Saturday, October 1, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts

Categories

Archives

Meta

LAPD Chief, NYPD Commissioner Working to Mend the Relationship Between Cops and Marginalized Communities…and More

July 28th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES RACE, POLICING, AND RECENT HIGH-PROFILE SHOOTINGS ON KPCC’S AIRTALK

Across the country, controversial shootings of men of color by law enforcement officers, and the mass shootings of officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge, have left police-community relations particularly tense. For months, Los Angeles Black Lives Matter activists have been regularly protesting at the LA Police Commission’s weekly meetings, calling for the resignation of LA Police Chief Charlie Beck.

Protesters’ cries grew louder this month when the commission found the fatal South LA shooting of a woman named Redel Jones to be within policy. (Read more about the shooting: here.)

During a monthly conversation with host Larry Mantle on KPCC’s AirTalk, Chief Beck talked about the state of policing in LA and what’s being done to improve the LAPD’s relationship with the community it serves.

Beck talked about attending a White House meeting to discuss race and policing with President Barack Obama, law enforcement leaders, local officials, activists, and others. Beck said at the White House meeting, attendees from both sides of the debate were receptive and empathetic, rather than “people pontificating, only presenting their point of view and not listening to other people,”—the sort of candid dialogue that he believes is missing from the national discussion.

“Nobody strives for empathy, nobody tries to understand the view of others,” Beck said. “Everybody just go to their polarized opposites. We’ll never get closer to a solution if people try to do that.”

The police chief also talked about officer training, body-worn cameras, racial bias and uses of force, his #StoptheViolence campaign with rapper the Game, and law enforcement’s disparate impact in communities that are underserved in every way.

The communities where LAPD officers make the most stops and arrests are the places with the highest crime rates, Beck said. Those communities also have the “highest rate of unemployment, lowest rate of high school graduation rate, worst rate of pre-school entry, worst housing market,” Beck continued. “There are layers and layers and layers of failure in delivery of services and disparate impact. And yet, somehow, policing is expected to be completely different.”

For more of Beck’s AirTalk discussion, head over to KPCC.


ANOTHER TOP COP, NYPD COMMISSIONER BILL BRATTON, IS ADDRESSING RACE AND POLICING ISSUES, AS HE PREPARES TO END HIS 45-YEAR LAW ENFORCEMENT CAREER

In New York City, NYPD police commissioner, William J. Bratton, is also trying to navigate the task of improving trust and accountability between cops and minority communities, as he nears the end of his policing career.

Bill Bratton, who was LAPD chief from 2002-2009, steered a department mired in misconduct and use of force scandals through a fundamental culture change.

Bratton reiterated that he will retire by the end of 2017, after more than 45 years in law enforcement. Until then, the commissioner is focusing on ways to heal racial tension between cops and citizens through a neighborhood policing program and other efforts. One step toward that goal will be finding the best way to educate officers about their implicit bias, Bratton said.

(You can read more about Bratton and the legacy he will leave behind—including the controversial “broken windows” method of policing—here.)

The New York Times’ Al Baker and J. David Goodman have the story. Here’s a clip:

“We’re in uncharted waters here, at this particular point in time in American policing,” Mr. Bratton said on a Sunday morning CBS News program after three Baton Rouge officers were killed by a black gunman who, officials said, explicitly targeted officers.

Across the country, officers have been newly on guard.

In New York, Mr. Bratton’s policing reforms were paired with the most significant militarization of the city’s officers in its history — changes, aimed at combating terrorism, that began last year. Hundreds of new specialized officers were outfitted with body armor and assault rifles. At the same time, others were added to precincts to buttress the neighborhood policing plan.

These two tracks in New York reflect the goals of many American police departments today: arming up for any eventuality, anywhere in the city (an active shooter, a coordinated terror attack), while, at the local level, toning down the everyday encounters between officers and civilians.

“His essence is to read the horizon,” Chuck Wexler, the head of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit group, said of Mr. Bratton.

Aides praise Mr. Bratton’s flexibility, his willingness to revisit an approach to tailor it to the times. But he can also be rigid and prone to doubling down on provocative public statements.

That has caused some grumbling at City Hall, where aides to Mr. de Blasio have watched Mr. Bratton attract unwelcome press — denigrating rap artists, linking marijuana and violence, accusing Black Lives Matter protesters of bigotry for their broad-brush approach to police.

And for all the talk of the unique role the police can play in healing old racial tensions, Mr. Bratton is frank that officers cannot do it alone. He said on Thursday that the department was “struggling, struggling,” with how to teach its officers about their “implicit bias,” the often subconscious racial baggage they may carry.

“It’s very difficult,” he said. The ultimate goal is to open officers’ minds to others’ perspectives, Mr. Bratton said. “That includes opening up my own mind.”

He is counting on the neighborhood policing plan to take hold and improve police-community relations. Under the leadership of Chief James P. O’Neill, the department’s highest-ranking uniformed officer and a possible successor to Mr. Bratton, the program is being expanded across the city. Among the smaller changes aimed at making police precincts more welcoming: Six have added A.T.M.s for officers and the community to share.


DUALITY OF POLICING EMPHASIZED BY TWO VERY DIFFERENT LAPD-INVOLVED INCIDENTS IN SOUTH LA

This week in South LA, two incidents—one that infuriated community members, and the other that earned LAPD officers gratitude from onlookers—just 12 hours apart underscored the duality of policing in America today.

On Monday night, LAPD officers shot and killed an 18-year-old, after the young man reportedly shot at the officers, wounding one. On Tuesday, several officers were working their way through the Nickerson Gardens housing project in Watts, trying to talk with residents angry about the death of yet another young black man at the hands of law enforcement.

While officers were walking through the housing project and talking with the residents, they heard shouting. The officers ran down the street to the source of the yelling, and found a young man on the ground struggling to breathe. The group of six officers worked quickly, trying to revive the man, pumping his chest and performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation until an ambulance arrived. One of the officers tore off part of her uniform to use as cloth to clean the vomit out of the man’s mouth.

The LA Times’ Kate Mather has more on the two incidents. Here’s a clip:

The fast-moving drama in Nickerson Gardens underscored the complicated duality of modern-day policing. Twelve hours before, the police killing of a black 18-year-old had infuriated the neighborhood. That anger, however, melted away — at least temporarily — when officers ran to another black man who needed help.

“If those officers never came,” one woman remarked after an ambulance arrived, “he probably wouldn’t be here.”

[SNIP]

Thompson, the officer who spent Tuesday trying to calm tempers, is one of the officers focused on Nickerson Gardens. At one point on Tuesday, he approached Risher, explaining the lengthy investigation that would follow his son’s death and telling him to reach out if he had any questions.

“Hang in there, man,” Thompson said.

“They’re all upset and frustrated — as they should be. It’s a soul lost,” Thompson told a Times reporter. “I just try to help them.”

A half-hour later, Thompson was one of the officers desperately trying to save the unconscious man in the parking lot. He and others tried to resuscitate the man mouth-to-mouth, pausing to spit out the vomit they had cleared from his throat.

Paramedics arrived to take the man to a hospital. One officer turned to the crowd that had been watching.

“They got a pulse,” he said.


TEEN FACES UP TO A YEAR BEHIND BARS FOR POSSESSING A SMALL AMOUNT OF CANNABIS

A Native American 19-year-old in Oregon faces a year in federal prison for possessing a gram of weed (one-twenty-eighth of what 21-year-olds can legally possess in Oregon).

The Guardian’s Sam Levin has Devontre Thomas’ story, which points a spotlight on the issue of continued targeting of people of color by federal agencies in the failed—yet persisting—war on drugs. Thomas’ case also points to major (and underreported) problems with the way the feds enforce laws among Native populations. Here’s a clip:

Devontre Thomas, a Native American 19-year-old, is accused of possessing a small amount of weed – enough for about one joint – and will face a federal trial that advocates say is a waste of resources and a stark reminder that US law enforcement agencies continue to target people of color for low-level pot offenses.

The one-count charge brought by the US attorney’s office – which could also result in a $1,000 fine – is the latest illustration of growing tensions in US laws on marijuana. The drug is sold recreationally in four states but remains outlawed at the federal level.

The government’s decision to file charges against Thomas, which criminal justice experts say is a perplexing move that directly contradicts federal guidelines, has also raised questions about how the US Department of Justice enforces laws on Native American territories.

“I can’t figure out why they are going after this youth. It literally makes no sense,” said Mat dos Santos, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon. “I find it really hard to believe this should merit the concern of the US attorney. It’s really heartbreaking.”

Posted in Charlie Beck | 1 Comment »

LA County Pays $10.1 Million Because an LA Deputy Allegedly Influenced Witness Causing a 16-Year-Old to Go to Prison for 20 Years

July 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, July 20, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to award a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million
to Francisco Carrillo for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. That’s $500,000 for every year of his life he spent behind bars.

It is the largest per anum settlement for wrongful imprisonment in California history.

Franky Carrillo was a sixteen-year-old high school student when he was arrested for the 1991 drive-by murder of Donald Sarpy. In 1992, after two trials, the first with a hung jury, Carrillo was convicted of the murder, along with multiple counts of attempted murder, for which he was given a life sentence, plus a second sentence of 30-to-life. The two sentences were to run consecutively, reducing the chance of Carrillo ever getting paroled to zero.

Throughout two criminal trials (the first produced a hung jury) and his 20 years in custody, Mr. Carrillo insisted on his innocence and wrote everyone he could think of try to get someone to help with his case. When at first that failed, he filed his own habeas petition. He also refused any plea bargain that involved an “explicit or implicit admission of guilt.”

But fifteen years into his sentence, an attorney responded to his letters and decided to look into Carrillo’s case.

On July 26, 2011, after a weeklong evidentiary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo granted Carrillo’s habeas corpus request and vacated Carrillo’s sentence. The LA District attorney’s office neither appealed the ruling, nor attempted to re-file charges.

And so it was that Franky Carrillo was released from custody on March 16, 2011, after having been locked up continuously since January 24, 1991, over 20 years.

How the jury came to convict the teenager with no previous criminal record is complicated, but according to Carrillo’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Ron Kaye, much of it reportedly hinged on the actions of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff named Craig Ditsch, now retired, an admitted member of the Lynwood “Vikings,” and a close supporter—according to Ditsch —of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who described his mentor’s controversial use of the term “gray area” as proactive policing.

“This settlement should send a loud and clear message to law enforcement throughout LA County that such manipulation of the evidence will not ever be tolerated,” said Kaye. “Franky Carrillo will never regain those years of his life – the birthdays, the weddings, the graduations and the funerals of loved ones that he missed, things we all take for granted – but at least this settlement holds those responsible accountable.”


THE SHOOTING

At approximately 7 p.m. on Friday, January 18, 1991, six African American teenagers, ages 15 to 18, were clustered near to the curb at the front of a house in the 4000 block of Lugo Avenue in Lynwood, California, when one of the boys’ dads, Donald Sarpy, walked toward the kids from his nearby house, intending to talk to his sone and the others. As Mr. Sarpy walked, a car approached and drove slowly past the group. Then, when the car had travelled a few houses away, the front seat passenger leaned out of the car’s right front window, his arm outstretched as he turned back toward the group, a in his hand. He fired several times. One of the bullets hit Donald Sarpy, who died several hours later at the hospital.

At the time when Frank Sarpy was murdered, Franky Carrillo was a tenth grader attending Schurr high school in Montebello, and living with his father and siblings in Maywood, California.

Before the move to Maywood a year before, Carrillo’s family lived in Lynwood, which had become increasingly gang-ridden. By the time Franky Carrillo hit middle school, he was at fringes of one of Lynwood’s main gangs called the Young Crowd. Carrillo wasn’t a member. He was never jumped into the gang. He had no tattoos—gang related and otherwise, and he had never been convicted of even the most minor criminal conduct. But he was friends with some of the actual gang members whom he’d known since elementary school. Due to those friendships, and where he lived, he was viewed as affiliated with the Young Crowd, by some. At one point, he was assaulted and stabbed by so-called enemy gang members. Another time, according to Carrillo, when he and a friend were riding their bikes, a sheriff’s deputy asked to photograph each of the boys. Carrillo’s image would later be put in a book containing photos of possible Young Crowd gang members.

These and other incidents led Carrillo’s dad to decide that he needed to get his kids away from Lynwood and its gang dangers, so moved to nearby Maywood. After the move, Franky went to school without fear of being jumped. “It was a brand new life, life,” he said.

But, then, back in Lynwood, Donald Sarpy was killed.


WITNESSES

When the first LA County sheriff’s deputies showed up at the scene minutes after the shooting, all but two of the six victim witnesses were gone. The two remaining witnesses, one of them Sarpy’s son, were interviewed at the site of the shooting. The other four were identified and interviewed by phone shortly afterwards. 


According to the initial police report, when the teenage witnesses first spoke to police, none of the six could give a useful description of the shooter past the fact that the person was a young Hispanic male. But four of the witnesses reported hearing one of the kids in the drive-by car yell something as shots were fired, like “Fuck N-Hood,” and possibly also, “Young Crowd Locos.” The purported shouted messages made sense because, at the time, there was a lethal rivalry between the two gangs. Yet, although the kids were “upset” and appeared to be trying hard to be helpful, according to the subsequent police report, other than those few details, the boys could produce little else. It had been dead dark at the time of the shooting, and the shooter was several houses away.

Hours later still, after 1 a.m., five of the adolescent witnesses were taken to the LA County Sheriff’s Lynwood sub-station where they were interviewed for a second time. (The sixth witness was, for some reason, was not re-interviewed until months later.) When the first four ended their interviews, they had produced no better picture of the suspect than they had earlier in the evening with the patrol deputies.

The last of the five, however, a 16-year-old named Scott Turner, was interviewed around 2:15 a.m. by LA sheriff’s deputy Craig Ditsch, who was a member of Lynwood’s Operation Safe Streets unit, or OSS— the gang enforcement unit. Ditsch reportedly knew Turner from previous gang-related cases and various street contacts in the Lynwood area.

Turner’s interview was also different from that of the other eyewitnesses in that he was the only person shown photographs at the Lynwood sheriff’s station that night.

At first Ditch showed Turner a “gang book” filled with photos of teenagers and young men who police believed were members of Young Crowd, or might have some affiliation. Turner would tell Carrillo’s defense attorneys years later that, at Ditsch’s urging, he picked several photos of people who might look like the shooter—even though, along with the others, he’d said earlier that he couldn’t really see the shooter. According to Turner, after he picked each of the photos, Deputy Ditsch told him he was incorrect, that this or that selection could not be the gunman. Finally, Turner put his finger on Francisco Carrillo’s photo. This time, according to Turner, Ditsch’s reaction was different. The OSS deputy told Turnerthat his choice was the right one.

“After guiding Mr. Turner to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph,” attorney Kaye wrote a civil court document, 
 “…Ditsch presented a six-pack to Mr. Turner with Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in position number one. Having already been led by Defendant Ditsch to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph from the hundreds of photographs in the gang book, Mr. Turner picked up the cue, and selected Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in the number one position as 
the perpetrator of the Sarpy murder.” 


According to Carrillo’s civil complaint, the six-pack that featured his photo was pre-existing in that it had been assembled for an an earlier case in which a witness testified at preliminary hearing that another Lynwood OSS deputy named Loy Luna urged her to pick Carrillo as the perpetrator, that he was a member of the Young Crowd. On the stand, the witness told the judge that she could not, in fact, ID Carrillo.

In his subsequent police report, Deputy Ditsch stated that Turner had independently chosen the photo of Carillo.

As for Turner himself, when he saw his friends again, he told them about Ditsch and that he’d picked out the right photo and the shooter was Carrillo. The remaining five witnesses were not shown the six-pack until months later, shortly before the trial. By then, they too were convinced they’d seen the shooter and that he was Franky Carrillo..


CONVICTION

Franky Carrillo was tried for the crime twice. The first trial ended with a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury. Before trial number two began, Scott Turner told prosecutors that his identification of Carrillo had been “a mistake” and that he could no longer testify against him.

According to Turner, when Ditsch heard that Turner was recanting, he cornered the teenager outside the courtroom, and threatened him, telling Turner there would be “negative consequences….once Mr. Turner was on the street,” if he took back his identification of Carrillo.

When Turner got on the stand, he ignored Ditsch and told the jury that he couldn’t ID the shooter. Two decades later, he told attorneys helping Carrillo that he was fearful of retaliation from Deputy Ditsch and other members of the Lynwood Sheriff’s sub-station, so did not tell the jury that Ditsch had told him that Mr. Carrillo was the shooter.

Although Turner recanted in the second trial, the other five witness stuck with their story that Franky Carrillo shot Donald Sarpy. The jury found Carrillo guilty of murder and six counts of attempted murder.


RELEASE

While in Folsom Prison, Carrillo did what he could to make his time inside count for something. He was part of The Blind Project- an organization which transcribed regular print into Braille for people without sight, worked in the Optical Department where he would refurbish used eye glasses that were then provided to those need, worked in the prison’s Youth Diversion Program.

And he wrote many, many letters—to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, to the California Office of the Inspector General, Innocence Projects in both California and New York, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Southern California, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a list of private attorneys. After fifteen years, the writing paid off. An assistant state public defender named Ellen Eggers agreed to look at his case. For the next five years, on evenings, weekends, and days off Eggers, and attorneys she recruited to help, pulled apart the case and tracked down the various eyewitnesses, who were now in their 30s.

At the subsequent Habeas hearing, five out of the six—including Donald Sarpy’s son—recanted their original testimony in front of Judge Bacigalupo. The sixth invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Scott Turner apologized to Carrillo from the stand, according to Scott Wood, a Loyola Law School professor with a specialty in restorative justice, who was one of the lawyers who signed on to help Eggers with Carrillo’s case and wrote about how the experience affected him. “I never got a chance to apologize to Frank or apologize to his family..… It’s not right.,” Turner said. “So I’m standing up … [to] I say I was wrong. And, you know, I’m sorry, Frank. I apologize.”

Carrillo replied right away. “I forgive you. I forgive you, Scott.”


POST SCRIPT

After his release from prison Franky Carrillo enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and graduated this June his Bachelor of Arts degree. “I needed to take hold of my future and follow my heart,” he wrote in an essay for LMU Magazine last summer when he was headed into his senior year. At Loyola, Carrillo fell in love with a woman, and last year the couple had a baby. Since graduation, the once-incarcerated man has been active criminal justice reform work. Most recently, he has been among those leading the charge to abolish the death penalty in the state of California through the passage of Prop 62.

As for Craig Ditsch, while Carillo was serving time at Folsom, he remained with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department until his retirement at the rank of lieutenant. He and other deputies maintain that Ditsch did not in any way improperly influence Scott Turner.

Ditsch—-and Loy Luna, who was also named in Carrillo’s civil lawsuit—were named multiple times in the huge and influential class action lawsuit of 1990, Thomas, et al v. the County of Los Angeles, about which both a U.S. District Court Judge, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals wrote as a finding of fact:

“The actions of many deputies working in the Lynwood sub-station are motivated by racial hostility; these deputies regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect. Many of the incidents which brought about this motion involved a group of Lynwood area deputies who are members of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang—the Vikings—which exists with the knowledge of departmental policy makers.

Last Tuesday, in the letter to the LA County Board of directors recommending a settlement of the Carrillo case, Jonathan McCaverty of County Counsel wrote, “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs, therefore a full and final settlement in the amount of $10,100,000 is recommended.

In a “Corrective Action Plan” attached to the settlement, the county asked for remedial changes in department policy, essentially to attempt to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

Thus on March 21, 2016 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Field Operation Support Services disseminated [a] newly written department policy related to suspect identifications, photographic arrays, and “admonishment procedures.”

The report also states that, “…due to the fact that both involved deputy sheriffs are no longer employees of the Department (for unrelated reasons), the incident was not investigated by representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs DepartrnenPs Internal Affairs Bureau.”

Carrillo’s attorney, Ron Kaye sums up the matter of retired LASD lieutenant Craig Ditsch very differently: “This deputy stole my client’s youth by coercing a 15-year-old witness to pick Franky out a line-up, even though he admitted he could never identify the shooter of the drive-by on the night of the crime.”

Posted in Innocence | 18 Comments »

Two Homeboy Industries Trainees Bring Water to Flint, MI, on Independence Day Weekend

July 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: As we make our way through these difficult, division-haunted days, take a break to read a story that offers some much-needed light.



UNLIKELY ACTIVISTS

Over the 4th of July weekend, two Los Angeles teenagers flew a round trip of nearly 5000 miles to bring water and various other supplies to around 200 undocumented residents of Flint, Michigan. The two had spent months raising the money necessary to pay for their trip to Michigan, and to buy the goods they would deliver once they got there.

On the surface, the twosome—Bryan Martinez, 18 and Carizma Brown, 19—were an unlikely pair to take on the challenge. For one thing, neither one of them, had flow in a plane before. Nor had they been out of LA, for that matter. And they had exactly zero experience in fundraising, or any kind of activism.

Bryan’s family is from El Salvador and Carizma is African American, yet the two have been best friends since they were 11, in part because they have a lot in common, much of it painful.

Bryan has been in and out of foster homes for most of his childhood, and has struggled to have have any kind of safe home environment.

Carizma lived with her mother for at least part of her growing up but, like her best friend Bryan, her homelife was anything but stable.

“These are two youngsters who have been impacted by ongoing poverty and violence,” said Dr. Cesar Cruz, who did his Harvard University doctoral residency at Homeboy Industries, where the teenagers are involved in a job training program. Cruz also became Bryan and Carizma’s mentor for the project, and their chaperone when they flew to Flint. “They’re not in gangs,” explained Cruz, “but a lot of times people think they are. And they’re impacted by gangs, trauma and instability, because of where they live.”

Although both teenagers are clearly bright, neither did well in traditional schools. Thus they wound up at Learning Works Charter School, an individualized learning program that operates in partnership with Homeboy Industries.

Even at Learning Works, according to Cruz, the teens struggled in the beginning to recover enough credits to get firmly on the road to graduation. (They expect to graduate next June.)

“But they wanted to be challenged,” Cruz said. “And they had a strong interest in social justice.” Thus when, as part of their studies, they read about the water contamination catastrophe in Flint, they became fascinated by the fact that the residents of an American city didn’t have enough of a basic necessity of living—water.


NO IDENTIFICATON, NO WATER

It was Carizma who first got the idea of turning their interest into action, said Cruz. She began bugging her best friend Bryan, “and they cooked up a plan.”

Bryan, in particular, was stunned by the idea of people in the U.S. without safe drinking water. “Water is an main need in life,” he said,”and seeing that people were having trouble getting it…it made us want to do something. We wanted to show that young people were concerned with other people, not just ourselves.”

They were also interested in the fact that, while Flint had been a big story, it had fallen out of the headlines. Most of the famous people had gone home. But the problem was far from over. People were still suffering.

Among the sub-issues within the crisis that Bryan and Carizma discovered was the fact that many among Flint’s undocumented population of several hundred residents were having trouble getting water and other crucial supplies that were being provided to those in need, because they had no valid IDs and, even when they did, they were fearful about disclosing their immigration status.

The idea of helping out Flint’s comparatively small undocumented population made the project seem manageable, according to Cruz.

But, how to find Flint’s undocumented residents?


FORMING A PLAN

In one of the news stories they found in the course of their research, they noticed the name of a Catholic Church located in Flint: Our Lady of Guadalupe. Having no other leads, they the two called the church. The parish secretary, a woman named Mary Mosqueda, happened to answer the phone. Bryan and Carizma explained what they wanted to do.

By the end of the conversation, Ms. Mosqueda had agreed to help the twosome.

“Don’t worry so much about water,” she told them. “People need baby wipes and adult wipes” in order to bathe.

Now that they had an on-the-ground contact and a reasonably practical plan, their next step was to make a budget. After doing the math, they determined they’d need to raise around $5000 to accomplish their goals. After that, they printed flyers for their project, which they handed out at the yearly Homeboy picnic, which draws about 300 Homeboy employees and supporters.

“They hit everyone up for donations,” said Cruz.

But, while Bryan and Carizma’s enthusiastic badgering of the picnic attendees did produce results, it wasn’t anywhere nearly enough.

Next, they turned to social media. With the help of Cruz and others, they made a promotional video and pitched their cause on IndieGoGo.

It worked. They didn’t raise the full $5000, but they managed to pull in $3825. Homeboy and Learning Works agreed to loan them the rest, until they could gather the remaining cash.


SAM’S CLUB STEPS UP

Bryan and Carizma flew to Flint on Friday July 1, and hit the ground running. They liked the symbolism of doing their outreach on Independence Day weekend, said Cruz.

On Saturday morning, they went into Sam’s Club to buy the needed water and wipes—after comparison shopping and finding that Sam’s had had the best prices for what they wanted to purchase in bulk. It turned out to be a felicitous choice because, at Sam’s Club, persuasive Carizma was able convince the store’s manager to match any of the money they spent in the store, dollar for dollar.

“The manager cared because this was her town,” said Cruz.

On Saturday afternoon and again on Sunday, they delivered the supplies to the church, and at other locations that their new Flint friends suggested. They also spoke at Our Lady of Guadalupe in front of the congregation. “They were powerful. Afterward, all these people came up and hugged them,” said Cruz.

Prior to coming to Flint, Carizma and Bryan decided they wanted to make a documentary covering what they experienced, so they came armed with cameras.

During their time in Flint, they were stunned by the poverty and the suffering they saw around them. .

As difficult as their own lives have been, they saw greater suffering in Flint, he said. It affected them to the point that they had trouble sleeping.

“I was talking to kids while I was giving out water,” explained Carizma, “and they weren’t eating good, they had rashes on their skins. And these are kids who are, like, seven years old.”

One antidote to their upset, seemed to be to film the pain they saw, with the idea of showing spreading the word beyond Flint. But it wasn’t all suffering, they were quick to note. They found significant pockets of hope provided by the many instances of local activism Bryan and Carizma witnessed.

“They filmed everything,” said Cruz. “They had no fear. They went into crack houses, they went into housing projects. They went everywhere, and talked to everyone.”

Bryan and Carizma hope to have a half-hour documentary ready in time to present at an event held at the California Endowment in August that draws leaders who work with populations like those at Homeboy, from around the globe.

And they’ll do it, said Cruz. “They’re on fire right now. They’re ready change the world….”

In the meantime, on July 5, Bryan and Carizma’s first day back at Homeboy, the two agreed to give the “Thought of the Day” at Homeboy’s morning staff meeting.

Carizma, normally the most facile public speaker of the two, grew suddenly shy, but still persevered, telling those assembled that her thought for the day was “Be grateful for what you have, because in Flint they don’t even have water.”

Posted in Homeboy Industries, Uncategorized | No Comments »

Education Reformer Steve Barr Announces a Run for Mayor in 2017

June 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Running against a well-liked incumbent Los Angeles mayor is usually considered…well…nuts,
but education reformer Steve Barr has a record for taking on the impossible.

Barr is the founder of Green Dot charter schools, which—in the early 2000s—launched small charters in low income areas of LA County, where sprawling and dysfunctional LA Unified School District facilities, like Jefferson High School, were then failing catastrophically, with drop out rates through the roof, and grad rates in the toilet. Yet, at the same time, local teachers’ unions and others got in the way of anyone trying to fix them.

Enter Green Dot, begun when Barr was unsuccessful in finding a way to partner with LAUSD. and was determined to give families living in impoverished neighborhoods an educational option that acted as if their kids actually mattered.

By 2007, in a grand and risky experiment, Green Dot managed against daunting odds to seize control of a large failing high school itself, namely Alain Leroy Locke High School, located at the edge of the Watts.

Locke, with its 28 percent graduation rate and 90 percent of its students performing below basic or far below basic on standardized tests—was emblematic of the worst of the LAUSD’s institutional failures. It was also the first such “hostile takeover” in the U.S. of a public high school by a charter, and it made national news.

Amazingly, Green Dot’s small-is-better education model, with its high degree of teacher autonomy and parent involvement, actually worked. Kids who showed up at the Green Dot start-up charters on the first day of class with their reading and math abilities discouragingly far below grade level, not only stayed in school and graduated, they applied to college.

By 2009 two of Green Dot’s charters were named among the 100 best public schools in America.

That same year,Barr was profiled in the New Yorker.

Two years later still, a UCLA study showed the Locke schools to be “significantly outperforming their counterparts on a number of state test score measures, as well as in remaining in high school over time, and in taking and passing challenging courses.”

Green Dot is viewed by many as being greatly influential in stimulating—and at times forcing—reform in the Los Angeles public school landscape during a period when LAUSD’s disastrously failing inner city middle and high schools repeatedly made headlines.

In 2010, Barr left Green Dot to do education reform work elsewhere in the U.S., helping to open a Green Dot-style charter schools in New York and New Orleans

In 2012, he turned his sights back to LA with an unusual partnership with LAUSD.

Now, he has announced he is running for mayor of Los Angeles in 2017, challenging Eric Garcetti. He filed the necessary papers on Monday. “I’m in,” he posted on his Facebook page.

The LA Times’ Peter Jamison and Howard Blume have more on the story of Barr’s candidacy. Here’s a clip:

Barr, a Silver Lake resident and darling of education-reform advocates who has not previously held elected office, said he has grown impatient with what he sees as Garcetti’s passivity in the face of a worsening public education crisis. He said Garcetti is “a really nice guy” who lacks “a sense of urgency” about solving the city’s problems, foremost among them the shortcomings of the nation’s second-largest school system.

“The school district – and I’m saying this as a big fan of the school district, as a parent in the school district – in some ways is a little bit like an alcoholic who hasn’t bottomed out yet,” Barr said. “It’s getting better, but we can’t afford as a city to just let this thing linger out there, because it’s not just affecting them anymore. It’s affecting our city and it has for a long time.”

Barr’s entry into the 2017 race comes amid a historic push by local activists to expand charter schools as an answer to problems in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and is likely to revive debate around a recurrent theme in L.A. government: the relationship between LAUSD and City Hall. L.A.’s mayor, unlike those in Chicago or New York City, has no formal authority over the school district.

[SNIP]

In taking on Garcetti, Barr faces long odds against an incumbent who has built a broad base of political support and an impressive fundraising machine – and who has made no major missteps during his first three years in office.

Jaime Regalado, an emeritus professor of political science at Cal State L.A., said he thought nothing short of a serious scandal – or perhaps an abrupt exit by Garcetti to accept an appointment in a Hillary Clinton White House – would create “any chance at all” for Barr’s success.

Others cautioned against underestimating Barr’s appeal to an unpredictable electorate in a city where public school quality still tops most polls as an issue of voter concern.

“He’s running as an outsider at a time when voters are powerfully suspicious of the political establishment, and he’s running on an issue that’s close to the hearts of most Angelenos,” said Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC. “It will be an uphill fight for him, but this is something that Garcetti and his team would be smart to take very seriously.”

Posted in Education, Green Dot | No Comments »

Bribery-Taking LA County Deputy Gets a Surprise Sentence, Causing Some to Ask What it Means for High Profile Sentences Still to Come

June 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS HAS COURT WATCHERS GUESSING

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Gilbert Michel to six months in a federal prison, plus two years probation.

The sentence was a surprise to most of those observing.

The federal prosecutors had consistently pushed for prison time for other former LA Sheriff’s department members who had been convicted in the last few years. But in the case of Michel, who had cooperated with the feds from nearly the beginning (once he was caught), the government asked Judge Anderson for a sentence of four months of home detainment, which would allow him to continue to work to support his family.

And, for a moment it looked as the sentencing might go as expected. The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Brandon Fox, explained its position, citing Michel’s high level of cooperation, how he had taken responsibility for his offenses, and his concrete efforts to reboot his life.

“There needs to be a balance between personal responsibility and cooperation with the investigation,” said Liz Rhodes.

When it was his turn, Gilbert Michel read with apparent sincerity from a prepared statement, choking up several times as he did so.

“Five years ago, I made a decision that was very wrong,” he read. “In my arrogance, I took a bribe. I not only thought I could get a way with it, I thought I would not be held accountable for it.

“These decisions that I have made have not only affected myself, but my family, and the citizens of Los Angeles County.

“I want to apologize to my family, mainly my children, for not setting the example I should have set for you. I hope you’ve learned from my wrong decisions….

“To the citizens of Los Angeles County I am truly sorry for my misconduct. I took an oath to honorably perform my duties as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, and I failed you….

“I humbly accept whatever punishment I am given.”

As he read his statement, Michel looked sober and sorrowful, yet self-pity seemed notably absent

(click to enlarge)


CRIME AND CONSEQUENCE

To remind you, Gilbert Michel was the deputy who, in July and early August of 2011, accepted cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was the friend of a jail inmate named Anthony Brown. In return for the money, Michel agreed to bring a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail, and to give the phone to inmate Brown for his use.

For still more money, Michel further contracted to recharge the phone and return it to Brown, never sensing that Brown was a federal informant, and he, Michel, had just landed smack in the middle of an undercover sting designed by the feds to catch corrupt deputies—like himself—-who were willing to break the law in return for cash. The sting was part of a larger undercover FBI investigation into deputy brutality and abuse toward inmates.

In a deal struck with federal prosecutors six months later in January of 2012, Michel pleaded to one count of bribery, and agreed to fully cooperate with the government’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the department’s troubled jail system.

“Cooperation” involved disclosing what he knew about deputy wrongdoing inside the jail, including his own misdeeds. It also meant testifying under oath at two federal trials involving former department members, one of them, the trial of Paul Tanaka, the other the trial of the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice in what has become unofficially known as Operation Pandora’s Box.


BEATINGS & LIES

Although Michel was not charged with abuse and brutality against inmates, he admitted to abuse in multiple interviews with the FBI, and also under oath in his lengthy testimony at both the Tanaka trial, and the earlier joint trial of six former department members.

In the trial of the six, Michel’s testimony was dramatic and harrowing. He testified that, shortly after his graduation from the department’s training academy, he worked the 2000 and the 3000 floors Men’s Central Jail where as part of his initiatory training he learned the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel’s described details of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been present for, or administered himself.

His testimony portrayed, not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to a subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates. The brutality was accompanied, according to Michel, in many instances, by the falsification of criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

Even if inmates wrote up complaints, said Michel, they were often intercepted by deputies who had access to the complaint box.


THE JUDGE RULES

On Monday morning, after everyone else had finished speaking, and it was time for the Anderson to hand down a sentence, Anderson’s expression was grave. He spoke of
“the seriousness of this offense,” the bribery itself, and “the fact that the offense involved repeated” behavior. And, then, although Michel wasn’t charged with anything more than the single count of bribery, Anderson brought up the physical abuse visited on inmates, that Michel had testified about twice in his courtroom, (Anderson presided over all four of the obstruction of justice trials.)

The defendant was a law enforcement officer, said Anderson. “He broke his solemn vow to uphold the law…victimized those he was sworn to protect… abused the public trust….Not only did he bring shame on the sheriff’s department, but on law enforcement in general.”

Then after a long pause Anderson got to the point. “The court finds that the defendant’s conduct does require a period of incarceration.”

Physical abuse of inmates, Anderson said, was “rampant and unchecked” and “went all the way to the top of the department.”

Department members “behaved no better than the inmates they were assigned to guard.”

Thus, due to the “need for deterrence,” and for “a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offenses….six months of incarceration is appropriate.”

Anderson gave Michel a little over a month to get his affairs in order, telling him he must self-surrender by noon on July 26.


A GHOST OF SENTENCING FUTURE?

When those on the court benches filed out into the hallway after the hearing was over, one of the main topics of conversation other than the surpise sentence itself, is what it might mean for future sentencing. Did Anderson’s significant deviation from the prosecution’s request presage a similarly non-lenient view of, say, the upcoming sentencing of former sheriff Lee Baca on July 11, and also that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka at the end of this month.

“If I were Lee Baca, I’d be concerned,” said one attorney who observed the Michel sentencing hearing.

“This judge wants to know that you get it,” agreed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky. “From what we’ve seen today, I don’t think he’s going to go easy on former sheriff Baca.”

A few minutes later still, Michel stood in the sun outside the federal court building on Main Street and told reporters that he does get it.

“I made a mistake. I did wrong. This whole thing has been a life changing experience for me,” Michel said. “I’m ready to take what the judge gave to me, and move on with my life. It’s a fair sentence. It was totally fair and justified.”

As for the “rampant and unchecked” abuse of inmates by deputies that Anderson and others have mentioned?

“There is an arrogance about the department where I worked….,” Michel said, his wife close beside him. “It was everywhere. We thought that we ran the jail. That it was our jail, that we controlled the jail. Nobody else did. It was arrogant.” We worked there. But” the jail “doesn’t belong to the deputies. It belongs to the people of Los Angeles. But that’s not how we saw things.”

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

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

May 23rd, 2016 by witnessla

FINDING FAMILY

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


by Sara Tiano and Brittany Reid


SCARY GROUP HOMES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHUTTERING DUMPING GROUNDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



KIDS NEED FAMILIES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WRAP AROUND

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s got a point.


SAME PLAYERS DIFFERENT LABELS?

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


Photos by Sara Tiano, audio by Brittany Reid

Posted in Foster Care | No Comments »

Formerly Incarcerated Berkeley Grads, Supes Seek “Millionaires Tax” to Fight Homelessness, the 4th District Supe Candidates, LA Mag’s Charlie Beck Interview, and Exoneration in San Diego

May 18th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

BERKELEY STUDENTS’ PATH FROM LOCK-UP TO COLLEGE GRADUATION

On Sunday, UC Berkeley held its first ever graduation ceremony honoring 14 formerly incarcerated Berkeley graduates.

The ceremony was organized by the Underground Scholars Initiative, founded by two former Pelican Bay State Prison inmates, Danny Murillo and Steven Czifra, who made it out of solitary confinement and into UC Berkeley. The group’s focus is on supporting fellow former offenders-turned-Berkeley-students through their college years.

One of the graduates, David Maldonado earned his master’s degree in education this year, and hopes to continue on at Berkeley and earn a PhD in social and cultural studies. Maldonado earned his GED while in prison, then went to Berkeley City College before transferring to UC Berkeley.

CA Senator Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) delivered the keynote speech, praising USI’s work to “build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline.”

The Daily Californian’s Logan Goldberg has the story. Here’s a clip:

Pride was a central theme for the 14 formerly incarcerated UC Berkeley graduates who were honored at a special ceremony held Sunday afternoon in Anna Head Alumnae Hall. The ceremony — organized by the the Underground Scholars Initiative, a campus student group that advocates for current and prospective students affected by the prison system — was the first of its kind.

The USI was founded in 2013 by Danny Murillo and graduate Steven Czifra, who met at UC Berkeley and quickly realized that they had both been incarcerated at the Security Housing Unit in Pelican Bay State Prison. The pair has since worked tirelessly, alongside other formerly incarcerated students, to assist, support and “provide a safe space” for those with similar backgrounds, according to Murillo.

“We’re resilient overachievers,” Murillo said at the ceremony, adding that for the USI, “this is just the beginning.”

The ceremony’s keynote speaker, state Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Oakland, said the state plans to have community college and degree programs in every California prison by year’s end. She noted that such efforts to reform the prison system are driven by success stories like those of the graduates.

“Having spent so much time trying to break a pipeline, the school-to-prison pipeline, it’s amazing now to work with the USI to build a new pipeline, the prison-to-school pipeline,” Hancock said at the ceremony.


THE LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS TO SEEK A “MILLIONAIRES TAX” TO HELP HOMELESS

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to seek—via state legislation—a new “millionaires tax” that would fund housing and other crucial services for the county’s homeless population.

LA County and the City of LA are working on a collaborative plan to help and house homeless residents, but much of the funding is still in limbo.

Through the motion, proposed by Supes Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the board would lobby the capitol for a law—likely a budget trailer bill—to give the county the power to tax millionaires’ income. The board unanimously approved a related motion by Supes Don Knabe and Hilda Solis to take a closer look at the county’s spending on homeless adults using mental health treatment, public assistance, emergency medical services, as well as how much the county spends locking homeless people up in jail.

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

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl proposed lobbying the state for legislation that would give the county authority to impose a new tax on personal income over $1 million a year to fund efforts on homelessness.

The question would still need to go to voters and receive two-thirds approval before it could take effect, but because the county does not have authority to increase income taxes, it would first require a change in state law.

A recent county-commissioned poll that looked at various possible funding measures for the November ballot found that likely voters were most supportive of the millionaires tax option, which would raise an estimated $243 million a year, with 76% of those surveyed being supportive.

The city and county of Los Angeles passed plans earlier this year aimed at reducing the region’s growing problem of homelessness, and the county has approved $150 million in initial funding, but the source of ongoing funding to build housing and provide services remains in question. County analysts say almost $500 million a year would be needed to make significant reductions in the countywide homeless population, which currently stands at nearly 47,000.

But Supervisor Hilda Solis last week put the brakes on the proposal to move toward a millionaires tax, raising questions about the methodology of the polling and of the most recent homeless count conducted by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

She said Tuesday that the majority of her concerns had been addressed and joined Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl in voting to pursue authority for counties to impose a millionaires tax for homeless services, probably through a budget trailer bill that would take effect in July.


SPEAKING OF THE SUPERVISORS…HERE ARE THE 4TH DISTRICT CANDIDATES’ VIEWS ON CRIMINAL JUSTICE ISSUES

LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has a helpful guide on the contenders for LA County Supervisor Don Knabe’s 4th District seat, including background information and their thoughts on criminal justice and other relevant issues.

The candidates are Congresswoman Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Steve Napolitano, Knabe’s senior deputy, and Ralph Pacheco, a minister and board member of the Whittier Union High School District.

(Earlier this month, we posted a story about the top five candidates for Supe. Michael Antonovich’s seat, and their views on child welfare and juvenile justice.)

Here’s a clip:

Hahn, who has served as a congresswoman since 2011, said she wants more sheriff’s deputies hired to keep up with rising crime. She also wants more community policing efforts in the wake of the highly publicized jail abuse scandal that has the county “reeling right now.”

“I don’t think we’ll ever be able to prevent crime if we don’t have real trust between the Sheriff’s Department and the people they serve,” she said in a phone interview.

While serving as a member of the Los Angeles City Council, Hahn created in 2005 the Watts Gang Task Force, which included law enforcement, clergy and community activists who met each week in her office. That group was credited with building trust between police and the community and helping to reduce gang-related crime, she said.

Napolitano said he would also work to put more sheriff’s deputies on the streets, and he’d like to work with the Sheriff’s Department and Veteran’s Affairs to launch a veterans hiring initiative to help fill as many vacant Sheriff’s Deputy positions as possible. The Sheriff’s Department has funding for nearly 500 deputy vacancies, according to a department spokeswoman.

“We’ve got troops coming back from overseas who needs jobs,” Napolitano said in an interview. “We need sheriff’s (deputies). They make great public safety officers.”

Napolitano, a former Manhattan Beach mayor and councilman, said the county also needs better diversion programs with “measured outcomes” for the mentally ill and addicts as well as probation programs that end recidivism. The Board of Supervisors recently created an Office of Diversion and Re-Entry to reduce the number of mentally ill inmates who are low-level offenders, he said, but it’s the next board “that will really determine how that looks … and what the outcomes are going to be.”

Pacheco, an ordained minister and chairman and CEO of the Whittier-based nonprofit LC Foundation, said he wants the newly authorized civilian oversight commission to empower Sheriff Jim McDonnell “to take action to eradicate corruption in the department.”

While much of the jail abuse scandal has been adjudicated and resolved, “there are still pockets within the department that need to be addressed,” he said in an interview.

“The commission needs to be empaneled, needs to be given teeth with the addition of subpoena power to assist the sheriff in helping to restore accountability and confidence in the Sheriff’s Department,” Pacheco said.

By the way, the LA Times has officially endorsed Janice Hahn for the position.


RECOMMENDED READING: LA MAG INTERVIEW WITH LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK COVERS HIS LAW ENFORCEMENT HISTORY, PROP. 47, CRIME RATES, COMMUNITY POLICING, AND MORE

In an LA Magazine interview with Gabriel Kahn, a USC Annenberg Journalism professor, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck discusses his time as an police officer in the ’80s and ’90s, through the crack epidemic, the Rodney King beating, and the LA riots, and how the LAPD’s policing strategies have evolved since then.

Chief Beck also talks about the impact he believes California’s Proposition 47 has had on crime rates and rehabilitation services, as well as discusses racism and officers’ use of deadly force, community policing, and the legacy the Beck wants to leave behind. Here’s a clip:

Your first big challenges as an officer were dealing with the PCP craze in the late 1970s and then the crack epidemic of the ’80s. How did those periods shape your experience?

It was a frenetic time. I worked in South Los Angeles, and we would routinely have these huge battles with people on PCP because they were so violent. As we went into the ’80s, the crack epidemic started to take hold. The crime rate was about three times what it is now. Homicide rate, too. You could just watch lives disappear on the street. People would succumb to the addiction, and families would break up and life became very cheap.

How did the LAPD combat that?

This was in the time of rock houses. There was major gang influence. People would take over a home and set up retail cocaine or crack sales. They’d put up an armed gate with one guy inside with the product and a gun, and he’d sell all day. We would hit five or six of those houses a day—send in an undercover, do a buy, pry the door off, and make the arrest. We would do that over and over; our arrest rate was about 1,000 a month. We had phone lines set up for people in the neighborhood to tell us where the crack houses were, and the tips would just flood in. We would start work at around noon, and we would work off our list and do the raids. The next day we’d come back in, and there would be a new list.

Did it feel as if you were on the losing side of a war?

Oh, yeah. All of that led up to Rodney King and then the riots, when we were having 1,100 murders a year. My conclusion as a police officer up through the late ’90s was that it would always get worse. And it always did. It was kind of idyllic when I was a young cop, and then it got more violent, more dangerous. The infrastructure of the city was deteriorating. So that was my conclusion. I was a lieutenant in the mid-’90s. And that’s when I began to see that there were ways to work this. I began to go in the opposite direction and think that we could do better and more effective policing.

What changed?

The first thing you have to accept is that you can make a difference. You have to accept that crime is not inevitable. That was Bratton’s litmus test for police management: “Do you think crime is a given?” I moved firmly onto the side where I thought, “If you put in the right pieces in the landscape, you could change a neighborhood.”

Read the rest.


A NOT-TO-BE-MISSED SAN DIEGO EXONERATION SERIES

The San Diego Union-Tribune has an excellent series on exonerations in San Diego County that we didn’t want you to miss. SD District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis’ recently launched a task force to investigate wrongful convictions. The conviction integrity unit’s two full-time prosecutors work in conjunction with the SD Public Defender’s Office and the California Innocence Project to right justice system wrongs.

Between 1989 and 2015, in San Diego County, there were 15 exonerations, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. The Union-Tribune’s series tells those exonerees stories.

One of those exonerees, Kevin Baruxes spent 7 years behind bars, and survived a near-fatal stabbing, after a neighbor falsely accused him of raping her when he was 18 years old. Here’s a clip from Baruxes’ story:

Despite discrepancies in Mahaffy’s changing story, a lack of physical evidence and Baruxes’ alibi that he was home with family, the jury convicted him.

Baruxes said he had to keep most of the other inmates from finding out his charges.

“I didn’t go to the bathroom for like four days,” he recently recalled of his first nights behind bars. “That’s how scared I was.”

Baruxes managed to stay out of harm’s way until about five years into his sentence.

He said he got a new cellmate, who, unlike the others, wasn’t willing to keep quiet about why Baruxes was in prison. Later that day, he was stabbed twice with a seven-inch knife made out of a cookie pan from the kitchen. The blade nicked his lung and his kidney, almost killing him.

As courts denied appeal after appeal, Baruxes decided to go into protective custody.

“I was thinking, man, I might have to do 20 years. I wouldn’t make it without them killing me,” he said.

In 2002, the district attorney’s office received an email from Mike Chaney, Mahaffy’s ex-fiance, according to court documents. Chaney said that Mahaffy confessed to him that Baruxes did not rape her. He also said she was a chronic liar.

Baruxes’ lawyer hired an investigator to find others who could corroborate Chaney’s statements. He found an ex-boyfriend, a former roommate and her ex-husband. They all talked about fake illness and injury stories that she used to get attention and told the different versions they’d heard of her rape.

Meanwhile, a prosecutor tracked down Mahaffy, who admitted over the phone that she didn’t think Baruxes had raped her.

Baruxes went free soon after. He received $258,000 in compensation.

Posted in Education | 3 Comments »

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

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


COMPETING NARRATIVES & DECIDING WHOM TO BELIEVE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE CUSTODY ASSISTANT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


LISTENING IN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THE HONOR RECRUIT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BAD KICKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Brunsting reportedly indicated that things weren’t finished.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REPORTS, REVISIONS & RESIGNATIONS

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

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

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

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

“No, sir,” said Sather.

“So why did you write it?”

“I was told to do it.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


“TRUTH” VERSUS “TRUTH”

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

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

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

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


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

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


POST SCRIPT:

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

Posted in LASD | 10 Comments »

LA County Sheriff’s Department Takes Gang Diversion to College

April 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

This past Saturday morning, April 16, in a lecture room at the University of California, Irvine, a UCI student, whom we’ll call Luis,* spoke to 46 teenagers about how, as a 14-year-old living in Compton, he and his cousin, who was also 14 at the time, were sitting, kicking it outside his uncle’s house—also in Compton—when everything changed.

“Two Lincoln Navigators drove really slowly up to my uncle’s house,” said Luis, who is member of the university’s Sigma Delta Alpha fraternity. “And we saw the gun come out. It was an Uzi. And they started shooting. I dropped down to the ground. But then I saw that my cousin didn’t duck. He was choking with blood.”

Most of the teenagers in the audience had never been on a college campus, and they listened to Luis’s story with nearly breathless intensity. Ranging in age from 12 to 18, they were part of a Gang Diversion Team program (GDT) that was started ten years ago by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy, Fred Noya, out of the department’s Carson station.

On Saturday, Noya’s GDT kids had come to UC Irvine for an all day event that was designed to persuade the group of young men and women of the worth and joys of college, along with giving them the message that, if they wanted to go to a really good school like UCI, or other highly rated colleges and universities, if they were willing to work toward that goal, such a school was within their reach.

One of the first events of the day was the morning session featuring talks by several motivational speakers. And far and away the most popular of the presentations was the talk given the group by Luis.


DON’T BE A STATISTIC

As the kids watched fraternity guy speak, Noya watched his GDT charges whom he noted were “glued” as Luis continued his story.

Luis said that four bullets hit his cousin on that awful day-–”three in the stomach, one on the side.” Luis paused. “I saw him die in front of me….A kid shouldn’t have to do that. It changes you. It traumatizes you.”

Although he didn’t realize it right away, Luis had also been hit. A bullet grazed the side of his head just above his ear. Luis parted his hair with his fingers to reveal a still very visible scar.

“I usually don’t show this to people,” he said.

Luis went on to tell his young audience that, right after his cousin’s death, he stopped going to school, and began spending time on the street.

“I was blindfolded by rage and anger,” he said. “I stopped going to school for about three months.” All he could think about, he said, was retaliating for his cousin’s murder.

“It was a dark time.”

For a teenager in his painful state, Luis said, “you need someone who gives you hope.”

Over the next few years, Luis said he was “living two lives,” one of them in school, one on the street. Yet, despite his increasingly problematic behavior away from school, some of his teachers didn’t give up on him. In particular there was a physics teacher who was “extraordinary,” he said. She made it clear she thought he was someone who mattered by driving to at his house when he didn’t show up at school. The physics teacher did whatever else it took to get the boy out of the emotional spiral that had taken possession of him after his cousin’s murder.

At home, Luis said, he “didn’t have any guidance.” His parents worked very long hours and were exhausted during the show time they were at home. His dad had been deported twice. No one was pushing him to stay in school or helping him stay out of trouble.

“So having someone believe in me,” said Luis, made the crucial difference. He gradually reengaged in classes. And, with the help of the physics teacher, he applied to college.

By his senior year in high school, Luis had managed a near miraculous turnaround, a 4.7 GPA, plus he was class salutatorian at graduation. Even better, he got a full ride to UCI where he is now majoring in business economics. He plans to go on to graduate school and wants a career in finance.

“Don’t be a statistic,” said Luis to the kids in the audience, near the end of his story. “Anyone can change. It’s a lot of work. I worked really hard. But you can do it.”

When you come from Compton, Luis added, all you hear about is “famous rappers and basketball players.”

Since the kids in the audience came primarily from Compton, Lynwood and Carson, many of them nodded. What about the doctors and lawyers? What about the rest of the professions? Luis asked. “Don’t listen to the stereotypes,” he said.

For the rest of the time on the Irvine campus, the GDT kids toured the school with student volunteers who acted as guides and mentors for the day, telling stories from their own lives, and answering questions.

At lunch, when the GDT youth were asked to give feedback about which of the day’s speakers and activities had most affected or inspired them, the response was unanimous. The story of Luis was easily the winner.

“With all he had going against him and nobody always pulling for him, he kept at it,” said one UCI visitor. “I want to be like that.”

Luis had made college seem possible, they said. “He’s one of us.”


MORE THAN SUPRESSION

Ten years ago when GDT began, LASD Deputy Fred Nova was, as he explained it, on the suppression side of law enforcement when it came to gangs. Specifically, he worked in a COPS Bureau** “suppression team” at the LASD’s Carson station. Then one day Todd Rodgers, who was then the captain at Carson, asked him to come up with a gang intervention and diversion program that would have a positive effect on the city’s gang members who were “causing damage to property and lives in the city,” said Noya. (Rodgers is now an assistant sheriff at the sheriff’s department.)

Enforcement could only go so far, Rodgers felt. He wanted a ““community-based intervention strategy” that interwove police efforts with those of community organizations.

Noya signed on enthusiastically. “I decided I had to make it personal,” he told me. “I had to act as if it was my own kids I was working with.” If he looked at the nascent program any other way, “like as a stepping stone” on a career path, “it wouldn’t have worked.”

The need was apparent. “We’d had a lot of parents coming to us. Mom’s crying that they were afraid of their kids,” or that their kids wouldn’t go to school.”

When it was first launched, the program dealt mostly with active gang members. But, over time, it widened to include kids who were on the fringe of gangs, the wannabes and the soon-to-be’s. “We thought, why don’t we get ‘em before they get to the point” of arrest or serious police involvement, said Noya.

The way the program worked was that kids would be referred to GDT—by parents, by school officials, by law enforcement, and in some cases, just walk ins who’d heard something interesting was going on.

Each kid would go through assessment by a case manager to determine their level of risk, the details of their family situation, educational needs, drug involvement, mental and emotional issues, and more. Then after a thorough review, each boy or girl would be referred to a list services in the form of a detailed action plan.

The programatic referrals included things like mentoring, tutoring, a life skills class, anger management, drug and rehab programs, and various kinds of rewards, like trips or outings offered as incentives. During the process, each kid’s progress is monitored and documented.

The GDT program serves both boys and girls, although boys are still in the majority. On the girls’ side of things, Deputy Noya pointed to the example of a girl named Kiani Dean, whose grandma brought her to the program. Kiana, Noya said, was a frequent runaway who was overly tattooed, and suffered from depression, and a general lack of self worth. After participating in a year of mentoring and conflict resolution programs through GDT, Noya said, Kiani was able to begin to turn things around. Now, after graduating from high school with honors, Kiani is an honors student at Hampton University, with plans to become a doctor.


GETTING OUT OF “THE DARK PLACE”

Sometimes, Noya noted, the success stories are far less obvious than that of high-achieving Kiani.

One night just before Christmas 2014, he said, “this guy came up to me in the station.” The boy, now an 18 year old, had been in the program a few years before, but not done well. A gang member who continued to cause trouble and get into regular fights, Noya’d had more than a few “go-rounds” with the kid, he said.

Then one night the boy—now legally a man—approached Noya at the Carson station house and said, “Hey, Deputy Noya, remember me.”

“I remember you,” said Noya cautiously.

“Can we walk outside,” the kid said.

The deputy found himself instantly on alert, thinking that perhaps the kid intended to take a swing him, Noya said when he told me the story.

Once outside, the young man’s expression changed. “I just wanted to say ‘thank you,’” he said. “I never had a dad and I appreciate all that you said to me.”

Noya listened, stunned. “I don’t do crime anymore,” the young man continued. “I’ve done some bad things. But now I’m managing a pizza place.” He didn’t make a lot of money, he said. “But I make enough to take care of my mom.”

Noya remember that, a few years before, he’d become so exasperated with the kid, and the trouble he caused, that he’d told him it would be better for all concerned if he left town.

The former gangster reminded Noya of his advice about leaving. “You were right,” he said. And he did leave.

He now lives in Inglewood, he said.

Noya was blown away. “Honestly, when he asked me to walk outside, I thought for sure we were going to battle.” Instead the young man thanked him over and over.

But the thanks didn’t end with the one visit.

Late one night after the reunion at the station, the young man texted Noya.

“Thanks for getting me out of the dark place,” read the text.

Noya allowed amazement to creep into his voice as he told me the story.

“Kids’ll surprise you,” he said. “You never know when something you say is going to take root.”

That’s why he loves this program, Noya said.


*”Luis’s” real name was not be used to protect his privacy.


**COPS Bureau, is the federally funded Community Oriented Policing Services, which include targeted gang suppression.

Posted in Gangs, LASD | 3 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand, and the Prosecution Uses the “V” Word

April 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


‘UNWAVERING SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG”

Midmorning on Friday, after a week and a half of witness testimony, the prosecution rested its case in the criminal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

But the main event of the day in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, was when the defense began their case and called their first witness at 9:53 a.m.

“We call Paul Tanaka,” said defense attorney Jerome Haig.

Paul Tanaka, for those just joining us, was the second in command at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and, for many years, the man whom it was assumed was would succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca when Baca stepped down. Instead Tanaka has been charged by U.S. Government with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Specifically, the charges allege that Tanaka oversaw and directed deliberate efforts to get in the way of an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails that began in 2010. To do so, the feds contend that, from mid-August 2011 through much of September, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction devised a scheme to hide an inmate-turned-confidential-informant from his FBI handlers; that they attempted to intimidate potential witnesses into refusing to cooperate with the FBI; and that they falsely threatened a federal agent with arrest (among other allegedly problematic actions).

Using a string of two-dozen witnesses, plus piles of telling emails, records of interestingly-timed phone calls between relevant parties, audio recordings of Brown and other potential witnesses being interviewed by department members, and more, government prosecutors have painstakingly built what they hope is an impregnable case against the former undersheriff.

During his three hours of testimony, Tanaka and Jerome Haig, one of his two attorneys, attempted to smash as many pieces of the prosecution’s case as they possible could.

Tanaka began his testimony by painting a picture of himself as an accomplished, and scrupulously honest and hardworking lawman. He told about his graduation from Loyola Marymount University, his background as a Certified Public Accountant, the fact that he is now in his twelfth year as the mayor of the city of Gardena, and his speedy rise through ranks of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Tanaka then spent time telling the jury about his management style and his ethics.

He described himself as someone with an “unwavering sense of right or wrong,” who attempted to impart that ethic to those working under him.

For instance, he said that when he visited the department’s various stations, he always told deputies to “make sure that you’re as smart as you can be, know all the laws, know the lines of right and wrong, and do your job,” but do it in “the right way because that’s our obligation as peace officers.”

Tanaka also portrayed himself as a hard worker who demanded the same from other supervisors, noting that when was the assistant sheriff he often “had difficulty” finding chiefs, commander and captains who often seemed to ditch work for part of the day. So, he said, he ordered that supervisors “have to be at work,” Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

Tanaka implied that some of the prosecution’s witnesses who alleged negative things about him were, in reality, disgruntled slackers whose feet Tanaka had held to the figurative fire.


THE MATTER OF THE F-BOMBS

Several prosecution witnesses quoted instances of Tanaka reportedly dropping the F-bomb with impressive frequency in meetings. Tanaka and his lawyer addressed this issue as well.

“Have you ever use language not suitable for television?” Haig asked his client.

“In administrative sessions? No,” Tanaka said.

Well, did he ever say, “Fuck the FBI?

Tanaka hedged this more specific question with the classic, non-denial denial. “I have no recollection of making that comment,” he said.

About the testimony of witnesses who said he told deputies to police in the “gray area, or by crossing “the blue line”—meaning crossing over the line of legality, Tanka was more definitive.

No, said Tanaka, he did not ever talk about “the blue line.” As for the gray area, he explained that this term in no way suggested illegality. To illustrate, the former undersheriff held his hands out in front of his chest, but far enough apart that he could have been holding a long sourdough baguette between his palms.

Yes, he had told deputies to work the gray area, but that was the area between legality (he gestured with one hand) and department policy (he gestured with the other hand).

In general, Tanaka worked to dispatch the testimony by such government witnesses as Bob Olmsted, Al Gomez, John Clark, Pat Maxwell and Steve Roller by implying—or stating conclusively—that what those men said happened, in fact, never occurred.

(See our story on those witnesses’ testimonies here)


WHO REALLY GAVE THE ORDERS?

Of necessity, much of Tanaka’s testimony addressed the issue of whether or not he gave the orders that precipitated the various actions that are the basis of the government’s criminal allegations.

Tanaka insisted that any orders that were given were “lawful” and came from then sheriff Baca, who Tanaka said was “consumed” by the issue of federal informant Anthony Brown, and the contraband cell phone that Brown had paid an LASD deputy to bring to him in return for a bribe, as part of an FBI sting.

When Haig asked his client if he issued “any orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?” Tanaka answered with a firm no. He also said he did not give orders to ignore a federal grand jury subpoena. Nor did he give orders to confront a federal agent, or keep the FBI from seeing inmates.

Tanaka said he didn’t remember personally giving ICIB Captain Tom Carey any kind of instructions about investigating the matter of Brown and the contraband cell phone.

“I didn’t have any investigative experience,” Tanaka told the jury reasonably.


USING THE “V” WORD

Friday’s most dramatic moment came just after Tanaka had finished testifying. The court day was nearly over but, with ten minutes remaining, Judge Anderson called the prosecution to begin its cross-examination.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox walked quickly to the lectern.

“Mr. Tanka,” he said, “Mr. Haig took you back through your career, and your experience as a CPA. However, Fox noted, Tanaka’s attorney did not ask him about certain other periods in his long career. For instance, Fox said, “Mr. Haig didn’t you ask about your experience as a supervisor at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“He did not,” answered Tanaka.

“And when you were a sergeant at the Lynwood Station, you learned that there was a deputy clique at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“Yeah,” Tanaka replied cautiously.

“And that deputy clique was known as the Vi…..”

It had been a long and strenuous day and it appeared to take a couple of seconds past the word “clique” for the defense to grasp where this was going.

Then they got it.

Fox did not fully get out the first syllable of the word “Vikings,” before Tanaka’s attorneys bounced from their chairs like spring-loaded jacks-in-the-box, shouting “objection, your honor!”

The Vikings is, of course, the tattoo-wearing, sign-throwing deputy clique that was most active in the department from the mid-1980’s into the 1990’s, and was the focus of a huge class action lawsuit—Thomas v. the County of Los Angeles—that alleged a wide variety of brutal and illegal actions by deputies toward community members. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Lynwood Vikings, “…regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.”

More relevantly here, it was the group of which Mr. Tanaka was/is famously a member.

Even Judge Anderson’s eyes appeared to be pin wheeling as he hastily called for a sidebar.

When finally the two groups of attorneys returned to their seats, neither the prosecution nor the defense team looked particularly cheerful so it was impossible to guess which side might have prevailed at the sidebar.

“I believe we’ve done about as much as we can do for today,” Anderson said noncommittally from the bench and then told the jury that the court was going to break until Monday, and delivered the usual admonition to jurors about not talking to anyone, or reading or watching anything pertaining to the trial.

“As for the issue we discussed at sidebar,” Anderson said, then he asked for short briefs by both sides by Sunday, as to why the court should allow this line of questioning “or why we should not.”

And so the day ended with a cliffhanger.

Monday should be interesting.

So stay tuned!


POST SCRIPT: For your reading pleasure, you can find the government’s brief here.

And the defense’s brief here.

Plus the defense is trying one more time to get the judge to grant Lee Baca limited immunity and to compel his testimony—or at the very least, allow in snippets of previous interviews with him by the feds. You can find that motion here.


WITNESSLA ON KPPC TALKING ABOUT TANAKA TRIAL

On Friday afternoon, I was on KPPC FM with Nick Roman for a quick story talking about the trial, Paul Tanaka’s testimony and what is to come. You can find the podcast and a web summary of the story here.

Here’s a clip:

…Tanaka testified for nearly three hours in what was the main event of the day, according to Celeste Fremon of Witness L.A., who’s been following the trial. The prosecution rested Friday morning after a week and a half of testimony on Tanaka’s alleged crimes.

Tanaka answered questions trying to dismantle the structure of the prosecution’s arguments Friday, Fremon said. The judge began to allow cross-examination, but when prosecutor Brandon Fox started to ask about Tanaka’s involvement with the deputy gang known as the Vikings, the defense objected. The judge ultimately told everyone to come back Sunday with briefs on why that line of questioning should be allowed.

While the Vikings aren’t directly related to this case, Tanaka has allegedly been a member for many years of the deputy gang that made news in the 1990s and was part of a class-action lawsuit, Fremon said. The reason for the question, Fremon said, was that it speaks to what the government is calling the context of Tanaka’s alleged style of supervision as undersheriff.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

« Previous Entries