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New Account Surfaces of Alleged Physical Abuse of a 16-Year-Old by LA County Probation Staff

October 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday, September 12, a supervisor in Los Angeles County Probation’s Central Juvenile Hall
submitted a report that a sixteen-year-old boy housed in the KL unit of the facility claimed he was “attacked by staff” that morning. According to the report, the boy, whom we will call Hamza Rashid,* did not know why staff members attacked him. He described the alleged attack in a two-page hand-written affidavit that the supervisor turned in with her report.

(*We have changed the teenager’s name to protect his privacy.)

According to probation sources, Rashid was injured badly enough that he bled noticeably on to his sweatshirt, a little on his T-shirt, and also on to his underpants. But the garment with the most blood was reportedly his sweatshirt.

As per regulations, the supervisor, whom we’ll call Ms. Vargas,** contacted the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and turned in a Suspected Child Abuse Report (SCAR) in the boy’s behalf, as his allegations required her to do.

The staff members who were allegedly involved, dispute the account and report that the teenager was the violent aggressor.

Yet, on Tuesday, September 13, the day after the alleged attack, Rashid had a scheduled court date, during which he reportedly told his attorney, his mother, and an Inglewood judge about the alleged beating. The judge reportedly found his account credible enough that the court ordered Rashid to be moved on an emergency basis from LA’s Central Juvenile Hall to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.

Ahmed’s move was accomplished before the end of day Tuesday.

The two staff members whom Rashid claims were the ones who hurt him have also filled out reports about what they say took place on the morning of September 12. Their reports, which WitnessLA has obtained, tell an entirely different story from that which the boy told his mother and the judge, and wrote in his two-page affidavit.

As mentioned above, according to the two staffers, it was the sixteen-year-old who attacked them not the other way around. In their reports, the staffers describe how they each individually had physical contact with Rashid, but that their actions were no more than what was necessary to get the boy under control.

Perplexingly, the official accounts written by each of the two staffers, don’t quite match with each other, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

As readers may remember, on June 17, of this year we broke the story of an unresisting teenage boy in LA County Probation’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, who was allegedly beaten on video by four probation officers while a supervisor watched. (WitnessLA obtained a copy of the video.) We followed up with an account of another alleged assault on a teenage boy by staff in Central Juvenile Hall, for which we had a written description of the incident by a staff-member witness.

In the case of Hamza Rashid* there is no video depicting what occurred on the morning of September 12, which can act as a referee between the competing accounts. But we have spoken to multiple sources inside and close to the Los Angeles County Department of Probation, who said they believe that an assault of the teenager did occur, and that efforts may have been made to cover-up the incident by painting the boy as the attacker.


This much of the story everyone pretty much agrees upon. On the morning of Monday, September 12, at around 8:12 a.m., there was a problem in the day room of the KL unit of Central Juvenile Hall. Sixteen-year-old Hamza Rashid got into an argument with a female detention service officer, or DSO, whom we’ll call Ms. Greene.**

The argument reportedly had something to do with ice cream.

“This is not uncommon,” said one of our probation sources. “Kids really get upset about deserts if they feel they are not being allowed their fair share. In most cases you can deescalate those situations if you just hear the kid out, and talk to him reasonably.”

But, the argument between Hamza Rashid and Ms. Greene worsened. Exactly why this escalation occurred depends upon who is telling the story. But, for now, let’s just assume that it did.

At some point during the back and forth, the boy allegedly picked up a small but full milk carton and tossed it in DSO Green’s general direction. The carton did not hit DSO Greene. Yet, obviously such milk-throwing behavior is against the rules, and must be immediately interrupted.

According to several department sources, after Rashid threw the milk, another DSO, whom we’ll call Martinez**, quickly moved in and swiftly took to the kid to the ground, to make sure there was no further escalation, and kept him there until he calmed down. Meanwhile, other staff members herded the rest of the kids out of the day room.

Rashid was told to return to his room, and escorted there by someone.

It is here that the stories about what happened on the morning of September 12 diverge dramatically.

According to some probation sources, Ms. Greene, who was reportedly furious at Rashid’s behavior, allegedly did not back off. Instead, sometime after the intervention by Alverez, Greene allegedly kicked or struck the boy, one or multiple times, injuring him.

Rashid’s version, which was reportedly described in two different detailed affidavits, describes Greene and a probation supervisor, whom we’ll call Parker, and who came in later, as each assaulting him inside his room, a small cement-floored structure that features little more than a cement slab bed.


According to Ms. Greene’s report, it was Rashid who attacked her.

Greene’s account also begins in the dayroom where she was supervising breakfast when she “observed the minor pouring his food on the floor and laughing to himself.” When Greene asked him why he was pouring his food on the floor, “he continued laughing and said my KP would clean it up.” Green wrote that she “asked the minor to stop pouring his food on the floor and to clean it up.” When he failed to do so, she told him to “take it to his room.” Instead, he “continued laughing,” then “took his container full of filled milk and threw it at me.” After that the boy proceeded to his room.

According to Greene, all this took place without another DSO intervening.

Although sources tell us that, according to protocol, another staff member, or staff members, should have accompanied Hamza Rashid to his room, not Greene, as she was the person who had the conflict with the boy, and at whom he was upset. Furthermore, according to probation sources, except in the most emergent of circumstances, she should not have entered his room alone— for her own safety and that of the kid.

Nevertheless, Greene reported that she followed Rashid to his room, where she told him to take off his shoes and leave them outside the door, as is required of all probationers. Reportedly, he complied. Next, she unlocked his door, and saw three pencils in his room.

About the pencils: Probationers are not supposed to keep pencils in their rooms. They may borrow pencils to write letters, or to write in a journal, or the like. But they are supposed to return them. Sometimes, according to probation sources, the kids keep a pencil—either accidently or deliberately—or a staff member will forget to pick the thing up. This is against the rules, but a minor infraction.

In any case, Greene wrote that she asked Rashid to hand the pencils to her, at which time, according to Greene, the teenager “turned around saying ‘Bitch, shut the fuck up!’” Then Rashid pushed her, Greene wrote. She then reportedly attempted to grab her OC spray and called for back up, but before she could activate the spray, the boy “raised his fist and struck me in the side of the face.”

According to Greene’s report, she then commenced to perform several maneuvers including, one of which “caused the minor to fall to the floor. Minor continued to be combative. “

Finally, according to Greene, it was then that DSO Martinez arrived to intervene, at which time he helped her hold Rashid on the ground. The boy continued to struggle, according to Greene, until Martinez told him to calm down, at which point he indeed calmed down.

And then, based on Greene’s account, the incident was pretty much over. She wrote that either she or someone else (exactly who is not made clear) attempted to take Rashid to see the nurse, but he that he wouldn’t cooperate.

An hour or so later, one of the unit’s supervisors, who came to take Rashid’s account of events, took him to see the nurse again. This time he allowed himself to be examined.


The next written account is by Mr. Parker** a supervisor on the KL unit, and the other staff member whom Hamza Rashid alleges “attacked” him inside his room.

Mr. Parker’s written account is as follows:

“On 9/12/2016, at approximately 9:23 am this officer (positioned in a SDSO [Supervising Detention Service Officer] office in KL) overheard a loud conversation coming from the L side. This officer then exited the SDSO office and heard DSO [Martinez] (positioned in Room 1) explain to minor [Rashid, Hamza] that he could not leave his room and that he could receive a telephone call at a later time. The officer positioned in the doorway also explained that he could receive a phone call at a later time. Minor [Rashid] then attempted to push past this officer in an attempt to leave his room. This officer instructed the minor to have a seat on his bed and remain calm, however the combative and out of control minor continued to leave his bed and advance toward this writer. The writer extended (A2) a left arm to impede his progress out of the room. The minor stopped and regained his composure and sat on the bed. He was allowed to see the nurse. Nothing further to report.”

There was no mention of Ms. Greene ever being in the room. Nor did she mention SDSO Martinez in her report, although both suggested in their reports they were present when Rashid was escorted to see the nurse.

We were not able to read the report by DSO Martinez, a report that obviously is of importance.

Another DSO wrote a two-line report saying that, on Monday morning, he was positioned on the K side of the unit conducting room clean up. “This officer did witness the incident that occurred on the L side with minor [Rashid], DOB 6/10/200,” he wrote Then nothing else. Maybe the DSO meant to write “did not witness.” Or maybe he has more to say.


And there are other anomalies. Ms. Campos was the supervisor who oversaw the writing of Rashid’s first affidavit, which was originally three pages long, not two. Campos also wrote the original Physical Intervention Report or PIR, all of which was supposed to be passed up the managerial food chain before Ms. Campos went off shift in the afternoon of Sept 12.

But, before Campos submitted her PIR plus the kid’s affidavit to her own boss, she reportedly asked another supervisor, Mr. Stevenson**, to read both the affidavit and the PIR to see if she did everything right. Stevenson read it. And then reportedly he inexplicably declined to give either document back.

Stevenson also somehow reportedly ended up with the kid’s bloody sweatshirt, which multiple staffers claimed to have seen in his office. Now the sweatshirt, which was arguably evidence, appears to have vanished

In addition, Stevenson reportedly visited Rashid, the 16-year-old, to ask him if he wanted to rewrite his affidavit so that it no longer claimed staff attacked him. According to our sources, Rashid said no, that his story was true and he did not want to change it. Furthermore he would be telling his mother what happened, as soon as he could speak to her.

Campos was unable to get her paperwork back, and went off shift without filing her report.

After she left, still another supervisor, whom we will call Ms. Vargas, was told to write up the required report, which included an new affidavit from Hamza Rashid, albeit a much shorter one.

We have not seen either of Hamza Rashid’s affidavits, although sources described the contents of what the teenager wrote, in the most general of terms. In addition, they described Rashid’s lengthy report as being well-written with “correct spelling,” for whatever that’s worth.

Those maintaining that Rashid was the aggressor, reportedly described him as a boy with mental problems who caused the blood on his sweatshirt by repeatedly biting his own lip, an account that probation sources told us was improbable. Sources also reported that if Rashid was lip-chewer known to have “mental issues,” such things would be on record, and he would have been placed in another unit.

Two probationers, each with rooms nearby to that of Hamza Rashid, have been listed witnesses to events that occurred in the teenager’s room. We have no word on whether or not the kids have yet been interviewed by internal affairs and, if so, what they said. Probation sources are concerned that the two minor witnesses may be too fearful of retaliation to talk candidly to investigators.

We spoke to Interim LA County Probation Chief Cal Remington about the alleged new incident. Remington was familiar with the allegations.

“I’m following the internal affairs investigation closely,” Remington told us, “and if excessive and unnecessary force was used the Department will act decisively. We are continuing our efforts to train staff in ways to better diffuse situations without having to resort to any kind of force.”

Meanwhile, during the week of October 3, Hamza Rashid was reportedly released from Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall to return home.

**We have changed the names of all the staff members in this story.

Posted in Juvenile Probation | 2 Comments »

Probation Oversight, the SFPD Review, Homelessness in LA, and a Bill to Help Homeless Kids

February 4th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion by Supes Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas to form a working group to look into establishing a civilian oversight commission for LA County Probation Department similar to that of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The working group will report back to the board in 90 days with a plan for moving forward.

“This motion is an essential next step in ensuring that the County’s Probation Department is willing and able to provide services needed to support the new and innovative criminal justice policies being adopted at the County and state levels,” said Supervisor Kuehl, the motion’s primary author.

The Supes’ decision follows the release of a fiscal audit two weeks ago that found problematic spending (and non-spending) in the probation department. The largest red flag was an unspent $161 million that should have gone to much-needed rehabilitation and re-entry efforts for adults and kids.

Probation has also gone through a pile of probation chiefs in the last ten years.

The county’s most recent probation chief, Jerry Powers, was persuaded to resign after allegations surfaced that he was involved romantically with another probation employee, whom he hired, and who was inappropriately placed in charge of the department’s $820 million budget without any prior related experience.

Cal Remington, who took over as interim chief upon Jerry Powers’ exit, expressed his support of creating oversight. “The Probation Department is making a commitment to this Board and the public that we will become more transparent, and this is one way to do that. I’m looking forward to this period of study.”

Supe. Ridley-Thomas pointed out that the mission of probation—rehabilitation—has, in some ways, been forgotten. “The fundamental mission [of probation] is to engage in rehabilitation of the youngsters and, for that matter, the adults who are under the supervision of probation,” said Ridley-Thomas. “It is almost as if the language of rehabilitation is an afterthought, in many respects. And I would like to see us return to that fundamental mandate and mission.”

Alex Johnson, executive director of the Children’s Defense Fund of California, said the timing is right for a “bold” effort to reform probation in LA County as the state and the rest of the nation shift into a focus on rehabilitative reforms. “There’s a climate shift—a national climate shift, and a statewide climate shift—for the criminal justice and juvenile justice reform era,” said Johnson. Government agencies, advocates, community-based organizations, and the public at large already demonstrated care and commitment to coming together for reform.”


Earlier this week, the US Department of Justice announced it would launch a review of the San Francisco Police Department following the controversial shooting of Mario Woods.

Normally, when the feds step in, they address patterns of civil rights violations, in part, by forcing the re-training of officers and policy changes, only leaving when the law enforcement agencies comply with most of the DOJ’s demands.

But this time, the DOJ will be conducting the SFPD review via a Collaborative Reform Initiative run by the DOJ’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) that was used for the first time in 2011. This form of review, rather than forcing reforms upon an agency, makes recommendations and then leaves the rest up to city or county officials.

Frontline’s Sarah Childress has more on the collaborative review process, including where it has worked, and where it has failed. Here’s a clip:

The reform process doesn’t preclude federal officials from opening a pattern-or-practice investigation later on, if they deem it necessary, as they did in Baltimore last year.

In October 2014, the Justice Department began a review of the Baltimore police department amid residents’ complaints of police misconduct. But then in April 2015, after Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American man, died in police custody, federal officials decided to open a pattern-or-practice investigation.

In explaining the decision at the time, Lynch told reporters that the collaborative review process needed support from the police and city officials, but also local residents. Community trust in the police had been “severed” in Baltimore, she said, and the issues facing the police department were “much more serious, and they were much more intense” than when the review process began.

Lynch said that federal officials would seek a court-enforceable agreement in Baltimore. The investigation there is still ongoing.

The Justice Department has had the ability to investigate departments since 1994, but the collaborative reform initiative only started in 2011. Just one department, the Las Vegas Metropolitan police, has completed the process so far, and data there suggests some progress.


The LA Times’ Robert Greene says LA County, rather than city, holds the largest share of culpability for—and obligation to reverse—LA’s homelessness crisis. Although in the past the supervisors have avoided the responsibility, the county’s current homelessness plan, which the board is expected to consider next week, looks promising. Here’s a clip:

Los Angeles County government handles jails, foster care, emergency rooms and, in large portions of the county, law enforcement. But the county — with its 100,000 employees, its $26.9-billion budget and its five-member Board of Supervisors — is almost unknown compared with the city, Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council. The city gets the headlines for its emergency declarations and its promises of funding. The county is mistakenly seen as an obscure bystander.

Yes, the city of Los Angeles has an important role in meeting the homelessness challenge. City laws and police practices determine whether people living on streets and sidewalks will be arrested and whether their belongings will be confiscated. City leaders have to figure out how to meet the need for housing units, how to pay for them and how to overcome community resistance to new buildings and new neighbors who have histories of homelessness and, perhaps, mental illness or addiction.

The same is true for Long Beach, the next most populous city in Los Angeles County. And for Glendale, the next biggest after that. And for the next, and the next – Santa Clarita, Lancaster, Palmdale, Pomona and in fact each of the county’s other municipalities. Their local policing and land use ordinances have a direct bearing on the fate of people who live on the streets of each of those cities. Any solution to L.A.’s homelessness necessarily includes all 88 city halls.

But county government has by far the largest responsibility for homelessness and for solutions meant to address it. The county is on the supply side, because county institutions feed the streets and stoke the misery when they discharge people who have nowhere to go: Young adults who age out of foster care with no home and no income. Medical patients who are discharged from county hospitals. Inmates leaving jail. Patients leaving mental health clinics. And the county bears at least partial responsibility for people such as domestic violence victims who leave shelters but can’t go back home, and young sex trafficking victims who flee from their abusers.

Because it operates the jails, foster care and all those other institutions, it is the county as well that holds the key to ending much of the misery. County government is the chief provider of social services and has the obvious responsibility for people who are discharged to the streets. The county has the same responsibility that cities do to site and build affordable housing; but it also has the ability to craft solutions that require no new housing and little new money for people like the inmate returning from jail, wanting to get his kids back.

The county may lack the tools to deal with more systemic problems like poverty and inequity, both of which push people to the streets. But apart from the federal government, the county has the chief role in dealing with the fallout.

There are many ways the county can abdicate that responsibility, and it has tried most of them…


On Wednesday, Assemblymember Young Kim (R-Fullerton) announced a bill that would ramp up emergency services, including temporary housing, for California’s homeless and trafficked kids.

The money will go specifically to the Homeless Youth and Exploitation Program and the California Youth Crisis Line.

According to California Homeless Youth Project estimates, in 2014, over 298,000 kids in grades K-12 experienced homelessness at some point during the year.

Together the two programs only receive $1.3 million in state funding, which allows the programs to serve around 5,000 kids per year. Kim’s bill would increase that number by $25 million.

“The number of homeless youth in California is staggering. In my district alone, there are nearly 8,600 homeless public school children,” said Kim. “Current services for homeless youth aren’t getting the job done in providing them with the basic necessities like food, shelter, job training, and basic life skills. By providing them with our love and support while young, we can put our homeless youth on the road to successful careers and bright futures.”

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

Reports on Body Cams and Education in Juvie Detention….Who’s Right About Whether Prop. 47 Increased Crime?…and John Oliver Talks Re-Entry

November 10th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Law enforcement agencies across the nation are rolling out new body camera programs to increase transparency and accountability to the public. And as the debate about the positives and negatives of officer-worn body cameras heats up, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Upturn, have released an examination of 25 police departments’ body cam policies that looks at whether those policies are adequately protecting citizens’ civil rights.

Included on the scorecard were the Los Angeles Police Department, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Oakland Police Department. Researchers evaluated the departments on eight criteria, including whether the body cam policy was made available to the public, whether officers could view video before filing reports or statements, and whether officers were given discretion on when to start recording.

The LAPD received positive marks for limiting officers’ discretion, and releasing the body-worn camera policy to the public, but negative marks in other areas. For instance, the department requires officers to review footage before writing reports. (In contrast, the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. requires the officers to provide statements before viewing footage.) The LAPD does not generally make footage available to people filing complaints and has not publicly addressed how long the department will retain footage.

Back in July, WLA attended a panel at KPCC’s Crawford Family Forum to discuss these very issues, with particular emphasis on how much access the public should have to the body cam videos. And in September, the US Department of Justice gave $1.1 million to the LAPD to purchase the cameras, despite ACLU of Southern California protests about the department’s policy to keep most video footage of officer-involved shootings under wraps.

In absence of comprehensive civil rights safeguards sewn into body cam policies, “these devices could become instruments of injustice, rather than tools of accountability,” said Wade Henderson, president of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “We hope that our scorecard will encourage reform and help departments develop body camera policies that promote accountability and protect the rights of those being recorded.”


Only thirteen states actually provide education services (including credit recovery programs, GED preparation, and postsecondary classes) for incarcerated kids that equal the quality of education-related services that kids receive at public schools in their communities, according to a first-of-its-kind study by the Council of State Governments Justice Center.

“Educationally, these kids have fallen way behind their peers,” said Kent McGuire, head of the Southern Education Foundation. “It’s hard to think of a group of youth more acutely in need of educational services.”

Even fewer states—just nine—ensure locked-up kids have access to the same quality vocational services as their peers on the outside.

And states generally don’t collect enough data on education in juvenile detention facilities, either, according to the report. Less than a third of states were tracking how many kids released from detention facilities went on to finish high school.

In nearly half of states, kids were not automatically enrolled at a public school, once released, the re-enrollment responsibility was left up to parents. Kids were enrolled in (generally underperforming) alternative schools upon their release, in a third of states.

One particularly interesting recommendation to fix some of these issues, was to designate a single entity to oversee kids’ transition back into public schools or into vocational programs, once they exit lock-up.

The study data came from a survey of agencies in all 50 states.


In a video message that was part of a series of Prop. 47-related editorials in the LA Times, LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said the year-old California law is responsible for higher crime rates. (link) Many law enforcement officials agree.

Just a few days before McDonnell’s video editorial messages, Stanford released a controversial report suggesting that because there was only a 5% recidivism rate among those who were released under Prop. 47, rising crime rates in California should not be attributed to the 2014 law. (link)

Who is right about the outcome (so far) of Prop. 47? Maybe both, or maybe neither.

LA Times editorial board member Rob Greene says that the opposing arguments are missing key components and some context. Here’s a clip:

Of the 4,454 state prisoners who were able to leave prison early because they had felonies reclassified as misdemeanors, 159 have returned to prison for committing new crimes in the last year. That’s a return-to-prison rate of less than 5%. And yes, that’s incredibly low, especially when compared with the pre-Proposition 47 general return-to-prison rate of 42%.

And that’s important, because much of the criticism of Proposition 47, as with many criminal justice reform measures, is that it endangers the public by releasing serious and violent criminals “early” – or at least earlier than they would have been released without the reform. These numbers point to a weakness in that argument. The more serious and violent offenders often have a fairly low recidivism rate compared with the general jail and prison population.

As the report notes, though, recidivism has necessarily been measured only for the one year since Proposition 47 passed, not the three years that’s become the standard for recidivism measurements.

And it counts only offenders who left prison within the last year because of Proposition 47 and already have gone back – to prison — after having committed new crimes. It doesn’t count new convictions that might have resulted in jail or probation. Nor does it count arrests. That’s a big deal, because if a meth addict who got out of prison continues to take meth and steals in increments of less than $950 to support his habit, now he’s not going to be arrested for it. Or else he’s going to go to jail — but because he’s not going to state prison, this study doesn’t include him as a recidivist. More time and more study will be needed for a fuller picture.

McDonnell says Proposition 47 has increased crime, but he’s not blaming those people referred to in the Stanford study. He’s got a different population on his mind — the drug and theft offenders who used to get arrested and held in jail pending trial. Instead of getting arrested, those people are now just getting citations and orders to appear in court. Few actually show up for their court dates…

Since the measure passed a year ago, up to the time when these videos were shot in mid-October, according to the sheriff’s numbers, 43,062 people in Los Angeles County were arrested for crimes that used to be felonies but now, because of Proposition 47, are misdemeanors. Of those, 21,030, or nearly half, have been arrested again for an additional 39,939 crimes, including 26 murders, 14 rapes and 83 robberies.

Those numbers would appear to support the critics’ basic argument: When you don’t jail these people on drug and other relatively minor charges, they are free to commit all manner of more serious crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, and they do.

But there are some problems with that argument. Before Proposition 47, many of those accused criminals would have been arrested and jailed, but then would have bailed out — so they’d have been on the street anyway, still able to commit those more serious crimes. A complete study would compare McDonnell’s numbers with a similar group that got arrested, jailed and bailed out.


John Oliver has been on a roll on his HBO show, Last Week Tonight, featuring areas of the criminal justice system desperately in need of reform, from cash bail to civil asset forfeiture to mandatory minimums.

This Sunday, Oliver shined a light on the incredible odds stacked against people exiting prison and re-entering their communities. Former felony offenders face tons of roadblocks to education, housing, employment, public assistance, and more. And many former offenders are carted right back into the prison system because of minor parole violations.

Oliver ends the show in conversation with Bilal Chatman, a man who beat the odds after being released from prison, landing a good job and starting a new life. “I’m not that prisoner today,” Bilal told Oliver. “I’m a taxpayer. I work. I’m a citizen. I’m a voter. That’s who I want to be. Those are the things that define me today.”

Watch the full segment above.

Posted in criminal justice | 1 Comment »

Judge Michael Nash Tapped for LA Child Welfare Czar, Prop. 47 Arrests, and the OC Jailhouse Snitch Scandal

October 29th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, a letter from LA County CEO Sachi Hamai recommending Judge Michael Nash as LA County’s new child welfare czar was attached to the Board of Supervisors’ agenda for next Tuesday’s meeting.

The Supes are expected to approve Nash on November 3, to be head of the county’s Office of Child Protection, a position recommended 18 months ago by a blue ribbon commission convened to jumpstart much-needed reforms in the county’s child welfare system.

(We at WLA find this news very cheering, and can think of no one more suited to the position of LA County’s child welfare czar than Judge Nash.)

Judge Nash publicly voiced his interest in the child welfare czar position last October. The board reportedly was also looking at interim czar Fesia Davenport, who had formerly served as chief deputy director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

Nash was clearly enthused in an interview with Daniel Heimpel of The Chronicle of Social Change: “I am excited because it is such a unique opportunity to work with L.A.’s finest. But, I am quite nervous. With this, failure is not an option. So I am really nervous about that. I think being nervous about that is a good thing.”

Nash’s unparalleled experience includes serving nearly 30 years as the presiding judge of LA County’s juvenile court, but did not remain retired for long, returning as a sitting judge in a Compton delinquency court.

Prior to Nash heading the entirety of the 43-courtroom juvenile system, he served as a dependency court judge. (Read about Nash’s efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the children’s court system, here, and DCFS, here.)

Here’s a clip from the Chronicle of Social Change story:

The creation of an Office of Child Protection was one of the most prominent recommendations to emerge from the blue ribbon commission’s nine-month investigation of the county’s child-serving systems. While the commission’s draft recommendations had initially envisioned the office’s director to have the power to amend budgets and staffing levels of various county agencies to better respond to child abuse, the approved plan for the office narrows its scope to that of a watchdog.

This is a post for which Nash, who served as presiding judge of the county’s large and complex juvenile court system, is uniquely suited. Known for testy exchanges with the current head of the county’s Department of Children and Family Services and terse quotes in local and national media, the judge knows how to drive media attention, while also having an extensive rolodex of allies throughout the county’s fractious child welfare community.

“The OCP Director should possess a mixture of political finesse, deep understanding of the system and a deeper determination to improve it, courage to stand up to leaders who fear change, and a willingness to listen and collaborate with all of the stake holders and customers,” said Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, a former blue ribbon commissioner and co-chair of the transition team established after the commission was sunsetted. “Judge Nash is one of the few individuals in Los Angeles who possesses all of these qualities. He is intelligent, deeply committed, and highly respected, and I believe he understands the vision behind creating the Office of Child Protection.”


In the latest essay from the LA Times’ editorial series on CA’s Prop. 47, editorial board member Rob Greene takes a look at why law enforcement officers say they are no longer arresting people for misdemeanor offenses, post-Prop. 47.

To answer this question, Greene delves into the procedural difference between misdemeanor and felony arrests, and how and when officers can make misdemeanor arrests. Here’s a clip:

…critics of Proposition 47 often speak as if those differences made the change even more drastic, in effect decriminalizing those six offenses, turning them into infractions like parking violations, with officers issuing citations or tickets instead of making arrests, and offenders not bothering to show up for their court dates in the belief that jail time was no longer possible.

In the post-Proposition 47 debate, the conversation is generally whittled down to this: Officers and prosecutors say they no longer can arrest people for these crimes. And because arrests are down, they say, crime in California is increasing and drug offenders are not getting treatment.

Defenders of Proposition 47 respond that crime rates go up and down for many reasons, and that rising crime in cities outside California shows that there’s not necessarily a causal link between crime and the change in law here. And besides, they add, all the same procedures and remedies that were available before are still available, except that jail sentences for those six crimes are held to a one-year maximum.

There’s something missing from this discussion. If people in law enforcement believe that crime is rising because they aren’t making arrests, then why aren’t they making arrests? What is it about the law, or about police, prosecutorial, court and jail practices, that cause fewer arrests and prosecutions this year for crimes that are misdemeanors than for last year, when the same crimes were felonies?

There appear to be seven key steps in the criminal justice process where Proposition 47 changed the law, or local practices, or both, and that may be in part responsible for fewer arrests. Each step brings with it an assumption or assertion that must be examined if we’re to determine where there may be a breakdown in public safety — and what can be done about it.

We’ll start today with the beginning of the process — the arrest.

Read the rest.


ABC7′s Marc Brown and producer Lisa Bartley have taken a very close look at the string of jailhouse informant-related misconduct scandals plaguing the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. The alleged misconduct has resulted in the removal of the entire DA’s office from the high-profile case of mass shooter Scott Dekraai and the unraveling of a number of other cases.

Here’s how the first story opens (but do go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

The murders and their aftermath have wrought unimaginable pain on family members of the victims. Four years later, the legal case against Dekraai, who pleaded guilty last year, is in disarray. The entire Orange County District Attorney’s Office has been kicked off the death penalty phase of Dekraai’s case. Orange County sheriff’s deputies have been accused of lying under oath. There are calls from one of the most respected legal minds in the nation and the New York Times for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate.

How did Dekraai’s crimes lead to this? It all comes down to whether or not prosecutors and sheriff’s deputies broke the law in the pursuit of convictions. Critics say the most powerful law enforcement entities in Orange County cheated the system, pursuing a win-at-all costs legal strategy for decades, at the expense of not just Dekraai’s constitutional rights, but potentially scores of other defendants.

Scott Dekraai had already confessed to the murders to police when he found himself in an Orange County Jail cell next door to prolific jailhouse snitch Fernando Perez.

Perez, a former leader in the Mexican Mafia and third-striker facing possible life in prison, turned informant in 2010 and quickly racked up confession after confession from a series of suspects, all of whom wound up in a jail cell right next to Perez.

Perez may have sensed an opportunity when Dekraai started talking about his crimes. He knew that if Dekraai gave up information police and prosecutors wanted, Perez might be able to leverage that into a more lenient sentence for himself.

“They didn’t need to put an informant in that cell next to him,” said Paul Wilson who lost his wife of 26 years in Dekraai’s rampage and is outraged by delays in the case and what he calls “absolute crimes” by elected officials.

“They’re in cover-up mode,” Wilson tells Eyewitness News.

In their second story, Brown and Bartley tell the story of Oscar Moriel, a former member of the Mexican Mafia awaiting trial for a 2005 murder, who has become a seasoned jailhouse snitch, gathering a pile of confessions from fellow inmates in hopes of bettering his own situation, maybe even of joining the military with special recommendations from his handlers. Here’s how it opens:

Oscar Moriel is an unlikely ally of law enforcement. The former member of the Mexican Mafia is awaiting trial in Orange County for a 2005 attempted murder and has admitted on the witness stand that’s he’s killed at least six people.

Testifying under a grant of immunity last year, Moriel recounted how he and fellow gang members “went out hunting” for their victims.

In February 2009, Moriel was looking at possible life in prison when he summoned Santa Ana Police Department Detectives Chuck Flynn and David Rondou to the Orange County jail.

Moriel was ready to turn informant.

“I’m putting my life on the line, my life in jeopardy, my family’s life in jeopardy,” Moriel told the detectives in the once-secret jailhouse recordings obtained by Eyewitness News.

Moriel observes that the detectives appear to be “stumped” in their efforts to solve two cold-case murders. He expresses concern that law enforcement “manpower” and “taxpayer money” have so far failed to put the killers behind bars.

“I think I can do it pretty solid,” Moriel says. “I think I could smash the whole case and put the guy away or the people away.”

Moriel offers to help detectives crack the cases, but his “memory” remains a little fuzzy.

“Yeah, we’re gonna have to meet halfway here,” Moriel says…

Moriel wants the detectives to reach out to higher-ups in the Orange County District Attorney’s Office. Maybe they can “pull some strings” on Moriel’s attempted murder case.

“So, you’re looking for some consideration in exchange for information on two unsolved murders?” asks Detective Flynn.

“Pretty much,” says Moriel.

Moriel suggests that having some “options” on the table in his own case might help him think more clearly.

“I’m looking at a third strike, I’m looking at life in prison,” Moriel says. “So, the more options I have to work with and to choose from, the better position I’ll be in to think more clearly.”

Detectives tell Moriel they don’t have the authority to make a deal with him, but they can take his information to the people who do.

“You’ll get consideration for the level you perform,” Detective Flynn tells Moriel.

“Great, OK,” says Moriel.

Five months later, Detective Flynn meets with Moriel again. This time, he’s accompanied by Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies Bill Grover and Ben Garcia.

By then, Moriel is hopeful, not just that he’ll be freed, but maybe… he could join the military?

“Do you think it’s possible after all this is done, if you guys can expunge my record and I can go into the military?” Moriel asks.

Detective Flynn admits that expunging Moriel’s lengthy criminal record would be tough, but joining the military might be possible with a recommendation from law enforcement.


Nearly nine years after his arrest, Moriel still hasn’t even had a trial on his own charges. But he’s been busy, gathering jailhouse confessions and information in a string of cases.

On the face of it, using jailhouse informants is legal. But those informants must not question charged suspects on behalf of police. And any evidence that an informant gathers, must be turned over to defense attorneys.

The once-secret jailhouse recordings should have been turned over in every case Moriel had a hand in, but they were not.

The recordings only came to light after a years-long investigation by Scott Sanders, the public defender for confessed mass killer Scott Dekraai.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

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

October 28th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now read the rest for yourself.


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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a clip:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

Posted in LASD, Reentry | 34 Comments »

Solitary Statistics, Opposing Prop. 47 Views, and Miranda Rights

October 27th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


Nearly one-fifth of state and federal prisoners and jail inmates spent time in solitary confinement between 2011-2012, according to a new report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. For LGBTQ and mentally ill prisoners, the numbers were even worse.

Around 4.4% of prisoners and 2.7% of jail inmates across the country were held in “restrictive housing” on an average day, either in disciplinary or administrative segregation or solitary confinement.

Of those inmates who had been placed in restrictive housing, 10% of prisoners and 5% of jail inmates said they had spent more than 30 days in isolation.

Close to 30% of LGBTQ prisoners surveyed were placed in isolation, compared with 18% of heterosexual prisoners. Younger inmates and inmates without high school diplomas were similarly more likely to have spent time in restrictive housing than older inmates and inmates who had completed high school. Inmates convicted of non-sexual violent offenses and inmates with lengthy arrest histories were also held in isolation more often than their counterparts.

Not surprisingly, the data also linked mental illness to solitary confinement. Nearly one-fourth of mentally ill inmates spent time in isolation between 2011-12.

Inmates in those prisons and jails that relied more heavily on restrictive housing often also reported disorder in the detention facilities, too few staff members to “provide safety and security to inmates,” and lower levels of confidence and trust in staff.


In an op-ed for the LA Times, as part of the paper’s series on California’s Prop. 47, San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón (who has also served as chief of the SFPD, assistant chief for the LAPD, and chief of the Mesa, AZ police force) says the new law, which reclassified six non-serious felonies as misdemeanors, is incorrectly criticized by many law enforcement officials.

Gascón says it’s “far-fetched” to point to Prop. 47 as the reason for an increase in property crime. Gascón also says that law enforcement officials are overly critical of Prop. 47, which is saving California $770,000 per day, so far, because most officers today spent their formative law enforcement years in the tough-on-crime era.

Here’s a clip:

Tough-on-crime critics, predictably, have come out swinging, arguing that Proposition 47 is the cause of a recent increase in property crime. But this assertion defies logic. From 2007 through Aug. 31 of this year, the state has reduced its prison population by 43,000, but only 4,402 prisoners were released under Proposition 47. It’s far-fetched at best that the release of these relative few, who were responsible for some of the lowest-level crimes, is causing this increase. Crime rates fluctuate over time, but overall property crime is at a 50-year low.

The extraordinary level of discontent with Proposition 47 from a majority of law enforcement officials is not surprising. Virtually everyone working in law enforcement today — myself included — cut our teeth during the war-on-drugs era. We’ve never experienced another approach, and after decades of jailing people for simple drug possession, it’s difficult to embrace alternatives.

Many in law enforcement believe misdemeanor arrests are ineffective because the consequences are comparatively mild. But in a post-Proposition 47 world — as has always been the case — good, hardworking cops should not try to predict the outcome of an arrest. Declining to make arrests for misdemeanor crimes is bad for the community, public safety and offenders who need help. In San Diego, for example, where police continue to make misdemeanor arrests for drug possession, the city continues to see flat or decreasing crime rates.

Meanwhile, the 4,402 people released from prison under Proposition 47 are saving California more than $770,000 a day. There are also more than 35,000 Californians who have asked the courts to change their old felonies to misdemeanors, and an additional 123,087 people who have petitioned the courts to alter their current sentences.

Before Proposition 47, people convicted of a felony for possessing drugs for personal use often found themselves housed with more hardened offenders. They were inevitably released without having the root cause of their addiction or mental illness addressed. What’s worse, their felony convictions would often preclude them from finding work, as employers are 50% less likely to respond to applicants with records.

California’s broken prison system churned out less-employable individuals with unaddressed conditions, who were perhaps inclined to resort to more serious criminal behavior. Is it any surprise that the state recidivism rate reached nearly 70% in 2005?

Marc Debbaudt, president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, does not agree with Gascón. In a separate LAT op-ed, Debbaudt says that thanks to Prop 47, drug offenders no longer face jail time for offenses committed to fuel their addictions, like shoplifting, writing bad checks, and stealing guns worth less than $950. Debbaudt also argues that because judges can no longer mandate substance abuse rehabilitation programs for people who commit these newly reduced offenses, participation in drug court programs is down 60%.

Debbault also faults Prop. 47 for reducing possession of date rape drugs from a felony to a misdemeanor. (Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have bumped possession of date rape drugs with intent to commit a sexual assault from a misdemeanor to a mandatory felony offense.)

Here’s a clip:

In the city of Los Angeles, property crimes such as burglaries and motor vehicle thefts have risen 10.9% compared with the same period last year. Violent crime, such as aggravated assaults and robberies, has soared 20.6%. Mayor Eric Garcetti told The Times those increases may be linked to Proposition 47.

To make things even worse, the social engineers in the Legislature also passed a law in 2014 that reduced the maximum misdemeanor sentence from 365 days to 364 days. Under federal immigration law, a noncitizen who is convicted of an offense punishable by 365 days or more can be deported. With many felonies now reduced to 364-day misdemeanors, some criminals who otherwise would have been deported get to stay.

Here is additional fallout from Proposition 47 that Californians probably didn’t anticipate when they voted for the measure:

The justice system lost all leverage to mandate rehabilitative drug programs. There is no incentive for an offender to accept a court-ordered 18-month to two-year intensive treatment program when the maximum consequence for a drug conviction is a six-month term in county jail. In many cases the jail sentence means only a few days, or even just hours, in custody because the jails have to make room for the felons sent from state prison under that other great reform called realignment. The treatment program rolls are down 60% in L.A. County, and addicted offenders are not getting the treatment they desperately need.

Proposition 47 took away a tool to fight sex crimes when it reduced the penalty for possession of dangerous date-rape drugs to a misdemeanor.

Thousands fewer DNA samples are being taken from suspects every month because state law permits police to collect DNA only from felony suspects. It follows that it will be much harder, if not impossible, to solve old cases such as murder and rape.

(We also pointed to the first part of the series, an editorial by the LA Times’ Robert Greene: here.)


In letting a ten-year-old boy’s murder ruling stand, the California Supreme Court has effectively said that children that young are still competent enough to validly waive their Miranda rights. The boy, identified as Joseph H., was read his Miranda rights by a police officer during his arrest, and then later confessed to killing his abusive neo-Nazi father.

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Bob Egelko has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The U.S. Supreme Court, which required police to issue the warning in the 1966 case of Miranda vs. Arizona, has never decided whether minors below a certain age are competent to give up their Miranda rights and answer officers’ questions. But as state Supreme Court Justice Goodwin Liu noted in his Oct. 16 dissent, the nation’s high court has ruled that any decision to waive the right to remain silent must be made “voluntarily, knowingly and intelligently.”

The 10-year-old’s case, Liu said, raises an issue that “likely affects hundreds of children each year: whether, and if so, how the concept of a voluntary, knowing and intelligent Miranda waiver can be meaningfully applied to a child as young as 10.”

All three of Gov. Jerry Brown’s appointees — Liu, Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar and Leondra Kruger — voted to review the case, leaving them one short of the needed majority. Cuéllar also signed Liu’s dissenting opinion, an unusual and perhaps unprecedented statement by a California justice arguing that his colleagues should have taken up a case from the lower courts.

The issue arises in the wake of rulings by the nation’s high court barring executions or mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. In the 2005 death penalty ruling, Justice Anthony Kennedy said research has shown that juveniles, more commonly than adults, have a “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility,” and are more susceptible to peer pressure than adults.

“The youthful brain is different than the adult brain,” said Rory Little, a law professor at UC Hastings in San Francisco. Noting that California law bars an accused rapist from arguing that his victim consented if she was younger than 14, Little said, “If a 14-year-old can’t consent to sex, how can a 10-year-old waive his rights to Miranda?”

The Riverside youth, identified as Joseph H., found his father’s gun and shot him in the head as he lay sleeping on a sofa in May 2011. The father was a leader of a neo-Nazi group called the National Socialist Movement and was also a drug addict who frequently beat Joseph, according to a state appeals court ruling in the case. When police arrived, the court said, Joseph told them his father had beaten him and his mother the day before.

Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

Did California Voters Go Wrong With Prop 47?

October 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

When Proposition 47 passed nearly a year ago, last November,
it did so by a healthy 17-percent margin, with more than 58 percent of those casting ballots in California voting YES for The Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act, despite vehement opposition from the law enforcement lobby.

So were the state’s voters crazy to have voted as they did?

Certainly since Prop. 47 passed, there has been story after story in media outlets up and down the state in which officials claim that the measure is responsible for worrisome spikes in crime that compromise public safety, and that the new law also makes it nearly impossible for drug addicts now to receive court ordered treatment, among other deleterious effects.

So what is true?

This week the LA Times Editorial Board has decided to look into the claims and counterclaims, using its Opinion Page as the forum for what it hopes will be an honest and clear-eyed discussion.

We at WitnessLA applaud the Times’ refreshing move.

On Sunday, editorial board member Robert Greene kicks off the conversation by taking a hard and very welcome look at some of the actual facts of the matter.

Here’s how Greene’s Op Ed opens:

Police and prosecutors have lately attempted to link increases in crime to last year’s Proposition 47. Based on their overwrought statements, it would be understandable for Californians to start wondering whether they had been duped into completely decriminalizing drug possession and petty theft. They could be forgiven for asking whether it’s really the case that their law enforcement officers can no longer arrest thieves for stealing guns or breaking into cars, or have no option but to write tickets while watching all manner of mayhem unfold before them. They might hear that addicts have lost any incentive to choose drug treatment or to show up for court hearings.

None of those things are true, although officials in many communities throughout California appear to sincerely, although mistakenly, believe them. As is the case with all large bureaucracies, it is difficult for courts and for city and county agencies — police departments, sheriff’s departments, district attorneys, probation officers, county supervisors — to understand and constructively respond to changed circumstances. And Proposition 47 no doubt brought change, by converting six felonies to misdemeanors and allowing many people serving sentences for those crimes, and those who served their time long ago, to be resentenced and have their rap sheets adjusted.

We’d probably be better off if the various links in the public safety chain had opted to temporarily stick with their old practices following last November’s vote: if police kept arresting people for crimes reclassified as misdemeanors, and transporting suspects to jail and to court for arraignment, for example; and if prosecutors considered the circumstances (Is this the defendant’s first arrest for drug possession? The eighth?) and occasionally opted to seek the full sentence (up to a year behind bars); and if courts offered diversion or rehabilitation as an alternative — all of which not only remain available, despite assertions to the contrary, but absolutely must be used, selectively, if Proposition 47 is to work properly. They could have spent the last year examining their options and carefully and deliberately adjusting their practices so as to bring the maximum amount of public safety to the communities they patrol.

There’s lots more. So read on.

Posted in Sentencing | 5 Comments »

Evidence-Based Programs in CA Counties, LAPD’s Misreported Crime Data, and Prison Architecture

October 14th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


According to a report by PEW Charitable Trusts that we didn’t want you to miss, Fresno, Kern, Santa Barbara, and Santa Cruz counties are setting a precedent for CA’s 54 other counties by successfully establishing evidence-based criminal justice programs since California’s public safety realignment strategy was launched in October 2011.

(If you need a refresher: Realignment, AB 109, shifted the incarceration burden for certain low-level offenders away from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to the states’ 58 counties. Realignment has provided counties with an opportunity (and funding) to rise to the challenge of taking on state prisoners, in part by developing new evidence-based re-entry and anti-recidivism programs.)

“When Realignment came, it put enormous demand on the system and created a tremendous challenge…” said Tanja Heitman, a Santa Barbara deputy chief probation officer. “We had the funding, but we didn’t have the technical assistance to make sure we were headed in the right direction. It was a really beautiful transition into Results First, and I think we’re leading the effort in making sure that we use our dollars for evidence-based programs and bringing our corrections community along.”

In partnership with the Pew-MacArthur Results First Initiative, the four counties took a look at what programs were working and used a cost-benefit analysis to evaluate their currently funded programs. The Results First partnership, a project of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, helped counties to prioritize cost-effective, evidence-based programs, and develop new programs that work and save counties money.

“The program inventory laid it all out for us, showing us where we were doing things right and where we were not,” said Cassaundra Friedberg, a Kern County Probation Dept. analyst. That, along with the research knowledge we gained through Results First, helped us make the right adjustments to create a continuum of care for our population.”

Santa Barbara County identified expendable rehabilitation and reentry programs that weren’t working and weren’t saving the county money against the costs of incarceration. One of the programs the county chose to redirect funding to was Reasoning and Rehabilitation, an evidence-based cognitive behavioral therapy program, which is expected to save $19.49 for every dollar spent.

Santa Cruz County Chief Probation Officer Fernando Giraldo says the county plans to evaluate its “legacy programs” that have been in place for decades, but have no evidence to prove their usefulness. The county is moving funding to a cognitive behavioral therapy program, which was predicted to save $418,950 and reduce recidivism by 13.4%.

“We’re definitely going to use the information from Results First to help shape the kind of services we’re looking for,” said Merickel, the Kern County chief probation officer. “We’re going to say that we want to use evidence-based programs wherever we can.”


In August of 2014, an investigation by the LA Times’ Joel Rubin and Ben Poston found that the LAPD mislabeled close to 1,200 violent crimes as minor offenses, significantly altering the city’s crime statistics. After the story broke, the LAPD announced that it would implement crime reporting reforms.

Now, a year following the investigation, the police department is still struggling to accurately classify serious assaults according to an internal audit released Tuesday. In a review of last year’s crime data, the audit found aggravated assaults would have been reported as 23% higher if not for continued classification errors.

The audit, which sampled approximately 1000 major and minor crimes, was conducted before the reforms were fully implemented, and that next year, the margin of error should be much lower, LAPD officials said.

Last year, Los Angeles experienced a 28% spike in serious assaults this year over last, but because of the misclassification issue, the real number might have actually been higher. But 2013′s numbers were misreported by the department, too, so it may be hard to determine how accurate the crime rate comparisons are between recent years.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has more on the audit’s findings. Here’s a clip:

The report says the “department did well with classifying crime” as it related to serious and minor assaults. Commissioner Robert Saltzman disagreed with that characterization.

“If, in fact, the error rate is 20%, that does not strike me as doing well,” Saltzman said…

Following The Times report, the LAPD instituted a series of reforms including additional training, new accountability rules and the establishment of a Data Integrity Unit to ensure accuracy in crime data sent to the FBI.

LAPD officials stressed the new audit was conducted before the reforms and training took effect this year and said error rates should improve in the future.

“I am confident that the systems we put in place will make us much better,” Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference…

The latest audit analyzed a random sample of roughly 1,000 serious and minor assaults. The error rate identified for minor assaults was higher than those in previous audits in 2012 and 2011 that found error rates of 3% and 6%.

The highest misclassification rate was found in the LAPD’s Central Bureau — which includes downtown, northeast and east L.A. — where 13% of minor assaults were incorrectly categorized.


Where a crumbling 60′s-era San Diego County women’s jail once stood, is now an experimental women’s colony built to look more like a campus than a traditional detention center, with long walkways and greenery, dorm-style rooms for the lower level offenders, and a lot of natural light.

At the unconventional Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Re-entry Facility, the women are treated like responsible human beings and are provided with education, job training, substance abuse treatment, and mental health services to give them a better chance at reintegrating into their communities.

Guards are placed in the common areas and among the dorm areas, rather than in separate guard stations, so that officers and inmates have more interaction and opportunity for conflict resolution.

It’s still too early to tell if the Las Colinas model will successfully lower recidivism, and if it does, whether its replicable in other CA counties and elsewhere in the nation.

OZY’s Meghan Walsh has more on the women’s colony (be sure to go over to OZY to look at the photos). Here’s a clip:

The campus is spacious and green, with a grassy amphitheater and palm trees, volleyball nets, even a yoga studio. Inside, the earthy tones continue: abundant natural light, murals of waves crashing into the cliffside. From his second-floor office, Edwin Schroeder reflects on his view: “You don’t get that gut-dropping feeling anymore.”

Schroeder isn’t a professor and the vista isn’t of a liberal arts college. He runs a women’s jail, but one that emphasizes the avant-garde over security guards. “We’re not here to punish,” says Schroeder, which isn’t exactly a line you’d expect from a gatekeeper. But this San Diego County jail, which houses everyone from petty criminals to accused murderers and was once known for its sickening decrepitude, is at the forefront of a new and, of course, controversial movement in prison design, one that manifests a counterintuitive idea: You could build a lockup so pleasant and thoughtfully devised that inmates would never come back. In fact, they don’t even call it a jail. Welcome to Las Colinas Women’s Detention and Re-entry Facility.

It’s a lofty goal. And while it remains to be seen whether administrators will succeed at rebuilding lives, few would doubt that they’ve built a one-of-a-kind facility. This will surely raise hackles among tough-on-crime folks, but this isn’t one of those pay-to-stay country club prisons for stock brokers. It’s more of a social experiment. In an era when more women than ever are imprisoned — the female incarcerated population in the U.S. shot up nearly tenfold between 1980 and 2010, to 205,000 — Las Colinas is testing a new theory: by treating inmates as autonomous, responsible human beings, they might actually behave like autonomous, responsible human beings. Some would say it’s taking a woman’s touch. There’s not a barbed wire in sight (they’re there, just not visible), and long outdoor walkways provide a feeling of freedom. Thus, when a woman needs medical attention, she walks across that green campus to a waiting room that looks like one in any other doctor’s office. Even booking looks less like a holding room and more like a health clinic, with separate walk-up windows for arrestees to take care of various intake procedures.

Posted in Uncategorized | No 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


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.”


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…


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.


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 »

LA Officials to (Belatedly) Crack Down on Over-Drugging LA Kids….A Juvie Lifer Artist…and the Shooting of Walter Scott

April 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


In the past year, it has come to light that kids are being over-drugged in many of California’s various foster care and juvenile systems, LA County’s included. Then more recently, we learned that powerful medications are unnecessarily being jammed down the throats of poor kids via the Medicare system. (See here and here and here for some of the latest stories.)

Tuesday, however, there was a piece of good news when the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf reported that Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health officials plan to crack down on doctors who appear to be inappropriately prescribing powerful and dangerous antipsychotic drugs to kids in LA County’s foster care and juvenile justice systems.

The question is, however, knowing the serious dangers posed by overprescribing or wrongly prescribing antipsychotics for children or teenagers, why weren’t the county’s mental health officials paying better attention?

Here’s a clip from Therolf’s story:

Social workers and child welfare advocates have long alleged that the widespread use of the drugs is fueled in part by some caretakers’ desire to make the children in their care more docile. On May 1, the county Department of Mental Health is scheduled to launch a program to use computer programs to identify doctors who have a pattern of overprescribing the medications or prescribing unsafe combinations of the drugs.

Once problematic doctors are identified, the department will recommend that judges no longer approve their prescriptions for youth under court supervision.

Additionally, Los Angeles County mental health workers will fan out across the county to randomly interview children, caregivers and doctors about the reasons behind the prescriptions and how they are working.

The hope is that the in-person reviews will allow the county to go beyond the information doctors submit in their paperwork, offering a more complete picture of the youth’s mental health and whether less-intrusive interventions were used before turning to drugs.

“We know there is really a need to do this,” said Fesia Davenport who was recently named interim director of the county Office of Child Protection, a new agency charged with coordinating services across county departments for abused and neglected children. “Once we start to look at the data I think we’ll identify patterns and really understand why the use of the drugs seems to be high.”

In February, Therolf, writing for the LA Times, noted that “51% of California’s foster youth who are prescribed mental health-related drugs took the most powerful class of the medications — antipsychotics.” (And, of course, Karen de Sá, of the San Jose Mercury News, reported extensively on the over-drugging of foster kids in her multi-part series.)

That 51% figure is deeply concerning..

The risks of using antipsychotics on kids are considerable—except in certain very closely monitored situations. (For further details, read last week’s WLA story by Taylor Walker about the most recent study released showing the disturbing overuse of antipsychotics on Medicaid kids, with California one of the five states studied.)

The crack-down Therolf reports is a very welcome step, albeit distressingly belated. Yet, another underlying issue still calls out to be discussed, namely that, every study we have on the matter shows that most kids who land in foster care or the juvenile justice system, or both, are suffering from high degrees of childhood and adolescent trauma. This kind of toxic stress almost inevitably results in some kind of emotional and/or behavioral symptoms—which are crucial to address. But, in most cases, powerful drugs are neither an appropriate nor safe way to ameliorate and heal these issues.

Of course, real healing of trauma-harmed kids is labor intensive— and cannot be done from the remove at which one can prescribe drugs.

But that’s a discussion for another day.


In 1999, when Kenneth Crawford was fifteen, he was the getaway driver for a brutal murder of strangers. He did not himself beat, rob and shoot Diana Lynn Algar, 39, and her friend Jose Julian Molina, 33, at a campground in Pennsylvania. The admitted killer was an 18-year-old fellow drifter and carnival worker, David Lee Hanley. Nevertheless, Crawford was tried as an adult, and given a sentence of life without parole in a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, which was still legal for juveniles as the time.

Although nearly all of his upbringing was horrific, Crawford makes no excuses for his involvement in the crime for which he was convicted.

“I was too drunk and full of pills and have only myself to blame,” he wrote to a couple who have befriended him during his time in prison.

The victims “were good people and their families did not deserve the pain and suffering they endured. I have begged the Lord for forgiveness and I believe I have been forgiven. But I will never forgive myself.”

One of the primary ways Crawford, now 31, finds meaning and solace in his life behind bars is painting miniature scenes on fallen leaves he collects. The results are remarkably beautiful.

Crawford is also one of the 2100 inmates given life sentences as teenagers, whose prison terms could possibly be affected when the U.S. Supreme Court deliberates the question, likely in September of this year, of whether their historic ruling of Miller v. Alabama should be applied retroactively. Miller, if you remember, which was presented by civil rights attorney and author, Bryan Stevenson, ruled that mandatory sentences of juvenile life without parole were unconstitutional.

Gary Gately has delved further into Crawford’s story for the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange.

Here are some clips:

Five years ago, Kenneth Carl Crawford III returned to that woods behind his childhood home in Oklahoma, but only in his mind — the only way he can go back now, perhaps the only way he’ll ever go there again in his time on this Earth.

After a storm, he had been gazing at a thick forest about 100 yards away when he noticed a bunch of leaves had blown over the high electric fences topped by razor wire and landed in the prison yard at the State Correctional Institution-Greene, here in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania.

Crawford picked up one of the leaves. “It had been a long time since I had touched a part of a tree, let alone held a piece of it in my hands,” he would write in his journal.

He kept looking at the leaf, mesmerized, nostalgic for so much of a bit of boyhood paradise lost.

Then he took the leaf back to his 8-by-12-foot cell and decided to recapture some of what he missed so dearly — and ultimately painted on it a scene right out of the woods he remembered.

He’s been painting wildlife scenes — and painting them superbly — on leaves ever since.

Crawford, 31, has plenty of time to create his miniature masterpieces. He’s serving a mandatory life-without-parole sentence for his involvement in a double murder at age 15 in 1999.


Crawford, a lean man with the beginnings of a mustache and beard, calls the Sanfords “Mudder” and “Peepaw.” [The Sanfords are a couple who ran across his art and have gradually befriended him.]

“I’ve had ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ and none of them turned out too well,” he says.

Indeed, his alcoholic father beat him, his brother and his two sisters with extension cords and switches in drunken rages and often left them home alone in their ramshackle trailer with no electricity or heat and little food. And he forced them to tend to his marijuana plants behind the trailer.

Crawford’s mother ran off with one of her boyfriends to work the carnival circuit when Ken was 5…..

When he was 9, Child Welfare Services came to remove Ken and his siblings from their father’s custody — and promised the children their lives would be much better with foster parents.

They weren’t.

Crawford recalls one 400-pound foster father who forced the children to scratch and bathe his legs because he could not reach down to them.

Another foster father showed off Ken’s ability to play football — until he outshone the man’s biological son, at which point the foster father made Ken quit the team.

A third foster father told him he’d be in prison by the time he was 18.

When Ken was 10 and wetting the bed, his foster mother screamed at him and ordered him to strip naked and lie on a towel on the living room floor. As other children in the home laughed, she put a diaper on him and made him wear it to school the next day.

He wet the bed again that night, and she forced him to sleep in the bathtub.

If he could change two things in his life, Crawford says now, he would have never have hung out with David Lee Hanley, and, if it were somehow possible, he would have eluded Child Welfare Services workers.

“If I could go back in time, I would have hid from Child Welfare Services. I should have hid. I shouldn’t have let them find us,” he says.

Speaking of his father’s abuse and neglect, he says: “That’s what we knew. It was nothing out of the ordinary for us. We still had something, and the physical abuse we grew up with I was used to.

“In foster care, it was mental abuse, and the mental abuse was much worse.”

Still, he’s quick to add that he doesn’t blame anybody for the circumstances that led to the double homicides. “I made the choices,” he says.


As most of you probably know by now, a 50-year-old black man named Walter Scott was fatally shot on Saturday in North Charleston, S.C., after being stopped for a broken tail light by a white Charleston police officer, Michael T. Slager, 33.

On Tuesday, Officer Slager was charged with murder.

Initially, Officer Slager reported that he made a traffic stop and was in foot pursuit after the subject. Next Slager reported shots fired and that the subject was down. “He took my Taser,” Slager said on the radio. Later, in the police report, Slager stated he had feared for his life because the suspect, Scott, had taken his taser in a scuffle.

However when a video taken by a bystander surfaced, and it told a very different story.

Here’s how the South Charleston Post and Courier describes what is on the video:

The three-minute clip of Saturday morning’s shooting starts [shakily], but it steadies as Slager and Scott appear to be grabbing at each other’s hands.

Slager has said through his attorney that Scott had wrested his Taser from him during a struggle.

The video appears to show Scott slapping at the officer’s hands as several objects fall to the ground. It’s not clear what the objects are.

Scott starts running away. Wires from Slager’s Taser stretch from Scott’s clothing to the officer’s hands.

With Scott more than 10 feet from Slager, the officer draws his pistol and fires seven times in rapid succession. After a brief pause, the officer fires one last time. Scott’s back bows, and he falls face first to the ground near a tree.

After the gunfire, Slager glances at the person taking the video, then talks into his radio.

The cameraman curses, and Slager yells at Scott as sirens wail.

“Put your hands behind your back,” the officer shouts before he handcuffs Scott as another lawman runs to Scott’s side.

Scott died there. [Actually, in the beginning Scott appears to be alive.]

Slager soon jogs back to where he fired his gun and picks up something from the ground. He walks back to Scott’s body and drops the object.

At no time, does Slager or the next officer on the scene, attempt to help the dying Scott, although one of the officers searches him and then eventually feels for a pulse.

According to the Post & Courier, Mr. Scott “had a history of arrests related to contempt of court charges for failing to pay child support. The only accusation of violence against Scott during his lifetime came through an assault and battery charge in 1987″—in other words, 27 years ago, when Scott was 23.

A family member told reporters that Scott likely ran because he didn’t want to be arrested for back child support.

In a statement released Tuesday night, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (R) said, “What happened in this case is not acceptable in South Carolina.” Senator Tim Scott (R) said “The senseless shooting and taking of Walter Scott’s life was absolutely unnecessary and avoidable.” Senator Scott said that he would be watching the case closely.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, juvenile justice, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, LWOP Kids, mental health, Youth | 7 Comments »

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