

If you were editor of the L.A. Times, what would you do to change things?

The first thing I would do is hire a fleet of buses and have everyone in the building get on one and go see the city. Too many people at the Times never leave the building. I remember during the 2000 Democratic Convention, which was in downtown. I was working at the Times, and I decided to go over to check it out. I tried to get some folks to come with me, and everyone said, “It’s so far.” What?

I like the bus idea. (But way better to get on public transportation, not that hired fleet.)


The group Reform Immigration for America delivered a whole lot of texts and tacos on Thursday to East Haven, CT, Mayor Maturo—along with an invitation to have an open dialogue with the Latino community in his city, following his insensitive remarks this week.

MSNBC has more on the story-–and the back story:

A Connecticut mayor who sparked a firestorm of criticism for quipping “I might have tacos” when interviewed by a TV reporter about the arrest of four town police officers accused of racially profiling and bullying Latino residents got more than he bargained for.

More than 2,000 tacos were delivered to the office of East Haven Mayor Joseph Maturo on Thursday, ordered by people who found his comments insensitive racially offensive. The send-the-mayor-a-taco campaign, which took off via tweets, cellphone texts and social-media shares, was organized by Reform Immigration for America, a group that advocates comprehensive immigration reform.

Posted in Los Angeles Times, media, prison, prison policy | 6 Comments »

Dear Sheriff Baca, It’s Time To Steer Your Own Ship—Soon Would be Good

December 2nd, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Friday’s LA Times contains an editorial that has strong words for Sheriff Lee Baca,
who continues to blame his command staff—and anyone else within verbal reach—for the abuse of inmates by deputies scandal that is plaguing the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Here’s a clip from the editorial:

….In October, Baca was more outraged by a federal investigation into the jails than the allegations of inmate abuse and deputy misconduct that prompted it. He even went so far as to suggest that the FBI was the real source of troubles in the jails, for its conduct in an investigation there. When he finally backed away from accusing the FBI of misconduct, he blamed his command staff for keeping him in the dark about the scandal, yet refused to discipline anyone for it.

Now, one of the department’s top commanders says he did attempt to warn Baca that deputies were using excessive force against inmates, but was ignored….

The Times is referring to Bob Olmsted, the recently retired LASD Commander who told WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer that he’d attempted to warn Baca and other members of the command staff multiple times about the jail issues, but was rebuffed or overruled each time.

Olmsted also spoke this week to Times’ reporters Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard and gave them the same information about how Baca had failed to heed his warnings. Faturechi and Leonard, in turn, confronted Baca with what Olmsted had said. In response, Baca preposterously blamed Olmsted for not somehow fixing the problem himself—nevermind the fact that top members of Baca’s command staff blew off Olmsted’s concerns, and were in other ways obstructive of reform attempts.

Baca’s excuses regarding Olmsted’s warnings are simply a variation on his earlier, credibility-stretching claims that he had no idea things were so bad in the jails, that the knowledge was kept from him, that he assumed his command staff was handling the problems, yadda, yadda, yadda.

But, okay, let’s say, hypothetically, that what Baca said is in part true, that he’s a delegating kind ‘o guy who trusted his command staff to at least make sure that the jails weren’t teaming with badge-wearing gangs of inmate pounding civil rights violators.

Unfortunately the command staff blithely allowed the aforementioned rogue deputies to run riot through the jails producing a ton of use-of force reports, inmate injuries, the most scathing ACLU report to date, a bunch of high ticket lawsuits—and a nice, big federal investigation.


Now, theoretically, the scales have fallen from Baca’s eyes. So why in the world is the same coterie of command staffers—led by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—still running the department day to day? Why hasn’t Baca fired at least a couple of their asses, or transferred them, or demoted them, (or whatever it is that ALADS—the LASD union—will allow one to do).

Incredibly, rather than ankling anybody, Baca chose Tanaka and associates to oversee his special task force that was formed to investigate abuse in the jails.

Henhouse meet foxes.

So, what does all that tell us? Well, one thing it suggests is that, for some time, Sheriff Lee Baca has not been, and is not presently, running the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Or to give it a more positive spin, if Baca is steering the LASD ship, now would be a good time to step up and demonstrate it.

It is my understanding that Baca has, instead, planned yet another trip to the Middle East. He was, I think, to have left December 1—yesterday—returning next week. (I have yet to confirm if he did indeed leave.)

Not the greatest timing, Sheriff.

In the meantime, I’ve heard from some of my LASD sources that the command staff’s inner circle has assured each other that all this jail nastiness will blow over soon, that they are beyond the worst of it, that things will shortly go back to “normal.”

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

Laurie Winer on Sam Zell and the Dismantling of the LA Times

November 11th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Former LA Times theater critic, Laurie Winer, has ostensibly written a review of James O’Shea’s book,
The Deal From Hell: How Moguls and Wall Street Plundered Great American Newspapers, in which he chronicles real estate tycoon Sam Zell’s raping and pillaging of the Tribune Corp. in general and of the Los Angeles Times in specific.

But really, Winer has done something that is far better and more informative than a mere review: She has recapitulated for us—in a releavingly graspable way— the catastrophe for newspapers that was/is Sam Zell, and the events leading up to his wrecking ball tenure that made Zell’s takeover possible. Into all of this, Winer has interwoven her own front row remembrances and observations. We get to feel what it was like to watch the madness close up.

Winer’s essay/review appears in the Los Angeles Review of Books. For any of us who care about journalism, it’s a BIG must read.

Here’s an emblematic clip:

…Zell addressed the staff of the Orlando Sentinel, one of the Tribune newspapers, on January 31, 2008, which was the first time most of the journalists in the Tribune family got to see the man himself. As part of a whistle-stop tour of his new properties, Zell took visible delight in showing off his iconoclastic style to a new industry that, before now, had not had the pleasure. He was primed and ready for his close-up. He took the stage and stood at a lectern, a leprechaun-sized, wizened, bald man with a white goatee and gravelly voice.

According to Zell, “the eleventh commandment is Thou shalt not take oneself seriously.” His public posture was combative but laced with impish mischief; the gleam in his eye suggested he enjoyed being challenged. This may have misled Orlando Sentinel photographer Sara Fajardo, or perhaps she had seen the new employee handbook rewritten on orders of Zell. One of its entries read: “Question authority and push back if you do not like the answer. You will earn respect, and not get into trouble for asking tough questions.”

In any event, there Zell is in Orlando, telling his staff about the necessity of making money, how that would be our top priority going forward. Fajardo did what none of us attempted with Mark Willes; she stood up and asked her new boss about his view on “the role journalism plays in the community, because we’re not the Pennysaver, we’re a newspaper.” Zell placed both hands on the podium and bent his elbows, as if he wanted to push it forward. “I want to make enough money so that I can afford you,” he said, his irritation mounting. “It’s really that simple. You need to in effect help me by being a journalist that focuses on what our readers want and that therefore generates more revenue.” Fajardo immediately broke in, “But what readers want are puppy dogs,” she said, as the courage drains from her voice. “We also need to inform the community.” Zell cut her off, his right hand gesticulating forcefully. “I’m sorry but you’re giving me the classic, what I would call, journalistic arrogance, by deciding that puppies don’t count. … What I’m interested in is how can we generate additional interest in our products and additional revenue so we can make our product better and better and hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Okay?”

The audience, some of whom applauded, might have been momentarily perplexed by Zell’s concept: That, like a kid who must endure being “grounded” before he can go to parties again, a newspaper would have to sell its very soul so that, at some undetermined point in the future, it might be allowed to go back to being a newspaper again. If anyone was busy contemplating the conundrum of Zell’s argument, he might have missed the day’s dramatic high point, which occurred when Fajardo turned around to sit back down. Zell had two more words for her. They were: “Fuck you.”

Fortunately, it lives on YouTube.

I watched the video of this event over and over. What mesmerized me was the sight of a man so unprepared for his come-to-Jesus moment that he had no idea it had arrived. Where Murdoch had his ducks in place in a formation that any dictator might envy, Zell had only his anger at everyone who had ever criticized him, who had ever doubted that accumulating wealth, by itself, was proof of ethics, intelligence, or general marvelousness.

Now read the rest. Immediately, if possible.

Posted in American voices, Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | No Comments »

Monday Must Reads

August 8th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

Raging Against the LA Times Book Section cuts, an upbeat story about helping Foster Car kids get to college, a seemingly unnecessary court decision, a weird move by the City Attorney….and more.


It literature is important to you at all. Read this, damn it! Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Times proudly announced last week that it was as dedicated as ever to book coverage — “we have not changed our commitment,” said Vice President of Communications Nancy Sullivan. Sullivan was speaking to Publishers Weekly’s Wendy Werris, explaining that a new round of layoffs in the section and the cutting loose of the book section’s freelancers was not to be taken as a sign of what it clearly was: a further contraction of the section’s purview.

“Freelancers” in this case means not just those of us who have written the occasional review for the Times over the years but the new class of non-employees, the many people who used to be on staff and were laid off before being rehired as freelancers, like Susan Salter Reynolds; book columnists Reynolds, Richard Rayner, and Sonja Bolle were among those let go. Reynolds is a prime example of the new class of the gradually dis-employed: she has been writing succinct, insightful reviews for the Times for the last 23 years, usually three pieces a week, although often adding a fourth or even fifth in the form of a more in-depth review or feature (she is a woman who clearly does not sleep). For the first 21 of those years she was a staff writer, but for the last two she’s been a freelancer. The difference was a deep cut in pay, the loss of health insurance and a retirement plan, and the outsourcing of her office to her own house. The workload remained the same.


This story by Martha Groves of the LA Times will both break your heart and give you hope. Here’s how it opens:

For foster children, the prospect of ever completing college is remote: 24% of the general population will someday wear a university cap and gown, but fewer than 3% of all foster children ever earn a degree.

But a privately funded pilot program at UCLA hopes to improve the odds.

The First Star UCLA Bruin Guardian Scholars Summer Academy is a 5 1/2-week program that sponsors and fundraisers hope will one day develop into a year-round boarding school for college-bound foster children in Los Angeles County.

On Friday, 14-year-old Thalia and 23 other foster youth celebrated their “graduation” from the program’s first session.

The incoming ninth-grader brushed up on math, wrote poetry, learned to meditate and visited Disneyland, Universal Studios and a Nickelodeon TV set. In the bargain, Thalia and the other participants each got a laptop computer, a flip cam — and four University of California college credits.

“This program took me to another place,” Thalia said….

Read the rest here.


Wired Magazine takes a look at what science has to say about rising temperatures and rising crime stats and how one may or may not affect the other.


The LA Times’ Jack Leonard reports on Carmen Trutanich’s $2 million check caper and DA Steve Cooley’s reaction.


Okay, this probably doesn’t rise to the level of a Must Read. Rather it is an interesting oddity that the Iowa Supreme Court got dragooned into having to render a ruling on this seemingly obvious issue. The Des Moines Register has the story. Here’s how it opens:

The Iowa Supreme Court Friday affirmed a long-standing prohibition on winning punitive damages from dead people and issued a two-month suspension to a Des Moines lawyer with a track record of mishandling clients’ money.

In the case of Estate of Johnny Vajgrt vs. Bill Ernst, justices ruled 6-1 to affirm a Marshall County court ruling that blocked Ernst from obtaining more than $2,300 from the estate of Vajgrt.

The case involved a 2005 incident where Vajgrt sought and received permission from Ernst, a neighbor, to enter onto Ernst’s land and remove a fallen tree near the confluence of Burnett Creek and the Iowa River. Vajgrt removed both the tree, which he feared would serve as a dam and cause flooding on his land, and roughly 40 other live trees on Ernst’s property.

Vajgrt died in 2008, nearly five months before Ernst sued to recover damages for the diminished value of his property. A district court judge awarded $57.50 per tree but refused to grant punitive damages because Vajgrt had died….

Read the rest here.

Posted in Foster Care, Future of Journalism, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles writers, Must Reads, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

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