Incompetent to Stand Trial and Warehoused in Jails, SFPD Chief Blasts SF DA’s Task Force, 22 Pardons, and P22April 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker
NO HOSPITAL BEDS: LA’S MENTALLY ILL AND DEVELOPMENTALLY DISABLED DEFENDANTS DECLARED INCOMPETENT WAIT IN JAIL
Porterville Developmental Center is California’s only hospital that admits developmentally disabled criminal defendants. Because Porterville has a lengthy waiting list, there are around fifty inmates declared incompetent to stand trial waiting more than two years, on average, in jails across the state for space to free up at the hospital.
The number is even higher for mentally ill defendants declared incompetent. There are more than 300 waiting for beds at the five state hospitals that can accept them.
When defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they are supposed to be sent to a mental hospital for treatment until they can understand the charges against them.
But it’s not as easy as just spending money to create more hospital beds. Counties, including LA, are waiting to see if Prop 47 (the reduction of many low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors) will help alleviate the problem. But the state is leaning on counties to implement jail treatment programs for the mentally ill inmates awaiting transfer.
The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here are some clips:
In January 2014, Edward Lamont Mason allegedly attacked and injured a woman with a baseball bat.
He was arrested and has been in jail ever since, even though a judge ruled he was unfit to stand trial.
Mason, it turns out, is developmentally disabled. The victim of the alleged assault was his caretaker. And while the judge ordered him sent to Porterville Developmental Center — the only state hospital set up to house and treat developmentally disabled criminal defendants — there is no room.
So while the case against the Hayward, Calif., resident has been temporarily suspended, he remains an inmate in Alameda County’s Santa Rita jail, not receiving the treatment that would allow his case to move forward.
Mason’s lawyer, assistant public defender Brian Bloom, said if his 37-year-old client had been convicted and sentenced, he probably would have served less time than he has now spent waiting for a hospital bed.
“He’s confined in jail for no other reason than he’s developmentally disabled, which is really quite horrific when you think about it,” Bloom said.
State officials say there is nothing they can do about it…
Both Riverside and San Bernardino Counties have set up small programs to treat mentally ill defendants in jail. Los Angeles, already under fire for poor treatment of mentally ill inmates, is looking into doing the same, but there is no easy solution to the problem.
The program would have some financial advantages, as the state would pay to house and treat the inmates in the county jail. Currently, the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department receives no reimbursement for housing inmates awaiting transfer to state hospitals.
Some advocates, attorneys and treatment providers are adamantly opposed to the proposal.
“I think it’s a foolhardy idea,” said Terry Kupers, a psychiatrist who specializes in jails. Mentally ill jail inmates spend most of their time in a cell and, in some cases, in isolation, which can exacerbate their symptoms, he said.
“Of course it’s possible to do quality treatment in the jails,” Kupers said. “I’ve just never seen it happen.”
SAN FRANCISCO POLICE CHIEF BUTTS HEADS WITH SF DISTRICT ATTORNEY OVER MISCONDUCT TASK FORCE
On Monday, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon announced a new task force would look into some troubling misconduct allegations within the SF Police Department, the Sheriff’s Department, and the DNA crime lab. (More on that here.)
SFPD Chief Greg Suhr criticized the DA’s move as good press for an election year, and said Gascon was overstepping boundaries by launching the task force.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Vivian Ho has the story. Here’s a clip:
The chief said police were already cooperating with the district attorney’s office in both the DNA and text-messaging cases, but that Gascón “has no role in supervising or overseeing either the Sheriff’s Department or the Police Department.”
“But then again it’s an election year, and task forces generate press conferences,” Suhr said.
Suhr also said the crime-lab supervisor who was put on leave after failing a DNA proficiency exam, Cherisse Boland, was also a supervisor while Gascón was police chief. A defense attorney complained about her during Gascón’s tenure, Suhr said, but she remained on staff.
“It’s important that we have a hand-in-glove relationship to make the best cases, and I don’t think that’s in jeopardy,” Suhr said of Gascón’s office. “But I’m the chief of police. I’m responsible to and accountable for anybody and anything that goes on in my department, just as he should be as the district attorney and Sheriff Mirkarimi should be as the sheriff. As our systems connect, I think we need to be respectful of everybody’s charge.”
The investigation into the text messages should be done by the end of the week, Suhr said, and the crime lab investigation should take four to six weeks.
[Sheriff Ross] Mirkarimi said he supports a third party looking into the allegations against his department, but he thinks the district attorney is too connected to the two departments and would not be able to clearly evaluate the cases.
“A task force could be a good idea, but the district attorney’s office is entwined with many of the systemic issues that implicate the police and sheriff’s departments,” he said. “Rather, a true independent task force would not be burdened by potential conflicts. In our case, this is why I initiated a request to the U.S. attorney and attorney general.”
PRESIDENT OBAMA PARDONS 22, HIS LARGEST NUMBER OF INMATES YET
On Tuesday, President Barack Obama commuted the sentences of 22 non-violent drug offenders.
All of those pardoned have spent more than ten years behind bars, and the majority would have received shorter sentences if they had been sentenced under current drug laws.
Obama has faced criticism from activists in past years for granting so few people clemency. These 22 new recipients make up the largest group Obama has pardoned thus far, bring the president’s total up to 43. To put this in perspective, former President George W. Bush only commuted 11 sentences during his 8 years in office.
The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin and Sari Horwitz have the story. Here’s a clip:
The 22 inmates whose sentences were commuted Tuesday were nonviolent offenders serving time for the possession, sale and distribution of substances including methamphetamine, marijuana and cocaine. One, Terry Andre Barnes of East Moline, Ill., was convicted of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and sentenced in July 2005 to 246 months in prison, a term that would have kept him behind bars until 2025.
Obama wrote a letter to each of the inmates — all but one of whom, including Barnes, will be released July 28 — urging them to use the opportunity to rebuild their lives.
“I am granting your application because you have demonstrated the potential to turn your life around. Now it is up to you to make the most of this opportunity,” Obama wrote. “It will not be easy, and you will confront many who doubt people with criminal records can change. . . . But remember that you have the capacity to make good choices.”
“I believe in your ability to prove the doubters wrong,” the president concluded, “So good luck, and Godspeed.”
HOW NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER STEVE WINTER SHOT ICONIC LA COUGAR (P22) PHOTOS
National Geographic photographer Steve Winter tells LA Magazine’s Marielle Wakim about how he captured rare photos of P22, LA’s most famous cougar, over the course of fifteen months with cameras hidden around Griffith Park.
Here are some clips (but definitely go over to the LA Mag interview for the photos):
You have built a career on photographing much larger, scarier cats for National Geographic—although personally, I find mountain lions scary. How was the challenge of shooting in Griffith Park different from shooting in wilder areas?
All my work in the middle of nowhere helped when thinking about the fact that I needed to get an image of a cougar in an urban setting. I first started in Marin County, just north of San Francisco, and that didn’t pan out. I went to a mountain lion meeting in Bozeman, Montana, where I met L.A. wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich. I told him, ‘Jeff, I really need to get this picture, do any of the cats in the Santa Monica Mountains walk into suburban or urban areas?’ because I had heard there used to be a cat that would walk onto Cher’s property. But Jeff said no, that they’re smart cats—they’ll go into urban areas at night, but if they don’t see any prey, they’ll turn around and come back.
After he said this, I had said to him jokingly—but never really jokingly— wouldn’t it be great to get a picture of a mountain lion with the Hollywood sign? He later told me he thought I was crazy, but he was being polite, so he said, “Well it would, except that there are no cougars or mountain lions in Griffith Park.” I told him to let me know if something changed. Eight months later, I was in the dentist’s chair, and my phone vibrates: it’s a text from Jeff saying ‘Call me now.’ He said that there was a bobcat study being done with remote cameras in Griffith Park. There’s a hill with a cross on it on the other side of the 101, and there was a remote camera right by that cross—the beginning of Griffith Park. And boom: they got a picture of a mountain lion. That’s how it all started.
What was your ultimate goal with this shot?
I was visualizing two things: Getting a picture of a cougar with L.A. in the background, and [having the image] speak to everyone around the world. City lights say ‘city lights,’ but they don’t say ‘L.A.’—everyone recognizes the Hollywood sign. Those were my goals, and we got both of them, but it took forever to figure out. It took me 15 months to get that picture and to figure out what trail that cat walks on. Nobody had seen the P22, so figuring out where to put these cameras was hard. Griffith Park is not that big, and there aren’t that many trails. There are even fewer where you can see the Hollywood sign or where you can see L.A., especially from the height of a cat. So figuring out a place to put the cameras in Griffith Park where I could get the shot and where the cameras wouldn’t get stolen was a big issue.