According to information contained new documents filed Monday by the attorneys of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, FBI agents reportedly asked Sexton to wear a wire with the idea that the son should secretly record conversations with his father, Ted Sexton, who was just about to join the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department as Lee Baca’s Assistant Sheriff in charge of Homeland Security. The feds also reportedly hoped that Sexton would record Baca.]
According to a declaration filed by one of Sexton’s attorneys, Alabama-based Mays Jemison, the feds asked James Sexton to do the secret recording on November 16, 2012. FBI agents asked him again on November 28.
The purpose of the proposed “wire” wearing was reportedly to investigate then-sheriff Lee Baca. (A source reports that another department member was also asked to wear a wire with Baca, but that, after the department member agreed, the operation was called off. Sexton never agreed to the wire.)
James Sexton, if you’ll remember, is one of seven department members indicted for participating in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.
He is also reportedly the only one of the seven who contacted the FBI before they contacted him and appeared to consistently cooperate with the FBI over approximately three dozen contacts with agents. (It was only when he was asked to secretly record his father, that Sexton drew the line.)
According to documents filed this past week, Sexton was repeatedly assured that he was not the target of the investigation.
The filings offer this july 2012 conversation between Sexton and an FBI agent named Patrick Hampel, whom Sexton contacted.
I am not a source. Please keep that in mind when you or your friends call me. Special Agent Hampel:
I’m well aware of that. And so is my friend. No one is trying to recruit you. We are genuinely concerned for your safety. That’s all, bro. Please don’t think this was ever about the case, more like she found out some stuff that makes her think you are in jeopardy. She’s a good person and so is Dalton [her partner]. I’ve drank, played vball, hung out with both of them, and I trust them like I trust you. They know we are friends and are trying to do the right thing by me; ie warning my friend who may need some help. Seriously, bro, there’s no ulterior motive here.
JUSTICE AND EDUCATION DEPTS JUMP INTO LAWSUIT AGAINST CONTRA COSTA’S ISOLATION PRACTICES IN JUVENILE HALL
Both the US Department of Justice and Department of Education has intervened in a federal lawsuit challenging Contra Costa County’s solitary confinement of mentally disabled kids, and the lack of education provided to them while in isolation. A statement of interest by the DOJ and DOE requested that the presiding judge deny motions to dismiss the case and asked that both departments be able to take part in the oral arguments.
The Contra Costa Times’ Matthias Gafni has the story. Here’s a clip:
The Justice Department’s filing quoted findings from a departmental task force that concluded:
“Nowhere is the damaging impact of incarceration on vulnerable children more obvious than when it involves solitary confinement.” It said such confinement could lead to “paranoia, anxiety and depression” and creates a risk of suicide.
The lawsuit was filed last August by Berkeley-based Disability Rights Advocates, along with a pro-bono law firm and a private firm, on behalf of a teenage girl and two boys, all of whom were or are still detained at the maximum-security, 290-bed Martinez facility.
In March, a San Francisco federal judge will rule whether to grant class-action status to the suit, allowing other disabled youths to sue the county Probation Department, which runs juvenile hall, and the Contra Costa Office of Education, which runs the McKinley School inside the facility.
An attorney representing the teens said the solitary confinement policy is from the “Dark Ages.”
“We do know that Contra Costa is probably one of the worst,” said Marie-Lee Smith, Disability Rights Advocates’ managing attorney. “There are many counties that do not use solitary confinement. It’s very troubling and very disturbing to see a county continue to use this form of discipline.”
Smith said it was extremely rare for the Justice Department to weigh in on a lawsuit, and even more unusual for federal education officials to join. In a Feb. 13 filing, the feds voiced concerns over using solitary confinement to punish detained youths, citing a 2002 Department of Justice study finding such treatment led to mental problems and even additional suicide attempts.
Unlike jails for adults, under state law juvenile halls are required to provide a “supportive homelike environment” and focus on rehabilitation, not punishment. Punishments based on a youth’s disability must be treated differently from other discipline, and facilities must provide schooling, including special education, even if youths are being disciplined, according to state law.
The suit also alleges the county fails to provide adequate special education opportunities for all disabled youths.
So far, 20 members of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. have been indicted as part of a federal investigation, and there are almost surely more indictments to come. Sheriff Lee Baca retired abruptly at the end of January, and the LA County Board of Supervisors chose OC Undersheriff John Scott to take over as interim sheriff until the November election (or the June primary, at the earliest). Moreover, all the recommendations made by the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence are—at least theoretically—on their way to being implemented.
But do these things herald the end of an era of LASD corruption and misconduct scandals?
In an LA Times editorial, Robert Greene says the crisis isn’t over yet, not by a long shot, and won’t be until there is permanent and meaningful oversight of the department. It is time to really start the discussion, he says. Here are some clips:
…We are not done. The system did not work. The system, in fact, is at the core of the culture that pervades the Sheriff’s Department even in years in which the anguish of abused inmates and their families, the outrage of deputy cliques with their own gang-like tattoos and codes of silence, the astonishing number of deputies arrested for drunk driving don’t make it to the headlines or don’t catch the interest of voters.
The system of an elected sheriff in a county of 10 million people, the vast majority of whom aren’t served by his deputies and need not pay attention to his department’s travails, is an anachronism.
But of course, that invites a host of questions: If the sheriff isn’t elected, who should appoint him? Would the Board of Supervisors, also protected by a veneer of democracy without facing any serious electoral challenge, do a better job of running the Sheriff’s Department than the sheriff? Would the supervisors be better at picking a sheriff than they were in recent years at picking a chief probation officer or a director of the Department of Children and Family Services? What is the value of added accountability if the sheriff merely is subject to the direction of others who are virtually unaccountable?
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion last September, when Baca was still in office and still considered likey to be reelected, that would create a five-member citizens oversight commission, appointed by and reporting to the Board of Supervisors. Gloria Molina seconded it. But Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly pulled the matter from the agenda, suggesting a struggle to find a third, and winning, vote.
The matter is on the calendar to come before the board again next Tuesday — but to date there has been little public discussion of the proposal’s merits and pitfalls.
It’s time for that discussion. Some of it must necessarily be wonky, dealing with balances of power and political theory; and some of it must be mercilessly pragmatic (why, for example, would any elected sheriff ever pay such a commission any mind?)…
NEW SIMULATION ROOM PREPS DCFS WORKERS FOR THE CHALLENGES OF REAL LIFE HOME VISITS
As part of the LA Department of Children and Family Services training system overhaul, new social workers are sent into a simulation house where role-players reproduce home visit scenarios to prep the social worker trainees for the realities of protecting LA’s 35,000 DCFS-involved kids.
DCFS has also increased the total training time social workers receive from 8 weeks, to a full year of instruction before being sent out in the field.
The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here are some clips:
Entering a home where a father may have broken his baby’s arm in a drunken rage, the rookie social workers tried to soften the family’s guarded apprehension — albeit not always successfully.
“I’m with the Department of Family and Children’s Services,” one nervously told the sullen man who opened the door, even incorrectly stating the name of their agency.
Another rookie sat hesitantly on a couch in a cluttered living and dining room, not noticing the scissors on a coffee table, which could have been used as a weapon had tensions escalated.
Fortunately, no one was in real danger.
The “home” is a simulation laboratory where trainers from the county’s Department of Children and Family Services can collaborate with teachers from various universities as well as law enforcement and legal consultants to help the next generation of social workers.
“It’s OK to make mistakes here,” academy instructor Beth Minor told a class, standing next to a prop refrigerator with a whisky bottle and flyer for Alcoholics Anonymous.
“When you go out in the field and it counts, we want you to take the lessons that you learned here, and apply them.”
Cal State Los Angeles agreed to build a 440-square-foot residential simulation laboratory with a facade, living and dining room adjacent to the kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and hallway closet for about $17,000. University officials also allowed trainers to use a second simulation lab, resembling a hospital room, that was built years ago for medical courses.
“The simulation is the cornerstone of the new training,” said Harkmore Lee, director of Cal State Los Angeles’ Child Welfare Training Center and a former social worker. “This is where their learning becomes concrete, and also where we can assess whether they’re getting it or not.”
Research has shown that people typically retain from 5 percent to 10 percent of what they learn through reading and lectures, and 80 percent to 90 percent of what they practice in simulation, said James Ferreira, Cal State Long Beach’s Child Welfare Training Center director.
At last Friday’s hearing for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence—the final time the commission will meet before it issues its report at the end of this month**—the statements about the sheriff and the undersheriff, and others on the LASD command staff, pulled no punches, and left little room for spinning.
Here is a representative sample of some of the points made:
*Sheriff Baca failed to monitor and proactively control the use of force in the jails.
*Leaders had a lax attitude toward deputy aggression and discouraged deputy discipline.
*Management has known about and failed to address problems with deputy cliques.
*The undersheriff failed to up hold the department’s goals and values.
*There is substantial evidence that Tanaka urged deputies to be aggressive and ‘work in the gray area’ and “function right on the edge of the line,” made comments that undermine the credibility of IAB, discouraged supervisors from investigating deputy misconduct.
*There was a breakdown in the chain of command at MCJ that Undersheriff Tanaka encouraged and permitted.
These preliminary “findings” were presented to the commissioners by the teams of lawyers who have served as the commission’s investigators. The teams—-made up of high-powered attorneys lent by such firms as Gibson Dunn, O’Melveny & Meyers, Munger, Tolles & Olson, and others of that ilk, to work for the commission pro bono—have cummulatively interviewed approximately 150 people and have reviewed around 15,000 30,000 pages of documents.
Later this month, WitnessLA will have a more comprehensive story about the last stages of the commission’s work, including additional details and thoughts on these investigative reports and what they suggest for the final report.
In the meantime, here are a few representative bullet points from Friday’s presentations:
A CULTURE OF FORCE AND SILENCE
The teams found the following:
*The department condoned a Deputy-versus-inmate culture—counter to LASD core values.
*Harsh force is used as the default position, not as the last resort
*Significant force often used for things as trivial as an inmate questioning a policy or a deputy’s decision, such as the inmate’s ability to take a shower.
*Jails supervisors and management set an example that suggested that unlawful use of force would not be taken seriously, punished or held to account.
*False statements in reports are not acted upon, and sanctions against them are light.
*Certain department leaders appear to have tacitly or even expressly encouraged a “code of silence.”
*The departments’ tolerance of deputy cliques contributes to the use of force culture.
*Leadership in the department has undermined the disciplinary process.
* Undersheriff Tanaka promoted a culture that tolerated the excessive use of force in the jails, as did his protege, Captain Dan Cruz.
And it goes on from there.
NO SUGAR COATING
Several of the Board of Supervisors’ staffers who drifted down to watch the proceedings their 8th floor offices, said they were impressed with the teams’ willingness to call things as the facts they found suggested.
“Frankly, we expected a whitewash,” said one high level staffer. “But that’s definitely not what this is.
Or as Commissioner Jim McDonnell put it: “There was no sugarcoating as some may have thought there would be for political reasons.”
That much was clear on Friday. There is no white wash. No sugar coating. Just well-researched facts—and carefully drawn conclusions. What they add up to is troubling but not surprising.
The final report is still to come, of course.
And then there’s the question of what it will all mean. Will the Commission’s final report help to precipitate real change in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department? Or will it be one more stack of papers that get a day or two of attention from the public and the Board of Supervbefore being roundly ignored by the sheriff?
The Commission has pushed their timeline up and their final report will likely now be released on September 28, not early Oct. (October is their safety net date.)
ALSO…READ THE REPORTS YOURSELVES
The PowerPoint highlights of Friday’s 8 reports are available in downloadable form here. So read ‘em yourself and see what you think.
LAPD NOTE: THE LOS ANGELES POLICE DEPARTMENT WILL HOST A SERIES OF COMMUNITY MEETINGS TO DISCUSS THE THE THREE RECENT FORCE INCIDENTS THAT HAVE RESIDENTS TROUBLED
On Tuesday morning, both the LA Times editorial board and WitnessLA called for the LA County Supervisors to appoint an independent civilian commission—a la the Christopher Commission (which looked into LAPD practices post Rodney King)—to investigate the civil rights mess that is occurring in the County’s jails facilities.
On Which Way LA? Tuesday night, after I brought the matter up, Sheriff Baca said he would welcome civilians investigating—or words to that effect. He even mentioned some people he’d like to see on such a team. Loyola Law School prof, Laurie Levenson, was among those whom he named.
But will the Board of Supervisors step up and create the commission?
Some Board insiders I polled said that that is unlikely that an independent commission would happen, that budgetary concerns would stand in the way.
“There just isn’t the money for it,” said one source.
No money? Um, what about the $1.4 billion plan the Sheriff just pitched on Tuesday to demolish and rebuild Men’s Central Jail downtown, plus a second new jail for women inmates at Pitchess Detention Center. (Fox news has more on the jails pitch.)
The Supervisors are in a position to take a much needed leadership role by appointing an independent commission —-which is really not a terribly expensive proposition. (Heck, just shave a single million off that $1.3 billion jail construction pricetag.)
Unfortunately, thus far the Board has been missing in action on the topic of the jails scandal in general.
Of course, a civilian commission alone can’t force reform in the culture and practices of LA County’s Jails . It is also important that the existing FBI probe into deputy abuse be expanded substantially. Then, once the Feds have finished their investigation, with any luck the Department of Justice will impose a Federal Consent Decree—which is essentially a legally binding plea bargain that imposes a list of strict conditions, plus a timetable under which they must be met.
(The Federal Consent Decree imposed on the LAPD, was much of what made it possible for LA’s once-ailing police culture to reform itself.)
No one can guarantee what the FBI and the Department of Justice will do. Yet, it is fully within the power of the LA County Board of Supervisors to appoint that much-needed independent commission.
Inmates rights are being violated on the Board’s watch. Doing something proactive about the jails abuse scandal is a part of their job.
The Los Angeles Unified School District has agreed to sweeping revisions in the way it teaches students learning English, as well as black youngsters, settling a federal civil rights investigation that examined whether the district was denying the students a quality education.
The settlement closes what was the Obama administration’s first civil rights investigation launched by the Department of Education, and officials said Tuesday that it would serve as a model for other school districts around the country.
“What happens in L.A. really does set trends for across the nation. More and more school districts are dealing with this challenge,” said Russlynn Ali, the assistant secretary of education for civil rights.
The agreement poses a potential financial problem for the school district, which has faced multimillion-dollar budget cuts and layoffs over the last few years.
The Education Department launched the probe last year, at first to determine if students who entered school speaking limited English, most of whom are Latino, were receiving adequate instruction. The nation’s second-largest school system has more students learning English, about 195,000, than any other in the United States — about 29% of the district’s overall enrollment. Later, at the urging of local activists, investigators widened the probe to include black students, who make up about 10% of the district’s enrollment….
LA’S PRISON REALIGNMENT OPPORTUNITY—ACHIEVABLE IF LA’S LEADERS WILL JUST….LEAD
It’s written by former federal prosecutor (and present USC adjunct law professor), Jonathan Shapiro. Here’s a clip:
Rather than complain, L.A. leaders ought to lead. If done right, realignment could revolutionize and repair the incarceration-only policies that have led to both the nation’s highest costs per inmate and the nation’s highest state recidivism rate.
Public safety means more than simply jailing offenders. It requires problem-solving courts, the creative use of electronic monitoring and more intensive oversight when offenders have done their time. It means evidence-based, cost-effective strategies such as day-reporting centers, where former offenders must participate in programs during the day but return home at night, and “flash” incarceration, an immediate but short return to jail following a probation violation. It also means drug and mental health treatment for offenders and ex-offenders, as well as education and job training.
To be sure, this is a tough time for Los Angeles County. Its Probation Department is in a period of transition, its Sheriff’s Department is being investigated for excessive force against the offenders it already houses, and budgets are being cut. But however difficult the times and however challenging change is, L.A. County and the rest of California no longer have the luxury of pandering to “tough on crime” policies that have proved ineffective and too expensive to sustain.
Realignment has arrived. Former offenders are already trickling back to L.A. and into county hands. New offenders are being charged. The Los Angeles law enforcement community and the county Board of Supervisors should embrace their new role as a historic opportunity. Public safety is in their hands now more than ever.
From time to time here, I’ve taken issue with the DEA’s 100-agent raids on LA County’s medical marijuana clinics, raids that have used big piles of our tax dollars to harass clinic owners and patients, resulted in few arrests, and in most cases, exactly zero charges.
Medical marijuana is legal in this state and, unless there is blatant wrong-doing (meaning guys using the clinics as fronts to make big bucks in bulk trafficking), the Feds need to butt out and use their time—not to mention our valuable tax dollars—to shut down some crystal meth dealers instead. (In the past, I’ve offered to point out a few meth-dealing locations, but DEA spokesperson Sarah Pullen, the LA person who has the job of deal with us snarky press types, declined to take me up on it.)
Which brings me to today’s story. Today the California Attorney General’s Office announced that on Friday, the state’s drug enforcers, the Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement or BNE—along with a multi-agency task force—raided a single marijuana clinic in Northridge called Today’s Healthcare and caught the owner and his colleague red handed (or green handed, in this case) buying and selling $18 grand worth of weed, with a like amount stashed in one of the men’s vehicles, and another $6.6 million worth of plants found when warrants were served on the guys’ houses.
According to Brown’s office, in order to make Friday’s bust, 11 agents were involved —as opposed to the DEA’s 100-agent cluster…uh…thingy.
The raids and the arrests were the result of an six-month investigation by the same multi-agency task force.
(Interesting random fact: Established in 1927, BNE is the oldest narcotic enforcement bureau in the United States.)
“This criminal enterprise bears no resemblance to the purposes of Proposition 215, which authorized the use of medical marijuana for seriously sick patients,” said AG Jerry Brown in today’s announcement. “Today’s Healthcare is a large-scale, for-profit, commercial business. This deceptively named drug ring is reaping huge profits and flaunting the state’s laws that allow qualified patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes.”
In other words, unlike the Feds, California’s BNE and the AG’s office did it right. They went after the blatant drug dealers while respecting state law and the will of the California voters.