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Skid Row

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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


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.


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.


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.


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?


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



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.


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.


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.


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


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.



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 »