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Judge Puts Off Decision About Whether Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Can use an Expert to Introduce Baca’s Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

November 23rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


PUTTING LEE BACA’S MEMORY ON THE WITNESS STAND

At a 3 p.m hearing on Tuesday in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, federal prosecutor Brandon Fox argued that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his defense team should not be allowed to bring in expert witness, UCLA psychiatrist Dr. James Spar, to testify about Baca’s diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease, and what it suggests about his cognitive ability in the years prior to his diagnosis.

Baca was first officially diagnosed as having some kind of cognitive impairments, on May 13, 2014.

More to the point, the defense hopes to have Spar testify about whether it was likely that the former sheriff was suffering cognitive impairment during the four and a half hour interview with federal officials on April 12, 2013, during which time he allegedly lied to the feds on four different occasions.

Baca is charged with obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials. His trial is scheduled to begin jury selection on December 6.

Spar’s area of expertise has to do with mental illnesses affecting the elderly, thus by getting him to the witness stand, the defense hopes to introduce the idea that the former sheriff may not have been cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Spar’s proposed testimony, argued Fox, “is based on insufficient facts and data. Dr. Spar’s proposed testimony would result in juror confusion and unfair prejudice to the government.”


“I DON’T RECALL”

Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, pointed out in the defense’s opposition to the government’s motion, and again in court, that his client had answered “I don’t recall” 25 times” during the crucial 2013 interview with the government. Dr. Spar, Hochman said, would testify to the probability that Mr. Baca was in the “pre-clinical stage” of Alzheimers, which Spar contends “can occur 10 years or more before the onset of clinical symptoms,” or the Mild Clinical Impairment” or MCI stage of Alzheimer’s during his April 12, 2013 government interview, but that the symptoms “were not formally diagnosed until May 2014.”

In response, Fox pointed out that “I don’t recall,” is a common response by witnesses in the hot seat, and called Spar’s contention that Baca could have been suffering from some kind of cognitive impairment for up to ten years prior to his actual diagnosis “junk science.” Spar was “cherry picking” facts that were beneficial to the defense, Fox said.

On Tuesday, Judge Anderson seemed very engaged in the issue, and asked defense attorney Hochman question after question about what Spar would say that was “an objective assessment.” Were there any “documented complaints by Baca about memory?” Anderson wanted to know.

In the end, however, Judge Anderson declined to rule right away on the government’s motion to bar Dr. Spar’s testimony, but said he would hand down a ruling before the trial’s beginning.


IF NOT SPAR THEN BACA?

Even if the judge rules that Spar’s testimony would be more prejudicial than probative, thus keeps Dr. Spar off the stand, the defense could still get the Alzheimer’s issue in front of the jury by putting Baca on the stand, said former assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was also the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence.

When WitnessLA asked Hochman if the defense team would indeed consider putting the former sheriff on the stand, he said that the defense team was “evaluating all options, and those options include calling Sheriff Baca as a witness in his own case.”

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 4 Comments »

LA County Supes Take on Hate Crimes

November 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

COUNTY TO ADDRESS INCREASE IN HATE-DRIVEN INCIDENTS

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to ramp up efforts to prevent hate crimes.

Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced the motion in response to a wave of reports of hate crimes in the county following Donald Trump’s election victory.

The motion directs the sheriff’s department to “swiftly” contact communities likely to be targeted in order to reaffirm the county’s continued support and to open up communication with those communities so that victims feel they can safely report hate crimes and related incidents, particularly those concerned about their immigration status.

County departments, including the LASD will report back in 60 days with a plan on how to better track and quickly respond to hate crimes.

“It seems that standing up for our people’s constitutional rights is going to fall on the hands of state and local governments,” Solis said. “Many families in our county are fearful and we have to assure them that we are here to protect their rights.”

The motion also directs the county’s Office of Education to report back in 60 days with a plan detailing preventative steps to curb “bullying, targeting, demeaning, and harassing behavior” in schools.

“People in the county are being targeted because of their ethnicity, gender, race, religion, and we need to act now. This motion calls our communities to stand in unison and speak out against these acts of bullying, discrimination and hate violence,” Supe Solis said. “We are calling on our Sheriff’s department, law enforcement agencies and County Education Office to help us maintain a safe environment for everyone to work, learn and live in.”

The Supes created a task force to address anti-Muslim acts committed in the months following the 2015 San Bernardino mass shooting. The task force—a group of law enforcement leaders, city and county officials, community groups, and others—spent 2016 developing recommendations for combatting crimes motivated by hate and bias. The recommendations were included in a recently released 2015 Hate Crime Report.
The report found that hate crimes in Los Angeles County rose 24% from 390 in 2014 to 483 in 2015, compared with a 10% rise statewide. Half of the hate crimes were motivated by race.

Last week the FBI released the national hate crime report for 2015, which revealed a startling 67% increase in hate crimes against Muslims.
In the video above, US Attorney General called the report’s results “deeply sobering,” and urged victims to continue to report incidents to local law enforcement and the Department of Justice.


SOLIS PREVIEWS ANOTHER MOTION IN THE WORKS

“Every single one of us has a friend, family member, or a neighbor who is an immigrant, and it is that degree of connectedness that should drive us to do everything possible to protect our immigrant population,” Solis said, previewing a separate motion Tuesday. Among the tasks the second motion will call for, is an analysis of the feasibility of creating a county Department of Immigrant Affairs to protect the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants living in Los Angeles.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell will also have to report back to the board in 45 days on whether the LASD plans to change any immigration-related policies or practices in the event that Trump follows through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.

WitnessLA will have more on the motion after Solis submits it to the board in December.

Posted in immigration, LA County Board of Supervisors, LGBT, Los Angeles County, race | 4 Comments »

Obama Hits 1,000 Commutations

November 23rd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama granted 79 more commutations, pushing his clemency total over the 1,000 mark—more than the last 11 presidents combined.

“The number 1,000 is significant, but it’s important to remember that this is more than a statistic,” Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates said. “There are 1,000 lives behind that number, 1,000 people who had been sentenced under unnecessarily harsh and outdated sentencing laws that sent them to prison for 20, 30, 40 years, even life, for nonviolent drug offenses.”

The men and women granted clemency by the president were serving outdated sentences for cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, and other drug-related offenses. Twenty of those who received commutations had been serving life sentences.

“It’s part of my job to review the petitions for each of these individuals, and I’ve been struck by the common threads woven through many of them – lack of access to education or real economic opportunity, absence of parents, drug addiction, hopelessness,” Yates said. “But in these petitions I’ve also seen something else – remarkable introspection, a real sense of responsibility for their conduct, and a dogged determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past and to ensure that they, and especially their children, chart another path.”

The president has granted far fewer pardons (which wipe a person’s criminal record and restore their rights) than many of his predecessors, despite receiving more than 3,000 petitions during his eight years in office. Obama has granted 70 pardons during his two terms. George W. Bush pardoned 189 men and women, Bill Clinton granted 396 pardons, Ronald Reagan granted 393, Jimmy Carter granted 534, Lyndon B. Johnson granted 960, and Harry S. Truman granted 1,913.

Advocate groups including #Cut50—led by CNN political commentator former and Obama administration official Van Jones—have urged Obama to keep pushing through commutations in the weeks he has left in the White House.

Posted in Obama, Sentencing | 1 Comment »

More Cities Join LA in Asserting “Sanctuary” Status Despite Trump’s Plan to Take Away Funding

November 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said the city would not work with President-elect Donald Trump on the mass deportation of millions of undocumented immigrants.

Trump has said that he will withhold major Department of Justice funding to “sanctuary cities” like Los Angeles where undocumented immigrants are not arrested solely for violating federal immigration laws.

Over the weekend, Reince Priebus, tapped by Trump to be chief of staff, told CNN’s Jake Tapper that Trump is looking into pulling funding from the sanctuary cities and counties—of which there are more than 300 nationwide.

Tapper asked Priebus about Los Angeles’ decision not to work with the feds to deport undocumented immigrants, while continuing to take in hundreds of millions of dollars in funding from the DOJ. While Priebus answered that the issue would be a “matter of negotiation,” he also argued that “the idea that a city would decide to ignore federal law, and then would want the federal government to help them anyway is an inconsistent position,” and “not the way life works.”

On Monday Mayor Garcetti called the Trump administration move a “mistake” that would lead to “social, economic, and security problems,” according to the LA Times’ Dakota Smith.

The LAPD will continue to follow Special Order 40, a 1979 mandate implemented by then-LAPD Chief Daryl Gates and the LA City Council, which prevents police from questioning people with the sole intention of determining their immigration status, Garcetti said last week.

The conservative Gates (and every chief who has come after) embraced the mandate, which was put in place so that undocumented immigrants could feel safe reporting crimes and otherwise engaging with law enforcement without the fear of deportation.

The city of Los Angeles is expected to receive more than $500 million this fiscal year from the DOJ for port security, homeland security, and combatting homelessness, among other important purposes.

“Every police department has to make decisions about how to best go about policing efforts, and most jurisdictions have decided that if local police are known to be enforcers, it harms their ability to police effectively,” Denise Gilman, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Texas School of Law, told the Washington Post.

In California, San Francisco, Alameda County, San Diego County, Santa Clara County, Riverside County also offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, flanked by city officials, promised that SF would remain a sanctuary city. “We promise to be a city that’s always welcoming,” said Lee. “There are no walls in our city.”

Mayors of other “sanctuary cities,” including Portland, OR, Seattle, and Chicago have made similar statements.

In a tweet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio made his position clear. “I told the President-elect we’re ultimate city of immigrants & attempts to mass deport our people flies in the face of what makes NYC great.”

Mere hours after taking office in January, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order reclassifying the city as a sanctuary city.

Last week, Kenney reaffirmed the city’s stance. “I vow to uphold the Constitution of the United States by not holding people in jail without a warrant, which I think is in violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Kenney said.

Posted in immigration, LAPD | 6 Comments »

Scorecard Ranks CA Counties by Kids’ Well-Being

November 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

A report from the advocacy group Children Now takes a county-by-county look at children’s well-being in California through 28 health, education, child welfare, and economic indicators.

According to the scorecard, approximately 81% of children exited to permanent homes within three years of entering the child welfare system in Los Angeles, San Bernardino, San Diego, San Francisco, and Santa Clara Counties. For all five counties, this was a drop in permanent placements from the previous year, and 3% lower than the state average.

Alameda County came in 52nd place with 77% of kids exiting to permanency. In Alameda, San Berardino, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara, African American kids found permanent homes less often than kids of other races.

Statewide, just over three quarters of foster kids between the ages of 12-17 are living in “family-like settings.” Nearly a quarter of kids in the child welfare system are in group homes, transitional housing, and shelters.

Other data collected by Children Now paints a bleak picture of kids’ educational well-being in the state. For example, only 12% of California kids from low-income households have access to state-funded after-school programs.

Just 27% of black third graders and 31% of Latino third graders can read at grade level, compared with 60% and 67% of their white and Asian peers.

One bit of good news is that California’s school districts have made progress toward eliminating harsh school punishment. Sixty-nine percent of suspensions were limited to serious offenses, rather than willful defiance—up from 57% of suspensions the prior year.

“Leaders across California need to take a hard look at the Scorecard data and work together on policy solutions to improve the well-being of children,” Children Now President Ted Lempert said. “We need to invest more in quality early childhood programs, increase access to the health screenings and quality mental, oral and physical health supports that children need, and make sure that all kids, especially kids of color, have access to excellent schools and teachers from the very start.”

Head over to the scorecard for more county-by-county rankings, which can be sorted by county or by any of the individual well-being indicators which include “Three- and four-year-olds who attend preschools,” “Twelfth graders who graduate on time,” “Children who have health insurance for the entire year,” “Schools that have a health center,” and, “Students who are low income and eat free or reduced price meals.”

Posted in children and adolescents, Community Health, Foster Care, health care, race, race and class | No Comments »

As Lee Baca’s Trial Approaches, the Fight Heats Up About the Former LA Sheriff’s “Cognitive Impairment”

November 21st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



THE LEGAL FIGHT OVER LEE BACA’S MEMORY

Earlier this month, both the defense and the prosecution agreed with the assessment of a court-appointed examiner
that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was competent to stand trial on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying in four different instances to federal officials.

The trial is scheduled to begin on December 6.

Now the fight is over whether or not the former sheriff was cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Baca was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease in early 2016, news that became public in June of this year. Since that time, the issue of the former sheriff’s cognitive impairment has been a legal matter as well as a medical one. (WitnessLA first broke the story of Baca’s illness in late May.)

Yet, although both parties have agreed that Mr. Baca’s is fit to go to trial next month, the former sheriff’s mental state will clearly be a major feature of the defense’s argument that Baca should be acquitted of all charges. The defense team contends that in the late summer and early fall of 2011, when the events underlying the obstruction of justice charges occurred, Baca was already failing cognitively.

They further contend that the former sheriff was suffering from memory impairment during his April 12, 2013 government interview, where he was asked about “events and conversations” that occurred in August-September 2011. It was his answers to questions in this interview that resulted in the charge of lying to federal officials.

The defense has a medical expert, Dr. James Spar, a professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA’s med school, who will testify that Baca was already suffering from memory loss and confusion in 2013, and very likely was comprimised for up to ten years prior to his diagnosis this year.

In Baca’s filing, defense attorney Nathan Hochman also names two former department members—former LASD deputy Micky Manzo, and former LASD captain Tom Carey—who reported observing Baca seeming “confused.”

Not surprisingly, the prosecution team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui presents a very different view.


“NO MEDICAL EVIDENCE”

In a motion filed earlier this month, government prosecutors write that, during Baca’s 16-year tenure as LA County sheriff, he “never reported any concerns about memory loss or cognitive impairment to any doctor.”

The opposite is true, they write. “There is no medical evidence of cognitive deficiencies in
defendant’s medical records during, or before, his alleged crimes.”

According to the prosecution, Baca “repeatedly went to the doctor and reported no issues related to cognitive functioning.’ Doctors who saw him from 2010 to 2013 “observed and reported that he was alert and oriented to person, place, and time, that there were no significant neurological findings, and that psychiatric affect was always normal.”

In addition, Baca “planned to run for re-election in 2014.”

The prosecution further notes that it was only in March 2014 that Baca sought medical advice based on concerns about his cognitive functioning. “Medical records from that period indicate that defendant’s chief complaint was sleep disturbance,” they write, “although defendant also complained of anxiety, depression and memory difficulties.”

It was not until May 13, 2014, when Baca went to see a neuropsychologist, “that cognitive impairments were first noted by a clinician.”


TUESDAY HEARING

In a hearing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will hear the defense and the prosecution both present arguments about whether or not Baca’s expert, Dr. James Spar, should be permitted to testify at trial–along with some other issues.

Baca, if you’ll remember, originally pleaded guilty in February of this year to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when officials questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years, an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson at a hearing scheduled for late July.

However, when the hearing arrived, Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

Rather than risk the unspecified longer sentence that Judge Anderson intimated he intended to hand down, Baca opted to go to trial. Thus in early August, the former sheriff was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The two new charges were added to an expanded version of the original charge of lying to federal officials.

We’ll let you know what happens on Tuesday. So stay tuned.


PHOTO OF LEE BACA BY SAXON BRICE

Posted in LASD, Pandora's Box, Sheriff Lee Baca | 11 Comments »

43 Percent of Last Year’s Record Number of Exonerees Pleaded Guilty, 17 Percent Confessed

November 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



2015 PRODUCED THE HIGHEST NUMBER OF EXONERATIONS SINCE WE BEGAN COUNTING

Last year was a banner year for exonerations, according to the Federal Registry of Exonerations.

In 2015, there were 157 people exonerated, which is the highest number since the registry began counting every known exoneration in the United States in 1989.

(The Registry is a project of the Newkirk Center for Science & Society at University of California Irvine, the University of Michigan Law School and Michigan State University College of Law.)

Out of the 157 exonerated, 27 of those convictions were based mostly or in part on false confessions—which turns out to be another numeric record.

In 68 of the 157 exonerations, or 43 percent, the defendants pleaded guilty to the crime because they were convinced by the prosecutor and, in many cases, their defense attorney and/or the judge, that failing to plead guilty would mean going to trial, which they were likely lose, and almost certainly receive a much longer sentence.

Again, the number of exonerees (68) who originally pleaded guilty in 2015 represented more than ever in any previous years.

Interestingly more than 80% of the false confessions of 2015 were in homicide cases (22 out of 27), mostly by defendants who were under 18, or mentally handicapped or both.


HOMICIDE EXONERATIONS

Fifty-five of the total homicide exonerees of 2015 are men, three are women. Half are African American (29 ), 31% white (18), 10% Hispanic (6) and 9% Native American or Asian (5). According to the report, defendants’ age at the time of the crime ranged from 14 to 54. Eight were under 18 years old and 23 were under 20.

Five of the homicide exonerees had been sentenced to death.

When the 2015 numbers are looked at by state, California has only 5 exonerations in 2015, despite its population of 37 million people, Whereas New York, which has a state population of 19 million, had 17 exonerations, to California’s five.

And Texas, which has a population of 25 million, is the sweepstakes winner with a 54 exonerations in 2015.

So what causes the discrepancy?


THE POWER OF CONVICTION INTEGRITY UNITS

According to the Registry of Exonerations researchers, the discrepancy in the numbers of exonerations is caused, “in large part because of the efforts of prosecutorial Conviction Integrity Units in Brooklyn, New York, (8 exonerations in 2015) and Harris County, Texas (42 exonerations).”

Although over two dozen jurisdictions have started their own such units. Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey didn’t launch LA County’s Conviction Review Unit until June 29 of last year, although LA County is the the largest local prosecutorial agency in the nation. The LA unit is made up of three experience assistant district attorneys, one paralegal, and one experienced investigator, and was launched with a million dollars from the LA county board of supervisors.

At the time Lacey said that she expected the new unit to review around 15 cases a year, (which seems a little low considering the fact that A

Interestingly, 2012, California led the nation in innocence cases, with 119 exonerations since 1989. LA County will join other CA counties with similar units including San Diego, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara.

But it was Texas that really lead the way on conviction review when, in 2007, the new Dallas County district attorney partnered with the Innocence Project of Texas and began to review 400 old cases. Many of the cases reportedly involving denied requests for DNA testing. At the time, the county had the highest number of wrongful convictions in the U.S.

Today there are 24 county conviction integrity units within district attorneys’ offices nationwide — including those in Bexar, Dallas, Harris, Tarrant and Travis counties in Texas — that work to identify and correct false convictions.

Such units only exist in less than 1 percent of the nation’s 3,007 counties, yet, according to the figures put out by the National Registry, these units were responsible for 39 percent of overturned wrongful convictions in the nation last year, and most of that 39 percent, came from Harris County, TX.

This very strongly suggests that there are potentially many hundreds of innocence cases out there that no one is examining. This is a sobering thought.


PLEADING GUILTY WHEN YOU’RE INNOCENT

Alanna Durkin Richer and Curt Anderson of the AP took a deep dive into the Registry’s 2015 numbers, in particular having to do with those who had been exonerated after pleading guilty.

To better illustrate what they found they told the story of a James Ocho:

Three days into his carjacking trial in 2005, James Ochoa faced a daunting choice: Risk spending the rest of his life in prison if convicted by a California jury or plead guilty and be released in two years.

Ochoa, then 20 and on probation for drug possession, had already rejected two plea offers and wanted to prove his innocence. But the judge made it clear the odds were against him because he had been identified by the victims as the perpetrator. If convicted, Ochoa feared he would never see his young son again.

“I felt like I was gambling with my life,” he said from his home in the Dallas area.

He pleaded guilty to armed robbery and spent about a year in prison before DNA linked the crime to another man in 2006. Ochoa was cleared and released within days.

…In Ochoa’s case, he was charged with two counts of armed robbery and carjacking. Authorities said the crime occurred outside a nightclub in Buena Park, California. He faced 15 years to life in prison.

Ochoa’s attorney, Scott Borthwick, said he tried to talk him out of pleading guilty. Ochoa’s DNA wasn’t on anything inside the stolen car, but the carjacking victims positively identified him. Borthwick said the judge told him during a meeting in his chambers that if Ochoa was convicted by jurors, the judge would give him the maximum: life.

About 10 months after he pleaded guilty, another man was arrested in a different carjacking. The DNA found in the car in Ochoa’s case matched the man, who confessed to the crime.

After Ochoa’s release, he joined his family, who had moved to the Dallas area. He was turned down for jobs at Walmart and other places because the violent felony still showed up on his record, he said.

An officer for the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board initially recommended that Ochoa not receive any money for his imprisonment, saying Ochoa contributed to his erroneous conviction by pleaded guilty.

“Our criminal justice system has lost its way,” David O. Markus, a prominent Miami defense attorney, told the AP. “For a long time, it was our country’s crown jewel, built on the principle that it was better that 10 guilty go free than one innocent be wrongfully convicted. Now sadly, the system accepts and even encourages innocent people to plead guilty.”

In my gang reporting years I watched this phenomenon often, in which young men, and occasionally young women, wanted to go to trial, but were talked into talking a deal for something they didn’t do. “At least I can eventually get on with my life,” they’d say, because the alternative losing far more of their lives was even more frightening.

Posted in Innocence | 2 Comments »

Nadine Burke Harris Carries Message about Child Trauma to White House and Back – by Jeremy Loudenback

November 17th, 2016 by witnessla

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Nadine Burke Harris is a San Francisco pediatrician and researcher who has become a national expert on the effect of “adverse childhood experiences”—or ACEs—on a kid’s future health and behavior. In the interview with Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback below, Dr. Burke Harris, who founded the Center for Youth Wellness, discusses her evolving role in the burgeoning ACEs movement and the next steps toward trauma-informed laws and policies.




AN INTERVIEW WITH SUPERSTAR CHILDHOOD TRAUMA EXPERT DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS

by Jeremy Loudenback


The efforts of pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris to address of trauma experienced early in life have vaulted her to national attention.

In September, Burke Harris earned recognition from the Heinz Foundation for her work to establish a system to screen and treat children who are dealing with toxic stress and adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), such as abuse, neglect, poverty and violence. The annual Heinz Award honors five “exceptional Americans, for their creativity and determination in finding solutions to critical issues.” The prestigious Heinz Award for the Human Condition comes with a $250,000 prize.

Recently profiled by the Washington Post, Burke Harris was recognized for her work at the San Francisco-based Center for Youth Wellness (CYW). There, she has worked to address the needs of families in the low-income neighborhood of Bayview-Hunters Point by using the emerging understanding of the impact of ACEs on lifelong health outcomes.

But Burke Harris has also struck a leading advocacy position that extends past the Bay Area in California. She pioneered the development and use of a universal tool to screen children for childhood trauma that has been downloaded from the CYW website more than 1,100 times over the past 13 months. Burke Harris also recently spoke about childhood trauma at a White House convening about school-discipline reform in September.

She has also struck a chord with the broader public, thanks to a September 2014 Ted Talk entitled, “How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime,” which has been viewed nearly 2.4 million times and led to her selection as the keynote speaker for the 2015 American Academy of Pediatricians’ national conference.

Burke Harris has continued to spread the word about the impact of ACEs through a biannual conference, sponsored by the CYW. At the most recent conference — held last month in San Francisco — Burke Harris spoke with The Chronicle about the growing clout of the ACEs movement, her changing role and more.

The Chronicle of Social Change: This marks the second conference around ACEs, which has drawn folks from around the country in several different fields. What’s different about this year’s gathering?

Nadine Burke Harris: Two years ago in 2014, when we did our first conference, I would go around the country and talk and be invited places, and I was just like, “California needs to have a conference on adverse childhood experiences! And we need to create that.”

At our first conference in 2014, it really was about sounding the alarm and raising awareness and bringing folks together. And we had about I think between 200 and 250 folks that came together.

This year, we got to 500 people, and we had a waitlist of 150 more people. We had to close registration, so the response has been amazing. The focus of this conference is moving from awareness to action. So our goal is to facilitate the movement by creating connections, by giving folks knowledge and tools, and by giving them a little bit of inspiration.

CSC: As a practitioner as well as someone who has spoken widely about ACEs, has the growing awareness of ACEs changed the way you see your role?

NBH: I do feel like my role is changing and it’s really exciting. I’m having a ton of fun with it because I think that – the work of the movement for me has really paralleled the work of the development of the Center for Youth Wellness. When I came in, I was a little bit like head cook and bottle washer, where I was our research department, our PR department, our whatever. And similarly, what I’m seeing in the movement is really a parallel, too.

I think the role I see for myself more and more is to try to continue to dream big. To try to bring people together and galvanize folks to action, and get the resources – get those resources, because that’s the big thing that we need, is a huge next step, is opening up the resources that is going to support this movement.

CSC: What is it going to take — politically, culturally and economically — for elected officials to be able to make a greater investment in responding to the health challenge posed by childhood trauma?

NBH: What we need to see now is direction of resources at every level. At the city and county level, at the state level, and at the federal level – investing in number one: raising awareness and public education. Because through public education, we can do prevention.

There are still – despite the wonderful experience I had at the White House – there are still a lot of folks day-to-day who don’t know, who don’t understand, how dramatically early adversity affects health and wellbeing across a lifetime. So we need public education. We need to support the infrastructure for early identification and effective treatment, and we need to put resources into advancing the research so that we can catalyze, step-wise, advancements in treatment.

I think a lot of times we think that the politicians are going to do this, and we do need to get our political leaders on board, but I believe the leadership is going to come from us. Really, there is a groundswell of demand for services that are able to effectively detect and address these issues. I think political will comes from all of us, from the constituency, you know?

CSC: In the past couple years, a couple high-profile studies have found genetic evidence for the way that trauma has been passed down from one generation to the next. What kind of challenge do these findings present for your work? Do your worry that the cross-generational genetic changes as a result of trauma suggest that related health outcomes may be something like destiny for some people?

NBH: No and, in fact, epigenetics is actually the opposite of destiny because what we find is that some of these epigenetic changes are reversible with intervention.

I think that there are huge opportunities for us to develop new targets for intervention. And at the same time, we don’t have to wait. We know there are things that work now, and I was talking about the six things: sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness, mental health and healthy relationships. Those are things that have demonstrated impact on our epigenetic regulation, so I think that the science is very promising, but at the same time there’s plenty that we can do right now.



This interview, which originally appeared on the Chronicle of Social Change has been condensed for clarity and length.

Posted in ACEs | 1 Comment »

LA Police Commission Spends Full Meeting Discussing Report on Biased Policing

November 17th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission made an unusual decision to set aside a full meeting to discuss the issue of bias in law enforcement and a 143-page report from the LAPD that looks at how the department prevents and eliminates biased policing compared with agencies in Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington DC, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle.

Back in September, the commission passed a motion by Commissioner Cynthia McClain-Hill directing department officials to collect information on how each department defines biased policing or racial profiling, the number of complaints against officers and how many of those complaints were upheld, as well as how many sworn each department has and the demographics of the cities they police.

McClain-Hill introduced the report after an Internal Affairs Quarterly Report revealed that the department had—once again—not upheld any complaints of biased policing, which includes a racial, gender, disability, anti-LGBTQ, and other forms of discrimination. During the first half of 2016, there were 209 reports of bias, none of which were sustained. And since 2013, none of the more than 1500 civilian complaints of bias have been substantiated by the LAPD.

Tuesday’s meeting was held at city hall instead of the usual location within the LAPD’s headquarters in order to fit the standing room only crowd.

According to the report, the LAPD has made “significant strides over the past decades” toward stamping out discriminatory police work “that damaged its relationship with communities and compromised the legitimacy of policing in Los Angeles.”

The report points to a number of reforms that the department has implemented, including updating training, developing the Community Safety Partnership (CSP) program in 2001, and prioritizing constitutional policing, in part by bumping the civilian position of Special Assistant for Constitutional Policing to the level of Assistant Chief.

Also included in the report, was a survey of 2000 residents that found under half of African Americans see LAPD officers as honest and trustworthy, compared with nearly three-quarters of white respondents and 71% of Latinos and 68% of Asians. When asked if LAPD officers treat people of all races fairly, less than half of the respondents said yes.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze says the LAPD report “suggests any problem with bias is more a public perception than a reality.”

It’s hard to prove that a cop “was motivated or specifically intended to discriminate against a suspect based on the suspect’s race, ethnicity, or another protected characteristic,” the report reads. The department is able to take action when a racial slur or other explicit evidence of bias is involved. And, according to the report, LAPD officials have taken action—including termination—in instances of inappropriate remarks or “observable” discriminatory conduct. Implicit bias, however, is harder to prove, the report says.

Of the 10 agencies the LAPD looked at, only San Diego, San Jose, and Washington DC had sustained any allegations of bias in the last five years.

For further reading, the LA Times’ Kate Mather, Cindy Chang and James Queally have more on the issue.

Posted in LAPD | 2 Comments »

Following Passage of Prop. 66 and Efforts to Resume Capital Punishment in CA, ACLU Files Suit to Stall Executions

November 16th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

The ACLU of Northern California and the law firm Covington & Burling filed a lawsuit Tuesday that aims to block the state from resuming executions. The complaint argues the constitutionality of CA Penal Code §3604, which gives full discretion to bureaucrats at the CA Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation rather than elected officials to “decide and resolve the key, fundamental policy questions implicated by the death penalty.”

“This law gives unelected bureaucrats too much power and it shields legislators from accountability on the death penalty process,” said Linda Lye, Senior Staff Attorney at the ACLU-NC Foundation. “This case is about one fundamental issue: accountability.”

There are 728 men and 21 women currently on death row in the state.

On November 8, voters narrowly passed Proposition 66, which will speed up the death penalty appeals process. Voters rejected a competing bill to abolish the death penalty. Former CA Attorney General John Van de Kamp and former El Dorado County supervisor Ron Briggs (whose father sponsored the current death penalty law back in 1978) filed a lawsuit last Wednesday, seeking a stay on Prop.66 from the state Supreme Court.

The ACLU suit calls into question the CDCR’s “unbridled discretion to develop protocols” regarding the use of lethal injection drugs or lethal gas, and the “pain, speed, reliability, and secrecy” of the process.

“The people of California, through their elected leaders, must have a say in and take responsibility for how this irreversible punishment is carried out,” said Mitch Kamin, a partner with Covington & Burling. “Whether or not you agree with the death penalty, there is no doubt that it is irreversible. It cannot be exempt from careful scrutiny in an open forum — the Legislature.”

Posted in ACLU, Death Penalty | 2 Comments »

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