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Watts Riots 50th Anniversary News Roundup….Are Crime Rates Really Rising?….and Coroner’s Inquests

August 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


As America marks the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Watts riots this week, here are some stories we didn’t want you to miss:

Veteran TV journalist Tom Brokaw, who covered the aftermath of the Watts riots 50 years ago for NBC, says positive changes have taken place in the neighborhood, including community policing efforts, but Watts is still very much “separate and unequal.”

The LA Times has a ton of worthwhile coverage (more than twenty stories, so far) of the anniversary, including an interview with one of the few black cops in LAPD before and during the riots, quotes dug up from the LA Times’ 1965 archives, the story of Noah Purifoy’s art made from the charred wreckage of Watts, what the ’65 LA Times editorial board had to say about the six days of rioting that left 34 people dead.

Fifty years later, the 2015 editorial board takes a look at what lessons LA has (and hasn’t) learned since then. (Read more of what today’s editorial board has to say about Watts—here and here.)

The Times also compiled a list of essential literature born of the Watts riots, featuring: “A Journey Into the Mind of Watts” by Thomas Pynchon, “The New Centurions” by 1960′s LAPD officer Joseph Wambaugh, and one of our favorites at WLA, the mystery, “Little Scarlet,” by Walter Mosley.

Mosley, who was twelve years old in 1965, shares his memories of the riots in an NPR interview. Here’s a clip:

MONTAGNE: Walter Mosley went on to create the classic character Detective Easy Rawlins in a series of noir novels set in Watts. In 1965, Mosley was 12 years old and a member of an acting troupe that performed plays about civil rights, which is how he found himself in the middle of what some called an uprising.

MOSLEY: The main night of that riot, the apex of the riot, we went down to the little theater on Santa Barbara, now called Martin Luther King, to do our play. But nobody came because, you know, people were rioting. So either they were rioting or they were in their houses hiding from rioting. And we had to drive out. And driving out, we drove through the riots.

MONTAGNE: Do you remember what you saw? I mean, were you scared?

MOSLEY: I was scared, you know, because, number one, it was an interracial group, so, you know, there were a couple of white people in the car. And they were, like, on the floor. And – you know, and then you would see things – you know, people jumping out of windows, you know, like – you know, they were looting. I saw one guy just lying out on the street. I don’t know what happened to him. The police were driving by, four deep in a car with their shotguns held up, but they weren’t shooting. They were just passing through.

You could feel the rage. You know, you could feel that civilization, at that moment, was in tatters. And when I got home, my father was sitting in a chair in the living room, which he never did, drinking vodka and just staring. And I said, Dad, what’s wrong?

Go listen to the rest.

Another LA author and activist, Earl Ofari Hutchinson, in an op-ed for the Huffington Post, talks about what he saw and experienced as an 18-year-old during the riots and what has changed since 1965.

And until the 17th (the end of the riots), you can experience a unconventional live-tweet reenactment of the deadly week-long upheaval by @WattsRiots50.


In the midst of much media attention on crime spikes in states across the US, the Brennan Center for Justice’s Matthew Friedman says the recent crime rate upswings are still part of a longterm downward trend.

LA, NYC, Chicago, DC, and other big cities have recorded higher crime stats over the past few months. And there are many different theories as to what’s behind the changes.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell blamed the higher crime rate on the passage and implementation of Prop 47—which reclassified certain low-level felonies as misdemeanors.

And during LA Mayor Eric Garcetti’s State of the City address in April, he announced a new elite metro unit would patrol crime hotspots in response to a rise in violent crime rates during the first part of 2015 in Los Angeles.

Friedman says that instead of focusing on short-term fluctuations, it’s important to take a step back, and look at the prevailing trend over a period of years, rather than months.

Even a cursory study of murder totals over the past two decades shows a clear downward trend in the number of murders committed in America’s three largest cities. A “trend” indicates the general direction something moves towards. The red lines in the graphs show that the long-term trend is toward fewer homicides in all three cities.

This same trend appears in most major cities across the country.

This does not mean that crime is always decreasing in these cities; in fact you can see areas of all three graphs where crime levels rapidly increase (and rapidly decrease) over short periods of time. These fluctuations are a combination of normal seasonal cycles and random events known technically as ‘noise’. Noise denotes the transient increases and decreases attributable to happen-stance or short-run shocks, but unrelated to the long-run pattern of decreasing murder levels.

Compare New York’s annual murder totals and Chicago’s monthly totals. Both exhibit the same long-term trend: a decreasing number of murders. Also note, however, that the longer time interval used to describe New York’s homicide totals generates a smoother graph that closely tracks the trend line and is almost uniformly decreasing — making it very easy to identify that city’s crime decline. On the other hand, Chicago’s graph exhibits wild fluctuations from season to season (this is known as seasonality). Monthly totals are a great way to display homicide data if you want to understand how solstice patterns impact murder rates, but it also amplifies the cyclical and noise components of Chicago’s homicide totals — making it harder to distinguish the underlying trend.

Friedman compares the crime statistics to LeBron James’ inconsistent free-throw success rate from game-to-game between January and March of this year.

…in 14 games over three months, James’ free-throw percentage increased or decreased by more than 20 percent relative to his previous outing. In multiple instances his shooting acuity fell by half from game to game. In another, it more than doubled. To assume those spikes tell us anything about James’ basketball skills would be foolish — they are just noise.

Similarly, from day to day, month to month, or year to year, crime may rise or fall due to seasonality and noise. Only by observing these changes over a sufficient period of time can we see a trend emerge. The difficulty is figuring out how many observations are necessary to cut through the noise and show us the true trend.


Legal experts and public officials are discussing the viability of the coroner’s inquest model as an alternative to the closed-door grand jury system, as a way to promote transparency and ease tension between communities and the police after a questionable death.

Coroner’s inquests are public inquiries to determine details of a death: how and why a person was killed.

During an inquest, witnesses give testimony, but suspects don’t defend themselves, unless the coroner’s jury verdict leads local prosecutors to indict those involved.

Coroners’ inquests crop up here and there across the nation under special circumstances, but only in Montana are coroners actually required to perform an inquest after an officer-involved shooting.

The killing of 34 people during the Watts riots 50 years ago resulted in a burst of coroner’s inquests, but Los Angeles hasn’t seen an inquest in over three decades. The last coroner’s inquest in Los Angeles was held in 1981. Current LA County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark Fajardo said he considered initiating an inquest into the death of Ezell Ford, a unarmed mentally ill man shot by LAPD officers last year, but chose not to without carefully reviewing the process.

The LA Times’ Doug Smith has more on the issue, as well as the history of the inquest in LA. Here are some clips:

At the urging of County Medical Examiner-Coroner Mark A. Fajardo, who reviewed all police shootings in his job as Riverside County coroner, the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors has asked key agency heads to rethink the review process with an eye to increasing transparency.

Fajardo, who became L.A.’s coroner in 2013, said he found it “troubling” that the office had no review procedures.

“I think the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner should have a process that assures quality, assures efficiency and is transparent in some respect,” Fajardo said.

He said he considered calling an inquest into the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford last year, but held back because he hadn’t fully vetted the process. The county is still reviewing various options.

Some municipalities, like Clark County, NV, have successfully implemented updated versions of the inquest model.

Clark County, Nev., dropped its automatic coroner’s inquest process in 2010 after the police union successfully challenged it in court.

In its place, county commissioners set up a system that achieves some transparency at the expense of immediacy.

After every killing by police, if the district attorney finds no cause to prosecute — which has almost always been the case — the county manager convenes a hearing to examine the evidence in public. The prosecutor calls witnesses, primarily the officers who investigated the slaying. A hearing officer and ombudsman, both appointed by the county manager, can call and question witnesses in a cross-examination format, but not under oath. The officers involved in the killing do not testify.

Anyone attending the hearing can submit questions to the hearing officer or ombudsman, who is appointed to represent the public and the deceased’s family. The whole proceeding is live-streamed on the county TV station and the videos are posted on the county manager’s website.

No findings are made. “It simply concludes,” said Robert Daskas, the deputy who oversees the district attorney’s response team.

There are critics, among them the Nevada ACLU, who say the new process is toothless. But Daskas credits it for easing the tension surrounding troubling events.

“We all see the protests and the riots,” Daskas said. “I would like to think that one of the reasons we have not had issues like that in Clark County is because we provide a very transparent review of officer-involved shootings.”

MacMahon, the English economist who has studied America’s inquest tradition, finds the Clark County process an admirable compromise. He argues that it is the very toothlessness of such reviews that give them the healing power that he calls “soft adjudication,” a hearing process that is investigatory, rather than adversarial, and non-binding.

“Precisely because their verdicts do not carry binding or coercive consequences…inquests can aim more squarely than other legal proceedings at establishing the truth about a contested event,” MacMahon writes in his article.

The Watts riots news roundup was updated August 14, at 7:30p.m.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Eric Garcetti, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, literature, media, race | No Comments »

DOJ, LASD Approve Antelope Valley Settlement…For-profit Prison Companies’ Political Influence…and How We Label Kids

April 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement that will bring much-needed reforms to the LA County Sheriff’s Department stations in Lancaster and Palmdale.

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved the settlement in a closed-door meeting Tuesday. The Supes voted 4-1, with Mark Ridley-Thomas as the dissenting vote.

The settlement was announced nearly two years after the DOJ slapped the LASD with a 46-page “findings” letter detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) residents.

The DOJ investigation found that officers from the Antelope Valley stations were conducting racially biased searches and seizures, using excessive force against people already in handcuffs, and harassing and intimidating Section 8 housing voucher holders along with the county Housing Authority with the intent to oust residents and push them into moving out of the area.

The DOJ is working out a separate agreement with the Housing Authority of LA County.

Tuesday’s settlement agreement also instructed the county to set aside $700,000 to compensate the Section 8 housing voucher holders whose rights had been violated—a far cry from the $12.5 million the Justice Department originally demanded of the county in 2013. The county is also ordered to pay an additional $25,000 penalty to the US.

An independent team will monitor the department’s progress as it puts the ordered reforms into action, against a four-year deadline.

Here are the issues to be be addressed, according to the DOJ:

Stops, searches and seizures: measures to improve collection and analysis of policing data to identify instances and patterns of unlawful police-civilian contact, such as stops without adequate legal justification;

Bias-free policing: improved training and supervisory review to prevent and identify biased or discriminatory conduct;

Use of force: measures to improve the quality of use-of-force investigations and develop a better means to detect and correct problematic force patterns and trends;

Policies and training: revised policies on use of force, preventing retaliation, supporting officers who report misconduct, and improving the field training program to ensure that officers develop the necessary technical and practical skills required to use force in a lawful and effective manner, with an emphasis on de-escalation and use of the minimal amount of force necessary;

Internal and civilian complaint investigations: including standards for conducting objective, thorough and timely investigations;

Supervision: including holding supervisors accountable for close and effective supervision; and providing guidance on effective accountability systems to improve public trust;

Housing: measures to ensure proper limits on deputy involvement in searches of Section 8 voucher holders’ homes for compliance with program rules; and

Community engagement: including measures to strengthen civilian involvement and feedback in setting policing priorities; public information programs to keep civilians informed of policing activities; requirements for community interaction at all levels of LASD; and establishing community advisory entities to ensure that meaningful feedback is obtained from the community.

The Sheriff’s Dept. has implemented around a third of the DOJ’s 150 requirements, thus far, but LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said he “will not be satisfied, nor should others be satisfied, until we are in full compliance with the high bar that we have willingly taken on – and I welcome the watchful eye of our community to ensure that we meet those standards.” Sheriff McDonnell said the LASD will look at the DOJ requirements as “opportunities” for the department to improve knowledge, training, and policies.


The working group tasked with advising the LA County Board of Supervisors on the structure, power, and objective of civilian oversight for the sheriff’s department has been holding town hall meetings to gather community input on the issue. There are still three more meetings in different LA County locations through which you can have a voice in the creation of the oversight panel. Here’s the info.


Private prison companies GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America purport to save states and the federal government money, but in doing so treat prisoners like commodities, even employing lock-up quotas and “low crime taxes.” (Read WLA’s previous posts about troubled private prisons—here, here, and here.)

In order to business from various states and the federal government, since 1989 the two companies have donated $10 million to candidates campaigns, and another $25 million lobbying. And the expenditures have paid off. In 2010, CCA and GEO Group made around $3 billion in profit. GEO Group’s 2010 profits, in particular, jumped 121% over their 2001 figures.

Presidential candidate, Senator Marco Rubio, appears to have close ties with GEO Group. When the now-senator served as Florida’s Speaker of the House of Representatives, the House awarded a $110 million contract for a new FL prison to the private company. GEO Group received the contract after Rubio hired a former GEO Group trustee as a financial advisor for his campaign. The senator has also received around $40,000 in campaign donations from the company throughout his career.

California has its share of private lock-ups run by the GEO Group, some federal, others local.

Michael Cohen shines a light on this issue for the Washington Post. Here’s a clip:

With the growing influence of the prison lobby, the nation is, in effect, commoditizing human bodies for an industry in militant pursuit of profit. For instance, privatization created the atmosphere that made the “Kids For Cash” scandal possible, in which two Pennsylvania judges received $2.6 million in kickbacks from for-profit juvenile detention centers for sending more kids to the facilities and with unusually long sentences. The influence of private prisons creates a system that trades money for human freedom, often at the expense of the nation’s most vulnerable populations: children, immigrants and the poor.

The biggest beneficiaries of private prisons’ political donations have been Republican politicians in Florida, Tennessee, and border states with high populations of undocumented immigrants. The Republic Party of Florida PAC has received nearly $2.5 million from GEO and CCA since 1989. In 2010, GEO and its affiliates pumped $33,500 into political action committees benefiting Florida Republicans, including the Marco Rubio for U.S. Senate PAC. Since 2009, GEO Group’s co-founder and chief executive, George Zoley, has personally donated $6,480 to Rubio.

A 2011 investigative report published by The Center for Media and Democracy detailed the connections between Rubio and GEO during his time in the Florida House. It notes that Rubio hired Donna Arduin, a former trustee for GEO’s Correctional Properties Trust, as an economic consultant. Arduin worked with Rubio’s then-budget chief, Ray Sansom, who pushed through a $110 million deal for a new GEO prison in the House Appropriations Bill. The report also detailed how legislation favorable to GEO Group has shadowed Arduin’s presence in government from California to Florida. In 2011, Florida Gov. Rick Scott – who also used Arduin as a budget adviser – pushed (unsuccessfully) to privatize 27 prisons south of Orlando.


For those of us who are word-junkies, Anya Kamenetz has a fascinating story for NPR about the history of what we have called kids who have had contact with the juvenile justice system, or are homeless, or who are not in school, or any combination of the three. From “juvenile delinquent,” to “superpredator,” to “at-risk youth,” Kamenetz breaks down what each label represents and suggests about kids they identify. Here’s how it opens:

Much of our recent reporting, especially from New Orleans, has focused on young people who are neither in school nor working. There are an estimated 5 1/2 million of them, ages 16 to 24, in the United States.

But what do we call them? The nomenclature has fluctuated widely over the decades. And each generation’s preferred term is packed with assumptions— economic, social, cultural, and educational — about the best way to frame the issue. Essentially, each name contains an argument about who’s at fault, and where to find solutions.

“I think the name matters,” says Andrew Mason, the executive director of Open Meadow, an alternative school in Portland, Ore. “If we’re using disparaging names, people are going to have a hard time thinking that you’re there to help kids.”

Mason has worked in alternative education for more than 23 years and has seen these terms evolve over time.

To delve deeper into just how much the taxonomy has changed, I used Google’s Ngram Viewer tool to track mentions of some of the most popular phrases in published books. I started at the year 1940. Back then, the prevailing term was:

Juvenile Delinquent

This is among the oldest terms used to describe this category of young people. It was originally identified with a reformist, progressive view that sought special treatment for them, outside of adult prisons. It lumped together youths who broke a law, “wayward” girls who got pregnant or young people who were simply homeless.

The New York House of Refuge, founded in 1825, has been called the first institution designated exclusively to serve such youth. An 1860 article in The New York Times described its mission as “the reformation of juvenile delinquents.”

This was the beginning of the “reform school,” aka “industrial school” movement. The primary response to young people in these situations was to institutionalize them, sometimes for years, with varying levels of access to food, shelter, work and education…

Posted in Civil Rights, Department of Justice, jail, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, media, racial justice | No Comments »

Media & Crime & Race…Emotion Makes Bad Law…..Were SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?…A SF Jail Deputies Behind Inmates Gladiator Fights?

March 30th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


We know that, statistically, poor minority defendants fair far less well when they come in contact with the American criminal justice system than do non-minorities.

Now, according to a recent report by Media Matters, it turns out that the media also tends to give disproportionate coverage to crime stories involving African-American suspects, over those involving non-black suspects.

Think progress has more on the story.

Compared to the percentage of crimes they actually commit, African Americans are grossly overrepresented on local news broadcasts about criminal activity, according to a new report from Media Matters for America. In New York City alone, black people make up 75 percent of criminals discussed on local channels, whereas they only make up 51 percent of the actual arrest rate.

Summarizing the report, the Color of Change, a black advocacy organization, concluded that all four [NYC] channels [studied] failed to contextualize the crimes that were reported, making no mention of discriminatory policing that targets African American communities or systemic factors that contribute to crime, such as unemployment. By portraying black people as the vast majority of perpetrators, the news stations detracted from criminal activities perpetrated by non-black persons and fueled racial bias.

Unfortunately, media bias parallels extensive research that shows how African Americans are far more criminalized than their white counterparts, nationwide. One study about “who looks criminal” determined that police officers frequently associate black faces with criminal behavior. According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimated African Americans’ participation in burglaries, illegal drug sales and juvenile crime by 20-30 percent. Additionally, white people support stricter criminal justice policies if they think that more black people are arrested as a result.

There’s more, so read the rest.


California Proposition 83—otherwise known as Jessica’s Law—passed easily in 2006, and has made a mess ever since, as evidenced by two recent court decisions. Jessica’s law, in case you don’t remember, set down a bunch of regulations and prohibitions about where sex offenders could and could not live after being released from prison. The answer too often was nowhere, which has resulted in homeless sex offenders living on the street, under bridges, in cars—hardly safe situations for anyone.

The LA Times editorial board lays the matter out in a strong and sensible editorial that includes some suggestion solutions.

Here’s how it opens:

Jessica’s Law — California’s version of it, anyway — was a mess from the beginning. Voters here adopted it (as Proposition 83 in 2006 )because they mistakenly believed they were cracking down on horrific crimes against children. They were urged on by nightly harangues from national TV commentators who campaigned on-air for swift action following the rape and murder of 9-year-old Jessica Lunsford in Florida, a crime that touched an especially sensitive nerve here because the circumstances nearly mirrored the nightmarish killing of Polly Klaas in California a decade earlier. But emotional outpourings of fear, revulsion and collective guilt too often translate poorly into policy and law, and that was surely the case with Proposition 83.

The latest reminder of the law’s failure came last week, when state parole officials announced that they would no longer enforce the measure’s blanket ban on paroled sex offenders living within 2,000 feet of a school or park where children regularly gather.

That decision follows a state Supreme Court ruling this month invalidating the ban as it applied in San Diego County.

Californians have every right to protect their children from child molesters, so it would be understandable if they were perplexed by the actions of the court and corrections officials — until they realize that the residency restriction did nothing of the sort.

In fact, it likely undermined public safety for everyone, children included, by pushing paroled sex offenders from their homes and compelling them to live homeless or as transients, leaving the public in the dark as to their whereabouts and making parolees harder for agents to find.

Besides, it is important to remember that the law did not single out child molesters. It did not distinguish parolees at high risk to commit new crimes, or those more likely to target children, from any of the other 6,000 parolees required to register as sex offenders — or indeed any of the approximately 80,000 Californians not on parole but with a sex offense on their record….


San Francisco’s public defender, Jeff Adachi, announced on Thursday that at least four of the county’s jail deputies reportedly had a little side bets on gladiator-like fights they threatened and cajoled inmates into staging.

(Really, people? After all the scandals in and around the jails in LA, you still think this is a good idea?)

In any case, Vivian Ho of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story.

Here’s a clip:

San Francisco sheriff’s deputies arranged and gambled on battles between County Jail inmates, forcing one to train for the fights and telling them to lie if they needed medical attention, the city’s public defender said Thursday.

Since the beginning of March, at least four deputies at County Jail No. 4 at 850 Bryant St. threatened inmates with violence or withheld food if they did not fight each other, gladiator-style, for the entertainment of the deputies, Public Defender Jeff Adachi said.

Adachi said the ringleader in these fights was Deputy Scott Neu, who was accused in 2006 of forcing inmates to perform sexual acts on him. That case was settled out of court.

“I don’t know why he does it, but I just feel like he gets a kick out of it because I just see the look on his face,” said Ricardo Palikiko Garcia, one of the inmates who said he was forced to fight. “It looks like it brings him joy by doing this, while we’re suffering by what he’s doing.”

An attorney for the San Francisco Sheriff’s Association said that the allegations were “exaggerated,” and that what happened was basically “horseplay.”

District Attorney George Gascón called the allegations “deplorable.”

Vivian Ho provides has a lot more about the accusations, so read on.

Posted in Civil Liberties, crime and punishment, jail, media, prison policy, race, race and class | 7 Comments »

4 LA County Sheriff’s Deputies Suspect of Theft and Bribe Taking…CA Poor Often Given Cut Rate Legal Defense, Report Finds….Will There Be Fed Indictments for former LASD Top Brass?…& LA Press Club Award to Charlie Hebdo

January 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department have been relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of a criminal investigation into reports that the four engaged in a scheme of thefts and bribes regarding towed vehicles or vehicles about to be towed.

According to a statement released by the LASD on Monday morning, the department became aware in December 2014 of evidence that three deputy sheriffs and a parking control officer were implicated in individual incidents of theft from towed vehicles or accepting cash from vehicle owners to avoid towing and impounding of their vehicles. All four of the department members relieved of duty worked out of Century Station located in Lynwood.

As of now, department investigators do not believe that any additional personnel were involved in the alleged theft and bribery.

“As a law enforcement organization, it is imperative that we earn the public’s trust each day,” Sheriff Jim McDonnell said in an email that went to all department members. “Acts such as those described above tarnish the badge all of us wear and erode the confidence the public has in law enforcement.

“We will respond swiftly and resolutely whenever acts of this nature come to our attention,” McDonnell continued. “We must demonstrate to the public and to our own Department family that conduct which violates the public trust will not be tolerated. In doing so we also reaffirm that the vast majority of our personnel perform their duties in an exemplary manner.”

The department is pointing to the announcement of the investigation as evidence of a new policy of transparency.

Those department members—working and retired—we spoke with about the matter on Monday said they appreciated the strategy.

“It sets a good tone,” said one retired LASD lieutenant. “It says the department is no longer going to tolerate this kind of nonsense.”

(Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department badge and patch photo above by Jaime Lopez, LASD)


In the 1963 landmark SCOTUS decision of Gideon v. Wainwright, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the assistance of counsel for a defendant who could not afford to hire a lawyer was a fundamental right under the United States Constitution. The court’s ruling specified that such legal assistance applied to the preparation for trial as well as the trial itself.

According to a new report by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, more and more of the state’s counties are cutting funds formerly allocated to provide lawyers for those in need of counsel—and many defendants are getting inadequate “cut-rate” representation as a consequence.

Karen de Sá of the San Jose Mercury News has more on the story. Here are some clips:

Counties are increasingly hiring legal firms that offer cut-rate representation by failing to spend money on investigators or experts that are needed for adequate defense, said the report issued by the California Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, created to examine ways to guard against wrongful convictions.

“This is like a cancer within the system of providing indigent defense, and it’s spreading,” said Gerald Uelmen, executive director of the so-called Fair Commission, calling the spread of low-bid, flat-fee private firms “a race to the bottom.”

Traditional public defenders in the pay of the various California counties are generally okay, said the report.

But lawyers who are paid a flat fee for representation, the report said, may be tempted to cut corners on pretrial preparation and avoid going to trial to save time and money.

As a solution, commissioners recommend that the state Legislature establish a body to oversee the way counties provide representation to criminal defendants, and also recommend a law to ensure that funding for experts and investigators is separate from the fee paid to the lawyers in publicly funded cases.

The Fair Administration of Justice Commission report cited research by California Western School of Law Professor Larry Benner, who found that inadequate investigation is a recurring problem in cases in which convictions were overturned because of poor representation….

The new California-based report reflects other dismal reports outlining a national crisis in indigent defense that prevents a growing number of Americans from getting adequate legal representation when they most urgently need it.


For the last month or so we’d been hearing that various current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had received subpoenas to appear in front of a federal grand jury, as part of an ongoing investigation into the events that resulted in the conviction of seven LASD members for obstruction of justice last year.

Moreover, several of those who were asked to appear were among the seven former department members who have already been convicted. Since all seven contended that the actions that led to their convictions were the result of orders that originated at the LASD’s highest echelon—namely from Baca and Tanaka—there has been much speculation that federal prosecutors are now hoping to indict some of those very former department higher ups.

Over the weekend, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang reported on the matter of the new grandjury subpoenas.

She wrote:

The questioning has focused partly on meetings where then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, Paul Tanaka, discussed how to deal with the discovery of a cellphone provided to a county jail inmate by the FBI. In addition to the convicted officials, some current Sheriff’s Department officials have also received grand jury subpoenas.

Many in the Sheriff’s Department believe that low-ranking officials took the fall for following orders from Tanaka and Baca. Now, with the convening of the grand jury, it appears that prosecutors are attempting to target more sheriff’s officials after convicting seven last year for obstructing justice.

Of the seven, Gregory Thompson, a former lieutenant, and two ex-deputies, Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, are known to have testified before the grand jury in December, according to a source.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Assn. (PPOA), the union that represents sheriff’s department supervisors, said that he knows of at least one more grand jury subpoena related to the obstruction of justice issue. But, he said, he has heard credible reports of still more such subpoenas.

So will there be new indictments?

When LASD Captain Tom Carey testified at the trials of the seven last year, he admitted that he was the subject of an ongoing federal criminal investigation. And, as WLA has previously reported, Carey was relieved of duty in December pending the result of an internal departmental investigation.

Tanaka also admitted last year to knowing he was the subject of a federal criminal probe.

Yet, despite much pestering on the part of reporters, WLA included, federal prosecutors and a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office have repeatedly declined to comment on the possibility—or lack thereof—of more indictments, and will say only that the investigation is ongoing.

Still, the new grand jury hearings have fueled new rounds of speculation.

“Of course, many of us hope the government is going to reach higher than those who have already been convicted,” Moriguchi said. “But in the end all we can do is speculate. It’s hopeful speculation, but it’s speculation, nonetheless.”

NOTE: Chang’s story has more that you’ll likely find interesting, so be sure to read the whole thing.


The Los Angeles Press Club announced on Monday that its 2015 Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity in Journalism will go to Charlie Hebdo.

“We are deeply honored. Of course, we’ll accept, said Gerard Biard, Editor-in-Chief of Charlie Hebdo.

“No act of terrorism can stop freedom of speech. Giving the Daniel Pearl Award to Charlie Hebdo is a strong message to that effect,” said LA Press Club President Robert Kovacik of NBC LA.

Since 2002, the Los Angeles Press Club in conjunction with Judea and Ruth Pearl, the parents of Wall Street Journal journalist Daniel Pearl—who was kidnapped in 2002 by Pakistani militants and later murdered by Al-Qaeda’s Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—have handed out the award to those who have displayed unusual courage in reporting.

Past recipients have included Richard Engel, the NBC correspondent who covered multiple mid east wars on the front lines, before being abducted in Syria in 2012, and Anna Politkovskaya, the Russian journalist/author who became famous for her reporting on the conflict in Chechnya, who was murdered in 2006 in the elevator outside her apartment in what was widely viewed as an ordered assassination to prevent her latest deeply reported story from being published.

The 2015 award will be presented by Judea and Ruth Pearl at a gala awards dinner held at the Biltmore hotel in Los Angeles on Sunday, June 28th.

In the meantime, Charlie Hebdo’s first cover since the murderous attack on its Paris offices that killed 12 people, will feature a tearful prophet Mohammed holding a sign that reads “Je suis Charlie.” The magazine’s headline says “All is forgiven.”

The magazine, which will go on sale on Wednesday, will reportedly print as many as record 3 million copies in 16 languages, instead of its usual 60,000.

The cover cartoon, which you can see below, was drawn by the weekly’s cartoonist Luz, who survived the massacre because he was late arriving at the office.

(Click on the Charlie Hebdo cover image to enlarge it.)

Posted in art and culture, FBI, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, Future of Journalism, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, media, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | 19 Comments »

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


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.


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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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…..


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


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?


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 | 1 Comment »

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


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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…


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


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.)


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


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?’ ”


“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.


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.


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’.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 »

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