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Big Problems With Idaho’s Private Prison…. A New Sheriff Candidate Debate!….CA Needs Sentencing Reform…Out of Control Prosecutors…..& Paul Tanaka Has a Plan – UPDATED

March 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


FEDS INVESTIGATE AWFUL PRIVATE IDAHO PRISON (ARE YOU LISTENING CALIFORNIA??)

The FBI has launched an investigation into Idaho’s largest and most violent prison, a for profit facility run by the private prison behemoth, Corrections Corporation of America—or CCA. The chronically understaffed prison has a reputation for being so out of control that inmates reportedly call it “Gladiator School.”

The facility got bad enough under CCA’s management that, in January of this year, Idaho decided to take back oversight of the place.

And now the FBI is stepping in.

It is sobering to note that California also contracts with CCA. Right now they house approximately 8000 of our state’s inmates, with that number scheduled to rise, making us CCA’s second largest customer.

Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press has the story on this latest CCA scandal Here’s a clip:

The Nashville, Tenn.-based CCA has operated Idaho’s largest prison for more than a decade, but last year, CCA officials acknowledged it had understaffed the Idaho Correctional Center by thousands of hours in violation of the state contract. CCA also said employees falsified reports to cover up the vacancies. The announcement came after an Associated Press investigation showed CCA sometimes listed guards as working 48 hours straight to meet minimum staffing requirements.

[BIG SNIP]

The understaffing has been the subject of federal lawsuits and a contempt of court action against CCA. The ACLU sued on behalf of inmates at the Idaho Correctional Center in 2010, saying the facility was so violent that inmates called it “Gladiator School” and that understaffing contributed to the high levels of violence there.

In 2012, a Boise law firm sued on behalf of inmates contending that CCA had ceded control to prison gangs so that they could understaff the prison and save money on employee wages, and that the understaffing led to an attack by one prison gang on another group of inmates that left some of them badly injured.

The Department of Justice requested a copy of a forensic audit done for the Idaho Department of Correction earlier this year. That audit showed that CCA understaffed the prison by as much as 26,000 hours in 2012 alone; CCA is strongly contesting those findings. CCA’s Owen has said the company believes the audit overestimates the staffing issues by more than a third.


VAN NUYS HOSTS FIRST SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE’S DEBATE ON WED. NIGHT, MARCH 12

The debate will take place this Wednesday night starting at 7:00 pm.

It will be held at the Van Nuys Civic Center, at 6262 Van Nuys Blvd., on the ground floor of the building.

The only candidates for LA County Sheriff who are, at the moment, not coming are Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Perhaps that will change. Let us hope so.

UPDATE: Paul Tanaka is now confirmed and, with luck, they’ll also get Hellmold. (Note to Jim: Call these people back. Now!)

PS: THIS NEWLY ANNOUNCED VAN NUYS DEBATE IS DIFFERENT FROM THE ACLU/LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTORS DEBATE that will take place next week on March 20. We’ll remind you again when we’re closer to the date.


CALIFORNIA NEEDS A SENTENCING COMMISSION SEZ THE NY TIMES

We may have modified our Three Strikes statute, and that’s a welcome step, but California still has a great many laws on the books that are not in the best interest of public safety, and which have much to do with why we have been struggling with overcrowded prisons.

The NY Times weighs in on the topic of our need for sentencing reform.

Here’s a clip:

California should move quickly to set up a commission. Over the past few decades, the federal government and about one-third of the states, from Alabama to Washington, have established commissions to address overcrowding and other issues. By using data-based assessments of who is more or less likely to re-offend, they help correctional systems both protect public safety and save money. A 2010 report by the California state auditor estimated that the longer sentences imposed under the three-strikes law will cost the state an additional $19.2 billion.

As important as reducing prison populations is making sure that people don’t go right back in. That will require postprison programs focusing on jobs, housing, and treatment for drug addiction and mental illness. California has budgeted for this as part of a statewide reform initiative, but the money needs to be spent wisely. (A report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to move prisoners to county jails and private prisons. It said the state should focus on longer-term solutions, like reducing sentences for some crimes and diverting more offenders away from prison.)

Governor Brown, who has thwarted meaningful reform in the past, has begun to show some openness to change — for example, in signing off on parole releases at a far higher rate than any governor in decades…


PROSECUTORS SHOULD FOLLOW THE LAW? A NOVEL CONCEPT?

It is fairly well established that American prosecutors have too much power, and too little accountability.

A 2009 study that looked at the primary causes for wrongful convictions overturned based on DNA evidence found that prosecutorial misconduct was a factor in from 36% to 42% of the convictions. And what happens to those prosecutors whose shaving of the legal dice has resulted in someone doing time for something he or she didn’t do?

For the most part, nothing.

Finally, however, a few judges in various areas of the country are starting to speak out against prosecutorial misconduct. Last year, Alex Kozinski of California’s 9th Circuit did so memorably.

Radley Balko writes for the Washington Post about other judges who have also spoken up—basically saying that prosecutors have to abide by the law.

And how have prosecutors reacted to this criticism? Not well, writes Balko.

Here’s a clip:

….Late last year, South Carolina State Supreme Court Justice Donald Beatty joined Kozinski. At a state solicitors’ convention in Myrtle Beach, Beatty cautioned that prosecutors in the state have been “getting away with too much for too long.” He added, “The court will no longer overlook unethical conduct, such as witness tampering, selective and retaliatory prosecutions, perjury and suppression of evidence. You better follow the rules or we are coming after you and will make an example. The pendulum has been swinging in the wrong direction for too long and now it’s going in the other direction. Your bar licenses will be in jeopardy. We will take your license.”

You’d think that there’s little here with which a conscientious prosecutor could quarrel. At most, a prosecutor might argue that Beatty exaggerated the extent of misconduct in South Carolina. (I don’t know if that’s true, only that that’s a conceivable response.) But that prosecutors shouldn’t suborn perjury, shouldn’t retaliate against political opponents, shouldn’t suppress evidence, and that those who do should be disciplined — these don’t seem like controversial things to say. If most prosecutors are following the rules, you’d think they’d have little to fear, and in fact would want their rogue colleagues identified and sanctioned.

The state’s prosecutors didn’t see it that way.


CANDIDATE FOR SHERIFF PAUL TANAKA RELEASES HIS “POSITIVE VISION” FOR THE LASD

On Monday, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka released his eight topic plan for “changing the direction of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The plan divides its recommendations into eight categories: executive staff, accountability, transparency, budget, officer training, patrol, jail operations and crime.

Among its notable points, Tanaka pledges “100% cooperative effort with the Inspector General.” If elected, he also intends to “establish a promotional testing process, which will ensure that only the highest qualified employees are considered – based on experience, knowledge and effort,”

There’s lots more so read the details here.

Posted in 2014 election, Innocence, Paul Tanaka, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors, Sentencing | 12 Comments »

The First Debate Between Sheriff’s Candidates, Rikers Island & Solitary, San Diego Prosecutors Admit to Cheating, Raising $$ for the Sheriff’s Campaigns… & More

March 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE ACLU AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMAN VOTERS ANNOUNCE FIRST BIG DEBATE BETWEEN CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF, MARCH 20

The first of two debates between the seven men who each hope to be elected LA County sheriff will take place on Thursday, March 20, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 at the Mercado La Paloma, at 355 Grand Street, LA.

(There will be a second debate in the Santa Monica area on Thursday, April 24. Don’t worry. We’ll remind you as the date gets closer.)

The debates are organized and sponsored by the Southern California ACLU and others, and moderated by the League of Women voters.

(It could get crowded, so an RSVP online here is recommended.)

This is the first wide open election for LA County Sheriff in….well….a very, very long time. (The ACLU points out that more Catholic Popes have been selected in the last 80 years than there have been different LA sheriffs.)

We are therefore grateful for these debates that will allow LA County voters to become better informed about their choices.

Happily, all seven candidates have agreed to participate in the debates. This includes: Patrick Gomez, Jim Hellmold, Jim McDonnell, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers, Paul Tanaka, Lou Vince

Other debate sponsors are: Dignity Now, The Black Community & Labor Alliance, Justice Not Jails and The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Program


TEENAGERS & SOLITARY ON RIKERS ISLAND

On any given day, around 100 teenagers may be found in solitary confinement at New York’s Riker’s Island. Because Rikers is a jail, not a prison, many of the 400 to 800 16 and 17 years housed inside its walls are there are awaiting trial and are only locked up because they can’t afford bail, writes Trey Bundy for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR has put together an excellent and disturbing multimedia report on the use of solitary on teenagers at Rikers and how the practice stresses adolescents mentally and emotionally sometimes to breaking. Here’s a clip:

There’s not much inside “the box.” Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There’s a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through.

Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat.

Ismael Nazario’s longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells in his unit, but he couldn’t. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell.

“You just get angry with hearing people constantly hollering all day,” he says. “There’s so many people that have been in that cell and screamed on that same gate, it smells like a bunch of breath and drool.”

Nazario is one of hundreds of teenagers sent in recent years to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, the massive jail complex in the middle of New York City’s East River. Teenagers at Rikers call solitary confinement the box: 23 hours a day in a 6-by-8-foot cell.

“There came a time when I cried when I was on Rikers Island, in the box, when I was there by myself,” Nazario says. “There’s times, you know, sometimes you need a good cry.”


SAN DIEGO PROSECUTORS ADMIT TO CHEATING: THE “HOLY SHIT” FACTOR

The Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen writes about a recent instance when prosecutors in San Diego admitted to cheating. This is a distinctly good news/bad news kind of story—since the admission was so appallingly unusual.

Here’s a clip:

The story of a prosecutor doing an honorable thing, a courageous thing, should not be a news story. It should happen every day. But too often prosecutors do not act honorably. Too often they make mistakes and do not admit them. Too often they cheat, at trial or afterward on appeal, in their zealous attempt to secure or to defend a conviction. And too often our nation’s judges are unable or unwilling to identify these instances to bring a measure of justice to the wrongfully convicted.

So the story of Laura Duffy, the prosecutor, and John Maloney, the wrongfully convicted man, is inspirational. Not because Duffy acted professionally throughout this case—she and her colleagues surely did not. Not because prosecutors promptly acknowledged their error and quickly moved to correct it—they didn’t. But because in the end they did do the right thing.

What we have here, then, is the public acknowledgment by a prosecutor that an injustice was done in a pending case. More than that, we have a glimmer of the process by which this reckoning occurred. This is no small thing. One longtime defense attorney, who has evaluated countless trials including many in which prosecutors engaged in the type of official misconduct we see here, emailed back “Holy Shit” when I wrote to him about the results of this case. That gives you a sense of how remarkable United States v. Maloney turned out to be….

Read the rest.


MORE SHERIFF’S ELECTION NEWS: “INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE” IS FORMED FOR SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

We know that the seven candidates are each engaged in the difficult but necessary task of fundraising for their respective campaigns.

Jim Hellmold had a big fundraiser on Feb 23 at the Pacific Palms Resort.

Paul Tanaka tweeted photos of volunteers working the phone banks at his headquarters, and hit the fundraising trail over the weekend.

Bob Olmsted is having a fundraiser on March 15.

Todd Rogers just had his fundraiser over the weekend.

Jim McDonnell has a high ticket event planned for tonight.

Pat Gomez asks you to call his campaign office to participate in one of his small private fundraisers.

Lou Vince has taken to social media to ask for donations.

AS OF LAST WEEK, HOWEVER, JIM MCDONNELL will get the benefit of a fundraising committee called an “Independent Expenditure Committee.”

As its name suggests, an Independent Expenditure Committee can’t raise money at the request of a campaign or candidate, or coordinate with a campaign committee.

But on its own, it can raise and spend money in behalf of a candidate. The IEC that has joined together for fundraising purposes in McDonnell’s behalf, includes such members as LA City Council persons Mitchell Englander, Herb Wesson, Nury Martinez, Felipe Fuentes, & Tom LaBonge, former LA mayor Richard Riordan, former chairs of both the Republican and Democratic party in California…plus Supervisor Don Knabe and others.

There may also be other IECs fund raising for other candidates. But this is the first one we’ve seen.

As the election heats up, there may be more.


IS NEW YORK A MODEL FOR FIXING CALIFORNIA’S PRISONS?

Steven E. F. Brown of San Francisco Business Times writes about law professor Jonathan Simon’s claim that California’s eyes should be on NY. Here’s a clip:

Law professor Jonathan Simon at the University of California, Berkeley pointed to prison reforms in the Empire State as a model that should be followed here in the Golden State.

Simon, who teaches an undergraduate course on prisons, wrote on UC Berkeley’s official blog that although New York has a long history of “bad penal policy choices,” it also tends to fix those bad choices more quickly than other states, particularly California.

Even as California Gov. Jerry Brown spars with the federal government over court-ordered changes to the state’s prisons, which are badly overcrowded, New York has moved away from automatic sentencing that overfilled its prisons.

Here’s a link to Simon’s whole essay.


Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, LASD, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | 40 Comments »

Report Says Stop Locking Kids Up for “Status” Offenses….Bratton Named NYPD Commissioner…Why Defendants Accept Plea Bargains….& More

December 6th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


NEW REPORT SAYS THAT LOCKING KIDS UP FOR “STATUS” OFFENSES DOES NOT HELP, BUT DOES DAMAGE—AND MUST STOP

A new report released this week by the Coalition for Juvenile Justice, calls for an end to detention for kids who have only committed what are known as status offenses. For those unfamiliar with the term, a status offense is conduct that would not be a crime if committed by an adult—things like truancy, running away, violating curfew laws, or possessing alcohol or tobacco.

The report, which also outlines a set of proposed National Standards for the treatment of status offenders, points to research showing that: ‘…. status offense behaviors are often the result of unmet child and family needs, and that pushing these youth into the juvenile justice system worsens individual and community outcomes.”

You can find the full report here. It contains the proposed National Standards, which have already been endorsed by groups such as the national PTA, the Youth Law Center and more.


BILL BRATTON: THE ONCE AND FUTURE NYPD CHIEF

On Thursday, William J. Bratton was named Police Commissioner for New York City—for the second time Bill Bratton was first hired as the NYPD Chief in 1994, when crime was up and the city was a dangerous mess.

In between his last stint in New York and the new one for which he was just appointed by Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Bratton has, of course, served as the Chief of the LAPD.

In 2002, Boston-raised Bratton took on the position as LA’s top cop at a time when the department was reeling from the Rampart scandal along with the imposition of a federal consent decree. The morale of the department’s rank and file was in the toilet, and the LA communities that were most likely to need police presence harbored a deep distrust and anger toward the force theoretically charged with keeping them safe.

By the time Bratton left in 2009, while the LAPD still had challenges, it was fundamentally changed, as was the attitude of the communities it served. Where there had once been animus, there was relationship.

It will be interesting to see what Bratton brings to New York, the second time around, when the city has been torn by the effect of the existing regime’s stop-and-frisk policies, a version of which BB helped introduce during his first tenure in the 1990s.

At WLA, we were glad to hear of Bratton’s appointment, and are rooting for him.

The NY Times J. David Goodman has a nice, long article on the selection of Bratton, for those looking for more on the topic.

Also, Jack Leonard, Tina Susman, and Joel Rubin of the LA Times have an interesting story about how Bratton courted some of the LAPD’s harshest critics before he arrived in town in an effort to understand the fear and fury directed at the city’s police by so many of LA’s residents.

Here’s a clip:

Weeks before he was selected to be chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, Bill Bratton was already at work, making the rounds among the city’s black leaders.

One of his calls was to John W. Mack, then president of the Los Angeles Urban League and a man who viewed the LAPD as “an occupation force in our community” prone to “brutality and racism.”

The men met for two hours in Mack’s office. Bratton mostly listened as Mack explained the chasm of distrust and hostility that defined relations between the city’s police and minority communities.

“I told him he had a big mountain to climb because there was a lot of anger and outrage,” Mack said.

Bratton’s seven years leading the LAPD was marked by aggressive, data-driven policing and a significant drop in crime.

But less heralded were his overtures to minority communities and courtship of some of the department’s harshest critics. He took over a department still reeling from racial tensions and the Rampart corruption scandal. When he left, he had succeeded in transforming Mack and other skeptics not just into supporters but partners in his drive to reduce crime.


A NEW REPORT LOOKS AT WHY SO MANY DRUG DEFENDANTS PLEAD GUILTY

Although guaranteed by the Constitution the right to a jury trial, 97 percent of all drug defendants take a plea bargain rather than risk a trial.

In a 126-page report released Thursday by Human Rights Watch, researchers looked at why so many defendants plead guilty, including those who are actually innocent.

Here’s a clip from the press release that accompanied the report:

Federal prosecutors routinely threaten extraordinarily severe prison sentences to coerce drug defendants into waiving their right to trial and pleading guilty, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In the rare cases in which defendants insist on going to trial, prosecutors make good on their threats. Federal drug offenders convicted after trial receive sentences on average three times as long as those who accept a plea bargain, according to new statistics developed by Human Rights Watch.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse: How US Federal Prosecutors Force Drug Defendants to Plead Guilty,details how prosecutors throughout the United States extract guilty pleas from federal drug defendants by charging or threatening to charge them with offenses carrying harsh mandatory sentences and by seeking additional mandatory increases to those sentences. Prosecutors offer defendants a much lower sentence in exchange for pleading guilty. Since drug defendants rarely prevail at trial, it is not surprising that 97 percent of them decide to plead guilty.

“Prosecutors give drug defendants a so-called choice – in the most egregious cases, the choice can be to plead guilty to 10 years, or risk life without parole by going to trial,” said Jamie Fellner, senior advisor to the US Program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Prosecutors make offers few drug defendants can refuse. This is coercion pure and simple.”


AN ELOQUENT PLEA FOR A COP KILLER TO STAY BEHIND BARS

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Police Protective League has predictably (and rightly) opposed the parole of Voltaire Williams, one of the conspirators in the 1985 murder of LAPD Detective Thomas Williams in front of his six-year-old son whom the detective was picking up at daycare.

Detective Williams was reportedly targeted because he was a witness in a criminal case against the killers’ confederate. The killers allegedly figured—do away with the witness, do away with the problem.

It is the motive, rather than the victim, that another letter in the matter of Williams parole primarily addresses. The second letter is written by Riverside Police Chief Sergio Diaz who prior to going to Riverside, spent 33 years on the LAPD, his last post as Deputy Chief.

Diaz’ letter is worth your time to read as it explains eloquently why this particular decision about this particular parole is important.

You can find the letter here: Voltaire Williams Parole ltr-12022013094536 (2)

Posted in Bill Bratton, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, Prosecutors, Sentencing | No Comments »

Unchecked Prosecutorial Misconduct, DCFS Blue Ribbon Commission Convenes, CA Prisons Chief Meeting with Hunger Strike Advocates

August 2nd, 2013 by Taylor Walker

FAULTY SYSTEM PROTECTS PROSECUTORS FROM ACCOUNTABILITY, AND LEAVES DEFENDANTS VULNERABLE TO PROSECUTORIAL MALFEASANCE

Laws meant to protect prosecutors from civil liability, along with a “conviction culture”—in which winning cases leads to promotions, better pay, and bigger firms—have created the perfect environment for unchecked prosecutorial misconduct with little fear of consequences, legal or professional, writes the Huffington Post’s Radley Balko. The fact that there’s little or no consequence for misconduct can and does lead to innocent people sitting for years in jails, prisons, and on death row.

Balko has an important piece on the issue. It’s a particularly lengthy article, but well-worth the read. Here are some clips:

Some questions seem particularly prone to set John Thompson off. Here’s one he gets a lot: Have the prosecutors who sent him to death row ever apologized?

“Sorry? For what?” says Thompson. The 49-year-old is lean, almost skinny. He wears jeans, a T-shirt and running shoes and sports a thin mustache and soul patch, both stippled with gray. “You tell me that. Tell me what the hell would they be sorry for. They tried to kill me. To apologize would mean they’re admitting the system is broken.” His voice has been gradually increasing in volume. He’s nearly yelling now. “That everyone around them is broken. It’s the same motherfucking system that’s protecting them.”

[SNIP]

The wrongly convicted often show remarkable grace and humility. It’s inspiring to see, if a little difficult to understand; even after years or decades in prison, exonerees are typically marked by an absence of bitterness.

Not Thompson, but you can hardly blame him. Even among outrageous false conviction stories, his tale is particularly brutal. He was wrongly convicted not once, but twice — separately — for a carjacking and a murder. He spent 18 years at the Louisiana State Penitentiary, 14 of them on death row. His death warrant was signed eight times. When his attorneys finally found the evidence that cleared him — evidence his prosecutors had known about for years — he was weeks away from execution.

But what most enrages Thompson — and what drives his activism today — is that in the end, there was no accountability. His case produced a surfeit of prosecutorial malfeasance, from incompetence, to poor training, to a culture of conviction that included both willfully ignoring evidence that could have led to his exoneration, to blatantly withholding it. Yet the only attorney ever disciplined in his case was a former prosecutor who eventually aided in Thompson’s defense.

“This isn’t about bad men, though they were most assuredly bad men,” Thompson says. “It’s about a system that is void of integrity. Mistakes can happen. But if you don’t do anything to stop them from happening again, you can’t keep calling them mistakes.”

[SNIP]

Prosecutors and their advocates say complete and absolute immunity from civil liability is critical to the performance of their jobs. They argue that self-regulation and professional sanctions from state bar associations are sufficient to deter misconduct. Yet there’s little evidence that state bar associations are doing anything to police prosecutors, and numerous studies have shown that those who misbehave are rarely if ever professionally disciplined.

And in a culture where racking up convictions tends to win prosecutors promotions, elevation to higher office and high-paying gigs with white-shoe law firms, civil liberties activists and advocates for criminal justice reform worry there’s no countervailing force to hold overzealous prosecutors to their ethical obligations.

In the end, one of the most powerful positions in public service — a position that carries with it the authority not only to ruin lives, but in many cases the power to end them — is one of the positions most shielded from liability and accountability. And the freedom to push ahead free of consequences has created a zealous conviction culture.

[SNIP]

Thompson was up against a prosecutorial climate that critics had long claimed valued convictions over all else, one that saw a death sentence as the profession’s brass ring. The New York Times reported in 2003 that prosecutors in Louisiana often threw parties after winning death sentences. They gave one another informal awards for murder convictions, including plaques with hypodermic needles bearing the names of the convicted. In Jefferson Parish, just outside of New Orleans, some wore neckties decorated with images of nooses or the Grim Reaper.

One of Thompson’s prosecutors, Assistant District Attorney James Williams, told the the Los Angeles Times in 2007, “There was no thrill for me unless there was a chance for the death penalty.”

Williams kept a replica electric chair on his desk. “It was hooked up to a battery, so you’d get a little jolt when you touched it,” recalls Michael Banks, one of Thompson’s attorneys. In 1995, Williams posed with this mini-execution chair in Esquire magazine. On the chair’s headboard, he had affixed the photos of the five men he had sent to death row, including Thompson. Of those five, two would later be exonerated and two more would have their sentences commuted.


BLUE RIBBON DCFS COMMISSION HOLDS FIRST MEETING

The LA County Board of Supervisors-established Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection held its first meeting Thursday and appointed former head of Department of Child and Family Services David Sanders as chairman of the Commission. The newly-formed group will have six months to address the deep-seated dysfunction within DCFS.

LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

“The focus is not to generate yet another report but to move forward with the business of reforms,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told the Commission on Child Protection. “We have a moral obligation, in my view, to stand up for the most vulnerable among us.”

The commission voted Thursday to elect David Sanders as chairman. Currently the executive vice president for systems improvement at Casey Family Services, the nation’s largest foundation for providing and improving foster care, Sanders previously served as director of DCFS and is the only head in recent years who left without being forced out.

The commission — 10 members appointed by the Board of Supervisors — has a six-month deadline to wade through hundreds of child-protection recommendations made over the decades to DCFS and other agencies and determine why many of those reforms have not been implemented.


CALIFORNIA PRISONER HUNGER STRIKE UPDATE: PRISON CHIEF MEETS WITH ADVOCATES FOR “DISCUSSION”

California Prisons Chief Jeffrey Beard will meet today, Friday, with advocates of prisoners who have now been on hunger strike for 26 days to discuss the advocates concerns.

KPCC’s Julie Small has the story. Here’s a clip:

“It’s getting to be a very critical time,” said Carol Strickman, an attorney on the mediation team for the hunger strike leaders.

Strickman said the group asked to meet with Corrections Secretary Jeff Beard this week, before inmates suffer further harm.

“We’re hoping that it means that the Secretary is recognizing the gravity of the situation,” Strickman said. “And [that he's] willing to have a conversation with part of our team to see if there’s a way we can come to some reasonable solution.”

But Corrections department spokeswoman Deborah Hoffman issued a statement describing the meeting as a “discussion” only: “Secretary Beard wants to ensure he hears the advocates’ concerns and that they understand the various changes that have been taken place in the Security Housing Units over the past two years.”

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, prison, Prosecutors | 1 Comment »

Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Speaks Out Against Baca Again, This Time on KABC, Monday at 11PM

May 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


KABC 7′s David Ono sat down with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for a long on camera interview,
highlights from which will air in a special news segment at 11 pm Monday night on KABC 7.

Ono and his producers had hoped to get Sheriff Lee Baca to sit down for the same news segment since, in addition to responding to some critical questions about his own actions in the department, it is our understanding that Mr. Tanaka spent much of the interview, in essence, pulling the pins on grenades and lobbing them at the sheriff.

Unfortunately, Baca was not persuaded to come on camera, but sent LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore to answer questions in his place.

We don’t yet know what parts of the raw interview are included in the segment (which we hear will run around 4 plus minutes) and what remains in outtakes. But we’ll let you know if we learn more before the broadcast.

In the meantime, fire up your TiVos, ladies and gentlemen.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….

ILLINOIS TO BECOME NEXT STATE TO LEGALIZE MEDICAL MARIJUANA IF GOVERNOR SIGNS BILL

A bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state of Illinois was passed by their state senate after an approval from the Illinois House last month. It is not clear whether or not Governor Pat Quinn will sign the bill, but he sounds positively disposed.

What makes this bill interesting is that it sets out a tight regulatory scheme for sales of medical weed, unlike California, which legalized medical marijuana in 1996 with one of our messy ballot initiatives, and then applied some modest regulations in 2003, with SB 420. However, since then, neither the state legislature, nor municipalities like Los Angeles, managed to wrestle into being any decent regulations. As a consequence our med marijuana situation is something of a mess.

Monique Garcia reports for the Chicago Tribune on the state’s likely new law. Here’s a clip:

….The proposal would create a four-year trial program in which doctors could prescribe patients no more than 2.5 ounces of marijuana every two weeks. To qualify, patients must have one of 42 serious or chronic conditions — including cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV — and an established relationship with a doctor.

Patients would undergo fingerprinting and a criminal background check and would be banned from using marijuana in public and around minors. Patients also could not legally grow marijuana, and they would have to buy it from one of 60 dispensing centers across Illinois. The state would license 22 growers.

The measure drew strong opposition from the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police and the Illinois Sheriffs’ Association, which sent a letter to the governor and lawmakers warning the proposal would not stop medical marijuana card holders from driving while under the influence. They suggested blood and urine testing be included in the legislation to allow police to determine whether card holders had marijuana in their system while driving.

Haine argued the law has safeguards to prevent that, including designating on a driver’s license whether they use medical marijuana.


AND…WHILE WE’RE ON THE SUBJECT, A RUNDOWN OF THE MED MARIJUANA REGULATIONS SCHEMES ON TUESDAY’S BALLOT

It would be nice, of course, if the members of the LA City Council would bother to do their jobs and come up with a sensible scheme themselves to regulate LA’s pot dispensaries, rather than abrogate their collective responsibilities with these measures on Tuesday’s ballot.

Rick Orlov of the Daily News has the details.

While there are three marijuana measures on the ballot - Proposition D, Ordinance E and Ordinance F – there are only two active campaigns now, as the main supporters of E decided to throw their backing behind D.

Prop. D would cap the number of dispensaries at 135, the ones that were open and egistered with the city before a moratorium was created in 2007. It would impose a 6 percent tax on sales of marijuana. The current rate is 5 percent. D was crafted by the City Council to allow a finite number of dispensaries after its effort to have an outright ban on the clinics was challenged with an initiative.
Ordinance F has no cap and is backed by clinics that would be excluded under D. It also requires testing of the marijuana dispensed at the facilities, background checks on employees and auditing of their operations. It also places a tax of 6 percent on marijuana sold.

Ordinance E caps the number at 135, but has no tax increase and fewer other restrictions.

Voters have a fourth option, Councilman Bernard Parks said. They can reject all three proposals and allow the City Council to decide the issue.

But some supporters of medical marijuana think that, rather than allow them to operate unchecked, it would spell bad news for their future.

“If all the measures are defeated, it will be viewed, I think, as giving the City Council a free hand to do what they have shown they already want to do – just ban all dispensaries outright,” said political consultant Garry South, who is handling the F campaign.


A-A-AAND BACK ON THE HOMEFRONT…DENNIS ROMERO OF THE LA WEEKLY REPORTS THAT FRUSTRATED VOTERS ARE tending to lean toward Measure D, which is the most restrictive of the three. Read his rundown here.


BEYOND BRADY: DO THE RULES FOR PROSECUTORS FAVOR JUSTICE? OR MUST WE TAKE A SECOND LOOK?

In an editorial in Sunday’s NY Times, the Times discusses what has become an increasingly obvious problem in the justice system, where too many prosecutors seem to forget that the job of the district attorney is to seek justice, not to win at all costs.

Here’s a clip:

Fifty years ago, in the landmark case Brady v. Maryland, the Supreme Court laid down a fundamental principle about the duty of prosecutors — to seek justice in fair trials, not merely to win convictions by any means. The court said that due process required prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants any exculpatory evidence they asked for that was likely to affect a conviction or sentence.

It might seem obvious that prosecutors with any sense of fairness would inform a defendant’s lawyer of evidence that could be favorable to the defendant’s case. But in fact, this principle, known as the Brady rule, has been restricted by subsequent rulings of the court and has been severely weakened by a near complete lack of punishment for prosecutors who flout the rule. The court has also declined to require the disclosure of such evidence during negotiations in plea bargains, which account for about 95 percent of cases.

It is impossible to know how often prosecutors violate Brady since this type of misconduct, by definition, involves concealment. But there is good reason to believe that violations are widespread. Hundreds of convictions have been reversed because of prosecutorial suppression of evidence. In many cases, the exculpatory evidence surfaces only on appeal of a conviction, and often comes to light because other aspects of the prosecution are rife with error.

The 2011 case of John Thompson is particularly instructive — as an example of atrocious prosecutorial misconduct and of the Supreme Court’s refusal to hold the prosecutor accountable. Mr. Thompson spent 14 years on death row for a murder he did not commit. He was exonerated when an investigator found that lawyers in the New Orleans district attorney’s office had kept secret more than a dozen pieces of evidence that cast doubt on Mr. Thompson’s guilt, even destroying some. Yet the Supreme Court’s conservative majority overturned a $14 million jury award to Mr. Thompson, ruling that the prosecutor’s office had not shown a pattern of “deliberate indifference” to constitutional rights. Outrageous breaches of due process rights in such cases show that the Brady rule — which seems essentially voluntary in some places — is simply insufficient to ensure justice.

Read the whole thing.


PHOTO OF PAUL TANAKA by Scott Harms/Los Angeles County, via Zev Yaroslavsky’s blog. (The Photoshopping is, of course, ours.)

Posted in elections, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Medical Marijuana, Prosecutors, Sheriff Lee Baca | 25 Comments »

Will TX Hold a Prosecutor Accountable? …..Can Local CA Gov’ts Legally Ban Med Pot Dispensaries? ….and a Look at Mental Illness & Lock-Up

February 5th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



TEXAS USES AN ARCANE LAW TO POSSIBLY—JUST POSSIBLY—HOLD ACCOUNTABLE A PROMINENT FORMER PROSECUTOR, NOW A JUDGE, FOR OBSCURING AND WITHHOLDING EVIDENCE THAT LIKELY WOULD HAVE KEPT AN INNOCENT MAN FROM GOING TO PRISON FOR 25 YEARS

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fiske drew our attention to this story with her write-up
that runs on Tuesday. Here’s a clip:

In emotional testimony Monday, a Texas man told a judge how it felt spending 25 years in prison for a murder he did not commit.

“Brutal,” Michael Morton said. “But after a couple decades, I got used to it.”

Morton, 58, who grew up in Los Angeles, was convicted in the 1986 beating death of his wife, Christine, at their home. He was exonerated and released almost a year and a half ago after DNA tests confirmed his innocence. Another man has since been charged in connection with the killing.

Now the man who prosecuted Morton, Williamson County District Judge Ken Anderson, faces an unprecedented “court of inquiry” about 30 miles north of Austin in which a judge will decide whether the then-district attorney lied and concealed evidence that could have cleared Morton.

It is the first time the state has convened such a hearing for prosecutorial misconduct. Although part of Texas law since 1965, the court of inquiry has typically been used to consider allegations against elected officials. Some hope this week’s hearing will lead to a greater examination of alleged misconduct by prosecutors not just in Texas, but nationwide.

However, it is Texas Monthly’s Pamela Colloff whose reporting we must follow on this story. Last fall, Colloff wrote a stunning two-part series on Morton and his case.

Now she is following the unusual court proceedings examining the actions of former prosecutor Ken Anderson.

She writes:

Starting on Monday, Anderson will be the subject of a “court of inquiry,” an arcane legal procedure unique to Texas that can be used to investigate wrongdoing, most often on the part of state officials. It has never been used before to probe allegations of prosecutorial misconduct. The unprecedented legal proceeding will try to determine whether Anderson withheld critical evidence from Michael’s defense attorneys which would have helped Michael prove his innocence more than a quarter-century ago.

Anderson is now a state district judge. That a former prosecutor, much less a sitting judge, will face such intense scrutiny is remarkable. Prosecutorial misconduct rarely results in even disciplinary action from the Texas bar. But if the presiding judge in the court of inquiry finds probable cause to believe that Anderson broke the law, he will face criminal charges and a warrant will be issued for his arrest….

It is not just that prosecutors are rarely held accountable in Texas; they are rarely held accountable anywhere. If a surgeon is careless in an operation and thus paralyzes you, there are legal remedies. But if a prosecutor deliberately withholds crucial evidence that would almost certainly have cleared you, and instead your family is shattered, your young son is raised by someone else, and you go to prison for life, lose 25 years, then by wonderful luck you are released through work by the Innocence Project —there is no legal way to hold the prosecutor to answer.

However, this week in Texas, perhaps there is a way. If so, perhaps, as Molly Hennessy-Fiske suggested, it will have resonance beyond the lone star state’s boundaries.


IS IT LEGAL FOR CALIFORNIA’S LOCAL MUNICIPALITIES TO BAN MEDICAL MARIJUANA DISPENSARIES? THE CALIFORNIA SUPREMES WILL DECIDE

This article by the always excellent Howard Mintz, Legal Affairs guy for the San Jose Mercury News, lays out this interesting issue in lively and informative terms. Here’s a big clip from the story’s opening:

California’s experiment with medical marijuana has sparked a hazy version of the old Not-in-My-Backyard syndrome.

From Hollister to Antioch, from Scotts Valley to Petaluma, from Seaside to Moraga, city after city has banned medical marijuana dispensaries, sending a message that even the sickest of patients must go elsewhere for that state-permitted dose of prescribed medical weed.

But on Tuesday, this fear-and-loathing approach to outlawing medical pot providers will face an unprecedented test in the California Supreme Court. The seven justices are to hear arguments on whether local governments can ban the dispensaries in view of the state’s 1996 voter-approved law legalizing pot for medical use.

The case involves the Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center, which more than two years ago sued to block Riverside’s dispensary ban, arguing that cities and counties cannot bar activities legal in California. A state appeals court sided with Riverside, and now the Supreme Court, faced with similar legal tangles across the state, has jumped into the fray.

The stakes are high in California’s ongoing struggle pitting medical marijuana advocates against cities worried about problems associated with some of the dispensaries, such as lax control over the distribution of a drug that remains illegal under federal law.

“The Riverside case is a fascinating example of our ‘laboratories of democracy’ in action,” said Julie Nice, a aw professor at the University of San Francisco, where the Supreme Court will hear the arguments. “It illustrates the difficulties created when each level of government … stakes out a different regulatory position on a controversial subject….”

Read more here. And naturally, we’ll be keeping an eye out for the Cal Supremes’ ruling on this question.


TOO MANY MENTALLY ILL IN STATE AND COUNTY LOCK-UPS

One topic on which justice reform advocates, custody experts and county sheriffs tend to agree, is that a large portion of those incarcerated in California’s jails and prisons are mentally ill, and that this is not a good thing. Put more plainly, in most cases, jails and prisons are the most costly and the least effective places for the mentally ill to be.

As we look at reforming our budget-draining and problem-plagued incarceration systems in ways that balance public safety and basic justice, one of the areas that requires a hard look is the intersection between jails and prisons and mental illness.

Monday’s Huffington Post’s Alana Horowitz has a good overview of the issue. Here are some clips from her story:

….A 2006 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that over half of all jail and prison inmates have mental health issues; an estimated 1.25 million suffered from mental illness, over four times the number in 1998. Research suggests that people with mental illness are overrepresented in the criminal justice system by rates of two to four times the normal population. The severity of these illnesses vary, but advocates say that one factor remains steady: with proper treatment, many of these incarcerations could have been avoided.

“Most people [with mental illness] by far are incarcerated because of very minor crimes that are preventable,” says Bob Bernstein, the Executive Director of the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. “People are homeless for reasons that shouldn’t occur, people don’t have basic treatment for reasons that shouldn’t occur and they get into trouble because of crimes of survival.”

Bernstein blames these high rates on a lack of community mental health services. In the past three years, $4.35 billion in funding for mental health services has been cut from state budgets across the nation, according to a recent report. Because of the cuts, treatment centers have had to trim services and turn away patients.

State hospitals have also been forced to reduce services. A report by the Treatment Advocacy Center even found that there are more people with severe mental illness in prisons and jails than in hospitals.

[SNIP]

Once people with mental illness are incarcerated, Bazleon’s Bernstein says, it becomes a tough cycle to break.

“Most people are there for minor crimes but then they deteriorate,” he explains. “They can’t follow the rules there and so they stay a long time, and they become difficult to release.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics report, most inmates with mental illness don’t receive treatment while in prison.

Patti Jones’ nephew Tony Lester was sent to state prison in Tucson, Ariz., for aggravated assault. Like Armando Cruz, Lester heard voices. He told his aunt that before he was incarcerated, he had only heard two voices. After he was admitted, there were seven.

Lester was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was prescribed medication but didn’t always take it while in prison, Jones said. Lester was placed among the general prison population with little treatment available.

His symptoms grew worse….


Posted in How Appealing, Innocence, Marijuana laws, Medical Marijuana, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | No Comments »

40 Years of Roe…..Coroner Says Man Killed by Deputies Shot in Back….Controversy Over Restitution for Victims of Child Porn…..3 Strikers Getting Out Face Challenges

January 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


40 YEARS OF ROE V. WADE MARKED WITH RALLIES AND COUNTER RALLIES IN SF AND ELSEWHERE

THere were rallies marking the 40′s anniversary of Roe v. Wade all over the county this past weekend. Matthai Kuruvila from the San Francisco Chron has an account of the rally and counter rally in San Francisco. Here’s a clip:

The account of the events in San Francicso. Abortion activists on each side of the issue converged on San Francisco Saturday, creating parallel universes testifying to what 40 years of reproductive rights have wrought.

At Justin Herman Plaza, pro-choice activists danced and spoke about liberating women from the horror of back alley abortions conducted by coat hanger-wielding quacks.

Before legal abortions, what might happen to you “was a terror in the back of your mind,” said Chris Malfatti, 64, of San Francisco, who knew someone who lost her fertility to an illegal abortion.

Katheryn Smith of Politico covered the events in DC.


RELEASE OF CORONER’S REPORT FUELS CONTROVERSY OVER CULVER CITY MAN SHOT MULTIPLE TIMES BY DEPUTIES

The newly released autopsy report on the shooting death by sheriff’s deputies of Jose De La Trinidad shows that De La Trinidad was shot 7 times, all from the rear, five of the shots striking the Culver City father in the back.

The LA Times Wesley Lowery has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

A Culver City man who was fatally shot by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies after a pursuit in November was struck by bullets five times in the back and once each in the right hip and right forearm, also from behind, according to an autopsy report obtained by The Times.

Jose de la Trinidad, a 36-year-old father of two, was killed Nov. 10 by deputies who believed he was reaching for a weapon after a pursuit. But a witness to the shooting said De la Trinidad, who was unarmed, was complying with deputies and had his hands above his head when he was shot.

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating the shooting.

De la Trinidad was shot five times in the upper and lower back, according to the Los Angeles County coroner’s report dated Nov. 13. The report describes four of those wounds as fatal. He was also shot in the right forearm and right hip, with both shots entering from behind, the report found.

“Here’s a man who complied, did what he was supposed to, and was gunned down by trigger-happy deputies,” said Arnoldo Casillas, the family’s attorney, who provided a copy of the autopsy report to The Times. He said he planned to sue the Sheriff’s Department…


THE PRICE OF A STOLEN CHILDHOOD

In a deeply affecting story for this week’s New York Times Magazine Emily Bazelon writes about two young women with the first names of Nicole and Amy who, as children, were sexually abused, with their rapes recorded on video and distributed to thousands of men. In the cases of Nicole and Amy, however,the court has ruled that they can both obtain monetary restitution from those who downloaded the videos of them to mitigate the harm that was done to them. Bazelon’s article explores, among other things, if financial restitution actually helps victims of child pornography.

Here’s a clip:

The detective spread out the photographs on the kitchen table, in front of Nicole, on a December morning in 2006. She was 17, but in the pictures, she saw the face of her 10-year-old self, a half-grown girl wearing make-up. The bodies in the images were broken up by pixelation, but Nicole could see the outline of her father, forcing himself on her. Her mother, sitting next to her, burst into sobs.

The detective spoke gently, but he had brutal news: the pictures had been downloaded onto thousands of computers via file-sharing services around the world. They were among the most widely circulated child pornography on the Internet. Also online were video clips, similarly notorious, in which Nicole spoke words her father had scripted for her, sometimes at the behest of other men. For years, investigators in the United States, Canada and Europe had been trying to identify the girl in the images.

Nicole’s parents split up when she was a toddler, and she grew up living with her mother and stepfather and visiting her father, a former policeman, every other weekend at his apartment in a suburban town in the Pacific Northwest. He started showing her child pornography when she was about 9, telling her that it was normal for fathers and daughters to “play games” like in the pictures. Soon after, he started forcing her to perform oral sex and raping her, dressing her in tight clothes and sometimes binding her with ropes. When she turned 12, she told him to stop, but he used threats and intimidation to continue the abuse for about a year. He said that if she told anyone what he’d done, everyone would hate her for letting him. He said that her mother would no longer love her.

Nicole (who asked me to use her middle name to protect her privacy) knew her father had a tripod set up in his bedroom. She asked if he’d ever shown the pictures to anyone. He said no, and she believed him. “It was all so hidden,” she told me. “And he knew how to lie. He taught me to do it. He said: ‘You look them straight in the eye. You make your shoulders square. You breathe normally.’ ”

When she was 16, Nicole told her mother, in a burst of tears, what had been going on at her father’s house. Her father was arrested for child rape. The police asked Nicole whether he took pictures. She said yes, but that she didn’t think he showed them to anyone…..

The idea of the kind of restitution Bazelon’s story describes is not without controversy. It seems that, as terrible as such crimes are, creating tough laws that don’t also capture in their net the wrong people along with the predators, can be challenging, as Jennifer Bleyer of Slate points out.


THREE STRIKERS NEWLY RELEASED FACE A MULTITUDE OF CHALLENGES, OFTEN WITH NO HELP

Tracey Kaplan at the Contra Costa News has the story. Here’s a clip:

In an unforeseen consequence of easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, many inmates who have won early release are hitting the streets with up to only $200 in prison “gate money” and the clothes on their backs.

These former lifers are not eligible for parole and thus will not get the guidance and services they need to help them succeed on the outside, such as access to employment opportunities, vocational training and drug rehabilitation.

The lack of oversight and assistance for this first wave of “strikers” alarms both proponents and opponents of the revised Three Strikes Law — as well as the inmates themselves.

“I feel like the Terminator, showing up in a different time zone completely naked, with nothing,” said Greg Wilks, 48, a San Jose man who is poised to be released after serving more than 13 years of a 27-years-to-life sentence for stealing laptops from Cisco, where he secretly lived in a vacant office while working as a temp in shipping and receiving.

[SNIP]

“We want these people to succeed,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project. “We don’t want them committing crimes and creating more victims.”

Proponents say the main reason they didn’t foresee the situation is that the rules regarding parole changed significantly — after officials had already approved the ballot language for Proposition 36.

Under California’s realignment of its criminal justice system, the role of supervising most nonviolent offenders is shifting in stages from the state to county probation officers. But neither the realignment statute nor the Three Strikes Law made provisions for monitoring released strikers.

Romano said the issue is now being litigated in Los Angeles County, where a prosecutor claims strikers should be supervised by probation officers. But even if they are, he said, many counties lack the resources to help the mostly male population of former lifers make a successful transition….



Photo of San Francisco rally for 40 years of Roe v. Wade by Christine Duong

Posted in Child sexual abuse, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Human rights, LASD, Life in general, Prosecutors, Reentry, Sentencing, women's issues | 1 Comment »

Guidance, Not Guns….More on Aaron Swartz…A Cold Case Leads to Revelations of Forensic Misconduct

January 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


POST SANDYHOOK, LIZ RYAN ABOUT WHAT WORKS TO PROTECT KIDS FROM VIOLENCE

Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Campaign for Youth Justice (among other accomplishments), has this thoughtful and informative essay at The Crime Report on the initiatives that, in combination—–according to some of the nation’s best youth advocates—are the most likely to reduce gun violence against children and teenagers, in addition to reducing violence in our communities.

Yet, one of the advantages of this essay is that, while Ryan is very knowledgeable, she does more here than opine. She provides lots of good links to recent and relevant studies and reports, thereby giving you the resources with which to make up your own mind about the issues.

Here’s a clip from Liz’s essay:

….the nation’s educational leaders, including the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, have stated emphatically that, “Guns have no place in our schools.”

Others have suggested more police presence.

But research has shown that increased police presence has not made schools safer. In fact, it has resulted in the criminalization of young people in the justice system.

University of Delaware Professor Aaron Kupchik, author of “Homeroom Security” says that while armed guards are already in many schools, “their presence has effects that help transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement.

Instead of more guns and more police presence, education experts such as Barbara Raymond of The California Endowment point to the importance of counselors, social workers, psychologists and evidence-based programs. One example is the school-wide positive behavior support program to improve learning environments in schools and help children resolve conflict.
The Sandy Hook killings also underscore the need to improve access to quality, community-based behavioral mental health services for children and young people.

An interdisciplinary group of more than 200 violence prevention researchers, practitioners and professional associations recommends that, “these efforts should promote wellness, as well as address mental health needs of all community members while simultaneously responding to potential threats to community safety.

“This initiative should include a large scale public education and awareness campaign, along with newly created channels of communication to help get services to those in need.”
Additionally, a comprehensive approach must address the root causes of violence, and focus resources on proven violence prevention and juvenile delinquency prevention programs such as the University of Colorado’s Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence’s “Blueprints for Violence Prevention” programs.

Easy access to guns that kill 7 young people a day and injure 43 more is a challenge addressed by the bipartisan national coalition of 750 mayors led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City and Mayor Thomas Menino of Boston. The coalition has created comprehensive recommendations to severely reduce the easy access to guns and assault weapons in the U.S.
Finally, there must be a focus on healing….

There’s more. Ryan points to the huge report that was just released by the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence, that looks at the affect that deleterious effects that exposure to violence has on kids, and what we can do about it. Anyway, take a look.


US ATTORNEY SAYS PROSECUTION OF AARON SWARTZ WAS “APPROPRIATE”

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz evidently spoke to reporters after an unrelated news conference, saying she was terribly upset about Aaron Swartz’s suicide, but that the federal prosecutors acted appropriately.

David Kravets at WIRED has the story about the MA U.S. Attorney’s . Here’s a clip:

Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, said Thursday the government’s “conduct was appropriate” in its handling of the Aaron Swartz prosecution.

The President Barack Obama appointee’s first public comments on the matter come nearly a week after the internet sensation, who was under federal indictment in Massachusetts on hacking and other charges, hanged himself in his Brooklyn apartment.

Swartz’s family, in part, blamed the suicide of the executive director of Demand Progress on what they said was an overzealous prosecution. Prosecutors in Ortiz’s office had offered the 26-year-old a six-month prison sentence in exchange for his guilty plea to more than a dozen counts of computer hacking and wire fraud over the illicit downloading of millions of academic articles from a subscription database at MIT. It was a plea agreement Swartz rejected.

“As a parent and a sister, I can only imagine the pain felt by the family and friends of Aaron Swartz, and I want to extend my heartfelt sympathy to everyone who knew and loved this young man. I know that there is little I can say to abate the anger felt by those who believe that this office’s prosecution of Mr. Swartz was unwarranted and somehow led to the tragic result of him taking his own life,” Ortiz said. “I must, however, make clear that this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case. The career prosecutors handling this matter took on the difficult task of enforcing a law they had taken an oath to uphold, and did so reasonably.”

The Boston Globe (among others) also has a report that, for those slightly obsessed with this story, is worth a read.

Also, while—whether one agrees with her legal POV or not (I don’t happen to at all), Ortiz at least handled the press interaction with dignity and respect.

Not so, it seems her husband, Tom Dolan, who early on took his feelings about criticism of his wife to Twitter. (His account has since been deleted.)

FireDogLake (among many others) has that story.

Dolan evidently forgot that in such unbearable circumstances the grieving family gets to say whatever they want, especially about a public figure, like a U.S. Attorney. The public figure’s spouse does not have such license, and certainly does not get to start shooting back through social media at the people who lost their son/brother/friend.

One more thing, just to be clear, yes, Aaron Swartz was offered a plea deal (as we mentioned in an earlier story), but when the defense and the prosecution couldn’t agree upon a deal, the 35 year sentence comes back into play.

So to those who contended that a 35 year was not in fact a threat, it was, actually. The big bad possible sentence is the gun that prosecutors hold to a defendant’s head, to get him or her to plead out. That’s the game. And it’s an ugly one.


A TALE OF A MISSISSIPPI COLD CASE AND A DECADES OLD MISSISSIPPI SCANDAL THAT MAY HAVE COMPROMISED A FRIGHTENING NUMBER OF CASES OVER DECADES

Huffington Post’s talented criminal justice writer/reporter, Radley Balko has this fascinating two-parter about the solving of the 15-year-old murder of Kathy Mabry by the unlikely team of two Innocence Project attorneys, in the course of which, a brewing subrosa scandal involving a pair of shoddy forensic analysts has been brought irrevocably into the light, finally (hopefully) making it impossible for Mississippi officials to ignore.

Here’s a clip:

The [Mabry] case went unsolved for 15 years, until December, after a casual courtroom conversation led lawyers from the Mississippi Innocence Project to investigate it. That two attorneys for an organization better known for getting the wrongly convicted out of prison would take it upon themselves to solve a cold case is remarkable enough. Their search covered the state, from Columbus in the northeast, to Oxford in the northwest, to the crime lab in Jackson, to a dusty attic in the Humphreys County courthouse, deep in the belly of the Delta.

The reason they felt compelled to act is part of a larger scandal currently unfolding in Mississippi. The original police investigation into Mabry’s murder hinged on the forensic analysis of Steven Hayne, a longtime Mississippi medical examiner, and Michael West, a dentist and self-proclaimed bite-mark expert. Hayne was a doctor in private practice who at the time performed nearly all of the state’s autopsies. West was one of his frequent collaborators. The two men have been at the heart of the Mississippi death investigation system for two decades. West has testified in dozens of cases, Hayne in thousands, including a number of death penalty cases.

Media investigations over the years, however, including my own for The Huffington Post and Reason magazine, have revealed that both Hayne and West have contributed critical evidence that led to the convictions of people who were later exonerated, and routinely and flagrantly flouted the ethical and professional standards of their respective fields. West, for example, once claimed he could match the bite marks in a half-eaten bologna sandwich found at a murder scene to the teeth of the prime suspect. In a more recent case, Hayne claimed the bullet wounds in a murder victim showed that two people held the gun when it was fired, not one. In the Mabry case, West used bite-mark analysis to nab an innocent man for Mabry’s murder. That man spent nearly a year in jail. But the Mabry story also shows that the victims in this scandal include not just the wrongly accused, but the families of the victims, the future victims of the actual perpetrators, public officials like Roseman, and even entire towns.

Mississippi officials have thus far resisted calls for a thorough review of Hayne and West’s work. In particular, the Mississippi Supreme Court has shown little concern over the possibility that Hayne and West may have put an untold number of innocents behind the razor wire at Parchman penitentiary. Neither has Attorney General Jim Hood, whose office continues to defend convictions won primarily on the testimony one or both of the men have given on the witness stand. To concede there’s a problem would implicate many state officials who used the two men during tenures as prosecutors. It would also open hundreds, perhaps thousands of cases to review.

Tucker Carrington, the director of the Mississippi Innocence Project, says he and his colleague Will McIntosh decided to pursue Mabry’s killer themselves after they attempted to bring the case to the attention of the prosecutor in Humphreys County, and then to Hood’s office, and received no response from either.

“When you take on a case and it reveals a glaring injustice like this — something that could easily be taken care of if someone would just give it some attention — you can’t just turn a blind eye to that,” Carrington says. “In the end, I guess we saw this through because no one else would.”


Photo from Library of Congress collection, 1930-1940, (Creative Commons)

Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, guns, Innocence, Prosecutors | No Comments »

After 3 1/2 Years, Charges Against Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Officially Dropped, but the Costs to his Family Remain

January 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


THE DISMISSAL

Wednesday morning, Judge Dale Fischer of the United States District Court for the Central District of California said that she was granting the motion made by federal prosecutors to dismiss all charges against nationally known gang intervention leader, Alex Sanchez.

Actually what Judge Fischer really said was that she’d already dismissed the Sanchez case last Friday, a fact of which all of those assembled in Fischer’s courtroom on the 8th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, seemed startlingly unaware.

“You didn’t see it?” she asked Sanchez’s court appointed attorney, Amy Jacks, who shook her head, looking confused. Arguing the finer points of the government’s proposed dismissal was, after all, the whole reason that Jacks and Sanchez were in the courtroom on Wednesday. Seeing Jacks’ confusion, the normally in-control judge turned next to the prosecutors who stared back at her, equally perplexed. It took some minutes of sorting to determine that, after the judge had entered the dismissal order last Friday, the thing had somehow managed to get stuck somewhere in the bowels of system thus, until this minute, no one else had any way of knowing that she’d actually ruled.

Once the procedural knots got untied, the judge hastily added that she was “exonerating” Sanchez’s bail-–the $2 million bond that friends and family had put up, half in real estate, half in sureties— since Sanchez himself owned no property, and had no real savings.

And, so it was rather anticlimactically that, after three-and-a-half years of fighting federal racketeering (RICO) and conspiracy to commit murder charges …. Alex Sanchez was free.

Well, mostly free.

Specifically, Judge Fischer granted the government its motion to dismiss the case “without prejudice,” which means that the federal prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Garth Hire, could refile the case within six months, although Judge Fisher cautioned Hire not to take that long.

“You need to make up your mind relatively quickly,” she told him crisply then, with a nod toward Jacks, “The government is paying for counsel.”

Amy Jacks is Sanchez’s second court appointed attorney. The case has dragged on so long that Sanchez’s first attorney, Kerry Bensinger, has moved up the legal ladder to be appointed by Jerry Brown as a Superior Court Judge. The government is on its second team too. All of the original prosecutors who first filed this tragic mess of a case have been replaced.

Hire assured the judge that he would figure things out one way or the other by the end of March, after his team has had a chance to go through the piles of material amassed by the previous prosecutors. (That would be the group that put together the case that has just been dismissed.)

Fischer snapped that she hoped that any future filing would “be done much more carefully than it was last time.”

Hire, who had already admitted that he sought the dismissal because the case against Alex was “flawed,” made assurances to the effect that, yes, any future filings—should there be one— would be based on “proof we intend to take to trial.”


THE CASE

The case against Alex Sanchez, in brief, was as follows: On June 24, 2009, Sanchez— then 38-years-old, married, the father of three, and a former gang member who transformed his life to become nationally known for helping kids find a way out of the gang world, and helping heal communities lacerated by gang violence—was arrested and charged, along with two dozen other defendants, with a laundry list of crimes having to do with the alleged activities of a local clique of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″).

The charges that were specifically attributed to Sanchez, whom the feds characterized as living a double life as the clique’s shot-caller, all centered around four wire-tapped phone calls, during which he was supposed to have ordered the murder of Walter “Camaron” Lacinos, who was, indeed, subsequently murdered in El Salvador, allegedly by a person nicknamed, “Zombie”, whom the feds said was on the primary phone call.

Except he wasn’t. The prosecution’s expert witness completely misidentified the most crucial participant on the supposedly damning call, who turned out to be—provably— an inactive gang member also nicknamed “Zombie” who was no where near any murders and who, when interviewed, along with his sister, was able to blow a great big hole in the center out of the prosecution’s theory. Added to that, the important parts of the phone conversation were reportedly disasterously mistranslated and/or misinterpreted from the highly colloquial Spanish the men were speaking. And still another part of the conversation, which forcefully contradicted the prosecutors’ contentions that Sanchez was an active gang member and a shot caller, was handily left out of the transcript altogether. Really. The expert witness and the feds, just left out the part they didn’t like.

Plus it seems that the El Salvadorian police have an entirely different theory of the Lacinos murder, which appears more plausible and, well, fact-based.

The boggling list of case-shredding problems goes on from there.

As prosecutor Hire admitted with grand understatement, the government’s case is “flawed.’

In her own motion to dismiss the case, Sanchez’s attorney put it another way. Jacks wrote that the first team of government prosecutors

“….presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence.”

Ms. Jacks noted Wednesday that while the new government prosecutors had not admitted to her allegations, nor had they refuted them.

This does not guarantee an outcome when it comes to the refiling question, but it says a great deal. Garth Hire and the other members of the new prosecutorial team, honestly, on first bounce, seem like sane, logic-driven professionals. The earlier team members appeared to be something else altogether, people intent on winning, whatever the cost. Seeking justice wasn’t even on the table.

Even experienced criminal court watchers I spoke with came out of those early hearings shaken.


THE COST

So what are the costs to a man and his family of 3 1/2 years of what sure appears to be a wrongful murder charge?

After the hearing, Sanchez and around two dozen friends and family members held a press conference outside the Roybal Building, where he explained just a little bit of what these years of being under indictment for murder had been like for him, for his kids, for his family. He talked about how he’s going to start rebuilding, but that admittedly a lot has been lost.

Privately Sanchez talked about some of those losses—some of them obvious, like the dive in funding dollars for Homies Unidos, the gang intervention non-profit he founded. And then there are the things you wouldn’t think of, like for example, how when one of his brothers was dying of cancer last year, he wanted help him keep his business afloat by doing some of the work himself, but that his bail restrictions prevented it. “I just wanted to help my brother when he needed it. And I couldn’t.”

Off to the side, away from the press cluster, I also talked about years between the arrest and now with Alex’s 18-year-old eldest son—Alex Jr. who was 14 when two dozen cops in tactical gear burst into the Sanchez family home at 5.am. and took his dad away at gunpoint. “Seeing guys pointing M-16 rifles at my dads head….It was devastating. We couldn’t get my grandmother to stop crying,” he said.

Seeming relieved to be able to let some of the anxiety out. Alex Jr. talked a lot. He talked about how, after his dad was arrested, without his salary, the family couldn’t afford the rent on their Bellflower house, “So we all had to move in with my aunt. That was hard. Not having a home that was ours.”

He talked about how when they went to visit their dad in jail, seeing him there in the jail jumpsuit, his younger sister would always cry in a way that distressed him terribly.

He told of the day when he learned that, after seven months, the judge had finally granted his father bail. “That was a really good moment,” he said.

Yet the conditions of the bail were restrictive. “We used to travel a lot.” But, after he was released from jail, his dad was not allowed to travel outside the LA area, the family couldn’t make their usual visits other immediate family members in San Francisco. Or in Santa Cruz. “And there was weird stuff, like my dad wasn’t allowed drink alcohol. He couldn’t have a beer.”

Before the arrest, said Alex Jr. “we were just a normal family living a normal life. Like the day before, we were doing mechanics on my dad’s car, this Honda he drives. We were just a family working on a car. And then, they came to pick up my dad.”

But his family is really strong, he said, “because we survived this.”

And, yet, he admitted there are scars. For instance, the whole family has become obsessively over-careful, he said.

“See, now, even us, the kids, are so careful, like, when we talk on the phone, because any little thing one of us says or does could be made into something that it’s not, and that might cause them to take my dad away again.” A pause.

“That’s what we’re trying our best not to have happen. If that happened, if they took my dad away again, I don’t know how we’d stand it.”


For all the WLA reporting thus far on the Alex Sanchez case go here, and keep scrolling down until you get to the first June 24, 2009 post.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Prosecutors | 2 Comments »

Q & A With Jackie Lacey….Gun Talk…Prosecutorial Abuse, Part 2….& MD Gov. Pushes for Death Penalty Repeal,

January 16th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


WWJD—WHAT WILL JACKIE DO? PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS NEW D.A. JACKIE LACEY

Patt’s interview offers some brief but interesting glimpses into Jackie the D.A. and Jackie the person.

Regarding Jackie the person, there’s an affecting moment where Lacey talks about how her father died in 2008, and when she visits his grave, she keeps thinking how much she wishes he’d seen her take office.

In terms of Jackie the D.A., it is encouraging to hear that her views on realignment sound reasonably balanced. (How that translates into action is something we’ll be keeping an eye on in the future.)

Here are both those clips:

PATT M: Is your dad here to see what you’ve achieved?

JACKIE L. He died in 2008. When I’m at the grave site, the question that pops into my head is, God, couldn’t he have been here for this? While it’s important for my mother, this particular accomplishment would have been extraordinary for my father. He loved following politics. He had pictures in our dining room of Tom Bradley and Julian Bond and Kenny Hahn, Martin Luther King of course, Robert F. Kennedy, John Kennedy. So for him not to be here — I don’t want to say I’m angry; I just don’t understand it. But I feel my father’s presence.

AND…

PATT M: How is state prison realignment — pushing state prisoners to the local level — going?

JACKIE L: It happened so fast and local law enforcement just wasn’t ready for this shift. We have a limited amount of space and money to incarcerate people. We’ve run out of room at the state prisons. We have run out of room at the county jail. My office’s role is to figure out alternatives for some people, such as mental health programs or drug facilities. Let’s peel the lower-risk people off and save room for people who are very dangerous.

Right now, we have policies that mandate 10 days in jail, 15 days, 30 days. They’re not going to be in that amount of time. And for some of these people, some of these alternatives are cheaper to do, and the recidivism rate is something like 10% to 30%. We’ve got to not be fearful about having these discussions.


L.A.R.B INTERVIEW WITH PAUL M. BARRETT, AUTHOR OF GLOCK: THE RISE OF AMERICA’S GUN

An interesting interview in the Los Angeles Review of Books with Paul M. Barrett, author of Glock: The Rise of America’s gun, who, by the way, isn’t particularly enthusiastic about assault weapons bans, simply because he doesn’t think they’ll do all that much good. Here’s what he says about his preferred approach:

PB: We already have a system in place right now for which there is broad support, restricting not particular kinds of guns, but who’s allowed to buy and possess them. That should be our focus when it comes to new legislation: not on guns, but on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable people. We already have laws on the books that do that, but they are not as effective as they could be, because they too have loopholes. I would be in favor of closing those loopholes.

Specifically, I’m in favor of there being a requirement for a federal background check on all sales of all firearms at all times, not just the sales by federally licensed firearms dealers. That would capture many, many thousands and thousands of transactions that today happen basically off the books.

SR: Is this the so-called “gun show loophole”?

PB: Just as some people are obsessed with — to their own detriment — assault weapons, people are obsessed with gun shows. Gun shows are not the problem. It’s not gun shows, it’s private sales of firearms. Forget about gun shows.

At gun shows you have both federally licensed dealers who do background checks, and you have so-called private collectors who don’t do the background checks. The problem is not the federally licensed firearm dealers, who are actually at most gun shows selling the majority of guns, it’s those other guys.

And even more to the point, it’s the guys who don’t even go to gun shows, because those guys publically set up their product, essentially saying, “Here I am selling guns out in public, where the police can see me, and the ATF can see me,” and so forth. It’s the guys who do that from their kitchen table or the trunk of their car who are selling, all too often, to criminals or to other people who shouldn’t be getting guns.

I would make all sales that are sneaky, where no one knows who is actually buying the gun, illegal. That would keep guns out of the hands of some number of people who right now are very purposefully avoiding the background checks. Those are people we should be very suspicious about.

Read the rest of this intriguing interview (conducted by critic and essayist, Shaun Randol) here.

(Go, LARB!)


PROSECUTORIAL ABUSE & AARON SWARTZ, THE SEQUEL

While Aaron Swartz was an extraordinary young man, the story of relentless prosecutorial zeal aimed at Swartz for more than two years before he killed himself is depressingly ordinary.

And usually it is directed people who do not have the support and resources that Swartz had.

I am particularly aware of this as I prepare, this Wednesday morning, to attend the latest hearing in Federal Court pertaining to the case of Alex Sanchez, a RICO case in which the Feds reportedly lied to the grand jury, misidentified witnesses, all to bolster a murder conspiracy charge, which appears to have had nothing in the way of real evidence to justify it.

Writing for the Atlantic, Wendy Kaminer (who is one of many writing on the topic) points out the depressing ordinariness that Swartz’s case represents. Here’s a clip:

Federal prosecutors wanted to make an example of Aaron Swartz and they succeeded. Their wildly disproportionate treatment of his victimless trespasses exemplified the Justice Department’s disregard for fairness, decency, and the fundamental rights of the citizens it’s supposed to serve. Swartz’s prosecution was notable not because of its cruel over-zealousness, which is horribly routine, but because it involved a gifted, idealistic, emotionally vulnerable defendant, with a sophisticated and relatively powerful constituency that has the means to make itself heard.

He was not the first person to hang himself in the wake of abusive, even sadistic federal prosecution, and he may not be the last. (You can read about the case of the “posthumously vindicated” Dr. Peter Gleason here.) But Swartz’s suicide may be the first to generate widespread sorrow and outrage over common prosecutorial tactics that put ordinary as well as extraordinary citizens at risk.


MARILAND GOVERNOR O’MALLY SAYS TUESDAY HE WILL PUT EVERYTHING BEHIND A NEW BILL TO REPEAL CAPITOL PUNISHMENT

Andy Brownfield of the Washington Examiner has the story. Here’s a clip:

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley is giving a repeal of his state’s death penalty another shot, announcing on Tuesday that he will file a bill to do away with the ultimate punishment.

“The death penalty is expensive and it does not work,” O’Malley said during a news conference. “And for that reason alone, I believe we should stop doing it.”

The governor said the state should instead focus on measures that have proven to reduce crime rates, such as deploying police forces strategically, collection and use of DNA evidence, and using modern policing technology.

He also tied the abolition of capital punishment to a moral imperative, pointing out that the U.S. was among the seven countries that oversaw the most state executions: Iran, China, Iraq, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United States.

“In whose company do we choose to walk forward?” he asked. “Will we be a society guided by the notion that two wrongs somehow make a right? Or will we be a society that’s guided by the fundamental civil and human rights that we understand are bestowed on humankind by God?”

O’Malley was flanked by members of the legislative black caucus, county executives and NAACP officials.

The NAACP has made it a priority to scrap capital punishment in Maryland this year, with the ultimate goal of abolishing it nationwide.


Posted in crime and punishment, criminal justice, Death Penalty, District Attorney, guns, Prosecutors | 2 Comments »