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Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS

On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

[SNIP]

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS

NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.

[SNIP]

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

June 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,
” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE

The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.


WE’LL HAVE MORE ON OTHER TOPICS TOMORROW….BUT IN THE MEANTIME, THERE IS THIS FROM THE LAT’S JIM NEWTON:

PROTECTING KIDS HAS TO COME BEFORE WORRIES ABOUT COUNTY LIABILITY. (IT’S SAD THAT SUCH A THING HAS TO BE STATED, BUT REGRETTABLY IT DOES.)

Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 17 Comments »

Is Paul Tanaka the “Subject” of a Criminal Investigation….or the “Target”

June 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



It was near the end of Monday’s cross examination of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka
that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox asked Tanaka a curious question.

Monday was Tanaka’s second day of testimony at the federal trial of six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The six—which included two deputies, two sergeants and two lieutenants— were being tried for obstruction of justice having to do with their respective parts in allegedly hiding a federal informant by the name of Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and other similar actions that, in the summer and fall of 2011, according to the government’s lawyers, were intended to get in the way of the feds’ undercover investigation into wrongdoing by deputies in the LA County jail system.

Last month, Tanaka testified at the trial of a seventh department member, Deputy James Sexton, who was also charged with obstruction of justice. (Sexton’s case resulted in a mistrial due to a hopelessly deadlocked jury.)

At the Sexton trial, prosecutor Fox made news when he asked the former undersheriff—who is also still a candidate for sheriff—if he was aware that he was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Now, Fox seemed to be continuing that same conversation when he asked—mid-cross—if Tanaka “received the the letter that informed you that you that you were not the target of a criminal investigation before your grand jury testimony…?”

“Yes,” Tanaka replied. The jury and others in the courtroom already knew that the former undersheriff had testified before the grand jury regarding the whole obstruction of justice issue in December 2012, which pegged the “not-a-target” letter to around eighteen months ago.

Fox followed up. “You’ve not been given any representation about whether or not you’re a target since then?”

Tanaka’s expression shuttered.

“I have not,” he said.


DISCREPANCY IN TESTIMONY

The twosome of questions was particularly interesting in that last month, at the Sexton trial, Fox specifically said Tanaka was the subject of a criminal investigation, which is reportedly one step less ominous than being the target.

At the opening of Monday’s cross examination Fox again brought up that the former undersheriff is the “subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Then some minutes later, while Fox didn’t say Tanaka was a target, he seemed to strongly imply that any not-a-target assurances the former undersheriff may have received back in 2012, were now null and void.

The remark was additionally provocative in that it came after a series of exchanges during Fox’s cross examination of Tanaka in which Fox confronted the former undersheriff with the fact that certain elements of his testimony at this trial (and at Sexton’s trial, for that matter), differed in important ways from his December 2012 grand jury testimony, and also with the way he answered in a separate FBI interview in November 2012.

In his testimony at this and Sexton’s trial, Tanaka had made a point of saying that an LASD team had moved inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown around to outlying areas of the jail system, and changed his name and other identifiers, as part of a “mission” to “insure the inmate’s safety,” which had been his and the sheriff’s primary concern, he said.

However in his November 2012 FBI interview and his 2012 grand jury testimony, it seems that Tanaka “never talked about Anthony Brown’s safety and security.”

“In assessing the whole situation over a period of three years,” Tanaka said on Monday when confronted with the discrepancy, he had the “clear recollection” of having given the order to keep Anthony Brown safe.


FEAR OF FEDERAL BUGS

At another point in his testimony, Tanaka admitted to Fox that “it’s possible” that he and the other LASD higher-ups had the LASD executive offices swept for bugs, evidently out of the conviction that the FBI may have planted hidden microphones. And, yes, it was also possible they’d had the “task force offices” swept as well, meaning the temporary task force formed to handle the Anthony Brown matter, and related.

More on the trial later this week.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 65 Comments »

FBI Asked Indicted Deputy To Wear A Wire With His Father….& Baca

March 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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.

Deputy Sexton:

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.

More on all this soon.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

Feds Address Contra Costa Juvenile Hall’s Use of Solitary Confinement…a Call for LASD Oversight…and DCFS Simulates Home Visits for Social Worker Trainees

February 19th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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.

(The LA Times’ Lee Romney also reported on this issue.)


EDITORIAL: THE LASD TROUBLES ARE NOT OVER YET

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?

[SNIP]

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.”

[SNIP]

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.

Posted in DCFS, Education, Foster Care, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca, solitary, The Feds | 48 Comments »

Jails Commission Findings Say Baca Ignored and Tanaka Tacitly Encouraged a Troubling Culture of Violence in LA’s Jails

September 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


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?

Stay tuned.

**DELIVERY NOTE

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

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has the report.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, Uncategorized | 50 Comments »

Re: the Jails Mess, Baca Says He’d Welcome a Civilian Commission, So Where are the Supes?

October 12th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


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.


PS: Someone like John Van de Kamp might be a good person to lead such an endeavor.

Or how about Bill Lann Lee, the civil rights attorney who was the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice Civil Rights Division under Bill Clinton?

The possibilities are many.


AND ON OTHER TOPICS…

LAUSD AGREES TO MAKE CHANGES IN HOW IT TEACHERS ENGLISH LEARNERS AND BLACKS

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story.

Here’s how it opens:

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

Wednesday’s LA Times has an Op Ed about realignment that is so smart and dead on that it made me a little dizzy.

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.

Posted in ACLU, LA County Jail, LAUSD, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds | No Comments »

Medical Marijuana—the AG Separates the Clinics from the Crooks

August 25th, 2008 by Celeste Fremon

california-doj-police.gif


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.

(Earlier stories are here and here and here.)

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.

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

UPDATE: Monday afternoon, Brown’s office also announced a set of “guidelines” for law enforcement and patients regarding med marijuana.

Oddly, this is the first time that any state agency has issued such guidelines, and both cops and advocates said they welcomed the legal clarification.

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

Note: the photo of the BNE guys is a snapshot I snatched from the InterMountain News of another BNE raid, but not Friday’s drug raid.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Medical Marijuana, The Feds | 22 Comments »