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Far-Reaching DOJ Settlement With LA County Sheriff’s Department to Trigger Major Jail Reform

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



The long-expected settlement between the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department
and the U.S. Department of Justice was officially announced Wednesday morning at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in downtown LA.

The settlement concerns the failure to provide a safe, appropriately monitored, non-abusive environment, including “adequate mental health services,” for the mentally ill in the LA County’s long-troubled jails. It is the culmination of two DOJ investigations that span what is now nearly two decades of scrutiny of LA’s county lock-ups, starting in June 1996, “to determine whether the conditions in the jails violated the constitutional rights of its prisoners.”

Now, 19 years later, those investigations have resulted in a lawsuit that was filed in federal court, also on Wednesday, in which the DOJ alleges that indeed the County of Los Angeles “deprived” inmates in its jails of “rights, privileges or immunities” protected by the Constitution of the United States.”

Wednesday’s settlement is an agreement in lieu of the feds’ legal complaint going forward. The agreement required a stamp of approval by the LA County Board of Supervisors, who did the requisite stamping in a closed door meeting on Tuesday afternoon.

U.S. Attorney Eileen M. Deckerhich said in a statement she hopes the settlement helps the county avoid “protracted litigation” and “provides a blueprint for durable reform.”

For the most part, however the tone at the press conference was cooperative and non-adversarial. For instance, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Kappelhoff made a point of reaching out to deputies and others working in the jails, whom he thanked as “dedicated professionals…. who are in the front lines at the jails every day. Their efforts are critical to the long-term success of this agreement…”


SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IN THE SETTLEMENT?

The agreement spells out in detail the series of marks that the department needs to hit within the next year, if it wants to stay out of legal hot water. It includes sections on new “scenario-based” training for LASD staff, suicide risk procedures, appropriate data gathering, the use of restraints, use of force and more. The settlement also delves deeply into what kind of review procedures should kick in within the department, if and when things go wrong—in other words, if there is a suicide, attempted self harm, or a “critical incident.”

As to how the settlement actually works: if the department fails to hit the agreed upon marks specified, the federal judge in charge of the settlement can step in and institute penalties—i.e. the oversight period can be extended. The department’s progress will be overseen most closely by an independent monitor, who will also have the help of a small team of “content experts.”

Attorney Richard Drooyan was named as the monitor. As a former head of the Los Angeles police commission, a former chief assistant U.S. attorney and—most relevantly—the general counsel for the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence—Drooyan is considered to be an excellent choice. Plus, due to their time spent together on the CCJV, he is someone with whom Sheriff McDonnell already has a good and established relationship.


THE SHERIFF PICKS UP THE TOOL

The sheriff seems genuinely to welcome the agreement, which he described a “…comprehensive approach to reform” that he and the department’s custody leadership “fully embrace.”

McDonnell also rightly sees the 60-page document as a useful tool that—as he told radio host Warren Olney Wednesday on KCRW’s Which Way LA?—will give him the needed leverage “to get the resources necessary,” to accomplish long lasting reform.

When asked about the personnel training that the settlement requires, McDonnell quickly gave what he said was a representative example of why it was badly needed. “We teach deputies in the academy to be assertive, to raise your voice where appropriate…” but, he said, “if you do that with someone with autism, that is exactly the wrong thing to do, it sets someone off” and you end up in a confrontation that could have been avoided.

In a letter sent to department members, McDonnell was similarly upbeat about the potential positive effects of the deal with the feds, describing the agreement as an opportunity.

Even prior to the agreement, he wrote, the department had already been able to use requirements contained in the coming settlement to make needed changes and put in place additional resources—with, of course, the fiscal support of the board of supervisors. Those changes included:


· 500 additional LASD personnel
. Over 160 additional DMH personnel
· Multiple jail modifications to reduce suicide risks
· More frequent safety checks
· Additional cleaning crews
· Increased training opportunities for interaction with the mentally ill
· Enhanced inmate assessments and additional treatment
· Drug treatment and community re-entry planning
· Additional out of cell therapy and recreation time

“You are part of an historic time for the LASD,” McDonnell wrote, “and this agreement will establish us as being on the leading edge of modern correctional systems. While I have always said I welcome outside eyes on the Department, this will continue to be a collaborative process, and one that we will accomplish together, as a team.”


THE BAD OLD DAYS

So, if things have improved, how how bad were they before?

Actually, really bad—at least in certain quarters.

As recently as four years ago, the LA Times reported the story about a young deputy, an “honor recruit” who was a standout at the academy, was allegedly forced to beat up a mentally ill inmate, then to participate in a cover up. According to the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi, the deputy, Joshua Sather, “said that shortly before the inmate’s beating his supervisor said, ‘We’re gonna go in and teach this guy a lesson,” according to the records.” The attack, according to Sather, was then covered up.”

By the way, reportedly no one was disciplined over the whole mess.

Many of the worst examples of the kind of conduct that brought on the law suit and the settlement have to do with the mishandling and/or neglect of suicidal inmates, too often resulting in tragic and unnecessary inmate deaths, such as the death of 22-year-old John Horton, whose suicide in Men’s Central Jail we wrote about in 2009.

And, although the DOJ admits that there has been much laudable reform, there are more recent incidents, like the circumstances last month that led the sheriff to relieve 10 department members of duty after learning that an inmate who had displayed “suicidal ideation,” and was believed to have other mental problems, had reportedly been in some kind of restraints for 32 hours without being fed or given more than a cup of water, after head-butting or pushing a female deputy causing her to sustain a concussion.


IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE MENTALLY ILL

The settlement also makes it very clear that, while most of the reforms it requires have to do with the treatment of the mentally ill, the DOJ is equally concerned with the treatment—or more properly mistreatment—of inmates in general, such as the abuse of a jail visitor that resulted in the recent conviction of three former department members, and the plea deals for two others.

In that regard, the settlement points to the ACLU’s massive class action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, that was settled earlier this year, known as the Rosas agreement.

The lawsuit, originally filed in 2012, alleged that then Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies of inmates in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

The Rosas settlement, like the DOJ settlement, resulted in a roadmap for reform, complete with required goals, the accomplishment of which, is to be overseen by three independent monitors, and enforced by a federal judge who can find the department in contempt.

Wednesday’s DOJ settlement repeatedly mentions the Rosas agreement, suggesting that it is filling in what Rosas didn’t cover: “…this Agreement addresses remaining allegations concerning suicide prevention and mental health care at the Jails…”

Peter Eliasberg, the Southern California ACLU’s legal director, and the prime mover behind Rosas, was very heartened by the DOJ settlement. “For far too long, the County Board of Supervisors turned a blind eye to evidence of savage abuse by deputies and failure to provide even minimally adequate treatment to inmates with mental illness, even after presented with 2008 and 2010 ACLU reports that specifically outlined many of the same problems this agreement seeks to fix.” This oversight, he said, along with the Rosas agreement…”will finally bring much needed change to the nation’s largest jail system.”

At the press conference, McDonnell expressed similar sentiments, but understandibly gave them a slightly more buoyant spin. “This is our collective opportunity,” he said, “to be on the leading edge of reform and to serve as a model for the nation.”

We genuinely hope so.

Posted in Department of Justice, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD | 24 Comments »

Finding the Child Welfare Czar….”Overcorrected, Overdirected, and Overpunished” Kids…Dylan Roof and CA Prison Segregation…and More

July 9th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY NAME A CHILD WELFARE CZAR TODAY

The LA County Board of Supervisors held a closed-door meeting Tuesday to interview two candidates to lead the Office of Child Protection, an entity recommended by a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection convened to jumpstart much-needed reform efforts in the county child welfare system.

The Supes are slated to interview two more candidates today (Thursday), and could possibly issue their final decision today, as well.

Fesia Davenport, who has served as the interim child welfare czar, is reportedly among those being considered for the position.

Holden Slattery has more on the issue in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

Fesia Davenport, who the board appointed as interim director of the office in February, is a candidate for the position, according to Wendy Garen, president and CEO of the Ralph Parsons Foundation, which was one of 17 foundations to endorse the BRC recommendations in a letter to the Board of Supervisors.

“It’s been a robust process. There are outside candidates,” Garen said. “I do believe that Fesia [Davenport] is a candidate and that her performance to date has been remarkable.”

Garen said she has no knowledge about the other candidates and, due to that, she does not know whether Davenport is the best candidate for the job.

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was the most prominent recommendation to emerge from the Los Angeles County Blue Ribbon on Child Protection’s (BRC) December 2013 interim recommendations and again in its final report in April.

“I hope that the OCP director who the board ultimately hires is a person that is imbued with many of the traits that the child protection commission envisioned initially,” Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with implementing the BRC recommendations, said in a phone interview Tuesday. “A strong leader with experience in child welfare who is collaborative and imaginative, and not afraid to stand up to the existing institutions.”


TO CHANGE “CHALLENGING” KIDS’ BEHAVIOR – DONT: PUNISH AND REWARD; DO: HELP KIDS UNDERSTAND AND LEARN FROM THEIR ACTIONS

Katherine Reynolds Lewis has an excellent longread for the July/August issue of Mother Jones Magazine about psychologist Ross Greene’s game-changing discipline methods of teaching kids problem-solving skills instead of employing the now largely discredited punishment-reward system developed by B.F. Skinner in the mid-20th century.

The idea is that, punishing children who are acting out, and who are often called “challenging,” only exacerbates kids’ underlying problems and helps to push them through the school-to-prison pipeline. Kids brains have not developed enough to have control over their behavior and emotions, so punishing them, instead of helping them understand the “why” behind their behavior, is extremely counterproductive, according to Greene’s theory.

Here are some clips:

…consequences have consequences. Contemporary psychological studies suggest that, far from resolving children’s behavior problems, these standard disciplinary methods often exacerbate them. They sacrifice long-term goals (student behavior improving for good) for short-term gain—momentary peace in the classroom.

University of Rochester psychologist Ed Deci, for example, found that teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others. This, in turn, means they have a harder time learning self-control, an essential skill for long-term success. Stanford University’s Carol Dweck, a developmental and social psychologist, has demonstrated that even rewards—gold stars and the like—can erode children’s motivation and performance by shifting the focus to what the teacher thinks, rather than the intrinsic rewards of learning.

In a 2011 study that tracked nearly 1 million schoolchildren over six years, researchers at Texas A&M University found that kids suspended or expelled for minor offenses—from small-time scuffles to using phones or making out—were three times as likely as their peers to have contact with the juvenile justice system within a year of the punishment. (Black kids were 31 percent more likely than white or Latino kids to be punished for similar rule violations.) Kids with diagnosed behavior problems such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and reactive attachment disorder—in which very young children, often as a result of trauma, are unable to relate appropriately to others—were the most likely to be disciplined.

Which begs the question: Does it make sense to impose the harshest treatments on the most challenging kids? And are we treating chronically misbehaving children as though they don’t want to behave, when in many cases they simply can’t?

That might sound like the kind of question your mom dismissed as making excuses. But it’s actually at the core of some remarkable research that is starting to revolutionize discipline from juvenile jails to elementary schools. Psychologist Ross Greene, who has taught at Harvard and Virginia Tech, has developed a near cult following among parents and educators who deal with challenging children. What Richard Ferber’s sleep-training method meant to parents desperate for an easy bedtime, Greene’s disciplinary method has been for parents of kids with behavior problems, who often pass around copies of his books, The Explosive Child and Lost at School, as though they were holy writ.

His model was honed in children’s psychiatric clinics and battle-tested in state juvenile facilities, and in 2006 it formally made its way into a smattering of public and private schools. The results thus far have been dramatic, with schools reporting drops as great as 80 percent in disciplinary referrals, suspensions, and incidents of peer aggression. “We know if we keep doing what isn’t working for those kids, we lose them,” Greene told me. “Eventually there’s this whole population of kids we refer to as overcorrected, overdirected, and overpunished. Anyone who works with kids who are behaviorally challenging knows these kids: They’ve habituated to punishment.”

Under Greene’s philosophy, you’d no more punish a child for yelling out in class or jumping out of his seat repeatedly than you would if he bombed a spelling test. You’d talk with the kid to figure out the reasons for the outburst (was he worried he would forget what he wanted to say?), then brainstorm alternative strategies for the next time he felt that way. The goal is to get to the root of the problem, not to discipline a kid for the way his brain is wired.

“This approach really captures a couple of the main themes that are appearing in the literature with increasing frequency,” says Russell Skiba, a psychology professor and director of the Equity Project at Indiana University. He explains that focusing on problem solving instead of punishment is now seen as key to successful discipline.

If Greene’s approach is correct, then the educators who continue to argue over the appropriate balance of incentives and consequences may be debating the wrong thing entirely. After all, what good does it do to punish a child who literally hasn’t yet acquired the brain functions required to control his behavior?

Schools and juvenile detention centers are starting to pick up Greene’s methods and are experiencing complete behavior turnarounds:

In 2004, a psychologist from Long Creek Youth Development Center, a correctional center in South Portland, Maine, attended one of Greene’s workshops in Portland and got his bosses to let him try CPS. Rodney Bouffard, then superintendent at the facility, remembers that some guards resisted at first, complaining about “that G-D-hugs-and-kisses approach.” It wasn’t hard to see why: Instead of restraining and isolating a kid who, say, flipped over a desk, staffers were now expected to talk with him about his frustrations. The staff began to ignore curses dropped in a classroom and would speak to the kid later, in private, so as not to challenge him in front of his peers.

But remarkably, the relationships changed. Kids began to see the staff as their allies, and the staff no longer felt like their adversaries. The violent outbursts waned. There were fewer disciplinary write-ups and fewer injuries to kids or staff. And once they got out, the kids were far better at not getting locked up again: Long Creek’s one-year recidivism rate plummeted from 75 percent in 1999 to 33 percent in 2012. “The senior staff that resisted us the most,” Bouffard told me, “would come back to me and say, ‘I wish we had done this sooner. I don’t have the bruises, my muscles aren’t strained from wrestling, and I really feel I accomplished something.’”

Read on…


PERSISTING WHITE SUPREMACY IN CA STATE PRISONS…AND DYLAN ROOF

In an essay for the Marshall Project, James Kilgore, who spent the majority of a six-and-a-half year prison term in California facilities, considers how Charleston church shooter Dylan Roof might be received at a CA prison where inmates have been racially segregated for decades.

Kilgore calls for national dialogue on white supremacy in prisons and urges lawmakers and corrections officials to put an end to their “complicity in reproducing hatred and division” through racially segregated detention facilities.

Here’s a clip:

He would certainly find instant camaraderie with the Peckerwoods, the Skinheads, the Dirty White Boys, the Nazi Low Riders. His admirers, men with handles like Bullet, Beast, Pitbull, and Ghost, would vow to live up to Roof’s example, either by wreaking havoc when they hit the streets or maybe even the very next day in the yard.

Roof’s newfound fan club would be ready to provide him with prison perks — extra Top Ramen, jars of coffee, a bar of Irish Spring. The guards, many with their own Roofish sympathies, would cut him some slack — an extra roll of toilet paper here, a few illicit minutes on the telephone there. If Roof were so inclined, the guards might turn a blind eye to his indulgence in illegal substances, from tobacco to papers of heroin to the carceral Mad Dog 20/20 known as “pruno.”

If Roof played by the convict code, he might quickly rise in the ranks of the white-power structure in the prison yard. Maybe after a few years, he would earn the status of “shot caller,” the highest rank within the racial groups. Then he could order hits on young white boys who defiled the race by playing a game of chess with a black man or offering a Latino a sip of his soda. Like all his white comrades, Roof would use the white showers, the white phones, the white pull-up bars. The yard might spark visions of a segregated utopia for Dylann, a wonderland where everyone was in their right place — separate and unequal.

But white supremacists in prison also live in a world of racial enemies. Fueled by paranoia and buttressed by complicit guards and administrators, Roof would be the target of personalized vengeance attacks. Just like on the streets, he would be constantly looking over his shoulder to fend off real and imagined enemies. In particular, he would realize that in a prison yard, there are plenty of black lifers who have nothing to lose and the muscle power to break him in half, like a dry stick. A warrior who took down Roof would get a hero’s welcome in the torturous isolation blocks at Pelican Bay or Corcoran. All this tension would no doubt make Roof a little uneasy, perhaps force him to remain “suited and booted,” armed with a razor blade in his mouth or a sharpened shank up his rectum.

But even with danger all around him, Roof might find solace in the fact that the prison authorities would not assign any whites and blacks to share a cell and would enable the segregation of day rooms and exercise spaces. This would be a refreshing change of pace for Roof.


WHY WAS POMONA TEEN ACCUSED OF ROBBERY FOUND BLUDGEONED TO DEATH IN HIS CELL, FAMILY ASKS

The parents of a 19-year-old robbery suspect, Rashad Davis, fatally beaten in his jail cell in May, want answers from the San Bernardino Sheriff’s Department about why their son was assigned to a cell shared by a mentally unstable cellmate accused of beating a man to death with a baseball bat.

The SB Sheriff’s Dept. has not indicated whether or not Davis was housed with 22-year-old Jeremiah Ajani Bell due to a breakdown in screening protocol, but the department has recently been the subject of several scandals and investigations, including alleged excessive use of force and inadequate mental health treatment for inmates.

The LA Times’ Paloma Esquivel has the story. Here’s a clip:

Posted in CDCR, DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, Mental Illness, race, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | No Comments »

Loretta Lynch, Baltimore, and Two Important Decisions Before the LA County Supes…and More

April 28th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LORETTA LYNCH SWORN IN AS 83RD US ATTORNEY GENERAL

On Monday, Loretta Lynch was sworn in as the first female US Attorney General. Lynch replaced Eric Holder, who was the first black Attorney General.

Here are a few clips from AG Lynch’s speech at the Justice Department:

…my mother, who could not be here today but is never far from my thoughts or my heart. She grew up in a world where she was always told what she could not do or could not be, but always knew in her heart that she could soar. She did what would have seemed impossible in the small North Carolina town of her youth. She raised a daughter whom she always told, whatever the dream, whether lawyer, prosecutor or even Attorney General, “of course you can.”

[SNIP]

Because I am here to tell you, if a little girl from North Carolina who used to tell her grandfather in the fields to lift her up on the back of his mule, so she could see “way up high, Granddaddy,” can become the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America, then we can do anything.

We can imbue our criminal justice system with both strength and fairness, for the protection of both the needs of victims and the rights of all. We can restore trust and faith both in our laws and in those of us who enforce them. We can protect the most vulnerable among us from the scourge of modern-day slavery – so antithetical to the values forged in blood in this country. [my ital] We can protect the growing cyber world. We can give those in our care both protection from terrorism and the security of their civil liberties. We will do this as we have accomplished all things both great and small – working together, moving forward, and using justice as our compass.

I cannot wait to begin that journey.

But while Vice President Joe Biden was swearing Lynch in, the turbulent situation in Baltimore, MD further deteriorated.

This afternoon, the new Attorney General issued a statement on the riots, urging Baltimore citizens to put an end to the violence.

Here’s a clip:

“I condemn the senseless acts of violence by some individuals in Baltimore that have resulted in harm to law enforcement officers, destruction of property and a shattering of the peace in the city of Baltimore. Those who commit violent actions, ostensibly in protest of the death of Freddie Gray, do a disservice to his family, to his loved ones, and to legitimate peaceful protestors who are working to improve their community for all its residents.

“The Department of Justice stands ready to provide any assistance that might be helpful. The Civil Rights Division and the FBI have an ongoing, independent criminal civil rights investigation into the tragic death of Mr. Gray…

“As our investigative process continues, I strongly urge every member of the Baltimore community to adhere to the principles of nonviolence. In the days ahead, I intend to work with leaders throughout Baltimore to ensure that we can protect the security and civil rights of all residents. And I will bring the full resources of the Department of Justice to bear in protecting those under threat, investigating wrongdoing, and securing an end to violence.”


BALTIMORE RIOTS: WHAT’S BEHIND THE VIOLENCE

To keep track of the latest developments in Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun has a live update feed.

The New Yorker’s Jelani Cobb writes about the complex weave of underlying causes that led to Monday’s violence. Here’s a clip:

The sliver of hope that Baltimore might not fully teeter into bedlam went up along with the neighborhood CVS, the police vehicles, and the buildings that were ignited on Monday. The day began with a plea for a moratorium on protests from Fredricka Gray, Freddie Gray’s twin sister, so that her family might bury her brother in peace. But by the afternoon, there was no peace for Gray’s family, nor any other in the city. On Monday afternoon, the governor of Maryland issued a state of emergency. Flyers for a Saturday rally issued by the Black Lawyers for Justice urged protestors to “shut the city down.” Two days later, the city is a theater of outrage. The flames leaping into the sky underscored a crucial concern: if the pleas from Freddie Gray’s family could not forestall violence in the streets of Baltimore, the difficult question will be what can prevent more of it.

The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf shines a light on a pile of underreported police department abuses that fueled the Baltimore protests (and now, the riots). In one instance, a cop allegedly beat an 87-year-old woman while she tried to help her 11-year-old grandson who had been shot. Another cop allegedly tased a hospitalized meningitis patient to death.

Here are some clips, but read the rest of Friedersdorf’s story:

Let’s start with the money.

$5.7 million is the amount the city paid to victims of brutality between 2011 and 2014. And as huge as that figure is, the more staggering number in the article is this one: “Over the past four years, more than 100 people have won court judgments or settlements related to allegations of brutality and civil-rights violations.” What tiny percentage of the unjustly beaten win formal legal judgments?

[SNIP]

There was a murder-suicide, with a policeman killing a firefighter, his girlfriend, and himself. There was a different officer who killed himself in jail after being charged with killing his fiancée. In yet another case, “Abdul Salaam, 36, says he was beaten in July 2013 after a traffic stop by officers Nicholas Chapman and Jorge Bernardez-Ruiz and that he never got a response to his complaint filed with internal affairs,” The Sun reported. “Those officers would be implicated less than three weeks later in the death of 44-year-old Tyrone West while he was in police custody.” Also in 2013, a jury acquitted an off-duty police officer on manslaughter charges after he chased down and killed a 17-year-old boy who may or may not have thrown a rock that thumped harmlessly into his front door.

David Simon, creator of The Wire, former Baltimore Sun reporter, and author also called for an end to the tidal wave of violence in Baltimore.

Here’s a clip from his blog, The Audacity of Despair:

…the anger and the selfishness and the brutality of those claiming the right to violence in Freddie Gray’s name needs to cease. There was real power and potential in the peaceful protests that spoke in Mr. Gray’s name initially, and there was real unity at his homegoing today. But this, now, in the streets, is an affront to that man’s memory and a dimunition of the absolute moral lesson that underlies his unnecessary death.

If you can’t seek redress and demand reform without a brick in your hand, you risk losing this moment for all of us in Baltimore. Turn around. Go home. Please.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS LIKELY TO VOTE ON UNIQUE PROGRAM TO PREVENT ABUSE BY HELPING FORMER FOSTER KIDS WITH THEIR OWN KIDS

On Tuesday, the LA County Supervisors are slated to vote on whether to launch and fund a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. The program would cost $202,000 and would provide parenting assistance to recently aged-out foster kids who have children of their own (or are expecting). The program, to be run by the non-profit, Imagine L.A., would pair the young parents with five volunteer mentors to help with every day activities like taking kids to sports practice and tutoring.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has more on the proposed pilot program. Here’s a clip:

Harvey Kawasaki of the Department of Children and Family Services said many young adults depend on their parents to help with those kinds of things when they have children of their own. But these youths, who are aging out of foster care, don’t necessarily have that relationship.

“Having a family-mentoring service is creating a surrogate family,” Kawasaki said.

He said the idea is unique in L.A., as most DCFS programs deal with either responding to reports of child abuse or preventing it from reoccurring. This project would target the children of former foster children, something that hasn’t been done before. An estimated 200 foster youth in L.A. County are parents themselves.

“In some sense, this project is trying to test out whether or not this family-mentoring model will prevent intergenerational child abuse,” Kawasaki said.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS MAY APPROVE DOJ SETTLEMENT OVER LASD PALMDALE AND LANCASTER DEPARTMENTS’ RACIAL DISCRIMINATION

In 2013, the US Justice Department slammed the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department with 46 pages of “findings” regarding Lancaster and Palmdale deputies’ alleged systemic racial bias against minorities. The DOJ also ordered the LASD, LA County’s Housing Authority, and the cities of Lancaster and Palmdale, to cough up $12.6 million to pay residents who had allegedly been subject to harassment, discriminatory search and seizure, excessive use of force, and more. (Read the backstory.)

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve a settlement with the DOJ. The full details of the proposed settlement are not available, but the Sheriff’s Dept. will reportedly have to compensate those whose rights have been violated and agree to (and comply with) orders regarding excessive force, training, and community relations.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on expected settlement. Here’s a clip:

The details of the settlement slated for approval Tuesday have not been publicly released, but a county official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the settlement will require the sheriff’s department to comply a list of requirements relating to training, use of force and community engagement. The county will be subject to ongoing monitoring and will be required to collect data to show its progress.

The settlement will also include monetary compensation to people whose rights were found to have been violated, but the amount of that payment has not been released. The justice department initially had demanded that the county and cities of Lancaster and Palmdale pay $12.5 million to residents whose rights were violated.

The official said the county is still working out a separate settlement agreement that will pertain to the Housing Authority. That settlement could include payments to people who lost their housing vouchers as a result of the raids.


JUDGE ORDERS LAPD TO RELEASE CLINTON ALFORD BEATING VIDEO

US Magistrate Judge Alicia Rosenberg ordered the LAPD to release surveillance footage of an officer allegedly kicking 22-year-old Clinton Alford in the head. The video is to be released Wednesday to Alford’s attorney. (Here’s the backstory.)

The LA Times’ Richard Winton has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

“Today a judge validated my client’s right to have a copy of the raw video footage of the brutal beating that included him being kicked and hit by members of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Newton Division,” Harper said. “I said six months ago that if Chief [Charlie] Beck were sincere about transparency he would have released the video then. He wouldn’t have made me compel the production of evidence showing what was done to my client.”

Under the order, Harper can pick up the video Wednesday. She said she will have a forensic expert on hand to examine it. A prior order forbids the public release of the video.

[SNIP]

Beck last week acknowledged the public interest in viewing the footage of the Oct. 16 incident, but he said Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey “has been very, very clear that she does not want that video out there.” Releasing the footage before the officer’s trial, Beck said, could taint the jury pool or “otherwise interfere” with the case.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Rights, Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice | No Comments »

The Battle Over Who Can View Body Cam Footage…..Expert Says LAPD Has, in Fact, Come a Long Way…….NYPD Cop Writes New Book……I SAID, DON’T WALK!!!

April 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


WHAT GOOD ARE BODY CAMS IF WE CAN’T SEE THE FOOTAGE?

In his state of the city speech earlier this month, Mayor Eric Garcetti promised body cameras for all LAPD patrol officers. “In the aftermath of Ferguson, Staten Island, and now, North Charleston,” Garcetti said, “relationship-based policing has put us on track to be the biggest city in America to put body cameras on every officer on the street.”

More recently LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said that officers could review their body cam footage before writing reports, a decision that has caused controversy.

But, as major law enforcement departments around the country gear up to begin the widespread use of body cameras, the squabble about officers viewing footage prior to writing reports is going to pale next to the far more central question that the coming widespread use of the cameras will force: What about the public? Can you and I view footage from body cams through the use of public records acts requests?

It is this question that reporter Robinson Meyer asks in a new story for the Atlantic.

“Body cameras are supposed to be instruments of public accountability,” Meyer writes, “but how realistic is it for the public to have access to the footage?”

Therein, it turns out, lies the rub.

Here’s a clip from Robinson’s story:

Soon, thousand of police officers across the country will don body-worn cameras when they go out among the public. Those cameras will generate millions of hours of footage—intimate views of commuters receiving speeding tickets, teens getting arrested for marijuana possession, and assault victims at some of the worst moments of their lives.

As the Washington Post and the Associated Press have reported, lawmakers in at least 15 states have proposed exempting body-cam footage from local open records laws. But the flurry of lawmaking speaks to a larger crisis: Once those millions of hours of footage have been captured, no one is sure what to do with them.

I talked to several representatives from privacy, civil rights, and progressive advocacy groups working on body cameras. Even among these often allied groups, there’s little consensus about the kind of policies that should exist around releasing footage.

Body cameras were introduced as a tool of public accountability, but making their videos available to the public might be too fraught, too complex, and too expensive to actually put into practice.

Much of the ambiguity around body cameras comes down to this: Despite their general popularity, despite being the only policy change called for by the family of Michael Brown, body cameras are a little weird. They are both a way for the public to see what police officers are doing and a way for people to be surveilled. If a body-cam program, scaled across an entire department, were to release its footage willy-nilly, it would be a privacy catastrophe for untold people. Police-worn cameras don’t just capture footage from city streets or other public places. Officers enter people’s homes, often when those people are at their most vulnerable.

So while body-cam footage is “very clearly a public interest record,” says Emily Shaw, the national policy manager at the Sunlight Foundation, it is also “just full of private information.”

What’s more, there’s no easy way to fix this….

In a related story for the New York Times titled “Downside of Police Body Cameras: Your Arrest Hits YouTube,” Timothy Williams writes:

In Bremerton, Wash., the police chief, Steven Strachan, is wary about making such footage public. After testing body cameras last year, he decided not to buy them for his 71 officers because he feared that the state’s public records laws would require him to turn over the film.

Requests for footage, he said, would create an unwieldy administrative burden for his small department and could potentially violate privacy.

“We hit the pause button,” Chief Strachan said. “Our view is we don’t want to be part of violating people’s privacy for commercial or voyeuristic reasons. Everyone’s worst day is now going to be put on YouTube for eternity.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would limit access to the footage to civilians who are directly involved in the police encounters.

But some law enforcement think that the public should indeed have access.

…[Mike] Wagers, the chief operating officer of the Seattle police, said he understood that the proliferation of body cameras had whetted the public’s appetite for access to the footage. The department, he said, is testing 12 body cameras but plans to outfit 900 patrol officers in 2016.

He said the ultimate goal was to post online every moment of officers’ body camera recordings.

“What’s the purpose of collecting the data?” he asked. “To move to accountability and get to the truth.”

Well, yes. The logistics are likely not going to be simple to solve. But solve them we must.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 30 minute video above is body cam footage from a fatal shooting in Draper, Utah. It was released after the shooting by the Draper Police Department.


DESPITE RECENT TROUBLING INCIDENTS, THE LAPD HAS COME A LONG WAY SINCE THE RODNEY KING ERA, BOTH AT THE TOP AND IN THE STREET, SAYS AUTHOR JOE DOMANICK

On the topic of footage, most of us have never seen the October 2014 surveillance video of 22-year-old Clinton Alford Jr. showing how Alford was yanked off his bike then, when on the ground with his hands behind him, kicked repeatedly in the head by a Los Angeles Police officer named Richard Garcia, 34, and shocked in the back with an electric stun gun.

But some of those who have seen the video, including LAPD Chief Charlie Beck, have described it in alarming terms. The actions of Garcia, said Beck, “were not only beyond departmental policy but were in fact criminal.”

Garcia is one of three LAPD officers facing assault under color of authority charges.

Reporter/author Andrew Gumbel, writing for the Guardian, talked to LAPD expert and author Joe Domanick, about whether or not this cluster of charges against LAPD officers represents a dramatic and hopeful change from the LAPD of the Rodney King/Rampart days.

When it comes to LAPD history, Domanick is right person to ask. He is the author of To Protect and to Serve: The LAPD’s Century of War in the City of Dreams, and his brand new book on the department: Blue: The LAPD and the Battle to Redeem American Policing, will be out in August.

Here are some clips from Gumbel’s story:

“The department is far, far better in terms of dealing with officer use of force and officer-involved shootings,” said Joe Domanick, the author of acclaimed books about the LAPD. “Charlie Beck has vowed that if there’s ever another riot in Los Angeles, it won’t be on his watch. He’s really sincere about these things.”

[SNIP]

Since the fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the rioting that followed in Ferguson last summer, Chief Beck, a career LAPD cop who witnessed the 1992 riots first-hand, has made extensive efforts to head off the risk of similar unrest in Los Angeles.

Last month he held a closed-door meeting with community leaders and other regional police chiefs to discuss the risk of a Ferguson-type powder keg blowing in the vast concrete jungles of south LA, which remains poor, underserved by businesses and city services and rife with racial divisions.

Such efforts at community outreach have gone a long way to mitigate criticisms of department policies such as “stop and frisk”, which has caused an uproar in New York, or the continuing use of injunctions limiting the civil rights of gang members. Earlier this month, Beck went out of his way to condemn the police shooting of Walter Scott in South Carolina – a continent away – saying he too would have arrested the officer involved.

In addition to Garcia’s, two other LAPD excessive force cases are working their way through the courts. Jonathan Lai, who was caught on tape using his baton to hit a man already on his knees with his hands on his head, and Mary O’Callaghan, accused of kicking a woman….after she was in handcuffs, have court appearances in early May.

Domanick noted that over the 20-30 years before the Rodney King case, only one LAPD officer was prosecuted for acts of violence.


THE JOB: NEW YORK COP PENS TRUE TALES ABOUT HIS 20 YEARS ON THE NYPD

And while we’re on the topic of police and books….

Like many of those in law enforcement, Steve Osborne, a former lieutenant in the New York Police Department’s Detective Bureau, is a great storyteller. We know this because Osborne has gathered his stories into a book called The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop..”

The book was released last week, and is already getting excellent reviews.

The timing is, of course, serindipitous. Right now we need to hear the voices of officers who are able to bring the rest of us into their experiences—-which can, in turn, help humanize the argument that too often has been shrill and toxic on both sides.

Last week, Fresh Air’s Terry Gross interviewed Osborne, and, I think you’ll find it an enjoyable listen.

Osborne talks about his first call about a “foul odor” as a rookie, on stopping a murderous knife fight, on working in plainclothes, on foolishly following a suspect into a subway tunnel when the train was coming, on how he nearly shot another cop, and more.

Here’re a couple of short excerpts from the interview:

On whether he ever fired his gun on the job

That’s, like, one of the most common questions. And when I tell people “no” they seem disappointed. It’s like you watch TV and you think cops are firing their guns every night, but that’s not true. And over the course of 20 years, I was involved in thousands and thousands of arrests. On top of that — I couldn’t possibly count — tens of thousands of civilian interactions. No, I never had to fire my gun once, believe it or not.

I had plenty of opportunities. There’s at least a half a dozen guys that are still walking around out there that I would’ve been completely justified using deadly physical force, but at the last possible second I found another way to resolve it. But make no mistake about it: If I had to do it, I would do it. I was fully prepared to do it. Luckily for them and luckily for me, always at the last second, I found a way to resolve the situation without having to resort to deadly physical force. That’s what you have to remember: … You have different tools. You got a nightstick; you got Mace; you got a Taser; you got a gun. Your gun is your last resort, after everything else fails.

On his opinion of the cell video footage of police officer Michael Slager shooting and killing Walter Scott in South Carolina (Slager has been charged with murder)

If you’re expecting me to defend that guy down in South Carolina, forget about it, it’s not going to happen. I saw the video just like everybody else did and I can’t possibly explain what was going on in his head. We don’t shoot fleeing felons. I’ve been in that situation thousands of times, and I never had to resort to deadly physical force.


STUDENT HIT WITH $197 TICKET WHEN CROSSING (NOT JAYWALKING) TO GET TO CLASS ON TIME

And finally, on the somewhat unrelated topic of pedestrian crosswalks…

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez was under the impression that you could still cross in the crosswalk at a downtown Los Angeles intersection as long as you were back on the opposing sidewalk by the time that the WALK/DON’TWALK timer counted down to zero.

In truth, I thought so too and have often made the dash during those last 8 or 9 seconds to get to the Main Street entrance of the U.S. Central District Courthouse.

It seems that struggling college student Edwardo Lopez was also suffering from the same misapprehension as Steve Lopez and I were. It turns out, however, that all of us were wrong. The last 10 seconds in a crosswalk function like a yellow light and, even if you make it easily from one side of the street to the other before the counter runs down and the light turns red, you are breaking the law and may be ticketed.

Edwardo Lopez got such a ticket as he was rushing to class—a ticket that had $197 fine attached to it. For most of us, $197 ticket would certainly be unpleasant. But for Edwardo, the $$ amount was nearly one third of the $712 monthly rent for the small one-bedroom apartment where he lives with his brother Miguel, 25, their hard-working mother and two younger sisters.

No one’s blaming the LAPD officer who gave Edwardo the ticket. But columnist Lopez suggests that the cash hit feels a bit usurious for hardworking, lower income people like Edwardo.

So what to do? Lopez has a few suggestions.

It should be noted that we at WLA are not necessarily endorsing Lopez’s solutions, just the discussion. Although we do wonder why lower income people couldn’t pay off such a fine with community service if they didn’t have the cash money.

Here’s a clip from Lopez’s column:

Eduardo Lopez, 22, has not caught many breaks in his young life. If anything, that’s made him more determined to succeed.

The all-star soccer player wants to finish college, he wants to be a firefighter, and he wants to help get his family out of the hole it’s been in from the day he was born.

That means he’s always on the go, and on a recent morning, Lopez was really in a hurry. He had worked a minimum-wage graveyard shift loading pallets for an export company near LAX, then jumped a Green Line train and transferred to the Blue Line.

At the Metro station downtown, he hustled up to street level and saw his bus approaching 7th and Hope streets. If he caught it, he’d make it to his first class at Glendale Community College on time. He hadn’t slept in 24 hours, but he had to get to school.

No problem, he thought. The “don’t walk” sign was blinking. The countdown was at 10 seconds, as he recalls, giving him plenty of time.

[SNIP]

…In that scenario, a $500,000-a-year broker pays the same penalty as a struggling student. But it’s chump change to one, and a month of groceries for the other.

It’s the equivalent of an added tax for the crime of being poor. Sorry, young man, but you’ll have to pay a far higher percentage of your income than the rich guy.

The system should have a little more discretion built into it, maybe even a sliding scale based on ability to pay.

Eduardo had to take time out of another busy day to go to court and ask if he could pay off his debt by doing community work. No, he was told. He has until April 27 to pay up, unless he tries to fight it, with no guarantees except that he’d eat up more of his valuable time.

Posted in Charlie Beck, Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, LAPD, law enforcement | 1 Comment »

John Oliver Blasts Municipal Fine Swindle-System, LAPD Empathy Training, LA City Crime Rates, and Former LA DA Paid to Lobby for New Jail

March 25th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

JOHN OLIVER SHINES A LIGHT ON MUNICIPAL FINES AS ABUSIVE MEANS TO FUND CITIES

Many cities use the revenue from tickets for municipal violations to fund public services, and happily heap on further penalties for inability to pay—fines for the fines. Obviously, this system disproportionately affects the poor. In addition to incurring impossible debt, people who cannot pay their tickets can also lose their drivers licenses in many states. This, in turn, means that they can no longer drive to a job to earn money to funnel into the city’s coffers, and the pockets of private probation debt-collecting companies. Sometimes an inability to pay these fines can even land them in (debtor’s) prison.

On Last Week Tonight John Oliver took on the issue, sharing some deeply troubling tales, including the story of a grandmother who racked up thousands of dollars in insurmountable late fines. The grandmother lost her car, lost her license, and spent ten days in jail.

We highly suggest watching the above segment in its entirety.


NEW LAPD TRAINING: EMPATHIZING TO DE-ESCALATE

LAPD officers are receiving a new one-week empathy-focused training on how to de-escalate encounters with people who are mentally ill and showing signs of aggression. The goal to equip cops with better techniques for interacting with people suffering a mental health crisis who do not pose an immediate threat, to avoid unnecessary use of lethal force. Officers are taught to use humor, first names, and other non-threatening conversational strategies while slowly backing away. The safety of officers and the public are, of course, still of highest priority.

Participants are also taught about various types of mental disorders they may come in contact with. Thus far about 1,000 of the 10,000 sworn have taken the new course.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the new training. Here are some clips:

The scene was tense: Two Los Angeles Police officers approach a man yelling and screaming at the end of a cul de sac. He looks angry and aggressive as he paces back and forth in the middle of the street.

“I just got back two weeks ago,” he shouts. “Two weeks ago!” The man is an Iraq War veteran.

“Tell me about it,” an officer calmly asks. He is met with anger. “What are you trying to do? Don’t try to talk to me. Nobody understands what it was like over there.”

“Sir, I’m here to help you,” the officer responds. He watches the man’s hands closely to see if he grabs a weapon.

The man is unarmed. He starts to calm down.

Suddenly, lights come on.

The two officers are standing in front of a screen inside the LAPD’s “force option” simulator.

[SNIP]

Peter Moskos, who teaches at New York’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said the techniques taught at this class only work if everyone uses them.

Too often, he said, a patrol officer may be bringing down the stress when a more aggressive “obnoxious” cop swoops in and makes a mess of things.

“This frustrates cops to no end,” said Moskos, a former Baltimore City police officer. “You could be de-escalating the scene, and someone in your squad shows up, and you go, ‘Oh, my god, now it’s going to explode, because they just don’t know how to talk to people.’ Because they don’t have that empathy.”


BIG FLUCTUATIONS IN LOS ANGELES CRIME RATES

The LAPD reported Tuesday that shootings have risen 31% (54 incidents) over last year. Violent crime went up 27% overall, and property crime increased 12%. Several other types of crime experienced similar spikes. Homicides, however, dropped 2%.

The sizable disparity in crime numbers may be due, in part, to the LAPD correcting crime classification issues (more on that here), but it’s hard to tell this early. Department officials believe gang-related violence may be behind the the jump in shootings.

The LA Times’ Richard Winton and Ben Poston have more on the numbers. Here’s a clip:

“We are putting our officers in corridors that are the hottest for crime,” said Assistant Chief Jorge Villegas.

The department is also relying more on crime data to help predict where hot spots might develop and deploy extra resources there, Beck said.

[SNIP]

Officials said fixing the classification process has resulted in more serious assault cases on the books.

But the crime increase in 2015 goes beyond this one offense.

Villegas cited a jump in robberies, particularly in downtown L.A. and surrounding areas. Robberies are up 19% citywide compared to this time last year. Police have reported 7% more rapes this year compared to 2014.

Some of the crime, Villegas said, is connected with the skid row homeless population fighting over territory as well as an increase in street crime. Central Division, which includes skid row, has recorded a 73% surge in violent crime this year compared to 2014.


FORMER LA DISTRICT ATTORNEY STEVE COOLEY LOBBYING FOR NEW JAIL DEAL

Former LA County District Attorney Steve Cooley has taken up lobbying for an Adelanto jail plan…for pay.

Back in December, the Adelanto City Council voted 4-1 in favor of building a new 3,264-bed jail, with the idea that LA County would lease the $324 million facility and fork over what, for the small San Bernardino city, would be some much-needed cash.

Private developer Doctor R. Crants hired the former DA to throw his weight behind the controversial jail proposal, and hopes to pitch the idea to the LA County Board of Supervisors as soon as possible.

The Hesperia Star’s Brooke Self has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“We’re working on it (but) we haven’t been able to schedule a vote yet (with the Board of Supervisors),” Johns said about progress and potential support from LA County. “We (hope) to be able to have a presentation with the Sheriff next week. Once we meet with the Sheriff and get the green light there — we won’t go to the Supervisors until we get encouragement from the Sheriff.”
When asked how he thought Cooley’s influence might impact L.A. County’s decision, Johns said “trust me, we wouldn’t hire him if we didn’t think so.”

“He’s one of the foremost public safety officials in the state,” Johns said of Cooley. “He’s been serving in that capacity for a very long time. I would think his support would be meaningful for those people looking to receive direction and input. I think he’ll be very helpful.”

Cooley, 67, was the longest-serving DA in L.A. County history, serving from 2000 to 2012. He worked for 39 years and four months as a county prosecutor. Last year, he was a public supporter of new L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s successful campaign for the top law enforcement post.

McDonnell’s office is in charge of producing the county’s jail plans and making recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. On Thursday, Cooley said the two have been friends for 15 years, but he didn’t believe that there were any ethical concerns with him lobbying his office.

“I don’t have legal issues,” Cooley said. “I’m a private person, an attorney to practice law. I have some degree of expertise in this arena and I can advocate for whatever I think is in the client’s best interest. And certainly this is in the county’s best interest. The fact that I have a 15-year relationship with the county Sheriff is irrelevant. Adelanto wasn’t even a blip on my radar screen when I was out there supporting McDonnell. Any suggestion of any ethical issues are misplaced and not even logical. When I do register as an L.A. County lobbyist, then certain rules come into place and I’ll honor those rules.”

Posted in District Attorney, jail, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, Mental Illness, prison policy, racial justice | No Comments »

Skid Row Shooting Points to Larger Problems…..Attica Dramas, Past & Present…CA Supremes Overturn Sex Offender Housing Law…..Holder’s To Do List

March 3rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

TWO BODY CAMERAS IN SKID ROW SHOOTING REPORTEDLY OFFER TELLING INFO, AS DEADLY INCIDENT POINTS TO LARGER PROBLEMS, EXPERTS SAY

The above video of Sunday’s fatal shooting of a mentally ill Skid Row man by officers of the Los Angeles Police Department is the original one shot by a bystander that’s gone viral on YouTube, not one of the body cam videos that are expected to play a role in determining what actually happened, and if use of deadly force could have been avoided.

The shooting, which has inevitably sparked controversy, was covered by at least two amateur videos as well as the security camera of the Union Rescue Mission, and two body cameras worn by LAPD officers who activated their devices prior to the action.

While the LAPD has not yet released the body cam videos, LA Times’ Kate Mather and Richard Winton talked to police sources who have reviewed the videos. Here is a clip from the story outlining what Winton and Mather learned:

Footage from body cameras worn by an LAPD officer and a sergeant involved in Sunday’s deadly shooting in downtown’s skid row does not show whether the man reached for an officer’s gun, law enforcement sources said.

But three sources who reviewed the footage from the chest-mounted cameras said the video was still consistent with accounts that the man did grab an officer’s holstered pistol.

One source said an officer is heard on the video shouting “He’s got my gun” multiple times. The footage then shows the officers pulling away from the man as though his actions posed a threat, the sources said.

The sources requested anonymity because they were not allowed to publicly discuss the ongoing investigation into the shooting.

The new information comes a day after an LAPD sergeant and two officers shot and killed a man in downtown’s skid row, an area heavily populated by homeless people.

The LAPD has said the officers were responding to a 911 call about a robbery and that the man tried to fight the officers after they approached him. During the struggle, the LAPD said, the man reached for a probationary officer’s holstered pistol, prompting police to open fire.

In a press conference on Monday, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck showed a still photo from the bystander’s video that appears to show the homeless man reaching for an officer’s weapon. Beck also said that two of the officers involved were among those had received extensive training in dealing with the mentally ill.

Reverend Andy Bales, the highly respected executive director of the nearby Union Rescue Mission, who said he knew the homeless man shot by officers, who called himself “Africa, told reporters that Skid Row is becoming an increasingly difficult area to police due to the influx of homeless from elsewhere in LA County where officials, rather than deal with their own homeless residents, send them to Skid Row. Bales called current conditions the worst he’s seen.

LAPD Officer Deon Joseph, who has been widely praised for his own longterm work on Skid Row, echoed many of Bales’ observations on his Facebook page on Monday regarding the about the newly dire nature of conditions for LA’s homeless. (Joseph was not present at the shooting on Sunday.) The current system “is failing the mentally ill,” he wrote, “it is failing the community they live in, as well as the officers who serve them.”

URM’s Bales went further and strongly recommended far more training for law enforcement, and that the specially trained officers be allowed to take the lead in approaching homeless who are likely mentally ill, while armed officers wait nearby.

The veteran homeless expert told the LA Times columnist Sandy Banks that he’s frequently seen encounters similar to Sunday’s go wrong, “because the officers are all using one hand to protect their guns.”


A BEATDOWN OF AN INMATE INSIDE ATTICA PRISON BY GUARDS WAKES OLD GHOSTS AND RESULTS IN NEW CHARGES—AND A VERY UNEXPECTED SETTLEMENT

Built in the 1930′s, the supermax prison located in Attica, New York, seems to have more than the usual number of ghosts—vivid collective memories that still haunt nearly everyone locked up in or working at the place.

Attica Correctional Facility entered the national lexicon in September 9, 1971 when, after weeks of tension, the inmates rioted and took over the facility, beating a guard fatally in the process. Although guards took most of the prison back within hours, 1,281 convicts retained control of an exercise field called D Yard, where they held 39 prison guards and employees hostage for four days. When negotiations stalled, state police and prison officers launched a disastrous raid on September 13, in which 10 hostages and 29 inmates were killed in an uncontrolled storm of bullets.

A total of 43 people died. That number included the original guard killed by inmates, William Quinn, and three inmates who were beaten to death by other prisoners. The extensive investigation that followed showed that the rest were killed by gunfire, and that the inmates never had access to firearms.

The terrible riot happened nearly 45 years ago. But now a new case of a brutal inmate beatomg by guards has resurrected many of the old ghosts.

A story by Tom Robbins, for both the Marshall Project and the New York Times, investigates the more recent incident, and also looks at it’s psychological resonance with the past.

The story concerns an inmate named George Williams, a 29-year-old African American man from New Jersey who was doing two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan. What happened to Williams occurred around 30 minutes after a noisy verbal exchange between a guard and an inmate, in which the guard swore, and the inmate swore back, then added a disrespectful and obscene suggestion, after the swearing.

Here are some clips detailing what happened next:

Inmates were immediately ordered to retreat to their cells and “lock in.” Thirty minutes later, three officers, led by a sergeant, marched down the corridor. They stopped at the cell of George Williams, a 29-year-old African-American from New Jersey who was serving a sentence of two to four years for robbing two jewelry stores in Manhattan.

Mr. Williams had been transferred to Attica that January following an altercation with other inmates at a different facility. He had just four months to serve before he was to be released. He was doing his best to stay out of trouble. His plan was to go home to New Brunswick and try to find work as a barber. That evening, Mr. Williams remembers, he had been in his cell watching the rap stars Lil Wayne and Young Jeezy on television, and missed the shouting on the cellblock. The guards ordered him to strip for a search and then marched him down the hall to a darkened dayroom used for meetings and classes for what they told him would be a urine test.

[SNIP]

Mr. Williams was wondering why a sergeant would be doing the grunt work of conducting an impromptu drug test when, he said, a fist hammered him hard on the right side of his rib cage. He doubled up, collapsing to the floor. More blows rained down. Mr. Williams tried to curl up to protect himself from the pummeling of batons, fists and kicks. Someone jumped on his ankle. He screamed in pain. He opened his eyes to see a guard aiming a kick at his head, as though punting a football. I’m going to die here, he thought.

Inmates in cells across from the dayroom watched the attack, among them a convict named Charles Bisesi, 67, who saw Mr. Williams pitched face-first onto the floor. He saw guards kick Mr. Williams in the head and face, and strike him with their heavy wooden batons. Mr. Bisesi estimated that Mr. Williams had been kicked up to 50 times, and struck with a dozen more blows from nightsticks, thwacks delivered with such force that Mr. Bisesi could hear the thud as wood hit flesh. He also heard Mr. Williams begging for his life, cries loud enough that prisoners two floors below heard them as well.

A couple of minutes after the beating began, one of the guards loudly rapped his baton on the floor. At the signal, more guards rushed upstairs and into the dayroom. Witnesses differed on the number. Some said that as many as 12 officers had plunged into the scrum. Others recalled seeing two or three. All agreed that when they were finished, Mr. Williams could not walk.

His ordeal is the subject of an unprecedented trial scheduled to open on Monday in western New York. Three guards — Sergeant Warner and Officers Rademacher and Swack — face charges stemming from the beating that night. All three have pleaded not guilty. An examination of this case and dozens of others offers a vivid lesson in the intractable culture of prison brutality, especially given the notoriety of Attica…

[SNIP]

After the beating ended, an inmate who was across from the dayroom, Maurice Mayfield, watched as an officer stepped on a plastic safety razor and pried out the blade. “We got the weapon,” Mr. Mayfield heard the guard yell.

Mr. Williams was handcuffed and pulled to the top of a staircase. “Walk down or we’ll push you down,” he heard someone say. He could not walk, he answered. His ankle was broken. As he spoke, he was shoved from behind. He plunged down the stairs, crashing onto his shoulder at the bottom. When guards picked him up again, he said, one of them grabbed his head and smashed his face into the wall. He was left there, staring at the splatter of his own blood on the wall in front of him.

An extensive investigation resulted. And on December 13, 2011, a New York state grand jury handed down criminal indictments against four Attica guards.

Inmates at Attica were stunned by the indictments as well. To them, the remarkable thing about the beating Mr. Williams endured that August night was not the cynical way in which it seemed to have been planned, or even the horrific extent of his injuries. What was truly notable was that the story got out, and that officers had been arrested and charged.

“What they did? How they jumped that guy? That was normal,” said a prisoner who has spent more than 20 years inside Attica. “It happens all the time,” he said. That view was echoed in interviews with more than three dozen current and former Attica inmates, many of whom made the rounds of the state’s toughest prisons during their incarceration. They cited Attica as the most fearsome place they had been held, a facility where a small group of correction officers dole out harsh punishment largely with impunity. Those still confined there talked about it with trepidation. If quoted by name, retaliation was certain, they said.

Those now beyond the reach of the batons described life at Attica in detail. Antonio Yarbough, 39, spent 20 years in the prison after being convicted of a multiple murder of which he was exonerated in 2014. Unlike Mr. Williams, Mr. Yarbough could go head-to-head with the biggest of Attica’s guards: He is 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. But he said that fear of those in charge was a constant. “You’re scared to go to the yard, scared to go to chow. You just stay in your house,” he said, using prison slang for a cell.

That fear was palpable to Soffiyah Elijah when she visited Attica a few months before the beating of Mr. Williams as the Correctional Association’s newly appointed executive director. The organization holds a unique right under state law that allows it to inspect state prisons. “What struck me when I walked the tiers of Attica was that every person, bar none, talked about how the guards were brutalizing them,” Ms. Elijah said. “There are atrocities as well at Clinton and Auburn, but the problem is systemic at Attica.” In 2012, the association began calling for Attica to be shut down. “I believe it’s beyond repair,” Ms. Elijah said.

On Monday, a day after the publication of the above story, the case was unexpectedly settled when three of the guards accused of beating Williams so severely that doctors had to insert a plate and six pins into his leg, each pleaded guilty to a single misdemeanor charge of misconduct. Tom Robbins and Lauren D’Avolio report for the New York Times about the last-minute plea deal that spared the three any jail or prison time in exchange for quitting their jobs.


CALIFORNIA STATE SUPREME COURT RULES AGAINST LAW SEVERELY RESTRICTING WHERE SEX OFFENDERS CAN LIVE

On Monday, in a unanimous decision, the California Supreme Court ruled that the residence restrictions imposed by the the 2006 voter approved Sexual Predator Punishment and Control Act—AKA Jessica’s Law—violate the constitutional protections laid out in the 14th Amendment.

Jessica’s Law prevents registered sex offenders from living within 2000 feet of a school or park where children gather, regardless of whether or not the offenders’ crimes involved children, or if the offender’s crimes suggested he or she posed any kind of credible future threat.

The law was challenged by four sex offender parolees in San Diego County who contended that the restrictions made it nearly impossible to find a place to live, thus undermining public safety by often forcing offenders into homelessness.

Jacob Sullum writing for Reason Magazine has more. Here’s a clip:

The state Supreme Court agreed, noting that the 2,000-foot rule excludes 97 percent of the land zoned for multifamily housing in San Diego County. Writing for the court, Justice Marvin Baxter said such an onerous burden, imposed without individual evaluation, cannot be justified even under the highly deferential “rational basis” test, which requires only that a law be rationally related to a legitimate government interest:

Blanket enforcement of the residency restrictions against these parolees has severely restricted their ability to find housing in compliance with the statute, greatly increased the incidence of homelessness among them, and hindered their access to medical treatment, drug and alcohol dependency services, psychological counseling and other rehabilitative social services available to all parolees, while further hampering the efforts of parole authorities and law enforcement officials to monitor, supervise, and rehabilitate them in the interests of public safety. It thus has infringed their liberty and privacy interests, however limited, while bearing no rational relationship to advancing the state’s legitimate goal of protecting children from sexual predators, and has violated their basic constitutional right to be free of unreasonable, arbitrary, and oppressive official action.

The court said residence restrictions are still permissible as a condition of parole, “as long as they are based on the specific circumstances of each individual parolee.”

The ruling technically only affects San Diego County, but opens up challenges for other California counties, especially those containing large cities.


NEW US AG LYNCH UNLIKELY TO BE CONFIRMED ‘TILL NEXT WEEK, BUT HOLDER HAS A TO DO LIST

While according to Politico, it appears that U.S. Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch will not be confirmed until next week. (She was nominated by President Obama in November to replace outgoing AG Eric Holder.) In the meantime, however, in the Washington Post, Holder has put forth a four point To Do list of “unfinished business” in the realm of criminal justice. Here are Holder’s big four:

1. RETROACTIVITY ON THE CRACK/POWDER FAIR SENTENCING ACT “First, although Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act to eliminate a discriminatory 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, thousands of individuals who committed crimes before 2010 are still serving sentences based on the old ratio. This is unfair. Congress should pass legislation to apply that statute retroactively…”

2. PASS A LAW RESTRICTING MANDATORY MINIMUMS “Second, while the Justice Department has declined to seek harsh mandatory minimum sentences in cases where they are not warranted, we need to codify this approach…”

3. ONCE YOU DO YOUR TIME, YOUR VOTING RIGHTS SHOULD BE RESTORED: “Third, in individual states, legislatures should eliminate statutes that prevent an estimated 5.8 million U.S. citizens from exercising their right to vote because of felony convictions….”

4. OPERATIONAL DRUG COURTS IN EVERY FEDERAL DISTRICT: Finally, we should seek to expand the use of federal drug courts throughout the country for low-level drug offenses. These programs provide proven alternatives to incarceration for men and women who are willing to do the hard work of recovery…

Posted in Homelessness, How Appealing, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, Sentencing, Skid Row | No Comments »

The Odd Case of 3 LASD Deputies Charged With Mortgage Fraud & Their Dramatic Acquittal

February 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



JUDGE SAYS NOT GUILTY IN FEDERAL CASE AGAINST THREE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ACCUSED OF “BUY & BAIL” MORTGAGE FRAUD

The federal trial of three Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies for conspiracy to commit bank fraud ended last Thursday in a manner that no one saw coming.

Midway through the proceedings against Billy, Benny and Johnny Khounthavong,—who in addition to being LASD deputies are also brothers—U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real stunned court observers by abruptly entering a verdict of acquittal, after announcing that no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Khounthavon brothers were guilty.

The basics of the case are as follows: the three Khounthavong brothers were charged with making false statements to two different banks so that they could buy one house in Corona, CA, while simultaneously dumping another house in Chino, CA, for which they had paid too much in 2006 during the real estate boom, and which was, by 2011, disastrously under water.

The feds alleged that the brothers lied to Flagstar Bank, making their collective financial situations appear better than they were so they could qualify for a loan to buy the Corona House. At the same time, according to the prosecution, they had painted their financial status as far more dire to Bank of America, their primary mortgage holder on the underwater Chino house, so they qualify for a “short-sale”—which is the term for selling a loan-encumbered property for less than the amount of the remaining mortgage.

The allegations were slightly more detailed, but that’s the gist of it.

Yet, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter finished putting on her case late last week, before the defense could call its own witnesses, Judge Real announced the startling acquittal in what is called a Rule 29 ruling.


RULE 29

In brief, here’s how Real’s action works: In every federal criminal trial, the defense has the right to make what is known as a Rule 29 motion. This is when the defendant’s attorney stands up and says to the judge: “Your honor, I move for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the prosecution has failed to present sufficient proof from which any rational juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that my client is guilty on each and every count.” Or similar words to that effect.

The motion is generally made just after the prosecution has finished putting on its case (and before the defense puts on its case). But sometimes it can come at the end of both presentations, just before the case goes to the jury.

In most instances, the Rule 29 motion is pro forma, a legal ritual.

Yet, even if those at the defense table know they are sunk, the motion is nearly always made.

And it’s almost never granted.

For one thing, in order to acquit under Rule 29, the judge is required to see the evidence in the most favorable possible light for the prosecution before taking such a huge step. You see, unlike a jury verdict of not guilty, a Rule 29 acquittal cannot be appealed. So Rule-29-ing a case, as they say, is a big deal.

Yet, last Thursday, before the defense put on any witnesses, Judge Real—–who has a reputation for generally being pro-government, and a lengthy record for, shall we say, quirky behavior—announced that the prosecution led by Carter, had not made its case against the Khounthavong brothers.

And that was that.


JUDGE QUESTIONS UNDERPINNINGS OF PROSECUTION’S CASE

“It represents a complete failure of proof when a judge enters a judgment of acquittal,” said Adam Braun, who was Benny Khounthavong’s attorney. “We were grateful that Judge Real made the correct decision.” Braun added that now the brothers mostly wanted to rebuild their lives. “It was a nightmare,” he said. “They’ve been through the wringer. My client has a four-month old baby.”

Had the brothers been convicted they could have been sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the details of the case yet said, “We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but we accept the outcome.”

According to Braun, Real said when he announced his decision, that there was no evidence to support an attempt to deceive the banks on the part of the brothers; no evidence that any of the banks were harmed; no evidence that the brothers themselves caused the errors in question on the loan application.

During the trial, bank representatives reportedly confirmed that none of the brothers had ever had any direct interactions with bank officials about the matters in question, and neither of the banks had complained to the feds, according to testimony. In fact, according to Braun, the B of A representative told the court that, from the bank’s point of view, a short sale was actually preferable to a foreclosure, which would have been the brothers’ other legal way of getting out from under a crippling mortgage that they felt they could no longer afford. (The payments on the $492,298 mortgage for the new 3,900-square-foot Corona house, where the three brothers now live, are substantially less than the payments for the $740,000 the Khounthavongs still owed on the underwater Chino house, although the two houses are comparative in size.)

The crucial witness for the prosecution in the case, according to Braun, was the Khounthavongs’ real estate agent, who was also their loan broker. The agent/broker was evidently given immunity by the prosecution because she had her own legal issues.

It seems in certain kinds of real estate transactions in California, a real estate agent cannot also act as a loan broker, because they are both incentivized functions, involving commissions, and thus present a conflict of interest. This agent, however, was reportedly attempting to do both, and in so doing to collect two healthy commissions for her trouble. “When the bank brought up that she couldn’t be the loan broker,” explained Braun., “she whited out her signature and had a subordinate sign in her place,” then reportedly went ahead and collected the two commissions. “She committed undisputed bank fraud, but the government gave her immunity,” said Braun.

Yet, when the broker/loan agent testified at trial, she stated that the primary misrepresentation on the loan documents—namely an incorrectly high valuation for the underwater Chino house, which was crucial to the prosecutors’ case—was actually a number that the agent had personally filled in without discussing her choice with the brothers. When the brothers signed the 160-page loan docs in front of a notary, according to Braun, they just signed in the designated sections with only a cursory glance at the rest of the lengthy paperwork.

After the real estate agent/broker appeared to get the brothers off the hook for at least a part of the charges, prosecutor Margaret Carter asked to treat the woman as a hostile witness, and things reportedly went downhill from there with the judge, who had already been questioning some of the witnesses on his own.


THE OTHER LASD INDICTMENTS

The case against the Khounthavong brothers was a bit of an outlier to begin with, coming as it did in a group of 18 indictments unsealed in December 2013, the majority of which pertained to either brutality in the jails, or obstruction of justice—as in the case of the six who were found guilty last July, for hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and the case of James Sexton who was found guilty of similar charges in September 2014, after being acquitted of those same charges earlier in the year.

Then in February 2014, two more LASD deputies were indicted, also for jail brutality, specifically for allegedly using illegal force against an inmate and then covering up the incident with false reports that resulted in a false prosecution initiated against the victim.

(In addition to the case against the Khounthavongs, the other outlier case involved a deputy named Richard White Piquette, who was charged with illegally building and possessing an assault rifle. Piquette took a deal and pled guilty to building the rifle in April of 2014.)

The alleged mortgage scam involving the Khounthavong brothers was reportedly discovered by accident when the feds were looking into one of the brothers who was stationed at the department’s chronically-troubled Men’s Central Jail. According to those with knowledge of the case, the FBI reportedly hoped the MCJ Khounthavong would help them out with their investigation into deputy brutality at the facility where he worked, but the deputy reportedly proved unwilling or unable to give the feds what they wanted.

Dominic Cantalupo, attorney for one of the other brothers, told Victoria Kim of the LA Times that the fraud charges were brought after the MCJ Khounthavong refused to cooperate with investigators and give information on other deputies in the jail investigation.

It is difficult to say what Judge Real thought about the rumored provenance of the case against the Khounthavong brothers. Yet, at the end of the unexpectedly truncated court proceedings, he reportedly asked federal prosecutor Carter, “Where was this coming from if the banks weren’t harmed? Where was it coming from?”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 7 Comments »

Prosecutorial Misconduct, Sasha and Richard, False Confessions, and Penalizing States that Fail to Protect Foster Kids

February 2nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LETTING PROSECUTORIAL MISCONDUCT SLIDE

Federal judge Alex Kozinski railed against unchecked prosecutorial misconduct in California’s court system while hearing oral arguments for a habeas petition last month.

Lower courts had upheld a murder-for-hire conviction despite having established that both a jail informant and prosecutor had provided false testimony—both saying that the informant had not been given a deal (he had). The prosecutor was not sanctioned, nor did the state bar revoke his license.

Kozinski, along with judges Kim Wardlaw and William Fletcher, accused California judges of continuously overlooking prosecutorial misdeeds and choosing not to overturn flawed verdicts. (This is not the first time Kozinski has zeroed in on this issue.) Kozinski said the panel would rule on the issue themselves, threatening to name names, if the California Attorney General’s Office—which had tried to keep transcripts away from the Ninth Circuit Court—did not stop fighting to uphold the conviction.

Kozinski directed Supervising Deputy Attorney General Kevin Vienna to notify California Attorney General Kamala Harris of the controversial particulars of the case, saying, “Get ahold of the Attorney General, get ahold of your supervisor, and see whether they really want to stick by a conviction that was obtained by lying prosecutors and that was maintained in the Court of Appeal after the Attorney General’s office fought tooth and nail to keep out a transcript that would have shown the perfidy of the prosecutors…” The AG’s office chose to discontinue its defense of the conviction.

The LA Times’ Maura Dolan has the story. Here’s a clip:

The January hearing in Pasadena, posted online under new 9th Circuit policies, provided a rare and critical examination of a murder case in which prosecutors presented false evidence but were never investigated or disciplined.

The low-profile case probably would have gone unnoticed if not for the video, which attorneys emailed to other attorneys and debated on blogs.

In a series of searing questions, the three judges expressed frustration and anger that California state judges were not cracking down on prosecutorial misconduct. By law, federal judges are supposed to defer to the decisions of state court judges.

Prosecutors “got caught this time but they are going to keep doing it because they have state judges who are willing to look the other way,” Kozinski said.

Santa Clara University law professor Gerald Uelmen said the judges’ questions and tone showed they had lost patience with California courts. State judges are supposed to refer errant lawyers, including prosecutors, to the state bar for discipline, but they rarely do, Uelmen said.

“It is a cumulative type thing,” Uelmen said. “The 9th Circuit keeps seeing this misconduct over and over again. This is one way they can really call attention to it.”

A 2010 report by the Northern California Innocence Project cited 707 cases in which state courts found prosecutorial misconduct over 11 years. Only six of the prosecutors were disciplined, and the courts upheld 80% of the convictions in spite of the improprieties, the study found.


TWO TEENS ON OPPOSITE SIDES OF A TRAGIC CRIME

In late 2013, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, egged on by friends, set 18-year-old Sasha Fleischman’s skirt on fire on an Oakland city bus. Sasha, who identifies as agender, was burned so badly in the incident that they had to undergo several surgeries and spent weeks in the hospital.

Richard, who is black, was charged as an adult with aggravated mayhem and assault with intent to cause great bodily injury, with hate-crime sentence enhancements.

Richard was a well-liked kid who grew up in a turbulent East Oakland neighborhood, with his mom, siblings, and cousins. In his 16 years, Richard experienced an extraordinary amount of trauma. In 2008, Richard’s aunt was murdered. In 2013, Richard’s best friend, his “twin,” was gunned down while sitting in a car. When Richard, reeling from the loss, started doing poorly in school and skipping class, he asked for help from the school’s attendance compliance officer.

After the fire, Richard told investigating officers he was homophobic. He told them he never thought the skirt would catch on fire like it did, that he only thought it would singe a little and go out quickly, and meant it as a prank. Richard was forced to take a plea deal of seven years behind bars with removal of the hate-crime enhancements and mayhem charge. His only alternative was to go to trial and risk receiving a maximum of life imprisonment, a sentence severely disproportionate to the crime, and one he would not have faced if he had been tried as a juvenile.

Dashka Slater’s phenomenal New York Times Magazine story illuminates both sides of Sasha and Richard’s double tragedy. Here are a couple of clips, but you really must read it in its entirety:

It was close to 5 o’clock on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2013, and Sasha Fleischman was riding the 57 bus home from school. An 18-year-old senior at a small private high school, Sasha wore a T-shirt, a black fleece jacket, a gray newsboy cap and a gauzy white skirt. For much of the long bus ride through Oakland, Calif., Sasha — who identifies as agender, neither male nor female — had been reading a paperback copy of “Anna Karenina,” but eventually the teenager drifted into sleep, skirt draped over the edge of the bus seat.

As Sasha slept, three teenage boys laughed and joked nearby. Then one surreptitiously flicked a lighter. The skirt went up in a ball of flame. Sasha leapt up, screaming, “I’m on fire!” Two other passengers threw Sasha to the ground and extinguished the flames, but Sasha’s legs were left charred and peeling. Taken by ambulance to a San Francisco burn unit, Sasha would spend the next three and a half weeks undergoing multiple operations to treat the second- and third-degree burns that ran from thigh to calf.

Richard Thomas, the 16-year-old boy who lit the skirt on fire, was arrested the following day. Citing the severity of the crime, the Alameda County district attorney, Nancy O’Malley, charged Thomas as an adult, stripping him of the protections — including anonymity — customarily afforded to juveniles. Charged with two felonies, each with a hate-crime clause that increased the time he would serve if convicted, Thomas faced the possibility of life imprisonment.

[SNIP]

On Nov. 8, four days after lighting Sasha’s skirt on fire, Richard wrote the teenager a letter.

“Dear Victum,” it began. “I apoligize for my actions, for the pain that I brought to you and your family. I was wrong for what I did. I was wrong. I had no reason to do that to you I don’t know what was going through my head at that time. Im not a monster, I have a big heart I never even thought of hurting anyone like the way I hurt you. I just wanted you to know that im deeply sorry for my actions. I think about what happened every second, I pray that you heal correctly and that you recover and live a happy life. Please forgive me thats all I want. I take responsibility for all my actions, I’ll take all the consiquences,” he wrote. “I’m not just saying this because im incarcerated I honestly mean every word.” He signed it, “Love, Richard Thomas.”

A few days later, he wrote a second letter, this one addressed to “Mr. Fleischman.” It was nearly three pages long, written in neat cursive.

“I had a nightmare last night and I woke up sweating and apoligizing,” he wrote. “I really hope you get back to the way you were. I went to court yesterday and there still making me seem like a monster, but im not. I’m a good kid if you get to know me. I’m sure you would have been a nice person to,” he continued. “I was hoping that I can meet you face to face so I can apoligize to you.”

He went on to detail the charges against him, explaining that he was willing to accept the assault charges but that he rejected the hate-crime enhancements. “I don’t have a problem with homosexual’s,” he explained. “I have friends thats homosexuals and we never had problems so I don’t look at you wrong because of your sexualitie. Honestly I could care less if you like men you weren’t trying to talk to me in that way.”

As for himself, he said: “I am not a thug, gangster, hoodlum, nor monster. Im a young African American male who’s made a terrible mistake.” Perhaps, he suggested, he and Fleischman had things in common. “I’ve also been hurt alot for no reason, not like I hurt you but Ive been hurt physically and metally so I know how it feels, the pain and confusion of why me I’ve felt it before plenty of times.”


ALL CONFESSIONS, EVEN FALSE ONES, HAVE AN IMPACT ON JURY MEMBERS’ PERCEPTIONS AND BELIEFS

According to 2013 data from the National Registry of Exoneration, 38% of exonerations of kids and 11% of exonerations of adults involved false confessions. Whether or not confessions are true, they have considerable power over juries, more than character testimony, and even more than eyewitness testimony.

ProPublica’s Joe Sexton uses the upcoming trial for the 1979 murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz, and a videotaped confession from Pedro Hernandez to explore the issue. Here’s how it opens:

Over the next several months, defense lawyers for Pedro Hernandez will seek to undercut the central evidence against him: his videotaped confession to having killed 6-year-old Etan Patz.

They will depict the confession as inaccurate when set against the known facts of the infamous 1979 missing child case. They will portray Hernandez, a onetime bodega clerk in the Manhattan neighborhood where Patz lived, as mentally ill. They will paint the detectives who gained the confession as manipulative and coercive.

It’s a daunting assignment, but here’s what may well be scaring the lawyers the most: They could succeed in every aspect of their attack on the reliability of the confession and still not win an acquittal.

Such is the power of confessions, true or false, for American juries. A nascent body of scholarship, driven in part by an escalating number of wrongful convictions in cases with false confessions, has begun to document just how persuasive confessions can be.

Of course, the power of confessions owes in part to the fact that they very often are true. Certainly, that is the argument Manhattan prosecutors will make as they seek to hold Hernandez responsible for a case that has haunted the city, and parents nationwide, for decades. Prosecutors say Hernandez’s claims that he strangled the young boy after luring him from his school bus stop are credible, and that any mental health issues he suffers from are not serious. They also argue that the confession is supported by the accounts of others who maintain Hernandez told similar stories of killing a child over the years.

But false confessions – including those questioned at trial by effective defense lawyers – also have proven to carry extraordinary weight with juries. Several studies, using mock jurors and sophisticated analysis, have demonstrated that confessions outweigh the value of eyewitness and character testimony. And in at least one case, according to a 2010 study, prosecutors chose to believe a confession even when the accused seemed categorically cleared by DNA evidence.


HOLDING STATES ACCOUNTABLE FOR NONCOMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL LAWS THAT PROTECT FOSTER KIDS

In a new report, two California advocacy groups: the Children’s Advocacy Institute and First Star are calling for the feds to monitor states compliance with federal child welfare laws and to deny funding to states who do not adequately protect their most vulnerable kids.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s John Kelly has a good rundown of the report’s main points. Here are clips from the first two:

Child and Family Services Reviews (CFSR)

The CFSR has been conducted twice in each state by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and gauges the state’s performance on seven outcomes and seven systemic factors. The report takes the view that the CFSR process is a general assessment indicating adherence to federal law, done instead of a full compliance check on individual laws.

“Although the efficacy of the CFSR process is highly questionable in terms of ensuring state conformity with federal child welfare laws and standards, it at least provided some modicum of external oversight and monitoring of at least a few aspects of federal child welfare law,” the report says.

Not once in those two rounds has one state been found in “substantial conformity” with the review. States enter into a Program Improvement Plan (PIP) upon failure on the CFSR, and face withholding of federal IV-E funds if they fail to meet the goals in the plan.

Yet report authors could only identify two instances in which states were assessed penalties, according to the report….

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System

The Department of Health and Human Services is not actively penalizing states that declare themselves out of compliance with the data collection standards put in place with the creation of AFCARS.

“By refusing to impose financial penalties on states that fail to comply with federal data reporting requirements, ACF has ignored one of the most incentivizing tools it has to ensure states’ submission of reliable, consistent, and complete data — information that could have meaningfully contributed to the improvement of the adoption and foster care processes,” the report says.

Posted in Fire, Foster Care, Innocence, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, Prosecutors | No Comments »

LA State of the Union Honorees, DOJ Unlikely to Charge Darren Wilson, Raising the Age, and SCOTUS’ Religious Freedom Ruling

January 22nd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LOS ANGELES COPS AND FELON-TURNED-PRISON-REFORMER HONORED AT STATE OF THE UNION

First lady Michelle Obama invited LAPD Captain Phil Tingirides, of the Southeast Division, and his wife, Sergeant Emada Tingirides, to sit with her during the President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

The Tingirides are responsible for the Community Safety Project, an experimental LAPD squad created to build positive relationships with the community of Jordan Downs, a 700-unit public housing project in Watts.

LA Times’ Veronica Rocha and Kate Mather have more on the Tingirides duo. Here’s a clip:

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck told reporters Tuesday that he was “very, very proud” of the Tinigirides’ invite, calling the captain and sergeant “a great representative of the city of Los Angeles and what’s going on here.”

“This is a national stage right now. Police legitimacy, public trust, police-community relations are all at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts right now,” he said.

“Even though we have much to do in L.A., we have done a lot,” Beck said. “And to recognize that, the president’s recognition of that, is very gratifying.”

The city’s housing authority gave the LAPD $5 million in 2011 to create the program. Focusing on some of South L.A.’s toughest housing developments, officers worked alongside residents and community members to repair frayed relationships.

Capt. Tingirides first attended a Watts neighborhood meeting more than eight years ago, and learned how deep frustrations and feelings of hopelessness ran.

“I was getting my butt handed to me,” he said.

So, he said he decided just to listen as residents expressed their frustration. Gradually, he said, he realized the anger wasn’t necessarily directed at him, but directed toward the uniform he wore.

“There is a lot of good people in Watts and South L.A.,” the captain said, “and good cops that want to make a difference.”

The inspiring prison reformer and former juvenile offender, Prophet Walker, was also honored at the State of the Union address. (We’ve written about Prophet before, here.)

The Daily Breeze has more on Prophet’s story and why he was chosen to sit with Michelle Obama during the SOTU speech. Here’s a clip:

“When I was 16 and sentenced to (jail), I couldn’t see the next six years, let alone the next 12 and that I’d be here today,” he said, soon after landing in Washington, D.C. “This is an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Walker, who grew up in a housing project in Watts, the son of a heroin addict who abandoned him at 6 years old, received a six-year jail sentence for robbery and causing bodily injury.

But while incarcerated, Walker took a hard look at his life and decided to make a change, getting a college education and coming up with an innovative program to help prisoners get college degrees. He attended Loyola Marymount University’s school of engineering. More than 100 people in the program he founded have gone on to attend various universities.

Walker said he knows Tuesday’s recognition is not just for him, but for all of the people involved in the camp and prison education program.

Hoping to strengthen the bond between law enforcement, the community, parents and children of housing projects, he later co-founded the Watts United Weekend for underprivileged kids to attend weekend camp retreats.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze shares five different takes on how the LAPD is doing with its community policing efforts. Here is the clip from Capt. Tingirides thoughts on the issue:

The LAPD’s top commander in Watts is Captain Phillip Tingirides, a 35-year veteran of the department. For the past seven years, he’s worked to improve relationships, he says.

“For the first three years, it was a constant attack,” Tingirides says of how people treated him and the department. “There was a lot of listening that had to be done. There had to be a lot of owning up to the things that we as a police department had done.”

Tingirides says he also took action. He reconstituted his gang unit, bringing in officers who treat people with more respect. Officers assigned to the housing projects work there five years, and focus on solving problems not arrests. It’s considered a model of community policing.

“We have built a far more functional relationship,” Tingirides says. The veteran captain adds that the people who protest outside police headquarters are a “minute minority.”

“There are far more people who are sitting at home watching TV very supportive of us,” he says.


FEDS GEAR UP TO CLEAR DARREN WILSON IN DEATH OF MICHAEL BROWN

The FBI has concluded its investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and has found no grounds for civil rights charges against Ferguson officer Darren Wilson. According to a law enforcement official and a US official, Department of Justice prosecutors will not recommend that any charges be brought. While US Attorney General Eric Holder and Civil Rights Chief Vanita Gupta have the final authority on the issue, it is not expected that they will veto the decision.

The NY Times’ Matt Apuzzo and Michael Schmidt have the story. Here are some clips:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. and his civil rights chief, Vanita Gupta, will have the final say on whether the Justice Department will close the case against the officer, Darren Wilson. But it would be unusual for them to overrule the prosecutors on the case, who are still working on a legal memo explaining their recommendation.

A decision by the Justice Department would bring an end to the politically charged investigation of Mr. Wilson in the death of 18-year-old Michael Brown. The Missouri authorities concluded their investigation into Mr. Brown’s death in November and also recommended against charges.

But a broader Justice Department civil rights investigation into allegations of discriminatory traffic stops and excessive force by the Ferguson Police Department remains open. That investigation could lead to significant changes at the department, which is overwhelmingly white despite serving a city that is mostly black.

[SNIP]

The federal investigation did not uncover any facts that differed significantly from the evidence made public by the authorities in Missouri late last year, the law enforcement officials said. To bring federal civil rights charges, the Justice Department would have needed to prove that Officer Wilson had intended to violate Mr. Brown’s rights when he opened fire, and that he had done so willfully — meaning he knew that it was wrong to fire but did so anyway.


A PUSH TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY TO 18 IN ST LOUIS, NEW YORK, AND ELSEWHERE

California’s age of criminal responsibility is 18, but in 9 other states, including Missouri, 17-year-olds are automatically treated as adults. And in two of those nine states, New York and North Carolina, 16-year-olds are seen as adults in the eyes of the criminal justice system.

NBC’s Seth Freed Wessler and Lisa Riordan Seville takes a look at what happens when states make kids pay adult penalties for youthful, low-level crimes, and adult fines for traffic tickets. Here are some clips:

Advocates for criminal justice reform in New York City have in recent years battled to roll back the “broken windows” model of policing. While supporters say the aggressive enforcement of quality-of-life crimes has dramatically reduced overall crime, reformers say it has done more harm than good.

In Ferguson, Missouri, the August shooting of 18-year-old Michael Brown put a spotlight on that area’s municipal court system, which many say ensnares low-income residents in a cycle of legal and financial trouble for traffic and ordinance violations.

For minors—especially those from low-income families and black and Latino neighborhoods, advocates say—getting convicted of low-level crimes can lead to lasting, and devastating, adult consequences.

Teens…who can’t afford to pay fines and fees often don’t show up in court, which can trigger warrants that can lead to arrest. Unpaid fines can mar credit records.

“We assume young people have the wherewithal to pay hundreds of dollars in fines and fees, when these young people are too young to enter into a contract, sign a lease, or even buy cigarettes,” said Mae Quinn, a director of the Juvenile Law and Justice Clinic at Washington University Law School.

[SNIP]

New York City courts issued 1,400 warrants to 16- and 17-year-olds represented by Legal Aid each year between 2011 and 2014. During the same years, the court handed down 1,600 misdemeanor and violation convictions to Legal Aid clients under 18 annually. State courts attach surcharges of between $90 and $300 to each of those convictions. If defendants of any age fail to pay these surcharges, they can be pegged with civil judgments that blemish their credit.

New York City contracts with nonprofits to help divert juveniles out of criminal penalties but most of these programs target felony charges, the mayor’s office said. Youth advocates say lower level charges have damaging effects, too.

Nancy Ginsburg, who directs a project of New York’s Legal Aid Society focused on defending adolescents, said there’s a particular irony that youth interactions with the criminal system can lead to ruined credit since they are not legally allowed to engage in most financial activities.

Teenagers in New York “can’t even get a tattoo legally,” Ginsburg said. “There’s not one civil contract or benefit that they can get—we don’t even have legal emancipation in this state—except to be prosecuted as an adult.”


SUPREME COURT RULES IN FAVOR OF MUSLIM PRISONER’S RELIGIOUS RIGHT TO GROW BEARD

The United States Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of a muslim Arkansas prisoner wishing to grow a half-inch beard necessitated by his religion.

USA Today’s Richard Wolf has more on the decision. Here’s a clip:

Federal law bars public institutions such as prisons from imposing a substantial and unjustified burden on the free exercise of religion. In this case, a prisoner named Gregory Holt had converted to Islam and sought permission to grow a half-inch beard, citing the tenets of his faith. The state refused the request, citing security concerns — that the beard, for instance, could be used to hide contraband.

Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the court, called the state’s justifications “hard to swallow.” He noted that prison systems in the vast majority of states, and in the federal system, all allow prisoners to grow beards. And he pointed to the fact that prisoners in Arkansas are allowed to grow hair on their head and wear clothes — more plausible places to hide contraband.

Nevertheless, prisoners are not required to go about “bald, barefoot or naked,” he wrote.

Posted in FBI, juvenile justice, LAPD, Obama, Supreme Court | 1 Comment »

In Landmark Settlement, LA County Supervisors & Sheriff Agree to Outside Monitoring of Jails…and More

December 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


In a closed session on Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
approved a far reaching legal settlement that means the behavior of LA County Sheriff’s deputies and others working inside the LA County jails is now subject to monitoring by a trio of outside experts.

The agreement is the result of a federal class action lawsuit known as Rosas v. Baca that was filed in early January 1012 by the ACLU of Southern California, the nationwide ACLU, and the law firm of Paul Hastings. The lawsuit alleged that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a long-standing and widespread pattern of violence and abuse by deputies against those detained in the county’s jails. The suit was brought in the name of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin who, according to the complaint, “were savagely beaten and threatened with violence by deputies of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.” Rosas and Goodwin were only two of the dozens of inmates whose reported abuse was described in the complaint.

According to So Cal ACLU legal director, Peter Eliasberg, the 15-page settlement that has resulted from the lawsuit provides a detailed roadmap to reform department policies and practices on use of force.

What is significant about this roadmap, is that it is not merely a series of suggestions. The settlement’s benchmarks are mandatory and the department’s efforts to reach them will be monitored the three outside experts. If the LASD is not hitting those benchmarks in a timely fashion, the department can be held in contempt. In other words, the settlement has an enforcement mechanism. It has teeth—which means it will operate in many ways like a consent decree.

“I think the department has made progress,” said Eliasberg. “But this settlement provides a significant next step.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell evidently thinks so too.

In keeping with the moves toward reform he has already made in his first half-month in office, McDonnell said in a statement that he welcomed the new “roadmap.”

“I fully support the settlement. This solidifies many of the reforms already underway by the Department as a result of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence. I welcome the opportunity to work together with the designated experts, the court and others to implement these changes.

“We have made tremendous progress and will continue to improve and work hard in key areas….”

Among the significant marks that the settlement requires the department to hit is the creation of a stand alone use of force policy for custody.

“There are gaps in the current use of force policy,” said Eliasberg, “which this fills in.”

In addition, the settlement requires improved tracking of the use of force incidents, and the use of that tracking to ID problematic officers. It also dictates more robust training in custody issues for those working the jails.

“Ideally, it’s a tool for the sheriff to use,” said Eliasberg.

Indeed, Bill Bratton made good use of the federal consent decree that had come into existence before he became chief. When needed, it became the bad cop to his good cop.

The settlement could also be very useful to the soon-to-be civilian commission, according to Eliasberg, since—as it stands now—the commission will have no legal power of its own.


You can find the actual settlement here: Final Implementation Plan (Rev 12122014 )

The three experts who will monitor the settlement’s implementation are: Richard Drooyan, the legal director for the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, Jeffrey A. Schwartz, a nationally known law enforcement and corrections consultant, and Robert P. Houston, a corrections expert who previously headed up the Nebraska state prison system.


WILL THE ACLU SETTLEMENT REALLY HELP END DEPUTY VIOLENCE AGAINST JAIL INMATES?

On the topic of the Rosas settlement, a Wednesday LA times editorial notes, the problems that the settlement aims to fix are not new ones. And they will require a very different attitude at the top levels of the sheriff’s department as a whole if they are to be realized. This enlightened attitude must belong to, not just new sheriff McDonnell, but the layers of leadership below him. Here’s a clip:

The culture of deputy violence against inmates — a culture that too often has disregarded the rights and humanity of inmates — is inextricably linked to failures in the operation, management and oversight of the Sheriff’s Department and to the inadequacy of the jail facilities. Ensuring that change in the jails is positive and permanent requires strengthening civilian oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, demolishing and replacing Men’s Central Jail, diverting the mentally ill to treatment when their conditions require care rather than lockup, taking other steps to responsibly reduce the inmate population, and providing the department with adequate resources to operate properly.

In total, the agreements are reminiscent of the LAPD consent decree. But they lack the coherence of the LAPD consent decree, with its single set of mandates, single judge and single monitoring team. It is by no means a foregone conclusion that, singly or collectively, the decrees, settlements and recommendations will enable the Sheriff’s Department to make the turnaround it needs.

The challenge for the county, and especially for McDonnell, is to respond with a remediation program that coherently weaves together the various mandates and monitoring schemes, and to do it in a way that allows the Sheriff’s Department to finally emerge from decades of substandard jailing. It will require continuing focus by the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors and the public to ensure that the problems in the jails do not fester for another 40 years.

Yep.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…

WHY SO MANY JUDGES HATE MANDATORY MINIMUM DRUG SENTENCING LAWS

Many of the most ardent opponents of the mandatory minimum drug laws that came into being with a vengeance in the 1980s are the judges who administer them.

NPR’s Carrie Johnson and Marisa Peñaloza have the story. Here’s a clip:

It seems long ago now, but in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, murders and robberies exploded as cocaine and other illegal drugs ravaged American cities.

Then came June 19, 1986, when the overdose of a college athlete sent the nation into shock just days after the NBA draft. Basketball star Len Bias could have been anybody’s brother or son.

Congress swiftly responded by passing tough mandatory sentences for drug crimes. Those sentences, still in place, pack federal prisons to this day. More than half of the 219,000 federal prisoners are serving time for drug offenses.

“This was a different time in our history,” remembers U.S. District Judge John Gleeson. “Crime rates were way up, there was a lot of violence that was perceived to be associated with crack at the time. People in Congress meant well. I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. But it just turns out that policy is wrong. It was wrong at the time.”

From his chambers in Brooklyn, a short walk from the soaring bridge, Gleeson has become one of the fiercest critics of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes.

“Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix,” he says. “That’s a bad thing for our system.”

The rail-thin Gleeson made his name as a prosecutor. He’s a law-and-order man who had no problem sending mobster John Gotti to prison for life. But those long mandatory sentences in many drug cases weigh on Gleeson.

Mandatory minimums, to some degree, sometimes entirely, take judging out of the mix. That’s a bad thing for our system.

The judge sprinkles his opinions with personal details about the people the law still forces him to lock up for years. In one case, he points out, the only experience a small-time drug defendant had with violence was as a victim.


ONE “LIFER” SENTENCED UNDER THE 1980′S DRUG LAWS COMES HOME

NPR’s Johnson and Peñaloza further illustrate the issue of mandatory minimums with the story of Stephanie George who, at 26, never sold drugs but had bad taste in boyfriends and agreed to store drugs for her guy.

Here’s a clip:

When she went to prison on drug charges, Stephanie George was 26 years old, a mother to three young kids.

Over 17 years behind bars, her grandparents died. Her father died. But the worst came just months before her release.

“I lost my baby son,” George says, referring to 19-year-old Will, shot dead on a Pensacola, Fla., street.

“I feel bad because I’m not coming home to all of them, you know,” sobs George, now 44. “He was 4 when I left, but I miss him.”

She’s one of thousands of nonviolent drug offenders sentenced under tough laws that called for decades — if not life — in prison.

Police found half a kilo of cocaine (about 1 pound) and more than $10,000 in her attic. With two small-time prior drug offenses, that meant life.

Congress designed those mandatory minimum sentences for kingpins. But over the past 20 years, they’ve punished thousands of low-level couriers and girlfriends like George.

Judge Roger Vinson sentenced her on May 5, 1997. During a recent visit to his sunny Florida chambers, the judge read from the court transcript.

“Even though you have been involved in drugs and drug dealing, your role has basically been as a girlfriend and bag holder and money holder but not actively involved in the drug dealing,” Vinson said. “So certainly in my judgment it does not warrant a life sentence.”

Vinson is no softie. He’s got a framed photo of President Ronald Reagan on his wall, and he thinks George was guilty. But the mandatory sentence didn’t feel fair to the judge.

“I remember sentencing Stephanie George. She was a co-defendant in that case but … I remember hers distinctly. I remember a lot of sentencings from 25 or 30 years ago. They stay in your mind. I mean, you’re dealing with lives,” the judge says, tearing up.

Vinson says his hands were tied in 1997. The president of the United States is the only person who can untie them. Last December, in this case, President Obama did just that. He commuted George’s sentence and paved the way for her release a few months later.

Dressed in all white, George walked straight into the arms of her sister, Wendy. She’s the person who refused to give up on her, then or now.

“Life sentence was not what I was going to accept,” Wendy says. “I would call lawyers and I’d ask, ‘Well, what does this sentence mean?’ and all of them would tell me the same thing, she would be there until she dies, and I said, ‘No, uh-uh.’ ”

Posted in ACLU, Board of Supervisors, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Sentencing | 6 Comments »

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