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Sex Trafficked Boys Overlooked as Victims….Trials for Sheriff’s Department Members Indicted for Hiding Federal Informant Schedules for May…..Pulitzers…and More

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

It is heartening that kids who are involved in sex trafficking are now being seen—for the most part anyway—as victims to be protected and helped, rather than lawbreakers subject to arrest.

Unfortunately, this understanding that kids are the victims in the equation does not apply equally to both genders, writes Yu Sun Chin in his reports for the Juvenile Justice Exchange.

According to Chin, although boys represent over 50 percent of the kids commercially trafficked for sex in the U.S., they are still too often seen as perpetrators not victims by law enforcement.

Here’s a clip:

For years, the sex trade was ‘their’ problem, a heinous part of culture in poorer nations. But attention here to sex trafficking has slowly increased in recent years with the reauthorization of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act and other federal state laws.

Still, males remain a largely invisible population within the dialogue on sex trafficking. According to a 2008 study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, in fact, boys comprised about 50 percent of sexually exploited children in a sample study done in New York, with most being domestic victims.

However, the percentage of male victims may be higher due to the underreported and subversive nature of the crime, said Summer Ghias, program specialist for the Chicago-based International Organization for Adolescents.

“We’re conditioned as a community to identify female victims more readily,” she said, “because that has been the more prominent focus of the anti-trafficking movement.”

Despite these high percentages of commercially sexually exploited boys, a 2013 study by ECPAT-USA indicates that boys and young men are rarely identified as people arrested for prostitution or rescued as human trafficking victims, and are arrested more for petty crimes such as shoplifting.

Experts say that the law enforcement’s attitudes toward male victims are still weighed down by gender biases in trafficking discourse, which pins females as victims and males as perpetrators. Therefore, male victims in custody often fall through the cracks of services that could be offered to help them because they are not properly assessed for sexual exploitation.


THOSE INDICTED FOR THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN WILL BEGIN TRIAL IN MAY SAYS JUDGE

In a hearing on Monday afternoon, Federal Judge Percy Anderson ordered that trials begin in mid-May for LA Sheriff’s Department defendants charged for their alleged part in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.

At the same hearing, Anderson agreed to grant a motion to sever the trial of Deputy James Sexton from that of the six other defendants (lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, plus two sergeants, Scott Craig and Maricella Long., and deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo.)

As expected, Anderson denied a list of other motions brought by attorneys representing Sexton and several of the others, including motions to dismiss charges. (WLA reported on some of the motions filed by defendants here and here.)

As the cases speed toward trial, the main question that hangs in the air is whether the U.S. Attorneys Office will eventually indict any of the higher-ups who are said to have ordered the hiding of Brown, or if only those allegedly following those orders (including whistleblower Sexton, who will now be tried separately from the other six) will be threatened with prison terms and felony records.


KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze interviews Paul Tanaka as part of Stoltze’s continuing series on the LASD Sheriff’s candidates for KPCC.

Here’s a clip:

Early on, Tanaka had little interest in being a cop. It’s hard to imagine now, but the buttoned-down Tanaka once wore a ponytail. “A lot of people had long hair back in the 1970s,” he explains.

He also adhered to the cultural rules in his strict Japanese-American household in Gardena, earning a black belt in Aikito and respecting his parent’s wishes.

“In an Asian family, you’re going to be a doctor or an attorney or a CPA,” says Tanaka, sporting a dark suit and tie on a recent afternoon at his campaign headquarters in Torrance.

He was an “A” student, studying accounting at Loyola Marymount University and holding down two jobs — one as a janitor, one making sports trophies — when his life changed. He spent a day on patrol with a sheriff’s deputy as part of a class and fell in love with policing.

It took years for Tanaka’s father to fully accept his eldest son’s decision. The young man had to adjust too:”One of the more traumatizing things was I had to do was cut my hair.”

Early in his career, Tanaka says he faced racial epithets in a mostly white department. He ignored most, chalking it up to ignorance. Over the years, the certified public accountant gained a reputation as detail-oriented — a commander who knew more about your job than you did.

Tanaka grew close to Baca, who eventually appointed him undersheriff. Tanaka became the heir apparent. The jail violence scandal that surfaced three years ago changed all of that.

Did he know about deputy abuse of inmates when he ran the jails from 2005-07? Tanaka claimed ignorance to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.

“It was never brought to my attention,” he said in his testimony.

What about violent deputy cliques inside Men’s Central Jail?

“That was never, ever mentioned as a problem,” he said.


CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF CONTINUE TO UP THE ANTE WITH EACH OTHER IN DEBATE MONDAY

All seven candidates for the office of LA County Sheriff squared off again on Monday night. KNBC 4 reports on some fiery moments.

Last Monday night’s mistaken fatal shooting by sheriff’s deputies of aspiring television producer, 30-year-old John Winkler, during a hostage stand-off, could not help but provide an emotional backdrop for the debate, some of those present reported.


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

Much is rightly being made over the fact that one of this year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism was awarded jointly to the Guardian US and the Washington Post for their coverage of the Edward Snowden/NSA revelations.

It is also notable, however, that the Pulitzer for Investigative Reporting went—not to any conventional news outlet—but to reporter Chris Hamby who writes for the Center for Public Integrity, an independent, non-profit news site that is one of many throughout the U.S. (WitnessLA included) that have filled in the gaps left as traditional news organizations cut back their coverage, often leaving vital issues underreported.

Both prizes are cheering signs.

EDITOR’S NOTE: While we’re on the subject of Pulitzers, I happen to heartily approve of the Pulitzer judges’ choice of Donna Tartt’s deliciously Dickensian novel The Goldfinch as the winner for the prize in Fiction.


And, speaking of literary prizes, here are the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes, announced this past Friday night.

(I was on the judging panel for the Current Interest Prize and my fellow judges and I are very proud of our winner—Sheri Fink for Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital—as well as all five of our finalists.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 29 Comments »

LA Sheriff’s Debaters Finally Start to Draw Blood…. & More

April 9th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


If we are to judge by the last two debates featuring the men who hope to become the next LA County sheriff,
there is not a whole lot of difference between the candidates when it comes to…..well…just about anything.

They are all for a civilian oversight body to monitor the department, even if they differ on what legal powers that body should have. (And Pat Gomez would eliminate the newly-created but power-lite position of Inspector General altogether.) They think term limits for the office of sheriff would be swell. (They’d go for three terms.) They adore community policing. No, they don’t want to do ICE’s job for it. They’re longing for accountability, transparency, and to restore the public trust. They believe in educating people when they’re in jail. They would all rehire Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, the Baca hire from the CDCR who is presently overseeing the department’s custody division.

And so on.

For a while, at the Tuesday night debate hosted by Loyola Marymount University, it was more of the same, despite the very capable efforts of the debate moderator, LMU prof Fernando Guerra.

Yes, some of the candidates brought up variations on the theme that showed they’d thought deeply on this or that topic, and were not merely a Johnny Come Lately.

There was also a little bit personal sniping. For instance, as it did on Sunday, the matter of who might or might not have ankle tattoos came up briefly. And Jim Hellmold attempted to set himself apart from the pack by repeatedly noting that he was the youngest of the candidates and implying that everyone else was…well…old.

Bob Olmsted had a bracing moment when the panel members were asked if there were deputy cliques or gangs within the organization.

“Absolutely we’ve got cliques,” he said, “and I’ve got some pictures.” With that Olmsted whipped out a couple of photos for the cameras filming the event, one showing a young Tanaka throwing a “C” for Carson sign while posed with a bunch of other then young department members. The second a photo of a drawing of a skull backed by a so called deadman’s hand, which is reportedly the tattoo design sported by members of one of the newer deputy gangs, the Jump Out Boyz.

But, mostly the sheriff hopefuls gave the impression that, when it came to the broad strokes of policy, there was more accord than difference.

Finally Guerra managed to break through the wall of sameness when he asked all six of the candidates to name what they saw as the number one scandal of all the department’s many problems.

(Only six were present as Lou Vince was absent)

Even then, for a minute it looked as though the group would homogenize this question too, when four in a row named the prime scandal as inmate abuse in the jails—although some gave edgier answers than others. (Tanaka and Hellmold both were reluctant to admit to any real corruption in the organization.)

Jim McDonnell said it was hard to choose, that there were so many scandals, and he talked of “the abuse of authority that’s been sanctioned up to the highest levels of the organization…”

Bob Olmsted too named abuse in the jails, but then he went further and said that the worst part of the whole thing was that the department hid what it was doing when the FBI began investigating, which resulted in indictments. “Three of the four supervisors out of the 20 who were indicted were from our criminal investigative unit. They were the ones who were supposed to be investigating, but they needed to be investigated and we were indicted.”

But it was Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers who finally drew his metaphorical stiletto and began slashing.

“Well,” he said drolly without so much as a telltale glance at his neighbor, who happened to be Paul Tanaka, “I think smuggling bullet proof vests to Cambodia was a pretty big deal.”

Then barely pausing for breath he continued. “But in terms of the single most defining moment of corruption and mismanagement, I’m going to have to go with the Anthony Brown case where at the highest level of our organization ordered deputies sergeants and lieutenants to hide an informant from the FBI, to pretend that he was released from our custody…. And to change his name and move him from facility to facility to the FBI couldn’t find him. I think it’s reprehensible that we have deputies, sergeants and lieutenants who were following orders from the highest levels of the organization…

“I’m told that the previous occupant of my office was giving the direction to hide this inmate from the FBI.
Those people [who were ordered to do the hiding] are indicted for federal crimes and they’re facing trial starting this May. And those people who gave them the orders, who gave them the directions… are walking around free.

“That to me is the defining moment of corruption and mismanagement of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Boo-yaa!

And while we’re on the topic of dutiful order-followers in a paramilitary organization facing having their lives wrecked, not to mention real prison time, while those who actually gave the orders are thus far facing exactly zero consequences….oh, FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office, are you listening…? You do plan to go higher with your indictments, right? Right????


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE TOPIC OF LAW ENFORCEMENT, THERE’S THE MATTER OF 80 OF THE LAPD’S SURVEILLANCE CAMERAS BEING DISMANTLED AND THE FAILURE OF DEPARTMENT BRASS TO INVESTIGATE

This is not a heartening story.

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the rest of the details. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles police officers tampered with voice recording equipment in dozens of patrol cars in an effort to avoid being monitored while on duty, according to records and interviews.

An inspection by Los Angeles Police Department investigators found about half of the estimated 80 cars in one South L.A. patrol division were missing antennas, which help capture what officers say in the field. The antennas in at least 10 more cars in nearby divisions had also been removed.

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and other top officials learned of the problem last summer but chose not to investigate which officers were responsible. Rather, the officials issued warnings against continued meddling and put checks in place to account for antennas at the start and end of each patrol shift.

Members of the Police Commission, which oversees the department, were not briefed about the problem until months later. In interviews with The Times, some commissioners said they were alarmed by the officers’ attempts to conceal what occurred in the field, as well as the failure of department officials to come forward when the problem first came to light.


ONE TIME BACA’S BIGTIME HOLLYWOOD PAL, BRIEFLY TURNED TANAKA PAL, IS NOW SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JAMES HELLMOLD’S VERY, VERY HELPFUL PAL

The New York Post has the story. (And why aren’t local LA outlets reporting on this? Just curious.)

Here’s a clip:

Hollywood producer and financier Ryan Kavanaugh is pushing to make some changes to LA law enforcement after ruffling the feathers of former LA Sheriff Lee Baca.

The Relativity CEO was accused last year of improperly landing a helicopter on a Sheriff’s Department helipad while visiting Paul Tanaka — a former undersheriff who was planning to run for Baca’s office, and whom Kavanaugh was assumed to be backing. (The LA district attorney dropped any criminal investigation over the chopper flap.)

But last week, Kavanaugh instead threw a fund-raiser for rival LA County Sheriff candidate James Hellmold. The event was hosted at Kavanaugh’s hanger at the Santa Monica airport, where guests including Ron Burkle and Leonardo DiCaprio chatted with Hellmold and his wife.

Posted in 2014 election, Board of Supervisors, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 49 Comments »

U.S. Attorney André Birotte Tapped by Obama to be Fed. Judge—& Why This is Cheering News

April 4th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


U.S. ATTORNEY ANDRE BIROTTE NOMINATED BY POTUS TO BECOME FEDERAL JUDGE

On Thursday afternoon the news came down that LA’s own U.S. Attorney André Birotte had been nominated by President Barak Obama for the federal bench.

Actually Obama announced the nomination of two new federal judges, one for the DC area, and one as Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California—namely Birotte. Both nominations are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

For a while I’d been hearing whispers that André Birotte was being vetted for the position. It is very good news that the whispers have proved true.

He has, to paraphrase author Tom Wolfe, the right stuff for the job.

Since 2010, Birotte has served as the United States Attorney for the Central District of California, meaning he’s the U.S. Attorney for the district that covers seven counties, including Los Angeles, making it the second largest—and arguably the most complicated—in the nation.

In the years that Birotte has been U.S. Attorney, in addition to the usual kind of crime fighting—gang busts, cybercrime, fraud, civil rights violations, bigtime drug dealing, and the like—Birotte’s office has also engaged in the ticklish business of arresting elected officials, as in the investigation and arrest of Democratic state senator Ron Calderon of Montebello who was charged with a list of corruption allegations, including accepting $100,000 in bribes.

And of course, it is Birotte’s office that oversees the still expanding investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, that has thus far resulted in the indictment of 20 department members—with more indictments almost certain to come. It is an investigation that has repeatedly made national news, draws intense attention from local elected officials (among others), and has the potential to be of far greater consequence than we have yet seen. Already it may have had a hand in the precipitous retirement of a sitting sheriff.

It is interestingly fateful that Birotte should have been at the helm during this investigation, as his experience with law enforcement is many times deeper than that of most prosecutors.

Prior to his appointment by Barack Obama to the position of U.S. Attorney, from 2003 to 2010, Birotte served as inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Commission, the civilian panel that oversees the LAPD.

As inspector general, even though he had no legal power over the LAPD’S actions, he was—according LAPD observers I spoke with at the time—”one of the unsung heros” who had a real effect in helping to turn around and revitalize what had become an extremely troubled department.

As the IG, Birotte had a reputation as a principled man, a nuanced thinker, and a straight shooter when it came to matters of the law, a reputation that expanded once he made the jump to U.S. Attorney.

I remember a conversation I had with Birotte a few months after he’d been sworn in to the position. We talked first about the various challenges he would face in his new position. Then the conversation turned to the idea of justice itself. I remember saying something about how prosecutors seem to have more power than ever and that, so often—both on a local and a federal level—it sometimes seemed that the goal was to win as 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.”

The discussion didn’t stop there. But you get the gist.

It was a message that he has repeatedly emphasized by a “Community Outreach Team” he created within his office to “reach out to those communities within the district most impacted by threats to their civil rights,” and in his own public statements.

For instance, there is this Op Ed that Birotte wrote as the 10th annerversary of 9/11 approached, about the necessity of safeguarding our civil liberties as we protect our national security.

And more recently, Birotte said this to the LA Times Patt Morrison:

“I tell prosecutors here, you come into this job with what I call a reservoir of justice. Your job is to make sure that reservoir is always full. The only way to do that is doing the right thing, the right way, all the time.”

This is not to suggest that Birotte is any kind of soft touch. The other message he has repeatedly stressed at press conferences is that no one is above the law. They “believed they were above the law,” he said of LA County deputies who are charged with gross violations of the civil rights of jail inmates, or those visiting friends and family members in the jails. “The message this case sends is that no one…is either above or outside the law. And that is a message that we are proud to send,” he will state when announcing this or that arrest or conviction.

Both principles are represented by the fact that Birotte reinstalled a public corruption and civil rights unit that had been disbanded by his predecessor.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein who recommended Birotte for the U.S. Attorney position and for Thursday’s nomination to the federal bench, put out a statement praising the president’s selection of Birotte:

“I have been very impressed with his performance over the last four years. He has a record of excellence and fairness. I am confident he will serve the people of the Central District very well as a U.S. district judge.”

The rest of his career that has led to the Thursday’s nomination, has also included a stint as a federal prosecutor (Assistant United States Attorney, 1995 to 1999), time as an LA County Deputy Public Defender (1991 -1995), and a couple of years in private practice with Quinn Emanuel Urquhart Oliver & Hedges LLP. Birotte received his J.D. in 1991 from Pepperdine University School of Law and his B.S. in 1987 from Tufts University.

Once confirmed by the U.S. Senate, Birotte will replace Clinton-appointed Judge Gary Allen Feess, who is retiring.

Of course, with Birotte leaving (although the confirmation process is likely to take time in the fractious Senate) there is the question of who will replace him as U.S. Atty., and if the change in leadership will in any way affect the investigation of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

But we’ll explore all that later. For now we’re merely happy for André Birotte’s good news.

Posted in Courts, FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 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 »

At First Public Sheriff’s Debate Candidates Come Out Swinging

March 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


At Wednesday night’s debate between those in the race for the office of LA county sheriff, an event put on by the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council,
the six candidates who showed up began taking swings at each other right from the beginning.

Those present at this first public debate* prior to the June 3 primary were retired LASD lieutenant Pat Gomez, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell, LAPD detective Lou Vince, assistant sheriff Jim Hellmold, and former LASD commander Bob Olmsted.

(Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers was absent, due to a prior commitment to be interviewed by Warren Olney for Which Way LA?)

The questions that the council volleyed at the six men were largely thoughtful, but they were also general. Nobody directly challenged any of the candidates in their areas of vulnerability.

The candidates themselves, however, attempted to fill in that gap.

For example, when asked about what he would do to fix the corruption in the department, Bob Olmsted—the retired custody commander who was up first—fired off the night’s most frequently quoted soundbite.

“The fish rots from the head down,” he said, as the local news cameras rolled.

Then he ticked off a list of the LASD’s highest profile recent scandals including the fact that 20 department members have been indicted in the wake of an ongoing FBI probe into violence and corruption in the LASD. “None of this occurred in a vacuum,” he said. “It occurred with the knowledge and the acceptance of people on the department…..I will not tolerate dishonesty, civil rights issues, malfeasance…”

For anyone conversant with the various players on the candidates’ panel, this was a slam first and foremost against Paul Tanaka, (whom the Citizen’s Committed on Jail Violence had criticized harshly in its 2012 report) but also against the two assistant sheriffs, Jim Hellmold and the absent Todd Rogers.

In that same vein, Olmsted talked about a “continuous catastrophic failure of leadership and internal corruption” that “cost the taxpayers of Los Angeles over 100 million [in lawsuits} in the last three years."

Hellmold, who sat next to Olmsted and so was next in line to answer, countered immediately. "He was in charge when all of this occurred, so he already has tolerated malfeasance,” Hellmold said with a nod Olmsted's direction, characterizing his neighbor on the panel as "an ineffective leader."

This precipitated a cheer from the 50 or so Tanaka supporters who jammed the back of the room wearing red or white t-shirts emblazoned with their guy's name.

Hoping to head off such outbursts the council president, George Thomas, who was moderating the debate, had cautioned audience members to hold any applause and the like until the event's end. He now fixed the noisy Tanaka-ites with an enforcement stare.

Jim McDonnell also used the phrase "catastrophic failure of leadership", and poked at those candidates who are or were recently at the top of the department.

"We heard over and over again," he said, "'I didn’t know, I don’t recall. Nobody told me.' We didn't need to have one deputy indicted" he said. "If they had been held to a high standard, their families would be intact. Their freedom wouldn't be at stake."

With a clear swipe at pay-to-play accusations against Paul Tanaka, McDonnell also announced that he was the only candidate who had sworn not to take any money from those working for him or from members of the LASD.

(In fact, Jim Hellmold too has made the same pledge.)

Pat Gomez leveled similar criticism when he said that he would request that the FBI do a forensic audit of the department's finances. "Mr. Tanaka talked about being a CPA," he said. "Yet the auditor released a report in January and said that $138 million in funds were mishandled from special accounts within this department. Who's responsible for that?"

Tanaka struck back at various points citing what he characterized as the inexperience and, in the case of McDonnell, the outsider status of his rivals. "As a 31 year veteran of the department I'm the only candidate who has the institutional knowledge that will be critical for restoring trust and credibility to the organization. The job of sheriff is too big and too important for on the job training."


GETTING IN A RUNOFF

One of the debate's undercurrents was the fact that, due to the large number of hopefuls in the race, it is unlikely that the June primary will produce a winner.

The matter is intensified by the the fact that some election watchers suggest Jim McDonnell---with his extensive resume and his list of high profile endorsements---is the closest thing to a frontrunner in the contest. If that is so, he will occupy one of the slots in the runoff, leaving only one up for grabs between the rest.

Thus it may not be enough for the remaining candidates to merely impress voters with their own stellar qualities. They also must to find a way to knock a couple of others out of the running---or at the very least, dirty them up a bit.


AND....THE ISSUES

A few of the questions pertained to specific LASD policy issues---things like the use or misuse of red light cameras (most of the candidates were at least moderately for the cameras, with the exception of Gomez and Vince, who disliked the things), and what the candidates would do about issuing concealed weapons permits, or CCWs, which California's 58 county sheriffs and the state's police chiefs are authorized to grant,

The topic of CCWs has heated up in recent weeks following the decision last month by the 9th circuit Court of Appeals in which the court made it much easier to get the permits. (The 9th Circuit's ruling has been appealed to the US Supreme court.)

Paul Tanaka, who of the group has consistently been the strongest proponent for CCWs, talked about the Second Amendment. "I support that being able to possess a CCW is a right not a privilege."

McDonnell said he thought it prudent to wait to see what SCOTUS did in order to avoid future lawsuits, as did Olmsted, who added that he would require those to whom he granted CCWs to go through a rigorous certification and training equal to that of active deputies.

Lou Vince was another CCW enthusiast. "Right now the only people who have guns are the crooks," he said. "And that's just not fair."

Only Hellmold said that, in fact, he's in favor of anything that limits CCWs. "In 2005 when I arrived in Compton, there were over 400 shootings where our young men in Compton were struck by gunfire. I do not want more firearms in the street. If each of these candidates for the sake of perhaps getting the NRA to support them says that they would issue CCWs...how many hundreds of thousands of CCWs would you issue? Or are you just saying it for the for the soundbite? You know who it impacts? It impacts our young kids in some of the inner city areas...."

On other issues, Vince had a list of specifics as to how he'd lower the ever-problematic population of the LA County jails, including a pre-trial release risk assessment strategy that could help insure that people awaiting trial were not unnecessarily clogging the jail system simply due to an inability to pay their bail.

When it came to what kind of oversight the various candidates thought the department required, five of them described the various ways they embraced civilian oversight, whereas Gomez called the existing watchdogs, including the newly appointed inspector general, a waste of money. Tigers with no teeth. "[The IG] has no authority to do anything. So that’s a waste of taxpayer dollars,” he said.

As to who won the debate, in a quick poll of some of the council members found their opinions to be all over the place. They would have to wait and see, most said. But this was a good beginning.


PS: IF YOU WANT TO LISTEN TO ROGERS ON WHICH WAY LA? You can find the podcast here.


*Most of the candidates participated in a private forum last month organized by the LASD deputies’ union, ALADS (Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs).



AND IN OTHER NEWS….AN INTERVIEW WITH U.S. ATTORNEY ANDRE BIROTTE

The LA Times’ Patt Morrison interviewed US Attorney Andre Birotte, and it’s definitely something you’ll want to read.

Here are some relevant clips:

Do you expect more sheriff indictments?

The investigation is ongoing. We go where the evidence takes us.

Are all of those indicted going to trial?

This is high-stakes litigation. When we charge cases, we go in with the assumption that it’s going to trial. We make sure we dot our I’s, cross our Ts and say how is this going to play out to a jury?

Some deputies have volunteered information to your office. Why?

Some think it’s the right thing to do. I think there are some who thought these kinds of matters would not be looked at very seriously by other officials, and I’m speculating, but I gather there may be some who, once the indictments were announced, realized the government was serious and decided maybe it is time to come forward and tell the truth as to what they observed or may know.

Was any kind of deal discussed for or with then-Sheriff Lee Baca?

I can’t comment as [to how] it relates to Sheriff Baca’s sudden and unexpected [retirement]. We have an ongoing investigation; I can’t say more than that.

Read on!

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 32 Comments »

Two More LASD Deputies Indicted Friday Morning

February 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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.)

In the meantime, check our pals at ABC-7. and Richard Winton at the LA Times.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 34 Comments »

Convictions in Coast Guard Killing, Probationers Jailed for Inability to Pay for Supervision, Admissions Blocked at New Stockton Prison, and Jobs for Justice-Involved Kids

February 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

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.

Here are some clips from the report’s summary:

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.

[SNIP]

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.

[SNIP]

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.)

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here are some clips:

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.

[SNIP]

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 PROGRAMS CRITICAL FOR YOUTH RE-ENTRY

In an op-ed for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, Judge George Timberlake explains the importance of making job programs available to at-risk kids. Here’s a clip:

…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.

Posted in Human rights, juvenile justice, prison, Probation, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Defendants Go to Court…One Whistleblower Among Those Indicted

December 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


7 PLEAD NOT GUILTY

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.


THE WHISTLEBLOWER

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.

Here’s a clip from the April 30, 2013 Times story:

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.

Posted in criminal justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 22 Comments »

California Locks Up Too Many Undocumented Kids…Force-Feeding Hunger Strikers…Holder’s Reforms Won’t Stop Racial Disparity…and Andrew Blankstein Leaving LA Times

August 21st, 2013 by Taylor Walker

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.

Here’s a clip from the introduction:

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).

[SNIP]

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.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has more on the issue. Here are some clips:

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.

[SNIP]

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.

Here are a couple of clips from the AP story:

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.”

[SNIP]

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.

The Atlantic’s Jeff Deeney has the story. Here are some clips:

…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.”

[SNIP]

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.

[SNIP]

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.

(Read the rest.)


BLANKSTEIN BIDS FAREWELL TO THE LA TIMES

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.

Kevin Roderick has the LAT staff memo over at LA Observed. Here’s a clip:

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.

Posted in CDCR, juvenile justice, Los Angeles Times, prison, racial justice, U.S. Attorney, War on Drugs | No Comments »

US AG Holder Announces Criminal Justice Reforms, Judge Rules NYPD’s Stop-and-Frisk Violates Rights, Gov. Brown Signs Transgender Student Bill

August 13th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

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 Associated Press has the story. Here are some clips:

“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.

[SNIP]

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.

(The NY Times’ Joseph Goldstein also has good coverage of the ruling.)


A WIN FOR CALIFORNIA TRANSGENDER YOUTH

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.

SF Gate’s Ellen Huet has the story. Here’s a clip:

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.”

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2014.

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), LGBT, prison policy, Sentencing, U.S. Attorney, Uncategorized, War on Drugs | No Comments »

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