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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 »

The First Debate Between Sheriff’s Candidates, Rikers Island & Solitary, San Diego Prosecutors Admit to Cheating, Raising $$ for the Sheriff’s Campaigns… & More

March 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE ACLU AND THE LEAGUE OF WOMAN VOTERS ANNOUNCE FIRST BIG DEBATE BETWEEN CANDIDATES FOR LA COUNTY SHERIFF, MARCH 20

The first of two debates between the seven men who each hope to be elected LA County sheriff will take place on Thursday, March 20, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 at the Mercado La Paloma, at 355 Grand Street, LA.

(There will be a second debate in the Santa Monica area on Thursday, April 24. Don’t worry. We’ll remind you as the date gets closer.)

The debates are organized and sponsored by the Southern California ACLU and others, and moderated by the League of Women voters.

(It could get crowded, so an RSVP online here is recommended.)

This is the first wide open election for LA County Sheriff in….well….a very, very long time. (The ACLU points out that more Catholic Popes have been selected in the last 80 years than there have been different LA sheriffs.)

We are therefore grateful for these debates that will allow LA County voters to become better informed about their choices.

Happily, all seven candidates have agreed to participate in the debates. This includes: Patrick Gomez, Jim Hellmold, Jim McDonnell, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers, Paul Tanaka, Lou Vince

Other debate sponsors are: Dignity Now, The Black Community & Labor Alliance, Justice Not Jails and The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Program


TEENAGERS & SOLITARY ON RIKERS ISLAND

On any given day, around 100 teenagers may be found in solitary confinement at New York’s Riker’s Island. Because Rikers is a jail, not a prison, many of the 400 to 800 16 and 17 years housed inside its walls are there are awaiting trial and are only locked up because they can’t afford bail, writes Trey Bundy for the Center for Investigative Reporting.

CIR has put together an excellent and disturbing multimedia report on the use of solitary on teenagers at Rikers and how the practice stresses adolescents mentally and emotionally sometimes to breaking. Here’s a clip:

There’s not much inside “the box.” Cinder block walls rise up and close in. There’s a bunk, a sink, a toilet and a metal door with a small mesh window. Food comes through a slot. Sometimes, mice and roaches scamper through.

Teenagers kept in the box sometimes hallucinate and throw fits. They splash urine around or smear their blood and shit on the walls. The concrete room gets so hot in the summertime that the floor and walls sweat.

Ismael Nazario’s longest stretch in the box lasted four months. He paced a lot, talking to himself and choking back tears and rage. He tried to block out the screaming of the teenage boys in other jail cells in his unit, but he couldn’t. Sometimes, he would stand at the door of his tiny cell and yell.

“You just get angry with hearing people constantly hollering all day,” he says. “There’s so many people that have been in that cell and screamed on that same gate, it smells like a bunch of breath and drool.”

Nazario is one of hundreds of teenagers sent in recent years to solitary confinement at Rikers Island, the massive jail complex in the middle of New York City’s East River. Teenagers at Rikers call solitary confinement the box: 23 hours a day in a 6-by-8-foot cell.

“There came a time when I cried when I was on Rikers Island, in the box, when I was there by myself,” Nazario says. “There’s times, you know, sometimes you need a good cry.”


SAN DIEGO PROSECUTORS ADMIT TO CHEATING: THE “HOLY SHIT” FACTOR

The Atlantic Monthly’s Andrew Cohen writes about a recent instance when prosecutors in San Diego admitted to cheating. This is a distinctly good news/bad news kind of story—since the admission was so appallingly unusual.

Here’s a clip:

The story of a prosecutor doing an honorable thing, a courageous thing, should not be a news story. It should happen every day. But too often prosecutors do not act honorably. Too often they make mistakes and do not admit them. Too often they cheat, at trial or afterward on appeal, in their zealous attempt to secure or to defend a conviction. And too often our nation’s judges are unable or unwilling to identify these instances to bring a measure of justice to the wrongfully convicted.

So the story of Laura Duffy, the prosecutor, and John Maloney, the wrongfully convicted man, is inspirational. Not because Duffy acted professionally throughout this case—she and her colleagues surely did not. Not because prosecutors promptly acknowledged their error and quickly moved to correct it—they didn’t. But because in the end they did do the right thing.

What we have here, then, is the public acknowledgment by a prosecutor that an injustice was done in a pending case. More than that, we have a glimmer of the process by which this reckoning occurred. This is no small thing. One longtime defense attorney, who has evaluated countless trials including many in which prosecutors engaged in the type of official misconduct we see here, emailed back “Holy Shit” when I wrote to him about the results of this case. That gives you a sense of how remarkable United States v. Maloney turned out to be….

Read the rest.


MORE SHERIFF’S ELECTION NEWS: “INDEPENDENT EXPENDITURE COMMITTEE” IS FORMED FOR SHERIFF’S CANDIDATE JIM MCDONNELL

We know that the seven candidates are each engaged in the difficult but necessary task of fundraising for their respective campaigns.

Jim Hellmold had a big fundraiser on Feb 23 at the Pacific Palms Resort.

Paul Tanaka tweeted photos of volunteers working the phone banks at his headquarters, and hit the fundraising trail over the weekend.

Bob Olmsted is having a fundraiser on March 15.

Todd Rogers just had his fundraiser over the weekend.

Jim McDonnell has a high ticket event planned for tonight.

Pat Gomez asks you to call his campaign office to participate in one of his small private fundraisers.

Lou Vince has taken to social media to ask for donations.

AS OF LAST WEEK, HOWEVER, JIM MCDONNELL will get the benefit of a fundraising committee called an “Independent Expenditure Committee.”

As its name suggests, an Independent Expenditure Committee can’t raise money at the request of a campaign or candidate, or coordinate with a campaign committee.

But on its own, it can raise and spend money in behalf of a candidate. The IEC that has joined together for fundraising purposes in McDonnell’s behalf, includes such members as LA City Council persons Mitchell Englander, Herb Wesson, Nury Martinez, Felipe Fuentes, & Tom LaBonge, former LA mayor Richard Riordan, former chairs of both the Republican and Democratic party in California…plus Supervisor Don Knabe and others.

There may also be other IECs fund raising for other candidates. But this is the first one we’ve seen.

As the election heats up, there may be more.


IS NEW YORK A MODEL FOR FIXING CALIFORNIA’S PRISONS?

Steven E. F. Brown of San Francisco Business Times writes about law professor Jonathan Simon’s claim that California’s eyes should be on NY. Here’s a clip:

Law professor Jonathan Simon at the University of California, Berkeley pointed to prison reforms in the Empire State as a model that should be followed here in the Golden State.

Simon, who teaches an undergraduate course on prisons, wrote on UC Berkeley’s official blog that although New York has a long history of “bad penal policy choices,” it also tends to fix those bad choices more quickly than other states, particularly California.

Even as California Gov. Jerry Brown spars with the federal government over court-ordered changes to the state’s prisons, which are badly overcrowded, New York has moved away from automatic sentencing that overfilled its prisons.

Here’s a link to Simon’s whole essay.


Posted in 2014 election, ACLU, LASD, prison, prison policy, Prosecutors | 40 Comments »

Does a Newly Surfaced E-Mail Tie Paul Tanaka to the FBI’s Obstruction of Justice Case….& More

February 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


An internal sheriff’s department email
that has recently surfaced appears to link former undersheriff Paul Tanaka to the operation to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Thus far, seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been indicted for their alleged part in the hiding Brown in the summer and early fall of 2011.

In all, 20 from the department have been charged as part of the still widening federal investigation into corruption in the LASD.

But it is the indictment of two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies around the Brown issue that has triggered the most speculation about whether or not the indictment list will travel farther up the line and, if so, how far up.

Department members who have spoken to us on the subject have maintained that the two teams involved with the twinned schemes to keep informant Brown away from any and all federal agents—and then to question him about what he told the feds—could not have assigned themselves to those tasks. The idea that a couple of lieutenants would order and execute such actions on their own is simply not credible, said LASD sources.

(Go here for our previous reporting on the Brown-hiding strategy that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box.)

Then around three weeks ago, WitnessLA obtained the internal sheriff’s department email that mentions Paul Tanaka in relationship to Brown.

NOTE: Both the LA Times and ABC-7 obtained the same email, and have each come out with their own stories on Sunday and Monday, respectively. More on that in a minute.

The email was written by Deputy Gerard Smith and addressed to the members of the fourteen-man team tasked with hiding Brown, plus two department supervisors.

It reads in part:

If you are getting this Email, you have been signed up to work this very important detail. I am in charge of security and scheduling for this detail. Please don’t let me or the unit down. …. There will be no other movement [of Anthony Brown], without the presence of the following people: US Tanaka, ICIB Cpt. Tom Carey, ICIB LT. Leavins, LT. G. Thompson, Dep. G. Smith or Dep. M. Manzo.

Of the six people listed, the last four people— Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith, and Deputy Mickey Manzo—have all been indicted. The remaining two—Captain Tom Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have not.

Farther down in the email, Smith writes:

To keep yourself free of any controversy don’t talk to him [Brown], let the approved, above listed people deal with Browns [sic] issues

By “the approved, above listed people” he clearly means Tanaka and the other three.

And then Smith writes this:

It has been expressed to me (several times now) that this is one of the most important investigations involving The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, in its 160 year history. No joke……

None of our sources seem to know who would have been most likely to have made the statement to Smith about the Brown matter being so terribly important.

But whatever its provenance, such a pronouncement would likely have had a strong effect on those who received the email, said our sources, especially given the inference that it came from someone much further up the line.

“This kind of thing would have placed tremendous pressure on these young jail deputies,” an LASD supervisor who works the jails now told me. “When their superiors tell them something is important, they don’t want to stumble. They don’t want fail.”

Here’s a clip from Robert Faturechi’s LA Times article on the email in which Paul Tanaka talks about his reaction to the information contained in the email.

Tanaka said in a statement to The Times that he had a minimal role in the Brown matter — known inside the department as “Operation Pandora’s Box” — and that he did nothing improper or illegal. He also said he does not recall being made aware of the contents of the email before it was sent.

“While I was involved in some aspects of the implementation of these orders, I was not involved in or had knowledge of other aspects and my name was sometimes used without my knowledge or consent because of my position,” he said in the statement.

Here’s a clip from the ABC 7 story:

Multiple sources who were directly involved in the Brown operation told Eyewitness News they were told by the indicted Lt. Greg Thompson that if anyone questioned what they were doing with inmate Brown, they should instruct that person to call then-undersheriff Tanaka.

A similar story comes in sworn deposition testimony from Lieutenant Katherine Voyer. She was working at the downtown jail complex in the summer of 2011 and testified about the orders she received: “No federal agents were allowed in the facility and if they came with the writ, call Mr. Tanaka’s cell phone, personal cell phone.”

“Mr. Tanaka was very hands-on in how he handled this department,” said Brian Moriguchi, president of the L.A. County Professional Peace Officers Association. “So he knew pretty much everything that was going on in this department.”

Moriguchi’s union represents some of those indicted.

The email is supported by some of the reports we’ve heard from sources who worked on the team that hid Brown. For instance, one recalled an instance in which Brown was moved to a cell in the out-of-the-way the San Dimas station, at which time the deputies present were confronted by a watch commander who wanted to know what they hell they were doing bringing this mystery inmate in so late at night. According to our source, the deputies told the watch commander that they should check with Undersheriff Tanaka if they had a problem.

The watch commander stalked off for a few minutes then reappeared and reportedly everything was fine.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

AN ANN ARBOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT WRITES A LEGAL BRIEF ARGUING THAT JUVENILE LIFERS DESERVE A SECOND CHANCE

The Detroit Free Press ran the story on their front page. Here’s a clip from the opening. But her actual brief is worth reading.

Sixteen-year-old Matilyn Sarosi spent the recent spate of snow days off school writing an 18-page paper for which she will get no academic credit.

Instead of the paper being graded by a teacher at Father Gabriel Richard Catholic High School in Ann Arbor, Sarosi hopes the justices of the Michigan Supreme Court will give her brief thoughtful consideration.

Sarosi’s amicus, or friend of the court brief, argues that Michigan prison inmates who were sentenced to life for crimes, such as murder, committed when they were younger than 18 now deserve a chance at parole. The legal brief was submitted Friday to the state Supreme Court, which is to hold a hearing on the issue March 6.

“I was really kind of shocked at the issue, the injustice of it all, and the magnitude,” said Sarosi, an honor student and public speaking events competitor. “I’m a teenager and I know my peers. We make impulsive, immature decisions. We make dangerous decisions. But if you give up hope on our youth and kids, you’re giving away our future.”


LA POLICE COMMISSION MAY REVISE THE WAY OFFICER INVOLVED SHOOTINGS ARE JUDGED

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the story. Here’s a clip:

The Los Angeles Police Commission is poised to adopt a major shift in the way it judges police shootings, tying an officer’s decision to pull the trigger to his actions in the moments leading up to the incident.

The rule change, which will be taken up Tuesday, would settle years of debate over whether the commission can make a determination that a shooting violated department policy if the officer created a situation in which deadly force was necessary. Until now, the commission has generally focused on the narrow question of whether an officer faced a deadly threat at the moment he opened fire.
“This is one of the most significant policy decisions we’ve made in my seven years on the commission,” Robert Saltzman said.

Although only a few words would be added to the existing policy, Saltzman said, “the clarification is significant. Some have interpreted our current policy to suggest the commission should ignore all the officer’s pre-force activity, no matter how relevant those earlier actions are.”

The proposal was submitted by the commission’s inspector general, who reviews officer shootings and makes recommendations to the commission on whether they fall in or outside department policy. Along with Saltzman, it has won the support of commission President Steve Soboroff.

Really, the clip is only an opener. Read the whole story to see the logic involved in the decision the commission is considering.

Wherever you personally come down on this issue, I guarantee you’ll find it interesting.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, LWOP Kids | 21 Comments »

Help for San Diego’s Jailed Vets, Prop 36 Outcomes, and SCOTUS Lets Alabama Continue Controversial “Judicial Override”

November 19th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

A SAN DIEGO JAIL’S ENCOURAGING NEW PROGRAM FOR VETERANS

San Diego County’s Vista Detention Facility has a separate wing (called the N-Module-3) for veterans who find themselves on the wrong side of the law. The N-Module-3 program “Veterans Moving Forward” offers the incarcerated vets—often wrestling with any combination of PTSD, substance abuse, and other issues—a chance to deal with the the struggles of life after active duty that helped put them behind bars, through daily classes, and by being in the company of other veterans.

The LA Times’ Tony Perry has the story. Here’s a clip:

Thirty-two veterans serving sentences or awaiting trial have volunteered to live in the module separate from the other prisoners and participate in classes meant to increase their chances of making a law-abiding return to civilian life.

“We’re all dedicated to making this work, nobody wants to go back,” said Jeremy Thomas, 22, who served with the Marines in Afghanistan and lost his left hand when a roadside bomb exploded.

Each of the veterans has agreed to take classes Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. to assist with problems of post-traumatic stress disorder, anger management, substance abuse, parenting and other issues.

“We hope that by putting them together we can rekindle that esprit de corps they had when they were serving their country,” said San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore, whose department runs the jails. “It’s a great population to work with.”

The program was spurred both by a sense of obligation toward the veterans and also an increased need to reduce recidivism to accommodate the state’s prison realignment program that threatens to overwhelm the capacity of local jails.

“We’ve got to do things differently,” Gore said.

Angela Simoneau, a social worker for the Department of Veterans Affairs in San Diego, said she and others participating in the program will be watching for numbers to support expanding the program to other local jails. “Data is on everyone’s mind,” she said.

And here’s a snip of what’s being done for incarcerated vets in LA County and the California prison system:

The California prison system does not house veterans separately from other prisoners but does encourage formation of veterans-only discussion groups at its 34 institutions, a spokesman said. VA “reentry specialists” regularly meet with prisoners on the verge of being released to tell them of benefits and therapy programs.

In Los Angeles County, where the Sheriff’s Department runs the largest jail system in the country, 291 prisoners are housed in veteran-only dorms where they participate in programs including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous and classes in art, computers and relationship counseling.

The most recent national data is, unfortunately, almost ten years old (and doesn’t offer county jail statistics): a 2004 DOJ report revealed that one in ten federal and state prisoners had prior military service. Programming for these locked up veterans is a good step toward reducing recidivism in California’s overcrowded facilities and an important tool to help vets successfully return to civilian life.


FORMER 3RD-STRIKERS: A YEAR INTO PROP 36′S REFORMS

Since California’s three-strikes reform legislation passage about a year ago, over 1,000 people have been resentenced and subsequently freed.

KQED’s Michael Montgomery kept in touch with three men released under the measure. In this California Report story, Montgomery says Prop 36′s results are generally good so far, but many of the former third-strikers have served so much time, they are not put under county or state supervision, and often miss out on crucial reentry programs.

Here are some clips (but you should also listen to the podcast):

Convicted of stealing two car alarms from a Walgreens store, Richard Brown spent 18 years in prison under California’s notorious Three Strikes law. Then, quite suddenly, he was standing outside the gates of San Quentin earlier this year, a free man.

“They told me to get off the property,” he says. “I asked if there was a phone booth or something. They said no.”

For Robert Watts, who served 13 years for receiving stolen property, getting out of prison involved an emotional legal tangle with local prosecutors who insisted he was an unredeemed career criminal and should remain behind bars.

“It was unpleasant,” he says. “But at least it’s over.”

For both men, freedom came as the result of Proposition 36, the ballot initiative approved last year by voters in every county in California.

The measure changed the 1994 law that had allowed judges to impose life sentences for low-level felonies such as petty theft and drug possession. The new law focuses on serious and violent crimes. It’s also retroactive, allowing current inmates whose third strike was non-violent and non-serious to petition the courts for resentencing and possible release.

Opponents of the measure have argued that the original Three Strikes law worked well and contributed to a dramatic fall in violent crime over the past two decades. Granting some inmates early release, they said, would lead to a spike in crime…

But so far, Prop. 36 does not appear to be endangering public safety, according to a recent report by Stanford Law School and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Citing state data, the report concluded that of the more than 1,000 inmates released from prison under the measure, fewer than 2 percent have been charged with new crimes. By comparison, the average recidivism rate over a similar time period for non-Prop. 36 inmates is 16 percent.

[SNIP]

Several former three strikers say their challenge has been coping with life on the streets without the structure of prison and support normally provided to newly released felons.

Most three strikers who qualify for release have served so much extra time they’re not placed on parole or probation. Often that means that don’t have access to substance abuse, mental health and other re-entry programs as well as housing.

“They give you $200 and kick you out, and they don’t give you any type of papers to indicate that you can go down to this program or (that) program,” said Brown. He considers himself lucky to have a job, home and support network.

“For many people coming out, it’s a nightmare,” he said.


SCOTUS DISMISSES CASE CHALLENGING ALABAMA JUDGES’ ABILITY TO OVERTURN JURY DEATH PENALTY DECISIONS

On Monday, the US Supreme Court refused to hear the case of an Alabama man who was sentenced to life in prison by a jury, only to have it overridden by the trial judge who then sentenced him to death. (Alabama is one of only three states that allows judges to reverse a jury’s decision in death penalty cases.)

Only Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer dissented.

The Atlantic’s Andrew Cohen says the court should have heard the case (Woodward v. Alabama) and ceased the state’s use of “judicial override.” Here are some clips:

If (as Alabama has done) you give judges the power to override jury verdicts in capital cases, and if (as Alabama also has done) you then make those judges accountable to public opinion by having judicial campaigns and elections, you are going to end up (as they have in Alabama) with judges who disproportionately feel it is in their self-interest to sentence people to death even when a jury has recommended a sentence of life.

Citing the trenchant work done in this area by Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative, Justice Sotomayor wrote that such a scenario must be unconstitutional…

One Alabama judge, who has overridden jury verdicts to impose the death penalty on six occasions, campaigned by running several advertisements voicing his support for capital punishment. One of these ads boasted that he had “‘presided over more than 9,000 cases, includ­ing some of the most heinous murder trials in our history,’” and expressly named some of the defendants whom he had sentenced to death, in at least one case over a jury’s contrary judgment…

By permitting a single trial judge’s view to displace that of a jury representing a cross-section of the community, Alabama’s sentencing scheme has led to curious and potentially arbitrary outcomes. For example, Alabama judges frequently override jury life-without-parole verdicts even in cases where the jury was unanimous in that ver­dict.In many cases, judges have done so without offering a meaningful explanation for the decision to disregard the jury’s verdict. In sentencing a defendant with an IQ of 65, for example, one judge concluded that “‘[t]he sociological literature suggests Gypsies intentionally test low on standard IQ tests.’”

Another judge, who was facing reelection at the time he sentenced a 19-year-old defend­ant, refused to consider certain mitigating circumstances found by the jury, which had voted to recommend a life­ without-parole sentence. He explained his sensitivity to public perception as follows: “‘If I had not imposed the death sentence I would have sentenced three black people to death and no white people.” (citations omitted by me).

(There’s more. Read on…)



Photo taken from the San Diego Sheriff’s website.

Posted in Death Penalty, PTSD, Reentry, Sentencing, Supreme Court, Veterans | 1 Comment »

9th Circuit Slams OC DA’s Unconstitutional Use of Gang Injunction….& La Opinion Nixes New Term for Baca

November 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

9TH CIRCUIT RULES THAT OC DA RACKAUCKAS VIOLATES DUE PROCESS WITH HIS 2009 BAIT AND SWITCH GANG INJUNCTION

In a decision that could conceivably affect the way future gang injunctions are constructed, on Tuesday the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that by enforcing a 2009 gang injunction against scores of Orange County residents, without giving those residents a meaningful opportunity to contest the allegation that they were, in fact, gang members, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas violated the due process provision of the United States Constitution.

“The court recognized that you can’t make these decisions that restrict one’s liberties, behind closed doors,” said Peter Bibring, lead attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, which filed the class-action lawsuit, together with the law firm of Munger Tolles and Olson. “They found that to do so simply because the police and the DA believe that someone is a gang member has too much ‘risk of error,’ if done without court approval and a chance for the supposed gang member to be heard.”


THE BACK STORY

The circumstances that led to the ruling began in late March 2009, when Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed an injunction against a gang known as Orange Varrio Cypress, or OVC, which generally claims territory in the traditionally Mexican American area of the City of Orange known as Barrio Cypress.

Functionally, a gang injunction works like a restraining order. But, instead of regulating the behavior of a single individual (as a restraining order does), it bans certain activities by purported members of a particular gang. If the people named in the injunction violate any of the restrictions that the injunction lays down, that person can be arrested and go to jail.

In the case of the OVC gang injunction, back in 2009, Rackauckas named 115 people whom his office described as among the “most active participants in” the Orange Varrio Cypress gang.

The physical area that the proposed injunction covered was a 3.8-square-mile section of the city of Orange that the DA designated as the Safety Zone. This particular section, which reportedly amounts to 16 percent of the city, is located mostly in Orange’s downtown sector, west of the 55 Freeway.

According to the injunction’s terms, when in the Safety Zone, the 115 named could not be in the presence of anyone else who was allegedly a gang member, or drink alcohol, or to be nearby to anyone else who is drinking alcohol—which pretty much eliminated eating in or being in proximity to a restaurant. Those named were also prohibited from wearing “gang attire,” and engaging in such conventionally gang-related activities as throwing gang signs,possessing guns or dangerous weapons, fighting, tagging and so on.

In addition, those named in the injunction had to obey a 10 p.m. curfew, and—oddest of all—they could not stand in front of a famous local mural that was designated by the DA’s office as Orange Varrio Cypress’s “flag.”

Like many law enforcement tools, gang injunctions work well or poorly depending on how well they are designed and whether or not they are filed and enforced with solid knowledge and precision.


THE PROTESTS

When a preliminary version of the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction was filed, community protests began to occur. It was not the injunction itself that bothered people the most.

People were particularly upset because they felt that, in many cases, the police and the DA had named individuals who were not in the gang, nor had they ever been, or the people named admitted that they had been involved when they were younger, but had matured and hadn’t been active in years.

In all, 62 of those named in the injunction sought to protest their inclusion in court.

Some of those named also went to the ACLU, which agreed to take on the cases of 5 of the 62.

We reported on the ACLU’s filing here and here. And here’s a clip from our report.

The idea, the ACLU attorneys hoped, was to use the five to suggest to the presiding Superior Court judge that maybe he ought to take a look at the rest to see if they were really the dangerous gangsters the DA advertised them to be. The ACLU limited themselves to five because representation is time consuming and expensive,and the staff attorneys figured five was better than none.

“The case marks one of the few times that individuals named in a gang injunction have been able to obtain legal representation and defend themselves against the charge they are gang members and should have their activities severely restricted,” said the ACLU’s LA Staff Attorney Peter Bibring

The 2009 judge ruled that the ACLU’s five clients had wrongly included. Then, while he was at it, the judge also excluded the other 57 who contested their status.

After the judge ruled, rather than counter the ACLU’s evidence with his own, DA Rackauckus decided to dismiss all 62 from his own list. In other words, he dropped them from the injunction.

All might have been well had things ended right there. Instead, in an interesting bait and switch, the DA filed a new injunction against the gang—but this time, without naming any actual individuals. This new injunction was approved easily without anyone contesting it.


BAIT & SWITCH

Armed with his nice, shiney new injunction, the DA then came back and slapped its restrictions on, among others, most of the 62 who had gone to court and been dismissed from the first in junction—and whom he and his office subsequently had dropped from that old injunction.

The DA’s office once again claimed that those served were suspected of being part of the OVC gang.

Here’s what we reported in 2009 on the matter:

The reasons why various individuals had been labeled as gang members were often preposterously flimsy. One person was listed as a gangster because an officer had once seen him in clothing that the cop deemed to be gang attire, although no one could say precisely what that clothing was. In another case, an individual was seen talking with gang members who also happened to be neighbors and childhood friends.

Not surprisingly the ACLU filed suit in federal court and, two years later, in May 2011, a federal judge agreed with the ACLU.

Naturally, the DA appealed.


THE 9TH CIRCUIT RULES

Fast forward another two years, and you have this week’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Among other things, the 67-page ruling looks at the particular ways the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction impinged on the daily lives of those named.

(You can read the ruling here.)

The heart of the matter is found the court’s conclusion:

Here’s a clip:

….We are mindful of the great importance of controlling the proliferation of criminal gangs and preventing illegal activity by gang members. Anti-gang injunctions such as the one at issue here broadly restrict the covered individuals’ legal daily activities in a prophylactic effort to prevent illegal activities from taking place. There is no challenge before us as to the propriety of that effort as applied to properly covered individuals.and we express no view whatsoever on the substantive terms of this or any other anti-gang injunction. But the breadth of the injunction, given its prophylactic character, does give rise to unusually strong liberty interests on the part of those putatively covered.

In light of those interests, some adequate process to determine membership in the covered class is constitutionally required….

In other words, you don’t get to legally restrict people’s liberties without some kind of due process, which in the case of the Orange Varrio Cypress injunction, DA Rackauckas deliberately sidestepped.

Oh, and just in case anyone is tempted to dismiss the 9th Circuit’s decision as that of an overly liberal court, it is instructive to also read the Concurring Opinion written by Judge Richard Tallman, the court’s notoriously conservative member.

Here’s a clip from what Tallman had to say:

Orange undoubtedly has a vital interest in protecting its community by suppressing gang violence. But as the court observes correctly, our inquiry….is not whether Orange has a significant interest in combating gang violence, but rather whether it has a significant interest in failing to provide a pre-deprivation process to challenge Orange’s gang membership allegations.

In my view, this inquiry cannot be severed from Orange’s unsettling and indefensible decision to voluntarily dismiss every individual who tried to challenge the injunction in the state court proceeding, and then serve those same dismissed individuals with the injunction it obtained uncontested.


THE PESKY MATTER OF LEGAL COSTS

When writing about this ruling, we couldn’t help thinking of the report we wrote last week about LA County’s refusal to disclose the costs incurred by the county’s hired gun attorneys who defend the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department against the myriad high ticket lawsuits it loses—or settles—each year. Remember, this first of the injunction actions kicked off in 2009, and here we are, four years, two lawsuits and one appeal later—all of which the OC DA’s office lost.

So how much, we wondered, did it cost the Orange County taxpayers to defend DA Rackauckas’ constitutionally problematic behavior?

It seems that the 9th Circuit’s Judge Tallman thought about this question too, and mentioned his musings in his Concurrence:.

“Ironically,” wrote Tallman, “the taxpayers of Orange County now get to pick up a multi-million dollar tab for the litigation that ensued from the district attorney’s bad tactical decision.



LA OPINION OPPOSES BACA’S RUN FOR SHERIFF

Although this editorial in La Opinion ran late last month in La Opinion, we didn’t want you to miss it.

Baca has traditionally had a lock on most of the Hispanic vote, so a pre-emptive anti-endorsement on the part of a publication with La Opinion’s stature is worth noting.

(The editorial is short and to the point, so we hope La Opinion will forgive us this once for running the text in full.)

The difficulties of Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca are piling up, making it clear that he should not seek his fourth reelection next year.

A few days ago a federal jury found him personally liable in a human rights violation case involving the beating of an inmate. Baca was not present during the beating, but he was held responsible for the officers’ use of heavy flashlights to beat detainees.

What is new here is that Baca must pay a fine of $100,000 out of his pocket; we already knew about the repeated use of excessive force by officers and the apparent ignorance or complicity of their boss.

Last year the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence referred to a “culture of violence” against detainees in county jails. It is even known that some officers formed cliques to attack inmates.

It is true that Baca has implemented many of the Commission’s recommendations. The big problem is that under his leadership, since 1998, the situation has deteriorated to this point. That is his responsibility.

It is also true that under his watch, inmate abuse and inadequate care for the mentally ill spurred investigations, up to the federal level. Meanwhile, lawsuits against the LA Sheriff’s Office are piling up.

That makes for a poor track record to seek reelection.

Posted in crime and punishment, Gangs, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 1 Comment »

LA Supes Postpone LASD Commission Vote…4 Jail Scandal Supervisors Retire Before Repercussions…and More

September 18th, 2013 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPERVISORS PUSH BACK VOTE ON SHERIFF’S COMMISSION

The LA Board of Supervisors were expected to vote Tuesday on the creation of a permanent LASD citizen’s oversight panel, but postponed the vote after a heated debate about the efficacy of a sheriff’s dept. civilian commission. The supes are now scheduled to vote on the issue on October 8th.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s a clip:

The sheriff’s department has been plagued by accusations of excessive force by deputies in the county jails. A blue ribbon panel tasked with investigating the allegations found that high level officials in the department failed to correct deputy behavior and tolerated a culture of violence in the jails. The FBI and U.S. Department of Justice both have open investigations into the agency.

Ridley-Thomas said the board of supervisors lacks the time to effectively take the sheriff to task on such allegations – something a civilian commission devoted to the department could more easily do.

But Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who opposes the plan, said any commission would be too weak to accomplish anything real. Unlike police chiefs in L.A. County, the sheriff is an elected official, constitutionally accountable to the voters, but not other elected or appointed officials.

A civilian commission, Yaroslavsky said, would be nothing more than a “soap box.”

“Ultimately, it’s the board of supervisor’s job to hold the sheriff accountable,” Yaroslavsky said. “Even we have trouble.”

The board is also in the process of hiring an inspector general to monitor the sheriff’s department and issue reports to the board – a task some supervisors believe should be completed before launching an additional oversight mechanism.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell and Seema Mehta also reported on the LASD oversight commish dispute.


REPORT SHOWS LASD SUPERVISORS IMPLICATED IN JAIL VIOLENCE SCANDAL RETIRED BEFORE THEY COULD BE PUNISHED

The lead attorney for the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence Richard Drooyan presented the Board of Supervisors with a report showing that four high-level supervisors retired with full pensions before they had to face discipline or demotion for alleged involvement in the Men’s Central Jail abuse debacle.

The LA Daily News’ Christina Villacorte has the story. Here’s a clip:

…the independent monitor tracking reforms at the department said options for punishing those who once supervised the jails are limited, even though recently concluded internal investigations confirmed at least some of their alleged misconduct.

Richard Drooyan said four high-level managers — whom he could not name publicly, because of legal protections for employees — were able to pre-empt disciplinary action by retiring between March 2012 and August 2013.

“Because of the sheriff’s management changes, the results of the administrative investigations, and the timing of the retirements, it is generally perceived in the department that these managers retired, at least in part, due to their failures to address adequately the use of force problems in the jails,” Drooyan wrote.

“At this point, there is nothing further for the department to do in order to hold these managers accountable,” he added in the report.

Interviewed on the phone, Drooyan added, “The (department) can’t discipline them, or demote, transfer or suspend them, because they’ve retired.”

WLA’s Matt Fleischer previously reported on the preemptive retirement of MCJ Captain Daniel Cruz from working in the jails, and of Captain Bernice Abram, both of whom were allowed to retire ahead of sanctions.

And when WLA did the math on what kind of money was actually coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets for these captains’ pensions, this is what we found:

…Bernice Abrams will get a yearly pension of approximately: $106,407—plus full medical coverage for life.

Dan Cruz’s yearly pension will be approximately: $147,704-–plus full medical coverage for life.


MORE FROM THE SUPES MEETING: CONSTRUCTION CORP. RETURNS WITH MORE JAIL INFO

Vanir Construction Management Inc. brought follow-up information to the Supes’ Tuesday meeting from the consultant’s previous jail presentation, as requested.

Southern California ACLU Legal Director Peter Eliasberg sent out a statement strongly opposing the proposed construction of a new jail facility as a way to address overcrowding and mental health care issues. (For the backstory, go here.)

Vanir’s massive reconstruction plan also ignores the needs of the thousands of mentally ill inmates currently in Los Angeles County. Current problems surrounding the abuse of mentally ill inmates and the appalling recidivism rates for inmates with mental illness are not solved through the construction of a massive jail facility but by dramatically reducing the number of people with mental illness in jail and moving them to community treatment facilities best suited to their individual needs. Diversion will not only reduce the likelihood for future instances of abuse in our jails, but will also provide better mental health outcomes, and slow down the merry go round of people with mental illness going from jail to the streets and back again. The result will save the taxpayers millions in construction and operating costs and better serve our community.

Twin Towers Jail was once advertised as the new state-of-the-art solution to the Men’s Central Jail that was overcrowded and unequipped to serve its mentally ill inmates. I have in my hand an LAT article from 1998 in which the Sheriff Department boasted that Twin Towers would be the solution to the Department of Justice’s 1997 scathing critique of the treatment of the mentally ill in the jails.


SUPES APPROVE $27M PLAN TO HOUSE INMATES AT FIRE CAMPS

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell reported that over 500 inmates serving lengthy jail sentences would be transferred to firefighting camps to ease overcrowding without having to release inmates early. Here are some clips:

The $27-million, three-year deal will send 528 county inmates serving long-term sentences to five fire camps, jointly operated with the state prison system, that are scattered across the county.

Supervisors acted after some complained about the increasing number of criminals — including some serving time for violent offenses — who are being released after serving a fraction of their sentences.

[SNIP]

The county also is developing plans to rebuild its aging Men’s Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Consultant Vanir Construction estimated that adding enough beds to increase the average time served by traditional jail inmates to at least 50% of their sentences would boost the new jail’s price tag by $359.7 million — on top of the current $1 billion-plus cost estimate.

Other options examined included adding 500 beds at fire camps at a cost of $8.4 million a year, and spending $20.4 million a year to reopen shuttered housing units at the county’s Pitchess Detention Center East.

Contracting with a correctional facility in Taft, Calif., for similar bed space would cost about $11.3 million a year, the report found.


PREZ OF LAPD COMMISSION RAISES $.5M FOR IMPLEMENTING OFFICER LAPEL CAMERA PLAN

The newly appointed LAPD commission president, Steve Soboroff, says he has already raised half of the $1M needed to put lapel cameras on 1,500 LAPD officers, and that the department will likely test a small number of the cameras in the upcoming weeks. (For WLA’s previous post on the issue, go here.)

The Associated Press’ Tami Abdollah has the story. Here’s a clip:

A week after taking the helm of the LAPD civilian oversight board, Soboroff said he has promises of $250,000 from media giant Casey Wasserman and an undisclosed sum from DreamWorks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Soboroff said he hopes the department will adopt the lapel cameras within a year.

“We don’t want to be a low-tech department in a high-tech world,” Soboroff said. “That technology saves lives and money.”

The effort to add on-body cameras is in addition to a longtime city goal of equipping the department’s 1,200 patrol cars with video recorders. Since the 1991 beating of Rodney King, the LAPD has worked to bring in-car cameras to its vehicles but has only managed to equip 300 cars with the technology.

[SNIP]

On Tuesday, Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander submitted a motion to the City Council directing the LAPD to work with Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Taser International Inc. to start field-testing 25 on-body cameras and identify different styles that can be used.

Testing will likely start in a couple weeks, Englander said, and he has requested the LAPD report back on its findings to the commission and the city’s Public Safety Committee in 90 days. By then, Englander said, he and Soboroff aim to purchase a minimum of 500 cameras to start putting them in the field right away.


THE FILM PRODUCER/ACTIVIST WHO LED THE EFFORT FOR INMATES CONVICTED AS KIDS TO HAVE A CHANCE AT PAROLE

The LA Times’ Anthony York writes about film producer/juvenile justice activist Scott Budnick (the exec producer of the Hangover movie franchise), without whose efforts SB 260 would likely not have been passed and signed into law on Monday night.

Here’s a clip:

Just after 9 on Monday night, Gov. Jerry Brown’s legislative secretary Gareth Elliot picked up the phone and called a Hollywood studio executive.

Elliot wasn’t pitching a new movie. He was calling to tell Scott Budnick, an executive producer of “The Hangover” film franchise, that the governor had signed a bill giving juvenile offenders serving long sentences the right to parole after 15 years — a measure that Budnick had been pushing in the Capitol halls in the final week of the legislative session.

In between producing Hollywood films, Budnick serves as head of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition, a nonprofit group that was born out of Budnick’s volunteer work with young people serving long prison sentences….

Read the rest. We at WLA know Budnick and he’s the real deal.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, Mental Illness, Realignment, Sheriff Lee Baca, Uncategorized | No Comments »

The Robber v. the Judge’s Gut…. 2 LASD Deputies Camp & Draw Guns …..Gov. Jerry Offers “No Promise, No Hope”….Prison Hunger Strike: How Will It End?

August 28th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



BETTING WRONG ON AN ARMED ROBBER WHO CHOSE TO DO RIGHT

In 1999 Judge Richard Kopf sentenced a young bank robber to 147 months in prison after the armed law-breaker, a 23-year-old named Shon Hopwood, pleaded guilty to five counts of bank robbery, and one count of “using a firearm during a crime of violence.” In addition, the judge ordered Hopwood to pay $134,544.22 in restitution.

The judge glumly assumed that the sentence would not be enough to keep the armed robber from a future life of crime.

“My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk–—all mouth, and very little else,” wrote Kopf on his blog, “Hercules and the Umpire,” earlier this month.

As it turned out, Kopf’s gut feeling did not dictate the rest of the story.

Adam Liptak writes about the tale of the judge and the “punk” armed robber in Tuesday’s New York Times. Here’s a clip:

A 23-year-old bank robber named Shon R. Hopwood stood before a federal judge in Lincoln, Neb. He asked for leniency, vowing to change.

Judge Richard G. Kopf had no patience for promises. “We’ll know in about 13 years if you mean what you say,” he said. It was 1999.

Judge Kopf reflected on the exchange this month. “When I sent him to prison, I would have bet the farm and all the animals that Hopwood would fail miserably as a productive citizen when he finally got out of prison,” he wrote on his blog. “My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk — all mouth, and very little else.”

“My viscera was wrong,” Judge Kopf went on. “Hopwood proves that my sentencing instincts suck.”

Judge Kopf had just heard the news that Mr. Hopwood, now a law student, had won a glittering distinction: a clerkship for a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is generally considered the second most important court in the nation, after the Supreme Court.

Mr. Hopwood’s remarkable ascent began in the prison law library, where he became not only a good jailhouse lawyer but also a successful Supreme Court practitioner. Persuading the justices to hear a case is a roughly 100-to-1 proposition, but the court granted the first petition Mr. Hopwood filed….

EDITOR’S NOTE: I’m partial to tales like this one because, in the course of my reporting, I’ve been privileged to know a remarkable number of men and women whom others have written off for their early mistakes, and who had nearly written themselves off out of terrible childhood wounds, yet who somehow found the needed courage to transform the trajectory of their lives.


TWO SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ARRESTED AFTER MULTIPLE SHOTS FIRED AT POPULAR CAMPGROUND

Two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies have been arrested and relieved of duty (with pay) after the deputies each allegedly angrily brandished, then fired their guns while staying at a popular family campground in Prado Regional Park. The incident, which occurred at around 1:30 Sunday morning, is thought to have started as a verbal conflict over loud music.

Prado is a 2000-acre regional park in San Bernardino County, well-liked for its camp facilities, fishing lake, hiking, biking and nature trails, and activities such as disc golf.

The shots were reportedly fired in the air and not aimed at anyone, according to Chino police.  

It should be noted, however, that shots fired into the air can be deadly, as has occasionally been the case on New Year’s Eves past when revelers fired guns skyward with unintentionally tragic results.

LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore was particularly emphatic on the topic.  “Firing a gun into the air is absolutely one of the most negligent and dangerous things a person can do because when the bullet comes down people can be injured or killed. And for law enforcement to do that makes this more reprehensible!” he said. 

Whitmore was quick to add that the investigation was in progress, and that the allegations against the deputies were just that, allegations.

“But, on the surface of it,” he continued, “this is an event that is going to be career changing.”

Robert Faturechi of the LA Times broke the story and reported that neither of the deputies—one of whom works at the county courts, the other for the LASD’s transit services— knew that the other was law enforcement until after the reported weapons brandishing and shot firing.  

According to Whitmore, the two deputies, DeJay Barber, 44, and Matthew Rincon, 24, joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department in November 2001, and November 2007, respectively.


JERRY BROWN PUSHES $315 MILLION PLAN TO EASE PRISON POPULATION, SOME LEGISLATORS BALK BIGTIME

Dan Whitcom from Reuters has this story about the resistance from some prominent state legislators to Governor Jerry Brown’s latest shockingly expensive and regressive plan to address the state’s ongoing prison overcrowding problem. Here’s the relevant clip:

…Though Brown’s joint appearance with Republican leaders and Democratic Assembly Speaker John Perez suggested bipartisan support for his plan, Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg took immediate issue with the bill.

‘NO PROMISE, NO HOPE’

“The governor’s proposal is a plan with no promise and no hope. As the population of California grows, it’s only a short matter of time until new prison cells overflow and the Court demands mass releases again,” Steinberg said in a written statement.

“More money for more prison cells alone is not a durable solution; it is not a fiscally responsible solution; and it is not a safe solution,” he said. “We must invest in a durable criminal justice strategy, which reduces both crime and prison overcrowding.”

According to the governor’s office, his plan would allocate $315 million for the state to “expeditiously” lease in-state and out-of-state prison capacity, including at county jails and private facilities.

Brown’s proposal comes as new attention is being focused on California prisons during a hunger strike by inmates to protest conditions in special housing units where some prisoners are held for prolonged periods in isolation.


THE HUNGER STRIKE: HOW WILL IT END?

Tuesday marks the 51st day of the California prison hunger strike that is being run out of the Security Housing Unit—or SHU—at Pelican Bay.

With approximately 43 people still continuing to strike (out of what was originally thousands), force feeding is about to start. However, the Governor and the CDCR higher-ups insist that they won’t negotiate until the striking stops.

The strikers, however, feel that if they stop, they will lose their only leverage.

So how to break the stalemate?

Writing for the Nation Magazine, former California State Senator Tom Hayden suggests some alternatives to the all or nothing stance of the Brown administration. Here’s a clip from the middle Hayden’s column:

…So what options do the hunger strikers have now? With the governor taking a fundamentalist line, only a fast-track restoration of checks and balances by the courts and legislature, propelled by public questioning, might yield a breakthrough.

• The first track to a solution is the legal one. A federal judge upheld a class action suit by ten hunger strikers, most of them in solitary confinement for two decades, that they have been subject to unconstitutional cruel and unusual punishment and denial of a meaningful process to challenge their indefinite confinement. But Governor Brown has adopted a defiant stance towards court monitoring, and the case will not be resolved before it is too late for the fasting inmates.

• The second track is a possible emergency hearing by state legislators worried about a massive state prison system on which they spend billions but which is beyond their control. The hearing could give voice to the inmates demands, send a message to Brown, and draw the crisis into the light of public debate. It might convince the isolated inmates to live to fight in another forum. It would take an immediate signal from the legislature, which has yet to make a decision.

• The third track is the mobilization of public questioning and protest. While the public has no love for prison gangs, there is increased questioning of the costs of the governor’s continual quarrels with the courts…

NOTE: Earlier this month, the CDCR’s new head guy, Jeffrey Beard, wrote an op ed for the LA Times saying that the strike’s organizers are all leaders in the various prison gangs, who are and are asking for more privileges by “putting lives at risk to advance their own agenda of violence.”

There is no question that the power wielded by California’s prison gangs is a deeply corrosive problem that has proved extremely difficult to combat.

Yet, many of the changes these “bad guy” leaders are requesting are just quality of life improvements…like wall calendars, the right to wear watch caps and sweats, no more group punishment, and the chance to occasionally see the sunlight. Perhaps we are missing something, but it is hard for us to see how occasional access to sunlight, and the like, will strengthen the power of EME and/or AB shot callers.

Here, by the way, is an essay in LA Progressive by CUNY Sociology professor Denis O’Hearn, who got to know the hunger strike’s most notorious organizer, Todd Ashker. What O’Hearn has to say about his experiences with Ashker and some of the other strike leaders in the so-called Short Corridor Collective, is interesting and challenges much of what has been uncritically accepted in the media.


Posted in LASD, prison, prison policy, Realignment, Rehabilitation, Sentencing, solitary | 30 Comments »

The LA “Charity Buccaneer” Still Rides….Jail Strip Search Payout In SF…. Star Gay Marriage Opponent Reverses Direction…and More

January 30th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


RICHARD WALDON AND OPERATION USA: THE “CHARITY BUCCANEER” STILL RIDES AFTER 35 YEARS

In Wednesday’s LA Times, Patt Morrison interviews Richard Waldon, the LA guy who, as the founder of Operation USA, has managed for 35 years to bring medicines, food and other aid to areas of the world deeply in need—sometimes when others could not or would not venture in.

International relief work is a little outside WLA’s normal story area But I’ve known Richard for all of those 35 years and, as a reporter and friend, was on a couple of Op USA’s earliest wild adventures in aid bringing.

Richard’s the real deal, and I thought you might enjoy the interview as a change of pace, (Be sure to read the whole story. Otherwise you’ll miss such excellent tidbits as how Richard uses the latest issue of Playboy Magazine as a rarely-fails bribe to get past certain roadblocks in certain countries.)

Here are some clips:

Almost on impulse, almost 35 years ago, Richard M. Walden and a friend rounded up six tons of relief supplies and a jet to ferry them to Vietnamese boat people in Malaysia. Thus was Operation California — now Operation USA — born. A Times headline soon called him the “charity buccaneer,” a red-tape-slashing contrarian who fretted about the “international web of neglect,” and who still has sharp words for relief efforts unmet and relief agencies that don’t measure up. He has steadfast celebrity supporters, like Julie Andrews, but the advent of social media that let anyone text a few bucks to Lady Gaga’s favorite charity in the middle of a concert has made things harder for brick-and-mortar charities like Operation USA. Walden soldiers on, boldly going where too many charity-come-latelies can only try to go.

[SNIP]

What sort of dangers in general do you face?

We were not far from Abbottabad, Pakistan. We had an ambulance to evacuate women in complicated labor from the frontier to Islamabad hospitals. It went up with no English-language markings [but] it got stopped, trashed and burned. They didn’t harm the lady in labor and the driver, but that kind of stuff goes on.

How does Operation USA work?

In most cases we look for partners, from U.N. agencies to small, in-country NGOs.

One of our all-time bests is in Jacmel, Haiti, where for $1 million we built a public primary school which has 1,000 kids, no fees, and is a center of community activities, with free architecture from L.A.-based Gensler, money from Honeywell Corp.’s foundation and quake-proofing engineering from Sacramento-based Miyamoto; 100% Haitian-built. Another is a seniors center in Ofunato, Japan, for abandoned seniors in a small port mostly destroyed by the quake. [Again] free architecture, free engineering, free land, all from Japanese partners with money from Honeywell’s foundation.

We [ran] the first U.S. aid to Cambodia after the war, the first to Vietnam, to Ethiopia [in 1984]. Operation USA predates nearly all the major entertainment industry-driven causes by years. In 1980 we had a two-hour prime-time special on the Cambodian famine which featured Julie Andrews, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Jane Fonda and others.

I can’t say we are still unique, only that we were often the “only Indians in a cowboy town….”


DECADE OLD STRIP & CAVITY SEARCHES IN SF JAIL MAY GARNER COUNTY PAYOUT OF $450,000

Thirteen male and female plaintiffs appear about to receive $450,000 from San Francisco County for being subjected to strip and body cavity searches after being arrested on minor charges more than ten years ago.

The settlement, that has been recommended by the SF City Attorney, is interesting in light of the fact that, last spring the U.S. Supreme Courted ruled in a 5-4 decision that strip searches in the nation’s jails were perfectly constitutional, even absent any kind of probable cause.

However, in the case of the 13 San Francisco plaintiffs, there was some kind of cavity searche—either “visual” or…the more invasive kind—in addition to the strip search, hence the settlement offer.

When I spoke to an LASD spokesman, Sgt. Pena, he confirmed that, yes, strip searches in LA County Jail are indeed standard operating procedure, regardless of why one has landed in lock-up. But real cavity searches require the okay of a judge, just as one would need for a search warrant.

KCBS San Francisco also reports on the upcoming settlement.


STAR WITNESS FOR PRO-PROP 8 IN CALIFORNIA COURT NOW WANTS A GAY-STRAIGHT COALITION TO STRENGTHEN MARRIAGE (OKAY. THAT WORKS.)

Mark Oppenheimer has the story in Wednesday’s New York Times. Here’s a clip:

David Blankenhorn, a traditional-marriage advocate and star witness in the Proposition 8 trial in California in 2010, shocked his allies with an Op-Ed article in The New York Times last June announcing that he was quitting the fight against same-sex marriage. “Instead of fighting gay marriage,” Mr. Blankenhorn wrote, “I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.”

He is about to find out how much support such a coalition can get.

On Thursday, Mr. Blankenhorn’s research group, the Institute for American Values in New York, plans to issue “A Call for a New Conversation on Marriage,” a tract renouncing the culture war that he was once part of, in favor of a different pro-marriage agenda. The proposed conversation will try to bring together gay men and lesbians who want to strengthen marriage with heterosexuals who want to do the same.

The document is signed by 74 well-known activists, writers and scholars, on the left and the right, including the conservative John Podhoretz, editor of Commentary magazine; John Corvino, a gay philosopher; Robert N. Bellah, a sociologist; Caitlin Flanagan, a social critic; and Glenn C. Loury, an economist — once conservative, now less so.

“While the nation’s attention is riveted by a debate about whether a small proportion of our fellow citizens (gays and lesbians) should be allowed to marry,” the statement reads, “marriage is rapidly dividing along class lines, splitting the country that it used to unite.”


IMMIGRATION REFORM AND THE PROBLEM OF MISINFORMATION

Marcos Breton at the Sacramento Bee speaks rather plainly about the fact that much of the split among Americans on immigration reform has mostly to do with misinformation.

Here’s a clip:

As President Barack Obama gave the most important speech on immigration reform in years on Tuesday, it became clear that his greatest foe is not the Republican Party on this terribly divisive issue.

It’s misinformation.

There is so much we think we know about immigration that is wrong. Some don’t want to know the real truth or seem addicted to having little brown people to blame for all of America’s woes.

What’s more American than one group dumping on another?

For most of my 50 years, the punching bags of choice have been people with roots in Mexico…

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, jail, LGBT | 1 Comment »

OC Sheriff Faces Cancer Diagnosis, Riordan Pension Reform Nixed, and Green Dot Finalist for Major Fed Grant

November 27th, 2012 by Taylor Walker

OC SHERIFF HUTCHENS SAYS BREAST CANCER WON’T STOP HER

Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens held a press conference Monday afternoon to publicly address her recent breast cancer diagnosis, and to say that she doesn’t intend to let her health affect her ability to perform her duties as sheriff. (We at WLA are sending wishes for Sheriff Hutchen’s full recovery.)

The OC Register’s Salvador Hernandez has the story. Here’s a clip:

“I will be fully engaged,” Hutchens said during a news conference Monday, accompanied by members of her command staff. “And I plan to run for a second term in 2014.”

Hutchens voice cracked as she described details of her recent diagnosis of breast cancer, but said she is intent in being involved in the day-to-day operations of the department.

“I think the best thing for this is to keep your normal schedule as much as possible and keep engaged,” she said.

A resident of Dana Point, Hutchens, 57, said she was diagnosed with breast cancer Nov. 9, about six months after a mammogram had shown no signs of a cyst. The discovery came as a surprise, she said, especially because there is no history of cancer in her family.

“I’m very optimistic about it,” she said. “I really believe it was caught early.”

Hutchens notified employees in the department in a memo Nov. 19, in anticipation that treatment could change her appearance, her schedule and raise questions about her health, she said.

But there will be no change to the department’s command.

“I’m going to be in charge,” she said. “If at any time I felt I could not carry on my duties, I would make other arrangements. That’s not going to be the case.”

By the way, there’s a video of Sheriff Hutchen’s news conference beneath the body of the story, so be sure to go over to the OC Register.


RIORDAN’s PENSION PLAN GOES UP IN FLAMES

It was announced Monday that former LA Mayor Richard Riordan would drop his controversial city employee pension reform, an intended ballot measure for the May 2013 election.

The LA Times’ David Zahniser and Kate Linthicum have the story. Here’s a clip:

Tyler Izen, president of the Police Protective League, said he was not surprised by the collapse of the signature drive backed by Riordan. Izen said the pension proposal, which had been planned for the May ballot, never received the proper financial analysis in the weeks before Riordan began his push to get 300,000 signatures to put it on the ballot.

“The plan proposed by Riordan to close the defined benefit pension system as a way of saving money was both simplistic and costly … for the taxpayers,” Izen said in a statement.

Service Employees International Union Local 721, which represents civilian city workers, released a statement from sanitation worker Simboa Wright, who said Riordan and his allies had failed because L.A. voters value the work of city employees.

“City residents weren’t about to let a bunch of billionaires rewrite city policies,” Wright said. “As city workers have been saying for a long time, Riordan’s half-baked plan wasn’t thought out. It died because it was bad for city workers and the city they serve.”


GREEN DOT CHARTER SCHOOLS BEAT OUT LAUSD IN QUEST FOR FEDERAL EDUCATION GRANT

The Los Angeles charter group Green Dot Public Schools has advanced as a finalist for a $30 million Dept. of Education grant. LAUSD had also applied for the grant, but was unable to get the support of their teachers union—a requirement for school districts to be in the running.

It is a rather amazing turn of events that Green Dot has made the cut, in that the applications were primarily to have been open to full school districts. But evidently (and happily) Green Dot’s presentation was a strong one.

The LA Times’ Howard Blume has the story. Here’s a clip:

Green Dot Public Schools, which operates 18 charter schools, remains in the running for a “Race to the Top” grant, the U.S. Department of Education announced Monday. If successful, Green Dot could receive $30 million over a four-year period.

In the application process, districts were supposed to set out a plan to “personalize education for students and provide school leaders and teachers with key tools that support them to meet students’ needs,” according to the Education Department.

But the devil for L.A. Unified was in the details. Participation by the teachers union was required and United Teachers Los Angeles would not sign on, citing concerns that Race to the Top could commit the school system to long-term spending not covered by the grant. Union leaders in L.A. and elsewhere also were concerned such a grant could commit them to the use of student test scores as part of a teacher’s evaluation.


KIDS ON SCHOOL DISCIPLINE: ZERO-TOLERANCE AND RESTORATIVE JUSTICE

The Fresno Bee and kNOw Youth Media partnered to produce a series of first-hand accounts of kids affected by “zero-tolerance” school policies, and alternately, kids who have benefited from restorative justice in the education system.

Here’s fourteen-year-old Jane Carretero’s story:

My name is Jane Carretero and I am 14 years old. Towards the beginning of my 8th grade school year at Fort Miller I started doing drugs, and my mom found out about it.

One day, she and I got into a huge fight and she found a bottle of marijuana in my backpack. It was a difficult choice for her to make, but she ended up calling the police. They ended up taking me in for that.

After three days at juvenile hall, it finally hit me. I remember falling on my knees and I started crying for my mom, and I was like, “Why did I have to mess up so badly?”

When I went back to school, I had fallen behind a lot. A lot of people thought that I snitched them out. Some people even thought that I had gotten pregnant, and a lot of girls wanted to fight me, because they thought I was saying things about them.

The teacher started yelling at everyone, and he turned to me. I said, “You’re yelling at us for no reason.” Then the teacher said, “Don’t talk back to me. I know kids like you. You’re messed up in life, and you’re going to mess up when you’re older, too. You’re going to go off to high school thinking you’re all cool and pretty like that, thinking you’re all hard. And you’re going to get beat up one day by a girl better than you,” he told me.

Posted in Education, Green Dot, LAPD, LAPPL, LAUSD | 1 Comment »

CLARIFICATION Re: Those LASD Donations & the Promotions Lists

October 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION ABOUT THE LASD DONATIONS & the PROMOTIONS LISTS

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 »

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