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New LASD Inspector General Says Fire Existing LASD Watchdogs…. & Effort to Make LA Schools “Less Toxic” is Hit & Miss

March 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



LASD INSPECTOR MAX HUNTSMAN SAYS THAT IT’S TIME FOR THE OLD OVERSIGHT METHODS TO GO

In a Tuesday afternoon letter to the Board of Supervisors that startled many, Sheriff’s Department Inspector General Max Huntsman recommended to the LA County Board of Supervisors that contracts be terminated. with both longtime LASD watchdogs, Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review and Special Counsel Merrick Bobb.

Huntsman was appreciative of the work of the OIR and of Merrick Bobb, but he didn’t pull any punches.

The Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has a good story on the letter and some of the reactions to it. Here’s a clip:

…“The Office of Independent Review has functioned primarily as a part of the Sheriff’s Department,” Huntsman said. “The office has had an attorney-client relationship with the sheriff, was housed within the department, and assumed an integral role in the disciplinary system.

“This model has created the perception that OIR is not sufficiently independent to act as a civilian monitor,” Huntsman added. “This perception is not entirely without basis.”

He said the OIR’s role as a “trusted adviser” to former Sheriff Lee Baca, who had recommended its creation, “limited its effectivess in reporting information to the public and the board.”

Gennaco disagreed.

“Some people have that perception but our reports are hard-hitting and factual, and we don’t pull any punches,” Gennaco said.

“Because of our work, a number of deputies have been made accountable who otherwise would still be working at the department,” he added, noting the OIR recommended 100 deputies for discipline, including termination, for various acts of misconduct just in the past year.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi also has some good angles on the matter. Here’s a clip:

Huntsman said he is not planning to work with sheriff’s officials on individual discipline cases the way Gennaco’s organization did. He said he would rather take a more systemic approach and stay out of individual cases so that he can report his opinion on those that are mishandled without a conflict of interest.

However, in his letter he mentioned the possibility of the Sheriff’s Department hiring some of Gennaco’s attorneys to fill that role in order to advise sheriff’s officials in determining appropriate discipline on a case-by-case basis. He said the organization’s attorneys have had a positive effect on encouraging thorough misconduct investigations and appropriate discipline.

Even as he recommended cutting his contract, Hunstman also complimented Bobb, saying he provided an “invaluable” outside perspective, including pushing for a database that tracks deputy discipline.


GETTING LA’S TRAUMATIZED STUDENTS THE HELP IN SCHOOL THEY NEED, IS ANYTHING BUT EASY

Journalist/advocate Jane Ellen Stevens, who runs the wonderfully informative website ACEsTooHigh, has become expert in the effect of trauma on kids an others.

Right now, she is working on an investigative series into “right doing—which looks at how some schools, mostly in California, are “moving from a punitive to a trauma-informed approach to school discipline.” The series, which is funded by the California Endowment, includes profiles of schools and programs in Le Grand, Fresno, Concord, Reedley, San Francisco, Vallejo, San Diego—and LA.

Here are some clips from Stevens’ most recent story, “Trying to make LA schools less toxic is hit-and-miss; relatively few students receive care they need.”

In it she describes the ways in which certain people inside the LAUSD really understand the problem of kids acting out because of trauma, but struggle to find resources to help.

For millions of troubled children across the country, schools have been toxic places. That’s not just because many schools don’t control bullying by students or teachers, but because they enforce arbitrary and discriminatory zero tolerance school discipline policies, such as suspensions for “willful defiance”. Many also ignore the kids who sit in the back of the room and don’t engage – the ones called “lazy” or “unmotivated” – and who are likely to drop out of school.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), which banned suspensions for willful defiance last May, the CBITS program (pronounced SEE-bits), aims to find and help troubled students before their reactions to their own trauma trigger a punitive response from their school environment, including a teacher or principal.

[SNIP]

Every semester, Lauren Maher, a psychiatric social worker, gives all the children in Harmony’s fifth grade a brightly colored flyer to take home. It asks the parent to give permission for her or his child to fill out a questionnaire about events the child may have experienced in, or away from, school. “Has anyone close to you died?” “Have you yourself been slapped, punched, or hit by someone?” “Have you had trouble concentrating (for example, losing track of a story on television, forgetting what you read, not paying attention in class)?” are three of the 45 questions.

Garcia’s son was one of a small group of students whose answers on the questionnaire, as well as his grades and behavior, were showing signs that he was suffering trauma. He joined one of the two groups, each with eight students that met once a week for 10 weeks at the school. In the group, the students don’t talk about the event or events that triggered the trauma. Instead they talk about their common reactions to trauma, and learn strategies to calm their minds and bodies.

Each student also meets twice individually with Maher; so do the child’s parent or parents. For some parents, it’s the first time they hear about the traumatic event – such as bullying or witnessing violence in the neighborhood – or what their child says about a traumatic event. So, if a child throws a fit because he doesn’t want to go to the grocery store, says Maher, it’s not because he’s being a bad kid. It’s because he remembers how during his last trip to the grocery store, his mother threw her body over his when gunfire broke out and wouldn’t let him move until the police came to help them, and now he’s afraid to return.

In the case of Garcia’s son, he was having problems at school because he was witnessing his stepfather beating her up. The first time Garcia talked with Maher, Garcia wondered what she had gotten herself into. “I didn’t know if she would call the department of social services on me or not,” she says, tears streaming down her face.

“After I had a talk with her, I realized it wasn’t a bad choice,” she says. “At first, it hurts to open up, because you don’t want anybody to know about your situation. I was a victim of domestic violence and never opened my mouth. We’re taught that what happens at home stays at home. I was reassured that I wasn’t the only one going through this.”

[SNIP]

CBITS had its beginnings in 1999, when clinician-researchers from RAND Corporation and the University of California at Los Angeles teamed up with LAUSD School Mental Health to develop a tool to systematically screen for their exposure to traumatic events. The screening tool – a questionnaire – was first used with immigrant students, says Escudero. When it became evident that students were witnessing violence in their neighborhoods and domestic violence and other abuse in their homes, social workers began making it available for all students. This experience led the team to develop CBITS. Since 2003, CBITS has been disseminated through the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, and is used in hundreds of schools in the U.S. and other countries. It has a new site – traumaawareschools.org – that is focused on helping schools implement CBITS and teacher training.

“I was one of the originators of CBITS,” says Pia Escudero, director of the LAUSD School Mental Health, Crisis Counseling & Intervention Services. “When we started, folks did not want to talk about family violence. Our gateway was to talk about community violence.”

Read on!

Posted in Inspector General, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, OIR, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 5 Comments »

New OIR Jail Abuse Report Finds Many Excessive Force Allegations “Unresolved”….and Unresolvable

October 29th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


A new report released Monday night by the Office of Independent Review
looks at a pile of allegations of past abuse in the Los Angeles County Jails, and finds that most of the cases cannot be conclusively resolved due to the poor quality (or nonexistence) of timely investigations into the alleged incidents after they actually occured.

Here are the details:

In the fall of 2011, the ACLU filed 76 declarations “alleging wide scale and pervasive abuse of inmates by deputies in the County jails,” explains the October 2013 OIR report. “And while those allegations have helped stimulate positive reform,” it is “critical to thoroughly investigate and fairly analyze each individual allegation.”

This look backward is necessary, the report continues, in order to “hold people accountable for what occurred in prior years,” and “where possible and appropriate, to learn from past mistakes. Constant vigilance of deputies’ use of force in the Department’s custody settings remains vital going forward.”

We agree.

With this in mind, the OIR examined the LASD’s handling of 31 of the ACLU’s 76 allegations.

Unfortunately, however, the OIR folks found that gathering enough salient facts to make a solid judgement regarding these cases proved to be easier said than done.

As a consequence, out of the 31 cases of allegations of abuse the OIR examined, it was forced to label the majority “Unresolved.

Here is a general summary of some of the other dispositions of the original 78 allegations. including the 31 contained in the OIR report.

*ICIB has submitted a total of 65 cases to the District Attorney for filing consideration. In 49 of those, the D.A. has declined to file criminal charges against any of the involved personnel, most often citing a lack of sufficient evidence to prove that a crime occurred. Prosecutors have filed charges of assault under color of authority against one deputy for allegations stemming from an ACLU allegation and have charged two other deputies involved in the same case with making false reports. That case is not among the ones we review here because the criminal case is still pending. The remaining 15 cases are still pending with the D.A.

*Of the 31 cases we discuss in this report, none have led to an administrative finding of unnecessary or excessive force.

*Five of the cases reviewed here led to discipline for deputies for policy violations
related to the use of force.

*Eleven cases discussed in this report resulted in training or policy changes related to a systemic issue brought to light by the allegations.

When we asked the OIR’s Chief Attorney, Michael Gennaco, what he felt was the most significant about his organization’s 145-page account, he pointed to the frustrating lack of resolution.

“It shows how difficult these cases are to prove when they are investigated so many weeks or months or years after they have occurred.”

Gennaco further explained that a great many of the cases profiled in the report were not investigated until the ACLU filed a complaint, which made getting to the bottom all but impossible.

“If you haven’t done a proper investigation upfront, “ he said, “at this point, there is often nothing you can do…”

Even when the cases were investigated at the time, he added, “the protocols for investigation that were in place were often insufficient.” As a consequence, those doing the investigating “did a lousy job.”

There were cases in which inmate witnesses were not interviewed, or were inadequately interviewed.

This, in turn, made it all but impossible for the department—or the OIR—to do a conclusive investigation many months after the fact.

The matter was made even more difficult if LASD supervisors knew about the force accusations, but didn’t cause the matter to be investigated properly. Now, the report notes, it is too late. The year long statute of limitations has run out.

Both Gennaco and the report stress that, since 2011, much has been improved in the way use-of-force complaints are investigated and that, even with the best investigations, some cases simply cannot be adequately resolved because the allegation comes down to a matter of he said, he said-–an inmate’s word against that of deputies.

“All this is why cameras are so important,” he said.

Gennaco also commented on the fact that, while more than 1500 video cameras have been installed in the County’s downtown jails, cameras have yet to be fully installed in various Castaic facilities.

As to why it is taking so long to get cameras in all the county’s jails, Gennaco sighed.

“I have no idea,” he said.


Click here to access the report if you’d like to read the OIR’s accounts of some or all of the 31 cases for yourself.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Our hearts go out to the family, friends and colleagues of well-respected veteran LA County juvenile probation officer, Kenneth Hamilton, who was killed early Monday morning by a hit-and-run driver in Boyle Heights. Hamilton, who in his off hours was also a beloved high school baseball coach, was hit when he was returning from his work at the department’s Eastlake Juvenile Hall.

ABC-7 has the story.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, OIR | 14 Comments »

Final Jail Commission Meeting Friday & Office of Independent Review Releases 10th Annual Report

September 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

LAST JAIL COMMISSION MEETING ON FRIDAY AT 9:15 AM—NEXT UP, THE COMMISSIONS REPORT IN OCTOBER

The last scheduled meeting of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence will take place Friday, September 7, at 9:15 a.m.

The Commission is due to deliver its report in early October.

Those interested in listening to the live Commission meeting in real time may do so by calling (877) 873-8017, Access Code: 111111#.


10TH ANNUAL OFFICE OF INDEPENDENT REVIEW REPORT RELEASED

ON Thursday, Michael Gennaco, Chief Attorney for the Office of Independent Review, presented the OIR’s 10th annual report on the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The report covers a wide variety of observations, progress assessments, recommendations, specific cases, and special investigations in its 194 pages, including such sections as:

*Violence in the Jails (p. 11)

*Drugs, Fraternization & Off-Duty Violence (p. 49)

*A Look into the Mitrice Richardson Investigation (p. 146)

*And a special investigation into some very problematic hires of displaced officers from Maywood. (p. 119)

There is also this short but interesting section titledExecutive Leadership: The Pitfalls of Conflicting Messaging.”

It reads:

Over the past years, there have been times in which messages from Sheriff’s executives to
LASD personnel did not seem to mirror the vision of the Sheriff himself. For example, in 2007
we heard that a high level executive had been communicating his dislike of the Internal Affairs
Bureau (IAB) to various audiences. Because we monitor all investigations coming out of IAB,
we were concerned that such comments could have a deleterious effect on the functioning
and morale of the unit. We also were concerned that the comments could undermine the
effectiveness of internal investigations.

As a result, we met at that time with the executive and related our concerns about comments
attributed to him. He described how his intended message was a more innocuous version of what
we had heard, and we indicated that his comments were not being received in the way he said
he intended. We suggested that he explore other ways to communicate his sentiments, and he
agreed to do so. We also relayed our concerns about the executive’s comments to the Sheriff at
that time, and we were informed that he subsequently also had a conversation with the executive
about the IAB comments.

It is critical that executives’ comments to deputies and other personnel be consistent with the
vision of the head of the agency. Comments perceived as divergent from that vision may be
used by personnel to behave counter to the agency’s values. As another example, there has been 09
much recent public discussion about the same executive making a comment about “working the
gray.” There were clearly deputies who believed the executive intended by his comments that
deputies could cross or come close to the line of professional, legal, or ethical conduct in order to get criminals off the street. While the executive has recently disavowed that intent, in the years previous that messaging may have caused deputies to be confused about the expectations of their Department. We are hopeful that this unfortunate episode has served as a learning opportunity
for the Department, and that communications contrary to the ideals of the organization will not
be articulated in the future.

Of course there’s lots more, if you want to take a look.

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles County, OIR, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

County Watchdog’s Report on Probation Dept. Points to Disturbing Problems

March 1st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



Los Angeles County’s Office of Independent Review (OIR), released its annual report
on the LA’s Probation Department and, while the report points to progress made in the last year, overall the news is not cheering.

The report notes that in the reporting period, probation officers—the bulk of them sworn law officers—have been accused of hurting scores and scores of kids who are in the county’s charge. (Probation houses approximately 2300 kids in either the department’s 15 juvenile probation camps or its 3 juvenile halls.)

Christina Villacorte of the Daily News has this:

Cynthia Hernandez, an attorney with the OIR, said the agency looked at 303 disciplinary cases against probation officers in 2011, and the vast majority of them involved allegations of using excessive force on juveniles.

The report further notes that many of the cases are never resolved due to delays in departmental investigations, failure to preserve evidence, and other missteps. Even with serious accusations, kids often recant, noted the report. Yet when they do, staff rarely seems adequately probe the reasons why, or to examine if the kid has been subject to intimidation.

As the report notes:

When a minor recants serious accusations about staff, this should be an occasion for increased caution and scrutiny. This has not been the rule, however. Interviews of recanting minors have tended to be extremely short and cursory.

While the report remarks on areas of improvement the problems remaining—especially in the camps— are both daunting and perplexing in their implications. There is, for example, the matter of the video cameras: For some years now, the department has been mandated to install cameras in its ten probation camps and its juvenile halls. Yet, somehow the job has not gotten done adequately, as the report makes clear:

Currently, only a fraction of the institutions from which alleged child abuse incidents arise are equipped with any video surveillance cameras. In the institutions that have them, the cameras are often unreliable, poorly maintained or store video in a difficult-to-copy format that slows down investigations.

In many other use of force/child abuse cases, where there is no video because the area of the facility in question or the entire facility has no cameras….

Unhappily, these issues linger uncorrected despite the fact that U.S. Department of Justice has also been pushing for reform in the the department’s juvenile facilities.

As KPCC’s Franks Stoltze reports:

Since 2008, the United States Justice Department has also been examining the Probation Department. In December, federal officials said the department had made “great strides” but failed to comply with more than a dozen reforms, including identifying and treating minors with mental health problems.

Federal officials have left open the possibility of seeking a court oversight of the department, similar to the oversight over the LAPD ordered by a judge in the wake of the Rodney King beating and Rampart scandal.

Stoltze also points to these facts:

The OIR report also said probation faces an “extraordinary rate of employees who cannot return to work or are working with restrictions.”

Nearly 400 of the agency’s 5,630 employees are on some type of medical leave, the report said. “Another 353 employees are … on modified duty.”

The Probation Department’s problems are costing L.A. County money, the report said. In fiscal year 2010-2011, it was the subject of 56 new liability claims, and the county paid out nearly $4 million on claims and lawsuits.

Added to all this, in the last year, the County fired 14 employees for serious misconduct.

Anyway, there’s more. You can peruse all 59 pages for yourself by clicking here.

Posted in juvenile justice, OIR, Probation | 5 Comments »