Skateboarding Youth Victim of Alleged LAPD Brutality, Mental Health and Realignment, and a Bill to Ban Hunting Bears and Bobcats with HoundsAugust 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon
Written and reported with Taylor Walker
ALLEGED LAPD BEATING OF 20-YEAR-OLD FOR TRAFFIC VIOLATION CAUGHT ON TAPE
It is now national news that, around 6 pm this past Saturday evening, 20-year old, Ronald Weekley Jr.—a sophomore at Xavier University in Louisiana—was home for the summer break and skateboarding near his parents’ house in Venice, when he was stopped by police for skating on the wrong side of the residential road. Police say that Weekley Jr. failed to halt when they called out to him and that officers gave chase.
Weekley claims that he was not aware that officers were trying to get his attention until they grabbed him from the back, as he was headed to his front door, and threw him to the ground. Then, while he lay frightened and squirming face down on the grass, his hands reportedly behind his back, one officer slugged him multiple times in the head—hard. The blows reportedly resulted in a fractured nose and cheekbone, plus a concussion.
As most people know by now, a neighbor captured most of the arrest in a video that shows an officer punching the prone Weekley in the head and face.
According to the LAPD, Weekley declined to stop when police confronted him about what was essentially a traffic violation, and when they gave chase and caught him, Weekly resisted violently.
We are told by department sources, that the police involved in the incident were not Venice officers, but instead were officers assigned to a special West Bureau violent crimes task force, who just happened to be patrolling the Venice area on Saturday for an unrelated purpose when they spotted Weekley.
A source also told us that the fist strikes to Ron Weekley Jr’s head, that were captured so dramatically on a bystander’s cell phone video, were characterized in the subsequent police report as what are called “distraction” strikes. A “distraction strike,” it turns out, is an approved LAPD tactic, used— as the name suggests—to “distract” the attention of a violent and combative suspect.
According to witnesses, although Ron Weekley Jr. was writhing when officers were on top of him, he was not combative. Thus community members question why police found it necessary to administer blows to his head and face forceful enough to cause multiple fractures.
Weekley’s father, Ron Weekly Sr, feels that the incident was a case of racial profiling, thus has retained a duo of civil rights lawyers. One is an attorney from the Cochran firm (founded by the late Johnny Cochran). In addition, famed civil rights attorney, Benjamin Crump (who is also representing Travon Martin’s family) has been retained by the Weekley family. Crump was in Los Angeles on Tuesday for a press conference held at a local church where Weekley Jr, said that, when officers grabbed him, he thought he “was going to die.”
Weekley also told reporter Joy-Ann Reid of The Grio, that when he was initially taken to the jail at Pacific Division after his Saturday arrest, he was denied medical attention, although his face was swollen and he was fading visibly in and out of consciousness. Weekley said an African American officer observed his condition, and attempted unsuccessfully to intervene. According to attorney Crump, Weekely was not taken to a hospital and treated for another four or so hours—which, if true, would have been a highly risky course of action, since Weekley was eventually treated for a concussion, along with his fractures. (Presumably paper work and medical reports will eventually confirm the details of this part of the story one way or another.)
Although making no statements about whether the officers acted within policy or not, the LAPD is clearly taking the incident and the community response seriously. Pacific Division Patrol Captain, Brian Johnson, has reportedly already attended one community meeting, and has more scheduled.
Department sources also noted that LAPD supervisors are being flooded into the Venice area where the arrest of Weekly occurred, as are department-related groups like the Pacific Division’s Clergy Council, which presumably hopes to—among other things— combat the concerns of community members that Weekly’s race came into play in the way he was treated, and that a white skateboarder would have been treated differently.
Racial profiling is a subtle and difficult charge to pin down, in that one is dealing with motivations more than actions. But given statements both off and on the record by department sources stating that the officers who arrested Weekly worried that he could be trying to get hold of an officers’ gun, which Weekley denies. (And, given the other facts of Weekley’s life, seems on the surface of it, to be unlikely.). LAPD critics say it is legitimate to ask if the same going-for-the gun assumption would have come into play with another frightened, squirming, college-attending Venice skateboarder—who was not a young man of color.
Weekley, who is studying chemistry at Xavier and is reportedly pre-med, was arrested on a felony charge of resisting an officer with violence, plus for three outstanding warrants.
Attorney Crump said that Weekley’s warrants were for “a curfew violation at age 15, a bicycle incident at age 16, and driving without a license at 18, and theyre trying to make him seem like a criminal.“
LAPD sources say there will be a separate use of force investigation along with investigations into the officers’ actions by the department’s Internal Affairs division. Such investigations generally take around six months.
Joy-Ann Reid of NBC’s the Grio gives some fresh reporting and photos of Weekley’s face before and after the incident.
ESPN has an update on the protests held Tuesday night on Weekley’s behalf and the news conference held earlier in the day.
(KTLA has also had great coverage of the story throughout.)
REALIGNMENT SHIFT GIVES LA INMATES MORE MENTAL HEALTH SUPPORT
Prisoners who are serving time in LA County jails rather than state prison under California’s realignment program are receiving increased mental health services, including 30-days of re-entry support, along with the opportunity for counseling and group therapy at the community level upon release.
Reporter Scott Shafer has the details in the second installment of KQED’s California Report series on realignment, “Prison Break,” (which WitnessLA will be following up on throughout the week).
Part 1, by Michael Montgomery, looking at how two different counties deal with the issue, may be found here.
Los Angeles runs the largest county jail in the United States, and since realignment began last October, it’s gotten a lot bigger: the County jail population is up more than 23 percent.
Inmates with mental health problems end up at LA’s Twin Towers Corrections facility. Francesca Anello with the County Mental Health Department oversees inmates serving time there under realignment.
“It used to be that we saw people short term,” she says. “So it was difficult to get them hooked up in the community if they’re going in and out so quickly. And so we’d miss an opportunity sometimes to work with them long-term.”
Anello say that with realignment, more time can be spent with inmates on mental health issues to ensure a smooth re-entry into society.
“We have a team that actually follows people for 30 days in the community to make sure all the supports are in place,” she says, “so it’s kind of like a warm handoff, so that they don’t get reincarcerated.”
Under the new system, inmates released in South Los Angeles have 48 hours to report to the county probation department’s hub in Lynwood. That’s where law enforcement and social service agencies coordinate post-release supervision.
Many ex-offenders with mental health issues will be referred to Project 180, a comprehensive re-entry program in downtown Los Angeles, in the heart of the city’s Skid Row. There hundreds of homeless people clog the sidewalks; outside the building, recovering addicts and users run a daily gauntlet of temptations that includes offers of drugs.
Among the program’s clients is Angela Scott, a heavyset woman in her fifties. Scott says she started using drugs back in 1985 when her brother was shot and killed. Scott was in prison for drug possession and was released in December. Under the old system, she would have been on state parole, and violating it might have sent her back to prison.
Now she’s assigned to this one-stop shop where clients get regular counseling and group therapy. It’s a welcome change after more than two decades in and out prison. “To come here to a place, it’s like a safe haven,” she says. “It just makes me stronger. I never had any help really, just go to prison. So this time I’m talking, letting it out, letting all the garbage inside, out.”
NEW BILL SEEKS TO PROHIBIT PURSUING BEARS AND BOBCATS WITH HUNTING DOGS
A new bill introduced by CA Sen. Ted Lieu aims to ban the use of hunting dogs to track bears or bobcats. Lieu says that the recent controversy over the Head of Fish and Game Dan Richards’ cougar kill brought the issue of hunting with hounds to his attention.
The LA Times Patrick McGreevy has the story. Here’s a clip:
Animal rights groups say using dogs fitted with electronic tracking devices to hunt bears and bobcats is cruel and unfair and should be outlawed in California. Hunting bears with hounds is banned in 14 states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Montana, Oklahoma, Oregon and Wyoming.
“It’s typically a high-tech hunt that results in an animal being shot out of a tree, which is unsporting and the equivalent of shooting an animal in a cage at the zoo,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States.
A bill that would ban the hound hunting has been approved by the state Senate and is headed with momentum toward the Assembly floor. Along the way it has illuminated a deep cultural divide in California.
The proposal has riled up hunters who see it as an attack on their lifestyle — a clash between the values of rural and urban California.
“It’s intolerance run amok,” said Brones, president of California Houndsmen for Conservation. “It’s a reflection of the changing demographics of California as it becomes increasingly urbanized and people have less appreciation for traditional lifestyles such as hunting and fishing, and where our food comes from.”