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Inmate Medical & Personal Data stolen at CA Prisons—-Symptomatic of Far More Serious Problems With CDCR Med System?

June 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE CASE OF THE VANISHING LAP TOP

Last month, I got a call from an California prison inmate whom I know, who is serving a little less than two years in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison. The inmate, whom we’ll call Javier although that is not his real name, told me he was worried because a laptop containing his personal data, and that of hundreds, or maybe thousands of other inmates, had been stolen. By “personal data,” Javier said, he meant health records, his social security number, plus any and all other private information of his that was possessed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).

I should explain here that, because of my years of gang reporting starting in 1990, I often get collect calls from people residing in state and county correctional facilities. This is due to the fact that, during the most intense years of that reporting, I got to know a great many people who were active in the gang world. Those once-teenagers and young adults are now men and women in their late 30s to mid-40s, some even older. Most of those former gangsters I knew the best in those years have, against daunting odds, long ago rebooted their lives in healthy directions and are doing well as working people, taxpayers, husbands, wives, parents and, in some cases, grandparents.

But not all. Some of those I first met during the gang-haunted 1990′s are either dead or sentenced to prison for a very long time. Others, like my caller, are making progress. But, for a variety of reasons, they still struggle.

In any case, Javier was concerned that the laptop thief could and would engage in identify theft on a grand scale. “I’m getting out in a month,” he said. “And I want to do good for my wife and my kids. But this worries me. I can’t afford problems. I want to do everything right. I can’t afford to have some crazy thing go wrong”

It was Javier’s understanding that the laptop that contained all this personal data was never supposed to be removed from where it normally resided in a CDCR facility. But a staff member removed it anyway, he’d heard, for some reason or other. Then before the staffer could get home with the illegal laptop, somebody jacked the thing from his/her car.

I told Javier that the whole thing sounded awful, and took a few notes. Then I got busy with other stories and tasks, and did not investigate his stolen data tale any further.

This week, however, I began hearing from prison reform advocates who said that they too had been getting letters and calls from CDCR inmates who reside in a variety of California prisons. All of them told identical tales about the stolen data. And all—like Javier—-were very concerned.

One male inmate serving time at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego was spooked by the idea of outsiders getting his medical files and wondered how all that information had been allowed to go outside the prison.

Another inmate, a 28-year-old woman housed at the California Institution for Women (CIW), wrote “please help me by looking into this.” She’d been in prison for the past decade, since she was 18, and much of that time she’d been seeing a doctor for mental health issues. She’d also been put in isolation for long, traumatizing stretches. The thought of confidential files from those years, and those shrink sessions, floating around in unauthorized hands, understandably panicked her.


THE BREACH

I called the CDCR to find if such a breach had indeed really occurred and, if so, what they had to say about it. The representative who got on the phone admitted that he was aware of the issue but said that they (the CDCR) were not the right people to comment, and that I needed to talk to someone at California Correctional Health Care Services [CCJCS]—the federal receiver’s office.

His tone was that of one who was lateraling a hot potato to someone else, and who was very glad to be ridding himself of the troublesome spud.

CCJCS is the organization formed by federal receiver J. Clark Kelso and his team as a consequence of a massive class action civil rights lawsuit (Plata v. Schwarzenegger) filed in 2001 against the State of California regarding the ghastly, and often deadly, quality of medical care in the state’s adult prisons, which it was determined violated the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and a number of other statutes. When few changes were made after the settlement of the case, in 2005 the entire California prison medical system was put into federal receivership. Since 2006, Kelso and company have been tasked with reforming the massive health system that serves the CDCR’s approximately 125,000 adult inmates in California’s 34 prisons.

Ten years later, after much effort, oversight by a very attentive three-judge panel and federal receiver Kelso, plus one high-profile trip to the U.S. Supreme Court (Plata v. Brown), although many improvements have been made, alarming deficits remain.

But we’ll get back to those other Plata-related issues in a minute. First back to the breach.

When I called the CCJCS’s press officer, her voice mail told me she was out on vacation. And the person who is filling in for her had evidently left for the day. I did find, however, that the CCJC was in fact quite concerned with the data breach and had posted a statement about the problem on their website.

It reads in part:

A staff member’s non-encrypted, password-protected laptop was stolen from their personal vehicle. This laptop may have contained PII and PHI for patients within the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation incarcerated between the years 1996 and 2014….

…Appropriate actions were immediately implemented and shall continue to occur. This includes, but is not limited to, corrective discipline, information security training, procedural amendments, process changes and technology controls and safeguards.

The statement also noted that the CCJCS staff had done its best to notify each individual whose “unsecured protected” information had been, or is reasonably believed to have been “accessed, acquired, used, or disclosed as a result of such breach.”

WLA has obtained a copy of the letter sent to each inmate, which begings like this:

Dear so-and-so,

We are contacting you of a possible information security incident involving your personal Information.

What happened:

On April 25, 2016, California Correctional Health Care Service (CCHCS) Identified a potential breach of your Personally Identifiable Information and Protected Health Information that occurred on February 25,2016. An unencrypted laptop Was stolen from a CCHS workforce member’s personal vehicle…

It goes on from there in a manner that appears to be fairly honest but not terribly reassuring.


OTHER MEDICAL CARE ISSUES

It is possible, of course, maybe even probable, that no one’s information is being used in a compromising fashion, that the thief simply saw a laptop, broke into the car, grabbed the thing, then sold it after wiping the hard drive, having no idea what he/she was wiping.

But the staff carelessness and reported flouting of rules involved in the mess is not heartening when one looks at some of other problems remaining in the CDCR’s medical care system, after all this time in receivership.

There is, for example, the alarming rash of suicides at the California Institution for Women (CIR) that we wrote about last month. Specifically, after an eight-month examination of suicide prevention practices at all 34 prisons of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the suicide prevention examiner found that CIW, specifically, was a “a problematic institution that exhibited numerous poor practices in the area of suicide prevention.”

As if to painfully make the point, a few months after report was released, on April 14, a 35-year old woman woman killed herself under heart-wrenching circumstances. Then, less than a week later still, another CIW woman made a serious suicide attempt that reportedly landed her in a coma.

And, if that isn’t enough, there is the fact that the California Office of the Inspector General has recently reported that one-third of the 17 state prisons inspected last year (as part of the Plata lawsuit) showed large deficits with the quality of medical care those prisons were providing to inmates.

For instance, the OIG’s May 18 report showed Mule Creek prison failed in a staggering 11 our of 12 “primary (clinical) quality indicators” applicable to the prison, and was adequate in only one.

In a report on Ironwood State Prison released on May 25, inspectors noted that the state of medical care at Ironwood wasn’t as hideous as that at Mule Creek. It seemed that Ironwood failed to hit only 2 out of 8 clinical quality indicators, instead of 11 out of 12. Still, two out of eight, for those who have not done the math, is a 25 percent failure. Overall, the inspectors deemed the medical care at Ironwood, like Mule Creek, to be “Inadequate.” (The benchmark, by the way, is adequate.)

In other words, today we’re talking about a troubling data theft–-which may or may not turn out to do harm to inmates. But it is difficult not to see that take-home computer breach as a symptom of an array of disturbing and potentially dangerous problems that still plague our state’s prison medical care system.

Posted in CDCR | No Comments »

When Calif. Closes Its Problematic Group Homes Will LA’s Neediest Foster Kids Have Somewhere Better to Go? – by Sara Tiano & Brittany Reid

May 23rd, 2016 by witnessla

FINDING FAMILY

A New California Law Will Soon Close the State’s Scandal-Plagued Group Homes.
So Where Will That Leave LA County’s Most Vulnerable Foster Kids?


by Sara Tiano and Brittany Reid


SCARY GROUP HOMES

Katrina Alston wasn’t trained as a therapist, social worker or anything of that nature when she worked at a Pasadena, California, group home for emotionally troubled teenage girls in the Los Angeles County foster care system. She simply went through a weeklong training process and two weeks of job shadowing.

With that scant preparation, Alston was charged with the care of at least six of the home’s 19 adolescents at a time when she was on shift.

Now, Alston is a social worker with the LA County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS). It’s her job to investigate reports of child abuse or neglect and remove children from their parents if need be.

In the year and a half she has been working for DCFS, she’s needed to remove dozens of children from their parents. But she’s only brought one child to a group home.

Knowing what Alston knows about the way such facilities work, having seen what she’s seen as an employee at a group home she called “well-run, relatively,” is partly what stops her from bringing more kids to any similar facility, she said.

“It was wild,” she said. And not in a good way.

Sometimes, Alston said, she wondered how much the placements she was involved in were actually helping kids. “Are they getting better, or are they getting worse here?” She also often doubted how capable the system was of safely handling the many crises that arise for already traumatized children who enter foster care. “It was scary,” she said.

SHUTTERING DUMPING GROUNDS

In 2017, California’s group homes will be shutting down— or changing, at the very least — in the wake of new legislation passed in September 2015. The measure aims to move the state’s foster care system toward encouraging family-based placements for all foster children.

AB 403 “would provide for the reclassification of treatment facilities and the transition from the use of group homes for children in foster care to the use of short-term residential treatment centers,” according to the Legislative Counsel’s Digest appended to the bill.

This, in effect, would mean that children would have to exhibit a “clinical need” in order to be placed in a non-home residences, and that any such placement would be temporary.

Critics of the bill argue that closing group homes will hurt kids in a system that already suffers from too few foster care beds, and that tough-to-place kids who may have behavioral issues but don’t meet the “clinical need” qualifications will be especially affected.

Supporters of the bill argue that group homes often serve as dumping grounds for those same hard-to-place kids, who wind up still further underserved and developmentally disadvantaged.

Group homes are community-style residential settings where anywhere from six to more than 60 kids and teens live in a facility staffed 24 hours per day by a rotating crew of shift
workers, like Katrina Alston. The homes are categorized on a scale of 1-14 based on the level of behavioral, emotional and medical challenges among the residents.

Residents at a Level 14 home would be those kids who were the most “emotionally disturbed,” and prone to behaviors such as violence, running away and inflicting self-injury. Alston describes these acute care facilities in even harsher terms. “Level 14 is a juvenile psych ward,” she said.

Kids placed in lower-level group homes, though, may be just as hard to place for other reasons, such as age, lack of extended family to lean on or low chance of permanent placement. The rating of group homes also dictates the staff-to-resident ratio. At the Level 12 where Alston worked, the ratio was 1-6.

The staff of these homes are not required by law to have any sort of education or degree related to working with their resident populations — namely children suffering neglect, abuse and trauma. Their preparation includes 24 hours of classroom training they receive upon being hired and 20 hours annually of supplemental instruction, as required by California’s Department of Social Services.

The proposed replacement for group homes, short-term residential treatment centers (STRTC), would require a child be assessed with a “clinical need” for a more restrictive and differently equipped environment than a family home setting can provide, as judged by either the DCFS or a physician.

The duration of stays in STRTCs would be time-limited. Once residents are on a treatment plan and stable enough to live in a less restrictive environment, they will be placed in foster homes deemed equipped to handle their needs and set up with in-home services to further their treatment.

Group homes in California came under national scrutiny in recent years after a series of very public closures that included reports of abuse and neglect, along with harrowing tales of children missing from the home for days at a time. While this worst-case scenario of supposed protectors abusing the already abused was being highlighted in the media, a report came out suggesting that, even in the best-case scenario, group living situations aren’t an adequate option for kids who are separated from their families.



KIDS NEED FAMILIES

In January 2015, the California Department of Social Services sent a foster care reform report to the state Legislature recommending that the state mandate the closure of group homes and build out support for a family-centric foster care system.

Among the evidence provided against group homes in this report were allegations that children who go through reunification with their families after a stint in a group home are more likely to re-enter the foster care system than are those who are placed solely with families.

Further, the report cited studies showing that placement in a group home is correlated with significantly higher rates of arrest, as well as among the lowest rates of high school graduation when compared to other kids in the foster system. The report also said that many of the kids who’d come out of group homes had “articulated the need for permanency, normal childhood and teenage experiences, and caregivers who understand their needs.”

The latter sentiment was echoed by Alston, the group home staffer turned DCFS social worker. Her superior, Kelly Schreiner, who is the assistant director for the Metro North division of the department, also bullishly advocates for the need to prioritize keeping children with their family, if at all possible, when developing interventions in cases of abuse or neglect. She has made it the directive for her staff.

“Most of my cases, I don’t open,” said Alston, illustrating Schreiner’s position. “Most of my cases, we don’t detain, we don’t get involved. Or if we do, we get involved in the least restrictive way possible. Which might be, ‘This kid could benefit from therapy, let’s get him into therapy. What is this immediate need? How do we address that so we don’t have to be involved?’”

Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, expressed a similar point of view on what he describes as the most beneficial kind of environment for foster youth.

“Non-family environments are the worst kind of care for children,” he said with emphasis. While Wexler believes group homes can’t be eradicated entirely, explaining they are truly the only option in a small number of dire cases, Wexler thinks closing down as many group facilities as possible would be a “vast improvement for the children.” He added that, in Chicago, children “have gotten safer” since group homes started closing.

Like many critics of AB 403 who are concerned that closing group homes will leave kids with nowhere to go, Wexler expressed similar worries about the shortage of foster care beds, though he doesn’t consider the legislation to be the root of that issue. “It’s not that LA has too few foster parents, LA has too many foster children.” Wexler points to figures indicating that LA has the third-highest rate of removal among America’s 10 largest cities.

The family-focused intervention plans codified in the new legislation certainly aim to decrease the rate of removal. But the drop in bed count associated with eliminating group homes as an option for placement may force social workers to opt for removing kids in fewer cases — which worries some child advocates who point to horror stories like that of 8-year-old Gabriel Fernandez who was killed after DCFS workers failed to remove him from an extremely abusive household quickly enough.

Still, Schreiner said 75 percent of the cases that come through her office are closed without a detention — the term used when a child is removed from his or her parent. But, she said, LA County “still takes too many kids without trying to give them adequate services in the home.”



WRAP AROUND

Schreiner and Wexler both think the best way to work with kids struggling at home is to work with the family by bringing in the services necessary to facilitate functional relationships between parents and children, rather than removing kids, in both biological families and foster families.

This is called the “wraparound method,” in which the family unit is the focal point of an intervention, with community and social services “wrapped around” the home in support. This method was also recommended in the Department of Social Services’ foster reform report. All three — Schreiner, Wexler and the report — suggest that the successful application of wraparound services will reduce the overall need for group homes and even perhaps foster homes in general.

The sentiments toward the short-term residential treatment centers that are designated as the replacement for group homes hasn’t yet crystallized. In general, it seems even the biggest decriers of group homes recognize that, for some children in the system, there is a very real need for treatment more intensive than what can be provided through wraparound services, at least for a time. In that regard, there doesn’t seem to be much pushback on maintaining that service in some form.

Wexler is concerned that the mandate of “clinical need” and categorization as a “treatment center” essentially make the STRTCs an in-house psychiatric ward for the foster care system.

“I worry that as you say you’re closing group homes, you’re institutionalizing institutionalization with this designation,” he said of the new legislation.

Schreiner, for her part, is even more wary of the new centers. According to her, the same organizations that operated the group homes will be operating the new STRTCs.

She’s got a point.


SAME PLAYERS DIFFERENT LABELS?

The text of the bill details the way existing group homes transfer to STRTC status when the law goes into effect in 2017. Though the methods outlined in the legislation don’t guarantee compliance, and some even argue that the burden and cost of retraining and reclassification would be too much for some centers, there’s no denying that existing centers do have the infrastructure and, now, the incentive to provide this new service.

“And if it’s the same people, how much better is it really going to be?” Schreiner asks.
In the final Senate analysis of the bill, the authors point out the need for counties to increase the number of foster families quickly to maintain enough beds for all the kids in the system. The law does allocate $17 million to fund recruitment and retention of foster parents and funding services for foster families.

Alston thinks it will take more than that, financially speaking, to really support the foster system the way it requires. She thinks foster parenting should be a profession, and salaried as such, if people are being asked to play this crucial role in the welfare and development of at-risk, in-need children. As it stands, foster parents make $657 to $820 monthly for each child in their care.

The eradication of the group home system seems to have significant support from those working in child welfare, according to those quoted here. And AB 430 indicates that lawmakers in California are serious about reforming the foster care system.

What remains to be seen is how the execution of STRTCs will turn out when the transition does take place. If the funding allocated isn’t enough to build a foster family stock sufficient to fill the gap created by the shuttered group homes, the shortage of options for kids in the system could be intensified. If inadequate group home organizations revamp themselves into the STRTCs without taking necessary steps to improve, they run the risk of continuing to be the toxic environment Alston described, or worse.

Hopefully, given the stakes and the catalysts for change, enough oversight will be in place this time around to prevent the latter, and to troubleshoot any other problems as they arise. In the meantime, LA County’s leadership has their work cut out for them: They’ve got foster families to recruit.



This story is the 5th in a series by reporters from the USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. The series is part of a collaboration between WitnessLA and the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.


Photos by Sara Tiano, audio by Brittany Reid

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

A Federal Jury Weighs Competing “Truths” After “Honor Recruit” Deputy Tells About Kicks to the Crotch of a Mentally Ill Inmate and Other Alleged Brutality

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


COMPETING NARRATIVES & DECIDING WHOM TO BELIEVE

The most recent jail brutality case brought by the federal government against members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is, as usual, a case of whom do you believe.

In the trial that began on Tuesday of last week in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, the prosecution’s case rides on a former sheriff’s deputy named Joshua Sather who was most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer.

Thus far, 19 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County Jail system.

The defendants in this latest trial, are LASD deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum who are accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying the allegedly unresisting mentally ill inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor.

According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson also alleged in her opening statement that training officer Brunsting “set out to teach a lesson to a new deputy” about how to use and how to “get away with” excessive force. The “new deputy” was Joshua Sather.

In the course of the trial, the government produced five witnesses to support their case. But, it is Sather, and another witness named Porscha Singh, whom the prosecution most needs the jury to believe.

Conversely, for the defense to prevail, it must convince the jury that Sather and Singh are unreliable or out-and-out lying for self-serving reasons.


THE CUSTODY ASSISTANT

Porscha Singh was the first witness called by the prosecution. Singh was, at the time of the 2010 incident, a custody assistant working on the 6th floor of the Twin Towers jail. Custody assistants—or CAs—are jail workers who work for the sheriff’s department, but who are not slaw enforcement officers.

Before CA Singh began to tell her story, both she and prosecutor Dotson made clear that she did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed,” she said, “and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

Singh also told the jury that had been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring any kind of charges against her, “as long as my testimony is truthful.” If she lied, she said, “I could be sent to prison.”

Singh was the custody assistant whom schizophrenic inmate Philip Jones “disrespected,” thus setting the chain of events that allegedly led to his beating.

On the day in question, Singh said that she was stationed in “the control booth,” an elevated multi-windowed perch at one end of the 6th floor module where she generally worked, when at once she noticed that there was one more inmate than there should be in unit’s visiting center, the entrance to which was across the module from the control booth, thus in her direct line of sight.

In order to sort out the discrepancy, Singh keyed up the intercom in the visiting room and asked the inmates each to say their names then recite the last four digits of their booking numbers, so she could check IDs against the list of people who were supposed to have visitor passes. All but one of inmates dutifully complied. The inmate who failed to do so was Philip Jones who instead said, “Fuck that bitch.”

At that, according to her testimony, Singh came down out of the control room, unlocked the visiting area, and confronted inmate Jones.

“I told him ‘What the fuck was his problem?!” she said. Then she asked to see his wristband. He complied. She checked it, then went back to the booth.

And, no, Singh said in answer to prosecutor Dotson, “I was never afraid.”

She was, however, irritated. So, according to Singh, she then called out to deputy Branum who was standing within shouting range of the control booth, “Somebody needs to check that motherfucker because he has a bad attitude!”

Jason Branum allegedly told her not to worry about it, that he was going to handle it.

“Nobody disrespects my CA”—meaning custody assistant—Singh said that Branum said.

Singh said she told him to “leave it alone,” and additional F-Bomb laden words to that effect.

(Singh is short and curvy with a slightly pugnacious demeanor, and during the whole of her testimony and cross-examination, displayed a breezy verbal mastery of the art of F-bomb usage.)


LISTENING IN

Around five minutes after that exchange, according to Singh, deputies Brunsting and Branum asked her to “pop’ the door to the visiting area—-“pop” being slang for “unlock.” She popped the door, and moments later she saw Jones being escorted by the three deputies.

Q: Did you see him resist at any time? A. No.

The deputies then escorted the inmate inside another door that led to a hallway connecting two modules, but where there were no cameras. Singh said that, on instinct, she pushed the intercom button allowing her to listen in on whatever went on in the camera free connecting hallway the deputies and their charge had entered, without anyone knowing she was listening.

Sign said she first heard training officer Brunting say, “Nobody disrespects my boot CA!”

Then a voice she assumed was Jones said, “Are you guys going to mess me up?”

“Then I heard a commotion.” Finally, she said, one of the deputies put out a “415” radio call, meaning deputy involved fight. Within a minute, other deputies ran into the area. A minute or two later still a “Code 4” was broadcast on the radio meaning everything’s okay.

When it was their turn, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re did what they could to dent Singh’s credibility by pointing out some inconsistencies between her trial testimony and her grand jury testimony and noting that in an interview with the LASD’s internal affairs, she told an altogether different story.

Yet, Singh freely admitted that she had lied to internal affairs to protect herself and her deputy colleagues.


THE HONOR RECRUIT

Former deputy Joshua Sather was next. Sather is broad shouldered, on the low side of medium height, and has good bones. He did not look happy to be on the stand.

In answer to questions by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, Sather told the jury that when he joined the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, it was October of 2009, he was 23-years-old and had been working in Colorado as a paralegal, but felt he wanted a more meaningful career.

I wanted to do something to help people,” he said. It was this desire that led him to law enforcement.

Sather’s uncle, his father’s brother, was a gang detective at the department’s Carson station, and told his nephew he loved what he did and that the LASD was a good place to work. “My uncle had an influence,” said Sather.

Sather told how, after he was accepted into the department, he went through 19 weeks of academy training along with approximately 49 other recruits. Upon graduating in February of 2010, was selected as the “honor recruit,” which meant, he explained when Fox probed, he was the top performer in all areas in his class.

After graduation, he went through a few additional weeks of training to work in the county’s jails, where nearly all newly-minted deputies are stationed for a few years before they can transfer to patrol. In March of 2010, he started at the Twin Towers, the newer custody facility built next to the county’s decrepit and infamously troubled, Men’s Central Jail.

All new deputies are assigned to training officers. But a day or two after Sather began work, his training officer’s wife had a baby, and he took paternity leave.

Sather‘s second T.O. was Bryan Brunsting.


BAD KICKS

On March 22, 2010, when the event in question occurred, Sather said he had been on the job about seven days, and was working with some other deputies on the 4th floor of the jail when he said he received a call from Brunsting, who told him to return to the 6th floor’s 161 unit, where he was met by Brunsting, Branum and a third deputy.

It was then, according to Sather, that Brunsting talked of the necessity to teach inmate Jones “a lesson.”

Sather described how the door to the interconnecting hallway area that Singh had described earlier was opened and inmate Jones was directed by Brunsting to go down the hallway.

As the door to the hallway closed, effectively locking the group into the narrow passage, according to Sather, Jones took a few steps then turned and said, “Oh, shit. I’m going to get my ass kicked!” Or words to that general effect.

“Then he began running down the hallway toward the door at the far end.” But that door was closed and locked.

“I ran after him and tackled him,” said Sather. Then he described striking Jones in the ribs and legs “because we were teaching him a lesson.”

Jones was not resisting in any way, according to Sather. Not kicking, attempting to punch, simply going limp and attempting to protect himself with his hands.

At that point, Sather stood up, because, “the inmate wasn’t doing anything.”

But Brunsting reportedly indicated that things weren’t finished.

Sather then said he saw Brunsting spread the inmate’s legs. “And then he kicked him hard in his privates.”

Jones cried out, according to Sather, and curled sow-bug-like into a fetal position in reaction to the pain of the kick.

“He was crying like a little kid who’s hurting but is also scared.”

Sather remembers more blows being directed toward the still unresisting Jones.

Sometime after that, according to Sather, deputy Branum pepper-sprayed Jones directly into his face.

As much of this activity went on, Sather said, he heard the other deputies say, “Stop resisting, stop resisting.”

Eventually the “lesson” was over, Brunsting radioed and more deputies arrived. As they came, Sather helped to handcuff Jones.

Then the inmate was escorted to the infirmary by yet another deputy, and was treated for injuries.


REPORTS, REVISIONS & RESIGNATIONS

Next, according to Sather, Brunsting ordered the beating participants to convene in the observation booth. Once there, custody assistant Singh was asked to leave, so the rest could sort out what should appear in the various incident reports that were required after any use of force. Brunsting told Sather he was to write the primary report, so he could learn how it was done, with Brunsting and Branum writing the “supplementary reports.”

According to Sather, Brunsting gave him his own report to use as a model. After writing several rejected drafts, Sather said, he eventually wrote a report that matched Brunsting’s almost word-for-word.

The jury was able to see both reports—Brunsting’s and Sather’s—which each described a violently uncooperative Jones who verbally and physically assaulted two of the deputies and was restrained only with great difficulty and a 3-5 second blast of oleoresin capsicum spray, also known as OC spray or pepper spray.

“Was what you wrote true?” prosecutor Fox asked Sather after the deputy read multiple passages from the matching reports in front of the jury.

“No, sir,” said Sather.

“So why did you write it?”

“I was told to do it.”

Eventually, the reports were approved by Brunsting and turned in to the proper higher-ups. Yet when Sather got home, he said his involvement with the beatdown of inmate Jones and the reports that followed, “began to bother me.”

In a state of upset he called his uncle and told him what had happened.

The next day, Sather resigned. When asked to explain his reason for leaving, he said he told the jail’s then watch commander, Lt. Elisabeth Sachs, that he needed to go back to Colorado because of a family matter involving his brother, none of which was true.

So, why didn’t he tell Lt. Sachs about the beating? asked Fox.

“I didn’t want to be that guy. I didn’t want to be a snitch.”

The lieutenant told Sather to take his upcoming weekend days and think matters over, that she would hold on to the resignation paperwork until he returned on March 28, at which time he could make a final decision.

Sather’s uncle and his dad took the unhappy deputy to Las Vegas for the weekend to talk things through. (The dad lives in Colorado, so Las Vegas was considered a sort of midpoint, Sather explained.)

But, despite all the talking, after they all came home, on March 28, Sather called Lt. Sachs and asked her to put through the paperwork for his resignation.

A week later, according to Sather, his uncle persuaded him that, if he was leaving, he owed it to himself and to the department to tell some LASD higher up the truth about why he was leaving.

So on April 6, Sather gave an accounting of the events of March 22, including the beating of inmate Jones and the subsequent allegedly false reports, to Captain Anthony Ward.

A few months later, he was interviewed by internal affairs, to whom Sather said he was far less truthful.

A few months later still, the FBI contacted Sather in the course of their ongoing investigation into brutality in the jails, and interviewed him where he was, by then, living back in Colorado.


“TRUTH” VERSUS “TRUTH”

As with Singh, defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re energetically fished out any inconsistencies between the various accounts Sather gave to the LASD Captain, to the grand jury, and to internal affairs.

In closing arguments that will take place Monday morning, the defense is expect to tell the jury that Sather—perhaps together with his detective uncle—completely fabricated the account of a non-resisting Jones being viciously and unnecessarily beaten, for his own purposes.

(Uncle Michael Sather was one of the prosecution’s additional witnesses. Lt. Sachs was the defense team’s sole witness.)

The defense is also expected to argue that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity. 


During closing, the prosecution will counter with its own narrative of the beating of mentally ill inmate Philip Jones.

And then, likely around noon on Monday, the case will go to the jury who will, in turn, decide whose story to believe.


POST SCRIPT:

One thing that the jury will not hear is the fact that the feds have a second case of jail brutality filed against Brunsting. The alleged incident occurred on August 20, 2009 and, it too, involved a deputy trainee who was allegedly asked to falsify incident reports, accusing the inmate of assaulting deputies, rather than the other way around. The charges are mentioned, in brief, in the original indictment, but then were severed into a separate case by the judge. One assumes that the question of whether or not the prosecutors will actually bring this additional case to trial will likely depend on the outcome of the trial that ends on Monday.

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

The Twin Towers Jail Inmate Abuse Trial Continues With More Courtroom Drama to Come

May 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



The latest federal trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriff Department
accused of brutalizing jail inmates has been unfolding since Tuesday (with one day off due to an attorney’s sudden illness), and is expected to wrap up closing arguments on Monday.

As you may remember, the defendants in this newest courtroom drama are two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, who are charged with beating, kicking, and pepper spraying a reportedly non-resistant, mentally ill inmate named Phillip Jones in order to ‘teach” Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant in the county’s Twin Towers jail facility.

The government’s star witness is a third deputy named Joshua Sather who had been out of the sheriff’s academy and on the job at the jail for only a week, with Brunting was his training officer. According to Sather, he was told by Brunting to participate in the beating, and then directed afterward to write a false report blaming the inmate as the out-of-control aggressor.

But then the night after the beating, according to prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson, Sather “developed a conscience.”

According to the defense, it wasn’t a conscience that Sather developed, but “a fabrication,” for self-serving reasons of his own.

Another crucial witness is Porscha Singh, the custody assistant who was the object of the inmate’s insult. Singh was compelled to testify by U.S. District Court Judge George Wu, and given immunity by the feds, as long as she testified truthfully. When on the stand, she told the jury the did not want to be in court. “I was subpoenaed and I didn’t want a bench warrant to be issued.”

She said she had also been given immunity, meaning that nothing that she said would be used to bring charges against her, “…as long as my testimony is truthful.”

Defense attorneys Richard Hirsch and Donald Re maintained that Singh was telling any “truth” the government wanted to hear in order to get the desired immunity.

Witness testimony continues on Friday, and we’ll have a full report for you on Monday, so….stay tuned.

Posted in LASD | 8 Comments »

Crime, Justice & Redemption….at the LA Times Festival of Books

April 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


CRIME, JUSTICE, REDEMPTION AND THE POWER OF BOOKS

This past weekend, the University of Southern California hosted the annual LA Times Festival of Books and, amazingly, the weekend rain didn’t discourage the crowds that showed up by the thousands on the USC Campus, drawn by this stupendous yearly event that celebrates books.

I was on a Sunday morning panel called Crime, Justice & Redemption, with authors Joe Domanick, Shaka Senghor, & Sam Quinones (plus O.C Registor reporter, Margot Roosevelt, as the excellent moderator).

LAist kindly named our event as one of the weekend’s twelve “Can’t Miss” panels.

And, indeed, the combination of personalities and the enthusiastically interactive crowd produced a very dynamic, informative, and occasionally creatively quarrelsome conversation.

Among other topics, the panel discussed a personal experience of solitary confinement, the relationship between childhood trauma and crime, an unusual form of marketing heroin in the heartland, the challenge of post-incarceration reentry, the art of reforming the Los Angeles Police Department—and more.

Since I can’t magically transport you to the audience of Sunday’s event, I can at least strongly recommend the very good books of my fellow panelists, all of which will likely be of interest to those who care about, or work in and around, crime and justice-related issues.


LIFE AFTER MURDER

Solitary confinement and post prison reentry are both matters with which author Shaka Senghor has had personal experience.

Senghor is a very warm, very intelligent man whom the audience liked right away. He also is a man with a complicated history. Seignior is a former prison inmate who shot killed a man when he was an angry and frightened 19-year-old, after he’d been shot four times himself a few months before.

Senghor spent 19 years in prison, four-and-a-half of those years in solitary confinement, where he was on lockdown in his cell for 22 or 23 hours a day, he said. During his time behind bars, he educated himself by reading voraciously. He also struggled to come to terms with the terrible fact that he’d taken someone else’s life.

Now Senghor has become a leader in the world of justice reform, and the author of an unforgettable book that inspires as it educates.

On the panel, Senghor spoke about the real life effects—and related subjects— with emotional precision and authority.

His book, Writing My Wrong, Life, Death and Redemption in an American Prison, is very much worth your time.

His TED talk, which you can find here, is wildly popular for good reason.


HEROIN HITS THE HEARTLAND & THE LIES TOLD BY DRUG COMPANIES

On Sunday, Sam Quinones talked about, among other things, how in certain areas of the country, the magnitude of the heroin problem was initially masked because of the way white parents managed to keep their kids’ heroin deaths from becoming public.

Quinones’ intensely researched Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opium Epidemic, was on a bunch of 10 Best lists from last year, and was a finalist for the LA Times Book Awards—all for good reason. It paints very personal pictures of drug traffickers who pioneered a new business model for dealing heroin to America’s heartland, of law enforcement officers trying to deal with the fast-spreading epidemic, and of families devastated by addictions that, in many cases began with prescription opiates that were overprescribed by doctors who believed the preposterous lies of profit-driven pharmaceutical companies who claimed medical that such drugs were non-addictive and safe.

Dreamland is a page-turner that makes for very engaging reading, whether you think this topic is for you or not. Here’s an interview with Quinones by the PBS Newshour that will give you an idea of what you missed on Sunday.


REFORMING LAPD BLUE

We’ve already written here about Joe Domanick’s highly-praised and wonderful book about the Los Angeles Police Department, Blue: the LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing. Blue was also, very deservedly, a finalist for this years LA Times Book Awards.

Last year we pointed to BLUE’s “page-turning narrative borne aloft by a string of vivid nonfiction characters,” including, of course, the agency’s most recent chiefs, Bill Bratton and Charlie Beck.

But, while the heart of the book is a grand tale of the multi-layered struggle to reform the LAPD, Domanick also uses LA’s police department as a lens through which to examine the state of U.S. policing in general, and the crossroads at which it has presently arrived.

So, for LA residents interested in policing and criminal justice, this is an obvious must read.

On the panel, Domanick talked about the value and challenges of community policing, new ways of approaching use of force by officers and more.

And here’s an interview with Domanick from December 2015, in which he explains what has so fascinated him about the LAPD and its recent history. (Joe’s interview starts at about the 32 minute mark.)


PRIZE-WINNING STORIES OF MURDER & MAYHEM!

One last thing: While we’re on the subject of the LA Times Festival of Books, on Saturday night, the winners of the LA Times Book were announced.

(You can find the winners here.) I have often been privileged to be a judge for the awards, and this year I judged in the Mystery/Thriller category.

You can find our four fabulous finalists below, and they are all books I can recommend without hesitation to those of you who, like me, sometimes choose to relax by reading about fictional murder and mayhem.

In no particular order, they are:

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

The Whites by Richard Price

The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

Our winner, however, was a book that my fellow-judges and I chose with almost instant unanimity.

It is The Cartel by Don Winslow, a novelistic depiction of the blood-soaked and hallucinatory disaster that is the war on drugs and, although Winslow’s tale, that is Tolstoy-esque in scope, is present as a mystery thriller it has the informative urgency of the best narrative nonfiction.

(Back in July of last year we wrote about The Whites and its importance here.)

So there you have it. Go, books and book lovers!

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

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

Rodney King Roundup – 25 Years Later

March 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

SO HOW FAR HAVE WE COME SINCE 1991?

Thursday marked the 25th anniversary of the night LAPD officers beat Rodney King, fracturing his bones in 59 places and nearly killing him.

In an interview with the Marshall Project’s Bill Keller, Jill Leovy, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America, talks about what we have learned since the King beating and the LA riots.

Leovy discusses black-on-black violence and why law enforcement must give up the “broken windows” style of policing, the targeting specific geographic areas, and stop-and-search practices, and instead focus on “ensuring judicial resolution of serious crimes.” The majority of homicides of black men across the nation go unsolved. Leovy calls for diligent and efficient investigations of violent crime in black communities, and rigorous prosecution on behalf of victims.

“The real problem is that formal justice is materially lacking among populations that suffer high rates of violence,” says Leovy. “It’s missing, and it must be supplied.” And “dialogue,” “improved relations” between cops and communities of color, and youth programs won’t solve that underlying problem, she says. Here are some clips:

The unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County posted solve rates for homicide in the thirty-percent range through some of the most violent periods of the eighties and nineties. This translates to thousands of killers operating with impunity over decades in America’s poorest urban enclaves – dozens per square mile in South Los Angeles over just a few years. And that’s just a glimpse of the uncharted depths of the impunity problem, a statistical dark zone, where no good information exists on the frequency of non-lethal crimes, assaults and threats. The resulting lawlessness is a cruel form of deprivation afflicting tens of thousands of mostly poor, minority residents of America’s inner-cities, who get roughed up, robbed and raped with appalling frequency and live in daily fear that their sons might be killed. Its remedy must be to supply official justice, not just engage in “dialogue.” Violence is not a problem for coaches and pastors to solve; the state must do its job.

[SNIP]

What is so strange and interesting is that the political back and forth over policing has been so consistent, for so long, with the same durable themes and complaints sounded on both sides, not just since Rodney King and the millions of dollars spent on police reforms after the L.A. riots, but since long before, back to the 1960s, even the thirties and forties. Much has changed and yet nothing has. We are chasing each other around a box.

Self-styled progressives, especially, often talk as if legitimacy-building were merely a matter of creating “improved relations” between police officers and minority residents of urban neighborhoods. If police were just nicer, more sensitive, had a better understanding of civilians, or vice versa, things would improve. This is as hollow, in its way, as conservative talk of self-generated cultural and moral renewal in black neighborhoods. Legitimacy will not be built solely of community meetings, youth programs, skillful official propaganda, or artful expressions of empathy. They may have value, but as a cure for lawlessness I think they miss the core point, and in some cases risk deputizing civilians to assume conflict-resolution functions that rightly belong to the state. The state’s job is to intervene in conflicts – yes, even between people of the same color – and it must do so unequivocally and consistently.

So, police need to annoy and alienate fewer non-offenders, and arrest more serious, violent offenders. Pull back from broken-windows-style saturation, targeting patches of geography, and stop-and-search tactics, and concentrate on ensuring judicial resolution of serious crimes. Broken windows sprang from the premise that police were too focused on violence at the expense of quality-of-life crimes. But the premise is based on error. American criminal justice has never been very effective at investigating and prosecuting violence, especially in black communities; the reported statistics that claim otherwise are flawed. Violent crime in America today, as in generations past, begs for more systematically thorough and effective investigation, and clean, vigorous prosecution. A mother who grieves for a son lost to an unsolved homicide should not go years without hearing from police about new investigative efforts. A witness who testifies in spite of threats should not be abandoned to deal alone with the long-term consequences. Homicide units in high-crime areas should be solving nearly all murders, not half or less. The system will build legitimacy through its constitutionally constrained yet vigorous, response to people who are hurt, violated and bereaved by violence. The criminal justice system must deliver.

I’m not arguing for a hammer. Tensions between police power and civil liberties are real and involve high stakes; their resolution need not tilt toward law-enforcement. But those who claim the mantle of civil rights should not forget that crime victims — not just defendants — are disproportionately black, and that they suffer unspeakably. My newspaper just reported the killing of a one-year-old baby, Autumn Johnson, in Compton. The mother of this black child said: “I feel like my life is over. I wish it would have been me instead of her.” I don’t assert black crime victims are the only constituency that matters. But they deserve more somber, respectful consideration than they get, and they belong at the center of any serious discussion of police reform. Very often, these victims want and need their attackers to be caught and prosecuted. Omit their names, elide over their sufferings, relegate them to footnotes — as is the case in so many popular criminal-justice critiques today — and you lose the claim to humane advocacy.


BATONS, NOW RARELY USED BY POLICE, WERE ONCE (CERTAINLY IN THE RODNEY KING ERA) THE MOST USED WEAPON

Earlier this week, the LAPD released a comprehensive use-of-force report comparing 2015 stats with those of the previous four years. (We posted about the report—here.) According to the numbers, in 2015, LAPD officers used their batons 54 times—21% less often than during the period spanning 2011-2014—and a far cry from the 741 times cops used the weapon in 1990.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton tells the story of how the videotaped Rodney King beating led to fall of the baton as LAPD officers’ weapon of choice. Here’s how it opens:

When the video of Los Angeles police officers beating Rodney G. King shocked the world 25 years ago, the baton quickly became a symbol of law enforcement abuse.

The grainy black and white images showed a group of LAPD officers delivering 56 crunching blows to the African American motorist.

Back then, the 2-foot solid piece of aluminum was an essential tool in the police officer’s arsenal. In 1990, Los Angeles police officers used their batons 741 times during force incidents, more than any other weapon.

But the infamous video marked the beginning of the end for the baton’s reign. By 2015, LAPD officers used their batons just 54 times.

The baton offers a dramatic example of how police behavior has changed since the King beating. Authorities said that officers stopped using them for a variety of reasons: Changes in rules and training and the rise of other types of less-lethal weapons, as well as the lasting stigma from those grainy images.

“Back then, it was pulling out a baton and whacking people,” LAPD Deputy Chief Bill Murphy said. “After that video played that night, no one hardly ever used the baton. It was banished. It became a symbol.”


LESSER-KNOWN, FILMED PRECURSORS TO THE RODNEY KING VIDEO

The video of the Rodney King beating may have been the first viral video of police brutality—one that ushered in an era of many much-watched videos of law enforcement misconduct, and a flood of police body-worn (and dash) cams—but others came before it. When the King story originally broke, Time compiled a list of “America’s ugliest home videos,” caught on film by citizens armed with video cameras. Here’s a clip from Time’s updated version of that original story:

Laguna Beach, Calif. A neighbor across the street from an unruly party on June 17, 1990, recorded a harrowing 90 seconds of violence. Although a car partly blocked the view, an officer can be seen on camera swinging his leg in a kick at Kevin Dunbar, 24, a homeless man, while a number of other officers held him after he refused to obey an order to get down on the ground. The man, his face bleeding, was then lifted to his feet and led away to a squad car. A lawsuit against the Laguna Beach police department was filed last month, and the tapes are expected to be important evidence.

Chicago. Max’s Italian Beef Restaurant on the northwest side had a security camera in full view, but the two uniformed police rifling the cash register and prying open the safe last July were too busy to notice. The veteran officers allegedly lifted $7,000. They were indicted and await trial.


KING’S DAUGHTER LORA KING REMEMBERS HER FATHER

The LA Times has a wealth of King-related reading material. In one of the stories we didn’t want you to miss, the Times’ Angel Jennings speaks with Lora King about her father, his legacy, and the human behind the symbol—the dad, the addict, the troubled man still carrying the emotional scars of the beating and the guilt of the riots when he died in 2012. Here are some clips:

Lora King was 7 years old on March 3, 1991, when her dad, on parole and drunk, was infamously beaten in Lakeview Terrace.

Days later, King limped toward his daughter. His face was still swollen. One eye was protruding out of its socket. He talked from the side of his mouth like Popeye.

“I was terrified,” she recalled. “He looked like a monster, but he had a big smile on his face like it was no big deal.”

She had seen George Holliday’s grainy video of baton blows raining down on her father on the evening news. He told her he was fine.

Many years would go by before father and daughter truly reckoned with the emotional scars left by the beating.

“I purposely never brought it up because I always felt that he couldn’t escape it,” said Lora King, 32, an administrative assistant at a Glendale accounting firm. “I tried to stay in a happy place.”

She remembered a father who spent Fridays crisscrossing Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties to pick up his three daughters.

On the long ride, he would map out the plans for the weekend. Sometimes, it was skiing at Mt. Baldy, surfing in Venice, a day at Raging Waters. He also liked to go to places where famous people, including black celebrities and artists, would draw attention away from him.

[SNIP]

She stopped looking at her father through the eyes of a child years ago.

In the years after the beating, Rodney King continued to have trouble with the law. In 1993, he crashed into a wall while driving drunk. Two years later, he served 90 days in jail after being charged with a hit-and-run for knocking his wife down with his car. He was hooked on PCP.

Lora King saw a broken man who carried the guilt for the lives lost during the riot that broke out after a jury in Simi Valley cleared the LAPD officers charged in his beating.

He faced real demons, she said.

His frequent run-ins with the law after the beating continued to make him a divisive figure — and a less-than-perfect role model.

Posted in LAPD | 7 Comments »

Custom Realignment Probation in San Luis Obispo, Digging Into the OC Snitch Scandal, Death Row Art, and Prop. 47 Success in San Diego

December 15th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

HOW AB 109ERS IN SAN LUIS OBISPO STAY OUT OF JAIL BY FOLLOWING THE REQUIREMENTS OF THEIR RISK-BASED COMMUNITY SUPERVISION

A two-part San Luis Obispo Tribune series by Matt Fountain explores the county’s use of funds from California’s Public Safety Realignment (AB 109) for customized post-release supervision of low-level offenders.

(We pointed to part one in Monday morning’s California Justice Report news round-up, which you can access here, and sign up for here.)

Part two of the series takes a look at what the probationers must do to fulfill the requirements of the risk-assessment-based probation program, which is individually tailored to each person under supervision.

The probation program requires participants go to regular counseling sessions (often geared toward substance abuse treatment) and submit to unannounced probation checks. The program also provides custom services and resources, like sober living housing, help with job training, and other support systems to better equip the former offenders to successfully remain in their communities and out of trouble.

Here’s a clip:

When state lawmakers passed Assembly Bill 109 in 2011, the goal was to reduce severe overcrowding in California’s prisons by sentencing nonviolent low-level offenders to county jails and sending nonviolent prison parolees to county probation departments for post-release supervision.

To sweeten the deal, counties got state funding to handle the influx. In San Luis Obispo County, millions of dollars have been spent to create programs to help the offenders stay on track once they are released.

The individualized programs help offenders navigate the rough waters of finding housing, transportation, counseling for substance abuse or mental health issues, and steady work.

But post-release offenders are far from coddled. There are rules to follow, meetings to attend and goals to meet. Most will be regularly visited by their probation officers, who can show up at their homes, their jobs or anywhere else, dressed in full tactical gear.

For John Stafford, 51, the abundance of services was in stark contrast to his previous experiences on parole for a string of low-level crimes fueled by drugs and alcohol. This time, he said, “I noticed the difference right away. My P.O. was going to help me succeed.”

Once post-release offenders begin their supervision, most are required to attend regular group counseling sessions, many of which are related to substance abuse treatment.

Alcohol and drug abuse have been identified as high-risk factors in more than half of the people on post-release community supervision (PRCS) and 33 percent of those under mandatory supervision, according to the county Probation Department.

On a recent Friday evening, about 12 people on post-release supervision — some had gotten out of prison just a few weeks prior — met for a “Power of Addiction” meeting at the San Luis Obispo County Drug and Alcohol Services building in San Luis Obispo.

The group had become tight over the weeks and months they got to know each other. Stafford is one of the more outspoken members of the group.

“When I drink, I drink to get drunk. It’s made a mockery out of everything,” Stafford said. “I know if I drink again, it’s either death or life in prison.”

Many of the stories shared around the circle were similar.

“My addiction has killed and stolen everything I ever loved,” another client said. “It keeps you sick, keeps you dead.”

Group members credited county services available thanks to AB 109 funding for helping them get through those pivotal first days and weeks out of custody.

“I was so scared. I had no job, but the program paid for the first three months (at a sober living home). That way my only care is staying sober. It gave me a buffer,” one said.


A LOOK AT A QUESTIONABLY “SOLVED” OLD MURDER CASE IN LIGHT OF THE JAILHOUSE SNITCH SCANDAL PLAGUING ORANGE COUNTY

OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley digs deeper into the Orange County District Attorney snitch scandal in a not-to-be-missed story about one of the murder cases “solved” by OC DA Tony Rackauckas in the 80′s, through heavy (and questionable) use of eleven different jailhouse informants. (Backstory on the DA’s snitch scandal: here.) Here’s a clip (but be sure to read the whole wild story):

Two gunmen wearing wigs, sunglasses and grotesque facial makeup entered John Seigman’s unlocked Los Alamitos-area residence not long after sunset in August 1976. Startled family members had been watching television in the den when the intruders ordered them to lie on the floor, then tied their hands behind their backs with twine. Hoping for a $70,000 windfall, the bandits ordered Seigman, the manager of a Long Beach grocery store, to return to the business, empty the safe and, without contacting police, surrender the ransom. In exchange, they promised to release his family—wife Johann and three kids—who were placed in back of the family’s van and taken away.

Seigman drove to his store, retrieved about $8,000 in cash and waited for a call at a nearby, outside payphone. But he’d disobeyed orders by contacting cops, who sent an undercover narcotics crew to stake out the area. Perhaps keen to the hastily arranged trap, the thieves never called. A few hours later, authorities found the abandoned van with Seigman’s unharmed children. Two days later, their mother’s corpse was spotted in an oil field ditch adjacent to the Long Beach freeway near Dominguez Hills. She’d been shot five times in the head at a range of less than 10 inches.

Although suspects were arrested and sent to prison, they steadfastly maintained their innocence. Now, 39 years later, the issue of whether the Seigman murder case was actually solved remains an open question, one that has everything to do with a major, ongoing law-enforcement crisis in Southern California.

[BIG SNIP]

By early 1984, Rackauckas juggled several cases while working on the Seigman murder. The major contributor to his file remained Eddy. But detectives had accumulated other snitches. Their statements were contradictory, suspiciously vague and, as you might expect, given with expectations of benefits to make their own incarcerations shorter or more comfortable. Some claimed Gullett bragged about being the shooter. Others said he’d bragged about being an accomplice. All described him as remorseless, a line sure to inflame a future jury if deemed believable.

For example, a month after the murder, Orange County Jail inmate Richard Allen Robledo told investigators his story: “I says, ‘You shot her?’ and [Gullett] says, ‘Yeah, I shot her.’” That same month, other snitches joined the bandwagon. Inmate Carl Richards alleged that somebody in prison named Bill admitted killing Seigman; a police detective noted the rumor in an official report and added, “possibly Gullett.”

And William Earl Archibald, another inmate, reported he’d had “a long conversation” with Gullett in preceding days. “I can’t recall all of it,” Archibald stated, according to an interview transcript obtained by the Weekly. “Just, I think . . . [pause] . . . I’m convinced in my own mind that’s what he said, although he didn’t come out and say, ‘I killed the woman.’ He said enough to indicate that he did actually, you know, he was actually involved in it. Whether he was the one who pulled the trigger or not, I don’t know. Uh, that’s about it. That’s what he had to say.”

By the time he was done, Rackauckas had stockpiled a whopping 11 informants and, rightly or wrongly, accepted all their incriminating assertions as truthful. The most troubling snitch might have been James Dean Cochrum, who’d been placed in what we didn’t know then but know now was an informant tank run by deputies inside the Orange County Jail (OCJ). That area housed more than half a dozen accused killers awaiting trial—including Gullett and, oddly, Cochrum.

The identity thief, forger and drug addict, now deceased, would have had us believe he was incredibly lucky. In a span of a few years, Cochrum claimed he repeatedly entered and exited jail and accidentally overheard five separate murder confessions…


FOR THOSE INTERESTED IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE…AND ART: VISIT A DEATH ROW ART EXHIBIT IN LA THROUGH THIS WEEKEND

Around 70 framed drawings and paintings by death row inmates as well as political cartoonists from across the nation currently line the walls of USC Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism.

The exhibit, called “Windows on Death Row,” is meant to spark conversation on the polarized issue of capital punishment in America, which “touches politics, race, morality, and the question of equality under the law.” The exhibit will be open to the public in Los Angeles until December 18, after which it will travel to North Carolina and Ohio.

KQED’s Avishay Artsy has more on the art. Here’s a clip:

Kevin Cooper has been on death row in San Quentin State Prison for 30 years. He’s on a short list of at least 17 death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals and would be the first to be put to death if executions resume in California. He spends much of his day in his cell.

“I live in a cage that is 4½ feet wide by 11 feet long,” Cooper says. “And everything that I do within this cage I do mostly to stay sane. But I have a TV, a typewriter, my art supplies and my books.”

There’s a tray slot in the door where guards pass him his meals or a cellphone. In 1985, Cooper was convicted of murdering four people in the Chino Hills area of Southern California. His case is controversial. People have marched to have him executed, while others have protested to demand his release. He has always maintained his innocence.

In 2004, Cooper was scheduled to be executed. Less than four hours before he was set to receive a lethal injection, it was postponed to allow for more DNA testing, which still failed to exonerate him. Still, he’s become a figurehead in the movement to abolish the death penalty.

“I knew after I survived that stuff that my life wasn’t my own no more, that it belonged to this movement. And I’ve been involved in this movement for a very long time. And that is where I get my strength,” Cooper says.

Cooper is one of a couple dozen inmate artists represented in “Windows on Death Row,” an exhibition at the University of Southern California. His acrylic paintings draw connections between slavery and prison labor. One, called “It’s a Generation Thing in America,” shows three black men — a grandfather, father and son — all wearing prison uniforms. Another piece, “Free Me,” shows a man cupping his hand to his mouth and shouting.

“Sometimes when you’re in a place like this and you tell people certain things, it’s just like they don’t hear. You have to scream it,” Cooper says. “And sometimes when you scream, they still don’t hear you.”


IN CASE YOU MISSED THIS STORY IN OUR NEWSLETTER… IN SAN DIEGO, PROP. 47 HAS ELIMINATED THE NEED FOR EARLY RELEASE

Following the 2014 passage of Proposition 47, California counties, including San Diego saw considerable drops in jail populations. San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore says that thanks to the law—which reduced six low-level felonies to misdemeanors—the county has been able to do away with early releases (caused by jail overcrowding).

The vacant jail beds have also allowed the county to book people for misdemeanor offenses, rather than handing out citations to people accused of misdemeanors. (Note: Los Angeles has had a much different reaction to Prop. 47. In LA, officers have stopped booking people on these reduced offenses, instead handing out citations. In a series of video op-eds, LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell says the low-level offenders are receiving the citations because Prop. 47 did away with consequences for those crimes.)

But as more offenders are serving their whole sentences, and more misdemeanor offenders are booked into the jails, there has also been an uptick in the number of inmates in need of mental health services.

The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Dana Littlefield has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Prison overcrowding has long been a problem in California, prompting Gov. Jerry Brown to approve a plan known as Public Safety Realignment, which became law in October 2011. By shifting responsibility for housing and monitoring certain nonviolent offenders from the state to the counties, the law helped California comply with a federal court order to trim the prison population by tens of thousands of inmates.

While no offenders were moved directly from state prison to county jail, realignment allowed certain offenders to be sentenced to years in local custody. It also allowed people who had completed their prison terms to be sent to jail if they violated parole.

A consequence of that law was that the number of inmates in the county jails throughout the state rose quickly. In September 2014, the total inmate population in San Diego’s jails reached a high of more than 5,800 inmates, well over the state-mandated cap of roughly 5,300.

“Historically, we did not book for misdemeanors in San Diego County because of our overcrowded situations in our jails,” said Gore, who noted exceptions for arrests in certain types of cases, including domestic violence and DUI.

In most cases, people accused of misdemeanor offenses were cited then released.

That’s no longer necessary, Gore explained, because there is room in the jails.

He said he decided shortly after Proposition 47 passed that all of the detention facilities would continue to accept bookings on those crimes — such as drug possession and thefts of property valued less than $950 — that had once been felonies but are now misdemeanors.

“We said we would continue the same standards in our facilities,” the sheriff said, adding that it took some time for all agencies to adapt. “If you arrest somebody for a theft of $800, which used to be a felony now it’s a misdemeanor, or drug possession, we’ll continue to book them.”

And no more early releases. Except for the credits inmates earned for good behavior, “you’re doing all your time,” Gore said.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Well-liked Downey Police Officer Killed in Attempted Robbery Turned Tragic – UPDATED X2

November 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday night around 11 PM, Downey Police officer Ricardo Galvez—Ricky to his friends-
–was sitting in his own car in the parking lot of the Downey police department, when two young men and a teenager spotted him and, reportedly intended to rob him.

Instead reportedly two of the three ran up from behind, and one shot him. Galvez died while still in his car.

The 29-year-old officer had been on the force for five years and was well-liked. “A tremendous young man,” said Downey Police Chief Carl Charles, of Galvez. He was also a Marine reservist, serving two tours of duty, first in Iraq, then Afghanistan.

When the news of Galvez’ death was initially being reported Thursday morning, it was thought he may have been targeted. But that idea was dispelled when police apprehended the two men and a teenager—21, 18 and 16-years old, respectively—who are now being held as suspects responsible for the fatal shooting. The three admitted they’d been trying to rob the officer—whom they’d not recognized as a police officer.

According to a report by Cindy Chang, Richard Winton and Brittny Mejia for the LA Times, Glavez was just back from a K-9 training class, had gone off duty and was wearing his own clothes as he sat in his personal BMW.

The LA Times has more on the heartbreaking death of Officer Rickey Galvez.

Here’s a clip:

“The man was full of joy. He always brought a smile,” said Eleazar Aguilar, who served with Galvez in Pico Rivera.

“He was always the leader in the unit, there was no question about that. My heart goes out to his family. Every single Marine feels their pain today,”

Lloyd Vernis, 29, served with Galvez in Ramadi, Iraq. When Vernis opened a barbershop called The Pride on Firestone Boulevard, Galvez persuaded his fellow Downey police officers to patronize the business. Galvez got a haircut there about once a week, Vernis said.

“He loved the Corps. He loved the police force,” Vernis said before breaking down in tears.

Galvez is survived by a mother, a brother who is a jailer at the Downey Police Department, and two younger sisters.


UPDATE: Sixteen-year-old Abel Diaz is being charged as an adult with murder for his part in the killing of Downey Police officer Ricky Galvez on Wednesday night.

Diaz will be arraigned on Monday. Prosecutors are expected to ask for $1 million in bail. If Diaz is convicted, he will face life in prison.

The other suspects in the case have not been identified by name, but are describe as two young men, ages 21 and 18.

Diaz’s sister, Maricela Alvarado, 24, told reporters that her younger brother was not the shooter and had no intention of harming the officer.

According to the LA Times, Alvarado showed several reporters a text message she said her brother sent her a few minutes after Officer Galvez was fatally shot.

The text reportedly read: “Mari I love all y’all my homie fucked up n did something.”


UPDATE FRIDAY, 10:35 PM

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Homicide Bureau detectives have identified the other two suspects in the murder of Downey Police Department Officer Ricardo Galvez.

The suspects have been identified as brothers Steven Knott, 18, and Jeremy Anthony Alvarez, 21.

Knott and Alvarez have been charged with murder and are being held without bail.

LASD detectives reportedly believe that Diaz and Knott crept up on Galvez, while Alvarez acted as the getaway driver.

Posted in law enforcement | 11 Comments »

“Fake” Classes Lawsuit Settled, Training Campus Cops to Work With Kids, & LASD Excessive Force Allegations

November 6th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


SETTLING MAJOR LAWSUIT, CALIFORNIA WILL HAVE TO PROTECT STUDENTS FROM FAKE AND FILLER CLASSES

On Thursday, the state of California settled a landmark lawsuit on behalf of California high school students who wasted valuable education time because they were assigned fake, empty classes.

Under the Cruz v. State of California settlement, the California Department of Education, the Board of Education, and State Superintendent Tom Torlakson will start work immediately to make sure that students at low-income schools, such as the six schools named, “are provided the same equal access to educational opportunities regardless of zip code or income,” according to a statement from Public Counsel, one of the law firms that filed the suit along with the ACLU of Southern California, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

The settlement is an add-on to AB 1012, a bill signed last month by CA Gov. Jerry brown that bans school districts from placing kids in pretend classes without any educational instruction for more than a week per semester with some exceptions, (which has been a problem for students in the LA Unified, Compton, and Oakland School Districts, among others).

Thursday’s settlement “ends the practices in certain California underperforming high schools of assigning students to sham classes, garbage detail, mindless errands, and even dismissing students early, instead of enrollment in rigorous classes needed for graduation,” and to “compete successfully for higher education and productive jobs,” said Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law.

Specifically the settlement will require the development of systems to monitor when kids are assigned these non-instructional classes. For the next two years, the state also must provide tech support and other assistance to the six schools in LA, Compton, and Oakland if they experience scheduling problems or if there are too many kids assigned to fake classes.

Public Counsel and ACLU SoCal filed the lawsuit last year, with pro bono support from Carlton Fields Jorden Burt and Arnold & Porter LLP.

In response to the settlement, David Sapp, director of education advocacy at ACLU SoCal, said, “We commend the state education agencies for working with us to develop a process for providing support and assistance to schools that clearly were struggling with one of the most important functions of a school: to educate students for the full school day.”

We at WLA have been closely following this issue. Last October, an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a Temporary Restraining Order demanding the California Department of Education help the LAUSD fix scheduling issues at LA’s Thomas Jefferson High School that gave kids filler classes and sent them home early, throwing many off the track to graduation. (Read that story: here.)


SCHOOL RESOURCE OFFICERS OFTEN NOT SPECIFICALLY TRAINED TO WORK WITH CHILDREN

Twelve states, including California, require specific training for officers to complete before they can work in schools. But the training varies across the states and does not always include material on how to work with students and how to address trauma and de-escalate confrontations with kids in crisis and kids with disabilities.

The Atlantic’s Mark Keierleber takes a look at the issue, and why schools rely so heavily on police officers to discipline kids. Here are some clips:

There are about 19,000 sworn police officers stationed in schools nationwide, according to U.S. Department of Justice estimates, and stories about their school-discipline disasters cross Mo Canady’s desk all the time.

“The first thing I do is search our database to see ‘Did this person come through our training?’” said Canady, the executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers, which offers specialized training to SROs—primarily on a voluntary basis. “And the answer is consistently ‘no.’”

Confrontations between armed police officers and students in schools are becoming more frequent—arrests are up according to an August report for the National Association of State Boards of Education—and more high-profile because of both cell phones and social media. They are also being increasingly scrutinized for bias and alleged brutality in the same way as encounters on the street have become between cops and adult civilians.

These incidents, youth-rights activists and federal officials argue, show that the school resource officers lack the proper training needed to interact effectively with children, especially when they are black, Hispanic, or disabled. The very students, advocates say, are being funneled from the classroom to the courtroom.

[SNIP]

Little data has been collected on the level of training officers receive. Only 12 states have laws that specify training requirements for officers deployed to classrooms, and those laws are inconsistent: Some states mandate training on how to respond to an active shooter. Fewer focus on dealing with children differently than adults.

“All officers are getting a certain level of training that they’re required to get as police officers,” said Nina Salomon, a senior policy analyst at the Council of State Governments Justice Center. “The additional training that we’re talking about—on youth development, on working with youth, on prevention and de-escalation—hasn’t typically been received by the majority of law enforcement that work with youth inside a school building, or that are called to campus.”

In districts like Richmond, CA, and Los Angeles, SROs take comprehensive trauma-informed course from a nonprofit called Strategies for Youth that includes information on how kids brains develop, and training for recognizing and addressing implicit bias as well as mental illness and substance abuse, without using force unnecessarily.

A Los Angeles Police Department detective, Richard Askew, said his time as an educator and as an SRO influenced his understanding of the way children behave and interact with authority.

Before joining the LAPD, Askew worked for two years at a charter school serving at-risk students aged 16-24 who were unable to stay engaged with traditional or alternative methods. Joining LAPD’s juvenile narcotics division, Askew was planted in L.A. schools as an undercover investigator.

In 2009, he joined LAPD’s mental-evaluation unit, a partnership with the department of mental health to interact with people who struggle from mental-health issues. He also became a Strategies for Youth trainer.

“SROs generally have a pretty big impact on campuses for students because of their authority positions and how they’re perceived,” Askew said.

Once an officer is selected as an SRO, they receive in-house training on school-district policies and procedures and 40 hours of SRO training from the state police academy, he said. Just a few months ago, all of the department’s officers were taught how to avoid implicit bias.

California does have a law setting training requirements for SROs. But until standardized training is required, most of the officers who do seek additional coursework are acting out of common sense, Canady said. Police departments would ensure officers in investigations units are properly trained.

So why not those who work in schools?

“Officers working in schools, just out of the nature of the assignment, are going to become the most well-known police officers or sheriff’s deputies in your community, and you’d better have some additional training for them, and you’d better make sure it’s the right person,” Canady said, “or you’re going to wind up potentially giving your department a black eye.”


LYNWOOD FAMILY SAYS NEW VIDEO SHOWS LASD USED EXCESSIVE FORCE, CONTRADICTS DEPUTIES’ VERSION OF THE STORY

The family of a Lynwood father and son who were bystanders arrested by Los Angeles County deputies in March says that newly surfaced footage shows deputies using excessive force on the two men. In the video taken by neighbors, officers appear to use pepper spray, a baton, and a taser while arresting Marco Arevalo and his father, who were charged with rioting and resisting arrest. The family’s lawyer says the video tells a much different story than the deputies’ account, and calls for a federal investigation into the incident.

ABC7′s Carlos Granda has the story. Here’s a clip:

The video shows deputies arresting one person on the sidewalk outside a home as two other men, Marco Arevalo and his father, stand nearby.

Arevalo and his father are then told to go inside their home by deputies.

A few seconds later, video allegedly shows deputies tossing the father over a bush, then hitting his son with a baton.

Deputies then appear to use pepper spray, and a taser the son.

The family claims deputies lied about what happened.

“Deputy Shaffer, who arrives last, says that my client was trying to run inside the house, that the baton strikes did nothing to stop him and that he was in fear that my client would go in the house and get a weapon,” the family’s attorney Michael Carrillo said. “As you can see the baton strikes did have an effect, they dropped him.”

Carrillo said the deputies even testified at a court hearing that Arevalo and his father were threatening them.

The father and son faced charges of rioting and resisting an officer, but Carrillo said the video changed everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

More on the LASD Deputy Who Vanished….. Heroin Use and the Rise in Numbers of Foster Kids…The Need for Civil Attorneys…& Prop 47

October 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTY WHO DISAPPEARED, & THE MEN WHO WOULDN’T GIVE UP ON HIS CASE

The LA Magazine story by Claire Martin about the disappearance of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy Jonathan Aujay is now online.

The tale as Martin tells it is long, very deeply researched, fascinating, and disturbing. It is also a must read for those with any interest in the workings of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Martin doesn’t solve the mystery of what happened to Jon Aujay after he took off for an all-day desert run in the Devil’s Punchbowl area of Antelope Valley on June 11, 1998, and never returned. Instead, she takes us through the investigations by the former department members who do not believe that Aujay killed himself as the LASD officially concluded. Nor do they believe he took off for Alaska, or rejoined the military as some other friends suggested. Instead, they believe he was murdered, and Martin delves into the reasons for their conviction.

One of those who became convinced Aujay met with foul play is Larry Brandenburg, a homicide detective who began investigating the case in early 2000. But when he wanted to search a fellow deputy’s house, his superior reportedly became furious and shut the investigation down, threatening to fire Brandenberg. When Brandenburg then appealed to the chief of the detective division and a commander in the homicide bureau, another detective was sent to collect all of his files.

Next there is former Deputy Darren Hager who was part of an interagency task force called “Operation Silent Thunder,” which was investigating the invasion of meth manufacturers and distributors in the Antelope Valley. In the course of delving into the drug action, Hager found what he believed were important leads into the Aujay case, and began digging. He came to believe a deputy named Richard Engels was involved and wanted to probe further. Instead, Hager was pulled off the case and ultimate terminated having to do with his investigating of Engels. Hager sued for wrongful termination and was award $8.5 million by a jury.

(It was when Martin attended Hager’s case trial that she first became fascinated with the story of Aujay’s disappearance. The trial, she wrote, “shed new light on the department’s handling of Aujay’s case as well as its approach to policing itself.)

Another haunted by Aujay’s disappearance was his former partner when the deputy was on SWAT, David Rathbun, now a reserve deputy with LASD search and rescue teams. Rathbun looked for Aujay for months with other friends after the official search ended.

Still one more man who couldn’t settle for the official story was Aujay’s last boss, retired captain Mike Bauer who now lives in Idaho. Bauer has devoted much of the past decade to hunting down new leads in the Aujay mystery, and believes he likely knows who killed the former sharp shooter turned K-9 handler.

Anyway, there’s much, much more to this well told Rashomon of a story.

To get you going, here’s a clip from one of the sections on Bauer’s ongoing investigation:

Last year Bauer wrote to John L. Scott, the interim sheriff, raising concerns about the department. When the captain of Internal Affairs called him, Bauer aired his theory; the captain vouched for the integrity of Bauer’s main suspect, he says, accusing Bauer of jumping to conclusions and then only seeking facts to support them. Bauer is still outraged. He could understand some skepticism, but he expected the sheriff’s department would take him seriously, given his background. This wasn’t the first time he felt rebuffed by the department over Aujay. Three years ago he spent half a day going over his evidence with deputies. “I expected a phone call from the captain of homicide a week later saying, ‘You know, we looked at your stuff and you might have something. Thanks for bringing this up. I’ll keep you posted on what we find out,’ ” he tells me. He heard nothing, but it wasn’t a total surprise. Bauer says he retired early, at 53, because of the corruption that flourished under Sheriff Baca, who wound up resigning in 2014 amid a barrage of federal indictments of staff who helped hide an informant from the FBI. That’s what led to Bauer’s second attempt, which wasn’t any more satisfying. Scott wrote him back that Aujay’s case “is disturbing to us all” and expressed confidence that the investigation had been thorough, noting that homicide detective Bob Kenney “continues to actively follow up on leads.”

Bauer was perplexed: If the department was sticking with the suicide theory, why was there an open homicide case? And if it was vigorously investigating, why hadn’t he heard about it from any of the dozens of people he has stayed in contact with in the course of his work? Debra, for one, says she has not been contacted by members of the sheriff’s department since 2001, when she was interviewed by Joe Holmes. Now that many of the players involved in the original investigations are retired and a new sheriff, Jim McDonnell, is in charge, Bauer and several others who knew Aujay have raised the question of whether the department would or should reevaluate the case. Aujay is still classified as a missing person with a possible suicide, according to homicide detective Larry Brandenburg. When I called Kenney in September to inquire about the status of the Aujay investigation, he replied, “I have no comment about that case at all.” Sheriff McDonnell also declined to be interviewed for this article.

The man serving as second in command to McDonnell is Neal Tyler, a 40-year department veteran and the former commander of the Antelope Valley region. Tyler was briefed on the Internal Affairs inquiry of Darren Hager, whose task force confidential informants had fingered Engels for murder, and he personally fired him….

Now read the rest for yourself.


HEROIN, PRESCRIPTION PAIN KILLERS…AND KIDS STREAMING INTO THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

A report issued this past summer by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services showed that, after years of decline, the number of kids coming into and staying in foster care is on the rise. And one of the reasons for the increased numbers, according to some child welfare officials, is that an uptick in the use of heroin and abuse of prescription opiates, has rendered an increasing number of parents unable to care for their children.

According to a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation released in May, thirty-four states saw an increase in the number of children in foster care, and California, Oklahoma, Indiana and Arizona were the states that saw the largest rise.

A new NPR story by Jake Harper takes a look at the phenomenon through the lens of foster care in Indiana.

Here’s a clip:

Between September of 2013 and September of 2015, Indiana saw the number of “children in need of services” jump by 40 percent. In more than half of new cases in which children had to be removed from their homes, substance abuse was listed as a reason. As in other states (such as nearby Ohio), officials in Indiana blame heroin and prescription painkillers.

The increase is taxing the child welfare system, officials say. Children of addicts often need special care and counseling, and they often stay in the system longer because it can take months or years for their parents to get clean.

“We have more children than we’ve ever had in our system in Indiana,” says Mary Beth Bonaventura, director of the state’s Department of Child Services. “That puts a stress on the staff, a stress and strain on providers.” And it’s increasingly a challenge, she says, “to find and recruit and train qualified foster families.”

If the Houglands hadn’t provided a home for their foster son, he might have ended up at an emergency shelter like the Children’s Bureau, a nonprofit in Indianapolis. The organization takes in kids from the Department of Child Services when a foster family can’t be found quickly.

“Kids come in here 24/7,” says Tina Cloer, who directs the Children’s Bureau. “So we accept kids all day and all night, and we get calls all day and all night.”

The shelter has been full more often this year, she says, as it has become harder to find kids foster homes. Last year, the average stay was just two days — now, it’s 10. “We have kids that have been here as long as 2 [or] 2 1/2 months,” Cloer says.


THE HIDDEN—AND IMPORTANT—NEED FOR CIVIL LEGAL AID

We know that Americans who are charged with a crime but who cannot afford to pay a lawyer have the right to legal representation paid for by the government. That right is enshrined in US law by the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Gideon v. Wainwright of 1963 that guaranteed everyone charged with a criminal act the right to counsel.

With civil procedures, there is no such guarantee. However, there is an increasing awareness of the need for some kind of system of civil legal aide. The need is particularly demonstrated among people being released from prison who, along with the many daunting challenges to reentry, often find there are lingering legal issues as well, most of them not criminal in nature.

For example, many returning men face debts in the tens of thousands of dollars in back child support that has been accumulating while they were in prison and had no ability to pay. Once out, even if they are able to get a job quickly, those positions are rarely high paying. Thus keeping up with current child support, while paying extra back payments is often completely defeating, and can lead to a return to prison. However, a civil attorney can help negotiate a payment system that both is practical for the recently incarcerated father, and fair to mother and children as well.

Civil attorneys can also assist in getting driver’s licenses restored, which can be crucial to getting and keeping a job, or helping to clear a former inmate’s criminal record, thus improving the likelihood of finding employment….and so on.

Writing for TalkPoverty.org Rebecca Vallas and Billy Corriher have more on the need for civil legal aide and what’s in the works to fill that need.

Here’s a clip:

Earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed an appropriations bill that—while far from sufficient to meet demand—would boost legal services funding for FY 2016 by $10 million. Meanwhile, House appropriators have called for slashing legal services funding by $75 million—a staggering 20 percent below the current funding levels. While Congress has passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded until mid-December, as it continues to debate the budget it should ensure that any proposal includes adequate funding for civil legal aid. Additionally, Congress should take swift action to reauthorize and boost funding for the bipartisan Second Chance Act. This legislation allows the Department of Justice to award federal grants to government agencies and nonprofit organizations—including civil legal aid programs—that provide services to support re-entry.

If the criminal justice reform legislation introduced this fall is enacted, many currently incarcerated individuals will have an opportunity to petition for reduced sentences or early release. Civil legal aid lawyers will be important partners in helping these individuals transition back into our communities and get back on their feet. Neglecting the back end of mass incarceration—including by failing to adequately invest in civil legal aid—is a recipe for ensuring that most people will end up behind bars again, and that many of the gains we see from criminal justice reform will be short-lived.


ANOTHER PROP 47 QUESTION: DO PROSECUTORS REALLY NEED THE “FELONY HAMMER” TO DEAL WITH DRUG OFFENDERS

Here’s the next in the LA Times series discussing Prop. 47. In this essay, editorial board member Rob Greene looks at the “felony hammer” prosecutors say they need to get drug offenders into treatment, that Prop. 47 has taken away. Here’s a clip:

In police and prosecutorial parlance, the hammer is the weapon of choice that gets drug defendants to go to treatment. The hammer is the felony charge, or in some cases, the “wobbler” that prosecutors could choose to charge as either a felony or a misdemeanor. With the hammer of a felony charge in hand, the prosecutor used to be able to tell the defendant that he was looking at three to five years in state prison on a drug possession charge. The defense lawyer might advise his client that his actual exposure was more like 18 months, but still — that’s real time in prison. Plus a felony rap sheet, which forever after would affect the defendant’s ability to get a job, get a professional license, go to school, get housing, adopt a child, become a foster parent, and interfere with numerous other aspects of daily life.

So the drug defendant could allow himself to get hit with that hammer.

Or, to avoid being hit, he could choose drug treatment. In some counties, even that meant pleading guilty to a felony, with the plea held by the judge but tossed out when the treatment program was completed, or reinstated when the defendant failed. Other counties had “pre-plea” programs, which allowed defendants to complete the program without first entering a guilty plea.

Yet defense attorneys and justice reformers say there’s also another way of dealing with the problem that doesn’t have to involve the felony hammer blow.

Read the rest here.

Posted in LASD, Reentry | 34 Comments »

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