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Visible Tattoos and Recidivism, the Right to a Speedy Trial, Prop 47, and the Right to Remain Silent

October 6th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

STUDY: VISIBLE INK ON RELEASED INMATES = HARDER TIME FINDING EMPLOYMENT AND FASTER RETURN TO INCARCERATION

Former inmates who have visible tattoos—on their face, head, neck, or hands—are re-incarcerated nearly two years earlier than ex-inmates with visible tattoos elsewhere on their body, according to a recent study authored by Kaitlyn Harger of West Virginia University. And, inmates without tattoos made it on the outside an average of 3.4 years longer than inmates with tattoos.

Harger used data on a sample of inmates exiting and entering Florida Dept. of Corrections facilities between 2008-2010, and accounted for variables like gender, age, and previous offenses.

Here’s the report‘s abstract:

This study examines whether tattoo visibility affects recidivism length of ex-offenders. Conventional wisdom suggests that visible tattoos may negatively influence employment outcomes. Additionally, research on recidivism argues that employment post-release is a main determinant of reductions in recidivism. Taken together, these two bodies of literature suggest there may be a relationship between tattoos visible in the workplace and recidivism of released inmates.

Using data from the Florida Department of Corrections, I estimate a log-logistic survival model and compare estimated survival length for inmates with and without visible tattoos. The findings suggest that inmates with visible tattoos return to incarceration faster than those without tattoos or with tattoos easily hidden by clothing.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fr. Greg Boyle of Homeboy Industries often tells a story of the guy who came into his office shortly after his release from prison saying he really needed helping getting a job, that he’d struck out on everything for which he’d applied. Greg looked at the former gang member, and took in the devil horns tattooed prominently on his forehead and said, “Uh, yeah, let’s put our heads together and see if we can figure this problem out.”

Clearly McDonalds was not going to hire the recently released man, as is, to ask “Would you like fries with that?”

Then there was the former homeboy I knew well, a guy nick-named Curly who was having similar problems getting a job when he got out of prison. Bright, good-hearted and personable, Curly—whose mother and dad were both heroin addicts—had struggled with drug addiction for much of his teenage years and adulthood. But now he wanted very much to reboot his life. I looked at him and noted that he had no really onerous tattoos visible. Then I noticed he was holding his eyes peculiarly wide open, without blinking, and I became suspicious.

“Blink,” I said.

And he did. I saw that on one eyelid he had the word FUCK tattooed, on the other eyelid: YOU.

“What were you thinking?!!” I moaned before I could stop myself.

Curly admitted he was a man in need of tattoo removal services. With the offending words removed, his job search went far better.

Many men remove visible tattoos, not just for jobs, but for their kids, who are embarrassed by their dad’s skin markings, and also as a symbol of their personal change, a way of stating, “homie don’t play that anymore….”

So are we surprised at these figures? Not at all. But are we glad that the research supports what common sense could tell anybody. Yes. And hopefully policy and programs will follow after.


TEEN WAITED FOR TRIAL IN SOLITARY FOR ALMOST THREE YEARS ON CHARGES ULTIMATELY DISMISSED

In 2010, 16-year-old Kalief Browder was arrested for allegedly stealing a backpack that contained a debit card, a credit card, some electronics, and $700. Kalief was not found to have the backpack, but the robbery victim identified him as the thief, and Kalief was hauled away to Rikers Island to await trial.

Kalief’s case was delayed for three years for various reasons, one of which was because the prosecutor’s assigned assistant was on vacation. And although the case against Kalief was eventually dismissed, Kalief spent nearly the entire three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement, and the damage was already done. Kalief attempted suicide twice while in isolation, and twice more after his release, landing him in the psychiatric ward. (Last week, Rikers vowed to end solitary confinement of 16 and 17-year-olds.)

Kalief now has a lawsuit against the city, the NYPD, the DA responsible for his case, and the NYC Department of Correction.

The New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman has Kalief’s heartbreaking story (it’s quite long, but make sure to read the whole thing). Here are some clips:

In the early hours of Saturday, May 15, 2010, ten days before his seventeenth birthday, Kalief Browder and a friend were returning home from a party in the Belmont section of the Bronx. They walked along Arthur Avenue, the main street of Little Italy, past bakeries and cafés with their metal shutters pulled down for the night. As they passed East 186th Street, Browder saw a police car driving toward them. More squad cars arrived, and soon Browder and his friend found themselves squinting in the glare of a police spotlight. An officer said that a man had just reported that they had robbed him. “I didn’t rob anybody,” Browder replied. “You can check my pockets.”

The officers searched him and his friend but found nothing. As Browder recalls, one of the officers walked back to his car, where the alleged victim was, and returned with a new story: the man said that they had robbed him not that night but two weeks earlier. The police handcuffed the teens and pressed them into the back of a squad car. “What am I being charged for?” Browder asked. “I didn’t do anything!” He remembers an officer telling them, “We’re just going to take you to the precinct. Most likely you can go home.” Browder whispered to his friend, “Are you sure you didn’t do anything?” His friend insisted that he hadn’t.

At the Forty-eighth Precinct, the pair were fingerprinted and locked in a holding cell. A few hours later, when an officer opened the door, Browder jumped up: “I can leave now?” Instead, the teens were taken to Central Booking at the Bronx County Criminal Court.

Browder had already had a few run-ins with the police, including an incident eight months earlier, when an officer reported seeing him take a delivery truck for a joyride and crash into a parked car. Browder was charged with grand larceny. He told me that his friends drove the truck and that he had only watched, but he figured that he had no defense, and so he pleaded guilty. The judge gave him probation and “youthful offender” status, which insured that he wouldn’t have a criminal record.

Late on Saturday, seventeen hours after the police picked Browder up, an officer and a prosecutor interrogated him, and he again maintained his innocence. The next day, he was led into a courtroom, where he learned that he had been charged with robbery, grand larceny, and assault. The judge released his friend, permitting him to remain free while the case moved through the courts. But, because Browder was still on probation, the judge ordered him to be held and set bail at three thousand dollars. The amount was out of reach for his family, and soon Browder found himself aboard a Department of Correction bus. He fought back panic, he told me later. Staring through the grating on the bus window, he watched the Bronx disappear. Soon, there was water on either side as the bus made its way across a long, narrow bridge to Rikers Island.

[BIG SNIP]

Browder was losing weight. “Several times when I visited him, he said, ‘They’re not feeding me,’ ” the brother told me. “He definitely looked really skinny.” In solitary, food arrived through a slot in the cell door three times a day. For a growing teen-ager, the portions were never big enough, and in solitary Browder couldn’t supplement the rations with snacks bought at the commissary. He took to begging the officers for leftovers: “Can I get that bread?” Sometimes they would slip him an extra slice or two; often, they refused.

Browder’s brother also noticed a growing tendency toward despair. When Browder talked about his case, he was “strong, adamant: ‘No, they can’t do this to me!’ ” But, when the conversation turned to life in jail, “it’s a totally different personality, which is depressed. He’s, like, ‘I don’t know how long I can take this.’ ”

Browder got out of the Bing in the fall of 2011, but by the end of the year he was back—after yet another fight, he says. On the night of February 8, 2012—his six-hundred-and-thirty-fourth day on Rikers—he said to himself, “I can’t take it anymore. I give up.” That night, he tore his bedsheet into strips, tied them together to make a noose, attached it to the light fixture, and tried to hang himself. He was taken to the clinic, then returned to solitary. Browder told me that his sheets, magazines, and clothes were removed—everything except his white plastic bucket.

On February 17th, he was shuttled to the courthouse once again, but this time he was not brought up from the court pen in time to hear his case called. (“I’ll waive his appearance for today’s purposes,” his lawyer told the judge.) For more than a year, he had heard various excuses about why his trial had to be delayed, among them that the prosecutor assigned to the case was on trial elsewhere, was on jury duty, or, as he once told the judge, had “conflicts in my schedule.” If Browder had been in the courtroom on this day, he would have heard a prosecutor offer a new excuse: “Your Honor, the assigned assistant is currently on vacation.” The prosecutor asked for a five-day adjournment; Browder’s lawyer requested March 16th, and the judge scheduled the next court date for then.

The following night, in his solitary cell on Rikers, Browder shattered his plastic bucket by stomping on it, then picked up a piece, sharpened it, and began sawing his wrist. He was stopped after an officer saw him through the cell window and intervened.


PROP 47: SUPPORTERS SAY WILL LOWER PRISON POP, SAVE $$; OPPONENTS SAY LETS OFFENDERS OFF EASY

Proposition 47 (which would reduce certain low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors) is a weighty piece of legislation with strong proponents and opponents, so we will continue to inform readers on this initiative until November. (Previous posts here, and here.)

Backers say the legislation, authored by retired SD Police Chief Bill Lansdowne and SF District Attorney George Gascón, would save hundreds of millions while lowering the outrageous prison population by redirecting offenders to treatment, probation, and shorter jail stints, instead of prison. Opponents, which include San Diego’s current police chief, sheriff, and DA, say that reducing these crimes to misdemeanors will nix the idea of consequences as a crime deterrent—that people will be able to keep committing these misdemeanors. Opponents also say that the legislation will put more of a burden on counties already strained by realignment.

U-T San Diego’s Kristina Davis has more on Prop 47. Here are some clips:

Lansdowne, with nearly 50 years in law enforcement behind him, said his time as police chief of Richmond in the Bay Area in the mid-90s left a strong impression on him. “I learned a lot about crime and poverty and the need to reach out and give people opportunity to rehabilitate themselves,” he said. “I’ve seen so many homeless people in and out of jail, mentally ill addicted to drugs and they can’t get any help in the process. … There’s more to this. Just to say it’s numbers and take the people out of it is a terrible mistake.”

Supporter Stephen Downing, a retired former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, called the current tough-on-crime justice system a “war on the people” that unfairly penalizes minorities. More than half the nation’s prison population is black or Hispanic, and many are young, male and poorly educated, with substance abuse and mental health issues, according to The National Academy of Sciences, which issued a report this year on incarceration rates. The discrepancy is higher in California, where 70 percent of prison inmates are black or Hispanic.

[SNIP]

Critics say the law lacks incentives. With lighter punishments, and nothing to punish repeat offenses, what’s to stop someone from continuing to commit these misdemeanors, they ask.

[District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis points to the slew of measures already in place to send addicts to treatment, including the drug court she started in 1996, which closely monitors addicts’ progress under the threat of jail or prison.

“What we found with drug court is that coerced treatment works. When you take the teeth out of any of these drug laws and have people pushing boundaries … there’s nothing to stop them, so it’s really enabling them,” Dumanis said.


WHEN PRE-MIRANDA RIGHTS SILENCE IS USED AGAINST YOU

People arrested in the United States technically have the right to remain silent, but unless they actually say aloud that they are invoking their 5th Amendment rights, it’s not so simple. Thanks to several California and US Supreme Court decisions, silence during police questioning can be used against a defendant in court.

KPCC’s Emily Green has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Courts have found suspects don’t have to be read their rights upon arrest, but only right before they are interrogated. And there can be a long lag time between the two.

In the case of Richard Tom, for example, he was in custody for two hours before he was read his rights. Earlier this year, the California Supreme Court ruled in Tom’s case, and said his silence at the scene of the accident could be used against him.

“The California Supreme Court has left us in a no-win situation, where as soon as you are arrested the prosecutor can use against you say [and] anything you don’t say against you,” says Marc Zilversmit, Tom’s attorney.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a similar decision in 2013, in a case involving a suspect’s silence prior to arrest. In that case, the suspect voluntarily answered police questions for nearly two hours but refused to talk in depth about a gun found in his house. The prosecutor used that against him at trial.

“Most people assume that if you have a right and you exercise it, that’s all you need to do,” says Standford Law professor Jeff Fisher.

Fisher says the courts’ rulings set a trap for the unwary. The courts said the only exception is if defendants expressly tell police they are invoking their Fifth Amendment rights. Fisher says the rulings affect every kind of criminal case, including white-collar investigations where suspects are often questioned at length before being arrested.

“Under these decisions, somebody in that situation, just as much as the person accused of murder or manslaughter, needs to announce that they are relying on the Fifth Amendment privilege,” Fisher says. “It’s not enough to simply refuse to talk to police.”

Posted in Homeboy Industries, juvenile justice, pretrial detention/release, Sentencing, solitary | 1 Comment »

MacArthur Genius Jonathan Rapping Interview, AG Kamala Harris Missing Report Deadlines, Inadequate Care for Mentally Ill Riverside Inmates, and the “Justice on Trial Film Festival”

September 23rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

NPR INTERVIEW WITH MACARTHUR FELLOW AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE EXPERT JONATHAN RAPPING

Recently named a MacArthur “genius,” Jonathan Rapping is a veteran public defender who founded “Gideon’s Promise,” a public defender training program to raise the quality of representation provided to poor defendants.

Rapping was one of two criminal justice experts given a MacArthur genius grant, this year. The other was Jennifer Eberhardt, a psychologist whose research has revealed racial bias in the criminal justice system.

Charles Pulliam-Moore interviews Rapping on NPR’s Code Switch about why he became involved in reforming public defense, and how Gideon’s Promise helps perpetually overburdened public defenders give quality defense to poor people facing a criminal justice system stacked against them. Here’s a clip:

How did you initially become interested in reforming the way public defenders represented their clients?

Rapping: After Hurricane Katrina hit, I was invited to come to New Orleans to and help with the effort to rebuild their public defender office. It was my first introduction to systems that were incredibly dysfunctional and had come to accept an embarrassingly low standard of justice for people.

In what ways were the standards low?

You would see these systems where human beings — almost exclusively poor and disproportionately people of color — were brought into these systems and just processed. No one was treated like a human being. …

It starts with legislators who in a “tough on crime” environment are really pressured to basically over-criminalize behavior. Then you get police who feel pressured to make arrests and to target certain communities. Prosecutors who frequently feel the pressure of a “tough on crime” environment charge more cases than the system is equipped to handle. As the system gets overwhelmed, the goal becomes getting this overwhelming number of cases through the system. Rather than focusing on justice, taking our time, and making sure that every person gets what our Constitution deserves, we start looking for shortcuts. …

Prosecutors start doing things like asking that poor people be held on bonds they can’t make. They do this knowing that when you’re sitting in jail on a bond you can’t make and the only way to get out is to take a plea, that’s an incredibly powerful tool for a prosecutor to get a quick conviction.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS HAS LEFT AT LEAST 13 CRIMINAL JUSTICE REPORTS UNFINISHED SINCE 2011

California Attorney General Kamala Harris seems to have missed deadlines on at least nine important criminal justice reports for 2013, and four between 2011 and 2012. The missing reports have created a gap in data on juvenile justice, organized crime, gun use, and hate crimes, among other issues. The delayed reports can cause problems for law enforcement, lawmakers, and researchers for whom current data is important.

U-T San Diego’s Ashly McGlone has the story. Here’s a clip:

The late reports — covering hate crimes, juvenile justice, firearms use during the commission of a crime and other topics — are meant to provide the public a snapshot of trends in criminal activity and insight into the dealings of the Department of Justice.

As the state’s top law enforcer, Harris is entrusted in the state Constitution “to see that the laws of the state are uniformly and adequately enforced.”

The most overarching report that Harris is late producing is the Biennial Report of Major Activities by the Attorney General, which the law requires her to produce every other year. The 2012 report was due two years ago, and the 2014 report was due last week.

The report is supposed to provide the governor with budget information and recap the accomplishments of the Attorney General’s Office, including court cases litigated and legal opinions issued.

U-T Watchdog reported on the tardiness of that report in April, and Harris’s office said at that time that the 2012 report would be complete within months and the 2014 report would be completed on time on Sept. 15.

[SNIP]

Several 2013 reports were due earlier this year, and have not been posted:

On March 1, the Asset Forfeiture Report was due, with information on all seizures of assets from illegal drug activities initiated throughout the state during the calendar year.

In April, two more reports were due, one detailing electronic surveillance efforts and results and one cataloguing the number and type of firearms used most frequently in the commission of violent, homicidal, street and drug trafficking crimes.

In July, separate reports were due on hate crimes and the juvenile justice system. Also, the Crime in California report was due, including statistics on reported crimes, arrests, dispositions, adult felony arrests, domestic violence calls, officers killed or assaulted and more.


LOS ANGELES ISN’T THE ONLY COUNTY STRUGGLING TO PROPERLY CARE FOR MENTALLY ILL INMATES…RIVERSIDE IS, TOO

A current federal class-action lawsuit and a couple of grand jury reports call attention to the substandard care Riverside County provides to the mentally ill.

The sheriff’s department says that it is working to address the issues, in part, by adding more staff and beds for mentally ill inmates, as well as a fast-track to treatment for those incapable of standing trial. But inmate advocates say these changes only accomplish damage control, and that the whole mental health care system needs to be rebuilt.

The Press Enterprise’s Richard De Atley has the story. Here’s how it opens:

California’s prison realignment has sharpened an already critical focus on Riverside County’s treatment of mentally ill and suicidal jail inmates – issues cited in negative grand jury reports and in a current federal court lawsuit.

Sheriff’s and mental health officials said they are trying to close the gaps, doubling the number of dedicated beds for mentally ill inmates and increasing the mental health personnel to care for them. The sheriff has also established a faster treatment program for those declared incompetent to stand trial.

Treatment of mentally ill patients is a big component of state prison realignment, which focuses on local incarceration, probation and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders.

But one psychiatrist, who reviewed Riverside County’s five adult jails on behalf of the inmates who are part of the federal lawsuit, said mental health care remains in “crisis management mode” this year, despite grand jury reports in 2011 and 2012 that cited inadequate mental health worker staffing and other systemic problems.

Sara Norman, an attorney representing Riverside County inmates in the federal lawsuit, said her clients aren’t the only ones who would benefit from improvements in mental health care.

“A poorly run system is harmful to patients, but also demoralizing and difficult for health care staff and detention staff,” she said. “You have a very difficult population. The vast majority are getting out, and it’s a burden on health care on the outside to deprive them on the inside.”

Among the lawsuit’s several claims are that psychotropic medications are poorly managed and monitored for jail inmates.


FILM FESTIVAL: “JUSTICE ON TRIAL” CHALLENGES THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX

LA Progressive’s Dick Price and Sharon Kyle interviewed Susan Burton, the executive director of A New Way of Life Reentry Program, which helps formerly incarcerated women in South Central land on their feet with housing, food, clothing, and reentry services. Burton has a personal knowledge of prison’s revolving door, having cycled in and out of lock-up herself for 15 years.

Burton is now working on the second annual “Justice on Trial Film Festival,” which focuses on the American prison system’s effect on people, particularly people of color. The festival will take place September 26 and 27 at Cal State Long Beach. (You can register here.)

Price and Kyle spoke with Burton about mass incarceration, the film festival, and Prop 47. Here’s a clip:

Dick and Sharon: What do you hope the Justice On Trial Film Festival will accomplish?

Susan: Our intention is to alert the broader public with what’s going on with our mass incarceration system, here in Los Angeles and across the country. We’ve brought together well-known speakers and a collection of independent films whose creators have been moved to promote the end of mass incarceration.

We moved this year’s second annual event to Long Beach because that city has such a high number of formerly incarcerated people living there. This area is majorly oppressed, with high rates of incarceration, high rates of homelessness, high rates of police killings.

Dick and Sharon: You’ve been a strong supporter of Yes Prop 47. If passed, what kind of impact would this initiative have in your life and in the lives of the women who come through A New Way Of Life Reentry Project?

Susan: Prop 47 takes six low-level, nonviolent felonies—such as shoplifting, drug possession for personal use, writing bad checks—and makes them into misdemeanors. It then puts some of the money saved by not incarcerating so many people into drug treatment and mental health programs to help people stay out of trouble in the first place.

For me and the women of A New Way Of Life, Prop 47 would mean that we would not have had to go to prison. It would have meant that we would have gotten help for our problems with drugs and alcohol. It would have let us have clean records so we would not have to go through life with the burden of wearing the label “convicted felon” around our necks, dragging us down.

Posted in jail, Mental Illness, Public Defender | 2 Comments »

Tanaka Reappears with Tweet, LAPD Chief Beck Horse Purchase Controversy, Juvenile Justice Recommendations for Law Enforcement…and More

August 7th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

PAUL TANAKA RESURFACES WITH A TWEET, SAYS CAMPAIGN IS TAKING THE SUMMER OFF

On Monday we pointed to a story by KPCC’s Frank Stoltze asking where former undersheriff and current sheriff-hopeful Paul Tanaka (and his campaign staff) had disappeared to.

At the time of Stoltze’s story, Tanaka’s had last posted on Twitter June 3 (primary election day). The following day, after garnering only 15% of the vote, he posted on Facebook thanking those who voted for him, and saying that efforts must be redoubled moving forward. A month and a half later, the only new notes on either social media platforms were from supporters on Facebook wondering what had happened to the campaign.

On Tuesday, likely in response to Stoltze’s story, Tanaka posted an update both on Twitter and Facebook confirming that he is still in the race, but no longer campaigning. The Facebook update reads, “We are still in the race but giving our supporters an opportunity to spend the summer with their families. Thank you for understanding.”

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez has more on the story. Here are some clips:

“It looks like this campaign went into hibernation,” said Jessica Levinson, a Loyola Law School professor and political analyst.

Where’s Tanaka? He vacated his Gardena headquarters, ignored an Eyewitness News request for an interview, and since early June, has been a no-show on social media — until a single tweet went out on Tuesday:

“We are still in the race but giving our supporters an opportunity to spend the summer with our families.”

“I think that anyone who really is running a full-force campaign would not wait until Labor Day to gear up,” said Levinson.

[SNIP]

Tanaka is sometimes visible at Gardena City Hall. He was elected to a third term last spring as mayor. The staff tells Eyewitness News he does not keep office hours, but has not missed a council meeting.

As for the sheriff’s run, one former Tanaka campaign manager says he and others have left.

“Paul is working on putting together a new team for the General Election run. Given the results of the primary, I think a shake up is needed,” said former Tanaka campaign manager Ed Chen

Also needed: funding. Tanaka’s filings with the Los Angeles County Registrar’s Office fill 10 pages, compared to 145 for McDonnell.

What we also learn from the registrar is that there’s no procedure for bowing out of the race. Tanaka’s name will be on the ballot, no matter what.


CONTROVERSY OVER LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S INVOLVEMENT IN POLICE HORSE SALE

As the LA police commission’s Tuesday vote on whether to reappoint LAPD Chief Charlie Beck draws nearer, questions have been raised about his involvement in the department’s purchase of a horse from his daughter, Brandi Scimone (Pearson), an officer in the mounted unit.

When the issue originally surfaced, Chief Beck told the public that he was not involved in any way with the $6,000 horse transaction.

But documentation of the purchase bearing Beck’s signature was obtained by the LA Times. LASD spokesman Commander Andrew Smith told KPCC’s Frank Stoltze that the chief only signed off at the very end, after the horse had passed the customary, rigorous evaluation process.

Members of the police commission expressed concern with the discrepancy, but still appeared to be supportive of Beck (as did Mayor Eric Garcetti).

Here’s a clip from Stoltze’s story on the issue:

“That paperwork steered completely around me,” Beck told reporters gathered around him at police headquarters. “I kept it in Chief Moore’s shop,” said Beck, referring to Assistant Chief Michael Moore.

Now, the Los Angeles Times has published an LAPD memo that includes Becks’ signature, approving acceptance of the horse as a donation from the Police Foundation. The Foundation used $6,000 in private money to purchase the horse from the chief’s daughter, Brandi Pearson, for use in the department’s mounted unit. Pearson is an LAPD officer who is assigned to the mounted unit.

“The document would appear to be inconsistent with what he said,” Police Commission member Robert Saltzman said. “I was surprised and troubled by the document.”

“I think when there is an appearance of conflict of interest, we should bend over backwards to make sure the transaction is handled by others,” Saltzman added.

Then, on Wednesday evening, Chief Beck issued a statement saying he was mistaken in his first statements regarding the issue:

“Yesterday, I stated that the paperwork for the donation of a horse originally owned by my daughter, LAPD Officer Brandi Scimone, and purchased with private funds ‘steered completely around me.’ Since that time, I reviewed the file and realized that I had signed the LA Police Foundation’s Grant Request after the donation had been evaluated and approved by the Office of Special Operations and had also signed the Intradepartmental Correspondence to the Board of Police Commissioners to approve of the donation. Therefore, I now realize that my comments were mistaken.”

“After evaluating the circumstances of this donation, in retrospect, I should have ensured that the Department had formally transmitted to the Commission the additional documentation on file which identified the original owner of the horse. I will continue to work with the Commission to increase the Department’s transparency.”

Police commission president Steve Soboroff also issued a statement saying that after reviewing all information, he was satisfied that the chief had no involvement with the decision to purchase the horse.

Here’s a clip from CBS:

L.A. Police Commission President Steve Soboroff said he was “satisfied the commission will have sufficient disclosure going forward” based on Beck’s statement.

“After reviewing the information provided to date by the Department, the Inspector General, and Chief Beck, I am comfortable that the Chief was not involved in the selection, evaluation or purchase of the horse (by the LAPD Foundation) that was previously owned by Chief Beck’s daughter, LAPD Officer Brandi Scimone, and that he did not influence any decision to accept the donation by the Department,” Soboroff added.

The comments follow just hours after Beck came under fire when the memo addressed to him from Capt. Patrick Smith, dated March 14, 2014, emerged in a report by The Los Angeles Times.

The document explains the animal’s qualifications for service on the LAPD, and that the cost of the horse would be covered by a private donor, but identifies the seller only as “a department employee assigned to the Mounted Platoon,” rather than by name.

EDITOR’S NOTE:

We at WitnessLA have long thought highly of Los Angles Police Department chief Charlie Beck. Even before he was selected to head our city’s police department, we found him to be a straight shooter who loved policing but was realistic about the department’s imperfections, and about the necessity of healing its relationships with the communities it served. After he became chief, we observed his hand to be a steady one at the wheel. We also noted that Beck was a man unafraid to learn and change on the job (as evidenced by his recent efforts to be more transparent). As a consequence, the LAPD has improved considerably under his leadership.

That is why we are dismayed at the string of accusations of conflicts of interest and favoritism that have plagued Beck in the last few months. For instance, this past spring there was the chief’s controversial reversal of the decision to fire Shaun Hillmann, whose uncle happens to be a well-known former LAPD deputy chief. And, more recently, there are the allegations that a sergeant who reportedly had less-than-appropriate relations with two female officers, the chief’s daughter one of them, received a lighter form of discipline than was originally planned or was called for.

Finally, there is the matter of the purchase of Beck’s daughter’s horse for the department—a story we originally thought to be a silly non-controversy. Then suddenly there was the perception, at least, that Beck was less than one hundred percent honest about his involvement in all this horse buying business, a mistake that Beck has mostly rectified, as of Wednesday night.

We have no doubt that Chief Beck should be awarded a second five-year term next Tuesday when the police commission is scheduled to vote. Letting the chief finish the work he has begun at the LAPD is assuredly the best choice for our city. But a new contract should not be confused with a blanket approval of all of Beck’s actions.

Even the appearance of favoritism, especially when it comes to discipline, is toxic for a law enforcement organization.

This means that, whatever the truth of the various controversies, Chief Charlie Beck must work quickly and aggressively to correct the appearance that the rules are different for some favored people in the department that he leads.


ACTIONS FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT LEADERS TO TAKE TO REFORM THE JUVENILE JUSTICE SYSTEM

An important new report from the International Association of Chiefs of Police offers 33 recommendations for law enforcement leaders to reform the juvenile justice system at the local, state, and federal levels. The report was produced with the support of the MacArthur Foundation.

The report addressed areas for reform such as partnering with kids and their families, developing alternatives to justice system involvement and incarceration, data collection, and helping kids graduate. The report’s recommendations were developed at a National Summit on Law Enforcement Leadership in Juvenile Justice, where they received input from such advocate organizations as Justice for Families.

Here are the recommended actions for law enforcement leaders to improve interaction with kids who have behavioral disabilities and history of trauma:

Prevalent challenges: A large proportion of the young people who come into contact with law enforcement have mental health conditions, substance abuse problems, developmental disabilities, or trauma histories. These youth present distinct challenges in terms of how they interact with law enforcement and what their needs are. Law enforcement officers need training and protocols to enable them to better understand these issues and respond effectively.

Connecting youth and families with resources: Young people and their families are often in need of a wide range of services, and absent these services, criminal justice remedies alone will not be effective. As the first point of contact with many youth and families—long before any social services agency might learn of their needs—law enforcement officers have an opportunity to connect them with needed resources.

Recommendations

Law enforcement policies, practices and training should enable officers to respond appropriately to youth with mental health and substance abuse disorders and trauma histories by empowering officers to:

- understand the impact of these disorders and background on youth behavior;

– recognize and interpret the needs of a youth during first contact;

– respond appropriately with the aid of crisis intervention techniques to de-escalate conflicts and maximize the safety of officers, youth, and others; and

– make appropriate referrals to community-based services and minimize justice system involvement whenever possible.

Training on youth with trauma histories should include information on:

– the powerful and lasting effects trauma has on young people and their behavior;

– ways that arrest and detention can contribute to youth trauma; and

– the critical role of law enforcement in helping children recover from traumatic experiences by reinforcing safety and security.

As the first point of contact with many young people and families, law enforcement agencies have a unique vantage point to recognize unmet needs for behavioral health services and to collaborate with local government agencies and community-based providers to address systemic gaps in services.


LA TIMES’ ROBERT GREENE ON THE SUPES’ LASD OVERSIGHT DECISION

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted down the creation of a civilian commission to watch over the sheriff’s department. The Supes also chose to bind the department’s Inspector General to the board through an attorney-client relationship. This means that the Supes could receive his reports in closed-door meetings.

The LA Times’ Robert Greene says that what the sheriff’s department needs is oversight that reports to the public, not just the county supervisors.

Here’s how it opens:

In arguing against a civilian commission to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, Richard Drooyan on Tuesday read the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors a key passage from the report on jail violence he helped write in 2012. Such a commission, he said, “is not necessary if the Board of Supervisors continues to put a spotlight on conditions in the jails and establishes a well structured and adequately staffed OIG” — meaning the new Office of Inspector General.

They are the correct words to draw from the findings and recommendations of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, but they should direct readers to the opposite conclusion.

An oversight commission is not necessary if — and it’s the key “if” — the supervisors continue to focus on the jails and if they establish a well-structured and adequately staffed OIG.

In fact, as to the first “if,” the long, sorry record of the Board of Supervisors’ failed oversight of the Sheriff’s Department shows that its attention is too unfocused over time to properly do the job. That’s the whole point: Los Angeles County is facing federal court jurisdiction over treatment of inmates, has seen six deputies convicted of obstructing an FBI investigation and a dozen others indicted on various charges, and is paying out millions of dollars in lawsuit verdicts and settlements because the board was inadequate to the task of oversight.

It’s not that the supervisors weren’t on notice of the problems, which were detailed for them every six months, along with recommendations, by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb. They were indeed on notice, but somehow lacked the will or the ability to do much about it.

Now, after rejecting a civilian oversight commission on Tuesday, a majority of the supervisors insist that everything will change. They’ve learned their lesson. They’ll do better. They really mean it this time.

Posted in Charlie Beck, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, Paul Tanaka | 13 Comments »

LA’s Central Crumbling Juvenile Hall, Pepper Spray in San Diego’s Juvenile Facilities, Mental Health Diversion Vote Postponed…and More

July 30th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

WHAT WILL LA COUNTY DO WITH THE DILAPIDATED CENTRAL JUVENILE HALL

As LA County is planning to rebuild Men’s Central Jail and Camp Kilpatrick, and to replace a women’s jail, another facility, the county’s Central Juvenile Hall, is in a state of woeful disrepair. Kids housed at “the Hall,” as it is sometimes referred to, endure broken pipes, dry-rot, mold, and structures that are outdated and not conducive to the current movement toward treatment and rehabilitation.

The LA County Supervisors, other county officials, and advocates don’t all agree on one solution.

The facility is predominantly used to hold kids awaiting trial at the central court, so relocating the kids away from the court would create a transportation obstacle. While the Supes are not sure if there is adequate funding for replacing the juvenile hall (an estimated $50M), the county is pumping millions into holding the facility together.

While it’s obvious that something must be done to remedy the conditions these kids are living in, it’s not clear exactly what the right answer is.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…absent from the public discussions has been any long-term plan to improve or replace the 22-acre Central Juvenile Hall in Boyle Heights, which the county’s watchdog grand jury recently criticized for being in “severe disrepair,” a continuing financial drain on taxpayers and in need of a complete replacement. The facility, which mostly houses minors awaiting trials, is plagued by leaking pipes, dry-rotted support beams, decaying facades and peeling paint, the panel wrote.

“Bath towels and duct tape were used in a futile attempt to repair broken pipes and prevent seepage” in one housing unit, the grand jury reported after members inspected the hall. “There was an indistinct foul odor in the hallway suggesting that sewage or stagnant water was present.” They found a “dilapidated” modular building used to house foster youth facing criminal charges was “totally isolated from the main facility and surrounded by barbed wire fencing which gives the appearance of an adult prison, not a youth facility.”

Several high-level county officials echoed the grand jury’s concerns. Trying to repair and modernize the existing buildings “is like putting a jet engine on a Model T,” Probation Department chief Jerry Powers said in an interview.

“It’s been a horrible facility for a long time,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, whose district includes the hall. “We’ve tried to clean it up and rehab it and everything, but it needs to be rebuilt.”

Advocacy groups, including the Youth Justice Coalition, say the aging central hall is no longer needed and should be torn down and not replaced.

At this point, however, no detailed study of the facility or its future has been conducted. It’s unclear whether county officials will back what Powers estimated would be a $50-million replacement price tag for the hall, when so many other costly projects are underway.

“If I had my choice and had all the money I needed, I would support blowing the whole thing up and starting over again,” said Supervisor Don Knabe, who represents the southern part of the county. But funding a new central juvenile facility could be difficult, he added. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, who represents northern areas, agreed that the hall needs to be replaced but said through a spokesman that the supervisors would have to look later this year at what funding is available for that and other projects.

In the meantime, the county board has been pouring millions into repairing and keeping open the hall’s labyrinth of buildings behind the Eastlake Juvenile Court. Supervisors allocated $5 million this year to alleviate water damage and plumbing issues.


YOUTH LAW CENTER FILES COMPLAINT AGAINST SAN DIEGO PROBATION FOR PEPPER SPRAY USE ON LOCKED UP KIDS

The San Francisco nonprofit Youth Law Center filed a 34-page complaint against the San Diego County Dept. of Probation, co-signed by nine other advocacy groups, citing excessive pepper spray use at San Diego’s East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities after finding that officers shot kids with pepper spray 461 times in 2012.

While 70% of juvenile facilities across the nation ban the use of pepper spray, the Youth Law Center investigation found that officers were spraying kids indiscriminately, “as an all-purpose behavioral management tool.”

A number of girls were reportedly sprayed for refusing to strip in front of male officers. Officers sprayed kids as young as twelve, for things like failure to follow instructions, or refusal to leave their cells. Kids with skin, respiratory, heart, and mental health problems were also sprayed.

San Diego CityBeat’s Dave Maass and Kelly Davis have more on the issue. Here are some clips:

The girl sat on the bunk in her cell in one of San Diego County’s female juvenile-detention units as staff members explained that she was being placed on suicide watch. They told her she had to strip naked in front of them—including in front of a male staff member.

She refused, twice. So, they sprayed her in the face with pepper spray, then shut the door to her cell.

Two minutes later, they asked if she was going to cooperate. She refused, and they sprayed her a second time and again shut the door.

Minutes later, they opened the door and sprayed her again. She vomited. They then sprayed her yet once more.

After the fourth blast of pepper spray, the girl finally submitted. Probation staff ordered her to crawl out of the cell, where they handcuffed her, forcibly removed her clothing, cut off her shirt and bra, strip-searched her, put her in a gown and placed her in solitary confinement for 48 hours.

This account is one of dozens of abuses of pepper spray by the San Diego County Probation Department at its East Mesa and Kearny Mesa juvenile facilities revealed today by the Youth Law Center (YLC), a San Francisco legal advocacy nonprofit. In a 34-page formal complaint supported by more than 170 individual exhibits, YLC has asked the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division to investigate the probation department and order it to end the use of pepper spray and other practices that YLC says violate youths’ constitutional rights. Nine groups co-signed the complaint, including California Rural Legal Assistance, El Grupo, the San Diego branch of the NAACP, Border Angels, Latinos Organizing for Action, Alliance San Diego, CSA San Diego, American Friends Service Committee San Diego and the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association….

According to the complaint, YLC and El Grupo initiated an investigation of pepper-spray use in San Diego County juvenile facilities in 2012 after San Diego CityBeat, in collaboration with TheCrimeReport.org, reported that pepper spray, also known as oleoresin capsicum, or OC spray, had been used on juveniles 461 times in a single year. As we noted then, and is noted in the complaint, only a handful of states allow juvenile-detention staff to carry pepper spray. More than 70 percent of facilities nationwide ban its use entirely. Many jurisdictions, including Los Angeles County, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Division of Juvenile Justice and the Texas Youth Commission have been forced to reduce pepper-spray usage after legal pressure from civil rights groups and youth advocates.

In San Diego juvenile facilities, probation officers have wide discretion to use pepper spray, whether it’s the small bottles they carry or the large canisters, nicknamed “Big Berthas,” designed to quell riots. Before deploying pepper spray, officers call out the “Cover” command; every youth within earshot is required to assume a crouch position, with hands clasped over their head to avoid getting sprayed.

[SNIP]

YLC identified dozens upon dozens of cases of improper use of pepper spray. Probation staff sprayed youth at risk of suicide; youth who simply were disobedient; youth with respiratory, cardiovascular and skin problems; and youth being treated with psychotropic medication.

They used it to gas-out detainees who refused to leave their cells. They sprayed detainees as young as 12 years old. They sprayed multiple girls who refused to strip at the request of male staff.

YLC documented evidence of 147 youths who weren’t doing anything wrong but were nonetheless exposed to pepper spray because staff had used too much on other detainees. In five separate incidents, staff used at least a pound of pepper spray.


SUPES PUSH MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION VOTE TO NEXT TUESDAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors has postponed voting on a motion (made by Mark Ridley-Thomas) that would earmark at least $20 million for the upcoming fiscal year to a mental health diversion program. (Backstory here.)

Rina Palta was at Tuesday’s board meeting and has this update. Here’s a clip:

“I don’t think this is ready for primetime,” said Supervisor Gloria Molina, who noted that the supervisors may want to spend more than $20 million for such purposes once Lacey’s plan is complete.

Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsy and Don Knabe also expressed support for funding diversion through the supplemental budget process in the fall — but not yet.

The board did agree to request a report from various county agencies on where diversion funds might come from and what sorts of programs are needed.

Next week, the board is expected to vote on funding contracts for architectural plans and an environmental impact report for jail construction in L.A. County. The $14.5 million combined contracts would be a next step in building, among other projects in the county’s comprehensive jail plan, a downtown jail to house inmates with mental illness.

Despite the nay-sayers who want to wait till the fall, Ridley-Thomas told Rina Palta, “We need to match our rhetoric with evidence of commitment.”


THE HISTORY OF MARIJUANA PROHIBITION

The latest in the NY Times’ editorial series advocating marijuana legalization (more here, and here) lays down the historical context of the federal marijuana ban, from its racist roots, to propaganda and sensational news coverage, to taxation, to outright prohibition. Here’s how it opens:

The federal law that makes possession of marijuana a crime has its origins in legislation that was passed in an atmosphere of hysteria during the 1930s and that was firmly rooted in prejudices against Mexican immigrants and African-Americans, who were associated with marijuana use at the time. This racially freighted history lives on in current federal policy, which is so driven by myth and propaganda that is it almost impervious to reason.

The cannabis plant, also known as hemp, was widely grown in the United States for use in fabric during the mid-19th century. The practice of smoking it appeared in Texas border towns around 1900, brought by Mexican immigrants who cultivated cannabis as an intoxicant and for medicinal purposes as they had done at home.

Within 15 years or so, it was plentiful along the Texas border and was advertised openly at grocery markets and drugstores, some of which shipped small packets by mail to customers in other states.

The law enforcement view of marijuana was indelibly shaped by the fact that it was initially connected to brown people from Mexico and subsequently with black and poor communities in this country. Police in Texas border towns demonized the plant in racial terms as the drug of “immoral” populations who were promptly labeled “fiends.”

As the legal scholars Richard Bonnie and Charles Whitebread explain in their authoritative history, “The Marihuana Conviction,” the drug’s popularity among minorities and other groups practically ensured that it would be classified as a “narcotic,” attributed with addictive qualities it did not have, and set alongside far more dangerous drugs like heroin and morphine.

By the early 1930s, more than 30 states had prohibited the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes. The federal push was yet to come…

Read the rest of the latest offering from this interesting (and enjoyable) series.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, mental health, Probation | 8 Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF ELECTION UPDATES: MEDIA BANNED FROM TANAKA’S ELECTION NIGHT PARTY…AND MORE

On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.

[SNIP]

Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


150K BALLOTS STILL UNCOUNTED

There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


TEDxIRONWOOD: FIRST EVER TED TALKS EVENT IN A PRISON

On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.

[SNIP]

TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WLA ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND

WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


GRAY WOLF GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS IN CALIFORNIA

It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

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

March 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

Everyone who knew him is reeling.

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

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

Really.

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

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

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

Here’s a clip from what Sullivan wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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


Photo courtesy of JoeMcGinniss.net

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

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 | 2 Comments »

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 »

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