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Medical Marijuana

A Tale of Planted Guns & Rogue Sheriff’s Deputies

March 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

In this week’s LA Weekly, reporter Gene Maddaus writes about how a marijuana dispensary’s surveillance video
and an allegedly-planted handgun may have finally led the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the LA District Attorney’s office to pay attention to the actions of a cluster of rogue LASD deputies.

The story pertains specifically to a deputy clique known as the Jump Out Boys, the existence of which was first reported by the LA Times. The clique drew its members from within the ranks of Operation Safe Streets (OSS), the gang investigation unit within the department.

Two years ago, in February 2013, after news of the clique’s existence became a larger and larger story, the LASD under Sheriff Baca fired seven of the Jump Out Boys, ostensibly for “belonging to a secret law enforcement clique that allegedly celebrated shootings and branded its members with matching tattoos,” and related conduct unbecoming. The information that Maddaus has uncovered, however, suggests that the firings may have had more to do with straight-up criminal behavior—and that there may be more such behavior that has yet to come to light.

Here’s a clip from the story. As we are coming into the tale in its middle, you need to know that both “Martinez” and “Paez” are Jump Out Boys. “Yang,” is a young man who works at the Superior Herbal Health marijuana clinic.

Martinez was one of the clique’s “shot callers,” according to a sheriff’s source. He would later write a three-page narrative of the events of that day. His report would help generate two sets of criminal charges — first against Yang and then, when discrepancies emerged, against himself.

According to Martinez’s report, he and Paez were driving along 84th Place when they saw a black man exit a building. The report states that the man appeared to engage in a hand-to-hand drug transaction with another man. When the first man saw the officers, the report states, he reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like the butt of a handgun.

The man — later identified as Antonio Rhodes, who’s a barber working in Long Beach — ran back into the building. Martinez got out of his car and tried to chase him, but the door was locked. Martinez wrote in his report that he could smell marijuana. He demanded that the door be opened, then ran to the side of the building.

The report says that, through an open window, Martinez could see Rhodes inside and witnessed him stash something next to a white trash can. Martinez returned to the front of the building and pounded on the door some more. Finally it opened.

He and Paez went inside, where they found a small waiting room full of people. There was no signage outside, and it was only then, the report states, that they realized they were in a dispensary. They ordered everyone out.

Another locked door led to a display room. Again, Martinez demanded that the door be unlocked. Once inside, he ordered the employees to exit with their hands up.

Martinez wrote that he could see “large amounts of marijuana in every room” and that they did a “protective sweep” of the building — finding three black handguns. Martinez’s report states that one was on Yang’s desk, where they also found his ecstasy pills. Then they discovered what the report described as Rhodes’ gun behind the white trash can. It was loaded. When they ran it through their system, it came back unregistered.

Read on for a story of false charges, and what appears to be the planting of two guns.…and more.

Posted in LASD, Medical Marijuana, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 10 Comments »

Sheriff Baca’s Well-Paid Civilian Aide Relieved of Duty After ABC-7 Probe

November 14th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

For nearly 14 years, Bishop Edward Turner has functioned as one of Sheriff Lee Baca’s top level
civilian field deputies and as head of the sheriff’s volunteer Multi-Faith Clergy Council.

For this work—which department sources describe as a sort of part-time community outreach intended to bolster Baca’s relationships in LA’s African American communities—Turner was paid $105,000 a year, given his own county car, county-paid gasoline, a county cell phone, 3 county computers and, when needed, his own “collateral duty deputy” to help him with unspecified tasks. All of this on the taxpayers’ dime.

On Wednesday, however, Turner was abruptly relieved of his duties pending an internal affairs investigation, after KABC-TV reporters began asking questions for which the department found it had no answers, according to LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore. (For weeks, KABC had been looking into Turner and his activities with the LASD.)

In two news segments airing Wednesday night, reporter Marc Brown revealed the three issues that triggered Turner’s sudden departure from the LASD and the accompanying department probe into his activities.

The three issues are as follows:

1. KABC reporters found that an illegal marijuana dispensary is operating on land that Turner owns located across the street from the church where Turner is the founding pastor, the Power of Love Christian Fellowship ministries.

When asked about the dispensary—which is illegal in that it is not one of the 134 dispensaries sanctioned by Measure D— Turner claimed he didn’t really know anything about the operation, or its illegality. However, when KABC talked to the dispensary’s owner, the man said he walked the rent check across the street to Turner’s church every month.

2. In addition to his church, Turner runs a nonprofit organization called H.O.P.E. for Life. KABC tried to look into the organization’s financials, which, due to its tax exempt status, should have been publically accessible. They found that H.O.P.E. for Life had its nonprofit status revoked in 2009 for its failure to file the proper yearly disclosures with the IRS.

This information evidently did not play well with the sheriff who, among other things, has repeatedly raised money for H.O.P.E for Life with the department’s yearly “Multi-faith Prayer Breakfast” (an event that many upper-level department supervisors are reportedly strongly urged to attend).

3. Then, weirdest of all, KABC obtained a highly suggestive sheriff’s department incident report, circa 2005 involving a mysterious package addressed to Turner’s church containing large amounts of cash.

Here’s what KABC’s Marc Brown reported:

We also had questions about a 2005 sheriff’s department “incident report.” A package that was addressed to Turner’s Power of Love church was intercepted by a sheriff’s department narcotics team. The package contained $84,020 in cash.

Detectives wrote in their report that based on their expertise, that the cash was the “direct proceeds from the sale of controlled substances, or illegal narcotics.”

“I was totally appalled and upset about that situation,” said Turner.

According to the report, Turner called a detective and said he wasn’t expecting a parcel and didn’t know anyone in New York who would send him a box of money.

When WitnessLA spoke to Steve Whitmore on Wednesday night after the broadcast, he reiterated that the sheriff was “taken aback” by news of the marijuana dispensary, especially since Baca has been very public about his opposition to dispensaries, which—despite his early support of medical marijuana—he views as having spun out of control.

Whitmore also said that Baca moved quickly to cancel all upcoming donations to Turner’s non-nonprofit.

“The sheriff knew nothing about any of this,” said Whitmore

About the box of cash, Whitmore said that the matter had been “fully investigated” by the department, and that, despite the fact that the package was addressed to Turner’s church, “they couldn’t connect the package to Bishop Turner.”

“But we’re still going to look into all that again in our investigation,” he said and added that the Mike Gennacco’s Office of Independent Review will be “monitoring” the department’s IA investigation.

Curiously, Whitmore also added that former undersheriff Paul Tanaka was responsible when the 2005 box-of-money-in-the-mail issue occurred, and when the subsequent investigation was conducted, clearing Turner.

“Like I said, we’re going to look into all that again.”

The rest of KABC’s well-reported and startling report may be found here.

Posted in LASD, Medical Marijuana, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 47 Comments »

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Speaks Out Against Baca Again, This Time on KABC, Monday at 11PM

May 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

KABC 7′s David Ono sat down with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for a long on camera interview,
highlights from which will air in a special news segment at 11 pm Monday night on KABC 7.

Ono and his producers had hoped to get Sheriff Lee Baca to sit down for the same news segment since, in addition to responding to some critical questions about his own actions in the department, it is our understanding that Mr. Tanaka spent much of the interview, in essence, pulling the pins on grenades and lobbing them at the sheriff.

Unfortunately, Baca was not persuaded to come on camera, but sent LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore to answer questions in his place.

We don’t yet know what parts of the raw interview are included in the segment (which we hear will run around 4 plus minutes) and what remains in outtakes. But we’ll let you know if we learn more before the broadcast.

In the meantime, fire up your TiVos, ladies and gentlemen.



A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Illinois was passed by their state senate after an approval from the Illinois House last month. It is not clear whether or not Governor Pat Quinn will sign the bill, but he sounds positively disposed.

What makes this bill interesting is that it sets out a tight regulatory scheme for sales of medical weed, unlike California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with one of our messy ballot initiatives, and then applied some modest regulations in 2003, with SB 420. However, since then, neither the state legislature, nor municipalities like Los Angeles, managed to wrestle into being any decent regulations. As a consequence our med marijuana situation is something of a mess.

Monique Garcia reports for the Chicago Tribune on the state’s likely new law. Here’s a clip:

….The proposal would create a four-year trial program in which doctors could prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.

Patients would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be banned from using marijuana in public and around minors. Patients also could not legally grow marijuana, and they would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers.

The measure drew strong opposition from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, which sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers warning the proposal would not stop medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence. They suggested blood and urine testing be included in the legislation to allow police to determine whether card holders had marijuana in their system while driving.

Haine argued the law has safeguards to prevent that, including designating on a driver’s license whether they use medical marijuana.


It would be nice, of course, if the members of the LA City Council would bother to do their jobs and come up with a sensible scheme themselves to regulate LA’s pot dispensaries, rather than abrogate their collective responsibilities with these measures on Tuesday’s ballot.

Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the details.

While there are three marijuana measures on the ballot - Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F – there are only two active campaigns now, as the main supporters of E decided to throw their backing behind D.

Prop. D would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, the ones that were open and egistered with the city before a moratorium was created in 2007. It would impose a 6 percent tax on sales of marijuana. The current rate is 5 percent. D was crafted by the City Council to allow a finite number of dispensaries after its effort to have an outright ban on the clinics was challenged with an initiative.
Ordinance F has no cap and is backed by clinics that would be excluded under D. It also requires testing of the marijuana dispensed at the facilities, background checks on employees and auditing of their operations. It also places a tax of 6 percent on marijuana sold.

Ordinance E caps the number at 135, but has no tax increase and fewer other restrictions.

Voters have a fourth option, Councilman Bernard Parks said. They can reject all three proposals and allow the City Council to decide the issue.

But some supporters of medical marijuana think that, rather than allow them to operate unchecked, it would spell bad news for their future.

“If all the measures are defeated, it will be viewed, I think, as giving the City Council a free hand to do what they have shown they already want to do – just ban all dispensaries outright,” said political consultant Garry South, who is handling the F campaign.

A-A-AAND BACK ON THE HOMEFRONT…DENNIS ROMERO OF THE LA WEEKLY REPORTS THAT FRUSTRATED VOTERS ARE tending to lean toward Measure D, which is the most restrictive of the three. Read his rundown here.


In an editorial in Sunday’s NY Times, the Times discusses what has become an increasingly obvious problem in the justice system, where too many prosecutors seem to forget that the job of the district attorney is to seek justice, not to win at all costs.

Here’s a clip:

Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.

It might seem obvious that prosecutors with any sense of fairness would inform a defendant’s lawyer of evidence that could be favorable to the defendant’s case. But in fact, this principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.

It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. Hundreds of convictions have been reversed because of prosecutorial suppression of evidence. In many cases, the exculpatory evidence surfaces only on appeal of a conviction, and often comes to light because other aspects of the prosecution are rife with error.

The 2011 case of John Thompson is particularly instructive — as an example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated when an investigator found that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept secret more than a dozen pieces of evidence that cast doubt on Mr. Thompson’s guilt, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.

Read the whole thing.

PHOTO OF PAUL TANAKA by Scott Harms/Los Angeles County, via Zev Yaroslavsky’s blog. (The Photoshopping is, of course, ours.)

Posted in elections, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Medical Marijuana, Prosecutors, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

The LASD Moves to Fire 7 “Jump Out Boys”….No More Posturing About Realignment Please…..Close to a Ruling on Banning Pot Dispensaries….and More

February 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


According to LASD spokesman, Steve Whitmore, the Sheriff’s Department intends to fire seven members of the newest deputy gang-like clique to become notorious, the so-called Jump Out Boys—a move that perhaps was in part stimulated by the grand jury action on the department’s deputy gangs.

The members of the Jump out boys are part of OSS—Operation Safe Streets—the gang investigation unit within the department.

Evidently there were two particular qualities that distinguished this deputy gang from the department’s other deputy gangs (like the Regulators, the 2000 Boys, the 3000 Boys, the Grim Reapers, the Vikings and so on). One is the fact that it’s members had the bad sense to write and print out a Jump Out Boys pamphlet laying out the mission and rules of said clique.

The other is that reportedly after a clique-member engages in a deputy-involved-shooting, he (or, one presumes, she) is entitled to have smoke coming from the gun in his Jump Out Boys tattoo. (The Jump Out Boys insignia—and tattoo design— is a skull holding a large revolver with the two playing cards behind it, one half of the famous aces-and-eights “dead man’s hand.”)

The LA Times Robert Faturechi broke the story about the Jump Out Boys’ existence, last year, and he has more on the matter of this firing. Here’s a clip:

The seven worked on an elite gang-enforcement team that patrols neighborhoods where violence is high. The team makes a priority of taking guns off the street, officials said.

The Sheriff’s Department has a long history of secret cliques with members of the groups having reached high-ranking positions within the agency. Sheriff officials have sought to crack down on the groups, fearing that they tarnished the department’s reputation and encouraged unethical conduct.

In the case of the Jump Out Boys, sheriff’s investigators did not uncover any criminal behavior. But, sources said, the group clashed with department policies and image.

Their tattoos, for instance, depicted an oversize skull with a wide, toothy grimace and glowing red eyes. A bandanna with the unit’s acronym is wrapped around the skull. A bony hand clasps a revolver. Smoke would be tattooed over the gun’s barrel for members who were involved in at least one shooting, officials said….


With all else that’s been going on this week, we don’t want you to miss this excellent unsigned LA Times editorial (which happens to be written by my extremely smart friend, Robert Green). It analyses the findings of two reports—one of which we wrote about last month, released by the Council for State Governments Justice Center, which talked about who was getting arrested within a given period in LA County. Then last week there was another important study by the Vera Institute, which looks at mental illness, drug addition and incarceration in California.

Here’s a quick clip from Rob’s essay about what the two reports together suggest:

On Monday, in a separate study, the Vera Institute of Justice reported that a large proportion of county jail inmates from two study areas — Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles — preparing to reenter society have drug or mental health problems.

More research is needed, but the figures from both the Council for State Governments and the Vera Institute suggest that many people who wind up in jail or prison got into trouble at least in part because of clinical conditions, and that many of them come out with the same problems they had when they went in.

If public resources are to be spent effectively, California must cut its recidivism rate, and to do that, it must use data to slice through the posturing of those in politics and law enforcement who claim to “know,” without facts or figures, what people, policies or laws to blame for crime. If drug and mental health problems play a large role in landing people behind bars, it stands to reason that focusing more on diagnosis and treatment could save taxpayers money, reduce the criminal burden on neighborhoods and, by the way, address some of the misery and hopelessness of those caught in the revolving jailhouse door.


While new CDCR head, Jeffery Beard, is generally viewed with optimism by most prison watchers, criminal justice reformers say there are also areas of concern. George Lavender for The East Bay Express has the story.

(I didn’t clip it as it lists a bunch of pros and cons, thus it’s better to look at the whole thing.)

CALIFORNIA SUPREME COURT LOOKS READY TO OKAY LOCAL BANS ON MEDICAL MARIJUANA CLINICS has the latest on this story. Here’s a clip of Scott Graham’s wonderfully blow-by-blow account:

Medical marijuana dispensaries are in danger of getting zoned out.

The California Supreme Court strongly hinted Tuesday that municipalities have the right to ban dispensaries via local zoning laws.

Tackling an issue that has vexed state appellate courts, the justices indicated that state laws blessing marijuana cooperatives shield them only from criminal prosecution under California law, and do not interfere with municipalities’ traditional power to regulate them as a local business.

An attorney for a cooperative argued that the city of Riverside has abused that power by adopting an ordinance that bans pot dispensaries anywhere in the city. “If you were to allow these dispensaries to be banned county by county, city by city, that would be the exact opposite of what the Legislature intended” when enacting the state’s Medical Marijuana Program in 2003, said J. David Nick.

But the justices sounded largely unmoved by Nick’s appeals to legislative purpose. “The purposes by themselves are not operative,” said Justice Goodwin Liu. They “don’t require or prohibit anybody from doing anything.”

“Don’t we start with a presumption that the ordinance is valid?” asked Justice Ming Chin.

“Why do we even have to indulge in a presumption?” asked Liu.

Nick argued in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patient’s Health and Welfare Center that California’s 1996 medical marijuana initiative and the 2003 legislative amendments establish the right to operate dispensaries in at least one location in a city. The goals of the 2003 legislation included enhancing “access of patients and caregivers to medical marijuana through collective, cooperative cultivation projects” and shielded such projects “from state criminal sanctions” under various specified laws. Those laws include Health & Safety Code §11570, a public nuisance law directed at drug houses.

Nick says in his briefs that jurisdictions all over the state, including San Jose, the city of Los Angeles and Sacramento County, are pursuing ordinances similar to Riverside’s, putting state marijuana laws “in a complete state of chaos.”


Here’s the Daily Breeze’s version of the painfully scary story of a very disturbed and very dangerous former LAPD officer who, as I type, is still at large.

Better yet, read the Wednesday night coverage by LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero, who live-blogged the unfolding of the story of Christopher Jordan Dormer, the disgraced and dangerous former LAPD cop on a tragic revenge rampage.

Posted in CDCR, Charlie Beck, crime and punishment, Gangs, LAPD, LASD, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Realignment | 16 Comments »

Will TX Hold a Prosecutor Accountable? …..Can Local CA Gov’ts Legally Ban Med Pot Dispensaries? ….and a Look at Mental Illness & Lock-Up

February 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiske drew our attention to this story with her write-up
that runs on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”

Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.

Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.

It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.

However, it is Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff whose reporting we must follow on this story. Last fall, Colloff wrote a stunning two-part series on Morton and his case.

Now she is following the unusual court proceedings examining the actions of former prosecutor Ken Anderson.

She writes:

Starting on Monday, Anderson will be the subject of a “court of inquiry,” an arcane legal procedure unique to Texas that can be used to investigate wrongdoing, most often on the part of state officials. It has never been used before to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The unprecedented legal proceeding will try to determine whether Anderson withheld critical evidence from Michael’s defense attorneys which would have helped Michael prove his innocence more than a quarter-century ago.

Anderson is now a state district judge. That a former prosecutor, much less a sitting judge, will face such intense scrutiny is remarkable. Prosecutorial misconduct rarely results in even disciplinary action from the Texas bar. But if the presiding judge in the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson broke the law, he will face criminal charges and a warrant will be issued for his arrest….

It is not just that prosecutors are rarely held accountable in Texas; they are rarely held accountable anywhere. If a surgeon is careless in an operation and thus paralyzes you, there are legal remedies. But if a prosecutor deliberately withholds crucial evidence that would almost certainly have cleared you, and instead your family is shattered, your young son is raised by someone else, and you go to prison for life, lose 25 years, then by wonderful luck you are released through work by the Innocence Project —there is no legal way to hold the prosecutor to answer.

However, this week in Texas, perhaps there is a way. If so, perhaps, as Molly Hennessy-Fiske suggested, it will have resonance beyond the lone star state’s boundaries.


This article by the always excellent Howard Mintz, Legal Affairs guy for the San Jose Mercury News, lays out this interesting issue in lively and informative terms. Here’s a big clip from the story’s opening:

California’s experiment with medical marijuana has sparked a hazy version of the old Not-in-My-Backyard syndrome.

From Hollister to Antioch, from Scotts Valley to Petaluma, from Seaside to Moraga, city after city has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, sending a message that even the sickest of patients must go elsewhere for that state-permitted dose of prescribed medical weed.

But on Tuesday, this fear-and-loathing approach to outlawing medical pot providers will face an unprecedented test in the California Supreme Court. The seven justices are to hear arguments on whether local governments can ban the dispensaries in view of the state’s 1996 voter-approved law legalizing pot for medical use.

The case involves the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which more than two years ago sued to block Riverside’s dispensary ban, arguing that cities and counties cannot bar activities legal in California. A state appeals court sided with Riverside, and now the Supreme Court, faced with similar legal tangles across the state, has jumped into the fray.

The stakes are high in California’s ongoing struggle pitting medical marijuana advocates against cities worried about problems associated with some of the dispensaries, such as lax control over the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

“The Riverside case is a fascinating example of our ‘laboratories of democracy’ in action,” said Julie Nice, a aw professor at the University of San Francisco, where the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. “It illustrates the difficulties created when each level of government … stakes out a different regulatory position on a controversial subject….”

Read more here. And naturally, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the Cal Supremes’ ruling on this question.


One topic on which justice reform advocates, custody experts and county sheriffs tend to agree, is that a large portion of those incarcerated in California’s jails and prisons are mentally ill, and that this is not a good thing. Put more plainly, in most cases, jails and prisons are the most costly and the least effective places for the mentally ill to be.

As we look at reforming our budget-draining and problem-plagued incarceration systems in ways that balance public safety and basic justice, one of the areas that requires a hard look is the intersection between jails and prisons and mental illness.

Monday’s Huffington Post’s Alana Horowitz has a good overview of the issue. Here are some clips from her story:

….A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”

Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.

State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.


Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.

“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.

Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.

Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.

His symptoms grew worse….

Posted in How Appealing, Innocence, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | No Comments »

Baca Says No More Political Donations, The CDCR’s New Guy…and 4 More States May Reform Pot Laws – UPDATED

February 1st, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

Sheriff Lee Baca has announced to the rank and file of the department
that the troubling habit of accepting campaign donations from underlings is no longer acceptable.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the departmental memo that went out to this effect.

UPDATE: WLA has now obtained the Sheriff’s memo. To read it, click the link below.

LM003-Transparency and Accountability are Hallmarks of Leadership

As anyone reading WLA for any length of time knows, Matt Fleischer’s investigative stories for us have been hammering away at this issue for well over a year, outlining what has appeared to be a pay-to-play system run primarily by the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, where loyalty and quid pro quo campaign donations and the like were rewarded over competence. (Not that there aren’t wonderfully competent people in some areas of command staff; there are. So please don’t start shouting about that, dear LASD boosters.)

In any case, here’s a clip from Faturechi’s story:

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told his deputies Thursday that he would no longer accept campaign contributions from department employees, according to an internal memo obtained by The Times.

Baca also said other sheriff’s managers who run for an elected office would be barred from making employment decisions affecting employees who have donated to their campaigns.

Baca’s announcement comes amid concerns that campaign contributions to sheriff’s brass by department employees created potential conflicts of interest in promotions and other personnel decisions.

“It is the responsibility of every member [of the department] to avoid any situation which may pose a conflict of interest,” the sheriff wrote in his memo.

Baca and his second in command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is also mayor of Gardena, have over the years accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from department employees.

For years, allegations of favoritism based on political contributions have dogged the Sheriff’s Department….

EDITOR’S NOTE: A big thank you to Robert Faturechi for his shout-out to WLA in his story. With Matt Fleischer’s reporting, WitnessLa indeed broke this story and continued to point the way for the Jails Commission and others to investigate the matter further. In any case, we appreciated the shout out.


The LA Times corrections reporter, Paige St. John, talks to the man who replaced Matt Cate as the head of the CDCR.

I’ve heard good things about this guy, but I have yet to meet him. In the interim, let’s take a look at what St. John found her in her conversations. Here’s a clip:

Jeffrey Beard’s expert testimony was cited 39 times in the federal court order that capped California’s prison population in 2009. He said the state’s prisons were severely overcrowded, unsafe and unable to deliver adequate care to inmates.

At the time, he was Pennsylvania’s prisons chief. Now, he’s Gov. Jerry Brown’s new corrections secretary, and his first order of business is to persuade the same judges to lift the cap, as well as to end the court’s longtime hold on prison mental health care.

“I agree with what I said back then,” Beard said Tuesday in one of his first interviews as the new head of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “On the flip side,” he said, “things have changed.”

California has 35,000 fewer inmates than when Beard testified in U.S. District Court in 2008, though that has not been enough to satisfy the judges, who want the population reduced by thousands more. On Tuesday, they gave the state until the end of this year — an extra six months — to meet their cap.

Beard said inmate medical care is better now, and he has more understanding of California’s sprawling prison system. When he testified, he had only been to the historic prison in Folsom. His comments then about overcrowding, unsafe conditions and inadequate care came from the reports of other experts and from his work on a 2006 state task force examining recidivism.

“I’ve now been in about 20 of the institutions,” he said Tuesday.

Beard said his perspective started to change in 2011, when he retired from his Pennsylvania post and began to do consulting work for California.


Mike Riggs at Reason Magazine (a publication which is repeatedly good on criminal justice issues) predicts that four states may be next up for marijuana reform, namely New Hampshire, Kentucky, Illinois and Vermont.

Here’s a clip;

It’s been only two months since Washington and Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana, but the advocates who raised millions to pass Amendment 64 and Initiative 502 aren’t wasting time celebrating. In addition to helping craft the rules and regulations in the Centennial and Evergreen states, they’re also providing support to state legislators who will introduce marijuana bills—more than 20 altogether—in 2013.

“While not all of them will pass,” says Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the debates around them will be different than in years past. “What I’m hearing is that a dam broke,” says Jill Harris, managing director of strategic initiatives for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). “Before Colorado and Washington, the idea of legal marijuana existed in the realm of fantasy. But after Colorado and Washington, we can have a more serious conversation.”

With the start of the 2013 legislative session, that conversation has officially begun. Incremental reforms are going to happen in the next 12 months, even if the next state to fully legalize marijuana doesn’t do so until 2014 or (more likely) 2016. We asked the folks at MPP, which was instrumental in the passage of Amendment 64, and DPA, which led the charge in Washington, which state legislatures could make big changes to their marijuana laws in 2013. These are the four they told us about.

Read the rest.

Posted in CDCR, LASD, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

WA’s Marijuana Law Already Has an Effect….’Script Drugs Have a Deadly Effect.. Prop 8 & SCOTUS

November 12th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Although the Washington State marijuana law won’t kick in for another month, both law enforcement and prosecutors decided, as one county prosecutor put it, “There is no point in continuing to seek criminal penalties for conduct that will be legal next month.”

Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times has the story. Here’s a clip:

Prosecutors and police in Washington moved Friday to swiftly back away from enforcing marijuana prohibition, even though the drug remains illegal for another month.

On Friday, the elected prosecutors of King and Pierce counties, the state’s two largest, announced they will dismiss more than 220 pending misdemeanor marijuana-possession cases, retroactively applying provisions of Initiative 502 that kick in Dec. 6.

In King County, Dan Satterberg said his staff will dismiss about 40 pending criminal charges, and will not file charges in another 135 pending cases. Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said he will dismiss about four dozen cases in which simple marijuana possession was the only offense.

“I think when the people voted to change the policy, they weren’t focused on when the effective date of the new policy would be. They spoke loudly and clearly that we should not treat small amounts of marijuana as an offense,” Satterberg said.

Although it is unclear how the newly passed Washington State and Colorado laws will fare in the long term, given the fact that the are in conflict with federal laws. But they are a welcome step in beginning to address the illogic of crowding our jails and prisons with people arrested on marijuana possession charges—arrests that, by the way, cut disproportionately against minorities [See WLA post here for most recent FBI figures on marijuana arrests.]


Scott Glover and Lisa Girion of the LA Times have a an important story about the uptick in prescription drug overdose deaths in the US, and the fact that, in Southern California, nearly half of those drug deaths were caused by medications that were legally prescribed by a physician.

In their exceptionally well-researched and alarming story, Glover and Girion examine the unusual number of deaths attributed to one particular Huntington Beach physician.

Here’s a clip from the story that gives some of the relevant stats:

….Prescription drug overdoses now claim more lives than heroin and cocaine combined, fueling a doubling of drug-related deaths in the United States over the last decade.

Health and law enforcement officials seeking to curb the epidemic have focused on how OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and other potent pain and anxiety medications are obtained illegally, such as through pharmacy robberies or when teenagers raid their parents’ medicine cabinets. Authorities have failed to recognize how often people overdose on medications prescribed for them by their doctors.

A Los Angeles Times investigation has found that in nearly half of the accidental deaths from prescription drugs in four Southern California counties, the deceased had a doctor’s prescription for at least one drug that caused or contributed to the death.

Reporters identified a total of 3,733 deaths from prescription drugs from 2006 through 2011 in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura and San Diego counties.

An examination of coroners’ records found that:

In 1,762 of those cases — 47% — drugs for which the deceased had a prescription were the sole cause or a contributing cause of death.

And how many people died from marijuana in So Cal during that same period? I mean, just on average? (crickets.)

(NOTE: LAT staffers Hailey Branson-Potts and Anh Do contributed to the story.)


David Boies, who along with Ted Olson, is representing the challenge to California’s Prop. 8, was unusually optimistic when on Friday at an awards event he answered some questions on how he thought the high court would respond to the request to hear the case, and to the case itself.

The Mercury News has the story. Here’s a clip:

David Boies, a lawyer for two couples challenging California’s Proposition 8, predicted in San Francisco Friday that the U.S. Supreme Court will take up the case and will eventually rule in his clients’ favor by a greater than 5-4 majority.

“I believe we will get more than five votes,” said Boies, speaking of a possible future decision by the nine-member court on the state’s same-sex marriage ban.

“This is a civil rights case of the same importance as Brown v. Board of Education and Loving v. Virginia,” Boies said. The two cases were the court’s unanimous decisions outlawing school segregation in 1954 and striking down a ban on interracial marriage in 1967.
“I think the justices have a history of coming together and rising above their personal views to enforce the Constitution’s guarantees of equality,” he said.

Boies, of Armonk, N.Y., spoke in an interview shortly before receiving an award from the University of San Francisco Law School’s Public Interest Law Foundation in a Friday evening ceremony.
Boies and Theodore Olson, of Washington, D.C., are the lead attorneys for a lesbian couple from Berkeley and a gay couple from Burbank who filed a federal lawsuit in 2009 to challenge the ban enacted by state voters in 2008 as Proposition 8.

The two lawyers were on opposite sides of the Bush v. Gore presidential election recount battle in 2000, with Olson representing Bush and Boies representing Gore.

Posted in crime and punishment, How Appealing, LGBT, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana | 1 Comment »

Once Lifer Mario Rocha Celebrates Anniversary of Freedom, FBI Stats on Weed Arrests & Funding for Smart Research on Realignment

October 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we keep an eye on the safety and well being of our family and friends on the east coast who are wrestling with Sandy, here are a few criminal justice stories from this end of the world.


As of Monday, Oct. 29, it has been four years that 33-year-old Mario Rocha finally knew he was really and truly, no kidding —- free. His double life sentence was overturned in March of 2005 after Mario had spent 10 1/2 years in prison for murder and attempted murder. But although he was out of lock-up, it wasn’t clear for how long. While Rocha had been released, he had not been cleared. The judge had merely determined that the young man had received unconscionably lousy legal representation by his asleep-the-wheel lawyer. This meant the DA’s office had the option of refiling charges. And while the hot shot lawyers who had taken on his case pro bono believed he was factually innocent, the prosecutor didn’t. Or, said he didn’t, at the very least. It is worth noting that the LA DA’s office has been notoriously loath to admit it may have screwed up on a case, and put away an innocent person.)

The legal battle that ended four years ago, had its genesis on the night of February 16, 1996, when Rocha was sixteen-years-old and attended a keg party in Highland Park where a bunch of high school kids were celebrating a win for Cathedral High School’s basketball team.

Here’s a clip from WLA’s coverage at the time:

There was drinking at the party, and eventually a fist fight broke out. An extremely well-liked 17-year-old honors student named Martin Aceves, tried to break up the fight, but matters escalated fast. Two kids had guns. Aceves was shot and killed. Another kid was shot in the hand.

A week later, police burst into Mario’s bedroom, guns drawn, yelling: “Don’t move! Hands up! Get down!”

Mario Rochas was tried as an adult and, although the case against him rested on the word of one eyewitness, he was defended by an attorney who spent little time on his case, and failed to call other witnesses who had exculpatory evidence. By the trial’s end, although Mario had no previous record or gang affiliation, he was convicted of murder and attempted murder, together with two other party goers—gang members who had been seen to flash weapons in the crowd.

Unlike most young men in such a position, Mario turned out to be lucky. When he was in Eastlake Juvenile Hall awaiting trial, he participated in a new writing program called “Inside Out,” that had been set up by juvenal hall chaplain, Sister Janet Harris. Although Mario had not been an underachiever during his time in high school, he was clearly very bright, with an intellectual bent and a real talent for writing—all of which the writing class at juvie seemed to bring out in him.
After reading some of his writing, Sister Janet became interested in Mario’s personal story. Although she meets kids on a regular basis who swear they are innocent, the more she looked into Mario’s case, the more convinced she became that Mario was the real deal. She couldn’t imagine he would be convicted. When he was, she said she was too stunned to cry.

“With Mario it was so egregious,” she told ABC News much later, “so horrible that I said to myself whether I win or lose, I am going to fight for justice,” Sister Harris said. “His life was stolen by a system that’s flawed. A system where we need to look out and say: Have we lost our moral compass?”

A slender woman in her 70′s with enough nervous energy to light several medium-sized cities, Sister Janet began working on Mario’s case on her own. She reviewed thousands of pages of trial transcript, and tracked down new witnesses. Armed with what she’d found, Sister Janet managed to interest others in Mario’s case, including the high-powered LA legal firm of Latham & Watkins, whose lawyers agreed to take the case pro bono after Mario passed a polygraph, and a review of case documents, plus Janet’s personal discoveries, indicated that his original attorney did not pursue evidence that indicated Mario was innocent….

Here, also, is a link to Jack Leonard’s 2008 story for the LA Times about the DA’s decision not to retry Mario for the crime.

Mario Rocha’s ordeal was portrayed in an award-winning and deeply affecting documentary, that you can check out here.

Right now Mario Rocha is a social justice activist living in Washington D.C. while he gets his degree in organization science from George Washington University. He will graduate in 2013.


On Monday, marijuana activist organizations like L.E.A.P. (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) latest FBI stats show that there were 1.2 million reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2011.

Of those arrests, according to the FBI, 81.8% were for possession only. And of those possession arrests, by far the largest portion (just under half, or 49.5% to be exact) were for marijuana.


Does this seem smart?

This is from LEAP’s Monday announcement:

“Even excluding the costs involved for later trying and then imprisoning these people, taxpayers are spending between one and a half to three billion dollars a year just on the police and court time involved in making these arrests,” said Neill Franklin, a retired Baltimore narcotics cop who now heads the group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “That’s a lot of money to spend for a practice that four decades of unsuccessful policies have proved does nothing to reduce the consumption of drugs. Three states have measures on the ballot that would take the first step in ending this failed war by legalizing, regulating and taxing marijuana. I hope they take this opportunity to guide the nation to a more sensible approach to drug use.”

A-a-a-aaannnd we wonder why we have overcrowded jails and prisons.


So, beyond all the political rhetoric on CA’s prison realignment and the often lousy reporting on same (with some bright spot exceptions like Rob Greene on the LA Times Editorial Board and Michael Montgomery for KQED), it is refreshing that the Department of Justice and a list of other folks have forked over some bucks to Stanford’s stellar Criminal Justice Center in order for them to assess, measure, and analyze how this whole realignment thingy is really working, county by county. In other words, the SCJC folks are gathering the facts of the matter.

Whatta concept.

Here’re are some clips from the announcement from SCJC:

Realignment puts the onus back on counties to make decisions about how they wish to punish their local convicted offenders,” said Joan Petersilia, Adelbert H. Sweet Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “Counties can decide to expand jail capacity. They can expand drug treatment programs or mental health courts. They can hire new staff. They can expand the ranks of probation officers or sheriff’s deputies. We want to know what approaches are working best in California counties and why.”


“California has the largest prison system in the country,” said Robert Weisberg, Edwin E. Huddleson, Jr. Professor of Law and faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “And California Realignment represents the biggest change in sentencing and corrections in the last six decades. Through our research, we want the data to tell us exactly what the effects are of shifting responsibility and discretion from the state to the county— how that impacts rates of incarceration versus probation supervision versus community programs, and so on. We want our research to help California get Realignment right.”


Well, yeah.

$650,000 is not a lot for this kind of painstaking work. And the SCJC team is absolutely the best in the business, beginning with the amazing Dr. Joan Petersilia, who is the Center’s co-director.

It is essential, when the state (or the county or the city) makes a big policy change like the prison realignment program that the new systems be evaluated by competent outsiders (who know what they’re doing and can be trusted to keep politics out of it).

Fortunately, thanks to these grants and some others like them, that’s precisely what the SCJC is doing.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, How Appealing, Medical Marijuana, Realignment | 2 Comments »

Protests Continue In Anaheim Over Police Killings, LA City Council Goes Med Weed Crazy….and Considering Insanity Pleas

July 25th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


The U.S. Attorney’s office has agreed to review the weekend shootings, according to Anaheim mayor Tom Tait. He will meet on Friday with members of U.S. Attorney’s office and the FBI. The AP report has more.

In addition, the mother of Manual Diaz, the man who was killed by Anaheim police on Saturday has publicly and emotionally condemned the violent protests, the AP reports. (NOTE: I’m linking to the Atlanta Journal Constitution version of the AP story because they have posted a video of last night’s violent mess of a demonstration.)

Tuesday night marks the fourth day of protests in Anaheim over the Saturday shooting of an unarmed man, Manual Diaz, who was said to be running from Anaheim officers when he was reportedly shot in the leg and the back of the head.

The community was further upset when, in the minutes after the Diaz shooting, distressed residents and onlookers began arguing with police, at which point officers shot non-lethal projectiles at the crowd that included small children. At one point, a K-9 police dog raced into the same crowd and visibly fastened its teeth to one man’s person or shirt, it’s hard to tell which. Much of this was caught in the KCAL 9 video posted above in a scene that is undeniably disturbing.

Then on Sunday, a second Anaheim man, 21-year-old Joel Mathew Acevedo, was shot and killed by police after he allegedly opened fire after a car chase involving a stolen vehicle, although there is some dispute over the details that account.

Columnist Gustavo Arellano of the OC Weekly broke the news of the second shooting after noting a Facebook post by the dead man’s mother, whom it turns out he knew.

Whether or not the Acevedo shooting was righteous, it was the last thing this on edge community needed.

Although the Acevedo shooting was reportedly righteous, coming so soon after after that of Diaz, it further inflamed the expanding groups of protesters.

On Tuesday night, protests moved into violence. The LA Times reported that protesters grabbed rocks from a construction site and “hurled them at officers.”

The LA Times also reported that, according to the police, an OC Register reporter was injured by a rock.

Some of the now ubiquitous (and often effective) freelance videographers, doing live streaming from their cell phones, reported being fired at with tiny “bean bags,” pepper balls, and “impact weapons” despite holding up press passes. One of the streaming videographers kept wishing on camera that he had brought his helmet, worrying about rock throwers as well as police. Around 11 pm, live streamers reported the sound of windows being broken at a Starbucks down the street, presumably by protestors. Meanwhile fires burned in nearby dumpsters.

The AP has an overview of events in Anaheim, where it seems anger at the police force has been brewing in the city for a while.

In their team coverage, the OC Register reports that two officers have been put on leave following the shooting of Diaz.

Here’s a clip from the OC Register’s report from the weekend:

Police described Diaz as a “documented gang member,” and said he was shot after the officers saw three men near a car in the 600 block of Anna Drive, near La Palma Avenue and State College Boulevard. Believing the activity to be suspicious, the officers approached the vehicle, and all three men fled on foot.

The officers chased Diaz and observed him throwing unidentified objects onto rooftops as he ran, Welter said. What led one of the officers to shoot Diaz remained under investigation Sunday, Welter said.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait said he would be asking California’s attorney general to assist in the investigation.

“I’m asking for a full investigation,” Tait said at a Sunday news conference. “Transparency is essential. Whatever the truth is, we will own it.”

The dead man’s sister, Lupe Diaz, said Sunday that her brother was “just hanging out with friends” before the shooting.

“There is no explanation,” Diaz said. “It’s not fair.”

The Registor also reported that, according to the Anaheim police, the K-9 police dog, which evidently bit several people, got loose from a police car accidentally.

Reuters reports that Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is now calling for both a state and federal review of the whole matter.


For 5 years, the LA City Council has been trying—unsuccessfully-–to come up with a sensible way to regulate the medical marijuana dispensaries that have been popping up in the city like….well…weeds. Now, it seems, because of the council’s inability to come up with a legally viable way to set down some firm guidelines, big pot sellers have taken advantage of the situation (how shocking!), thus our fair council members have decided to shut down all retail sales—-with the possible exception of 182 dispensaries that opened before a 2007 city moratorium, which might—or might not— have been given some kind of loophole. What kind of loophole, and what practical difference it will make, seems somewhat unclear.

In other words, there is still a lot of uncertainty about what this vote will mean for medical marijuana in LA in the future.

For the moment, however, KPCC’s Alice Walton has one of the best reports on Tuesday’s medical weed banning activities.

Here’s how her story opens:

Nonprofit storefronts that sell medical marijuana will be banned in the city of Los Angeles under a proposal approved Tuesday.

The Los Angeles City Council voted 14-0 to prohibit the sale of medical cannabis in retail establishments. However, exemptions will allow patients to continue growing marijuana for their own use, and primary caregivers may continue to distribute the drug.

The vote, which came after hours of public testimony and debate, drew sharp criticism from patients who use medical marijuana to tame the side effects of their illnesses. Some public speakers shouted at council members and then the police officers who took to the council chamber after the vote.

Earlier in the day, the council heard from patients and advocates of medical marijuana.

“A ban on medical cannabis collectives and cooperatives is an attack on patients. They need this. It can work in other cities,” said Don Duncan, the California director of Americans for Safe Access. “You guys have to get it together and pass regulations that protect safe access for legitimate patients for legal operations.”

The original vote against the ban was 13-1, with Councilman Paul Koretz dissenting. However, the councilman later flipped his vote so the ordinance could get to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s desk sooner. The ban will take effect in about 40 days. Dispensary owners who do not close their businesses could face fines or misdemeanors, according to the City Attorney’s Office.

Dennis Romero at the LA Weekly also has a good report. But be sure to read through all the updates for the full story.


The Washington Post’s Robert Barnes has done a great job laying out this interesting and important question just as the Supreme Court was hearing a request to take on the issue. Here’s how Barnes’ story opens:

There’s no doubt John Joseph Delling knew what he was doing. His carefully planned 2007 crime spree lasted weeks, covered 6,500 miles and culminated in two people dead and one seriously wounded.

He had his reasons, too. Delling, then 21, had become “a type of Jesus,” he later explained, and the men he attacked, two of them former classmates he had not seen in years, were stealing his “energy.” An MRI of his brain would have revealed the damage the men had already caused, he told authorities.

I had to defend myself,” he said.

As the nation confronts another act of unfathomable madness, Delling’s story is one chapter in a distressing and violent genre: the loner who tries to impress a movie star by shooting the president; the mother who drowns her children to save them from damnation; the black-clad shooter who seems to step from the movie screen to kill.

But Delling’s case presents an intriguing legal question as well. He committed his crimes in Idaho, which is one of only four states — Kansas, Montana and Utah are the others — in which a defendant may not use insanity as a defense to criminal charges.

Delling’s lawyers are now at the Supreme Court, asking the justices to rule that the Constitution mandates that such a defense be available for those who, because of mental illness, are not responsible for the mayhem they create.

“For centuries, the moral integrity of the criminal law has depended, in part, on the insanity defense,” Stanford law professor Jeffrey L. Fisher wrote in a petition on Delling’s behalf.

Posted in Contemplating Crime & Consequence, crime and punishment, criminal justice, law enforcement, Medical Marijuana, Supreme Court | 6 Comments »

Obama, Medical Marijuana, Fighting Back. & the Kelly Thomas Case

May 9th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


For past months, federal law enforcement has aggressively gone after medical marijuana clinics, forcing the close of around 200 clinics in California, including two of the the best known (and reportedly best behaved) clinics in northern cal, Marin Alliance for Medical Marijuana and the Berkeley Patients’ Care Collective.

Since Obama had pledged to lay off the clinics before he was elected, many in California and in other medical marijuana states like Colorado are feeling betrayed and increasingly pissed off.

Some of their representatives are getting the message. This week three Congressmen, Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y, have launched a bi-partisan effort to block the feds fiscally from going after medical marijuana in states where it is legal. The Rohrabacher-Hinchey-Farr Amendment it is called.

Even Nancy Pelosi put out a press release last week calling for “state’s rights.”.

Reacting to an ongoing crackdown on medical marijuana facilities in California, Pelosi said in a Wednesday statement, “I have strong concerns about the recent actions by the federal government that threaten the safe access of medicinal marijuana to alleviate the suffering of patients in California.”

The California Democrat said that medical marijuana is “both a medical and a states’ rights issue.”

California legalized the use of medical marijuana in a 1996 initiative vote. It’s comically easy for many residents to acquire the necessary medical diagnosis to legally purchase the drug.

In 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the Obama administration would “effectively end the Bush administration’s frequent raids on distributors of medical marijuana.”

In April, however, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Internal Revenue Service raided Oaksterdam University — a school that taught marijuana enthusiasts how to successfully cultivate plants.

The Daily Caller has more on Pelosi’s statements, and the issue in general

Jason Hoppin at the San Jose Mercury News has more on the nascent Congressional effort.


Meanwhile, Tamar Todd, Staff Attorney, Drug Policy Alliance, has a fierce and eloquent essay in the Huffington Post on why the fed-forced closure of the venerable Berkeley Patients Group, was so…well….stupid.

Here are some clips:

Last week, one of California’s oldest and most respected medical marijuana dispensaries, Berkeley Patients Group, closed its doors. It shut down because its landlord, like dozens across the state, received a letter from United States Attorney Melinda Haag threatening to seize the property for renting to a medical marijuana dispensary located within 1,000 feet of a school. My three children attend elementary school and preschool in West Berkeley, just blocks from Berkeley Patients Group. The notion that the closure of Berkeley Patients Group is going to somehow serve to protect my children is patently absurd.

Berkeley Patients Group served thousands of medical marijuana patients in the Berkeley area for 12 years. It was an industry leader and a model of compassion and legal integrity. It was in strict compliance with state and local law, and has long worked with the City of Berkeley and the local community to provide a safe and responsible service to patients in need. As a small business, it employed 75 people and was one of the top sales tax generators in the city.

Ms. Haag has claimed that one of her concerns about dispensaries that are in close proximity to schools and parks and playgrounds is the possibility they could be the target of violence or armed robbery. Banks and pharmacies are also targets of armed robberies and there are a number of them located in West Berkeley. Like Berkeley Patients Group, they have security. There is no evidence to suggest, and I have never felt, that it is dangerous to send my children to a school that happened to be near a bank, or a pharmacy.

West Berkeley is not crime-free. There have been a number of shootings in the blocks surrounding my children’s elementary school in past several years. There is also significant illicit drug traffic in the neighborhood. The two are likely connected. But thus far, Ms. Haag and the federal government have devoted few, if any, resources to protecting children from gun violence or other crime in West Berkeley.

Instead, Ms. Haag has chosen to use her presumably limited resources to deprive the thousands of patients who frequent Berkeley Patients Group a legal, regulated, secure place to purchase desperately needed medicine….


Most offensive is the notion that legal access to medical marijuana sends the wrong message to kids. I find the existence of legal medical marijuana very easy to explain to my children. This is what I tell them: Research and science matter. The opinions of medical professionals matter. We should have compassion for those who are very sick, and even for those who are just a little sick; for those suffering the effects of chemotherapy or for returning veterans suffering from PTSD; that we should help meet people’s needs and ease pain as best we can (even if it goes against the conventional wisdom or drug war ideology). I tell my children that it is better for people to buy marijuana from a safe, well-regulated source, than on the street.

I tell my children that the lives of children in Mexico matter too, where United States drug policy has led to the narcotics-related murders of nearly 50,000 people over the last five years, including thousands of children. That is the harm to children caused by marijuana prohibition, and a drug market that Ms. Haag’s actions directly fuel. The “threat” posed by Berkeley Patients Group, and other dispensaries like it, pales in comparison.


The Week has gathered together the three main theories being advanced about why the president and his AG have ramped up their medical marijuana enforcement.


For those of you interested in following the, thus far, very painful Kelly Thomas murder case , the LA Times Richard Winton is covering the Orange County proceedings very well. Here are two of his latest stories having to do with the preliminary hearing here and here.

(Thomas, just to remind you, was the homeless man who was beaten to death, allegedly by a group of Fullerton police officers, while he called out for his father.)

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty.

Posted in Medical Marijuana, Obama | 5 Comments »

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