Friday, February 12, 2016
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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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Santa Clara Solitary Confinement Lawsuit, San Diego Makes Changes After Suicide in Juvie Lock-up, CA Leads on Lowering Suspension Rates, and Prop. 47 Funds

November 24th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Two Santa Clara County Jail inmates have filed a federal class action lawsuit challenging the county’s use of solitary confinement as inhumane and in violation of inmates’ constitutional rights.

The complaint alleges Santa Clara jails isolate “hundreds of men and women in tiny, filthy concrete jail cells” for 22-24 hours per day, only allowing three hours of exercise in a concrete yard each week. The Santa Clara inmates who filed the lawsuit, Brian Chavez and Brandon Bracamonte, say the men and women are held in solitary confinement indefinitely, and left in their cells for 47 or more hours at a time, causing serious psychological damage.

Both Chavez and Bracamonte are pretrial detainees. Chavez was indicted on conspiracy, narcotics, and gang charges, and Bracamonte was indicted on conspiracy, robbery, and gang charges. Chavez says that he was stripped of his trustee status one day and thrown into solitary confinement with no explanation. Chavez says that he has had no serious jail infractions. The county accused Bracamonte of participating in a “gang assault,” but later backed down, saying there was no credible evidence of Bracamonte’s participation. The two men accuse the county of not giving them access to the “yard,” depriving them of fresh air and sunshine, for seven months. Both men say their prolonged isolation has caused them severe psychological damage.

“People isolated in tiny jail cells for 22 to 24 hours every day become depressed and suicidal. Those with pre-existing mental illness suffer from worsening symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia,” stated Kelly Knapp, a staff attorney at the Prison Law Office. “To make matters worse,” Knapp continued, “many of these men and women did nothing to deserve being placed in solitary confinement in the first place.”


In 2013, 16-year-old Rosemary Summers hanged herself with a bed sheet while locked up at Kearny Mesa Juvenile Detention Facility. Rosemary was reportedly left hanging for several minutes before guards were able to locate the proper tools to cut her down. She died four days later.

Rosemary had been in and out of juvenile detention for about a year-and-a-half following an arrest for marijuana possession and resisting arrest. Her final arrest, in 2013, occurred because she violated probation by not telling her probation officer that she was attending a rally for Travon Martin, the Florida teenager who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer.

San Diego County officials have agreed to pay $1 million to settle a lawsuit from the Summers family alleging San Diego County Probation Department employees made errors that led to Rosemary’s death. According to the suit, Rosemary was overmedicated, possibly contributing to increased suicidal thoughts. The detention facility was understaffed on the night Rosemary killed herself, and sent her to her room alone when she was upset.

San Diego County authorities said Rosemary’s death was the first suicide by a kid in a San Diego County detention facility in 32 years. An NBC 7 investigation found that suicide attempts in San Diego juvenile facilities jumped from eight in 2011 to 25 in 2013.

The county has started making changes to prevent other adolescent suicides. The changes include splitting doors to the kids’ rooms in half (so that unless privacy is needed, the top half of the door will be left open), removing door hinges that made doors swing shut automatically, and covering up vents.

San Diego reportedly plans to make other important changes, like installing cameras at the Girls’ Rehabilitation Facility, improving inter-agency communication about minors in custody and mental health, increasing access to mental health services at the girls’ facility, and making it easier for families to visit locked-up juveniles.

NBC 7′s JW August and Lynn Walsh have the story. Here’s a clip:

Summers spent a year and a half in and out of the juvenile facility after first being arrested for possession of marijuana and resisting arrest. Her last arrest occurred when she attended a 2013 rally for Trayvon Martin, the African American teen fatally shot by a neighborhood watch captain in Florida, and didn’t tell her probation officer.

Her family previously spoke to NBC 7 Investigates and described Summers as a sassy and sensitive young lady; a young woman trying to find herself.

NBC 7 Investigates attempted to talk to a member of Summers’ family Thursday but the family’s attorney Gerald Singleton said the relative was too distraught to speak.


Singleton said his legal team used over 30 depositions and other “overwhelming” evidence to reveal how the suicide came to take place.

According to documents submitted for mediation, the juvenile officers “didn’t know their policies about suicide and didn’t train the line workers on these policies.”

“If they just had done that, trained on their policies and followed the policies, Rosemary would still be alive,” Singleton said.

The night of her death, when Summers asked to talk to one of the guards, a guard looked at her and said, “Yeah, she is distressed, I need to talk to her,” according to the mediation documents. The guard asked her supervisor’s permission to talk to Rosemary but the supervisor told her “no.”

“You just don’t do that,” Singleton said. “You have a kid who has tried to commit suicide twice. And the supervisor says no.”

According to Singleton, the 16-year-old kept a journal in which she described her pain and confusion. The journal was part of a timeline of statements and behaviors which was submitted as part of the evidence.


California school districts greatly reduced the number of suspensions issued between 2011-2014, according to a study from UCLA’s Civil Rights Project.

The study looked at the connection between suspension rates, which dropped from 709,580 in the 2011-2012 school year to 503,101 in 2013-2014, and performance on California’s Academic Performance Index (which was ended in 2013).

Not surprisingly, lower suspension rates were connected with better academic outcomes for kids, and that correlation was especially strong for black students who saw the largest reduction in suspensions (but are still suspended at higher rates than their white peers).

“If we are serious about closing the achievement gap we need to make serious efforts to close the discipline gap,” said Daniel Losen, Director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies and lead author of the study. “Most important, the study suggests that, as discipline reform expands, there is no reason to assume achievement will suffer.”

“There’s been a general movement across the nation [to lower suspensions] and California has been among the leaders,” said Losen.


Official state funds from California’s Proposition 47, which downgraded six low-level felonies to misdemeanors, will not be made available until August 2016. Critics say that one of the law’s flaws is the two-year delay in funds meant to increase rehabilitation and re-entry programs and diversion efforts.

An LA Times editorial says that the wait for state funding doesn’t mean those important programs have to wait. Instead, the Times editorial board says, counties could already be using the money they save from a reduction in felony cases, and initiating policy changes that make better use of freed-up prosecutorial manpower and other resources.Here’s a clip:

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office studied the numbers and projected savings to counties from Proposition 47 at “hundreds of millions of dollars.” Counties could choose, right now, to spend their savings on all those rehab and reentry programs that critics say are not yet funded.

Because the savings mostly come in the form of reductions in workload, though, they won’t easily translate into cash unless they are accompanied by sufficient staff reductions to keep the per-employee caseload constant. Most of a county’s costs are in payroll.

But even without workforce reductions — and just to be clear, The Times does not advocate layoffs — the decrease in caseload has a value that presents itself in the form of policy choices. With fewer felonies to prosecute, for example, the district attorney could choose to lighten each individual lawyer’s caseload, or take on felony cases the office previously would have let go. Or assign more lawyers to commendable new programs like the unit to review wrongful convictions or the task force working to provide treatment instead of incarceration for mentally ill people accused of crimes. Or assign more lawyers — or fewer — to the important task of reviewing petitions by inmates now serving felony time for crimes that Proposition 47 turned into misdemeanors.

Transforming the reduced prosecutorial and incarceration caseload into an increased drug rehab and reentry services caseload would require some creativity. But the first step is to quantify the savings and acknowledge the choices.

Los Angeles County has not yet done that. It is in the nature of bureaucracy — especially public bureaucracy — for increases in workload to be accompanied by demands for more funding but decreases in workload to be absorbed without anyone offering up or even acknowledging their savings. Spending decisions are still made, of course, but absent public discussion, they are generally made by default. They should instead be made deliberately and publicly by the Board of Supervisors, the district attorney and the sheriff, as well as by nonelected county officials, with full acknowledgment of the costs and benefits of selecting one option over another.

Service providers who are working hard to help eligible applicants clean up their felony records and apply for housing and jobs argue that the county has funding to help them but is instead spending it on prosecuting and jailing. More than a year after voters adopted Proposition 47, they ask, where is the county implementation plan that acknowledges the savings and brings advocates, community groups and providers to the table to discuss policy choices?

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas are working on such a plan, which is expected to come before the full board this month. It is a belated but welcome step in the right direction.

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“Fake” Classes Lawsuit Settled, Training Campus Cops to Work With Kids, & LASD Excessive Force Allegations

November 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Thursday, the state of California settled a landmark lawsuit on behalf of California high school students who wasted valuable education time because they were assigned fake, empty classes.

Under the Cruz v. State of California settlement, the California Department of Education, the Board of Education, and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson will start work immediately to make sure that students at low-income schools, such as the six schools named, “are provided the same equal access to educational opportunities regardless of zip code or income,” according to a statement from Public Counsel, one of the law firms that filed the suit along with the ACLU of Southern California, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

The settlement is an add-on to AB 1012, a bill signed last month by CA Gov. Jerry brown that bans school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester with some exceptions, (which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others).

Thursday’s settlement “ends the practices in certain California underperforming high schools of assigning students to sham classes, garbage detail, mindless errands, and even dismissing students early, instead of enrollment in rigorous classes needed for graduation,” and to “compete successfully for higher education and productive jobs,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.

Specifically the settlement will require the development of systems to monitor when kids are assigned these non-instructional classes. For the next two years, the state also must provide tech support and other assistance to the six schools in LA, Compton, and Oakland if they experience scheduling problems or if there are too many kids assigned to fake classes.

Public Counsel and ACLU SoCal filed the lawsuit last year, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

In response to the settlement, David Sapp, director of education advocacy at ACLU SoCal, said, “We commend the state education agencies for working with us to develop a process for providing support and assistance to schools that clearly were struggling with one of the most important functions of a school: to educate students for the full school day.”

We at WLA have been closely following this issue. Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)


Twelve states, including California, require specific training for officers to complete before they can work in schools. But the training varies across the states and does not always include material on how to work with students and how to address trauma and de-escalate confrontations with kids in crisis and kids with disabilities.

The Atlantic’s Mark Keierleber takes a look at the issue, and why schools rely so heavily on police officers to discipline kids. Here are some clips:

There are about 19,000 sworn police officers stationed in schools nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates, and stories about their school-discipline disasters cross Mo Canady’s desk all the time.

“The first thing I do is search our database to see ‘Did this person come through our training?’” said Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which offers specialized training to SROs—primarily on a voluntary basis. “And the answer is consistently ‘no.’”

Confrontations between armed police officers and students in schools are becoming more frequent—arrests are up according to an August report for the National Association of State Boards of Education—and more high-profile because of both cell phones and social media. They are also being increasingly scrutinized for bias and alleged brutality in the same way as encounters on the street have become between cops and adult civilians.

These incidents, youth-rights activists and federal officials argue, show that the school resource officers lack the proper training needed to interact effectively with children, especially when they are black, Hispanic, or disabled. The very students, advocates say, are being funneled from the classroom to the courtroom.


Little data has been collected on the level of training officers receive. Only 12 states have laws that specify training requirements for officers deployed to classrooms, and those laws are inconsistent: Some states mandate training on how to respond to an active shooter. Fewer focus on dealing with children differently than adults.

“All officers are getting a certain level of training that they’re required to get as police officers,” said Nina Salomon, a senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “The additional training that we’re talking about—on youth development, on working with youth, on prevention and de-escalation—hasn’t typically been received by the majority of law enforcement that work with youth inside a school building, or that are called to campus.”

In districts like Richmond, CA, and Los Angeles, SROs take comprehensive trauma-informed course from a nonprofit called Strategies for Youth that includes information on how kids brains develop, and training for recognizing and addressing implicit bias as well as mental illness and substance abuse, without using force unnecessarily.

A Los Angeles Police Department detective, Richard Askew, said his time as an educator and as an SRO influenced his understanding of the way children behave and interact with authority.

Before joining the LAPD, Askew worked for two years at a charter school serving at-risk students aged 16-24 who were unable to stay engaged with traditional or alternative methods. Joining LAPD’s juvenile narcotics division, Askew was planted in L.A. schools as an undercover investigator.

In 2009, he joined LAPD’s mental-evaluation unit, a partnership with the department of mental health to interact with people who struggle from mental-health issues. He also became a Strategies for Youth trainer.

“SROs generally have a pretty big impact on campuses for students because of their authority positions and how they’re perceived,” Askew said.

Once an officer is selected as an SRO, they receive in-house training on school-district policies and procedures and 40 hours of SRO training from the state police academy, he said. Just a few months ago, all of the department’s officers were taught how to avoid implicit bias.

California does have a law setting training requirements for SROs. But until standardized training is required, most of the officers who do seek additional coursework are acting out of common sense, Canady said. Police departments would ensure officers in investigations units are properly trained.

So why not those who work in schools?

“Officers working in schools, just out of the nature of the assignment, are going to become the most well-known police officers or sheriff’s deputies in your community, and you’d better have some additional training for them, and you’d better make sure it’s the right person,” Canady said, “or you’re going to wind up potentially giving your department a black eye.”


The family of a Lynwood father and son who were bystanders arrested by Los Angeles County deputies in March says that newly surfaced footage shows deputies using excessive force on the two men. In the video taken by neighbors, officers appear to use pepper spray, a baton, and a taser while arresting Marco Arevalo and his father, who were charged with rioting and resisting arrest. The family’s lawyer says the video tells a much different story than the deputies’ account, and calls for a federal investigation into the incident.

ABC7′s Carlos Granda has the story. Here’s a clip:

The video shows deputies arresting one person on the sidewalk outside a home as two other men, Marco Arevalo and his father, stand nearby.

Arevalo and his father are then told to go inside their home by deputies.

A few seconds later, video allegedly shows deputies tossing the father over a bush, then hitting his son with a baton.

Deputies then appear to use pepper spray, and a taser the son.

The family claims deputies lied about what happened.

“Deputy Shaffer, who arrives last, says that my client was trying to run inside the house, that the baton strikes did nothing to stop him and that he was in fear that my client would go in the house and get a weapon,” the family’s attorney Michael Carrillo said. “As you can see the baton strikes did have an effect, they dropped him.”

Carrillo said the deputies even testified at a court hearing that Arevalo and his father were threatening them.

The father and son faced charges of rioting and resisting an officer, but Carrillo said the video changed everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

New Child Welfare Czar, Teen’s Transformation in Juvie Probation Camp, and Oprah Interviews Bryan Stevenson

November 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, in a 4-1 decision, the LA County Board of Supervisors officially appointed Judge Michael Nash as the county’s child welfare czar.

Starting in January, Judge Nash will take over as head of the county’s Office of Child Protection, a position recommended 18 months ago by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system.

“I’m humbled by the fact that you’ve come to me and asked me to tackle this really important work,” Nash told the board members.

Nash also told the Supes he was anxious to work with them to “help our child protection system here in Los Angeles County—if not achieve its true potential in how we help children and families—come a lot closer than we are today.”

Nash’s experience includes serving as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court. Before that, Nash served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and DCFS, here.)

“When I first became judge of the juvenile court in 1997,” Nash continued. “I pledged that I would do everything I could to foster greater communication, cooperation, and coordination among all of those entities that work with children and families in Los Angeles County. This position requires that. And I expect to hit the ground running and do exactly the same thing, and hopefully we’ll have some really positive results.

The final decision to hire Nash followed months of delays and deliberation.

The lone dissenter, Supervisor Don Knabe issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “Change takes time and we certainly have more to do. What I would hope the County gets out of this lengthy process is someone who will work with the Department and help them continue to be successful. I would be sorely disappointed if all we get are more reports and more unsolicited criticism. Our most vulnerable children deserve better.”

Over at the Chronicle of Social Change, Daniel Heimpel has more on the story, which includes a few rumors and other issues Nash will face as he heads into the new office. Here’s how it opens:

Despite swirling rumors about the potential fallout of Los Angeles County’s Tuesday 4-1-vote to hire Judge Michael Nash as its director of child protection, key players in child welfare and county government do not see it that way.

Top of these rumors was that Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) Director Philip Browning would step down if Nash were selected to head the Office of Child Protection (OCP.)

“Don’t believe all the rumors you may hear,” Browning said in an email. “I have always had a good personal relationship with Judge Nash.”

“I imagine the rumors were generated because as I recall Judge Nash was frustrated with the increase in child detentions a few years ago and believed that more children should remain at home and made comments to the news media. I have always said that children should remain in their own home if that can be done safely. Our highest priority is child safety.”

Another bit of gossip was that outgoing OCP Interim Director Fesia Davenport had grown frustrated about the lengthy hiring process of the permanent director and had withdrawn her name from consideration.

“I had heard the speculation,” Davenport said in an interview. “What I have told people is that if we sit around speculating all day what will happen, who is watching the front door? What we really need at this point in time is to continue moving in the same direction.”

Further, some sources had suggested that Davenport was next in line to lead DCFS in the event that Browning did indeed leave his post. Instead, Davenport said that she is focused on maintaining a high profile in central county government, and is using her last days as OCP director to illustrate how the office can be an effective tool in driving countywide attention to keeping children safe.



The LA Times’ Teresa Watanabe has a not-to-be-missed longread about Stephanie Valdivia, a teenager once considered a “throwaway” by some, who turned her life around through the Road to Success Academy (RTSA) education program at a juvenile probation camp in Santa Clarita.

After stealing almost $30,000 worth of jewelry and clothes from an elderly one-armed woman, 17-year-old Stephanie found herself locked up at Camp Joseph Scott, a facility for LA’s more serious female juvenile offenders. Camp Scott was Stephanie’s last chance to rehabilitate in the juvenile justice system—a merciful act on the part of a LA County Superior Court judge who denied prosecutors’ efforts to have her tried as an adult.

Stephanie, for whom English was a second language, had struggled in school since kindergarten. She also had a history of serious alcohol and drug abuse dating back to age nine. When Stephanie’s probation officer saw her records and met her for the first time, he thought she was “the worst kid ever,” and asked to have her reassigned.

But things changed for Stephanie when started at the camp’s Road to Success Academy, an award-winning alternative education program that provides hands-on learning focusing on “beauty, power, hope, transformation and new beginnings.” At Camp Scott, learning was suddenly fun. The students built miniature bridges and solar-powered rocket ships to learn math and went on a virtual field trip to the Museum of Tolerance to learn about the Holocaust. Stephanie, once a chronic F-student, started to rake in the A’s and B’s. She improved her reading by five grade levels and her math by six grade levels and graduated high school during her year in the RTSA program.

After witnessing Stephanie’s triumphs and turnaround, probation officer even called her “the best kid I’ve had in 26 years.”

The education program has had such tremendous success at Camp Scott and the adjacent girls Camp Kenyon Scudder, that LA County Office of Education is now in the process of rolling out RTSA at other LA probation camps.

But Stephanie’s reentry back into her neighborhood, near to old friends still caught up in drugs, has been far from an easy transition.

Here’s a clip from Watanabe’s story (but go over to the LA Times for the rest of the story and for the excellent pictures chronicling Stephanie’s journey by photojournalist Barbara Davidson):

Stephanie was stoned on crystal meth when she walked through an unlocked screen door in North Hollywood in May 2013, confronted the one-armed, elderly woman inside and stole nearly $30,000 in jewelry and clothes.

She was also implicated in a residential burglary that day and, a week later, was arrested for burglary at K-Mart.

Stephanie was 17 with a long history of problems. Boozing since she was 9, then on to weed, ecstasy, cocaine, mushrooms, acid, methamphetamine. A Sun Valley High report card riddled with flunking grades and truancies. And a rap sheet of burglaries reaching back to 2010.

The Juvenile Court judges had given her plenty of chances. They had placed her on probation. They had put her under house arrest. They had sent her away to a drug rehabilitation group home. But she had failed to turn her life around.

So when Stephanie got caught for the North Hollywood crimes, L.A. prosecutors had had enough. They moved to try her as an adult, which could have meant years in state prison.

Eileen Pasternak, the North Hollywood robbery victim, also wanted tough action.

“What she did was horrific,” Pasternak said. “I wanted them to throw the book at her.”

But L.A. County Superior Court Judge Robert J. Schuit decided to give Stephanie a final shot at rehabilitation in the juvenile system. In September 2013, he sentenced her to a year at Camp Joseph Scott, a probation facility for girls enclosed by barbed-wire fences amid sagebrush and rolling canyons in Santa Clarita.

Stephanie would be entering a system forced into dramatic change after federal and local investigations found widespread mistreatment and neglect of incarcerated youth.

Since county officials settled a class-action lawsuit involving one of the camps five years ago, the education office has rolled out an award-winning school model that transformed camp instruction, among other reforms. The nation’s largest probation department, meanwhile, is attempting what Chief Jerry Powers calls a sweeping “culture shift” from a disciplinary boot-camp style to a therapeutic approach.

But would it work for Stephanie?

Read on.


Superstar civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson appeared on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday, and we didn’t want you to miss it. Stevenson talks with Oprah about his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, his own journey to mercy, and his work to win freedom for innocent death row inmates and others who have experienced injustice in the justice system through his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative.

Watch the full episode here.

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Prop. 47 and Diversion Courts, Judge Michael Nash Interview, and Solitary in CA Jails

October 30th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Before Prop. 47 reduced certain low-level property and drug-related felonies to misdemeanors, drug courts were a place where people charged with non-violent drug crimes could avoid a felony conviction and time behind bars if they completed a rehabilitation process.

But these drug courts were intended for those who committed felony drug offenses (some of the courts even require a felony for eligibility). Because the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor is one year, there is currently not as much incentive to apply for drug court, or to finish it out, once enrolled.

In the latest installment of the LA Times’ editorial series on Prop. 47, Superior Court Judge Stephen V. Manley, who founded Santa Clara County’s mental health and drug courts, says the current drop in alternative court participation doesn’t mean we should give up on Prop. 47.

Instead, Judge Manley says the reentry courts need to evolve.

Here’s a clip from Judge Manley’s op-ed:

…this trend doesn’t mean we need to throw up our hands or scrap Proposition 47. On the contrary, it suggests that drug courts should adapt, as they have before, to the new order. Because Proposition 47 has downgraded most drug offenses, drug courts should accept those convicted of misdemeanors. Misdemeanors still carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail, more than enough to serve as a disincentive.

Not all existing drug courts work exclusively with felons. Many in California and elsewhere, including my own, already work with lower-level offenders who cannot be sent to state prison. Even when participation is not a prison alternative but merely a required term of probation, drug courts are effective.

A recent report by the Judicial Council found that reentry drug court participants in California who faced a maximum of six months in jail for their violations had their parole revoked less often and ultimately spent significantly less time in prison than a comparison group.

Even without adapting, drug courts can do a lot of good. Drug courts, remember, frequently work with felons who commit crimes other than drug possession — addiction is a common factor in many crimes — and are therefore unaffected by Proposition 47. And Proposition 47 certainly has not reduced these programs’ ability to assist offenders who enter treatment. Success stems from positive reinforcement and motivation, not the hammer of incarceration.


So far, nearly 4,500 people have been released from prison under California’s Prop. 47, which reduced certain non-serious felonies to misdemeanors, according to a study by Stanford Law’s Justice Advocacy Project.

In the coming years, the 2014 law will keep around 3,300 misdemeanor offenders out of prison annually, saving California an estimated $93 million each year, and saving counties $203 million that can be put back into rehabilitation and reentry and alternative court programs. But critics of Prop 47 say that recent upticks in crime points back to the release of so many low-level offenders.

PBS’ Evening Edition host Peggy Pico discussed the study’s findings with two law enforcement officials on either side of the debate: former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who was a major supporter of Prop. 47, and San Diego Chief Deputy DA David Greenberg, who opposed the measure.

Here’s a clip (but you can watch the discussion in the video above):

“The biggest takeaway is approximately 13,000 people have been released from state prisons and county jails,” Milena Blake, staff attorney for the Stanford Law School’s Justice Advocacy Project, told KPBS Midday Edition on Thursday. “That results in pretty significant savings.”

Before Proposition 47, county jails would release inmates before they fulfilled their sentences in order to create more space, said Blake, who co-authored the report.

“Because of the excess room in county jails, people are now able to serve their full sentence,” said Blake, who noted the recidivism rate is about 5 percent statewide.

Former San Diego Police Chief Bill Lansdowne, who backed Proposition 47, said lower inmate populations mean more money for other services.

“We’re the country that incarcerates more people than anyone in the world,” Lansdowne said. “We need to change that. Not everybody needs to go to jail.”


On November 3, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to appoint Judge Michael Nash to be the county’s child welfare czar.

In an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change, Judge Nash discusses his top concerns about the Department of Children and Family Services as awaits final confirmation from the LA Supes. Here’s a clip (and here’s some backstory, in case you missed it):

“No problem can sustain the assault of sustained thinking,” Nash said. “That’s Voltaire, okay. That is the philosophy that has governed how I have worked with others.” He added that his role would primarily be one of a convener, “working with and for a board of supervisors that really cares for children.”


Nash said the county dependency court has been “drowning in petitions” to remove children for the past two years.

“What I want to know is how the department is maximizing its efforts to safely divert families from the court system, so that we can keep families together when appropriate,” he said.

The question of increasing numbers of children entering foster care is one that Nash has been outspoken about. While he did concede that media coverage like that surrounding the death of Gabriel Fernandez could create a situation where DCFS brass grew fearful of keeping kids in their homes, he said that wasn’t a good enough reason.

“The question is, are kids being removed out of fear of political repercussions or are kids being removed because of good social work?” Nash said. “At the end of the day, it has to be the latter. Simple as that.”

Despite his criticisms of the rising number of children entering foster care under Browning’s watch, Nash said that there was no friction between the two of them.

“I don’t have any personal issues with the director of DCFS or anyone else at this point,” Nash said. “Quite frankly, we work together. Have I at times been critical? Yes. But people have misinterpreted that we don’t get along, and that has not been the case.”


In an excellent longread for the Intercept, Kelly Davis takes a closer look at why California jails continue harsh and punitive solitary confinement practices despite major reforms at the state level.

Back in September, California settled Ashker v. Governor, drastically limiting the use of solitary confinement in state prisons. The settlement, while important, had no effect on the 123 county-run jails across the state. Many sheriff’s departments say they are in compliance with the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, or “Title 15.” But as the number of jail inmates who have committed suicide in recent years continues to grow, advocates say Title 15, which only requires three hours of out-of-cell recreation time, needs a serious overhaul.

Here’s a clip from Davis’ story:

California agreed to drastically reduce the use of solitary confinement in its prisons, the result of a 2012 lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed on behalf of inmates at Pelican Bay State Prison, a supermax facility located just south of the California-Oregon border. The lawsuit, Ashker v. Brown, argued that Pelican Bay’s reliance on prolonged, indefinite solitary confinement — one plaintiff had been in isolation for 43 years — was unconstitutional.

To settle the case, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) agreed to system-wide changes, including limiting the use of solitary confinement to punishment for serious rule violations and not, as had been the practice, to house inmates with gang ties. The settlement also establishes procedures to prevent inmates from being held in a prison’s security housing unit, or SHU, indefinitely.

But the Ashker settlement has no bearing on California’s 123 jails and their roughly 73,000 inmates, which are under the control of county sheriffs’ departments.

But while each jail system sets its own policies, those policies are guided by the state’s Minimum Standards for Local Detention Facilities, also known as Title 15. That’s where the policy that allowed Christopher Carroll only one hour of dayroom time every 48 hours comes from. Title 15 recommends that jails allow inmates a minimum of three hours of recreation time each week. “Recreation,” however, isn’t defined, and in urban jails that lack outdoor space, this could mean an hour in a concrete room with nothing but a pull-up bar, or, as watchdog group Prison Law Office found in one county facility, an hour to walk around an empty cell. And even though Title 15 says three hours of out-of-cell time is the minimum for all inmates, in secure housing in many facilities, it’s the standard.

“A lot of staff will say, ‘We meet the Title 15 requirements,’” said Anne Hadreas, a staff attorney at Disability Rights California (DRC), which recently found widespread use of solitary confinement during jail inspections in several California counties. “Our response is that doesn’t actually save you in terms of liability. Just because you have a state regulation doesn’t overcome your constitutional liability.”

The damaging effects of isolation are well-documented, though the focus, understandably, tends to be on prolonged solitary confinement, like that experienced by Pelican Bay inmates who, as social psychologist Craig Haney testified in the Ashker case, experience a “social death” — the loss of the ability to simply interact with people. But even short-term confinement can cause lasting harm. More than a century ago, in an 1890 opinion in a case challenging a Colorado inmate’s placement in solitary confinement, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Freeman Miller described a Philadelphia jail “experiment” that found that inmates placed in isolation for “even a short confinement” fell into “a semi-fatuous condition, from which it was next to impossible to arouse them, and others became violently insane; others still, committed suicide.”

The inmates who didn’t crack in isolation, Miller wrote, “were not generally reformed, and in most cases did not recover sufficient mental activity to be of any subsequent service to the community.”

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Judge Michael Nash Tapped for LA Child Welfare Czar, Prop. 47 Arrests, and the OC Jailhouse Snitch Scandal

October 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, a letter from LA County CEO Sachi Hamai recommending Judge Michael Nash as LA County’s new child welfare czar was attached to the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.

The Supes are expected to approve Nash on November 3, to be head of the county’s Office of Child Protection, a position recommended 18 months ago by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system.

(We at WLA find this news very cheering, and can think of no one more suited to the position of LA County’s child welfare czar than Judge Nash.)

Judge Nash publicly voiced his interest in the child welfare czar position last October. The board reportedly was also looking at interim czar Fesia Davenport, who had formerly served as chief deputy director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Nash was clearly enthused in an interview with Daniel Heimpel of The Chronicle of Social Change: “I am excited because it is such a unique opportunity to work with L.A.’s finest. But, I am quite nervous. With this, failure is not an option. So I am really nervous about that. I think being nervous about that is a good thing.”

Nash’s unparalleled experience includes serving nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court, but did not remain retired for long, returning as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and DCFS, here.)

Here’s a clip from the Chronicle of Social Change story:

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was one of the most prominent recommendations to emerge from the blue ribbon commission’s nine-month investigation of the county’s child-serving systems. While the commission’s draft recommendations had initially envisioned the office’s director to have the power to amend budgets and staffing levels of various county agencies to better respond to child abuse, the approved plan for the office narrows its scope to that of a watchdog.

This is a post for which Nash, who served as presiding judge of the county’s large and complex juvenile court system, is uniquely suited. Known for testy exchanges with the current head of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and terse quotes in local and national media, the judge knows how to drive media attention, while also having an extensive rolodex of allies throughout the county’s fractious child welfare community.

“The OCP Director should possess a mixture of political finesse, deep understanding of the system and a deeper determination to improve it, courage to stand up to leaders who fear change, and a willingness to listen and collaborate with all of the stake holders and customers,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a former blue ribbon commissioner and co-chair of the transition team established after the commission was sunsetted. “Judge Nash is one of the few individuals in Los Angeles who possesses all of these qualities. He is intelligent, deeply committed, and highly respected, and I believe he understands the vision behind creating the Office of Child Protection.”


In the latest essay from the LA Times’ editorial series on CA’s Prop. 47, editorial board member Rob Greene takes a look at why law enforcement officers say they are no longer arresting people for misdemeanor offenses, post-Prop. 47.

To answer this question, Greene delves into the procedural difference between misdemeanor and felony arrests, and how and when officers can make misdemeanor arrests. Here’s a clip:

…critics of Proposition 47 often speak as if those differences made the change even more drastic, in effect decriminalizing those six offenses, turning them into infractions like parking violations, with officers issuing citations or tickets instead of making arrests, and offenders not bothering to show up for their court dates in the belief that jail time was no longer possible.

In the post-Proposition 47 debate, the conversation is generally whittled down to this: Officers and prosecutors say they no longer can arrest people for these crimes. And because arrests are down, they say, crime in California is increasing and drug offenders are not getting treatment.

Defenders of Proposition 47 respond that crime rates go up and down for many reasons, and that rising crime in cities outside California shows that there’s not necessarily a causal link between crime and the change in law here. And besides, they add, all the same procedures and remedies that were available before are still available, except that jail sentences for those six crimes are held to a one-year maximum.

There’s something missing from this discussion. If people in law enforcement believe that crime is rising because they aren’t making arrests, then why aren’t they making arrests? What is it about the law, or about police, prosecutorial, court and jail practices, that cause fewer arrests and prosecutions this year for crimes that are misdemeanors than for last year, when the same crimes were felonies?

There appear to be seven key steps in the criminal justice process where Proposition 47 changed the law, or local practices, or both, and that may be in part responsible for fewer arrests. Each step brings with it an assumption or assertion that must be examined if we’re to determine where there may be a breakdown in public safety — and what can be done about it.

We’ll start today with the beginning of the process — the arrest.

Read the rest.


ABC7′s Marc Brown and producer Lisa Bartley have taken a very close look at the string of jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals plaguing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The alleged misconduct has resulted in the removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Here’s how the first story opens (but do go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

The murders and their aftermath have wrought unimaginable pain on family members of the victims. Four years later, the legal case against Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year, is in disarray. The entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been kicked off the death penalty phase of Dekraai’s case. Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been accused of lying under oath. There are calls from one of the most respected legal minds in the nation and the New York Times for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

How did Dekraai’s crimes lead to this? It all comes down to whether or not prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies broke the law in the pursuit of convictions. Critics say the most powerful law enforcement entities in Orange County cheated the system, pursuing a win-at-all costs legal strategy for decades, at the expense of not just Dekraai’s constitutional rights, but potentially scores of other defendants.

Scott Dekraai had already confessed to the murders to police when he found himself in an Orange County Jail cell next door to prolific jailhouse snitch Fernando Perez.

Perez, a former leader in the Mexican Mafia and third-striker facing possible life in prison, turned informant in 2010 and quickly racked up confession after confession from a series of suspects, all of whom wound up in a jail cell right next to Perez.

Perez may have sensed an opportunity when Dekraai started talking about his crimes. He knew that if Dekraai gave up information police and prosecutors wanted, Perez might be able to leverage that into a more lenient sentence for himself.

“They didn’t need to put an informant in that cell next to him,” said Paul Wilson who lost his wife of 26 years in Dekraai’s rampage and is outraged by delays in the case and what he calls “absolute crimes” by elected officials.

“They’re in cover-up mode,” Wilson tells Eyewitness News.

In their second story, Brown and Bartley tell the story of Oscar Moriel, a former member of the Mexican Mafia awaiting trial for a 2005 murder, who has become a seasoned jailhouse snitch, gathering a pile of confessions from fellow inmates in hopes of bettering his own situation, maybe even of joining the military with special recommendations from his handlers. Here’s how it opens:

Oscar Moriel is an unlikely ally of law enforcement. The former member of the Mexican Mafia is awaiting trial in Orange County for a 2005 attempted murder and has admitted on the witness stand that’s he’s killed at least six people.

Testifying under a grant of immunity last year, Moriel recounted how he and fellow gang members “went out hunting” for their victims.

In February 2009, Moriel was looking at possible life in prison when he summoned Santa Ana Police Department Detectives Chuck Flynn and David Rondou to the Orange County jail.

Moriel was ready to turn informant.

“I’m putting my life on the line, my life in jeopardy, my family’s life in jeopardy,” Moriel told the detectives in the once-secret jailhouse recordings obtained by Eyewitness News.

Moriel observes that the detectives appear to be “stumped” in their efforts to solve two cold-case murders. He expresses concern that law enforcement “manpower” and “taxpayer money” have so far failed to put the killers behind bars.

“I think I can do it pretty solid,” Moriel says. “I think I could smash the whole case and put the guy away or the people away.”

Moriel offers to help detectives crack the cases, but his “memory” remains a little fuzzy.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have to meet halfway here,” Moriel says…

Moriel wants the detectives to reach out to higher-ups in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Maybe they can “pull some strings” on Moriel’s attempted murder case.

“So, you’re looking for some consideration in exchange for information on two unsolved murders?” asks Detective Flynn.

“Pretty much,” says Moriel.

Moriel suggests that having some “options” on the table in his own case might help him think more clearly.

“I’m looking at a third strike, I’m looking at life in prison,” Moriel says. “So, the more options I have to work with and to choose from, the better position I’ll be in to think more clearly.”

Detectives tell Moriel they don’t have the authority to make a deal with him, but they can take his information to the people who do.

“You’ll get consideration for the level you perform,” Detective Flynn tells Moriel.

“Great, OK,” says Moriel.

Five months later, Detective Flynn meets with Moriel again. This time, he’s accompanied by Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Bill Grover and Ben Garcia.

By then, Moriel is hopeful, not just that he’ll be freed, but maybe… he could join the military?

“Do you think it’s possible after all this is done, if you guys can expunge my record and I can go into the military?” Moriel asks.

Detective Flynn admits that expunging Moriel’s lengthy criminal record would be tough, but joining the military might be possible with a recommendation from law enforcement.


Nearly nine years after his arrest, Moriel still hasn’t even had a trial on his own charges. But he’s been busy, gathering jailhouse confessions and information in a string of cases.

On the face of it, using jailhouse informants is legal. But those informants must not question charged suspects on behalf of police. And any evidence that an informant gathers, must be turned over to defense attorneys.

The once-secret jailhouse recordings should have been turned over in every case Moriel had a hand in, but they were not.

The recordings only came to light after a years-long investigation by Scott Sanders, the public defender for confessed mass killer Scott Dekraai.

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Solitary Statistics, Opposing Prop. 47 Views, and Miranda Rights

October 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Nearly one-fifth of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates spent time in solitary confinement between 2011-2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. For LGBTQ and mentally ill prisoners, the numbers were even worse.

Around 4.4% of prisoners and 2.7% of jail inmates across the country were held in “restrictive housing” on an average day, either in disciplinary or administrative segregation or solitary confinement.

Of those inmates who had been placed in restrictive housing, 10% of prisoners and 5% of jail inmates said they had spent more than 30 days in isolation.

Close to 30% of LGBTQ prisoners surveyed were placed in isolation, compared with 18% of heterosexual prisoners. Younger inmates and inmates without high school diplomas were similarly more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older inmates and inmates who had completed high school. Inmates convicted of non-sexual violent offenses and inmates with lengthy arrest histories were also held in isolation more often than their counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the data also linked mental illness to solitary confinement. Nearly one-fourth of mentally ill inmates spent time in isolation between 2011-12.

Inmates in those prisons and jails that relied more heavily on restrictive housing often also reported disorder in the detention facilities, too few staff members to “provide safety and security to inmates,” and lower levels of confidence and trust in staff.


In an op-ed for the LA Times, as part of the paper’s series on California’s Prop. 47, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón (who has also served as chief of the SFPD, assistant chief for the LAPD, and chief of the Mesa, AZ police force) says the new law, which reclassified six non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, is incorrectly criticized by many law enforcement officials.

Gascón says it’s “far-fetched” to point to Prop. 47 as the reason for an increase in property crime. Gascón also says that law enforcement officials are overly critical of Prop. 47, which is saving California $770,000 per day, so far, because most officers today spent their formative law enforcement years in the tough-on-crime era.

Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime critics, predictably, have come out swinging, arguing that Proposition 47 is the cause of a recent increase in property crime. But this assertion defies logic. From 2007 through Aug. 31 of this year, the state has reduced its prison population by 43,000, but only 4,402 prisoners were released under Proposition 47. It’s far-fetched at best that the release of these relative few, who were responsible for some of the lowest-level crimes, is causing this increase. Crime rates fluctuate over time, but overall property crime is at a 50-year low.

The extraordinary level of discontent with Proposition 47 from a majority of law enforcement officials is not surprising. Virtually everyone working in law enforcement today — myself included — cut our teeth during the war-on-drugs era. We’ve never experienced another approach, and after decades of jailing people for simple drug possession, it’s difficult to embrace alternatives.

Many in law enforcement believe misdemeanor arrests are ineffective because the consequences are comparatively mild. But in a post-Proposition 47 world — as has always been the case — good, hardworking cops should not try to predict the outcome of an arrest. Declining to make arrests for misdemeanor crimes is bad for the community, public safety and offenders who need help. In San Diego, for example, where police continue to make misdemeanor arrests for drug possession, the city continues to see flat or decreasing crime rates.

Meanwhile, the 4,402 people released from prison under Proposition 47 are saving California more than $770,000 a day. There are also more than 35,000 Californians who have asked the courts to change their old felonies to misdemeanors, and an additional 123,087 people who have petitioned the courts to alter their current sentences.

Before Proposition 47, people convicted of a felony for possessing drugs for personal use often found themselves housed with more hardened offenders. They were inevitably released without having the root cause of their addiction or mental illness addressed. What’s worse, their felony convictions would often preclude them from finding work, as employers are 50% less likely to respond to applicants with records.

California’s broken prison system churned out less-employable individuals with unaddressed conditions, who were perhaps inclined to resort to more serious criminal behavior. Is it any surprise that the state recidivism rate reached nearly 70% in 2005?

Marc Debbaudt, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, does not agree with Gascón. In a separate LAT op-ed, Debbaudt says that thanks to Prop 47, drug offenders no longer face jail time for offenses committed to fuel their addictions, like shoplifting, writing bad checks, and stealing guns worth less than $950. Debbaudt also argues that because judges can no longer mandate substance abuse rehabilitation programs for people who commit these newly reduced offenses, participation in drug court programs is down 60%.

Debbault also faults Prop. 47 for reducing possession of date rape drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. (Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.)

Here’s a clip:

In the city of Los Angeles, property crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have risen 10.9% compared with the same period last year. Violent crime, such as aggravated assaults and robberies, has soared 20.6%. Mayor Eric Garcetti told The Times those increases may be linked to Proposition 47.

To make things even worse, the social engineers in the Legislature also passed a law in 2014 that reduced the maximum misdemeanor sentence from 365 days to 364 days. Under federal immigration law, a noncitizen who is convicted of an offense punishable by 365 days or more can be deported. With many felonies now reduced to 364-day misdemeanors, some criminals who otherwise would have been deported get to stay.

Here is additional fallout from Proposition 47 that Californians probably didn’t anticipate when they voted for the measure:

The justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs. There is no incentive for an offender to accept a court-ordered 18-month to two-year intensive treatment program when the maximum consequence for a drug conviction is a six-month term in county jail. In many cases the jail sentence means only a few days, or even just hours, in custody because the jails have to make room for the felons sent from state prison under that other great reform called realignment. The treatment program rolls are down 60% in L.A. County, and addicted offenders are not getting the treatment they desperately need.

Proposition 47 took away a tool to fight sex crimes when it reduced the penalty for possession of dangerous date-rape drugs to a misdemeanor.

Thousands fewer DNA samples are being taken from suspects every month because state law permits police to collect DNA only from felony suspects. It follows that it will be much harder, if not impossible, to solve old cases such as murder and rape.

(We also pointed to the first part of the series, an editorial by the LA Times’ Robert Greene: here.)


In letting a ten-year-old boy’s murder ruling stand, the California Supreme Court has effectively said that children that young are still competent enough to validly waive their Miranda rights. The boy, identified as Joseph H., was read his Miranda rights by a police officer during his arrest, and then later confessed to killing his abusive neo-Nazi father.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court, which required police to issue the warning in the 1966 case of Miranda vs. Arizona, has never decided whether minors below a certain age are competent to give up their Miranda rights and answer officers’ questions. But as state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu noted in his Oct. 16 dissent, the nation’s high court has ruled that any decision to waive the right to remain silent must be made “voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.”

The 10-year-old’s case, Liu said, raises an issue that “likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether, and if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10.”

All three of Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees — Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger — voted to review the case, leaving them one short of the needed majority. Cuéllar also signed Liu’s dissenting opinion, an unusual and perhaps unprecedented statement by a California justice arguing that his colleagues should have taken up a case from the lower courts.

The issue arises in the wake of rulings by the nation’s high court barring executions or mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. In the 2005 death penalty ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said research has shown that juveniles, more commonly than adults, have a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” and are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults.

“The youthful brain is different than the adult brain,” said Rory Little, a law professor at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Noting that California law bars an accused rapist from arguing that his victim consented if she was younger than 14, Little said, “If a 14-year-old can’t consent to sex, how can a 10-year-old waive his rights to Miranda?”

The Riverside youth, identified as Joseph H., found his father’s gun and shot him in the head as he lay sleeping on a sofa in May 2011. The father was a leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement and was also a drug addict who frequently beat Joseph, according to a state appeals court ruling in the case. When police arrived, the court said, Joseph told them his father had beaten him and his mother the day before.

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Cops for Reform, Calls and Visits in State Prison (Plus New FCC Rules), Mentally Ill & Warehoused in Jails

October 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker


A group of 130 police chiefs, sheriffs, and prosecutors from all over the country are calling for policy reforms to lower incarceration rates and improve public safety.

Members of the Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration include LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, NYC Police Commissioner (and former LAPD Chief) William Bratton, SF District Attorney George Gascon, Richmond (CA) Chief Chris Magnus, Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen, and SF Police Chief Greg Suhr.

A project of the Brennan Center for Justice, the Law Enforcement Leaders group aims to boost incarceration alternatives (particularly through mental health and substance abuse diversion), reclassify non-serious felonies as misdemeanors in the spirit of California’s Prop 47, getting rid of unnecessarily harsh mandatory minimums, and improving police-community relations.

As leaders of the law enforcement community, we are committed to building a smarter, stronger, and fairer criminal justice system. We do not want to see families and communities wrecked by our current system,” said Ronal Serpas, former Supt. of the New Orleans Police Dept. and co-chair of the group. “Forming this new organization will allow us to engage policymakers and support changes to federal and state laws, as well as practices, to end unnecessary incarceration.”

“I’ve been through the war on drugs, the war on gangs,” LAPD Chief Beck said at a Washington DC press conference. “What I’ve learned in the past 40 years is that police departments cannot be at war with the communities they serve.”

“We’re incarcerating the wrong people, and we’re measuring the wrong things,? added Chicago Supt. of Police Garry McCarthy. “The criminal justice system is not really broken. It’s producing the results it was designed to produce. And those are the wrong results.”


Less than one-third of state inmates receive visits from loved ones in a month, according to an analysis of government data by the Prison Policy Initiative. Research shows that contact with family is extremely important for a former offender’s successful reentry into their community, yet many families simply cannot afford to visit loved ones locked up far from home. The report recommends states implement free transportation to distant prisons to give families a better chance at in-person visits.

Most locked-up parents with minor children do not even get to see them while incarcerated. The report says states should ask inmates and their families how they can make family connection easier.

Not surprisingly, phone calls are far more frequent than visits: around 70% of state inmates talk on the phone with loved ones in a typical month. But high-ticket phone calls can be a huge financial burden for families, too.

The Federal Communications Commission will vote today on recommendations from (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to put caps on the exorbitant fees contracted phone companies (like Global Tel-Link) charge inmates’ families. If approved, the changes would reduce costs (which can add up to hundreds of dollars per month) to far more reasonable rates—$.11 per minute for state and federal prison calls and $.14-.20 per minute for phone calls from county jails.

To best support inmates and their families, Prison Policy Initiative urges corrections officials to fully comply with the FCC’s reforms, eliminate the use of video visits as replacement for in-person visits, create family-oriented spaces for locked-up parents to bond with their children, and only lock people up as a last resort when community supervision is not an option.


In CA, hundreds of mentally ill inmates declared incompetent to stand trial languish in jails waiting for beds to open up at the five state hospitals who can admit them. (When defendants are deemed unfit to stand trial, they are supposed to be sent to a mental hospital for treatment until they can understand the charges against them.)

CA’s latest budget allocates over $17 million for adding new psychiatric beds for people whose mental conditions prohibit them from continuing the legal process.

And while jail is certainly not the best place for most mentally ill defendants, according to Stephen Manley, a Santa Clara mental health court judge, funding more hospital beds may not be the ideal solution either. Too many people are put in hospitals who are not a risk to themselves or the public and would be better served by a community program, says Manley.

KQED’s Scott Shafer has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Stephen Manley is a mental health court judge in Santa Clara County. His court helps defendants struggling with severe mental illnesses, including bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, find alternatives to incarceration.

Manley doesn’t want more psychiatric hospital beds; he wants to reserve state hospitals for the most violent defendants.

“We send far too many people to state hospitals who do not pose a risk to public safety,” he says. “Because we don’t work with them to figure out if there isn’t a local alternative.”

Manley believes the psychiatric hospitals are already overcrowded — and understaffed. “As long as we keep overcrowding the hospitals, all we do is feed the fire,” he says, referring to violence within the hospitals.

There were more than 1,800 physical assaults at Napa State Hospital last year alone. Hospital officials say patients who are there to have their sanity restored for trial inflict the most serious injuries.

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LA Youth Ambassador Shot in GA, Social Worker Calls New Group Home Law Counter-Intuitive, and More

October 21st, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On October 10, Semaj Clark was shot during an attempted robbery while on a trip to Savannah, GA to speak as a youth ambassador at a community safety forum.

Once on a path not all that different from the teen who shot him, Semaj turned his life around with help from the Building a Lifetime of Options and Opportunities for Men (BLOOM) program, which aims to give justice system-involved teens in South LA control over their circumstances by connecting them with mentors and local organizations that provide education and employment services.

After speaking at the forum, Semaj and another young man were approached by three teens who brought them to a housing project called Yamacraw Village and attempted to rob them. When Semaj tried to run away, one of the boys shot him three times.

One of the bullets severed Semaj’s spinal cord. Doctors told Semaj he will never walk again.

The 17-year-old who shot Semaj was actually supposed to be in attendance at the conference, but did not show up.

In a video aired on Savannah’s local NBC station, Semaj cried when talking about how he would never be able to run again, which he says is how he works through pain in his life, but said that he would not give up working to help troubled kids. “I’m not going to be able to walk again, and that hurts me,” Semaj said, “but it’s not going to stop me from doing what I’ve got to do. So I’m just going to stay out here and try to make a difference.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help pay for Semaj’s medical bills and other expenses related to his injury.

The LA Times’ Sandy Banks also covered Semaj’s story. Here’s a clip:

Before a probation officer steered him to the group, Clark’s mindset wasn’t much different from that of those Georgia teens whose bullets sentenced him to a wheelchair.

“Where I come from, it’s cool to steal or smoke or have all these girls,” Clark told me last spring. “That’s what you have to do to have somebody respect you.”

BLOOM counselors introduced him to self-respect — and to better role models than the hustlers on his block: “They put you around successful black men that make you want to be that kind of person,” Clark said then.

But it takes more than good intentions and well-meaning mentors to salvage young men damaged by broken families, failing schools, dangerous streets and wrenching poverty.

Two months ago, another BLOOM youth, Kevin Clay Thomas, was shot to death at a Boyle Heights Metro station in what police believe was a dispute between black and Latino gangs.

“We’re not working with the A and B students. We’re working with kids who people have literally given up on,” Bremond Weaver said. “The question is how as a community can we change that narrative?”

That question is being asked all across the country, as part of a national movement launched last year by Obama, to lift, reform and inspire black and Latino boys and young men.

Clark was supposed to embody all that’s possible. I worry now about the message his plight might send to young men on the fence: You can’t outrun it or rise above it. There’s no amount of change that will keep trouble out of reach.

But those who know him best think Clark’s message will transcend that.

“There’s no other 18-year-old I know who’s had to overcome the kind of challenges he’s been through and has done so well,” said Cal Poly Pomona professor Renford Reese, who has Clark in two of his classes and runs the Reintegration Academy on campus, which educates formerly incarcerated young men. “He’s charismatic, he’s radiant, and he’s been out there grinding, always trying to do his best.”


Last week, CA Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will dismantle the current controversial group home model in favor of short-term residential treatment centers (STRTCs). Kids placed in the STRTCs will stay a maximum of six months while receiving specialized therapeutic treatment for mental health and other needs. A certain number of those (STRTCs) will be geared toward helping kids involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

But this new law will likely be particularly difficult to enforce in counties like Los Angeles where a dearth of viable foster families means kids spend months (and sometimes longer) at “Welcome Centers” only meant to house kids for 24 hours.

In an op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change, advocate and former social worker Marie Cohen says the new law is short-sighted, and will create an even bigger foster home deficit for jurisdictions already struggling to place kids, even with the extra funding set aside for foster family recruitment.

And while a number of group homes have come under intense scrutiny following misconduct allegations, Cohen says there are plenty of foster families that similarly fail to provide loving and healing environments for the kids in their care.

Instead of dumping the group home altogether, Cohen urges creating more nurturing and family-like group homes. Here’s a clip:

The new legislation is based on the increasing belief that “congregate care is detrimental to the development and well-being of youth in foster care.” Yet, as I wrote in an earlier column, the research behind this assertion is far from conclusive. Especially when it comes to older youth with more serious therapeutic needs, group care may be more appropriate. For larger sibling groups that cannot be accommodated in a single home, a group home may also be a preferable option.

A loving, caring family is of course the best option for many children. However, as I discussed in another column, many foster homes do not provide this type of nurturing environment. Some are neglectful or even abusive, and many are simply providing room and board.

There are also not enough foster homes, good, bad or in-between. So even if any foster home is better than any group home, most jurisdictions just don’t have enough foster homes.


The underlying cause of the crisis is the collapse in the supply of foster homes in Los Angeles County. As reported by the Times, the number of beds in homes of foster parents who are unrelated to foster youth has dropped from 22,000 to 9,000 since the year 2000.

Social workers make up to 100 calls to place one child. What is going to happen when the closing of group homes creates an even greater demand for foster homes?

The supporters of the new California legislation understand that they will need to recruit more foster homes in order for the new regime to succeed. The new law will provide more money to recruit, retain and support foster families.

But unless this money will be enough to buy homes for foster parents in expensive areas like Los Angeles County, or to provide salaries so foster parents do not have to work outside the home, I doubt this effort will be successful.


Ted Rose called police for help when his schizophrenic son, Jonathan, refused to take his medication and was acting erratically in January of 2012.

By the time Sacramento County Sheriff’s Deputy David McEntire arrived, Johnny was calm and sleeping, but Rose said the deputy barged in and acted agitated and aggressive from the start. McEntire allegedly entered Johnny’s room, and ordered the young man onto the floor. According to the suit, Johnny stood with his hands behind his back told the officer to just arrest him.

The deputy allegedly slammed Johnny into the wall and hit him in the head with his flashlight. Rose says that when Johnny punched the deputy, trying to stop the attack, he grabbed his son trying to diffuse the fight, telling him the deputy was going to hurt or kill him.

Then, without warning, Rose says McEntire shot Johnny three times. Rose says he felt the bullets enter Johnny’s body.

McEntire says he was fighting for his life, but Rose says that when he asked the deputy why he killed his son, McEntire said three times, softly, “I don’t know.”

The county has defended McEntire, saying that he acted reasonably, but the deputy has a history of use of force complaints. McEntire has been the subject of six internal investigations during his 12 years with the Sacramento Sheriff’s Department. The Rose family’s lawsuit against McEntire is one of three suits accusing the deputy of using excessive force.

McEntire has been accused of participating in a jail beating of a college football player who was arrested at a postgame party. The young man was paid $50,000 in a settlement over the beating that he says resulted in nerve damage and needing stitches in his face.

One of the complaints that was sustained resulted in McEntire being cited for “discourteous treatment” and “inexcusable neglect of duty” during a traffic stop.

The Sacramento Bee’s Sam Stanton and Denny Walsh have the story (but do go over and watch the video). Here’s how it opens:

One moment stands out for Ted Rose about the night his son was shot to death by Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy David McEntire.

Rose, 54, recalls holding his mentally ill son Johnathan tightly in his arms on Jan. 17, 2012, trying to defuse a confrontation in the living room of their Sacramento home, when the deputy opened fire.

“I actually felt the bullets riddle through my boy’s body,” said Rose, a pastor at a south Sacramento church. “It’s the most horrible thing.”

Today, the Rose family is suing the Sheriff’s Department and McEntire over what they contend was the unprovoked and unnecessary shooting of an unarmed 24-year-old schizophrenic who was asleep when McEntire first entered their home.

Over the course of developing evidence for the lawsuit, the family’s lawyer said he discovered that McEntire has faced at least a half-dozen internal affairs complaints during his 12 years as a Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy.

“Deputy McEntire is the only deputy still employed with Sacramento County who has been the subject of six or more excessive force complaints since 2008,” Rose’s attorney, Stewart Katz, wrote in court papers filed in support of the family’s civil rights suit.

“He’s a habitual, serial excessive-force abuser,” Rose said in a recent interview, noting that his lawsuit is one of three McEntire has faced for allegedly using excessive force.

McEntire is currently assigned as a problem-oriented policing officer in the department’s North Area. He did not respond to an emailed request for comment. Deputy Tony Turnbull, a spokesman for the department, said he could not comment on pending litigation or on personnel matters. But he noted that all complaints against deputies – whether made by citizens or filed internally – are investigated.

“All use-of-force complaints are investigated by our professional standards bureau,” Turnbull said. “They’re all taken seriously, and they’re all investigated to their totality.”

In court documents, the county disputes claims in the Rose lawsuit, including whether McEntire has been accused of excessive force half a dozen times. The county says McEntire “estimates he has had more than five internal affairs complaints,” but that does not necessarily mean they were all excessive-force cases.

“There is no evidence that the complaints were not properly investigated and/or that the disposition of the complaints was in some way deficient,” the county states in court documents. “Officers are dispatched to calls and have little control over the demeanor, sobriety and/or hostility toward law enforcement of the subject or the subjects of the call.”

The county – as well as McEntire in a sworn statement – contends the deputy was fighting for his life inside the Rose home.

“When McEntire responded to the 911 call, Johnathan attacked McEntire so ferociously that McEntire was forced to shoot him in self-defense,” lawyers for the county wrote in court papers. The county asserts that Rose was not asleep when McEntire arrived. “As soon as Deputy McEntire stepped into the home, he was verbally challenged by Decedent,” county lawyers wrote.

Internal affairs documents regarding McEntire that have been filed in court show the deputy has received five “letters of recognition,” that he exceeded standards in recent evaluations, and that there have been only two instances in which complaints about him were “sustained” by the department, meaning evidence shows they were likely true.

But amid an ongoing national debate over police use of force, there is a new focus on how law enforcement officers interact with suspects.

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LAPD Chases and Bystander Injuries, Child Support Responsibilities Behind Bars, and Kinship Care in South LA

October 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Los Angeles Police pursuits injure more bystanders than in any other California city, according to an LA Times investigation into the issue statewide.

One out of ten LAPD chases between 2006-2014 left innocent civilians injured. The rate is more than twice that of the state average, a statistic made more alarming by the fact that California has led the rest of the country in police pursuit-related injuries. And while rare, LAPD chases also result in more fatalities than in other cities.

To address the issue at the state-level, in 2005, legislators increased pursuit training for law enforcement officers, required agencies to report all pursuit data to the CHP, and increased penalties for fleeing from officers. Initially the law dramatically reduced injuries in police chases across the state, but then the numbers started climbing again.

Part of the problem in Los Angeles may be that LAPD officers are allowed to chase people suspected of certain misdemeanors as well as felonies.

In contrast, other large CA cities like San Francisco, San Jose, and Long Beach only allow officers to chase people who are posing an immediate danger to the public or who are suspected of violent felonies.

LAPD officials say that while injury to any uninvolved bystanders is unacceptable, the numbers sound more serious than they are, because most bystander injuries are very minor. The risk of such injuries are often outweighed by the possibility of a reckless and dangerous person causing a multi-car pile up, or worse.

Here’s a clip from the analysis by LA Times’ James Queally:

Stopped at a red light in El Sereno, Julio Reyes-Salvador was oblivious to the cars hurtling toward him.

In front was a gray Chevrolet Tahoe, racing at speeds of more than 80 mph as a Los Angeles Police Department cruiser gave chase.

The pursuit, which began when officers tried to stop the fleeing motorist for reckless driving, ended when the Tahoe smashed into Reyes-Salvador’s car, setting off a chain-reaction crash that crushed his Toyota Corolla. His car “looked like a soda can somebody just stepped on,” one of the pursuing officers later recalled in court.

Reyes-Salvador, 23, was killed instantly. A friend in the passenger seat was seriously injured.

The crash was a stark illustration of the dangers of police pursuits in Los Angeles, where chases have long been part of cop lore and a staple of live local television news broadcasts.

A Los Angeles Times analysis of statewide data shows that LAPD pursuits injure bystanders at more than twice the rate of police chases in the rest of California. From 2006 to 2014, 334 bystanders were injured — one for every 10 LAPD pursuits, according to The Times’ review of pursuit data reported to the California Highway Patrol.

Although fatalities remain rare, the analysis shows that LAPD pursuits are also more likely than chases in the rest of the state to result in a bystander’s death. Reyes-Salvador was one of nine people since 2006 to be killed in LAPD pursuits in which they were otherwise uninvolved.

LAPD officials say officers take measures to keep the public safe during chases and that many of the injuries are minor. Much of the blame, they argue, falls on the city’s sprawling web of multilane thoroughfares and highways, which they say allow suspects to move at greater speeds and make wild turns through traffic, greatly increasing the likelihood that someone may be hurt.

But experts who study police pursuits say the LAPD needs to do more to minimize dangers to bystanders. Unlike other departments, they say, the LAPD increases the risk of those injuries by allowing officers to chase motorists suspected of relatively minor offenses, including intoxicated or reckless driving, who are more likely to drive faster and erratically while trying to escape police.


Because many child support agencies consider imprisonment “voluntary impoverishment,” about one-fifth of parents in prison are held responsible for child support obligations. The arrears adds up fast for imprisoned parents working jobs that pay pennies per hour, and when the parents are released from prison, they can end up right back behind bars for failure to pay.

The Marshall Project interviewed more than 30 parents in 10 different states who still owed child support while locked up, the child support debts ranged from $10,000 to $110,000. Not surprisingly young black men are disproportionately affected by this system.

The huge debts are often insurmountable for these young fathers exiting prison, as they are faced with the difficulties of transitioning from prison to their communities, like finding employment and housing, obeying the rules of parole, and many other challenges.

The Obama administration has authorized a new set of regulations to address the disparity by reducing child support payments for those incarcerated, which would likely give the parents a better chance at successful re-entry upon their release.

Critics say the new regulations undermine a 1996 welfare reform that called for states to find absent fathers and enforce child support payments to ease taxpayers’ burden. Others say many of the fathers do not deserve to be relieved of the child support debt.

The Marshall Project’s Eli Hager has the story. Here’s a clip:

Administration officials and their supporters counter that billing fathers while they’re in prison does little but dig them deeper into debt.

“Billing poor fathers doesn’t help poor mothers and kids become less poor,” said Jacquelyn Boggess, a poverty expert with the Center for Family Policy and Practice.

“All it creates,” she said, “is a highly indebted individual.”

For Earl Harris, the problem was keeping up. He had a job in prison, cleaning the kitchen, but it paid only $7.50 a month – well short of the $168 the state of Missouri was billing him.

“Didn’t they know I was in prison?” he asks. “Weren’t they the ones that put me in there?”

When he got out in 2001, the unpaid amount was listed on his credit report – and pursued by an agency with the power to garnish 65 percent of his wages, intercept his tax returns, freeze his bank account, suspend his driver’s license and, if he failed to pay, lock him up again.

By then, his debt had surged to more than $10,000.

Harris entered barbering school but soon returned to drug dealing and was thrown back into prison for nearly a decade. Meanwhile, his child-support debt swelled to more than $25,000.

Harris’s plight is not unusual. The Marshall Project interviewed nearly three dozen noncustodial parents in 10 states; they all left prison owing between $10,000 and $110,000 in child support. Mostly fathers who are disproportionately black and poor, these parents faced prosecution for not repaying the debt, even after their children were grown.

And what they were able to pay did not necessarily go to their children or the mother. The state often kept their money as repayment for welfare, child care or Medicaid benefits that had been provided to the family while the dad was locked up.

To address the issue, the Obama administration began drafting new rules about four years ago. As currently written, the rules would forbid state child support agencies from classifying incarceration as “voluntary,” granting parents the legal right to a reduction in payments while they’re in prison, a right that does not exist in 14 states.

The rules would require agencies to inform incarcerated parents of this right and would encourage agencies to provide a reduction in payments automatically. And they would urge states to transfer all payments directly to custodial parents – mostly mothers – and their children.


South Los Angeles residents taking care of their relatives’ children (who would otherwise end up in foster care) often struggle to pay their bills and meet basic needs. In LA, more than half of foster kids are being raised by relatives, a number twice the national average. And while Los Angeles County (unlike San Bernardino and Riverside) opted in on a 2014 California law that granted equal financial assistance to kinship caregivers as non-relative foster families, the process is complicated, and some caregivers still have not started receiving the much-needed increase in benefits.

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

In South Los Angeles, many foster parents who take in the children of their relatives survive on very limited incomes. “We know that many of our relative foster parents are living at and below the poverty line,” said Angie Schwartz, attorney for the advocacy group Alliance for Children’s Rights.

Data from the Administration for Children and Family Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, show that one-third of relative caregivers nationwide live in poverty. It may well be even higher in South L.A. given the poverty rate there is more than double that of California as a whole.

For 58-year-old South Los Angeles resident Maria Garcia, taking on her daughter’s children created a heavy financial burden. She said her daughter was a victim of domestic violence and after repeated incidents, social workers removed her children from the home. Garcia agreed to take in the children, and is raising 3-year-old Soledad, 6-year-old Pablo and 11-year-old Jose.

Garcia receives a state welfare benefit for the children through CalWORKs, about $800 a month. Until earlier this year, it was her only means of support. In February, she started receiving food stamps, too. She has been unable to work since the children came to live with her. They need her to shuttle them among doctors, special needs therapists and school.

Her expenses are hefty. The county Department of Children and Family Services requires that she have a certain number of bedrooms. Her monthly rent of $1,100 is higher than if she lived alone, she said.

Often, Garcia said, she goes months without paying her gas or electric bill. She has racked up huge credit card debts just meeting the family’s basic needs.

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