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At the Public Commission Meeting, A Shattered Father Speaks… by Matt Fleischer

May 31st, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

AT THE JAIL COMMISSION COMMUNITY MEETING, A FATHER’S ANGUISHED TESTIMONY HAS EVERYONE CAPTIVATED

by Matthew Fleischer



The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence held its first—and possibly only–community meeting at the EXPO Center at the Los Angeles Swimming Stadium Wednesday night. Three commission members, Chair Lourdes G. Baird, Vice Chair Cecil L. Murray, and Commissioner Alexander Busansky, were all in attendance to hear public testimony about the state of LA County’s jails, along with the commission’s executive director Miriam Krinsky and the group’s legal director, Richard Drooyan.

The results were a mixed bag, as the speakers’ lineup frequently seemed dominated by pro-LASD plants from Sheriff Baca’s Citizens Advisory Board, and well-intentioned social justice do-gooders looking for a soapbox. The night found its footing, however, thanks mostly to the striking testimony of Stephen Rochelle.

Stephen is the father of Matthew Rochelle–-a 24-year-old former Twin Towers inmate now serving an indeterminate sentence of 15-years to life in Patton State Hospital for the murder of a fellow inmate.

In 2006, Matthew—-a bright, personable kid, in his senior year of high school-—was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. With treatment and medication he was able to stabilize his condition, but in November of 2008, he went off his meds and, in a confused state, was arrested for breaking and entering a residence. While he waited to stand trial, he was to have been placed in Patton State Hospital. But Patton didn’t have a bed, so Matthew was taken to LA County’s Twin Towers jail—which houses a sizable population of mentally ill inmates.

“It was our hope to get Matthew stabilized and get him admitted to Patton State Hospital,” his father, who works as an LAUSD high school principal, told the captivated audience at the jails commission.

Instead, inside Twin Towers, Stephen said, things got far worse—due in large part to deputy treatment of his son. “They taunted him and called him a ‘piece of shit,’” said Stephen, his powerful voice betraying the slightest hint of a quaver. “They stopped feeding him for several days and shut off the water to his cell.** They broke his pinkie. And they orchestrated inmate fights. On one occasion Matthew was escorted to a hostile gang member’s cell and was locked in while deputies watched him get beaten up.”

Delivery of his medication was reportedly intermittent at best.

Eventually, in August of 2009, Matthew was placed inside a cell with a 56-year-old fellow schizophrenic inmate named Cedric Watson. Matthew had never been more unstable.

“He had stopped eating,” recalled Stephen. “His weight dropped from 165 to 126.We got a call from his lawyer telling us ‘your son is in a lot of trouble.’”

Soon after, an altercation ensued between Matthew and his fellow mentally ill cellmate that left Watson dead–and Matthew on trial for first-degree murder. This despite the fact that Matthew was clearly in a delusional state after the killing.

“He told investigating deputies that he was Hotep from Egypt” among other elaborate hallucinations, Stephen told me after the hearing.

Although the district attorney’s office pressed hard for a first degree murder conviction, Matthew was found not guilty of that charge, by reason of insanity. But he was convicted of second-degree and sentenced 15-to life in Patton State Hospital—the same facility that said they couldn’t admit him before the killing despite his parents’ desperate attempts to find him a bed there.

When the commission meeting ended at around 8:30 p.m., the commissioners each thanked those assembled, but several made a special point of thanking Stephen and Nina Rochelle, in particular, for coming forward.

Commissioner Cecil Murray was, on this night, the most expressive of the members. “Who will protect us from our protectors?” he said to the crowd, who nodded and murmured in response. “Who will defend us from our defenders?”

He also told the audience that, if they were worried the commission would be nothing more than “fluff,” to check back with them in September when they deliver their report.

“My expectations were low coming in here,” Stephen told me after the hearing concluded. “But I felt the commission was thankful and it renewed their commitment to do something substantive.”

“Our lives are an open book at this point. We just hope something comes of our son’s story.”


**EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s important to say that, although, like most people present Wednesday night, we found the Rochelle parents very compelling, we have in no way vetted any of their claims. And while some of the allegations—the verbal abuse and physical abuse, the inmate fights, the failure to deliver medication consistantly—are in keeping with other, better validated inmate experiences we are aware of, the charge of non feeding and turning of water to the cell, as it is described does not strike us as terribly logical, nor is it common to the other inmate experiences we have run across in the course of the past two years of reporting on the matter. Thus we surmise that part of their story may be misinterpretation of events by distraught parents. But we will let you know more, as we know more.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 28 Comments »

28 Responses

  1. 211D Says:

    Who were the Baca plants?

  2. retired96 Says:

    Sorry, but I don’t believe anything the father says. I really doubt the Deputies turned off the water in his cell or failed to feed him for a few days….

  3. Celeste Fremon Says:

    Retired, Thanks for bringing that up. I just added an editor’s note to address that very issue.

  4. Morning Buzz: Thursday 5.31.12 | LA News Talk Radio Says:

    [...] An LAUSD high principal captivated the county jails commission with the horrifying account of what happened to his son in Sheriff Baca’s Twin Towers jail. Witness LA [...]

  5. Answering The Question Says:

    Taunted him and called him a piece of shit?
    This is according to whom? Who told Mr. Rochelle this? Did he witness it? If so, why did he not get the names of the deputies and file a complaint?
    To accept Mr. Rochelle’s version of his son’s troubles inside the jail is to blindly accept his word without any corroborating evidence.
    The biggest question I have is this. Why did his lawyer have to call and tell them Matthew was in trouble? Did Mr. Rochell not visit his son on a regular basis? Why did Mr. Rochelle not notice his own child’s rapid weight loss?

    The paragraph containing the numerous allegations against the deputies gives me great pause to accept it on it’s face as the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

  6. If you build it, they will come Says:

    ok, I can understand the father’s anguish, but his story is not credible. the writer should havegone deeper into findingout where the father obtained his information. Was it from an eye witness, from his mentally ill son? from a police report? he is the father and his went “went off his meds”? who’s fault was that? how about the family taking responsibility for the care of their son? twin towers is primarily a mental health facility and the mental health staff, not sworn deputies are responsible for where they are housed, and their diet and their medication schedule. this story is nothing more than a piece of sensationalism and should have been better researched before submission. what was the rush? as a side note, isn’t this commsion charged with sorting out the problems at Men’s Central Jail? when the commissionors have toured the jail they have had nothing but positive things to say about the way things are run and the deputies performance. big changes have been made, the deputies have been receptive to doing things differently. force is significantly down. what is it that we expect the commission to do?

  7. 211D Says:

    And all it took was for the Times and Witla to make Baca do something about the abuses! Force is down because of the reporting and exposing Baca! All this loss of department integrity for Mr. Deliberate Indifference. I do agree that the gang cliques are ill equipped to handle mentally ill inmates! Gee, it only took Baca 13 years to catch on!

  8. Chargin' Charlie Says:

    Let the lesser people quibble over the fine details but the broad strokes are probably accurate. They may see themselves as running a jail, but to a significant extent the LASD is running a secure mental health care facility. If a patient were to kill another patient in a health care facility, that would trigger a major internal investigation to identify and remedy the root causes that allowed the death to occur. Let the Sheriff answer for what kind of internal investigation this homicide triggered. It is doubtful the LASD did any introspection because its too easy to say that it happened in a jail, inmates kill inmates and the only serious investigation needs to be the criminal one to hold the perpetrator to account. But what about the department’s role in how its mental health care contributed to the death? This tragedy emphasizes just how poorly equipped the Sheriff’s Department is at one of its core jobs and how Baca’s management is correctly characterized as deliberate indifference.

  9. Sergeant Says:

    Wait a minute, I was not there but the man did say his son killed another man in jail. How is that the SHERIFF’S fault. What about the victims family, they lost heir son. The good principals son will be out of jail in less than ten. High five yourselves to death you ACLU fools. You are throwing your support to a murderer. Sounds like you watched to many billy jack movies growing up. I am going to do my best to pull every state record on this kid to see what really happened. By the way how come the parents never went to see him. They got all their info from his lawyer over the phone.

  10. ECONOMY PRIORITY #1 Says:

    This whole blog is nonsense! What is happening to our world? Let’s get some blogs about our economy and how we can make it better. Let’s talk about getting businesses to California. We should have a “Bring Business to California Commission”.

    Jail Commission? Please!

    Ridiculous!!!!!

  11. 211D Says:

    Celeste: I think you struck a nerve with #10! How strange it was to read about those trying to justify the unjustifiable. Would have been nice if Baca would have come out from hiding to answer these concerns. Just read where Noguez just resigned! I guess Noguez didn’t have any dirt on Cooley. I wonder if the reason Cooley didn’t ask for Baca to resign was the fact that Cooley is up to his neck re deliberate indifference like his buddy Baca? Just a question.

  12. FURTHER TO FOLLOW Says:

    Hey Sergeant, I wouldn’t be pulling state records. You signed a DOJ admnishment, and since you have no working interest in this, well, 5 day suspension. And economy, i agree we need to get California in better condition, but do the research and it will be quite evident why we are on the last circle of the toilet flush befor going down the Golden State sewer. These blogs are important, because as you have seen, you can’t talk candidly at your workplace unless you plan on being the ODR Supervisor the rest of your career.

    Alot of this is valid, some embellished, but hey, that’s free speech, free enterprise, and people can digest as they will. Kinda like when you listen to the leaders of your favorite organization

  13. Sergeant Says:

    FTF, Anyone can pull a public record police report. The crime happened in L.A. COUNTY. Tragic I agree but the poor kid did kill a 56 year old who’s only Crime was trespassing. Where’s the outrage there. His family should have been there at the meeting. More than half of the story is completely made up. Second hand info from a lawyer. The father got his info from his sons lawyer. Third hand info from a son with severe medical problems. There is no way he was not fed for days and tormented by deputies.. Please stop drinking the cool aid. I am sure you were not at the meeting. I was and spoke to the dad, and Celeste was there to. Ask Celeste for her opinion of the statements made, not some cub writer.

  14. Answering The Question Says:

    #6 asks what was the rush to air Mr. Rochelle’s story. lol. Let me Answer The Question. You need look no further than the last sentence of the second paragraph as to why neither Matt or Celeste cared about vetting any of Mr. Rochelle’s story BEFORE airing it.

    “The night found its footing, however, thanks mostly to the striking testimony of Stephen Rochelle.”

    There you go. They found it “striking”. They were moved emotionally by the story. That’s why. Whether or not any of it’s true? lol…….it seems that once they became emotionally attached to the story they didn’t feel it necessary to vet any of it.

    Another example:
    “an LAUSD high school principal, told the captivated audience at the jails commission.”

    The audience was “captivated”.
    The testimony was “striking”.

    Was it true? goes right out the window for some people when their emotions get involved.

    Besides…lol…a high school principle wouldn’t lie, embellish, look for a payday from a lawsuit or simply be so devistated from his son’s mental/legal troubles that he’s looking for somebody else to blame…would he?

  15. Wasabi Says:

    Answer the question: Parents did file two lawsuits. Both dismissed.

  16. Picture if you will Says:

    Will there be reports on Lt Gonzalez and Cmdr Olmsted’s testimony before the Commission? Follow up on the Tanaka Pay for Play and the motorcycle stories?

  17. Picture if you will Says:

    And Aero Bureau audit results?

  18. A lot of problems Says:

    What about Capt. Abram? Hasn’t almost been a year since that story broke?

  19. Answering The Question Says:

    Over a year now since the Abram story broke.

  20. Balance please Says:

    211D – If you want to talk about force and when it went down, you need to look at the Block regime. Force has been down significantly since the Block era ended. At no point has force under Baca even approached near what went on when Block was Sheriff. Maybe Celeste can do a story on that.

    Not to mention, since the Block white men’s club left, women and people of color are now being hired and promoted. Gays and lesbians hold management positions without fear of discrimination. What a refreshing change. Again Celeste, if you are looking for stories, there is another one. Look at the current management and department wide diversity and compare it to when Block was in office.

  21. Right on!! Says:

    #20- Well said! It’s amazing how several people want the ship to sink for their own personal gain. As a minority, I’m happy with the progress in our department and thank the Sheriff, Undersheriff and his commmand staff for a job well done. Thank you to Celeste too!

  22. LATBG Says:

    Balance and Right on are a tad delusional. Force dropped significantly DURING the Block regime and it was a direct result of the aftermath of the Rodney King incident. To attribute the drop in force to a change of administrations is not based on facts on the ground.

    In regards to diversity, it pays to be the official token minority, black. It also pays to be in the PT cruiser, regardless of qualifications. But this administration is still a “white men’s club” with a little window dressing on the side. All you have to do is look at the careers of the Helmolds, Guyovich’s, Tubbs, and Jonsen’s of the world to know nothing has changed.

    I will be happy when individuals advance and serve the organization’s interests because of their qualifications, not their connections.

  23. Cognistator Says:

    LATBG: “I will be happy when individuals advance and serve the organization’s interests because of their qualifications, not their connections.”

    Maybe it’s about time L.A. County makes use of the services of the California Co-Operative Personnel Board, under which promotions are based on passing State devised written and oral exams, with the Sheriff selecting for promotion from among the top three exam scorers. This makes the exam process for promotion more objective, and is in use by a good many counties & municipalities in California. It seems to be working well in other jurisdictions, and would probably go a long way towards removing the “brown-nosing” aspects from the LASD promotional process.

  24. InterestedParty Says:

    Cognistator offers up a good suggestion for restoring some integrity and objectivity to the promotional process. Unfortunately, we know the current problem isn’t so much in the testing, but in how quality candidates on an active, promulgated promotional list are passed over in favor of the frequently under-qualified, ethically challenged, apple-polishing sycophants of Tanaka’s. The current system has produced a force segment of Eddie Haskell-type loyalists, who are not the best and brightest the department’s workforce has to offer; rather they have excelled at being the best at feeding Junior T’s ego. After 13 years of a nebulous promotional process being in place, supported by the silence of most Captains and above, it’s not likely any change will occur until Leroy and the Tiny Turd are gone.

  25. Karma Says:

    Although a sad story involving his son, hearing Mr. Stephen Rochelle’s testimony immediately reminds me of what an absolutely corrupt, irresponsible man he is. As an educator who worked closely with him for years, I have observed numerous accounts in which Stephen abused his powers as a principal, causing great disservice to students and teachers alike.

    The most egregious evidence I witnessed of Stephen’s shady character is how he systematically gathered unruly students and personally led them to falsify testimony against teachers who challenged his abusive leadership. Mr. Rochelle blatantly manipulated his powers to bully altruistic colleagues and innocent children, even causing excellent teachers to suffer permanent professional harm.

    Simply, Stephen is one of the worst, most deceitful educators ever and with the details of this story, one can see how his negligence may have compromised his ability to be a good father. Again while it is sad to see anyone suffer, observing Stephen’s attempt to undermine justice with his unethical behavior cannot be ignored and deserves attention.

    Often when sharing daily school news announcements, Mr. Rochelle would close with his proverbial mantra, “That which is done in darkness reveals itself in light.” For the many educators and students who suffered from Stephen’s abusive tactics, this quote often carried a heavy ironic undertone. Now it appears as light is revealing some truth. May karma always prevail.

  26. FURTHER TO FOLLOW Says:

    The Department had a use of force policy prior to Rodney King, and was actually revised during the trial of the Samoan birthday party that turned to crap in the Lakewood contract area. The policy fell under # 86-3 and really was a single paragraph that did not outline any specific use of force, other than it was allowed when reasonable and necessary.

    I worked in the latter part of Pitchess, all of Block’s regime and now Leroy. You have to understand, socio-econic, trends, there was less diversity and cultural awareness training. The big one I remember was “verbal judo”.

    We have changed due to all of the above. When the “busy tone” of the sheriff radio was on the PA rolling into a party, there was respect for the sheriff, otherwise you would get your ass kicked. Not so anymore.

    Now we hire generation X self serving children who, as training officers would rather be texting all night than teaching officer safety to a trainee. Their report writing skills suck, and we all wonder why so many cases are lost in a prelim, because they can’t even figure out how to establish probable cause.

    BTW, has anyone one been to a deputy graduation lately? Maybe “right on” should, then views might change. And seriously, evryone needs to shut up about race. Quit crying about not getting promoted because of race, not getting a coveted position because of race, etc. etc. This country is divided, will stay divided regardless of what is shoved down our throats. I am not a judge of color, but of the character of a person. Do you ever wonder why on the news when a person is elected, appointed, etc., they have to end with “this will be the first time a female, black, brown, yellow, green person has held this position”. Who cares? Does it make their qualifications any better or worse?

    Now Celeste, alot of us are waiting on the Aero Bureau investigation, and the 30 day turnaround audit by the board. that was almost 3 months ago. Did someone get “hush” money or will we see some revelation or lack thereof.

  27. Celeste Fremon Says:

    EDITOR’S NOTE: I apologize for not putting the last part of our Aero Bureau investigation out faster. (Need more hands and more hours. Coming soon.) In the meantime, we too have our eye out for the “30-day audit.” Time to make some calls on that.

    C.

  28. Jason Says:

    Stephen Rochelle is very abusive towards the staff at Orville Wright. He leaves often leaves the campus earlier than the students are dismissed. He is bringing the school down.

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