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LA County Supes Say YES to Civilian Commission to Oversee Sheriff’s Department (Updated)…Convictions That Aren’t…Racial Inequity….Bad School Data…& Torture

December 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


With a 3-2 vote, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed the motion introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis
to create a civilian commission to oversee the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl was the third, and very emphatic vote in favor of the oversight commission’s creation.

Ridley-Thomas first proposed a civilian oversight body back in the fall of 2012, after the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence delivered their highly critical report on the brutal conditions in the LA County jail system and the LASD leadership that the CCJV said allowed such conditions to continue to exist year after year.

Until now, the votes were not there for the idea. But following the arrival on the board of Solis and Kuehl, all at once a majority was onboard for a civilian commission.

“The people of Los Angeles have demanded a new day by electing a new sheriff,” said Solis. “…Under the new leadership, we have a chance to restore trust in the county. This is not just a morally right answer,” she added, “it is fiscally prudent. Taxpayer money spent defending lawsuits is money that can’t go to improving the lives of our constituents….”

Supervisor Mike Antonovich disagreed. “The darkest days within the sheriff’s department in recent experience…,” he said, came about “during a time when it had the most amount of external oversight.” Then he ticked off the oversight entities of the recent past: the Office of Independent Review, Special Counsel Merrick Bobb, the county ombudsman, and the court-ordered jail monitors of the ACLU. Thus Antonovich favored “a single watchdog entity” that would “streamline and strengthen civilian oversight”—namely the inspector general.

Tuesday’s vote took place just a little after the 1 pm hour, after a long and impassioned segment of public comment. Prior to the vote, LASD Undersheriff Neal Tyler read a letter from Sheriff Jim McDonnell giving strong support to the motion. The letter said, among other things that “… partnerships with our community should be embraced, not feared.”(At the time of the vote, McDonnell was at a long-scheduled meeting of the California State Sheriff’s Association.)

Interestingly, LASD Inspector General Max Huntsman also spoke positively about the idea of community oversight.

In the end, the motion to create the civilian commission was divided into three parts. Part one was the approval of the civilian oversight body. Part two was to cause the creation of a working group to hash out what the new commission would look like, what its mandate and its powers would be, and so on. And part three was the request of a report from County Counsel having to do with issues such as the correct legal language necessary to create the civilian group.

This partitioning of the motion was at the suggestion of Supervisor Mike Antonovich who wanted to vote for the working group, and the County Counsel’s report, but against the commission.

Bottom line: The creation of a civilian oversight body passed 3-2, with Antonovich and Supervisor Don Knabe both voting no—at least for the time being. The creation of the working group, solely, passed with a unanimous vote, as did the request for a report from the county’s lawyers.

And so it was that, after more than two years of discussion, civilian oversight of the county’s long-troubled sheriff’s department will soon be a reality.


THE DEVIL & THE DETAILS

The devil will, of course, be in the details.

Among those devils and details will be the make-up of the commission, the degree of access it will have to LASD information and what, if any, legal power it will have.

In his letter to the board of supervisors, Sheriff McDonnell was actually quite specific in his suggestions as to what kind of commission members he envisioned, and how many commissioners there ought to be. (He figured 7 to 9 commissioners, to be exact.)

As to whom they ought to be, McDonnell thought the commission should made up of volunteers, not paid employees. They should be “…highly regarded and esteemed members of the community, committed to public service on this body in an unpaid and part-time capacity (similar to how CCJV functioned). The structure should also include not simply individuals appointed by the Board of Supervisors, but also others selected by other appointing authorities….”

When IG Huntsman spoke he also had a number of suggestions. He stressed that, if oversight was to mean anything, it was essential that he and, by extension any commission he reported to, must have maximum access to information.

“I used to be an attack dog,” he said. “Now I’ve been asked to be a watchdog. If you buy a watchdog, they are only worth it if they come into your house. If you keep them in the backyard, then the burglars can come in the front door. A watchdog can’t watch what they can’t enter and be a part of. So transparency means complete access…”

Huntsman said it was his understanding that there was a way to accomplish this access and still respect the restrictions of the Peace Officers Bill of Rights.

As for the question of whether or not the soon-to-be created civilian commission could or should have any legal power, Huntsman was unconcerned.

“There are lots of commissions that have legal authority,” he said, “and those who don’t have legal authority, and that doesn’t really control how effective they are.” A commission’s effectiveness had more to do about “whether or not what they have to say is welcomed by the department, whether or not the department interacts with them, and whether or not they speak in a language the department understands.”



AND IN OTHER NEWS….

NEVER CONVICTED OF A CRIME BUT HELD BACK BY A CRIMINAL RECORD

It’s bad enough that significant percentages of job-seeking Americans are hampered in finding employment for which they are otherwise qualified by criminal records. This story by Brendan Lynch writing for TalkPoverty tells how yet another slice of U.S. job hunters faces the same barriers even without criminal convictions.

Here’s how the story opens:

Tyrae T. and N.R. needed what any thirtysomething American without regular income needs: a well-paying job. They were both ready and eager for work, yet both were turned down for numerous entry-level positions they were qualified for. The reason? Criminal records. Tyrae and N.R. have never been convicted of any crimes, but they face a problem that afflicts millions of low-income Americans: arrests without conviction that are improperly used as grounds to deny employment.

Job applicants with criminal records, especially men of color, face a high hurdle to employment. Studies have shown that black men without criminal records get callbacks for job interviews at rates below those of white men with criminal records; and for a black man with a record, the callback rate is almost negligible.

Arrests that never led to conviction shouldn’t affect employment—innocent until proven guilty is a fundamental principle of American justice, after all. Because there is a presumption that arrests without convictions don’t hinder employment opportunities, this issue has received far less media and political attention than the employment obstacles created by past convictions. But the fact is that when it comes to getting jobs, a mere arrest can be just as bad as a conviction for millions of people like Tyrae and N.R.

Many companies conduct pre-employment background checks using FBI rap sheets, which are notoriously hard to read: employers often can’t discern whether the charges resulted in conviction, were withdrawn, or dismissed.

State-level databases can be equally confusing. In Pennsylvania, if an item turns up when an employer runs a background check through the state police, the system immediately responds with a generic code, indicating that details will follow within four weeks. If someone only has arrests on his record, the report eventually comes up clean, but many employers won’t wait that long for the clarification—they simply move on to the next job applicant.


…CORY BOOKER SPEAKS TO FELLOW U.S. SENATORS ABOUT BIAS IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

“Enough lamentation, when will there be legislation?” asked New Jersey Senator Cory Booker when he spoke before Senator Richard Durbin’s Tuesday hearing on the State of Civil Rights & Human Rights. It’s strong stuff, filled with both passion and common sense. And Booker bolstered his points with plenty of statistics.

Take a look.


MORE BAD NEWS ABOUT LAUSD’S MALFUNCTIONING SOFTWARE SYSTEM THAT SCREWED UP STUDENTS’ SCHEDULES

Recently we wrote about the restraining order an angry judge slapped on California Department of Education head, Tom Toriakson, to force Toriakson and LAUSD to come up with a plan to fix a disastrous tangle of problems with the district’s student data system. It seems the data snarl had somehow resulted in many students at Jefferson, Dorsey and Fremont High Schools losing more than a month’s worth of class time, and other students’ transcripts being comprised as college application deadlines rolled around.

So is the system fixed yet? Uh, no. Even more alarming, the cost of repairing the mess has, thus far, cost three times what the district initially spent to set up the data system.

Annie Gilbertson of KPCC has the story-–and it ain’t pretty.

Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Unified School District board approved another $12 million Tuesday to fix the student data system that failed to schedule classes, take attendance and track students with special needs beginning last fall.

Under the new plan, the district will spend up to $2 million per week from Jan. 1 to Feb. 15 to have technology companies, including Microsoft, debug the system, stabilize servers, and expand use of the system known as MiSiS at charter schools, among other tasks.

The money will also pay for oversight of the work by an outside party and expansion of the help desk.

The new spending brings the total cost of the software system to $45.5 million, three times as much as was initially invested in it.

When the six weeks are up, the board will be presented with another, pricier spending plan for MiSiS improvements. Earlier estimates submitted to the school construction bond oversight committee showed the price of addressing the system’s problems could double to about $85 million….


A FEW WORDS ON THE TORTURE REPORT

We don’t normally report on issues—even criminal justice issues—that occur beyond U.S. borders, because they are too far outside our California-centric mandate.

But we cannot fail to acknowledge—however briefly—the release of what is being called the “torture report,” the Senate’s long awaited report on C.I.A. torture during the Bush Administration released Tuesday. It has too many implications about criminal justice issues we do write about.

This week’s revealations are so dispiriting that a lot of the writing about the report that we’ve read in the last 24 hours has sort of a stunned eloquence, like this opening of Tuesday’s story by the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson.

There is a tape recording somewhere, unless the Central Intelligence Agency has destroyed it, that captures the sound of a man named Nazar Ali crying. He was a prisoner in a secret C.I.A. prison, in a foreign country where terrorists were supposed to be interrogated. But Nazar Ali, whom a Senate Select Intelligence Committee report, part of which was released on Tuesday, suggests has a developmental disability—it quotes an assessment of him as “intellectually challenged”—was no sophisticated Al Qaeda operative. It is not even clear, from what’s been released of the report, that his interrogation was an attempt to gain information, or indeed that he was properly interrogated at all. According to the report, his “C.I.A. detention was used solely as leverage to get a family member to provide information.” A footnote later in the report, where his name appears, explains that Nazar Ali’s “taped crying was used as leverage against his family member.” Left unexplained is what the American operatives did to make this man cry. Did they plan ahead, preparing recording equipment and proddings, or did they just, from their perspective, get lucky?

That audio may be long erased or destroyed, as ninety-two videotapes documenting waterboarding were. The unauthorized running of those videotapes through an industrial shredder, in 2004, put in motion the production of the Senate report. (The Washington Post has a graphic guide to its twenty key findings.) It took nine years and cost forty million dollars, largely because the C.I.A. and its allies pushed back, complaining about unfairness and, finally, warning darkly that Americans would die if the world knew what Americans had done. Senate Republicans eventually withdrew their staff support. The Obama Administration has largely enabled this obstruction. The opponents of accountability nearly succeeded. In another month, a Republican majority takes control in the Senate, and they might have buried the report for another decade, or forever. As it is, only a fraction has been released—the five-hundred-page executive summary of a sixty-seven-hundred-page report—and it is shamefully redacted. But there are things the redactions can’t hide, including that the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration lied, in ways large and small. One telling example has to do with the number of people held in the secret C.I.A. prisons. General Michael Hayden, as director of the C.I.A., regularly said that the number was “fewer than a hundred.” By that, he meant ninety-eight—and, when he was informed by others in the Agency that there were at least a hundred and twelve, “possibly more,” he insisted that they keep using the number ninety-eight. The report released today lists the number, for the first time, as a hundred and nineteen. Of those, twenty-six were held wrongly—that is the C.I.A.’s own assessment; the number may be greater—either because there was no real evidence against them or because of outright Hitchcockian cases of mistaken identity. There’s a footnote where the report mentions the twenty-six who “did not meet the standards for detention.” Footnote 32, the same one that outlines the motives for holding Nazar Ali, has a devastating litany, starting with “Abu Hudhaifa, who was subjected to ice water baths and 66 hours of standing sleep deprivation before being released because the CIA discovered he was likely not the person he was believed to be…”

There’s lots more in Davidson’s story, in the New Yorker in general, and, of course, in every other mainstream publication.

Posted in Board of Supervisors, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Education, Inspector General, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, LAUSD, Los Angeles County, race, race and class, racial justice, torture | 14 Comments »

Ferguson: the Grand Jury, the Evidence Dump, Darren Wilson’s Testimony, the St. Louis Prosecutor…and More

November 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

We will have lots of other news after the Thanksgiving weekend, but today we are focusing on Ferguson.

THE PROBLEM WITH BOB MCCULLOUCH’S GRAND JURY PROCEEDING

Instead of charging Darren Wilson with a crime and initiating standard criminal procedure that would likely have allowed a trial jury to find Wilson guilty or not guilty, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch made the highly unusual choices of opening a grand jury investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and then dumping all gathered evidence in front of the jurors to consider without any overt guidance from a prosecutor—which was its own tacit communication.

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin says that while a regular trial jury might have come to the conclusion that Wilson was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Wilson should not have received the “special treatment” of a grand jury combined with an unprecedented and undifferentiated evidence dump that seemed to overwhelm jurors. Toobin goes on to ask what would have happened if McCulloch had treated Wilson as any other suspect in St. Louis County. Here’s a clip: Here’s a clip:

In sending Wilson’s case to the grand jury, McCulloch technically turned over to them the decision about whether to prosecute. By submitting all the evidence to the grand jury, he added to the perception that this process represented an independent evaluation of the evidence. But there is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment. The standard for such charges—probable cause, or more probable than not—is generally a very easy hurdle. If McCulloch’s lawyers had simply pared down the evidence to that which incriminated Wilson, they would have easily obtained an indictment.

The grand jury chose not to indict Wilson for any crimes in connection with Brown’s death. In a news conference following the decision, McCulloch laid out the evidence that he believed supported the grand jury’s finding. In making the case for Wilson’s innocence, McCulloch cherry-picked the most exculpatory information from what was assembled before the grand jury. The conclusion may even have been correct; based on a preliminary review of the evidence before the grand jury, it’s not clear to me that a trial jury would have found Wilson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank slams McCullough and his “joke of a grand-jury proceeding.” Here are some clips:

What causes the outrage, and the despair, is the joke of a grand-jury proceeding run under the auspices of McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor. In September, I wrote that it appeared he wasn’t even trying to get an indictment; he had a long record of protecting police in such cases, and his decision not to recommend a specific charge to the grand jury essentially guaranteed there would be no indictment.

When McCulloch announced the inevitable result Monday night, he prefaced it by blaming the press and social media for whipping up emotions in the case with inaccurate information. He went on to ridicule witnesses who had given inconsistent testimony. He hid behind the grand jurors, as if he hadn’t orchestrated their decision with the finesse of conductor Christoph Eschenbach: “Anyone suggesting that somehow it’s just not a full and fair process is just unfair to these people” who “gave up their lives” to deliberate.

McCulloch essentially acknowledged that his team was serving as Wilson’s defense lawyers, noting that prosecutors “challenged” and “confronted” witnesses by pointing out previous statements and evidence that discredited their accounts. “Physical evidence does not change because of public pressure or personal agenda,” McCulloch lectured piously. “Physical evidence does not look away as events unfold.”

[SNIP]

Asked Monday night whether he had any regrets about the way he handled the case, McCulloch replied, “No, not at all.” This shouldn’t be a surprise, given McCulloch’s history. That his father, a police officer, was killed by a black suspect doesn’t by itself disqualify him, but his record should have: not a single prosecution of a shooting by police in his 23 years on the job. Four times he presented evidence to a grand jury in such a case and didn’t get an indictment; now he can add a fifth.

An NY Times editorial lays out the context of the Ferguson riots—from McCulloch’s mistakes to citizens’ mistrust of law enforcement officers. Here’s how it opens:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.


DARREN WILSON’S TESTIMONY

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy gives a good summary of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony. Here’s a clip:

At this point, Wilson testified, Brown “grabs my gun, says, ‘You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.’” Brown then pushed the gun down toward Wilson’s thigh, the officer went on, and a pulling match ensued, during which Wilson twice tried to shoot the gun, but it didn’t go off. Eventually, it did, blowing out one of the windows and drawing blood from somewhere on Brown’s body. The gunfire startled both of them, Wilson said. Brown took a step back, and then looked up at him with “the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.”

Wilson tried to pull the trigger again, he testified, but the gun again failed to shoot, and Brown struck him. Wilson racked the slide on the top of his pistol and squeezed the trigger yet again, this time successfully. “When I look up, I see him start to run, and I see a cloud of dust behind him. I then get out of my car. As I’m getting out of the car, I tell dispatch, ‘Shots fired, send me more cars.’”

Obviously, questions can be raised about the accuracy of this account, which Wilson prepared in conjunction with his defense attorney. But even assuming it’s true, what stands out is that once the second shot had been fired and Brown had started to run, he no longer represented a deadly threat to the officer or to anybody else. He was a large, bleeding, unarmed man running down the street in an attempt to get away. Wilson, who chased after Brown, was the one with the deadly weapon.

The Root’s Lauren Victoria Burke gives five points Darren Wilson makes in his grand jury testimony that are problematic and will likely come up again in a civil case. Here are two of the five:

3. Wilson testified that Brown handed cigars to his friend Johnson at the same time Brown was allegedly hitting Wilson in the face.

Johnson, who was with Brown the day of the shooting, told CNN in the days after Brown was shot that Brown passed him a handful of cigars as he ran away. But Wilson testified before the grand jury that Brown was punching him in the face with his right hand—the same right hand in which, Wilson told the grand jury, Brown held the cigars.

On Page 209 of his testimony, Wilson said, “When I start looking at Brown, first thing I notice is in his right hand, his hand is full of cigarillos.”

Then, on Page 211 of the transcript, Wilson is asked, “Now, he was hitting you with what hand?” and Wilson answered, “I believe it was his right.”

Wilson further testified that Brown freed his right hand by placing the cigars in his left hand and then handing the cigars to Johnson.

4. Wilson refers to Brown as “it” and says that he looks like “a demon.”

“The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up. At that point I just went like this, I tried to pull the trigger again, click, nothing happened,” Wilson testified.

It’s interesting that Wilson referred to Brown as “a demon” and then acknowledged that Brown had his “hands up.”

The NY Times’ Juliet Lapidos has some interesting things to say about how Wilson viewed Brown. Here’s a clip:

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds.

But let’s give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he was so genuinely scared that his fear distorted what was happening. Whether or not he committed a crime, as defined by a criminal justice system that tends to let cops off the hook, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Someone who can let fear get the better of him—who sees a teenager like a super-villain—shouldn’t have easy access to deadly force.


MORE ON THE DEMONIZATION OF MICHAEL BROWN

On To the Point, host Warren Olney talks with a number of guests about the Ferguson riots, the evidence and grand jury proceeding, and what the non-indictment means for the nation.

One of a number of guests was Delores Jones-Brown, of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice. Jones-Brown (who comes on just before the 15-minute mark of the program) discusses the grand jury process, which she calls a “one-sided trial,” and the demonization of Michael Brown. Here’s a clip of the transcript:

…typically it’s a secret proceeding, and evidence isn’t given out. And I think, in this case, the evidence is given out for the purpose of convincing people who might be easily convinced—once you have demonized the victim—that that victim deserved the behavior that they received. And I don’t think that it was not self-serving. I think it was a self-serving effort.

Olney: You said a couple of times that the victim was “demonized” not just before, but now in the process itself…What do you mean?

So, when the video footage from the Bodega where allegedly cigars were stolen (by someone I’m still not completely convinced was Michael Brown and his companion), that videotape was to indicate that this was a violent young man. So, when the officer, Wilson, then takes the stand and says to the grand jury that ‘he looked demonic, or he was like a demon when he attacked me,’ an otherwise incredible story—one that wouldn’t easily be believed—becomes more believable, particularly for people who already have perceptions of young black men as dangerous and criminal. There was an emphasis on Michael Brown’s size, so he’s the large, scary young black man, and therefore he’s dangerous, and he’s going to act out like an animal, and that’s why the officer had to shoot him.

Go take a listen.


MORE NEWS FROM FERGUSON

The AP and NPR have a combined story on the grand jury investigation, Darren Wilson’s testimony, witnesses’ testimonies, and the ongoing federal investigation, which Attorney General Eric Holder says will remain independent of the St. Louis investigation.

And, criticizing the grand jury process and decision, attorneys for Michael Brown’s family say they will fight for federal charges to be brought against Darren Wilson, according to an AP update to the story.

Here’s a clip from the AP section:

Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown are vowing to push for federal charges against police officer Darren Wilson.

They’re also renewing their calls for peace, after a night of violent protests in which several businesses in Ferguson were burned to the ground.

The protests followed the announcement by prosecutors that a grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson in the fatal shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the attorneys said the grand jury process had been rigged from start to finish in order to clear Wilson in the shooting death. They criticized the types of evidence the prosecutor presented, as well as the way it was presented and the timing of the grand jury’s decision. (Scroll below to see details of the evidence.)

And here’s a clip from NPR’s update from AG Eric Holder:

Attorney General Eric Holder says “far more must be done to create enduring trust” between police and communities they serve, even as his Justice Department continues to investigate possible discriminatory police actions in Ferguson, Mo.

Civil rights lawyers at Justice working alongside FBI agents have also been examining whether white officer Darren Wilson intentionally violated the civil rights of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the unarmed black man he shot dead Aug. 9.

Proving that Wilson, who was cleared Monday by a St. Louis County grand jury, violated federal criminal law will be difficult, DOJ veterans say.

But in the aftermath of the local grand jury announcement, Holder insisted the federal probe of the policeman is ongoing and independent of St. Louis prosecutors.

“And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions,” Holder said.


THE MARIJUANA IN MICHAEL BROWN’S SYSTEM

Reason’s Jacob Sullum takes a look at the misleading picture prosecutors tried to paint about how much marijuana Michael Brown had in his system and what effects it might have had on his behavior. Here’s a clip:

Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, the assistant county prosecutors who presented evidence to the grand jury, did what they could with pot, raising the possibility that Brown had smoked enough to experience “paranoia,” “hallucinations,” and maybe even a “psychotic episode.” They planted that idea in jurors’ heads mainly by presenting a toxicologist’s misleading testimony about the amount of THC in Brown’s blood and the possible effects of large doses.

The toxicologist testified that Brown’s blood contained 12 nanograms of active THC per milliliter, a level that he said indicated Brown had consumed cannabis in the previous two or three hours. That contradicted testimony by Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown when Wilson shot him. Johnson, who said he was with Brown all day, testified that they had planned to get high (hence the cigarillos that Brown stole from a convenience store) but never got around to it. Despite the blood test results, Johnson could be telling the truth. Daily marijuana users have been known to register 12 nanograms or more when they get up in the morning, and they may even perform competently on driving tests at that level.

In a 2013 experiment sponsored by KIRO, the CBS station in Seattle, one volunteer, a medical marijuana user, tested at 16 nanograms when she arrived but nevertheless completed a driving course satisfactorily and continued to do so until she hit 58.8 nanograms. A subject in another 2013 experiment, this one sponsored by KDVR, the Fox affiliate in Denver, was already at 21 nanograms when he arrived, even though he had not consumed any marijuana that day, and reached 47 after he smoked some pot. He performed fine on a driving simulator at both levels.

Alizadeh noted that Colorado and Washington both have set five nanograms as the cutoff for drugged driving. But as the experiments by KIRO and KDVR indicate, that standard is highly problematic, treating many regular users as impaired even when they’re not. The fact that Brown’s THC level was “over twice” this arbitrary number, as Alizadeh emphasized, does not necessarily indicate he was too stoned to drive, let alone that he had consumed enough marijuana to precipitate a psychotic break.


READ ON…

By the way, St. Louis Public Radio has all of the evidence and a live blog on what’s happening in Ferguson.

And for further reading, Andrew Cohen has a Ferguson news roundup over at the the Marshall Project.

Posted in race | 68 Comments »

Sheriff-Elect McDonnell & Others Speak on Ferguson… And Lots More

November 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Here are a few of the early reactions to the news Monday night
that a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown

LA COUNTY SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL

The frustration we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri demonstrates what can happen when a divide develops between government — through one of its most vital agents, law enforcement — and the community it serves. It is why community policing and engagement must not merely be something we do, but rather it must be who we are and how we operate every day.

The Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri has spoken. Yet a community is still fractured and many lives are forever and irreparably impacted.

I urge those who may be disappointed by today’s decision to nonetheless respect the outcome and processes of our legal system. The greatness of our nation comes from our ability to come together peacefully and lawfully, to speak up about what is on our minds, and to respect one another…..

As the incoming Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I will continue to focus, as I have throughout my career, on strengthening lines of communication and fortifying trust between communities and law enforcement….

AUTHOR OF “THE NEW JIM CROW” MICHELLE ALEXANDER

As we await the grand jury’s decision, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you — a deep, heart-wrenching thank you — to all the organizers and activists who took to the streets following Michael Brown’s killing and who refused to stop marching, raising their voices, and crying out for justice. It is because of them — their courage, boldness, vision and stamina — that the world is paying attention to what is happening in a suburb called Ferguson. The world is not watching because an unarmed black man was killed by the police. That’s not news. What made this police killing different was that the people in Ferguson — particularly the young people — rose up and said We Will Not Take It Any More. Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. And their cry has been heard around the world…..

CONNIE RICE AND THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT

“Today, the people of Ferguson and caring Americans throughout our country are devastated by the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The legal system has failed again to hold someone accountable for the loss of life of an unarmed young Black man. In places throughout the United States, innocent lives are being lost at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect us. Mike Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford are just a small portion of those killed by the police, while countless others have been harassed, injured and criminalized unnecessarily. Efforts for sweeping change will not stop until there is relief for communities of color.”

“The family of Michael Brown deserves an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation into this shooting,” said Connie Rice, Founding Co-Director of Advancement Project. “This incident should be investigated by the federal government for possible civil rights violations. We also welcome federal action to ensure that civil rights of youth of color and of those protesting Michael Brown’s death are protected in the community of Ferguson.”

Here’s the rest.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

“Michael Brown’s death has ignited deep passions across the nation, and Los Angeles is no exception.

Tonight’s decision is one that will be heatedly debated — but we should do so through dialogue and peaceful action….

OAKLAND CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE

My heart continues to go out to Michael Brown’s family and community. Like everyone in our community, I am devastated by the senseless murder of yet another young black man,” Lee said. “The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, one of my constituents, serve as tragic examples of the senseless murder of young African American men.

We must come together like never before to tackle the systemic, structural and rampant racial bias endemic in our institutions and criminal justice system. We must demand change and work to realize it.


AND IN OTHER NEWS

GOV. BROWN NAMES YOUNG SUPERSTAR LAWYER TO STATE SUPREME COURT

In a surprise move that is very much in keeping with Jerry Brown’s style of choosing unconventional but talented and high profile judicial candidates, on Monday, the governor named 38-year-old Leondra R. Kruger to the California Supreme Court, making her the youngest member of the court in memory. In his Monday statement, Brown called his nominee “a distinguished lawyer and uncommon student of the law” who has won “the respect of eminent jurists, scholars and practitioners alike.”

Interestingly, Kruger, has argued twelve times before the U.S. Supreme court, but has not practiced law in California since 2008. Instead she has spent much of her career as a rising star in the nation’s capital, most recently serving in the U.S. Department of Justice, in the office of legal counsel, prior to that, holding a top position in U.S. solicitor general’s office.

Attorney General Eric Holder stated that Kruger would be “an excellent and thoughtful Supreme Court justice who will serve the people of California with distinction for many years.”

Kruger is only African American on the court since the exit of Janice Rogers Brown in 2005 for a position on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News is one of those who reported on Kruger’s appointment. Here’s a clip from his story:

Here’s a clip:

Defying convention again in his picks for the state’s highest court, Brown on Monday tapped 38-year-old top Obama administration lawyer Leondra Kruger to a vacancy that has been lingering on the Supreme Court since early this year.

Most recently a deputy U.S. attorney general, Kruger would be the state Supreme Court’s first African-American justice since former Justice Janice Rogers Brown moved to a federal appeals court in 2005.

Kruger, a rising legal star already mentioned as a federal appeals court and future U.S. Supreme Court prospect, replaces 73-year-old Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired in April.

The addition of Kruger to a once-aging state Supreme Court represents an unprecedented youth movement – in addition to being the youngest justice in memory, Kruger joins Brown’s two other picks, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, and Goodwin Liu, 44, in bringing down the court’s average age by decades.

“(The governor’s) recent appointments to the California Supreme Court reflects a realization in Sacramento of something made decades ago in D.C. in connection with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Shaun Martin, a University of San Diego law professor. “The younger the justices are when they get appointed, the longer they stay there and affect the law.”


FBI RELEASES 2013 STATISTICS FOR OFFICER DEATHS IN LINE OF DUTY, FINDS NUMBER OF OFFICERS CRIMINALLY KILLED SHARPLY DOWN

According to statistics released by the FBI on Monday, 27 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts last year, and 49 officers died in accidents, for a total of 76 officers killed on the job protecting American communities.

The numbers of officers killed as a result of criminal acts by others in 2013 decreased by 22 when compared with the 49 officers feloniously killed in 2012, according to the FBI.

The FBI also looked at five- and 10-year comparisons in number of officers killed on the job by others and found a decrease of 21 felonious deaths compared with five years ago, in 2009, when 48 officers died, and a decrease of 30 felonious deaths compared with 2004′s 57 officers.

Of course, for the friends, colleagues and the families of those 27 officers feloniously by others in 2013, the statistics don’t really matter.


THE ADVERSE AFFECTS OF PRISONS ON COMMUNITY HEALTH

The millions of Americans who cycle through the nation’s courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems than found in the general population—including a higher rate of infectious diseases, substance use, serious mental illness, and emotional conditions such as chronic depression.

When prisoners return to their communities—as most eventually do—they bring those problems with them, in many cases, arriving home with a condition that has been exacerbated by their prison stay.

A just released report by the Vera institute of Justice called Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration takes a deep look at the negative impacts of incarceration on the health of communities.

Here’s the opening of the report’s overview, which gives a good idea of what researchers found.

Here’s how it begins:

Each year, millions of incarcerated people—who experience chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, substance use, and mental illness at much higher rates than the general population—return home from correctional institutions to communities that are already rife with health disparities, violence, and poverty….

For several generations, high rates of incarceration among residents in these communities has further contributed to diminished educational opportunities, fractured family structures, stagnated economic mobility, limited housing options, and restricted access to essential social entitlements

Several factors in today’s policy climate indicate that the political discourse on crime and punishment is swinging away from the punitive, tough-on-crime values that dominated for decades, and that the time is ripe to fundamentally rethink the function of the criminal justice system in ways that can start to address the human toll that mass incarceration has had on communities…..

Here’s a link to the full report.

Posted in California Supreme Court, Community Health, FBI, How Appealing, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 20 Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.

[SNIP]

A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the story. Here’s a clip:

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Prop. 47, the Releases Have Begun….McDonnell Makes Plans…. How Elections Affect LA….Monday’s American Justice Summit Live Streams

November 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



In the days since California voters passed Prop. 47 by a healthy margin
, real world responses to the initiative’s victory have been swift. For instance, Kristina Davis of the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that in San Diego County, teenagers were released from juvenile hall the day after voting day, while the SD Public Attorney’s Office was getting 200 calls an hour from inmates in the county’s jail hoping for reduced sentences.

In the Bay area, judges did not even wait for election results to be certified before resentencing inmates and reducing charges write Matthias Gafni and David DeBolt in the San Jose Mercury News.

And in Santa Rosa County one lawbreaker was very, very cheery when he showed up in court on November 5, according to the Press Democrat’s Paul Payne.

Here’s a clip:

When Judge Lawrence Ornell took a seat in his Santa Rosa courtroom the morning after Election Day, a man with an “I voted” sticker on his lapel walked up to the bench, beaming.

Ornell noticed the man’s sunny disposition then looked down at the charge. It was possession of cocaine, an offense that a day earlier was a felony but with the passage of Proposition 47 by California voters had been reduced to a misdemeanor.

His chances of receiving a stiff punishment vanished overnight.

“He was smiling ear to ear,” Ornell said Thursday, recounting the man’s good fortune. “He was a happy man.”

The scene is playing out frequently these days as courts, prosecutors and police grapple with a new reality intended to cut prison crowding and save hundreds of millions of dollars for rehabilitation.

Proposition 47 reclassifies nonviolent offenses that used to be felonies — including many property crimes valued at $950 or less, grand theft, forgery, shoplifting and simple drug possession — and reduces them to misdemeanors carrying lighter punishments.

Some estimate a third of all felonies, many drug-related, will be downgraded to lesser crimes, creating a domino effect that will keep petty criminals out of custody and free some who are already behind bars.

Statewide, as many as 40,000 people a year could be affected, the Legislative Analyst’s Office said.

State prison officials estimate 4,770 inmates would be eligible to petition the court for resentencing and possible release. Nineteen are from Sonoma County, local prosecutors said, and the Sheriff’s Office has identified 209 of its 1,200 jail inmates for possible consideration.

All would go before a judge who would review the details of their offenses and their records. Those previously convicted of violent or serious crimes would not qualify, Assistant Sheriff Randall Walker said.


SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL WILL GATHER INFO BEFORE STAFFING & FOCUS FIRST ON LA COUNTY JAILS

Soon-to-be LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was still in a post-election daze, with zillions of requests for meetings, interviews, and call-backs piling up, when LA Daily News reporter Rick Orlov talked to him about his plans.

Here’s a clip:

“I am not looking at any big transition team,” said McDonnell, who spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department, where he was second-in-command, and served as a chief of police in Long Beach since 2010. “I will reach out to different experts, but I want to talk to the people in the department and see the talent that is there.”

His first priority in rebuilding confidence in the troubled department, McDonnell said, will be a review of the county jail system to determine what changes have been made since the release of a critical report by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, of which he was a member. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000 to 20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illnesses.

“I want to see what has been done and what can be done as quickly as possible,” McDonnell said. “It is our top priority.”

But before he does that, there is a long-delayed trip to Boston to see his 88-year-old mother and celebrate with his family back there.

“I’ll be there four days, but there is not a lot of time left before I take office,” McDonnell said. “I have just a few weeks before I take office on Dec. 1.”


NATIONAL ELECTIONS WON’T PARTICULARLY AFFECT SO CAL BUT STATE ELECTIONS WILL, WRITES LA TIMES JIM NEWTON

LA Times columnist Jim Newton lists those of last Tuesday’s races most likely to affect the actual lives of So Cal voters—most particularly the election of Jim McDonnell as LA County’s new sheriff, the passage of Jerry Brown’s water bond, and the victory of Sheila Kuehl in the LA County Supervisor’s race. Here’re are some clips:

The Sheriff’s Department has struggled for decades, resisting attempts to reduce violence in jails and impose meaningful civilian oversight. Sheriff Lee Baca often seemed overwhelmed by the task, and Baca’s former top deputy, Paul Tanaka, who ran against McDonnell in last week’s election, was widely seen as an impediment to reform.

McDonnell, by contrast, has pledged to move ahead with efforts to constrain excessive force and to lead the agency into a more sophisticated relationship with the public and county government. And he has the right credentials to make that happen. Most recently, McDonnell headed the Long Beach Police Department. Before that, at the LAPD, McDonnell helped lead the department to a new kind of policing that embraced community engagement, and he did it at a time when that department was trying to reconstruct trust after years of controversy — as the Sheriff’s Department is today.

It won’t be easy, but McDonnell has a chance to make real progress.

[BIG SNIP]

Most of the post-election commentary on Kuehl’s victory has focused on whether she can hold the line on county worker pay hikes, given the backing that public employee unions gave her. That’s a fair question, though Kuehl is famously stubborn and a little bit prickly, so I wouldn’t envy the person trying to call in a chit with her.

To me, the more intriguing aspect of her victory is what it might mean for one of the county’s gravest responsibilities: the operation of its foster care system, which cares for children who have been the victims of abuse or neglect and which has seen too much tragedy. This is an area that Kuehl knows and cares about.

Kuehl, whose sister is a judge in the Sacramento foster care system, speaks movingly of her determination to help young people. And as a state legislator, she wrote a slew of bills intended to protect children in the system.

Now she’s about to join a board that oversees the largest child welfare system in the nation, one that is responsible for more than 30,000 children at any given time.


DAILY BEAST’S TINA BROWN HOSTS AMERICAN JUSTICE SUMMIT LIVE STREAMING ON MONDAY

Tina Brown Live Media is co-hosting what is being called The American Justice Summit, which will live stream on Monday from 1:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Eastern, featuring the likes of John Jay College president Jeremy Travis, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman, New Yorker legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, Equal Justice Initiative founder and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Right on Crime’s Grover Norquist, and many, many more.

I’ve you’ve got an interest in criminal justice issues, it’ll likely be worth your while to tune in to this event.

Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, race, racial justice, Sentencing | 36 Comments »

Attorney Fights for Justice and Mercy…When Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline….Analyzing Crime Reporting in America

October 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In the often disheartening world of criminal justice reform, Bryan Stevenson is deservedly a superstar.

Stevenson is a defense attorney who graduated from Harvard Law School, and founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a non-profit legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, children who have been tried as adults, and others who have been most abandoned by the nation’s legal system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was on death row for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit.

Stevenson is also a law professor at NYU, the winner of a McArthur genius grant, and has argued six cases before the Supreme Court—two of which are of exceptional significance: He’s the guy who made possible the May 2010 Supreme Court ruling stating that it is unconstitutional to sentence kids to life without parole if they have not committed murder. Then Stevenson came back again two years later and, in June 2012, won the ruling that prohibits mandatory life for juveniles.

Now he’s written a book about his experiences with the justice system called Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption. It is being released on Tuesday, October 21, and is already generating a lot of enthusiasm.

Stevenson was on the Daily Show at the end of last week talking about the book and about justice in general. (See video above and extended interview here).

Then on Monday of this week, he was interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air.

Here are some clips from Fresh Air’s write-up about the show:

In one of his most famous cases, Stevenson helped exonerate a man on death row. Walter McMillian was convicted of killing 18-year-old Ronda Morrison, who was found under a clothing rack at a dry cleaner in Monroeville, Ala., in 1986. Three witnesses testified against McMillian, while six witnesses, who were black, testified that he was at a church fish fry at the time of the crime. McMillian was found guilty and held on death row for six years.

Stevenson decided to take on the case to defend McMillian, but a judge tried to talk him out of it.

“I think everyone knew that the evidence against Mr. McMillian was pretty contrived,” Stevenson says. “The police couldn’t solve the crime and there was so much pressure on the police and the prosecutor on the system of justice to make an arrest that they just felt like they had to get somebody convicted. …

“It was a pretty clear situation where everyone just wanted to forget about this man, let him get executed so everybody could move on. [There was] a lot of passion, a lot of anger in the community about [Morrison's] death, and I think there was great resistance to someone coming in and fighting for the condemned person who had been accused and convicted.”

But with Stevenson’s representation, McMillian was exonerated in 1993. McMillian was eventually freed, but not without scars of being on death row. He died last year.

“This is one of the few cases I’ve worked on where I got bomb threats and death threats because we were fighting to free this man who was so clearly innocent,” Stevenson says. “It reveals this disconnect that I’m so concerned about when I think about our criminal justice system.”

Yet the interview—which you can listen to here—is about much, much more.

So is Stevenson’s book, Just Mercy, as is made clear by this review by Ted Conover who wrote about the book for the New York Times Sunday Book Review.

(Conover is the author of the highly regarded “Newjack: Guarding Sing-Sing,” and other nonfiction books)

Here are some brief clips from Conover’s review:

Unfairness in the Justice system is a major theme of our age. DNA analysis exposes false convictions, it seems, on a weekly basis. The predominance of racial minorities in jails and prisons suggests systemic bias. Sentencing guidelines born of the war on drugs look increasingly draconian. Studies cast doubt on the accuracy of eyewitness testimony. Even the states that still kill people appear to have forgotten how; lately executions have been botched to horrific effect.

This news reaches citizens in articles and television spots about mistreated individuals. But “Just Mercy,” a memoir, aggregates and personalizes the struggle against injustice in the story of one activist lawyer.

[SNIP]

The message of this book, hammered home by dramatic examples of one man’s refusal to sit quietly and countenance horror, is that evil can be overcome, a difference can be made. “Just Mercy” will make you upset and it will make you hopeful. The day I finished it, I happened to read in a newspaper that one in 10 people exonerated of crimes in recent years had pleaded guilty at trial. The justice system had them over a log, and copping a plea had been their only hope. Bryan Stevenson has been angry about this for years, and we are all the better for it.

NPR has an excerpt from Stevenson’s Just Mercy here.


WHAT HAPPENS WHEN ARRESTS OF TEENAGERS REPLACE SCHOOL DISCIPLINE

According to the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, 260,000 students were turned over to law enforcement by schools in 2012 (the year with most-recent available data). According to the same report, 92,000 students were subject to school-related arrests that year.

Now that the most punitive policies of the last few decades are slowly being reconsidered, it is hoped that those arrest numbers will start coming down and that school police will be used for campus safety, not as a universal response to student misbehavior.

On Monday, the Wall Street Journal ran an extensively reported and excellent story by Gary Fields and John R. Emshwiller on the matter of using law enforcement for school discipline.

Here are some clips:

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.

Over the past 20 years, prompted by changing police tactics and a zero-tolerance attitude toward small crimes, authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests, the Federal Bureau of Investigation estimates. Nearly one out of every three American adults are on file in the FBI’s master criminal database.

This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.

At school, talking back or disrupting class can be called disorderly conduct, and a fight can lead to assault and battery charges, said Judith Browne Dianis, executive director of the Advancement Project, a national civil-rights group examining discipline procedures around the country. Some of these encounters with police lead to criminal records—different laws for juveniles apply across states and municipalities, and some jurisdictions treat children as young as 16 as adults. In some states, for example, a fistfight can mean a suspension while in North Carolina a simple affray, as it is called, can mean adult court for a 16-year-old.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.

Brushes with the criminal justice system go hand in hand with other negative factors. A study last year of Chicago public schools by a University of Texas and a Harvard researcher found the high-school graduation rate for children with arrest records was 26%, compared with 64% for those without. The study estimated about one-quarter of the juveniles arrested in Chicago annually were arrested in school.

Research by the University of South Carolina based on a multiyear U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics survey, performed at the request of The Wall Street Journal, found those arrested as juveniles and not convicted were likely to earn less money by the time they were 25 than their counterparts. The study didn’t break out school arrests.

Another consequence: Arrest records, even when charges are dropped, often trail youngsters into adulthood. Records, especially for teenagers tried as adults, have become more accessible on the Internet, but are often incomplete or inaccurate. Employers, banks, college admissions officers and landlords, among others, routinely check records online.

Retired California juvenile court judge Leonard Edwards said the widespread assumption arrest records for juveniles are sealed is incorrect. The former judge, now a consultant with the Center for Families, Children and the Courts, an arm of the state court system, said his research indicates only 10% of juveniles nationally know they must request records be closed or removed.

But that process is complicated and varies from state to state. Even terms like expungement and annulment carry different meanings depending on the state. The process usually requires a lawyer to maneuver the rules and to file requests through courts.

“Our good-hearted belief that kids are going to get a fair shake even if they screwed up is an illusion,” Judge Edwards said.


CRIME REPORTING IN AMERICA: WE’VE GOT A LOT OF IT, BUT IS IT….GOOD?

“If it bleeds, it leads,” is the trope that has long guided a large portion of contemporary news gathering. As a consequence, while the news business continues to struggle to maintain comprehensive news coverage with diminished staffing, there is no shortage of crime reporting.

But, while there is quantity, is there quality? The John Jay Center on Media, Crime and Justice decided to find out. To do so, they conducted a content analysis of six U.S. newspapers over a four week period in March 2014. The study—which looked at the Detroit Free Press, the El Paso Times, the Indianapolis Star, the Camden (N.J.) the Courier-Post, the Naperville (Ill.) Sun and the Flint (Mi.) Journal—resulted in a report that was just released.

As it turned out, researchers Debora Wenger and Dr. Rocky Dailey found that quantity did not necessarily equal quality. In fact, the majority of the crime stories Wenger and Dailey analyzed lean strongly toward “just the facts, ma’am,” and offered little or nothing in the way of context or depth. Yet when it came to perceptions about crime in the city or state, the researchers noted that the news sources covered, the papers’ crime stories were very influential in shaping opinions, including those of lawmakers.

The Crime Report has more on what the study found. Here is a clip from their story:

What may be more surprising is how often stories rely on a single source. About 65 percent of the crime and justice stories overall referenced just one source of information.

At the Camden paper, for example, 84 percent of stories had one reported source, as did 55 percent of those published in The Indianapolis Star.

At every publication in the study, law enforcement officers were the most commonly cited sources by a wide margin, with court representatives, including judges and prosecutors, coming in a distant second. Fox agrees this heavy reliance on the official point of view is one of long standing.

News media tends to take the official side, the prosecution side – this doesn’t surprise me – when a case emerges in the news, that’s often the only side available to the reporter,” said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.

Eric Dick, breaking news editor at the Star, told researchers the newspaper likes to add more points of view to stories whenever possible; but for every enterprise story, there are undoubtedly many more briefs.

“I think there are three factors involved. One is the amount of crime: information is readily available that rises to the threshold you need to do a story, but you wouldn’t be able to develop all of them,” Dick said.

The authors of the study said more research could further “quantify whether there is more or less crime coverage occurring in today’s daily metropolitan newspapers than in the past.”

Pointing out that, according to a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Journalism Project, 66 percent of U.S. adults say they follow crime news—with only weather, breaking news and politics garnering more interest—they said such research was “a critical tool for editors, journalists and policymakers” at a time when the criminal justice system was the focus of intense national debate.

“It is imperative that the audience gets the most contextualized and well-sourced coverage possible,” Wenger and Dailey wrote.


Posted in Civil Rights, crime and punishment, criminal justice, Education, Future of Journalism, Innocence, race, race and class, School to Prison Pipeline, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Justice Bills, InsideOUT Writers, Prison Gangs, and More on the Probation Dept. Workers Comp. Fraud

September 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

BILLS FOR HOMELESS KIDS, REENTRY SERVICES, AND SAFEGUARDING JUSTICE PROGRAMS ON THEIR WAY TO CONGRESS

Right before the US Senate Judiciary Committee headed into recess, it approved three noteworthy social-justice-related bills.

The Runaway and Homeless Youth and Trafficking Prevention Act, S.2646, would fund housing and “trauma-informed and gender-responsive” services for teens who are homeless or have runaway from home. The bill also aims to increase the time kids are allowed to stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days, as well as require that shelters offer counseling. The bill would also create a fund for young victims of trafficking out of money recovered from sex trafficking sting operations.

The second bill, S.1690, would renew funding to the Second Chance Act at $100 million to pay for developing state and local reentry services for kids and adults.

And the final piece of legislation would change a portion of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. So far, only two states have passed compliance with PREA. (California is not one of them.) States that do not become compliant face a 5% deduction from the federal funding of their prisons. Cornyn’s bill would exempt three programs from the funding fine: the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Edward Byrne Justice Assistance Grants.

The bills will head to Congress once the fall recess has ended, after the November elections.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bills. Here’s a clip:

The bill, S.2646, extends the maximum stay at basic shelters from 21 days to 30 days. It also requires transitional living program grantees to provide counseling services and aftercare services to participants.

The legislation would also establish a compensation fund for victims of human trafficking. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), speaking at the committee markup of the bill today, said the fund would be paid for with assets recovered in trafficking stings and by increasing financial penalties on federal sex offenders, who Cornyn described as “among the most affluent in the federal system.”

A second piece of legislation passed by the committee today, S.1690, would reauthorize the Second Chance Act at $100 million. Second Chance funds state and local efforts to improve and expand reentry programs for adult and juvenile offenders.

Cornyn successfully attached an amendment to the reauthorization that actually relates to the penalties involved in another federal law, the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA)…


INSIDEOUT WRITERS PROGRAM TEACHES LOCKED-UP KIDS HOW TO EXPRESS THEMSELVES

InsideOUT Writers, an anti-recidivism program taught at three LA juvenile detention facilities, has been helping incarcerated kids learn positive self-expression through writing for nearly two decades. (And we’ve written about it here, and here.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Henry Foster Rubenstein had the opportunity to attend several InsideOUT Writers classes where he was able to experience first hand the impact the teachers and writing have on the kids, and the power the kids themselves have to rise above their incarceration. Here’s a clip:

At 9 a.m. the next day, another IOW teacher, Scott Budnick, brings me into his all-boy class, most in for violent crimes. He has taught IOW classes every Saturday morning since 2003. With him that day are two other teachers, Johnny Kovatch and Susy Sobel. The three create a perfect balance of caring nurture and hard-knock love.

Kovatch bounces around the table, pouring out energy and enthusiasm, while Budnick and Sobel bring it all together.

The teachers emphasize the students must express the talent and effort the teachers knew they’re capable of. The atmosphere begins to get aggressive. Unlike the girls’ class the day before, the boys don’t like opening up about their feelings.

But the teachers are ready to make them dig.

“Sometimes I feel that I’ve been a failure so long I can’t succeed, but I know I have to let that pressure out, and not hold it in,” one student says. Each student uses the writing circle to look inside themselves at the decisions and emotions that set them off-course.

Budnick asks the students to share something they got out of the day. Most say the classes give them a chance to vent. One boy says, “Writing makes me not want to care about the bad things anymore,” while another insists, “Writing makes me believe in myself, knowing I can do it!”


THE COMPLICATED AUTHORITY OF PRISON GANGS ON THE INSIDE, AND HOW THEY REGULATE CRIME ON THE OUTSIDE

The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood has an excellent longread about the complex system of inmate gangs that, in addition to their obvious downsides, also provide the function, particularly in the California state prison system, of imposing a kind of order inside the state’s lock ups. Wood’s story looks as well at how the gangs originated, and how they enforce a system of rules for the drug trade on the streets from inside prison walls.

Here’s a clip, but do yourself a favor and read the story in it’s entirety:

…starting in the 1950s, things changed: The total inmate population rose steeply, and prisons grew bigger, more ethnically and racially mixed, and more unpredictable in their types of inmate. Prisons faced a flood of first offenders, who tended to be young and male—and therefore less receptive to the advice of grizzled jailbirds. The norms that made prison life tolerable disappeared, and the authorities lost control. Prisoners banded together for self-protection—and later, for profit. The result was the first California prison gang.

That moment of gang genesis, Skarbek says, forced an arms race, in which different groups took turns demonstrating a willingness to inflict pain on others. The arms race has barely stopped, although the gangs have waxed and waned in relative power. (The Black Guerrilla Family has been weakened, prison authorities told me, because of leadership squabbles.) The Mexican Mafia was the sole Hispanic gang until 1965, when a group of inmates from Northern California formed Nuestra Familia to counter the influence of Hispanics from the south. Gang elders—called maestros—instruct the youngsters in gang history and keep the enmity alive.

What’s astonishing to outsiders, Skarbek says, is that many aspects of gang politics that appear to be sources of unresolvable hatred immediately dissipate if they threaten the stability of prison society. For example, consider the Aryan Brotherhood—a notoriously brutal organization whose members are often kept alone in cells because they tend to murder their cell mates. You can take the Brotherhood at its word when it declares itself a racist organization, and you can do the same with the Black Guerrilla Family, which preaches race war and calls for the violent overthrow of the government. But Skarbek says that at lights-out in some prisons, the leader of each gang will call out good night to his entire cellblock. The sole purpose of this exercise is for each gang leader to guarantee that his men will respect the night’s silence. If a white guy starts yelling and keeps everyone awake, the Aryan Brothers will discipline him to avoid having blacks or Hispanics attack one of their members. White power is one thing, but the need to keep order and get shut-eye is paramount.

Another common misconception about prison gangs is that they are simply street gangs that have been locked up. The story of their origins, however, is closer to the opposite: the Mexican Mafia, for example, was born at Deuel Vocational Institution, in Tracy, California, in 1956, and only later did that group, and others, become a presence on the streets. Today, the relation of the street to the cellblock is symbiotic. “The young guys on the street look to the gang members inside as role models,” says Charles Dangerfield, a former prison guard who now heads California’s Gang Task Force, in Sacramento. “Getting sentenced to prison is like being called up to the majors.”

But Skarbek says the prison gangs serve another function for street criminals. In a 2011 paper in American Political Science Review, he proposed that prison is a necessary enforcement mechanism for drug crime on the outside. If everyone in the criminal underworld will go to prison eventually, or has a close relationship with someone who will, and if everybody knows that gangs control the fate of all inmates, then criminals on the street will be afraid to cross gang members there, because at some point they, or someone they know, will have to pay on the inside. Under this model, prison gangs are the courts and sheriffs for people whose business is too shady to be able to count on justice from the usual sources. Using data from federal indictments of members of the Mexican Mafia, and other legal documents, Skarbek found that the control of prisons by gangs leads to smoother transactions in the outside criminal world.

Gangs effect this justice on the inside in part by circulating a “bad-news list,” or BNL. If your name is on a BNL, gang members are to attack you on sight—perhaps because you stole from an affiliate on the outside, or because you failed to repay a drug debt, or because you’re suspected of ratting someone out. Skarbek says one sign that the BNL is a rationally deployed tool, rather than just a haphazard vengeance mechanism, is that gangs are fastidious about removing names from the list when debts are paid.


LA PROBATION PINPOINTING DOCTORS WHO HELP PROBATION STAFF WIN WORKER’S COMP. FOR DUBIOUS INJURIES

Yesterday, we linked to Rina Palta and Karen Foshay’s story for KPCC about a surprising number of far-fetched worker’s compensation claims filed by Probation Dept. staff members.

Probation Chief Jerry Powers says investigators are not only working to crack down on on worker’s compensation fraud by going directly to the staff in question, but also investigating the doctors who are allegedly enabling the fraud.

Palta and Foshay have the update. Here’s a clip:

…Probation chief Powers says there is a problem with doctors who are all too willing to approve workers’ compensation claims.

“There’s an informal grapevine out there” of doctors “who are more than willing to sign [probation workers] off duty so they can gain benefits,” says Powers.

He says he doesn’t know how large that grapevine is. There are hundreds of doctors who handle probation staffers’ workers’ compensation claims.

Probation says it has reached out to a number of doctors who have a high approval rate of department employees’ workers’ compensation or disability claims, although it won’t say how many, or which ones. Officials say sometimes they show doctors surveillance footage of workers engaged in physical activity while out on disability or workers’ compensation. But the doctors frequently have an explanation for the physical activity, says Cynthia Maluto, head of probation’s return to work unit.

“Things don’t change after the meetings,” she says.

Posted in Gangs, prison, Probation, race, Reentry, writers and writing | No Comments »

Racial Bias Produces More Punitive Laws, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, LA Clinics Keeping Mentally Ill Out of Jail…and More

September 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHITE PEOPLE’S RACIALLY BIASED PERCEPTIONS LEAD TO HARSHER CRIMINAL JUSTICE LAWS AND HARM PUBLIC SAFETY

A new publication from the Sentencing Project takes a look at how racially biased perceptions of crime beget harsher criminal justice laws and policies.

According to a 2010 survey, white people overestimate by 20-30% the percentage of crime committed by blacks and Latinos.

The study found that although white Americans are less frequently victims of crime than blacks or Latinos, they are more likely to favor more punitive laws (like the death penalty, “three strikes” laws, and trying kids as adults). And those that associate higher crime rates to minorities favor those aforementioned punitive laws more than white people who don’t attribute a higher percentage of crime to minorities.

These perceptions, which negatively affect public safety, are also perpetuated by the media and policymakers. Here are some clips from the findings:

Media crime coverage fuels racial perceptions of crime. Many media outlets reinforce the public’s racial misconceptions about crime by presenting African Americans and Latinos differently than whites – both quantitatively and qualitatively. Television news programs and newspapers over-represent racial minorities as crime suspects and whites as crime victims. Black and Latino suspects are also more likely than whites to be presented in a non-individualized and threatening way – unnamed and in police custody.

Policymakers’ actions and statements amplify the public’s racial associations of crime. Whether acting on their own implicit biases or bowing to political exigency, policymakers have fused crime and race in their policy initiatives and statements. They have crafted harsh sentencing laws that impact all Americans and disproportionately incarcerate people of color. Through public statements, some have stoked the public’s heightened concern about crime and exaggerated associations of crime with racial minorities.

Criminal justice practitioners also operate with and reinforce racial perceptions of crime. Disparities in police stops, in prosecutorial charging, and in bail and sentencing decisions reveal that implicit racial bias has penetrated all corners of the criminal justice system. Moreover, policies that are race- neutral on their surface – such as “hot spot” policing and certain risk assessment instruments – have targeted low-income people of color for heightened surveillance and punishment.

Racial perceptions of crime have distorted the criminal justice system. By increasing support for punitive policies, racial perceptions of crime have made sentencing more severe for all Americans. The United States now has the world’s highest imprisonment rate, with one in nine prisoners serving life sentences. Racial perceptions of crime, combined with other factors, have led to the disparate punishment of people of color. Although blacks and Latinos together comprise just 30% of the general population, they account for 58% of the prison population.

Racial perceptions of crime have undermined public safety. By increasing the scale of criminal sanctions and disproportionately directing penalties toward people of color, racial perceptions of crime have been counterproductive for public safety. Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials. In 2013, over two-thirds of African Americans saw the criminal justice system as biased against blacks, in contrast to one-quarter of whites. Crime policies that disproportionately target people of color can increase crime rates by concentrating the effects of criminal labeling and collateral consequences on racial minorities and by fostering a sense of legal immunity among whites. Finally, racial perceptions of crime have even led to the deaths of innocent people of color at the hands of fearful civilians and police officers.


PATT MORRISON INTERVIEWS LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck shares his thoughts on Ferguson and LA’s Ezell Ford shooting, police militarization, “broken window” vs. “community policing,” his reappointment, and a lot more. It’s worth reading the whole thing for yourself, but here are some clips:

There’s community anger about the fatal shooting of a mentally ill South L.A. man, Ezell Ford. Incidents like these make people afraid that L.A. could tip over into violence again.

Of course we’re afraid. I’m worried too. They don’t pay me not to worry! We’ve built relationships and put money in the bank of trust, and we’re more open and transparent than we’ve ever been, and we try to be as open and transparent as we can within the parameters of public safety and the law. If you do those things, you should be able to get through an Ezell Ford.

[SNIP]

In Ferguson, Michael Brown was stopped by police for jaywalking, a minor violation that might be prosecuted under the “broken windows” policing practice. Is there a contradiction between “broken windows,” which some people might regard as harassment, and “community policing”?

Everybody interprets “broken windows” and “community policing” in their own way. There are people who believe they contradict each other. I’m not one of those. I think they complement each other. But it doesn’t mean enforcing all minor crimes; it means enforcing the ones that are precursors to more serious crimes. It’s about working to eliminate an obvious prostitution stroll because it’s a magnet for violent crime and it leads to human trafficking and the degradation of women and the breakdown of families.

I want to make sure people understand this is a department that believes in community policing and building trust. Are we a perfect department? There’s no such thing. Do we strive to be that? I think we do.

[SNIP]

Is a national database for violent police-civilian encounters a good idea?

We would have no problem doing that. Those are part of the statistics that I read weekly to the Police Commission. I say how many categorical uses of force we’ve had this year, how many officer-involved shootings, assaults on police officers… The real discussion: Why are some communities more susceptible to violence than others?

Violence between the police and public occurs [where] there’s also a huge amount of general violence. I’m not excusing police violence; I’m saying it’s more than that. You bring down general violence, you bring down violence between the police and the community too. A lot of that has to do with things that are far outside the control of the police and maybe outside the control of government, but I wish we had that discussion as vigorously as we do about violence toward and by the police.

The Defense Department provides police with military-grade equipment. In Ferguson, it seemed to heighten the tensions.

These things have an application but must be limited. You see what the LAPD does for crowd control — our primary line of crowd control is our bike officers. We may have the equipment, but we certainly don’t brandish it; we don’t show it when it’s not needed because it just escalates. You have to have strong rules. Nobody wants a police state, certainly not me, and nobody wants a militarized police department.

[Recently] a suspect was firing an assault weapon with dozens and dozens of rounds at his disposal, and he shot one of my SWAT officers. If we hadn’t had an armored vehicle and were able to approach him, we’d have had many more injured. But in a crowd-control situation, absolutely not.

Be sure to read the rest.


LA MENTAL HEALTH CLINICS WORK TO KEEP THE THOSE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS OUT OF LOCK-UP AND EMERGENCY ROOMS

A string of clinics in Los Angeles are successfully keeping people with mental health emergencies out of jail and emergency rooms. The four county-run clinics (with a fifth on the horizon) are all open 24-hours-a-day and predominantly serve the poor and homeless. As well as providing immediate services to people experiencing psychological crisis, they connect patients with more long term outpatient care and rehab centers. Data from the past few years shows that nearly everyone who visits one of these clinics stay out of jail and the emergency room during the month after a visit.

KPCC’s Rebecca Plevin has more on the clinics. Here’s a clip:

One of the clinics, Exodus Eastside Urgent Care Center, sits across the street from the L.A. County/USC Medical Center. Patients are referred from other hospitals, rehab programs, social service agencies, and law enforcement. Roughly one in five is homeless, and most are poor.

The clinic is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Patients come with a range of mental health needs. Some need a refill of their psychiatric medications. Others have been placed on involuntary psychiatric holds, and can remain at the clinic up to 23 hours.

“The emergency rooms aren’t really a great place for treating people who are in psychiatric crisis,” says Marvin Southard, director of the L.A. County Department of Mental Health, noting that ERs are chaotic, overcrowded with medical patients and expensive.

There are currently four mental health urgent care clinics, which together serve about 23,000 patients a year. A fifth is scheduled to open on Thursday on the campus of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Hospital.

The clinics are more than emergency rooms for the mentally ill. They’re better understood as service hubs, stabilizing people in the short-term, and connecting them to outpatient mental health care and longer term alcohol and drug treatment, Southard says.

Establishing those links between patients and services is challenging but critical, says Kathy Shoemaker, vice president of clinical services for Exodus Recovery Inc., the nonprofit agency that runs Eastside Urgent Care Center for the county.

“Every individual that comes to see us will leave here with a very definitive plan as to how to continue with mental health services,” Shoemaker says.

That “warm hand-off,” as the center’s team calls it, allows patients to continue to recover – instead of ending up back on the streets, in the ER, or possibly in jail.


GROUP REPRESENTING 69 CA MAYORS BACKS GUN RESTRAINING ORDER BILL

Late last week, the California Gun Restraining Order bill, AB 1014, landed on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. The bill, which would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily restrict individuals displaying certain warning signs from possessing firearms. (Read WLA’s previous post on the issue, here.)

Now, the California coalition of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group representing 69 mayors throughout the state, has sent Gov. Brown a letter urging him to sign the bill. Here’s a clip from their letter:

We watched with horror on May 23, 2014 as a young man murdered six people in Isla Vista, CA. The killer’s parents had contacted police after he made suicidal and homicidal statements. But police decided he did not meet the standard for emergency commitment—and no one could act in time to keep guns out of his hands. AB 1014 would empower law enforcement and family members who see troubling warning signs in cases like these to petition a court and temporarily prohibit a dangerous person from having guns.

Gun violence restraining orders (GVROs) would create an opportunity to stop gun violence in real life-or-death situations while still protecting the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners. Under current federal and California state law, a person is only prohibited from buying or possessing guns if they have been convicted of a prohibiting crime, have been adjudicated as mentally ill or hospitalized to a mental institution, or else is subject to a restraining order protecting a particular individual. Other dangerous people may display significant and serious warning signs of violence, but will still be able to buy guns. GVROs would allow family members and law enforcement—often the first to see these warning signs—to present evidence of such danger to a judge, who could temporarily prohibit a person from gun possession and order them to temporarily turn in their guns if they were able to meet the high burden of proof the law requires.

(The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has more on the issue.)

Posted in Charlie Beck, guns, LAPD, mental health, race | 3 Comments »

SF 1st CA City to Fund Lawyers 4 Undocumented Kids…..Sunday Panel to Discuss Police Shootings & Peace in the Hood…. DARE Doesn’t Like Newest LA School Police Reform…& More.

August 28th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



SAN FRANCISCO IS FIRST CA CITY TO PROVIDE LAWYERS FOR UNDOCUMENTED CHILDREN & FAMILIES

On Wednesday, San Francisco officials announced a new program that will help fund legal assistance for undocumented children, families, and others facing deportation.

Of the approximately 4000 kids awaiting immigration proceedings in San Francisco, around 2,200 don’t have lawyers—a fact that has been shown to dramatically affect how their cases will play out.

According to a University of Syracuse study, between 2005 and 2014, 50 percent of the children who had an attorney present at their hearings were allowed by a judge to stay in the U.S. When a kid went to immigration court without an attorney during that same period, however, one in ten kids was permitted to stay. The other nine were deported.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Marisa Lagos has been covering the issue. Here are some clips from her story announcing the new program:

The program, created by Supervisor David Chiu, makes San Francisco the first California city to offer such legal help. It is an expansion of an existing Right to Civil Counsel program created in 2012 that has so far focused on tenants facing evictions.

The city will give $100,000 this year to the nonprofit Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which will use the funds to provide pro bono legal representation to San Francisco residents facing deportation, including children and families.

[BIG SNIP]

San Francisco Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks, speaking as head of the National Association of Immigration Judges, called the city’s program “fabulous.”

Courts, she said, are overwhelmed – there are about 375,000 immigration cases pending in the country and only 227 immigration judges. She is presiding over more than 2,400 cases.

“There’s an extreme value in having lawyers represent people in terms of the outcomes in their own cases and in terms of the effectiveness of the immigration courts,” she said. “It helps us move through the process. It helps advise people of their rights, it reduces the number of errors when they are filing applications … and it reduces delays.”

Mexican immigrant Osvaldo Diaz, 36, said access to a pro bono attorney through the Lawyers’ Committee may have saved his life. Diaz, who is gay, fled to San Jose from Mexico after facing threats because of his sexual orientation and a domestic violence situation. He was granted political asylum in 2012 and this year was awarded legal residency. He recently moved to Miami and is looking for a job.

“I didn’t even know political asylum exists,” he said, adding that even with a lawyer, the court process was frightening.

Although SF is the first CA city to launch such a program, recently Gov. Jerry Brown announced that the state will cough up $3 million for immigration lawyers. New York also has a similar program.



“PEACE IN THE HOOD” AUTHOR, AQUIL BASHEER, HOSTS PANEL THIS SUNDAY TO DISCUSS VIOLENCE PREVENTION, PUBLIC SAFETY, & COMMUNITY UPSET OVER RECENT OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS

“Communities are desperately seeking answers,” said Aquil Basheer, executive director of A Better LA and a nationally known pioneer in the field of violence intervention, in relation to the recent intense controversies over officer-involved shootings, and neighborhood violence in general.

Due to the fact that Basheer’s well-regarded and fascinating new book Peace In the Hood: Working with Gang Members to End the Violence, co-authored with veteran journalist Christina Hoag, has coincided with these most recent public storms, he has organized a panel scheduled for Sunday, featuring law enforcement and others for what promises to be a dynamic discussion.

This is the second in a series of “solution-seeking” community discussions led by Basheer, with the idea of empowering residents in Southern California’s most crime-plagued areas to reduce the levels of “violence, aggression and interpersonal hostilities” that do harm to their neighborhoods.

In addition to Basheer, the panel will include LAPD Lead Gang Unit Officer Sgt. Curtis Woodle, and LAPD Gang Liaison Officer, Sgt. Stinson Brown, forensic psychologist and consultant to the LAPD and Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Debra Warner, USC Professor of Social Work and gang expert, Robert Hernandez, LA County Fire Department Captain Brent Burton, ‘Peace In the Hood’ co-author Hoag.

The panel will be held on Sunday, August 31, from 2 PM to 5 PM at the
African American Firefighter Museum, 1401 S. Central Avenue, Los Angeles


SOUTH LA’S FRAGILE GOODWILL IS TESTED

LAPD Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger, second in command to Chief Charlie Beck, was once the popular Deputy Chief who ran the department’s South Bureau where he notably and painstakingly worked to repair the badly damaged relations between the Los Angeles Police Department and the South LA communities it polices.

But how the fragile reservoir of goodwill really is was evident in the tone of the meetings over the shooting death of Ezell Ford, that Paysinger attended.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton have the story. Here’s a clip:

As Angeles police Assistant Chief Earl Paysinger sat with increasing unease at a church in South Los Angeles as residents rose one at a time to berate his department.

The meeting had been called to reassure locals about the way the LAPD and other agencies were investigating the recent fatal shooting of a mentally ill man in the neighborhood. But the event quickly boiled over into a critique of the LAPD, with residents accusing the department of racial profiling, excessive force and dishonesty.

Paysinger, the LAPD’s highest-ranking black officer and a 40-year department veteran, was disturbed by the level of anger. So the morning after last week’s community meeting, he drove to the LAPD’s Newton Division, where the fatal shooting occurred, and demanded an action plan.

“Where do we go from here?” Paysinger told the station captain. “I’m not interested in, ‘I don’t know, we’ve done everything

Whether police officers acted properly when they fatally shot Ezell Ford Jr. earlier this month remains under investigation. But the case has exposed lingering tensions as well as what some consider an erosion of the credibility and goodwill the LAPD has worked so hard for so long to build in South L.A.

“You think you’re in a good place,” Paysinger said. “But then you find yourself at that meeting.… It was patently clear to me that we need to get busy.”

Building trust in the African American community has been a top priority of the LAPD since the L.A. riots 22 years ago, which were sparked in part by the acquittal of four police officers caught on tape beating black motorist Rodney King. Even the LAPD’s harshest critics admit the department has made significant strides.

Those efforts also have been helped in no small part by a dramatic drop in crime across South L.A.

But John Mack, the former longtime L.A. police commissioner and the retired president of the L.A. Urban League, said he worried that the reaction to Ford’s death showed a backslide in the relationship.


DARE NOT THRILLED WITH MARIJUANA DECRIMINALIZATION IN LA SCHOOLS

Last week, the chief of Los Angeles School Police announced that the LASP was decriminalizing a list of less serious student behaviors that previously lead to citations or arrest. Now students would be referred to school officials for these infractions, not law enforcement.

The newly classified behaviors include most ordinary fights between students, trespassing on school property, tobacco possession, alcohol possession, and possession of small amounts of marijuana.

When LA Weekly reporter Amanda Lewis spoke to California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie, she found that he was not in favor of this new policy at all.

Here’s a clip from Lewis’ story:

California DARE Coordinator Steve Abercrombie was not pleased to learn the news that the Los Angeles Unified School District had decriminalized small amounts of marijuana at its schools.

“Wow,” [Abercrombie told the Weekly]. “It seems we keep giving in more and more to different crimes and criminal activity. When does it stop? When do you finally say that you need to follow the rules?”

The district announced more lenient policies in which school police will no longer report students — or issue them tickets — if they’re involved in petty theft, most fights, or possession of alcohol, tobacco or marijuana.

The rule changes resulted from two years of talks between lawyers, judges, school police and civil rights groups who aimed to end LAUSD’s zero-tolerance policies.

One goal is to reduce the influence of campus police, softening the rules so that kids who typically get into trouble don’t drop out.

At issue, in part, is that black students make up about one-third of school police arrests, yet they make up less than 10 percent of the student population.

This, of course, is not exactly in line with the philosophy of the long-running Drug Abuse Resistance Education program.

Abercrombie says it makes more sense to train school police to stop targeting black students than it does to decriminalize weed in schools….


Posted in criminal justice, FBI, Gangs, Human rights, immigration, LAFD, LAPD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, Trauma, Violence Prevention | 2 Comments »

Ferguson, Los Angeles & Lakewood….the Task of Finding Facts Beneath the Defensiveness, Demonization & Trauma

August 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Over the weekend, emotions continued to run high over the shooting of Michael Brown.

Attorney General Eric Holder announced via a Sunday morning news release that, under the supervision of the DOJ, a federal examiner will conduct a third autopsy of Brown. (A state autopsy and an autopsy requested by Brown’s family are the first and second.) Holder said the state autopsy will also be taken into account.

Also on Sunday, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon expressed unhappiness that Ferguson police released the video of Michael Brown appearing to rob a convenience store of a box of cigars, shoving the much smaller clerk out of the way when the clerk attempted to stop him.

[NOTE: In an earlier version of this story, we described Brown's apparent action as "shoplifting," which was not correct. In Missouri, as in most states, the shove to the clerk makes it "strong-arm robbery" or "robbery in the second degree," as physical force appeared to be used, but there was no weapon involved.]

On the other hand, while the timing of the video release was painfully clumsy, withholding the video did not, frankly, sound like a great idea either. Damned if you do, damned if you…. etc.

Indeed, the video upset people. It may have been real but it was misleading, Brown’s neighbors tried to explain to an LA Times reporter. Mike-Mike, as they called him, was a good kid, not perfect, but someone for whom the neighbors had real hope.

By Sunday afternoon, the results of the private autopsy were released showing that Brown was shot at least six times, including twice in the head, with none of the shots appearing, at least initially, to be at close range. However, this last was not at all conclusive, since Brown’s clothing had not been examined by Dr. Michael Baden, the former chief medical examiner for the City of New York, who flew to Missouri to perform the autopsy at Brown’s family’s request. Baden and others specified that more information is needed before conclusions could be drawn from his findings.

Yet the announcement fueled further demonstrations Sunday night featuring gun shots, Molotov cocktails and looting. Early Monday, Missouri’s governor called in the National Guard.

Matters had not been helped by the fact that members of the Ferguson Police Department had been behaving like storm troopers during demonstrations for the past week, hauling off a Washington Post reporter and a Huffington Post reporter to jail for….reporting.…from inside the local McDonald’s. And chasing an Al Jazeera team away from the reporters’ lights and cameras with tear gas.

Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, the LAPD met several hundred sign-carrying demonstrators who gathered at LAPD headquarters to protest the shooting death on August 11 of Ezell Ford, a 25-year-old, reportedly mentally ill black man who was unarmed and whom police say tried to take the gun from the holster of one of the officers who attempted to detain him. Witnesses tell a different story.

In LA, the cops mostly let the demonstrators do what they wanted when they marched through Union Station, Little Tokyo, and elsewhere, long as they didn’t cause trouble.

The difference in the responses of the two departments points to the fact that the two shootings did not take place in the same context and, despite the similar emotional issues they may raise, they must not be conflated.

At the same time, the circumstances of both shootings are sharply disputed, and thus they require clear-headed, dispassionate investigation to tease out the facts.

On Friday, LA’s emotional climate was complicated further as the dangerous nature of police work was tragically illustrated when a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy was viciously assaulted while he was escorting a domestic disturbance suspect out of a Lakewood shopping mall. The suspect, who has now been arrested for attempted murder, knocked the deputy to the ground, then repeatedly kicked him in the head and body, putting him in critical condition. Since surgery, the deputy’s condition has been listed as stable, but there are inferences of life-changing injuries.

Such attacks cannot help but traumatize officers who just want to do their jobs well and get home safe to their families at night. When non-cops fail to comprehend this reality, they risk distancing themselves disastrously from the men and women who have signed up to protect and serve them.

At the same time, members of LA’s minority neighborhoods in particular can point to decades of shameful history of police abuses that, while reform has taken place, have left trauma still in their wake to the degree that an LA reporter and mother writes about her terror when she first learned she would be having a baby boy in a world where “black boys face different dangers,” some of them from law enforcement. Her fears, sadly, are not uncommon.

To look at the matter from a slightly different angle, one of the best and simplest explanations I’ve read in the last week as to why shooting of—or by—- police officers are likely generate so much upset comes from the Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Police in America are granted wide range of powers by the state including lethal force. With that power comes a special place of honor. When cops are killed the outrage is always different than when citizens are killed. Likewise when cops kill under questionable terms, more scrutiny follows directly from the logic of citizenship. Great power. Great responsibility.

There you have it. We are supposed to be devastated when a cop is hurt or killed. Cops and firefighters are the people who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the rest of us, and injury or worse to peace officers goes beyond the awful tragedy that hits the family and friends of the individual cop. It tears something fundamental in the community as a whole.

By the same token, if police appear to use their powers wrongly or carelessly or cavalierly, then resist being questioned about it—or worse, lie about it—-community members feel frightened and betrayed. Community trust shatters in ways that are difficult to repair. Everybody suffers from the shattering, police and community both.

It is, of course, much too soon to know what really happened in either the Michael Brown or the Ezell Ford shootings. And whatever truths are ultimately uncovered, let us hope we can get to them with a minimum of defensiveness and/or demonization. We are, in the end, all in this together. Remembering that one small fact might be helpful.

Posted in LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, race, race and class, racial justice, social justice | 40 Comments »

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