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Lessons the LAPD Can Teach……What About Body Cameras?…..John Oliver on Police Militarization….”Toxic Stress” and CA Kids…..& More

August 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT FERGUSON CAN LEARN FROM THE LAPD

Yes, the Los Angeles Police Department is far from perfect. There was, for instance, the recent revelation that they appear to be deliberately cooking some of their crime stats to shower better numbers than they actually have. Yet, they’ve also undeniably made a huge amount of significant progress in the last decade.

With that in mind, the LA Times editorial board listed a few lessons that the staggeringly problematic Ferguson police department might want to learn from the LAPD

Here’s a representative clip:

….More than two decades ago, civic leaders here grasped the importance of diversity on the police force. Today, the LAPD mirrors the city quite closely — Latinos are the department’s largest ethnic group, and blacks make up just over 10% of the force, roughly equivalent to their representation in the city. Ferguson’s force is almost entirely white — only three of 53 commissioned officers are black — even though the population of the city is two-thirds black. It is difficult for residents to trust a force that feels foreign.

The riots forced deep reflection in Los Angeles over how police should best handle unruly crowds. The department today attempts neither to yield to violence nor to provoke it. It’s not always successful — by its own admission, its handling of a May Day rally in 2007 was cause for “great concern.” Still, the LAPD’s reputation for restraint in crowd control is generally deserved. By contrast, authorities in Ferguson responded to initial protests with heavy arms and tactics; the situation escalated rapidly….

For the rest, read on.


WHAT ABOUT THOSE BODY CAMERAS FOR POLICE?

The shooting of Michael Brown has brought up the topic of body cameras for police again and, in his story on the issue, the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims notes that the Ferguson police department, like many law enforcement agencies, has a supply of the cameras but has not actually deployed them to officers.

The LAPD has been testing body cameras out but has not gone into any wholesale ordering of the things.

Rialto, California, however, is one of the cities that has required all its officers to use cameras (which are no bigger than pagers).

“In the first year after the cameras’ introduction,” Mims writes, “the use of force by officers declined 60%, and citizen complaints against police fell 88%.”

Mims had more to say about the benefits and potential challenges of camera use when he was on Madeleine Brand’s Press Play on Monday.


JOHN OLIVER’S SCATHING TAKE ON POLICE REACTION IN FERGUSON & LAW ENFORCEMENT SHOCK & AWE

John Oliver covered the behavior of the police in Ferguson and the increasing militarization of American law enforcement in his Sunday show “Last Week Tonight.” He makes one false step in calling the convenience store video of Michael Brown irrelevant, but most of the rest of Oliver’s commentary is well-researched, sharply on target, and scathing.


CALIFORNIA SENATE PASSES RESOLUTION ASKING GOV TO LOOK AT INTERVENTION POLICIES TO ALLEVIATE “TOXIC STRESS” AND TRAUMA IN CHILDREN

With a bipartisan vote of 34-0, on Monday, the California Senate passed a resolution aimed at getting the governor to begin to focus on the issue of the effect of childhood traumas known as “adverse childhood experiences”—-or ACES— on a kid’s future.

Big sources of trauma are things like physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, untreated mental illness or incarceration of a household member, domestic violence, community violence….and so on.

The resolution notes that studies now have tracked the effects of too many “ACES,” and the results are alarming. For instance, a child with 4 or more ACES is 46 times more likely to have learning or emotional problems, and far more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system…and more.

It also notes that prolonged “toxic stress” can “impact the development of a child’s fundamental brain architecture.”

Yet research has shown too that intervention in a child’s life can mitigate and heal the potential for damage caused by these toxic traumas.

The resolution—-introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), and co-sponsored by the Center for Youth Wellness, Children Now and Californians for Safety and Justice— is largely symbolic.

But it is also viewed as a big step in acknowledging the importance of early childhood trauma in the lives and future of the state’s children, and the need for policy that provides trauma-informed intervention for the kids most affected.

A concurrent resolution unanimously passed the California Assembly on August 11.


CA PRISONS BEGIN TO REFORM POLICIES TOWARD THE MENTALLY ILL DESCRIBED AS “HORRIFIC”

As the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation begins to comply with the federal court ordered revisions of its long-criticized use-of-force policy with the mentally ill, the California Report’s Julie Small looks at mental illness and California prisons with a series of reports. Here’s a clip from her Monday story, with more to come.

The number of inmates with mild to severe mental illness has grown to 37,000 in California, about a quarter of the prison population.

A series of lawsuits brought by inmates against the state over the last two decades has exposed a correctional system poorly equipped to handle their extraordinary needs.

Now California is trying to comply with a federal court order to change when and how correctional officers use pepper spray to force uncooperative inmates to leave their cells or follow orders.

Pepper spray may have contributed to three inmate deaths and an unknown number of injuries — unknown because the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitations doesn’t consider the effects of pepper spray an injury.

The issue was brought to light last year through graphic videos shown in court in a lawsuit that was begun in 1990, a lawsuit brought by inmates to improve psychiatric care.

[SNIP]

One video showed custody staff at Corcoran State Prison struggling to remove an inmate who was hallucinating and refusing to leave his cell in order to receive medication.

The inmate had taken off his clothes and smeared feces on himself. When he refused to submit to handcuffs, guards in gas masks sprayed a potent pepper spray into the cell, causing the inmate to gasp for air.

The video showed that as the inmate screamed for help, an officer ordered him to “turn around and cuff up.”

The inmate screamed back, “Open the door!”

When the inmate still wouldn’t “cuff up” the officers sprayed him again, repeatedly.

Later, the video showed guards rushing in and wrestling the inmate to the floor and into restraints.


IF INMATES DESIGNED A PRISON, WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?

In an innovative restorative justice program run out of one of San Francisco’s jails, men who are awaiting trial on violent crimes rethink their own lives and actions by rethinking what a prison could look like.

Lee Romney of the LA Times has this story, and it’s a good read. Here are a couple of clips to get you started:

All the students wore orange. And on this final day, their paper models were taking shape.

Architect Deanna VanBuren adjusted a piece of tracing paper over Anthony Pratt’s design, showing him how to mark the perimeter to show walls and windows, then urging him to use dots to indicate open spaces.

A towering, broad-chested man with full tattoos adorning both arms, Pratt, 29, was among those sketching out new visions: an airy room with a skylight to cure vitamin D deficiencies and a fountain with a cascading waterfall to represent resilience and adaptability. Privacy barriers for the shower and toilet. A healing center with lots of windows and, in the middle, a talking circle with a sun emblazoned in its center.

The spaces they were planning could be at a New Age retreat, but these were conceived by inmates at San Francisco’s County Jail No. 5.

Most inmates on this 48-man jail pod are awaiting trial on violent crimes. All must agree to participate in a program called “Resolve to Stop the Violence,” which involves concepts of restorative justice, an alternative to traditional criminal justice that focuses on healing victims and offenders alike. This day’s class allowed them to explore their feelings about the system that landed them here and how its physical contours might be altered…..

[BIG SNIP]

Restorative justice concepts were first promoted in the 1970s by global practitioner and theorist Howard Zehr, now a professor at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. The goal was to make the needs of victims central, and by doing so effect broader healing for all, communities included.

Critics of restorative justice contend the process is too subjective and could lead to proposed remedies that are wildly disparate. As a result, some victim organizations and hard-line prosecutors reject it.

But the practice has nonetheless spread globally and throughout the U.S. as a body of evidence grows showing it helps reduce school expulsions, keep youths out of the criminal justice system and prevent youths and adults who have already been sentenced from re-offending.

The conversation has now turned to space.


NOTE: The video at the top was recorded by reporter Mustafa Hussein of Argus media,who was live streaming from Sunday’s protest when a Ferguson police officer allegedly pointed a weapon at him and threatened to shoot him if he didn’t turn off his camera light. Hussein is a graduate student at the University of Missouri – St. Louis.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, juvenile justice, LAPD, law enforcement, media, prison, prison policy, PTSD, Restorative Justice, Trauma | 5 Comments »

How is LA doing on DCFS Reform?….Hostage Deaths and the LASD Oversight Debate….Feds Find Unchecked Violence Against Teens at Rikers….and a Homeboy Food Truck

August 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA CHILD WELFARE REFORM “CHECKUP” REPORT STRESSES IMPORTANCE OF MEDIA PRESSURE TO KEEP DCFS REFORMS MOVING

Fostering Media Connections has released a 23-page report stressing the necessity for “hyper-vigilance” to propel LA County’s efforts to reform the dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services after a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Safety presented the Board of Supervisors with a final report and 42 recommendations.

The report, the first of a series of quarterly “checkups,” says that progress is being made on some of the recommendations (the county is working toward appointing a child welfare czar, for instance), but that momentum has slowed, and no new money seems to be making its way toward implementing these recommendations meant to better protect kids involved in the child welfare system.

Here are some clips:

The problem is that the county’s public administration is immense, and its bureaucracy can grind down the highest-minded of reforms. Soon, two new supervisors will replace those who have termed out, and two more are slated to change over in two years. The county’s chief executive officer has announced his resignation.

Any chance of seeing the dramatic change envisioned by the BRC will require hyper- vigilance.
In December 2013, the 10-person commission filed an interim report with a list of recommendations that were all but ignored by the Board of Supervisors.

The commission was so incensed by the lack of action that it laced its final report, released in April of this year, with hyperbole meant to attract media attention and influence the supervisors to action.

“Sustainable reform will require the Board of Supervisors to declare something akin to a STATE of EMERGENCY within the child welfare system, since clearly, the present system presents an existential threat to the safety and protection of our children,” the commission wrote.

It worked. The news media ran headlines decrying this “state of emergency,” and two months later, the Board of Supervisors approved all of the commission’s recommendations. This included the creation of an Office of Child Protection, which would be headed by a leader with the power to alter budgets and staffing decisions across child-serving agencies. By the end of June, the supervisors had named nine members to a “transition team” charged with creating a new child protection czar.

On August 12, 2014, the transition team will present a five-page progress report to the Board of Supervisors, which includes a job description for the Office of Child Protection and describes its role in implementing the BRC’s reforms.

Besides the creation of advisory bodies, designation of roles and public hearings, what has changed for children in Los Angeles County?

[SNIP]

There has been some movement to increase law enforcement’s role in child protection, definite steps toward designating a child protection czar, and concurrent developments that align with the BRC’s recommendations on increasing payments to kinship caregivers. But we have not uncovered any evidence that new monies have followed the recommendations, or any concrete assurance that the county will follow through on the myriad child protection improvements approved by the Board of Supervisors.

If child protection reform is viewed in terms of child development, one could say that it is still in its infancy in LA County. While able to swipe at broad concepts with unsure hands, the reform movement as laid out by the BRC is as of now incapable of manipulating its nascent but growing authority with much substance. It’s likely too early to know whether or not the reform’s development is delayed, but it is clearly not precocious.

Understanding the news media’s unique power to impel action, Fostering Media Connections is offering these quarterly checkups in the hopes that they will spur continued attention and nourish the reform effort.

KPCC’s Rina Palta interviewed Fostering Media Connection’s founder, Daniel Heimpel, about the report. Here’s a clip:

“What we see is a lack of real strong urgency,” Heimpel said. “A lot of that has evaporated and that’s been a little bit disheartening.”

The Blue Ribbon Commission made 42 recommendations the board then endorsed, but Heimpel said he’s unclear how they will be carried out.

“We have not seen any evidence that any financial resources have been committed to these reforms,” Heimpel said.


LASD IG SAYS OFFICERS’ MISTAKEN KILLING OF HOSTAGES HIGHLIGHTS THE NEED FOR ACCESS TO LASD RECORDS

Today the LA County Board of Supervisors will consider establishing a civilian panel to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The board will also discuss what kind of access to LASD records Inspector General Max Huntsman should have. (Interim Sheriff John Scott has called for an IG-LASD relationship bound by attorney-client privilege. Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell told ABC7 he doesn’t believe it’s necessary.)

Huntsman says recent officer shootings of innocent people highlight the need for his office to have open access to LASD records, including personnel files, in order to make certain the department’s internal investigations are thorough.

On Friday, a sheriff’s deputy shot and killed an innocent man he mistook for a suspect during a hostage standoff. Frank Mendoza’s death marked the second mistaken killing by a deputy since April, when John Winkler, an LA production assistant who had been held hostage was gunned down by officers while trying to escape. (Winkler’s family has since filed claim against the sheriff’s dept. to the tune of $25 million.)

The LA Times’ Catherine Saillant and Jeff Gottlieb have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

Frank Mendoza, 54, was shot when a deputy mistook him for an armed suspect who had broken into the Mendoza home late Friday afternoon, authorities said. The gunman, 24-year-old Cedric Ramirez, took Mendoza’s wife captive and held her until a tactical team entered the house and fatally shot him eight hours later, authorities said. The wife was unharmed.

The case is now under investigation by the Sheriff’s Department’s internal affairs unit as well as the district attorney and coroner, as is customary in officer-involved shootings.

But Max Huntsman, the new civilian monitor in the Sheriff’s Department, said Sunday the case underscores the need for his unit to also review all records, including a deputy’s personnel files, in deciding whether the department does a thorough job investigating.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors appointed Huntsman after a series of scandals in the department, which culminated with federal charges against sheriff’s officials over alleged inmate abuse in the jail system.

The Sheriff’s Department and Huntsman are still negotiating how much access the inspector general should have.

[SNIP]

Huntsman said his office will be closely involved with internal investigations that are underway in the Pico Rivera case.

The inspector general cannot conduct an independent investigation without access to the deputy files. But the office will review the sheriff’s inquiries to “make sure they are done in a correct way,” Huntsman said. If better training or changes to in-field tactics are necessary, his office will follow up with recommended changes, he said.


FEDERAL INVESTIGATION FINDS “DEEP-SEATED CULTURE OF VIOLENCE” AT RIKERS ISLAND’S JUVENILE FACILITIES

The office of United States Attorney Preet Bharara released a 79-page report detailing Rikers Island guards’ excessive (and unchecked) use of force against incarcerated teenage boys. The report says the NYC Department of Corrections does not adequately protect boys between the ages of 16-18 from unnecessary harm from guards, other inmates, and overuse of punitive solitary confinement. The investigation found that since 2012, nearly 44% of teens at Rikers had been subjected to at least one use of force, and that blows to the boys’ faces and heads occurred “at an alarming rate.”

The US Attorney’s office has given the NYC DOC 49 days to respond to the report, and threatened a federal lawsuit if the city did not begin working toward remedying the problems highlighted in the report.

The NY Times’ Benjamin Weiser and Michael Schwirtz have the story. Here’s a clip:

The report, addressed to Mayor Bill de Blasio and two other senior city officials, singled out for blame a “powerful code of silence” among the Rikers staff, along with a virtually useless system for investigating attacks by guards. The result was a “staggering” number of injuries among youthful inmates, the report said.

The report, which comes at a time of increasing scrutiny of the jail complex after a stream of revelations about Rikers’s problems, also found that the department relied to an “excessive and inappropriate” degree on solitary confinement to punish teenage inmates, placing them in punitive segregation, as the practice is known, for months at a time.

Although the federal investigation focused only on the three Rikers jails that house male inmates aged 16 to 18, the report said the problems that were identified “may exist in equal measure” in the complex’s seven other jails for adult men and women.

In just one measure of the extent of the violence, the investigation found that nearly 44 percent of the adolescent male population in custody as of October 2012 had been subjected to a use of force by staff members at least once.

Correction officers struck adolescents in the head and face at “an alarming rate” as punishment, even when inmates posed no threat; officers took inmates to isolated areas for beatings out of view of video cameras; and many inmates were so afraid of the violence that they asked, for their own protection, to go to solitary confinement, the report said.

Officers were rarely punished, the report said, even with strong evidence of egregious violations. Investigations, when they occurred, were often superficial, and incident reports were frequently incomplete, misleading or intentionally falsified.

Among more than a dozen specific cases of brutality detailed in the report was one in which correction officers assaulted four inmates for several minutes, beating them with radios, batons and broomsticks, and slamming their heads against walls. Another inmate sustained a skull fracture and was left with the imprint of a boot on his back from an assault involving multiple officers. In another case, a young man was taken from a classroom after falling asleep during a lecture and was beaten severely. Teachers heard him screaming and crying for his mother.


BE ON THE LOOKOUT FOR HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES’ NEW FOOD TRUCK THIS FALL

Homeboy Industries has announced the launch of a new Homeboy food truck that will grace the streets of LA this fall. The gourmet food truck will make its debut in September, creating new jobs for Homeboys and new connections with the community.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, Homeboy Industries, Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, media, Sheriff John Scott, solitary, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

MORE POST TRIAL NEWS: Violence at an LA Prayer Vigil……”What Do I Tell My Boys Now?”….Zimmerman Juror’s Speedy Book Agent Deal……..and more

July 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



PLANNED LEIMERT PARK COMMUNITY RALLY DISRUPTED BY VIOLENCE, RALLIERS DISMAYED

A well-organized, well-attended prayer vigil and community rally that began at Leimert Park early on Monday evening, was disrupted by a rowdy, angry and violent group of mostly young men on Tuesday night. The destruction-intent group was described by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck at an 11 pm press conference in the Crenshaw area as being made up about 150 people who reportedly vandalized Walmart, jumped on cars, broke windows in other nearby stores, and assaulted random people, including an attack injurying KCBS reporter Dave Bryan and his cameraman.

“The right of the many has been abused by the action of the few,” Beck said. The chief warned that on Monday he had allowed the protestors a lot of latitude, but that the latitude was about to vanish. “Parents, don’t send your children to protest in and around Crenshaw tomorrow,” Beck warned.

Mayor Eric Garcetti opened the 11 pm press conference by saying, “The verdict has ignited passions, but we have to make sure it doesn’t ignite our city.”

Garcetti was joined by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who spoke on similar themes. “Twenty-one years ago we witnessed what can happen when there’s a reaction to a verdict. I stand today to say a word about nonviolence…It’s the most effective way to communicate how to address injustice…”

Next up was City Councilman Bernard Parks who, like the other three, urged moderation: “You can protest. Your voices will be heard.” Parks asked demonstrators to focus on the “tragedy in Florida.” Instead, he said, “some people are trying to “create their own tragedy in the city of Los Angeles.

“This will not be tolerated after tonight.”

Community organizer Najee Ali, who was one of Monday night’s main rally organizers, was shaken by the melee caused by the splinter group or groups.

“I’m on my way home from one of the…craziest nights of my life,” he tweeted and posted on his Facebook page. “Its sad seeing our young people like that. To see them and what they did to innocent people was devastating.”

All officials stressed that the violent group was very much in the minority.

For additional reports see the LA Times and Natasha Vargas-Cooper from Buzzfeed.


MEANWHILE, IN OTHER NEWS AROUND THE THE TRIAL OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN AND THE DEATH OF TRAYVON MARTIN…

Along with the ongoing news reports, editorials and the Op Eds, a series of pain and grief-laden essays by parents continue to appear. Here are a couple we didn’t think you should miss—one from New York, the other from LA.


“WHAT DO I TELL MY BOYS NOW?” A FATHER ASKS

Among the most emotionally affecting in the newest crop is this essay by NY Times columnist, Charles Blow. Here’s a clip from the essay’s end. But please read the whole:

…Sometimes people just need a focal point. Sometimes that focal point becomes a breaking point.

The idea of universal suspicion without individual evidence is what Americans find abhorrent and what black men in America must constantly fight. It is pervasive in policing policies — like stop-and-frisk, and in this case neighborhood watch — regardless of the collateral damage done to the majority of innocents. It’s like burning down a house to rid it of mice.

As a parent, particularly a parent of black teenage boys, I am left with the question, “Now, what do I tell my boys?”

We used to say not to run in public because that might be seen as suspicious, like they’d stolen something. But according to Zimmerman, Martin drew his suspicion at least in part because he was walking too slowly.

So what do I tell my boys now? At what precise pace should a black man walk to avoid suspicion?

And can they ever stop walking away, or running away, and simply stand their ground? Can they become righteously indignant without being fatally wounded?

Is there anyplace safe enough, or any cargo innocent enough, for a black man in this country? Martin was where he was supposed to be — in a gated community — carrying candy and a canned drink.

The whole system failed Martin. What prevents it from failing my children, or yours?

I feel that I must tell my boys that, but I can’t. It’s stuck in my throat. It’s an impossibly heartbreaking conversation to have. So, I sit and watch in silence, and occasionally mouth the word, “breathe,” because I keep forgetting to.

But read what Blow wrote in the lead up—especially if you are a parent. Even more, if you are the parent of a boy, whatever color.


WHAT DO WE TELL THE CHILDREN?”

LA Times columnist Sandy Banks told how she is struggling painfully with similar questions, as do her friends. Again, please read the whole thing. But here’s a representative clip:

What do we tell the children?

That’s the cliched question we trot out when we’re confounded by cases like this. This time, for black parents at least, it’s more than rhetoric.

Lawrence Ross is an Inglewood author who travels to colleges around the country, counseling and encouraging black students. Ross is also the father of a 14-year-old boy, whose favorite show of independence these days is walking alone to the 7-Eleven near their gated community.

Ross has spent years teaching his son to be safe and not fall prey to others’ fears:

If you’re driving and the police stop you, put both hands on the dashboard, so the officer can see you don’t pose a threat. If you’re in the elevator alone with a white person, speak so they’ll know you’re articulate and they don’t have to fear you.

But the verdict delivered a message that mocks those parental pretensions: “The world has just been told that my son is [going to be] the aggressor,” Ross said. “That he has no right to exist without question or explanation. That’s devastating to me.

“I want him to walk out in the world as a productive and kind adult, without burdening him with all the sociological issues this country brings.” But he also can’t afford to let naivete disarm his boy.

“What is the safe point? That’s the conundrum. That’s what makes this resonate so strongly.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a mother, my heart tears open reading these accounts.

My own son is now 27, married, and living in the Bay Area with a fabulous job. In his skateboarding, fence jumping, late-night-walking, risk-taking, hormone-fraught teenage years, he mostly wore a beanie, not a hoodie.

And, most crucially, he is white.

But these essays still make me sob, and make me thankful that my cherished tall boy, the light of my life, is grown. To be honest, I’m also grateful that in his edgiest, scariest adolescent moments (and without going into detail, suffice it to say, that there were a few very scary times) I never had to deal with the added fear that race still brings into the mix.

Many of my other friends cannot say the same. And I grieve with them.

I grieve for all of us.


AND IN STILL OTHER TRIAL-RELATED NEWS…


ZIMMERMAN TRIAL JUROR MANAGES TO SIGN WITH HOT SHOT BOOK AGENT 36 HOURS AFTER THE (SATURDAY) VERDICT? REALLY? – UPDATED

TUESDAY UPDATE – Book agent Sharlene Martin decides to recind the deal to represent Jurer B37 after watching the woman’s interview with Anderson Cooper, calling the contract a “grave mistake.”

LA Times reporter Hector Tobar makes an interesting observation in his story on Tuesday about the fact that a Zimmerman trial juror, the woman known as “Jurer B37,” somehow magically managed to have signed with a book agent by first thing Monday morning, meaning she and her attorney husband were very, very busy on Saturday night after the verdict, and on Sunday—either that OR the agency-representation-signing timeline is a little less attractive and ethical than anyone has yet admitted.

Here are the relevant clips from Tobar’s story:

Over the weekend, while thousands of people in various cities across the United States were protesting the George Zimmerman trial verdict, one of the six jurors in the trial was apparently quite busy on the phone—with a literary agent.

The not guilty verdict in the shooting of Trayvon Martin came on Saturday evening. And on Monday morning, the woman known as “Juror B37,” and the juror’s husband, had signed an agreement to be represented by the Los Angeles-based Martin Literary Management agency, as announced by the agency’s president, Sharlene Martin.

[SNIP]

Anyone who’s ever tried to reach a literary agent over the weekend will question the timing of said announcement, which came less than 36 hours after the jury found Zimmerman not guilty of all counts. Is it possible that Juror B37, or her husband, was in contact with the agency before the six-woman jury even began to deliberate? And might a desire to transform her experience as a juror into a marketable story have influenced B37’s view of the case?

Good (and very discomforting) question.

Just so you know, Tobar, in addition to his work at the LA Times, is a talented and well-regarded novelist, meaning he’s familiar with such things as getting agents on the phone over any given weekend.

So, yeah, all you jurors, make literary and TV movie deals, if you can manage it. God speed! But it would have been comforting to know that all the deal hustling waited at least until after the deliberations over a very painful murder trial had been safely completed.


AND WHY WAS B37 ON THE JURY AT ALL? ASKS SLATE’S DAHLIA LITHWICK AND A STRING OF LAWYERS

Aside from the oddly-timed book deal deal it seems B37 is a bit of a quirky girl.

Here’s a clip from Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick’s story that questions “Why her?” with regard to B37′s selection.

Less than two days after a Florida jury found George Zimmerman not guilty in the death of Trayvon Martin, juror B37, one of the six members of the anonymous panel, signed with a literary agent to shop her book about the trial.

The news comes with a bonus video: juror B37’s entire voir dire captured on film and promoted today by Gawker. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Sadly the GAWKER voir dire video has since been yanked from YouTube, but here's another.] The process by which counsel on each side of the case interviews prospective jurors is revealing in all kinds of ways, and a useful lesson in the strengths and weaknesses of the jury system. In the case of B37, it is also master class on how to not know anything about something everyone else knows about.

Start with the general observations already raised in Gawker: B37 consumes no media beyond the Today Show—no radio, no Internet news and no newspapers used for anything but lining her parrot cage. Perhaps because she does not consume any media, she was under the false belief that there were “riots” after the Martin shooting. She also described the Martin killing as “an unfortunate incident that happened.”

But the tape raises another question that should be debated in every trial advocacy class in America: What were the lawyers, especially the prosecutors, thinking when they seated her? Why didn’t prosecutors use one of their peremptory challenges to nix her? She’s contrarian, she raised serious ontological doubts about the nature of truth-seeking, and she was only ever truly animated on the subject of rescue birds…


TOMORROW WE WILL BE BACK TO OUR REGULAR PROGRAMMING…

We have several stories that got bumped because the Trayvon stories seemed pressing.

Among other things, at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the LASD’s jail building proposals will be presented….so stay tuned.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, LA city government, LA County Board of Supervisors, media, race, race and class, racial justice, Youth at Risk | 8 Comments »

WitnessLA Wins Two 1st Places at So Cal Journalism Awards! (and More Journo Awards News!)

June 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

WOOO-HOOO!

We were extremely honored (and kinda blown away) when WitnessLA won 1st Place in both catagories in which we were finalists at in the Southern California Journalism Awards, given out Sunday night at the LA Press Club gala dinner.

Specifically, Matt Fleisher won in the category of best Database Driven Online Journalism for his excellent story PAY TO PLAY: Does the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have an unofficial quid pro quo promotion system? (This story was done, by the way, with the help of a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which allowed us to hire our smart UCLA numbers whizzes.)

The judges said, “While Fleischer collected and used information drawn from readily available public records to support his story, the results were presented in an especially effective way for the reader with easy to understand charts and graphs, along with supporting descriptions. Other entries made use of more complicated research and analyses. But ultimately, this entry was the best at communicating the findings in a clear and concise manner.”

And then Matt and I together won in the catagory of best Investigative Online Journalism, for the series of articles we did last year investigating corruption and dysfunction in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The judges said: “When a well-researched, fair and balanced piece of journalism results in … reform and justice, you know it must be good. Reporters Fremon and Fleischer did their homework in this multi-part series and it paid off.”

Thank you judges, and thank you LA Press Club!

PS: When it comes to prizes, WLA has been extremely fortunate in the past few years. (Here’s 2012, 2011, and 2010) But this year, getting two 1st places was both a giganzoid surprise and very happy-making.)


LOTS OF CHEER-WORTHY WINNERS

There were many other heartening wins on Sunday night, which felt like a good night for journalism. Among them:

Warren Only & Which Way LA? won for Public Service with their amazing week-long series: Special Programming: 20 Years After the Riots”

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus was deservedly named Print Journalist of the Year (over 50,000 circulation)

Warren Olney walked away with the Radio Journalist of the Year prize (as we hoped he would!)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fisk won for best News Feature for her deeply affecting series “Standing Up: Davien’s Story.”

The excellent Gustavo Arellano of OC Weekly, won for best Business Reporting for “Is Aaron Kushner the Pied Piper of Print?

Neon Tommy reporters did deservedly well in a bunch of categories.

And there were many other worthy winners.…columnist Amy Alkon….Marty Kaplan at the Jewish Journal…reporters from The Downtown News and the Hollywood Reporter…Deanne Stillman….KCET’s So Cal Connected and more.

In addition, special awards went to KNBC4′s Fred Roggin and Sue Laris of the Downtown News.

Comedy legend Carl Reiner recieved the club’s President’s Award.

The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity went to the astonishingly brave Mexican journalist Sandra Rodriguez Nieto.

AND my beautiful neighbor and pal, actress Wendie Malick, was one of the celeb presentors!


Posted in media, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

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

April 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from the NY Times story:

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

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

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

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

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

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

(BIG SNIP]

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

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

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

Alarming X a zillion.


CALIFORNIA WANTS ITS PRISONS BACK

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

TMZ reports:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


PS: THE LAPD OFFICERS ACCUSED OF PERJURY WERE AQUITTED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2012 Was a Good Year for Exonerations…..D.C. Kids Use Cameras to Protest More School Cops… More Sloppy Realignment Reporting

April 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Light posting today. Working on a number of interesting thing for next week and the following week.


COPS AND PROSECUTORS HELP MORE IN EXONERATIONS IN 2012

According to a new report released Wednesday, 2012 was a good year for exonerations, with California adding the most exonerations to the list last year.

On notable difference in last year’s innocence cases is that more police and prosecutors assisted in the exonerations.

Maggie Clark has the story for Stateline.


D.C. STUDENTS SHOOTING PICTURES TO PROTEST ADDED SCHOOL SECURITY

Gotta love the proactive attitude of this group of students using their cameras to protest what they view as an overzealous security, post Newtown. Annie Gowen at the Washington Post has the story. Here’s a clip from the opening:

The small band of guerrilla photographers spread out in schools across the District, snapping photos of metal detectors, police pat-downs, and scuffles between security guards and students.

The dozen or so teens, who hail from some of the area’s most troubled neighborhoods, are trying to document the kind of school security issues that have taken center stage in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

Since the December tragedy, the question of whether schools are safe has gained new urgency, with the Senate weighing $40 million in funding for school security plans and the National Rifle Association — which has called for armed teachers, administrators or guards in every school — releasing recommendations from its experts Tuesday.

But H.D. Woodson High School senior Mike Ruff and other classmates have armed themselves with cameras to make the opposite point. They say that their learning environment has been scarred by relentless security. They say their high schools, among an estimated 10,000 nationwide with police on campus, feel like prisons….

Read the rest here.


MORE SLOPPY REALIGNMENT REPORTING, THIS TIME HAVING TO DO WITH THE NORTHRIDGE CHILD ABDUCTION

Tobias Dustin Summers is suspected of kidnapping the 10-year old Northridge girl last week, and is now on the run. It seems, however, that when Summers finished his most recent prison term and got out, he was assigned to a probation officer, not a parole officer, under AB 109. His practical requirements were basically the same. And he, reportedly, hit most all his marks. He drug tested when he was required to do so. He didn’t test dirty. He met with his PO on schedule.

Then the day after one such meeting, he went out and allegedly abducted a little girl.

Unfortunately, the horrific abduction is being blamed—with a blithe lack of fact-checking—on realignment. Scads of reporters are advancing this sloppy theory, as is LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich.

In the midst of all this misinformation, WLA sends a gigantic thank you to Rina Palta at KPPC for reporting on the story like the smart, hard-working, clear-minded professional she is–(AKA someone who thinks that accuracy and logical thought are both good things).

You can read Palta’s story here


Posted in District Attorney, Innocence, media, Realignment, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

LA Magazine Wants You to Help Catch A Serial Killer

February 27th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Los Angeles Magazine wants you to help catch a serial killer and rapist
who preyed on both northern and southern Californians between 1976 and 1986, committing, it is believed, fifty rapes and ten murders. He would be about 60 plus years old now. And he has never been caught.

According LA Mag, law enforcement officials believe this serial murderer/rapist—whom the magazine calls “The Golden State Killer” or GSK—is still alive.

The magazine’s March issue has a fascinating true crime feature about the cold case, which has attracted a couple of obsessed cops, and a network of amateur laptop slueths, including Michelle McNamara, who wrote this month’s story about The Golden State Killer. (McNamara also blogs on true crime at http://truecrimediary.com/ and is married to stand-up comedian/writer, Patton Oswalt).

With McNamara’s help, LA Magazine is launching a sort of virtual manhunt to, McNamara writes, “help authorities identify the Golden State Killer.”

Key pieces of evidence are being released for the first time, she says, “including a hand-drawn map, a page of journal-like writing, and a never-heard before recording that investigators believe may be the killer’s voice.”

So, read the story, stare at the clues and evidence, then, if you are so inclined, summon forth your inner Philip Marlowe, your hidden Harry Bosch, your secret Kinsey Millhone, and get on with it.


According to McNamara, tips on the case should be forwarded to either serialkillerclues@ocsd.org or earinfo@sacsheriff.com.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, media | No Comments »

The Sheriff Back-Pedals, FBI Has to Pay Up on FOIA Screw up…& Voter Fraud

October 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


BACA SAYS THAT THE JAILS COMMISSIONS RECS ARE FINE, BUT THE HARSH FINDINGS BEHIND THEM….UH…WELL, MAYBE NOT SO MUCH

Sheriff Lee Baca gave an interview to KPCC’s Larry Mantel on Thursday. The transcript is worth reading carefully. And….it’s not heartening.

In answer to questions from Mantle Baca characterizes the proposed Inspector General as basically someone who does little more than ferry communication back between the department and the Board of Supervisors, but certainly not any one with any…you know…. real power.

The most alarming moment of the interview is the sheriff’s contention that while the Jails Commissions recommendations are very swell, the findings underlying recommendations were “accusations” not fact.

Here’s a clip from a couple of the most relevant exchanges:

Did you [err] in trusting those under you to manage the jails?

“No, I think the findings of the commission were accusations but there were no probative investigations of the accusations. I have investigated some of them and I’m getting contradictive evidence.”

So are you taking issue with the findings of these commissions?

“I questions the facts that make the findings…I will go out and find out whether the facts support the finding… but the recommendations are sensible sound many are things I had been trying to do but I need support and funding to do them. The raggedness of the findings is not my biggest concern, but no I’m not convinced that the individuals being blamed for the problems are the cause of the problems….

Read the rest.


FBI ORDERED TO PAY S.F. JOURNALIST $470,000 AFTER WITHHOLDING FOIA-REQUESTED RECORDS

What a cheering bit of news, after the incredibly vexing Public Records Act-related judgement by the CA Fed Judge earlier this month.

Vivian Ho at the SF Chron has the story. Here’s the opening clip:

A federal judge this week ordered the FBI to pay a San Francisco journalist almost half a million dollars for withholding records he requested under the Freedom of Information Act.
Seth Rosenfeld, a former reporter at The Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner, won $470,459 in attorneys’ fees for two lawsuits he filed – one in 1990 and another in 2007 – while researching the 1960s protest movement in Berkeley.

The lawsuits were two of five he filed against the FBI and the Justice Department starting in 1985. He requested a variety of records pertaining to the FBI’s covert operations at UC Berkeley and its secret relationship with former President Ronald Reagan.

Rosenfeld used the information he received from the FBI in articles for The Chronicle and the Examiner, as well as in his book “Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power,” which was released in August.

Rosenfeld said the FBI had failed to turn over all of the documents he requested, and that it wasn’t until he engaged them in a series of legal battles that the agency released thousands of pages.

Justice Department attorneys, who represented the FBI, argued that the agency would have released the documents even if Rosenfeld hadn’t filed suit. They said “bureaucratic difficulty, not recalcitrant behavior” slowed the releases.

Oh, poor, poor FBI. The dog ate its ability to adequately search.

As it happens, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen was not in the least sympathetic. The awarded $$ will go to the First Amendment Project of Oakland, and two the law firm of Bryan Cave, which represented Rosenfeld pro bono.


THE NEW YORKER WRITES ABOUT THE MYTH OF VOTER FRAUD

This New Yorker story by award winning-investigative journalist Jane Mayer about the issue of voter fraud, is one step away from our usual criminal justice subject matter, but in the current elections season, it is very much worth your time.

Here’s how it opens:

Teresa Sharp is fifty-three years old and has lived in a modest single-family house on Millsdale Street, in a suburb of Cincinnati, for nearly thirty-three years. A lifelong Democrat, she has voted in every Presidential election since she turned eighteen. So she was agitated when an official summons from the Hamilton County Board of Elections arrived in the mail last month. Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, is one of the most populous regions of the most fiercely contested state in the 2012 election. No Republican candidate has ever won the Presidency without carrying Ohio, and recent polls show Barack Obama and Mitt Romney almost even in the state. Every vote may matter, including those cast by the seven members of the Sharp family—Teresa, her husband, four grown children, and an elderly aunt—living in the Millsdale Street house.

The letter, which cited arcane legal statutes and was printed on government letterhead, was dated September 4th. “You are hereby notified that your right to vote has been challenged by a qualified elector,” it said. “The Hamilton County Board of Elections has scheduled a hearing regarding your right to vote on Monday, September 10th, 2012, at 8:30 a.m. . . . You have the right to appear and testify, call witnesses and be represented by counsel.”

“My first thought was, Oh, no!” Sharp, who is African-American, said. “They ain’t messing with us poor black folks! Who is challenging my right to vote?”

The answer to Sharp’s question is that a new watchdog group, the Ohio Voter Integrity Project, which polices voter-registration rolls in search of “electoral irregularities,” raised questions about her eligibility after consulting a government-compiled list of local properties and mistakenly identifying her house as a vacant lot…

Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information, How Appealing, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, media, Sheriff Lee Baca | 8 Comments »

Public Records Act at Risk, Anti-Bullying Program Slammed as Gay Plot, Juvie LWOP from 2 POVs

October 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A CALIF JUDGE’S DECISION THREATENS THE PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

The LA Times’ Jim Newton has a column that is an absolutely essential read —unless you trust every single one of our government agencies and public officials to scrupulously and without fail behave in a right and good and true manner all of the time.

The column relates the experience of Tim Crews, the editor/publisher of the Sacramento Valley Mirror, a twice weekly newspaper that serves Glenn County. Evidently Crews believed that the local school district had used public funds to improperly influence an election. So to look further into the matter, he attempted to obtain certain documents under the Public Records Act, which is what most reporters would do under the same circumstances. The district predictably dragged its feet. Eventually, the paper and the district wound up in court over some of the documentation, and the judge decided against Crews.

Now here’s where the whole thing gets worrisome. Here are some clips from Newton’s column that explain the heart of the matter:

Up to that point, the case was fairly unremarkable, one of thousands of disputed but ultimately resolved Public Records Act requests that wind their way through public agencies and courts every year. But then the judge in Crews’ case, Peter Twede, did something extraordinary: He concluded that Crews’ request had been frivolous, and he ordered Crews to pay not only his own legal bills but those of the school district. For the privilege of obtaining documents that were his legal right to have, Crews was ordered to pay more than $100,000, an amount later reduced to $56,000.

If the judgment stands — Crews has appealed — it would have a devastating effect on the newspaper, which only has about 2,800 paid subscribers. “It would wipe us out,” Crews told me last week.

It would do more than that. If upheld by the appellate courts, the judgment would radically alter the contours of the Public Records Act in California. Imagine if every time citizens asked for records under the act, they faced the possibility of having to bear not only their own legal expenses but also those that the agency might run up defending itself. Who could afford such risk?

The consequences of Crews’ case are so far-reaching that a number of organizations have come to his defense, including the First Amendment Coalition (on whose board I serve without compensation). William T. Bagley, who wrote California’s public records law while in the Assembly in the late 1960s, has also filed an amicus brief in support of the editor.

[BIG SNIP]

All that is reason enough to be troubled by the action of the judge in the Crews case. But the potential damage to the public extends well beyond Glenn County and even beyond the Public Records Act itself.

If upheld, this ruling would fundamentally reorient the relationship between the people of California and those who represent them. It would require members of the public to put themselves at risk to learn about their own government. It would recast government agencies and elected officials as immune from public scrutiny rather than accountable through that scrutiny.

As the Public Records Act itself states: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them.” For that reason alone, Crews deserves to win and his paper to survive.

This issue has direct application to such things as the reporting that WitnessLA has been doing on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department. Take Matt Fleischer’s recent story about Pay-to-Play in the LASD: without the donations information and other documentation obtained through the Public Records Act, that story and others like it, could not have existed.

And because WLA and other smaller publications like it—and private individuals, for that matter—are operating without the benefit of big staffs and big budgets (and funds set aside for just such legal issues), the threat of having to pay tens of thousands in legal bills if a judge happens to whimsically decide that a government agency doesn’t have to fork over certain paperwork, cannot help to have a cooling effect. Plus, it gives public agencies who’d like to withhold documents for less than stellar reasons a nasty little tool to use against pesky reporters and members of the public who try to hold them accountable, but who don’t have deep pockets.

In any case, stay tuned. We’ll let you know when we know more.


ANTI-BULLYING PROGRAM DEEMED GAY-PROMOTING PLOT”

First the good news: 77 LA County Schools are participating in Mix It Up at Lunch Day, the most schools of any area of the nation. Mix It Up at Lunch Day, which will take place October 30, is a national pro-tolerance, anti-bullying school program that was started over a decade ago by the Teaching Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Here’s how their website explains it:

In our surveys, students have identified the cafeteria as the place where divisions are most clearly drawn. So on one day – October 30 this school year – we ask students to move out of their comfort zones and connect with someone new over lunch. It’s a simple act with profound implications. Studies have shown that interactions across group lines can help reduce prejudice. When students interact with those who are different from them, biases and misperceptions can fall away.

.

Around 2500 schools participate nationally

But then here’s the bad news: A conservative evangelical group called American Family Association, has whipped itself into a frenzy over Mix-It-Up-at Lunch Day, which it calls a “nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools.”

Naturally AFA has told its followers to inform school administrators that they will be keeping their kids home on Oct. 30 in the hope of getting schools to cancel all this ghastly Mixing-it-up.

According to a New York Times story by Kim Severson, after the AFA began pressuring, 200 schools cancelled the program,. Here’s a clip from Severson’s story:

The program, started 11 years ago by the Southern Poverty Law Center and now in more than 2,500 schools, was intended as a way to break up cliques and prevent bullying.

But this year, the American Family Association, a conservative evangelical group, has called the project “a nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in public schools” and is urging parents to keep their children home from school on Oct. 30, the day most of the schools plan to participate this year.

The charges, raised in an e-mail to supporters earlier this month, have caused a handful of schools to cancel this year’s event and has caught organizers off guard.

“I was surprised that they completely lied about what Mix It Up Day is,” said Maureen Costello, the director of the center’s Teaching Tolerance project, which organizes the program. “It was a cynical, fear-mongering tactic.”


WHEN KILLERs ARE KIDS, A CASE FROM THE POV OF A VICTIM’S FAMILY

Sunday’s NY Times features a story by Ethan Bronner that looks at a case in which a 15-year-old boy killed his 15-year-old girlfriend who was pregnant with his child. The article explores the point of view of the once-young killer and also looks at the tragedy from the perspective of the sister of the victim, each of whom could be affected by the SCOTUS decision handed down this past June that found the mandatory sentencing of juvenile murderers to term of Life without the possiblity of parole to be unconstitutional. To be clear, the Suprmes didn’t find Juvie LWOP to be cruel and unusual as a whole, only the mandatory handing down of the sentence without considering the individual killer and his or her circumstances, state of mind, et al.

The decision, which is being treated as retroactive by some states, could mean that a lot of LWOP cases will be reconsidered to see if there should have been an examination of the murderer’s actions, background and circumstances, rather than having a sentence simply applied automatically.

Here’s a clip from the story, which talks about how painful opening such cases could be for families of the victims.

“I go over it pretty much every night,” said Mr. Bailey, now 34, sitting in his brown jumpsuit here at the Fayette State Correctional Institution in western Pennsylvania, where he is serving a sentence of life without parole for first-degree murder. “I don’t want to make excuses. It’s a horrible act I committed. But as you get older, your conscience and insight develop. I’m not the same person.”

Every night, Bobbi Jamriska tries to avoid going over that same event. Ms. Jamriska, Kristina’s sister, was a 22-year-old out for a drink with friends when she got the news. Ten months later, their inconsolable mother died of complications from pneumonia. Weeks later, their grandmother died.

“During that year, I buried four generations of my family,” Ms. Jamriska said at the dining room table of her Pittsburgh house, taking note of her sister’s unborn child. “This wrecked my whole life. It completely changed the person I was.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: I found it a bit distressing that the reporter wrote that the Supremes outlawed Juvenile LWOP altogether and no editor managed to catch the fairly large error, which would seem to be something one might fact check if one is writing about the affect of the freaking case. The story is still worth reading, but really, New York times.


Posted in Education, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, journalism, juvenile justice, LGBT, LWOP Kids, media | 7 Comments »

Jerry Signs SB9, Giving Kids Sentenced to Die in Prison a Chance at a Chance….Vetoes Media Access to CA Lock-ups

October 1st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Yes, the governor signed the bill at the last possible minute.
(Today was the cutoff.) But sign it, he did. We are grateful.

Rather than ramble on about the importance of SB9, the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act, yet again, I’ve reprinted in its entirety, the statement from the office of bill’s sponsor, Senator Leeland Yee.

And, for those of you who are going to start shrieking about social justice advocates caring only about “criminals” and not about the victims, here’s the deal:

Fortunately for all of us, the application of compassion and simply decency to a situation isn’t a zero sum game. It’s not an either/or proposition. Thankfully, toughness and compassion are not mutually exclusive.

Okay, enough said. I’m climbing off my soapbox. Here’s the story:

Today, Governor Jerry Brown signed Senator Leland Yee’s Senate Bill 9 – the Fair Sentencing for Youth Act – which will give youth serving life without parole an opportunity to earn a second chance.

Approximately 300 youth offenders have been sentenced to die in California’s prisons for crimes committed when they were teenagers. SB 9 will give some youth sentenced to life without parole (LWOP) a chance to earn parole after serving at least 25 years in prison.

“I commend Governor Brown for having the courage, understanding, and leadership to sign SB 9,” said Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo), who is a child psychologist. “The Governor’s signature of SB 9 is emotional for both the supporters and the opposition, but I am proud that today California said we believe all kids, even those we had given up on in the past, are deserving of a second chance.”

The United States is the only country in the world where people who were under the age of 18 at the time of their crime serve sentences of life without parole.

Under Senate Bill 9, courts could review cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole after 15 years, potentially allowing some individuals to receive a new minimum sentence of 25 years to life. The bill would require the offender to show remorse and be working towards rehabilitation in order to submit a petition for consideration of the new sentence.

“SB 9 is not a get-out-of-jail-free card; it is an incredibly modest proposal that respects victims, international law, and the fact that children have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults,” said Yee. “The neuroscience is clear – brain maturation continues well through adolescence and thus impulse control, planning, and critical thinking skills are not yet fully developed. SB 9 reflects that science and provides the opportunity for compassion and rehabilitation that we should exercise with minors.”

“SB 9 becoming law speaks volumes for who we are as a society – that we value our children,” said Yee.

Supporters of SB 9 included child advocates, mental health experts, medical organizations, faith communities, and civil rights groups. In recent weeks, SB 9 also gained high level support from the Democratic Leader of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, as well as a number of law enforcement leaders including San Francisco’s police chief, sheriff, and district attorney.

“In California, a sentence of life without parole is a sentence to die in prison,” said Elizabeth Calvin, children’s rights advocate at Human Rights Watch. “Teenagers are still developing. No one – not a judge, a psychologist, or a doctor – can look at a sixteen year old and be sure how that young person will turn out as an adult. It makes sense to re-examine these cases when the individual has grown up and becomes an adult. There’s no question that we can keep the public safe without locking youth up forever for crimes committed when they were still considered too young to have the judgment to vote or drive.”

In California, prosecutors and judges have some discretion on whether to pursue LWOP for juveniles. However, several cases call such discretion into question.

One such case involves Christian Bracamontes, who was 16 and had never before been in trouble with the law. One day when Christian’s friend said, “Hey do you want to rob this guy?” Christian replied in what can only be described as a quintessential adolescent response, “I don’t care.” When the victim refused to comply with his friend’s demand, Christian said he thought the bluff was called, and he remembered turning away and bending down to pick up his bike and leave, when he heard a gunshot.

The prosecutor offered a lower sentence, but in Christian’s teenage mind he could not see how he would be responsible for the other person’s actions and he turned down that deal. The DA was quoted in the newspaper as saying, “It’s hard for teenagers to understand concepts like aiding and abetting.” Christian was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

A report published by Human Rights Watch found that in many cases where juveniles were prosecuted with an adult for the same offense, the youth received heavier sentences than their adult codefendants.

Despite popular belief to the contrary, Human Rights Watch found that life without parole is not reserved for children who commit the worst crimes or who show signs of being irredeemable criminals. Nationally, it is estimated that 59% of youth sentenced to life without parole had no prior criminal convictions. Forty-five percent of California youth sentenced to life without parole for involvement in a murder did not actually kill the victim. Many were convicted of felony murder, or for aiding and abetting the murder, because they acted as lookouts or were participating in another felony, such as a robbery, when the murder took place.

One prosecutor who has publically supported Yee’s bill, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said, “I recognize the ability of young people to reform their behavior and be rehabilitated as they mature. SB 9 holds youth responsible for their actions. It creates a rigorous system of checks and balances, and provides a limited chance for young offenders to prove they have changed – both to a judge and to a parole board.”

California also has the worst record in the nation for racial disparity in the imposition of life without parole for juveniles. African American youth are serving the sentence at a rate that is eighteen times higher than the rate for white youth, and the rate for Latino youth is five times higher.

Each new youth offender given this sentence will cost the state upwards of $2.5 million. To continue incarcerating the current population of youth offenders already sentenced to life without parole until their deaths in prison will cost the state close to $700 million.


BROWN SAYS AB1270, THE PRESS ACCESS TO PRISONS BILL, WOULD GIVE CELEBRITY STATUS TO CRIMINALS

In vetoing AB1279, the sunshine law that would have allowed greater press access to Californi’s state prisons, Jerry Brown used the same rationale that a list of previous governors have used in axing similar bills.

They say that if reporters are allowed to request interviews with specific prisoners, this inevitably means that high profile bad guys like Charlie Manson will quickly become media stars.

It is a rationale that has perplexed most of the journalists who would be those actually going into the prisons to report had the governor signed the bill on Sunday. The last thing most of us would wish to do is to rush to interview the Charlie Mansons of the world.

Regrettably, however, there is a small group of reporters who would.

In any case, it’s back to the drawing board on the necessary concept of bringing more light and thus more accountability to California’s prisons

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), juvenile justice, LWOP Kids, media, prison, prison policy | 2 Comments »

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