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Skid Row


Fighting Child Sex Trafficking, Planting Informants, LA County Settles Another High Ticket Lawsuit…and LAPD’s Mental Health Training

March 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TO BLOCK CHILD TRAFFICKING IN HOMELESS MOTELS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion to step up the county’s regulations on emergency shelter motels in an effort to combat child sex trafficking.

These facilities receive money from the county to provide short term housing to the homeless, but have also become easy hubs for sex trafficking.

The motion directs the Department of Public and Social Services to work out how the county can increase funding to the General Relief Emergency Housing Program to boost the amount of money paid to the motels, and identify alternative housing options for the homeless population.

The motion also directs DPSS and County Counsel to report back in 30 days with a feasibility analysis regarding changing the current motel participation free-for-all to a competitive bid process. The approved motels would sign a contract saying they would allow no sex trafficking on their property. They would also have to take an anti-trafficking training session, as well as hang up posters with hotline numbers in visible places. In addition, law enforcement inspections could occur at any time without warning (they are usually conducted during regular business hours, currently).

Here’s a clip from the motion by Mark Ridley-Thomas and Don Knabe:

Throughout Los Angeles County (County), children as young as nine are being exploited sexually for commercial purposes. According to the California Child Welfare Council, a trafficker may earn as much as $650,000 in a year by selling as few as four children. Often, motels and hotels are used by traffickers and buyers of sex with children as the venue for exploitation. According to The Polaris Project, an international anti-human trafficking organization named after the North Star which guided slaves to freedom in the United States, victims may be forced to stay at a hotel or motel where customers come to them or they are required to go to rooms rented out by the customers or traffickers. Additionally, sex trafficking victims often stay in hotels and motels with their traffickers while moving to different cities or states.

Approximately 45 motels/hotels are used Countywide to house homeless individuals through the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) General Relief (GR) Emergency Housing program, which was developed to provide temporary shelter for homeless GR applicants while their application financial assistance is pending. An estimated 22 of these motels are located in the 2nd District, by far the highest percentage in the County. Of those 22 in the 2nd District, at least half are located on well-known prostitution tracks.

LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell fully supports the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip from his statement on the Supes decision:

As your Sheriff, I, along with the more than 18,000 men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, remain committed to protecting the victims of this horrific emerging crime. We will continue our active engagement of – and partnership with — local, state and national leaders to obtain the necessary tools and resources to fight these criminal enterprises. I am also committed to work with local, state and federal partners to bring awareness to the need for enhanced penalties against the traffickers who sell these girls and the men who create the demand that sustains this criminal enterprise.

We must also work to address those in commercial ventures, including motel owners, who are creating a vehicle for these crimes to occur in our community. Our detectives routinely respond to the illicit narcotics and sex trade business, often gang-related, operating in and around motels throughout the County. This illegal business is often conducted during all hours of the day and night, in open view of residences and in the presence of children walking to school.

McDonnell has also been hammering away at this issue. Here’s a clip from his statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on human sex trafficking late last month:

For the larger counties such as Los Angeles, child sex trafficking is a problem that is not going away. In Los Angeles, our County departments and law enforcement agencies are endeavoring to work together to respond to the growing problem of trafficking and the sexual exploitation of children. We are crafting new approaches that better address the unique challenges these offenses pose.

One of our primary areas of focus has been on rehabilitating rather than punishing and detaining CSEC victims. We are helping sexually exploited children through a multi-agency team approach in a specialized juvenile court – called the “STAR” Court (Succeed Through Achievement and Resilience) – that avoids the typically adversarial nature of delinquency proceedings. County staff work to quickly move victims out of the juvenile justice system and coordinate with providers to offer needed services as well as increasing awareness and the identification of CSEC victims. Initiatives such as the STAR court have been funded through two grants awarded to the County’s Juvenile Court and Probation Department by the State of California from its Federal Title II Juvenile Justice Formula Grant allocation. Yet this is only a single court that impacts a limited number of young trafficking victims.

What is really needed at the local level is enhanced funding. Several pieces of legislation, including the Violence Against Women Act enacted in 2013, authorized grants for local initiatives to combat trafficking. But funds are seldom appropriated for this purpose.

For example, in Fiscal Year 2015, Congress tripled the appropriation of Department of Justice (DOJ) funding for trafficking victim services programs from $14.25 million to $42.25 million, but there is currently no assurance that DOJ will provide any of this funding to local governments. At a minimum, we would request that DOJ set aside at least $8 million of this funding for grants for local government initiatives that could be used to support more specialized courts such as the one in Los Angeles or for victim services provided by law enforcement, child welfare, or probation agencies. Funding could also be used to establish a Sex Trafficking Block Grant as authorized by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000, as amended….

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Rennick has more on the important move. Here’s a clip:

Also of concern is that vendors appear to under-report criminal activity on their premises to law enforcement, and that DPSS only makes a single monthly visit to each vendor, which takes place during regular business hours.

A spokesperson for DPSS said during today’s board meeting that the agency is committed to working with the board to ensure it does not contract with entities who allow sex trafficking at their facilities. DPSS also plans to collaborate with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and other law enforcement agencies to establish a reporting protocol in order to capture criminal activity taking place at hotels and motels under contract with the county.

One of many community-based nonprofit organizations supporting the motion is Saving Innocence, which works to rescue children from sexual trafficking.

“One-hundred percent of the children we serve were held captive or sold in these hotels and motels,” said Kim Biddle, executive director, during the meeting. “I would say we also need to look into criminalizing owners and managers of these hotels, but at the very least we need to increase their accountability.”


A PEAK INTO THE PRACTICE OF PLACING INFORMANTS WITH SUSPECTS TO GET INCRIMINATING

JAIL SUPERVISOR SEZ INFORMANTS WERE REGULARLY PLANTED TO GET SUSPECTS TO SELF-INCRIMINATE

A retired Santa Clara County Jail official, Lt. Frank Dixon, says he housed jailhouse informants with suspects to question them at the request of other cops and prosecutors from the District Attorney’s office, in violation of their civil rights.

A US Supreme Court ruling in 1986 says that informants may only be used for listening purposes; they are not to question suspects without the presence of their attorneys or coerce them into incriminating themselves.

San Jose Mercury News’ Tracy Kaplan has the story. Here are some clips:

“This has been happening everywhere nearly forever,” Orange County Public Defender Scott Sanders said. “How many wrongful convictions are there in this state behind these types of actions? Thousands, certainly. It is scary.”

[SNIP]

Former Santa Clara County District Attorney George Kennedy, who was first elected in 1990 and served four terms, said prosecutors “infrequently” did ask that inmates be housed in particular jail units, but only “in the most important matters” to learn such things as an accused killer’s motive or the location of a corpse. But he said they didn’t violate the inmates’ rights.

“Inmate-colleagues transferred for such purpose were not acting as questioning law-enforcement agents, but rather as persons given opportunities to listen,” Kennedy said.

In the Bains case, the informant, who claimed he just happened to be placed in the same unit as the accused killer, peppered him and other inmates with questions, according to testimony during the trial.

Dixon does not recall specifically planting the informant in Bains’ case. But he says that housing the suspected killer with informant Raymond Delgado, who had testified two weeks earlier in a different case and should have been in protective custody, was so “highly unusual” that it probably was intentional. He also clearly recalls “routinely” planting other informants in his capacity from the late 1980s through the late 1990s as one of two lieutenants who ran the classification unit, which assigns inmates to cells. He also said others in the classifications unit did the same thing.

[SNIP]

In his declaration, Dixon also said law enforcement agencies “upon occasion” would book an informant on “made-up charges” to gather information. He called the practice “849-ing,” referring to the penal code section that requires the release of inmates who are not charged with a crime within 48 hours. Dixon also said in the interview that he would make arrangements for a jail informant and a defendant who did not have to appear in court on a particular day to be bused to the courthouse so they would be forced to spend all day together in a cramped holding cell, where the informant would have plenty of time to tease out information from the other inmate.


LA COUNTY TO SETTLE JUVENILE CAMP BEATING CASE FOR $1.2 MIL

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a settlement to the tune of $1.2 million in a lawsuit alleging that in 2008, juvenile detention camp staff neglected to address and subdue known racial tension that lead to a riot and the severe beating of Nathaniel Marshall. Marshall, who is black, sustained life-long injuries when he was pulled from his bunk and beaten by other teenagers during the riot at Camp Miller in Malibu.

Marshall suffered strokes during the incident, and now has epilepsy.

County attorneys only recommended a settlement after spending over $730,000 in legal fees and other expenses.

After the riot, the probation department lowered the number of kids placed at Miller to boost the staff-to-kid ratio, and implemented new safety policies.

The Santa Monica Mirror has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

“This was a systematic breakdown that amounted to deliberate indifference,” Goldstein said last summer. “These kids at that camp were entitled to be protected.”

A summary prepared by the Probation Department claimed that staffers were able to quickly control the situation.

“Staff worked to contain the situation quickly and effectively and the fight was stopped within seconds by giving verbal commands and making use of safe crisis management techniques,” according to the report….

Attorney Tomas Guterres, representing the county, told jurors that fights in detention camps cannot be eliminated. “It’s the nature of the population,” he said.

Goldstein said staffers and his client warned camp personnel that a race riot was about to break out, but no action was taken to prevent it. The complaint alleged the county failed to properly train and supervise the staff to make sure they reacted properly to the warnings.

In the wake of the brawl, the Probation Department cut the number of juvenile offenders housed at Camp Miller to create a better staffing ratio and also updated and expanded safety and security procedures, according to a “corrective action plan” submitted to the board for approval.


A QUICK-GUIDE ON THE LAPD’S MENTAL HEALTH TRAINING PRACTICES

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck noted in Monday’s press conference that two of the officers involved with Sunday’s Skid Row shooting had received specialized mental health training.

KPCC’s Stephanie O’Neill has a helpful rundown on what the LAPD’s mental health training looks like, how many officers receive it, and how the Mental Evaluation Unit works. Here’s a clip:

What kind of training did the officers have?

Chief Beck says the officers involved in the shooting were assigned to the department’s Safer Cities Initiative, which launched in 2005 to deal with issues of crime on Skid Row. As part of that program, he says, all were “specially trained on dealing with homeless people and mental illness issues.”

In that unit, officers are trained in a 2 1/2-hour course that updates the six hours of training all cadets get in the police academy. What’s more, officers in that program are given priority to attend the LAPD”s week-long Mental Health Evaluation Training (MHIT).

What kind of training does MHIT provide to officers?

The course is a 36-hour intensive that covers all aspects of mental illness and crisis intervention. The training includes role playing exercises in which clinicians from the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health act out common scenarios that officers are likely to come across in the field.

Those role plays include talking a jumper off a ledge; dealing with a person suffering from active delusions and helping families deal with a loved one in crisis.

Another exercise teaches officers what it’s like for someone with paranoid delusions. One officer sits down while two people talk into each of his ears. While that’s happening, another person stands in front of the seated officer and gives him orders. The officer must then write down what he’s able to hear. The exercise is intended to show the police how hard it is for someone who might be hearing voices to follow their commands, and why many in the throes of delusions aren’t able to follow their orders.

Posted in Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, mental health, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Skid Row Shooting Points to Larger Problems…..Attica Dramas, Past & Present…CA Supremes Overturn Sex Offender Housing Law…..Holder’s To Do List

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

TWO BODY CAMERAS IN SKID ROW SHOOTING REPORTEDLY OFFER TELLING INFO, AS DEADLY INCIDENT POINTS TO LARGER PROBLEMS, EXPERTS SAY

The above video of Sunday’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Skid Row man by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is the original one shot by a bystander that’s gone viral on YouTube, not one of the body cam videos that are expected to play a role in determining what actually happened, and if use of deadly force could have been avoided.

The shooting, which has inevitably sparked controversy, was covered by at least two amateur videos as well as the security camera of the Union Rescue Mission, and two body cameras worn by LAPD officers who activated their devices prior to the action.

While the LAPD has not yet released the body cam videos, LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton talked to police sources who have reviewed the videos. Here is a clip from the story outlining what Winton and Mather learned:

Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.

But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.

One source said an officer is heard on the video shouting “He’s got my gun” multiple times. The footage then shows the officers pulling away from the man as though his actions posed a threat, the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The new information comes a day after an LAPD sergeant and two officers shot and killed a man in downtown’s skid row, an area heavily populated by homeless people.

The LAPD has said the officers were responding to a 911 call about a robbery and that the man tried to fight the officers after they approached him. During the struggle, the LAPD said, the man reached for a probationary officer’s holstered pistol, prompting police to open fire.

In a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed a still photo from the bystander’s video that appears to show the homeless man reaching for an officer’s weapon. Beck also said that two of the officers involved were among those had received extensive training in dealing with the mentally ill.

Reverend Andy Bales, the highly respected executive director of the nearby Union Rescue Mission, who said he knew the homeless man shot by officers, who called himself “Africa, told reporters that Skid Row is becoming an increasingly difficult area to police due to the influx of homeless from elsewhere in LA County where officials, rather than deal with their own homeless residents, send them to Skid Row. Bales called current conditions the worst he’s seen.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has been widely praised for his own longterm work on Skid Row, echoed many of Bales’ observations on his Facebook page on Monday regarding the about the newly dire nature of conditions for LA’s homeless. (Joseph was not present at the shooting on Sunday.) The current system “is failing the mentally ill,” he wrote, “it is failing the community they live in, as well as the officers who serve them.”

URM’s Bales went further and strongly recommended far more training for law enforcement, and that the specially trained officers be allowed to take the lead in approaching homeless who are likely mentally ill, while armed officers wait nearby.

The veteran homeless expert told the LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that he’s frequently seen encounters similar to Sunday’s go wrong, “because the officers are all using one hand to protect their guns.”


A BEATDOWN OF AN INMATE INSIDE ATTICA PRISON BY GUARDS WAKES OLD GHOSTS AND RESULTS IN NEW CHARGES—AND A VERY UNEXPECTED SETTLEMENT

Built in the 1930′s, the supermax prison located in Attica, New York, seems to have more than the usual number of ghosts—vivid collective memories that still haunt nearly everyone locked up in or working at the place.

Attica Correctional Facility entered the national lexicon in September 9, 1971 when, after weeks of tension, the inmates rioted and took over the facility, beating a guard fatally in the process. Although guards took most of the prison back within hours, 1,281 convicts retained control of an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. When negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an uncontrolled storm of bullets.

A total of 43 people died. That number included the original guard killed by inmates, William Quinn, and three inmates who were beaten to death by other prisoners. The extensive investigation that followed showed that the rest were killed by gunfire, and that the inmates never had access to firearms.

The terrible riot happened nearly 45 years ago. But now a new case of a brutal inmate beatomg by guards has resurrected many of the old ghosts.

A story by Tom Robbins, for both the Marshall Project and the New York Times, investigates the more recent incident, and also looks at it’s psychological resonance with the past.

The story concerns an inmate named George Williams, a 29-year-old African American man from New Jersey who was doing two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan. What happened to Williams occurred around 30 minutes after a noisy verbal exchange between a guard and an inmate, in which the guard swore, and the inmate swore back, then added a disrespectful and obscene suggestion, after the swearing.

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

[SNIP]

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica…

[SNIP]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

An extensive investigation resulted. And on December 13, 2011, a New York state grand jury handed down criminal indictments against four Attica guards.

Inmates at Attica were stunned by the indictments as well. To them, the remarkable thing about the beating Mr. Williams endured that August night was not the cynical way in which it seemed to have been planned, or even the horrific extent of his injuries. What was truly notable was that the story got out, and that officers had been arrested and charged.

“What they did? How they jumped that guy? That was normal,” said a prisoner who has spent more than 20 years inside Attica. “It happens all the time,” he said. That view was echoed in interviews with more than three dozen current and former Attica inmates, many of whom made the rounds of the state’s toughest prisons during their incarceration. They cited Attica as the most fearsome place they had been held, a facility where a small group of correction officers dole out harsh punishment largely with impunity. Those still confined there talked about it with trepidation. If quoted by name, retaliation was certain, they said.

Those now beyond the reach of the batons described life at Attica in detail. Antonio Yarbough, 39, spent 20 years in the prison after being convicted of a multiple murder of which he was exonerated in 2014. Unlike Mr. Williams, Mr. Yarbough could go head-to-head with the biggest of Attica’s guards: He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. But he said that fear of those in charge was a constant. “You’re scared to go to the yard, scared to go to chow. You just stay in your house,” he said, using prison slang for a cell.

That fear was palpable to Soffiyah Elijah when she visited Attica a few months before the beating of Mr. Williams as the Correctional Association’s newly appointed executive director. The organization holds a unique right under state law that allows it to inspect state prisons. “What struck me when I walked the tiers of Attica was that every person, bar none, talked about how the guards were brutalizing them,” Ms. Elijah said. “There are atrocities as well at Clinton and Auburn, but the problem is systemic at Attica.” In 2012, the association began calling for Attica to be shut down. “I believe it’s beyond repair,” Ms. Elijah said.

On Monday, a day after the publication of the above story, the case was unexpectedly settled when three of the guards accused of beating Williams so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. Tom Robbins and Lauren D’Avolio report for the New York Times about the last-minute plea deal that spared the three any jail or prison time in exchange for quitting their jobs.


CALIFORNIA STATE SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST LAW SEVERELY RESTRICTING WHERE SEX OFFENDERS CAN LIVE

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the residence restrictions imposed by the the 2006 voter approved Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act—AKA Jessica’s Law—violate the constitutional protections laid out in the 14th Amendment.

Jessica’s Law prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park where children gather, regardless of whether or not the offenders’ crimes involved children, or if the offender’s crimes suggested he or she posed any kind of credible future threat.

The law was challenged by four sex offender parolees in San Diego County who contended that the restrictions made it nearly impossible to find a place to live, thus undermining public safety by often forcing offenders into homelessness.

Jacob Sullum writing for Reason Magazine has more. Here’s a clip:

The state Supreme Court agreed, noting that the 2,000-foot rule excludes 97 percent of the land zoned for multifamily housing in San Diego County. Writing for the court, Justice Marvin Baxter said such an onerous burden, imposed without individual evaluation, cannot be justified even under the highly deferential “rational basis” test, which requires only that a law be rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees, while further hampering the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate them in the interests of public safety. It thus has infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive official action.

The court said residence restrictions are still permissible as a condition of parole, “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee.”

The ruling technically only affects San Diego County, but opens up challenges for other California counties, especially those containing large cities.


NEW US AG LYNCH UNLIKELY TO BE CONFIRMED ‘TILL NEXT WEEK, BUT HOLDER HAS A TO DO LIST

While according to Politico, it appears that U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will not be confirmed until next week. (She was nominated by President Obama in November to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder.) In the meantime, however, in the Washington Post, Holder has put forth a four point To Do list of “unfinished business” in the realm of criminal justice. Here are Holder’s big four:

1. RETROACTIVITY ON THE CRACK/POWDER FAIR SENTENCING ACT “First, although Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate a discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, thousands of individuals who committed crimes before 2010 are still serving sentences based on the old ratio. This is unfair. Congress should pass legislation to apply that statute retroactively…”

2. PASS A LAW RESTRICTING MANDATORY MINIMUMS “Second, while the Justice Department has declined to seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences in cases where they are not warranted, we need to codify this approach…”

3. ONCE YOU DO YOUR TIME, YOUR VOTING RIGHTS SHOULD BE RESTORED: “Third, in individual states, legislatures should eliminate statutes that prevent an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote because of felony convictions….”

4. OPERATIONAL DRUG COURTS IN EVERY FEDERAL DISTRICT: Finally, we should seek to expand the use of federal drug courts throughout the country for low-level drug offenses. These programs provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women who are willing to do the hard work of recovery…

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Skid Row | No Comments »

Inmate Tech Entrepreneur Program Comes to Twin Towers…Help for LA’s Homeless Moms…Suicide of Deputy’s Girlfriend Leaves Much Unanswered…and a Bill for Brightly-Colored Fake Guns

November 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS

A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.

If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.

KPCC’s Martha Mendoza has the story. Here’s a clip:

The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.

“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…

“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.

After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.

Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.

The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.

They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.


NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.

The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:

Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.

[SNIP]

About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.

To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.

Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS

In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.

Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.

The NY Times’ Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber have an excellent interactive narrative of the case and the aftermath. (A PBS “Frontline” documentary produced concurrently with the article will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10:00p.m., but has already been released on the PBS website.)

Here are some clips:

At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.

Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.

Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.

“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”

Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.

With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.

Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.

Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.

Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.

Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.

Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.

And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.

Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.

[SNIP]

The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.

The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.

(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has the story. Here’s a clip:

The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.

“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”

De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.

That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

Monday Must Reads: Bratton, the 2nd Amendment, Patient Dumping and More

August 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


BRATTON REALLY, REALLY, REALLY WANTED TO BECOME BRITAIN’S TOP COP

You gotta love Bill. Sunday’s Guardian reports on how much Bratton wanted to apply for the position of commissioner of the Metropolitan police—an ambition that got squashed over the weekend. The Guardian also reports in great detail about how Bill verbally thrashed anybody who suggested that one ought to be born in Britain to hold such a job.

The New York Times also has a report on the Bratton in London adventure.

Adore the aviator glasses, by the way.


CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE SAYS VETERAN’S ADMINISTRATION DUMPED PATIENT AT A DOWNTOWN SHELTER

The LA Times Alexandra Zavis and Richard Winton have the alarming story. Here’s a clip:

The graying veteran in a wheelchair was found in the parking lot of a Westside cold weather shelter wearing hospital pants, carrying a urine bottle and screaming for help.

Senior officials at the Los Angeles city attorney’s office say they believe James Boykin was “dumped” Dec. 1 at the shelter after his toe was removed at the nearby Department of Veterans Affairs medical center because of a bone infection. Moreover, according to city prosecutors, VA officials blocked an investigation that could have shed light on whether there were other similar incidents.

“This was an unprecedented interference with an investigation,” said Jeffrey B. Isaacs, who heads the office’s criminal and special litigation branch.

VA officials strongly dispute the allegations involving Boykin, adding that the city does not have authority to conduct a criminal investigation on federal property.


RE: SECURE COMMUNITIES – DEAR OBAMA ADMINISTRATION, YOU’RE NOT HELPING

Julia Preston for the New York Times writes that resistance to the Secure Communities program is growing. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Thomas Menino, who often invokes his heritage as the grandson of an Italian immigrant, was one of the first local leaders in the country to embrace a federal program intended to improve community safety by deporting dangerous immigrant criminals.

But five years after Boston became a testing ground for the fingerprinting program, known as Secure Communities, Mr. Menino is one of the latest local officials to sour on it and seek to withdraw. He found that many immigrants the program deported from Boston, though here illegally, had committed no crimes. The mayor believed it was eroding hard-earned ties between Boston’s police force and its melting-pot mix of ethnic neighborhoods.

Last month, Mr. Menino sent a letter to the program with a blunt assessment. “Secure Communities is negatively impacting public safety,” he wrote, asking how Boston could get out.

On Aug. 5, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which runs the program, gave an equally blunt response. Its director, John Morton, announced he was canceling all agreements that 40 states and cities had signed to start Secure Communities. Their assent was not legally required, he said, and he planned to move ahead anyway to extend the program nationwide by 2013.


A STRING OF NEW CASES COULD HIT THE SUPREMES ASKING FOR A CLARIFICATION OF THE 2ND AMENDMENT

In Monday’s Washington Post, Robert Barnes has a round up of the second Amendment cases that are likely headed to the Supreme Court.

A funny thing has happened in the three years since gun-rights activists won their biggest victory at the Supreme Court.

They’ve been on a losing streak in the lower courts.

The activists found the holy grail in 2008 when the Supreme Court’s 5 to 4 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller said the Second Amendment guaranteed an individual right to own a firearm unconnected to military service. The court followed it up with McDonald v. Chicago two years later, holding that the amendment applies not just to gun control laws passed by Congress but to local and state laws as well.

The decisions were seen as a green light to challenge gun restrictions across the country, and the lawsuits have come raining down — more than two a week, according to the anti-gun Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

But it is the Brady Center that is crowing about the results.

“Three years and more than 400 legal challenges later, courts — so far — have held that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Heller was narrow and limited, and that the Second Amendment does not interfere with the people’s right to enact legislation protecting families and communities from gun violence,” the center said in a report optimistically titled “Hollow Victory?


NEW HOPE FOR FINDING A JOB—EVEN AFTER PRISON

On Monday, Jim Newton’s LA Times column profiles Chrysalis. A Los Angeles-based nonprofit with facilities in Santa Monica, Pacoima and on the edge of skid row that manages to put desperate people to work.

Read it. It’ll cheer you up.

Posted in Bill Bratton, Homelessness, How Appealing, immigration, Must Reads, Skid Row, Supreme Court | 7 Comments »

Thursday Picks

April 8th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Skid-Row-injuncton-protest

SKID ROW DRUG DEALER GANG INJUNCTION

On Wednesday, the LA City Attorney’s office announced a new kind of gang injunction that doesn’t target particular gangs per se, but names individuals from a variety of LA gangs who are believed to be coming into Skid Row on a commuter basis to sell drugs.

Kate Linthicum of the LA Times has the story as does C.J. Lin of The Daily News.

There are those who object to the injunction saying that homeless who are merely addicts—who may have run messages for dealers to get their own stash— will be driven away from the Skid Row area where they can acquire much needed services and help.

But others who serve the homeless, like the Union Rescue Mission’s Andy Bales, see the injunction as a good move. “This is the best news we’ve had in a while,” Andy Bales told the Times.

Bruce Riordan, the city attorney’s director of anti-gang operations, said that those listed in the injunction will have plenty of time to challenge their inclusion before the injunction actually kicks in.

Speaking personally, while I know there are more than a few possible abuses that can occur, and mistakes will no doubt be made, still I think the use of an injunction to dissuade the drive-through drug dealers who prey on the homeless is an idea that has appeal.

In the end, whether the injunction is used as valuable tool or a cudgel will depend upon the intelligence and the finesse—or lack thereof— with which it is enforced.


PARENTS’ SCHOOL CHOICE WINS—TEMPORARILY

In past years, around 12,000 students who live in the LAUSD area have been given permission to transfer to a school in a district outside LAUSD—districts such as Beverly Hills, Las Virgenes, Culver City and so on. The idea is that students can transfer to take advantage of a particular program that their local schools didn’t have. Sometimes the requests were just what they said they were. Other times, it was merely a case of frustrated parents who had learned to work the system because they wanted to get their children the hell out of the overcrowded, over-bureaucratized, often-failing Los Angeles Unified School District.

Last month, however, LAUSD superintendent Roman Cortines said that, next year, all of those 12,000 plus kids had to come back. The reasons had nothing to do with the kids’ well being. It was purely a money issue. If most of those students came back to Los Angeles schools LAUSD would get around $50 million more from the state in ADA money—ADA being the sacred average daily attendance figure that dictates much of school funding.

After weeks of parents flipping out, on Tuesday, Cortines and the school board reluctantly walked that very unpopular cat back, and said yes to the transfers—temporarily.

State Senator Gloria Romero, who wants to be the next head of Education for California
—was vocally in favor of keeping the transfer policy. “While some might argue that LAUSD will suffer by implementing these reform measures…..Let us not forget that the needs of students must always come first,” she wrote.

Uh, yeah. That last part, the students come first thingy, would be very good to remember.


CALIFORNIA MOVES ONE STEP CLOSER TO REPEALING STATE LAW MANDATING A “GAY CURE.”

On Tuesday, the Assembly’s Public Safety committee passed AB 2199, a bill that would repeal a section of the California Welfare and Institutions code, created in the 1950s, which—no kidding—requires the State Department of Mental Health to conduct research into the “causes and cures of homosexuality.”

Startling to find that such a sad and loathsome thing is on the books, but it is. And it codifies bigotry.

The bill to repeal the statute passed out of committee with a 4-0 vote, but there were also three abstentions—namely Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, Assemblymen Curt Hagman, R-Diamond Bar, and Danny Gilmore, R-Hanford.

(What’s that about? No, don’t tell me.)

The bill’s sponsor, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal, explains the genesis of the icky statute in question here in the LA Times.



THE DANZIGER BRIDGE MURDERS—AND THE COVER-UP—FINALLY COME TO LIGHT

Witnesses said it happened a week after Katrina hit as people were trying desperately to get to some kind of safety. Officers denied it and aggressively covered the incident up. But now,former New Orleans police officer Michael Hunt says he participated in covering up the murders of unarmed civilians, and told the whole horrifying story on the record in federal court on Wednesday.

The NOLA Times Picayune has the fullest account.

And here is their earlier investigation of the shootings.


Photo from AP

Posted in City Attorney, Education, Gangs, LAPD, LGBT, Skid Row | 16 Comments »

UPDATED….Hospital Dumping Case Settled – ACLU in a Good Mood

May 14th, 2007 by Celeste Fremon

homeless-woman-dumped-2.jpg

Remember that creepy Skid Row/hospital dumping case caught on video last Spring?
(I know, I know. There’ve been a lot of really creepy Skid Row dumping cases in the past 12 months. So, to refresh your memory about this particular case, you’ll find the video below.)

Here’s the deal: there will be an announcement at a Tuesday morning press conference regarding both the ACLU’s lawsuit and LA City Attorney, Rocky Delgadillo’s criminal charges stemming from the case.
The lawsuit and the charges arose from an incident in March of 2006, in which a 63-year-old woman, Carol Ann Reyes, was found wandering on Skid Row, allegedly dumped there after she was was discharged from Kaiser Permanente’s Bellflower hospital. The hospital was accused of sending Ms. Reyes to Skid Row in a taxi cab, whereupon the driver essentially booted her out near the corner of 5th and San Pedro, in front of the Union Rescue Mission.

What won’t be announced until tomorrow, (but what we’re telling you tonight) is that ACLU and Kaiser have agreed to a mutual settlement, and that, based on what we hear from well-connected friends, the ACLU folks are extremely pleased.

As for Rocky’s office, they’ll be will be making their own announcement tomorrow. It will have to do with “guidelines” that have been worked out with Kaiser that prevent the hospital from misbehaving in the future—or words to that effect. Presumably this guideline agreement saves the hospital from a criminal prosecution, which might have a nasty effect on its accreditation, et al.


Despite all these swell announcements to come, the still-pressing question is
whether the settlements and guidelines constitute a hard enough legal and monetary smack that it will dissuade other hospitals from dumping in the future.

If the past is any guide, the answer is: Not really.


If you’ll remember, for months before the Carol Ann Reyes incident
, service providers and city officials, Jan Perry included, had been complaining that hospitals were dumping their indigent patients on Skid row, and the Central division of the LAPD had been actively investigating the complaints.

The tough part, said the cops and the prosecutors, was getting enough to charge a hospital then making charges stick, since homeless and/or mentally ill folks often don’t make for the best witnesses. But this time, the Union Mission’s surveillance video caught the dumping on tape. While the camera rolled, a taxi hung a U in the middle of San Pedro St., pulled up to the curb, dropped off an elderly woman in a hospital gown, then drove away. A disoriented Ms. Reyes was then seen shuffling along the sidewalk (and through the video frame) in her gown and hospital booties.

Amazingly, even that video and the threat of criminal prosecution didn’t stop other hospitals from continuing to dump homeless patients after discharge as this October 2006 NPR story shows:

Police who interviewed some of the patients being left at Skid Row say that none of them reported asking to go there. One man, says [LAPD Central Division] Capt. Smith, had asked to be released to his children’s home in Pasadena.

Our supervisors actually gave that guy a ride back to his house, and his family was outraged,” Smith says. “Not only did they not know that he’d been discharged but the fact that he’d been brought to Skid Row instead of home further outraged that family.”

And then, of course, there was February’s award-winningly horrifying case of the paraplegic man wearing a soiled hospital gown “and a broken colostomy bag” who was “found crawling in a gutter” in Skid Row (as the LA Times then described it).

Obviously, there are no guarantees, but here’s hoping that tomorrow’s announced deals will accomplish what a string of embarrassing news stories and repeated appeals to LA’s hospitals’ humanity could not.

I’m not betting the ranch on it.

*****************************************************************

UPDATE – POST PRESS CONFERENCE

Well, maybe there is reason to be optimistic. In addition to the terms of the civil suit, which are confidential, the joint settlement works out a series of protocols and practices that Kaiser has agreed to follow ever after. The idea is less to be punitive, than to set up well-thought out guidelines that Kaiser and, following their lead, other hospitals can live with on a practical basis, but that treat the vulnerable among us in a humane, dignified, and compassionate manner. Hey, improvement is possible.

Posted in ACLU, Civil Liberties, Homelessness, Skid Row | 19 Comments »