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California Budget Highlights: Prop. 47 Savings, $$ for Combatting Homelessness, and More

May 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


California Governor Jerry Brown has increased the estimated savings from Proposition 47 by $10 million—from $29.4 million to $39.4 million—in the latest budget revision for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

If you’ll remember, voter-approved Prop. 47 reduced six non-serious property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, and was supposed to save the state more than $100 million each year.

That savings is earmarked for mental health and drug rehab programs for criminal justice system-involved people, efforts to reduce truancy and help at-risk students, and for victims services.

The governor’s January budget calculated those Prop. 47 savings to be $29.3 million. A report from California’s non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that Brown’s budget under-counted the dollar amount Proposition 47 saved the state by about $100 million, overestimated costs, and diverted money from the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund—where all the Prop. 47 savings is supposed to end up—to send it back into the prison system. The ACLU and other advocates have also criticized Gov. Brown for trying to put Prop. 47 money back into prisons by subtracting certain supervision and court costs from the Prop. 47 savings total.

This latest budget draft now heads to the California Legislature, where it will go through a period of negotiations, during which time lawmakers will have to step in and decide what savings Prop. 47 is actually responsible for producing.

The LA Times editorial board says that Gov. Brown may still be undercounting the savings. The Times board points out that the LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, and others have urged Gov. Brown to go with the savings calculated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office, and calls on lawmakers to hold the governor’s bureaucrats accountable, and make sure the dollars go to the rehabilitation and anti-recidivism efforts, as voters intended. Here’s a clip:

…Proposition 47 is right on schedule, and local leaders know it. The state calculates prison savings on an annual basis, and the first full year under the ballot measure does not end until June 30. Counties and cities will then submit their requests, and funds will begin flowing later this year.

The problem is not that the money is late — it’s not — but rather that Gov. Jerry Brown may be lowballing the actual savings figure. Instead of the $150 million that the state legislative analyst projected would be saved, the governor identified only a small fraction of that in his January spending plan. In the revised budget he released last week, he upped the figure — but only to $40 million, well short of the mark.

There are many ways to crunch numbers. Democratic Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles, for example, used to be an L.A. City Hall bureaucrat and learned to cover up savings in order to keep it on hand for other projects.

“I know how to hide money,” he told a gathering of residents and activists at the Community Coalition in South Los Angeles recently. “I know how to block budgets.”

Jones-Sawyer promised to use that savvy to press the governor’s bureaucrats for a larger, more realistic savings figure to be distributed under Proposition 47.

We take him at his word — and hold him to it. The same goes for other members of the Legislature, whose home counties and cities need the funding guaranteed under the ballot measure. It falls to them, in the few weeks before the budget is finalized, to go to bat for California voters who have demanded a fundamental shift in criminal justice spending from prison expansions to locally based crime prevention and anti-recidivism programs.


In the May budget revision, Gov. Brown has also endorsed a $2 billion bond plan to tackle chronic homelessness among California’s mentally ill population.

“Homelessness plagues communities across our state so I’m very pleased Governor Brown has embraced the Senate’s bipartisan ‘No Place Like Home’ proposal to direct $2 billion from the Prop 63 bond to bolster local efforts to tackle this crisis,” said California Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

The plan would have to win a two-thirds majority vote in the state Legislature to pass. Then, the state would use money from the bonds to fund affordable housing and homelessness services—via a Mental Health Services Act Supportive Housing Program and Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program. Brown’s May budget revision calculates a first year funding for these programs of $267 million in bond revenue.


Gov. Brown also wants to add $2 billion to the state’s rainy day fund, with an eye toward an expected economic slowdown in California’s future. “The surging tide of revenue has begun to turn,” Brown said. “Quoting Aesop’s fable of the ant and the grasshopper: ‘It is best to prepare for the days of necessity.’”

Instead of putting that $2 billion toward the rainy day fund, Alex Johnson, Executive Director of Children’s Defense Fund-California, says that money should be spent on important programs for children and families that suffered during the recession.

“During the recession, Governor Brown and the California Legislature balanced the budget on the backs of the state’s most vulnerable children and families, by cutting basic needs CalWORKs grants for families, eliminating child care slots, and ending successful children’s health programs,” said Johnson. “Now is the time to use the state’s budget surplus to protect and invest in essential programs to level the playing field for California’s children…”

The revised budget does a disservice to poor communities of color by not increasing funding for “prevention-based services and early education,” according to the Advancement Project.

“The May Revise proposes to abolish transitional kindergarten, thereby eliminating early learning opportunities – rather than expanding them,” the Advancement Project said in a statement. “This is especially wrong headed in the light of the growing science supporting early learning as well as the recent polling showing that Californians overwhelming support greater early learning spending, not less.”

Posted in California budget, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Newsletter Arriving in Your Inboxes on Tuesday This Week

May 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

If you’re signed up to receive our hand-picked Monday news round-up full of the week’s must read justice stories, plus the best of WitnessLA, look for this week’s edition on Tuesday morning (rather than the usual Monday).

If you are not yet on the list, there’s still time to sign up and receive this week’s California Justice Report newsletter.

(Note: Although the sign-up asks for your name, only your email is mandatory.)

If you’re unfamiliar with WitnessLA’s California Justice Report, feel free to check out last week’s newsletter.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Pretrial Detention and the Poor, an Asset Forfeiture Bill, Steve Lopez on Homelessness, and LA Supe. Candidates on Child Welfare

May 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


A new report from the Prison Policy Initiative sheds light on the all-too-common practice of locking up poor defendants while they await trial, via unattainable bail bonds.

There are nearly 500,000 pretrial detainees crowding jails across the nation, according to Department of Justice estimates. Despite the fact that it is illegal to lock people up for being poor, cash bail as it is used today creates a punishment-until-proven-innocent system that keeps indigent defendants behind bars, while rich defendants walk free.

PPI researchers found that, according to US Bureau of Justice numbers, jail inmates had an annual income of $15,109 before their incarceration—less than half the median income for their non-incarcerated peers. People in jail are even poorer than people in prison. For black men, the differences are even more extreme. Jailed black men had an annual pre-lockup income that was 64% lower than their non-incarcerated peers.

To put it in context, if a typical bail bond is $10,000, it equates to eight months of income for the average detainee. Even paying a portion to bail bondsmen is often impossible for defendants and their families living below the poverty line.

In New York, Kalief Browder’s inability to post $3,000 for his release led to a three-year stint at Rikers Island, most of which was spent in solitary confinement—without ever being tried. Browder came out of Rikers and isolation and struggled for three years with mental illness and the aftereffects of prolonged isolation. Browder tried to kill himself several times, finally succeeding in June of last year. He was 22-years-old.

Some lawmakers are taking note. US Congressman Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles) introduced legislation earlier this year that would end the controversial use of money bail at the federal level, and block access to Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grants for states that keep their money bail systems in place. (In 2012, California received the largest Byrne JAG sum: $32 million.)

The PPI report closes with six recommendations for stamping out the disproportionate and needless incarceration of poor Americans in the nation’s jails. The recommendations include abolishing cash bail, increasing diversion programs, no longer locking poor defendants up for their inability to pay usurious fines and fees, boosting funding for public defense, and ending pay-to-stay programs that charge people for their incarceration.

Read the recommendations: here.


Civil asset forfeiture laws allow government entities to seize (and keep) money, cars, real estate, and other property that may be associated with a crime—no conviction necessary. In California and across the nation, local law enforcement agencies are using asset forfeiture as a cash cow.

Last month, the US Department of Justice revived its Equitable Sharing Program, which authorizes local law enforcement agencies to bring feds into an investigation, and thus be able to skirt state restrictions against using seized money as revenue, with only “probable cause” that laws have been broken, not actual convictions. The federal program was suspended in December due to budget cuts, but was brought back to life last month.

California Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) and Assemblyman Mike Hadley (R-Torrance) hope to rein in this controversial practice with a bill that would require a conviction for law enforcement to permanently take money or property from someone. The bill passed out of the Senate with almost unanimous support, but faces opposition in the Assembly from law enforcement agencies and others that are funded by forfeited money.

In an op-ed for Voice of San Diego, Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, the ACLU of California’s criminal justice and drug policy director, calls on legislature to pass the bill, saying, “We oew it to every single hardworking Californian who has ever been forced to pay the price of this rampant abuse and injustice.” Here’s a clip:

…California law enforcement agencies can take and keep innocent people’s money and property, because federal law does not require a conviction and actually lets California agencies keep a larger cut of the proceeds than is allowed under state law.

California police are exploiting this lucrative loophole that incentivizes department profits over justice. As with any abusive police practice, policing for profit has taken an especially hard toll on low-income people of color. According to a Washington Post review of federal court records, the vast majority of people who challenged seizures and received some money back were black, Latino or another minority. Other investigations, including those in Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, found similar results.

Right here in San Diego, the city police departments with the fastest-growing seizures are communities made up predominantly of people of color. Between 2013 and 2015, Chula Vista Police Department has increased its haul of asset forfeiture funds by 60 percent, and National City Police Department by a whopping 112 percent. Of the two San Diegans profiled above, one was Latina, the other black.

It is easy to see why vulnerable Californians are deemed easy targets: They are less likely to come forward and fight the government because doing so is expensive and has been known to morph from asset forfeiture into deportation investigations of relatives and IRS involvement. What’s more, this practice, which throws the Constitution and state law out the window, can drive already struggling families deeper into poverty.


Homelessness is still on the rise in Los Angeles County, according to the latest homeless count—up 5.7% over the previous year (to 47,000), which is less than half of the 12% increase experienced in 2014, but still disappointing. LA County and the City of LA are working on a collaborative plan to help and house homeless residents, but much of the funding is still in limbo.

In his column, the LA Times’ Steve Lopez says he doesn’t have all the answers to LA’s homelessness crisis, but he lays out five thoughts on where city and county officials and non-profit partners can take action. Here’s a clip:

First: Someone has to step up.

“We can bring these numbers down,” L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti said of the increase in homelessness. “This could be the year we begin to turn the tide.”

Not at the rate we’re going.

The city, like the county, has a solid plan to deliver more services and housing. And Councilman Mike Bonin gets credit for pushing hard on creative solutions like making use of a senior center as a shelter and erecting housing on city-owned lots.

But the $138 million budgeted by Garcetti this year is more goal than guarantee, with roughly half of it still something of a mirage.

L.A. County has a more solid $150-million budget for homelessness, and even at that, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl warned that modest sums won’t counter economic trends that are “forcing people out of their houses.”

Translation: The steady advance of tent cities and rolling homes is headed soon to your neighborhood, if it’s not already there.

It’s time for Garcetti, and Kuehl, and other city and county officials, to start campaigning for a reliable source of funding — a sales tax, a bond measure, or fees on new development.

Come on, somebody has to take this on. We’re going to become the next Calcutta unless some 21st-century hero steps up.


At a forum held in Pasadena on Tuesday, five candidates looking to replace outgoing LA County Supervisor Michael Antonovich shared their views on improving the county’s child welfare system.

During the discussion, which was hosted by Daniel Heimpel’s Fostering Media Connections, contenders LA City Councilmember Mitchell Englander and Kathryn Barger, Antonovich’s chief of staff, highlighted the importance of collaboration between the county and the private sector to prevent child abuse and neglect.

Prosecutor Elan Carr discussed public education as a crime deterrent. State Senator Bob Huff talked about the serious need for lighter caseloads for social workers.

Entrepreneur Darrell Park said that social workers could handle high caseloads if they were driven in sheriff’s deputies’ patrol cars, and if they dictated their reports to administrative employees with blazing fast typing fingers.

The LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has a good round up of their main talking points. Here’s a clip:

Elan Carr, a criminal gang prosecutor, stressed the importance of education to prevent child abuse. Parents, especially young ones, need to be educated on raising children and dealing with normal stresses, such as anger management. Carr said he has forced defendants to undergo anger management counseling under penalty of jail.

“We’ve got to start really getting serious with education,” Carr said. “The only way really to fight crime and abusive homes is to provide nurturing education for all parties involved.”

Children must also be taught that violence is not the answer so that they don’t carry the practice into adulthood, he said.

Mitchell Englander, a Los Angeles city councilman, argued the county should adopt a public awareness campaign called “See something, say something.” Abuse happens behind closed doors and people should be encouraged to report friends, neighbors and loved ones to stop it, he said.

Englander also noted that he’s dedicated his life to public-private partnerships and said parents need to be brought into programs that benefit children and stay engaged.

“Government can’t do this alone,” he said. “This is a partnership. It’s a collaboration. That’s where philanthropic dollars come in but we’ve got to be accountable as well and work together.”

Posted in pretrial detention/release, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

A Top LASD Official’s Racist and Sexist Emails

April 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s chief of staff, Tom Angel, forwarded emails filled with racist, anti-Muslim, and sexist “jokes,” during his time as second in command at the Burbank Police Department between 2012-2013, according to city records obtained by the LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Alene Tchekmedyian. (As it happens, Angel was hired to help reform the Burbank PD, which had been mired in allegations of racism, abuse, and sexual harassment.)

One of the emails lists 20 reasons Muslim terrorists “are so quick to commit suicide.” The reasons include: no nude women, rags for clothes, towels for hats, constant wailing from some idiot in a tower, you can’t wash off the smell of donkey, your wife smells worse than your donkey, and you cook over burning camel shit.

In another email forwarded by Angel, one “joke” reads, “I took my Biology exam last Friday. I was asked to name two things commonly found in cells. Apparently, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Mexicans’ were NOT the correct answers.”

Another reads, “As I went into my bank, I walked past a black kid sitting at a bus stop. When I came out, he looked at me and said, ‘Any change, sir?’ I said, ‘Nope, you’re still black.’”

When asked about the matter, Angel told the LA Times that “anybody” will forward emails they shouldn’t in the workplace, now and then. “I apologize if I offended anybody, but the intent was not for the public to have seen these jokes.”

Angel was a member of the LASD for 33 years. After his retirement, Angel then spent five years with the Burbank PD, during which time the racist emails were sent. In 2015, Sheriff McDonnell brought back to the LASD as chief of staff as an at-will employee, which. according to an LASD spokesman, means that Angel can be fired or demoted without the protection of civil service rules.

Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), told WitnessLA that more is called for to address the email revelations. Moriguchi suggested that the sheriff and Angel should immediately visit community groups affected by the offensive emails and apologize. Angel has only visited one Muslim group, according to the LA Times, and the sheriff has reportedly scheduled meetings with community groups that will take place next week.

“The other big concern is whether the sheriff is going to treat Tom Angel differently than the rest of his employees,” said Moriguchi. With this in mind, he said that Angel might send a video message to the department members apologizing for “bringing disgrace on the department.” Some kind of action is needed, Moriguchi said.

Sheriff McDonnell told the LA Times that the released emails are a “teaching moment,” and that all who are familiar with Angel would characterize him as “professional and respectful of everyone” he comes into contact with.

“Chief Angel’s decision-making and actions in his long prior career with the Sheriff’s Department and since his return in 2015 reveal more about his actual character and typical good judgment than the instances from four years prior currently reported in the media,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Although there is no doubt that such instances, if occurring within the Sheriff’s Department, would result in disciplinary action, there is also no doubt that Chief Angel understands and respects that fact.”

Another well-placed department member, who asked not to be named, said that, from what he is hearing, the Angel emails are a very big deal indeed.

“Everyone working patrol is watching to see what the sheriff will do.” They want to know, he said, if there is one set of rules for those close to Sheriff McDonnell and a completely different set for the rank and file.

In addition, the source said, those on patrol are the one’s who have to deal with anger from the communities who feel that the department will tolerate these kinds of “jokes.”

You can find all of the emails that the Times obtained: here.


Willie Williams, who took over as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the Los Angeles riots in 1992, has died. Williams was the first African American to serve as LAPD Chief.

Williams died in Fayetteville, GA, after battling pancreatic cancer.

The LA Times’ Joel Rubin has more on Willie’s life and legacy in Los Angeles. Here’s a clip:

The challenge facing Williams was all the more daunting given his predecessor, Daryl F. Gates, a deeply polarizing figure who had won fierce loyalty from rank-and-file officers but had long been criticized as running the LAPD like a brutish, occupying quasi-military force that mistreated blacks and other minorities.

“Willie Williams was appointed to do some healing, and in many ways he succeeded, building and rebuilding positive, constructive relationships between the African American community and the police,” said John Mack, a longtime civil rights leader who served on the city’s civilian Police Commission. “But the deck was stacked against him from the start. The Los Angeles Police Department was not ready to accept him for two reasons: He was an outsider and he was African American.”

Chosen by then-Mayor Tom Bradley to replace Gates over several high-ranking LAPD officials, Williams arrived promising to follow the same blueprint he had used to run the Philadelphia department. At the heart of the plan was his belief in community policing, a relatively novel idea at the time that emphasized the need for police to integrate themselves closely into the communities they serve in order to build trust.

It was a message that resonated with residents, as polls showed Williams enjoyed strong approval ratings among residents throughout the city. City officials praised him for stabilizing the department and repairing its reputation.

Williams showed a willingness to fight for changes. He pushed for increased hiring of female officers and spoke out about the need to address rampant sexual harassment and discrimination within the ranks. He increased the size of the department and advocated for reforms drawn up in 1991 by the Christopher Commission, which had been formed by Bradley after the King beating to review LAPD training, discipline and complaint systems.

But doubts and resistance to Williams’ leadership soon took root…

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 72 Comments »

Taking a Closer Look at an Anti-Gang Program, More SFPD Racist Texts, and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald’s Retirement

April 27th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to re-evaluate the county’s participation in a multi-agency anti-gang program launched two decades ago, during a much different time in Los Angeles’ gang history.

According to early LAPD data, the gang suppression-focused Community Law Enforcement and Recovery Program (CLEAR) appeared to be working as intended. But in light of Los Angeles’ recent uptick in gang-related violence, the County Supervisors are concerned that the program relies on outdated strategies in a time when the national (and local) focus is shifting away from suppression and the lock-em-up approach, and toward intervention and rehabilitation.

“LAPD data showed nearly 60% of the homicides in [the city of Los Angeles] were either gang-related or gang-motivated,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “So I think this is really important and timely, but I also think there has to be a reassessment of the effectiveness of gang strategies that we aim to deploy. Some are old, crusty, unimaginative, and we keep doing the same things over and over again and getting the same results.”

CLEAR was launched in November of 1996 through the President’s Anti-Gang Initiative (AGI) with funding from the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), and runs on a combination of the yearly federal dollars, along with local general fund money.

When CLEAR came into being, although gang violence had dropped considerably from the awful high point of the early 1990’s, both gangs and gang enforcement were still very much in the news. Los Angeles was less than two years away from the unfolding of the LAPD’s Rampart scandal. The LAPD’s Rampart-tarnished gang units, known as CRASH—or Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums—would be disbanded in 2000. But, the year before CLEAR was launched, in September of 1995, the high profile death in a gang shooting of a pretty three-year-old girl named Stephanie Kuhen inflamed public sentiment. And pressure was placed on public officials and law enforcement to take action.

CLEAR was—and still is—run as a collaboration between the LAPD, the LA County District Attorney’s Office, LA County Probation, the LA City Attorney’s Office, and California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Parole Operations. (The sheriff’s department does not participate.)

The LAPD would deploy officers to CLEAR target areas, the first of which was the department’s Northeast Division. Since 1996, CLEAR units were activated in eight more LAPD divisions: Foothill, Newton, Hollenbeck, Southeast, Southwest, Ramona Gardens, Rampart, and 77th Divisions. Along with the LAPD officers, armed probation officers participate in special operations, police ride-alongs, compliance sweeps, and search and seizures.

The LA City Attorney’s Office and LA County District Attorney’s Office prosecute resulting cases.

Now, the Supes want to know if these are really the best methods for LA’s present day gang problems. Supervisor Sheila Kuehl described the need to examine the outcomes produced by any program, pointing to the recent past when ticketing truant students was thought to be effective, until research proved otherwise.

The motion, from Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis directs the County CEO, in consultation with the Interim Chief Probation Officer, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Sheriff, and the District Attorney to report back to the board with an evaluation of the county’s role in the CLEAR program, its outcomes and other data, whether CLEAR’s strategies are up-to-date with the most current research on successful gang intervention, and how the county—if it chooses to continue participating in CLEAR—can regularly evaluate the program’s value and effectiveness.

“The default is not prevention. The default is not intervention. The default is not re-entry. The default is suppression,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “So the question that CLEAR has to answer is how the resources are being used along those lines, in terms of suppression of gang violence versus activities that promote intervention and prevention.”


San Francisco city officials will have to re-evaluate 207 criminal cases—including three murders—following the public release of more than 100 disturbingly racist and homophobic text messages between four SFPD officers in 2014 and 2015.

The text messages were found during an investigation into rape allegations against former San Francisco police officer, Jason Lai. The messages were exchanged between Lai and two other officers, Curtis Liu and Keith Ybarreta.

Here’s a small sampling of Lai’s alarming messages:

“Indian ppl are disgusting.”

“I hate that beaner, but I think that nig is worse.”

Lai reportedly also referred to one of his incident reports as “a story I wrote today.”

The Guardian’s Channing Joseph has the story. Here’s a clip:

…Jason Lai, repeatedly used racist, homophobic and transphobic slurs like “nigga”, “fag” and “tranny” to refer to San Francisco residents. He also makes offensive remarks about president Barack Obama and NBA player LeBron James.

“Do you know what Obama coffee is?” Lai wrote in an apparent joke. “Black and weak!”


The revelation of the contents of the text messages is just the latest blow for the embattled police department, which has faced ongoing protests since the fatal police shooting of Mario Woods last winter.

Jeff Adachi, San Francisco’s public defender, made the announcement after the district attorney’s office sent him Lai’s text messages last Friday as part of the discovery process for a robbery case that Lai had been called to investigate.

“It would be naive to believe these officers’ bigotry was reserved solely for text messages,” Adachi said in a statement. “It is a window into the biases they harbored. It likely influenced who they stopped, who they searched, who they arrested, and how they testified in criminal trials.”

He added: “It is chilling how casually former officer Lai dehumanizes the citizens he was sworn to serve. He wished violence upon the very people he was being paid to protect and none of his colleagues turned him in.”

CNN’s Scott Glover and Dan Simon also reported on this latest development in the text message scandal.


As Terri McDonald prepares to retire from her post as LA County’s Assistant Sheriff overseeing the Custody Division, the LA Times’ Cindy Chang has tells the story of McDonald’s history and hiring, her efforts to eradicate systemic abuse and improve conditions in the jails, for both inmates and deputies, during her three years with the LASD. Here’s a clip:

In a department where jailers were accused of adopting an “us versus them” attitude, McDonald brought a gentler approach, taking time to chat with inmates about their concerns. She sought to revamp a culture in which deputies viewed the jails as an unsavory assignment before moving to patrol.

In 2013, the year she arrived, there were 10 jail suicides. Last year there was one.

The most severe injuries caused by deputies — resulting in broken bones or worse — have decreased to a handful each year. Agreements McDonald helped negotiate with federal authorities and the ACLU now govern how mentally ill inmates are treated and when deputies can use physical force.

But hundreds of inmates still are injured in confrontations with deputies each year — although most incidents are minor — and the number has been climbing. And deputies are being assaulted with increasing frequency, with some complaining that the reforms have given inmates too much power.

Still, McDonald deserves credit for curtailing the worst abuses and making the jails a more humane place with her hands-on management, said Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California and a frequent critic of the jails.

“I don’t think everything’s perfect,” Eliasberg said. “But there’s been a dramatic decrease in the brutal beatings that were quite commonplace prior to her arrival.”

In late 2012, a blue-ribbon citizens’ commission placed much of the blame for the endemic violence on the Sheriff’s Department’s top brass — and recommended that the jails be led by a corrections professional familiar with how facilities in the rest of the country are run.

Then-Sheriff Lee Baca responded by hiring McDonald as an assistant sheriff in charge of the jails. It was a major shift for an agency that always had cycled its jailers in and out of street patrol.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We at WitnessLA are grateful for what Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald accomplished in her tenure. We understand there are still problems in LA County’s jail system, and they are not trivial. One does not reverse a toxic culture overnight. And we are also concerned by the rise in assaults on deputies. But we appreciate the no-nonsense, hardworking intelligence with which McDonald approached the work, and the unfailing decency with which she approached inmates, demanding respect, but also giving it. She has made a large difference at a crucial time in the life of our jails. And we truly thank her for it.

Posted in Gangs, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

LAPD Commission Sez Venice Shooting Was Unjustified, a Bill to Bar For-Profit Immigrant Detention Contracts, and Pt. Two of MacArthur Safety and Justice Challenge

April 14th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission sided with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, unanimously deciding that LAPD officer Clifford Proctor’s fatal shooting of an unarmed homeless man, Brendon Glenn, was an unjustified use of deadly force.

Video and other evidence from the May 2015 shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground. Proctor said he believed Glenn was trying to take his partner’s gun, but the video evidence did not show Glenn’s hand to be on or near the holster, nor did Proctor’s partner do anything to indicate Glenn was going after his gun, according to the report.

In January, Chief Beck recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge Proctor in the death of Glenn. It was the first time the chief had recommended criminal charges for a fatal on-duty shooting.

In 2015, in LA, cops shot at civilians 48 times, hitting their target 37 times, and killing 22 total. In a story we crossposted with The Crime Report on Wednesday, Joe Domanick explains and gives context to the LA Police Commission’s revised use-of-force policies, which prioritize “de-escalation” techniques during confrontations to reduce the number of unarmed civilians shot by officers. (Domanick is the West Coast Bureau Chief of the Crime Report and author of Blue: the LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing.)

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the commission’s decision regarding the Venice shooting. Here’s a clip:

The decision capped an 11-month review of Glenn’s death, one of several shootings by LAPD officers last year that fueled criticism of police and how officers use force, particularly against African Americans. Glenn was black, as is Proctor.

The ruling also renewed pressure on L.A. County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey to file criminal charges against Proctor. This year, Beck said he had urged Lacey to charge Proctor. It was the first time as chief that Beck has called for charges against one of his officers in a fatal on-duty shooting.

Such prosecutions are rare in L.A. County, where the district attorney’s office hasn’t charged a law enforcement officer in an on-duty shooting in 15 years. An office spokeswoman said the case was still being reviewed.

Within hours of the Police Commission’s decision, local activists again called for Lacey to prosecute Proctor. Najee Ali said the ruling, coupled with Beck’s earlier recommendation, was further proof that the district attorney needed to act.

“This is a true litmus test for Lacey,” he said.

Beck said the commission’s decision “certainly supports” what he told the district attorney.

“I find many times that shootings are out of policy and they don’t reflect criminal charges,” he said. “But that’s not the case in this one.”


A new California bill sponsored by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) would block cities and counties from contracting with controversial for-profit prison companies running immigrant detention centers.

“Our state and local governments should not be complicit in this awful practice of profiting off of human suffering,” Lara said. “This critical first-in-the-nation legislation would make the currently unenforceable national immigration standards the law of the land in the golden state.”

Four municipalities, including cash-strapped Adelanto, are contracting with private detention centers and would be affected by the bill.

The small city of Adelanto in San Bernardino County contracts with the scandal-plagued GEO Group, which runs a city jail and the Adelanto Detention Facility, where undocumented immigrants are held. US Immigration and Customs Enforcement pays Adelanto about $4 million a month to hold around 1,200 immigrants in its detention center. (All-told, ICE holds 62% of its detainees in for-profit detention centers.)

City Councilman John Woodard says a fourth of the city’s income comes from its contracts with the private prison group.

GEO Group, the second largest for-profit prison operator, is often accused of medical neglect and abuse, and at Adelanto and other facilities, enforces lock-up quotas—which trigger financial penalties for empty jail and prison beds.

The bill would also require the immigrant detention facilities to comply with (currently optional) federal standards, and would make it easier for immigrants to take legal action against the private prisons for rights violations.

KPCC’s Leslie Berestein Rojas has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

With the Adelanto facility’s daily population averaging roughly 1,200 and based on the per-diem rate, ICE pays up to about $4 million a month — and more if the detention center is filled to its 1,940-detainee capacity.

But a bill sponsored by state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) could put an end to Adelanto’s immigrant detention contract.

“For far too long, our immigration system has promoted profits over people,” Lara told KPCC. “The goal is to prohibit these for-profit companies from profiting off the backs of immigrants.”

Cities like Adelanto depend on detention space revenue. In Adelanto, which nearly went bankrupt last year, City Council member John “Bug” Woodard, a self-described Tea Party Republican, said the GEO contracts are vital to the city’s economy.

“I think a good 25 percent of our income comes from those jailhouses,” Woodard said. “GEO is an important part of this community, and any idiot up in Sacramento that would like us not to do business with them, they’ve got their heads where the sun don’t shine.”


On Wednesday, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation announced just under $25 million in funding for 11 jurisdictions nationwide to move to the second round of the foundation’s Safety and Justice Challenge, which aims to “create fairer, more effective local justice systems across the country.”

The MacArthur Foundation whittled down 11 jurisdictions from an original group of 20 selected in 2015 to be mentored by experts as they created plans to reform their local jail systems.

The 11 jurisdictions are:

- Charleston County, SC
- Harris County, TX
- Lucas County, OH
- Milwaukee County, WI
- New Orleans, LA
- New York City, NY
- Philadelphia, PA
- Pima County, AZ
- Spokane County, WA
- State of Connecticut
- St. Louis County, MO

Los Angeles County was one of original 20 jurisdictions chosen last year, but did not make it to the second round of full mentoring and funding.

Los Angeles and the other eight remaining counties will receive $150,000 grants, as well as technical assistance from experts, to keep up their reform efforts as part of the Safety and Justice Challenge Network.

Posted in LAPD, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Four Social Workers Charged After Boy’s Death, a New Courtroom to Help Aging-Out Foster Kids, and LA County to Explore Ways to Fix Juvenile Defense

April 8th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced charges against four social workers in the death of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez, who was tortured and fatally beaten in 2013 by his mother and her boyfriend in Palmdale, despite numerous reports to the Department of Children and Family Services that the boy was being abused.

Gabriel died on May 24, 2013, from multiple injuries including broken ribs, a fractured skull, and burns all over his body.

The four social workers—Stefanie Rodriguez and Patricia Clement, and their supervisors Kevin Bom and Gregory Merritt—have all been charged with one felony count of child abuse and one felony count of falsifying public records.

Between the day the child welfare case was opened on October 31, 2012, and the day Gabriel was murdered in 2013, relatives, Gabriel’s elementary school teacher, a therapist, and others reported to authorities that Gabriel was being repeatedly abused.

Patricia Clement, the main social worker on Fernandez’s case, allegedly never spoke to Gabriel alone. Any conversation the child and social worker had was within earshot of his abusers. Clement reportedly also had a history of not performing required checks to ensure the safety of the kids under her watch.

“By minimizing the significance of the physical, mental, and emotional injuries that Gabriel suffered, these social workers allowed a vulnerable boy to remain at home and continue to be abused,” DA Lacey said in her announcement.

Rodriguez and Clement have been charged with falsifying reports by omitting documentation of the continued abuse. Bom and Merritt are accused of approving those false reports, which were in conflict with the evidence in Gabriel’s case file.

“We believe these social workers were criminally negligent and performed their legal duties with willful disregard for Gabriel’s well-being,” Lacey said.

The accused each face up to 10 years behind bars.

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Garrett Therolf, who has been following Gabriel’s story for the LA Times, and USC Professor of Social Work, Eugenia Weiss, talked with host Larry Mantle about the charges against the social workers and what comes next.

It’s highly unusual for charges to be brought against social workers in the death of a child. “It’s extraordinarily rare,” said Therolf. “Child welfare officials and prosecutors can’t recall another case of its kind anywhere in California.” Such cases are also exceedingly rare elsewhere in the nation.

Here’s a clip from the story accompanying the radio show:

“In the case of Gabriel, it was so horrendous, what, I guess you could say fell through the cracks, but I think what the DA is saying, it didn’t just fall through the cracks, because this crime has to be intentional,” Supervisor Sheila Kuehl told KPCC.

The DA contends the four social workers had a legal duty to protect Gabriel.

Rodriguez and Clement are specifically accused of “falsifying reports that should have documented signs of Gabriel’s escalating physical abuse and the family’s lapsed participation in DCFS efforts to provide help to maintain the family.”

“One of the ways you can show intention that the negligence was so egregious that it must have been intended because no reasonable person would have been that negligent,” Kuehl said. “Now that’s an uphill battle for the DA, because to say something is a crime is different from an offense for which I’d let you go from your job.”

Bom and Merritt, as supervisors, should have been aware the reports conflicted with evidence from Gabriel’s case file that his physical well-being was deteriorating, and they shouldn’t have allowed him to remain at home, prosecutors contend.

Kuehl said that reforms have already been made to the Department of Children and Family Services in the three years since the crime was committed.

She said that the agency hired 1,000 new social workers to help manage the 25,000 kids in the system.


During dependency hearings in a first-of-its-kind courtroom in Edelman Children’s Court in Monterey Park, young adults between the ages of 18-21 receive specialized support and guidance as they age out of the foster care system and into adulthood.

And foster kids, who rarely have the same circle of familial support as their peers outside the foster care system, need all the help they can get with the process. Less than 50% of Los Angeles teens in the foster care system graduate from high school, and only 3% graduate from college, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And 50% of young adults who have aged out of LA’s foster care system wind up either homeless or incarcerated.

Many foster youth don’t attend their dependency court hearings. The specialized courtroom, which opened for the first time on Tuesday, aims to help the kids that do attend their hearings, in part, by helping them create action plans for housing, work, education, and other looming responsibilities, and by connecting them with services and resources right in the courtroom.

The new courtroom is a collaboration between the Superior Courts, the Children’s Law Center, and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the new court program. Here’s a clip:

Under the federal Fostering Connections to Success Act, transition-age youth are supposed to have a plan in place about where they will live, work and attend school, if possible. But many older foster youth lack these plans, putting them at higher risks of homelessness, unemployment and even incarceration.

The non-minor dependency courtroom, a collaboration between the Superior Courts, the Children’s Law Center and the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), aims to ensure that transition-age foster youth have access to supportive services that can help guide their transition to adulthood.

On the court’s first day, Judge Henry made sure that Roger was getting the help he needed from his social worker to prepare for the driver’s license exam and asked if he was checking in regularly with his mentor.

Henry also made sure that Roger was moving forward on his plans to leave the group home where he now lives. Last month, Roger had an interview for an apartment through a transitional housing program, an opportunity to live on his own for the first time.

Access to supports like a mentor and affordable housing is a critical aspect of helping transition-age foster youth avoid struggles that last long after they’ve left the care of the state. Though the population is often transient and hard to track, one estimate suggested that 25 percent of former foster youth experience homelessness within two to fours years after exiting foster care. Another much-cited survey of outcomes for youth after emancipation put unemployment at 51 percent for youth within four years of aging out.

In 2010, California extended benefits for foster youth from age 18 to 21 by passing the California Fostering Connections to Success Act, also known as AB 12. Under this law — and several successor bills — older California foster youth are able to receive benefits and services of extended foster care as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.

For example, youth must actively be pursuing educational or vocational opportunities, working, or have a medical condition that prevents their involvement in those activities.

About 1,100 older youth aged out of the system in Los Angeles County last year. The county currently has more than 2,400 transition-age foster youth, nearly a third of all such youth in the state. About 2,200 of them cycle through the Edelman Courthouse, according to staff at the Children’s Law Center (CLC), the organization that represents children and youth in Los Angeles County’s child-welfare system.

“I don’t know any other place that has anything or could have anything like this because no one has our numbers,” Henry said in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change.


On Tuesday, LA County Supervisors voted to look into a number of possible reforms to the way poor juveniles are represented in Los Angeles, in light of a report brought by CEO Sachi Hamai illuminating inequalities in representation for kids who are given by private panel attorneys, rather than the county’s public defenders. If you are unfamiliar with the issue, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (often because of a conflict of interest), the kids are assigned panel attorneys, who are paid a small flat-fee stipend for each case. (Read about the specific problems with the panel attorney system in our previous post: here.)

The reform areas to be studied by the CEO’s Office and County Council include the creation of an oversight unit for panel attorneys run by the LA County Bar Association, elimination of the problematic flat-fee structure for panel attorneys, merging the Public Defender’s Office with the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and increasing use of alternate public defenders in juvenile cases.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue as well as reactions to the report and the Supes’ decision. Here’s a clip:

“There is no more important decision that this county makes about a child, no more far-reaching impact on a child’s life than to put them into the adult system,” [Elizabeth Calvin of Human Rights Watch] said. “It’s an important decision that deserves important resources.”

Several advocates spoke in favor of handing off the panel attorneys’ duties to the alternate public defender, including Carol Chodroff. A former public defender and juvenile defense and policy attorney, Chodroff said the current system “falls woefully short of our constitutional obligation to provide children with competent legal counsel.”

The private attorneys, many of whom agreed that the current pay structure puts them at a disadvantage, took umbrage at the idea that the kids they represent get worse service.

“Over 25 years ago, when I applied to law school, my reasoning for becoming a lawyer was to defend and protect the rights of children,” Pamela DiBello, who heads the panel of attorneys representing youths at the Pomona courthouse, told the board. “That has been a passion of mine for over 25 years.”

DiBello said afterward that panel attorneys are often assigned the more serious and complex cases and had repeatedly asked for and been denied more resources. She said she had put in unpaid time to advocate for the youths assigned to her, even after they were no longer her clients.

“Do I think that things could be improved? Absolutely,” she said. “Get rid of the flat fee, give us access to investigators, give us social workers in every courtroom. … These are things we’ve asked the county to do for years, and we’ve been told no every time.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who called for the overhaul of the system along with Sheila Kuehl, said the proposal was not meant as a “personal attack on panel attorneys.”

“We see this as a structural issue,” he said.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Inadequacies in Education for CA’s Incarcerated Kids…Alt. Public Defenders for LA’s Juvie Defendants…Missing: Childcare for Foster Families…and a San Diego Reentry Job Center

April 5th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


Juvenile court schools, which provide public education to kids in California’s county probation-run camps, are failing to provide locked-up students with a quality education in accordance with state and federal laws, according to a report by the Youth Law Center, a national public interest law firm in San Francisco.

The report found that some court schools struggled to get incarcerated kids into class and keep them there, leading to alarmingly high truancy and suspension rates during the 2013-2014 school year. In comparison, some schools reported no truancy or suspensions during the same time period. Los Angeles court schools ranked among the highest for suspension rates, and a large percentage of those suspensions were for willful defiance (a catchall term for most anything that can pass as disruptive behavior).

Eight of Los Angeles County’s court schools had suspension rates at or above 50%, compared to the state average of 10%. And while LA was suspending already locked-up kids left and right, there were plenty of other court schools serving incarcerated youth in other counties that did not suspend anyone.

“Fundamentally, court schools evince a crisis of low expectations,” explained Jennifer Rodriguez, Youth Law Center’s Executive Director. “In myriad ways, instead of giving youth cause for hope and the resources and supports to realize their full potential, the system too often primes them for a downward trajectory.”

Another serious problem is that the kids, who must learn from worksheets rather than stimulating class discussions and lectures, often don’t improve their math and reading skills. In fact, some kids’ proficiency levels were even found to have declined under this system. And when researchers analyzed data from the 2013-2014 school year, they found kids leaving the juvenile justice system struggled to re-enroll in local schools, and without support, often dropped out.

LA County’s court schools had a dropout rate of 30%. Some counties, like Alameda, Fresno, Sacramento, and Marin had dropout rates double that of Los Angeles.

(Note: These numbers may have improved during the last school year thanks to a bill that went into effect January 1, 2015, which is supposed to address this issue by ensuring kids exiting detention facilities are immediately enrolled in school.)

The report points to several promising education reform-minded programs, including the Roads to Success Academy, which is being expanded to all of LA’s juvenile probation camps. RTSA uses project-based learning, focuses on keeping kids a path to higher education, and coordinates with probation staff to minimize interruptions to the kids’ education. LA’s program was inspired, in part, by Washington DC’s Maya Angelou Academy. The DC program uses the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support (PBIS) model, rather than harsh classroom discipline, and focuses on kids’ transition back into their communities, providing supportive services to kids for 90 days after their release.

“These programs show us there is so much more our youth can achieve and very real possibilities for supporting them in reaching their goals,” said Maria Ramiu, YLC’s Managing Director. “We should not give up so easily on the promise our juvenile justice system makes to these youth for their future.”

The report points out that more data must be collected on locked up young Californians, the quality of the education they receive, and their post-incarceration outcomes.


Last week, LA County CEO Sachi Hamai released a report illuminating serious inequalities in representation for low-income juveniles who are represented by private panel attorneys, rather than attorneys from the county’s Public Defender’s Office, when there is a conflict of interest. (Read about the specific problems with the panel attorney system in our previous post: here.)

A motion the LA County Board of Supervisors are slated to consider today (Tuesday) would direct the CEO and County Counsel to look into a number of possible reforms to the way poor juveniles are represented in Los Angeles, including the creation of an oversight unit for panel attorneys run by the LA County Bar Association, elimination of the problematic flat-fee structure for panel attorneys, merging the Public Defender’s Office with the Alternate Public Defender’s Office, and increasing use of alternate public defenders in juvenile cases.

Currently, only Lancaster uses alternate public defenders for juvenile defense when public defenders are unavailable or have a conflict of interest. Panel attorneys are used less often under this structure, which is similar to the way adult indigent defense is set up in LA County.

In advance of the board’s consideration of the motion, an LA Times editorial calls for the Alternate Public Defender model, which is already successfully used for adults (and for kids in Lancaster), to be extended to juvenile defendants. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County created the first-ever Public Defender’s Office more than a century ago to provide indigent defendants with high-quality, salaried lawyers who are part of an office that can pool resources, keep up with trends and training and create efficiencies by sharing caseloads.

But the public defender often has a conflict of interest. Consider, for example, when two people are accused of stealing a bike. Each might blame the other for the crime, so they can’t have the same lawyer. One gets the public defender. For many years, the second one got a private lawyer from a county-approved panel, who was paid by the hour and — county officials argued — had too little incentive to keep costs down.

In the 1990s, when the county was effectively broke, supervisors needed to save money and considered — but rejected — converting from an hourly rate to a flat rate for conflict lawyers in adult cases because of the opposite incentive: Flat fees encouraged attorneys to gather up as many cases as possible and perform as little work on each of them as possible. Even to people who don’t care about criminal defendants, it should be clear that unconstitutionally inadequate assistance of counsel would wind up costing county taxpayers more than it saved due to reversals and liability lawsuits.

For adult defendants, the county’s solution was to create a second, separate public defender’s office: the Alternate Public Defender, whose legal work over more than two decades has been widely lauded for cost effectiveness and high quality. Its reputation among L.A. judges and lawyers is superb. It’s a model county department.

But, back in the 1990s, the Board of Supervisors went a different way with defendants under age 18. For their lawyers, the board said, a flat fee of less than $300 per case — and all the perverse incentives that went with it — was just fine, even though adequate defense often requires many weeks of work.

The fee, which has inched up over the years, has yielded results that should have been predictable. More juvenile defendants represented by those flat-fee panel lawyers get sentenced to “camps” — juvenile jails — than their counterparts represented by the public defender. That means a higher cost to taxpayers, who foot the bill for each of those jailed teenagers, even though the outcomes (criminal recidivism, homelessness, employment) are far better for those whose sentences are served in community and school settings.

The county’s contracts with these attorneys expire Oct. 31, and the board simply must ensure that the current unconscionable system of defense is not renewed.


Over the last ten years, the number of people applying to become foster parents has dropped by a whopping 50%. Part of the problem, says LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, is the state’s backlogged and underfunded subsidized child care system. The lack of available childcare has proven a substantial barrier to finding foster families to care for the county’s most vulnerable population. Many would-be foster parents can’t get around the fact that they have to go to work, and thus, would need someone to watch their foster children while they were away.

Two-thirds of foster family agencies that participated in a 2015 survey reported that an absence of childcare options kept potential foster parents from applying, and more than two-thirds of current foster parents said the childcare issues kept them from accepting kids.

Supervisor Kuehl has put forth a statewide budget proposal to reinvest $31 million into childcare for the foster parents. The proposed millions would fund six-month emergency childcare vouchers for foster parents caring for babies and toddlers. Kuehl’s budget proposal would also make trauma-informed training available to childcare providers.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s how it opens:

As the state struggles to provide enough foster homes, California advocates and policymakers say one major challenge has been a lack of childcare for foster parents.

For first-time foster parents Irene Barraza and Amy Saucier of Oakland, adding a new child to their home forced them to come up with creative solutions to balancing childcare with work.

One evening last July, only weeks after becoming certified as foster parents, Barraza and Saucier got the call they had been waiting for. Could they take in a three-day old baby girl, an Alameda County social worker asked.

An hour later, after a last-minute dash to Walmart to pick up a car seat, formula, diapers and a set of onesies, the couple returned home from the county’s assessment center with their new daughter.

Even after adjusting to the all-hours demands of a new baby, childcare has proven the most difficult challenge for Barraza, 39, and Saucier, 38. For a while, they juggled sick days, parental leave and help from friends.

Because it’s a publicly subsidized childcare system that is already underfunded and at constant capacity, one thing that has not been available to them is a slot with providers like Early Head Start.

“The last couple weeks that I was off of work I was very stressed out,” Saucier said. “We knew [the girl] was going to go back to her grandparents soon, but we didn’t have a definitive date, and I knew I had to get back to work without childcare.”


In the months leading up to their release from jail, inmates at San Diego’s East Mesa Reentry Facility attend job readiness and life skills classes, participate in practice interviews, and learn vital computer skills at the facility’s newly opened job center.

The employment center also connects participants with housing and substance abuse treatment, provides bus passes, and holds job fairs for the soon-to-be-released inmates.

The center was created with federal funding as part of the Reentry Works San Diego program, a partnership between San Diego Workforce Partnership, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, the county’s Probation Department, and the non-profit Second Chance.

Nadine Ono at CA FWD has more on the job center. Here’s a clip:

The job center is funded by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Linking to Employment Activities Pre-release (LEAP) initiative, which funds jail-based employment centers in 20 communities across the country with the goal of reducing recidivism.

SDWP enlisted the services of Second Chance as the on-site service provider. Second Chance is a non-profit that helps people transform their lives through programs that provide job readiness and life skills training along with job placement, mental health and prisoner re-entry services, relapse prevention and sober-living housing for adults and youth in need.

Before opening the center, Second Chance held focus groups within the reentry facility to find out how to best serve the population. As a result, the career center has a computer lab with career pathway information and employment resources. Participants will also receive case management services, attend workshops and have access to business attire for inmates to wear during mock interviews with their peers and actual interviews at employer job fairs within the facility.

“I think the workforce partnership really reflects a philosophy in meeting people where they are and not expecting that our hardest-to-reach customers are always going to come through the doors of our job centers, but really targeting our job training programs to meet individuals most in need, like the justice-involved, where they’re at, so we can see more successful outcomes,” said [SDWP’s Director of Adult Programs Andrew] Picard.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand, and the Prosecution Uses the “V” Word

April 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Midmorning on Friday, after a week and a half of witness testimony, the prosecution rested its case in the criminal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

But the main event of the day in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, was when the defense began their case and called their first witness at 9:53 a.m.

“We call Paul Tanaka,” said defense attorney Jerome Haig.

Paul Tanaka, for those just joining us, was the second in command at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and, for many years, the man whom it was assumed was would succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca when Baca stepped down. Instead Tanaka has been charged by U.S. Government with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Specifically, the charges allege that Tanaka oversaw and directed deliberate efforts to get in the way of an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails that began in 2010. To do so, the feds contend that, from mid-August 2011 through much of September, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction devised a scheme to hide an inmate-turned-confidential-informant from his FBI handlers; that they attempted to intimidate potential witnesses into refusing to cooperate with the FBI; and that they falsely threatened a federal agent with arrest (among other allegedly problematic actions).

Using a string of two-dozen witnesses, plus piles of telling emails, records of interestingly-timed phone calls between relevant parties, audio recordings of Brown and other potential witnesses being interviewed by department members, and more, government prosecutors have painstakingly built what they hope is an impregnable case against the former undersheriff.

During his three hours of testimony, Tanaka and Jerome Haig, one of his two attorneys, attempted to smash as many pieces of the prosecution’s case as they possible could.

Tanaka began his testimony by painting a picture of himself as an accomplished, and scrupulously honest and hardworking lawman. He told about his graduation from Loyola Marymount University, his background as a Certified Public Accountant, the fact that he is now in his twelfth year as the mayor of the city of Gardena, and his speedy rise through ranks of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Tanaka then spent time telling the jury about his management style and his ethics.

He described himself as someone with an “unwavering sense of right or wrong,” who attempted to impart that ethic to those working under him.

For instance, he said that when he visited the department’s various stations, he always told deputies to “make sure that you’re as smart as you can be, know all the laws, know the lines of right and wrong, and do your job,” but do it in “the right way because that’s our obligation as peace officers.”

Tanaka also portrayed himself as a hard worker who demanded the same from other supervisors, noting that when was the assistant sheriff he often “had difficulty” finding chiefs, commander and captains who often seemed to ditch work for part of the day. So, he said, he ordered that supervisors “have to be at work,” Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

Tanaka implied that some of the prosecution’s witnesses who alleged negative things about him were, in reality, disgruntled slackers whose feet Tanaka had held to the figurative fire.


Several prosecution witnesses quoted instances of Tanaka reportedly dropping the F-bomb with impressive frequency in meetings. Tanaka and his lawyer addressed this issue as well.

“Have you ever use language not suitable for television?” Haig asked his client.

“In administrative sessions? No,” Tanaka said.

Well, did he ever say, “Fuck the FBI?

Tanaka hedged this more specific question with the classic, non-denial denial. “I have no recollection of making that comment,” he said.

About the testimony of witnesses who said he told deputies to police in the “gray area, or by crossing “the blue line”—meaning crossing over the line of legality, Tanka was more definitive.

No, said Tanaka, he did not ever talk about “the blue line.” As for the gray area, he explained that this term in no way suggested illegality. To illustrate, the former undersheriff held his hands out in front of his chest, but far enough apart that he could have been holding a long sourdough baguette between his palms.

Yes, he had told deputies to work the gray area, but that was the area between legality (he gestured with one hand) and department policy (he gestured with the other hand).

In general, Tanaka worked to dispatch the testimony by such government witnesses as Bob Olmsted, Al Gomez, John Clark, Pat Maxwell and Steve Roller by implying—or stating conclusively—that what those men said happened, in fact, never occurred.

(See our story on those witnesses’ testimonies here)


Of necessity, much of Tanaka’s testimony addressed the issue of whether or not he gave the orders that precipitated the various actions that are the basis of the government’s criminal allegations.

Tanaka insisted that any orders that were given were “lawful” and came from then sheriff Baca, who Tanaka said was “consumed” by the issue of federal informant Anthony Brown, and the contraband cell phone that Brown had paid an LASD deputy to bring to him in return for a bribe, as part of an FBI sting.

When Haig asked his client if he issued “any orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?” Tanaka answered with a firm no. He also said he did not give orders to ignore a federal grand jury subpoena. Nor did he give orders to confront a federal agent, or keep the FBI from seeing inmates.

Tanaka said he didn’t remember personally giving ICIB Captain Tom Carey any kind of instructions about investigating the matter of Brown and the contraband cell phone.

“I didn’t have any investigative experience,” Tanaka told the jury reasonably.


Friday’s most dramatic moment came just after Tanaka had finished testifying. The court day was nearly over but, with ten minutes remaining, Judge Anderson called the prosecution to begin its cross-examination.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox walked quickly to the lectern.

“Mr. Tanka,” he said, “Mr. Haig took you back through your career, and your experience as a CPA. However, Fox noted, Tanaka’s attorney did not ask him about certain other periods in his long career. For instance, Fox said, “Mr. Haig didn’t you ask about your experience as a supervisor at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“He did not,” answered Tanaka.

“And when you were a sergeant at the Lynwood Station, you learned that there was a deputy clique at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“Yeah,” Tanaka replied cautiously.

“And that deputy clique was known as the Vi…..”

It had been a long and strenuous day and it appeared to take a couple of seconds past the word “clique” for the defense to grasp where this was going.

Then they got it.

Fox did not fully get out the first syllable of the word “Vikings,” before Tanaka’s attorneys bounced from their chairs like spring-loaded jacks-in-the-box, shouting “objection, your honor!”

The Vikings is, of course, the tattoo-wearing, sign-throwing deputy clique that was most active in the department from the mid-1980’s into the 1990’s, and was the focus of a huge class action lawsuit—Thomas v. the County of Los Angeles—that alleged a wide variety of brutal and illegal actions by deputies toward community members. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Lynwood Vikings, “…regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.”

More relevantly here, it was the group of which Mr. Tanaka was/is famously a member.

Even Judge Anderson’s eyes appeared to be pin wheeling as he hastily called for a sidebar.

When finally the two groups of attorneys returned to their seats, neither the prosecution nor the defense team looked particularly cheerful so it was impossible to guess which side might have prevailed at the sidebar.

“I believe we’ve done about as much as we can do for today,” Anderson said noncommittally from the bench and then told the jury that the court was going to break until Monday, and delivered the usual admonition to jurors about not talking to anyone, or reading or watching anything pertaining to the trial.

“As for the issue we discussed at sidebar,” Anderson said, then he asked for short briefs by both sides by Sunday, as to why the court should allow this line of questioning “or why we should not.”

And so the day ended with a cliffhanger.

Monday should be interesting.

So stay tuned!

POST SCRIPT: For your reading pleasure, you can find the government’s brief here.

And the defense’s brief here.

Plus the defense is trying one more time to get the judge to grant Lee Baca limited immunity and to compel his testimony—or at the very least, allow in snippets of previous interviews with him by the feds. You can find that motion here.


On Friday afternoon, I was on KPPC FM with Nick Roman for a quick story talking about the trial, Paul Tanaka’s testimony and what is to come. You can find the podcast and a web summary of the story here.

Here’s a clip:

…Tanaka testified for nearly three hours in what was the main event of the day, according to Celeste Fremon of Witness L.A., who’s been following the trial. The prosecution rested Friday morning after a week and a half of testimony on Tanaka’s alleged crimes.

Tanaka answered questions trying to dismantle the structure of the prosecution’s arguments Friday, Fremon said. The judge began to allow cross-examination, but when prosecutor Brandon Fox started to ask about Tanaka’s involvement with the deputy gang known as the Vikings, the defense objected. The judge ultimately told everyone to come back Sunday with briefs on why that line of questioning should be allowed.

While the Vikings aren’t directly related to this case, Tanaka has allegedly been a member for many years of the deputy gang that made news in the 1990s and was part of a class-action lawsuit, Fremon said. The reason for the question, Fremon said, was that it speaks to what the government is calling the context of Tanaka’s alleged style of supervision as undersheriff.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

Homelessness in LA, a Heartbreaking South LA Shooting, Prison Yogis…and More

February 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


The LA County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote Tuesday on whether to launch a comprehensive $100 million effort with the city of LA to help and house thousands of homeless residents. The plan focuses first on housing, then on providing mental health services and substance abuse treatment, increasing employment, and making sure people exiting jail don’t end up on the streets.

But is the problem too big for a $100 million plan? (Or even a $200 million plan, if we include the city’s funds?) According to a report from CEO Sachi Hamai, LA County spent just under $1 billion—$965 million, to be exact—on services for 150,000 of the county’s homeless during fiscal year 2014-2015. And 40% of that amount was spent on just 5% of the homeless population. Hamai will present the report, which includes recommendations for implementing the homelessness plan, to the board during the Tuesday meeting.

The LA Daily News’ Sarah Favot has more on the report. Here’s a clip:

This separate report looks at expenditures, totaling $965 million, made last fiscal year in the county departments of health services, mental health, public health, sheriff, probation and public social services to provide services, benefits and care to homeless individuals. The costs include direct services to individuals, costs for programs and administrative costs.

The report was done at the request of the county’s Homeless Initiative, which is directed by Phil Ansell.

“The report on county services and expenditures for homeless single adults last fiscal year confirms that the county already provides very extensive services for homeless single adults through the mainstream health, social service and criminal justice systems,” Ansell said in an interview.

“The nearly $1 billion expended by the county last year for this population underscores the urgency of taking effective action to combat homelessness as well as the opportunity to more effectively utilize current funding to help people exit homelessness rather than mitigate the consequences of their homelessness.”

The homeless count conducted last year showed that homelessness in the county increased 12 percent in two years. During that count, which is a snapshot of the number of people who were homeless in a given day, 44,359 people were identified as homeless. County departments said they served, through visits to clinics and emergency rooms, food stamp programs and jail bookings, 148,815 people who experienced homelessness for varying times last year.

The report sheds light on the kind of services the homeless population required last year.

More than half of the total spent were for health-related services, with 60 percent of the county’s health spending on homeless single adults for mental health treatment, according to the report.

One in 10 homeless adults were arrested by the Sheriff’s Department last year.

KPCC’s Jacob Margolis has a helpful (quick) list of five things to know about the city and county’s homelessness plans in advance of the Supes’ vote. Here’s a clip:

2. They’re embracing the Housing First model.

There has long been a debate about whether homeless people are “ready” to be successful in housing, and if they’ve earned it. Some have argued that people with drug problems or mental illnesses should be treated for those issues before they are offered anything more than a shelter bed. Others support the “Housing First” model, which argues that a person can not overcome drug dependency or mental illness until they have a safe, reliable home. The city and county have come to support “Housing First” and will put more dollars behind it.

3. The money’s still not there.

The county has already found about $100 million to put toward combatting homelessness in year one, but the city is still in search of their first $100 million. A city report recently found that the City of L.A. alone needs to spend $1.85 billion over 10 years to provide enough housing and services to properly address homelessness. L.A. officials have said they’ll need to find federal, state and county money to help them get there.


Late last month, 21-year-old Gerrik Thomas bought a soda at a market near his great-grandmother’s house in South LA. On his way home, he was accosted by two young black men driving by in a car. Instead of responding to the men, Gerrik, who was also black, called his mother to tell her what happened. Minutes later, Gerrik’s mother, Demicha Lofton-Thomas, received a call that her son had been fatally shot.

Gerrik, worked as a security guard near LAX and at LACMA, was enrolled in a nursing program at LA Trade Tech, and dreamed of becoming a doctor. Gerrik was well-liked, and known for his smile, which “would brighten a whole, gloomy day.”

In an op-ed for the LA Times, Michael Krikorian asks why Gerrik’s death, unlike fatal police encounters, received little news coverage and no attention from community leaders, hashtag activists, or politicians. “Is it that Thomas’ death is acceptable?” writes Krikorian. “Does it just come with the territory in South Los Angeles?”

Here’s a clip:

There will be no protest marches organized in Thomas’ memory. No downtown streets will be blocked; the entrances to the Harbor Freeway will remain open. No angry citizens will demand the arrest, trial and conviction of those responsible for his killing.

I get the outrage when a cop kills an unarmed civilian, I get the fury when a video shows what looks like an unnecessary, excessive police shooting. But what I don’t get is why Gerrik Thomas’ death barely signifies. Why isn’t his excessive and unnecessary killing a story? Why are the community, the hashtag leaders, the media and the politicians mostly silent?

I’ve been writing about gang killings in Los Angeles for well over 25 years, and I know these deaths are not acceptable to the families on Grape Street, on Success Avenue, on Brynhurst Avenue. Their pain is as deep as it gets. I know the answer is “no” to the question Reggie Sims, gang interventionist at Jordan Downs, asked about the lack of uproar over the killing of his son several years ago: “Just because he was shot by another black kid, that makes it OK?” I’ve heard that question from at least 100 different relatives of the slain.

By way of an uproar, I’ll tell you a bit about Gerrik Thomas.

If you ask 20 of his friends and family about him, every one will say something about his smile.

Some might describe the tattoo on his right forearm — “Demicha”— his mother’s name. Others will talk about how he took the bus to work as a security guard near the airport or at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. About how respectful he was. That he went to Daniel Webster Middle School and Crenshaw High. That he dreamed of being a doctor and was enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Tech to learn nursing. But all of them will bring up his smile.


Across the nation, including at California State Prisons, Solano and San Quentin, yoga programs give inmates a place to process their feelings, de-stress, and heal their traumas.

Inmates who participate in the classes say their meditation and yoga practice helps them deescalate confrontations with other prisoners and with staff. Program staff and prison officials hope that the yoga classes give inmates tools to deal with the stress of re-entry, once they’re released. A former inmate at says he continued his yoga practice outside the walls of San Quentin, and it helped him resolve a confrontation with a housemate in a positive way. “I told him I’ve been trying to learn how to resolve issues without the use of violence…I would try to work through it with him positively,” said Adam Verdoux.

Some prisons, including in Oregon and Maryland, are even putting inmates through yoga instructor training to give them employment opportunities post-release.

The Epoch Times’ Amelia Pang has more on the programs and why they are becoming increasingly popular as a relatively low-cost recidivism-reducing strategy. Here’s a clip:

For decades, science journals have documented how meditation can help reduce recidivism. Research shows that yoga and meditation can improve mood, impulse control, concentration, and decision-making skills.

The Prison Yoga Project, founded in 2002, was the first large-scale prison yoga organization of its kind. It has trained more than 1,200 volunteer prison yoga teachers in the United States, Mexico, Germany, Norway, and the Netherlands.

Most of Fox’s incarcerated students in California are serving a life sentence with a possibility of parole; most were charged with murder.

“I’ve never felt threatened,” Fox said. “I make it very clear we’re here to create a higher consciousness. If that’s not something they’re interested in they won’t stay. I end up with good guys.”

Apparently there is a high demand for a higher consciousness.

There is a one-year wait list for yoga classes at San Quentin, one of the largest prisons in the nation.

More than 15,000 inmates have requested yoga guidebooks about the philosophical aspects of yoga, such as how to deal with trauma and how to resolve problems with non-violence.

The Prison Yoga Project has mailed more than 15,000 copies of its yoga guidebook to inmates free of charge. (The organization survives on small grants and teacher training fees).

Fox’s class consist of traditional yoga, meditation, conscious breathing, relaxation, and some basic movements. Since it’s tailored for the prison population, it differs from public yoga classes, which are predominately movement-based.

The end goal is for incarcerated men and women to continue peaceful meditation after their release.

“The odds of them enrolling into a yoga studio is very little. They have to find jobs, a place to live, rebuild their lives, reunite with family. Prison yoga is focused on giving them the tools to meditate on their own after leaving,” Fox said. “The greatest feedback I get from people is not about a particular pose they mastered, but that they can disengage from a potential conflict based on what they learned from meditation.”


In the next few months, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch will travel to Los Angeles to highlight the LAPD as an example of successful community policing. (The LA trip date is still listed as to-be-determined, but AG Lynch kicks off her community policing tour in Miami-Dade on Feb 11.) The AG will focus specifically on the LAPD’s use of technology (like body-worn cameras) and social media to “fully engage and educate communities in a dialogue about their expectations for transparency, accountability, and privacy,” according to the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing’s final report.

“One of my top priorities as Attorney General is strengthening relationships between law enforcement officers and the communities we serve and protect,” said Lynch. “During the second phase of my Community Policing Tour, I will be highlighting some of the innovative efforts underway around the country to build trust, foster cooperation and enhance public safety.”

But not everyone is happy about the LAPD’s level of transparency and accountability.

Last week, in agreement with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s findings, the LA Police Commission said that the fatal shooting of a mentally ill homeless man, Charlie “Africa” Keunang, was within department policy, and that a Burbank officer acted outside of department policy when he fatally shot a car chase suspect, Sergio Navas.

Acknowledging that the LAPD is unable to release certain information due to a restrictive state law, the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights, an LA Times editorial expressed frustration that the commission had to meet and make those decisions in a closed-session meeting away from the public. Here’s a clip:

Maybe these were the correct decisions. We hope so. Certainly the commission, like the Police Chief, is making an effort to convey that it takes its responsibilities in such cases very, very seriously. But how can Angelenos know for sure whether the commission’s decisions were right or wrong? The details of the incidents were discussed and the decisions made in closed session. The wealth of information available to commissioners is unavailable to the public. Nor will the public be informed whether the officers are being fired or retained. In many cases, the public isn’t even entitled to learn the names of the officers involved in such shootings.

This is not due to some Los Angeles Police Department anti-transparency policy, but because of an overly restrictive state law familiarly known as the Police Officer’s Bill of Rights that was designed to protect the privacy of officers. If the nation has learned any lesson in the wake of a series of police shootings of unarmed African-American since 2014, it is that keeping secrets deepens mistrust.

In the absence of details about past shootings, the department must continue to communicate what it can, including the steps it is taking to reduce the likelihood of future deadly encounters. In the last year, for example, the 60 LAPD officers who work in homeless communities have received 40 hours worth of training in dealing with mental illness. That training is now been expanded to field training officers as well.

In a response to the Times’ editorial, Chief Charlie Beck said the department does everything it can in furtherance of openness and accountability with regard to officer discipline and in accordance with the law. Here’s a clip:

For decades the LAPD has been a leader in providing detailed information regarding serious use-of-force and disciplinary decisions. For example, the department started disclosing the names of officers involved in shootings typically within 72 hours of the incident long before the California Supreme Court required such disclosure by all agencies.

The department also discloses my detailed analyses of incidents and recommendations to the Police Commission. Within days of deliberation, the commission discloses details of the incident and its conclusions. Very few departments in the country provide such in-depth information to the public.

In addition, starting as early as the 1950s, the LAPD conducted open disciplinary hearings for police officers recommended for termination until the state Supreme Court ruled that such disciplinary matters are restricted from public disclosure under state law.

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