On Friday morning, US Attorney Andre Birotte announced that two more members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted.
Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were charged in relation to a reported beating incident that occurred in February 2009. Both Aguiar and Rameriz were, at the time, working the 3000 floor of LA County’s Men’s Central Jail.
According to the indictment, the “victim-inmate” —ID’d with the initials BP—was awaiting a hearing on a parole violation when the encounter with the two deputies in question occurred. BP was reportedly chained at his waist with his hands cuffed to the chain, when the deputies allegedly pepper-sprayed, struck and kicked the man. Then later, according to federal allegations, the two accused the inmate of assaulting them, describing in their report an elaborate attack.
However, unlike many alleged beatings of inmates by deputies, this incident was witnessed by one of the jail chaplains assigned to MCJ. The encounter on which the federal charges are based, first came to light in the course of the ACLU’s 2011 report on brutality by deputies against inmates in the LA County jail system.
These newest charges naming the two deputies brings the total to 20 LASD department members who have been indicted as part of the ongoing federal investigation into brutality and corruption inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
No one expects the indictments to end here.
Here’s the video of Chaplain Paulino Juarez describing the 2009 beating he witnessed.
We’ll have more on the new federal charges, plus some thoughts on what they mean, Sunday night. (I originally said Friday night, but we’ll have a fuller report on Sunday.)
US ATTORNEY ANNOUNCES CONVICTIONS IN DEATH OF CALIFORNIA COAST GUARD
Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne III was killed while intercepting a suspected drug-smuggling boat in the Channel Islands National Park in December of 2012. Horne and four other officers left their Coast Guard cutter Halibut and deployed a small inflatable boat to approach the Mexican fishing boat (called a “panga”). When the coast guards identified themselves, the two suspects manning the vessel sped up, and rammed the officers’ boat, sending Horne and another officer overboard. Horne sustained a fatal head injury from the boat’s propeller.
Today prosecutors in the US Attorney’s Office announced two convictions in this heartbreaking case.
One of the Ensenada men operating the panga, Jose Meija-Leyva was convicted of murder, plus two counts of failure to heave to (or slow the vessel for law enforcement boarding), and four counts of assaulting an officer with a deadly weapon. He faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. The other man, Manuel Beltran-Higuera, was convicted of the two counts of failure to heave to, and the same four counts of assault. He faces up to 60 years in federal prison.
Here’s a clip detailing the events from the US Attorney’s Office, Central District of CA:
“We are pleased with the verdict and that those responsible for Senior Chief Horne’s death will be held accountable,” said Admiral Robert J. Papp, Jr., Commandant of the Coast Guard. “While the conviction of Senior Chief Horne’s killers cannot make up for the loss of a family member, friend and shipmate, we do hope that the conclusion of this case provides some level of comfort and closure to his loved ones. The Coast Guard will continue to honor the legacy Senior Chief Horne and his selfless service to our nation.”
Chief Petty Officer Horne was killed during a law enforcement operation that began late on December 1, 2012 when a Coast Guard airplane identified a suspicious boat about one mile off Santa Cruz Island. After Coast Guard personnel on the Coast Guard cutter Halibut boarded the boat, the airplane identified another suspicious vessel nearby in Smuggler’s Cove on Santa Cruz Island, The airplane reported that the suspicious vessel in Smuggler’s Cove was an approximately 30-foot-long open bowed fishing vessel, commonly referred to as a panga boat.
Coast Guard officers aboard the Halibut launched the Halibut’s small, inflatable boat with four officers aboard. The Coast Guard small boat crew located the panga boat approximately 200 yards from the eastern shore of Santa Cruz Island at approximately 1:20 a.m. on December 2. As the Coast Guard’s small boat approached the panga boat, the officers activated the boat’s police lights and identified themselves as law enforcement. The crew members of the panga boat then throttled the engines and steered the panga boat toward the small boat. As the panga boat rapidly approached the Coast Guard’s small boat, the officer at the helm attempted to avoid a collision by steering the small boat out of the path of the panga boat.
Despite these efforts, the panga boat rammed into the Coast Guard’s small boat, ejecting Chief Petty Officer Horne and another officer into the water. Chief Petty Officer Horne was struck by a propeller in the head and sustained a fatal injury. The other officer sustained a laceration to his knee.
Horne, a 34-year-old, well-liked father of two (with a baby on the way) was the first Coast Guard officer murdered on duty since 1927. Horne’s death was an unimaginable blow to his family of course, but also to his fellow Coast Guardsmen and the greater community.
“To call him a shipmate, to call him a big brother, doesn’t do him justice,” said Lt. Stewart Sibert at Horne’s funeral, reported the Daily Breeze. “In reality, he was closer to our guardian angel…he never turned down anyone who needed help.” Sibert was the skipper of the Coast Guard Cutter Halibut on the day Horne died.
FOR PROFIT PROBATION COMPANIES CHARGING PROBATIONERS FOR THEIR SUPERVISION, AND LOCKING THEM UP WHEN THEY CAN’T PAY
In some states, particularly Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, probationers under the supervision of private probation companies are being incarcerated for the inability to pay their (often exorbitant) supervision fees, according to a report released Wednesday by the Human Rights Watch.
This report, based largely on more than 75 interviews conducted with people in the states of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi during the second half of 2013, describes patterns of abuse and financial hardship inflicted by the “offender-funded” model of privatized probation that prevails in well over 1,000 courts across the US. It shows how some company probation officers behave like abusive debt collectors. It explains how some courts and probation companies combine to jail offenders who fall behind on payments they cannot afford to make, in spite of clear legal protections meant to prohibit this. It also argues that the fee structure of offender-funded probation is inherently discriminatory against poor offenders, and imposes the greatest financial burden on those who are least able to afford to pay. In fact, the business of many private probation companies is built largely on the willingness of courts to discriminate against poor offenders who can only afford to pay their fines in installments over time.
The problems described in this report are not a consequence of probation privatization per se. Rather, they arise because public officials allow probation companies to profit by extracting fees directly from probationers, and then fail to exercise the kind of oversight needed to protec probationers from abusive and extortionate practices. All too often, offenders on private probation are threatened with jail for failing to pay probation fees they simply cannot afford, and some spend time behind bars.
Traditionally, courts use probation to offer a criminal offender conditional relief from a potential jail sentence. If the offender meets regularly with a probation officer and complies with court-mandated benchmarks of good behavior for a fixed period of time, they escape a harsher sentence the court would otherwise impose. Courts in some US states charge offenders fees to help defray the costs of running a probation service. This is called “offender-funded” probation.
Probation companies offer courts, counties, and municipalities a deal that sounds too good to be true—they will offer probation services in misdemeanor cases without asking for a single dime of public revenue. All they ask in return is the right to collect fees from the probationers they supervise, and that courts make probationers’ freedom contingent on paying those fees. Those fees make up most probation companies’ entire stream of revenue and profits.
Many courts have repurposed probation into a debt collection tool and are primarily interested in the services of probation companies as a means towards that end. In what is euphemistically referred to as “pay only” probation, people are sentenced to probation for just one reason: they don’t have money and they need time to pay down their fines and court costs. Pay only probation is an extremely muscular form of debt collection masquerading as probation supervision, with all costs billed to the debtor. It is essentially a legal fiction and it is the cornerstone of many probation companies’ business.
Offenders on pay only probation could wash their hands of the criminal justice system on the day of their court appearance if only they had the money on hand to pay their fines and court costs immediately and in full. Because they can’t, they are put on probation for periods of up to several years while they gradually pay down their debts to the court. Each month, they are charged an additional “supervision fee” by their probation company, whose only task is to collect their money and monitor whether they are keeping up with scheduled payments.
CALIFORNIA’S NEWEST PRISON FACILITY ORDERED TO HALT ADMISSIONS
The federal Receiver overseeing healthcare in California’s prisons, Clark Kelso, halted admissions at the state’s newest prison facility located in Stockton after reports of unsanitary living conditions and medical negligence.
An inspection commissioned by prisoners lawyers found inmates were left to sleep overnight in their own feces, that some had to towel off with dirty socks or forego showering, and that one inmate allegedly bled to death when nurses did not heed his calls for help. (This is not a particularly encouraging sign, to say the least.)
After meeting last week with corrections officials, Clark Kelso, the court-appointed medical receiver, ordered admissions stopped at the 6-month-old California Health Care Facility in Stockton and the opening of an adjacent 1,133-bed prison facility put on hold.
In a report to federal courts Friday, Kelso said the prison’s inability to provide adequate medical and hygiene supplies and unsanitary conditions “likely contributed to an outbreak of scabies.”
Kelso said the problems at the Stockton prison call into question California’s ability to take responsibility for prison healthcare statewide. He accused corrections officials of treating the mounting healthcare problems “as a second-class priority.”
An inspection team sent in by prisoners’ lawyers in early January found that inmates had been left overnight in their feces, confined to broken wheelchairs or forced to go without shoes.
A shortage of towels forced prisoners to dry off with dirty socks, a shortage of soap halted showers for some inmates, and incontinent men were put into diapers and received catheters that did not fit, causing them to soil their clothes and beds, according to the inspection report and a separate finding by Kelso.
The inspectors also found that nurses failed to promptly answer call buttons in the prison’s outpatient unit. Inmates told the inspectors of a bleeding prisoner on the unit who died Jan. 8 after nurses disregarded his repeated attempts to summon help.
The report said there were so few guards that a single officer watched 48 cells at a time and could not step away to use the bathroom. The prison relied on other inmates — also sick or disabled — to assist prisoners. One man in a wheelchair with emphysema said he had been assigned to push the wheelchair of another disabled inmate. Nurses told the inspectors they were “unclear” how soon they should answer call buttons.
…job readiness is critical to achieving self-sufficiency for our citizens – young and old alike. For kids involved in the justice system, employment is clearly a positive outcome and a part of a normative approach and environment.
How do we create in young people the understanding that work is normal and desirable; that awaking at 5:30 or 6:00 a.m. is necessary; that absences are not allowed and that you do not get to choose everything that you must do on the job?
One common system response is to organize summer jobs programs. Too many such efforts are created by finding unspent money in other government programs and slapping together a summer jobs program close to the end of the school year. Administrators scramble to find willing employers, and politics influences who gets the programs and whose kids get the jobs. Although not well planned, these summer efforts are well-intentioned, and any job experience will help the teenaged employee along his or her way to understanding that reliability and willingness to undertake job duties is a normal way to get ahead.
However, there are effective and evidence-based models for youth employment. YouthBuild, the U.S. Department of Labor’s extraordinarily successful approach to job readiness, is one. Youth who are school dropouts, including kids involved in juvenile justice systems, are provided with substance abuse treatment, GED preparation and real job skills. Volunteers and employees from the building trades and social services move students along a trajectory to finishing school and getting a job. This highly structured and well-financed approach produces thousands of new employees each year.
Not every community has YouthBuild, but all can learn from its lessons…
(Read the rest from Judge Timberlake, former Chief Judge of Illinois’ Second Circuit and current Chair of the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission.)
The above photos of Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne were both taken by U.S. Coast Guard photograph by Lt. Stewart Sibert.
By Monday afternoon, all seven Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members indicted last Monday for obstruction of justice had entered pleas not guilty for their alleged roles in an elaborate scheme to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal agent handlers. (For the back story on the Anthony Brown case go here)
In all, there were eighteen federal indictments handed down last week, seven of which pertained to the hiding of Brown.
Former Lt. Gregory Thompson, Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long, and Deputy Gerard Smith, formally pleaded on Monday morning, while Lt. Stephen Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo went to court last week.
Deputy James Sexton pleaded not guilty in a hearing of his own on Monday afternoon.
Of the seven indicted for the Anthony Brown matter, Sexton is something of an outlier in that he has reportedly been cooperating with the feds on the case since the summer of 2012 when he and his LASD partner, Deputy Mike Rathbun, contacted the FBI as whistleblowers to report another case of alleged LASD wrongdoing they had witnessed inside Men’s Central Jail in the course of their work.
As a consequence, many were surprised at the inclusion of Sexton on the indictment list.
In contrast, the other six obstruction defendants reportedly declined to cooperate-–although sources tell us that at least one has signaled a willingness to talk since the indictments were unsealed.
The Anthony Brown/obstruction of justice charges could possibly bring as much as 10 or 15 years in prison, thus the feds are clearly hoping that last week’s indictments will persuade most or all of the defendants to reveal what they know—which is reportedly a considerable amount.
At the moment, the highest ranking of the 18 department members named in the federal indictments are the two lieutenants charged in the Anthony Brown case—retired Lt. Gregory Thompson and Lt. Stephen Leavins.
Yet, sources directly involved with or near to the hiding of Brown say that both Leavins and Thompson received their marching orders from the highest levels in the department.
According to sources, both men reported directly to former undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Sources also allege that Thompson, Manzo and Smith were present on more than one occasion when Sheriff Lee Baca was briefed about the Brown operation.
The latter claim was repeated by the former undersheriff himself last spring in interviews with the LA Times and with KABC TV news, where Tanaka stated that he was ordered by the sheriff to keep Brown away from the FBI.
A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating whether sheriff’s officials were hiding the inmate and the phone from the FBI, or whether they were protecting the inmate from retaliation by jail deputies he was “snitching” on, as a sheriff’s spokesman has said.
Tanaka said Baca ordered subordinates to keep the inmate from the FBI until the department finished with him. He said the sheriff explicitly denied a request from a federal official to return the phone.
“I want the inmate interviewed. I don’t want him leaving our custody. I want the phone, all of the information removed from it and I don’t want the phone to go anywhere,” Baca said, according to Tanaka.
Asked if the sheriff was obstructing the FBI investigation, Tanaka said that he and other subordinates “had to really weigh” Baca’s orders to avoid “cross[ing] the line of doing anything wrong.”
THE SECRET RECORDING
When, at the request of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox outlined some of the elements of the Brown case federal prosecutors expect to introduce at trial (which is set for February 4, 2014, but expected to be delayed) Fox said the feds had over a dozen audio recordings, around a dozen multimedia disks, and a long list of witnesses, many of whom have already testified in front of the federal grand jury that led to the current indictments.
Fox also said federal prosecutors had a copy of a recording that LASD Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long made in secret when they allegedly went out late at night to the home of FBI special agent Leah Marx, who was one of Brown’s federal handlers, and falsely told her they could arrest her on criminal charges, allegedly in an effort in a effort to intimidate her into revealing the information the feds had gotten from Brown.
In July of this year, WitnessLA reported on the existence of the recording in our story, Operation Pandora’s Box, about the hiding of Brown.
According to sources, the ICIB agents [Long and Craig] later played the recording for Sheriff Baca as part of a briefing on the matter. Baca reportedly thanked one of the sergeants for providing him with the week’s best laugh.
ALLOWED TO KEEP FIREARMS
All the defendants were asked to surrender their passports, all who still work for the department have been relieved of duty without pay, and all but Sexton were directed to surrender all firearms.
Sexton’s attorney, who happened to be former US Attorney Thomas O’Brien—AKA the person that US Attorney Andre Birotte replaced when Birotte appointed to the job in early 2010—argued calmly that Sexton should be allowed to keep his two firearms at home for his protection. Evidently, the threats seemed credible enough that prosecutor Fox agreed to the exception without much argument.
The notion that Sexton had reason to fear for his safety was detailed in a civil lawsuit filed by Sexton and Rathbun in federal court last spring (and refiled in state court more recently). In the filing, both deputies detailed having received a harrowing barrage of retaliation and threats—including death threats—from department members and others after the two men reported alleged wrongdoing, first through the appropriate LASD channels and, when they got little response, to the FBI, to the press, and eventually—in the case of the hiding of Anthony Brown—in front a grand jury.
Before Sexton’s hearing was over, attorney O’Brian mentioned to Judge Anderson that he would likely file a motion to sever Sexton’s case from that of the other six defendants. It was unclear from the judge’s response whether he would be likely to grant such a severance or not.
Among those supporting Sexton in court was his father, LASD Chief Ted Sexton, who—along with LASD Custody Chief Terri McDonnell—was one of the two high-ranking outsiders brought in by Sheriff Lee Baca last spring as a demonstration of his willingness to move his troubled department toward reform.
Sexton Sr., the longtime sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, now runs LASD’s Department of Homeland Security. Although he declined to talk to reporters at the hearing, he looked decidedly unhappy about his son’s present circumstances.
EXCESSIVE DETENTION OF UNDOCUMENTED YOUTH IN CALIFORNIA
According to a newly compiled fact sheet, undocumented kids in California are often unnecessarily incarcerated in local detention facilities.
In the report released Tuesday, the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice says that the lock ups are happening despite Attorney General Kamala Harris’ 2012 announcement that law enforcement officers are not required to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention requests, the government’s low prioritization of kids for immigration enforcement, and other safeguards.
The federal government has identified youth as low priority for immigration enforcement, and implemented relief programs such as DACA to facilitate undocumented youth integration, yet they still make requests to detain youth in local detention centers. Additionally, the juvenile justice system has recognized the importance of serving all youth in the least restrictive setting, yet local law enforcement still actively respond to detainer requests. Responding to ICE requests to detain youth longer than is necessary for immediate public safety concerns, defies the purpose of the juvenile justice system and wastes public safety resources. Counties should reconsider their responses to ICE hold requests for youth in accordance with public safety and juvenile justice best practices.
And here are a few of the statistics listed on the fact sheet:
Orange County detained approximately 43 percent of California’s youth subject to ICE holds.
The data include records for 697 ICE hold requests against youth in California during the 41-month period. Only 13 counties were listed as responsible for detaining these youth (percent): Orange (43), San Francisco (13), Santa Barbara (12), San Mateo (12), Monterey (2), Los Angeles (2), San Luis Obispo (1), San Diego (1), Santa Cruz, Marin, Contra Costa, Alameda, Tehama counties (<1).
45.6 percent of youth with an ICE hold had no documented criminal history.
Of those that did, approximately 50 percent were for non-violent, non-serious crimes. In fact, of the youth with documented criminal records 15 percent were for immigration related charges, including possession of false immigration documents and illegal entry. Detaining youth for low-level crimes is detrimental to their development as it exposes them to a more sophisticated
criminal element and isolates them from pro-social supports in the community (Mendel, 2011).
Most youth are detained in local juvenile halls, subjecting youth to unnecessarily prolonged detention and costing taxpayers an estimated $127,978 per year.
Eighty-nine percent of all youth ICE holds were detained in local facilities. At an average $352.06 per
day for confinement in local juvenile halls, holding a youth for an extra 48 hours increases costs and
uses bed space that should be reserved for youth who present a danger to public safety (BSCC, 2012).
CALIFORNIA HUNGER STRIKE FORCE-FEEDING DECISION: DOES IT BREAK INTERNATIONAL LAW?
As we reported yesterday, A federal judge ruled Monday that California prison officials have permission to force-feed hunger striking inmates if it is believed that their life is in danger.
An attorney for the striking prisoners, Jules Lobel, says that force-feeding inmates against their will violates international law and should only be used when there are no other alternatives.
A prisoners’ rights lawyer says Monday’s federal judge’s order allowing California prison doctors to force-feed inmates on hunger strike “violates international law and generally accepted medical ethics.”
Force-feeding “should only be used as a last resort, but here there are a number of reasonable alternatives,” said Jules Lobel, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who represents many of the hunger strike leaders in their related lawsuit over solitary confinement conditions at Pelican Bay State Prison.
Lobel said prison officials could avoid the need for forced feedings by allowing protesters to drink juice, or even to hasten an end to the hunger strike by negotiating with inmates over issues the state finds reasonable. The hunger strike at one prison ended last week when the warden agreed to expand canteen and television privileges.
The Associated Press spoke with a prison medical official who said that if California prisoners are force-fed, it will likely be intravenously—not via a feeding tube through the nostril as is done with Guantanamo hunger strikers.
Dr. Steven Tharratt, director of medical services for the federal official who oversees medical care for California’s prisons, said if the state employs force-feeding, it’s most likely to be done by pumping nutrient-enriched fluids into the bloodstreams of unconscious inmates.
“It’s not really a forced re-feeding at that point,” Tharratt said. “It doesn’t evoke images of Guantanamo Bay or anything like that. It’s actually a totally different setting.”
Many of the hard core strikers are likely to reach crisis stage in the next two weeks as they reach 60 to 70 days without significant nutrition, Tharratt said. They already are risking irreversible kidney damage, he said, and eventually they won’t be able to make decisions about their own care.
AG HOLDER’S CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS STILL LEAVE MINORITIES AT A DISADVANTAGE, CRITICS SAY
Attorney General Eric Holder’s reform package (announced last week), including the news that Holder is working toward ending mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders, was seen as a significant step for criminal justice reform. (You can read about it here.)
Some critics, however, believe that requiring all drug offenders to participate in drug treatment programs to avoid being locked up is a problematic approach, and fails to address racial disparities.
…as the excitement over the mandatory minimum announcement cools, some public health and drug policy professionals are finding devils in the details of Holder’s statement. Specifically, critics are troubled by the latter parts of Holder’s address that highlight the requirement of mandatory court stipulated drug treatment as a requirement for nonviolent drug offenders to stay out of jail. Laura Thomas, deputy director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) in California, says, “It’s always good to have someone like Eric Holder talking about the counterproductive harms of over incarceration, that’s really fantastic. But there is a concern that putting people into coerced drug treatment is not a health based approach, it’s a criminal justice approach.”
The problem, critics say, with the new system the administration envisions is that while addiction may be a great equalizer, who gets arrested for drug crimes is not. Holder’s address noted this fact, stating that “…some of the enforcement priorities we’ve set have had a destabilizing effect on particular communities, largely poor and of color.” And yet while Holder is willing to shift the policy towards sentencing people convicted of drug offenses, there’s nothing in his address stating that law enforcement will be any less likely to arrest people for them. Presumably the racial disparities in arrest rates will continue.
Criminal justice policy reformers say that when courts flood the drug treatment centers with the kinds of drug offenders who more often get arrested, the outcome is no longer a system for treating drug addicts who want help with their drug problems. Instead, the treatment system becomes an extensive community-based surveillance network whose primary purpose is to monitor the behavior of people who are primarily black and poor. In fact, as some sociologists have argued, this changes the definition of what a drug problem is and who requires treatment. This suits perfectly the needs of a justice system that refuses to decriminalize drugs, but now has to put offenders somewhere other than jail.
We want to congratulate our talented pal and colleague, Andrew Blankstein, who is leaving the LA Times after 23 years to be an on-air investigative reporter for NBC news. We are bereft to lose Andrew’s stellar reporting on crime and law enforcement from our hometown paper. But we’re delighted that his great instincts, unassailable ethics, and fine and indefatigable journalism will soon be coming to our TV screens.
Sadly, Andrew’s amazing run at The Times is coming to end. After 23 years and nearly 4,000 bylines (not including innumerable blog posts and his many contributions to other reporters’ work), he is leaving to take a job at NBC News as an on-air reporter focusing on West Coast investigations. In many ways, this is the culmination of his growing interest in broadcast news reporting.
It is impossible not to feel happy for someone who has contributed so much to The Times. Still, we will miss him, and we will feel his loss keenly.
HOLDER REVEALS FED. SENTENCING REFORMS AND OTHER CHANGES AIMED AT REDUCING THE PRISON POP.
Monday morning Attorney General Eric Holder unveiled a much-anticipated criminal justice reform package to the American Bar Association. Among many important changes, Holder announced that federal prosecutors would be instructed to stop seeking often-excessive mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no gang-ties.
(The entirety of Holder’s speech can be viewed here or read here.)
San Jose Mercury’s Josh Richman and Thomas Peele have the story. Here are a few clips:
In a speech at the American Bar Association’s annual meeting, Holder said the Justice Department would promote drug-treatment and community-service programs as alternatives to prison for many low-level offenders who for years have been caught up in the same strict federal sentencing laws aimed at gang members and drug kingpins.
“By reserving the most severe penalties for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers, we can better promote public safety, deterrence and rehabilitation, while making our expenditures smarter and more productive,” Holder said.
The new strategy would only apply in the federal justice system – where 47 percent of prisoners are being held on drug convictions — but drug policy experts said the symbolism is far-reaching. As Holder pointed out, states across the country, including Texas and California, have re-examined drug enforcement and tough sentencing standards to thin out bulging prison populations.
Holder can make some policy changes, but a number of these reforms will require legislation to bring about real change.
Many drug offenses violate both federal and state law, leaving federal and state prosecutors to work out their own policies about who’ll prosecute which cases; the Justice Department typically has had little or no role in pursuing those accused of simple possession or even small possession-for-sale cases.
Drug-policy reform advocates have been calling for Congress to eliminate mandatory minimum sentencing laws for years, but said Holder’s move was a good first step.
While most people praised Holder’s news,Slate’s Emily Bazelon said that the reforms aren’t enough. Here’s why:
Holder’s policy is not a new law: He’s the boss, so the U.S. attorneys around the country are supposed to do what he says, but if they don’t, they’re not lawbreakers.
The experts I consulted said that the attorney general is merely centralizing the decision-making that already occurs. There’s a recent precedent: In 2003, under President George W. Bush, former Attorney General John Ashcroft directed all federal prosecutors to charge the “most serious, readily provable offense” available. In other words, Ashcroft too recognized that prosecutors have choices at charging, and he told them to go with the biggest crime they can make stick without too much trouble. Then as now, the idea is to rein in disparities, so that like offenders receive like sentences. (Though the research showing that black men do more time than other defendants who commit the same crimes suggests that it hasn’t quite worked out that way.) The difference between Holder and Ashcroft is that he’s moving the needle of prosecutorial discretion in the direction of mercy rather than stiffer punishment.
I’m left with a different question about Holder’s announcement: How big a shift does it actually represent? Let’s go back to his description of the kind of defendants who may now escape an automatic mandatory minimum: nonviolent drug offenders without ties to big gangs or cartels. According to the Times article previewing the speech, a DoJ memo being sent to all U.S. attorney offices decrees that the defendants they’re supposed to save from mandatory minimums must have no “significant criminal history.” That phrase has a particular meaning in federal sentencing law, and it’s not reassuring. If you have a marijuana possession in your past, or you got caught jumping a turnstile a couple of times, you have a significant criminal history. In other words, it doesn’t take much. Also, how many drug offenders really have no ties at all to big gangs or cartels, since they all have to get their product from somewhere?
JUDGE SEZ NYPD’S CONTROVERSIAL “STOP-AND-FRISK” TACTICS ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Monday that NYC’s stop-and-frisk practice is racially discriminatory, unfairly targeting blacks and Hispanics, and appointed an independent monitor to make sure changes are implemented. Mayor Bloomberg said that he will appeal the ruling.
“The city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner,” U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin wrote in her ruling. “In their zeal to defend a policy that they believe to be effective, they have willfully ignored overwhelming proof that the policy of targeting ‘the right people’ is racially discriminatory.”
Stop-and-frisk has been around for decades in some form, but recorded stops increased dramatically under the Bloomberg administration to an all-time high in 2011 of 684,330, mostly of black and Hispanic men. The lawsuit was filed in 2004 by four men, all minorities, and became a class-action case.
About half the people who are stopped are subject only to questioning. Others have their bag or backpack searched, and sometimes police conduct a full pat-down. Only 10 percent of all stops result in arrest, and a weapon is recovered a small fraction of the time.
Scheindlin noted she was not putting an end to the practice, which is constitutional, but was reforming the way the NYPD implemented its stops.
Scheindlin did not give many specifics for how to correct such practices but instead directed the monitor to develop reforms to policies, training, supervision and discipline with input from the communities most affected. She also ordered a pilot program in which officers test body-worn cameras in the one precinct per borough where most stops occurred. The idea came up inadvertently during testimony, but Scheindlin seized on it as a way to provide objective records of the encounters.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Monday allowing transgender students across California to participate in sports and use facilities based on their gender identity, not the gender listed on their school records.
AB 1266 would ensure that schools respect students’ gender identity with respect to sports teams, locker rooms, restrooms and all other programs and facilities. The bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, was introduced by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).
State law already prohibits discrimination in schools on the basis of gender identity, but backers of the measure say the extra clarity in the law will go a long way in making a growing population of transgender students feel comfortable and safe at school.
“Being accepted or not accepted at school makes all the difference in the world for these kids,” said Shannon Minter, the legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a San Francisco organization that sponsored the bill. “That’s in terms of both their abilities to succeed in school in the short term and their long-term health and well-being.”
On a warm Saturday night in mid-September 2007, a 22-year-old gang member named Giovanni Macedo waded into a crowd near MacArthur Park and—as he had been told to do—opened fire on a street vender who had failed to pay the gang of which Macado was a member $50. Specifically, Macedo claims membership in the Columbia Lil’ Cycos (CLCS), a clique of the 18th Street gang, was reportedly ordered to shoot the vender by members of his clique who were more senior than he was.
Although he did what he was told, he wasn’t a great shot. He hit the vender four times, but the wounds fortunately were not fatal.
Yet another of Macedo’s bullets went way wide of the mark with truly tragic results. A woman, a friend of the vender, was standing nearby with her 23-day-old baby, Luis Angel Garcia, who was in his stroller. One of Macedo’s errant bullets hit the tiny boy and killed him.
The shooting, as mentioned above, was over money. Extortion, to be specific.
There is a longstanding pattern in which the EME—the Mexican Mafia—requires “taxes” to be paid by anyone, namely gangs, who sells narcotics in areas of town it considers to be under its jurisdiction. Traditionally, they collect the taxes from the Latino gangs over which they excert power.
In the past few years, however, the EME has extended it’s taxing strategy to various kinds of people who are not gang involved and not selling drugs. In an around MacArthur Park that evidently meant the street venders who sold various wares in the area—clothing, knickknacks, food, that sort of thing. The street gangs were the collectors of the money and the deliverers of threats, to persuade the venders to pay up. Extortion, in other words.
The greater portion of the extortion money, which piled up into considerable amounts each month, reportedly went up the food chain to EME hire ups.
This particular vender didn’t like being extorted and said no to the demand for $50. After several go-rounds, the gang members decided the vender had to be “dealt with.” The order went out from those at the top of the clique to shoot the vender. The rest of the tragedy unfolded from there.
As it happens, the EME is not at all in favor of shooting uninvolved 23-day-old babies. In fact the Big Brothers, so to speak, were very unhappy about the matter, and held all the Columbia Lil’ Cycos responsible.
To fix matters, the CLCSs were told to kill their shooter, Giovanni Macedo. Otherwise there would be “consequences” of a dire nature for the gang as a whole.
A kidnapping plot was concocted to kidnap Macedo and to take him to Mexico on the pretense of getting him out of town for his own good, to avoid arrest. Instead, once in Mexico Macedo was strangled. A rope was looped around his neck, and then he was tossed by his former friends off the side of a raised road in an isolated area.
Unbeknownst to the kidnapper/stranglers, Macedo did not, however, die. Instead, he lived to be brought back to the US to testify in great detail for the Feds. (In return for his cooperation, he was sentenced in a plea deal to 51 years and four months prison for the killing of baby Luis.)
The result of Macedo’s testimony plus that of a list of others was that, on this past Friday afternoon, four additional members of the CLCS clique were found guilty of a pile of RICO charges, namely participating in a racketeering enterprise responsible for the September 2007 shooting of the street vendor and the murder of baby Luis—and the attempted hanging of their fellow homeboy Macedo too.
With Friday’s guilty verdicts, a total of 37 people have been convicted in the same RICO case investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the LAPD.
The four defendants found guilty on Friday, one of them the main Mexico kidnapper, are scheduled to be sentenced by United States District Judge Dean D. Pregerson in September.
Those involved with the case at the US Attorney’s office seemed particularly satisfied with Friday’s verdict.
US Attorney Andre Birotte Jr stated for WitnessLA, “To me this case represents the advantages of a focused, selective strategy that targets the very worst offenders for prosecution. The results here will resonate loudly among the gang and also the neighborhood where the gang operates. The message that this case sends is that no one— not even a gang leader or shot-caller—is either above or outside the law. And that is a message that we are proud to send.”
It was announced Friday afternoon that Bruce Riordan—a former federal prosecutor who has been the head of the gang detail for the City Attorney’s office under both Rocky Delgadillo and now Carmen Trutanich—will be leaving Trutanich’s office to join newly minted US Attorney Andre Birotte, Jr as Birotte’s Senior Counsel.
Evidently, ’tis the season for intriguing job changes in law enforcement.
Just to remind you, Birotte’s office covers the Central District of California, the largest in the nation.
And in case Riordan’s name isn’t immediately familiar I should tell you that he is veteran prosecutor who has broad experience both on a state and a federal level.
More specifically, he is highly respected by law enforcement and other prosecutors--but also by liberal types like me who value smart, aggressive, informed prosecutors who, while hard charging, have the willingness to see the larger, more complex human picture when it comes to subjects like gangs. Riordan epitomizes those two kinds of abilities—that many see as mutually exclusive. (PS: They’re not.)
He will be a loss for the CA’s office, but a gigantic win for Andre Birotte’s team. (Bruce said that his boss, Trutanich, who had to have been disappointed at the move, was gracious about letting him go.)
I talked with Andre Birotte today, and he said he is thrilled that Bruce will join him. They’ve known each other for years, “and we’re like minded,” he said. And he brought up that Riordan has a unique level of experience in the area of gangs, both in the CA’s office and as a federal prosecutor. All true.
Both Birotte and Riordan sound pretty fired up about the jobs ahead of them. It’s nice to hear the enthusiasm, actually. Birotte ticked off all the areas his office will be pursuing. There’s violent crime, naturally, but cyber crime is also a biggie. Plus those mortgage-remediation predators and other fraudsters who are stalking the desperate in increasing numbers in this difficult economy. And civil rights violators. And more.
It’s a long list.
Andre also said that one of the things he and his team will do in the near future is extensive outreach to the communities and counties that the Central District covers. “We have to be willing to listen to the community,” he said. “So we’re going to do outreach like never before.” Unusual for a prosecutor—and a very good call.
We talked about the various challenges Birotte and his office will face, including budget cutbacks. Eventually the topic of justice surfaced. I mentioned that, in the present prosecutorial climate, both on a local and a federal level, sometimes it seems that the goal is to win a big as possible, but not necessarily to seek justice—especially when winning and justice are in conflict.
“Its funny you should bring that up,” he said, “I’ve just been telling my staff that this is going to be a justice-driven office. Firm but fair. But more than anything, justice-driven. It’s not just about winning. And I know Bruce feels that same way.” That’s part of why he wants to work with Riordan, he said.
Good words. And, fortunately for the rest of us, with Andre Birotte and Bruce Riordan, the notion of justice is more than just talk.
PS: I HAVEN’T FORGOTTEN ABOUT THE TRUTANICH/GRAND JURY ISSUE… But right now it’s looking like it’s going to wait until Monday, given the time.