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As Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca’s Trial Approaches….

December 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

LEE BACA GOES TO TRIAL

Jury selection starts Monday for the federal trial of Leroy Baca, the man who ran the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years.

The trial itself will likely begin Tuesday morning

WitnessLA will be covering the proceedings, of course. But we will also give you relevant pre-trial updates between now and Tuesday.

So stay tuned.


Photo of Lee Baca taken in late 2013 by Saxon Brice

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

US Justice Department Issues 272 Recommendations for Reforming the SFPD

October 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Wednesday, the US Department of Justice released its first report on the embattled San Francisco Police Department’s policies and practices. In its review, the DOJ highlighted racial disparities in traffic stops and searches and in fatal uses-of-force, as well as deficiencies in data collection and accountability, and outdated use-of-force policies.

The DOJ stepped in back in February (see above video) after requests for an independent investigation by former SFPD Chief Greg Suhr, SF Mayor Ed Lee, and other city officials following several controversial deadly uses-of-force, including the fatal shooting of Mario Woods, and two separate scandals involving racist and homophobic text messages sent between SFPD officers. (Here’s some backstory.)

Normally, when the feds intervene, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.

But this time, the DOJ conducted the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.

The report lists 94 key findings and an ambitious 272 recommendations for improving SFPD policing practices and transparency.

The DOJ found that most of those killed by SFPD officers (nine out of eleven shootings) were people of color. although across the board, there was not a significant correlation between race and the level of force used by officers.

The report also found that uses of force are not properly investigated by the department. Between 2013 and 2015, only one investigation into a deadly use-of-force out of nine total fatalities has been closed. “It is unacceptable for officer-involved shooting investigations to remain open for years,” the report reads. And files on officer-involved shootings were found to be incomplete and inconsistent.

In addition, the SFPD does not collect specific data on uses-of-force beyond what is written in regular incident report narratives. The DOJ recommends that the SFPD should create an electronic system for reporting use-of-force data.

“San Francisco has the second oldest police department in the nation and it shows,” said SFPD Interim Chief Toney Chaplin. “We are committed to the work that needs to be done to bring our systems into the 21st century.

The department is also missing specific “comprehensive” training on use-of-force, according to the report, which calls on the department to create training on de-escalation, sanctity of life, service-oriented interactions with the city’s homeless population, and more.

African American drivers were found to be 24% more likely to be stopped by SFPD cops than their representation in the driving population. And both black and Latino drivers were disproportionately searched during traffic stops, but were less likely to be found in possession of illegal substances or items.

The report also revealed a lack of transparency around officer discipline within the department. The DOJ called on the SFPD to “develop and report aggregate data regarding complaints against Department members, their outcome, and trends in complaints and misconduct for both internal and external publication.”

Despite the many areas in need of improvement within the SFPD, the report was not all bad. For example, the Justice Department praised the SFPD for engaging in “a range of successful activities, programs, and community partnerships that support community policing tenets.” The SFPD was also praised for holding town hall meetings after officer-involved shootings, and for expanding its Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) training for better police interactions and outcomes for people with mental illness. The report recommended that CIT-trained officers (27% of dept.) be distributed across all shifts and districts. CIT-trained cops should also be identified at the start of each shift, so that dispatchers can respond to calls about people suffering from mental health crises with the appropriate officers.

“I applaud the City of San Francisco for stepping forward to take a critical look at the policies and practices within the San Francisco Police Department,” said COPS Office Director Ronald Davis. “This report makes clear the significant challenges that lie ahead for the police department and the city.”

The COPS Office will continue to work with the SFPD for the next 18 months on implementing these recommendations. During that time, the COPS Office will release two more reports on the progress of the reform process.

“I’m proud to report that the San Francisco Police Department will accept and implement every, single recommendation,” said Mayor Lee. “We must restore trust, and these measures are important steps forward.”

Posted in Department of Justice, Police, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Many Mourn Respected LA Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, Slain in Lancaster

October 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Like many in Los Angeles County, we are devastated at the news of the fatal shooting of highly-respected Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, 53,
who died on Wednesday after being shot by a suspect while responding to a call about a residential burglary in Lancaster.

We will have a full story about Sergeant Owen late tonight. In the meantime, our thoughts go out to Sergeant Owen’s wife, his two grown sons, his step-daughter, extended family and friends, and the many members of the Los Angeles County law enforcement community who knew Steve Owens as a friend and colleague, plus the members of the wider LA County community, many of whom also knew and valued him, and whom he protected and served for 29 years.

Posted in LASD, Life in general, Uncategorized | No Comments »

“Shout Her Name!” – Demonstration Over Suicides at California Institution For Women (CIW) Aims to Raise Pressure on CDCR

October 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Cars full of protesters started showing up in the early afternoon on Saturday, October 1,
in front of the California Institution for Woman, the Chino, California prison that this year has become best known for a plague of suicides and suicide attempts.

By 2:45 pm around 80 people had arrived at the vigil, many carrying signs, most of the demonstrators women themselves, some of them former inmates. Others were family members of inmates. Many wore T-shirts with the names of the prisoners who have died at their own hands at CIW. Some of the names were written, as has become the fashion, with hashtags: #ShayleneGraves #ErikaRocha #AliciaThompson #ShadaeSchmidt #StephanieFeliz #MargaritaMurugia #LauraAnnRamos #GuiFeiZhang…

Since the beginning of 2013, through this past summer, six women have succeeded in killing themselves at CIW. During that same period, there have been 73 serious attempts, according to the last figures from the California Department of Corrections, although advocate groups like the Coalition for Women Prisoners believe the attempt numbers are much higher. And the attempts themselves are often very serious indeed, like the hanging attempt last spring that reportedly put a woman in a coma.

The suicide rates at CIW are reportedly five times the state average, and nearly five times the national average for all female inmates in state prisons.

According to the vigil’s organizers, the protesters had come to demand that the California Department of Corrections(CDCR) and CIW be “held responsible” for verbal abuse, sexual abuse, emotional isolation, unchecked bullying, neglect and unresponsive mental health care that prison advocates believe has allowed so many deaths—and near deaths—in CIW custody to occur.

(In August, former imate DeEtta Williamsfiled a lawsuit alleging daily sexual abuse by a guard for six months during her stay at CIW.)

“I don’t want any other family to go through what my family has gone through,” Freida Rocha told the smattering of reporters who came to cover the event. Freida Rocha’s sister Erika Rocha, 35, killed herself in April right before the parole hearing that family members believed would lead to her release.

“My daughter’s death will not go unanswered,” shouted Sheri Graves, the mother of Shaylene Graves, who, at 27, was found hanging in her cell on June 1, after pleading with officials for a “bed move,” explaining that she was being unmercifully bullied. When she died, Shaylene Graves was due to be released in six weeks after having served an eight-year sentence.

“We are here to make sure the world hears their cries,” Sheri Graves said to the crowd. “Their lives matter and they will not die in prison.”

State Sen. Connie M. Leyva, D-Chino, has called upon the state auditor to look into suicides in the troubled prison.

WLA has reported on CIW and the rash of suicides here and here. And be sure to check out stories by the LA Weekly’s Hillel Aron, who has been doing an excellent job following this important issue.


Posted in health care, prison policy, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Bill Roundup—Round 2

September 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, WLA posted a list of noteworthy bills signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown. As the governor decides the fate of dozens of bills each day this week before his September 31 signing (and vetoing) deadline, WLA has gathered a second roundup of relevant justice-related bills we’ve been following this year.


ASSET FORFEITURE REFORM BILL SIGNED

On Thursday, Governor Brown signed an important bill to rein in police officers’ ability to seize money and/or property that may be tied to a crime (usually a drug crime), without due process.

Law enforcement agencies in California and other states circumvent their own states’ forfeiture laws through the controversial federal Equitable Sharing Program, which creates a loophole allowing police, by bringing feds into an investigation, to use seized money as revenue, with only the suspicion that laws have been broken. Across the nation, local agencies are abusing the tool and using it as a cash cow, taking money and property from people who have not been convicted of a crime.

SB 443, introduced by Senator Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), blocks law enforcement from bypassing California’s civil asset forfeiture laws. To take advantage of the controversial Equitable Sharing Program without a conviction, the seized cash must be over $40,000.

“Solutions like SB 443 give communities plagued by injustice some relief,” said Zachary Norris, Executive Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. “Low income people simply do not have the means to hire an attorney to get their lawfully earned cash returned to them. When their money gets taken by law enforcement, it’s a family crisis affecting rent, food, everything.”

Last year, a version of the asset forfeiture reform bill could not survive lobbying from law enforcement groups.

“SB 443 will not only rein in the abuse in California, but also offers a blueprint for workable solutions to other states seeking reforms. We applaud Governor Brown for signing it,” said Mica Doctoroff, a legislative advocate at the ACLU of California Center for Advocacy and Policy.


NO MORE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS ON RAPE

SB 813, a controversial bill that eliminates the statute of limitations for rape and other sex crimes, also made it past Brown’s desk.

The bill, introduced by Senator Connie Leyva (D-Chino), was propelled by the more than 30 rape allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, many of which have passed beyond the current 10-year statute of limitations. The new law will not, however, apply retroactively.


ENSURING VOTING RIGHTS FOR AB 109ERS

Brown also signed a bill that will 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). The bill, AB 2466 by Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), also applies to eligible AB 109ers under county supervision.


ANOTHER WINNER FROM ASSM. WEBER: CALGANG DATABASE OVERHAUL

Thanks to the governor’s signature on AB 2298, people will be notified of their impending inclusion on California’s gang database, CalGang, and will have the opportunity to challenge the designation.

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. Advocates say the vague criteria often have the effect of penalizing people of color for living in the wrong neighborhood.

A recent audit from State Auditor Elain M. Howle found serious errors in the database, which the audit shows lacks necessary state oversight and does not adequately protect the rights of the more than 150,000 people listed in the database.


SIGNED: RESTORATIVE JUSTICE ACT

The Restorative Justice Act, also by Assm. Weber, aims to increase rehabilitation and education programs and make them available for all inmates, not just non-violent offenders.

The bill changes language in a section of the penal code, removing references to punishment as the purpose of incarceration. Now, according to the changes, public safety—which is carried out through rehabilitation, restorative justice practices, and accountability—is the purpose of incarceration.


PROP. 47 DEADLINE EXTENDED

Brown signed another bill introduced by Assm. Weber, AB 2765, , which will extend the deadline for Proposition 47-eligible Californians to get their low-level felony convictions reclassified as misdemeanors. The will give Prop. 47ers seeking to reduce their felony convictions—upon a showing of good cause—an extra five years to apply beyond the current November 2017 deadline.


BILLS TO PROTECT VULNERABLE FOSTER CHILDREN FROM DOCTORS WHO PRESCRIBE PSYCHOTROPIC MEDICATIONS AT ALARMING RATES

The newly signed SB 1174 by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) will trigger regular reports on physicians and their prescribing patterns of psychotropic medications, making it easier for the Medical Board of California to confidentially identify, conduct investigations of, and hold accountable doctors who over-prescribe psychotropic drugs to foster children. (For backstory, read Karen de Sá’s five-part investigative series for the San Jose Mercury News, “Drugging Our Kids,” which inspired SB 1174 and a number of other reform bills and policy changes.)

Governor Brown vetoed another bill that would have increased the requirements for juvenile court authorization of psychotropic meds for child welfare system or probation-involved kids. SB 253 by Senator William W. Monning (D-Carmel) would have required, among other safeguards, second medical opinions for prescriptions to foster kids under five, or in cases of multiple prescriptions. Brown called the bill “premature” in a veto message, and said he wants to wait to see the impact of new juvenile court medication authorization rules from a bill signed last year.


VETOED: BILL TO BAN CONTRACTING WITH FOR-PROFIT PRISONS

Governor Brown vetoed SB 1289, a bill introduced by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), which would have banned cities and counties from contracting with (scandal-plagued) for-profit prison companies to run immigrant detention centers in California. All-told, four municipalities, including cash-strapped city of Adelanto, are currently contracting with private detention centers.

“I have been troubled by recent reports detailing unsatisfactory conditions and limited access to counsel in private immigration detention facilities,” Brown wrote in a veto message. “The Department of Homeland Security, however, is now considering whether private contracting should continue for immigrant detention, and if so under what conditions…These actions indicate that a more permanent solution to this issue may be at hand.”


RECORDING INTERROGATIONS

Under current law, officers must record interrogations of minors suspected of committing murder. SB 1389, a bill from Sen. Steven Glazer (D-Orinda), will expand the rule to include adults accused of murder.

The recording of police interrogations is an important safeguard against false confessions, which land innocent people behind bars, sometimes for decades.


UNCORRUPTED AUTOPSIES

SB 1189, signed by Brown on Wednesday, aims to reduce the political pressure leveraged against forensic pathologists, and would require all autopsies to be carried out by a licensed physician and surgeon. Introduced by Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), the bill will also force law enforcement agencies to hand over all information about a death to those conducting an autopsy prior to the close of an investigation. This KQED story by Julie Small gives some alarming context as to why this bill is such an important reform.


“YES” TO COMPASSIONATE RELEASE

SB 955, a bill from Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose), will give state hospitals the power to grant compassionate releases for terminally ill or incapacitated patients who are charged with a crime but found unfit to stand trial.

Posted in children and adolescents, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Foster Care, Gangs, Restorative Justice, Sentencing, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Baca Wants Lead Prosecutor, Federal Judge AND City of LA Disqualified

September 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



In a string of motions filed early this week, Nathan Hochman,
the attorney for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, claimed that lead government prosecutor Brandon Fox plus U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson should both be recused from Baca’s upcoming trial that is scheduled to begin on December 6 of this year.

In addition Hochman has argued that Baca’s trial must be moved to another part of the state of California. Due to the “constant, inflammatory, and far-reaching media coverage surrounding this matter,” Baca’s legal team writes, “a trial within the Central District of California, particularly within Los Angeles County, will violate Mr. Baca’s due process rights.”

The defense went on to say that, if legal proceedings remain in Los Angeles, the former sheriff could not get a fair trial, due to “a tsunami of highly prejudicial media coverage of the case.” Thus, attorney Hochman would like proceedings to be transferred to, say, Sacramento, or Fresno, or San Diego. 
 And failing that, they would settle for Riverside or Orange counties.



DUMPING THE JUDGE

The former sheriff’s attorneys—present and past-–hinted when Baca’s plea deal was falling apart that they might make a push to remove Judge Percy Anderson from the case if Baca ended up going to trial. Now that Baca’s trial date is set, he and his attorney, Nathan Hochman, are making a forceful pitch for Anderson’s removal.

Hochman’s argument for recusing Anderson centers around statements that the judge made when he rejected Baca’s plea deal, which the defense argues makes clear ”that the Court predetermined that Mr. Baca is guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice,” even though, at the time, the former sheriff had yet to be indicted on those charges.

Mr. Baca, if you’ll remember, pleaded guilty in February to one count of lying to federal officials. In return for his plea, he was to receive a sentence of between 0 and 6 months in prison.

Judge Anderson rejected the plea because of the low sentencing range, saying it trivialized the harm that Baca had done to the department and to the community at large.

Anderson arguably had reason, at the time, to knowledgably make such statements since he was the judge who presided over the trial of the six former department members who were previously convicted of obstruction of justice for allegedly getting in the way of the FBI’s investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, plus the two different trials of former LASD deputy James Sexton, who was convicted of the same charges. Perhaps, most significantly, Anderson presided over the trial of Paul Tanaka, where the part that Lee Baca did or did not play in allegedly trying to derail a federal investigation repeatedly came up in testimony.

Now the defense points to statements such as this one below, which Anderson made at one of this summer’s sentencing hearings, as the reason why he should not preside over the trial of the man who ran the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, when those previously convicted of obstruction engaged in the actions, and followed the orders, that led to their convictions.

Anderson: It’s one thing to lie to an AUSA; it’s another thing entirely, as the evidence has shown, where the chief law enforcement officer of the County of Los Angeles is involved in a wide-ranging conspiracy to cover up abuse and corruption occurring in the Men’s Central Jail.

Hochman and company contend that there is no reasonable way Anderson can remain. “Even if the Court were to offer that it could put these predeterminations aside, the standard for recusal is whether the Court’s appearance of impartiality may be reasonably questioned, not whether the Court is actually biased against Mr. Baca. “

The defense also considered it problematic that Anderson was a member of the Christopher Commission, the independent commission that investigated misconduct in the Los Angeles Police Department leading up to the Rodney King beating.

“Some general determinations of the Christopher Commission include,” wrote Hochman, “[t]he failure to control [certain] officers is a management issue that is at the heart of the problem…”


THE LEAD PROSECUTOR AS WITNESS

The lengthiest motion—56-pages—was reserved for Baca and company’s legal pitch to have the government’s lead prosecutor, Brandon Fox, removed from the prosecution’s team because the defense says it plans to call Fox as an important witness.

Attorney Hochman’s argument about what he describes as Fox’s importance on the witness stand centers around the interview with Baca by the feds that took place on April 12, 2013, during which the former sheriff allegedly lied to two federal prosecutors, one of them Fox, along two FBI agents, about his knowledge and participation in departmental actions in the late summer of 2011 that would ultimate form the basis for all the obstruction of justice cases against members of the sheriff’s department.

In addition to being charged with obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, Baca is charged with four counts of lying to federal officials, based on what he said in that interview in the spring of 2013.

Hochman contends that, as the main questioner of Baca, Fox can testify uniquely about the former sheriff’s physical and mental state as he answered questions during the four and a half hour interview, “since part of Mr. Baca’s defense….will rely on the impairment of his memory as a result of his Alzheimer’s disease, to remember in April 2013 what occurred twenty months before in August and September 2011.”

Hochman also wants to ask Fox why he decided to only audiotape the interview rather than video-taping it, when video “would be able to show whether Mr. Baca showed signs of tiredness, confusion, or lucidity…” and more.

Another question the defense feels it is crucial to ask Fox is “why he failed at the beginning of the interview, in contrast to other interviews he conducted in the investigation, to admonish Mr. Baca that although he was not under oath, he could be prosecuted for any false statement made to the FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office. “

(One might wonder why a four-time elected sheriff who headed up the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for a decade and a half should need to be warned that lying to federal officials was against the law, whether under oath or not, but that’s a matter that will no doubt be taken up at the December trial.)

Since Fox was the lead prosecutor on all the obstruction of justice cases against former members of the sheriff’s department, along with several of the cases involving alleged brutality by former sheriff’s deputies, one presumes the prosecution team would be very loathe to lose him.

“All Mr. Baca wants is a fair trial that has a fair judge, a fair prosecutor and a fair jury,” Hochman told Matt Reynolds of the Courthouse News Service on Tuesday. “If he receives that fair trial he believes that he will prevail.”

Two of these matters will be taken up in a hearing in the courtroom of Judge Percy Anderson on October 31, Halloween.

The recusal of Anderson has been referred to another federal judge, Michael W. Fitzgerald



MEANWHILE, ON WEDNESDAY JUDGE ANDERSON RULES THAT PAUL TANAKA MUST REPORT TO PRISON WHILE HE WAITS FOR HIS APPEAL

At a Wednesday hearing, Judge Percy Anderson ruled that Paul Tanaka cannot remain out of prison while he waits to for the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to rule his appeal.

However, the next step is for Tanaka and his lawyers to appeal Anderson’s decision to the 9th, which will keep Tanaka from having to report to a federal lock-up.

Joel Rubin at the Los Angeles Times has more on the ruling, and the appeal to come.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

Since 2013, No Complaints of Biased Policing Have Been Sustained by LAPD

September 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LAPD COMMISSIONER WANTS “REAL AND MEANINGFUL DIALOGUE” ABOUT BIAS WITHIN THE DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission passed a motion calling for an in-depth look at how the LAPD deals with bias complaints from citizens. Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill introduced the motion after an Internal Affairs Quarterly Report revealed that, once again, the department has not upheld any complaints of biased policing, which includes a racial, gender, disability, anti-LGBTQ, and other forms of discrimination.

According to the latest IA report, there were 209 reports of biased policing in the first half of 2016, none of which were sustained. In fact, none of the more than 1,500 citizen complaints of bias since 2013 have been upheld by the department.

The motion directs department officials to compare the LAPD’s results and complaint-handling processes with those of police departments in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Baltimore. Department officials will collect information on how each department defines biased policing or racial profiling, the number of complaints against officers and how many of those complaints were upheld, as well as how many sworn each department has and the demographics of the cities they police.

Officials are to report back to the commission at a community meeting to be held on November 1.

“My goal here is to get us beyond the limitations, which seem obvious, of relying on a single metric, that is to say just the numbers captured” by the quarterly IA reports, McClain-Hill said.

The motion also seeks information on how the LAPD identifies bias in potential officers during the recruitment process, and what kind—and how many hours—of training recruits in the academy receive regarding biased policing and implicit bias. McClain-Hill also requests a status update on implicit bias training provided to active officers.

While McClain Hill said she hopes for “real and meaningful dialogue to serve as the basis for real and meaningful policymaking, she also stressed that the focus on bias does not imply that officers are showing up to work “for any reason other than to do the very best they can protecting this city.”

Posted in LAPD, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Case Against LASD Deputy Dismissed…Different Views on Capital Punishment in CA…Jobs for Foster Youth

September 9th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

DEADLOCKED JURY LEADS TO DISMISSAL OF CASE AGAINST DEPUTY WHO REPORTEDLY LIED ABOUT ARREST

On Wednesday, LA Superior Court Judge C.H. Rehm dismissed a criminal case against Gregory Rodriguez, an LA County Sheriff’s deputy accused of perjury and of filing a false police report justifying the arrest of Christopher Gray by claiming that the man attempted to free people who were in police custody. Following a week-long trial that ended in a deadlocked jury (eight of twelve jurors voted not guilty), prosecutors from the LA County DA’s Justice System Integrity Division announced on Wednesday that they could not proceed and would drop the charges against Rodriguez.

The trial, which started July 29, included video evidence that prosecutors said proved Rodriguez lied about Gray’s actions leading up to the arrest. In the video, Gray appears to be calmly watching deputies make an arrest before Rodriguez confronted him and arrested him. (You can watch clips from the video footage here.) In an interview with NBC LA, Roger Clark, a police procedures consultant and former LASD lieutenant called the false reporting intentional, saying, “This should have been caught early, early on.”

Gray, who reportedly sustained a serious shoulder injury during the arrest and lost his job while he spent five days in jail on a felony charge, settled with the sheriff’s department for around $550,000. The LA County Board of Supervisors still has to approve the settlement amount.

If Rodriguez had been convicted, the (former) deputy would have faced up to four years and eight months behind bars.


CONSIDERING CALIFORNIA’S COMPETING CAPITAL PUNISHMENT BALLOT MEASURES

In November, California voters will decide between two competing ballot initiatives—one to abolish the death penalty in the state, and the other to speed up the appeals process for those sentenced to death.

The two measures have created considerable buzz. Critics of Proposition 66 argue that truncating the appeals process could lead to the execution of innocent people.

In an op-ed for the San Diego Union Tribune, co-founder of the California Innocence Project, Justin Brooks, tells the cautionary story of Bill Richards, a former death row inmate who was exonerated after 23 years. The decades it took to prove that Richards did not kill his wife and to free him from death row is not unusual, either. Seven of the last ten death row exonerations nationwide occurred after inmates had been on death row for more than 25 years. And more than 150 people have been declared innocent after a death sentence in the United States. Here’s a clip:

The jury in the third and final trial relied on highly questionable evidence: a thread allegedly found under the victim’s fingernail that matched Bill’s shirt; unscientific blood splatter evidence; and testimony by an expert that an alleged bite mark on Pamela’s body matched Bill.

After years of litigation, the California Innocence Project was finally able to get access to and testing of all of the crime scene evidence. Based on photos taken during the autopsy, there was substantial evidence that the blue fiber from Bill’s shirt was planted under Pamela’s fingernails. DNA testing of hair found under Pamela’s fingernails proved it did not match her nor Bill. Male DNA found on the murder weapon also did not match Bill. Finally, the actual prosecution expert who testified at trial that Bill’s teeth matched the bite mark recanted his trial testimony and admitted it was false.

After a lengthy habeas hearing, where all of this evidence was presented, a judge who was a former tough-on-crime prosecutor reversed Bill’s conviction. That was nine years ago. Shortly thereafter, the reversal was reversed with the California Supreme Court ruling that expert testimony cannot be deemed false, even when the expert himself admits it was false. Bill remained in prison for nine more years, battling cancer, while the California Innocence Project and others fought to change the law which finally resulted in Bill’s release this past June — after 23 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The same opportunity to prove innocence in California may not be available to defendants sentenced to death in the future if Proposition 66 passes this November. Under Proposition 66, arbitrary timelines will be established and there may not be time within those timelines to prove innocence. The initiative would also require inexperienced attorneys to represent individuals facing the death penalty, even though ineffective assistance of counsel is one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions.

Another example of alleged prosecutorial misconduct leading to questionable convictions is the scandal-plagued Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Read the latest in that saga: here.

Gary Tyler, a black man who was wrongfully convicted at 16 in 1974 of murdering a white high school cheerleader, supports Prop. 62—the bill to get rid of the death penalty. The Supreme Court overturned Tyler’s death sentence within two years, but Tyler spent more than four decades in prison with a life sentence before he was exonerated. Listen to Tyler speak out in support of Prop. 62 on Midday Edition.

For the most part, the death row reform bill has the support of law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, and other justice system groups.

But some inmates used to death row after spending decades behind bars, are anxious about the potential of rejoining the general population of prisoners, the LA Times’ Paige St. John reports. Here’s a clip:

Perry’s worries include being moved from San Quentin, where he has struck up friendships with a college professor and a poet who visit and mentor him in theology and prose. How, he wonders, does that happen if you are a lifer locked away in the north woods at Crescent City’s Pelican Bay?

And he worries that men, “after being here chained up like monkeys and animals in a cage,” will have trouble adjusting to yards where violence is frequent.

“I’ll have to hurt someone,” was the immediate reaction of James Thompson, 64, grizzled and sitting in a tennis-court-size exercise yard. A guard stood overhead with a loaded rifle while a line of aging, heavily tattooed men in white boxer shorts paced in military precision.

On a new yard he will have to “re-establish” himself. After 20 years, Thompson is “comfortable” on East Block.

He is experienced in the differences between death row and ordinary prison. Before he robbed and killed a man in California, Thompson served a long stretch locked up in Texas, also for murder. What rubs him about California is the 20 years his appeal has been in limbo. He agrees with other condemned inmates who favor the ballot proposal to keep the death penalty but speed appeals.

“If you are going to execute me, execute me,” Thompson said. “But if you are going to let me go, let me go.”

Death row experts said states that have repealed the death penalty have successfully absorbed the condemned into their general populations, though in Connecticut, two killers had to be sent to Pennsylvania to ensure their safety.


BILL INTRODUCED IN HOUSE WOULD INCENTIVIZE THE HIRING OF FOSTER YOUTH

Under a new House bill employers would be eligible to receive annual tax credits for hiring current and former foster youth.

The Improved Employment Outcomes for Foster Youth Act, introduced Thursday, would grant federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit up to $2,400 per year for employers who hire people between the ages of 18 and 27 who were in foster care on their sixteenth birthday.

If an employer kept a hire from the time the employee was 18 through 26, a total of $21,600 in credits could be claimed.

The bipartisan-supported bill, which was introduced by five members of the House Ways and Means Committee, was inspired by a partnership in California between a non-profit, iFoster, and Raley’s, a grocery chain, which has grown to include a manufacturing company called Mondelez International and Starbucks.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

“We pursued this path and the creation of this bill because when we talked to employers, they were not interested in the subsidized work internships or subsidized employment,” said Serita Cox, the co-founder and executive director of iFoster, who has helped develop the legislation. “Instead, they felt strongly about the tax credit offered to veterans.”

The iFoster program worked with transition-age, kinship and crossover youth ages 16 to 24 in a seven-step program that involves a screening and interview process. iFoster completes a pre-employment phase with a cohort of potential employees before they interview and start working at the company.

“The caliber of the youths and the success they’re having on the job has been tremendous,” said iFoster co-founder Reid Cox. “One of the key issues here is that none of this is trying to offset that these kids are bad employees. It’s just to level the playing field.”

Sean Hughes, a child welfare consultant who helped develop the legislation, said “at least” 100,000 youths and young adults who spent time in foster care would be WOTC eligible. The number might be far higher, based on federal foster care data from 2014.

There were 22,392 exited foster care due to “emancipation” in fiscal 2014, according to federal data. Assuming that is about average, approximately 201,000 workers would be eligible in any year.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 23 Comments »

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

August 19th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

DAYS AFTER INSPECTOR GENERAL’S REPORT SHOWS PROBLEMS AT FEDERAL PRIVATE PRISONS, DOJ CALLS FOR BUREAU OF PRISONS TO DETACH FROM FOR-PROFIT PRISON COMPANIES

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.


BILL TO STRICTLY LIMIT USE OF SOLITARY CONFINEMENT FOR JUVENILES MAKING ITS WAY TO GOV. BROWN FOR SIGNATURE

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.


EXAMINING RACIAL BIAS TRAINING AMONG LA COUNTY LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES

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

CALIFORNIA ARRESTED FEWER KIDS AND YOUNG ADULTS IN 2015 THAN 2014

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.


BILL TO HOLD BACK VIDEO AND AUDIO OF OFFICER DEATHS

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.


STATUS UPDATES ON OTHER NOTEWORTHY CALIFORNIA BILLS

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.

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