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

April 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SEXUALLY TRAFFICKED BOYS ARE SEEN AS VICTIMS LESS OFTEN

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


KPCC INTERVIEWS PAUL TANAKA

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


THE PULITZER PRIZES EVOLVE

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

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

Both prizes are cheering signs.

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


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

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

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, FBI, Future of Journalism, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, U.S. Attorney, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

It’s LA Times Festival of Books Weekend!!!

April 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

That glorious time has come ’round again: the LA Time Festival of Books is this weekend!

As always, there are loads of wonderful author panels to attend, both Saturday and Sunday, with the LAT book awards held Friday night at 8 pm. Again this year, the free-of-charge event will be held on the USC campus.

On Sunday at 11 am, I’m moderating a panel filled with excellent mystery authors and, I promise, if you’re intrigued with the genre at all, this panel is the place to be. (At Seeley G. Mudd Hall)

My panelists are:

MILES CORWIN, a great LA nonfiction writer who, a few years ago, decided to cross over into crime fiction with spectacular effect. His latest novel, Midnight Alley, has a narrative that moves like lightning while remaining satisfyingly grounded in the real—and often conflicted—details of a cop’s life.

SARA GRAN, the author of Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway, her second book featuring her deliciously original detective protagonist, the coke-snorting, dream-haunted, DeWitt, who, as one reviewer put the matter, is “a cool blend of Nancy Drew and Sid Vicious.” Gran’s the real deal.

DENISE HAMILTON, the queen of LA Noir whose latest stand-alone novel, Damage Control, is a beautifully written psychological thriller that, like her highly-regarded Eve Diamond novels, is laced with needle-sharp and deeply human So Cal social commentary.

PAUL TREMBLEY, a wildly talented author whose books include his darkly funny dystopian novel, Swallowing a Donkey’s Eye, and his two-book mystery series featuring narcoleptic detective, Mark Genevich. Trembly is fearless. Don’t miss him!

Early Monday we’ll be back with plenty of news. But this weekend it’s all about literature!

C’mon down!

Posted in American artists, American voices, writers and writing | No Comments »

Peter Matthiessen: May 22, 1927 – April 5, 2014…Into the Mystery

April 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Impassioned non-fiction-writer, novelist, naturalist Peter Matthiessen
died on Saturday at 86 of leukemia.

For those of you unfamiliar with the man, or his work, a few facts:

Called a “shaman of literature,” Matthiessen has written 33 books, most of which were greeted with some kind of acclaim or other. He is, however, best known for such books as his cultural critique/thriller novel set in the Amazonian jungle, At Play in the Fields of the Lord, and his account of a stone-age culture, Under the Mountain Wall, which Truman Capote would credit with influencing his conception of his “nonfiction novel” In Cold Blood. Matthiessen’s meditational account of a 250-mile trek across the Himalayas, The Snow Leopard,” was his biggest seller, and his 900-plus-page novel Shadow Country, took 30-years of rewriting before he felt he’d gotten it right.

His nonfiction account of the rise of the American Indian Movement, In the Spirit of Crazy Horse, got him sued by an FBI agent and the former governor of North Dakota for libel, and caused the book to be yanked entirely from sale for nine years. Finally, after three different courts told both plaintiffs to pound sand, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the matter on appeal, the paperback edition of the book was, at last, published in 1992.

Matthiessen co-founded one of the most famous literary magazine’s in historyThe Paris Review—as a cover for his brief career as an undercover agent for the CIA. (His politics swung to the left shortly after that.)

After winning two National Book Awards for the same nonfiction book, the The Snow Leopard, he won the award again a few years later, this time in fiction for Shadow Country. And, yes, he is the only writer ever to have pulled off such a triple play.

(Oh, yeah, and his novel At Play in the Fields of the Lord was a finalist for the award.)

Readers often credit his books with having changed their lives. (I would fall into that category.)

A generation or two of naturalist writers were clearly influenced by his writing.

His final novel, In Paradise, which he told interviewers would probably be his last word, will be published on Tuesday.

If you want to know more, the LAT’s David Ulin has written a lovely appreciation.

And here’s a bit of Matthiessen in his own words.

Of all African animals, the elephant is the most difficult for man to live with, yet its passing – if this must come – seems the most tragic of all. I can watch elephants (and elephants alone) for hours at a time, for sooner or later the elephant will do something very strange such as mow grass with its toenails or draw the tusks from the rotted carcass of another elephant and carry them off into the bush. There is mystery behind that masked gray visage, and ancient life force, delicate and mighty, awesome and enchanted, commanding the silence ordinarily reserved for mountain peaks, great fires, and the sea.”

― Peter Matthiessen, The Tree Where Man Was Born

The search may begin with a restless feeling, as if one were being watched. One turns in all directions and sees nothing. Yet one sees that there is a source fro this deep restlessness; and the path that leads there is not a path to a strange place, but the path home … The journey is hard, for the secret place where we have always been is so overgrown with thorns and thickets of “ideas”, of fears and defenses, prejudices and repressions. The holy grail is what Zen Buddhists call our own “true nature”; each man is his own savior after all.

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

When we are mired in the relative world, never lifting our gaze to the mystery, our life is stunted, incomplete; we are filled with yearning for that paradise that is lost when, as young children, we replace it with words and ideas and abstractions – such as merit, such as past, present, and future – our direct, spontaneous experience of the thing itself, in the beauty and precision of this present moment.

― Peter Matthiessen


Photo by Linda Gavin/Courtesy of Riverhead Books

Posted in American artists, American voices, Life in general, literature, writers and writing | No Comments »

Losing Joe McGinniss: December 9, 1942 – March 10, 2014

March 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Journalist/author Joe McGinniss died unexpectedly on Monday, March 10.
He’d been battling prostate cancer, but it was the pneumonia following chemo that took him away with shocking suddenness.

Everyone who knew him is reeling.

(I knew Joe through his wife, writer and editor Nancy Dougherty, who is a very dear friend of mine, a wordsmith-sister, so I am reeling and heartbroken too.)

If for some reason you don’t recall his name, what you need to know first is that Joe McGinniss changed journalism.

Really.

With his 1969 book “The Selling of the President,” about the marketing of Richard Nixon in the 1968 presidential campaign, he blasted open what was possible in the world of political writing. With his beautifully composed, ferociously reported (and still quarreled over) “Fatal Vision,”” published in 1989 about the Green Beret doctor, Jeffery McDonald, who was accused of murdering his wife and two children, McGinniss advanced the form of the true crime narrative as literature.

After the news of Joe McGinniss’ death broke, the usual tributes and obits streamed to the surface. As is often the case, most do not seem to capture the man, but they at least list his formidable accomplishments, even if from a great distance. (This, by the AP’s Hillel Italie is probably the best of 40,000 feet obits.)

Atlantic Monthly columnist Andrew Sullivan’s essay on McGinniss is a welcome exception.

Here’s a clip from what Sullivan wrote:

Joe McGinniss was responsible not only for several books that are rightly understood as landmarks of journalism – he was also the case study of arguably the most famous essay about journalism, Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” He was a deeply curious and ferociously independent writer, compelled by the minutiae of the human comedy and riveted by the depths of human tragedy.

I think of him as some kind of eternal, unstoppable foe for Roger Ailes, whose media campaign for Nixon in 1968 presaged so much of what was to come – and still reins supreme – at Fox News. And yet Ailes and Joe were extremely close friends their entire lives and Joe would defend him – if not his network or politics – tenaciously as the years went by. That was how Joe was. Once he loved you, he loved you. And I was blessed by some of that love.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that Joe – at the tender age of 26! – transformed political journalism with The Selling Of The President, the legendary expose of the cynicism of media optics in presidential campaigns – and, by the by, a lovely, ornery rebuke to the magisterial tomes of Theodore H White, as Ann Althouse notes. And the first thing to say is that the man could write. He couldn’t write a bad sentence. His narratives powered along; his prose as clear as it was vivid; his innate skill at telling a story sometimes reaching rare moments in non-fiction when you’re lost in what is, in effect, a factual novel.

But what I truly treasured about Joe – and I came to love him even though we only met a couple of times – was his dogged imperviousness to his peers or to establishment opinion. If he smelled a story, he would dig in, obsessively recovering its human truth. If others thought the story was irrelevant or non-existent, it wouldn’t affect him. His motivation, as it was with his first book, was to peel back the layers of image and propaganda and spin to reveal the reality. He did this with Jeffrey McDonald. And he did it with Sarah Palin….

About his book on Palin: as usual, Joe went where the story led him. Political columnist Dave Weigel, writing for Slate, has posted some of his memories of meeting with McGinniss when the author was researching the former Alaskan governor in her home state, and how unexpectedly Weigel’s source turned into a valued friend.

Weigel’s musings are a good read and give another small shard of insight into this irreplaceable author…journalist… father…husband…friend….who had so much more still to write.


Photo courtesy of JoeMcGinniss.net

Posted in American voices, Life in general, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

GARAGE GATE: The LA Times, Mark Ridley-Thomas & the Scandal that Isn’t

February 14th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



WHY IS THE LA TIMES STILL REPORTING ON MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS’ GARAGE?

As of this week, the LA Times has published six articles on the matter of installing a tax-payer-funded security system in LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ refurbished garage.

“Garage-Gate” is the way LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has wryly tagged the Times’ series of provocatively-headlined reports (one of which was even featured on the paper’s front page).

If you somehow have have missed reading this investigative juggernaut, here are a few of the basic facts:

Because they are public figures, the LA County Supervisors are each urged to have security systems installed in their homes at the county’s expense. Gloria Molina has one. So does Don Knabe. Zev Yaroslavsky has a security system that the county put in during his first term and it is reportedly still working just fine. We’re not sure about Mike Antonovich, but it is generally presumed that he has a system too, but that it was put in quite a while ago.

Mark-Ridley Thomas also has a system. His was installed early last October in the converted garage that he has started using as his home office. The Ridley-Thomas system cost the taxpayers of LA County $6,278.61—which is about a thousand dollars less than Molina’s cost. (We don’t know the costs of the other supervisors’ systems.)

It seems, however, that when MRT’s security system was put in, the county workers also mounted a flat screen TV, and installed an air conditioning unit and a 4.3 cu ft. mini-fridge, bringing the total cost of the county’s work to around $10,038.

(If you’re curious, you can see photos of the extra items we’re talking about if you click on the various links above.)

In addition to installing them, the county guys picked up and bought the AC unit, the mini-fridge and the TV.

On October 23—a couple weeks after the work on the garage was completed—the county CEO’s office sent MRT two invoices totaling $3,759.39 for the extra work, and the purchases.

Invoice1
Invoice2

On October 29, the supervisor paid the invoices by check. (The very check in question is pictured at the top of this post.)

End of story, one would think.

But one would be wrong.

The LA Times began reporting on the matter in mid-January in response to a tip.


ITS ALL ABOUT THE WOOD PANELS

January was a busy month, so I didn’t catch up with the reporting on this pressing issue until story number 3, which ran on January 19.

(Here is story 1 and story 2.)

The headline and the subhead for this newest story caught my eye as they seemed to suggest real wrongdoing:

Work at Ridley-Thomas’ residence went beyond security system: taxpayer-funded project to install the system at L.A. County supervisor’s residence included other improvements, interviews and records show.”

When I finished reading the Times’ account, however, I was confused. So where exactly was the….you know….story here?

Although the Times reporters had made public records act requests, the county counsel’s office was slow to hand over the required information. So, the reporters had not yet gotten their hands on any proof of MRT’s reimbursement for the cost of the TV, mini-fridge and AC unit. Still it appears they’d heard about it.

The other issue that that seemed to alarm the Times’ folks was whether or not the county workers really had to take out some wall panelling to install the necessary wiring for the project. (Then, after it was taken out, the missing panelling was replaced with drywall, which then had to be painted.) The workers also dug a trench across the yard to the garage to bury the wiring that brought the necessary power to the outbuilding, a fact that the reporters mentioned several times, suggesting that all this trench digging might be suspicious too.

In an effort to further illuminate the the paneling problem, the LA Times reporters located a security system expert in Tenafly, New Jersey, who opined that the wood paneling likely didn’t really need to be taken down.

That was pretty much all there was when it came to anything that purported to be newsworthy-–although the piece ran more than 1000 words.

Hmmmmm, I thought. As the daughter of a construction engineer, the sister of a mad do-it-yourselfer, and the mother of 28-year-old software engineer who, in his much younger years, did systems wiring for several small companies, I know that, without seeing the actual site, one would be unwise to opine from afar about whether or not one has to take down a section of wall paneling to properly wire a new…anything.

So why in the world did the Times have two reporters chasing this tepid thing, with a third reporter listed as having contributed?

I am not personally acquainted with one of the two reporters who were bylined in the series. But I do know the other to be an excellent journalist whose work I normally admire and respect a great deal.


THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE STEPS IN…OR NOT

When Story number 4 and story number 5 ran about whether or not Ridley-Thomas should have gotten building permits to put in the new system and install the TV or whatever, they seemed to be the same weak soup.

Then finally story number 6 showed up in our LA paper of record this week.

“D.A. probes work on Ridley-Thomas’ garage” the headline announced.

The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is looking into whether thousands of dollars in taxpayer money was misspent on improvements to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ home last year, an office spokeswoman said Tuesday.

That didn’t sound good. If the DA’s office was looking into the security system hullabaloo, surely there must be something to it.

Looking for clarification, I called the district attorney’s office and talked to their main spokeswoman, Jean Guccione.

Guccione told me that, yes, they were investigating the matter, but they were doing so in response to a citizen’s complaint.

Oh.

So it wasn’t something that they’d initiated on their own because they were concerned that something untoward had gone on?

No, she said. She went on to explain that when a citizen complains about possible wrongdoing, the DA is required to take at least a nominal look to find out if there’s anything to it.

In fairness to the Times, they did mention the citizen complaint angle in their story, but they did so all the way down in paragraph number five and then wrote ominously that the DA’s spokeswoman “declined to elaborate.”

Right.


OTHER GRUMPY JOURNALISTS

Just about the time I was getting irritable regarding this series, both Dennis Romero at the Weekly and Bill Boyarsky at LA Observed were putting together their own thoughts.

Here’s a clip from Romero’s story Why Is the L.A. Times Obsessed With Mark Ridley-Thomas’ Garage?:

The five county supervisors, who represent more constituents than some United States senators, run county government, including the sheriff’s department, probation, child and family services, animal control and more. They’re fair game for a newspaper looking to hold public officials accountable, no doubt.

But the Times seems absolutely obsessed with what amounts to $6,278.61 of your money spent on a security system for Ridley-Thomas’ converted garage-office — even though such security work is allowed under county policy, and even though the reporter who first pursued the story, CBS L.A.’s David Goldstein, essentially passed on it:

County policy entitles the supes to taxpayer-funded security. That includes sheriff’s deputies who escort them to public events, and security systems installed at their homes. The south county’s Ridley-Thomas and east county supervisor Gloria Molina represent the most crime-challenged districts in greater L.A., even as the law requires the two officials to live in the communities from which they were elected.

The $6,278.61 spent on Ridley-Thomas’ home is less than what the Times acknowledges was spent on similar security upgrades to the home of fellow supervisor Molina — $7,406.72 worth.

[GIGANTIC SNIP]

And, in fall, while Mark-Ridley Thomas was getting $6,278.61 worth of home security at your expense, City of Los Angeles taxpayers were footing the bill for about $375,000 worth of improvements to Getty House, the official mayoral residence in Windsor Square, which is operated by a nonprofit group.

That’s 59 times the dollar amount attributed to Ridley-Thomas’ now-controversial garage alarm system.

And now here’s a clip from Boyarsky’s column,Behind the Ridley Thomas garage caper:

Ridley-Thomas told me that when he notified county officials he intended to move his home office, including his county computer, into the garage, they said they would have to revamp his county-supplied home security system. In addition, they said they, themselves, would have to move his county computer, with its high-speed Internet connection, into the new office. They had to do this, they said, to protect the county computer system from hackers.

Besides linking up with the Internet, the high-speed connection reaches the sheriff’s office and other security agencies, Ridley Thomas said. Each task requires wiring. In addition, the alarm system needs a wire to draw power from the home supply. So there must be wiring for a few purposes—high-speed Internet connection, law enforcement notification for emergencies and power for the computer and the security alarm system , Ridley-Thomas explained.

County employees and the contractors looked at the garage wall and said they wouldn’t be able to install so much wiring behind the wall without ripping it out. Since the garage was 30 years old, they said they couldn’t find replacements for the old wooden wall. Let’s hang dry wall over the wiring and paint it, they said. They preferred that solution to hanging the wires on outside of the old wall and covering them with molding. Fine, replied Ridley Thomas.

Reporters Leonard and Pringle quoted number a home security experts who said there was no need to rip out the wall to install wiring for the security system. “Ripping the walls out? That’s absolutely ridiculous,” said Nigel Smithers, Southern California general for Absolute Security Alarms. Ridley-Thomas is angry about the coverage and called me at home, hoping I would look into it. He said it was always clear that he would pay for the air conditioner, television and refrigerator. “This was above board, there was no attempt to hide anything, it was completely appropriate and legitimate,” he said.

The real dispute is over the amount of wiring needed and whether the wall should have been replaced. Was so much wiring required that the contractors had to rip down the wall? Would a cord from Home Depot sufficed? Was taxpayer money wasted?


WHY YOU AND I SHOULD CARE

So why are we writing about this in WitnessLA? After all, we’re a criminal justice news site.

Answer: Because, if as journalists we don’t kindly hold each other to account, who will? And at WLA, we are truly dismayed that the LA Times would spend this much time and reportorial energy attempting make something out of an obvious non-scandal that they, frankly, seem to justify mostly by the use of misleading headlines and very questionable lead paragraphs.

There are so many potential stories of real consequence in our county that are crying out for attention.

(I mean the corruption and malfeasance still awaiting documentation in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, is one….um…random example.)

So we’d like to gently and respectfully say: C’mon guys. You’re much better than this.

We need you to be better than this.


EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s lots more to report on topics other than Mark Ridley-Thomas’ garage. We’ll catch up on those issues Tuesday morning. In the meantime, have a great weekend.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles Times, writers and writing | 4 Comments »

With Gratitude to Wanda Coleman: 1946 – 2013

November 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


“Like Wallace Stegner, I am in the ‘universal’ tradition of writers who concern themselves with The Truth—never mind that it is apt to hurt someone, in some way, most likely me.”

– Wanda Coleman, The Riot Inside Me

After Wanda Coleman died on Friday, most of those writing obituaries to honor her noted that she was widely thought to be the poet laureate of Los Angeles. Certainly, one would be hard pressed to find anyone who fit that bill better than Coleman.

Yet, for me, author and LA Times book reviewer, David Ulin, goes more to the heart of the matter of her significance to LA literature in this essay he wrote remembering this woman he rightly described as a force of nature:

Coleman was the conscience of the L.A. literary scene — a poet, essayist and fiction writer who helped transform the city’s literature when she emerged in the early 1970s…..

…She was the keystone, the writer who shifted L.A. writing, irrevocably and to the benefit of all of us, from an outside to an inside game, a literature of place.

The importance of this can’t be overstated; without Coleman, there’d be a lot less here for the rest of us. She taught us to write about the city we saw, the city in which we lived, to turn our backs on the stereotype and stare down the reality instead.

In terms of worldly accomplishments, Coleman wrote 22 books, won an Emmy for her TV writing on “Days of Our Lives,” won a Guggenheim Fellowship for poetry in 1984, and the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1999. Her collection, “Mercurochrome,” was a finalist for a 2001 National Book Award.

Literarily speaking, she was, to use a faddish word, a disrupter. As Ulin suggested, she challenged the rest of us to ground ourselves in the real, to make art out of only that which mattered, to cut the B.S. or get outta the way.

Thankfully, for anyone with any sense, she was impossible to resist.


If you’d like to hear a bit more of Coleman’s work, listen to this 2012 reading on KCRW of some of what she wrote in response to the Watts and the Rodney King riots.

Posted in American artists, American voices, writers and writing | 1 Comment »

Why Do Kids Falsely Confess to Crimes?…LAPD Union Likes Body Camera Idea (With Caveats)….And It’s Banned Books Week Again

September 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



We know that a significant percentage of those who are falsely convicted—and later exonerated-
–have been convicted largely because they confessed to crimes they did not commit.

It turns out, however, that kids are far more likely to falsely confess than adults, according to a new database of more than 1,100 exonerations that have occurred over the last 25 years.

In a story for the Juvenile Justice Exchange, Gary Gately asked a bunch of experts why this is so?

Here’s a clip from Gately’s report:

The National Registry of Exonerations, put together by the Northwestern University Law School and the University of Michigan Law School, showed 38 percent of youths who were convicted and later cleared had given false confessions, compared with 11 percent of adults.

Experts note juveniles’ brains aren’t fully developed and that teens tend to be impulsive and less mature than adults. Juveniles often don’t weigh long-term consequences of their actions and can be more easily intimidated than adults, and teens have typically been taught to respect authority figures like police officers.

Samuel R. Gross, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Law School and editor of the National Registry of Exonerations, pointed out there’s a high proportion of false confessions among juveniles and suspects with mental disabilities, for some of the same reasons.

“These are people who are easier to mislead [than adults], easier to manipulate, more trusting, more likely to be afraid, more likely to be confused, more likely to not understand what’s going on, and we see that repeatedly in the descriptions people give after the fact of why they falsely confess,” Gross told JJIE.


LAPD UNION LIKES MOVE BY NEW COMMISSION PREZ TO GET BODY CAMERAS BUT URGES WISE USE OF THEM

Monday, the LAPPL—the LAPD’s union—put out a statement regarding the fast track move by new police commission head, Steve Soberoff, to get body cameras for the department’s officers. In essence the union officials are very much in favor of the cameras, but urge wise protocols. (Indeed, like any tool, the cameras may be used well or poorly.)

Here’s a clip from their statement:

The Digital In-Car Camera System has proven to be another tool to improve officer safety and accountability, enhance training and improve prosecution of criminal cases. The review of videos by arresting officers has proven valuable in the documentation of criminal activity and subsequent testimony. However, concerns have been raised as to how the Department uses the videos for administrative purposes, and we are addressing those issues as they arise, so as not to allow “gotcha” mentality or misuse to derail the intended purpose. We believe that our officers have not only a duty to be accurate, but a right to be accurate. To that end, the review of video and/or audio evidence before writing reports, testifying, or submitting to interviews in not only important, but vital to that goal.

While video can be helpful, we should all remember that video images and/or recordings are two-dimensional and therefore are not by themselves complete investigations. The work rules for the deployment and use of body cams must assure our members that they not be used to unfairly or unreasonably scrutinize an officer’s work performance.


CELEBRATING BANNED BOOKS WEEK—BY READING AND CHEERING BANNED BOOKS

Banned Books Week has come around again. And a number of publications—- like Forbes….the LA Times….The Washington Times—are celebrating the week by calling attention to their favorite banned books.

This year, in addition to the perennial classics like Lolita and To Kill a Mockingbird, we find on the list The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

(Oh, book banning persons, you never cease to amaze!)


NOTE: I’m up in the state of Montana this week and much of next, so this is a shorter-than-usual post. More tomorrow.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Innocence, juvenile justice, LAPD, writers and writing, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Court Rules Police Are Protected As Whistleblowers….. Judge Awards $3 Million to Parents of Zac Champommier….WWED? What Would Elmore Do?….and More Sheriff Challenger Interviews

August 22nd, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



9TH CIRCUIT SAYS POLICE ARE PROTECTED AS WHISTLEBLOWERS BY 1ST AMENDMENT

The decision on Wednesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is very interesting, and also very important.

Here’s the deal: A former Burbank police detective, Angelo Dahlia, said he was suspended after reporting that fellow officers had beaten suspects and then told him to keep his mouth shut about it. After witnessing the abuse, he first reported what he had seen to his direct superior, but was told to “stop his sniveling,” according to the court. Any further attempts were met with the same dismissal.

Next Dahlia went to Burbank PD’s Internal Affairs, and the real retaliating allegedly began.

When Dahlia finally went outside his agency and talked to investigators from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and eventually to the FBI, he was reportedly directly threatened by one of the Burbank PD’s lieutenants who, according to the ruling, warned Dahlia, “Fuck with me and I will put a case on you, and put you in jail.” Plus there were reportedly other unpleasant retaliations.

And then he was put on administrative leave.

So he sued.

A lower court tossed out his lawsuit, contending that Dahlia’s actions did not constitute whistleblower activity, so were not eligible for First Amendment protections because, according to a 2009 ruling, Huppert v. City of Pittsburg, as a law enforcement office, reporting wrongdoing was a part of his job.

The 9th circuit disagreed. They ruled that, the moment Dahlia went outside of the Burbank PD, he should be accorded the same First Amendment protection as a private citizen.

So they reinstated his lawsuit.

This ruling, which may be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, struck down Huppert, which had denied cops most whistleblower protection, to set an important new precedent.

“The practical reality,” wrote a court member, “is that quite a few police officers are reluctant to report acts of police abuse committed by their fellow officers. The ‘officer code of silence’ describes the understanding that “an officer does not provide adverse information against a fellow officer. The public’s trust is diminished when a law enforcement officer abides by the code of silence to cover up misconduct engaged in by fellow officers. To strengthen the public’s confidence in the integrity of its law enforcement officers, it is essential that an officer be encouraged or required to report misconduct committed by fellow officers.”

Indeed.

Scott Michelman, attorney for the advocacy group, Public Citizen, which helped to bring the appeal, credited the decision with helping to ensure transparency when “public officials are engaging in misconduct,” writes Tim Hull, reporting for The Courthouse News Service.

“Courageous police officers like Angelo Dahlia are in many circumstances the public’s best or even only available source of information about police corruption and abuse,” Michelman said in a statement.

Sources tell us that the ruling will come as very good news to the various members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department who have filed lawsuits against the department for alleged retaliation when they attempted to blow the whistle on LASD corruption and abuse.


JUDGE AWARDS $3 MILLION TO NORTHRIDGE TEENAGER, ZAC CHAMPOMMIER, WHO WAS SHOT AND KILLED BY A DEA AGENT IN INCIDENT WITH DEA AND LASD OFFICERS

This case goes back to the tragic 2010 shooting of 18-year-old Zachary Champommier that WLA reported on here and here.

Both Frank Stoltze of KPCC and The Associate Press were in court and have reports that will give you the details.

Here are two clips from Stoltze’s story:

In a rare ruling against a federal law enforcement officer, a judge in Los Angeles on Wednesday found an undercover U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agent committed battery when he shot and killed an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of a San Fernando Valley strip mall in 2010.

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald awarded the parents of Zachary Champommier $3 million dollars in general damages. Champommier had graduated from Granada Hills High School three weeks before his death.

[SNIP]

The incident occurred as plainclothes DEA agents and L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies gathered outside a Studio City restaurant after serving a search warrant on a nearby house. The officers were in the process of detaining a man Champommier was coming to meet.

Witnesses said that as Champommier started to drive away, he struck a sheriff’s deputy. Federal attorneys argued that DEA agent Peter LoPresti shot Champommier because he believed he was a threat. The sheriff’s deputy also fired his weapon.

And from the AP:

….They said Champommier drove his mom’s car to the parking lot to meet someone he befriended on a social networking website. The friend went looking for Champommier’s white Corolla and became a suspect when he looked into an agent’s light-colored vehicle, which had seized guns and drugs.

Agents were in the process of arresting the friend when the deputy approached the scene with his gun drawn.

Champommier’s parents claimed the deputy stepped in front of their son’s car and “vaulted” on top of its hood like a Hollywood stuntman.

Fitzgerald wrote that within two seconds of the “low-speed impact” of the collision, DEA agent Peter Taylor LoPresti fired through the driver side of the window from about 2 feet away, killing Champommier.

The judge noted that LoPresti “did not articulate at trial exactly how shooting the driver of a moving vehicle while another officer was on the hood would be helpful to the besieged officer.”

He found that five subsequent shots fired by LoPresti and the deputy “unquestionably lacked justification.”

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the US Attorney’s office, said the government is considering an appeal.


WHAT WOULD ELMORE DO? NOW, SADLY, WE HAVE TO ANSWER THAT QUESTION ON OUR OWN

Among my favorite tales about the gloriously talented and much-beloved crime and mystery writer Elmore Leonard, who died on Tuesday, has to do with the wonderful FX series, Justified, which is based on one of Leonard’s short stories called “Fire In the Hole.” It seems that Justified’s creator, Graham Yost, was so intent on the tone of the show remaining true to Leonard’s unique voice that he gave everyone on the writing and acting staff little blue rubber wristbands printed with WWED? “What Would Elmore Do?”

For aspiring writers—hell, for any writer—those four letters are a far better guide to good work than many graduate school degrees.

A master of the American crime thriller, Leonard’s novels raised crime writing to art.

His partly humorous, part deadly series “10 Rules for Writing,” written in 2001 for the New York Times, are worth noting:

1. Never open a book with weather.
2. Avoid prologues.
3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
5. Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
9. Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Of the obits I’ve read thus far on Leonard, I recommend this one by mystery novel reviewer, Marilyn Stasio for the New York Times, and this one for The Daily Beast by Malcolm Jones…and this lovely essay about Leonard’s unbeatable sense of voice, by Joan Acocella for the New Yorker.


MORE INTERVIEWS WITH CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF: THIS TIME WITH PAT GOMEZ

Now that challengers in the race for sheriff, Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince, have been interviewed on KABC, it’s Pat Gomez’s turn.

Pat will be on Larry Elder Thursday at 5:14 pm, and on with Doug McIntyre on Monday at 7:15 am.

We will continue to try to keep you reasonably up-to-date on events related to the race for sheriff. If we miss something please let us know.

PS: For anyone who missed the various Larry Elder interviews, then—like me—noted that the podcasts are vexingly hidden behind a pay wall, for a mere $4.95 you can buy a monthly membership to Elder’s podcast club, and listen to talk from the three previous candidates. (But don’t forget to cancel your membership when the month is up if you don’t want it to auto renew.)

Posted in 2014 election, American artists, American voices, crime and punishment, criminal justice, writers and writing | 16 Comments »

WitnessLA Wins Two 1st Places at So Cal Journalism Awards! (and More Journo Awards News!)

June 24th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

WOOO-HOOO!

We were extremely honored (and kinda blown away) when WitnessLA won 1st Place in both catagories in which we were finalists at in the Southern California Journalism Awards, given out Sunday night at the LA Press Club gala dinner.

Specifically, Matt Fleisher won in the category of best Database Driven Online Journalism for his excellent story PAY TO PLAY: Does the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have an unofficial quid pro quo promotion system? (This story was done, by the way, with the help of a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism, which allowed us to hire our smart UCLA numbers whizzes.)

The judges said, “While Fleischer collected and used information drawn from readily available public records to support his story, the results were presented in an especially effective way for the reader with easy to understand charts and graphs, along with supporting descriptions. Other entries made use of more complicated research and analyses. But ultimately, this entry was the best at communicating the findings in a clear and concise manner.”

And then Matt and I together won in the catagory of best Investigative Online Journalism, for the series of articles we did last year investigating corruption and dysfunction in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The judges said: “When a well-researched, fair and balanced piece of journalism results in … reform and justice, you know it must be good. Reporters Fremon and Fleischer did their homework in this multi-part series and it paid off.”

Thank you judges, and thank you LA Press Club!

PS: When it comes to prizes, WLA has been extremely fortunate in the past few years. (Here’s 2012, 2011, and 2010) But this year, getting two 1st places was both a giganzoid surprise and very happy-making.)


LOTS OF CHEER-WORTHY WINNERS

There were many other heartening wins on Sunday night, which felt like a good night for journalism. Among them:

Warren Only & Which Way LA? won for Public Service with their amazing week-long series: Special Programming: 20 Years After the Riots”

LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus was deservedly named Print Journalist of the Year (over 50,000 circulation)

Warren Olney walked away with the Radio Journalist of the Year prize (as we hoped he would!)

The LA Times’ Molly Hennessy Fisk won for best News Feature for her deeply affecting series “Standing Up: Davien’s Story.”

The excellent Gustavo Arellano of OC Weekly, won for best Business Reporting for “Is Aaron Kushner the Pied Piper of Print?

Neon Tommy reporters did deservedly well in a bunch of categories.

And there were many other worthy winners.…columnist Amy Alkon….Marty Kaplan at the Jewish Journal…reporters from The Downtown News and the Hollywood Reporter…Deanne Stillman….KCET’s So Cal Connected and more.

In addition, special awards went to KNBC4′s Fred Roggin and Sue Laris of the Downtown News.

Comedy legend Carl Reiner recieved the club’s President’s Award.

The Daniel Pearl Award for Courage and Integrity went to the astonishingly brave Mexican journalist Sandra Rodriguez Nieto.

AND my beautiful neighbor and pal, actress Wendie Malick, was one of the celeb presentors!


Posted in media, writers and writing | 3 Comments »

Waiting 4 SCOTUS On Prop. 8 & DOMA…..Oakland Commits to Ambitious School Reform……2 Sad & Notable Deaths…

June 20th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


HOW WILL THE SUPREMES RULE ON GAY MARRIAGE? WILL THEY BE BRILLIANTLY GAME-CHANGING OR DINOSAURISHLY GHASTLY? OR SOMETHING IN BETWEEN? HERE’S ONE RUMOR-LADEN SPECULATION

While we wait for the Supreme Court’s rulings on the two gay rights cases, California’s Prop 8 and DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) the speculation and the worry about the various possible decisions, and combinations of decisions, is starting to rev up again.

One story we recommend is by UCLA law school prof and Constitutional expert, Adam Winkler, writing for the New Republic. Yes, the essay is a bit in the “What if truly horrible things happened?!!” vein, but it’s smart and thoughtful, and worth your time. Here’s a clip:

Ever since the Supreme Court heard two major gay rights cases in March, the conventional wisdom among court-watchers is that we’re likely to see a split decision. The Court, according to most experts, will probably strike down the Defense of Marriage Act and issue a narrow ruling, perhaps on procedural grounds, on the California Proposition 8 same-sex marriage case. That outcome would be an incremental but important step forward in the progress of gay civil rights. Although gay marriage would not yet be recognized as a fundamental right, the Court would establish that the federal government can’t deny gay couples that are already lawfully married access to federal benefits, like social security or spousal tax exemptions.

Yet what if the Court doesn’t strike down DOMA? This past weekend, I visited Washington, D.C., and spoke to well-placed lawyers about the prospects for DOMA. Surprisingly, I heard speculation that the Court would defy the conventional wisdom on DOMA. No one said the Court was likely to endorse the law. But there was serious concern that the Court would do in the DOMA case exactly what the conventional wisdom says the justices will do in the Proposition 8 case: avoid a definitive ruling by deciding the case on procedural grounds. If the speculation is true, the DOMA case could end up a major setback for the gay rights movement. And it could put the Obama administration on a crash course toward a constitutional crisis.

[BIG SNIP]

Now rumors about pending Supreme Court decisions should be taken with a whole shaker full of salt. The Court, known as the tightest ship in Washington, rarely leaks. Yet last term’s rumors that Chief Justice John Roberts had changed his vote in the Obamacare case at the last minute were borne out. Especially given the enormous stakes in the DOMA case, perhaps it’s time to consider what might happen if the justices were to kick the case without a final ruling on the merits of DOMA’s constitutionality.

The scuttlebutt focuses on the conservative justices…

And…..to find out the rest of the juicy gossip and mad speculation, you’ll have to click over to the New Republic.

PS: Adam Winkler was one of my esteemed panelists at this year’s LA Times Festival of Books so I can personally attest to his general smart-osity and stellar analytical abilities.


OAKLAND EMBRACES PROMISING SCHOOL REFORM MODEL TO ADDRESS INTERGENERATIONAL PROBLEMS STUDENTS FACE IN THE VIOLENT AND COMPLICATED CITY

The Oakland Unified School District has committed to an ambitious plan to implement full-service “community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The Center for Investigative Reporting has a large story on what Oakland is attempting. Here’s a clip that will give you an idea of what they’re up to. But for those interested in school reform and strategies to shatter the so-called school to prison pipeline, you’ll want to read the whole thing.

…..Enrollment in traditional Oakland public schools has plummeted by more than 16,000 students since 2000, according to district officials, as foreclosures have forced families out of the city and charter schools have siphoned off students. During the same period, the district has cycled through six superintendents and narrowly avoided bankruptcy only through a state takeover that ended in 2009.

Now, under growing public pressure to improve student safety and achievement, the district is attempting to reinvent itself by turning its 87 schools – including Fremont – into what are known as “full-service community schools,” equipped with staff trained to support students’ social, emotional and health needs, as well as their academic growth.

The concept is one that has been around for decades but is now gaining traction in districts across the U.S. as other reform efforts run up against problems related to poverty. The embracing of community schools is a stark shift from the “no-excuses” movement, which held that schools should be able to push all students to success no matter what their background. That idea dominated education reform for much of the past decade.

Community schools are just the opposite. At its core, the concept represents an explicit acknowledgement that problems with a child’s home life must be addressed to help the student succeed academically.

“There’s actually a lot of agreement that we need to work on both improving schools and addressing poverty,” said Michael Petrilli, executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank based in Ohio and Washington, D.C. “Particularly, as reformers get into the work of trying to run schools and make the system work better, they see in black and white just how important addressing the larger social problems is.”

Marty Blank, director of the nonprofit Coalition for Community Schools, which connects organizations and school districts doing community school work, estimates that at least 50 school districts around the country are launching similar initiatives. Chicago is home to more than 175 community schools. Portland, Ore., has 67 and Tulsa, Okla., 31. New York City, with the nation’s largest school system, has 21 community schools, and that number might grow soon, depending on this year’s mayoral election; the United Federation of Teachers is pushing for the city’s next mayor to adopt the strategy….

And where is LAUSD on this kind of sweeping reform?

Well, I guess it is weirdly encouraging that LA Schools have committed $30 million to buy nearly every kid in the district an iPad. But such wonderful learning tools require the practical and philosophical infrastructure to go with them. We believe Superintendent John Deasy is attempting to move in that direction. However the district as a whole has yet to even vaguely contemplate the kind of game changing commitment that we’re seeing in Oakland.


MICHAEL HASTINGS: MAKING NOISE AMID THE SILENCE

Fearless journalist Michael Hastings died in terrible fireball of a car wreck at approximately 4:25 a.m. on Tuesday, in the 600 block of North Highland Avenue. Hastings, 33, was the guy who did that 2010 interview/profile with General Stanley McChrystal for Rolling Stone, “The Runaway General,” which resulted in the general resigning his post as the supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan, after McChrystal and his staff openly talked smack about the foreign policy team in the Obama White House.

Yet, Hastings was not a sensationalist, as he was sometimes portrayed by detractors following that news blasting profile, according to colleagues—and those of us who read his work carefully—he was someone who wanted to write stories that mattered, stories without spin, stories that were fearless, stories that illuminated. Stories that were true.

Moreover, Hastings had earned the right to pursue those stories. He wasn’t the guy who showed up on scene with the spiffy, newly bought flak jacket. He’d paid dues. As Rolling Stone reports in its obituary:

For Hastings, “…there was no romance to America’s misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing…..

As Jon Lee Anderson wrote of Hastings on Wednesday in the New Yorker, we will miss “….his readiness to make noise amid agreed silences.”

Robin Abcarian at the LA Times has a good essay on Hastings titled “The Importance of Not Following the Rules.” Indeed.


LOSING JAMES GANDOLFINI

He was, friends and colleagues all agree, an enormously likable and gentle man. He was also a startlingly fine actor who left behind him an array of wonderfully-crafted characters. One of those characters was…indelible.


Posted in American voices, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, Education, How Appealing, LGBT, Life in general, School to Prison Pipeline, Supreme Court, writers and writing, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 1 Comment »

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