Sunday, October 23, 2016
street news, views and stories of justice and injustice
Follow me on Twitter

Search WitnessLA:

Recent Posts



Blogs We Like

LA Connections

Points of Interest

The BlogFather


Daily Reports

Two Prop 57 Stories and the Wording Switch That Saved CA’s Juvie Isolation Bill

October 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


KQED has two worthwhile stories about California’s ballot initiative Proposition 57—which would take the power to transfer kids to adult court out of the hands of prosecutors and give the control back to judges. (It would also as increase parole eligibility for non-violent offenders who have completed the base sentence for their primary offense and boost access to early release credits, but the focus of the two KQED stories is on the juvenile justice portion of the initiative.)

In the first, KQED’s Laura Klivans tells the story of Daniel Mendoza, a 21-year-old junior at UC Davis, who, at 14, faced 50 years behind bars for his part in a fatal fight with an older man. The Santa Cruz County District Attorney sent Mendoza’s case to adult court.

Four-and-a-half years later, after the teen had finished high school, taken college classes, and made positive life changes while in juvenile hall, Mendoza’s lawyer succeeded in getting his case sent back to juvenile court. Instead of 50 years, Mendoza spent less than less than five years behind bars. And the rehabilitative and academic supports Mendoza received in juvenile lock-up “changed the whole picture,” he says.

Here’s a clip from Klivans’ story:

Youth advocates argue that direct file hinders due process. The decision to send a young person’s case to adult court is made privately by the county district attorney’s office. Those supporting reform say it would be more just to have a hearing in front of a judge where both the prosecution and defense can present their sides, and the judge would make the decision.

This type of hearing is used in some circumstances, and if Proposition 57 passes, it would be required for all juvenile cases transferred to adult court.

Supporters of Proposition 57 also say the impacts of sending a young person to adult court, rather than remaining in juvenile court, are huge: The youth will likely get a longer sentence, be more likely to commit another crime when released, and more likely to experience violence while incarcerated.

District attorneys say direct file is reserved for only the most serious cases, which they believe would end up in adult court regardless. It can be a helpful tool that can save time and resources in an already bogged-down legal system. And in counties with limited rehabilitative options, district attorneys may feel direct file is the best way to keep the larger community safe.

Mendoza was a 14-year-old when his case was sent to adult court. There, the prosecutor proposed a sentence of 50 years to life in prison. But Mendoza’s lawyer fought it.

In the meantime, Mendoza was in Santa Cruz’s juvenile hall. There, slowly, he changed.

“Slowly, I was investing in my education,” he says. “I started not only to show up but do the work. One of the lead teachers got me to take college courses. Where I come from we don’t think about graduating high school, let alone going to college.”

He graduated from high school while in juvenile hall, and took more college courses. He built positive relationships with mentors and staff.

Four and a half years in, while Mendoza’s trial was still going on, the teenager got a surprise: His case was bumped back to juvenile court, where he was convicted of first-degree murder as a juvenile. This meant his sentence would be a lot shorter than the 50 years he could have gotten in adult court.


In the second story, Klivans takes a look at why prosecutors in San Francisco direct-file kids at much lower rates than prosecutors in other California jurisdictions.

According to prosecutor Jean Roland, the difference between counties that have high direct-file numbers and San Francisco, is the “mentality” of SF District Attorney’s Office led by reform-minded DA George Gascón. Here’s a clip:

Some counties write off San Francisco as too different. It’s a place with tech money, and unlike most counties, which include many cities, San Francisco has just one. That means it has one school district and one police department.

But prosecutor Jean Roland says the real magic starts with the mentality of the district attorney’s office. They report using direct file three times a year on the high end, and some years they haven’t used it at all.

“I think we all share a common thought process of trying to cut off that prison pipeline,” Roland says. “If we don’t do it when they’re younger, when they have a chance, it becomes harder and harder to do that as they reach adulthood.”

Roland points to studies that say a young person’s brain is still developing until their mid-20s. That research is not something all counties value, but in San Francisco the staff repeat it again and again.

Patricia Lee, managing attorney of the San Francisco Public Defender’s Juvenile Division, started working at her office over 30 years ago, a time when she says San Francisco didn’t have many good options to rehabilitate youth. She says she gets how people from other counties may feel.

“Twenty-five years ago we were in that position, too,” Lee says. But she and her colleagues have gotten creative, she says, and other counties, no matter how different, can do the same. She recommends applying for federal grants, collaborating with other departments across the cities, and even partnering with nearby counties.

Lee says these approaches contribute to the declining number of youth involved in San Francisco’s juvenile justice system — 1,500 kids in 2005 and around 600 today.


Writing for The Crime Report, journalist Kelly Davis tells the story of the simple change of language that turned CA Senator Mark Leno’s many-times-failed bill to restrict juvenile solitary confinement into a bill that sailed through the state’s legislature and was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown late last month. Here’s a clip:

At a press conference in San Francisco in early December, state Sen. Mark Leno, the Bay Area lawmaker who authored the failed bill, announced plans to re-introduce it in 2016.

To signal his frustration, he proposed calling it the “Stop Torture of Children Act.”

“We’re calling it what it is,” Leno told The Crime Report in an interview shortly after the press conference. “It’s an outrage that we’re still having this debate.”

Leno’s bill was the fourth attempt since 2012 to address the use of isolation in the state’s juvenile lock-ups. Like previous bills, it had faced strong opposition from California’s prison guards union, whose members work in state-run juvenile detention centers, and from the Chief Probation Officers of California (CPOC), whose members run county juvenile facilities. Both groups took issue with the bill’s use of the term “solitary confinement,” arguing that while there were times when youth needed to be separated from the general population, calling it “solitary confinement” sent the wrong message.

“It immediately evokes images of a person locked away in a dark, dank, brick cell deprived of light and fresh air like a prisoner of war in a foreign country,” CPOC argued in a 2014 publication.

But despite his public stance, behind the scenes, Leno continued a dialog with opponents, who, as CalMatters reported last February, were working on their own bill that would prohibit the use of solitary confinement while also making it clear that that’s not what their facilities practiced.

“It doesn’t matter to us what it’s called. It’s the practice that we’re trying to change.”
When Leno re-introduced the bill in March 2016, there was no adversarial title, just a bill number: SB 1124. Gone, too, was any reference to solitary confinement. Instead, SB 1124 used the term “room confinement.”

Aside from that, it wasn’t much different than its predecessor, which Leno had amended several times to address issues raised by opponents. Both bills sought to limit to four hours the amount of time a juvenile who poses a safety threat could be confined to a room and established guidelines for instances when a youth might need to be isolated for a longer period of time.

By replacing “solitary confinement” with “room confinement,” Leno turned opponents into allies. CPOC signed on as co-sponsors and the prison guards union changed its position to neutral. The bill faced no opposition and was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on September 27.

Posted in juvenile justice | 1 Comment »

Alt. Public Defenders Before Panel Attorneys for Juvenile Defendants

October 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved a motion by Supes. Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to have attorneys from the Alternate Public Defender’s Office represent juvenile defendants when the Public Defender’s Office is unable to provide counsel. Currently in LA County, when public defenders cannot represent juvenile defendants—due to a conflict of interest or other problem—the kids gets handed to private “panel attorneys,” who get paid an alarmingly low flat-fee stipend for the entirety of each case.

“Today is truly a historic moment,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Our youth have a constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel and we, as a County, have an obligation to ensure that this right is met. These reforms accomplish that, while also protecting our youth and promoting their rehabilitation.”

In addition to assigning juvenile cases to the county’s Alternative Public Defender’s Office, Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl’s motion would also create a unit within the LA County Bar Association, which will provide oversight for the panel attorneys representing any kids whom neither the PD or APD offices can represent.

“Every child in LA County is entitled to quality, competent and effective legal representation,” said Kuehl. “This motion will ensure that happens.”

Two years ago, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system—including how panel attorneys are compensated. (Ridley-Thomas introduced his 2014 motion following the release of a study by Loyola Law School Professor Cyn Yamashiro illuminating serious problems within LA’s system of panel attorneys.)

This week’s motion was introduced in response to a 258-page report by the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law.

According to the report, between 2010-2014, 25% of juvenile petitions were assigned to panel attorneys. The report also found that kids with court-appointed panel lawyers were more likely to be sent to adult court than their peers represented by public defenders.

But the panel attorneys—who are paid between $340-$360 for the life of a case—say they are not the issue, rather, it is the system and the flat fee structure they work under. Supervisor Kuehl noted that the county’s contracts with all panel attorneys are set to expire at the end of the month, and that the attorneys weren’t going to agree to the flat rate any longer.

Supe. Antonovich inquired about the cost of alternatively using only panel attorneys—overseen by the Bar—when PD representation is off the table. County CEO Sachi Hamai informed the board that that option would be more costly than using the APD. In the end, Antonovich abstained from the vote.

Jacqueline Caster, president of the Everychild Foundation, pointed out that the panel attorneys serving indigent adult defendants in LA County are paid by the hour, which gives the attorneys an “incentive to provide better attention to their cases and clients.” Caster, who also serves on the LA County Probation Commission, said that when kids in probation camps need to “access their counsel, to no one’s surprise, it’s very difficult to track their panel attorneys down, let alone receive the services they need in a timely fashion—if at all.” Caster advocated hourly pay for the panel attorneys serving kids at or above the rate received by panel attorneys representing adults because of the extra “training and expertise” juvenile defense attorneys require.

According to the report, panel lawyers consulted with fewer experts, filed fewer motions, provided less documentation in support of their client, and spent an average of just over half as much time as public defenders spent on each juvenile case.

“For too long, the existing system has incentivized a speedy process over one that is just and balanced,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis.

The Alternate Public Defender’s Office says it can take on the juvenile cases immediately, while the LA County Bar Association says it can adopt the changes—intended to create a fairer system for kids charged with crimes—as quickly as November 1.

“Those who have been denied and those who have been neglected…are now going to be able to feel like they are being properly represented,” said Ridley-Thomas.

“Juvenile defense attorneys play a critically important role,” said Kuehl. “They determine whether juveniles will be prosecuted as adults, and they not only defend their young clients, they advocate for mental health, substance abuse and other services that may benefit these young people. We know that juveniles who receive a quality defense and the services they need are much more likely to be set on a path toward successful adulthood.”

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors | No Comments »

LAPD Commission Wants More Training, Transparency

October 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Police Commission approved proposals from the commission’s president, Matt Johnson Commissioner Sandra Figueroa-Villa that aim to reduce fatal use-of-force and increase transparency after officer-involved shootings.

The commissioners voted to increase role-playing training that employs tense, real-world scenarios to help officers practice de-escalation. Commissioners also want the LAPD to gather public input on whether to a video of a shooting should be released. Figueroa-Villa pointed out that following a shooting, community members often have questions about the circumstances of the fatal use-of-force and whether it was necessary. “I believe transparency is vitally important in addressing those concerns,” said Figueroa-Villa.

Commissioners also approved a proposal to speed up the public release of information about incidents. The proposals were inspired by an 38-page report from the Office of the Inspector General.

The OIG traveled to Las Vegas, Dallas, San Diego, and Washington DC to examine those police departments’ policies on use of force, investigations, and training compared with those of the LAPD.

The Inspector General found that the LAPD limits information released after a shooting to details like time and location, the reason officers responded, and the condition of officers and suspects involved. The report found Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) is far more transparent following officer-involved shootings, releasing a good deal of information—quickly—to the public. Around 48 hours after a shooting, the LVPD publicly releases names, ranks, tenure, and ages of involved officers.

By day three, the LVMPD undersheriff conducts media briefing with a presentation that includes basic information about the incident, 911 call recordings, and video evidence, as well as detailed account of the officer-involved-shooting and the events leading up to the shooting, including what weapon was used, how many rounds were fired, and whether body cameras were equipped and turned on. The LVPD presentation also includes photos of the crime scene “with the locations of the parties and the distances between them marked,” and evidence recovered from the location.

The Dallas PD, Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), and the LVPD require officers to exhaust all reasonable alternatives before using deadly force. The LVPD specifically uses de-escalation language in its use-of-force policy: “When use of force is needed, officer will assess each incident to determine, based on policy, training and experience, which use of force option will de-escalate the situation and bring it under control in a safe and prudent manner.” While the LAPD teaches recruits to exhaust non-lethal force options before employing deadly force, that concept was removed from the department’s use-of-force policy when it was revised seven years ago.

LAPD officials now have 90 days to report back with policies addressing the commission’s proposals.

Posted in LAPD | No Comments »

New Account Surfaces of Alleged Physical Abuse of a 16-Year-Old by LA County Probation Staff

October 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

On Monday, September 12, a supervisor in Los Angeles County Probation’s Central Juvenile Hall
submitted a report that a sixteen-year-old boy housed in the KL unit of the facility claimed he was “attacked by staff” that morning. According to the report, the boy, whom we will call Hamza Rashid,* did not know why staff members attacked him. He described the alleged attack in a two-page hand-written affidavit that the supervisor turned in with her report.

(*We have changed the teenager’s name to protect his privacy.)

According to probation sources, Rashid was injured badly enough that he bled noticeably on to his sweatshirt, a little on his T-shirt, and also on to his underpants. But the garment with the most blood was reportedly his sweatshirt.

As per regulations, the supervisor, whom we’ll call Ms. Vargas,** contacted the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and turned in a Suspected Child Abuse Report (SCAR) in the boy’s behalf, as his allegations required her to do.

The staff members who were allegedly involved, dispute the account and report that the teenager was the violent aggressor.

Yet, on Tuesday, September 13, the day after the alleged attack, Rashid had a scheduled court date, during which he reportedly told his attorney, his mother, and an Inglewood judge about the alleged beating. The judge reportedly found his account credible enough that the court ordered Rashid to be moved on an emergency basis from LA’s Central Juvenile Hall to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall in Downey.

Ahmed’s move was accomplished before the end of day Tuesday.

The two staff members whom Rashid claims were the ones who hurt him have also filled out reports about what they say took place on the morning of September 12. Their reports, which WitnessLA has obtained, tell an entirely different story from that which the boy told his mother and the judge, and wrote in his two-page affidavit.

As mentioned above, according to the two staffers, it was the sixteen-year-old who attacked them not the other way around. In their reports, the staffers describe how they each individually had physical contact with Rashid, but that their actions were no more than what was necessary to get the boy under control.

Perplexingly, the official accounts written by each of the two staffers, don’t quite match with each other, but we’ll get back to that in a minute.

As readers may remember, on June 17, of this year we broke the story of an unresisting teenage boy in LA County Probation’s Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, CA, who was allegedly beaten on video by four probation officers while a supervisor watched. (WitnessLA obtained a copy of the video.) We followed up with an account of another alleged assault on a teenage boy by staff in Central Juvenile Hall, for which we had a written description of the incident by a staff-member witness.

In the case of Hamza Rashid* there is no video depicting what occurred on the morning of September 12, which can act as a referee between the competing accounts. But we have spoken to multiple sources inside and close to the Los Angeles County Department of Probation, who said they believe that an assault of the teenager did occur, and that efforts may have been made to cover-up the incident by painting the boy as the attacker.


This much of the story everyone pretty much agrees upon. On the morning of Monday, September 12, at around 8:12 a.m., there was a problem in the day room of the KL unit of Central Juvenile Hall. Sixteen-year-old Hamza Rashid got into an argument with a female detention service officer, or DSO, whom we’ll call Ms. Greene.**

The argument reportedly had something to do with ice cream.

“This is not uncommon,” said one of our probation sources. “Kids really get upset about deserts if they feel they are not being allowed their fair share. In most cases you can deescalate those situations if you just hear the kid out, and talk to him reasonably.”

But, the argument between Hamza Rashid and Ms. Greene worsened. Exactly why this escalation occurred depends upon who is telling the story. But, for now, let’s just assume that it did.

At some point during the back and forth, the boy allegedly picked up a small but full milk carton and tossed it in DSO Green’s general direction. The carton did not hit DSO Greene. Yet, obviously such milk-throwing behavior is against the rules, and must be immediately interrupted.

According to several department sources, after Rashid threw the milk, another DSO, whom we’ll call Martinez**, quickly moved in and swiftly took to the kid to the ground, to make sure there was no further escalation, and kept him there until he calmed down. Meanwhile, other staff members herded the rest of the kids out of the day room.

Rashid was told to return to his room, and escorted there by someone.

It is here that the stories about what happened on the morning of September 12 diverge dramatically.

According to some probation sources, Ms. Greene, who was reportedly furious at Rashid’s behavior, allegedly did not back off. Instead, sometime after the intervention by Alverez, Greene allegedly kicked or struck the boy, one or multiple times, injuring him.

Rashid’s version, which was reportedly described in two different detailed affidavits, describes Greene and a probation supervisor, whom we’ll call Parker, and who came in later, as each assaulting him inside his room, a small cement-floored structure that features little more than a cement slab bed.


According to Ms. Greene’s report, it was Rashid who attacked her.

Greene’s account also begins in the dayroom where she was supervising breakfast when she “observed the minor pouring his food on the floor and laughing to himself.” When Greene asked him why he was pouring his food on the floor, “he continued laughing and said my KP would clean it up.” Green wrote that she “asked the minor to stop pouring his food on the floor and to clean it up.” When he failed to do so, she told him to “take it to his room.” Instead, he “continued laughing,” then “took his container full of filled milk and threw it at me.” After that the boy proceeded to his room.

According to Greene, all this took place without another DSO intervening.

Although sources tell us that, according to protocol, another staff member, or staff members, should have accompanied Hamza Rashid to his room, not Greene, as she was the person who had the conflict with the boy, and at whom he was upset. Furthermore, according to probation sources, except in the most emergent of circumstances, she should not have entered his room alone— for her own safety and that of the kid.

Nevertheless, Greene reported that she followed Rashid to his room, where she told him to take off his shoes and leave them outside the door, as is required of all probationers. Reportedly, he complied. Next, she unlocked his door, and saw three pencils in his room.

About the pencils: Probationers are not supposed to keep pencils in their rooms. They may borrow pencils to write letters, or to write in a journal, or the like. But they are supposed to return them. Sometimes, according to probation sources, the kids keep a pencil—either accidently or deliberately—or a staff member will forget to pick the thing up. This is against the rules, but a minor infraction.

In any case, Greene wrote that she asked Rashid to hand the pencils to her, at which time, according to Greene, the teenager “turned around saying ‘Bitch, shut the fuck up!’” Then Rashid pushed her, Greene wrote. She then reportedly attempted to grab her OC spray and called for back up, but before she could activate the spray, the boy “raised his fist and struck me in the side of the face.”

According to Greene’s report, she then commenced to perform several maneuvers including, one of which “caused the minor to fall to the floor. Minor continued to be combative. “

Finally, according to Greene, it was then that DSO Martinez arrived to intervene, at which time he helped her hold Rashid on the ground. The boy continued to struggle, according to Greene, until Martinez told him to calm down, at which point he indeed calmed down.

And then, based on Greene’s account, the incident was pretty much over. She wrote that either she or someone else (exactly who is not made clear) attempted to take Rashid to see the nurse, but he that he wouldn’t cooperate.

An hour or so later, one of the unit’s supervisors, who came to take Rashid’s account of events, took him to see the nurse again. This time he allowed himself to be examined.


The next written account is by Mr. Parker** a supervisor on the KL unit, and the other staff member whom Hamza Rashid alleges “attacked” him inside his room.

Mr. Parker’s written account is as follows:

“On 9/12/2016, at approximately 9:23 am this officer (positioned in a SDSO [Supervising Detention Service Officer] office in KL) overheard a loud conversation coming from the L side. This officer then exited the SDSO office and heard DSO [Martinez] (positioned in Room 1) explain to minor [Rashid, Hamza] that he could not leave his room and that he could receive a telephone call at a later time. The officer positioned in the doorway also explained that he could receive a phone call at a later time. Minor [Rashid] then attempted to push past this officer in an attempt to leave his room. This officer instructed the minor to have a seat on his bed and remain calm, however the combative and out of control minor continued to leave his bed and advance toward this writer. The writer extended (A2) a left arm to impede his progress out of the room. The minor stopped and regained his composure and sat on the bed. He was allowed to see the nurse. Nothing further to report.”

There was no mention of Ms. Greene ever being in the room. Nor did she mention SDSO Martinez in her report, although both suggested in their reports they were present when Rashid was escorted to see the nurse.

We were not able to read the report by DSO Martinez, a report that obviously is of importance.

Another DSO wrote a two-line report saying that, on Monday morning, he was positioned on the K side of the unit conducting room clean up. “This officer did witness the incident that occurred on the L side with minor [Rashid], DOB 6/10/200,” he wrote Then nothing else. Maybe the DSO meant to write “did not witness.” Or maybe he has more to say.


And there are other anomalies. Ms. Campos was the supervisor who oversaw the writing of Rashid’s first affidavit, which was originally three pages long, not two. Campos also wrote the original Physical Intervention Report or PIR, all of which was supposed to be passed up the managerial food chain before Ms. Campos went off shift in the afternoon of Sept 12.

But, before Campos submitted her PIR plus the kid’s affidavit to her own boss, she reportedly asked another supervisor, Mr. Stevenson**, to read both the affidavit and the PIR to see if she did everything right. Stevenson read it. And then reportedly he inexplicably declined to give either document back.

Stevenson also somehow reportedly ended up with the kid’s bloody sweatshirt, which multiple staffers claimed to have seen in his office. Now the sweatshirt, which was arguably evidence, appears to have vanished

In addition, Stevenson reportedly visited Rashid, the 16-year-old, to ask him if he wanted to rewrite his affidavit so that it no longer claimed staff attacked him. According to our sources, Rashid said no, that his story was true and he did not want to change it. Furthermore he would be telling his mother what happened, as soon as he could speak to her.

Campos was unable to get her paperwork back, and went off shift without filing her report.

After she left, still another supervisor, whom we will call Ms. Vargas, was told to write up the required report, which included an new affidavit from Hamza Rashid, albeit a much shorter one.

We have not seen either of Hamza Rashid’s affidavits, although sources described the contents of what the teenager wrote, in the most general of terms. In addition, they described Rashid’s lengthy report as being well-written with “correct spelling,” for whatever that’s worth.

Those maintaining that Rashid was the aggressor, reportedly described him as a boy with mental problems who caused the blood on his sweatshirt by repeatedly biting his own lip, an account that probation sources told us was improbable. Sources also reported that if Rashid was lip-chewer known to have “mental issues,” such things would be on record, and he would have been placed in another unit.

Two probationers, each with rooms nearby to that of Hamza Rashid, have been listed witnesses to events that occurred in the teenager’s room. We have no word on whether or not the kids have yet been interviewed by internal affairs and, if so, what they said. Probation sources are concerned that the two minor witnesses may be too fearful of retaliation to talk candidly to investigators.

We spoke to Interim LA County Probation Chief Cal Remington about the alleged new incident. Remington was familiar with the allegations.

“I’m following the internal affairs investigation closely,” Remington told us, “and if excessive and unnecessary force was used the Department will act decisively. We are continuing our efforts to train staff in ways to better diffuse situations without having to resort to any kind of force.”

Meanwhile, during the week of October 3, Hamza Rashid was reportedly released from Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall to return home.

**We have changed the names of all the staff members in this story.

Posted in Juvenile Probation | 2 Comments »

LA County Board of Supervisors to Vote on Plan to Provide Quality Legal Representation for Juvenile Defendants

October 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

For years, juvenile justice advocates and others have been fighting for reform
of Los Angeles County’s ghastly juvenile panel attorney system that has meant inadequate legal defense for many of the county’s kids facing criminal court cases.

Finally it appears that reform may be nearly at hand with a motion up for a vote by the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The motion, introduced by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, calls for the establishment of a new juvenile indigent defense structure that would entitle LA kids to be represented by the Alternate Public Defender in cases in which the Public Defender is unable to represent them. (In cases in which neither the Public Defender nor the Alternate Public Defender are able to provide indigent defense services, The LA County Bar Association would administer and oversee court-appointed attorneys.)

As it stands now, when public defenders are unable to represent juvenile defendants (because of a conflict of interest or other issue), the kids get bounced to private “panel attorneys,” who are paid the staggeringly low flat-fee stipend of between $340-$360 for the duration of a case, no matter how complicated or lengthy the case might be.

Furthermore, while most public defenders are provided with such legal nicities as investigators or subject matter experts when needed, except in the rarest of instances, panel attorneys are not, no matter how important those resources might be for a young person’s case. As a consequence, too many panel attorneys simply cannot or do not put on an adequate defense for their young clients, leading to legal outcomes that are arguably decided by money (or lack thereof) rather than justice.

With these concerns in mind, two years ago, the LA County Board of Supervisors passed a motion by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas to conduct an analysis of the current juvenile indigent defense system—-including how panel attorneys are compensated.

In March of this year, County CEO Sachi Hamai returned with the required analysis in the form of a 258-page report prepared by the Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley School of Law.

Tuesday’s motion is in response to the Warren Institute/Berkeley Law School report and its alarming findings.

(And, for the record, Ridley-Thomas’ 2014 motion was in response to a study by Loyola Law School Professor–and Probation Commissioner–Cyn Yamashiro, that illuminated serious problems within LA’s system of panel attorneys.)

(For more back story on Tuesday’s motion see WitnessLA’s previous story on the matter by Taylor Walker.)

“Every child in LA County is entitled to quality, competent and effective legal counsel,” said Supervisor Kuehl. “This motion will ensure that happens. Juvenile defense attorneys play a critically important role. They determine whether juveniles will be prosecuted as adults, and they not only defend their young clients, they advocate for mental health, substance abuse and other services that may benefit these young people. We know that juveniles who receive a quality defense and the services they need are much more likely to be set on a path toward successful adulthood.”

We’ll let you know what happens with the vote. So stay tuned.


The LA County Board of Supes is also expected to vote to approve the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the proposed Mira Loma Women’s Detention Center—AKA the new women’s jail. A sizable line-up of community representatives and advocates are expected to show up at the board meeting to make clear their opposition to the new jail construction. There will be a multi-group press conference at 11 a.m. and hearing at 1 p.m. at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration, at 500 West Temple in downtown Los Angeles.

Posted in juvenile justice | No Comments »

Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 10th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Most states, cities and counties still call today Columbus Day.
But the movement to celebrate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day is growing.

South Dakota was the first state to do away with the Columbus-related designation in 1990, replacing it with Native American Day. Seattle changed in 2014. Last year 19 municipalities and the state of Alaska embraced the new holiday. This year, at least 17 municipalities plus the state of Vermont voted to ditch Columbus day in favor of a day that celebrates the nation’s first people.

Denver, Co. made the change on October 3. The city council of Boulder, CO, voted in August. Phoenix, AZ, Santa Fe and Albuquerque, NM, also recently switched.

A few years ago, the California state legislature tried to pass a bill to rename today, however it didn’t pass. Yet, nationally, the movement is expanding, not slowing down.

So, Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day everyone.

And happy day after John Lennon’s birthday, while we’re at it.

NOTE: The two videos above are not from an October celebration but rather from North American Indian Days, the fabulous annual powwow held the second weekend of July in Browning, MT. The first video features the Chicken Dancers’ competition. The second is the performance of one group, known as the Bull Horn drummers, in the drumming competition.

Posted in Life in general | 3 Comments »

Two Officers Killed, 1 Wounded in Palm Springs Shooting Incident, Suspect Finally in Custody

October 8th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Two Palm Springs police officers were killed,
a third is wounded but alert after a shooting in that city on Saturday. The shooting began when police responded to a reported family disturbance.

The officers who died are Jose Gilbert Vega, a 35-year veteran set to retire in December, and Lesley Zerebny, 27, who was a brand new mother of a four-month-old baby, according to Palm Springs Police Chief Bryan Reyes. Zerebny had just come back to work after giving birth in early summer.

According to the Desert Sun, moments before gunfire erupted from the home of the suspect, the alleged shooter in the killing of the two officers reportedly told his father he wanted to kill cops.

The suspect was at large after the shooting for more than 12 hours. Finally, after 1 a.m. Sunday morning, Riverside Sheriff’s Department announced that the suspect had been taken into custody.

Here’s a clip from Saturday night’s story by the Desert Sun about how the incident began:

Frances Serrano, who lives directly across the street from where the shooting took place Saturday, spoke to the father of the suspected gunman moments before the bloodshed. The father told Serrano that his son had a gun and wanted to shoot police officers.

“He came over and asked for help,” she said.

Serrano called the police and the father walked back toward his house. Soon after, Serrano heard gunshots.

Other witnesses described what they heard as heavy and sustained gunfire.

Into Saturday night, dozens of law enforcement officers searched for the shooter in the area of Cypress and Del Lago roads in Palm Springs.

At his news conference late Saturday afternoon, Chief Reyes expressed what most officers seemed to be feeling. “I am awake in a nightmare right now,” he said.

The Riverside County Sheriff’s Department has taken over the case.

At WitnessLA, our hearts go out to the families of the three officers, their friends, and their colleagues. This much tragedy and loss to the law enforcement community, and to the Southern California community as a whole, feels unbearable.

The LA Times has a good team on the story, which they have continued to update throughout the afternoon into Saturday night. Check out their coverage here.

Posted in law enforcement | 6 Comments »

LA Board of Supes Delays Vote on Motion for Blue Ribbon Commission for Probation Reform.

October 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, the members of Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors were slated to vote on a motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform. The proposed commission, if formed, would be tasked with the goal of assessing problems within the troubled LA County Probation Department, and then recommending reforms to better protect and rehabilitate the approximately 1000 kids in the county’s 13 juvenile camps and three juvenile halls, along with improving the lot of the approximately 72,00 adults under county supervision, particularly the AB 109 probationers who need help with reentry in order to better restart their lives

Supervisor Shiela Kuehl proposed that a vote on the motion, be postponed for two more weeks in order to fine-tune the shape and function of the Blue Ribbon Commission that the motion proposes.

As it stands now, Tuesday’s motion-–sponsored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis—calls for the creation of a 12-member commission, with two members to be appointed by each of the supervisors, one with expertize in the juvenile side, the other with experience on the adult side. The remaining two commissioners would be chosen by the first ten from a pool of possibilities put forth by the board. The commission would be chosen in early November, and sunset after six months, with the commission’s recommendations for reform due to the board on May 4, 2017.

The motion makes a general case for why such a commission is called for on top of the working group that is presently exploring what kind of civilian oversight is needed to monitor the probation department.

It describes the bad old days in probation’s recent past that, on the juvenile side, brought Department of Justice monitors into the halls and camps from 2004 to 2015, along with a monster class action suit filed in 2010, “due to the failure” of probation “to provide adequate education to youth in the camps,” even “locking students in solitary confinement for weeks or months without attending school.”

The motion goes on to detail the string of red flags still conspicuously visible in the department, that make clear that all is not well. There are, for example, the audits and investigations of the last two years that “have revealed staff misconduct and mismanagement of funds,” like the stunning amounts of unused state grant funds that probation has been squirreling away under its mattress, namely the $140.5 million of SB 678 funds, that should have been used for reentry programs for AB 109 probationers, and the over $21 million in unspent Juvenile Justice and Crime Prevention Act (JJCPA) funds intended to support programs that help kids stay out of the justice system.

(WLA reported the stories here and here).

Then there are the latest alarming revelations, like the news that use of force incidents in the county’s juvenile halls nearly doubled from January to July 2016, and that there were other “allegations of misconduct in the camps and halls”—such as WLA’s recent stories about staff allegedly assaulting kids in two different juvenile halls.

The board previously created the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, and the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection, the recommendations from which helped to bring about positive changes for the troubled Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and for the county’s chronically dysfunctional Department of Children and Family Services.

The motion suggests hopefully that a similar “panel of independent experts could spur the same type of change that is so badly needed in the [Probation] Department.”


Most of the reform advocates who spoke on the issue at Tuesday’s meeting said they were in favor of the motion, and supported the idea of the commission. But most also presented some kind of caveat or cautionary note.

For example, Max Huntsman, L.A. County’s Inspector General appointed to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, reminded the board that the problems it hopes the commission will correct, have been present “for decades.” He knows this, he said, because of his own experiences in the juvenile camps when he began as a prosecutor, 25 years ago.

Huntsman told those assembled how, on one trip to one of the camps, he “observed a deputy probation officer” giving a speech to kids first arriving at the facility “in which he urged them not to be homosexual.” And “that was their introduction to their new custody experience,” Huntsman said adding that although the DPO’s startling speech was the “first disillusioning thing” he witnessed at the probation department, “it wasn’t the last.”

Probation commissioner, Sal Martinez, who spent time in the camps himself as a teenager, said he hoped the proposed commission will introduce “a blueprint of reform and transparency” with “the mission and vision” of rebuilding the lives of the kids in the county’s care. “Those kids need you,” he said.


Not all of the juvenile advocates who spoke were convinced that the Blue Ribbon Commission idea was the answer.

Kim McGill of the Youth Justice Coalition noted that the county has, at present, 169 commissions, thus if this commission was going to be launched, she said she wanted to know that it was going to be done the right way. Most importantly, said McGill, the plan must necessitate that some of the commissioners be “people who have been impacted by the system.” Before she supported the motion, McGill said, “we want an opportunity for real engagement with the community” on the issue. And that any leadership body must “prioritize a moratorium on jail expansion and the closing of at least one juvenile hall, and half of the camps.”

Javier Stauring who, for the last twenty years oversaw the detention ministry programs in all the juvenile halls and probation camps in Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, was also very concerned about the make-up of any commission.

“True reform will only happen when the people calling the shots see the children under probation’s jurisdiction as if they were their own children.”

For years, he said, experts been “telling the gatekeepers that what our youth really need is help in processing and healing from the trauma that is all too common and disproportionately impacts families who struggle with the effects of poverty.

He supported the commission, Stauring said finally. “But only if it’s made up of people who love our children.”

The revised motion to create a Blue Ribbon Commission on Probation Reform is now due to come to a vote on Tuesday, October 18.

In the meantime, there is no firm word on when the board will make its selection for the new probation chief.

Posted in Probation | No Comments »

LASD and Community Mourn the Loss of Well-Liked Sgt. Steve Owen—UPDATED

October 6th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

UPDATE: The man accused of shooting Sgt. Steve Owen has been identified as 27-year-old Trenton Trevon Lovell.

Lovell has been charged with capital murder, attempted murder of the second responding sheriff’s deputy, as well as being a felon in possession of a gun, and two counts each of first-degree residential robbery and false imprisonment.

On Wednesday, a county-wide outpouring of grief and gratitude followed the news of the murder of Sergeant Steven Owen of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

Just after 12:00p.m. on Wednesday, Sgt. Owen was shot in the face while responding to a call about a residential burglary taking place in Lancaster.

Sgt. Owen, 53, was the first of two responders to make it to the home, which was in the 3200 block of W. Avenue J-7. Owen moved to the rear of the residence in order to try to contain the suspected burglar, identified as a local parolee.

The man reportedly then confronted Owen and opened fire, shooting him in the face. The second responding deputy ran from the front of the house to the back after hearing the gunshots. According to the sheriff’s department, the suspect then hopped in Owen’s patrol car and slammed it into the second deputy’s vehicle, at which point the deputy fired at and hit the suspect in the upper torso. Despite suffering a gunshot wound, the man was able to escape on foot.

The shooter was ultimately captured by deputies after he broke into another home—this one occupied by two teenagers. As the man exited the second house, the sheriff’s department’s Special Enforcement Bureau used less than lethal devices to keep him from re-entering the home, and the teens were then rescued. The suspect was taken into custody by deputies from the Lancaster station. Officers reportedly recovered a weapon at the scene.

Owen was taken to the hospital, where he later died from his wounds. Owen’s wife, sons, and mom were able to be with him in the hospital when he died.

Owen’s death was a shocking blow to the sheriff’s department and the community he served for 29 years before being killed in the line of duty.

“The tragedy of a deputy sheriff such as Sergeant Steve Owen making the ultimate sacrifice has a massive impact on the whole law enforcement family,” said LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “We all mourn together and our hearts go out especially to Steve’s immediate family Tania, a detective at Arson/Explosives Detail, his two adult sons Brandon and Chad, a step-daughter Shannon and his mother Millie.”

Owen was well-respected by those he worked with and went “above and beyond with respect to youth activities and community involvement,” according to LASD Executive Officer Neal Tyler who characterized the horrific shooting as “the thing we all dread.”

Many of Owen’s fellow law enforcement officers expressed deep sorrow over his death. “Steve was a 29-year vet still working out on the street,” a retired sheriff’s department member who worked with Owen told WitnessLA. “Most folks with that amount of time aren’t suiting up anymore. It’s a testament to him and the quality of man he was.”

Owen received a Meritorious Conduct Medal for his role in safely rescuing a man who was being held hostage by an armed suspect wearing a bulletproof vest, without use of lethal force.

The sergeant was also one of three sheriff’s department members who, last July, found and rescued a 13-month-old girl who had been left alone in a shed by a pimp who had allegedly abducted the baby from a woman whom he had reportedly been abusing and commercially exploiting.

“Emotions are very high within the LASD,” said another source close to the department, who also noted that the sergeant was “only a couple of years from retirement.”

“All of our ALADS members will be grieving the loss of Sergeant Owen who was well respected by his colleagues,” the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs said in a statement. “Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs put their lives at risk every time they put on the uniform. This horrible tragedy is another reminder of the dangers and sacrifice law enforcement personnel face protecting the county’s citizens and businesses.”

The Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), the union to which Owen belonged as a department supervisor, also sent out a statement of grief and remembrance. “Sheriff’s Sergeant Steve Owen represented the best among us,” wrote PPOA President Brian Moriguchi. “He loved helping others and made the Antelope Valley a better place to live. Steve risked his life every day to make the community safer.”

California Governor Jerry Brown announced that the state capitol’s flags would be flown at half-staff.

LA County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who knew Sgt. Owen, called him an “outstanding law enforcement professional,” and said that the loss of Owen “leaves a significant void” for everyone who knew him.

“Steve was one of the bravest, hardest working street cops I’ve ever met,” the department retiree told WLA. “He was an LASD legend.”

Posted in LASD, Obits | 28 Comments »

Many Mourn Respected LA Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, Slain in Lancaster

October 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Like many in Los Angeles County, we are devastated at the news of the fatal shooting of highly-respected Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Sergeant Steven Owen, 53,
who died on Wednesday after being shot by a suspect while responding to a call about a residential burglary in Lancaster.

We will have a full story about Sergeant Owen late tonight. In the meantime, our thoughts go out to Sergeant Owen’s wife, his two grown sons, his step-daughter, extended family and friends, and the many members of the Los Angeles County law enforcement community who knew Steve Owens as a friend and colleague, plus the members of the wider LA County community, many of whom also knew and valued him, and whom he protected and served for 29 years.

Posted in LASD, Life in general, Uncategorized | No Comments »

« Previous Entries Next Entries »