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School Districts Misreporting Restraining Kids, Prop 47 Funding, Obama’s Law Enforcement $$$, and Jim McDonnell

December 3rd, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA, NY, AND CHICAGO TELL THE DEPT. OF EDUCATION KIDS AREN’T RESTRAINED IN THEIR SCHOOLS…BUT IT DOES HAPPEN

It is required that every school district in the US reports how many times kids were restrained in school to the Department of Education. The requirement came about after a 2009 government report revealed that these restraints—mostly of kids with disabilities—resulted in tons of unnecessary injuries (and even deaths).

ProPublica’s Annie Waldman analyzed the data, and found that two-thirds of school districts said there were no instances of kids being restrained or held in isolation rooms. Big districts like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago fell into this category.

LA Unified School District said there were no restraints, but does tally “behavior emergency interventions,” which can involve pinning down a child.

Here’s a clip from Waldman’s story:

The Department of Education declined to say whether they have penalized any districts for failing to report.

But underreporting appears to be rampant. Our analysis found that more than two-thirds of all school systems reported zero instances of restraining a student or isolating them in so-called “seclusion” rooms.

Many districts are not taking the reporting process seriously, said Claudia Center, a senior attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I think there needs to be a real cultural shift on restraints,” Center said. “It has been a really common practice in schools for decades. If [schools] had to write down how many times they actually do it, they would have to change what they’re doing.”

A spokesman for the federal Department of Education said if school districts fail to collect data on restraints, the government works with them to construct a plan to improve and could ultimately compel them to report by suspending federal aid until they do.

Huffman, the spokeswoman from Chicago’s public school system, said federal officials haven’t contacted school officials there about their missing data.

Los Angeles Unified School District spokeswoman Gayle Pollard-Terry, said that although the district reported zero instances of restraints, it keeps its own tally of incidents involving disabled children. Advocates say such actions, which are called “behavioral emergency inventions,” often come in the form of restraints. The Los Angeles Unified School District reported 103 interventions during the 2012 school year.


FUNDING THE CITY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE FOR INCOMING PROP 47 MISDEMEANOR CASES

Because Prop 47 downgraded a number of low-level felonies to misdemeanors, the City Attorney’s Office anticipates an influx of 13,500 new misdemeanor cases per year. (Before Prop 47, these cases would have been handled by the District Attorney’s Office.)

City Attorney Mike Feuer asked the city for $510,482 to hire more attorneys and staff to deal with the workload, as well as about $875,000 more per year, moving forward.

An LA Times editorial makes a really compelling argument in favor of City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti approving that money request. Here’s a clip (but definitely read the whole thing, as it clarifies a number of things about Prop 47):

Many observers brush off misdemeanor convictions as unimportant because shorter sentences are too often not served at all due to jail crowding. But that’s part of what Proposition 47 is meant to fix. Thousands of inmates who formerly would have served multiyear terms in state prison are now serving that time in county jail cells because of the 2011 realignment law. Some of those will now see their sentences shortened, freeing up cells to allow each inmate to serve closer to his or her full sentence, while also relieving crowding in state prisons.

There is a discussion to be had about whether possession of some drugs should even be a misdemeanor, rather than an infraction such as marijuana possession, or even a crime at all — but Proposition 47 was not that discussion.

In the meantime, if misdemeanors — especially property crimes — are to be dealt with effectively, city attorneys in Los Angeles and elsewhere must have the resources to prosecute them. The crimes will continue to be committed and the police will continue to make their arrests. Prosecutors must continue to prosecute if the ballot measure is to work as intended.

Proposition 47 is expected to produce substantial savings, and some critics argued that a portion of that should go to cities to pay for exactly the kind of thing Feuer is seeking. It doesn’t. Lacey’s office will be relieved of part of its caseload, so it is arguable that the district attorney ought to relinquish funding to the city. Don’t hold your breath.

But the city may well realize savings from Proposition 47 too. That’s because misdemeanors require far less post-arrest time from police officers, who won’t have to wait at courthouses for hours, often on overtime, in order to testify at preliminary hearings.

Will that savings prove illusory, or will it be real and enough over the years to cover the city attorney’s new costs? Los Angeles residents and taxpayers deserve to know….


$263M FROM PRES. OBAMA FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES’ BODY CAMERAS, TRAINING, AND MORE

On Monday, President Barack Obama announced a plan to provide $263 million in funding to work toward improving relations between law enforcement agencies and communities. That figure includes $75 million for 50,000 body cameras for officers. Obama will also increase oversight of how local police departments use military equipment they receive through federal programs.

The Washington Times’ Dave Boyer has the story. Here’s a clip:

The president is also asking his administration to draft an executive order creating a new task force that will examine “how to promote effective crime reduction while building public trust,” a White House official said. The panel will be led by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey and former Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson.

The $263 million for cameras and training would be used by the federal government to match up to 50 percent spending by state and local police departments on body-worn cameras and storage for the equipment. The White House estimates that aspect of the program, which would cost $75 million, would help fund the purchase of 50,000 body-worn cameras.

The remainder of the money would be used to underwrite police training and outreach programs targeted at building better trust between law enforcement and their communities.

Helping pay for body-worn cameras is a step in the right direction, but the real test will be whether local law enforcement agencies are willing to use the devices.

The National Journal’s Dustin Volz has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…It’s not just about money. A number of local police departments remain hesitant—if not downright skeptical—about body cameras, despite growing public demand and research that suggests positive benefits.

“At this juncture, it doesn’t change anything,” said Mike Puetz, a spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department in Florida, when asked about Obama’s funding pledge. “From our perspective, and I think for most agencies, we’re looking at the technology and looking at how it works in the real world regardless of who pays the bill.”


THE REFORM CHALLENGES FACING JIM MCDONNELL AS HE TAKES THE HELM OF THE LASD

LA Weekly’s Dennis Romero has an interesting story about the uphill battle newly sworn-in LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell faces to bring about real reform in the scandal-plagued department. Here’s a clip:

-Reforming the jails. The sheriff’s department runs the largest jail system in the country. One of the biggest problems with the system has been the department’s program of putting first-day rookies on lockup duty for two years before allowing them to hit the streets.

It can seed hatred and violence in budding cops.

McDonnell has said that’s one of the things he’ll change. But it will take some time. He’ll have to recruit people who actually want to work in jails, a different breed of officer.

Nonetheless, Bobb says, “The department on the custody side cannot wait much longer to have the reform.”

There are also widespread calls to reduce or even eliminate the time the some mentally ill inmates spend behind bars. They’re better treated in medical settings, the argument goes, and keeping them out of lockup could save taxpayers a lot of cash.

-Cracking down on beatdowns. Both inside and outside the jail system, the department’s way of dealing with cops accused of excessive force leaves much to be desired.

Eliasburg of the ACLU says that when it comes to “formal reviews of use of force, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“Deputies should be made to know that if force is used it will be carefully reviewed and there will be consequences,” he said.

Posted in City Attorney, finance, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, Obama, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 4 Comments »

“A Civil War Has Torn the Department Apart” – New Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell is Sworn In

December 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



“A LONG PERIOD OF UNCERTAINTY AND TRAUMA”

After a day of much needed rain, the weather had cleared and the city seemed once-again washed clean as, just after 2 pm on Monday, Jim McDonnell was sworn in as the 32nd Los Angeles County Sheriff.

McDonnell made his way up to the stage of LA’s completely packed Hall of Justice to the music of live bagpipes. The bagpipes are becoming a new tradition for the Irish cop who came to LA from Boston to join the Los Angeles Police Department nearly 34 years ago, then worked his way up the ranks until he was second in command to that other Bostonian cop, Bill Bratton. After being shortlisted for the job of chief twice, McDonnell left the LAPD to head up Long Beach’s ailing department. Now he is poised to lead the complex and spectacularly troubled LASD, the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the nation.

It is job for which many feel he is unusually well suited.

After the requisite welcome remarks were delivered by presiding LA County Superior Court Judge David Wesley, followed by an invocation by LA Archbishop Jose Gomez, and still more remarks from Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the main event arrived: LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey administered the oath of office to McDonnell. (Although most of LA County’s major elected officials would come to endorse him, Lacey was one of McDonnell’s earliest and most ardent supporters.)

Next, the newly-minted sheriff’s wife, Kathy McDonnell, along with Megan McDonnell, one of his two daughters, pinned the LASD’s six-pointed star on their man’s chest.

When finally was time for McDonnell to give his own speech. it didn’t take him long to get to the heart of the matter:

“This organization has been through a long period of uncertainty and trauma….” he said.

“I have seen the despair in many of you who sought to rise above the divisions and the turbulence of recent years.

“Many of you felt you were being asked to choose between what was best for the organization and what was best for a few people who were only trying to serve themselves.”

McDonnell paused for a beat, then went on.

“I am telling you that, as of today, those days are gone.”

It was the biggest applause line of the afternoon.

“You have been through a Civil War that has torn the department apart,” McDonnell continued. “Now is the time for us to move beyond past divisions and fractures, to heal, and to emerge as a better and stronger organization. Today, we have the opportunity to start fresh, to hit the reset button and to welcome in a new era at the Sheriff’s Department.”

For much of the speech, the new sheriff spoke directly to the department’s 18,000 employees, several hundred of whom had showed up in their dress uniforms to see the new guy sworn in.

“I want to be crystal clear about my expectations of you, as well as what you can expect of me,” McDonnell told them.

Then he ticked off some of those expectations:

* We will set aside disputes and factions of the past and focus, together, on our core mission and building our future.

* We will identify and build upon our strengths, and also be equally forthright in identifying – and working to address – our weaknesses.

* We know that Patrol is important, but so is Custody. We will treat Custody as an equally vital mission of the Department and respect this key aspect of our work, just as we respect those entrusted to us and in our care within our jails.

* We will welcome the watchful eye of our community and work with our federal partners to address past problems. We will embrace oversight as a mechanism to help us move beyond our challenges and to help achieve our shared goals.

* We will develop a culture in which career paths and promotions in the Department are the result of character, competence and compassion, as performed with a sense of humility and based on a foundation of respect.

* Everyone will be afforded a fair chance to succeed—and merit, not external considerations, will serve as the guideposts for success in this Department.

At this last, many of the rank and file who stood along the back and side walls of the hall looked relieved and actually hopeful.

Yet, some of department’s higher ups who sat together near the front, still wore expressions that were serious and difficult to read.

NOTE: You can find a full text of Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s speech here.

The LA public officials who filled the front three or four rows of the hall, however, were uniformly effusive.

“This is historic,” said former district attorney Steve Cooley. “He’s a very special person…. The right man at the right moment.”

LAPD Chief Charlie Beck agreed. “The right man for the moment.”


THE TONE COMES FROM THE TOP

There was a reception following the swearing in, but before he went off to socialize, McDonnell first took twenty minutes to field questions from the reporters who clustered around him on the steps outside the building.

When asked if he had talked to officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office about whether there would be further indictments of department members—present or former—McDonnell said he had not. “I needed to wait until today in order to have standing.”

But he would be having conversations, he said—then brought up the still looming spectre of a federal consent decree. His goal would be to work as closely with the feds as possible “to make whatever agreement as productive as it can be.’

He answered questions about body cameras (he’s for them), and about the diversion programs he favors for many of the mentally ill inmates, whom he said comprise 20 percent of LA’s jail population. “Diversion is a critical element,” he said.

WitnessLA asked McDonnell how he plans to undo the pay-to-play, patronage culture that became so deeply entrenched in the department. McDonnell said the change would start right now, today, “by setting the tone from the top.” Department members, he said, are “looking for clear direction.”

As to whether there are parts of the existing command structure that he’ll need to dismantle:

“As I go forward, I want to give everybody a fair shot,” McDonnell said, adding that he and his team would also take “a hard look” to see if people are where they are supposed to be.

“We’ll take care of it on a case-by-case basis.”


LEE BACA WEIGHS IN

Former sheriff Lee Baca was also present at the swearing in. He sat in the front row with former California governor Gray Davis.

After the swearing in was over, Baca praised McDonnell’s speech, and chatted volubly about the challenges the new sheriff would face. Then, when when asked to reduce his advice for his successor to elevator pitch-length, Baca thought for a moment, then offered the following:

“Being the sheriff is very personal. It’s not just a professional experience. Its failures are personal. The key is to stay in the center of what is positive. A strong sheriff knows what pain is and can handle it.”

All photos by WLA

MCDONNELL OATH OF OFFICE SPEECH TEXT VERSION DELIVERED FINAL

Posted in Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff John Scott, Sheriff Lee Baca | 13 Comments »

Jim McDonnell Swearing-in, Native American Kids’ Exposure to Violence, California Exoneration, and a Child Welfare Czar Update

December 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

TODAY: LA GETS A NEW SHERIFF

Jim McDonnell will be sworn in as the 32nd Sheriff of Los Angeles County today, December 1. The swearing-in will take place downtown at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration at 2:00p.m.

McDonnell will replace Interim Sheriff John Scott, who took over for Sheriff Lee Baca after he resigned in January.

Former chief of the Long Beach Police Dept. and a 29-year LAPD veteran, McDonnell is the first new sheriff elected from outside the department—the fourth largest law enforcement agency in the US—in more than a century.

We will have much more on our new sheriff after the swearing-in.


NATIVE AMERICAN KIDS PLAGUED BY COMMUNITY VIOLENCE, FAILED BY THE JUSTICE SYSTEM

Children growing up in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities experience violence at a rate higher than any other race, according to a recent report. (The 120-page report from the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence was presented to Attorney General Eric Holder in mid-November.)

According to the report, 75% of deaths of Native Americans between the ages of 12-20 are due to violence.

AI/AN kids are also five times more likely than the general population to have four or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Kids with four ACEs have a much higher likelihood of having emotional and physical health issues, among other serious negative outcomes.

Clearly this is a national issue, but it’s a California issue, as well, in that our state has the second largest Native American population in the US (the largest is in Oklahoma).

The report makes 31 recommendations to improve the lives of AI/AN kids exposed to violence, including allowing tribes to prosecute non-Native Americans who abuse Native American children on reservations.

Here are some clips from the report:

Violence in American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) communities occurs at very high rates compared with non-AI/AN communities—higher for AI/AN than all other races. And violence, including intentional injuries, homicide, and suicide, accounts for 75 percent of deaths of AI/AN youth ages twelve through twenty.2 Unfortunately, Indian children cannot escape the violence that surrounds them.

Repeated exposure to childhood violence has a staggering lifelong impact on an individual’s health and well-being. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study demonstrated that persons who experience four or more childhood adversities have a four- to twelvefold increased risk for alcoholism, drug use, depression, and suicide attempt when compared to those that had experienced none. This study, coupled with data that show American Indians and Alaska Natives have a fivefold higher risk of being exposed to four or more adverse childhood events, underscores the overwhelming impact of exposure to violence in AI/AN communities.

Children engulfed by this level of community violence often struggle with rebuilding trust, finding meaning in life apart from desires for safety and justice, finding realistic ways to protect themselves and their loved ones from danger and dealing with feelings of guilt, shame, powerlessness, and doubt. Additionally, when children experience ongoing violence in their communities, it may become an accepted condition of life. They may learn to think of recurring danger, fear, injury, and death as normal. Instead of celebrating life, too often they must mourn losses. This may confuse them in figuring out how to navigate life. These children wait nervously or helplessly for the next explosion of violence in their neighborhood or school, or they mourn the all-too-common deaths or devastated lives of families, friends, and community members. At some point, these children may feel the need to fight back against actual or potential perpetrators, causing them to have difficulty acting appropriately on those feelings. Unfortunately, a number of these children become perpetrators in adolescence and adulthood.

[SNIP]

Vulnerability Due to Homelessness. Homelessness may be caused by a need to escape violence in the home, and homeless youth become easy targets of violent crime in the community. In Minnesota, where the Advisory Committee conducted a Listening Session, it was reported that AI/AN youth make up 20 percent of homeless youth ages twelve through seventeen, although they make up only 1 percent of the general population.

[SNIP]

The cycle of violence that now grips AI/AN communities was years in the making and largely due to failed federal policies. Breaking the cycle of violence will require cooperation at the federal, tribal, and state level as well as the investment of significant new resources.

The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz has more on the report.

In a more recent story for the Washington Post, Horwitz tells of how the federal justice system is failing Native American kids. Horwitz takes a particularly close look at kids from the violence-ridden Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and their encounters with the juvenile system. Here’s a clip:

Around the country, juveniles on reservations are left to languish in cash-strapped facilities that cannot afford to provide the kind of rehabilitative services afforded to most young offenders in the United States. Because some reservations have no juvenile detention centers, offenders often are shipped to facilities far from their homes, compounding the isolation of incarceration.

A jurisdictional legal maze in Indian country further complicates matters. Indian reservations are sovereign nations. So when juveniles commit minor crimes, their cases are usually handled by the tribes. But when they commit a serious felony, their cases are generally handled by federal prosecutors, and they can be sent to either federal prison or a federal facility.

In the federal system, there is no juvenile division, and no court judges, rehabilitation facilities or probation system for juveniles. From 1999 through 2008, as many as 60 percent of juveniles in federal custody were American Indians, according to a commission that last year recommended that tribes be given full jurisdiction over Indian children and be released from “dysfunctional federal and state controls.”

Advocates say Native American youths have essentially been forgotten.

“There is no systemic program to educate kids or provide services for them in detention centers,” said Troy Eid, the chairman of the Indian Law and Order Commission and a former U.S. attorney from Colorado. “They don’t have computer instruction. They don’t have classrooms. They have nothing, and their services are lacking because Congress hasn’t appropriated the funding. They just sit in a cell all day.”


MAN FREED AFTER THE LONGEST WRONGFUL INCARCERATION IN CALIFORNIA, PLUS INTERVIEW WITH HEAD OF INNOCENCE PROJECT

Michael Hanline, a man wrongly convicted of a 1978 murder, was released from prison after serving 36 years behind bars—the longest wrongful imprisonment ever in California. —and a 15 year battle on his behalf by the folks at the California Innocence Project. (You can read the rest of Hanline’s story here.)

UT San Diego’s Dana Littlefield interviewed Justin Brooks, founder of the California Innocence Project. Brooks discusses breaking the good news to Hanline about his exoneration. He also explains how the Innocence Project chooses cases, and a walk from San Diego to Sacramento to file twelve clemency petitions.

Here are some clips from the interview:

Q: What was it like to tell Michael Hanline he would finally be getting out of prison?

A: It was stunning. I think it had been such a roller coaster over all these years that it was hard for him to believe it. I still don’t think he really believed it until (the day after he was released). I think he had to get out. He had to go to bed and wake up somewhere else to really have it hit him.

I’ve been doing this for 25 years and I’ve walked 15 people out of prison in that situation. And I still don’t know what it’s like because I’m still just an observer. I always try to imagine it, but I can’t imagine it. I mean, I don’t like staying home sick one day. I can’t fathom 36 years of in prison, thinking you’re gonna die there.

[SNIP]

Q: What’s the California 12?

A: With Hanline, we thought we’d run out of options. We were still fighting but we had been going on for so long. So one night I thought, Well, the governor has the ability to grant clemency and my goal isn’t necessarily to exonerate everybody it’s to free innocent people. Clemency isn’t about exonerating you, it’s about getting you out of prison.

So I thought, I’m going to file clemency on all the cases that we’ve been fighting for years and where we have strong evidence of innocence, but we haven’t been able to convince the courts of it.

Clemency is so hard to get because it’s so political and you have to get the governor’s attention. So I came up with this crazy idea that I would walk the clemency petitions from my office here (in San Diego) to his office in Sacramento. Fortunately two of my young and much fitter staff attorneys agreed to walk with me.

It was the most difficult thing I’ve done in my life and it was the most amazing experience of my life…

Read on.


WHY THE PROCESS OF FINDING AN LA CHILD WELFARE CZAR HAS BEEN DELAYED

The LA County Board of Supervisors was expected to begin interviewing candidates for the new child welfare czar—to oversee much-needed reforms to the Department of Children and Family Services—at the beginning of November. Instead, the board postponed the process until the two new Supervisors would be sworn in today, December 1.

Leslie Gilbert-Lurie, co-chair of the transition team tasked with preparing the way for the new Office of Child Protection, expressed concern over whether the search would gain momentum before the end of the year.

Gilbert-Lurie also noted that the Supervisors may not be happy with the size of the applicant pool. (Judge Michael Nash, presiding judge of the LA Juvenile Courts, has been the only person to publicly announce interest in the position, thus far.)

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Christie Renick has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“The interviews themselves were postponed,” said transition team co-chair Leslie Gilbert-Lurie during the Nov. 24 meeting. “I was disappointed to hear that the interviews were postponed, but hopefully it will lead to a very positive result.”

The board had also voted 3-2 on October 7 to include members of the transition team in the selection process to fill the director position. But Gilbert-Lurie reported to the rest of the transition team that the board of supervisors was not actually planning to include the transition team in that process.

“What our office was told on the Friday before interviews that were set for Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon was that this was going to be in closed session for the Supervisors only,” Gilbert-Lurie said.

[SNIP]

“What I would question is if the Supervisors were not happy with the search that took place, if they did not feel that they had enough choices, I don’t know how that search gets revved up, redone, and interviews take place again in December,” Gildbert-Lurie added. “I’m just not sure how that timing could possibly work.”

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, Innocence, Jim McDonnell, juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Youth at Risk | 12 Comments »

Ferguson: the Grand Jury, the Evidence Dump, Darren Wilson’s Testimony, the St. Louis Prosecutor…and More

November 26th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

We will have lots of other news after the Thanksgiving weekend, but today we are focusing on Ferguson.

THE PROBLEM WITH BOB MCCULLOUCH’S GRAND JURY PROCEEDING

Instead of charging Darren Wilson with a crime and initiating standard criminal procedure that would likely have allowed a trial jury to find Wilson guilty or not guilty, St. Louis County Prosecutor Bob McCulloch made the highly unusual choices of opening a grand jury investigation into the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, and then dumping all gathered evidence in front of the jurors to consider without any overt guidance from a prosecutor—which was its own tacit communication.

The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin says that while a regular trial jury might have come to the conclusion that Wilson was not guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, Wilson should not have received the “special treatment” of a grand jury combined with an unprecedented and undifferentiated evidence dump that seemed to overwhelm jurors. Toobin goes on to ask what would have happened if McCulloch had treated Wilson as any other suspect in St. Louis County. Here’s a clip: Here’s a clip:

In sending Wilson’s case to the grand jury, McCulloch technically turned over to them the decision about whether to prosecute. By submitting all the evidence to the grand jury, he added to the perception that this process represented an independent evaluation of the evidence. But there is little doubt that he remained largely in control of the process; aggressive advocacy by prosecutors could have persuaded the grand jurors to vote for some kind of indictment. The standard for such charges—probable cause, or more probable than not—is generally a very easy hurdle. If McCulloch’s lawyers had simply pared down the evidence to that which incriminated Wilson, they would have easily obtained an indictment.

The grand jury chose not to indict Wilson for any crimes in connection with Brown’s death. In a news conference following the decision, McCulloch laid out the evidence that he believed supported the grand jury’s finding. In making the case for Wilson’s innocence, McCulloch cherry-picked the most exculpatory information from what was assembled before the grand jury. The conclusion may even have been correct; based on a preliminary review of the evidence before the grand jury, it’s not clear to me that a trial jury would have found Wilson guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

But the goal of criminal law is to be fair—to treat similarly situated people similarly—as well as to reach just results. McCulloch gave Wilson’s case special treatment. He turned it over to the grand jury, a rarity itself, and then used the investigation as a document dump, an approach that is virtually without precedent in the law of Missouri or anywhere else.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank slams McCullough and his “joke of a grand-jury proceeding.” Here are some clips:

What causes the outrage, and the despair, is the joke of a grand-jury proceeding run under the auspices of McCulloch, the St. Louis County prosecutor. In September, I wrote that it appeared he wasn’t even trying to get an indictment; he had a long record of protecting police in such cases, and his decision not to recommend a specific charge to the grand jury essentially guaranteed there would be no indictment.

When McCulloch announced the inevitable result Monday night, he prefaced it by blaming the press and social media for whipping up emotions in the case with inaccurate information. He went on to ridicule witnesses who had given inconsistent testimony. He hid behind the grand jurors, as if he hadn’t orchestrated their decision with the finesse of conductor Christoph Eschenbach: “Anyone suggesting that somehow it’s just not a full and fair process is just unfair to these people” who “gave up their lives” to deliberate.

McCulloch essentially acknowledged that his team was serving as Wilson’s defense lawyers, noting that prosecutors “challenged” and “confronted” witnesses by pointing out previous statements and evidence that discredited their accounts. “Physical evidence does not change because of public pressure or personal agenda,” McCulloch lectured piously. “Physical evidence does not look away as events unfold.”

[SNIP]

Asked Monday night whether he had any regrets about the way he handled the case, McCulloch replied, “No, not at all.” This shouldn’t be a surprise, given McCulloch’s history. That his father, a police officer, was killed by a black suspect doesn’t by itself disqualify him, but his record should have: not a single prosecution of a shooting by police in his 23 years on the job. Four times he presented evidence to a grand jury in such a case and didn’t get an indictment; now he can add a fifth.

An NY Times editorial lays out the context of the Ferguson riots—from McCulloch’s mistakes to citizens’ mistrust of law enforcement officers. Here’s how it opens:

The St. Louis County grand jury’s decision not to indict the white police officer who in August shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, would have generated widespread anger and disappointment in any case. But the county prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, who is widely viewed in the minority community as being in the pockets of the police, made matters infinitely worse by handling this sensitive investigation in the worst possible way.

First, he refused to step aside in favor of a special prosecutor who could have been appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon of Missouri. He further undermined public confidence by taking a highly unorthodox approach to the grand jury proceeding. Instead of conducting an investigation and then presenting the case and a recommendation of charges to the grand jury, his office shifted its job to the grand jury. It made no recommendation on whether to indict the officer, Darren Wilson, but left it to the jurors to wade through masses of evidence to determine whether there was probable cause to file charges against Officer Wilson for Mr. Brown’s killing.

Under ordinary circumstances, grand jury hearings can be concluded within days. The proceeding in this case lasted an astonishing three months. And since grand jury proceedings are held in secret, the drawn-out process fanned suspicions that Mr. McCulloch was deliberately carrying on a trial out of public view, for the express purpose of exonerating Officer Wilson.


DARREN WILSON’S TESTIMONY

The New Yorker’s John Cassidy gives a good summary of Darren Wilson’s grand jury testimony. Here’s a clip:

At this point, Wilson testified, Brown “grabs my gun, says, ‘You are too much of a pussy to shoot me.’” Brown then pushed the gun down toward Wilson’s thigh, the officer went on, and a pulling match ensued, during which Wilson twice tried to shoot the gun, but it didn’t go off. Eventually, it did, blowing out one of the windows and drawing blood from somewhere on Brown’s body. The gunfire startled both of them, Wilson said. Brown took a step back, and then looked up at him with “the most intense aggressive face. The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up.”

Wilson tried to pull the trigger again, he testified, but the gun again failed to shoot, and Brown struck him. Wilson racked the slide on the top of his pistol and squeezed the trigger yet again, this time successfully. “When I look up, I see him start to run, and I see a cloud of dust behind him. I then get out of my car. As I’m getting out of the car, I tell dispatch, ‘Shots fired, send me more cars.’”

Obviously, questions can be raised about the accuracy of this account, which Wilson prepared in conjunction with his defense attorney. But even assuming it’s true, what stands out is that once the second shot had been fired and Brown had started to run, he no longer represented a deadly threat to the officer or to anybody else. He was a large, bleeding, unarmed man running down the street in an attempt to get away. Wilson, who chased after Brown, was the one with the deadly weapon.

The Root’s Lauren Victoria Burke gives five points Darren Wilson makes in his grand jury testimony that are problematic and will likely come up again in a civil case. Here are two of the five:

3. Wilson testified that Brown handed cigars to his friend Johnson at the same time Brown was allegedly hitting Wilson in the face.

Johnson, who was with Brown the day of the shooting, told CNN in the days after Brown was shot that Brown passed him a handful of cigars as he ran away. But Wilson testified before the grand jury that Brown was punching him in the face with his right hand—the same right hand in which, Wilson told the grand jury, Brown held the cigars.

On Page 209 of his testimony, Wilson said, “When I start looking at Brown, first thing I notice is in his right hand, his hand is full of cigarillos.”

Then, on Page 211 of the transcript, Wilson is asked, “Now, he was hitting you with what hand?” and Wilson answered, “I believe it was his right.”

Wilson further testified that Brown freed his right hand by placing the cigars in his left hand and then handing the cigars to Johnson.

4. Wilson refers to Brown as “it” and says that he looks like “a demon.”

“The only way I can describe it, it looks like a demon, that’s how angry he looked. He comes back towards me again with his hands up. At that point I just went like this, I tried to pull the trigger again, click, nothing happened,” Wilson testified.

It’s interesting that Wilson referred to Brown as “a demon” and then acknowledged that Brown had his “hands up.”

The NY Times’ Juliet Lapidos has some interesting things to say about how Wilson viewed Brown. Here’s a clip:

Much has been made of the fact that Mr. Brown was 6-foot-4 and weighed roughly 290 pounds. Mr. Wilson, though, is not a small guy: He’s also 6-foot-4, and about 210 pounds.

But let’s give the officer the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he was so genuinely scared that his fear distorted what was happening. Whether or not he committed a crime, as defined by a criminal justice system that tends to let cops off the hook, he shouldn’t be carrying a gun. Someone who can let fear get the better of him—who sees a teenager like a super-villain—shouldn’t have easy access to deadly force.


MORE ON THE DEMONIZATION OF MICHAEL BROWN

On To the Point, host Warren Olney talks with a number of guests about the Ferguson riots, the evidence and grand jury proceeding, and what the non-indictment means for the nation.

One of a number of guests was Delores Jones-Brown, of the John Jay College Center on Race, Crime and Justice. Jones-Brown (who comes on just before the 15-minute mark of the program) discusses the grand jury process, which she calls a “one-sided trial,” and the demonization of Michael Brown. Here’s a clip of the transcript:

…typically it’s a secret proceeding, and evidence isn’t given out. And I think, in this case, the evidence is given out for the purpose of convincing people who might be easily convinced—once you have demonized the victim—that that victim deserved the behavior that they received. And I don’t think that it was not self-serving. I think it was a self-serving effort.

Olney: You said a couple of times that the victim was “demonized” not just before, but now in the process itself…What do you mean?

So, when the video footage from the Bodega where allegedly cigars were stolen (by someone I’m still not completely convinced was Michael Brown and his companion), that videotape was to indicate that this was a violent young man. So, when the officer, Wilson, then takes the stand and says to the grand jury that ‘he looked demonic, or he was like a demon when he attacked me,’ an otherwise incredible story—one that wouldn’t easily be believed—becomes more believable, particularly for people who already have perceptions of young black men as dangerous and criminal. There was an emphasis on Michael Brown’s size, so he’s the large, scary young black man, and therefore he’s dangerous, and he’s going to act out like an animal, and that’s why the officer had to shoot him.

Go take a listen.


MORE NEWS FROM FERGUSON

The AP and NPR have a combined story on the grand jury investigation, Darren Wilson’s testimony, witnesses’ testimonies, and the ongoing federal investigation, which Attorney General Eric Holder says will remain independent of the St. Louis investigation.

And, criticizing the grand jury process and decision, attorneys for Michael Brown’s family say they will fight for federal charges to be brought against Darren Wilson, according to an AP update to the story.

Here’s a clip from the AP section:

Attorneys for the family of Michael Brown are vowing to push for federal charges against police officer Darren Wilson.

They’re also renewing their calls for peace, after a night of violent protests in which several businesses in Ferguson were burned to the ground.

The protests followed the announcement by prosecutors that a grand jury had decided not to indict Wilson in the fatal shooting of the unarmed black 18-year-old.

Speaking to reporters Tuesday, the attorneys said the grand jury process had been rigged from start to finish in order to clear Wilson in the shooting death. They criticized the types of evidence the prosecutor presented, as well as the way it was presented and the timing of the grand jury’s decision. (Scroll below to see details of the evidence.)

And here’s a clip from NPR’s update from AG Eric Holder:

Attorney General Eric Holder says “far more must be done to create enduring trust” between police and communities they serve, even as his Justice Department continues to investigate possible discriminatory police actions in Ferguson, Mo.

Civil rights lawyers at Justice working alongside FBI agents have also been examining whether white officer Darren Wilson intentionally violated the civil rights of 18-year-old Michael Brown, the unarmed black man he shot dead Aug. 9.

Proving that Wilson, who was cleared Monday by a St. Louis County grand jury, violated federal criminal law will be difficult, DOJ veterans say.

But in the aftermath of the local grand jury announcement, Holder insisted the federal probe of the policeman is ongoing and independent of St. Louis prosecutors.

“And although federal civil rights law imposes a high legal bar in these types of cases, we have resisted forming premature conclusions,” Holder said.


THE MARIJUANA IN MICHAEL BROWN’S SYSTEM

Reason’s Jacob Sullum takes a look at the misleading picture prosecutors tried to paint about how much marijuana Michael Brown had in his system and what effects it might have had on his behavior. Here’s a clip:

Kathi Alizadeh and Sheila Whirley, the assistant county prosecutors who presented evidence to the grand jury, did what they could with pot, raising the possibility that Brown had smoked enough to experience “paranoia,” “hallucinations,” and maybe even a “psychotic episode.” They planted that idea in jurors’ heads mainly by presenting a toxicologist’s misleading testimony about the amount of THC in Brown’s blood and the possible effects of large doses.

The toxicologist testified that Brown’s blood contained 12 nanograms of active THC per milliliter, a level that he said indicated Brown had consumed cannabis in the previous two or three hours. That contradicted testimony by Dorian Johnson, the friend who was with Brown when Wilson shot him. Johnson, who said he was with Brown all day, testified that they had planned to get high (hence the cigarillos that Brown stole from a convenience store) but never got around to it. Despite the blood test results, Johnson could be telling the truth. Daily marijuana users have been known to register 12 nanograms or more when they get up in the morning, and they may even perform competently on driving tests at that level.

In a 2013 experiment sponsored by KIRO, the CBS station in Seattle, one volunteer, a medical marijuana user, tested at 16 nanograms when she arrived but nevertheless completed a driving course satisfactorily and continued to do so until she hit 58.8 nanograms. A subject in another 2013 experiment, this one sponsored by KDVR, the Fox affiliate in Denver, was already at 21 nanograms when he arrived, even though he had not consumed any marijuana that day, and reached 47 after he smoked some pot. He performed fine on a driving simulator at both levels.

Alizadeh noted that Colorado and Washington both have set five nanograms as the cutoff for drugged driving. But as the experiments by KIRO and KDVR indicate, that standard is highly problematic, treating many regular users as impaired even when they’re not. The fact that Brown’s THC level was “over twice” this arbitrary number, as Alizadeh emphasized, does not necessarily indicate he was too stoned to drive, let alone that he had consumed enough marijuana to precipitate a psychotic break.


READ ON…

By the way, St. Louis Public Radio has all of the evidence and a live blog on what’s happening in Ferguson.

And for further reading, Andrew Cohen has a Ferguson news roundup over at the the Marshall Project.

Posted in race | 68 Comments »

Sheriff-Elect McDonnell & Others Speak on Ferguson… And Lots More

November 24th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Here are a few of the early reactions to the news Monday night
that a Missouri grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson Officer Darren Wilson in the August 9 shooting death of Michael Brown

LA COUNTY SHERIFF-ELECT JIM MCDONNELL

The frustration we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri demonstrates what can happen when a divide develops between government — through one of its most vital agents, law enforcement — and the community it serves. It is why community policing and engagement must not merely be something we do, but rather it must be who we are and how we operate every day.

The Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri has spoken. Yet a community is still fractured and many lives are forever and irreparably impacted.

I urge those who may be disappointed by today’s decision to nonetheless respect the outcome and processes of our legal system. The greatness of our nation comes from our ability to come together peacefully and lawfully, to speak up about what is on our minds, and to respect one another…..

As the incoming Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I will continue to focus, as I have throughout my career, on strengthening lines of communication and fortifying trust between communities and law enforcement….

AUTHOR OF “THE NEW JIM CROW” MICHELLE ALEXANDER

As we await the grand jury’s decision, I want to take this opportunity to say thank you — a deep, heart-wrenching thank you — to all the organizers and activists who took to the streets following Michael Brown’s killing and who refused to stop marching, raising their voices, and crying out for justice. It is because of them — their courage, boldness, vision and stamina — that the world is paying attention to what is happening in a suburb called Ferguson. The world is not watching because an unarmed black man was killed by the police. That’s not news. What made this police killing different was that the people in Ferguson — particularly the young people — rose up and said We Will Not Take It Any More. Our Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. And their cry has been heard around the world…..

CONNIE RICE AND THE ADVANCEMENT PROJECT

“Today, the people of Ferguson and caring Americans throughout our country are devastated by the grand jury decision to not indict Officer Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown,” said Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The legal system has failed again to hold someone accountable for the loss of life of an unarmed young Black man. In places throughout the United States, innocent lives are being lost at the hands of those who are supposed to serve and protect us. Mike Brown, Eric Garner and John Crawford are just a small portion of those killed by the police, while countless others have been harassed, injured and criminalized unnecessarily. Efforts for sweeping change will not stop until there is relief for communities of color.”

“The family of Michael Brown deserves an immediate, thorough, and transparent investigation into this shooting,” said Connie Rice, Founding Co-Director of Advancement Project. “This incident should be investigated by the federal government for possible civil rights violations. We also welcome federal action to ensure that civil rights of youth of color and of those protesting Michael Brown’s death are protected in the community of Ferguson.”

Here’s the rest.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI

“Michael Brown’s death has ignited deep passions across the nation, and Los Angeles is no exception.

Tonight’s decision is one that will be heatedly debated — but we should do so through dialogue and peaceful action….

OAKLAND CONGRESSWOMAN BARBARA LEE

My heart continues to go out to Michael Brown’s family and community. Like everyone in our community, I am devastated by the senseless murder of yet another young black man,” Lee said. “The deaths of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant, one of my constituents, serve as tragic examples of the senseless murder of young African American men.

We must come together like never before to tackle the systemic, structural and rampant racial bias endemic in our institutions and criminal justice system. We must demand change and work to realize it.


AND IN OTHER NEWS

GOV. BROWN NAMES YOUNG SUPERSTAR LAWYER TO STATE SUPREME COURT

In a surprise move that is very much in keeping with Jerry Brown’s style of choosing unconventional but talented and high profile judicial candidates, on Monday, the governor named 38-year-old Leondra R. Kruger to the California Supreme Court, making her the youngest member of the court in memory. In his Monday statement, Brown called his nominee “a distinguished lawyer and uncommon student of the law” who has won “the respect of eminent jurists, scholars and practitioners alike.”

Interestingly, Kruger, has argued twelve times before the U.S. Supreme court, but has not practiced law in California since 2008. Instead she has spent much of her career as a rising star in the nation’s capital, most recently serving in the U.S. Department of Justice, in the office of legal counsel, prior to that, holding a top position in U.S. solicitor general’s office.

Attorney General Eric Holder stated that Kruger would be “an excellent and thoughtful Supreme Court justice who will serve the people of California with distinction for many years.”

Kruger is only African American on the court since the exit of Janice Rogers Brown in 2005 for a position on the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News is one of those who reported on Kruger’s appointment. Here’s a clip from his story:

Here’s a clip:

Defying convention again in his picks for the state’s highest court, Brown on Monday tapped 38-year-old top Obama administration lawyer Leondra Kruger to a vacancy that has been lingering on the Supreme Court since early this year.

Most recently a deputy U.S. attorney general, Kruger would be the state Supreme Court’s first African-American justice since former Justice Janice Rogers Brown moved to a federal appeals court in 2005.

Kruger, a rising legal star already mentioned as a federal appeals court and future U.S. Supreme Court prospect, replaces 73-year-old Justice Joyce Kennard, who retired in April.

The addition of Kruger to a once-aging state Supreme Court represents an unprecedented youth movement – in addition to being the youngest justice in memory, Kruger joins Brown’s two other picks, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, 42, and Goodwin Liu, 44, in bringing down the court’s average age by decades.

“(The governor’s) recent appointments to the California Supreme Court reflects a realization in Sacramento of something made decades ago in D.C. in connection with the U.S. Supreme Court,” said Shaun Martin, a University of San Diego law professor. “The younger the justices are when they get appointed, the longer they stay there and affect the law.”


FBI RELEASES 2013 STATISTICS FOR OFFICER DEATHS IN LINE OF DUTY, FINDS NUMBER OF OFFICERS CRIMINALLY KILLED SHARPLY DOWN

According to statistics released by the FBI on Monday, 27 law enforcement officers died as a result of felonious acts last year, and 49 officers died in accidents, for a total of 76 officers killed on the job protecting American communities.

The numbers of officers killed as a result of criminal acts by others in 2013 decreased by 22 when compared with the 49 officers feloniously killed in 2012, according to the FBI.

The FBI also looked at five- and 10-year comparisons in number of officers killed on the job by others and found a decrease of 21 felonious deaths compared with five years ago, in 2009, when 48 officers died, and a decrease of 30 felonious deaths compared with 2004′s 57 officers.

Of course, for the friends, colleagues and the families of those 27 officers feloniously by others in 2013, the statistics don’t really matter.


THE ADVERSE AFFECTS OF PRISONS ON COMMUNITY HEALTH

The millions of Americans who cycle through the nation’s courts, jails, and prisons every year experience far higher rates of chronic health problems than found in the general population—including a higher rate of infectious diseases, substance use, serious mental illness, and emotional conditions such as chronic depression.

When prisoners return to their communities—as most eventually do—they bring those problems with them, in many cases, arriving home with a condition that has been exacerbated by their prison stay.

A just released report by the Vera institute of Justice called Life Support: Public Health in the Age of Mass Incarceration takes a deep look at the negative impacts of incarceration on the health of communities.

Here’s the opening of the report’s overview, which gives a good idea of what researchers found.

Here’s how it begins:

Each year, millions of incarcerated people—who experience chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, substance use, and mental illness at much higher rates than the general population—return home from correctional institutions to communities that are already rife with health disparities, violence, and poverty….

For several generations, high rates of incarceration among residents in these communities has further contributed to diminished educational opportunities, fractured family structures, stagnated economic mobility, limited housing options, and restricted access to essential social entitlements

Several factors in today’s policy climate indicate that the political discourse on crime and punishment is swinging away from the punitive, tough-on-crime values that dominated for decades, and that the time is ripe to fundamentally rethink the function of the criminal justice system in ways that can start to address the human toll that mass incarceration has had on communities…..

Here’s a link to the full report.

Posted in California Supreme Court, Community Health, FBI, How Appealing, Jim McDonnell, LASD, law enforcement, mental health, Mental Illness, prison, prison policy, race, race and class, racial justice | 20 Comments »

Part 3: “Drugging Our Kids,” Kindergarteners Carry Stresses to School, Lawsuit on Behalf of Disabled LA Jail Inmates Settled…and More

November 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

“DRUGGING OUR KIDS” PART 3: A SWEET DEAL BETWEEN FOSTER CARE PRESCRIBING DOCS & PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANIES

In August and September we linked to parts one and two of Karen de Sá’s invaluable investigative series for the San Jose Mercury on the widespread and unchecked use of psychotropic prescription drugs to medicate California’s foster kids. (links)

In part three of the powerful series, de Sá exposes pharmaceutical companies’ major targeting of doctors who treat kids in foster care, who are covered under Medi-Cal. On average, these foster care prescribing doctors are rewarded—with money for travel, meals, profitable speaking gigs, and research trials—more than double what regular California doctors receive in payouts from drugmakers. In fact, between 2010 and 2013, pharmaceutical companies gave $14 million in payouts to doctors who prescribe to kids in foster care. And doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions for foster kids per year received four times as many payouts than the lower-prescribing doctors.

Here’s a clip from the findings:

Foster care prescribers reap nearly 2½ times more than the typical California doctor: From 2010 to 2013, almost 30 percent of all California doctors — and about 35 percent of foster care prescribers — received at least $100 from drug companies. But while the California doctors in that group received an average of $10,800 apiece over the four-year period, foster care prescribers typically received far more, nearly $25,000 each

Frequent prescribers are generally rewarded the most: Doctors who wrote more than 75 prescriptions to foster children in a year received more drug company payments than those who wrote fewer. While the margin fluctuated from year to year, on average the higher prescribers in the most recent fiscal year collected almost four times — or about $10,000 more — than the lower prescribers in 2013.

The bulk of the payments fund drug company-sponsored research: The 17 drugmakers who reported payments steered more than $11.3 million in research funds to doctors who prescribe psychotropic drugs to the state’s foster kids, with Eli Lilly — maker of the antipsychotic drug Zyprexa — leading the pack by spending $6 million.

The companies kept some of their big researchers busy in other ways: Six of the doctors who earned among the largest research grants also tallied a cumulative total of almost $400,000 in speaking and consulting fees and another $45,000 in travel and meals.

We really hope de Sá’s editors put this excellent series up for prizes when the time comes.


KINDERGARTNERS IN HIGH-VIOLENCE COMMUNITIES BRING STRESSES OF FAMILY AND NEIGHBORHOODS INTO THE CLASSROOM

in an op-ed for the LA Times, Judy Belk, president and CEO of the California Wellness Foundation, tells of her daughter Casey’s experience teaching a kindergarten class in a St. Louis school not too far from Ferguson, MO.

Belk noted that many parents really strive to give their kids what they need, but often found the challenges stacked against them are overwhelming.

Here’s a clip:

Casey quickly figured out that schools are not closed systems. When a family is dysfunctional or broken, the problems follow the student into the classroom. Her principal waited with a student for hours to be picked up by a parent who never appeared. Finally, at 8:30 p.m., the principal had to turn the child over to child protective services.

Still, Casey has been impressed at how, with limited resources and parenting skills, and brutal work schedules, the parents try their best to provide for their children. She also sees a large number of involved, caring fathers countering the stereotype of the absent black male.

But the families and the school struggle to make everything work in one of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods. Shortly after school started, there was a drive-by shooting at a convenience store directly across the street from the school. Classes had just been dismissed, and several of Casey’s students were in the store as bullets flew, though none was wounded.

Casey’s text messages are discordant. One day she sends cute pictures of her kids in Halloween costumes; the next she alerts me that the school is on lockdown because of nearby gunfire. Recently, after yet another shooting, her principal canceled all outdoor recess. And now, in anticipation of a violent response to the upcoming Ferguson grand jury announcement, emergency supplies have been delivered to the school in case it becomes too dangerous for students or teachers to leave the building for a day or so.

But I’m trying hard to stay calm and take my guidance from Casey. She says she’s not scared — just angry that her kids have to live under these conditions. She intends to stay at least until the end of her two-year commitment. And after that? She’s already thinking about what more she can do: “I thought by teaching kindergarten, it would be early enough to make a difference, but … we’ve got to intervene earlier, focus in on parenting.”


LA COUNTY SETTLES COSTLY, SIX-YEAR LAWSUIT ALLEGING MISTREATMENT OF INMATES IN WHEELCHAIRS

A lawsuit challenging alleged mistreatment and appalling living conditions for inmates in wheelchairs within Men’s Central Jail has finally been settled after a six-year-long fight from the county.

Some of the changes required by the settlement have already been implemented. Wheelchair accessible toilets and showers are now in two wings of the jail, for instance. The settlement also calls for work and education opportunities for inmates with ambulatory disabilities, as well as working wheelchairs. In addition, the settlement will pay $2.2 million in attorneys fees.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang has the story. Here’s a clip:

Two wings of the Twin Towers jail have already been fitted with wheelchair-accessible toilets and showers, as required by the settlement. The county jail system now employs an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, and inmates may appeal to the jail’s chief physician if they are denied the use of a wheelchair or walker.

The Sheriff’s Department’s new inspector general will monitor the agreement for three years.

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Jessica Price of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, said conditions have improved recently. But she questioned why the county fought the lawsuit when the jails clearly were not providing for disabled inmates’ basic needs.

“There was no rational basis for the county to dispute the fact that there were bathrooms that wheelchairs could not access,” Price said. “That was not a factual question, yet the litigation went on for six years.”

We had that same question, too.


RECENTLY RELEASED FROM PRISON AND STRUGGLING TO GET BY ON THE OUTSIDE

As part of KQED’S Vital Signs series, Aus Jarrar, who was recently released from prison, and now interns at a service center for former inmates, shares his story. Because Jarrar is ineligible for food stamps, he struggles to eat—missing the hours the food bank is open—in order to maintain his internship toward a drug and alcohol counseling accreditation.

Here’s how his story opens:

Walking by that restaurant back there, I smelled some barbecue. Somebody’s really cooking. You know the funny thing? Since I got out, I’ve been really full maybe three times.

It was a shock to me the morning I woke up out here that my breakfast wasn’t ready. I was in prison for a total of 11 years. I took breakfast for granted.

I’m Palestinian. I’m not a citizen so I don’t qualify for food stamps.

The prison system, they give us $200 to leave with. I had no clothes, and I have no food. So I had to make the choice: do I want look professional, so I can get a job? Or do I want to eat?

Posted in ACLU, Foster Care, LA County Jail, Trauma, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

Are Inmate Fire Camps in Danger Due to Prop 47?…and Thoughts on Obama’s Immigration Speech

November 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


COULD PROP 47 KILL CALIFORNIA’S INMATE FIRE CAMPS?

As it was when California’s Realignment strategy ushered in sweeping changes to the state’s criminal justice system in 2011, there is now is much speculation about what collateral effects will result from Proposition 47.

There are worries about spiking crime, of course. (More about that at a later date.) And some officials have expressed serious concern that the state’s well-regarded inmate fire program will be deeply wounded by the newly passed ballot measure.

Earlier this month, the LA Times went so far as to write a story claiming that the future of California’s inmate fire crews was “now in doubt” after the passage of Proposition 47.

It is good news, therefore, to learn that, according to sources inside both the California Department of Corrections and the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the fears for the inmate fire camps, at least, are reportedly groundless.

“We’re not worried about Prop. 47 harming the program,” said CDCR spokesman Bill Sessa, although he admitted that the initiative targeted the same general inmate group that the camps drew from, so there might be some changes. “We have approximately 4300 inmates in the program right now. And, the bottom line is, post Prop. 47, we’ll still be able to find 4300 inmates to fight fires.”

At present, those 4300 are deployed from 42 adult fire camps, and one juvenile fire camp. In case of a wildland fire, the inmate firefighters work side by side with crews from the U.S. Forest Service and CALFIRE crews, saving state and county taxpayers an estimated $80-100 million a year.

Sessa said that while most of the inmate fire crews come from state facilities, 200-250 come out of various counties. LA County provides the most, with San Bernardino a close second.

As for the qualifications inmate firefighters need, Sessa explained that, in general, candidates must be physically fit, and their most recent offense must be non-serious and non violent. “We take no sex offenders,” he said, “and obviously no arsonists.”

Lifers are also excluded because the temptation to try to escape is deemed too great. And anyone with chronic behavior issues is quickly axed from the list.

“The fire teams can’t have people who question authority or are still involved in gang rivalries,” said Sessa, “because everybody’s life depends on the others on the crew—literally. They have to be able to work as a team.”

Despite the stringent qualifications, Sessa said, there are still plenty of candidates.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official who works with LA County’s fire camp program agreed. “From what we gather,” he said, “we’re not going to take as big a hit as we originally thought because a lot of the Prop. 47 people are first time offenders, and our people usually have multiple offenses. They’re drawn from the group we call the non-non-nons.” (Non violent, non serious, non sexual offenders.) “But those are all the people we got sent by realignment, and there are a lot of them.”

At present, LA County has 122 inmates in their program, which has been operational for three years. “I’ve seen it change plenty of lives,” said the official (who asked not to be quoted by name). “I even know of one guy who was part of the CDCR’s program who is now a Battalion Chief for the Forest Service. We always tell his story during our training program because it inspires everybody.”

While there are other instances of former inmates going on to careers in firefighting, according to Sessa, most of the men and women in the program do not plan to become wildland firefighters. “It’s more that they learn discipline, about working with others, and they learn to see something through to the end.” Plus the inmate crew members gain a sense of self worth by providing tangible help to people and communities, he said. “And all that helps them when they get out.”

(Indeed, the fire camps have a recidivism rate that is 18 percent lower than the system as a whole.)

As the fire camp program is prized by inmates, the inmate crews provide help to California counties that can be crucial.

“Most of us are flatlanders,” LA Fire Inspector Steve Zermeno told WitnessLA in 2009 after the huge and deadly Station fire, the largest in recorded LA County history. “We’re the ones who are going to be used for structure protection. These guys, the inmates, are the people who are trained in wildland firefighting, which is a whole different thing. So when we get a big fire like the Station fire, we really count on them.”

As it is with all those who battle wildland fires, the CDCR’s inmate firefighters do a truly dangerous job. This fact became tragically clear during the worst of the Station Fire when two veteran firefighters who had, for years, trained inmate crews, were killed trying to save 55 of their CDCR crew members plus three CDCR staffers, who nearly didn’t survive the inferno that descended on Camp 16, which was then located on Mt. Gleason. (WLA reported on the heartbreaking deaths of Captain Ted Hall and Specialist Arnie Quinones here and here.)

Despite such dangers, the number of inmates who want to enter the fire camp program still greatly exceeds the number that can be accepted, said Sessa.

A California prison inmate named Danny Cabral, who is a lifer thus ineligible for fire camp, told me why. “A lot of guys I know have been to those fire camps, and risked their own lives to fight fires,” he said. “And they were glad to do it. Really glad. It makes them feel like they’re doing something that matters.”

For this and other reasons it is heartening to hear that the state’s inmate firefighter program itself—for the moment at least—appears to be in no real danger.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..

….OBAMA GOES BIG ON IMMIGRATION

Obviously the biggest news of the last 24 hours—criminal justice-related or otherwise—is Obama’s plan to offer deportation relief for as many as 5 million immigrants—the majority of them parents. Yet, since nearly every other news outlet is covering the matter rather extensively, we’ll confine ourselves to pointing out a few commentaries that you might otherwise miss.


THE NEW YORKER TALKS STYLE AND SUBSTANCE

New Yorker columnist Jon Cassidy reviews the style of the president’s speech as well as the content.

Here’s a clip:

For a two-term President whom his critics used to call “the speechifier,” Barack Obama has given surprisingly few memorable speeches, and none for quite a while. Sometimes his speechwriters over-egg it, and his language seems a bit stilted. On other occasions, he goes on for too long and his delivery is flat. Thursday night’s much-anticipated address on immigration, which he delivered from the East Room of the White House, was an extended statement rather than a full-blown speech, and it was much better for it. It was direct and to the point; it had some uplifting moments, particularly at the end; and it was relatively short—about fifteen minutes.

With a crowd of immigration-reform supporters gathered across the street, in Washington’s Lafayette Square, and with Univision interrupting its coverage of the Latin Grammys to show the speech live, there had been suggestions on conservative Web sites that Obama would be preaching to the converted rather than to the country at large. As soon as he started talking, though, it was clear that he was making his pitch to the mass of voters who, opinion polls suggest, are in favor of some sort of path to citizenship for the undocumented but also have concerns about the President going it alone.

After a hat tip to immigration’s historical role in keeping America “youthful, dynamic, and entrepreneurial,” and a quick reminder that he has beefed up border security, deported a lot of uninvited foreigners, and overseen a decline in illegal border crossings of more than fifty per cent, Obama put the blame for what he was about to do squarely on his adversaries: the Republican leaders in the House of Representatives who had refused to allow a vote on a bipartisan immigration-reform bill. “I continue to believe that the best way to solve this problem is by working together to pass that kind of common-sense law,” Obama said. “But, until that happens, there are actions I have the legal authority to take as President—the same kinds of actions taken by Democratic and Republican Presidents before me—that will help make our immigration system more fair and more just.”

If there had been any hecklers, or Fox News reporters, on hand, one of them might well have shouted that no previous President has taken executive action on the scale that Obama is proposing, which will remove the threat of deportation for perhaps as many as five million illegal immigrants. But the President had the stage to himself, and he used it to appeal to the better nature of his countrymen and countrywomen. “Most of these immigrants have been here a long time,” he said. “They work hard, often in tough, low-paying jobs. They support their families. They worship at our churches. Many of their kids are American-born or spent most of their lives here, and their hopes, dreams, and patriotism are just like ours. As my predecessor, President Bush, once put it: ‘They are a part of American life.’ ”

Mentioning George W. was another not so subtle reminder of how the G.O.P. has drifted to the dark side on this issue….


THE WSJ HAS 5 TAKEAWAYS FROM OBAMA’S SPEECH

The Wall Street Journal lists “5 Things to Note on Obama’s Immigration Overhaul. (So far this is not hidden behind the paywall. Let’s hope it stays that way.)

They are:

1. Broadcast blackout.
2. Protecting Parents
3. More Dreamers
4. Obama’s Backtrack
5. Timing.

Now that we’ve given you the teaser, for details go to the WSJ and read the rest.


LA TIMES SAYS PROBLEM MUST ULTIMATELY BE SOLVED LEGISLATIVELY

The LA Times Editorial Board liked most of what Obama had to say, but felt the problem of immigration reform must ultimately be solved by Congress. Here’s how their editorial opens:

After years of debate and division, President Obama announced Thursday that he would use his executive powers to revamp the nation’s immigration system. But wait, you say, isn’t that Congress’ responsibility? Well, yes, it is, and if Congress had done its job, the nation wouldn’t be at this juncture. But here we are.

On the substance, the president is absolutely right. The immigration system is broken and unfair; it has resulted in a permanent class of illegal workers, it separates families and it denies a place in society to immigrants who work hard, pay taxes and have deep ties to the country. There are 11 million immigrants living in the United States without authorization — more than 3 million in California alone — and it makes practical and moral sense to legalize their status and offer them a path to citizenship.

But even though Congress has been discussing these issues for more than a decade, it has repeatedly failed, for reasons both political and substantive, to move a bill through both houses. A frustrated Obama finally announced — after initially saying he lacked the legal authority — that he would act on his own. His decision will, we hope, offer some breathing room to millions of immigrant families who have been living under the threat of deportation. But it also raises serious questions about the limits of executive authority.


WHO ARE THE WINNERS & LOSERS OF OBAMA’S EXECUTIVE ACTION?

Mother Jones’s Erika Eichelberger lists those who benefit from the president’s executive action and those who lose out. Below you’ll find the two bare bones lists, but—as with the WSJ takeaways—you’ll have to go to Mother Jones to read the details and the analysis.

Winners

Undocumented parents of children who are US citizens or permanent residents

DREAMers

Families

Noncriminal undocumented immigrants

Highly skilled workers

Immigrants with pending cases

Immigrant victims of crime

The Border Patrol

Entrepreneurs

Losers
Undocumented immigrants who have been here since 2011

Undocumented agricultural workers

Ag workers with papers

Other types of legal immigrants

Foreigners attending American universities

Immigrant detainees

Read the meat of the story here.



NOTE: The inmate firefight photo at the top of the page is courtesy of the CDCR. The second photo taken in Malibu is by WitnessLA.

Posted in CDCR, Fire, LASD | 1 Comment »

Helping Treatment Programs Access Funding, LAPD to Implement Discipline Recommendations, CA Attorney General Discusses Marijuana Legalization, and Montana Gets Gay Marriage

November 20th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE TOWARD MAKING IT EASIER FOR TREATMENT AND REHABILITATION PROGRAMS TO GET FUNDING

The LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes Don Knabe and Mark Ridley-Thomas to look at possibilities for expanding eligibility requirements for the competitive bid process for county funding, so that community treatment programs that do great work serving at-risk kids, but don’t fit into the county’s “square peg” system, can still win crucial funding.

For instance, Don Knabe said he would like to find a way to provide funding for Homeboy Industries, which cannot engage in the county’s competitive bid process because participants are not referred to Homeboy. Instead, gang members seek help at Homeboy of the own volition.

KPCC’s Erika Aguilar has the story. Here’s a clip:

About 1,500 juvenile delinquents are released from Los Angeles county youth camps each year and the county spends at least $11 million annually on rehabilitation programs, according to Knabe’s office.

Most of the money goes to traditional “fee for service” programs where a juvenile offender is referred to a specific rehabilitation program after release from camp. Knabe referred to those programs as “square pegs” that fit the county mold because it’s easy to track which services were provided.

He said other successful programs that help troubled youth turn their lives around are left out.

“These are not square peg issues,” he said. “They are issues that have to be met with head-on services,” he said. “And you have to look at all the different models that may be out there.”


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK TELLS COMMISSION HE WILL IMPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DISCIPLINE SURVEY

An internal LA Police Department report released late last week analyzed a survey of 500 sworn officers and employees regarding the LAPD’s disciplinary practices.

Those surveyed said they felt the department discriminated based on gender, ethnicity, and rank. However, when analyzed, respondents’ perceptions of bias were not generally representative of the discipline data gathered by the department. For instance, some survey-takers said they believed minorities were treated unfairly in the disciplinary process, while others said they believed minorities received better treatment from the disciplinary process because the department feared potential lawsuits. Yet the department figures show that, for the most part, referrals to the Board of Review and terminations of latino, white, black, and asian officers were proportionate to the department’s overall ethnic composition.

The report was presented to the LA Police Commission Tuesday. In response, Charlie Beck told the police commission the department would implement recommendations from the report. Among the recommendations to be put into effect are:

- Utilizing new penalty guidelines to ensure consistency and fairness
- Gathering and analyzing Board of Review and complaint data for potential bias
- Developing an anti-nepotism policy

Other reactions to the report were mixed at the commission meeting. LA Police Protective League president Tyler Izen said he felt department officials were unfairly blaming the survey results on officers’ inadequate understanding of discipline policies, and that the report was missing information.

LA police commission president Steve Soboroff said that the report did its job—putting numbers next to claims of gender, minority, or rank-related bias—and that it was not intended to analyze every type of disparate discipline claim (like favoritism by the chief).

The LA Times’ Richard Winton, Kate Mather, and Joel Rubin have more on the the issue. Here’s a clip:

The review looked for disparities in whether officers of certain ranks, gender, or race were ordered to the hearings and ultimately penalized, concluding that data showed there was little merit to the complaints of bias.

Left unexamined, however, was the vast majority of the LAPD’s misconduct cases, which are handled by officers’ commanders.

The president of the union that represents the department’s roughly 9,900 rank-and-file officers dismissed the report Monday as a disappointment.

Tyler Izen was critical of what he said were efforts by officials to blame officers’ concerns on their poor understanding of how the discipline system works.

“They are saying the employees don’t get it…I think [officers] are afraid they are going to be fired,” he said. “I would like to see all the raw data because this report doesn’t tell me much.”

Steve Soboroff, president of the Police Commission, acknowledged that some officers believe the discipline system favors those with connections. But he praised the report, saying that it did a good job of analyzing claims of bias based on gender, rank and ethnicity. He said it would have been impossible to quantify all the complaints of disparities in punishments.

“You’ve got a perception that if you’re a friend of the chief’s, then all of the sudden it’s better,” Soboroff said. “You can’t quantify that. How do you do the statistics on that? So that’s a perception issue for the chief to work on. Nobody else but the chief. And he knows that.”

[SNIP]

Capt. Peter Whittingham, an outspoken critic of Beck who has sued the department over retaliation that he claims he suffered for refusing to fire an officer at a discipline hearing, said the report was “deeply disappointing.”

“I thought this was an opportunity for real transparency and for the department to show it really wants to address the core issues raised by officers,” he said.

Questions about discipline had dogged Beck before Dorner surfaced. The chief clashed repeatedly with members of the commission over what they saw as the chief’s tendency to give warnings to officers guilty of serious misconduct and the department’s track record for handing down disparate punishments for similar offenses.


CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS TALKS MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION WITH BUZZFEED

California Attorney General Kamala Harris told Buzzfeed’s Adam Serwer that she has “no moral opposition” to marijuana legalization, and that it seems inevitable. Harris said a lot has to be figured out for California to make legalization a workable reality, and that she is glad that Oregon and Washington have been paving the way. Here’s a clip:

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

[SNIP]

“It would be easier for me to say, ‘Let’s legalize it, let’s move on,’ and everybody would be happy. I believe that would be irresponsible of me as the top cop,” Harris said. “The detail of these things matters. For example, what’s going on right now in Colorado is they’re figuring out you gotta have a very specific system for the edibles. Maureen Dowd famously did her piece on that… There are real issues for law enforcement, [such as] how you will measure someone being under the influence in terms of impairment to drive.

“We have seen in the history of this issue for California and other states; if we don’t figure out the details for how it’s going to be legalized the feds are gonna come in, and I don’t think that’s in anyone’s best interest,” Harris said.


MONTANA BECOMES 34TH STATE TO ALLOW GAY MARRIAGE

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Brian Morris overturned Montana’s ban on gay marriage. Couples were immediately allowed to wed following the ruling. Congrats Montana (a state of which we at WLA are particularly fond)!

The Associated Press’ Lisa Baumann has the story. Here’s a clip:

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in September that Idaho and Nevada’s bans are unconstitutional. Montana is part of the 9th Circuit, and Morris cited the appeals court’s opinion in his ruling.

“The time has come for Montana to follow all the other states within the Ninth Circuit and recognize that laws that ban same-sex marriage violate the constitutional right of same-sex couples to equal protection of the laws,” he wrote.

Four same-sex couples filed a lawsuit in May challenging Montana’s ban. The plaintiffs included Angie and Tonya Rolando.

“Calling Tonya my partner, my significant other, my girlfriend, my perpetual fiancée has never done justice to our relationship,” Angie Rolando said. “Love won today.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, Homeboy Industries, LAPD, LAPPL, LGBT, Marijuana laws, Youth at Risk | No Comments »

CA’s Poorer Students Lose Weeks of Instruction…LAUSD Fires Lawyer Who Blamed 14-yr-old for Sex With Teacher….Kids, Trauma & Schools…and LAPD Braces for Ferguson Decision

November 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


STUDY FINDS CA’S LOW INCOME HIGH SCHOOLS LOSE 25 DAYS OF INSTRUCTION A YEAR

Teachers in California’s “high poverty” high schools provide their students with an average of 25 fewer days of classwork per year than do their higher income school counterparts, according to a new study released Tuesday by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA) and funded by the Ford Foundation.

This is the rough equivalent of shutting down classes in the state’s low income area schools as much as five weeks earlier than schools in more affluent areas.

The causes of this disparity in productive class time primarily fall into two categories, according to the UCLA report:

1. Incidental interruptions during each class period chip away at instructional time to the tune of around 1/2 hour per day in the state’s low income schools.

2. In this same way, in high poverty schools there are more in the way of large interruptions that cut into scheduled instructional time across the school calendar–things like emergency lockdowns, chronic teacher absences, overlong preparation for standardized tests, underprepared substitute teachers and more.

In addition there are community and personal sources of stress—unstable living conditions, neighborhood violence, concerns about safety, immigration issues, hunger—that can adversely affect a higher percentage of students’ ability to concentrate in high poverty schools than those affected in low poverty schools.

The result is a measurable lack of equality of opportunity, say the study’s authors:

“California holds students to a common set of assessment standards and requirements for university admission,” write UCLA researchers John Rogers & Nicole Mirra in the conclusion of their report. “Yet students have access to markedly different amounts of instructional time depending on the neighborhood in which they live. It is true that schools can use available learning time in more or less effective ways. But the amount of available learning time creates a ceiling, limiting the capacity of the school to promote student achievement and development.”

Jill Barshay writing for the Hechinger Report has more on the study. Here’s a clip:

Interruptions, substitute teachers and test prep account for a large portion of the lost instructional time, according to a UCLA study released Nov. 18, 2014.

“These findings push us to think again about inequality in the schools,” said UCLA education professor John Rogers, a co-author of “It’s About Time: Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools,” published by UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education and Access. “You have a quarter of the kids [here] in schools with concentrated poverty, and you see how unequal learning time is for these students.”

The inequities outlined in this report have little to do with school funding. In California, the state plays a large role in allocating school funds. That reduces the ability of wealthy towns to fund their schools more than low-income communities can.

“Differences in learning time between high and low poverty schools might actually be much more pronounced in states where high poverty schools receive less funding than schools in more affluent communities,” said Sanjiv Rao, a program officer at the Ford Foundation, which funded the UCLA study.

[SNIP]

A common disruption, for example, was a phone call from the main office during a lesson. Teachers reported that simple routines, such as settling the class down or distributing materials, take longer at high poverty schools. It may take only a minute, but the minutes add up. In a high poverty school, about 18 minutes per period are lost this way, compared with 13 minutes in a low poverty school — a five minute difference per class period….


LAUSD BELATEDLY FIRES LAWYER WHO ARGUED THAT 14-YEAR-OLD MIDDLE-SCHOOL GIRL WAS OLD ENOUGH TO SAY YES TO SEX

Last week, KPCC’s Karen Foshay broke the story that one of LAUSD’s hired gun law firms had argued in a civil suit in August that a 14-year-old student was mature enough to consent to having sex with her 28-year-old teacher—hence the district shouldn’t be liable for any of the teenager’s alleged injuries.

The former math teacher, Elkis Hermida, was convicted of lewd acts against a child in July 2011 and sentenced to three years in state prison.

The district’s attorney in the matter, W. Keith Wyatt of Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, also brought the middle-schooler’s past sexual experience into court. (One is legally prohibited from such trash-the-victim tactics in adult rape cases, but evidently all bets are off in civil cases brought by the parents of young teenagers whose teachers had felonious sex with their students.)

Here are some clips from that first story:

“She lied to her mother so she could have sex with her teacher,” said Keith Wyatt, L.A. Unified’s trial attorney in the case, in an interview with KPCC. “She went to a motel in which she engaged in voluntary consensual sex with her teacher. Why shouldn’t she be responsible for that?”

Not content to stop there, Mr. Wyatt went on to opine:

“Making a decision as to whether or not to cross the street when traffic is coming, that takes a level of maturity and that’s a much more dangerous decision than to decide, ‘Hey, I want to have sex with my teacher,’” Wyatt told KPCC.

In any case, last Friday, embarrassed LASD officials announced that they wouldn’t work with attorney Wyatt anymore but that they would continue to work with his firm—which was representing the district in a bunch of cases.

Then on Tuesday, KPCC’s Karen Foshey and Paul Glickman reported that LAUSD had changed its mind and was now yanking most of the cases.

Here’s a clip that explains the deal:

When LAUSD said it would cut its ties with Wyatt, it said it would maintain its relationship with his firm, Ivie, McNeill & Wyatt, which was representing the district in 18 cases.

On Tuesday, LAUSD spokesman Sean Rossall told KPCC that Wyatt had been counsel on all 18 cases. His firm will continue representing the school district in four of the cases, but Wyatt will no longer be handling them, Rossall explained. The remaining 14 cases “are being reassigned to other firms,” he said.

There has also been fallout in Sacramento from KPCC’s report. State Senator Ted Gaines (R-Roseville) said that he intends to introduce legislation to ensure that lawyers will not be able to argue in civil cases that a minor is mature enough to consent to sex with an adult.

Let us hope that such sensible legislation will pass.


DR. NADINE BURKE HARRIS ADVISES SCHOOLS DEALING WITH STUDENTS & CHILDHOOD TRAUMA: “DON’T MAKE THINGS WORSE.”

Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, the 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, spoke last week at the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Prior to the event, Burke Harris was interviewed by Ann Schimke at Chalkbeat Colorado about kids and toxic stress and how schools can unintentionally make things worse.

(WitnessLA wrote about Burke Harris and childhood trauma here.)

Here’s a clip from the conversation:

…First of all, the canary in the coal mine is behavior and learning issues. One of the things we know is that kids who are exposed to high doses of adversity are much more likely to have problems with impulse control, are much more likely to have difficulty with recovery post-provocation, more likely to have difficulty with attention, and sometimes going so far as having learning difficulties.

For the study that was published by myself and a colleague, our kids who had four or more adverse childhood experiences, they were twice as likely to be overweight or obese. We also see recent data out of California…if you have an ACE score of four or more you have twice the lifetime risk of asthma.

What role should schools play or are they already playing in dealing with this issue in a proactive way?

The first really important role that schools have is not making things worse. I know that sounds awful, but really understanding that punitive school discipline policies do not reflect an understanding of the science of how adversity affects the developing brain. I think it’s really important for schools to respond thoughtfully.

The hours that a child spends in school are really an opportunity for establishing safe and healthy relationships, which can also be profoundly positive in terms of coming up with solutions to the issue of adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.

One of the big things is just thinking about ways to establish a safe and healthy school climate that’s not punitive, and informing some of those policies with the emerging science and research around ACES and toxic stress.

How are schools doing in addressing this issue and creating a safe and healthy environment ?

There are certainly some schools that are models…One of the things we see that makes a world of difference in the school environment is having a school leader who recognizes adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress as a major issue that affects educational attainment and is willing to … take that on. I think that has everything to do with the leadership.


LAPD BRACES FOR DEMONSTRATIONS AFTER FERGUSON GRAND JURY ANNOUNCEMENT

Calls have already gone out for a peaceful rally at Leimert Park (Crenshaw and Vernon) following the Missouri grand jury announcement expected later this month regarding whether or not Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson will be indicted in the controversial shooting of black teenager Michael Brown.

Like law enforcement agencies all over the country, the Los Angeles Police Department is preparing for reactions to the grand jury’s decision, but Chief Charlie Beck also expressed hope that recent meetings by department members with LA’s most affected communities will aide in keeping the city calm.

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

Police departments nationwide are bracing for the grand jury’s decision — expected by the end of the month — in the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer. The August shooting in Ferguson, Mo., sparked protests nationwide along with criticism of police.

Beck told the city’s Police Commission that his department is “working very closely” with authorities in Missouri and hoped to get “some advance notice of the decision and the announcement.”

“This is an issue that we’re all concerned with,” he said.

The LAPD has also stepped up community outreach in anticipation of the decision, Beck said, and is prepared to deploy extra patrols when it comes.

“We will facilitate lawful demonstrations, just as we always do,” he told reporters after the meeting. “But we will not, and cannot, condone violence or vandalism. We want to help people to express their opinions, but we want them to do it lawfully.”

Beck stressed his hope that the outreach efforts would help quell potential violence in Los Angeles.

“I believe that the relationships with the Los Angeles Police Department and the communities that are most concerned is very strong,” the chief said.

Posted in Civil Liberties, Civil Rights, crime and punishment, Education, LAPD, LAUSD, race, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Trauma | No Comments »

Choosing Third-Strikers to Release, AG Eric Holder Interview, Child Welfare Post-2014 Elections, and a Newt Gingrich Op-Ed

November 18th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

DIFFICULTIES IN SELECTING THIRD-STRIKERS TO RELEASE, AND WHY PROP 47 MIGHT PLAY A ROLE IN DETERMINING FUTURE RELEASES

Since the 2012 passage of Prop 36 (the Three Strikes Reform Act), more than 1000 third-strike inmates have been resentenced and released in California.

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the petitions, says many of the earlier resentencings were relatively easy and obvious decisions, and they were often supported by the District Attorney’s office. But for the number of inmates who still have pending resentencing requests, things get a little more complicated. The DA opposes resentencing for the inmates in this remaining group of petitioners, and Judge Ryan is having to comb through inmate records, looking for job training and other rehabilitative efforts to ascertain whether an inmate is appropriate for release, or if they pose a threat to society.

And now, recently-passed Prop 47, may play a role in deciding the fate of these inmates, with its defining a person as a “danger to public safety” who is at risk of committing crimes such as murder, solicitation to commit murder, sexual offenses, and certain gun crimes.

The LA Times’ Marisa Gerber has more on the issue and tells the complex story of third-striker Lester Wallace, a mentally ill man whose troublesome prison record is also indicative of justice system failures. Here are some clips:

In California prison, Lester Wallace was hardly a model inmate.

He spat at a correctional officer, fought with another convict and grabbed a prison guard by the neck before punching him in the stomach.

Wallace racked up more than 20 disciplinary charges while serving a life prison term under the state’s “three strikes” sentencing law for trying to steal a car radio.

Still, he says, he deserves another chance.

[SNIP]

Superior Court Judge William C. Ryan, who handles the cases, said many of his previous decisions were “no-brainer” calls involving inmates who prosecutors agreed deserved release. For another large group of inmates, the district attorney’s office opposed resentencing but didn’t demand hearings when Ryan indicated that he favored reducing punishments.

The latest round of cases, which include Wallace’s, are more contentious.

“I think the calls will be closer and closer,” Ryan said.

The district attorney’s oppositions have helped slow the pace of resolving resentencing requests in Los Angeles, which is well behind other counties.

In examining each case, Ryan said, he has been reviewing the criminal and prison records of the inmates, checking to see whether they have taken vocational training, substance abuse counseling or anger-management classes. The judge said he wants to make sure that people leaving prison after serving so much time have the skills to find jobs to take care of themselves and keep out of trouble.

His future decisions may well be influenced by this month’s passage of another criminal-justice ballot measure, Proposition 47, which defined “danger to public safety” as an unreasonable risk of committing specific serious or violent crimes, including murder, sexual assault and child molestation.

Voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 36, which changed the three-strikes law. They were swayed in part by tales of inmates with nonviolent histories serving life terms for the pettiest of crimes, such as stealing a pair of socks.

In some ways, however, Wallace better fits the profile of the average third-striker helped by the ballot measure. He has a lengthy rap sheet and a checkered prison record. But he also suffers from mental illness and spent more time behind bars for a petty offense than many prisoners do for child molestation, rape and other violent crimes.

Wallace’s case, like many of the others confronting Ryan, offers an inside look into the usually hidden world of prison discipline and how the state’s correctional system treats mentally ill inmates.

[SNIP]

Wallace’s attorney said his client, who is 5 feet 4 and 120 pounds, sometimes lashed out behind bars to ward off unwanted attention from other inmates. He said Wallace was sexually assaulted during an earlier prison stint.

At a hearing on Wallace’s request for resentencing earlier this year, the inmate arrived in a downtown L.A. courtroom in a wheelchair and carrying a legal pad covered in handwritten notes. He flashed a smile at his attorney, Mike Romano, who directs the Three Strikes Project at Stanford Law and helped write Proposition 36.

Romano argued that many of his client’s prison rule violations were for small things, such as sticking a paper clip into a socket to light a cigarette. Wallace’s prison behavior, he said, vastly improved seven years ago after he was diagnosed with kidney disease and he started getting improved treatment for his hallucinations and mood disorder.


ATTORNEY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER ON HIS LEGACY, BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT AND DISAPPOINTMENT, AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE

In an interview with Bill Keller and Tim Golden of the Marshall Project, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder discusses his biggest criminal justice win and loss, issues that are bringing the right and left together, drug sentencing reform, and mass incarceration, among other issues. Here are some clips:

The Marshall Project: You’ve been pretty outspoken on criminal justice issues across the board – more outspoken than your boss, actually. What would you single out as your proudest accomplishment in the area of the criminal justice system, and what would you single out as your biggest disappointment?

Holder: In January 2013 I told the people in the Justice Department after the re-election that I wanted to focus on reforming the federal criminal justice system. I made an announcement in August of that year in San Francisco, when we rolled out the Smart on Crime initiative. It was a way of breaking some really entrenched thinking and asking prosecutors, investigators, the bureaucracy – to think about how we do our jobs in a different way – to ask the question of whether excessively long prison sentences for nonviolent offenders really served any good purpose, how we used enhancement papers, moving discretion to prosecutors and asking them to make individualized determinations about what they should do in cases, as opposed to have some big policy sent to them from Washington.

And I think that by and large – not without opposition, to be totally honest – the federal system has embraced that vision. And I think that we have started to see the kind of changes that I hoped we would see.

And the biggest disappointment?

I’m proud of the fact that – in 2010, I guess – we reduced that ratio, the crack-powder ratio, from 100-to-1 to about 17- or 18-to-1. I’m still disappointed that, given the lack of a pharmacological distinction between crack and cocaine, the ratio is not 1-to-1. You know, it was the product of a lot of hard work that the president was intimately involved in. But I think he would agree with me that that number should be at 1-to-1.

Before the second term is over, could there be a push for a 1-to-1 ratio?

That is something that I know the president believes in, that I believe in. One of the things that I’d like to see happen before the end of this administration is that there would be a drug court in every district in this country. As I speak to my successor, the 83rd Attorney General, and as I speak to the president, I’m going to push them to make that a goal for this administration, to have a drug court in every district by the end of Barack Obama’s second term.

[SNIP]

Looking at the Realignment process in California and other experiments that are out there in reducing incarceration, do you worry at all about the danger of a race to the bottom, in which states and counties are much more eager to get people out of prison and stop paying for it than they are to pay for the housing and social services that will assure a lower crime rate in the future?

If this is done correctly you not only save money, you keep the American people safe by cutting down on the recidivism rate.

But this cannot be seen as simply something that is cost-saving, because that would potentially lead to states’ doing exactly what you say: racing to the bottom, and just trying to push people out of prison.

I think people who have responsibility for the criminal justice systems around the country understand that if you do that you’re really only putting people out for some short period of time before they ultimately come back. So there has to be a greater emphasis on rehabilitation while people are in prison, and then reentry efforts to prepare them to exit prison.


HOW WILL CHILD WELFARE EFFORTS BE AFFECTED BY A REPUBLICAN-LED CONGRESS?

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Sean Hughes examines what effects on child welfare policy we might expect from our new Republican-led Congress. For example, funding for crucial child welfare and juvenile justice services would be at risk. And Hughes says that if Republicans succeed in gutting, or repealing the Affordable Care Act, foster kids will lose out on having Medicaid until they are 26. Hughes spent 10 years as a Congressional staffer, and is a Social Change Partners policy consultant. Here’s a clip from his story:

When fully implemented, the mental health parity provisions of the law should ensure that all children who have experienced trauma and are suffering from mental health challenges – especially children who have been abused or neglected – will receive better treatment. Repeal, replacement, or interference with the ACA, for which Republicans continue to advocate, would jeopardize these hard-won victories for children and families.

We should also expect a return to budget brinksmanship. As they didn’t suffer any long-term political repercussions for shutting down the government last year, the Republican Party will surely be further emboldened to play budgetary hardball.

Congress will almost certainly seek further federal spending reductions and could very well try to replace the defense cuts scheduled to go into effect next year via sequestration with increased cuts to social service programs.

Critical programs supporting child welfare services will be in the crosshairs and could see their funding levels cut, including:

Social Services Block Grant (SSBG), which House Republicans have already tried to eliminate

Child Abuse Protection and Treatment Act programs (CAPTA)

Title IV-B Child Welfare Services

Promoting Safe and Stable Families

Juvenile Justice Programs


NEWT GINGRICH TELLS MICHIGAN TO REBUILD THEIR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

In an op-ed for the Detroit Free Press, Newt Gingrich, who, along with some of his other Right on Crime colleagues, was instrumental in getting both Prop 47 and Prop 36 passed, calls for a complete reconstruction of Michigan’s criminal justice system. Here’s a clip:

The state’s correctional system churns through $2 billion each year, and now consumes $1 out of every $5 of the general fund. And because of broad parole board discretion and complicated sentencing guidelines, people incarcerated in Michigan serve longer prison terms, on average, than any other state in the nation.

This approach might be justified if it was making us safer, but that’s not the case. Recidivism rates remain unacceptably high and, at a time when most American communities are safer than they’ve been in decades, several Michigan cities are experiencing alarmingly high crime rates — up to five times the national average.

I’ve never hesitated to support long prison sentences for violent and repeat offenders, and I will continue to be hard on violent criminals. But I’m also convinced that, given the discouraging track record of our current criminal justice system, we can no longer cling to expensive, business-as-usual approaches when better options exist.

Many other conservatives — from Ed Meese, former attorney general under President Ronald Reagan, to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and anti-tax champion Grover Norquist — share my view and have joined me in a national movement called Right On Crime. United by our refusal to accept the status quo, we support a criminal justice system that reflects fiscal discipline, a belief in redemption, support for crime victims and a reliance on proven strategies that make the best use of taxpayer dollars.

Posted in 2014 election, Mental Illness, Sentencing, War on Drugs | 2 Comments »

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