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CLARIFICATION Re: Those LASD Donations & the Promotions Lists

October 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


When we originally posted the data lists along with Matt Fleischer’s Pay to Play story, they were posted in a form that was extremely hard to read. As a consequence, a number of people erroneously believed that they or someone whom they knew were listed as having donated to one of Paul Tanaka’s campaigns—when in fact they had not done so.

In any case, as you’ll note below, we’ve now found a program that allows for easy posting of the files as Excel spreadsheets, which makes them far easier to read and navigate.

Hopefully these will cear up any confusion.

In the first spreadsheet, you’ll find the combined list of those who donated, and those who took tests to promote (designated as LtTEST or SgtTEST) and got “banded,” and then when and if they got promoted. In many cases there is overlap (people who got promoted, also donated, and vice versa). But in other cases not. This first spread sheet lists everything.

Below that spreadsheet, there is a second that shows only those who donated, when and how much.

A third spreadsheet notes testing to promote, and dates of promotions—exclusive of whether people donated or not. (Here, again, the UCLA guys have listed dates of the tests and subsequent banding, in this case with the word TEST, for landing on the Intent to Promote list as INT, and then the date of promotion, if and when that occurred.)

Again, we apologize for any confusion those messier versions may have caused.

PS: We were originally not clear ourselves that our UCLA guys were so thorough with their spreadsheets that they also charted the test dates, along with the promotion dates, so we could see who took tests and did NOT get promoted, along with noting those who did. This was another cause for confusion. But if you look at the spread sheets with this fuller explanation in mind, I think everything will be clear. (However, if you find any anomalies, don’t hesitate to let us know.)

The actual spread sheets are after the jump.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

The Death of Zac Champommier: A Need to Know How & Why?

July 2nd, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Okay, first let me tell you what we know:

On Thursday night, June 24, a little after 9 p.m., a multi-agency task force made up of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, and DEA agents were meeting in the back parking lot of the Chipotle Mexican Grill, located on corner of Laurel Canyon and Ventura Blvds.

The officers had just served a search warrant as part of an operation targeting what they designated as a “High Intensity Drug Traffic Area.’ Now they were standing around debriefing behind Chipotle’s.

As the officers talked, they noticed a guy peering into some parked cars in another part of the lot, including some of their own unmarked cars. The officers said later, they thought the guy might be casing vehicles with the intention of committing a crime.

A couple of the officers confronted the guy whom, they said, declined to comply. A struggle reportedly ensued.

After that, events moved quickly, according to a report by Lt. Gallagher of the Sheriff’s Homicide Bureau.

An additional deputy approached to assist, drew his handgun, and ordered the suspect to the ground. A white sedan, driven by a second suspect, sped toward the group, hitting the deputy.

The deputy was thrown into the air, landed on the hood, hit the windshield, and was thrown back onto the ground. The deputy and a Drug Enforcement Administration agent, fearing for their lives, fired their duty weapons at the suspect vehicle. The car accelerated a short distance through the parking lot, crashing into several parked cars.

It is unknown, at this time, if the two suspects were connected.

The first suspect was being detained and questioned by detectives

The second “suspect” was 18-year-old Zac Champommier. The “white sedan” was his Toyota stick shift, reportedly registered to his mother.

Three weeks before to the night, Zac had graduated with honors from Granada Hills Charter High School. In the fall, he would be heading for college.

In high school, however, more than anything, Zac had been a band and orchestra kid—a music guy. He played the saxophone in Granada Hills’ Highlander marching band. In the school orchestra, he played strings, usually the viola. The band kids socialized together, did tour dates, entered contests. They were something like a big family, according to friends and teachers.

In terms of his own family, Zach was the only child of a single mom, Carol, who doted on her son. She and Zac’s dad, Rick Feldman, were divorced and badly estranged, but the dad still adored the kid too. Carol is an elementary school teacher. Most of her students’ parents had either heard a lot about or met Zac. She was that kind of over-the-moon proud.

It appears the pride was warranted. According to his friends’ anguished posts on the Facebook page put up in his honor, Zac was funny, talented, smart, handsome, lively, gentle, playful, idealistic—a kid who was going good places, who would expected to succeed, but likely not lose his soul doing it.

One of his friends noted that he always wore a chain with an angel wing charm, a symbol of his idealism.

In December of 2009, he wrote on his MySpace page that he wanted to get an education….see the world, meet new people, and then “I’ll find that special someone, I’ll learn everything I want to, I’ll do what I want with my life and live in that house in the mountains and own a bookstore!

“Ya, that’s actually what I want. No joke.”

Friends and teachers also posted in the comments section of the LA Times Homicide report. In the posts they were adamant that events on the night Zac died, as the sheriffs described them, were in no way consistent with the Zac Champommier that everyone had known.

“I knew Zachary,” wrote one of the teachers, “… he was one of my students and nothing in his character would ever convince his peers, family and friends that he did something deliberately destructive or hurtful to another person. He would not have knowingly attacked law enforcement officers. It simply wasn’t in his nature.”

Yet it is a fact that Zac slammed into a sheriff’s deputy with his car, and it is a fact that Zac Champommier was shot dead by two members of law enforcement. According to the coroner, the fatal bullet entered through his left arm into his armpit then traveled deeper.

So what in the world happened? How did this good kid with no priors, loads of friends, a bright future, doting family, no immediately evident dank emotional reservoirs, end up tossing a deputy with a car, then get himself shot dead by law enforcement in a Studio City parking lot on a Thursday night.?

Before we can answer those larger questions, a great many smaller ones need to be answered.

For example:

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LASD | 94 Comments »

80 to Life: Sentencing Tedi Snyder – UPDATED

May 28th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Tedi Snyder will be sentenced today, Friday, in division 120 on the 13th floor
of the criminal courts building, Judge Sam Ohta presiding.

He is expected to receive 80 to life. That means he will be 95 when his first possible parole date rolls around.

The Youth Justice Coalition will hold a press conference outside the court building to protest the long sentences like Tedi’s that are being handed out to juveniles with increasing abandon.

(Much of the information I have on the case came from Kim McGill, YJC’s remarkable founder.)

UPDATE: The judge had a personal emergency on Friday morning so the sentencing hearing has been postponed until August.

However also on Friday, Lily Burk’s kidnapper and killer, Charlie Samuel, pleaded guilty to the crime in order to avoid a possible death sentence. He was accordingly sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.

This means that Tedi Snyder—convicted of a non-lethal gang-related shooting that occurred before he was old enough to be eligible to get a driver’s license, —is likely to get a sentence that is only slightly less severe than that given to a 50-year-old parolee with a previous violent conviction, who has admitted to kidnapping, beating and murdering a 17-year-old high school girl, whom he abducted in order to rob.

Okay, now back to our story.

Tedi Snyder was 15-years old when he was involved in the gang shooting for which he will be sentenced today in adult court. Thankfully no one was killed as a result of the shooting.

But they could have been.

Prior to the shooting, Tedi ran afoul of the law once. He stole something. The judge felt that he was an otherwise good kid, so gave him probation and required that he stay in school. Tedi did stay in school. But he also became involved with a local gang.

Much of his growing involvement had to the do with the fact that, when he was thirteen, he saw a close friend shot dead right in front of him in a gang-related incident. The next year, when Tedi was fourteen, another close friend was shot and killed in the gang mess that seemed to be everpresent in Tedi’s LA neighborhood.

A year after that, Tedi himself was shot in the head. It was unclear for a while if he would live. But he did live. A few months later, the trauma-ridden disaffected boy was shot one more time, this time in the hand.

The very next day he participated in a shooting of his own. I don’t know alll of the circumstances. I also don’t know for sure if Tedi was the shooter. I presume he was. But perhaps he just participated. Either role could get him this sentence. I do know that, whoever held the gun was, fortunately, not a good shot. One of the intended victims, members of a rival gang, was shot in the foot. Or maybe it was the ankle.

It took four years for Tedi’s case to make it’s way through the court system. (So much for a speedy trial.) When the verdict was handed down, he was nearly 20 years old.

The jury found Tedi guilty of attempted murder. Then the prosecutor piled on whatever “enhancements” he could, which lengthened the sentence—as is usual with LA gang cases.

Of course, since the recent Supreme Court ruling that juveniles who don’t kill anybody can’t be given life without parole, prosecutors can get nearly the same result with a sentence of, say, 80 years.

No one is arguing that the Tedi Snyders of the world must be held accountable for their actions
. After all, with just a little bit of bad luck, some other kid might have died the day of the shooting in question. We could have tried him as a juvenile and thrown the book at him, keeping him locked until he’s 25.

But do we really want to put Tedi Snyder in prison for what amounts to the rest of his life for what he did as a traumatized, disaffected, angry fool of a 15-year-old?

Or should would we be wise to find a way to see his crime in a context of emotional distress, PTSD and the stupidity of youth?

The worst thing about this upcoming sentencing, among a number of “worst things” is that Tedi Snyder’s case is by no means unusual. It is simply the one I happened to hear about this week.

Below you’ll find the letter that Tedi’s father has written to Judge Ohta. It is obviously a letter from a grieving parent, and therefore I make no pretense of its objectivity, nor do I know anything about the family, or where the dad was when all these years of shooting was going on. But the parent’s heartbreak the letter portrays is undeniable—-and worth your time.

Before we get to the dad’s letter, however, one small detour: I must admit it feels like an unhappy irony that the couple who killed USC student Adrianna Bachan last year in a hit and run case were also sentenced this week. If you remember, the woman driver blew through a red light, hit Adrianna and also hit her friend, Marcus Garfinkle, who was struck with such force his body lodged halfway inside the car’s windshield. The couple together yanked Garfinkle out of the windshield, injuring him further and pushed his body to the street, then took off.

The driver and the passenger were sentenced to 8 and 7 years respectively.

Okay, here’s the letter from Ted Sr.

Honorable Sam Ohta
Judge, L.A. County Superior Court
210 West Temple Street
13th Floor, Division 120
Los Angeles, CA

Re: Theodore Snyder, Jr.

Dear Judge Ohta:

I am urging the court, the office of the District Attorney and all of Los Angeles to consider the case of my son, Theodore Snyder, who will be sentenced today to 80 years to Life in a case where no one was killed. He was 15 years old when he was arrested, and has spent the last four, long years in juvenile hall and County jail going back and forth to court. This experience has taught me a lot about the myths of justice in America – including the myths of a speedy trial, a jury of your peers and “innocent until proven guilty.”

During my adult life, all I ever wanted was to have a son. It took me 47 years to get Tedi, and I can’t bear to think that he will have only 15 years with me.

Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in juvenile justice | 10 Comments »

Tuesday Must Reads

January 25th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


The story below is about a video that that supposedly proved that police officers had lied about their probable cause to search a suspect’s car—a search that produced an illegal gun. It turns out now that the video proved no such thing: It was doctored:

Here’s Jack Leonard’s report for the LA Times.

It was meant to be a smoking gun: A grainy security video that proved police corruption.

Officers said they had stopped Rafat Abdallah because his white Mercedes was missing a license plate. During a search of the car, they discovered a loaded handgun — a serious crime for a convicted felon like Abdallah.

But the footage, taken from a surveillance camera, clearly showed a license plate on Rafat Abdallah’s white Mercedes as he left his business just moments before officers pulled him over.

The video was proof, Abdallah’s attorney contended, that the police officers fabricated their story about the missing license plate.

But it was the video that was fabricated.

Defense attorney Jim Epstein conceded in court Friday that he had come to believe that the footage — taken from a surveillance camera at a wholesale produce business owned by Abdallah — was a fraud.

The Fox News report above was the result of attorney Epstein’s PR efforts with the phony tape.

(NOTE TO MR EPSTEIN: when you’re peddling a video as yet untested for its veracity, it’s wise to ditch the smug routine when you yourself are on camera.

(NOTE TO FOX 11: When you screw up badly by airing an unvetted tape like this one, a correction would be nice.)


KPCC’s Julie Smalls reports on Governor Schwarzenegger’s latest hare-brained scheme idea to reduce the state’s prison population:

Governor Schwarzenegger railed against what he called “reckless” state spending on prisons during a speech at the Sacramento press club today. The governor suggested that California pay Mexico to house some of the undocumented inmates in state prisons.

In truth, it’s not an altogether crazy idea since those Arnold was talking about moving would be deported to Mexico anyway, after they’d served their terms. I suppose, at least, it shows he’s trying to think creatively.


In the preliminary hearing that occurred on Monday, Lily Burk’s alleged killer, Charles Samuel, was bound over for trial for the murder of the 17-year old.

In a part of the hearing, the prosecution presented the coroner’s report. which demonstrated that Lily Burk had fought hard to save her life. Lily’s mother cried after the report was read. Her father couldn’t bear to be in the courtroom.

I understand. I can barely stand to read the information once removed in the LA Times, and she is not my daughter.


Benjamin Busch was an infantry officer in the United States Marine Corps.
He is also a writer. He wrote the essay that begins below for NPR:

As a Marine invading Iraq in 2003, I thought we actively separated church and state from our motives.

I know that Scripture embedded in the obscure numbers on rifle scopes may seem like a small detail, and that manufacturer Trijicon likely intended no particular malice by placing biblical references on its equipment. Like, 2COR4:6 represents 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” There seems to have been neither marketing nor secrecy associated with the presence of these inscriptions.

But these are not innocent times, and the codes are still messages printed and sent out. These notes have now been read and exposed, and we have the baggage of explaining ourselves to people convinced that many of our actions are motivated by religion instead of self-defense, justice or altruism. …

Read the rest.

Posted in LAPD, media | 7 Comments »

Silence for Lily Burk

August 12th, 2009 by


From the program for Lily Burk’s memorial service at Barnsdall Art Park last Sunday.

Comments are closed.

Posted in crime and punishment, families | No Comments »

Politicizing the Death of Lily Burk

August 9th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


The memorial service for 17-year-old Lily Burk will be held at 5 p.m. Sunday night at Barnsdall Art Park.
The press has been wisely excluded from the service, except for a single pool camera. Rick Wartzman, one of the Burk-Drooz family spokespersons, has asked that media members kindly refrain from questioning mourners on their way to and from the memorial. Let us hope that the media complies.

Of course, Greg Burk, Lily’s father, is himself a member of the press. So too are many of the friends and extended family members who have clustered around Greg and his wife, Lily’s mother, Deborah Drooz in this time of unimaginable sorrow. Yet those press will be at Barndall Park to grieve and to offer whatever comfort they can, not to report.

In the coming days and weeks, however, it is likely that Lily Burk’s name will be invoked frequently as California state legislature again takes up its discussion about how to cut $1.2 from the state’s corrections budget.

It would be helpful if those discussions could be fact based . But, if past days are any indication, all too many of them will not be.

I have an op ed in Sunday’s LA Times that talks about the dangers of politicizing a horrifying crime like the murder of Lily Burk.

There is much more still to talk about.

Here is the essay’s opening:

Some deaths trigger our collective grief and fury more than others. In the spring of 2008, it was the killing of college-bound running back Jamiel Shaw II, a handsome boy shot dead on an L.A. sidewalk a hundred yards from his front door while his Army sergeant mother served her country 8,000 miles away in Iraq. This summer, the horror that grabbed us was the kidnapping and murder of 17-year-old Lily Burk.

Yet, as is often true with such heart-lacerating cases, with every new revelation about Lily’s murder these last two weeks, the voices of those who seek to morph our grief into this or that public policy agenda grow ever louder.

Like Jamiel Shaw, Lily was a kid we could each imagine as our own. She was smart, a national merit scholar. She was unusually well-liked — the comments on the Facebook page created in her memory express this in vivid detail. Through repeated exposure to the photo her parents provided to the media after her death, we were able to believe that we knew her: Lily Burk with the open, world-welcoming gaze surrounded by a tangle of teenage hair. We could envision her future while in the same moment reeling with the knowledge that all of her tomorrows had irrevocably vanished under nightmarish circumstances.

It is precisely that nightmare that is the other signal reason we have been seized by the death of Lily Burk…..

You can find the rest here.


PERSONAL NOTE: Like many, I wish I had some kind of better comfort to offer Greg Burk and Deborah Drooz. But I do not. For some things there is no real comfort. There can only be the willingness to stand in fellowship.

Posted in crime and punishment, Los Angeles writers | 47 Comments »

Lily Burk….Her Alleged Killer…and 3 Strikes

August 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


This morning, the LA Times has introduced some impressive gee-whiz gadgetry
with its new Charles Samuel Arrests and Incarceration Timeline flash thingy. (I can’t explain the contraption. You’ll have to look for yourself. It’s quite cool, actually.)

Moving back to a more traditional delivery system (you know, prose), the Times has a news story in this morning’s paper that is both intriguing and troubling.

In it, reporters Richard Winton and Jack Leonard, have dug up information that sugguests that Charlie Samuel, the alleged killer of Lily Burk, could have gotten 25 to life, had a series of legal and clerical decisions played out differently.

If you will remember, Samuel’s one violent or serious felony occurred in 1987. It consisted of a home invasion burglary of a man’s home, a trailer, while he was in it, and robbery of the man himself. Samuel and another man (also involved in the crime) evidently jacked the man’s car too. The details of the crimes, based on the existing paperwork (which the Times has posted in PDF form) remain a bit fuzzy.

In any case, the crime was a serious matter that had violent overtones. And more importantly for discussion purposes these days, it was a crime that could have been charged as two strikes under today’s law. Instead, in that all three counts were part of a single crime, it was counted as one strike.

Under California’s 1994 three-strikes law, prosecutors are allowed to charge any felony — however minor — as a third strike if a defendant has previously been convicted of two crimes considered violent or serious.

Court records reviewed by The Times show that Samuel pleaded guilty to robbery and residential burglary in 1987 in connection with a home-invasion robbery in San Bernardino.

Residential burglary and robbery qualify as violent or serious strikes under the law.

A law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity said Samuel’s rap sheet lists his robbery conviction but does not describe his burglary conviction as a residential burglary. Under the three-strikes law, non-residential burglaries do not count as strikes.

It is unclear who was responsible for the error.

Alright that was 1987. So fast forward ten years to 1997, when Samuel’s next felony arrest occurred. Although the conviction was for 2nd Degree Burglary, what Samuel actually did, the Times reports, was to attempt to “steal a bottle of alcohol from a Food 4 Less store in Barstow.”

For his unsuccessful 1997 booze snatch, Samuel received a sentence of 2 years and 8 months in prison. Leonard and Winton report that, had prosecutors seen the 1987 combo residential burglary and robbery as two strikes, they could have struck Samuel out.

Or maybe they could have.

As it was still not legal to count two parts of a single crime event as two strikes (that would become part of an amended three strikes law a year later, in 1998, based on a California Supreme Court ruling), so it is unclear whether prosecutors could or would have tried to strike Samuel out had they been aware of the specifics of his earlier convictions.

Plus, even when three strikes was fully up and running
, not every prosecutor or judge went after the mandatory 25-to-life for a third strike such as attempting to steal a single bottle of alcohol.

Samuel’s only other crime of note occurred nine years later, in July of 2006, when he committed petty theft. It was a misdemeanor charge, but because of the previous failed liquor bottle theft conviction, it was bumped up to a felony. Samuel got another two years, eight months.

Scattered through those twenty-two years, and earlier, there were many little crimes like driving with an expired license, feeding a slug into a parking meter, public drunkenness, being “under the influence of a controlled substance,” and many unspecified parole violations, most, one suspects, having to do with drugs.

And then on July of 2009, Charles Samuel was on a day pass from his court-mandated rehab program, but AWOLed from his “escort”—and allegedly encountered Lily Burk, allegedly kidnapped her, allegedly traipsed her around from ready teller to ready teller trying to get money, and when that didn’t work, allegedly bashed her head and slit her throat.

There are several ways to parse out the meaning of the facts that I have just laid out for you here, courtesy of the good reporting by Jack Leonard and Richard Winton.

And there are assuredly facts still to come.

PS: I just listened to Monday’s To the Point, with Warren Olney, which is an excellent show—really, really good—about how the new budgetary necessities could affect prison and parole reform, a topic that is front and center in the upcoming legislative discussion about the proposed cuts in our California corrections system, and interwoven in our examination of the death of Lily Burk. If you have 25 minutes, listen to the podcast. It is very much worth your time.

Posted in California budget, crime and punishment | 22 Comments »

The LA Times & the Radioactive 27,000

August 4th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


What’s up with the LA Times and their fact checking?

Yesterday the Times ran an unsigned editorial about the proposed cuts to the California prison system and how the tragedy of Lily Burk’s murder might be used as a cudgel by conservative law-and-order factions to try to derail the cuts, which are to be voted on by the state legislature this month. (I am summarizing here.)

Sensational crimes are often followed by get-tough-on-crime legislation, especially in a state where systems that promote direct democracy encourage headline-based lawmaking. Hence the passage of Megan’s Law, named after 7-year-old murder victim Megan Kanka, by the Legislature in 2004

So far so good.

But then the Times wrote:

Lily Burk might not have a law named after her, but the 17-year-old’s abduction and murder, allegedly at the hands of a parolee who was living at a local drug-treatment center, has political ramifications. That’s because it comes at a time when lawmakers are considering cuts to the state prison budget that could mean early release for more than 27,000 inmates.

Say WHAT??? What in the world are they talking about? “….early release for 27,000 prisoners….?

Uh, Guys. It does not help the effectiveness of your editorial if you get the story’s most significant fact wrong.

No one is proposing letting 27,000 prisoners out of the door.

You know that, right? Even the LAPPL—the police union—has been careful to drop using that number.

(I blogged about what the governor and company are, in fact, proposing last Friday.)

But that wasn’t the end of it. The LA Times folks didn’t just write the fallacious number once, they repeated it all over again near the story’s end.

That’s not to say we’re thrilled by the prospect of 27,000 inmates being released early and all at once. Unfortunately, though, there is a dearth of good alternatives.


How could the editorial board (which normally is quite careful with its facts) use a number that is not only dead wrong, but one that will, I guarantee, be swung around like pair of nun chucks by those on the most alarmist end of the conservative spectrum— in other words, those who want to defeat the proposed cuts and reforms—and to do it with extreme prejudice.

To make absolutely sure I wasn’t missing something, after I read the piece yesterday morning, I called Seth Unger, the spokesman for the CDCR, and asked him if maybe the Times knew something I did not.

Unger groaned. “Yeah, I saw the editorial,” he said, and he wasn’t at all happy about it either. Not only did the Times have their facts wrong about the 27,000 and this whole “early release” thing, Unger said, but they put a weapon the hands of right-leaning partisans looking for an excuse to shoot down the plan. . “I mean that number is absolutely radioactive,” he said.


The CDCR planned to write a letter to the editor, Unger said. Not that he expected that would undo the damage.

Bottom line, please be more careful with your facts, dear LA Times, especially when the stakes are this high.

PS: While you’re correcting things in the editorial
— which, aside from the monster factual crater, is actually very good—you might want to correct this:

“Most inmates serve their full terms, and all are placed on parole for three years,” the editorial says about midway through the piece in a paragraph about the world of problems that were ushered in when California became a determinate sentencing state. The paragraph makes an important point. But again all future discussion the editorial might stimulate is hobbled by a factual blooper, albeit a smaller one than the radioactive 27,000.

Under determinate sentencing inmates do not serve their full terms. Unless you have an L after your sentence (life), nobody does. Serious and/or violent felons serve around 80 percent, the rest serve around 50. Those numbers can go up (but not down) according to prior convictions, strikes and other elements that trigger sentencing “enhancements.”

But what is true in determinate sentencing, is that every inmate knows before he or she enters prison, exactly what day he/she will be released. There is no earned credits or early release or time off for good behavior. Bad behavior, however, can earn extra time on the sentence. But stellar behavior cannot subtract months or years. And then when the release date arrives—as you have stated—every inmate, no matter how harmless or violent is dumped into the same three-year parole system to be “supervised” if you can call it that, by hideously overburdened parole agents.

The mistake might seem a small thing. Yet when we are discussing these traditionally reform-resistant, emotion-prone matters, it helps if we are all dealing from the same factual deck.

Posted in California budget, parole policy, prison, prison policy | 5 Comments »

Cutting $$ Out of California’s Prisons – The Real Numbers – UPDATED

July 31st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


There was much quarreling in the past two weeks about the proposed $1.2 billion dollars
that is slated to come out of California’s corrections budget. The implication has been that the proposed cuts would drastically impair public safety, triggering a virtual crime wave.

The fighting has amped up considerably in the wake of the murder of Lily Burk.

First of all, what many people may not realize is that, at this point, the argument is no longer about if that $1.2 billion will be cut. That number is part of the budget that the governor signed yesterday.

The question at hand is what will be cut from where-
–all of which will not be decided until the legislature returns in mid-to-late August.

Earlier in the week, I spent an hour on the phone with the California legislative analyst’s office talking about the latest corrections cuts proposal—and what it means.

(A copy of the broad strokes of the suggested cuts may be found after the jump).

It was an instructive conversation. For one thing, analyst Paul Golaszewski told me that while there is some talk of early release for certain inmates under certain prescribed circumstances, no one is talking about releasing 27,000 prisoners. “We never saw a proposal like that,” he said. “Nothing even close.”

In other words, there will be no inmate dump, okay? So let us stop talking in those terms, shall we?

(I noted that Ron Kaye was still marching out the 27,000 figure
as recently as yesterday. He did it, as many have done this week, in reference to the alleged murderer of Lily Burk, Charlie Samuel:

“Well, there are going to be 27,000 just like him!” announced Kaye. “[Samuel] is someone who shot, kidnapped and…” And Kaye’s fact-free recitation went on from there.

Instead, why don’t we look at what is actually is on the table.


One of the lynch pins of the governor’s proposed CDCR budget cuts, has to do with reducing by 19,000 inmates what is called the ADP—or average daily population. This will supposedly produced a savings of $400,000—or around $21,000 per person per year.

(Whether that savings is close to accurate
is something that has been convincingly questioned by my former prison warden friend, David Winett. But we’ll yank apart the numbers on another day.)

Again—and I want to make sure this is clear—that does NOT mean that 19,000 people will be slated for early release.

Instead, the governor hopes to make that population reduction in the following ways:

1. ADP reduction strategy #1: changing certain property crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.

These felony-to-misdemeanor reductions would include things like writing bad checks, and receiving stolen goods. The point is, as misdemeanors they would be punished by jail time and/or probation instead of swelling the prison population. (You can see the entire list below.)

This part of the strategy doesn’t mean letting people out. It means not putting them in prison in the first place—yet still demanding that they be sanctioned for their actions.

2. ADP reduction strategy #2 – Using “alternative custody options” for lower-risk offenders.

Okay, here’s where the early release piece of the puzzle kicks in.

The governor would like to make certain inmates eligible to serve the last 12 months of their sentence under house arrest with GPS monitoring. The prisoners who might qualify are those low-level offenders with 12 months or less left on their sentence, elderly inmates, and very, very sick inmates.

However the proposal stipulates that the inmates would be chosen only with input from law enforcement, victims groups and other concerned citizens.

Yes, this means that certain people would get months, or even a year, shaved off of their sentences. But, instead of being warehoused in an overcrowded, violent facility that offers little opportunity to better oneself and every possibility of becoming further criminalized, with GPS monitoring and many of these inmates would be eligible to receive drug treatment and other services or training programs, that might better help them to succeed on the outside and not return to prison. Remember, all these people—every single one— will be getting out in 12 months or less anyway. Would you rather they were released from supervision in slightly better shape than when they went in? Or only further damaged—and then dumped in the community with zero preparation or transitional supervision? Just a question.


UPDATE: Here’s a report that KPCC’s Frank Stoltz did today (Friday) that has some additional details on this part of the proposal, plus Frank has some interesting takes on the matter from several who work in law enforcements—not all of whom agree with each other.


FYI: had the alleged killer of Lily Burk been released early from prison under such a program (Which he wasn’t. He served 80 percent of his sentence for petty burglary as is required for second time offenders) that means he would have had on a GPS ankle bracelet so that when he AWOLed from his “escort” last Friday, the guy who was to be with him during his afternoon away from the half way house where he was assigned by the court, the cops could have been immediately alerted and could have picked picked him up right away.

3. ADP reduction strategy # 3 – Commutation of the sentences of “Select Deportable Criminal Aliens”

At his discretion, the governor can commute the sentences of undocumented prisoners who are going to be deported the minute they leave lock up anyway. That way they can be transferred forthwith to the Feds who will deport them to their country of origin and we can stop paying the tens of thousands of dollars to act as their hoteliers. (The Lege Analyst told me that it costs either $49,000 or $23,000 a year to house one of our prisoners—depending upon what expenses you count when you do the math. Don’t ask. It’s way too confusing.)

Again, the only people eligible for this commutation
thing will be low level, nonviolent offenders. The petty drug dealer/user guys and the like. Anybody who has committed a serious crime will stay put.


There are a number of other parts to the plan.

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Posted in California budget, CDCR, prison policy | 97 Comments »

Finding the Words to Talk About the Death of a Child

July 30th, 2009 by Celeste Fremon


Wednesday’s Fresh Air,
featured a poet named Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno who has recently released her first collection of poetry called Slamming Open the Door that is getting a great deal of well- deserved attention.

In 2003, the lives of Kathleen Bonanno and her husband plunged into a life-shattering tragedy that was very similar to the one that has overtaken Greg Burk and Deborah Drooz, the parents of Lily Burk.

2003 was when Kathleen’s daughter Leidy Bonanno was found dead in her apartment, strangled with a telephone cord by an ex-boyfriend. The poems in Slamming Open the Door chronicle Leidy’s murder and each step of the aftermath.

The work is almost unbearable to read—or to hear read, as Bonanno does on the show—but it also shimmers with jagged-edged beauty, courage and power. The poems are rageful. Drenched in the deepest kind of grief. Totally cleansing.

It was actually WLA commenter Woody who brought the show and Bonanno’s poetry to my attention. And, in the last comment thread, he has written more eloquently about the broadcast than I have.

I was hesitant to post about this book—for obvious reasons. Yet the fearful symmetry was difficult to ignore. And I judged the poems might, for some, offer an unlikely form of comfort.

I leave you to listen and make up your own mind.

Here is the link.

And here are five of the poems. Be sure to read the last one.

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat,
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.

He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.

Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.

Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.

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Posted in American artists, crime and punishment, Life in general, parole policy, writers and writing | 10 Comments »

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