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Kids Still Locked Up for Life Despite SCOTUS Rulings…Youth Justice Grant $$ Cut from Federal Budget….Obama on Marijuana Policy…and the US Immigration Lock-Up Quota

January 21st, 2014 by Taylor Walker


The United States Supreme Court ruled against mandatory life sentences for kids via the 2010 Graham v. Florida and the 2012 Miller v. Alabama decisions. In Graham v. Florida, SCOTUS ruled that juveniles cannot serve life without the possibility of parole where no murder was involved—kids must be given a chance to seek parole based on their level of rehabilitation. The Court ruled in Miller v. Alabama that mandatory life-without-parole sentencing for children was unconstitutional (but did not strike down LWOP for youth altogether).

Many states are dragging their feet, only partially complying with the landmark rulings. (See clip below for how California’s efforts rate.)

The NY Times’ Eric Eckholm has the story. Here are some clips:

In decisions widely hailed as milestones, the United States Supreme Court in 2010 and 2012 acted to curtail the use of mandatory life sentences for juveniles, accepting the argument that children, even those who are convicted of murder, are less culpable than adults and usually deserve a chance at redemption.

But most states have taken half measures, at best, to carry out the rulings, which could affect more than 2,000 current inmates and countless more in years to come, according to many youth advocates and legal experts…

Lawsuits now before Florida’s highest court are among many across the country that demand more robust changes in juvenile justice. One of the Florida suits accuses the state of skirting the ban on life without parole in nonhomicide cases by meting out sentences so staggering that they amount to the same thing…

The plaintiff in one of the Florida lawsuits, Shimeek Gridine, was 14 when he and a 12-year-old partner made a clumsy attempt to rob a man in 2009 here in Jacksonville. As the disbelieving victim turned away, Shimeek fired a shotgun, pelting the side of the man’s head and shoulder.

The man was not seriously wounded, but Shimeek was prosecuted as an adult. He pleaded guilty to attempted murder and robbery, hoping for leniency as a young offender with no record of violence. The judge called his conduct “heinous” and sentenced him to 70 years without parole.

Under Florida law, he cannot be released until he turns 77, at least, several years beyond the life expectancy for a black man his age, noted his public defender, who called the sentence “de facto life without parole” in an appeal to Florida’s high court.


Among the handful of states with large numbers of juvenile offenders serving life terms, California is singled out by advocates for acting in the spirit of the Supreme Court rules.

“California has led the way in scaling back some of the extreme sentencing policies it imposed on children,” said Jody Kent Lavy, the director of the Campaign for the Fair Sentencing of Youth, which has campaigned against juvenile life sentences and called on states to reconsider mandatory terms dispensed before the Miller ruling. Too many states, she said, are “reacting with knee-jerk, narrow efforts at compliance.”

California is allowing juvenile offenders who were condemned to life without parole to seek a resentencing hearing. The State Supreme Court also addressed the issue of de facto life sentences, voiding a 110-year sentence that had been imposed for attempted murder.


Funding for the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JAGB) was cut from the 2014 budget Congress sent to the president’s desk late last week. The grant provided money for important programs across the country, including a restorative justice program in California that was successful in keeping kids out of the system. At the same time, the budget reserves $10M for building and expanding corrections facilities. Advocates are dismayed, saying the lost juvenile justice dollars indicate misplaced governmental priorities. (We agree.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has the story. Here’s a clip:

Juvenile offenders and their parents in California signed contracts agreeing to school attendance, curfews, drug testing and counseling – and the agreements prevented the youths from being incarcerated.

New York state funded programs in Syracuse and Utica to divert from arrest youths who had committed non-serious illegal acts at school.

Georgia made funds available to 159 county juvenile courts to find community-based services as alternatives to detention.

The efforts in the three states were funded in part by the federal Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program, which gives states resources to improve juvenile justice systems.

But the JABG funding has been eliminated in a fiscal year 2014 spending bill released this week by House and Senate negotiators.


[Executive Director of the Coalition for Youth Justice, Marie] Williams, told JJIE that the JABG funding “does a lot of really, really good things that I think states are going to be missing the funding for,” including prosecutors, drug courts, risk-assessment tools and school safety.


While eliminating the JABG grant funding, the spending bill allows states to spend up to $10 million of the $55.5 million in Title II grants for “building, expanding, renovating, or operating temporary or permanent juvenile correction, detention or community corrections facilities.” (The Title II grants are based on formulas in which the federal government and states contribute to juvenile justice initiatives.)

Williams said singling out such facilities for funding reflects misplaced priorities on Capitol Hill.

“To us, it’s a clear indication they’re out step with the trend in juvenile justice, which is de-incarceration,” Williams said. “Why on the one hand is Congress defunding things like juvenile courts, restorative justice programs, improving juvenile justice systems, but making a point to include $10 million for juvenile corrections facilities?”


In David Remnick’s interesting (and extensive) new profile of President Barack Obama for the New Yorker, the president shares his thoughts on the legalization of marijuana and the racial and social class sentencing disparity.

When I asked Obama about another area of shifting public opinion — the legalization of marijuana — he seemed even less eager to evolve with any dispatch and get in front of the issue. “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”

Is it less dangerous? I asked.


Less dangerous, he said, “in terms of its impact on the individual consumer. It’s not something I encourage, and I’ve told my daughters I think it’s a bad idea, a waste of time, not very healthy.”

What clearly does trouble him is the radically disproportionate arrests and incarcerations for marijuana among minorities. “Middle-class kids don’t get locked up for smoking pot, and poor kids do,” he said. “And African-American kids and Latino kids are more likely to be poor and less likely to have the resources and the support to avoid unduly harsh penalties.” But, he said, “we should not be locking up kids or individual users for long stretches of jail time when some of the folks who are writing those laws have probably done the same thing.” Accordingly, he said of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington that “it’s important for it to go forward because it’s important for society not to have a situation in which a large portion of people have at one time or another broken the law and only a select few get punished.”

As is his habit, he nimbly argued the other side. “Having said all that, those who argue that legalizing marijuana is a panacea and it solves all these social problems I think are probably overstating the case. There is a lot of hair on that policy. And the experiment that’s going to be taking place in Colorado and Washington is going to be, I think, a challenge.”


For the last six years, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been forced to fill a quota of 34,000 immigrants in lock-up at all times.

The NY Daily News’ Robert Morgenthau rightly points out that setting a numerical quotas when it comes to incarceration policy—for immigration or otherwise—-completely undermines the notion of justice in any court process. Here are some clips:

The detention quota is unprecedented and unique to the immigration context. As Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, explained to Bloomberg News in June 2013: “No other law enforcement agencies have a quota for the number of people that they must keep in jail.”

But hard-liners in Congress fight tirelessly to keep it in place. Last year, when the prisoner population dipped to 30,773, U.S. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul wrote a pointed public letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, informing him that he was “in clear violation of the statute” and its 34,000 prisoner requirement.

Notice that’s not the number of immigrants Congress wants to deport; it’s the number Congress insists on incarcerating while they await their fate.


Such a rigid number cannot help but have a corrupting influence on the entire process. Imagine trying to get a fair trial in criminal court if your state legislature mandated that judges had to fill a certain number of prison cells each day. It would be impossible.

How can lawyers representing the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement do their job dispassionately — seeking incarceration only of those who truly represent a danger to society or a risk of flight — if they know their funding is dependent upon hitting a number?

Posted in immigration, juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Obama, racial justice, Sentencing | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Talk Interim LA Sheriff, Majority of LASD Excessive Force Payouts Related to Patrol, Marijuana Offense Lifers, and the Empowerment Congress Summit

January 15th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss and interview prospective candidates to take over as interim sheriff upon Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement at the end of this month. (The temporary sheriff will run the department until December, when the newly-elected sheriff will be sworn in.)

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the session. Here’s a clip:

On Tuesday, L.A.’s county counsel is expected to brief the board on what certifications an interim sheriff is required to have, as well as any other specifics on who is eligible for the position. Members of the board have said [Terri] McDonald is a contender, along with other assistant sheriffs in the department.

One outstanding question is whether supervisors will choose an interim sheriff who does not plan to run for the job…

County counsel has already told the board they can choose an interim leader from outside of the department, leaving open the possibility the board will appoint an interim sheriff from a different law enforcement agency.


On Monday, we mentioned that, in 2013, the LASD spent $43M in litigation payouts—accounting for almost half of the county’s total legal costs. But while much focus has been on lawsuits pertaining to the jails, three-fourths of the $20M spent on excessive force payouts came from the patrol divisions, a county attorney told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The LA Daily News’ City News Service has more on the numbers. Here are some clips:

Nearly half of the $43 million the county spent last year on lawsuits involving the department related to claims of excessive force, though most of the incidents occurred in the field, said litigation cost manager Steven Estabrook.

Supervisor Gloria Molina and others have drawn attention to payouts related to jail abuse. And the December indictment of 18 current and former deputies and supervisors in a federal investigation related to the abuse of inmates and visitors nearly ensures that those costs will rise. But it was not the primary driver of higher costs this year.


The year-over-year comparisons can be somewhat misleading, because they track dollars on a cash basis and ignore settlements agreed to and judgments ordered that have not yet been paid.

There will likely be more to come.


Indiana man, James Romans, is serving a life sentence for trafficking marijuana. There has been a steady movement toward marijuana legalization in a number of states, and last August, AG Eric Holder announced a reform package that included instructing federal prosecutors to stop seeking harsh mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders. There are at least 24 others like Romans across the US who are serving life behind bars for larger-scale marijuana trafficking.

The Huffington Post’s Saki Knafo has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.

James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.

Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.

“It doesn’t seem to me in this day and age, when states are debating whether marijuana should be legal, that people who traffic in it should be spending their lives behind bars,” said David Zlotnick, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an expert on drug sentencing laws at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. “If we’re not sure whether this drug should even be an illegal narcotic, why are we sending people to jail for life for it?”


According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, it costs an average of $30,000 a year to keep someone confined in a high-security lockup, and as a person ages and requires more medical care, the cost increases. “We’re talking 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars a year to keep someone in a cell until they die, when they could be working and paying into their insurance,” Zlotnick said. “It’s insane.”


The 22nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit will take place this Saturday, Jan. 18, at USC. The congress, started by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will bring advocate groups together, and include discussions on the sex trafficking of kids, healthcare, racial justice, and other topics of high importance to Los Angeles and beyond.

Here’s a clip from the announcement from Supe MRT’s office:

The summit’s plenary session, which begins at 9 a.m. in Bovard Auditorium, will feature a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Nelson Mandela, and will have participation from an array of elected officials and community leaders. Participating will be: Compton Mayor Aja Brown; Lynwood Mayor Aide Castro, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke, surgeon, medical researcher, businessman and philanthropist Patrick Soon-Shiong, Dr. Robert K. Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, Irma Muñoz, founder of the environmental non-profit environmental justice group Mujeres de la Tierra and Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employees International Union–the United Long Term Care Workers’ Union.

Widely regarded as the forerunner to the neighborhood council movement, the Empowerment Congress was founded by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a Los Angeles City Councilman. Each year, the various committees of the organization come together to re-dedicate themselves to activism and advocacy. This year’s summit will honor the civil and human rights legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died last month. Both King and Mandela were enormously influential in the struggle to establish equal rights for all human beings and inspired generations of activists here in Los Angeles and around the world.

(You can learn more about the summit, and register, here.)

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, War on Drugs | 33 Comments »

Contra Costa County’s Awful Juvenile Hall…..Holder to Announce Sentencing Reform…….7 Shells = 15 Years….and More

August 12th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


An alarming class action suit filed last Thursday accuses Contra Costa’s Juvenile Hall of taking kids as young as 13 with disabilites and locking them up in solitary for 23 hours a day, while dening them education….and other such abuses.

Here’s a clip from the statement put out by Public Counsel, which brought the lawsuit along with Disability Rights Advocates, and Paul Hastings LLP,:

Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall, like all juvenile halls in the State, exists “solely for the purpose of rehabilitation and not punishment,” according to the California Supreme Court. Education is supposed to be at the center of young people’s rehabilitation.

But students at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are locked for weeks at a time in cells that have barely enough room for a bed and a narrow window the size of a hand. Young people are routinely held in conditions like those in a maximum security prison.

By its own estimate, roughly 32% of the students at the Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall have disabilities that require some form of special education. But youth with disabilities at Contra Costa County Juvenile Hall are trapped in a vicious cycle of discrimination: they do not receive critical special education and related services, and lacking such supports, they are locked in their cells for a variety of infractions.

Despite knowing that many students have a learning disability, mental illness, or other disabilities, Contra Costa County puts students in solitary confinement for behavior that is related to their disabilities, denies them general and special education services, and holds them in conditions that can make their disabilities worse.

Here are two examples of the kind of treatment of kids that the lawsuit alleges: :

**A 14-year-old girl identified as G.F. was put into solitary in a cell for approximately 100 days over the last year, with no education services and short breaks outside only two times a day. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder and attention deficit, the girl was removed from the juvenile hall county school and put into solitary, with officials failing to conduct a mandatory inquiry into whether her behavior was related to her disability.

**W.B. a 17-year-old boy — already found mentally incompetent by a juvenile court — was put into solitary for more than two months out of a four-month period. He began hearing voices, talking to himself, thought he was being poisoned and broke down into a psychotic episode and was hospitalized for three weeks before being returned to the hall.

Susan Ferris, the excellent juvenile justice reporter for the Center for Public Integrity, has more on the lawsuit and on the awful conditions that helped bring it about.


Sari Horowitz from the Washington Post has details on some of the extremely welcome changes in federal sentencing policy that Attorney General Eric Holder plans to announce on Monday. Here’s a clip:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is set to announce Monday that low-level, nonviolent drug offenders with no ties to gangs or large-scale drug organizations will no longer be charged with offenses that impose severe mandatory sentences.

The new Justice Department policy is part of a comprehensive prison reform package that Holder will reveal in a speech to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, according to senior department officials. He is also expected to introduce a policy to reduce sentences for elderly, nonviolent inmates and find alternatives to prison for nonviolent criminals.

Justice Department lawyers have worked for months on the proposals, which Holder wants to make the cornerstone of the rest of his tenure.

“A vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities,” Holder plans to say Monday, ­according to excerpts of his ­remarks that were provided to The Washington Post. “However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem rather than alleviate it.

As we mentioned last week, Some of Holder’s proposed reforms will require legislative changes.

And, as we also mentioned previously, , let us hope that California follows the lead of the feds with some our own desperately-needed state sentencing reforms.


As Holder prepared to announce his list of reforms, Saturday’s essay by the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof provided a perfect illustration of other excesses in federal sentencing that could also use some work. Here’s a clip:

IF you want to understand all that is wrong with America’s criminal justice system, take a look at the nightmare experienced by Edward Young.

Young, now 43, was convicted of several burglaries as a young man but then resolved that he would turn his life around. Released from prison in 1996, he married, worked six days a week, and raised four children in Hixson, Tenn.

Then a neighbor died, and his widow, Neva Mumpower, asked Young to help sell her husband’s belongings. He later found, mixed in among them, seven shotgun shells, and he put them aside so that his children wouldn’t find them.

“He was trying to help me out,” Mumpower told me. “My husband was a pack rat, and I was trying to clear things out.”

Then Young became a suspect in burglaries at storage facilities and vehicles in the area, and the police searched his home and found the forgotten shotgun shells as well as some stolen goods. The United States attorney in Chattanooga prosecuted Young under a federal law that bars ex-felons from possessing guns or ammunition. In this case, under the Armed Career Criminal Act, that meant a 15-year minimum sentence.

The United States attorney, William Killian, went after Young — even though none of Young’s past crimes involved a gun, even though Young had no shotgun or other weapon to go with the seven shells, and even though, by all accounts, he had no idea that he was violating the law when he helped Mrs. Mumpower sell her husband’s belongings.

It should be noted that what Kristof does not explain is that Young was not altogether innocent, and that the police bust was righteous. (Sorry, but that was very sloppy, Mr. Kristof.)

It turns out that in 2011, Young had relapsed into old behavior, and had stolen tools, tires and weight lifting equipment from vehicles and a business warehouse—crimes to which he confessed when the police came knocking. Yet, for the burglaries he would have gotten a few years of Tennessee state time with the likelihood of early parole.

However, the federal charge for the seven shells means that Young will spend a full fifteen years in prison, away from his kids, not supporting his family, a punishment that is not remotely proportionate, all at a cost to the federal government of approximately $415,000.


We wanted to make sure you didn’t miss the excellent LA Times editorial that talks sanely and factually about the possible early release of some prison inmates, what most desperately needs to be fixed in California’s incarceration policy…and more. Here’s a clip from the essay’s center:

…..It would be naive to consider the returning felons harmless; but it would be an act of wild self-deception to pretend that an early release order would make their homecoming any more dangerous than it would have been otherwise. The fact is, most of the prisoners in line for possible early release had been scheduled to return to the streets within the coming year anyway. The status quo in California has been, for years, the steady return of felons after two- to five-year terms who pose the same risk they did when they went in. Those returns are the chief product of our broken criminal justice system.

That’s the real point here — not that some prisoners will be moving to the post-incarceration portion of their sentences a few months early, but that California has done too little to fix a system under which we deem it normal that prisoners come out at least as dysfunctional as when they went in. Precisely because of crowding and foolish management of the inmate population, California prisons have not only fallen below a minimum constitutional level of medical and mental health care, but also have been notoriously ineffective at purging inmates of their addictions, illnesses, gang ties or antisocial attitudes. One word that appears throughout various reports and federal court orders describes the state’s prison system as “criminogenic” — referring to its high propensity to make inmates more likely, not less, to offend again after their release.


We’ve heard over and over again that the LA County Jail system is the largest mental health hospital in the nation, with approximately 2000 mentally ill inmates housed in the county’s lock ups at any one time.

But other than getting inmates (hopefully) the right meds, the jail system does little else to provide any kind of help for those who cycle in an out of its locked doors.

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez writes about one such frequent return customer to the jails who contacted Lopez and described how he’d managed to get out of the cycle. Here’s a clip:

There is little in Andy’s appearance or manner that offers a clue as to what he’s been through. The arrests, the jailhouse beatings, the commitments. He’s soft-spoken and unassuming, so much so that the story of his life doesn’t seem to go with the man who tells it.

I ask how many times he’s been locked up, and now a hint of distress creeps into his eyes.

“Maybe 20,” he shrugs, adding that he’s been in mental institutions nearly as many times.

Andy emailed me after I wrote about a visit to L.A. County Jail, which houses about 3,200 inmates diagnosed with a mental illness. It’s a barbaric system, with many of those inmates repeatedly filing through the turnstiles at great public cost, with little or no chance of getting help that might break the cycle.

“Before 2004, I had spent MANY a time in the L.A. County Jail.” wrote Andy, explaining that he had been diagnosed with bipolar disease. “If you’d ever like some background on surviving … the jails, I’m available. I’ve been stable and productive since 2004, and living in sunny Santa Monica.”…

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in crime and punishment, LASD, Marijuana laws, Sentencing | 3 Comments »

Marijuana Arrests by Race…..Mike Feuer Picks All Star Transition Team… and the DWP’s Brian D’Arcy Sends His Love

June 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

(click to enlarge)


Dylan Matthews of the Washington Post’s Wonkblog reviews the ACLU’s very comprehensive report on the black/whire marijuana arrest discrepancy.

The results are startling.

Overall, over the last decade, blacks and whites use marijuana at around the same rates, with blacks edging out whites by a few percentage points, except among the 18-25 year olds, where the ratio flips and young whites smoke a few percentage points more weed than young blacks.

It likely won’t be a surprise for most of you to find out that blacks are arrested for marijuana possession more often than whites, despite the similar usage numbers of the two racial groups.

But how much more often? Take a look.

The ACLU report (and the diagrams at WaPo) also looked at cities and counties that had the greatest descrepancy. (Yes, in LA County the ratio is out of whack, but it’s nothing when compared to, say, Cook County, IL or New York, NY, or Clark County, NV.

Click here to see the rest of WaPo’s startling charts and here for the underlying ACLU report.

The New York Times’ Ian Urbina also reports well on the ACLU report. Here are some clips from Urbina’s story:

Black Americans were nearly four times as likely as whites to be arrested on charges of marijuana possession in 2010, even though the two groups used the drug at similar rates, according to new federal data.

This disparity had grown steadily from a decade before, and in some states, including Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, blacks were around eight times as likely to be arrested.

During the same period, public attitudes toward marijuana softened and a number of states decriminalized its use. But about half of all drug arrests in 2011 were on marijuana-related charges, roughly the same portion as in 2010.

Advocates for the legalization of marijuana have criticized the Obama administration for having vocally opposed state legalization efforts and for taking a more aggressive approach than the Bush administration in closing medical marijuana dispensaries and prosecuting their owners in some states, especially Montana and California.

Time to legalize, people!


On Tuesday, newly-elected City Attorney-to-be Mike Feuer announced his transition team. It’s a long, varied and very impressive list (which you can read in its entirety here: City Attorney-Elect Mike Feuer’s Transition Team)

Here are some quick examples of the kind of folks who’re on the team (three of whom were part of the Citizens Commission on Jails Violence):

Lourdes Baird, who served as U.S. District Court Judge and U.S. Attorney for the Central District of California (and was on the Jails Commission).
Erwin Chemerinsky, who is the Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at University of California, Irvine School of Law and formerly served as Chair of the Elected Los Angeles City Charter Reform Commission.
Miriam Krinsky, The executive director of the Jails Commission, who is also a lecturer at the UCLA School of Public Policy and is the former President of the Los Angeles County Bar and former President of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission.
Stewart Kwoh, who is the founding President and Executive Director of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and is a past President of the Los Angeles City Human Relations Commission.
Jorja Leap is a Professor at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and also serves as the Director of the UCLA Health and Social Justice Partnership; known for her research and writing focuses on gangs, community health and social justice
Carlos Moreno, (another Jails Commission member) who served as California Supreme Court Justice and Deputy Los Angeles City Attorney.
Ira Reiner, who served as Los Angeles City Attorney and Los Angeles County District Attorney.
Connie Rice, who co-founded the Advancement Project and was the Co-Director of the Los Angeles office of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
John Van de Kamp, who served as California Attorney General, Los Angeles County District Attorney and Federal Public Defender.


Interviews with utilities union guys aren’t usually part of our mission, but this one in which the stellar Patt Morrison corrals and questions DWP union powerbroker, Brian D’Arcy, is…. irresistible.

Here are two clips—one from the very beginning of the interview and one from the very end—to give you an idea of why you need to read the whole fabulous thing:

Sometimes L.A. politics seem like patty-cake, but when Brian D’Arcy gets in the game, the game gets serious. He’s a third-generation union man, and the union he heads, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 18, is the DWP’s biggest and a huge player at City Hall. In some quarters, the IBEW’s DWP contracts — worth as much as six figures — are a symbol of overweening union power. The political action committee he co-chairs and the IBEW supports, Working Californians, cobbled together the largest amount spent on behalf of Wendy Greuel’s mayoral bid, about $4 million. The IBEW isn’t crying “uncle.” D’Arcy has zest for the fray and one gear: forward.

First things first: John Shallman, Wendy Greuel’s campaign consultant, has said your union’s support became “damaging to the campaign.”

That doesn’t surprise me — the guy who’s directly responsible for the tone-deaf campaign she ran. What else would he say? The hit on her was, somehow, she was the DWP candidate. [Voters] merged the employer and the union. It could have been deflected. They never did, and they ran a crappy campaign. The larger message is that some people will do anything to get elected — the same people [Garcetti's camp] who wanted our endorsement all of a sudden turn it into a pejorative.

Why the antipathy toward public unions like yours?

If you sell the idea that if others are dragged down then somehow you are elevated — I find it offensive. Does it help somebody if my members make less? They are 22% of the [DWP] budget. DWP union workers could take zero [pay] and it isn’t going to fix the city budget. The right-wing apparatchik has decided workers are the enemy, and we represent them….

And our personal favorite of all the Q & A exchanges…

Did you really flip off LA Weekly writer Gene Maddaus from your office window?

[His expression says, "Of course."] My entire staff is out walking precincts, I’m here with the [staff] women downstairs, and he scared them. On most days I’d pick up my bat and walk downstairs and say, “Get out of here,” but that’s what he wanted. My assistant [told him], “You have to leave, this is not a public building.” He refused, like a jackass, so she called the police. I did flip him off — he was jumping up and down like my Labradoodle at the back door.

Posted in City Attorney, elections, Marijuana laws, race, racial justice | No Comments »

The Faces Behind the USC Party Arrests…and More

May 8th, 2013 by Taylor Walker


Tuesday night, there was an open forum at USC to discuss the break-up of an off campus party by more than six dozen LAPD officers, which has now become a high profile incident. Students, faculty, city and county officials and LAPD department members packed into a campus ballroom for the follow-up to several demonstrations and meetings this week regarding allegations of racial profiling by the LAPD against USC students of color.

If for some reason you missed the original story, last Friday night,, after responding to a simple noise complaint, seventy-nine officers, some in riot gear, made six arrests as they shut down a USC party attended predominantly by African Americans. Meanwhile, just across the street, LAPD officers handled a similar noise complaint against a group of mainly white party goers in what was reportedly a considerably more peaceful fashion.

Police maintain that the crowd at party two went inside and turned down the noise when asked, while many members of party one did not and an unspecified numbers threw objects at officers.

Among the students arrested was the first party’s host, Nate Howard, a bright and charismatic USC communications major who, in addition to being a student leader, is also a correspondent for mtvU, the creator of a production company called Brave Entrepreneurs, and has just shot a pilot for his own talk show. Several of the other kids arrested also turned out to be campus leaders.

Feeling unjustly profiled, amid the chaos, the party-goers began tweeting, Facebooking, and videotaping the LAPD encounter. Within hours, they had flooded various social media platforms, and organized a campus sit-in for the following day to raise awareness about what they characterized as unequal treatment by the LAPD that they insisted was not an isolated event.

Here’s a raw video of the 79 police officers (yes, the party-goers counted) taken by a student who had attended the party:

(NOTE: According to a source close to the department, there is an video, unreleased as yet, of officers in a radio car being hit by bottles and/or rocks.)

And another of an impassioned Nate Howard at the campus sit-in, at one point reciting what soon became the demonstrating students’ new call phrase: “We are scholars! Not criminals!”

During Tuesday night’s forum, attendees live-tweeted in a big way, and #USChangeMovement started trending. Here’s a link to the whole feed, but here are some of the tweets that stood out to us:

Frances Wang @FrancesWang_
Friday night,
I told an officer that he arrested USC scholars who will change the world. He laughed. Little did he know. #USChangeMovement

Evelina Weary ‏@evelinaweary
Alumni: “Why was DPS not the first responder
if this was a DPS registered party?” #uschangemovement #stopracialprofiling

Frances Wang ‏@FrancesWang_
Sarah, the host of the “white” party:
“These students weren’t treated with respect, my house was treated with respect.” #USChangeMovement

Neon Tommy ‏@neontommy
“This meeting is a waste of time if
you don’t go out to the community and engage your neighbors.” #USC #uschangemovement

Neon Tommy has an update from the forum. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles and campus police officials told dozens of students, who said they were victims of racial profiling by law enforcement, that authorities have concluded a strong response to a house party last weekend was not based on the race of students involved.

“We’ve looked at this really thoroughly, and there is no indication that it was race-based,” Los Angeles Police Capt. Paul Snell said Tuesday night. “Irrespective of what happened, what I would like to focus on is how we can move forward. Neither LAPD, neither DPS, neither the citizens of Los Angeles want this to happen again.”

And here’s another clip:

One was arrested on suspicion of interfering with police activity. The five others each face a misdemeanor charge. USC police chief John Thomas said he had previously been in contact with one of the students arrested, 20-year-old Rayven Vinson. He said seeing a photo of her being handcuffed hit him personally.

“This is about trust in the Department of Public Safety,” he said. “This is about you having trust in the department that’s providing protective services to you.”

L.A. Police Deputy Chief Bob Green called that first booking number devastating, saying there’s often little hope after that.

USC police chief Thomas said the university is working closely with police to make sure the students arrested are treated fairly. USC’s outgoing vice president of student affairs Michael Jackson said he’s advocating that the city attorney’s office drop the charges. Capt. Snell said the investigation is ongoing.

Here’s a short profile video of Rayven Vinson, one of the students arrested:

This next one is a first-hand account of yet another bright and well-spoken student from Santa Monica College, Anthony Stewart, who was detained Friday night:

We have a feeling this story isn’t going to go away soon. We’ll be keeping an eye on it.


Latinos in LA and other cities are less likely to report crimes due to amped up immigration law enforcement and the threat of deportation, according to a new survey by the Lake Research Partners.

LA Times’ Brian Bennett has the story. Here’s a clip:

About 44% of Latinos surveyed said they were less likely now to contact police if they were victims of a crime because they fear officers will inquire about their immigration status or the status of people they know. The figure jumps to 70% among Latinos who are in the country unlawfully.

“There is fear that is really widespread,” said Nik Theodore, an associate professor of urban planning and policy at University of Illinois at Chicago and the author of the study.

The report, “Insecure Communities: Latino Perceptions of Police Involvement in Immigration Enforcement,” is based on a telephone survey of 2,004 Latinos in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago and Phoenix. The results are scheduled to be released Tuesday.


The CA Supreme Court ruled Monday that state law cannot stop cities and counties from banning medical marijuana dispensaries.

Here’s a clip from the AP story:

In a unanimous opinion, the court held that California’s medical marijuana laws — the nation’s first and most liberal — neither prevent local governments from using their land-use powers to zone dispensaries out of existence nor grant authorized users convenient access to the drug.

“While some counties and cities might consider themselves well-suited to accommodating medical marijuana dispensaries, conditions in other communities might lead to the reasonable decision that such facilities within their borders, even if carefully sited, well managed, and closely monitored, would present unacceptable local risks and burdens,” Justice Marvin Baxter wrote for the seven-member court.


In other news (and not all that surprisingly), Men’s Central Jail takes the number five spot on Mother Jones’ list of America’s ten worst lockups.

Photo used with permission from Twitter user and USC forum attendee @RiniSampath.

Posted in immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LAPD, Marijuana laws, race | 2 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 Boy’s 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 »

15 Reasons Why We’re Thankful This Year

November 21st, 2012 by Taylor Walker

As we near the end of 2012, we at WitnessLA believe there is quite a bit to be thankful for within the social justice sphere–breakthroughs, big wins (and smaller wins), opened doors, and steps in the right direction. Here are fifteen items on our list, in no particular order:

1. We’re thankful to Senator Leland Yee for drafting SB 9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, and to Gov. Brown for having the good sense to sign the bill that gives certain juvies serving life-without-parole the possibility of a second chance.

2. We’re thankful that Californians passed Prop 36, the three-strikes reform legislation.

3. We’re thankful that California’s education system will not have to find out what would have happened if Prop 30 had not passed.

4. We’re thankful for the rigor with which the members and staff of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence approached their task, which led to a strong set of findings, and a thorough list of recommendations.

5. We’re also thankful for the many LASD people—present and former— who have courageously come forward: to us, to the LA Times, to the commission and to those guys and girls on Wilshire Blvd.

6. We’re thankful to Judge Michael Nash for shining light on Child Dependency Court proceedings by allowing media access, and to the 2nd District of the California Court of Appeals for denying petitions against Judge Nash’s decision.

7. We’re thankful for the passage of marijuana laws in Washington and Colorado as steps toward rectifying the harm done by a failed drug war.

8. We’re thankful for SCOTUS’ ban of mandatory juvenile life-without-parole sentencing. (It’s one step in the direction of banning juvie LWOP altogether.)

9. We’re also thankful to SCOTUS for ruling preposterously long sentences for youth unconstitutional.

10. We’re thankful for the wise and important findings of the California State Assembly Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color created by Assembly speaker John Perez, and chaired by Assemblyman Sandré Swanson.

11. We’re thankful that, slowly but surely, the US is making progress toward equal rights for the LGBT community (shout out to Washington, Maryland, Maine, and Minnesota).

12. We’re also thankful to Gov. Brown for making CA the first state to ban gay conversion therapy for youth.

13. We’re thankful for all those who are pushing for zero-tolerance reform in LAUSD schools and across the nation.

14. We’re thankful to SCOTUS for striking down most of the harsh AZ immigration law, SB 1070.

15. We’re thankful that, a year after the program commenced on Oct. 1, 2011, people are finally starting to talk sense about California’s prison realignment process—rather than painting it counter-factually as a plot to endanger public safety by releasing prisoners early. (We are particularly grateful to the LA Times Rob Greene for snapping some of the worst fact-offenders out of their stupor.) We’re also thankful for the programs that are starting to spring up in various counties that see realignment as an opportunity, rather than a burden.

Posted in California Supreme Court, criminal justice, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LASD, LAUSD, LGBT, LWOP Kids, Marijuana laws, Realignment, Uncategorized, War on Drugs, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

The Affect of 2 Violent Crimes on Two Young Men….Plus Women & Weed

November 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


On Sunday, the LA Times ran the first part of Molly Hennessy-Fisk’s remarkable two part series. Part 2 followed on Monday. (The photos accompanying the series by Times photographer Barbara Davidson are also simply stunning.)

The series follows the life of a Monrovia teenager named Davien Graham, a young man who was turning out well, despite the fact that nearly every adult in his family who should have protected him, seemed to let him down in frightening ways. Nonetheless, he worked hard at school, was devoted to church, and stayed away from trouble.

But one day trouble found Davien, and brought with it a dangerous decision.

Here’s a clip from Part 1:

The oldest of six children, he learned as a small boy not to feel safe anywhere. He played under the towering pines and sweet gum trees of Pamela Park, where gangbangers stashed guns in bathrooms and addicts left crack pipes in sandboxes.

He witnessed his first drive-by when he was 4 years old. He came to recognize the sound, “like a loud drum, a thunderclap.”

He grew leery of sedans with tinted windows, “drive-by cars,” and gangsters who sprinted past his house and across “the wash,” a drainage canal, with police in pursuit.

For Davien’s safety, a relative had walked him to school — until he, too, was shot and his body dumped in the wash.

Davien had one goal in mind: to make it to his 21st birthday.

Drug dealers, bookies and hustlers called to him from the streets: “Hey, Day Day! You just like your dad.”

The comparison made him cringe. Davien’s father, Steven Graham, or Steve-O, was a Crip who pleaded guilty to cocaine possession weeks after Davien was born. Steve-O would spend several years in prison.

Afterward, on days Steve-O got high or drank too much, he would put on his sunglasses and take Davien out to the yard for lessons in manhood, often bringing a shotgun.

Davien’s mother, Sharri McGhee, also struggled with drugs.

Even so, when times were good, Davien felt as though he belonged to a normal family. His mother would check them into an Embassy Suites hotel so they could swim in the pool. It felt like Disneyland.

Then he woke up one morning and all his videos and the TV and VCR were gone, and he saw his dad walking home because he had sold the car, too.

By the time he started school, Davien had learned not to depend on adults for protection. He saw kids whisked away from their parents by the state, or sent to juvenile hall. He promised his younger brothers he would take care of them…

Then the thing happened that Davien had always feared. He got shot.

To make matters worse, he recognized the shooter. They’d been in the same gym class in middle school. When the sheriff’s detective asked Davien if he’d seen who shot him, he knew that his Christian beliefs had taught him not to lie. Yet he also knew he was living in a community where “snitching” could be a death sentence.

Here’s a clip from Part 2:

Davien knew his biggest hurdle lay ahead; testifying at Santana’s trial.

As the case dragged on, Davien felt like he was doing time, waiting. He began to believe that his aunt and uncle, Joni and Terry Alford, resented caring for him, especially when he bumped into their furniture or peed in his shabby wheelchair.

They didn’t seem to fear for his safety. Sometimes when they ran errands, they would leave him alone in the car, feeling trapped and exposed.

Davien wanted to put the trial behind him. He wanted out of Monrovia. He decided the best way out was to finish high school and make it to college.

(It should be noted, that the one adult who repeatedly seemed to do right by Davian was Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department detective Scott Schulze.)

Read the rest.

This is a story that definitely deserves to be recognized at awards time.


Violent crimes produce many collateral victims, in addition to those most directly affected.

For instance, the November 26 New Yorker contains an affecting personal account by journalist Victor Zapana called SHAKEN: A mother’s conviction. A son’s doubts, in which Zapana tells how, in 2007, when he was a senior at Stuyvesant High School, he came home from school one day to find that his mother, Yoon Zapana, had been found guilty of catastrophically injuring an eight-month-old baby for whom she had been the nanny eight years earlier. She had been sentenced to fifteen years in prison.

Zapana describes the effect the sentence had on him, and his Iraq war veteran dad. He also talks about his discovery that his mom, who had always insisted upon her innocence, might not be guilty. Yet despite what the new information that has come to light about shaken baby syndrome suggested for her case, the family decided they simply could not afford to hire another lawyer, as paying the first one had wiped them out.

(Sadly, this story too is hidden behind a paywall. But if you or someone you know has access, do avail yourself.)


Or so writes Casey Michel in this week’s Atlantic. Here’s a clip:

A few days before last Tuesday’s election, New Approach Washington, the group pushing a ballot issue to legalize marijuana in the state, posted its final ad of the campaign. The spot featured a “Washington mom” — a woman in her mid-40s, sitting on her porch, flanked by pumpkins — who took the viewer through the assorted restrictions and benefits both minors and businesses would see once the measure, Initiative 502, was implemented: ID checks.Fewer profits for the cartels. Increased funds for schools. More time for police to “focus on violent crime instead.” In short, all of the top concerns that an average mom in the Evergreen State would seem to have about making pot legal.

But New Approach’s ad was about more than just capturing the votes of a major demographic — the same one that helped reelect President Obama and the one that kept GOP Senate hopefuls Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin at bay. Legalization advocates have found that female support tends to be a leading indicator for marijuana measures. In the case of both California’s 2010 and Colorado’s 2006 votes, sagging support among women preceded a collapse in men’s support too. In California, for instance, support from women saw a 14-point swing against legalization over the final six weeks, dragging support from men under 50 percent.

“Historically, as soon as women really start to create a [gender] gap, a marijuana measure gets killed,” says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “If women get weak-kneed, the men will start to drop.”

Photo of evidence, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, via the Los Angeles Times.

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