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.
INTERIM SHERIFF SCOTT SUSPENDS CONTROVERSIAL FIELD DEPUTY PROGRAM
Interim Sheriff John Scott suspended the “field deputy” (or civilian aide) program on his first day as sheriff, and just one day after an ABC7 investigation raised questions about the duties—or seeming lack thereof—of Michael Yamaki, one of three highly paid field deputies who retired with Lee Baca. (A previous ABC7 investigation found an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on a commercial property owned by another of the civilian deputies, Bishop Edward Turner, who was subsequently asked to retire by Lee Baca.)
Sheriff Scott’s decision was a strong move that signals he will likely be a refreshingly proactive sheriff in departmental reform. The suspension will be effective for the duration of Scott’s term (until December, unless someone is elected in the June primary).
This story also demonstrates the importance of reporting, in that ABC7’s two reports—on Bishop Turner and on Yamaki—focused a light on this little-publicized program that has cost the county of Los Angeles more than $501 thousand a year in salary alone (not counting such deputy perks as a county car and cell phone).
On his first day as interim sheriff, John Scott is suspending the civilian field deputy program and launching an official inquiry into possible misuse of county funds following an Eyewitness News investigation.
“There are concerns, so Sheriff Scott needs time, and that’s why he has the inquiry being conducted, so that he knows where he’s going to take it from here,” said L.A. Sheriff’s Captain Mike Parker.
The news comes one day after an Eyewitness News investigation raised questions about the $171,000 salary of retiring Field Deputy Michael Yamaki.
Yamaki was a senior civilian advisor to former Sheriff Lee Baca. Yamaki had no sheriff’s department office, no phone line, and appeared to spend work days at the exclusive Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades. Yamaki is also a longtime friend of Baca and loaned him $20,000 in his first campaign for sheriff. Eyewitness News filed a Public Records Act request asking for Yamaki’s work calendars and a description of his job. We were told that neither of those things exists.
In response to the investigation, LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said that an audit of the sheriff’s department may be in order, as well as term limits for the sheriff’s position.
“It may be necessary for us to order an audit of the sheriff’s department and have independent eyes look at some of these very serious internal matters,” said Ridley-Thomas.
Thomas says major changes to the position of sheriff itself may be needed.
“There’s a big debate as to whether or not this should be an elected office in the first place,” he said.
Ridley-Thomas says if the sheriff remains an elected position, the supervisors should look at potential term limits.
By the way,here is a video of Sheriff John Scott’s swearing in—in case you missed it—in which he states his intentions to “restore respect” to the department.
(And, the new spokesman for both the LASD and sheriff is Captain Michael Parker, whose face you’ll undoubtedly see on camera a lot more.)
LA COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS TO CONSIDER YOUTH INDIGENT DEFENSE MOTION
Panel attorneys are assigned to youth defendants who cannot be represented by a public defender (about 11,000 in LA County), due to conflict of interest. (For instance, if two kids are charged with committing a crime together, the public defender’s office can only represent one of the defendants.)
LA’s panel attorneys receive a flat rate of about $350 for the duration of a case, no matter how long it takes. The set fee means that there is no financial incentive to provide young defendants with quality representation.
On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors will be considering a motion to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system, including how the attorneys are compensated.
In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Carol Chodroff, a juvenile policy attorney and former public defender, urges the Board of Supervisors to pass the motion. Here’s a clip:
Los Angeles has one of the largest juvenile justice systems in the world, processing approximately 20,000 youths annually. About 11,000 of these youths are ineligible for representation by the public defender because of a conflict of interest. They are represented instead by appointed panel attorneys who receive a flat fee of approximately $350 for the life of a case, regardless of its complexity.
This perverse compensative scheme penalizes panel attorneys for doing the work required to zealously represent youthful clients. The resulting arbitrary and disparate treatment of children in the Los Angeles juvenile delinquency system is destructive, expensive, and unconstitutional.
As any young person who has been through the juvenile justice system can attest, the quality of representation he or she receives is critical. Children in the justice system need trained attorneys who can obtain crucial records and advocate for children’s medical, educational, mental health, social, and emotional needs. These same attorneys must also protect children’s constitutional rights by interviewing the child, employing investigators, having expert witnesses appointed, objecting to inadmissible evidence at adjudicatory hearings, advocating for the least restrictive alternative at disposition, and pressing, at every stage, for the child’s expressed interests.
Public defenders are prepared to provide such quality representation. They are carefully vetted, receive extensive training, rewarded for zealous representation, and held to clear standards.
Not surprisingly, the data demonstrate public defenders are more active in the courtroom, and more likely to file motions, have expert witnesses appointed, and request release and dismissal of their juvenile clients’ cases than contract panel attorneys, who are financially penalized for hard work and not subject to any specialized training requirements.
The current inequitable system leads to less favorable outcomes for youth represented by panel attorneys, and can have dire consequences for youth, at disposition and afterwards.
The U.S. Department of Justice has found that when contract systems are created for the purpose of containing costs, they pose significant risks to the quality of representation and the integrity of the criminal justice system.
Gerald Uelman, executive director of California’s Commission on the Fair Administration of Justice, has called the spread of low-bid, flat-fee representation “a race to the bottom.”
GIVING PRISONERS TOOLS TO HELP THEM SUCCEED ON THE OUTSIDE: ENTREPRENEURIAL EDUCATION AND FINANCIAL GUIDANCE
Steve Mariotti, founder of a non-profit entrepreneurial program for at-risk young people—the National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE)—had 1,000 out-of-print copies of the NFTE’s guide to starting a business. Mariotti decided to donate them to the NY Dept. of Corrections.
That first donation started a decades-long correspondence between NFTE and incarcerated men all over the country. Thousands of letters poured in from inmates inspired by the guide and eager to use their newfound knowledge to fulfill dreams of starting their own businesses and non-profits to help others and support their families.
In a piece for the Huffington Post, Mariotti asks if entrepreneurial and financial education would change the futures these men face when they are released. Here are some clips:
At first, the letters came in intermittently, one or two every week. Some came directly from inmates responding to the donated books, others through ITEM (Inmates Teaching Entrepreneurship and Mentoring). ITEM, a program I co-founded in 2004 with Joe Robinson, trained inmates in the basics of financial literacy. Joe’s genius wasn’t just to teach inmates how to start and run their own businesses, but to strategically help them re-engage with their family, particularly their children. When a man is released he is given around $40 and a bus ticket to the city in which he was arrested. Because 70 percent of men released from prison will be locked up again within two years, this program was paramount.
Now, the letters come almost every day, and NFTE has since received over 10,000 letters from men in prison. Yet, these letters are more than just requests for more books on entrepreneurship, or notes of thanks for the donations. They express a hopefulness inspired by their newfound knowledge of entrepreneurship, and offer us a rare chance to hear directly from men whose lives have been stunted by incarceration.
About five months ago, I enlisted the help of my friends Victor and Meredith, professionals with invaluable experience working within women’s prisons. Together, we read over 500 letters received from 2009 to 2013. Meredith and Victor then selected 70 letters that gave special insight into the roots of American male imprisonment.
The findings were both fascinating and depressing. Ultimately, the letters confirm what we already suspected about the pathways to prison: a life of poverty, drug-related crimes, and unstable home environments. What was most notable, however, was their relationship with education. These histories did not mention mentorship, or a powerful — let alone consistent — engagement with education. As an educator and advocate for at-risk youth, I was particularly struck by their various expressions of detachment from and discouragement with the education system.
Within the pages of these letters, they disclose their immense will to learn, and their natural talents as entrepreneurs. Some are passionate to start nonprofits for youth who that they worry may fall prey similar channels of confinement. Most profound, however, is their eagerness to learn more and their hopefulness to become a productive part of society — where they can share and carry out their visions and give back to their communities.
GOODBYE, PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: 1967-2014
On Sunday, the world lost arguably one of the most brilliant and infinitely versatile actors of our time. Philip Seymour Hoffman played an impressive 63 roles during his too-short, 23-year career, according to IMDB.
Famous deaths invite hyperbole. The news that Philip Seymour Hoffman was discovered dead today in an apartment bathroom, with a syringe sticking out of his arm, seems like an occasion to overreact with some exaggerated summary of his career—something like “most talented and kaleidoscopic actor of his time.”
Except, in this case, the compliment isn’t hyperbolic at all. It’s just an accurate description, as true yesterday as it is today. And the competition isn’t even that close.
It’s not clear that there were roles Philip Seymour Hoffman could not do. He had so many lives within him—and more, undiscovered and unseen. Those are the lives, aside from his own, we’ve now lost. “For me, acting is torturous,” Hoffman told the New York Times in 2008, “and it’s torturous because you know it’s a beautiful thing. I was young once, and I said, That’s beautiful and I want that. Wanting it is easy, but trying to be great—well, that’s absolutely torturous.”
Here are a couple of scenes from Hoffman’s prolific career:
As Lester Bangs in Cameron Crow’s Almost Famous…
And two from his transcendent performance as Truman Capote…
INTERIM LA SHERIFF JOHN SCOTT TAKES OATH OF OFFICE
Two hours after (now former) Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement went into effect on Thursday, John Scott, the new interim LA County Sheriff, was sworn in. Scott has taken leave as Orange County Undersheriff, and will head the LASD until December when a new sheriff is elected.
LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:
“What I’d like to do is restore dignity to the department … and restore the trust and confidence to the office,” Scott said.
“I look forward to serving Los Angeles County and doing all that I can in the next 10 months to bring about the appropriate change that is in order, and to see that the next sheriff — the elected sheriff — comes in somewhat seamlessly.”
He vowed not to be a mere “placeholder” until Baca’s replacement is elected either during the June 3 primary or the Nov. 4th runoff, and is sworn in Dec. 1. He plucked former LASD Division Chief Neil Tyler out of retirement to serve as his second-in-command and had a ready answer when asked about his top priorities.
He plans to ask all the captains to conduct a “SWAT” analysis, so that he can assess the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats within respective bureaus, and to work closely with the jail chief and county budget manager to implement the changes recommended by the blue-ribbon Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.
EDITOR’S NOTE: New Sheriff John Scott has just 10 months to make his mark on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. After he took the oath of office on Thursday at Monterey Park Sheriff’s headquarters, he sounded refreshingly clear-eyed about the fact that real changes were required at the department he will now lead, and indicated he felt up to the challenge. Scott was also forthright when asked by reporters about such topics as why he left the LASD in 2005. At that time, he said, he saw the department going in the wrong direction. “I saw inaction and a certain level of neglect,” the new sheriff told ABC-7′s Robert Holguin.
Welcome, Sheriff John Scott!
THREE CIVILIAN FIELD DEPUTIES RESIGN WITH BACA; ABC7 INVESTIGATES (AGAIN)
Three of Lee Baca’s civilian field deputies have retired alongside the former Los Angeles County Sheriff. One of the civilian advisors, Bishop Edward Turner, was relieved of duty after an ABC7 investigation in November found that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across the street from his church.
But the field deputy controversy doesn’t end with Turner.
ABC7 investigated the circumstances of another resigning civilian aid, Michael Yamaki, who took home $171,000 a year. Yamaki seemed to have a questionable working relationship with the super-exclusive Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, and was spotted several times by ABC7 reporters driving his LASD-issued car to and from the golf course. As for his duties as a civilian field deputy, the investigation turned up…not much. Here are some clips:
Yamaki loves the game of golf. He’s appeared on the Golf Channel’s “Golf Central” TV program leading a tour of the legendary Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, where stars like Jack Nicholson and Mark Wahlberg hit the links. And the initial fee just to join the club will set you back a reported $250,000.
Yamaki has been identified in various publications as the “general manager,” the “managing corporate officer” and “chief executive” of the Riviera Country Club.
So we wondered: Is he holding down two jobs?
“No he doesn’t,” said sheriff’s departments spokesman Steve Whitmore. “The only job he has is working for the sheriff’s department. He’s an investor. But he doesn’t have a job there. The only job he has is the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.”
Michael Yamaki refused to speak with Eyewitness News about this story and we couldn’t get in to see him, because the Riviera is a very private club. But we were able to learn from public records that of the $120,000 worth of gifts Sheriff Baca has received since taking office, there were nine rounds of golf paid for by Yamaki, most at the Riviera Country Club.
LOOKING BACK ON LEE BACA’S 15 YEARS AS HEAD OF THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT
The LA Times’ Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have a story about the controversial legacy that Lee Baca leaves behind, as John Scott steps in. Here’s how it opens:
For Sheriff Lee Baca, it was a legacy moment. He was on Capitol Hill, testifying before a congressional hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims. Conservative lawmakers were grilling him, pressing him to acknowledge that the Muslim groups he embraced after 9/11 may have had criminal elements.
Baca wasn’t having it.
“We don’t play around with criminals in my world,” he shot back.
With dozens of cameras trained on him, the sheriff made the case that American Muslims were being unfairly persecuted and should be treated as partners, not suspects, in the fight against terror.
The tense exchange in 2011 made national news, burnishing Baca’s image as a lawman who bucked law enforcement stereotypes and embraced a softer side of policing.
Back in Southern California, a different narrative was playing out in his department.
Just two weeks earlier, Baca’s deputies allegedly beat a man visiting his brother in the Los Angeles County jail in an incident that would later result in federal indictments. Baca’s subordinates had recently hired dozens of officers with histories of serious misconduct. And in the Antelope Valley, Baca’s deputies were involved in searches and detentions that federal authorities would later say violated the constitutional rights of black and Latino residents.
Baca’s defense of Muslim Americans on the national stage would turn out to be a high point in his 15-year tenure. Since then, the Sheriff’s Department has been rocked by one scandal after another. And a different take on Baca emerged: a disengaged manager who lacked the managerial skill and sway to get his 18,000-person department to follow his vision.
As a federal investigation into jail brutality grew, Baca admitted he was out of touch.
“People can say, ‘What the hell kind of leader is that?’ The truth is I should’ve known,” Baca said a few months after his triumphant Washington trip…
WHAT THE OVERFLOWING CALIFORNIA PRISON SYSTEM (AND OTHER CALIFORNIA COUNTIES) CAN LEARN FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO JAIL SYSTEM
While California is desperate for another extension on a federal court order to ease prison overcrowding, the San Francisco jail population has been consistently dropping over the last few years through a more treatment-based approach to incarceration.
Governing Magazine’s Ryan Holeywell has an excellent piece on what California can learn from the San Francisco, several decades after the county faced similar litigation against major overcrowding in its jails.
San Francisco has also taken advantage of realignment funds, using them to bolster their rehabilitation and reentry programs. Some counties have been slow on the uptake, or have used the money to build more facilities to house the state prisoners that were transferred to county custody during realignment.
Here are some clips:
If long prison sentences were a criminal deterrent, [Paul] Henderson [San Francisco Public Safety Director and Deputy Chief of Staff] says, crime would have been nearly eliminated in California long ago, and repeat offenders would be almost nonexistent. That, of course, isn’t the case at all, and it’s why federal judges have ordered California to drastically reduce the number of inmates in state custody. The result has been a dramatic shift in corrections policy called “realignment.” The change came via legislation in 2011 that requires many criminals who previously would have served their sentences in state prison to instead serve them in county jails. Realignment has been painful for local leaders who are charged with huge new responsibilities as they work to prevent their own facilities from eventually confronting the same overcrowding as the state’s prisons.
But it’s also caused many to turn to San Francisco to see if it’s found an approach to criminal justice that should be emulated across the state. That’s largely because in the wake of realignment, the population of San Francisco’s jail is actually declining. It’s the result of a longstanding approach to corrections that predates the state’s crisis. “San Francisco was ahead of the game before realignment ever began,” says Linda Penner, chair of the state’s Board of State and Community Corrections, which oversees county jails. “They had a community that embraced treatment. They had the capacity. And they had the political will. With realignment, they’ve just accelerated and stepped on the gas.”
San Francisco had a head start in dealing with realignment, largely as a result of litigation in the 1980s that challenged overcrowding of its own jails. That prompted an increased focus on evidence-based practices in criminal justice, aimed at using statistics to determine which methods actually succeeded in reducing crime. The thinking was that the city could beat overcrowding, save money and actually increase public safety if it took an approach that was more nuanced than simply throwing the book at offenders. The result: Even in the wake of realignment, the city’s average daily jail population has declined from 1,954 in 2009 to 1,281 today, says Wendy Still, San Francisco’s chief adult probation officer.
Still represents, in many ways, San Francisco’s approach. When she discusses the population of offenders her office supervises, she refers to them as “clients.” It’s jarring, at first, to hear a probation officer describe convicted felons that way, but she says it makes sense. “We know they have needs,” Still says. “Yes, they’re offenders, but our job is to try to assist them.” In San Francisco, the prosecutors, public defenders and judges have all been trained on evidence-based approaches to justice that can help put them on the same page when it comes to sentencing. “We have a lot of cases that go to trial, and we fight over our cases in court,” says Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s elected public defender. “But where we agree is once a person is convicted of a crime—particularly a person convicted of a low-level felony—the goal is to find the support and services necessary.”
When it’s time for an inmate to leave prison or jail, San Francisco’s counselors find out what’s needed in housing, employment, health care and drug rehabilitation. The probation department has gone as far as picking people up from prisons to help them return to San Francisco. And little steps—like trying not to release people from county jail in the middle of the night when they’re more prone to slip up—have become part of the culture. “Other counties have taken realignment money and invested it in more jails,” Adachi says. “We haven’t done that.” Instead, San Francisco has focused on alternative sentencing and re-entry programs that hook offenders up with drug treatment, education and employment services.
Krisberg, the Berkeley fellow, says the Bay Area warrants attention from other parts of the state. “San Francisco is, in some ways, a road map for how to get organized and do it well,” he says…
Other states are following San Francisco’s lead. Since 2011, at least seventeen states have reduced their prison populations by a combined 35,000, and in 2013, at least six states closed (or considered closing) twenty correctional facilities, according to a report released on Thursday by the Sentencing Project. Here’s a clip from the report’s offerings on California’s prison population actions:
In California, officials opened a new prison that holds more than 1,700 inmates. The California Health Facility in Stockton reportedly cost $839 million to construct and is designed to address the medical and mental health needs of incarcerated persons. The state opened this prison while accounting for the largest share in population declines in 2012. During a 2013 press conference, Governor Jerry Brown estimated that the prison expansion plan would cost $315 million in the short term and total $715 million by 2015.35 Additionally, to deal with continued overcrowding, Governor Brown has proposed sending approximately 12,000 incarcerated persons to private prisons out of state.
A companion report (also released Thursday) detailed 47 important criminal justice policy reforms that were put into effect in 31 states last year—including two in California. (Take a look.)
On Tuesday after much speculation, a couple of closed meetings between the members of the LA County Board of Supervisors, and many side meetings in the individual Supes’ offices, the board members finally agreed upon a selection for the interim LA County Sheriff.
Their pick is John Scott. And the early word is good on the selection of Scott who, for the last few years, has been the undersheriff of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department under OC Sheriff Sandy Hutchins. Prior to his Orange County job, Scott worked for the LA County Sheriff’s Department for over 3 1/2 decades—-from 1969 to 2005. One of his final postings at the LASD was as Chief of the Custody Division, making him familiar with—among other things— the difficulties of running the country’s largest jail system.
Scott will attend his first LASD executive staff meeting on Wednesday at department headquarters.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Department had its own kind of challenges when Hutchens lured Scott out of retirement to help her clean up the mess left behind by the federally indicted former Sheriff Michael Carona. (Hutchens was appointed in 2008 to finish out Carona’s term after he was arrested.)
Scott told the Supes he will go back to his OC job after he finishes his tenure in LA County this coming December when a new sheriff will be sworn in. Hutchins has said she is holding the job open for Scott.
“The fact that Scott had a place to go back to had a big appeal,” said a county insider of the supervisors’ choice. It meant, said the source, that that Scott wasn’t angling to run for LA sheriff himself. “It also solved the problem of, ‘How do you get an A-lister for the short term?’”
According to another well-placed source, additional selling points for the board members include the fact that, due to his decades in LA, Scott has a working knowledge of the embattled LASD, without being caught up in all the factions and intrigue to which many insiders are subject. And yet, “he knows where a lot of the bodies are buried,” said the source.
When Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement on January 7 of this year, he named Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald as his pick for interim sheriff—a choice that some of the Supes embraced more than others did, although all seem very pleased with McDonalds work as head of the department’s long-beleaguered custody division. The possibility of her stepping in to run the entire department was nixed when attorneys from the county counsel’s office said that McDonald did not have the proper certification to run the whole department.
McDonald came to the LASD from her position as undersecretary for operations California Department of Corrections starting her career a quarter century earlier as a corrections officer, making her an appealing choice to run LA County’s scandal-racked jail system—yet not, thought some, an ideal fit for the department-wide job.
Scott, in contrast, explained to the supervisors how involved he had been in in helping Sheriff Hutchens implement her five point action plan to reform the OC department.
The plan’s outline ends this way:
The ultimate goal of law enforcement in America is to reduce crime by honoring every aspect of American law. This includes the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, Civil Rights, and Human Rights. The foundation of any law enforcement agency must be built on the public trust.
The Supes approved Scott by a vote of 4-0 (with Mark Ridley Thomas abstaining).
At the Tuesday afternoon press conference where he was introduced, Scott told the crowd of reporters and onlookers that he was returning to the department “I love.” He also assured those listening that he would not be “a placeholder.”
“I will begin the process, immediately, of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and the trust of the public that they serve,” Scott said.
On Thursday at noon, Lee Baca will leave the office he has held for 15 years and the department he has served for 48.
When Scott left the LASD in 2005, he did so in part, according to our sources, because of a dissatisfaction with the some of those to whom he felt Sheriff Baca was ceding too much power.
HE’S THE SHERIFF, NOT THE “INTERIM” SHERIFF
LA Times editorial board member, Rob Greene,opines interestingly that the Supes pick, John Scott, is a great combination of LASD insider and outsider.
Here’s a clip:
The Board of Supervisors could have picked an insider to succeed Lee Baca and serve as Los Angeles County sheriff for the next 10 months. A top deputy would have given the Sheriff’s Department someone already acquainted with the policies and pecking orders that give the place its culture, and with the people who patrol the streets and the jails. But that’s just the point: Continuity isn’t always a plus. The department needed an unmistakable break from its past, so choosing an insider wouldn’t have been the best move.
So the board could have gone with an outsider, a person from another law enforcement or corrections agency with a solid resume of experience untainted by any time in Baca’s department. But that would have meant a person trying to fix, or even just run, the department without much knowledge of its particular assets and problems. Such a sheriff might have had trouble gaining support or even respect from either internal would-be reformers or old-school foot-draggers, all of whom would have recognized that their boss was a short-termer who would be gone by Dec. 5, when the newly elected sheriff is sworn in.
In picking Orange County Undersheriff John Scott, the board went with someone who’s got a foot in each camp…..
HOMEBOY INDUSTRIES FORESEES MORE LAYOFFS WITHOUT DESPERATELY NEEDED FUNDING
Of late, it has become a distressing fact of LA County life that, for all the indispensable work done by Homeboy Industries—the respected gang recovery program that for over 25 years has helped thousands of men and women find healthy alternatives to gang life—in the past few years, the program’s famous founder, Father Greg Boyle, has not been able to raise enough money keep Homeboy’s services fully afloat. As a consequence, last year, Boyle had to lay off 40 people. This year, if more government funding doesn’t find it’s way to Homeboy, an estimated 60 additional people will have to be laid off.
This doesn’t seem to prevent various LA County agencies from relying on Homeboy for services—without paying a penny in return.
This was part of the message that Boyle brought when Chairman of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Steve Soboroff, invited the priest to speak at last week’s commission meeting.
For a quarter of a century, Boyle has steered boys and girls, and men and women, out of the gang life through Homeboy Industries, which offers job training, counseling, tattoo removal and more. The model Boyle built has been replicated around the country and abroad.
Here in Los Angeles, some 120,000 gang members have voluntarily asked Father Boyle for help starting over. They struggle daily against the socioeconomic forces that drew them into gang life. But Homeboy itself confronts another daily struggle.
Making ends meet.
“Our government funding has gone in the last three years from 20% of our annual $14-million budget to 3%,” Boyle told the police commissioners.
And then he had this pithy observation:
“I suspect if we were a shelter for abandoned puppies we’d be endowed by now. But we’re a place of second chances for gang members and felons. It’s a tough sell, but a good bet.”
Earl Paysinger, an LAPD assistant chief, said he shudders to think what shape the city would be in without Homeboy.
“I’m heartened that in 2012, gang-related crime has been reduced by 18% and gang-related homicide by nearly 10%,” Boyle told the commission. “And I think Homeboy has had an impact on that.”
But Boyle didn’t hide his frustration, arguing that Homeboy’s services save the public millions of dollars in reduced violence and incarceration.
“We shouldn’t be struggling this much. God love the Museum of Contemporary Art, which can raise $100 million in 10 months to endow itself,” he said. “They were so successful they moved the goal posts to $150 million, and we’re just trying to keep our heads above water.”
…this is Los Angeles, home to 22 billionaires at last count. Home to a Hollywood crowd that congratulates itself for its social conscience and, in just one night at George Clooney’s house, raised $15 million for Barack Obama — more than Homeboy’s annual budget.
CAMERAS PLACED IN LA COUNTY JAILS PROVIDE “AN OBJECTIVE EYE,” SAYS OIR REPORT
Video cameras installed in LA County jails in 2011 have proven to be greatly helpful in determining which party is telling the truth in excessive use-of-force allegations against deputies, according to a new report from the LASD watchdog, Office of Independent Review. The cameras (more than 1500 between CJ, Twin Towers, and the Inmate Reception Center) were put up amid a 2011 federal investigation into inmate abuse at Men’s Central Jail.
The report released by the agency’s civilian monitor Thursday found that the footage has helped to exonerate deputies who were falsely accused and build cases against those who break the rules.
“The department now has a video record of 90% of force incidents in its downtown jails and is no longer completely reliant on ‘observations’ of inmates and jail deputies,” the report by Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review stated.
Dozens of cameras were installed inside the downtown Men’s Central Jail in 2011 — when the FBI’s investigation of deputy misconduct inside the lockups first became publicly known. Today there are 705 cameras in the facility, with about 840 more in the sheriff’s other downtown jail facilities, Twin Towers and the Inmate Reception Center.
Gennaco’s report found that there are still areas of the lockups that cameras don’t cover, causing shortcomings in some investigations, but that overall, use-of-force investigations have improved because of the cameras.
A multi-million dollar surveillance system for CJ was in the works all the way back in 2006, only to be abandoned by LASD officials. (You can read more in the first installment of Matt Fleischer’s “Dangerous Jails” series.) A number of cameras were purchased later, in 2010, and then tucked away in someone’s office for a year before actually being installed at Men’s Central.
In their latest report, the Office of Independent Review laments that the cameras were not put in place sooner:
…the success of the cameras causes us to question why it took so long to heed our requests for this technology. However, rather than labor to try to understand the delay, we embrace the video cameras that help us with making credibility and accountability calls that were not possible in the years during which the LA County jails did without.
Seven sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges they hid an inmate turned confidential informant from the FBI and then threatened the informant’s FBI handlers. But who ordered the operation? Rumors are swirling that more indictments could come down at any time. How far up the chain of command could those indictments go?
Sheriff Baca says his sudden retirement has nothing to do with the FBI investigation into his department. The question is who knew what, and when?
Sources within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department tell Eyewitness News that Sheriff Baca and his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, were both involved in the operation to hide the FBI informant.
That informant was asked by the FBI to report on possible abuse and corruption within the jails. The scheme became known as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”
It all began in the summer of 2011 inside Men’s Central Jail, when inmate-turned-FBI-informant Anthony Brown’s cover was blown. Brown, a convicted armed robber, was caught with a contraband cellphone smuggled in by a sheriff’s deputy. Investigators quickly realized that Brown was using that phone to call the FBI.
What happened next is what led to seven of those indictments by U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr.
“They took affirmative steps to hide the informant from everyone, including the FBI,” said Birotte in a news conference on December 9, 2013.
Brown was moved — allegedly hidden — for 18 days. His name was changed, records were altered and destroyed.
“These allegations are breathtaking in their brazenness,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California. The ACLU is a court-appointed monitor of the L.A. County jails.
“It’s hard for me to imagine that such a scheme took place without knowledge and authorization of the highest levels of the department,” said Eliasberg.
OBAMA SHOULD CALL FOR SENTENCING REFORM IN HIS STATE OF THE UNION, SAYS SORENSEN
In an excellent piece for the Atlantic, Juliet Sorensen, daughter of Ted Sorensen (JFK’s advisor and speech-writer) makes a case for Obama including drug-sentencing reform in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday. Here’s how it opens:
In the last week of 1963, my father, Ted Sorensen, met with President Lyndon Johnson late into the night at his Texas ranch to decide what provisions of President John F. Kennedy’s unfinished agenda to include in the upcoming State of the Union address. Last on the list was a provision for expanded federal jurisdiction over illegal drugs, which provided not only for federal criminal-law enforcement but also for expanded rehabilitation and treatment programs.
As my father recounted in his memoir, Johnson angrily brushed aside the suggestion. “Drugs? I don’t want to have anything to do with them. Just lock them up and throw away the key!” The meeting ended, and my father deleted that portion of the speech, which famously announced the War on Poverty—but kept the drug provision in Johnson’s legislative program. This led to controlled-substance and drug-addiction reform that passed with bipartisan support in Congress. Despite Johnson’s dismissal of my father’s proposal of treatment and rehabilitation, he extolled those ideas when he signed the Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act into law in November 1966, describing it as a “pioneering measure” that recognizes that “treating addicts as criminals neither curtails addiction nor prevents crime.”
President Obama now has a golden opportunity in his own State of the Union to confront the U.S. government’s continued struggle to effectively legislate drugs. In a January 8 statement, Obama endorsed the very same priorities articulated in LBJ’s War on Poverty and catalogued exactly 50 years ago in Johnson’s own State of the Union address. This indicates that he will also focus on income inequality—21st century lingo for entrenched poverty—in his speech on January 28. While a renewed commitment to tackling persistent poverty is laudable, Obama should also seize the moment to further another, related legislative aim of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations: reduced sentencing for drug-law violators who are nonviolent offenders.
The stark increase in federal inmates in recent decades has overcrowded prisons, impeded rehabilitation, and cost taxpayers millions. A “lock them up and throw away the key” response to the rise of crack cocaine 30 years ago—echoing Johnson’s reaction on that December night—resulted in an 800 percent increase in the number of federal prisoners in the United States between 1980 and 2012…
ACCESS TO GUNS DOUBLES AND TRIPLES RISK OF BEING MURDERED AND COMMITTING SUICIDE, RESPECTIVELY, SAYS SURVEY
People who have access to firearms are two times more likely to be killed, and three times more likely to commit suicide, according to a new analysis of a number of gun violence studies. Author Andrew Anglemyer and colleagues at UC San Francisco conducted a large-scale review of data from California (and other states), the United States, and other countries.
For the new review, the researchers analyzed 14 studies that looked at the risk of committing suicide among people who did and didn’t have access to guns and five studies that looked at gun access and the risk of being murdered. Four of the studies examined both suicide and murder risk.
The studies were published between 1988 and 2005. All but one found people with access to firearms had heightened risks of dying from suicide and murder.
“Most analyses will find some conflicting studies,” Anglemyer told Reuters Health. “That’s not at all what we see here.”
The researchers found having access to a gun was tied to a three-fold increase in the likelihood that people would kill themselves.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 12 out of every 100,000 people commit suicide each year.
Anglemyer’s team also found about a two-fold increased risk of death from murder among people who had access to a gun, compared to those without access to firearms. For women, the increased risk of being killed was even higher.
Firearms cause an estimated 31 000 deaths annually in the United States. Data from the 16-state National Violent Death Reporting System indicate that 51.8% of deaths from suicide in 2009 (n = 9949) were firearm-related; among homicide victims (n = 4057), 66.5% were firearm-related. Most suicides (76.4%) occurred in the victims’ homes. Homicides also frequently occurred in the home, with 45.5% of male victims and 74.0% of female victims killed at home.
Firearm ownership is more prevalent in the United States than in any other country; approximately 35% to 39% of households have firearms, and 22% of persons report owning firearms. The annual rate of suicide by firearms (6.3 suicides per 100 000 residents) is higher in the United States than in any other country with reported data, and the annual rate of firearm-related homicide in the United States (7.1 homicides per 100 000 residents) is the highest among high-income countries (4). Results from ecological studies suggest that state restrictions on firearm ownership are associated with decreases in firearm-related suicides and homicides (5).
…The apparent increased risk for suicide associated with firearms in the home is not unique to persons with a history of mental illness (7) and may be more of an indicator of the ease of impulsive suicide.
Impulsiveness may be a catalyst in using a firearm to commit suicide and may also play a role in firearm-related homicide. Researchers have estimated higher odds of homicide victimization among women than men (9–10). Because most homicide victims know their perpetrators (9), this finding may indicate an impulsive reaction to domestic disputes.
TWO INTERESTING EDITORIALS FROM THE LA AND NY TIMES
A new LA Times editorial takes a look at “pay-for-success” financing for social programs—in which a non-profit and/or private enterprise put up money and run such programs as, say, helping prisoners successfully reenter their communities. If they are effective, they are then repaid with government money. Various states are experimenting with the idea, including California, but there may be pitfalls. Here’s a clip:
The cornerstone of criminal justice reform is the belief that offenders leaving prison could be prevented from committing new crimes and getting locked up all over again, if only government could find the right social service organization to provide the right programming. Crime would drop, some prisons could close and taxpayers would save money.
First, though, officials have to identify rehabilitation programs that work, and that means evaluating claims and evidence offered by competing providers, and perhaps making so many wrong choices before landing on the right one that the effort hardly seems worth it. Even elected officials and high-ranking bureaucrats who believe in criminal justice reform are skittish about trying something new, so they often give in to their colleagues who prefer costly and unsuccessful but comfortably familiar policies on sentencing, imprisonment and parole.
But what if someone else agrees to take all the risk? What if some outsider — a nonprofit service provider, let’s say, or a charitable foundation, or maybe even a commercial bank — raises the funds, runs the program, produces the results, then gets reimbursed with public money only after presenting verified proof of success?
Later this year, analysts will publish results of an experiment along those lines begun in 2010 at Peterborough Prison outside London. The social impact bond project, as this kind of financing and problem-solving innovation is often called, uses money put up by investors and managed by a nonprofit group, which contracts with another organization to provide recently released inmates with mentoring and other services intended to break the cycle of re-offending.
If an independent evaluator confirms that the program “worked,” as defined by agreed-upon criteria for decreasing new convictions — and preliminary analyses are encouraging — the British government will repay the investors’ capital plus an agreed-upon premium. If the success targets aren’t met, the investors eat the costs and the taxpayers owe nothing.
It is mindless to keep throwing billions at border enforcement and detention at a time when illegal immigration is at historic lows, when other, more pressing government functions are being starved and when none of the money spent actually goes toward solving the problem.
Take the irrational obligation to fill all those detention beds, at a cost of about $122 a day. Why make the people who run a vast and expensive law-enforcement apparatus responsible for keeping prison beds warm rather than communities safe — especially when there are low-cost alternatives to detention that don’t involve fattening the bottom lines of for-profit prison corporations?
Congress’s arbitrary detention mandates and the Obama administration’s aggressive use of its enforcement powers have pushed deportations to record levels of 400,000 a year. This has had no discernible effect on the overall problem, but it has caused abundant anguish in immigrant families and their communities.
What’s most disheartening about the spending splurge is that it attacks only the symptoms of the ailing immigration system…
FOR-PROFIT PRISON COMPANY GIVES MAXIMUM DONATION TO GOV. BROWN’S REELECTION CAMPAIGN
The private prison company GEO Group has already maxed out their legal limit for donations to Governor Jerry Brown’s campaign for reelection, donating a total of $54,400. While Gov. Brown’s recently released budget proposal banks on federal judges pushing back their prison overcrowding deadline by two years, $500M was still set aside to send more than 17,000 inmates to private prisons like GEO Group (practitioner of alarming profit-making “lock-up quotas”). (Read the backstory here.)
Labor unions, Hollywood’s glitterati, California philanthropists and a private company profiting from Gov. Jerry Brown’s fight over prison crowding are among 72 top donors who have maxed out on contributions to Brown’s reelection campaign even before he officially runs.
Brown’s campaign fund reports receiving two $27,200 checks in early January from the GEO Group, based in Boca Raton, Fla. The company in September signed contracts with the state worth $150 million to house 1,400 inmates in two low-security facilities within California, in Adelanto and in McFarland. That’s more than double the $25,900 that GEO gave to Brown late in the 2010 race, an amount it also gave to Brown’s competitor, Meg Whitman.
BOB OLMSTED TO RELEASE PLAN TO REFORM SHERIFF’S DEPT.
LA County Sheriff hopeful Bob Olmsted will be holding a press conference today (Wednesday) at 11AM outside of Men’s Central Jail to reveal his plan for reforming the department, should he be elected. (We’ll have more on the details tomorrow.)
(And, by the way, former Undersheriff/Sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka was interviewed on KFI’s John and Ken Show on Tuesday evening. It’s…very lively, and not something you’d want to miss. Trust us.)
SUPES SCHEDULE ANOTHER CLOSED-DOOR MEETING TO DISCUSS INTERIM SHERIFF CANDIDATES
On Thursday, Jan. 23, the LA County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a special private session to consider interim Sheriff contenders to replace Lee Baca when he retires at the end of January. (Backstory here, if you missed it.) A decision is expected very soon. We’ll keep you posted.
SUPERVISORS HOLD PRIVATE SESSION ON INTERIM SHERIFF
The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting on Tuesday to discuss and interview prospective candidates to take over as interim sheriff upon Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement at the end of this month. (The temporary sheriff will run the department until December, when the newly-elected sheriff will be sworn in.)
On Tuesday, L.A.’s county counsel is expected to brief the board on what certifications an interim sheriff is required to have, as well as any other specifics on who is eligible for the position. Members of the board have said [Terri] McDonald is a contender, along with other assistant sheriffs in the department.
One outstanding question is whether supervisors will choose an interim sheriff who does not plan to run for the job…
County counsel has already told the board they can choose an interim leader from outside of the department, leaving open the possibility the board will appoint an interim sheriff from a different law enforcement agency.
PATROL GENERATED MOST OF LASD’S EXCESSIVE FORCE LAWSUIT PAYOUTS…NOT THE JAILS
On Monday, we mentioned that, in 2013, the LASD spent $43M in litigation payouts—accounting for almost half of the county’s total legal costs. But while much focus has been on lawsuits pertaining to the jails, three-fourths of the $20M spent on excessive force payouts came from the patrol divisions, a county attorney told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.
Nearly half of the $43 million the county spent last year on lawsuits involving the department related to claims of excessive force, though most of the incidents occurred in the field, said litigation cost manager Steven Estabrook.
Supervisor Gloria Molina and others have drawn attention to payouts related to jail abuse. And the December indictment of 18 current and former deputies and supervisors in a federal investigation related to the abuse of inmates and visitors nearly ensures that those costs will rise. But it was not the primary driver of higher costs this year.
The year-over-year comparisons can be somewhat misleading, because they track dollars on a cash basis and ignore settlements agreed to and judgments ordered that have not yet been paid.
There will likely be more to come.
LOCKED UP FOR LIFE ON A MARIJUANA CHARGE
Indiana man, James Romans, is serving a life sentence for trafficking marijuana. There has been a steady movement toward marijuana legalization in a number of states, and last August, AG Eric Holder announced a reform package that included instructing federal prosecutors to stop seeking harsh mandatory-minimum sentences for low-level drug offenders. There are at least 24 others like Romans across the US who are serving life behind bars for larger-scale marijuana trafficking.
At least 25 people have been condemned to live out their days behind bars because they were involved in the marijuana trade, according to The Human Solution, a pot advocacy group. Some played relatively small roles in larger distribution rings and got life sentences in part because they refused to plead guilty and testify against associates. Others held positions of power in major trafficking organizations.
James Romans, a divorced 42-year-old father of three from Indiana, says he belongs in the former category. But last year, a federal judge ruled differently, sentencing him to life based on evidence suggesting that he helped run a multimillion dollar operation.
Whatever his role, the case raises questions about the fairness of punishing marijuana offenders with the criminal justice system’s harshest penalty short of death.
“It doesn’t seem to me in this day and age, when states are debating whether marijuana should be legal, that people who traffic in it should be spending their lives behind bars,” said David Zlotnick, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney and an expert on drug sentencing laws at Roger Williams University School of Law in Rhode Island. “If we’re not sure whether this drug should even be an illegal narcotic, why are we sending people to jail for life for it?”
According to the federal Bureau of Prisons, it costs an average of $30,000 a year to keep someone confined in a high-security lockup, and as a person ages and requires more medical care, the cost increases. “We’re talking 40, 50, 60 thousand dollars a year to keep someone in a cell until they die, when they could be working and paying into their insurance,” Zlotnick said. “It’s insane.”
EMPOWERMENT CONGRESS AT USC THIS WEEKEND
The 22nd Annual Empowerment Congress Summit will take place this Saturday, Jan. 18, at USC. The congress, started by LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas will bring advocate groups together, and include discussions on the sex trafficking of kids, healthcare, racial justice, and other topics of high importance to Los Angeles and beyond.
Here’s a clip from the announcement from Supe MRT’s office:
The summit’s plenary session, which begins at 9 a.m. in Bovard Auditorium, will feature a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Nelson Mandela, and will have participation from an array of elected officials and community leaders. Participating will be: Compton Mayor Aja Brown; Lynwood Mayor Aide Castro, USC President C. L. Max Nikias, attorney and social justice advocate Sandra Fluke, surgeon, medical researcher, businessman and philanthropist Patrick Soon-Shiong, Dr. Robert K. Ross, CEO of the California Endowment, Irma Muñoz, founder of the environmental non-profit environmental justice group Mujeres de la Tierra and Laphonza Butler, president of Service Employees International Union–the United Long Term Care Workers’ Union.
Widely regarded as the forerunner to the neighborhood council movement, the Empowerment Congress was founded by Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas when he was a Los Angeles City Councilman. Each year, the various committees of the organization come together to re-dedicate themselves to activism and advocacy. This year’s summit will honor the civil and human rights legacies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who died last month. Both King and Mandela were enormously influential in the struggle to establish equal rights for all human beings and inspired generations of activists here in Los Angeles and around the world.
(You can learn more about the summit, and register, here.)
Long beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell announced Monday afternoon that he has jumped into the race for the office Los Angeles County Sheriff.
Although entering late, with Sheriff Baca out of the running he is expected to be a formidable candidate.
(Although nobody and nothing is a sure thing in this fluid race.)
For those unfamiliar with him, McDonnell has served as the head of the Long Beach PD since 2010. Prior to coming to LB, he served on the Los Angeles Police Department for 29 years, eventually holding the rank of Assistant Chief under Chief Bill Bratton. McDonnell was short-listed for the position of LAPD chief twice, once during the process that ultimately led to the selection of Bratton.
(It was McDonnell’s 100-page plan for reorganizing the department that was one of the main roadmaps that Bratton used when he took the reins of the LAPD in 2002)
The second time McDonnell was a runner up was in 2009 when Charlie Beck was the ultimate selection.
McDonnell was one of seven commissioners who served on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.
After an exploratory period in the spring of 2013, Chief McDonnell announced in June of last year that that he would not be running for the office of sheriff after all.
“I was torn for a long time,” he told me back then. “I’d find myself thinking about it in the middle of the night.” But although he was really tempted, he said, he took a hard look at what this kind of campaign and fundraising necessities would do to his ability to do the job he already has, namely heading the Long Beach Police Department, and also what the combination of present job and election would do to his family life, and decided against it.
More recently, however, McDonnell began to reconsider. Then, reportedly, when Sheriff Baca announced that he was pulling out of the race, McDonnell resolved to enter it. By the end of Friday of last week, he met with Baca’s long time campaign consultant, Parke Skelton, and his partners Steve Barkan and Mike Shimpock. This past weekend, word began to drift out that McDonnell’s entry was now a done deal.
Campaign watchers are already criticizing McDonnell for waiting to get into the race. Whether the voters of Los Angeles County will care about the timing or not remains to be seen.
THE FIELD OF CANDIDATES
The candidates that McDonnell will face in the race include former LASD commander and department whistleblower, Bob Olmsted, who is respected by many of the rank and file and whose testimony before the jail commission was considered to be very significant. Olmsted is represented by veteran campaign consultant, John Shallman, a heavy hitter who ran City Attorney Mike Feuer’s campaign, and who has upped Olmsted’s media presence—and his name recognition—considerably, making him a strong candidate and the leading counterpoint to Baca when the sheriff was still in the race.
Former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka is also in the race and, prior to McDonnell’s entry, has the most name recognition in the field, much of it laden with controversy. He is, however, considered to have a healthy war chest, which will be handy, come TV ad time.
LASD’s Pat Gomez, who has run for the position twice before, and has successfully sued the department for workplace retaliation, is another candidate, along with the LAPD’s Lou Vince, whose twitter commentary has been a smart and lively presence in social media—namely Twitter (@Vince4Sheriff)—since the race began.
Most recently, LASD Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers announced his candidacy last Tuesday after Baca’s retirement announcement. That same day, Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold said he too was considering a run, but was undecided. (Sheriff Baca gave both Hellmold and Rogers his backing near the end of his Tuesday press conference.)
Hellmold is reportedly planning to announce his candidacy later this week and is rumored to have already made good use of Baca’s fundraising connections.
(More on those two as their campaigns heat up.)
Right now, according to the statement announcing McDonnell’s entry, his candidacy is being endorsed by a list of well-known local figures, including the following.
LAPD Chief Charlie Beck
LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey
Former LA DA Steve Cooley
LA City Attorney Mike Feuer
Former California Assembly Speaker Bob Hertzberg
Former LA Police Commission President Rick Caruso
Former CA Attorney General John Van de Kamp
Congressmember Tony Cardinas
State Senator Ted Lieu
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara
It looks to be an interesting race.
Among the decisions that LA voters are going to have to make is whether they think an insider or an outsider is best suited to clean up the considerable mess that it the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
In the coming days, we will assuredly look at both perspectives.
In the meantime, here’s what Olmsted had to say on Monday afternoon about McDonnell’s entry into the field:
“The only thing I didn’t hear in Jim McDonnell’s announcement was ‘thank you’ for my efforts to take out Lee Baca; creating the environment for political opportunists like McDonnell to run. I’m proud to have worked with federal authorities to expose corruption in the Sheriff’s department and taking a stand when no one else, including McDonnell, would do so. I am disappointed that McDonnell’s first decision as a candidate is to hire Lee Baca’s political team of advisors. LA County voters can’t afford to put another politician into the Sheriff’s office. We need a tough, independent law enforcement professional with the courage to stand up against corruption and to fight for our taxpayers and our most vulnerable citizens–not the politicians.”
ADVICE FOR THE FUTURE LASD INTERIM SHERIFF…AND MORE
One of the next big questions, following Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement announcement last week, is who the LA County Board of Supervisors will choose as interim sheriff to take over the department until a permanent sheriff is elected 10 months from now.
A Sunday LA Times editorial calls for that temporary sheriff to use that time to gut the sheriff’s department of dishonest officers and to create a culture of openness and accountability.
The Board of Supervisors should appoint an interim sheriff for the next 10 months who embraces not just the marching orders of reform but the underlying need for real change. Such a person must be prepared to root out an entrenched attitude of resistance. He or she must be prepared to face and overcome deputies and supervisors who believe they can wait out any departmental revamp.
If the Sheriff’s Department needs a housecleaning — and it does — now is the time. Proven dishonesty should result in discharge, and supervisors uncomfortable with scrutiny and new structures of accountability should be moved aside. An interim sheriff who fires and demotes as the situation requires may well be unpopular, but that’s the point: As a short-term appointee, he or she can and should take steps that might give pause to someone seeking election or reelection.
The interim sheriff should make clear in both word and deed that dishonesty — as opposed to personal disloyalty — will be punished. Honest deputies must see that deceit will be found out and punished. If there is a jailhouse code of silence meant to protect deputies and enable the abuse of inmates, it must be eliminated. An unyielding stance against secretive conduct and deception should be adopted by the interim sheriff and should be considered nonnegotiable by the time the elected sheriff takes office.
Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability that will transcend and outlast any single person’s leadership must be put in place. There is already an inspector general to monitor and report on jail conditions and the use of force, and to conduct its own investigations, and that’s a good start, but more is needed.
As a demonstration of just how urgently the LA County Sheriff’s Department is in need of reform, here are the numbers on how much the LASD is costing the county in terms of legal settlements in 2013: accounting for nearly half of the county’s total litigation costs, the sheriff’s dept. spent $43M. That’s $6M up from last year, in spite of LA County’s total expenditure being at a seven-year low. (You can find the rest of the spending report on LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s website.)
AND IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: BACA ASKS BISHOP TURNER TO RESIGN
In an interview with Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, ABC 7 learned that Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner will be resigning at the behest of the sheriff, pending investigation into a list of questionable issues, including the fact that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across from his church. (A previous WLA post on the Bishop Turner story can be found here.)
On Friday, the sheriff appeared for an Eyewitness Newsmakers interview, where I asked whether he felt betrayed by Turner.
“I feel like he should have told me that this is going on so I didn’t catch it in a difference source. But that didn’t happen. So we are doing an investigation, but I also informed the bishop yesterday that it’d be best if he resigned from the program. We will still continue the investigation, however, and he’s indicating he will resign,” said Baca.
Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore later told Eyewitness News that Turner is resigning from his appointed position, along with two other appointed field deputies, because the sheriff is retiring, and the investigation continues as a separate matter.
PLEA BARGAINS SUPERSEDING TRIAL BY JURY
In an article for the Crime Report, Matthew Mangino, former district attorney for Lawrence County, PA, explains why plea bargains—which represents how 97% of federal criminal cases are closed—are undermining the nation’s criminal justice system by rendering trial-by-jury nearly nonexistent. Here are some clips:
Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain. In state courts the numbers are comparable. The plea bargain may be the grease that keeps the criminal justice system churning, but it may also be a sign of a system in need of repair.
Judge John Gleeson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently wrote, “An excessively high rate of guilty pleas is unhealthy for our justice system.”
Why? The only scrutiny a case may receive in federal court is that afforded by a grand jury and, as long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau once said, he could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.”
At trial the government must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government must firmly convince the jury of every element of the offense and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime.
But, as Gleeson observed, “Our [grand jury] system permits indictment to be returned on an ex parte presentation consisting entirely of inadmissible evidence.”
Much of the evidence presented to a grand jury would never see the light of day in a jury trial. The burden of proof before a grand jury requires merely a showing of probable cause; it does not require showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not need unanimity of the grand jurors.
What this means is that an insignificant number of offenders heading off to state or federal prison were proven guilty of anything…For 97 out of 100 people accused of a crime in federal court, all that has been proven against them is that a crime has been committed and that they “probably” committed it—the same standard that permits a police officer or federal agent to make an arrest.
FIRST JUVENILE OFFENDER TO GAIN POSSIBILITY OF PAROLE UNDER CALIFORNIA’S FAIR SENTENCING FOR YOUTH ACT
At 16-years-old, Edel Gonzalez was given life without parole (LWOP) for his involvement in the death of a woman during a carjacking. A controversial and important California law (SB 9) that went into effect last year, gives some juveniles, who were tried as adults and sentenced to LWOP, a chance of a chance at parole, if signed off by a judge. This past December, Gonzalez was the first person resentenced to life with the possibility of parole. (For backstory on the passage of SB 9, go here.)
Elizabeth Calvin, a senior children’s advocate at Human Rights Watch, tells Gonzalez’ story and explains the significance of this new law. Here are some clips:
I first met Edel in 2007. Seated at a visiting room table in a maximum security prison, he was a somber 32-year-old. I was investigating California’s use of life-without-parole sentences for teens. Before his crime, he had been solidly ensconced in a gang since age 11. He had also been suppressing childhood abuse and loss, and dealt with his pain by drinking. He’d never met his father, so older gang members provided his only adult male role models. He was thoroughly drunk when he and two adult codefendants attempted to steal a car. One of the men — not Edel — unexpectedly shot the driver. Edel was convicted of murder for his role and sentenced to life without parole.
When we met, he had been in prison 16 years, and a coffin would be his only way out. He was a man with no reason to hope. Yet he had reflected deeply on why he had been so lost at 16, and described his efforts to be a good person since that time. His virtually pristine prison record supported his claim.
“I am a different person than I was then,” he said. “I wish I could change the things I did. But I can try to live an upright life now, even here.” When he spoke about his victim, he became overwhelmed. He turned away, hiding tears and shame. “I’d tell her, if I could … I’m sorry. I don’t know how to give you my life. I would give you my heart if I could.”
A few weeks before Edel’s December hearing, I got a call from a jail chaplain in another county. He said that a youth had just been sentenced to life without parole and that during sentencing, the judge turned to the boy and said, “You are a monster.” His crime was a murder with depressing similarities to Edel’s case. A monstrous act, yes — a truth about any murder.
But a child is not a monster. And that is what this law is about. Science and law compel a court to consider the fact that a young person still is developing. No one can know who a 16-year-old will be in 22 years.