Tuesday, December 6, 2016
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Sec. of Education Calls for Boosts to Prison Education, Pasadena Sued Over Police Body Cam Policy…and More

November 29th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


In a “Dear Colleague” letter, US Education Secretary John B. King Jr. called for a much-needed increase in prison education and vocational training programs to improve reentry success for the 1.5 million state and federal prisoners who will eventually return to their communities.

“Equipping incarcerated individuals with these foundational skills and technical competencies will make them more employable upon reentry and increase their ability to contribute,” the letter reads.

King’s letter was sent out in conjunction with a report that revealed a considerable gap between the literacy and numeracy skills of adults in prison and their non-incarcerated peers.

Twenty-nine percent of incarcerated adults have low literacy skills and another 52% have low numeracy skills, compared to 19% and 29% respectively of U.S. households, according to the report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the US Department of Education.

“Providing these individuals with opportunity, advancement, and rehabilitation is not only the right thing to do, it also positions our country to remain economically competitive in a global economy,” King’s letter reads. “To foster this reintegration and reduce recidivism, we as a nation must continue to expand and develop correctional education and reentry support programs.”


The NAACP’s Pasadena branch has filed a lawsuit challenging changes made to Pasadena’s policy regarding the use of body cameras within the Pasadena Police Department.

The city of Pasadena applied for and won a $250,000 grant from the US Department of Justice for implementing a police body camera system. Pasadena’s grant application included a very “progressive” policy that later changed drastically during negotiations with the police union, according to the NAACP.

The new version of the body cam rules permit officers to view footage of an incident before submitting their statements, an allowance not included in the original proposed policy. The newer police union-approved policy was also changed to allow the Pasadena PD to hold back sections of video and “cherry-pick” what is released to the public.

KPCC’s Mike Roe has more on the lawsuit. Here’s a clip:

Pasadena is defining body camera video and audio as “investigative materials,” which are exempted the California Public Records Act. Gronemeier said that an appeals court decision means you can’t make something an investigative document before the investigation exists, which he argues is the case with the body camera footage police collect.

“It’s a patent attempt to put a square peg in a round hole. It won’t work, and we’re in a lawsuit attacking it as facially invalid,” Gronemeier said.

The suit asserts that Pasadena “erroneously and intentionally misled” the DOJ when it applied for a federal grant, knowing that the policy would change. That, it says, is what makes the city’s application to the DOJ fraudulent.

As part of its application, the city also solicited and received support from community activists, including Pasadena NAACP President Gary Moody. Gronemeier said that support was based on the initial policy the city submitted.

“The Department of Justice doesn’t ask for a draft policy — they ask for the policy for the body cameras,” Gronemeier said.


Last week, a California appeals court unanimously upheld the 2015 ruling by Super Court Judge Thomas M. Goethals blocking the Orange County District Attorney’s Office from handling the death penalty portion of mass-murderer Scott Evans Dekraai’s case.

The appellate ruling blasted OC DA Tony Rackauckas’ office and the OC Sheriff’s Department for systemic violation of defendants’ through the misuse of jailhouse informants and withholding of evidence.

Orange County has been plagued with a major prosecutorial misconduct scandal that has unraveled a number of other cases going back decades, in which inmate informants were allegedly housed near defendants in order to procure confessions. Tasking jailhouse informants with pulling incriminating statements from defendants violates defendants’ right to remain silent and right to an attorney.

(For more on the backstory on the scandal that has gripped Orange County for more than three years, go here.)

Voice of OC’s Rex Dalton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

Rackauckas’ office abdicated its duties, therefore it “violated Dekraai’s due process rights,” according to the 53-page opinion written by Presiding Justice Kathleen E. O’Leary.

In 2011, Dekraai committed Orange County’s largest-ever mass murder when he gunned down his ex-wife and seven others in a Seal Beach beauty salon.

After his arrest, Dekraai was put in a county jail where sheriff’s deputies used a secret informant network to illegally obtain information from him.

In its decision, the appellate court noted Dekraai’s prosecutors — Daniel Wagner, head of Rackauckas’ homicide division, and Scott Simmons — ignored a “red flag” regarding a violation of Dekraai’s right to counsel, among others.

After years of battling the DA for informant records, Dekraai’s public defender, Scott Sanders, showed in 2014 and 2015 during lengthy evidentiary hearings before Goethals how prosecutors and deputies for years systematically used informants to violate defendants’ rights.

The fact that the records Sanders had sought were suddenly disclosed by the DA or the Sheriff’s Department during the hearings is what prompted Goethals to issue his rare decision.

State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris appealed Goethal’s ruling on behalf of the DA’s office, calling his order “a remedy in search of a conflict.”

The appellate panel sharply criticized Harris’ stance, describing it as “nonsense.”

“To suggest [Goethals] prejudged the case is reckless and grossly unfair,” the panel stated, writing with italics for emphasis: “These proceedings were a search for truth.”

Posted in Education, Police, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

A Rikers Documentary, Rethinking the Meaning of Public Safety, and Voting After Disenfranchisement

November 8th, 2016 by witnessla


In a new documentary from journalist Bill Moyers, “RIKERS,” former inmates at the notorious Rikers Island Jail in New York tell their stories of prolonged solitary confinement, violence, and other dehumanizing conditions within the jail.

The documentary will debut at DOC NYC on November 12, and air on PBS station THIRTEEN on November 15.

“The result is a vivid arc of life on Rikers as told by the people who experienced it — from the trauma of entry, the conflicts with other inmates and corrections officers, the stabbings and beatings, and the torture of solitary confinement to the psychological challenges of returning to the outside world,” the veteran journalist said on his website BillMoyers.com.

Back in 2014, a four-month investigation by the NY Times revealed that brutal attacks by staff on mentally ill inmates inside the jail were “common occurrences.”

And in 2015, 22-year-old Kalief Browder committed suicide following a traumatizing three-year stint at Rikers Island—without ever being tried—for allegedly stealing a backpack. Browder spent most of those three years, which started at age 16, in solitary confinement. Following the prolonged isolation in Rikers, Browder struggled for three years with mental illness. The tormented young man tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of last year. (Read more about Kalief’s story: here.)

THIRTEEN’s Christina Knight interviewed Moyers about the history of Rikers, the dangers inmates face on a regular basis, and how the documentary came into being. Here’s a clip:

Q: What are the risks one faces if brought to Rikers?

In talking to almost one hundred former detainees – some jailed there in the 90s and others who just got out last year – we heard similar stories that seem to echo through the years. Inmates intimidate each other. They steal from each other. Attack each other. Beat each other. Some corrections officers abuse their power. The noise is unsettling and disturbing. Remember, these people are housed in “cages”, as it were. Their psychological stress is major, they get depressed and experience incredible anxiety. How so many survive is difficult to grasp. I’m still wrestling with that one.

Q: How did the filmmakers find and approach those featured in the documentary?

Our team was led by Marc Levin and Mark Benjamin, two long-time colleagues of mine and terrific filmmakers who have a lot of experience filming inside jails and prisons. They were joined by a new member of the team, Rolake Bamgbose, who was relentless in tracking down former detainees and engaging them in opening up memories that as you will see in the film, remain very painful many years later. We got a lot of help from criminal justice organizations in the city as well as others that specialize in re-entry programs and transitional houses.

Q: How did you vet the stories of the former detainees featured in the film?

Once we had narrowed down the number of primary story-tellers in the film to about a dozen, we very carefully checked out their descriptions of what they experienced. There are “use of force” reports”, civil suit documentation and other public records that substantiate their memories of life at Rikers Island Jail. One former inmate who attended a private screening of the film said softly as the lights came back up in the room, “Everything in there is true.”

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Clarissa Sosin saw a preview screening of the film. Here’s a clip from her take on the documentary:

In the film, Gibbs described his first time going to Rikers and the reactions of the other inmates as he entered the jail. To him the looks on their faces said, “Oh, we got a victim. Fresh meat,” he said.

Through crisp and emotionally raw interview footage of Gibbs and the other former inmates, interwoven with the occasional surveillance footage, “RIKERS” vividly creates a bleak and violent image of the culture of violence inside the jail.

Event organizer Lisa Armstrong, visiting associate professor at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, said she was struck by the film.

“For some reason it impacted me in a way that I didn’t expect it to, given that I already knew how bad Rikers was, or is,” she said.

Ismael Nazario, a former inmate featured in the film, described being jumped by another inmate. He said that when a corrections officer broke up the fight, she said to him, “You going to hold it down?” a phrase he said he would come to realize meant, “Are you going to stay quiet?”

Candie Hailey-Means, one of only two women in the film, described screaming out for help while being sexually assaulted by corrections officers in her cell. Morse, the other woman, described being attacked and raped in the showers. Tears streamed down her face as she recalled the incident on camera.

Other experiences described in the film: feeling like a “roasted pig” while being hogtied and carried by corrections officers; watching an inmate throw scalding hot water onto another’s face, burning it so badly skin comes off in his hands; and playing with your own feces while in solitary because you don’t know what else to do.


In an op-ed for the LA Times, Dr. Robert K. Ross, president and CEO of The California Endowment, says that while the national conversation regarding public safety is hyper-focused on racism in policing, the biggest dangers to youth and their families “have nothing to do with guns or badges.”

Beyond race relations, problems like absence of affordable child care, low reading levels among young boys of color, harsh school discipline, and a dearth of parks have considerable negative impacts on community safety, says Dr. Ross, a former public health official and pediatrician. And when community members feel neglected or abandoned, the results “can be harmful—even lethal,” as was the case in Ferguson, MO.

Ross also touches on the importance of improving police-community relations through increased transparency and training, as well as boosting crime prevention efforts—like mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and after-school programs—to make cities safer.

Here’s a clip:

Cities, starting with Los Angeles, should put these kinds of issues and needs at the center of our thinking on community safety.

Improving police-community relations is an essential safety strategy, as well as just the right thing to do. Many excellent police officers are doing their best for Los Angeles, but their effectiveness and security are compromised when community trust falters. To address this, Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck should provide greater transparency in police shooting investigations and hold Police Commission meetings in community locations to allow for more meaningful participation. The LAPD also should accelerate the training reforms it has been piloting with civil rights attorney Connie Rice and support research into racial and gender biases, such as the work of the Center for Policing Equity co-founded by UCLA professor Philip Goff.

But spending on law enforcement cannot be the only way we think about investing in improving community safety. Any shift certainly will entail difficult conversations about how L.A. city and county budgets are organized and allocated. The Los Angeles County sheriff’s and probation departments together have nearly 27,000 employee positions, compared to just 5,000 jobs in mental health and 1,600 in parks and recreation. We need to move public spending away from reacting to crime, and do more to prevent it in the first place.

Research can help us understand how to do that. If we examine data, such as that of UCLA’s Million Dollar Hoods project, which maps where arrestees live and calculates the cost of their incarceration, we can see where we need to target preventive resources. For instance, the top reasons for being booked in Los Angeles County Jail are drug possession, driving while under the influence and domestic violence, suggesting we need more investments in mental health and addiction treatment in affected neighborhoods. More importantly, we need to look upstream and provide these communities with more support for preschool, school-based health services, after-school programs and other services that keep kids in school and support families.


Around 6.1 million US citizens—1 out of every 40 voting-age men and women—are banned from voting due to felon disenfranchisement laws. In California, felony offenders cannot vote while in prison or on parole, but upon completion of a sentence, voting rights are restored. (There are many states with much harsher laws, as well as states that never remove the right to vote.)

Politico Magazine’s Rikha Sharma Rani spoke with four formerly incarcerated men and one woman from San Diego who have recently regained their right to vote. The San Diegans talk about how it feels to be able to vote after having their rights restored, what issues they value, and who and what they’re voting for on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

De’Andre Cooper, 22

Three years ago, De’Andre Cooper was charged with conspiracy to commit eight murders and seven attempted murders. As it happens, Cooper was in juvenile hall for much of the period during which the murders took place. But he, along with more than a dozen other men, were charged under a never-before-used section of California’s penal code, which allows gang members to be charged for felonies committed by the gang. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in another state when the crime takes place; if you’re a documented gang member, you can be found guilty of conspiracy. Police convicted members of Cooper’s gang for the murders and then charged Cooper with conspiracy. He accepted a plea deal and was sentenced to three years in prison.

Cooper was released after two years, but the experience changed him. The penal code that had enabled him to be charged had been voted into law by Californians. If the 22-year old, who will be voting for the first time on November 8th, ever needed a lesson on why elections matter, this was it.

It might seem strange, then, that Cooper won’t be voting for a president on Tuesday. “I’m going to vote on local propositions,” he says. He’s helping to rally voters to pass Proposition 57, an effort to roll back a previously passed law that allows prosecutors, rather than judges, to choose between juvenile and adult court—a law that, critics argue, puts too much power in the hands of prosecutors. He says he’s registered over a hundred people to vote this cycle—and that has nothing to do with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. “As long as I’ve been alive, with the presidents we’ve had, my life has always been the same.”

He calls the Trump videos showing the Republican candidate bragging about groping women “sick.” “I don’t know nobody that has that type of mind,” Cooper says, “for him to think he could just touch a woman that don’t want to be touched.”

He would prefer a Clinton presidency. Among other things, he believes that she is better suited to be commander-in-chief. “I think Trump wants to go to war. I think he promotes that type of violence,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to be over there [at war] with Trump’s orders.” But he’s not going to help the Democratic candidate win. “I don’t want her to have my vote.”

Part of his decision not to cast a vote for the next president is rooted in his lack of faith in the institutions of this country—especially law enforcement. He describes a neverending cycle of being stopped by police as a youth, in which one stop would lead to the next, and the next…

Read the rest.

Posted in Police, prison | No Comments »

Police Group Prez Apologizes for “Past Injustices”…a Puzzling Inglewood Shooting…and Luiz J. Rodriguez

October 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Monday, Terrence Cunningham, the president of International Association of Chiefs of Police formally apologized to communities of color for law enforcement’s part in “society’s historical mistreatment of communities of color.”

Cunningham, who is the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., gave his speech at an IACP convention in San Diego.

The IACP president acknowledged that in the past, police officers served as the “face of oppression,” enforcing discriminatory laws that have cultivated a “multigenerational—almost inherited—mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”

Jeffery Robinson, deputy legal director of the ACLU, Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and others have praised Cunningham’s apology, calling the high-ranking law enforcement official’s speech an important step toward healing police-community relations.

Critics of the apology point out that Cunningham’s apology treats of the issue of racism in policing as a problem of the past—the aftereffects of which continue to act as a barrier to peace between citizens and cops. Cunningham never addresses the issue of continued racial bias in policing occurring today. “There are bigoted cops today as there were when it was legal to be a bigoted cop,” Delores Jones-Brown, a professor at John Jay College said to the LA Times’ Jaweed Kaleem.

You can watch the speech in its entirety above.

The Washington Post’s Tom Jackman broke the story. Here’s a clip:

Terrence M. Cunningham, the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., delivered his remarks at the convention in San Diego of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose membership includes 23,000 police officials in the United States. The statement was issued on behalf of the IACP, and comes as police executives continue to grapple with tense relationships between officers and minority groups in the wake of high-profile civilian deaths in New York, South Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere, the sometimes violent citizen protests which have ensued as well as the ambush killings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.

Police chiefs have long recognized the need to maintain good relations with their communities, of all races, and not allow an us-versus-them mentality to take root, either in their rank-and-file officer corps or in the neighborhoods where their citizens live. Cunningham’s comments are an acknowledgement of police departments’ past role in exacerbating tensions and a way to move forward and improve community relations nationwide. Two top civil rights groups on Monday commended Cunningham for taking an important first step in acknowledging the problem.

“Events over the past several years,” Cunningham said, “have caused many to question the actions of our officers and has tragically undermined the trust that the public must and should have in their police departments…The history of the law enforcement profession is replete with examples of bravery, self-sacrifice, and service to the community. At its core, policing is a noble profession.”

But Cunningham added, “At the same time, it is also clear that the history of policing has also had darker periods.” He cited laws enacted by state and federal governments which “have required police officers to perform many unpalatable tasks…While this is no longer the case, this dark side of our shared history has created a multigenerational — almost inherited — mistrust between many communities of color and their law enforcement agencies.”


Back in February, five Inglewood police officers fatally shot Kisha Michael, 31, and Marquintan Sandlin, 32, after officers found them unconscious in a car idling in the middle of the street. Michael, a mother of three, was shot in the head, neck, and back 13 times. Seven more bullets proved fatal for Sandlin, a father of four.

In a police radio clip, one of the responding officers said that Michael had a gun in her lap. Both Michael and Sandlin’s families said the two were loving parents. Their families said they didn’t know why Michael and Sandlin were found with a gun.

A warrant had been issued for Michael’s arrest earlier in February after she violated the terms of her probation by failing to appear in court. (Michael was on probation because of a misdemeanor theft.)

Following the shooting, Inglewood police remained particularly quiet, giving hardly any information about the circumstances of the shooting. The department hasn’t even said whether either of the deceased had reached for the gun before the responding officers let loose a hail of bullets.

Michael and Sandlin’s loved ones find it hard to believe that the cops were unable to de-escalate a situation involving two people who were unconscious when law enforcement arrived.

Michael’s twin, Trisha, tried for several months to get answers from the civilian body tasked with overseeing the Inglewood Police Department, but every month, the commission’s meetings were canceled.

When the Inglewood Citizen Police Oversight Commission was established back in 2002, it had teeth. The commission had the power to conduct hearings on instances of police misconduct. The group had subpoena power and a say in officer discipline. But before the first meeting, the police union intervened, and the commission was stripped of its authority.

The commission rarely meets, and mainly acts as a porter for complaints against police. Meanwhile the Inglewood PD continues to face scrutiny over questionable uses-of-force.

The LA Times’ Angel Jennings has the story. Here’s a clip:

Jan Williams, a local resident who follows city government, said she often goes to the commission meetings only to find they have been canceled due to a lack of a quorum. On May 11 — the first meeting in seven months — she criticized the commissioners for not convening more often.

This is “suppose to be our voice. I encourage you guys to meet more regularly,” she said.

The commission’s fading role in police oversight is all the more troubling to critics because the department continues to come under scrutiny.

For example, the commission had no role in reviewing the shooting of motorist Juan Jose Palma, whom the city recently paid $4.6 million to settle an excessive force lawsuit. Palma, now 46, was shot in the head by an officer during a 2012 traffic stop. The officer said he shot Palma because he refused commands to show his hands and appeared to be reaching behind his car seat for a weapon. No firearm was found in Palma’s SUV, but a baseball bat was found in the vehicle. Palma survived but suffered lasting brain damage.


Michael Falkow, the assistant city manager who has served as the advisor for the panel since 2007, said the city’s elected leaders and commissioners have not had “a desire to change anything” with regard to how the police oversight panel functions.

At the May meeting, Falkow described the group’s limited purview.

The commission does not investigate allegations of police misconduct, he said. It can only make recommendations for discipline, but the final call belongs to the chief of police.

“To be very clear, the commission has no authority, the commission has no mechanism, the commission has no ability to discuss or oversee or even hear any cases of [or] related to officer involved shootings,” he told the two people in the audience.

By comparison, the five-member Los Angeles Police Commission overseeing the operation of the 10,000-officer force has broad authority and meets weekly. The panel sets LAPD policies and has an inspector general who investigates and audits the department on its behalf. In one of its most important roles, the board decides whether police shootings and other serious uses of force were appropriate.

Keep reading.


In an interview with Alex Cohen, of KPCC’s Take Two, Luis J. Rodriguez discusses his work and legacy as he finishes the last weeks of his two years as LA’s second poet laureate (ever).

Once a gang-involved, drug-addicted teen, Rodriguez is now a celebrated poet, author, activist, and mentor to young men and women seeking healthy alternatives to gang life.

When Rodriguez was appointed two years ago, he was told to do a minimum of 6 events. Last year alone, Rodriguez, who is paid a small monthly stipend, held 110 workshops, readings, and other events.

Rodriguez also completed an anthology featuring 160 LA poets called “The Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes and Shifts of Los Angeles,” and a chapbook of poetry called “Borrowed Bones.”

Posted in Police, race, writers and writing | 9 Comments »

US Justice Department Issues 272 Recommendations for Reforming the SFPD

October 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice released its first report on the embattled San Francisco Police Department’s policies and practices. In its review, the DOJ highlighted racial disparities in traffic stops and searches and in fatal uses-of-force, as well as deficiencies in data collection and accountability, and outdated use-of-force policies.

The DOJ stepped in back in February (see above video) after requests for an independent investigation by former SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, SF Mayor Ed Lee, and other city officials following several controversial deadly uses-of-force, including the fatal shooting of Mario Woods, and two separate scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between SFPD officers. (Here’s some backstory.)

Normally, when the feds intervene, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.

But this time, the DOJ conducted the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.

The report lists 94 key findings and an ambitious 272 recommendations for improving SFPD policing practices and transparency.

The DOJ found that most of those killed by SFPD officers (nine out of eleven shootings) were people of color. although across the board, there was not a significant correlation between race and the level of force used by officers.

The report also found that uses of force are not properly investigated by the department. Between 2013 and 2015, only one investigation into a deadly use-of-force out of nine total fatalities has been closed. “It is unacceptable for officer-involved shooting investigations to remain open for years,” the report reads. And files on officer-involved shootings were found to be incomplete and inconsistent.

In addition, the SFPD does not collect specific data on uses-of-force beyond what is written in regular incident report narratives. The DOJ recommends that the SFPD should create an electronic system for reporting use-of-force data.

“San Francisco has the second oldest police department in the nation and it shows,” said SFPD Interim Chief Toney Chaplin. “We are committed to the work that needs to be done to bring our systems into the 21st century.

The department is also missing specific “comprehensive” training on use-of-force, according to the report, which calls on the department to create training on de-escalation, sanctity of life, service-oriented interactions with the city’s homeless population, and more.

African American drivers were found to be 24% more likely to be stopped by SFPD cops than their representation in the driving population. And both black and Latino drivers were disproportionately searched during traffic stops, but were less likely to be found in possession of illegal substances or items.

The report also revealed a lack of transparency around officer discipline within the department. The DOJ called on the SFPD to “develop and report aggregate data regarding complaints against Department members, their outcome, and trends in complaints and misconduct for both internal and external publication.”

Despite the many areas in need of improvement within the SFPD, the report was not all bad. For example, the Justice Department praised the SFPD for engaging in “a range of successful activities, programs, and community partnerships that support community policing tenets.” The SFPD was also praised for holding town hall meetings after officer-involved shootings, and for expanding its Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. The report recommended that CIT-trained officers (27% of dept.) be distributed across all shifts and districts. CIT-trained cops should also be identified at the start of each shift, so that dispatchers can respond to calls about people suffering from mental health crises with the appropriate officers.

“I applaud the City of San Francisco for stepping forward to take a critical look at the policies and practices within the San Francisco Police Department,” said COPS Office Director Ronald Davis. “This report makes clear the significant challenges that lie ahead for the police department and the city.”

The COPS Office will continue to work with the SFPD for the next 18 months on implementing these recommendations. During that time, the COPS Office will release two more reports on the progress of the reform process.

“I’m proud to report that the San Francisco Police Department will accept and implement every, single recommendation,” said Mayor Lee. “We must restore trust, and these measures are important steps forward.”

Posted in Department of Justice, Police, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Alton Sterling’s Death, and the Oakland PD Sex Scandal

July 7th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Two videos surfaced this week showing Baton Rouge police wrestling Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, to the ground before repeatedly shooting the restrained Sterling in the chest and back.

The fatal shooting occurred on Tuesday, and by Wednesday the bystanders’ videos had sparked public outrage and protests, and a swift and welcome announcement from East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore that the United States Attorney and the FBI would be taking over the investigation. “This is a very important decision taken to ensure that our community can have confidence that local law enforcement is committed to ensuring transparency in all officer-involved deaths,” said Moore.

Early Tuesday morning, at around 12:30a.m., Baton Rouge Police officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake responded to a disturbance call from a man who said a black man selling CD’s outside of a convenience store had threatened him with a gun. The officers reportedly confronted Sterling, and a struggle ensued.

In the graphic video footage, one of the officers yells, “He’s got a gun! Gun.” The other officer, standing a few feet away, then draws and aims his pistol at Sterling. The first officer is heard saying, “You fucking move, I swear to God,” then the second officer starts firing at Sterling, who is on the ground. The owner of the store, Abdullah Muflahi, who recorded the first cell phone video of the incident, says Sterling wasn’t touching his pockets or holding a gun. (Louisiana, by the way, is an open carry state.) In the clearer of the two videos (above), one of the officers appears to remove a gun from Sterling’s pocket afterward.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law called the intervention of the FBI and DOJ an “encouraging development,” noting that the BRPD had previously been the subject of a federal civil rights investigation into a case of excessive force by an officer.

“We stand with Mr. Sterling’s family, the community and those exercising their first amendment right to protest in calling for justice in the tragic death of Alton Sterling,” said Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyer’s Committee.

According to the BRPD, the two officers have been placed on administrative leave.


Amid a major scandal involving Oakland police and other Bay Area officers allegedly passing around a minor for sex, advocates and local officials are worried that the revelations will make it more difficult for the OPD to have cooperative interactions with young sex trafficked people.

Contra Costa County Public Defender Robin Lipetzky agrees that the scandal cheapens efforts to combat the exploitation of minors. “When you have a young woman who’s being used for sexual favors by police officers, it really detracts from that message,” Lipetzky told the SF Chronicle’s Kimberly Veklerov.

Lipetzky and Alameda County Public Defender Brendon Woods are carefully reviewing cases—especially prostitution stings—handled by the law enforcement officers implicated in the scandal.

In case you missed it, last month, a young woman who calls herself Celeste Guap told a television station that she had sex with a number of Bay Area cops, including more than a dozen OPD officers, at least three of whom she reportedly had sex with while she was 17—in 2014.

The LA Times’ James Queally has more on the scandal and what its broader implications. Here’s a clip:

“They were participating in the human trafficking of this girl. Passing her around from area to area, giving her breaks … they became the pimp,” said John Burris, a civil rights attorney who negotiated a federal monitoring agreement that the Oakland Police Department has been under since 2003. “Does OPD have any credibility on this issue? That’s a legitimate question.”

Law enforcement agencies in Alameda County have made trafficking enforcement a top priority in recent years, creating a task force spearheaded by Dist. Atty. Nancy E. O’Malley. From January to May, Oakland police made 282 arrests connected to trafficking, department records show. About 70% of those arrested were women, rather than “johns.”

A police spokesman said the arrests enabled police to get sex-trade victims off the streets. Once the young people are in custody, police give them information about social services.

The trafficking problem in Oakland has been evident for decades, according to investigators who say the victims are usually minors or young women exploited by gangs or pimps.

City Councilman Noel Gallo, a former school board member who represents the Fruitvale neighborhood, said he could recall horror stories about the trafficking trade ensnaring young girls, even in areas that were supposedly safe.

“I remember the girls would leave school … to go prostitute on International during lunch hour,” he said. “The students knew it, the teachers knew it, the principal knew it, I knew it … and we allowed that to happen.”

Gallo said he feared that the police sex scandal might make it more difficult for officers to interact with trafficking victims or gain their trust, a task that was hard enough before the controversy becoming national news.

At least officers under investigation have been reassigned from posts involving interaction with kids and teens. One officer, Jerred Tong, was a school resource officer and an advisor for the department’s Explorers program for teens. Another officer had been working as a manager of the department’s Youth and Special Services Division. There are other officers reportedly involved in the sex scandal who may still be positions involving children and teens, who have not been reassigned to administrative duties. The Richmond Standard has the story.

Posted in Police | 3 Comments »

The Transformation of American Interrogation, Pushing CA to Abolish Juvie Solitary, a Troubling Death in a San Diego Jail, and Environmental Discrimination Against Inmates

May 25th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


America’s decades-long use of a false-confession-prone interrogation technique is going to be replaced with a research-backed “rapport building” method, thanks to President Barack Obama’s anti-torture interrogation group.

Before the 1930′s, American officers investigating a crime would use the “third degree,” which meant torturing suspects into confessing to the crime. By 1936, the US Supreme Court banned the method as a violation of the 14th Amendment right to due process, declaring that a coerced confession obtained by violence could not be entered as evidence. The case, Brown v. Mississippi, was brought on behalf of three black men who were beaten and whipped into confessing that they murdered a white farmer.

The 1962 publication of “Criminal Interrogation and Confessions” ushered investigators into a new era dominated by decades of the Reid technique—named after one of the manual’s authors, John E. Reid. The Reid technique is still the style of interrogation most widely used by law enforcement agencies today. It’s also prone to producing false confessions. The technique involves a series of steps on the part of investigators, including assessing whether the suspect is lying, pretending to have evidence linking the suspect to the crime, and minimizing the consequences of the alleged crime.

Studies have shown that trained investigators are just as bad as the general public at knowing when a person is lying, and that the more confident the investigators are about whether or not a suspect is lying, the more likely they are to be mistaken.

With the advent of DNA testing in the 1990s came a flood of exonerations. There have been more than 300 convictions overturned thanks to DNA, a third of which were due to false confessions or false self-incriminations.

Then came President Barack Obama’s High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, which was formed as a means to end torture of terror detainees, and used a non-coercive interrogation method that replaced water boarding and coercion under the Bush administration.

While the work of the HIG—a collaborative effort between the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon—is under wraps, the group has been funding research in psychology, behavioral science, and techniques used by law enforcement in other countries.

One such successful international model is called “PEACE” (Preparation and Planning, Engage and Explain, Account, Closure and Evaluate), and is used in England, Newfoundland, Wales, Denmark and New Zealand.

Now, HIG wants to spread the use of “rapport-building” suspect interviewing techniques that focus on being non-accusatory and gathering as much information as possible by letting the interviewee tell the story.

HIG chose the LAPD as its guinea pig, and has trained 35 LAPD detectives so far, and those detectives have used their HIG training in around 60 interrogations, with around an 80% success rate.

The Marshall Project’s Robert Kolker has more on the issue in a collaborative story with Wired. Here’s a clip:

…the central finding running through much of HIG’s research is this: If you want accurate information, be as non-accusatorial as possible — the HIG term is “rapport-building.” This may sound like coddling, but it’s a means to an end. The more suspects say, the more that can be checked against the record. The whole posture of the interrogation — or interview, as the HIG prefers to call it — is geared not toward the extraction of a confession but toward the pursuit of information.

About three years into its existence, the HIG quietly entered a new phase that marked a significant expansion of the group’s scope and ambition: It set out to start applying its findings in America’s domestic police departments. “We haven’t operationalized enough of the research,” current HIG chair Mark Fallon says. In part, the group just wanted more real-world data, and police departments offered a major source of it. But the bigger goal, Fallon says, was to revolutionize police work with behavioral science, the same way law enforcement procedures were altered a generation ago by DNA evidence and, before that, when the third degree was put to rest.

Los Angeles became the HIG’s first test bed. In 2012, George Piro — a former director of the HIG who had also served as the lead interrogator of Saddam Hussein — approached William Hayes, a captain with the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division, at a conference. Slender, olive-skinned, and fluent in Arabic, Piro was a consummate Fed, a star in Washington for his time with the Iraqi dictator who had drawn the US into two wars. But he was also a child of the Lebanese immigrant community in Turlock, California; before joining the FBI, he had been a detective for 10 years working cases in the Central Valley. He and Hayes connected easily. The HIG, he told Hayes, was looking to fund research into real-life interrogations and needed live data to study. He also wondered whether detectives in the LAPD might be interested in learning more about some of the methods the HIG was developing.

After that first meeting, Hayes arranged for the LAPD to supply the HIG with hundreds of hours of audio from its cases. The response to Piro’s other idea took a little longer. On the face of it, LA is an unlikely candidate for police-suspect rapport-building. This is the town where cops beat Rodney King in 1991, where they killed an unarmed veteran on live TV after a high-speed chase in 2013. What’s more, LA has its own history with false confessions. In 2007, 19-year-old Edward Arch was arrested for murder. He denied being involved dozens of times, but the police recited their theory of the case over and over and suggested they’d be lenient if only he confessed, which finally led him to capitulate. Arch spent three years in jail awaiting trial before a judge ruled that the confession had been coerced and tossed out the case. “I don’t believe it was the officers’ intent to extract a false confession,” Arch’s lawyer told reporters, “but the tactics they used greatly increased the risk of that occurring.”

After a few conversations with Piro, Hayes decided to send Stearns and Marcia to be the LAPD’s guinea pigs. In December of 2013, the two detectives boarded a flight to Washington, DC, to become the first two municipal police officers in the country to undergo HIG training — whatever that was. Neither man was particularly excited. “I’m not a guy that likes to go to training,” Marcia says. “I like to work.” Still, he tried to have a good attitude: “I just told myself, whatever it is, commit to it. Commit to it.”


By now, the HIG has trained 35 detectives in Los Angeles and is coming back to train more. “The LAPD is sold on it,” says Mark Severino, a 29-year veteran of the force who is currently a detective supervisor with the Major Crimes Division.

Since that first interrogation by Stearns and Marcia, Severino’s unit has conducted about 60 interrogations using HIG methods, he says — in cases involving human trafficking, murder, and terrorism. Severino has modified his interview room to be more welcoming and tries to have his detectives talk to witnesses and suspects as soon as they’re identified, to set the right tone for the interviews. “We make our living talking to people,” Severino says. “And the HIG teaches us the best approaches—how to gain people’s trust.” By not single-mindedly seeking out confessions, Severino has found that he’s netted enough information from some suspects to amount to an admission of guilt. In other cases, he’s learned enough to eliminate persons of interests as suspects altogether. In still other instances, he says, they “were able to identify crimes in the planning stage and stop them before they occurred.” Severino has asked other divisions of the LAPD to grade his division’s success rate, based not just on whether they secured a confession but on whether they uncovered new information that helped the case. “Right now we’re at about a 75 to 80 percent success rate,” Severino says. “When you’re interviewing a witness, this system does work.”

Of course, just because some LA detectives have been influenced by a new evidence-based interrogation method doesn’t mean all cops will. Even in LA, Stearns and Marcia are meeting with some resistance as they move to develop department-wide training in the tactics. Police veterans aren’t exactly eager to be told they’ve been doing their job wrong for 30 years. “I think we can overcome that pushback by focusing on the younger guys in our division,” Marcia says. There’s an entrenched culture behind that blue wall — and a new, labor-intensive technique based on “rapport-building” might not be the most likely thing to breach it. “Interrogation and interview is a very egocentric thing,” Stearns says. For some police departments, and for some interrogators, it may be a nonstarter to do anything other than treat a suspect with suspicion.

Still, the researchers and academics who’ve worked with the HIG are determined not to lose momentum. They think they have a real shot at changing the culture of policing. “Law enforcement is hungry for something new and evidence-based,” Meissner says. “They know there’s an issue with false confessions, and they’re looking for an alternative.”


The LA County Board of Supervisors’ May 3 decision to ban the use of solitary confinement in all but a few exceptional circumstances—in county juvenile detention facilities, has given LA-area advocates hope that Sacramento will finally make a similar move.

A bill from state Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) would place major limitations on the use of isolation for kids in state facilities, blocking guards from using solitary as a punishment, or as a way to coerce kids. Along with various advocate groups like the Children’s Defense Fund-California, the Youth Justice Coalition, and the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, the bill has the support of the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC) union. CPOC’s endorsement of the bill is a significant one since previous iterations of the legislation were effectively killed by probation and other law enforcement unions in years past.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“The onus is now on the state to follow the lead of Los Angeles County,” said Children’s Defense Fund-California Executive Director Alex Johnson.

Put forward by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), Senate Bill 1143 would put strict limitations on the use of room confinement (as the bill now refers to solitary confinement) in the state’s juvenile justice system, barring the practice altogether for purposes of punishment or coercion.

SB 1143 is modeled in part on a 2015 settlement in Contra Costa County that came about after advocates sued the county’s Probation Department over the use of solitary confinement for youth in its juvenile halls. As part of that agreement, the Contra Costa Probation Department agreed to isolate youth for a maximum of four hours and only when a youth’s behavior poses an immediate safety risk to other youth or staff at facilities, terms that are now included in the current state legislation.

Leno said that recent reforms of practices in juvenile detention facilities represent a growing consensus that the use of solitary confinement is harmful for children. He cited research from the Department of Justice that found more than 50 percent of all youth suicides in juvenile facilities took place while the youths were under room confinement.

“There are absolutely no studies that even suggest that this practice benefits our youth,” Leno said. “What have we been doing has been exacerbating the problems that these children are already facing. There are better ways to help the children in our systems who are in need.”

Leno is confident that SB 1143 will get to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. But this is the fifth year that California’s Democrat-controlled legislature has seen a bill that would limit the use of solitary confinement. For the past four years, those efforts have withered at the committee level amid opposition from groups representing law enforcement officers, such as the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC).


Last August, five days after his arrival at San Diego’s Central Jail, Ruben Nunez, a 46-year-old schizophrenic man, died from psychogenic water intoxication, a psychiatric malady that causes extreme, unrelenting thirst. Sufferers—80% of whom are diagnosed with schizophrenia—can drink themselves to death if not carefully watched and medicated.

Nunez was only supposed to stay in Central Jail for a week while he awaited a court hearing about whether doctors at a state hospital—where he was placed in 2014 after being declared incompetent to stand trial—could keep involuntarily medicating him.

For mentally ill inmates like Nunez, the jail is supposed to receive paperwork detailing diagnoses, any risks, the amount of monitoring necessary, and any other special needs.

In spite of this, there was no evidence that the water had been shut off in Nunez’s cell, and a member of the Medical Examiner’s Office reported that there was bloody vomit on the wall and all over the cell.

Nunez was one of 12 fatalities in San Diego’s jails last year. Between 2013 and 2015 San Diego had a jail mortality rate substantially higher than even Los Angeles.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kelly Davis has the story. Here’s a clip:

An investigator with the Medical Examiner’s Office noted in his report that the cell “smelled of urine and vomit.” There was vomit in the sink, on a table, on the floor, on the cell’s lower bunk and bloody vomit splattered on a wall.

The report says Nunez’s jail medical records showed he had “a history of… hyponatremia” — a condition caused by excessive water intake — “which required water restriction.”

Critical in determining what jail staff knew about Nunez is a three-page discharge form that would have been sent to the jail from Patton, explaining Nunez’s diagnoses, medical risks and any special needs.

When state hospital patients are transferred to other facilities, even for a short period of time, such a form is faxed ahead of the patient’s arrival, said Department of State Hospitals spokesman Ken Paglia. As a backup measure, a copy of the discharge form is included in whatever documents travel with the patient.

For psychiatric patients who have a problem with water intoxication, there’s an additional form that lays out a strict protocol for monitoring water intake and blood levels.

Due to medical privacy laws, Paglia said he couldn’t discuss Nunez’s case or confirm whether the forms arrived at the jail.

Lydia Nunez filed a multimillion dollar claim against the county — a precursor to a lawsuit — which was rejected in February. Julia Yoo, of the law firm Iredale & Yoo, has agreed to represent Nunez’s parents in a lawsuit.

The same firm represented a University of California San Diego student who was left without food or water in a federal detention facility for five days, and settled his claim for $4 million in 2013.


The contraction of valley fever by prisoners—especially black and Filipino prisoners—in Kern Valley State Prison, in central California highlights the need for environmental justice standards to be extended to incarcerated populations.

The big picture problem is that it’s not just valley fever, and it’s not just California. Colorado’s Cañon City, which is adjacent to an old, cancer-inducing uranium mill—holds nine state prisons and four federal prisons. Riker’s Island in New York sits atop a toxic waste landfill.

While the Environmental Protection Agency requires environmental impact reports for proposed federally funded construction plans, as well as reports on how the construction and where it is located would affect potential residents, especially if they are low-income and minority residents. And in California, there are protections for poor and minority populations against building where air conditions are poor, like, say, the fact that Kern Valley State Prison is located in a hotbed of the airborne fungus that causes valley fever. But at both the federal and state levels, prisoners don’t have the same protections as their poor and minority non-incarcerated counterparts, despite the fact that most prisoners qualify as both low-income and minority.

The Atlantic’s Cara Bayles has more on the issue of environmental injustice and racism. Here’s a clip:

…when prisons are built on or next to former superfund sites, mines, and landfills, the EPA doesn’t require that environmental reviews consider the health of the convicts who will live there, says Paul Wright, the director of the Human Rights Defense Center, a nonprofit that lobbies on behalf of prisoners. Wright’s organization contends prisons across America are frequently constructed on polluted land, and cites concrete examples to prove it. California’s Victorville Federal Correctional Complex was placed on top of the George Air Force Base, a former superfund site. Cañon City, home to nine Colorado state and four federal prisons and penitentiaries, is next to a defunct uranium mill, and has reported high levels of the cancer-causing chemical trichloroethene in the groundwater. New York’s Rikers Island, built on a toxic waste landfill, was the subject of a lawsuit brought by former correctional officers claiming the polluted facility gave them cancer.

“Prisoners are viewed as an expendable population,” Wright says. “The EPA has a very long history of ignoring the environmental poisoning of people in prisons and jails in this country.”

Wright is currently crusading against a new facility in Letcher County, Kentucky, which will be placed on one of two sites: a surface mine with remnant waste or a former strip mine with active oil and natural gas wells. In a comment letter responding to the the prison’s environmental impact report, Wright pointed out that exposure to mining waste has been tied to chronic cardiovascular disease, cancer, and adult tooth loss, as well as water contamination. He also invoked federal “environmental justice” standards, noting prison populations are typically indigent and racially diverse.

In its response, the federal Bureau of Prisons, the subdivision of the Department of Justice charged with prison administration, insisted it would clean up mine spoil and that the site would not harm the health of prisoners or staff. The Bureau also responded that it “does not concur with the assertion that federal inmates of mixed backgrounds (as to ethnicity, race, and income) to be housed in the proposed facilities constitute either a minority or low income population.”

The Bureau didn’t detail why it doesn’t consider inmates minority or low-income populations. Perhaps it is difficult to know the racial breakdown or income bracket of the people who will fill a prison that doesn’t yet exist. Maybe the bureau is looking at national data; while people of color are over-represented in the prison system (58.9 percent of the prison population is white, compared to 77.4 percent in the general population), they are still in the minority. According to the Brookings Institute, incarceration does disproportionately affects both low-income and minority populations in the U.S.

In an email, a Bureau spokesperson addressed Wright’s grander claims that prisons are frequently built on or near polluted grounds, saying the Bureau has broken no laws by selecting these sites. “The Bureau’s projects bring environmental benefits such as site cleanup, modern sewage disposal with the opportunity for local communities to have treatment plants, and safe and modern sources of drinking water,” it adds. (The Environmental Protection Agency did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)

Posted in Police | 1 Comment »

What’s Next for the SFPD After Chief’s Removal, PBS Film Follows Former Third-Strikers, and Youth Poetry from Behind Bars

May 24th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Last Thursday, hours after San Francisco police officers shot and killed a woman during an arrest, SF Mayor Ed Lee announced the removal of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr.

The move follows ongoing protests over controversial police shootings, along with a couple of scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between officers.

Mayor Lee named 26-year department veteran Toney Chaplin as acting Chief of Police. The decision was supported by both the NAACP and the San Francisco Police Officers Association. Chaplin helped develop the department’s new Professional Standards and Principled Policing Bureau, which focuses on community policing, and increasing transparency and accountability.

The new Acting Chief appears to not be wasting any time (see above video), and has a list of what reforms he believes will help turn the department around.

Chaplin says he wants to focus on getting officers equipped with body cams and updating two-decades-old policies on when and how officers use force.

“Re-engineering how we use force, when and where we use force, and in what situations we use force—that’s huge, and that’s going to be a big centerpiece of a lot of our reforms,” Chaplin said.

The AP’s Paul Elias has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Reforms, reforms, reforms,” acting Police Chief Toney Chaplin said Friday when asked about his priorities.

Chaplin, who is black, is a 26-year veteran of the department. Until Thursday, he was a deputy chief in charge of implementing Suhr’s reforms. Previously, Chaplin was a lieutenant in charge of homicide investigations.

The 47-year-old Oklahoma native says he intends to carry on with plans to equip officers with body cameras.

“It’s not going to solve everything, but it will give us another look at what’s happening, hopefully from the officer’s perspective,” Chaplin said.

He said he will also continue to push for several reforms aimed at cutting down on the number of officer shootings, such as giving suspects armed with knives “time and distance” to surrender rather than having officers pull their guns and shoot.

Police Commission President Suzy Loftus said Chaplin “is not going to skip a step” in implementing changes because of his position before he was appointed chief.

Chaplin’s appointment is on an interim basis. The commission is in charge of forwarding a short list of three candidates to the mayor.


Chaplin says he hasn’t yet thought about seeking a permanent position as chief.

In an interview with KQED’s Devin Katayama, SF Police Commissioner Petra DeJesus explains what the commission will look for as it conducts a national search for the next police chief.

DeJesus says the biggest concern will be the candidate’s ability to re-establish trust between the department and the community it serves. Here’s a clip from the interview:

KQED: You were part of the commissions that hired both police chiefs George Gascón and Greg Suhr. What lessons have you learned that will be applied to the next chief?

DeJesus: We need someone who can embrace the policies that we’re putting in place, embrace the body cameras. But we also need someone who can enforce changes in terms of changing that culture, rooting out people who make homophobic and racist comments. And how do we select our officers, going all the way down to the bottom process in terms of recruitment or training.

KQED: Is hiring the next police chief under these recent controversies make it harder for the commission to hire the best person for the job?

DeJesus: No. I think we owe it to the citizens to conduct a national search. I think we really need to find the best person for the job and not only someone who agrees with all the policy changes but that can actually implement the changes and get it done. And that means looking in house as well as looking outside.

Go read the rest.


Vice’s Max Cherney spoke with a 20-year department veteran on the condition of anonymity about how the rank and file are responding to Suhr’s ousting (they are not pleased) and how they feel about the public perception of their department in light of the recent high-profile shootings and racist text messages. Here’s a clip:

VICE: Chief Greg Suhr resigned after the mayor asked him to. What’s going on there, and what are regular cops saying about it?

SFPD Officer: The rank and file are not pleased, particularly with the circumstances in which the chief was asked to resign. He was well-liked. He was honorable. I think everybody recognizes that this is a political move by the mayor because he was getting pressure from a small segment of the community and city officials. It’s unfortunate.

But the chief knew, as well as every single cop, that soon after the shooting Thursday we were going to have protests and the potential for riots. And the chief could have said, “No, I’m not resigning,” which is what a lot of cops said they wanted him to do. But he doesn’t fight it. He is an honorable man. He realizes that if he falls on this sword, he is going to help the city move forward. Plus, he’s going to be taking care of all the cops out there in riot gear, getting hit with anything from insults to beer bottles, and maybe worse. So he fell on the sword.


What about the racist text messages and claims that there’s a culture of racism in the SFPD?

I don’t believe, nor have I seen, anything that made me think that there is a culture of racism within this police department. On any given day, your coworkers come from all kinds of different ethnic backgrounds. These are the people that you work with, and in a job like being a police officer in San Francisco, these are the people you count on to have your back. These are your friends.

I will acknowledge that sometimes conversations can be wide open. It’s like how players talk shit to one another when they’re on their field. There is absolutely trash talk, and it’s a culture that I would call gallows humor. It’s humor much more harsh—because of the nature of the job— than I think mainstream individuals could necessarily understand. But we’ve been accused of having institutional biases and racist undertones. Come on, this San Francisco, are you kidding me? Who has time for that?

When I hear about text messages, the first thing you have to remember is these things are taken out of context. That gallows humor is a very hard thing to explain. But it’s not institutional racism. Having said that, I have read some of the text messages that have been made public. Some of them, yeah, I thought they were extremely distasteful. And this is from a cop with twenty years of experience. So maybe there are some individuals, because I can’t say across the board—I know it makes for a much better story in the media if you make it sound like we’re all a bunch of racist cops. We’re not. But the bottom line is that even if society doesn’t or can’t understand cop culture, we still shouldn’t be talking to one another or about one another like that.

Interestingly, the cop also says he and his fellow SF officers are worried that if Donald Trump becomes president, he will shut down sanctuary cities. If SF lost it’s sanctuary status, undocumented immigrants would likely no longer feel safe contacting the police. Or, if the city chose not to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the feds may yank much-needed funding.

We work in a sanctuary city. I think most cops believe that there are a lot of hard-working immigrants families in San Francisco, and sometimes they need the police. And we don’t want them to be afraid of calling the police. But if San Francisco doesn’t go along with the feds [and start enforcing national immigration policies], we’re afraid that they will pull a lot of money; it’s financial support not only for law enforcement but also for mental health and homelessness. That could be a big problem for San Francisco.


The Return—a PBS POV documentary about the men and women released from prison due to California’s 2012 three-strikes reform law—aired Monday night.

The PBS documentary follows former lifers Bilal Chatman and Kenneth Anderson and their loved-ones and attorneys as the two men re-enter their communities.

Since the 2012 passage of Prop. 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), thousands inmates serving life-sentences for low-level “third-strike” offenses have been resentenced and released in California.

“Many of those we interviewed came from families struggling with mental illness and drug addiction, said directors Kelly Duane de la Vega and Katie Galloway. “Because African-Americans and Latinos receive disproportionately longer sentences than whites, most were people of color, people who needed support, not incarceration—people who were locked up due to bad policy based on fear, without any understanding of structural barriers they faced.”

The film won the Audience Award for Documentary at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival.

The Return aired last night, but you can check the PBS schedule for additional broadcast times. (You may also be able to stream the full documentary online soon.)


The non-profit Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings (CEEAS) put together a not-to-be-missed podcast that features poetry, discussions, and interviews with incarcerated kids at Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey, CA, and Logansport Juvenile Correctional Facility in Logansport, IN.

The Words Unlocked podcast series was made in partnership with teachers at both facilities, who guided students through a writing curriculum and gave students a safe space to heal their trauma and process their emotions through poetry.

Here’s a poem from a girl locked up at LA County’s Las Padrinos Juvenile Hall.

And here’s a poem from one of the boys:

Listen to the rest of the poems, discussions, and workshops: here.

Posted in Police | 2 Comments »

Juvie Solitary Confinement, College in Prison, Alleged Boot Camp Abusers Arrested, and Kelly Thomas’ Death Violated Police Policy

August 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) introduced a bipartisan bill to end solitary confinement for kids in pretrial facilities and juvenile detention facilities.

The Maintaining dignity and Eliminating unnecessary Restrictive Confinement of Youths Act of 2015 (MERCY) is cosponsored Rand Paul (R-KY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), and Mike Lee (R-UT).

Specifically, the bill would ban solitary confinement except as a temporary placement when a kid poses a serious threat to themselves or others and after less restrictive methods (like deescalation techniques and meeting with a mental health professional) had been tried.

The bill would also require facility staff to explain to a confined kid why they have been placed in isolation, and that they will be released after they have calmed down or after a specific amount of time. And the isolation of kids believed to pose a risk to others would be limited to three hours (thirty minutes for kids who pose a risk to themselves).

“Not only is solitary confinement cruel and demeaning, it’s a violation of one’s human dignity,” said Sen. Booker. “When imposed on adolescents, it can cause serious long-term psychological and physical harm.”

Noting the increased risk of depression and suicide for kids locked in solitary confinement, Sen. Durbin said, “I am glad to join Senators Booker, Paul and Lee in introducing this legislation and look forward to working with them as we consider how to fundamentally reform our approach to this controversial practice.”


Four community colleges are launching classes inside nearby California state prisons as part of an 18-month, $2 million pilot program starting this fall.

The colleges will offer between two and three business-related classes each semester, through which inmates will have the opportunity to earn an associates degree in liberal arts.

Lassen College will hold classes at High Desert State Prison, Folsom Lake College at Folsom Women’s Facility, Antelope Valley College at California State Prison, Los Angeles County, and Chaffey College at California Institution for Women.

The push for education in prisons is also happening on the federal level. Last week, US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed a pilot program to give federal Pell Grants—college grants for low-income students—to thousands of prisoners, reversing a 22-year ban on giving such grants to inmates.

The LA Times’ Carla Rivera has more on the program. Here’s a clip:

The state also has been moving to boost education access for inmates, after a 2014 law that allowed community colleges to receive the same level of state funding for educating students behind prison walls as they do for students on college campuses.

The legislation called for collaboration between prison and community college officials to provide college instruction, resulting in a $2 million, 18-month pilot program launching this fall…

“Part of the proposal was to look for innovative programs that are not only face-to-face but offer a full student experience of orientation, advising, counseling,” said BJ Snowden, director of inmate education in the community college chancellor’s office. “We want this to be a sustainable and replicable model with real goals.”

One of the state’s most successful prison education programs, the Prison University Project, will provide training for community college faculty.

The privately-funded project operates at San Quentin and was founded after inmates lost Pell eligibility. Instructors come from the faculty ranks at UC Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State University, said executive director Jody Lewen.

Obama’s Pell grant initiative could greatly aid programs like hers, Lewen said, providing it is focused on offering a quality education.

“It could be fantastic, but if we allow institutions to come in and do it as cheap as possible with little investment, it will be garbage,” Lewen said. “It will be one of those things in the prison system that’s called better than nothing.”


Four Los Angeles-area officers were arrested this week in connection with alleged abuse of kids participating in a boot camp called Leadership Empowerment and Discipline (LEAD) in San Luis Obispo.

Investigators identified fifteen kids who said they were victims of abuse at the hands of the officers leading the camp.

The program, which purportedly teaches discipline and leadership to 12 to 16-year-olds, ran for 20 weeks, seven days of which were spent at Camp San Luis Obispo, an Army National Guard base. The kids said that officers, especially the two men known as “the Gomez brothers,” verbally and physically abused and threatened them.

The program leaders would take the kids into a “dark room,” where the they would hold them against the wall by their necks, and punch them in the sides, stomach, ribs, and face, according to Gregory Owen, the attorney representing the children’s families. One boy allegedly suffered broken fingers after an officer stepped on his hand.

Marissa Larios and Patrick Nijland of the Huntington Park Police Department, and brothers Carlos Gomez-Marquez and Edgar Gomez of the South Gate Police Department were each arrested and released on $20,000 bail.

In June, at least two of the officers, the Gomez brothers, were still on patrol despite being subjects of investigation.

Here’s a clip from the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Department:

After a two month investigation which involved interviewing 37 participants at the camp, Sheriff’s Detectives were able to identify 15 male and female victims ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old who claimed they were assaulted by the drill instructors while at the camp….

Gomez and Gomez-Marquez were arrested on the following five charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal threats (felony), 3. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 4. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 5. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

Larios was arrested on four charges: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal conspiracy (felony), 3. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 4. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor)

Nijland was arrested for: 1. Willful cruelty to a child (felony), 2. Criminal battery (misdemeanor), 3. Abuse under color of authority (misdemeanor).

All charges will be filed with the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office.

KTLA’s Kennedy Ryan and Eric Spillman have more on the arrests.


Three former Fullerton police officers, Jay Cicinelli, Manuel Ramos, and Joseph Wolfe, violated department policy when they beat Kelly Thomas, a schizophrenic homeless man, to death (while he screamed for his father), according to an independent report released as part of a civil lawsuit.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

Former Corporal Jay Cicinelli violated the Fullerton Police Department’s deadly force policy when he kneed 37-year-old Kelly Thomas in the head twice and beat him in the face with his Taser “multiple times” on July 5, 2011, according to the report by independent auditors. The incident was caught on street surveillance video.

Former officers Manuel Ramos and Joseph Wolfe violated the department’s use of force policy when they used their body weight to subdue and arrest Thomas, the report said.

Thomas died five days after the beating. The coroner’s report determined Thomas died as a result of mechanical chest compressions and cranial-facial injuries.

“Ramos’ weight and the body weight of other responding officers on Thomas may have been partially responsible for Thomas’ ultimate demise,” according to the report. It used similar language for Wolfe.

In January 2014, an Orange County jury acquitted Ramos and Cicinelli, and the charges against Wolfe were later dropped. All three are still fighting to get their jobs back after being terminated.

Posted in CDCR, Education, juvenile justice, Police | 2 Comments »

Blue is the New White: The Complexity of Talking About Police Reform – by Bill Boyarsky

January 21st, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, President Barak Obama said of the events of Ferguson and New York: “…Surely we can understand a father who fears his son can’t walk home without being harassed. Surely we can understand the wife who won’t rest until the police officer she married walks through the front door at the end of his shift.”

Let us hope so.

In Los Angeles as we talk about those issues, the worried father Obama mentioned is not necessarily African American. He is just as likely to be Latino. More likely, really.

And the police officers working patrol whose husbands and wives are fearful for their safety are widely diverse when it comes to race, ethnicity and gender.

So, yes, the conversation we need to have is, in part, about race—but it is also a lot more complicated than that.

In the story below—which originally appeared in TruthDig—columnist Bill Boyarsky explores the complexity of law enforcement reform with members of the Youth Justice Collation, civil rights attorney Connie Rice, journalist/author Joe Dominick and others.

In the end, Boyarsky admits he finds no quick answers. But he brings up some worthwhile questions.

Happy reading.


Why Talking About Law Enforcement Reform in LA is Not a Simple Matter

by Bill Boyarsky

This story originally ran in TruthDig, which has generously allowed WitnessLA to reproduce it in full.

“It’s not the person that fills the uniform, it’s what the uniform does to the person,” said Kim McGill, an organizer for the Youth Justice Coalition. “Blue is the new white.”

“We have to change the culture of law enforcement and create real community authority over police if we want to address system violence and transform the treatment of black and brown communities,” she added.

Or, as another Youth Justice Coalition member, Abraham Colunga, told me, “It’s cop versus black and brown, any minority. It’s more a matter of cop versus us, no matter what the cop is, black, brown, Filipino.”

I visited the coalition headquarters, at the western edge of South Los Angeles, in search of an answer to a question raised by the Los Angeles Police Department’s fatal shooting of Ezell Ford, 25, a mentally ill African-American, in a poor black and Latino neighborhood of South L.A. on Aug. 11.

He was killed two days after Michael Brown, a young black man, was shot to death by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., and a month after Eric Garner, another African-American man, died after a white New York cop subdued him with an illegal chokehold. Then, in Cleveland in November, a white officer shot and killed Tamir Rice, 12, who was holding a replica gun. The officer and another cop threw Rice’s 14-year-old sister to the ground, handcuffed her and forcibly put her into a patrol car when she ran to her fatally wounded brother’s aid.

But Ford’s death in Los Angeles did not follow the black-white narrative that has framed news coverage of these police shootings. One of the cops who shot Ford, Sharlton Wampler, is Asian-American. The other, Antonio Villegas, is Latino.

White law enforcers have been killing black men since slavery. A study by ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, analyzed federal data from 2010 to 2012 and found that young black males were at a 21 times greater risk of being shot to death by police than young white men.

ProPublica’s black-white analysis, however, seemed incomplete for Los Angeles. Its multiethnic population—49.6 percent white, 48.5 percent Latino, 11.3 percent Asian, 9.6 percent black—is now policed by a multiethnic department. Latinos, numbering 3,547, are the largest ethnic group in the LAPD, followed by whites, 2,756, blacks, 861, and Asian Americans, 634.

The analysis by McGill, who is white, and Colunga, who is Latino, seemed more to the point.

The coalition, which knows what’s going on with the police and communities, was organized by youths of color who have been arrested, served time behind bars, subjected to stop and frisks and police abuse, and threatened with deportation. Coalition members have helped lobby local and state lawmakers to reform laws and to increase civilian supervision of the police. They also keep statistics on the number of people killed by police in Los Angeles County.

From their close contact with crime-heavy neighborhoods, they see that police shootings of young men go beyond the black-white way journalism frames the issue.

For example, McGill said a cause of the shootings is the war on gangs being waged by the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies around the country.

Gang suppression cops, operating in neighborhoods prevalent with gangs, “treat all like criminals,” McGill said. “People are going to be roughed up and hurt.”

The two officers who killed Ford were members of a gang suppression detail operating in a high crime part of South Los Angeles, where four African-Americans and two Latinos have been slain by cops since 2000.

The victim was well known in the neighborhood. Brandy Brown, another member of the Youth Justice Coalition, lived in an apartment above where Ford was shot. Brown, who is African-American, told me that she and others around 65th Street and Broadway knew him as a pleasant, longtime resident who, as his teens turned into his 20s, became severely disturbed. He wandered through the neighborhood, cadging cigarettes and meals from people who had known him for years. Her mother occasionally fed him and let him use the shower. The two police officers, she said, should have known him too.

Brown was working in her kitchen when she heard the gunshots. She ran downstairs to where her 4-year-old nephew was playing and saw people gathered around Ford.

The autopsy report showed he was shot three times. One bullet hit him in the right side, another in the back and a third in the right arm. The wound in the back had a “muzzle imprint,” the autopsy report said, suggesting the shot was fired at close range.

Police said Ford was walking on 65th Street when the two officers got out of their car and tried to talk to him. Why they did this is unknown so far.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Ford walked away. The two officers followed him to a nearby driveway. Ford, the chief said, crouched between a car and some bushes. When one of the officers reached toward Ford, Beck said, he grabbed the officer and forced him to the ground. The policeman shouted to his partner that Ford had his gun, Beck said. The partner fired two rounds, which hit Ford. The officer on the ground pulled out his backup weapon, reached around Ford and shot him in the back at close range.

Ford joined the long list of those who have been killed by the police in Los Angeles County, which contains 88 cities, Los Angeles being the largest by far.

The Los Angeles Times painstakingly reports all these deaths in its invaluable Homicide Report, which compiles and analyzes coroner’s figures. A total of 594 gunshot victims have died in officer-involved shootings from 2000 through 2014. Of these, 114 were white, 300 Latino, 159 black, and 16 Asian.

With African-Americans a much smaller part of the population, the black toll is disproportionately high. The Youth Justice Coalition reports a slightly higher total of deaths, probably because it supplements coroner’s reports with information gleaned from neighborhoods.
In any case, ethnic minorities comprise the largest number of victims by a huge number. David R. Ayon, senior strategist at Latino Decisions and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University, said: “Latinos are underrepresented in a lot of positions of authority, but not when it comes to being shot by the police in Los Angeles.

“African-Americans are underrepresented in a lot of areas of society, but are overrepresented in being shot by the police. The group that is underrepresented [in police shootings] is whites.”

I talked to two criminal justice experts about the complex racial dimension to these police shootings.

Connie Rice is an attorney long active in civil rights who heads the Advancement Project, a national organization that fights for criminal justice reform and voting rights, among other issues. She was a leader in the reform of the Los Angeles Police Department after major scandals and the 1992 riots.

Rice said she found that police officers are more apt to shoot in violent crime areas. “Do I think the cops are too quick to shoot in South L.A.? Yes, I do. They give themselves permission to shoot in South L.A. where they don’t anywhere else.”

She added, “The biggest common denominator [in police shootings] is [neighborhood] income and class. It is compounded by race.”

Neighborhood figures compiled by the Los Angeles Times Homicide Report support this.

Some examples: The Florence neighborhood in South Los Angeles is listed by the report as the ninth most deadly area in Los Angeles. Nine blacks and four Latinos were shot and killed by police there between 2000 and 2014. The count was four blacks and two Latinos in impoverished South Central Los Angeles. In Boyle Heights, a poor Latino area, eight Latinos and one black died. But in middle-class Leimert Park, a largely black neighborhood, there were no police-caused shooting deaths in those 14 years.

Joe Domanick is a senior fellow at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice’s Center on Media, Crime and Justice and the author of “Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD,” to be published by Simon & Schuster this summer.

Domanick also believes police attitudes in high crime areas influence behavior. “The explosion of guns and the lack of any kind of gun control make cops very edgy,” he said. He added, “I think there is also racism on the part of white, Asian and Latino cops that is endemic in our society, which doesn’t value black lives unless they are Denzel Washington.”

For those seeking quick answers, this column may leave you unsatisfied. Solutions glibly floated from New York and Ferguson have been tried to some extent in Los Angeles, a city that may be the picture of the nation’s urban future.

The police department has been integrated. Its all-white occupying army tactics in poor black and Latino areas were moderated after the riots and federal supervision. Bill Bratton, now New York police commissioner, and his successor, Beck, forced the cops to interact with communities, at least much more than in the past. “Charlie Beck did a superlative job in implementing community policing, especially in African-American communities and he built up a big stack of goodwill when he was chief of the South Bureau [covering South Los Angeles],” Domanick said. “He has continued that as police chief. He has deep relationships with people. They like him.”

Friday, Beck met with representatives of demonstrators who have been camping in front of police headquarters, demanding that he fire the cops who killed Ford. He didn’t do that, insisting that he has to follow department procedures on discipline. “It’s a first step,” Youth Justice Coalition’s McGill said. “It opened communications.”

Beck and other police chiefs and mayors can do more: Give communities more of a say in policing, which cops hate. Take every complaint seriously. Investigate police killings quickly and openly without relying on bureaucratic or legalistic barriers created to protect police officers. Let the community know what’s going on. And show respect to the residents. Be as polite to people in poor neighborhoods as the police are in more affluent neighborhoods that are nearly free of violent crime. Economic class shouldn’t determine whether you get an even chance with the law.

None of these small steps would make a headline or a mention on the Internet or in cable news. But they’re important in a country that is so racially divided and resistant to change.

Bill Boyarsky is a political correspondent for Truthdig, a lecturer in journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Journalism, and a columnist for LA Observed.

Photo of LAPD academy graduation from LAPD Blog


If by some chance you haven’t been following the account of Billings, MT, police officer Grant Morrison who was involved in a fatal shooting in the Spring of 2014, this nuanced story by Zach Benoit of the Billings Gazette, shows the grief and self-doubt Morrison has struggled with since the shooting, which was recorded by a dashboard video.

A later widely-destributed video shows Morrison sobbing after the incident after realizing he had fatally shot an unarmed man.

Both videos make for harrowing viewing.

Morrison was cleared of all wrongdoing in the matter by a coroner’s jury after a two day inquest.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Police, race, race and class, racial justice | 2 Comments »

LA Supes Finally Approve 2 Foster Care Fixes….Can SF’s Community Court Halt the Revolving Door?….NYC Bans Solitary for Inmates Under 21….More on the “End of Gangs…..and the Pain of Losing Al Martinez

January 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


It looks like those two new members added to the LA County Board of Supervisors have changed the mix enough to make a big difference when it comes to social issues. (Let’s hope it continues.)

To wit: On Tuesday, the board added two important–-and long-stalled—safeguards to the child welfare system.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here’s a clip:

After a year of stalled efforts to address breakdowns in Los Angeles County’s child protection system, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday adopted two key recommendations of a blue ribbon commission established in the aftermath of a beating death of an 8-year-old Palmdale boy.

In what is believed to be the nation’s first program, the board voted unanimously to pair public health nurses with social workers to investigate every allegation of abuse involving children younger than 2, an age group identified as being the most at risk of fatalities from mistreatment.

The public health nurses will help medical and child welfare workers evaluate children and determine whether they are in danger of abuse or need immediate medical attention. Deploying the additional personnel is expected to cost $8 million annually.

Supervisors said they hope the nurses will help connect families with needed child healthcare and keep families together when appropriate. Initially, the nurses will be added to two child welfare offices serving areas in and around South Los Angeles.

Lack of adequate medical evaluations have been tied to some child fatalities in recent years. In 2008, 2-year-old Isabel Garcia starved to death — two months after social workers visited her and wrote that she appeared healthy, despite the toddler’s sharp weight loss.

The board also moved forward with a recommendation to ensure that children are taken to specialized county medical clinics for health screenings when a nurse in the field deems it medically necessary. The clinics are equipped with sophisticated equipment and staff trained to detect and document child abuse. To accommodate the increased health screening, the county is spending $2 million on additional clinic staff.

“The time is now to move on the blue ribbon commission’s recommendations. The protection and well-being of children in our care should always be top priority,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-sponsored the motion with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

Now if the board will keep up the good work and move on the rest of the Blue Ribbon Committee’s recommendations, most notabley the hiring of a child welfare czar.

(cough) Judge Michael Nash (cough, cough)


With a U.S. incarceration rate that increased more than seven-fold between 1980 to 2010, and national recidivism rates at 67.8 percent (and far higher for drug offenders), some of the nation’s more forward-looking communities have been turning to alternative forms of justice such as community courts as a means to stop the revolving door that keeps many low-level offenders cycling in and out of jail or prison.

But do such strategies work?

Community courts have many of the same purposes as regular criminal courts: reducing crime, protecting public safety, and ensuring due process. But unlike most criminal courts, community courts are particularly focused on improving outcomes for offenders by addressing some of the key factors that often underlie certain kinds of criminal behavior—-things like mental and emotional health issues, unemployment, substance abuse, and an unstable home situation.

With such variables in mind, the community courts attempt to match services—not just sanctions—with offenders.

The first community court opened its doors in the U.S. in 1991, in New York City. Now there are more than three dozen such courts in the nation.

California’s two main community courts are located in Orange County and in San Francisco.

San Francisco’s community court, which is known as the Community Justice Center (or CJC), opened in 2009 in the Tenderloin.

Those involved with the court believed from the beginning that they were seeing a drop in recidivism among the CJC’s clients. But were they really?

“Success can be hard to measure in community courts,” writes the Christian Science Monitor’s Henry Gass in a story that looks at the emerging national trend. “The most common criticism leveled against the community court system is that it is often unable to prevent relapses into criminal behavior….”

As a consequence, he writes, “criminal-justice researchers are trying to put together solid statistical evidence of how community courts are performing.”

With this in mind, the RAND corporation decided to take a statistical look at whether or not the CJC really cut the likelihood of returning to the criminal justice system.

RAND researchers analyzed approximately 10,000 cases involving 6,000 defendants that the court heard from its opening in March 2009, through December 2013. When matching the CJC offenders with a control population, they did their best to compare apples with apples, by looking at those who committed similar offenses in the same general geographic area, but before CJC opened. They also looked at those who committed similar offenses after CJC came along in 2009 but who, for some reason, didn’t get funnelled to community court.

The results were published in late 2014 and they were extremely encouraging. They showed that those tried in SF’s Community Justice Center were 8.9 to 10.3 percent less likely to be rearrested within a year than those non-CJC offenders tried in convention court. Over time, the stats got even better. It turned out that the likelihood of not being rearrested rose the longer the CJC people were out. Whereas for those tried in regular courts, the opposite was true; they were more likely to reoffend as time passed.

So why did SF community court system work? One of the study’s authors, Jesse Sussell, said that he and his co-author, Beau Kilmer, weren’t 100 percent sure how to answer that question.

“Policymakers in the United States are aware of the enormous potential gains to be had from reducing recidivism,” he wrote in a paper for Social Policy Research Associates. “They also know that the status quo approach for handling offenders has done a poor job of preventing re-offense…”

But as to why CJC having a better effect?

“We still don’t know precisely why the San Francisco CJC appears to reduce recidivism,” Sussell admitted. But he thought the fact that the program wasn’t a one size fits all system might have something to do with it. “The CJC itself is really a collection of interventions,” he said. “A suite of services,”—some to address addiction, others to address homelessness and other situational problems, and so on.

The court was also speedy, Sussell noted. “Community court participants are also ordered to report to the court much sooner following initial arrest (about one week) than are offenders processed by the traditional court (a month or more).”

Bottom line, the RAND researchers found the study’s results to be very promising, but they’d like to now drill down a bit and look at “the relative contributions of these different program components.”

Sounds fine to us.


In a move that startled many, members of New York City’s board of corrections voted on Tuesday—7-0—to eliminate the use of solitary confinement for all inmates 21 and younger, a move that it is hoped would place the city’s long-troubled Rikers Island complex at the forefront of national jail reform efforts.

Los Angeles County has yet to come close to such a sweeping decision—although in the last few years it has greatly reduced its dependence on solitary confinement in response to a raft of public criticism by juvenile justice advocates.

Michael Winerip and Michael Schwirtz have the story for the New York Times on Tuesday’s policy change.

Here’s a clip:

The policy change was a stark turnaround by the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio [whose corrections guy supported the surprise move], which recently eliminated the use of solitary confinement for 16- and 17-year-olds but, backed by the powerful correction officers union, had resisted curtailing the practice more broadly.

Even the most innovative jails in the country punish disruptive inmates over age 18 with solitary confinement, said Christine Herrman, director of the Segregation Reduction Project at the Vera Institute of Justice. “I’ve never heard of anything like that happening anywhere else,” she said, referring to the New York City plan. “It would definitely be an innovation.”

The Correction Department has faced repeated criticism over the past year after revelations of horrific brutality and neglect of inmates at Rikers, the country’s second-largest jail system. Preet Bharara, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, is suing the city over the treatment of adolescent inmates at the jail complex.


A large body of scientific research indicates that solitary confinement is particularly damaging to adolescents and young adults because their brains are still developing. Prolonged isolation in solitary cells can worsen mental illness and in some cases cause it, studies have shown.

Inmates in solitary confinement at Rikers are locked in their cells for 23 hours a day, with one hour of recreation, which they spend by themselves in a small caged area outdoors. A report published in August by Mr. Bharara’s office described the use of solitary cells for young people at Rikers as “excessive and inappropriate.” Inmates can be locked away for weeks and months and, in some cases, even over a year.

As of Jan. 9, according to recently released city data, there were 497 inmates between ages 19 and 21 at Rikers, with 103 of them held in solitary confinement.

“The majority of inmates in the 18- to 21-year-old cohort are young men of color whom we presume innocent under our laws because they are awaiting trial,” said Bryanne Hamill, one of the board’s strongest voices for eliminating solitary for young inmates. “The evidence showed that solitary confinement will not improve their future behavior, but will reliably convert anger and frustration today into rage and violence tomorrow.”

The president of NYC’s 9,000-member correction officers’ union, Norman Seabrook, said the plan would endanger correction officers by leading to more inmate attacks. Seabrook told the NYT that he planned sue the board for every guard assaulted.


For those of you who were interested in the discussion that resulted from Sam Quinones’ story for Pacific Standard magazine, provocatively titled “The End of Gangs,” you’ll likely enjoy listening to the podcast of Monday’s Deadline LA on KPFK, featuring Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume interviewing Quinones about whether or not the gangs are disappearing from LA’s streets and, if so, why.

As you may remember, Quinones’ story is thought-provoking and deeply reported, but also controversial.

For instance, we still find his analysis far too law-enforcement centric. And it has made gang experts nuts that, in discussing the gangs’ lessened grip on day to day life in our urban neighborhoods, his story completely left out the essential role played by non-profit programs that offer jobs and other crucial support to former gang members, plus the powerful effect of grassroots community involvement, along with a host of other factors that have contributed to the drop in gang crime.

Yet, all that said, Osborn and Blume ask some great questions. And Quinones’ highly informed answers having to do with the measurable successes gained by policing “smarter, not harder,” along with the LAPD’s brass enlightened move some years ago to treat the most violence-afflicted communities they police as partners, not adversaries—and other intriguing topics regarding the world of cops and gangs—are very much worth your time.

So, listen. Okay? Okay.


Al Martinez, LA’s glorious storyteller, our city’s bard, as the Huntington Library called him, our deeply humanistic, gloriously poetic and wildly funny chronicler of the zillion extraordinary and ordinary facets of life in Southern California, has left us.

Martinez died Monday at West Hills Hospital of congestive heart failure, said his wife, Joanne, when she called LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick, for whom Al wrote his last columns. He was 85 and had been suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Al wrote for the LA Times for 38 years—most notably as a columnist—before stupid management decisions forced him out during the worst of the Times’ staff purges, first once, then again. (After panicking at the furious response from readers, the Times rehired him after the first push out in 2007.)

Yet, the ongoing demand for his unique voice was such that Martinez easily placed his columns elsewhere after he parted with the Times, LA Observed being his last home.

He also wrote a string of non-fiction books, a novel and, since this is LA, after all, he wrote occasionally for television, when it suited him.

The LAT’s Valerie Nelson has a lovely obit on Martinez, and Roderick writes about his friend and columnist here, plus Al’s longtime friend and colleague, Bill Boyarsky writes his own tribute, “The Storyteller Exits.”

PS: Al settled himself and his family in Topanga Canyon when he moved to Southern California in the early 1970s. Thus, we who also make Topanga our home always felt that LA’s fabulously gifted teller-of-stories belonged to us personally. We understood we couldn’t keep him forever. Yet, losing him still seems unimaginable.

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, gender, law enforcement, Life in general, Los Angeles writers, Police, Public Health, race, race and class, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, solitary, Violence Prevention, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 9 Comments »

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