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Verdict is in on LASD Visiting Center Trial: ALL GUILTY

June 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Full story later today.

Posted in BREAKING L.A. | 13 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Trial: Day 5 – Closing Arguments: It’s About the Handcuffs

June 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

After nearly five hours of closing arguments, the federal trial involving three former and present members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of brutally beating jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to cover up the beating by portraying the alleged victim as the aggressor, the whole matter could hinge on a single photograph of Carrillo’s bruised wrists.

When the case went to the jury at around 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, both the federal prosecutors and the three different defense attorneys (one for each of the three defendants) had marshaled an array of facts and photos they said proved that the other side was lying about the most crucial elements of the events in question. Yet neither side was able to point to any tie-breaking eye witness who could be characterized as being entirely unbiased.

Everything comes down to whether or not Carrillo was handcuffed on the afternoon of February 26, 2011, when he was being pummeled and pepper sprayed by five sheriff’s deputies with the reported approval of their supervising sergeant in the visiting center of LA’s Men’s Central Jail. If the jury of five men and seven women concludes that Carrillo was not handcuffed during the beating, then jurors should vote to acquit former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and suspended deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano of all the government’s charges.

However, if the men and women of the jury believe that Carrillo was handcuffed when he sustained the panoply of injuries at the hands of the defendants and their colleagues, then they should vote to convict.


For the full story on the final day of the LASD Visiting Center trial check back later today.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 3 Comments »

Shuttering LA’s Troubled Youth Welcome Center, Reforming LASD’s Antelope Valley Stations, For-Profit Policing in CA, and Pat Nolan

June 23rd, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SHUT DOWN THE LA COUNTY YOUTH WELCOME CENTER, A WAREHOUSE FOR HARD-TO-PLACE FOSTER KIDS, SEZ A SPECIAL COMMITTEE

A new report headed to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors says the county must shut down operation at its Youth Welcome Center, which has become an ill-equipped warehouse for kids, thanks, in large part, to a lack of available homes for foster kids.

The Youth Welcome Center, opened in 2012 (video above), originally intended as a place to house kids new to the system for 24 hours while social workers found them foster parents or group homes. Instead, the center, located at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center, has come to serve as a sort of purgatory for hard-to-place kids, the ones who caregivers send back, like older teens, LGBTQ kids, and those suffering from mental illness.

The report, which will come from a committee formed by the Supes, recommends creating a 30-day emergency shelter for these kids, while also beefing up the number of group homes.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf, who has been reporting on the ongoing troubles at the Youth Welcome Center, has the story. Here are some clips:

The centers are allowed to keep children for only 24 hours and are not licensed for the lengthy stays some of the youths endured. They lack sufficient bedding, bathrooms and showers, as well as mental health and the education professionals necessary to meet their needs.

Over time, the number of youths without a proper foster home grew. It the last year, there were 800 violations of the 24-hour rule at both welcome centers, a county commissioner said.

Following The Times report, state officials in April took a harder line and sued the county, pushing the centers to comply to the letter of state law. The county and state reached a settlement agreement the same month and agreed to begin the licensing process to bring the existing facilities up to the state’s standards.

These changes would include establishing facilities at the centers that provided the required amenities and opportunities so young people could be legally housed there for up to three days.

[SNIP]

Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youths, said that the DCFS plan to solve the centers’ problems by establishing a three-day facility is insufficient.

“For the hardest-to-place youth, I’m skeptical that we will do much better in 72 hours than what we do in 24. We will once again be in the position where we are just looking for a bed — any bed” to move a child out of a welcome center, she said.

Both she and the commission’s report recommend more sweeping change, including vast improvement in the inventory of foster homes and a 30-day emergency shelter. Only more ambitious reforms such as those, she said, “will ever solve the revolving door” of children failing to find lasting foster homes and repeatedly returning to the welcome centers.


LANCASTER & PALMDALE SHERIFF’S STATIONS MAKING MAJOR ANTI-BIAS REFORM PROGRESS AFTER US DOJ INTERVENTION

Advocates say the Los Angeles Sheriff’s stations in Lancaster and Palmdale are making huge strides to eliminate racially discriminatory practices that led to federal intervention.

In April, the US Department of Justice and LA County agreed on a court-enforceable settlement to reform the Lancaster and Palmdale stations. The settlement followed two years behind a 46-page “findings” letter from the DOJ detailing systemic discrimination against black (and to a lesser extent, Latino) Antelope Valley residents. There are 150 requirements that the department must meet to fulfill the terms of the settlement.

One of the advocates who brought allegations to the feds, Miguel Coronado, says discriminatory drug raids on people receiving subsidized housing assistance and other racially biased practices have all but vanished.

The Associated Press has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Coronado, who sits on Lancaster’s planning commission, was among those who brought allegations of racially biased policing in the area to federal authorities. He now has the cellphone numbers of high-ranking sheriff’s officials on his speed dial — and he says they pick up when he calls.

Residents rarely call him anymore to complain about the department, when he used to get several complaints a day, he said.

The settlement approved in April came less than two years after federal prosecutors identified a pattern of discrimination that included unconstitutional stops, searches, seizures and excessive force against blacks and Hispanics in Palmdale and Lancaster.

Deputies harassed and intimidated blacks and others in public housing, showing up for inspections with as many as nine officers, sometimes with guns drawn, the Justice Department said in its June 2013 report.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang broke this story.


EDITORIAL: CA LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES SHOULD TAKE A HARD LOOK AT QUOTAS AND OTHER PROFIT-MAKING POLICING ACTIVITIES

A San Diego Union-Tribune editorial says California Highway Patrol’s monthly goals regarding the number of “enforcement contacts” made seem dangerously similar to quotas. For California law enforcement agencies, implementing quotas for arrests and citations is illegal.

It’s not just a CHP problem. LAPD motorcycle officers have successfully sued the city over arrest quotas. Law enforcement agencies should look closely at practices and policies, like quotas and civil asset forfeiture, that value profit and punishment over public safety, says the editorial board. Here’s a clip:

Under questioning from attorneys for Harrison Orr – a Citrus Heights man who won a $125,000 judgment – CHP motorcycle Officer Jay Brame testified that he has for years been admonished by his CHP superiors to have at least “100 enforcement contacts” a month while on patrol duty. This testimony has been backed up by Brame’s formal performance reviews, which criticized him for “enforcement contacts” that were “well below the shift average.”

It is illegal under state law for law-enforcement officers to be given quotas for arrests and/or citations. The CHP flatly denies it has quotas for its Sacramento bureau or anywhere in the state. But pressing officers to meet numerical goals on “enforcement contacts” certainly seems problematic. And the fact that it is far from the first time that police agencies in California have faced such allegations provides crucial context. The Los Angeles Police Department, for example, has repeatedly been successfully sued by its motorcycle officers over arrest quotas set by their superiors.

This practice is dubious in many ways, starting with the fact that it creates incentives that make an officer’s job more about punishing drivers and collecting fines than about maintaining highway safety…


RECOMMENDED READING: PAT NOLAN, FROM TOUGH-ON-CRIME LEGISLATOR, TO INMATE, TO POWERFUL CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM ADVOCATE

The New Yorker has an excellent longread profile on Pat Nolan, a former California Republican Assemblymember who, after being busted in a federal racketeering sting, had a very personal wake up call about the state of the nation’s criminal justice system. Nolan’s whole world (and perspective) was turned upside down. He spent 25 months behind bars, and then four months in a halfway house, during and after which, he became a vehement advocate for reform. Nolan is now the Director of the Criminal Justice Reform Project at the American Conservative UnionFoundation, and partners with the Texas-based Right on Crime group, and has had a hand in the passage of Prop 47, the Prison Rape Elimination Act, and the reetry-focused Second Chance Act.

Here are some clips from the New Yorker story:

“I went to the legislature very pro cop and with a get-tough-on-crime attitude,” Nolan told me. He wanted to reinstate the death penalty, which the Supreme Court had temporarily suspended. He believed that the exclusionary rule, which disallows evidence improperly obtained by the police, had become a loophole that lawyers exploited to allow guilty clients to go free. He excoriated a colleague in the assembly for proposing a law that would extend workers’ compensation to inmates injured in prison labor programs. And he was a leading sponsor of a prison-building boom in the state, which included, to his eventual regret, the Pelican Bay supermax facility, where inmates are kept in long-term solitary.

The F.B.I. sting, he says, dispelled his unconditional faith in law enforcement. In Nolan’s telling of it, trophy-hunting agents browbeat his aides and his campaign supporters to build a case against him, leaking tidbits to the press in the hope of breaking his resolve. The prosecutor loaded the charge sheet so heavily that Nolan concluded that he couldn’t risk going before a jury. Like roughly ninety-five per cent of people convicted in America, he pleaded guilty and took a lesser sentence rather than take his chances at trial. He began to wonder how many of the people he had dismissed as bad guys had simply succumbed to prosecutorial bullying. He said, “I saw that the F.B.I. and the government prosecutors weren’t interested in the truth, and that was a shock to me.”

By the standards of American incarceration, Nolan had it easy. He served twenty-five months in two prisons that housed the least menacing felons. The Federal Prison Camp at Dublin, near San Francisco, was a compound of former Army barracks surrounded by landscaped flower gardens. There was a small coterie of white-collar criminals, but the majority of the inmates were blacks and Latinos serving time for relatively minor drug convictions. Nolan helped organize religious-study groups, and—to judge by his accounts in an unpublished memoir—he treated his fellow-inmates as a constituency to be charmed. (He still corresponds with some of them.) From prison, Nolan produced a chatty newsletter that his wife, Gail, distributed to some two thousand supporters. He had regular visits from his family and a loyal band of political friends. After ten months, he was transferred to Geiger Corrections Center, near Spokane, where the supervision was even less oppressive. Still, his time in prison exposed him to what he came to see as the cynical cycle of American justice: sweep up young men, mostly from broken families in underprivileged neighborhoods, put them away for a while, send them back onto the streets with no skills, and repeat. To call this a “corrections” system seemed a sour joke.

“I had assumed they did all they could to help prepare the guys to return to society and make a better life,” Nolan told me. “But they were just warehousing them.” There was a pervasive sense of defeat. “The implication is: you’re worthless, you come from nothing, you are nothing, you’ll never be anything.” He added that when prisoners were released the guards would say, “See you in a few months.” He was surprised, too, at the number of elderly and infirm inmates. In his memoir, he wrote that “incarcerating people who aren’t a physical threat to society is expensive and counter-productive”—something that “only a nation that is rich and vindictive” would do.

Nolan was still an inmate when he ventured into the politics of reform. In 1994, in the California Political Review, he published an attack on that year’s crime bill—President Clinton’s signature contribution to mass incarceration, which earmarked $9.7 billion for prisons, imposed tougher sentences, and, among many punitive provisions, eliminated college grants for prison inmates.

[BIG SNIP]

There are whole areas of policy where bipartisan consensus remains far out of reach. Guns, for starters, are untouchable. (Norquist likes to provoke liberals with the creative theory that the crime rate has fallen because more Americans have concealed-carry permits.) For most Republicans, outright legalization of drugs, even marijuana, “is one we can’t touch,” Nolan says. The idea of restoring voting rights to ex-felons, which has the support of Rand Paul and Nolan as well as Bernie Kerik, appeals to many Democrats but terrifies most Republicans. “They have this image of hordes of criminals” flocking to the polls to vote for Democrats, Nolan said. Conservatives tend to look more favorably on privatizing prisons, prison services, and probation, a scheme that liberals view with deep distrust. The death penalty, which divides the right, is not on the shared agenda.

The most significant question is whether conservatives are prepared to face the cost of the remedies, from in-prison education and job training to more robust probationary supervision and drug and mental-health treatment. Joan Petersilia, a criminologist who teaches at the Stanford Law School, points to the last great American exercise in decarceration, half a century ago: President Kennedy’s Community Mental Health Act, which aimed to reduce by half the number of patients in state mental hospitals. The promised alternatives—hundreds of community care facilities—were never fully funded, and thousands of deeply troubled people were liberated into homelessness. The mentally ill now make up a substantial portion of inmates in state prisons and county jails.

“The direction forward is not really clear, because, on the one hand, the right is saying less government, less spending,” Petersilia told me. “And the left is saying we need more investment.” She offers the example of California, which for nearly five years has been under a Supreme Court order to cull the overcrowded prisons that Nolan once helped build. “The success story of downsizing prisons in California is like nothing the nation has ever experienced,” she said. “We have downsized in less than five years twenty-five per cent of all prison populations. But look what is happening at the local, community level, which is that they’ve upsized jails, and they’ve got a homeless population, they’ve got police officers complaining about the mentally ill. We didn’t answer the question: if not prisons, what?”

Nolan agrees about the cost of alternatives: “In each of the Right on Crime states, we have insisted that a large part of the savings be put back into the system.” As for his home state, Nolan says, “we were not a part of that mess.” Nolan thinks that Governor Jerry Brown failed to plan adequate prison alternatives because “he just wanted to get the court off his back.” When conservatives did venture into California, last November, to help pass Proposition 47, the measure required that two-thirds of any money saved be funnelled into alternative correctional programs. Nolan said, “Conservatives have insisted that money be plowed into services because we know that just releasing prisoners or diverting them from prisons without services would increase crime.” That is true, but it tends to be relegated to the fine print in conservative reform literature. The headlines promise tremendous savings to taxpayers.

Nolan has another worry: that one sensational crime, or a spike in the crime rate, or the distraction of more polarizing issues could send Republicans and Democrats back to their corners. “We’ve all said we’re one bad incident away from having this erode on us,” he said. But if the bipartisan movement can accomplish the things it agrees on, Nolan has a wish list of additional reforms that he will pitch to conservatives. He would like to see abusive prosecutors lose their licenses. He would require the police to videotape interrogations from beginning to end, not just a confession that may have been improperly extracted.

And, mindful of the prisoners who have been exonerated while waiting on death row, he would like to end capital punishment.

Posted in Department of Justice, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, racial justice, Reentry, Rehabilitation, Right on Crime, The Feds, War on Drugs | No Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial – Day 3: A Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


TRUTH AND LIES

Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater, and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control said narrative.

The trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano will wind up with closing arguments on Tuesday of this week, and then the case will go to the jury.

When it came to the three federal trials that took place last year, in which seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department were accused of obstruction of justice, the jury’s task was less about determining whether certain events and actions occurred, as it was about deciding what those events and actions meant.

In this trial, however, the outcome depends on which group that the jury believes is telling the truth. Either the three defendants are straight up lying about their account of the events of February 26, 2011, or it is the witnesses for the prosecution who are the bald-faced liars. There is no middle ground.

No one disputes that Gabriel Carrillo was badly beaten by LA County Sheriff’s deputies on that Saturday when he and his girlfriend and his grandmother went to the visitors’ center at Men’s Central Jail, in order to see Carrillo’s brother who had been arrested a few days before, and who had also been beaten by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the course of his arrest.

Nor does any one dispute that both Carrillo and his girlfriend brought their cell phones into the jail visiting area, although phones are clearly prohibited, and to bring one in is a misdemeanor. It is agreed that Carrillo and his now wife, Grace Torres, got caught with their phones, and were each at different times escorted back to an enclosed area off the visiting area called the “break room.”

Once Gabriel Carrillo was taken to the break room, however, the description about what occurred between him and a cluster of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies plus their immediate supervisor, a sergeant, heads in two radically divergent directions.


CHANGLINGS

According to the defense, when former deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—whom his former LASD colleagues refer to as “Z” or “Deputy Z”—learned that Carrillo had a cell phone in his possession, he handcuffed the man, then marched him into the small break room at which point he, shut the door, and uncuffed one of Carrillo’s wrists in order to fingerprint him. But, rather than cooperate, the angry and out of control Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously at Z as a weapon. Zunggeemoge was hurt by Carrillo, at which point a “violent fight” ensued when other deputies came to Deputy Z’s aid.

Carrillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” defendant deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching defendant Luviano as well. In order to subdue the highly aggressive jail visitor, physical force had to be applied, which included blows to Mr. Carrillo’s face and body, plus the use of OC spray also known as pepper spray.

Even after Carrillo was “taken down” and sprayed multiple times, he continued to try to assault deputies by spitting and kicking them, until finally the deputies were able to successfully subdue the man.

Zunggeemoge, was one of the five department members originally indicted in December 2013 for abusing Carrillo and others in the visitors’ center, and then writing false reports to cover up the abuse. But in early 2015, Zunggeemoge reversed his story and said that the above narrative was carefully concocted to cover what had been a brutal beatdown of a man who may have mouthed off slightly but who, while committing a misdemeanor with his possession of the cell phone in the visiting area, cooperated when the phone was discovered—albeit unhappily—and presented no threat.

On Wednesday of last week, “Deputy Z” was the first witness for the prosecution and was not easily rattled by the three defense attorneys who cross-examined him.

On Thursday, first Carrillo’s former girlfriend, now wife, Grace Torrez, then Carrillo himself testified, and each were consistent with their descriptions of what happened on February 26, 2011. Carrillo, 27, who is 5’5″ and weighed around 150-155 lbs at the time of he incident, gave a harrowing description of the day’s events and was not easily rattled by cross examination. (More on Carrillo later.)

After Carrillo stepped down, next up was former deputy Noel Womack.


GUN & BADGE TO FORKLIFT

Former sheriff’s deputy Womack is 6’4,” in his late 30’s, married with kids, and has the body of a defensive linebacker. He worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 8 ½ years—much of that time spent working in the visitors’ center—and reportedly he liked his job very much. Now, he works in a warehouse and drives a forklift.

He is the second out of the five originally charged in the so-called visiting center indictment, who asked his attorney to find a way to make a deal with the feds.

The other deputy who flipped was Zunggeemoge, as mentioned above. But Z made his deal early in 2015. Womack did not have his come-to-Jesus moment until near the end of May.

Womack’s involvement in the actions that led to this case, began around midday of February 26, 2011, when he heard what is known as a 415 call over his radio. The 415 means that there is a some kind of fight going on and deputies need assistance. The call was made by his supervisor, former sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who is one of the defendants. The call indicated the trouble was occurring in the break room of the visitors center, which is a small, enclosed room used by deputies for rest and sometimes booking, accessible only by department members.

Womack said that, as he headed for the break room, he saw that the deputy who was his main work partner was also headed that direction. “So I followed him,” said Womack.

When he got to the break room, he saw various deputies inside the room and, most importantly, he saw two visitors’ center deputies—Z and Fernando Luviano (who is one of the five defendants)—hitting a “suspect” who was face down on the room’s floor.

“And there was a lot of blood on the floor.”

Assuming his colleagues were trying to subdue an aggressive dangerous man, Womack rushed to their aid and piled on, grabbing one of the suspect’s legs. His partner rushed in too. But when Womack actually reached the threesome he saw that the man—whom he later learned was Gabriel Carrillo—was actually handcuffed. He was “kicking,” Womack said, but given his facedown position, it was more of a squirming to dodge blows combined with a swimming “flutter” kick.

“He was no threat to anyone.”

“Typically, when a suspect is in handcuffs,” said Womack, “that means the use of force is concluded.”

Plus, as Womack noted in response to questioning by government prosecutor, Brandon Fox, Carrillo was a small man—around a 150 lbs. at the time—he was face down, and he had approximately 800 lbs worth of sheriff’s deputies on top of him. And that was in addition to the fact he was handcuffed.

In this case, however, use of force went on, according to Womack. Luviano OC sprayed Carrillo several times close-up in the face.

Shortly after the spraying, Womack said he heard Luviano say, “Stop spitting! Stop spitting!”

Although Womack knew that the man on the floor posed no danger, the notion that he was spitting at a colleague, even though he did not actually see any spitting action, caused the big deputy to join with the aggressive actions of the other deputies now surrounding Carrillo. Womack slugged Carrillo five times in the leg.

When asked by prosecutor why he repeatedly hit a man whom he saw was no threat, Womack paused for a moment or two, his expression pained.

“I was angry at the fact that he was spitting at my partner.”

Womack hit Carrillo hard enough that he injured his hand, a fact that was demonstrated to the jury with a projected photo of the former deputy’s red and slight scraped right hand in the area surrounding the knuckles.

According to Womack, he, Luviano and Ayala all sought medical treatment for scraped appendages and the like.


COPYING HOMEWORK

After his health clinic visit to get his scrapes looked at, Womack returned to the visiting center to write up his obligatory Use of Force Supplemental Report. But before he did so, Womack said he first checked with his main work partner to see what he had written in Womack’s absence. He checked with Zunggeemoge’s report as well.

Womack said he was not surprised to find that both reports told a completely different story than the events Womack had actually observed. For instance, in the new and improved version, Carrillo was portrayed as not being handcuffed.

Womack said he dutifully fashioned his own report to match the other two, using his partner’s writing as his main “guideline.”.

Although he didn’t copy “word for word,” Womack said, the made sure that his report contained the same essential points as those of his colleagues: Carrillo wasn’t handcuffed, he kicked “violently” at the deputies, attempted “to push himself off the ground, then rolled on his back and spat at deputy Luviano causing Sgt. Gonzalez to tell Luviano to pepper spray Carrillo… and so on.

So was his account true? prosecutor Brandon Fox asked him.

No it wasn’t, Womack said. But he felt he needed to protect his partners and colleagues.

The former deputy said he also lied on the stand at the preliminary hearing for the criminal case against Carrillo that had resulted from the reports Womack characterized as false. Similarly, he lied he said to the investigators from Internal Affairs, and the department’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB.

“Whatever is put on paper, that’s pretty much what you have to stick with.”

And, yes, he lied to the feds, when they came knocking. And kept lying to them.

“I know what’s right and wrong. I’m not denying that I lied,” he said.

But then in the spring of 2015, Womack said he heard a recording of former deputy Zunggeemoge’s revised account of the events February 26, 2011, and learned that Z had made a deal with the prosecutors.

Womack said that, after hearing the recording, he asked his attorney to approach the U.S. Attorney’s office and tell the feds he wanted to plead, and to try to get the best possible deal.

However, at his meeting with the feds on May 11, 2015, Womack wasn’t really ready to come clean. Instead, he basically stuck to a slightly modified version of the description of events that would continue to back up that of his colleagues. “I was still holding on to the defense of my partners,” he said, with an unhappy glance at those “partners” sitting at the defense table.

The prosecutors were not thrilled and made it clear, according to Womack, that he better fork over the full truth, if he wanted to even have any kind of conversation about deals—and even then, no guarantee..

Eleven days later, on May 22, Womack met again with the prosecutors. This time, he said, he told all.

Before he was protecting his partners, he said. This time he decided to protect himself.

“It wasn’t worth it for me to defend a lie and have it affect everything.”


I LIED, OKAY, I LIED!

When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Patrick Smith and his colleagues hammered Womack hard. If Womack lied on official reports, Smith said, and perjured himself at a preliminary hearing, why in the world should anyone believe him now?

I mean, wasn’t it true that, in order save his own skin, he’d done an about face and was just telling the feds what he knew they wanted to hear?

“I lied to protect my partners,” Womack countered, then said it again for good measure. “I lied for my partners. And, yes, I told the truth to help myself.”

As the cross examination continued, Womack’s composure, which had been solid in the beginning, began to slip.

I’m not denying that I lied. I’m not denying that,” he said. “But I got to the point when I couldn’t continue with the lie.”

As Smith continued to slam his veracity and his motives, Womack struggled for a few seconds to control his now very visible angst. Then, suddenly, he swiveled to face the jury directly.

“I lied!” he said to them, his voice laced with emotion. “I lied!”

The jury members stared back at him, quietly goggle-eyed.

Womack seemed prepared to go further with his jury-directed monologue. However, Judge King quickly pointed a parental finger, and barked at Womack to stop.

Womack stopped.

To be continued…

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial, Day 3: An Alleged Victim Speaks of His Fear, and a Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater,
and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control that narrative.

On Day 3 of the federal trial of three present and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, two of the moments that seemed to get the jury to sit up and take notice, may or many not have had much to do with the law, but they each planted an interesting flag in the trial’s narrative.

On Monday, we’ll be back with the full story on these and other high points of Thursday and Friday’s court dramas.

So stay tuned.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD | 5 Comments »

FATHERHOOD MATTERS: Dr. Jorja Leap Gives Readers a Remarkable Window into the Lives of the Fathers of Jordan Downs

June 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


FATHERS WITHOUT FATHERS

Every Wednesday night around two dozen men from the Jordan Downs housing project meet to teach each other, and themselves, how to be fathers.

“See, most of the men in the group never had fathers,” Mike Cummings, told me two years ago. Cummings, whom everyone calls Big Mike, is a very large, very charismatic man and one of the program’s founders.

(WLA last wrote about Project Fatherhood here.)

“Or if they did have a father in the home,” Cummings said, “he was usually was doing drugs or an alcoholic, or abusive, or both. So those men never had anyone show them what it means to be a parent. At least not a male parent.”

Big Mike has been through his own wide array of life stages. He’s been an LA gang member, been shot, sold drugs, been to prison.

Now he’s an ordained pastor and a recognized community leader who spends most of his waking hours working to heal the same community that, as a young man, he and his friends helped to break.

The Wednesday group, which he and a handful of other men with experiences akin to his own, started in the fall of 2011—is called Project Fatherhood.

“A mother can teach a lot of things,” said Big Mike. “But she can’t teach the same things that a father can teach,” he said. “She can’t teach a boy to be a man.”


PROJECT FATHERHOOD, THE BOOK

Dr. Jorja Leap is on the faculty of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs, and is an internationally recognized expert in gangs, violence, and crisis intervention. Leap has also been the resident academic, official social worker, and adopted sister of the Jordan Downs fatherhood program since its beginning.

Now she has written an absolutely essential book about what she has seen and learned from those Wednesday meeting. It is called Project Fatherhood: A Story of Courage and Healing in One of America’s Toughest Communities and it has already turning into required reading for advocates, policy makers and others.

Homeboy Industries’ founder, Father Greg Boyle called the story “a view of courageous men as architects of their own healing” that “offers hope for real solutions in our inner cities born from the community itself. “

I talked to Jorja Leap earlier this week about the book, and about the fathers who have left such a deep mark on her life.


DADS HEALING DADS

WITNESS LA: Before we go further, explain a little about Project Fatherhood for those who have never heard of it.

JORJA LEAP: Sure. There was a group of men, former gang members who had become community activists—Big Mike, Andre Christian, Johnny Bailey, and some others. And they began meeting regularly with younger men from the community and trying to sort of mentor them out on these picnic tables behind Jordan Down housing project. They saw these younger men had the need, and so this group sprang up organically.

At the same time, a man named Dr. Hershel Swinger of the Children’s Institute, who was an important African American psychologist and a big believer that fathers were part of the family’s strength and that children who did not consistently have fathers in their lives tended to do poorly in school, were more likely to drop out, more likely to be caught up in the school to prison pipeline… So, he too was interested in strengthening the fathers [in places like Jordan Downs], and he got a big federal grant to do it.

The third factor in the creation of Project Fatherhood was HACLA—the Housing Authority for the City of Los Angeles—which plan to rebuild Jordan Downs and, in doing so, they want to, as they put it, build human capital.

So all three of these forces came together in a sort of positive perfect storm. The will, the knowledge, and the credibility was there from the community men who were meeting at the picnic tables. Children’s Institute and Hershel Swinger provided the funding, the support, and the infrastructure. And the locale was provided by HACLA.

WLA: How did you get involved?

JL: Big Mike called me because, to qualify for the funding, they were required to have an MSW on board—to deal with DCFS, child custody issues, issues of child abuse prevention, mental health issues, and a million other things.

WLA: So in some ways, when you were first brought in, it sounds like the fathers were just checking a box. How did that change?

JL: I’d known Big Mike for about ten years. And I really wanted to go back to Watts for some kind of project.

WLA: I know you and your family lived in South LA until you were around 10 years old….

JL: Yes, and as a young social worker I’d worked in South LA and loved it, so I was returning to an old love. But I had real doubts if the group was going to take hold, if people were going to show up. But then one of the fathers, Sy Henry, who is also one of the elders of the community, said to me, “Are you going to stick around? Or are you going to leave us too?” I realized I had to make a commitment. This wasn’t just drive by social work. So I committed. And what the group turned into was beyond my wildest imaginings. Truly.

I think, quite candidly, that was the case for everyone—including the Children’s Institute and, Dr. Swinger.

This group was supposed to help these men learn to be fathers. . But, they also did another thing. They fathered one another. They also took responsibility and wanted to be fathers to the young men of the community, whose fathers were not around. In a sense, they adopted them, and now they have these youth impact sessions.

WLA: What was one of the most challenging moments for you personally during these past years of your involvement with the program.

JL: One of the most shattering moments was a fight that we had when Christopher Dorner was in the midst of his…bloodbath. One of the fathers, a man named Donald James, stood up. Donald James had been in San Quentin for 32 years and he and I were often at odds. He stood up and said, “I think Christopher Dorner is a hero.” And I waited for somebody to say, “What’re you talking about?!” For someone to speak up. But there was no dissent. In fact, many fathers were nodding their heads. I didn’t know what to do. I was shattered.

When I went home to my husband, Mark, he had to set me on my ear. [Jorja is married to Mark Leap, a retired deputy chief of the LAPD.] He said, “Well, of course they feel that way. Do you know what the LAPD has done to them?

I’d always felt like little miss enlightened, and I understood, and had my finger on the pulse of everything. Instead I found I had my finger up my….well, I’ll leave it at that.

WLA: I know from reading the book that there have been many, many high moments. Tell us about one.

JL: There are so many. For example there was the evening that one of our fathers brought his daughters to the meeting. They were fighting with each other at school and got expelled. And he said, I want to whup both of them, but I know that’s wrong, so I brought them to you and I need you all to help me. And so the fathers did. And magic occurred. It was very humbling.

WLA: What made you decide to turn what you were witnessing into a book.

JL: Well it was complicated. Because these aren’t my stories. So I had to ask the men if the book would be okay with them and ask their permission.

But when I heard their voices, how the men expressed themselves, and how they felt about fatherhood, I realized that these were stories that had not been told. These were voices that had not been heard. And I realized I could be the vessel that carried these stories—that were their stories—out into the world.

And these are men who have pasts. When you total it up, the group has probably spent a couple of centuries incarcerated. Yet these men are, week after week, putting one foot in front of the other, while making this effort at healing themselves and healing their community.

WLA: What are the main misconceptions about the men whom you know from Project Fatherhood—and men like them.

JL: Good question. In the mind of many, there are the two extremes—deadbeat dads and the Clifford Huxtable dad—Bill Cosby allegations notwithstanding, the character he created on the Cosby Show.

We don’t seem to have room in our minds for the men who are between those two extremes. But I’m dwelling here in the heart of the territory between those two extremes. These men want to be fathers to their children, but it may not be mom, dad, the Prius and the 2.5 kids. Watts bounces between 50 and 55 percent unemployment during the years of this program. Yet, these men desperately want to work—and not make-work jobs or summer jobs. They want real jobs. They want to stay off public assistance. They’re very proud of staying off. They’ll say, “That’s my baby son. He wasn’t raised on the county. I raised him. “On the county,” means welfare.

WLA: What does what you’ve learned from Project Fatherhood suggest about changes we need to see in public policy?

JL: For one thing, I think there should be a program like this one on every corner, including in Brentwood.

Another thing, people tend to come out of the university environment and mine the data in these communities. And we need to be a presence. We need to not just mine the data, but help the community in tangible ways.

One more thing: every one is missing a bet in Watts, because the real leadership is coming from within that community. Outside agencies don’t need to come in and tell them what to do. Outside programs need instead to provide support for the qualified leadership that is already there.

WLA: What are the most significant lessons you’ve learned personally from your experience with the fathers in the group?

JL: There are so, so many, They helped me understand myself and my relationship with my father, of course. I’ve also learned the uncomfortable lesson that I bathe in White privilege without being aware of it. It’s one thing to read Michelle Alexander’s book “The New Jim Crow.” It’s another thing to live it every day.

And, by the way, we are not living in a post racial society. I’ll tell you that right here, right now.

We’ve lost several of our fathers to the New Jim Crow. There’s one father in the book, whom people will read about. What happened to him…broke everybody’s heart. I’m still struggling with it.

The other thing I become more and more aware of is what I’d call the wages of trauma, which is so profound for so many of these men. They are trying to heal themselves, while healing others whom they’ve hurt.

Witnessing their courage every week has been and continues to be very humbling.



NOTE: There will be a book signing and discussion with Dr. Jorja Leap on Father’s Day, Sunday, June 21, at 2 p.m. at Esowan Books, located at 4327 Degnan Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90008

All the proceeds from Jorja Leap’s book go back to Project Fatherhood.


The video above is from the book launch event for Jorja Leap’s Project Fatherhood featuring a discussion between Jorja and several of the fathers. Watch it!


Posted in American voices, Community Health, race and class, writers and writing | 5 Comments »

Day 2: Former LASD Deputy Takes the Stand and Tells of Falsifying Charges at Jail Visiting Center to Cover Brutality

June 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge was the first prosecution witness on Day 2
of the trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. Up until they were indicted in December 2013, the three worked in Men’s Central Jail, two of them at the jail’s visitors’ center, the sergeant on the 3000 floor.

Zunggeemoge and another former LASD deputy, Noel Womack, were originally charged on the same indictment as the three who are now on trial. But earlier this year both Womack and Zunggeemoge took deals proffered by the federal prosecutors. Among the various stipulations involved with both mens’ deals is that they resign from the sheriff’s department, and also that they testify truthfully in the trial of their former codefendants, if asked to do so.

Womack is expected to take the stand on Thursday.

Right now, Zunggeemoge is making his living as a tutor. Yet from 2008 to 20012, the former deputy worked in the visiters’ center of Men’s Central Jail. As its name suggests, the visiting area is where the husbands, wives, kids, parents, brothers, sisters and friends of MCJ jail inmates come to visit their loved ones who are guests of the county.

A compact, fit-looking man with his head shaved, Zunggeemoge appears to be somewhere in his 20s. When he took the stand, he seemed both calm and determined.

In response to prosecutor Lisabeth Rhodes’ questioning, after explaining how the visitors’ center functions, Zunggeemoge recounted the events of February 26, 2011, which is what this trial is about.

Zunggeemoge said that his boss, then sergeant Eric Gonzalez, was on duty on the day in question. Events that would ultimately form the substance of the charges, began to unfold when Zunggeemoge saw a young woman visitor drop something on the floor in the visitors’ area, and then pick it up. Zunggeemoge didn’t really think anything of the dropping incident. But a little while later, another visitor approached Zunggeemoge and told him that a young woman was using a cell phone in the bathroom.

Cell phone are strictly forbidden anywhere in the county jail system, including in the visitors area, so Zunggeemoge followed up on the matter. On a hunch, he questioned the young woman who’d dropped the unidentified object earlier. Sure enough, she admitted she was the one with the contraband phone. Zunggeemoge asked her to accompany him into the deputy’s break room, a small, room that is blocked from the sight from the rest of the visitors. She came along without incident. His colleague and now defendant, Sussie Ayala, a female deputy, was in the break room at the time. So Zunggeemoge asked Ayala to do a pat down on the young woman, who soon admitted that her boyfriend, whose name was Gabriel Carrillo, also had a cell phone.


THE QUESTION OF HANDCUFFING

While Ayala finished with the girlfriend, Zunggeemoge went out to find Carrillo. When he located Carrillo, Zunggeemoge asked if he indeed had a cell phone. Carrillo admitted to having the phone, but reacted with a burst of belligerence. “What’re you going to do?” he asked the deputy, “fucking arrest me?”

At that juncture, Zunggeemoge handcuffed Carrillo’s hands behind his back, and escorted him into the break room too.

According to Zunggeemoge, Carrillo didn’t physically resist him but, due to the man’s earlier agitation and attitude, the deputy wanted to make clear that he had control of the situation, so pushed Carrillo’s face into the small refrigerator that was in the break room, then pushed the lesson a step further.

“I lifted up his arms so he could feel some pain.” Zunggeemoge demonstrated for the jurors with his own hands clasped behind his back, as if handcuffed, then he rotated them skyward, as if shoved up by an invisible hand. Zunggeemoge said that, his shoving of Carrillo’s cuffed hands, caused the man to exclaim in alarm, “Why are you doing that?!” and the like. Zunggeemoge then searched Carrillo, finding the cell phone and the man’s ID.

At this point, trial defendants Sussie Ayala and Zunggeemoge’s boss, former sergeant Gonzalez, were in the room and Carrillo was much calmer, so the deputy sat him down and went out of the break room to run Carrillo’s ID to see if he had any warrants or the like.

Finding nothing of interest, Zunggeemoge returned to the break room where he saw that defendant number 3, deputy Luviano, was now in the break room with his hands on a standing Carillo, pushing him to the floor.

Not knowing what might have changed in his absence and thinking that Carrillo might be uncuffed, hence Luviano’s actions, Zunggeemoge rushed in to help Luviano do a “take-down.”

But as he pushed Carrillo’s face very hard to the floor, Zunggeemoge saw that, actually, the phone smuggling visitor was still handcuffed


THE SLUGGING BEGINS

As things started to get rough, according to Zunggeemoge, someone—either one of the deputies or the sergeant—yelled that they should get Carrillo’s girlfriend out of the break room. As the girlfriend, Esmeralda Torrez, was hustled out, both Zunggeemoge and Luviano reportedly began to punch Carrillo.

“I punched him in his legs and lower back,” said Zunggeemoge. “Deputy Luviano was punching Carrillo in the face.”

At this point, Carrillo was on his stomach and was not, according to Zunggeemoge, in any way resisting, but merely trying to dodge the onslaught by making sort of swimming motions with his legs, as he was being pummeled. “I started punching him in the leg area, and detective Luviano started using OC spray—AKA pepper spray—spraying Carrillo at close range “in the face area.”

In response to being sprayed, Carrillo’s eyes teared, his nose and mouth poured mucus. “He was having trouble breathing.” According to Zunggeemoge, Carillo tried to turn his face from Luviano, “by turning toward me.”

“I punched him two times in the face.”

Soon, Zunggeemoge was having trouble breathing himself due to the OC spray, so he stepped outside the room to catch his breath and the Carillo incident was over. Carillo needed medical care, but no deputies were injured, according to Zunggeemoge, save from cuts on some hands, the result of the punches they had thrown.

“There was a lot of blood in the break room,” said Zunggeemoge. “But it all belonged to Mr. Carrillo.”

Although the incident was over by around 1 pm, there were reports to write—which, Zunggeemoge said, required planning.

Later that day, “we all got together for a discussion” in order to come up with a plan for the reports. According to Zunggeemoge, it was sergeant Gonzalez who came up with the story that the deputies had uncuffed Carrillo in order to fingerprint him, but that suddenly Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously as a weapon. Zunggeemoge claimed he’d been hurt by Carrillo, and that a “violent fight” ensued.

Gonzalez also reportedly came up with a scene in which Carillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching deputy Luviano as well.

According to Zunggeemoge, the narrative of the combative, escape-minded Carrillo was entirely fiction. But the matching accounts in the “probable cause declarations” that each deputy turned in and Gonzalez signed off on, plus additional 8-page “incident report” that Zunggeemoge wrote with Gonzalez’ input, protected the deputies from any kind of investigation or charges, while the carefully matched paperwork paved the way for Carrillo to be charged with assaulting law enforcement officers.

As a consequence of what Zunggeemoge described as false charges, Carrillo could have faced four years in prison. (After ten months and a long string of court hearings, the case was dropped by the DA.)


REFUSAL TO FALSIFY

During the last half of the court day on Wednesday, the various defense attorneys did what they could to impeach Zunggeemoge’s testimony on cross examination, but the former deputy seemed to hold his ground.

There was, however, one very interesting moment in the cross examination process. It came when one of the defense attorneys asked Zunggeemoge why he fabricated the reports?

Zunggeemoge answered without hesitation. “I didn’t want to go against my partners,” he said. We were all partners and there’s a bond. You don’t go against your partners.”

Well what about going to Sergeant Gonzalez? Couldn’t Zunggeemoge have just told his boss at the time, sergeant Gonzalez, I’m just not comfortable with this sort of thing.

Zunggeemoge shook his head emphatically, “No. I wouldn’t dare do that. That was Sergeant Gonzales. You don’t go against him.”

As to what the jury thought of Wednesday’s testimony and cross …that remains to be seen.


COMING UP

On Thursday, Carrillo, his girlfriend, and Zunggeemoge’s fellow deal maker, former deputy Neal Womack, are scheduled to take the stand.

So stay tuned.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

CA Education Bill to Help Foster Kids, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck Interview, CA Wrongful Convictions,

June 18th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA BILL TO OPEN EDUCATION SUPPORT PROGRAM TO FOSTER KIDS LIVING WITH RELATIVES, WHO NEED JUST AS MUCH HELP AS THOSE IN NON-FAMILY RESIDENCES

CA Assemblymember Shirley Weber (D-San Diego) has introduced a bill that would beef up California’s Foster Youth Services program (FYS). FYS provides vital education-related support to foster kids through mentoring and tutoring services. FYS, which began as a pilot in 1973, had such favorable results, that it was expanded statewide 17 years later, in 1998.

FYS and Assemblymember Weber’s related bill target a population of kids who often struggle to finish high school (nearly half of foster kids do not).

FYS in its current form, only lends support to foster kids who are living with a non-relative foster family or in a group home. Foster children living with their relatives are not eligible for the program.

AB 854 would extend services to the 40,000 foster kids living with family members—that’s two-thirds of all CA foster youth—who do not actually have better graduation rates than kids in non-relative foster homes.

Anna Maier and Zefora Ortiz have more on the bill in a story for the Chronicle of Social Change. Here’s a clip:

A 2006 study conducted on behalf of the state legislature found that nearly half of foster youth (46 percent) drop out of high school—compared with 16 percent of non-foster youth—and less than 10 percent enroll in college.

“I feel strongly that I need the authority to serve students with the greatest need,” said Lustig.

The Foster Youth Services program began as a pilot in 1973 with four California school districts, and a 1981 statute formally established and funded FYS in the four pilot districts. In 1998, the state legislature expanded grant funding to county Offices of Education with an emphasis on serving students in group homes. The 2006-07 State Budget renewed existing FYS funding and provided additional grant money for county Offices of Education to serve a broader array of foster youth, including those in juvenile detention facilities. FYS programming looks a little different in each county. But in Mt. Diablo Unified (one of the original pilot districts), the approach is working. The program supports all foster youth, regardless of their placement type. The district partners with group homes, mental health providers and local universities in order to provide comprehensive support.

“We get to see kids who are smiling and feeling good about themselves,” said James Wogan, administrator of School Linked Services, which oversees FYS programming in the district. “Many people thought [these students] would need a higher level of placement, but they get support from their peers as well as us. The culture has really taken off here.”

Throughout the state, FYS programming is showing similarly positive outcomes. A California Department of Education report for the 2012-13 school year found that participating foster youth exceeded their 90 percent target rate for attendance, and more than 70 percent of students who received tutoring met their goals for academic growth. Less than one percent of participating foster youth were expelled from school, far surpassing the target rate of less than 5 percent expulsion.


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK DISCUSSES EZELL FORD, DISCIPLINE, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Patt Morrison (filling in for Larry Mantle), speaks with LAPD Chief Charlie Beck about the Ezell Ford case, officer discipline, and transparency.

The chief said he wished the department had more liberty to discuss disciplinary actions against police officers. Because of confidentiality rules, Chief Beck says his hands are tied. Beck will not be able to explain the discipline (nor the rationale behind the decision) the two officers involved in the death of Ezell Ford will receive.

“I must follow the law,” Beck told Morrison. “Now, we can have discussions about what would be a better way to regulate this but that won’t change how this will be regulated.”

Last week, after Chief Beck determined the officers acted within policy, the LA Police Commission determined that one officer acted outside of department policy throughout the confrontation that ended in the death of Ezell Ford in August. The other officer involved acted improperly by drawing his weapon the first time (the second was deemed justified), according to the commission.

For backstory, Ford, a mentally ill and unarmed man, allegedly grabbed for one of the officers’ guns during an “investigative stop” in South LA, and was shot three times by the two officers.

Here’s a clip from Chief Beck’s interview:

Chief, you and the commission are looking at the same set of guidelines, why is it that you found this to be in policy and the police commission didn’t? How could that happen?

CB: Well people, as I said, disagree on this topic all the time. Reasonable suspicion is a topic of contention in every criminal case in which it applies. This is not unusual for people to have different opinions on this and especially when you recognize that I see things through my experience, in my eyes, which is very different than theirs. That’s not to say who’s right and who’s wrong, but it is to say that I have strong reasons and strong beliefs in my opinion on this. I also have my role in the process and my role is to determine discipline if it applies to the employees involved and that has yet to come and I will absolutely do the right thing on that.

Do you have a deadline for that?

CB: You know, I have a personal deadline. I’m not going to reveal that because I don’t think it helps the discussion for a couple of reasons. One of which is that by state law, I cannot make public whether or not I discipline these officers and what that discipline was so to create an expectation that there is going to be some type of announcement based on a date point would be unreasonable.

Why no mention of the police commission in your message to officers?

CB: Well, it wasn’t intended to put forth a position for or against the officers by the commission. It was intended to do exactly what it did. It was intended to tell officers that they needed to continue to develop community support, that they had community support. I used myself as an example; I used the mayor as an example; I used the vast majority of Los Angeles as the other example. No intent to omit the commission. No intent to comment one way or the other about the commission’s support for the rank and file. I know all the commissioners very well, they’re good people. I believe that they were guided by what they thought was right. I am not disparaging them; that was not the intent of the video.


GOV. BROWN OKAYS $$ SETTLEMENT FOR THREE OF CA’S WRONGFULLY CONVICTED

On Wednesday, CA Gov. Jerry Brown approved nearly $1 million in settlements to be paid to three wrongfully convicted Californians.

A former Long Beach high school football star, Brian Banks, was cleared of a 2003 rape conviction in 2012 with help from the California Innocence Project. Banks spent six years falsely imprisoned. Once on parole, Banks met with his accuser, Wanetta Gibson, and secretly recorded Gibson admitting the accusation was false. Banks will receive $197,000.

Susan Mellen, who spent 17 years in prison after she was wrongfully convicted of murdering her boyfriend, will receive $597,200.

Ronald Ross was found factually innocent after being convicted in 2006 of assault and attempted murder. Ross will receive $229,000.

The LA Times’ Phil Willon and Patrick McGreevy have the story. Here’s a clip:

At the time, Banks insisted that their sexual contact was consensual. However, he took his attorney’s advice to plead no contest rather than risk being sentenced to 41 years to life in prison….

Banks, who as a high school player had caught the eye of coaches at USC, UCLA and other college football programs, tried out with the Seattle Seahawks and Atlanta Falcons after his release from prison but was not signed. In 2014, he was hired by the National Football League to help monitor games for problem calls by referees.

Claims are filed with the California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board and automatically recommended to the Legislature for payment if the petitioner was wrongly convicted and found by a judge to be factually innocent.


US CRIMINAL JUSTICE MOVERS AND SHAKERS EXPERIENCE GERMAN PRISONS: DAY TWO

On Wednesday, we pointed to a tour of German prisons organized by the Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Seventeen criminal justice officials and experts are examining how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and other areas of the criminal justice system.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah has committed to a daily tour journal. Day two found the travelers at Heidering Prison, where inmates can smoke, cook for themselves, wear their own clothes, and visit family. Inmates never spend more than eight hours in isolation. And corrections officers are trained more, paid more, and even knock before entering inmates’ rooms.

Here’s a clip from Chammah’s day two offering:

Though the prisoners cannot access the Internet, they have telephones in their rooms, and they can call anyone — even the media.

“We have nothing to hide,” Detlef Wolf, vice governor for Heidering Prison, said with evident pride.

As the tour took turns walking through the cell, I briefly met a 24-year-old prisoner named Bryan Meyer. He was wearing his own clothes—cargo shorts, a long-sleeved t-shirt, and a black baseball cap. One of the most visually striking aspects of German prisons is how prisoners wear regular street clothes. It adds to the sense that the only thing being denied them is their liberty.

Administrators here freely work terms like “human rights” and “dignity” into speeches about their prison system, and Germans appear to view people who commit crimes as medical patients (the word “prognosis” came up a lot to describe the status of an inmate). There is little stigma after prisoners finish their sentences — employers in Germany generally do not ask job applicants if they have a criminal record, according to Michael Tonry, a University of Minnesota professor on the trip who’s studied corrections systems in the U.S. and Europe. In some cases, the cultural norms were so foreign that it was pretty much impossible to imagine them taking root in the U.S.

Once the shock wore off, the questions came, and they reflected the political and professional concerns of those doing the asking. Many of the leaders here who have been elected or appointed — including Marcantel of New Mexico and Jeff Rosen, the elected district attorney in Santa Clara, California — wanted to know about victims. Do their desires for retribution play any role in sentencing here? (In the U.S., they are often allowed to read “victim impact statements” before juries assess punishment, and prosecutors often consult with them). Do sensational murders lead to the passage of more punitive laws?

The Germans had trouble making sense of these questions. There were a lot of blank stares. In Germany, prosecutors and judges are not elected. As career civil servants, they are insulated from public opinion. Their work is more “technical,” said Gero Meinen, who directs the prison system in Berlin. The role is to protect the rational system of correction — which aims to restrict freedom the least amount necessary — from the retributive impulses that individual victims and society in general might feel.

Posted in Charlie Beck, DCFS, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Foster Care, LAPD, law enforcement, prison, prison policy | No Comments »

1st Day of Newest LASD Trial Features Accusations of Out-of-Control Brutality by Deputies versus Claims of Wall-to-Wall Gov’t Lies

June 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



OPENING ARGUEMENTS

On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.

“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.

And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.

When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.

“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.

All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.


FORMER DEFENDANTS, NOW WITNESSES

The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.

Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.

Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.

After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.

And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

Protecting Kids with Locked-Up Parents, German Prisons, LA Investigating Social Workers after Brutal Beating of Baby…and More

June 17th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

COALITION IN ALAMEDA COUNTY FOCUSES ON TRAUMA-INFORMED EFFORTS TO HELP AND PROTECT KIDS WITH PARENTS BEHIND BARS

Nearly 80% of Alameda County jail inmates are parents or caregivers of kids under 25-years-old, according to a soon-to-be-released survey of 1100 inmates by the Alameda County Children of Incarcerated Parents Partnership (ACCIPP). (It is estimated that there are 2.7 million kids nationwide with parents behind bars.)

And out of a separate, smaller survey of 100 kids with incarcerated parents in San Francisco, nearly half had watched their parent get arrested. And more than half of those kids said they had witnessed officers rough up their parents during the arrest.

ACCIPP is comprised of advocate groups, government agencies, service providers, and others committed to bettering the lives of kids with locked-up parents, and reducing the effects of trauma. At the coalition’s fourth annual meeting in Oakland, attendees heard from kids with incarcerated parents, parents who had been locked up, as well as child welfare and law enforcement representatives.

The ACCIPP is calling on the Alameda County Police Department to implement a model policy from “Safeguarding Children of Arrested Parents,” by the Bureau of Justice Assistance and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Melinda Clemmons has more on the particulars of the policy and why it’s important. Here’s a clip:

The report is part of a White House Domestic Policy Council justice initiative focused on reducing trauma experienced by children who have parents in prison or jail.

The model policy is informed by the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, first published in 1998, which shows the connection between adverse childhood experiences and health status in adulthood. Parental incarceration is recognized as one of the adverse childhood experiences that heighten a child’s risk of negative outcomes in adulthood…

“Where possible,” the policy states, “officers shall determine whether any child is likely to be present at the location” when an arrest is planned. “When reasonably possible, officers may delay an arrest until the child is not likely to be present (e.g., at school or day care), or consider another time and place for making the arrest.”

If delaying the arrest is not possible, arrangements should be made to have child welfare services or a partner agency at the scene. The policy also calls for officers to directly ask arrestees if they are parents and whether or not a child is present.

Tim Birch, manager of research and planning for the Oakland Police Department, told the May 18 gathering that the department will incorporate as much of the model policy as is feasible for the department.

“We will do whatever it takes to make sure that we do a better job taking care of children when their parents are arrested even when the children are not present or it is not obvious that the arrestees are caretakers of children,” Birch said.


VERA AND JOHN JAY SEND CRIMINAL JUSTICE HEAVY HITTERS TO LEARN FROM THE GERMANS

The Vera Institute of Justice and the John Jay College of Criminal Justice hand-selected a group of prison officials, prosecutors, researchers, and advocates from across the nation to send on a week-long tour of prisons in Germany.

On the International Sentencing and Corrections Exchange tour, the 17 criminal justice field-trippers will have the opportunity to observe how Germany handles sentencing, juvenile justice, incarceration, probation, rehabilitation, and more. And Germany has methods worth learning. Germany’s incarceration rates are almost 90% lower than the US.

Among those chosen to participate are Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy, Vikrant Reddy, a senior research fellow at Charles Koch Institute (formerly of Right on Crime), and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movies and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition.

The Marshall Project’s Maurice Chammah is also on the tour and will be providing updates along the way. Here’s a clip from his first story:

The Vera Institute has chosen these leaders in hopes that they’ll take the European lessons seriously, and that they have the clout and credibility to enact change once they return home.

The track record for this idea is short but promising. In 2013, Vera took a similar group on tours of prisons in the Netherlands and Germany. John Wetzel, who runs the prison system in Pennsylvania, adapted ideas from the trip as he revamped the way his state handles prisoners before they’re released. He learned how in Germany, correctional officers are more like therapists than guards, and when he returned, Wetzel told me, he increased training in communication skills for his employees, “shifting the whole focus around humanizing offenders and lifting the expectations for officers, to get every staff member to feel some ownership over outcomes.” Wetzel also increased mental health training because “when people understand the root cause of behavior, they are more likely to not interpret something as disrespectful.”

The point of all this, Wetzel added, is to figure out what’s causing prisoners to commit crimes so you can find out how to make sure they’re less likely to commit more once they leave prison, thereby protecting the public. “It almost smacked me in the face when they said that public safety is a logical consequence of a good corrections system, and not the other way around.”

Beyond policy, comparing American and German prisons will surely unearth some deeper undercurrents in the histories of both societies. Just as no study of American prisons is complete without looking at the history of race relations all the way back to slavery, German incarceration exists in the shadow of the 1940s and that decade’s unspeakable combination of prison, factory, and slaughterhouse.

“I’m interested in how contemporary German officials imagine the past in relation to their current practices,”f said Khalil Gibran Muhammad, who directs the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library and will be on the trip. He has argued in the past that American public discourse is far more willing to examine the horrors of the Holocaust than to reckon with the legacy of slavery.

Santa Clara DA Jeff Rosen is also a member of the group touring Germany prisons.

Contra Costa Times’ Tracey Kaplan has more on Rosen and his impression of German incarceration practices, thus far. Here’s a clip:

The group includes people from both ends of the political spectrum, from Connecticut’s Democratic Gov. Dannel Patrick “Dan” Malloy to a senior research fellow at the conservative Charles Koch Institute, Vikrant P. Reddy. Rosen, who also is a Democrat, was one of only three district attorneys in California to advocate easing the state’s tough Three Strikes Law, which had allowed life sentences even for nonviolent third felonies. He also supported Proposition 47, which reduced penalties for crimes such as petty theft.

Other members of the tour include Craig DeRoche, who helps run the largest prison ministry in the world and was once Republican speaker of the House of Representatives in Michigan, and Scott Budnick, executive producer of “The Hangover” movie series and founder of the Anti-Recidivism Coalition in Los Angeles.

The only other district attorney is Milwaukee’s John Chisholm, a Democrat profiled by Jeffrey Toobin in The New Yorker magazine recently for his uphill efforts to right the racial imbalance in American prisons.

The institute conducted a similar tour two years ago, but it was mostly for law enforcement and corrections officials.

“We wanted a broader range this time so we can reach more people,” Vera spokeswoman Mary Crowley said.

The eclecticism of the group reflects a sea change in the ranks of criminal justice reformers. An increasing number of tough-on-crime advocates now agree with social justice champions on the left that the prison-only approach for nonviolent offenders is failing and that there are more efficient uses of taxpayer dollars to make communities safe.

Rosen already has taken some steps to change the status quo. Among them: a pre-filing diversion program that allows about 1,500 people a year who trespass or commit other petty crimes to avoid having a criminal record by letting them take classes and make restitution.

“It’s saving tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Rosen said.


DCFS INVESTIGATES WHETHER A TODDLER’S TRAGIC BEATING COULD HAVE BEEN AVOIDED BY MORE PROACTIVE SOCIAL WORKERS

LA County Dept. of Children and Family Services officials are reviewing the actions of social workers leading up to the near-death beating of a 13-month-old by his mother’s boyfriend. Detectives said they did not expect the boy, Fernando Garcia, to survive. When LA deputies found Fernando last week in near Compton in his family’s home, the toddler was not breathing, and his body, covered with bruises and a burn, had gone cold.

Social workers chose to keep Fernando’s three sisters with their mother following the June 7th beating and the arrest of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez.

DCFS is investigating whether social workers should have paid more heed to callers to the child abuse hotline who gave reports of domestic violence involving men and Fernando’s mother.

DCFS has ordered the social workers to be retrained pending the investigation.

After a Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection recommended 163 important action items last year to reform the dysfunctional DCFS, county child welfare has seen some improvements, but there are still some major problem areas that need to be addressed. For instance, WLA reported recently on an audit that found, over a period of four months, at least $160,000 worth of MTA passes and/or tokens—but most likely $571,000 worth of those passes/tokens—were never given to foster kids in desperate need of them.

The LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the story. Here are some clips:

Sheriff’s deputies responding to a call arrived at the boy’s home and discovered that he was not breathing, according to sheriff’s records. His body was cold, bruises in the shape of finger marks covered his chest and abdomen, and a burn mark covered a portion of his leg, according to the DCFS records.

Investigators later learned that Fernando received a gash under the eye and a cut on his leg while in the care of the mother’s boyfriend, Rodrigo Hernandez. The boy’s mother also told detectives and the DCFS that she had observed Hernandez poking the boy. Witnesses reported that Fernando was visibly afraid and would cry when Hernandez was in the room, the DCFS records say.

[SNIP]

In February 2009, a caller to the county’s child abuse hotline reported that the mother’s boyfriend at the time pushed her while she carried one of her daughters. Social workers ruled the report to be “unfounded” and did not require court-ordered domestic violence services for the family, the DCFS records say.

That September, a caller told the hotline that the mother’s boyfriend — who was not Hernandez — was violent toward the mother. Social workers found significant bruising on the mother’s back, but they accepted her story that the injuries were self-inflicted. They did not pursue further evaluation by doctors or other professionals and ruled the allegations “inconclusive,” the DCFS records say.

The department closed the mother’s case the following month without further interventions. Social workers did not explain their rationale, the DCFS records say.


LAWSUIT BY FORMER OC SHERIFF’S COMMAND STAFF SAYS SHERIFF SANDRA HUTCHENS USED BUDGET CUTS AS AN EXCUSE TO FIRE THEM, HUTCHENS SAYS THEY WERE LAID OFF TO SAVE MONEY

Former OC Assistant Sheriffs Jack Anderson and John Davis, and former captains Brian Cossairt, Deana Bergquist and Robert Eason are alleging that Sheriff Sandra Hutchens unfairly terminated them, using a $28 million budget shortfall as an excuse to get rid of them.

The plaintiffs say they were let go because of their affiliation with the former, scandal-plagued OC sheriff, Mike Carona, from whom Hutchens took over the department after Carona’s downward spiral for which he served time for witness tampering. The former command staff argue that Hutchens aimed to cleanse the department of top brass she considered to be involved in the corruption, and that she did not allow them the hearings they were entitled to. (But under Hutchens’ assertions that they were laid off to save the department millions, hearings would not be necessary.)

The plaintiffs are seeking reinstatement and millions in combined damage.

The OC Register’s Sean Emery has the story. Here’s a clip:

Carona was in the midst of his downfall from being dubbed “America’s Sheriff” to serving time as a felon convicted of corruption charges. One of his closest allies, former Assistant Sheriff George Jaramillo, had already been convicted of tax evasion.

Hutchens, a veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, had been appointed by a tight 3-2 vote by the Orange County Board of Supervisors with a mandate to reform the demoralized Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

Among those Hutchens brought on to her newly created command staff were John Scott and Michael Hillmann, who she had worked with during her time with the LA County Sheriff’s. They joined high-level sheriff’s officials who remained with the department during the transition.

According to the lawsuit, Hutchens, Scott and Hillmann “made clear their belief” that, compared to Los Angeles, Orange County was a “backwoods” territory that was still “rife with corruption,” even after Carona’s departure.

Joel W. Baruch, who is representing the five former sheriff’s officials, said Tuesday that the new leadership soon clashed with Anderson, who they accused of not informing them quickly enough about several incidents, including a reserve deputy acting inappropriately during an event involving presidential candidates at Saddleback Church and a deputy being arrested during a “peeping tom” incident.

“They told him ‘quit acting like the sheriff, there is a new sheriff in town,’ ” Baruch said.

Posted in ACEs, DCFS, Foster Care, law enforcement, prison policy, Reentry, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment »

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