We’ll be talking about why former sheriff Lee Baca left before his term was up, and about the problems that still need facing by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department if the agency is to truly reform.
If you missed the broadcast you can find the PODCAST right here.
A motion filed Tuesday, March 4, in federal court seeks to dismiss criminal charges against three Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies and alleges that former Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka personally ordered the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown, an operation that has, thus far, resulted in seven members of the department being indicted for obstruction of justice and more in relation to the Anthony Brown operation.
The document, obtained by WitnessLA, lays out additional details of the alleged actions by several deputies working in LA County’s Men’s Central jail. According to Brown, a jail deputy—aided by other deputies—made one or more deliveries to him of methamphetamines, cocaine, ecstasy and marijuana, which Brown would then sell to other inmates in the facility.
Brown’s story of deputy-facilitated drug dealing was supported by photos found on his phone of “what appeared to be illicit narcotics and a large amount of cash,” reported the motion. The document also described how Brown kept a highly detailed ledger of drug sales, money owed to deputies for favors, and brutality toward inmates by deputies that he observed or was privy to.
The filing suggests additionally that, according to Brown, undercover FBI agents may have supplied a deputy or deputies with the drugs to be smuggled into the jail, and that the FBI acted as part of a sting aimed at uncovering corruption and brutality inside the county’s jail system.
It was previously widely reported that former Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy, Gilbert Michel, was paid $1,500 to smuggle in a cell phone for Brown, with the promise of a total of $20,000 to be paid in the future.
The report of drug deliveries that then resulted in narcotics dealing inside Men’s Central Jail are a newer revelation.
Perhaps the most important bit of news out of the new legal filing, is the direct and detailed allegation that the two men then running the LASD—Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka—were, not only cognisant of the hiding of Brown, but directed it.
Here are more of the particulars:
“AUTHORIZED AND SUPERVISED” BY BACA AND TANAKA
On Tuesday, attorneys for three of the members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who were indicted for obstruction of justice relating to the alleged hiding of federal informant and jail inmate Anthony Brown, filed a motion to dismiss their case, and laid out a lot of previously undisclosed specifics about the operation in the filing.
First of all, the motion states that the three defendants’ actions in dealing with Brown, were conducted “in accordance with state law and local procedure” and—this is an important part—”duly authorized and supervised by LASD Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and numerous other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials.”
Deputies Gerard Smith, Mikey Manzo and James Sexton were three out of seven sheriff’s department members indicted for their alleged role in the hiding of federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal agents. (The other four indicted were lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long.)
The motion also describes the reported involvement of various other higher-ups in the department, including Captain Tom Carey, at the time a supervisor in the LASD’s internal criminal investigative unit, known as ICIB (where Leavins, Craig and Scott also worked).
In its “Statement of Facts” the motion advances the theory originally put forth by LASD higher-ups that Brown was being so elaborately hidden because he was fearful that deputies about whom he had informed might hurt him.
It should be noted that, although Brown may indeed have been fearful of being harmed, according to multiple sources who worked on or near to the team tasked with the elaborate strategy of hiding the informant, the purpose of the scheme—nicknamed Operation Pandora’s Box— was first and foremost to keep him away from the feds until LASD investigators could find out precisely what he knew.
The most significant point that the filing makes is this: when three deputies were given orders by multiple layers of superiors to hide and question an inmate/informant as part of what they were told was a perfectly valid—thus legal—investigation into possible illicit actions by deputies inside the LA County jails, they had no reason to believe that they should not follow those orders.
The filing also makes a point of stating that, although the intricate Brown operation was reportedly directed by others at the highest levels of the department food chain, that most of those superior officers “have not been charged with any crime.”
The 31-page motion, which is likely to be argued before a federal judge in April, was primarily drafted by Smith’s attorney, William Gennego, with input from Sexton’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, and co-counsels, plus Manzo’s attorney, Matthew Lombard.
O’Brien, who interestingly is the former U.S. Attorney who immediately preceded U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte, is expected to argue the motion in court.
At 4 pm Wednesday (actually more like 4:40 pm), I will be on KPFK (90.7 FM) with the excellent and wildly smart Jon Wiener, discussing the recent history of wrongdoing at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department, those at the top who are reportedly complicit, the courageous department members who have taken personal risks to make changes—and some brand new pieces of news on the whole shebang.
I’ll be on Peter Tilden’s show tonight, Tuesday, a on KABC 790. The show starts at 9 pm, but I should be on minute or two after 10 pm. talking about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, former sheriff Lee Baca and more.
HELPING BOYS AND YOUNG MEN OF COLOR BREAKING FREE OF THE SCHOOL TO PRISON PIPELINE
On Thursday, President Barack Obama officially launched “My Brother’s Keeper,” the initiative to end the school-to-prison pipeline for young men and boys of color nationwide. “My Brother’s Keeper” will connect with non-profits and businesses to help keep kids in school and out of the justice system, and will evaluate programs aimed at helping young men of color succeed.
…we know that Latino kids are almost twice as likely as white kids to be suspended from school. Black kids are nearly four times as likely. And if a student has been suspended even once by the time they are in ninth grade, they are twice as likely to drop out.
That’s why my administration has been working with schools on alternatives to the so-called zero-tolerance guidelines, not because teachers or administrators or fellow students should have to put up with bad behavior, but because there are ways to modify bad behavior that lead to good behavior, as opposed to bad behavior out of school.
We can make classes good places for learning for everybody without jeopardizing a child’s future.
And by building on that work, we can keep more of our young men where they belong, in the classroom, learning, growing, gaining the skills they need to succeed.
…we know that students of color are far more likely than their white classmates to find themselves in trouble with the law. If a student gets arrested, he’s almost as likely to drop out of school. By making sure our criminal justice system doesn’t just function as a pipeline for underfunded schools to overcrowded jails, we can help young men of color stay out of prison, stay out of jail.
And that means then they’re more likely to be employable and to invest in their own families and to pass on a legacy of love and hope. And, finally, we know young black men are twice as likely as young white men to be disconnected, not in school, not in working.
We have got to reconnect them. We have got to give more of these young men access to mentors. We have got to continue to encourage responsible fatherhood. We have got to provide more pathways to apply to college or find a job.
We can keep them from falling through the cracks and help them lay a foundation for a career and a family and a better life.
“It is momentous that in the first 60 days of this year, both President Obama and Attorney General Holder have addressed barriers to opportunity that are facing people of color, especially young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis…
“We are pleased that the Obama Administration will focus on ending the school-to-prison pipeline caused by overuse of suspensions and arrests, pushing young people off of an academic track and onto a track to prison…
“We are encouraged to see President Obama use his platform to specifically support boys and young men of color,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Constance L. Rice. “From our work in the city of Los Angeles’ gang violence hot zones, we know that community safety is of paramount importance to this demographic, with young Black men 10 times more likely and young Latino men three times more likely to be killed by guns than young White men. We need a comprehensive, public health-based community safety strategy to reverse this trend…
SCOTUS ON WARRANTLESS SEARCHES AND ASSET FORFEITURE
This week, the United States Supreme Court issued two noteworthy criminal justice rulings.
In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that if a person objects to a warrantless search of his home, but then leaves the residence (in this case, by arrest), officers can still conduct the search with the consent of a different occupant. (Here’s some backstory.)
The LA Times editorial board says this ruling may give officers a reason to arrest someone just to sidestep a refused search. Here are some clips:
The 6-3 decision eviscerated a 2006 ruling in which the court ruled that police must respect “a physically present inhabitant’s express refusal of consent to a police search” even if a spouse or roommate gives consent.
Walter Fernandez, a robbery suspect, made it abundantly clear to LAPD officers in 2009 that he didn’t want them to search his apartment, saying: “You don’t have any right to come in here. I know my rights.”
Or at least he thought he did. Police arrested Fernandez, and an hour later an officer returned and asked Roxanne Rojas, Fernandez’ companion, for permission to search the apartment. The search turned up gang paraphernalia, a knife and a gun, and Fernandez was eventually convicted of robbery and domestic abuse.
By blessing the warrantless search of Fernandez’s apartment, the majority not only undermined its previous ruling but also sent a message that police can skirt the 4th Amendment and not be punished for it by the courts.
In another 6-3 Tuesday ruling, the Court said that a defendant who has been indicted by a grand jury has no right to contest pre-trial asset forfeiture.
Writing for a six-justice majority in Kaley v. United States, thus concluded Justice Elena Kagan that a criminal defendant indicted by a grand jury has essentially no right to challenge the forfeiture of her assets, even if the defendant needs those very assets to pay lawyers to defend her at trial. In an odd ideological lineup, the dissenters were Chief Justice John Roberts and the more liberal Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor.
The Kaleys’ saga began more than nine years ago when Kerri, a medical device salesperson, learned that she was under investigation by federal authorities for stealing devices from hospitals. Kerri admits she took some devices and later sold them with Brian’s help, but she says the devices she took were unwanted, outdated models that the hospitals were glad to be rid of—in effect, that she couldn’t steal something that was given to her…
With charges looming, the Kaleys sought an estimate from their lawyers of how much mounting a defense would cost. The answer: $500,000. (That figure may seem high, but sadly the government agreed it was reasonable.) The Kaleys took out a home equity loan and used the $500,000 to purchase a certificate of deposit, which they planned to spend on lawyers.
Then came the grand jury indictment and with it a nasty surprise: an order freezing essentially all their assets, including the CD that was meant to pay their legal bills. The only assets exempt from the order—Kerri’s retirement account and their children’s college funds—weren’t enough to cover the $500,000 estimate. And if the Kaleys liquidated those funds, they’d have owed $183,500 in tax penalties. The bottom line: They could no longer pay for their lawyer of choice even though, as the government agreed, that’s what the Sixth Amendment right to counsel protects.
CLOSED-DOOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CANDIDATE DEBATE
Last week, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) held a members-only debate at the county Hall of Administration between the candidates running for sheriff. The debate had some interesting moments, and focused on the need for department reforms, along with other issues important to deputies.
Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who has been criticized for helping foster a culture of abuse inside the jails, criticized the department’s inmate education program.
“Deputies should not be teaching inmates how to read while they should be manning security posts, OK?” he said, prompting loud cheers.
In a statement to The Times, Tanaka said he wasn’t opposed to educating inmates “as long as it does not take away from the limited resources which are needed to run the jails and protect the public.”
In interviews afterward, the other candidates took aim at Tanaka, who seemed to be the crowd favorite based on applause. His opponents said Tanaka’s comment showed his shortsightedness about the role education can play in keeping inmates from re-offending after they are released.
“To show that lack of compassion for people who can’t read is exactly why I’m running,” Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold said.
The candidates acknowledged during the debate, which took place last week, that the recent federal indictments against deputies and reports of poor hiring show that reform is needed. But they also assured the audience that they believed that a great majority of deputies follow policy.
Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers told the deputies that he took exception with some outside criticisms of the department. Some time after Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell promised to “restore that shine and that luster to the badge,” Rogers said: “Others talk about our badge being tarnished. With all due respect to all of them, my star is just as shiny as it used to be, and so is yours.”
PAUL TANAKA “SETS THE RECORD STRAIGHT”
On Thursday, (a day after the new issue of LA Magazine hit newsstands) former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka published an open letter to “set the record straight” about his involvement in a number of LASD scandals.
Here’s how the letter opens:
After dedicating three decades of my life to public safety, I have suffered overwhelming character attacks over the last two years by nameless “sources” who have continuously falsified accounts of my behavior and my leadership for their own self-purpose and notoriety. I have always believed that the focus of law enforcement officials should remain on public safety and the community rather than combating the latest news story, however, I can no longer remain quiet as others continue to paint fiction and call it truth. I would like to Set the Record Straight regarding my character and my record once and for all.
First and foremost, during my 33 years in law enforcement I have never condoned nor encouraged excessive force or deputy misconduct. In fact, in the past I have been highlighted as a strict no-nonsense disciplinarian. It wasn’t until there were talks throughout the Department that I may run for Sheriff that these accusations began. Many of my accusers feared the standard of accountability they would be held to should I become Sheriff. Throughout my career, I have always demanded our Department employees, particularly high-ranking executives, perform the duties and tasks the people of Los Angeles County pay them for, and expect from us, with no exception.
And here are Tanaka’s thoughts on a certain online publication’s stories about a private smoking patio, and his alleged pay-to-play system:
Furthermore, an online publication has written countless stories about a secret patio that was supposedly reserved for a secret circle of department employees that had to possess “challenge coins” in order to gain entrance. In addition, this same publication has also alleged that those who donated to my Mayoral campaign would then be promoted in the Department. First, the process for promotion in the Sheriff¹s Department is an uncompromising and strictly defined process. Promotions are based on a set of qualifications determined by the Department and the County. In addition, promotions to Lieutenant and higher were appointed solely by the Sheriff. No one who has ever donated to my City Council campaign has ever been given special treatment. Period. Second, the employee patio that was mentioned is an open air, out-door patio with poles that support its roof. It is open to all civilian and sworn employees and was commonly used for cigarette breaks, barbecues, meetings, etc. The coins they referred to were created, passed out and sold by Chief Buddy Goldman and retired Captain Joe Gonzales. To my knowledge, they were nothing more than a souvenir item anyone in the department could obtain.
DOWNFALL: FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA, HIS SECOND IN COMMAND PAUL TANKA AND THE STORY OF HOW THINGS AT THE LASD GOT SO BAD
The insanely long story (more than 11,000 words) I wrote about former sheriff Lee Baca for Los Angeles Magazine is both online and on the news stand.
It is, of course, about way more than Lee Baca as the title suggests.
Regular readers of WitnessLA will find that much in the story covers material with which you’re already very familiar. But I think you’ll find some new nuggets. More than anything, I hope the tale gathers most of the main puzzle pieces together to form a larger, explanatory picture that will have some impact, particularly for those LA residents who are not obsessive LASD watchers, but who want a deeper understanding of what the hell is going on in the sheriff’s department and why they need to care about it.
Scores of other LASD members, working and retired, have described similar experiences to me. “The requests would come in a bunch of different ways,” said a female officer. “You would be told that it would be good for your career to walk precincts for Paul. I never walked precincts, but I’ve been to three of his events and another fund-raiser he threw for [former city attorney] Carmen Trutanich. I gave money each time. There wasn’t a choice.”
In one instance she gave $350, at the request of her boss. He in turn was required to collect checks from his underlings, she said, because he was prominently “in the car” with Tanaka. “In the car” was the term for those who operated in the slipstream of the undersheriff’s patronage. “If you were single, like I was at the time,” she explained, “you were told things like, ‘You don’t have any kids, so you can afford more.’ ”
The ring kissing worked in two ways, both directly and in tiers. “In other words,” she told me, “I wasn’t just writing a check to stay in Tanaka’s good graces, I was doing it to get along with my boss. It sounds crazy, but that’s how it worked. And if you said no, they’d tell you, ‘Then you have nothing coming.’ Those were the terms they’d always use—in the car and nothing coming.”
One meant you were protected. The other meant you were screwed.
And here again is a link the teaser Q & Athat my editor at LA Mag, Matt Segal, did with me, along with a clip to give you an idea of the exchange below:
Q: When you began the assignment for this story a year ago, Baca was still very much in office. He had every intention of running for sheriff again and looked like a shoo-in to win in June. But he “retired” a month before we went to press and not long after the US Attorney’s office delivered a multicounty indictment against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. As far as LASD critics may be concerned, problem solved, right? So why do you think the story is still necessary?
A: Mainly because I believe the story is far from over. The FBI is looking at a number of new areas of alleged corruption that fall well outside the problems in the jails. And, although Lee Baca is has yanked himself from the LASD’s helm, his controversial second in command, Paul Tanaka, is running for sheriff. But no matter who is elected next November, for real reform to take place, the new sheriff will need to have a clear-eyed view of the dysfunction that still plagues this department. I hope this story can provide a bit of that perspective.
A NOTE ON RADIO SHOWS: As I mentioned yesterday, I’m on KCRW’s show Press Play with Madeleine Brand today, Wednesday, at noon. You can listen to it online here (or at 89.9 FM) in real time.
Here’s a link to the podcast. The LASD segment begins at just about the 26 minute mark.
Then tomorrow, Thursday, I’ll be on KPCC’s AirTalk with Patt Morrison sitting in for Larry Mantle. Airtalk is on from 11 am until 1 pm, and you can listen live at 89.3 FM. And naturally I’ll post the podcast for this show too when it goes up.
Okay, whew! I guess that’s it. There’ll be one more web extra about the LASD on LA Mag later in the week. I’ll let you know when it goes up.
WITNESSLA ON MADELEINE BRAND SHOW AT 12 NOON WED TALKING ABOUT LEE BACA & THE LASD: UPDATED
I’ll be on KCRW’s new Madeleine Brand show on Wednesday at 12 noon, 89.9 FM. We’ll be talking about my lengthy article on former Sheriff Lee Baca that is in the March issue of Los Angeles Magazine (due out Wednesday).
UPDATE: I originally thought it was going to be broadcast Tuesday, but although it was taped Tuesday morning, it’ll be broadcast on Wednesday.
You can listen in real time. I’ll also link to the podcast after the show.
Obviously, I’ll let you know when the story itself is out!
CLOSING THE CAMP KILPATRICK SPORTS PROGRAM?
The LA Times’ Sandy Banks has a story on the possible closure of the famous juvenile sports program at LA County’s Camp Kilpatrick.
We’ll have a lot more on this issue in the next few days, but in the meantime, here’s a clip from Banks’ column:
A sports program that brought national acclaim to a Los Angeles County probation camp is headed for extinction — unless it can prove that it helps youthful offenders stay trouble-free.
For more than 20 years, Camp Kilpatrick in Malibu has been the only juvenile correctional facility in the state to field teams that compete against public and private schools in the California Interscholastic Federation.
The camp’s football team inspired the 2006 movie “Gridiron Gang” and sent several players to college. Its basketball team has come close to being a regional champion. Its soccer program produced this year’s Delphic League MVP.
But Camp Kilpatrick is being torn down next month and will be rebuilt on a new model — one that stresses education, counseling and vocational training over competitive sports.
It’s part of a long-overdue shift in the county juvenile justice system, from boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach to rehabilitating young people.
Still, it would be a loss to the young men incarcerated at Camp Kilpatrick if sports are a casualty of reform….
NY TIMES’ BILL KELLER ASSESSES OBAMA ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE RECORD & HOLDER SEZ SENTENCING REFORM WILL BE DEFINING
In his final column for the paper, outgoing NY Times editor-in-chief, Bill Keller grades President Obama on his criminal justice reform record.
Here’s a clip:
I DOUBT any president has been as well equipped as Barack Obama to appreciate the vicious cycle of American crime and punishment. As a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s, he would have witnessed the way a system intended to protect the public siphoned off young black men, gave them an advanced education in brutality, and then returned them to the streets unqualified for — and too often, given the barriers to employment faced by those who have done time, disqualified from — anything but a life of more crime. He would have understood that the suffering of victims and the debasing of offenders were often two sides of the same coin.
It’s hard to tell how deeply he actually absorbed this knowledge. In the Chicago chapters of his memoir, “Dreams From My Father,” Obama notes that in the low-income housing projects “prison records had been passed down from father to son for more than a generation,” but he has surprisingly little to say about the shadow cast by prisons on the families left behind, about the way incarceration became the default therapy for drug addicts and the mentally ill, about the abject failure of rehabilitation.
Still, when the former community organizer took office, advocates of reform had high expectations.
In March I will give up the glorious platform of The Times to help launch something new: a nonprofit journalistic venture called The Marshall Project (after Thurgood Marshall, the great courtroom champion of civil rights) and devoted to the vast and urgent subject of our broken criminal justice system. It seems fitting that my parting column should address the question of how this president has lived up to those high expectations so far…..
“This is something that matters to the president,” [US Attorney General Eric] Holder assured me last week. “This is, I think, going to be seen as a defining legacy for this administration.”
A FAREWELL TO HAROLD RAMIS….TOO SOON! TOO SOON!
Radiantly, brilliantly, humanely funny. It seems terribly wrong that Harold Ramis is dead.
Above is writer, actor, director Ramis talking to students about “good comedy.” With his films such as Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Animal House, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Analyze This, and more, Harold Ramis showed how it was done.
JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL
Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.
The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:
The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:
“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.
The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.
In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.
An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”
“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”
Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.
Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.
The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.
So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.
But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?
In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:
…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.
The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.
But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.
The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.
It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…
NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS
As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.
DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.
The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:
Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.
“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.
Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.
Fortunately, no one was in real danger.
The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.
“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.
“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”
Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.
“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”
Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.
I’ll be on Which Way LA? tonight at 7 pm on KCRW, 89.9 talking about what these most recent federal charges against two more sheriff’s department members mean and what they suggest about years of faulty leadership in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
On the morning of April 16, 2012, Paulino Juarez testified in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence about three cases of deputies beating inmates he said he had witnessed during his time working as a Catholic chaplain at Men’s Central Jail. Juarez is a diminutive, soft spoken man who has worked in the county’s jail system since July 1998. This meant he had fourteen years of jail work under his belt by he spoke to the commission, so he was hardly new to custody ministering. Nevertheless, his hands frequently trembled as he described the third and most harrowing of the beatings he said he saw.
(You can read Jaurez’ testimony before the CCJV about the reported beating here, starting on page 162.)
The third incident that chaplain Juarez recounted to the CCJV forms the basis of the federal indictment announced last Friday morning in which two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies—Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38—-were charged with illegally using force against an inmate, and then attempting to cover up the incident with false reports that “formed the basis of a false prosecution initiated against the victim.”
These new charges bring the number of department members indicted by the feds to 20—with more assuredly to come.
The notion of two deputies allegedly brutalizing an inmate who is already handcuffed and waist-chained, and doing so in front of an experienced civilian witness, and then reportedly trumping up criminal allegations against that the same inmate—despite the witness—is alarming enough.
But this indictment points beyond itself to four other issues that should, if anything, alarm us more.
1. PEOPLE ON THE TOP OF THE LASD FOOD CHAIN KNEW ALL ABOUT THIS INCIDENT, YET NO DEPARTMENT SANCTIONS RESULTED
Juarez said that he recounted the incident verbally and in writing to a host of people within the sheriff’s department’s command structure—plus the Office of Independent Review—but no sanctions appeared to result. In July 2011, nearly 2 years after the incident, Juarez even managed to meet with Sheriff Baca and Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rambo, at which time he relayed what he’d seen.
According to Juarez, the sheriff told him that LASD investigators had determined that the inmate/victim’s bruises were not caused by a beating at all, but by being hit by a car before he ever got to jail. So nothing to see here folks.
No one mentioned the fact that, as Rena Palta reported, there was an LASD video of inmate/victim Brett Phillips lying injured and unconscious—or barely conscious—after the beating.
But, heck, why deal in evidence?
2. AFTER A SCATHING ACLU REPORT AND A PILE OF BAD PRESS, THE DEPARTMENT DID TAKE ANOTHER LOOK INTO THE BEATING IN OCT. 2011, THEN RAN OUT THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS CLOCK.
After the ACLU issued its September 2011 report about violence in the jails, including a declaration and video by Paulino Juarez (among other civilian witnesses)—all of which made national news—the LASD decided to reinvestigate the matter.
Not that it did any good.
According to documents from the Integrity Division of the LA County District Attorney’s office, the LASD’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB, didn’t finish their investigation into the 2009 beating until January 28, 2013—nearly four years after the original incident. In other words, they didn’t finish until they’d neatly run out the clock on the statute of limitations regarding any punitive actions or charges that the LASD or the district attorney might bring.
Whether or not the DA’s office was interested in the case is unclear. But what is very clear is the fact that, by time the DA’s people were belatedly given the paperwork by the LASD, they had no choice but to decline to proceed:
“…Violation for Penal Code section 149, Assault Under Color of Authority, must commence within three years after commission of the offense,” the DA’s office wrote in their official rejection of the case. “We are legally precluded and therefore decline to file criminal charges in this matter…”
3. THE FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP IS THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
The younger of the two deputies facing these new federal charges, which could result in decades in prison, is now 26. Doing some quick math, this means he was around 21 at the time of the 2009 incident, presumably not very far out of the academy.
Yet, despite the existence of independent witness to the event, it appears that every supervisor who came in contact with the 2009 beating incident, and its alleged criminal cover-up, either denied the existence of any wrongdoing or winked at it—from the sergeant directly above the deputies, through Internal Affairs, ICIB, up to Sheriff Baca. Once has to ask what kind of message all these supervisors imagined they were sending to their young deputies—and the rest of their rank and file—with such actions, or lack thereof.
“We’ve got your back, no matter what trouble you stir up! Don’t worry about the blow-back!” is neither good leadership nor good parenting.
The other jail brutality incidents from the previous round of indictments occurred in 2010 and 2011. Those charges too suggest a pattern of abuse and criminal cover up that had been roundly ignored by supervisors for years. This is the catastrophic failure of leadership that the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence described so scathingly in their September 2012 findings and report.
Certainly, a few department members tried to raise red flags. In 2009, Custody division commanders, Robert Olmsted and Stephen Johnson asked for and received reports by Lt. Mark McCorkle and Lt. Stephen Smith, that each delved into the growing number of incidents of force used against inmates, and outlined a troubling lack of accountability, and worse. But, reportedly when Olmsted tried repeatedly to shake department leadership awake, again, those at the top of the LASD adamantly declined to act.
(For the Smith and McCorkle reports go here and start on p. 27. For our previous detailed reporting on Olmsted’s lengthy testimony at the CCJV, go here.)
We know that uses of force in the jails have gone down, and investigations have, at times, been far more rigorous. Assistant Chief Terri McDonald has made some strides. But throughout the department, custody included, under the past regime, accountability has been highly selective. Too often it has been for show, not for real change.
I watched the Los Angeles Police Department go through a such a period of selective accountability, post Rampart, in 2001 and 2002. The result was that officers stopped pro-active policing for fear of being disciplined, and crime actually went up. Nobody was safer.
Then Bill Bratton came in. The department had real leadership. The rules were the rules for everyone. (It wasn’t about whom you knew.) Crime went down. Officer moral rose.
(Just to be clear: we aren’t saying the LAPD is perfect. For example, we agree with the LA Times editorial board that keeping the names secret of those involved in the Torrance officer-involved shootings that occurred during the Dorner nightmare, is not an acceptable stance for the reasons the Times states. Nonetheless, the core culture of the LAPD has fundamentally altered because of clarity of message and action at the top.)
In these very early days, Sheriff Scott has shown strong signs of wishing to do the same.
May it be so.
The LASD presents a unique challenge. It has corrosive factions within its culture that are formidable.
4. INDICTMENTS MOVING UP THE FOOD CHAIN?
And speaking of accountablity, in the case of those indicted this past December for their part in hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from the FBI and any other federal agents, the failures of leadership were not of omission, but commission. To put it more plainly, the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies criminally indicted in relationship to the Brown operation did not assign themselves to the task of hiding Brown. That little caper was reportedly overseen by either former undersheriff Paul Tanaka or former sheriff Lee Baca (depending upon which one of them you ask). Or both.
And yet it is deputies and sergeants (and two lieutenants) who are facing serious prison time.
With all of the above in mind, we await the next round of indictments and cannot help but hope that at least relatively soon the charges will begin to move further up the ladder of command.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte has stated unequivocally that his office intends to follow the investigations wherever they go.
We are counting on just that.
AND IN OTHER NEWS…..JERRY BROWN WANTS SPLIT SENTENCING AND WE DO TOO (AND SO DOES THE LA TIMES)
Governor Jerry Brown was in town late last month telling everyone that they needed to save water (obviously). Equally importantly, he was also meeting with various criminal justice agency heads—probation, the judiciary, the DA’s Office and more—-in the hope of persuading them to get with the program when it comes to the policy of “split sentencing” for many of the AB109 defendants that are now landing in county—not state—supervision.
I talked at length with Probation Chief Jerry Powers after he met with Brown, and he said and his people are totally on board for split sentencing. Certainly all the criminal justice advocates are for it, as is WitnessLA.
So what is split sentencing? Why isn’t it happening? And why should you care?
While he was in town late last month to talk with local water agencies and policymakers about the drought, Gov. Jerry Brown also had a lower-profile but just as urgent meeting with Los Angeles County’s top criminal justice officials. What is it with you L.A. people, the governor asked, and your resistance to split sentencing?
It’s a good question, even if it requires a bit of explanation. Under California’s AB 109 public safety realignment, low-level felons do their time in county jail instead of state prison, and courts have the option to split their sentences between time behind bars and time under supervised release. An offender sentenced to four years, for example, may get out after only two — but then be subject to another two years of structured reentry into society, with intensive oversight and required participation in drug or mental health treatment, anger management or other such programs. Counties administer those programs, but the state pays for them.
Several counties are taking advantage of split sentencing with promising results. In Riverside County, for example, 80% of AB 109 felons leave jail for mandatory transition and supervision programs, and early figures suggest lower rates of recidivism. In Los Angeles County, only 6% of felons have their sentences split, and the rest walk out of jail on the final day of their terms subject to no search and seizure, no supervision, no mandatory rehab or services, no management or oversight of any kind.
The problem, explains the Times, is that prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges are dragging their collective feet because…..well, they can’t really say why. Most defendants don’t want split sentences, they mutter.
Um, really? And so we’re letting the lawbreakers call the shots? Even though every piece of evidence suggests that some enlightened supervision would be—on average—-in the defendants’ and everybody else’s best interest in preventing recidivism, and facilitating success after release?
Mostly, says the times, LA has been slow-dragging on the policy because the judges, lawyers et al are “used to doing things a certain way.”
(Honestly, the resistance to this obviously necessary policy change is about that dumb.)
Jackie Lacey is, at least, putting together a group to study the matter.
As for the rest, like Jerry said, it’s time to get with the program.