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A To Do List for LA County Probation’s Two New Chiefs – by Madeline Ottilie

November 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A new chief and a deputy chief were selected this week by the Los Angeles County board of supervisors and we have some items for their To Do list

By Madeline Ottilie

Los Angeles County’s newly-chosen chief probation officer and her new second in command, who will both take over in January, are entering LA’s troubled probation department at a pivotal moment.
For the very top position, LA’s Board of Supervisors selected former Assistant LA County Sheriff Terri McDonald who, up until recently, was in charge of LA’s massive jail system, after being brought in to implement reform recommendations following a series of very public scandals.

Then to head the juvenile side of the department, the supervisors hired Sheila Mitchell, who is the former chief of the Santa Clara Probation Department, where she earned a national reputation for instituting innovative youth programs in the agency she ran for nearly 10 years.

Child advocates and community activists hope the new leadership duo will change what has been described as a punishment-centered culture into one that focuses on rehabilitation, treatment and the effective transition of probationers back to their communities, particularly for the kids under the county’s supervision. Thus, many were cautiously optimistic when the board of supervisors hired Mitchell with her extensive background in juvenile probation reform.

The decision to hire two people, in and of itself, has produced hope.
“Probation has two important and quite different functions in the populations it supervises,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. “We think it’s important that the department move away from a law enforcement type of supervision on both of those sides. But juveniles are quite different than adults,” Eliasberg continued, “and it appears that the problems of youth probation are as significant if not more significant than on the adult side. Therefore we are pleased the board did not take a one-size-fits-all approach, and made sure that there was going to be somebody at the top with a substantial level of experience with youth.”


LA County Probation, the largest of its kind in the nation, has been hit by a stream of problems in the past decade, many of them having to do with how the department deals with the youth in its care. Things got bad enough to bring Department of Justice monitors into the county’s juvenile halls and camps from 2004 to 2015. Then there was a large class-action suit filed in 2010, “due to the failure” of probation “to provide adequate education to youth in the camps,” even “locking students in solitary confinement for weeks or months without attending school.” In the past few years, however, probation executives claimed that the bad old days were all but over when the DOJ signed off in April 2015.

But more recently, a string of new red flags suggested that, despite some improvements, there is much work to be done.

Among the issues that critics say demonstrated all was not well are recent allegations of kids being assaulted by staff inside two juvenile halls, evidence of fiscal mismanagement both on the adult and the juvenile side of probation and an April 2015 report by the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office that showed the youth detention programs weren’t doing anywhere near as swimmingly as everyone was claiming. It came a month after a 155-page Los Angeles County Juvenile Probation Outcomes Study that showed that a discouraging percentage of the youth who were in the department’s facilities or on home probation were not getting the help they needed, and recidivated in alarming numbers.

But none of these events pushed LA County’s juvenile probation into the national spotlight. Instead, it was the release of a detailed in-house report that detailed what the author described as “deplorable” conditions in the main juvenile hall. LA County Probation Commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez compiled it in February 2015, mainly for his fellow commissioners, members of the LA County Board of Supervisors and probation department higher-ups. But in March the report leaked to a couple of members of the press — namely WitnessLA and the Los Angeles Times, both of which wrote stories.

Martinez’s report was unusually frank, comparing Central Juvenile Hall to a “Third World country prison” and describing units lacking in running water and inmates kept in isolation without an apparent cause. Walls and other surfaces were reported to be covered in gang graffiti, and some urinals were said to be overflowing. Martinez noted an appalling stench due to an unrepaired sewage system. Doors to probationers’ rooms were allegedly propped open to air out the smell, not with doorstops, but their personal items.

He wrote the report after making an unscheduled visit to the facility early last year and being appalled by what he saw. After the initial two news articles, other media outlets wrote about it. People spoke out online and on social media. One LA Times online commenter wrote that he was housed in the facility 32 years ago and recalled similar awful conditions and mistreatment. Others argued that conditions were fair punishment for those who had committed crimes. Most merely expressed disgust.

The 15 probation commissioners are required to check the Probation Department’s juvenile facilities periodically and report back on their findings. When a commissioner reports a problem, the department is required to respond within 30 days.

The Probation Department was quick to investigate Martinez’s observations and allegations — and act to correct the issues he listed. Some of the problems had reportedly already been hurriedly fixed by the time Probation’s inspector arrived. Other alleged violations were not found during investigations, such as the stench from toilets, according to probation officials. Due to Martinez’s high-profile report, a significant amount of graffiti was reportedly washed away, walls repainted, bathrooms scrubbed and restored, and real doorstops bought.

The story raised significant concern. But while officials expressed their disappointment with the conditions and acknowledged the importance of fixing the issues Martinez reported, some viewed the report as a symptom of larger problems in a system that desperately needs significant reform.

“In the scheme of all the other stuff that’s going on with the department,” said Cyn Yamashiro, a member of the Probation Commission along with Martinez, “the fact that there’s some graffiti on the wall and the urinals stink … Yeah that’s bad, but there’s a lot of other stuff that’s going on.” (Yamashiro said he spoke on his own behalf and not on behalf of the commission.)


The physical condition of the facilities do have symbolic importance in the rehabilitative process, especially for minors, he said. He is concerned that, even though these specific instances were reportedly resolved, they were allowed to occur in the first place. He also worries about similar conditions that might be occurring unreported elsewhere in the juvenile system, he said.

“I’m not a psychologist, but I would assume that there’s a relationship between the conditions of confinement and how youth see themselves,” Yamashiro said, “and [how they] see the institution that is trying to rehabilitate them.” The physical state of the department’s three juvenile halls and 12 juvenile camps can easily be viewed “as an expression of the institution’s desire to kind of create environments that are healthy for kids,” he explained. “If kids see that the institution doesn’t care enough to fix the plumbing and fix urinals and things like that, it doesn’t say a lot about the institution’s desire to help them.”

Probation’s Kerri Webb and Scott Sanders, consultant for the department’s juvenile detention services, both had a more upbeat take on the problems. Central Juvenile Hall, the largest of the county’s three juvenile halls, currently houses somewhere around 200 youth, said Sanders, who noted that the facility has a swimming pool, recreation stations, a school, and two medical units.

“A lot of time these kids are receiving services and educational opportunities that they didn’t take advantage of when they were on the outside committing the crime,” said Webb. “Now they are in a facility and in a program and environment where they have to go to school, and there are educational programs where they will receive the credit towards graduation. There are health professionals who will evaluate them to see what their psychiatric needs are, what their mental health needs are. We’re really proud of the fact that a lot of the times these kids, once they complete their stay here, are armed with better opportunities and better services, and more prepared to be a better juvenile in society.”

Educational services and a swimming pool may play a positive role in rehabilitation, according to Yamashiro and others, but that doesn’t prevent the negative factors in the juvenile halls and camps from playing a harmful one.

“At some point, the conditions themselves become the punishment,” Yamashiro said. “The farther away the environment is that they’re confined in, the farther away that is from their own home life, is I think the extent to which it is a punishment.”

And according to Yamashiro and department officials punishment is not supposed to be the point, at least in theory.

“The goal at this point when you’re working with youth,” Yamashiro said — “particularly when such a high percentage of youth come into the system with mental health disorders, diagnoses of learning disabilities” and more — is that this is “not [supposed to be] an exercise in punishment. It’s really about rehabilitating kids.”

That is why it is so essential to understand how the physical conditions of the county’s various juvenile facilities can have a great deal to do with a kid’s experience when he or she is in the county’s care, he said.

“If [the facility is] an environment that allows people to be comfortable and be in a position where they can learn, they can reflect on their own behavior and how they’re going to get better,” Yamashiro said. “[If] it’s so gross they can’t do that, then it kind of defeats the purpose of them being there.”

The Probation Department agreed, but said their quick response to the Martinez report’s allegations was less publicized than the high-profile news that resulted from the report itself.

“It doesn’t get out there, but we are proud of what we do,” Sanders said. “I stand on this, that our staff cares about these kids, that the department cares about these kids. And we are trying to do everything we can to provide the services that these kids need.

“I think the public misses the piece that a lot of these kids come in broken,” Sanders said. “They come in and our job is to try to stabilize them in the length of time we have. In Juvenile Hall, the average stay is 17 days. You might have some that are there longer. You have a lot that are there shorter. So our job is to try to help them leave as fast as possible, which is not a small task.”

Webb agreed.

“That’s our goal, that’s our mission,” she said, “to rehabilitate and get them back into their community and [to] be functional members of society. We’re really proud of that. [But] that doesn’t seem to really get across to the public. We’re not about just locking these kids up. They leave many times better than they were when they came in.”
Yet critics say these worthy intentions still beg the question as to how these practices were allowed to occur in the first place, particularly those with such a simple fix as rinsing the graffiti off the wall. What prevented this disrepair from being fixed the moment it was observed, not by a commissioner, but by a Detention Service Officer or other employee who works in the facilities every day?


In the past, the department has been criticized for various kinds of financial negligence. The audit released in January said the department did not adequately track its expenditures. Money was spent on employee phones that no one was using and on phones for former employees, for example. The report also found $161 million in state funds designated for much-needed adult and juvenile programs that had never been spent. Why? This was unclear. And though this sum was comprised of funding designated for programming and not facility upkeep, it suggested a level of financial dysfunction that had the potential to bleed into all areas of the department.

The cost of keeping a young person locked up in the county is unusually high, for example, compared with other California counties with large juvenile systems, according to an audit completed in April 2015.

The Average Daily Cost Per Youth or (ADCPY) for the county’s juvenile halls is $640 per kid per day in the halls and $552 in the camps. San Diego County spent $351 and $206 for camps and halls, respectively. Orange County spent $497 and $284. Harris County, Texas, $232 and $272.

In 2005, the county reported 17,648 felony arrests of juveniles, that was 6,906 by 2015, according to the California Attorney General’s Office.

Fewer arrests means fewer kids in residential facilities. In early 2016, 535 youths were held in facilities designed for 1,469. Despite this low number, the department continued to pay for services for a capacity of nearly 1,000, even though the camps and halls were reportedly seriously understaffed at the time of the audit.

Yamashiro said that, like the graffiti, the fiscal issues pointed beyond themselves to larger management troubles and attitudes. “You have a department whose budget hasn’t really shrunken, but you’ve got a population of kids that’s far lower than it has been in any memory,” he said. “So there’s a lot fewer kids and the same [departmental issues] persist. And I think that’s a problem.”

So why is the cost per kid so high in LA County’s juvenile halls and camps? And what are the county’s kids getting for the money? The county auditors noted that they were not 100 percent sure about the details of how the money was being spent because, they wrote, “Probation does not adequately track expenditures for juvenile halls and camps.”


One more issue addressed in Martinez’ original report is juvenile solitary. He wrote about a boy who was reportedly sent into isolation for 16 hours after trading his beverage carton for another inmate’s. While trading food is not allowed, Martinez noted that the punishment was a misuse of solitary confinement, which can only be used as a disciplinary action for no more than a few hours at a time. Exceptions are made for serious and rare situations.

The use of solitary confinement as a disciplinary action for juveniles has been a source of national controversy for some time, with many calling the strategy unproductive, cruel and capable of triggering permanent psychological consequences, especially with youth.

Last May, the county’s board of supervisors banned the use of solitary confinement, except in exceptional circumstances, in all the county’s juvenile detention facilities. While youth might still occasionally be separated for a cool-down period when all other options fail, the conditions of this separation were radically redefined and are supposed to now provide a more therapeutic and calming experience.

The day before these changes were approved in Los Angeles County, President Obama announced a solitary confinement ban for juveniles in federal prisons.

“Everyone agrees [solitary is] just not an appropriate way to handle crisis for youth for any lengthy period of time,” Yamashiro said.

Six months after the board of supervisors ordered the replacement of trips to solitary with far briefer time outs in a therapeutic environment, what are the results? Are staffers making use of the therapy-oriented procedures, like the newly created Hope Centers, in the halls and camps? Some probation sources say that many staff feel a vital tool has been taken away from them, and are unsure what to use in its place, so often use extended periods of room confinement as a replacement, which isn’t at all what the board of supervisors had in mind.

Even more pressing than the need for a progress report on the isolation issue is the matter of the growing number of reports of alleged assaults of youth by staff in the department’s halls and camps. Video surveillance caught a beating of an unresisting boy by staff members earlier this year. The instance does not appear to be isolated.

Another alleged incident surfaced the next month. And a third in October, with more rumored still to come. A report officials compiled this summer at the request of the probation commission found that monthly use of force incidents in the county’s three juvenile halls had increased 85 percent from January to July of this past year.


The two new chiefs will be faced with a long list of key decisions and daunting challenges when they arrive in January, especially given the agency’s need for many major and vital reforms.

“In working with the last two chiefs,” Sal Martinez said, “there’s one thing that I learned: No matter who’s in charge, there’s still a big disconnect between the executive offices in Downey and the line offices. And that disconnect needs to be fixed if we want to reform this department.”

This story is part of a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, which is the product of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Posted in juvenile justice, Juvenile Probation, Probation | 3 Comments »

Supes Chose a Team of Two to Lead LA County Probation: Terri McDonald & Sheila Mitchell

November 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have just announced their selection of not just one brand new Chief of Probation, but two.

Here’s the deal: The Supes have chosen a new Chief Probation Officer to lead the county’s problem-plagued department—namely former Assistant LA County Sheriff Terri McDonald who, up until recently, was in charge of the county’s massive jail system, where she has been credited with successfully leading the implementation of the reform recommendations from the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

Prior to coming to the LASD, McDonald spent 25 years with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, starting as a corrections officer, and rising through the ranks to the level of Undersecretary of Operations.

In addition, the board has made the unusual move of interviewing and hiring a second in command for the nation’s largest probation department, who will have the title of Chief Deputy Probation Officer, and who will be in charge of running and reforming the juvenile side of the department.

This new number two is to be Sheila Mitchell, who was the former chief of the Santa Clara Probation Department, where she earned a national reputation for juvenile justice reform. In the past, Mitchell also worked as second in command of the Alameda County Probation Department. Prior to Alameda, she served as a Deputy Commissioner for the State of Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice.

At the moment, Mitchell is the CEO for Unity Care, a community-based, non-profit that focuses on developing educational and social programs to enrich the lives of at-risk youth


As the the process to select a new chief went on behind closed doors these past few months, juvenile advocates expressed worry that, in an effort to get a strong figure for the adult side of probation, the board might not choose someone with the necessary experience in juvenile reform.

Yet, Wednesday night’s announcement of two names, rather than just one, has produced cautious optimism among many probation watchers.

“Probation has two important and quite different functions in the populations it supervises,” said Peter Eliasberg, chief counsel of the ACLU of Southern California. “We think it’s important that the department move away from a law enforcement type of supervision on both of those sides. But juveniles are quite different than adults,” Eliasberg continued, “and it appears that the problems of youth probation are as significant if not more significant than on the adult side. Therefore we are pleased the board did not take a one-size-fits-all approach, and made sure that there was going to be somebody at the top with a substantial level of experience with youth.”

McDonald will receive an annual salary of $316,342, plus $25,000 in relocating expenses.

Mitchell will be paid $250,000 a year plus the same $25,000 in relocating expenses.

McDonald will begin work on January 1, 2017, Mitchell on January 14, 2017.

Here’s the board’s memo on the new hires.

For additional information on the background of the Supes selections, and on the other three finalists originally in the running for the position of chief check out our earlier story on the final five.

Posted in Probation | 18 Comments »

LA Board of Supes Delays Vote on Motion for Blue Ribbon Commission for Probation Reform.

October 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the members of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were slated to vote on a motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform. The proposed commission, if formed, would be tasked with the goal of assessing problems within the troubled LA County Probation Department, and then recommending reforms to better protect and rehabilitate the approximately 1000 kids in the county’s 13 juvenile camps and three juvenile halls, along with improving the lot of the approximately 72,00 adults under county supervision, particularly the AB 109 probationers who need help with reentry in order to better restart their lives

Supervisor Shiela Kuehl proposed that a vote on the motion, be postponed for two more weeks in order to fine-tune the shape and function of the Blue Ribbon Commission that the motion proposes.

As it stands now, Tuesday’s motion-–sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis—calls for the creation of a 12-member commission, with two members to be appointed by each of the supervisors, one with expertize in the juvenile side, the other with experience on the adult side. The remaining two commissioners would be chosen by the first ten from a pool of possibilities put forth by the board. The commission would be chosen in early November, and sunset after six months, with the commission’s recommendations for reform due to the board on May 4, 2017.

The motion makes a general case for why such a commission is called for on top of the working group that is presently exploring what kind of civilian oversight is needed to monitor the probation department.

It describes the bad old days in probation’s recent past that, on the juvenile side, brought Department of Justice monitors into the halls and camps from 2004 to 2015, along with a monster class action suit filed in 2010, “due to the failure” of probation “to provide adequate education to youth in the camps,” even “locking students in solitary confinement for weeks or months without attending school.”

The motion goes on to detail the string of red flags still conspicuously visible in the department, that make clear that all is not well. There are, for example, the audits and investigations of the last two years that “have revealed staff misconduct and mismanagement of funds,” like the stunning amounts of unused state grant funds that probation has been squirreling away under its mattress, namely the $140.5 million of SB 678 funds, that should have been used for reentry programs for AB 109 probationers, and the over $21 million in unspent Juvenile Justice and Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) funds intended to support programs that help kids stay out of the justice system.

(WLA reported the stories here and here).

Then there are the latest alarming revelations, like the news that use of force incidents in the county’s juvenile halls nearly doubled from January to July 2016, and that there were other “allegations of misconduct in the camps and halls”—such as WLA’s recent stories about staff allegedly assaulting kids in two different juvenile halls.

The board previously created the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, the recommendations from which helped to bring about positive changes for the troubled Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and for the county’s chronically dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services.

The motion suggests hopefully that a similar “panel of independent experts could spur the same type of change that is so badly needed in the [Probation] Department.”


Most of the reform advocates who spoke on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting said they were in favor of the motion, and supported the idea of the commission. But most also presented some kind of caveat or cautionary note.

For example, Max Huntsman, L.A. County’s Inspector General appointed to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, reminded the board that the problems it hopes the commission will correct, have been present “for decades.” He knows this, he said, because of his own experiences in the juvenile camps when he began as a prosecutor, 25 years ago.

Huntsman told those assembled how, on one trip to one of the camps, he “observed a deputy probation officer” giving a speech to kids first arriving at the facility “in which he urged them not to be homosexual.” And “that was their introduction to their new custody experience,” Huntsman said adding that although the DPO’s startling speech was the “first disillusioning thing” he witnessed at the probation department, “it wasn’t the last.”

Probation commissioner, Sal Martinez, who spent time in the camps himself as a teenager, said he hoped the proposed commission will introduce “a blueprint of reform and transparency” with “the mission and vision” of rebuilding the lives of the kids in the county’s care. “Those kids need you,” he said.


Not all of the juvenile advocates who spoke were convinced that the Blue Ribbon Commission idea was the answer.

Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition noted that the county has, at present, 169 commissions, thus if this commission was going to be launched, she said she wanted to know that it was going to be done the right way. Most importantly, said McGill, the plan must necessitate that some of the commissioners be “people who have been impacted by the system.” Before she supported the motion, McGill said, “we want an opportunity for real engagement with the community” on the issue. And that any leadership body must “prioritize a moratorium on jail expansion and the closing of at least one juvenile hall, and half of the camps.”

Javier Stauring who, for the last twenty years oversaw the detention ministry programs in all the juvenile halls and probation camps in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, was also very concerned about the make-up of any commission.

“True reform will only happen when the people calling the shots see the children under probation’s jurisdiction as if they were their own children.”

For years, he said, experts been “telling the gatekeepers that what our youth really need is help in processing and healing from the trauma that is all too common and disproportionately impacts families who struggle with the effects of poverty.

He supported the commission, Stauring said finally. “But only if it’s made up of people who love our children.”

The revised motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform is now due to come to a vote on Tuesday, October 18.

In the meantime, there is no firm word on when the board will make its selection for the new probation chief.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

LA County Supes to Vote on Creating a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform — UPDATED

October 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE: On Tuesday, after hearing from advocates and others concerned about certain aspects of a motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform, the LA County Supervisors decided to postpone the scheduled vote for two more weeks in order to clarify and improve on the proposed plan. WLA will have more on this story tomorrow.

Today, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is slated to consider a motion to form a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform (similar to the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence) to assess problems within the troubled department and to coordinate and bring about reforms to better protect and rehabilitate kids in camps and the youth and adults under supervision.

Here’s a clip from the motion by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis explaining the need for a blue ribbon panel:

Significant work is underway with the potential to produce meaningful outcomes; however, there is a deficiency in the synchronization of all the current moving elements. A commitment to existing efforts is critical, but integration is required to ensure that true culture change in the Department can be sustained.

Furthermore, new evidence continues to emerge that the Department is still troubled and that additional strategies are needed. As an example, the Department presented data to the Probation Commission showing that use of force incidents in the juvenile halls had nearly doubled from January to July 2016. Other allegations of misconduct in the camps and halls have also surfaced, indicating systemic issues. Despite years of attempted reform, and a growing price tag of operating the camps and halls (with an estimate from a Department audit of a rate of $552 per youth per day), there is widespread concern amongst the Board, Department leadership, and community stakeholders that sustainable reform has yet to be realized. Moreover, the current efforts, while bold and important, are not exhaustive. Gaps still remain in what the Board is currently assessing regarding Department reform. These gaps include: the implementation of state mandates aimed at the adult population, including SB 678 and AB 109; communication and coordination with other agencies serving the same youth and families; racial and ethnic disparities in youth detention and incarceration; inadequate high-quality alternatives to incarceration; and a process for calculating the allocation of Department resources, including opportunities for community input.

The Department’s continued struggle to fulfill its mission of keeping its clients safe, let alone provide for their rehabilitation, underscores that more is still needed and that new approaches should be explored. The time has come for the Board to confirm its commitment to transparency, accountability and sustained transformation. The Board would be best informed by an independent review from an external panel of recognized experts on how, in coordinating the many existing efforts aimed at structural reform and adopting other necessary policy and practice changes, the Department can finally fulfill its mission of protecting, rehabilitating and supervising youth and adults. This type of independent review has been essential in moving forward change in other areas. For example, the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence was the impetus for creating the Office of Inspector General, which is positioned to play a prominent role moving forward in providing meaningful oversight of and pushing forward improvements in the jails.

The ACLU of Southern California supports the motion. (So does WitnessLA.) “The Commission is needed because of both the significant and longstanding problems within the Department over the past decade or more and the need for a comprehensive, and unified set of recommendations to chart a path for change for the Department,” said SoCal ACLU’s Chief Counsel, Peter Eliasberg in a letter to the board.

In addition, the ACLU expressed concerns about three of the five candidates identified as finalists by WitnessLA, stating that it “does not believe they have the necessary background and experience to move the department beyond its troubled past.”

We’ll let you know what happens at the Supes’ meeting.

Posted in Juvenile Probation, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

Controversial New Probation Policy Makes It Easier for Staff to Get Promoted After Being Disciplined for “Inappropriate Conduct”

September 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Los Angeles County Probation has recently instituted a policy
making it easier for staff who have prior discipline problems to receive promotions, but not everyone is pleased by this development.

The policy, which is the result of a deal struck between county officials and probation’s labor unions, has been greeted with alarm by critics who point to a still troubled department with a history of mistreating the children in its care, and a penchant for tolerating extravagant, and sometimes criminal misconduct by a portion of its sworn employees.

The agency’s previous chief, Jerry Powers (who departed under a cloud last year), came to the job in late 2011 with a mandate to institute broad reforms. Yet many probation employees, along with union leadership, complained that Powers instead often caused deserving staff to be blocked from advancement for trivial infractions, whereas higher-ups who broke rules experienced no such consequences.

Those who favor the new policy maintain that the revised guidelines for promotions simply give a second chance to otherwise worthy people who’ve made minor mistakes.

Yet critics of the policy fear that county officials wrongly caved in to pressures by the unions, and that problems will result. To illustrate their concerns, they point to certain sections of the new guidelines, which seem to wink at behavior that should be disqualifying.

For instance, under the revised policy, one is eligible for a promotion after having engaged in certain kinds of “inappropriate conduct,” and long as one has not engaged in said conduct “two or more times,” within 60 months, which would constitute a “pattern.” Examples of the conduct in question are listed as those concerning issues such as:

behavior unbecoming peace officer;
moral turpitude
unreasonably or unjustified use of force.

Yet, in certain instances, even if there is two or more instances of ‘moral turpitude” or “unjustified use of force,” or whatever else, according to the guidelines, executive management may still step in and make it possible for the staff member to promote.

(You can find the guidelines here if you want to take a look for yourself.)

On Sunday, the LA Times ran an excellent story by Abby Sewell and Garrett Therolf about the new agreement and the issues swirling around it.

In researching their story, the Times obtained a copy of the list of 57 people who are to be promoted based on the new policy. Here’s some of what Sewell and Therolf discovered about those 57:

They included one worker who was disciplined in 2012 for putting his hands around a juvenile’s neck, in 2013 for injuring another juvenile, and in 2014 for abusive language, dishonesty and failure to perform his duties, according to a source with access to his file.

Another worker had been disciplined in 2011 for misuse of force for striking a juvenile, according to a source with access to his file. A third had been given a 20-day suspension in 2012 for “failure to properly supervise” and “failure to exercise sound judgment.”

That arose from a 2010 incident in which she was on duty in a dormitory at one of the juvenile lockups and one minor was assaulted by another and sustained a serious jaw injury. The department’s investigation found that the officers on duty “allowed the dormitory to remain in a chaotic state with virtually no supervision.”

And then there was this:

One beneficiary of the new policy was an officer who was disciplined for excessive force after slamming a boy’s head into a bed frame. Officials gave him a 15-day suspension, according to a county official with access to his file who requested anonymity because California law prohibits the disclosure of peace officer discipline. After the rule change, he was promoted earlier this year, helping to raise his pay by more than $9,500 above last year’s total compensation of $95,000, county officials said.

According to a conversation the Times had with interim probation chief Cal Remington, an additional 18 probation employees, “some with more serious misconduct,” are currently being considered for promotion.

(PS: Be sure to read the rest of Sewell and Therolf’s story.)

Posted in Probation | 4 Comments »

Will the LA County Board of Supes Consult Community Experts Before Choosing a New Probation Chief?

September 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Last week we wrote about the five finalists being considered for the position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation, and an agency still—to put it politely—loaded with challenges.

At that time, it seemed that, after months of delay, the five members of the county’s board of supervisors were speeding toward a decision.

But since we last wrote, it seems that that they may possibly have put on the brakes, at least a little, to allow room for further deliberation.

Or maybe not.

Frankly, it’s hard to tell, since the board has not been terribly forthcoming about the process.

In the meantime, three prominent youth experts, who represent three organizations that each do significant work with the county’s kids, have written an op ed for the Daily News in which they ask he supes to please include members of the larger community in their decision making, rather than doing the whole thing in secret, as is the case now.

The three authors are Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California; Susan Lee, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute; and Diwaine Smith, a community organizer at the Youth Justice Coalition, who had his own interactions with the probation and courts system when he was younger.

Here are some clips from what the three wrote about the importance of engaging the help and advice of those who represent kids most directly affected by the system, which the new chief will oversee.

Over the last week, five final candidates interviewed for the position of chief of the Los Angeles County Probation Department. This week, the County Board of Supervisors will choose the next chief in a closed session, without community input or insight. The new chief will be our seventh in 10 years.

We represent organizations that work with youth who have been impacted by the probation and court systems in Los Angeles. Collectively, we have experienced the juvenile justice system first-hand. We have supported youth negotiating court processes and law enforcement contacts. And together we have changed policies so that young people cast as “delinquents” and “juvenile offenders” are treated with compassion, dignity and respect. We represent organizers, advocates, lawyers and community members — including youth and families impacted by these systems — who vote and care about how public dollars are invested in youth, in their communities and in safety.

Our organizations have long been concerned by crises in the Los Angeles County Probation Department — from a lack of leadership, vision and integrity, to outright scandals exposing both staff abuse of young people and fiscal mismanagement. One example is the failure to spend more than $21 million in state funds on effective youth intervention programs and services, and another $140 million for similar adult services. We have also been concerned about the lack of community engagement in making key decisions — like the selection of the new Los Angeles County chief probation officer.

Engaging, without tokenizing, the voices of directly impacted youth, families and other community leaders in important decision-making is not only just but strategic. It is part of building trust with the broader public. It is essential to delivering services that are responsive to people’s needs. Authentic community engagement also lends legitimacy to county decisions in the long run, and is part of an effective oversight mechanism.

Nine months have passed since Jerry Powers, amid controversy, resigned as head of the department. Seven months have passed since we came together to propose ideas for selecting and setting priorities for new leadership in order to transform the largest probation department in the world.

In a February 2016 letter and in several meetings with county staff, we asked the Board of Supervisors to hire a chief who could change the department’s culture from a punitive, law enforcement orientation to one focused on youth and community development, intervention and rehabilitation. We asked for leadership that would align the Probation Department with the highest standards for trauma-informed care, transformative justice and successful healing and reunification of system-involved young people with their families and communities. We asked that the new chief lead with clear vision, inspiration, moral integrity and strong management. Following the successes of places like New York and Washington, D.C., we asked that the county hire a chief from outside of probation and law enforcement, and someone with meaningful experience in youth development and institutional change.

The three go on to point out that in the past decade the county has gone through one chief after the other. Each “promised change,” yet nearly all resigned amid controversy and/or scandal, as in the case of the most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers.

In our letter, we also asked that the Board of Supervisors ensure the community’s involvement in the selection of a new chief, as well as in shaping the future vision and work. We proactively proposed criteria for candidates, names of candidates and a different process for selection. Thankfully, some of those ideas shaped the job description and recruitment of candidates for the position. Still, since February, little about the process has been inclusive or transparent. We are still without a chief.

And now, all but one of five final candidates — while accomplished — come from the law enforcement arena.

Once again, we urge that the county Board of Supervisors and all of Los Angeles work together toward truly transforming and holding the Probation Department accountable to effectively serving L.A.’s most underserved communities. We continue to urge that the county open up the candidate selection process and slate, and think outside of the box in selecting a visionary chief….

You can read the rest of the op ed here.

We hope the Supes will take the time to read it too.

Posted in Probation | 3 Comments »

A Close Look at the Final Five in the Running for LA County Probation Chief

September 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

It’s down to five finalists for the critically important position
of chief of Los Angeles County’s embattled Department of Probation, the largest such agency in the nation.

The county’s board of supervisors interviewed some of the final five on Tuesday and will finish interviewing on Wednesday. Then, according to our sources, the board may make its choice as soon as by the end of the week.

The finalists are—in alphabetical order:

Donna Groman, supervising judge of the LA County Juvenile Delinquency Court in South LA
Terri McDonald, former assistant sheriff in charge of LA County’s Jail System
Dave Mitchell, Acting Deputy Chief for Residential Treatment Services for LA County Probation
Sheila Mitchell, former head of Probation for Santa Clara County
Margarita Perez, former Assistant Chief of LA County Probation Field Services operations

As of this past weekend, Terri McDonald and Sheila Mitchell are the front runners. But the Supes are a mercurial lot. Plus, after cycling through 5 probation chiefs in just over 10 years, plus ongoing revelations pointing to the fact that the agency’s problems are still, unfortunately, far from solved, the board knows it needs to get this particular choice right.

We will get to the front-runner issue in a minute. First here are some upsides and downsides on each of the five finalists.

A quick note: As we compiled our list of candidates’ pros and cons, we talked to a varied list of well-placed sources who requested not to be quoted directly at this moment, out of respect for the selection process.


Terri McDonald was in charge of LA County’s massive and troubled jail system during the recent post-scandal period in which a great deal of reform took place.

During her tenure as Assistant Sheriff heading up the custody division for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, McDonald had a reputation as a hands-on administrator who walked the floors of the facilities, talking to staff and to inmates, encouraging everyone—inmates and deputies both— to let her know where they saw problems.

She also already has a good relationship with the board of supervisors, which is a big plus.

McDonald has spent most of her career in the field of adult corrections facilities, beginning as a corrections officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, and working her way up. When former sheriff Lee Baca recruited her to come to the sheriff’s department in March 2013, after the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence issued its scathing report in Sept 2012, she had spent 24 years with the CDCR. How well that experience translates to what will be required at probation, which is different than an agency concerned purely with custody, is not clear.

On one hand, McDonald is definitely reform minded, and has broad experience instituting reform in the state’s prison system, in addition to what she has accomplished in LA County.

“I was raised by lifers,” McDonald once told us of her tenure at the CDCR, which we took to mean that inmates had taught her a great deal that was of value and formative. This same POV was evidenced in the way she interacted with jail inmates, whether they were locked-up on something minor, or had just been adjudicated on a serious criminal case, and were waiting to be shipped to state prison: McDonald offered basic respect to the jail inmates in the county’s care whom she encountered, and expected respect in return, and generally got it. As a consequence, she made the LA County jail system more humane, both for inmates and staff.

Yet, certain distressing problems, while lessened, still remain in the county’s jails. Extravagant uses of force went down, but inmate attacks on deputies went up, as did lower level uses of force by deputies. And there were the “tethering’ incidents. Some line staff blamed what they felt were unclear policies.

Those who question whether McDonald is the ideal fit to head the county’s probation agency, point to the fact that the supervisors have been saying for months that redefining LA County’s juvenile system to focus on rehabilitation and effective treatment, not behavior control and punishment, is job one, and will be the issue topmost in the board’s collective mind when they are choosing a new chief.

McDonald has scant experience in the juvenile field. So while she has obvious skill and breadth of experience on the adult side of things, some of those whom we spoke with asked if she can be the transformative leader so sorely needed when it comes to kids under the county’s supervision. Maybe she can. But the question needs to be asked.

Moreover, some justice advocates point out that when McDonald was reforming the jails, she had help in the form of a looming federal consent decree, the ACLU’s giant Rosas lawsuit—the settlement of which, forced certain changes—and the 197 pages of criticisms and recommendations from the CCJV, which the board—and the new sheriff, Jim McDonald—wanted instituted.

At probation, the new chief—whether it is McDonald or someone else-–will, at this point, have no such legal instruments that she—or he— can use as levers to counter the inevitable resistance that accompanies any systemic change—although, with any luck, there will be an oversight body soon created that will help a new chief drive reform. (More on that at another time.)

As KPCC’s Rina Palta pointed out when McDonald was first hired at the LASD, her former boss, Matt Cate, at the CDCR described her as a highly ethical administrator who “does not suffer fools well.” All this is very good—or can be.

Yet, whoever becomes chief is going to have to deal with the county’s labor unions, without either alienating their hard-working members, as former Chief Jerry Powers did with calamitous results, or being mowed down in every disagreement with union leadership, as was the case with Powers’ predecessor, Donald Blevins.

At the same time, according to those close to the department, there are some problematic players in leadership positions in probation, along with pockets of toxic culture that have been allowed to remain among the staff. Whoever is selected to lead the organization will need to have the clarity, guts, and management skill to successfully roll the necessary heads.

Is Terri McDonald that person? And can she also provide the necessary leadership on the juvenile side? Again, these questions are among those that must be answered before the board should move ahead with its selection.


Sheila Mitchell is considered a juvenile justice hero by many because of the notable reform she instituted as chief of probation in Santa Clara County on the juvenile side of the agency she ran for nearly ten years.

Although Santa Clara is obviously much smaller than LA County, the department that Mitchell took over in 2004 was reportedly a hot mess, strongly emphasizing punishment over anything that resembled rehabilitation on the adult and the juvenile side. The DOJ was investigating the department’s juvenile hall for alleged civil rights violations, there were dozens of reports of “staff-inflicted injuries” in the place, and the place had turned into a lawsuit factory.

When Mitchell left her post as Santa Clara’s chief, the county’s main juvenile facility, the William F. James Ranch, was considered the state’s most innovative and highly successful residential program for kids, which used as its inspiration the nationally lauded “Missouri model.” Whereas, for the first 50 years of its life, the James Ranch had been focused only on behavior control.

Plus under Mitchell, probation made good use of community alternatives—like a well run treatment-oriented day center—to keep kids out of residential facilities altogether, and dramatically lower recidivism rates.

In addition, Mitchell and those she put in top positions, managed to work with the county’s unions in such a way that a highly problematic staff culture in juvenile probation was able to be substantively transformed to the point that the James Ranch was being run by treatment-oriented, kid-centered staff members, not guards.

On the adult side of probation, Mitchell instituted such system changes as improving education outcomes for Santa Clara County adult probationers and parolees, thus easing their successful transition back into their communities.

But, could Mitchell’s Santa Clara experience apply to LA County’s huge, troubled and complicated probation goliath? (She was Assistant Chief Probation Officer at Alameda County probation, the state’s closest analogue to LA, and prior to that she was the Deputy Commissioner for the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, all of which should help.)

Moreover, does Mitchell really want the job? Since she retired from Santa Clara’s top spot in 2013, she has consulted with various probation departments, (which she has been doing for LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick project, which like Santa Clara’s James Ranch, aims to create its own treatment focused, “trauma-informed” model). Then in April of this year, she took the job of Chief Operating Office for an agency called Unity Care, which provides services for “at‐risk and foster youth.”

The Unity Care experience has reportedly imbued Mitchell still more insight and fervor to help fundamentally change the way we deal with the kids who wind up in our various county systems.

Yet, according to some well-placed sources, Mitchell may not be sure if she wants to jump back into an all-consuming situation that leading LA County Probation would require. And there have been doubts about whether she’d be willing to relocate to Los Angeles.

Is that true? If so, has it changed? Is she now all in? Getting those questions answered will be important part of the Supes selection task.


Dave Mitchell’s supporters contend that, save interim probation chief Cal Remington, Mitchell is the person in the high echelon’ of the probation department who is most committed to and best understands juvenile reform.

According to those who have worked with him, Mitchell is intelligent, highly capable, cares very much about kids, and knows a great deal about the problems that need to be solved in the agency, particularly in the juvenile realm.

Yet those who are rooting for one of the other four candidates suggest that, while Dave Mitchell is likely someone to groom to be chief in the future, he may not have the ideal experience to move into the top spot just yet, but that he is one of the people most necessary to a new leadership mix, to help take the department in a new and healthier direction.


Margarita Perez was recruited by former probation chief Jerry Powers to leave her position in state parole and come to Los Angeles to head up probation’s new responsibilities as the agency was tasked with overseeing men and women who, through state legislation known as AB109, suddenly landed on the county’s doorstep instead of that of the state, as part of California’s prison realignment strategy, which began in October 2011, a few months before Powers was sworn in as chief.

Before she retired last year, Perez was generally well respected inside the department by the rank and file, who saw her as someone unafraid to put on a flack vest, and get her hands dirty, so to speak, in order find out how the folks working the front lines were doing.

She is also viewed by many as a talented and respected administrator and supervisor who is firmly reform-minded on the adult side of probation. They point to her emphasis on rehabilitative services designed to help probationers do better when they reenter their communities, with the idea of lowering return trips to jail or prison.

By the way, Perez was selected to serve as chief briefly (after Jerry Powers “retired” under a cloud) until interim chief Cal Remington could free his schedule and take over the reins.

Although Perez was hired by Powers, when she left the department she reportedly wrote a sober-minded, no-punches-pulled exit letter about what was wrong at the agency, and who inside it had to go if it was to move forward toward health.

Those who do not favor Perez for the job of chief, point to her lack of any experience on the juvenile side of things, which is in desperate need of a visionary leader. Also, as is the case with Dave Mitchell, this is a moment when anybody promoted from within is going to be a tough sale.


Judge Donna Groman, is the supervising judge of the Los Angeles County Juvenile Delinquency Court at the Kenyon Juvenile Justice Center in South LA. Groman was named the California Judges Association Juvenile Court Judge of the Year for 2012, and is a very well-regarded as a jurist who cares very much about the well being of the kids who pass through her courtroom, and through the juvenile system generally.

For instance, Groman is known for making sure that planning for the future is a big part of managing each kid’s case that comes before her, which means assessing things such as a kids’ behavioral and mental health needs, along with educational needs, and other basic issues that must be in place if a kid is to thrive after he or she leaves a probation facility.

Groman has also been an important advocate for such issues as school discipline reform, pushing for kids to be kept in school rather than cited and/or suspended for such minor school-related infractions as tardiness, or truancy. In addition, she been a strong and effective voice for reforming the role that school police play on campus, for the treatment of sexually trafficked children, restorative justice, and for extended foster care and independent living services for youth aging out of the foster care system.

Yet, the role of chief is an administrative position. So is Groman’s experience on the bench, as an attorney, and as an effective juvenile reform advocate enough to make her the right candidate to run a law enforcement agency of the size and complexity of LA County probation, which has more than ‪6500 employees—ninety percent of whom are sworn peace officers—and supervises ‪12,000 state parolees, 60,000 adult probationers, and around 2,800 kids, either in its various facilities or in home placement, all on a budget of $830 million?

Well, maybe so. But, this is yet another question that the supervisors need to carefully consider of Groman and every other candidate as the board moves forward with its selection process.

So stay tuned.


Jeremy Loudenback, writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, first broke the story that Sheila Mitchell and Terri McDonald were among the top five being considered. Then we ferretted out the rest of the list, plus who was supporting whom. We recommend you read Loudenback’s informative story, plus this story in WLA he wrote earlier in the process that was adapted from a still earlier story produced for CSC.

Posted in Probation | 24 Comments »

Probation Officials Report Spike in Force in LA County’s Juvenile Halls

August 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


According to probation officials, who were asked to report to the LA County Probation Commission about how often force was used on the kids housed in the county’s three juvenile halls, such force incidents have risen sharply since the beginning of the year.

Both the members of the Probation Commission and the LA County Board of Supervisors have asked Probation higher-ups to come up with data on the agency’s force incidents in its juvenile facilities.

Earlier this month, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps. The motion, written by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, also requests information on how internal investigations of such force incidents are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

The pressure on Probation rose after WitnessLA broke the story of the alleged beating of an unresisting 17-year-old by staff members at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar.

We also reported a second alleged force incident that reportedly occurred at the county’s Central Juvenile Hall.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell broke the news about the information made public at last Thursday’s Probation Commission. Here’s a clip from her story:

Overall, monthly use of force incidents increased by 85%, from 55 to 102, at the three county-run juvenile halls — Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar — from January to July, statistics released Thursday by the L.A. County Probation Department show.

At Los Padrinos, the number of reported incidents rose from 12 in January to 31 in July. At Central Juvenile Hall, the number increased from 20 in January to 39 in July; and from 23 to 32 at the Barry J. Nidorf facility.

Each camp holds about 200 youths awaiting court action in their cases or transfer to other facilities.

The total number of force incidents remained relatively stable early in 2016 and dipped slightly in March, but spiked in June and July.

Probation officials who presented the statistics at a probation commission meeting Thursday said any time a staffer places hands on a youth, including to break up a fight between minors, a use-of-force report is triggered.

Department spokeswoman Kerri Webb said there could be “a variety of reasons” for the overall increase.

“While we do regularly review these incidents, we’re assessing this specific information to identify the reasons for the fluctuations,” she said in an email. “It’s too soon to know now what the results of the analysis are.”

Posted in juvenile justice, Probation | 1 Comment »

LA County Supes Vote to Investigate Abuse Allegations Within Juvenile Lock-Ups

August 3rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to review three years of “critical incidents” that have taken place in the county’s juvenile halls and probation camps.

The Supervisors were alerted to allegations of probation staff abuse against kids within the county’s juvenile facilities after WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at a juvenile hall in Sylmar involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

Last week, WLA reported on a second alarming incident—this one at Central Juvenile Hall in May. A county employee witnessed a senior Detention Services Officer roughly handling a physically small 14-year-old who had already been restrained on the ground. When the boy said that the DSO was hurting him, the officer yanked the boy up by the back of his sweatshirt, reportedly causing the boy to choke. The teen retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things spiraled from there.

With three juvenile halls and thirteen probation camps, Los Angeles County is home to the largest juvenile justice system in the nation. Ridley-Thomas says the reported staff abuses “underscore that more reforms are needed to protect young people and promote institutional accountability. The County’s response to these occurrences can be just as significant over time as the events themselves.”

Tuesday’s motion—which Supe. Ridley-Thomas read in during last week’s board meeting—directs the County CEO to coordinate with the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Mental Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services, and return to the board in 45 days with a report that includes Probation’s policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the ones that occurred at the two juvenile halls, an exact definition of what constitutes a “critical incident” versus a “non-critical” incident (and how probation staff make that determination), whether the department’s policies and protocols address the underlying causes of the conflicts between kids and probation staff, and what kind of medical attention and trauma-informed care is provided to youth—both before and in response to an incident.

“Trauma-informed, timely responses that emphasize healing, coordination, and accountability should be the norm and the protocol, not the exception,” Ridley-Thomas said in the motion.

The motion also requests information on how internal investigations are handled and how staff are disciplined following critical and non-critical incidents.

Then, within 90 days, the county’s Auditor-Controller, in coordination with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, the Chief Attorney of the Office of the Independent Monitor, the Director of the Office of Child Protection, and County Counsel will report back to the board with an analysis of three years of critical incidents that have occurred within the juvenile camps and halls.

“It is a priority of the Board of Supervisors that we do all that we can to make sure those who are in our custody and care are treated as they should be, consistent with the law, and with the basic principles and practices of decency,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, Probation | No Comments »

A Disturbing Report of Another Assault of a Teenager by a Los Angeles County Probation Staffer

July 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On May 31 of this year, another incident of alleged abuse of a teenage probationer
by Los Angeles County Probation staff reportedly occurred in a county juvenile facility. This most recent reported assault took place at Central Juvenile Hall, located on Eastlake Avenue, east of downtown LA.

Unlike the April 2016 beating of a seventeen-year-old boy by four probation staff members at another LA County Probation juvenile facility—that WitnessLA reported last month— this time there was no video of the incident.

But there were witnesses. And the event was deemed serious enough that at least one witness called the police.

We have obtained a written account from one of the witnesses. This source is not a probation staff member but a member of another county agency that has personnel working in LA’s juvenile halls and camps.

According to the witness, the incident began at around 10 a.m. in what is known as the B-wing of the aging facility. A male student had been kicked out of class for a reason that was unknown to the witness. (We have since heard from a source inside probation that the student was being “disruptive” in some manner.)

Once the student was asked to leave class, he entered the hallway outside the classroom where he was intercepted by probation staff who presumably had been alerted to his impending exit.

According to the witness, the student was “restrained by three probation staff,” who initially, she wrote, shoved him to the floor and handcuffed the boy, who is 14-years-old, and reportedly physically small. According to our source, he was also an “RSP” student. (RSP stands for Resource Specialist Program, which means he had some kind of learning designation that qualified him for special education.)

The problem began, according to the witness’s account, when a senior Detention Services Officer—or DSO—began to pull the now-handcuffed kid from the floor to a standing position. But, because the boy was face down with his hands restrained behind his back, the pulling motion yanked his arms up and back in such a way that the boy found painful.

“You’re hurting me” he said. According to the witness, the DSO appeared to be irritated by the complaint so pulled the kid up even harder, this time using the back of his sweatshirt to do the yanking, which reportedly caused the sweatshirt to produce a visible choking effect.

The handcuffed kid retaliated by calling the DSO the N-word. According to the witness’s account, things went rapidly downhill from there.

The senior DSO reportedly “got very upset” and bunched the back of student’s sweatshirt with his hand and yanked, further choking the student “while [the] student is trying to tell him” that he is being choked.

“Tell me again and I’ll do it harder!’ the DSO reportedly yelled at the kid.

The 15-year-old boy immediately took the DSO up on the offer.

“N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r! N—-r!” he shouted.

Meanwhile, the senior DSO “kept pulling him straight up” with the student’s sweatshirt, and the student reportedly kept choking.

“It was unpleasant to me to…witness this,” wrote our source, since the “student is already handcuff[ed] and restrained” and the boy “had no other way to defend himself.”

That’s when somebody called the Hollenbeck division of the Los Angeles Police Department.

After the police had come and gone, according to the witness’s account, probation staff members approached an administrator in charge of the LA County Office of Education (LACOE) workers present in the hall. (Both LACOE staff and some Department of Mental Health–DMH–witnessed the incident.)

“If your staff is going to be snitching,” the probation staffer reportedly said to the administrator, “then we won’t be here to help with nothing.” In the days to follow, according to the witness, various DSOs attempted to question civilian staff “to find out who made the report.”

Some of the civilian witnesses who saw the senior DSO allegedly manhandle and “choke” the teenager with the kid’s sweatshirt, talked to other volunteers who were present that day, one of whom talked to us with alarm about what he’d heard of the incident, which matched our witness’s written account.

LA County Probation Chief Cal Remington, told WitnessLA he was aware of the choking incident but could not comment in detail, due to legal constraints. “Anytime there is an incident of hands placed on a kid, we expect reports,” Remington said. “We review those reports, and we take the incident very seriously.” This incident was no exception, he said. “The investigation for this alleged incident is still ongoing.”

Yet, other county officials say they are disturbed by this newly reported incident. And when the topic came up briefly on Wednesday morning at the LA County Probation Commission meeting, several commissioners who had heard anecdotal accounts of the so-called “choking” expressed dismay that—as with the story of beating of a 17-year-old in Sylmar—they were not getting any information or notification from probation officials, but only learning about these alleged occurrences through back-door sources.

“On May 31 a kid was choked by a supervisor to a point that was so bad…the police were called,” commissioner Azael “Sal” Martinez-Sonoqui said to probation higher-up who was at the meeting to answer questions on another topic. “And yet nobody here was notified!” (We profiled Sal Martinez here.)

Commissioner Cyn Yamashiro expressed a similar frustration. (Yamashiro is also the founding executive director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy at Loyola Law School.) “I thought we had moved past this notion of ‘hide-the-ball,’” he said. But today, he continued, feels like “we’re returning to the way it used to be.”

With like concerns in mind, at Tuesday’s board of supervisor’s meeting, supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas proposed a motion that asks probation for, among other things, data on the “types and prevalence” of “critical incidents”—such as the two reported here—that have occurred over the past three years in the county’s three juvenile halls, and thirteen probation camps.

Posted in Juvenile Probation, Probation | No Comments »

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