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Inmate Tech Entrepreneur Program Comes to Twin Towers…Help for LA’s Homeless Moms…Suicide of Deputy’s Girlfriend Leaves Much Unanswered…and a Bill for Brightly-Colored Fake Guns

November 25th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

PROGRAM TO TRAIN TWIN TOWERS INMATES FOR FUTURE JOBS WITH TECH START-UPS

A relatively new business tech program for inmates at San Quentin State Prison expanded this month to serve inmates at LA County’s Twin Towers Jail. Participants take classes twice a week for six months where they learn how to create and launch tech companies—from actual experts.

If inmates graduate the course, they are guaranteed paid internships upon their release from prison or jail. The program has been a successful anti-recidivism tool thus far: the five released San Quentin graduates are all employed in the tech sector.

KPCC’s Martha Mendoza has the story. Here’s a clip:

The rigorous, six-month training teaches carefully selected inmates the ins and outs of designing and launching technology firms, using local experts as volunteer instructors.

“We believe that when incarcerated people are released into the world, they need the tools to function in today’s high-tech, wired world,” says co-founder Beverly Parenti, who with her husband, Chris Redlitz, has launched thriving companies, including AdAuction, the first online media exchange…

“I figured, ‘We work with young entrepreneurs every day. Why not here?’” [Redlitz] recalled.

After discussions with prison administrators, Parenti and Redlitz decided to add a prison-based firm to their portfolio, naming it for the precarious journey from prison to home: The Last Mile.

Now, during twice-a-week evening lessons, students — many locked up before smartphones or Google— practice tweeting, brainstorm new companies and discuss business books assigned as homework. Banned from the Internet to prevent networking with other criminals, they take notes on keyboard-like word processors or with pencil on paper.

The program is still “bootstrapping,” as its organizers say, with just 12 graduates in its first two years and now a few dozen in classes in San Quentin and Twin Towers. But the five graduates released so far are working in the tech sector.

They are guaranteed paid internships if they can finish the rigorous training program, which requires prerequisite courses, proven social skills and a lifetime oath to lead by positive example.


NEW PROGRAM TO HELP LA’S HOMELESS MOMS GET BACK ON THEIR FEET

A new program will provide 60 homeless mothers with desperately-needed housing, mental health services, and help finding employment with funds raised by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services and LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. The program is an extension of Project 50, a homelessness initiative created by Supe. Yaroslavsky to locate and house Skid Row’s 50 most at-risk residents.

The LA Daily News’ Susan Abram has the story. Here are some clips:

Named for Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, the $1.8 million wing inside the Didi Hirsch Via Avanta building on Glenoaks Boulevard was hailed by county leaders and nonprofit groups as proof that collaboration can help solve one of the biggest problems in the region.

[SNIP]

About 54,000 people were counted as homeless in Los Angeles County this year, an 18 percent increase compared with the last survey in 2011, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority. About 15 percent of the county’s homeless are from the San Fernando Valley, which also is an increase, especially among families, the LAHSA figures show.

To help the homeless, Yaroslavsky championed Project 50 in 2010, an initiative to identify Skid Row’s 50 most vulnerable and chronically homeless, and get them housing, medical care, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment so they can live off the streets. But the supervisor acknowledged that it’s a massive undertaking, especially in Los Angeles, which continued to see an increase among the homeless this year compared to 2012, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Didi Hirsch program is an extension of Project 50, organizers said.

Didi Hirsch President and Chief Executive Officer Kita S. Curry said the new wing will help 60 women with children for six months. Afterward, the women will move into housing, thanks to vouchers secured by Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services.


A SUSPICIOUS SUICIDE AND A SHODDY INVESTIGATION: DEATH OF A LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER’S GIRLFRIEND STILL LEAVES TROUBLING QUESTIONS

In September 2010, in St. Augustine, FL., a young mother died from a wound inflicted by her boyfriend’s sheriff’s dept.-issued handgun. The young deputy, Jeremy Banks, said he heard the gunshots from several rooms away, and found his girlfriend Michelle O’Connell bleeding to death.

Investigated by Banks’ own department, the crime scene DNA was left untested, the neighborhood uncanvassed, family and friends uninterviewed, and O’Connell’s suspicious death was quickly pronounced a suicide. And, although new pieces of the puzzle turned up and pointed to Banks, including alleged domestic violence, efforts made to re-open the case were stamped out.

The NY Times’ Walt Bogdanich and Glenn Silber have an excellent interactive narrative of the case and the aftermath. (A PBS “Frontline” documentary produced concurrently with the article will premiere Tuesday, Nov. 29, at 10:00p.m., but has already been released on the PBS website.)

Here are some clips:

At 11:25 p.m., the three St. Johns County officers arrived at 4700 Sherlock Place, a one-story suburban house in this historic seaside community. A young deputy, Jonathan Hawley, was already there. “Oh my God,” he cried, seeing a young woman he knew lying on the bedroom floor, an inert, bloody mess.

Michelle O’Connell, 24, the doting mother of a 4-year-old girl, was dying from a gunshot in the mouth. Next to her was a semiautomatic pistol that belonged to her boyfriend, Jeremy Banks, a deputy sheriff for St. Johns County. A second bullet had burrowed into the carpet by her right arm.

Ms. Maynard quickly escorted Mr. Banks, who had been drinking, out of the house. “All of a sudden he started growling like an animal,” she said. With his fists, Mr. Banks pounded dents in a police car.

“I grabbed him and tuned him up,” another deputy, Wesley Grizzard, recalled. “I told him, I don’t care if you’re intoxicated or not, you better sober up.”

Within minutes of the shooting on Sept. 2, 2010, Mr. Banks’s friends, family and even off-duty colleagues began showing up, offering hugs and moral support. He huddled with his stepfather, a deputy sheriff in another county, before a detective interviewed him in a police car.

With his off-duty sergeant listening from the front seat, Mr. Banks gave this account: Ms. O’Connell had broken up with him and was packing to move out when she shot herself with his service weapon. He said he had been in another room.

Ms. O’Connell’s family, immediately suspicious, received a starkly different reception from the authorities. Less than two hours before she died, Ms. O’Connell had texted her sister, who was watching her daughter: “I’ll be there soon.” Yet when her outraged brother tried to visit the scene, officers blocked his way. The family’s request for an independent investigation was rebuffed, as was one sister’s attempt to tell the police that in the months before she died, Ms. O’Connell said she had been subjected to domestic abuse by Mr. Banks.

Before the sun rose the next morning over this place that calls itself “the nation’s oldest city,” the sheriff’s investigation was all but over.

Ms. O’Connell, the sheriff’s office concluded, took her own life. Detectives were so certain in their judgment that they never tested the forensic evidence collected after the shooting. Nor did they interview her family and friends, who would have told them that she was ecstatic over a new full-time job with benefits, including health insurance for her daughter.

Over time, though, the official narrative began to change. The sheriff asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to re-examine the case, and investigators found two neighbors who said they had heard a woman screaming for help that night, followed by gunshots. Their account prompted the medical examiner to revise his opinion from suicide to homicide, a conclusion shared by the crime reconstruction expert hired by state investigators.

Eventually, however, a special prosecutor appointed by Gov. Rick Scott decided there was insufficient evidence to prosecute and closed the case early last year. But that was hardly the final word. The state law enforcement agency asked for a special inquest into the death, saying significant questions remained. The sheriff, David B. Shoar, struck back in support of his officer, prompting an extraordinary conflict between two powerful law enforcement agencies.

And through it all, the O’Connell family continued to believe that the sheriff’s office, investigating one of its own, had blinded itself to the possibility that the shooting was a fatal case of domestic violence.

Domestic abuse is believed to be the most frequently unreported crime, and it is particularly corrosive when it involves the police. Taught to wield authority through control, threats or actual force, officers carry their training, their job stress and their guns home with them, amplifying the potential for abuse.

Yet nationwide, interviews and documents show, police departments have been slow to recognize and discipline abusers in uniform, largely because of a predominantly male blue wall of silence. Victims are often reluctant to file complaints, fearing that an officer’s colleagues simply will not listen or understand, or that if they do, the abuser may be stripped of his weapon and ultimately his family’s livelihood.

[SNIP]

The Times examined the case in collaboration with the PBS investigative news program “Frontline,” reviewing police, medical and legal records, interviewing dozens of people connected to the case, and consulting independent forensic and law enforcement experts.

The examination found that the investigation was mishandled from the start, not just by the sheriff and his officers, but also by medical examiners who espoused scientifically suspect theories that went unchallenged by prosecutors. Because detectives concluded so quickly that the shooting was a suicide, investigators failed to perform the police work that is standard in suspicious shootings, including collecting and testing all available evidence and canvassing neighbors.

(We highly recommend you go read the rest of this lengthy, but entirely worthwhile, article.)


BILL TO REQUIRE FAKE GUNS TO BE PAINTED IN BRIGHT COLORS TO BE REINTRODUCED

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) plans to reintroduce a bill that would require all fake guns—BB, airsoft, etc.—to be manufactured in bright colors. The revived bill comes in the wake of the recent fatal shooting of 13-year-old Andy Lopez by a Sonoma County deputy who mistook his airsoft gun for an assault rifle. (Read more about the shooting, and the previously failed legislation, here.)

The LA Times’ Patrick McGreevy has the story. Here’s a clip:

The death of Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, who was carrying a replica of an AK-47, might have been prevented if deputies could have determined the gun was not a real assault weapon, lawmakers said.

“When officers must make split-second decisions on whether or not to use deadly force, these replica firearms can trigger tragic consequences,” said Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles). “By making toy guns more obvious to law enforcement we can help families avoid the terrible grief of losing a child.”

De Leon plans to reintroduce a measure he wrote in 2011 that would have required BB guns to be painted a bright color.

That bill was requested by Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck in response to an incident in which 13-year old Rohayent Gomez was shot and left a paraplegic when police mistook his replica firearm for a real weapon. That bill failed passage in an Assembly committee.

Posted in Homelessness, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, law enforcement, Mental Illness, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Skid Row | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. shake my head Says:

    This bill will do nothing as there are many companies that offer to paint real guns any color you want. To me I am not going to assume a painted gun is fake, a gun is a loaded gun until proven otherwise. This is more wasted money.

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