Friday, August 26, 2016
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Feds Breaking with For-Profit Prisons, Youth Solitary Confinement Bill Advances, and Racial Bias Training

August 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, US Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced that the Department of Justice would begin phasing out the use of for-profit prisons to house federal inmates, noting that private facilities “compare poorly” to those run by the federal government. “They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs, and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security,” Yates said in a memo to the Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

The move came in response to a scathing report from the Inspector General that revealed systemic safety and security problems—like failure to discipline staff, and improper storage of use-of-force videos—at the federal prisons run by for-profit companies (including the scandal-plagued Corrections Corporation of America and GEO Group).

The for-profit companies are often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and understaffing. Many of the facilities enforce lock-up quotas and “low-crime taxes”, which carry financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.

“It has been a stain on our democracy to permit profit-making entities to be handed the responsibility of making determinations of individual liberty,” said the Sentencing Project’s Marc Mauer. “Today’s action moves us closer to a moment when government can once again assume this important responsibility.”

Yates has asked the Bureau of Prisons to let contracts with the private companies expire, or to drastically reduce the scope of the contract, as the federal inmate population continues to decline. Currently, around one in eight federal inmates is housed in a for-profit prison. The total population has dropped from 225,000 in 2013, to 195,000 in 2016. According to Yates’ memo, the feds are housing around 22,600 of those prisoners in 13 private facilities across the nation. In California, Taft Correctional Institution holds 2,187 federal inmates.

The decision doesn’t apply to contracts between US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the same private prison corporations to warehouse undocumented immigrant families. (ICE holds around 62% of locked-up immigrants in private facilities.) Neither are states’ contracts with for-profit prisons affected by the change.

In California, however, a bill introduced by Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would ban cities and counties from contracting with for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill. (Read our previous post about SB 1289: here.) The bill made it past the Senate, and now awaits an Assembly vote.


On Thursday, the California Assembly unanimously passed an important bill that would drastically limit the use of solitary confinement for locked-up kids. Because the Assembly tweaked SB 1143, the bill has to go back to the Senate—which already passed the bill unanimously—for another vote, before it moves to Governor Jerry Brown’s desk for signature.

SB 1143 would block guards from using isolation as a punishment, for convenience’s sake, or as a way to coerce kids, and would limit “room confinement” to four hours at a time. Confinement would only become an option after other, less restrictive options had been exhausted (except when using those alternatives would put kids or staff in danger).

The bill, authored by Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), is supported both by juvenile and criminal justice reform advocates and the probation chiefs’ union. A similar bill, also from Sen. Leno, died in committee last year.

“We appreciate the Assembly passed SB 1143 today and agree this well-crafted and thoroughly vetted policy is an important step for California’s juvenile justice system,” said Mark Bonini, President of the Chief Probation Officers of California.


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to take a closer look at implicit—or unconscious—racial bias training for LA County Sheriff’s Department cadets, as well as for Probation, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, the Superior Court, and the Fire Department.

Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas
motion came the week after the sheriff’s department admitted
that a deputy mistakenly shot and killed 27-year-old Donnell Thompson, an unarmed man whom deputies believed might be connected to a carjacking suspect who had fired shots at deputies three hours earlier.

“We are facing a crisis of confidence with our law enforcement agencies, particularly in communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.

The motion calls on the county agencies and departments to analyze their policies for required implicit bias training and report back to the board within 45 days. The sheriff’s department specifically will have to report on how the department measures how well officers perform constitutional policing practices– “monitoring department operations, observance to policies and strategic plans, highlighting achievements and exemplary service of officers, while simultaneously, detecting patterns of bias and misconduct.”

Then, the county CEO and Executive Director of the Los Angeles County Commission on Human Relations will research what training models are working elsewhere in the nation to break down implicit racial bias and build up racial identity sensitivity in law enforcement agencies and criminal justice systems.

“We must challenge the insidious perception that criminal and dangerous are synonymous with black people and people of color,” said Alex Johnson, the executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Youth Arrest Rates Continue Downward Trend, and California’s Criminal Justice Bills

August 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The arrests rates of young Californians are still dropping and “now stand at the lowest level ever reliably recorded,” according to a new analysis of California Department of Justice data by the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice.

Between 2014 and 2015, the arrest rate for people under the age of 25 fell by 31,500 (8%). When compared with the data from 1978, the rates fell 66%.

Felony arrest rates were 42% lower in 2015 than 2010. CJCJ Senior Research Fellow Mike Males says these numbers may be attributed, in part, to the decriminalization of marijuana possession and to Proposition 47, which downgraded six non-serious drug and property-related felonies to misdemeanors. Males points out that other non-related crimes, including violent felony arrests, also saw decreases during that time.

And when you break down the numbers further, the biggest reduction was in arrest rates for kids between the ages of 12 and 14, which dropped by 95% from 1978 to 2015. Considering juvenile justice system-involvement often leads to contact with the adult justice system, Males suggests this welcome change may mean that arrest rates will decline further as these California kids become adults.

“The causes of these declines in arrest remain unknown, but trends suggest that high rates of incarceration are not required to protect public safety,” writes Males.


On Monday, the California Senate narrowly passed a bill that would bar the release of video or audio recordings of an on-duty law enforcement officer’s death unless the officer’s family approves it for release.

Proponents of AB 2611 say the bill would protect families’ privacy. Opponents argue that the bill is another barrier to public transparency as the use of body-cams spreads and law enforcement agencies establish policies regarding release of footage.

CA Governor Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance is opposing the bill, and says in a bill analysis that AB 2611 is unnecessary because of the peace officer exemptions in the California Public Records Act. AB 2611 “provides privacy protections to peace officers which are greater than those provided to the general public, and moreover implies that the privacy interest of a peace officer’s family outweighs public interest in the events of an officer’s death,” says the Department of Finance.

The bill has to head back to the state Assembly for a vote, where it will likely pass.

The LA Times’ Liam Dillon has done a good job of explaining the issues raised by AB 2611. Here’s a clip:

“Body cameras are necessary to not only protect potential victims but to also protect the men and women wearing them,” said Sen. Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton). “No one should have to worry about an audio or video recording of graphic sounds or morbid images be open to the public to be viewed over and over again, nor should the surviving families of any officers.”

Senators engaged in lengthy debate about the bill on the floor, with opponents arguing that the measure would create a special exemption for police officer families and could result in unforeseen circumstances where there was overriding public interest in the release of such footage, but law enforcement agencies would be unable to disclose it.

Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) said the bill could harm efforts to build trust between the public and law enforcement.

“Transparency in public safety and law enforcement is so lacking,” Moorlach said. “The issues that it creates actually I believe hurts our public safety officials because we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t have this,’ or ‘You can’t see that,’ or ‘You don’t get this video.’ And so we see the public extremely frustrated. Now we’re going to create this bill, another barrier that just raises angst among our constituents.”

The bill passed with a slim majority of 23 senators in favor, with many abstaining. Multiple senators both for and against the bill noted the sensitivity of measures related to the death of law enforcement officers.


A bill that seeks to clarify and affirm the voting rights of individuals who are locked-up for non-serious felonies serving time in county jails because of California’s prison realignment (AB 109) has passed out of the state Senate. AB 2466, coauthored by Assembly Member Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) and Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) now heads to Governor Jerry Brown for signature.

Another reform bill from Assembly Member Weber, AB 2590, which would ramp up use of restorative justice, and encourage more rehabilitation and education opportunities for all inmates (not just non-violent offenders), has passed out of the Senate Appropriations committee with amendments, and is poised for a Senate floor vote.

Senator Mitchell’s Asset Forfeiture Reform bill only has one more hurdle before joining the voting rights bill on Brown’s desk, after Mitchell found a compromise with law enforcement groups on the bill, which would rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property that may be tied to a crime (usually a drug crime).

Originally, the bill would have required a criminal conviction for nearly every instance of asset forfeiture. The changes to the bill, which were introduced earlier this month, would require a criminal conviction for assets under $40,000, but a the current lower burden of proof for permanent seizure of assets over that amount. Because of the changes made in the Assembly, the bill will now go back to the Senate for a final vote.

A bill that aimed to hold law enforcement accountable for the backlog of untested rape kids in California has stalled in the Senate Appropriations Committee. AB 1848, which was introduced by state Assembly Members David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), would have required local law enforcement agencies to count the number of collected rape kits to the state Department of Justice, and provide reasons for any rape kits that went untested.

Another stalled criminal justice-related bill, AB 1869, would called a special election to have voters change a criminal justice reform law passed in 2014 to make stealing a firearm punishable by a state prison sentence of either 16 months, or two or three years.

The bipartisan bill, introduced by Assembly Members Melissa Melendez (R-Lake Elsinore) and Adam Gray (D-Merced), was introduced as a response to California’s voter-approved Proposition 47, which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors. One of those former felonies is theft valued under $950.

Those supporting the bill say that opens the door for increased gun theft with minimal consequences. But according to Californians for Safety and Justice (the group behind Prop. 47), says Prop. 47 only applies to non-serious and non-violent crimes crimes.

Gun theft does not fall into those categories, says CSJ. “Dozens of felony provisions related to gun crimes are maintained by Proposition 47, including (but not limited to): possession of a concealed stolen gun or possession of a loaded stolen gun; use of a firearm to facilitate any crime (including when the gun involved is being stolen and theft is crime in question); stealing guns from residences, stores during non-business hours, or locked automobiles; taking a firearm from the person of another with force or fear; or possession of a concealed stolen weapon by a gang member or possession of a gun by a felon,” CSJ says.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Audit Reveals CalGang Database Violates Individuals’ Rights

August 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

California’s controversial gang-involvement tracking database—CalGang—lacks necessary state oversight and does not adequately protect the rights of more than 150,000 people listed in the database, according to an audit of the tool and its use by State Auditor Elain M. Howle.

People who admit to law enforcement officers that they are gang members or who have gang-related tattoos are added to the database, but associating with known gang members and wearing clothing that might be gang-related also sends people into the CalGang database.

The full criteria for designating someone as a gang member on CalGang is outlined in California’s Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act (STEP Act), which also created sentence “enhancements” for crimes committed “for the benefit” of a gang. The outcomes can be catastrophic. These enhancements can turn a sentence of a few years into one of multiple decades, and disproportionately affect poor and minority people.

“Although CalGang is not to be used for expert opinion or employment screenings, we found at least four appellate cases referencing expert opinions based on CalGang and three agencies we surveyed confirmed they use CalGang for employment screenings,” writes Auditor Howle.

CalGang identification can also lead to inclusion in a gang injunction.

The audit looked at how four agencies—the Los Angeles Police Department, the Santa Ana Police Department, the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, and the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office—interact with the database.

Out of the 100 individual CalGang profiles closely examined as part of the audit, the agencies could not support the inclusion of 13 of the people based on the database entry criteria.

There were also significant data errors in the profiles. For example, out of all of the CalGang entries, there were more than 40 profiles for people who were reported as being younger than one year old when entered into the database. Twenty-eight of those infant gang member entries were for people who “admitted to being gang members.”

Often, in Los Angeles and Santa Ana, gang-designated minors and their parents were not properly notified and given a chance to contest an entry into CalGang. In 2013, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill requiring both notification and an opportunity to fight a juvenile’s designation.

Another long-reported issue is that once a person is in CalGang, it’s extremely difficult to get off the list. In fact, more than 600 people listed in CalGang are scheduled to be taken out of the database at a date beyond the purge date of five years for profiles that haven’t been updated. Many of those 600 are not scheduled to be dropped from the database for more than 100 years.

And the CalGang Executive Board and the California Gang Node Advisory Committee operate without transparency, legal authority, or public engagement.

The “weak leadership structure has been ineffective at ensuring that the information the user agencies enter is accurate and appropriate, thus lessening CalGang’s effectiveness as a tool for fighting gang-related crimes,” the audit says.

Peter Bibring, director of police practices for the ACLU of California says the audit backs up knowledge community members have had all along, namely that “CalGang is an ineffective tool full of inaccuracies that results in violations of people’s rights.” The inadequate oversight and faulty system “have a real impact on people’s lives when law enforcement relies on such a flawed system for judgments about prosecutions, employment and even deportation,” Bibring said.

The audit recommends putting the California Department of Justice in charge of overseeing and regulating use of the database, publishing yearly statistical reports, and standardizing and enforcing training for CalGang users. Law enforcement users would then implement review procedures and report results back to the CA DOJ. The state auditor also says a technical advisory committee should be established to make recommendations to the Justice Department regarding policies and procedures, and to obtain input from the public.

Posted in Gangs, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Community Members Continue to Call for Release of LAPD Body Cam Videos Showing Shooting of 14-year-old Boy

August 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Jesse James Romero was 14-years-old and would have turned fifteen this month.

Instead, he was fatally shot by a member of Los Angeles Police Department on Tuesday of last week. The death of the Boyle Heights teenager has drawn an unusual amount of attention from local community members who want more answers than they say they are being given by LAPD officials.

Romero was a student at Mendez High School and a smart kid who applied himself to school work, according to friends, but he also skated the edge of gangs, they said, and had been harassed by members of other so-called “enemy” gangs. Yet he was enrolled in a gang intervention program at Soledad Enrichment Center (SEA) where he was reportedly doing well.

The shooting occurred after officers assigned to the gang detail from the Hollenbeck Division of the LAPD got a complaint at about 5:35 p.m. on Tuesday, about some possible tagging in progress near Chicago Street and Cesar Chavez Avenue, a few blocks away from where the Hollenbeck police station is located on 1st Street in Boyle Heights. When the officers rolled up on the two teenagers at the location, one of the boys was detained. But the other one ran, and officers gave chase.

The boy who ran was Jesse Romero.

What happened after he ran from the police is, at present, open to dispute.

The LAPD says that detectives spoke to a witness who saw Romero fire a handgun in the direction of the pursuing officers. And then, according to the witness, one of the officers, who were both in full uniform, fired back killing him.

But a second witness, who also said she saw the sequence of events, told Los Angeles Times reporters that she was “in a car stopped at a traffic light at Cesar Chavez and Breed Street,” where the shooting took place, when she saw someone running along Cesar Chavez Avenue, from Chicago Street. As the young runner turned onto Breed, the witness told the LA Times, he pulled a handgun from his waistband and threw it toward a metal fence. The gun hit the fence and fell onto the ground, at which point she heard the thing fire. Then she heard two more gunshots and saw the teenage runner fall to the ground.


WitnessLA spoke to a third witness, who declined to allow his name to be used, but who heard the first shot and a few seconds later saw Romero running south on Breed St. then saw the officers speeding behind him having turned the corner from Cesar Chavez to Breed. The witness described seeing one officer extend his arm and shoot the running teenager twice in the back. Then the boy fell.

The angle was such that witness said he did not see whether or not Romero had a gun in his hands nor did he see him throw it.

“When I saw him, he was just trying to get away,” said the witness. “And the officer shot him.”

At a press conference on Wednesday, LAPD Deputy Chief Robert Arcos, explained to reporters that officers heard a gunshot as they turned the corner from Cesar Chavez to Breed and one officer fired at Romero and hit him. Arcos also reported that police had recovered a handgun near Romero’s body. The LAPD provided a photo of the handgun—a revolver*—that appears to be notably old and poorly maintained. According to those familiar with such guns, it could be a 1940’s era .38 or .22. (The Times showed the photo to a couple of experts who said this particular kind of revolver, if not well-maintained, could very well fire accidently if it was dropped or tossed on to a hard surface. )

A video taken by a bystander appeared on Democracy Now and shows officers handcuffing the limp body of Jesse Romero, next to a metal fence, with the gun lying on the other side of the fence from his body.


So what is true?

LAPD officials have told reporters and others that the body cam videos from the cameras worn by the officers involved are intact and are being examined.

And the rusty gun found near to Romero is being tested for DNA and fingerprints.

The police have not mentioned testing Romero’s hands for gun shot residue, but one assumes that such a test has been done.

A retired LA County Sheriff’s department supervisor with experience in such things assured us that gun shot residue test can be done very quickly, “even at the scene,” if need be, he said. So presumably the police know if Jesse Romero fired that gun or not, even without the body cam videos.

But the videos are expected to be the true tie breaker.

Civil Rights lawyer Jorge Gonzalez, who is one of the attorneys representing Romero’s mother, held a press conference on Friday calling for the release of the videos.

“Be transparent! Let us see the videos now, and then let the chips fall,” Gonzalez said to us over the weekend regarding what he wants from the LAPD. “If the videos show that Jesse shot at police, and had that gun when he was shot, then we’ll withdraw our lawsuit.

“But,” Gonzalez continued, “if Jesse threw the gun, like the other witness says he did, “and when the gun hit the ground it went off,—”meaning, he didn’t have the gun when he was shot….well, that’s a whole different story.”

Gonzalez was also critical of the LAPD for telling reporters about the witness’s version of events that best matched the police narrative, while dragging their feet on producing hard evidence that would tip the scales.

In the meantime, community members held a vigil on Wednesday night calling for “justice” for Romero, and two other young Boyle Heights men shot this year by police, and on Saturday a several dozen demonstrated during the day in front of the Hollenbeck police station.

On Friday night, at Pasadena’s Levitt Pavilion, the musical group Quezal, dedicated their last song of the night to Jesse Romero.

Yet, not all of the talk in the community has been focused on the actions of the police. On Friday, August 12, the group “Building Healthy Communities held a press conference at the Ross Valencia Community Park at the corner of Chicago and 1st Streets to talk about the need for an increase in investment in Boyle Heights kids…like Jesse. Youth activists said that the city of LA spends $653 per resident on police and $43 per youth, while there are approximately 800,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 in the Boyle Heights area alone.

And then on Sunday at Dolores Mission Church, community women held a food sale after each mass to raise money for Jesse Romero’s mother to help pay for the funeral service for her son. Other community members have donated through GoFundMe

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times has been doing excellent ongoing coverage of Jesse Romero’s death and its aftermath, so be sure to check out their stories.

CORRECTION: 8-16-2016: We originally and erroneously wrote “pistol” when describing the gun. It’s a revolver. Also, experts tell us it could be a .22 caliber.

Posted in Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

Supes Meeting: Addressing Juvenile Hall Beating, Transforming a Girls’ Probation Camp, and Placing a Animal Shelter in a Jail

July 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Last month, WitnessLA broke a story about an incident in April at Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, involving the alleged beating of a non-combative 17-year-old housed at the facility by four probation staff, while a fifth, a supervisor, watched. The beating incident was captured on video by a camera installed in the teen’s room.

At Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supervisors meeting, Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas read in a motion—which will be officially submitted to the board next week—that directs the County CEO, the interim Chief Probation Officer, Director of the Dept. of Public Health, and the Director of the Dept. of Health Services to review policies and procedures for reporting incidents like the juvenile hall beating. “I think we need to get this ball rolling again and again until we get this right,” Supe Ridley-Thomas said.

The motion will allow the board to “frankly tell the Probation Department to get its act together,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Ridley-Thomas and his fellow supervisors were reportedly disturbed by the Sylmar story, as well as other allegations of staff abuse against kids in camps, halls, and other county probation-run facilities. “The county is responsible for their safety and well-being at all times,” said Ridley-Thomas.

NOTE: WLA has some additional reports on other alleged incidents coming soon.


The Supervisors also voted Tuesday to have county officials look into remodeling Camp Joseph Scott—one of the county’s two probation camp for girls—following the therapeutic dormitory-style remodel that will be completed at Camp Vernon Kilpatrick (soon to be Campus Vernon Kilpatrick) next year.

“Girls and young women who are under Probation Department oversight should have equal access to the same small-group therapeutic model and other benefits available to boys and young men at Campus Kilpatrick that emphasizes: (1) reduced recidivism; (2) positive behavioral change; and (3) improved well-being through education, health and mental health,” says the motion introduced by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Michael Antonovich.

While the cost of a dormitory-style remodel at Scott is yet to be calculated, it likely would be far less than the $52.5 million price tag for Kilpatrick’s upgrades, as Scott would not need a complete tear-down like Kilpatrick.

The approved motion directs the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Chief Executive Officer, and the Department of Public Works to report back to the board with an analysis of how feasible renovating Scott would be, along with proposed changes to the county budget for fiscal year 2016-2017, as well as any other possible grant funds to offset the cost to the county.


In addition, on Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Michael Antonovich to look into placing a new animal shelter for small animals at Pitchess Detention Center in Castaic.

The jail animal shelter would both ease current levels of overcrowding at the county’s animal shelters, and provide inmates with another avenue for rehabilitation: caring for abandoned animals “who may otherwise languish and be euthanized.” This is an issue that appears to be close to Antonovich’s heart: the supervisor has facilitated more than 1,000 pet adoptions by holding one sweet critter per week at the board meetings, and urging residents to adopt rescues.

(We’ve written about other LA County jails that have participated in rescue dog training programs with great success, including Men’s Central Jail.)

County CEO Sachi Hamai will now work with the Department of Animal Care and Control and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and report back to the board in 30 days on the feasibility of installing an shelter at Pitchess.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Uncategorized | No Comments »

LA County Approves Prop. 47 Outreach….Questions About CA’s Upcoming Foster Care Reform…and Kids with Leukemia Become Deputies for a Day

July 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a recommendation by County CEO Sachi Hamai to allocate $6.6 million from the county’s budget to help approximately 500,000 people with felonies that qualify for reduction to misdemeanors under Proposition 47. The vote was 4-1 with Supe. Michael Antonovich dissenting.

The money will go toward services and outreach so that as many people as possible take advantage of the legal relief Prop. 47 offers before the law’s November 2017 deadline. (There’s also a bill working its way through state legislature that would extend the deadline, if there were good cause to do so.)

The Public Defender’s Office will kick off the outreach by mailing letters to potentially eligible people. “County departments, community-based organizations, advocates, and interested public and private agencies will also receive posters and flyers to advertise the opportunity for Prop 47 legal relief and services,” Hamai’s letter reads. And if a 10% response rate is not achieved, “then the Department of Public Social Services (DPSS) will insert Prop 47 flyers into their regular correspondence to clients and advertisements will be placed on public transportation routes.”

As of April, the Public Defender and Alternate Public Defender’s Office had received over 54,000 Prop. 47 petitions, and filed over 31,000 petitions. This doesn’t include applications filed by private attorneys, but is certainly a far cry from the estimated 500,000 eligible people who still haven’t submitted requests. Part of the money will be used to add paralegals to the Public Defender and District Attorney’s offices to help with the anticipated increase in workload.

The funds will also be used to connect Prop. 47ers with mental health and substance abuse services, medical care, housing, and employment resources from community-based businesses and organizations.

NOTE: The Supes passed a separate motion that would task the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Probation, the District Attorney, the Public Defender, the Office of Diversion and Re-Entry, and other government entities and external organizations to research ways to reduce recidivism, including probation for misdemeanor offenders. We’ll have more on the motion later this week.


In 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 403, a bill that will overhaul counties’ child welfare placement systems by eliminating traditional group homes, and by focusing on long-term placements with foster families, as part of a larger effort called the Continuum of Care Reform (CCR). The changes are slated to go into effect by January 2017, and so far, California’s not ready for the switch.

At that time, the current controversial group home model will be thrown out in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs) which will have to meet much higher standards of care than today’s group homes. Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs.

But what will happen to LA County’s high-needs foster children when the long-term group homes vanish and there are not enough foster families to go around? (USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism students Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid explored the issue in a story for WitnessLA.)

Writing for the Chronicle of Social Change, human services veteran and founder of the Family Care Network, Jim Roberts, reports that CCR was not designed specifically to improve the lives of children in the welfare system…it was designed to save California money. And unfortunately, without a major (and unlikely) boost to currently depleted foster parent ranks, the plan may be doomed before it even begins. Part of the problem, says Roberts, is that the state isn’t substantially increasing payments to foster families and foster family agencies, which would help with recruitment.

Roberts also points out that, so far, the state has been unwilling to pay foster parents an appropriate amount to take care of teenagers and hard-to-place high-needs, challenging foster kids who are extremely hard to place (and who often end up in group homes). Here’s a clip:

For the past couple of years, the state has been doling out more money to the counties to improve resource family retention and recruitment, but I can guarantee you, these are not the families who will be taking the youth coming out of group homes, many of which have significant behavioral, mental and emotional problems. The majority of these kids went into residential treatment because they needed it, not because there was a lack of placement options elsewhere.

Of equal concern is the fact that the state is not willing to appropriately pay foster parents what it takes to serve high-needs, challenging foster youth. The “new” CCR rates include, at best, a paltry rate increase, but actually decrease some rates to foster parents who provide certain levels of care, including those who care for teenagers. We should be doubling or tripling the amount paid to our foster parents who are working with challenging youth 24/7.

My agency, the Family Care Network, has been successful in working with the county to cobble together multiple funding sources in order to pay foster parents one of, if not the, highest rate in the state. But it is still not enough, nor has it helped much in our recruitment efforts.

One ray of hope in the resource family reimbursement debacle is therapeutic foster care (TFC). Yes, TFC will provide additional payment to “therapeutic foster parents” working with an FFA. But they must meet stringent vetting and training requirements, they must participate in the clinical process and complete required daily documentation, and the foster youth must meet “medical necessity” in order to qualify for mental health services. Plus, the FFA must be a qualified specialty mental health services provider with a contract to receive reimbursement. The long and short of this is that it will benefit a handful of foster parents at best, providing that you can find these families.

Another demonstration of the state’s lack of insight concerns probation youth within the juvenile justice system. These kids are one of the higher consumers of group home services and the plan is to move many of them into the community. Again, the “new” rate structure does not provide any accommodation for serving this high-risk, offender population. Most of these youth do not “meet medical necessity” and would not qualify the foster parent to receive the TFC rate augmentation. And I rather doubt there will be many – if any – foster families willing to take in a juvenile offender without substantial reimbursement and the necessary intensive services and supports.


Today (Wednesday), Julian Cardenas, a 13-year-old with leukemia, will become an honorary deputy for a day at Industry Sheriff’s Station.

When Deputy Marianne Oliver responded to a call to help Julian back in May, she connected with the boy, who she learned was struggling with the fact that he could not play with his peers outside, or regularly attend school while undergoing treatment. Oliver, who felt she needed to do something beyond the standard call for service, shared Julian’s story with her fellow deputies, who decided to surprise Julian by making him honorary deputy at their station.

Today, Oliver will pick Julian up in an LASD Camaro show car, and take him to the station, where we will be sworn in, receive a tour of the station, train in the weapons training simulator, and visit the Special Enforcement Bureau Special Weapons Team, K-9 and Aero Bureau deputies. Oliver and her coworkers will also present Julian with a bunch of challenge coins and souvenirs from different LASD departments.

The Industry Station will also host a barbecue fundraiser to help Julian and his family.


Upon hearing the story of Alfonso Hoffman—a 12-year-old in Boyle Heights who is fighting leukemia, and who dreams of one day becoming a K9 officer, the LASD’s Transit Policing Division swore Alfonso in as an honorary deputy for a day. Alfonso was given a tactical vest, rode in a armored truck, and trained with the department’s explosives detection dogs.

Alfonso, who faces three years of chemotherapy treatment, thanked the transit deputies officers with tears in his eyes. “It’s been an honor,” Alfonso said.

(We also recommend heading over to ABC7, where you can watch a video of Alfonso being sworn in.)

Posted in Propositions, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

What to Expect When Lee Baca To Be Sentenced Monday Morning

July 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will announce
what sentence he believes is appropriate for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.

There are a number of factors that could influence Anderson’s decision.

But, we’ll get to all that in a minute. First let’s quickly review how we got here:

In late 2015, it became fairly clear to Baca and his attorneys that the former sheriff was very likely going to be indicted for some part of his alleged participation in obstructing the FBI’s investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies in the LA County jail system. With this in mind, toward the end of last year—according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office—Baca’s people floated the idea of a deal. However, it took until the first week of February 2016 for the final language of the plea deal to be nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.

Finally, it was agreed that Baca would plead to one count of lying to federal officials. Specifically, according to the feds, the former sheriff replied falsely to certain questions when he was interviewed in April 2013 by members of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, having to do with Baca’s knowledge of alleged attempts by LASD personnel working under him to obstruct the aforementioned federal investigation.

In return for the plea, the government would recommend a sentencing range of between zero to six months, but not to exceed six months. Additionally, Baca would agree not to contest certain other accusations, but would not plead guilty to them.

For their part, prosecutors would agree not to bring charges based on those acts that the sheriff would not contest.

And so it was that, on the morning of February 10, 2016, the deal was announced, and in the afternoon Baca pleaded guilty to that one count of lying before Judge Percy Anderson. All that remained was for Anderson to actually sentence Baca.

There was one small caveat: for the deal to remain in place, Anderson’s sentence must stay within the agreed upon 0-6.

Until the plea hearing, it was pretty much assumed that Anderson would stay within the 0-6 boundary because, should Anderson decided to give Baca a sentence greater than six months, this would effectively dynamite the deal, bringing everyone back to pre-deal conditions where the government was prepared to indict Baca and take him to trial, an outcome that nobody really wants.

But during that February hearing, while the judge didn’t say he’d exceed the 0-6 boundaries, Anderson also made it clear that he legally could go as high as five years, leading some court watchers to wonder if the judge might be toying with the notion of going at least a little higher.

Or then again, maybe not.


As one might expect, Baca’s team of attorneys, led by Michael Zwieback, has asked the court to sentence the former sheriff to probation only.

Baca “did the unthinkable,” wrote Zwieback and company in a 30 plus-page sentencing memo. But “he accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty to a crime.”

Baca is seventy-four years old, his attorneys wrote of their client. “He has early stage Alzheimer’s disease. He needs constant monitoring, prescription medications, and any treatment that may slow or stall the progression of this degenerative disease. No one contends that he is a threat to the community. He will not offend again. All conditions support a probation only sentence.”

(Lead defense attorney Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)

The former sheriff’s attorneys also told the judge that, if Baca was not sentenced to prison, he would be accepted into a clinical study at UCLA that might change the course of his disease, plus as a former high profile member of law enforcement, along with his medical condition, he would be a target for victimization in a federal prison.

The 36-page brief was accompanied by scores of letters from supporters that include sports personalities, religious figures, former jail inmates, at least two former California governors, and a lot of other names that you would know.

The elephant in the room, however, when it comes to Baca’s sentencing, is the fact that seven people to date working under the former sheriff, and to whom he directly, or through the chain of command, gave orders, have already been given federal prison terms by Judge Anderson ranging from 18 months to 41 months. And those sentences are arguably, at least in part, a consequence of the orders Baca allegedly gave. And then there is former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who received a sentence of 60 months.

Baca’s attorneys argue that those other cases and sentences don’t apply because their client is to be sentenced for the crime of making a false statement in connection with a single interview, not with obstruction, bribery or any of the other alleged Illegal acts on which the other “Related Cases” are based.


The prosecution, in contrast, wants Judge Anderson to give the former sheriff a sentence of six months in a federal prison.

“Defendant Leroy Baca is a study in contrasts,” prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui wrote in their most recent sentencing brief. “He was a champion of certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails” and became “angry that the federal government was investigating his department”

Baca, they wrote, issued orders that,” taken literally, may not have been corrupt,” but were carried out, without Baca’s objection, in a manner that was corrupt.

And then he “lied to the federal government.”

As for the matter of the former sheriff’s Alzheimer’s, the prosecutors contend that, while Baca “suffers from a mild cognitive impairment” it should not preclude a sentence like the six months they propose.

In a separate 10-page declaration, Dr. James Pelton, Regional Medical Director for the Western Region of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, assured the judge that “Mr. Baca’s medical condition is not unusual in the BOP.”As discussed below,” Pelton wrote, “there are hundreds of inmates who have cognitive impairment that is more severe than Mr. Baca’s condition. Additionally, contrary to the assertion of Mr. Baca…it is very likely that Mr. Baca would continue to be able to take medication prescribed to him to treat his disease while incarcerated. I make this statement as the person who would be deciding whether Mr. Baca 2 would receive this medication….”


Near the end of their brief, the prosecutors pointed to an incident that they said suggested that the former sheriff still felt he had done nothing wrong, and that he was “above the law” and that he “refuses” even now “to acknowledge the problems within the Los Angeles County jails.”

The were referring to Baca’s May 29, 2016, speech and interview given when he was honored on May 29, 2016, by a Jewish organization.

At that time, Baca stated he was not afraid of jail. “I’m not afraid of
anything….” he said. “I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are…I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”

Similarly, although it was too recent to make it into their brief, the prosecution was also reportedly very interested in a panel with which the former sheriff participated this past Friday, July 15, entitled Every Life Matters – Solving the Imbalance of Race Relations From Both Sides.


So will Anderson go with six months, or probation only? Or will he blow up the deal?

Those reading tea leaves, point to Anderson’s harsh remarks after he sentenced Gilbert Michel (the deputy who accepted a bribe to bring in the cell phone to inmate/FBI informant Anthony Brown), and then the scorched earth lecture he gave to Paul Tanaka before he handed down the undersheriff’s sentence.

If by some chance Anderson decides to go above the 0-6 boundary on Monday, Baca and his attorneys will have a decision to make. They can roll the dice and go to trial where, in addition to the public spectacle, if Baca loses, the judge can give him up to 5 years, which is what he gave Tanaka.

Or, if the sentence isn’t too excessive, Baca could elect to cut his losses and decide to keep the deal in place.

In any case, Monday morning all speculation will end, and we will learn what sentence Judge Percy Anderson considers just.

So…stay tuned.

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LA Board of Supes Votes to Speed Up Use of Body-Cams for Sheriff’s Deputies

July 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to speed up the full implementation of body-worn cameras by LA County Sheriff’s deputies.

Although the motion, which was sponsored by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl, had been in the works for a few weeks, the events of the past week in Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas, gave Tuesday’s vote an unusual urgency.

That sense of urgency multiplied by several factors as, a few blocks away from the where the supervisors met, hundreds of demonstrators reacted to a decision by the Los Angeles Police Commission, which found that the highly controversial 2015 fatal shooting of a 30-year-old black woman named Redel Jones by an LAPD officer did not violate the department’s deadly force policy.

“Today’s action signals the Board’s commitment to making whatever investments are necessary to minimize the unnecessary loss of life and to heal tension between law enforcement and the community,” said Supervisor Solis. “Body worn cameras protect our officers and members of the public, and they must be implemented without delay….”

Co-author Sheila Kuehl, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (who offered an amendment to the motion having to do with finding secure data storage methods) both addressed the issue directly.

“Concern about police use of force is very high,” said Kuehl. “We need to better address allegations of misconduct and increase public trust of law enforcement. I believe use of body-worn cameras will help move us in that direction,”

Ridley-Thomas was even more specific, mentioning “controversial officer-involved shootings,” including the shooting of Philando Castile in Saint Paul, MI.

“The point is,” he said, “to get to the truth and to justice. These tools will help us.”

The motion requests that Sheriff Jim McDonnell report back to the board in four months with a reasonable plan to equip all patrol deputies with body-worn cameras as quickly as possible.


The push is also expected to be widely welcomed by LA County deputies, as well

In September 2014, the department began an eight-month volunteer pilot program to test body cams at four LASD stations—namely, Carson, Century, Lancaster, and Temple. The program tested four brands and five models of body-worn camera systems, deploying a total of 96 cameras. Over the course of the eight months of the pilot program, the department solicited detailed feedback from the participants, through both electronic questionnaires and focus groups that were held at each of the four stations. T

The Inspector General’s office monitored the program and issued a report in September 2015.

According the report, although some of the stations were located in high crime areas, while others dealt with somewhat less intense crime levels, the feedback from the deputy participants was remarkably similar in all four stations.

All of the deputies who participated in the pilot program’s focus groups said that the body cams “would be a huge asset.” Deputies believed that the cameras would protect them from “baseless civilian complaints,” explaining that, on patrol, “you’re being recorded everywhere you go.” So having a body-worn camera would, deputies felt, more accurately document events from the officers’ perspectives.

Deputies also felt that viewing footage from an event after the fact, helped them write more accurate reports.

According to the report, a number of deputies told examiners that they missed the cams when the program was over.

ALADS, the deputies’ union, has also been vocally in favor of getting a department-wide body cam program going.


“Video recording is a critical component of modern urban policing,” concluded the OIG in the 2015 report. “Video technology is now so advanced that it is present in almost every pocket, attached to the heads of skateboarders, and hovering above us as part of what we once called model aircraft. Failure to incorporate that technology is not just a missed opportunity, but a shortcoming that the public is increasingly unwilling to accept…”

At Tuesday’s board meeting, Inspector General Max Huntsman renewed his recommendation that the board move on the matter, ASAP.

If the board was “looking to reform the sheriff’s department,” Huntsman told the supervisors, the body cams were the best place to begin. “It’s a win-win.”


Not surprisingly, the push for body-worn camera gained traction elsewhere in the nation this week as Boston officials announced—also on Tuesday—that up to 100 Boston patrol officers will begin wearing body cameras likely next month, after a deal was reached between the city and the police department’s largest union to launch a six-month test of the devices.

“The agreement,” wrote the Boston Globe’s Jan Ransom, “means Boston police will join a growing number of departments across the country that have chosen to outfit their officers with cameras, at a time when controversial police shootings have prompted complaints about misconduct in several communities.”

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Two Homeboy Industries Trainees Bring Water to Flint, MI, on Independence Day Weekend

July 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we make our way through these difficult, division-haunted days, take a break to read a story that offers some much-needed light.


Over the 4th of July weekend, two Los Angeles teenagers flew a round trip of nearly 5000 miles to bring water and various other supplies to around 200 undocumented residents of Flint, Michigan. The two had spent months raising the money necessary to pay for their trip to Michigan, and to buy the goods they would deliver once they got there.

On the surface, the twosome—Bryan Martinez, 18 and Carizma Brown, 19—were an unlikely pair to take on the challenge. For one thing, neither one of them, had flow in a plane before. Nor had they been out of LA, for that matter. And they had exactly zero experience in fundraising, or any kind of activism.

Bryan’s family is from El Salvador and Carizma is African American, yet the two have been best friends since they were 11, in part because they have a lot in common, much of it painful.

Bryan has been in and out of foster homes for most of his childhood, and has struggled to have have any kind of safe home environment.

Carizma lived with her mother for at least part of her growing up but, like her best friend Bryan, her homelife was anything but stable.

“These are two youngsters who have been impacted by ongoing poverty and violence,” said Dr. Cesar Cruz, who did his Harvard University doctoral residency at Homeboy Industries, where the teenagers are involved in a job training program. Cruz also became Bryan and Carizma’s mentor for the project, and their chaperone when they flew to Flint. “They’re not in gangs,” explained Cruz, “but a lot of times people think they are. And they’re impacted by gangs, trauma and instability, because of where they live.”

Although both teenagers are clearly bright, neither did well in traditional schools. Thus they wound up at Learning Works Charter School, an individualized learning program that operates in partnership with Homeboy Industries.

Even at Learning Works, according to Cruz, the teens struggled in the beginning to recover enough credits to get firmly on the road to graduation. (They expect to graduate next June.)

“But they wanted to be challenged,” Cruz said. “And they had a strong interest in social justice.” Thus when, as part of their studies, they read about the water contamination catastrophe in Flint, they became fascinated by the fact that the residents of an American city didn’t have enough of a basic necessity of living—water.


It was Carizma who first got the idea of turning their interest into action, said Cruz. She began bugging her best friend Bryan, “and they cooked up a plan.”

Bryan, in particular, was stunned by the idea of people in the U.S. without safe drinking water. “Water is an main need in life,” he said,”and seeing that people were having trouble getting it…it made us want to do something. We wanted to show that young people were concerned with other people, not just ourselves.”

They were also interested in the fact that, while Flint had been a big story, it had fallen out of the headlines. Most of the famous people had gone home. But the problem was far from over. People were still suffering.

Among the sub-issues within the crisis that Bryan and Carizma discovered was the fact that many among Flint’s undocumented population of several hundred residents were having trouble getting water and other crucial supplies that were being provided to those in need, because they had no valid IDs and, even when they did, they were fearful about disclosing their immigration status.

The idea of helping out Flint’s comparatively small undocumented population made the project seem manageable, according to Cruz.

But, how to find Flint’s undocumented residents?


In one of the news stories they found in the course of their research, they noticed the name of a Catholic Church located in Flint: Our Lady of Guadalupe. Having no other leads, they the two called the church. The parish secretary, a woman named Mary Mosqueda, happened to answer the phone. Bryan and Carizma explained what they wanted to do.

By the end of the conversation, Ms. Mosqueda had agreed to help the twosome.

“Don’t worry so much about water,” she told them. “People need baby wipes and adult wipes” in order to bathe.

Now that they had an on-the-ground contact and a reasonably practical plan, their next step was to make a budget. After doing the math, they determined they’d need to raise around $5000 to accomplish their goals. After that, they printed flyers for their project, which they handed out at the yearly Homeboy picnic, which draws about 300 Homeboy employees and supporters.

“They hit everyone up for donations,” said Cruz.

But, while Bryan and Carizma’s enthusiastic badgering of the picnic attendees did produce results, it wasn’t anywhere nearly enough.

Next, they turned to social media. With the help of Cruz and others, they made a promotional video and pitched their cause on IndieGoGo.

It worked. They didn’t raise the full $5000, but they managed to pull in $3825. Homeboy and Learning Works agreed to loan them the rest, until they could gather the remaining cash.


Bryan and Carizma flew to Flint on Friday July 1, and hit the ground running. They liked the symbolism of doing their outreach on Independence Day weekend, said Cruz.

On Saturday morning, they went into Sam’s Club to buy the needed water and wipes—after comparison shopping and finding that Sam’s had had the best prices for what they wanted to purchase in bulk. It turned out to be a felicitous choice because, at Sam’s Club, persuasive Carizma was able convince the store’s manager to match any of the money they spent in the store, dollar for dollar.

“The manager cared because this was her town,” said Cruz.

On Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday, they delivered the supplies to the church, and at other locations that their new Flint friends suggested. They also spoke at Our Lady of Guadalupe in front of the congregation. “They were powerful. Afterward, all these people came up and hugged them,” said Cruz.

Prior to coming to Flint, Carizma and Bryan decided they wanted to make a documentary covering what they experienced, so they came armed with cameras.

During their time in Flint, they were stunned by the poverty and the suffering they saw around them. .

As difficult as their own lives have been, they saw greater suffering in Flint, he said. It affected them to the point that they had trouble sleeping.

“I was talking to kids while I was giving out water,” explained Carizma, “and they weren’t eating good, they had rashes on their skins. And these are kids who are, like, seven years old.”

One antidote to their upset, seemed to be to film the pain they saw, with the idea of showing spreading the word beyond Flint. But it wasn’t all suffering, they were quick to note. They found significant pockets of hope provided by the many instances of local activism Bryan and Carizma witnessed.

“They filmed everything,” said Cruz. “They had no fear. They went into crack houses, they went into housing projects. They went everywhere, and talked to everyone.”

Bryan and Carizma hope to have a half-hour documentary ready in time to present at an event held at the California Endowment in August that draws leaders who work with populations like those at Homeboy, from around the globe.

And they’ll do it, said Cruz. “They’re on fire right now. They’re ready change the world….”

In the meantime, on July 5, Bryan and Carizma’s first day back at Homeboy, the two agreed to give the “Thought of the Day” at Homeboy’s morning staff meeting.

Carizma, normally the most facile public speaker of the two, grew suddenly shy, but still persevered, telling those assembled that her thought for the day was “Be grateful for what you have, because in Flint they don’t even have water.”

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Sentencing Day Arrives for Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles County,
will be sentenced on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The arguments have been made and remade by the prosecution and the defense regarding what kind of sentence Judge Anderson ought to hand down to the man who was, for years, considered the real power behind the throne of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka’s legal team, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, asked (not surprisingly) that their client be given probation—arguing that, far from being the “ringleader” that the prosecution had portrayed him to be, Mr. Tanaka was completely peripheral to the crimes of which he was convicted.

(The former second in command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka personally directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to upend the FBI’s investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.)

Tanaka and his lawyers further argued that it was Sheriff Lee Baca who ran the show. Any crimes that were committed, they wrote, were “planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles.”

All the while, according to the defense, Tanaka was “…a fearless executive in the Department who fought to weed out problem deputies, not encourage them. The only culture he fostered was excellence and he made daily efforts to accomplish it.”

In response to this rosy portrait of defendant Tanaka, the prosecution— namely Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—reiterated in scathing detail the reasons why they have recommended a sentence of 60 months—or five years—in a federal lock-up:

Defendant Paul Tanaka’s defiance is on full display in his sentencing brief,” the prosecutors wrote. “Rather than accept the judgment of the jury based on the mountain of evidence against him, defendant attempts to shift the blame, minimize his role, and redefine himself. He takes no responsibility for his actions and shows no remorse….

“Despite his claims in his sentencing memorandum, “defendant is the same person who: (a) led the conspiracy that sought to obstruct an investigation into deputies physically abusing inmates; (b) protected rogue deputies who trampled on the rights of those they encountered inside the jail and on the streets; and (c) encouraged deputies everywhere to operate in the ‘gray area’ of the law.”

in the end, of course, it really only matters what Judge Anderson thinks.

Whatever the outcome, Monday promises to be a strange and historic day in the life of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and of the County of Los Angeles.

So….stay tuned.

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