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Public Access to LA County Files, Hiring Former Offenders, Trauma’s Effect on Infants, Ending ICE Contract in LA Jails

May 12th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY’S NEW, EASY-TO-USE OPEN DATA WEBSITE

Late last week, LA County launched an “open data” website for public access to county records on crime statistics, budget expenditures, and more.

In the county employee salary section, there is a handy graph sorted by employees’ highest total compensation in 2013, which includes overtime and leave pay. When you go over and look for yourself, glance down at the third-highest paid person on the list. If you scroll down further, you’ll find some other interesting names.

The move by Interim Chief Executive Officer Sachi A. Hamai is a welcome and refreshing departure from the previous administration.

Hamai called the move “a tangible milestone in the county’s determination to provide new levels of transparency and accountability…”

In January, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved the open data initiative authored by Supe. Mark Ridley-Thomas.


LA COUNTY CONSIDERS GIVING BUSINESSES $$ TO HIRE PREVIOUSLY INCARCERATED PEOPLE

The LA County Board of Supervisors is expected to vote Tuesday, on Supe. Hilda Solis’ motion to incentivize hiring former offenders.

Supe. Don Knabe co-sponsored the bill that would give money to certain businesses for hiring formerly incarcerated people, who face significant hurdles to employment when re-entering their communities and for many years afterward.

KPCC’s Rina Palta has the story. Here’s how it opens:

It took a year for Dayvon Williams to find a job after he left jail in 2009 and it wasn’t a very good one. He got a data entry gig that paid under the table.

“I had a temporary job, then another, then another,” he said.

Filling out application after application, checking “yes” when asked if he’d been convicted of a crime felt useless.

“I always felt like I never had a chance, they were just throwing away my application,” he said.

Employers are often reluctant to hire the formerly incarcerated, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. She’s proposing using the county’s contracting process to give employers an incentive to hire the formerly incarcerated.

“The county gives out millions and millions of dollars in opportunities for different types of services,” she said, everything from food services to landscaping. Solis said the county could give a leg up to bids from contractors who employ people coming out of jail or prison.


WHAT TRAUMA DOES TO INFANTS

In an op-ed for the Chronicle of Social Change, Toni Heineman sheds light on how trauma affects babies brains and development, how it manifests in their behaviors, and what one intuitive mother did to help her foster baby begin to heal.

(Toni Heineman is the head of A Home Within, which matches volunteer therapists with current or former foster youths.)

Here’s a clip:

Experiences teach the brain what to expect and how to respond. When experiences are traumatic, the pathways getting the most use are those responding to the trauma, and that reduces the formation of other pathways needed for adaptive behavior and learning. Trauma in early childhood can result in stress and anxiety, speech and language delays, and impaired emotional regulation.

Infants who experience trauma often become withdrawn or distressed, as they develop a sense that the external environment, including their caretakers, is unable to provide security and relief. As a result, their responses can be unpredictable: crying when held, content when alone for hours.

They will stop sending signals or send disorganized messages because they don’t know which cry or look will get adults to give them what they need. And when inconsistency becomes a defining feature of their experience, infants become confused and overwhelmed.

Healthy infants gain confidence that their caregivers will help them manage periods of discomfort or distress, and are progressively more able to cope with these states in a consistent and predictable way. But when caregivers are emotionally absent, inconsistent, violent, or neglectful, infants often respond by becoming withdrawn or distressed and can develop a sense that the external environment, including caretakers, are unable to provide relief.

As a result, they experience excessive anxiety, anger and frustration, and unfulfilled longings to be taken care of. These feelings may become so extreme as to cause dissociative states.

Most fundamentally, trauma refers to an event that overwhelms the child’s capacity to integrate it. This means that children can’t comprehend traumatic events, that they don’t understand what has happened to them. We often talk about traumatized children being “flooded” with feelings. It’s not just that their emotions feel too big to manage, but that the feelings seem to come from nowhere and without warning.


LA COUNTY MAY END CONTROVERSIAL JAIL CONTRACT WITH FEDERAL IMMIGRATION AND CUSTOMS ENFORCEMENT

For the last twenty years, an agreement between LA County and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement embedded federal immigration agents in LA’s jails to identify inmates to deport.

Opponents say that under the agreement, the majority of inmates selected for deportation had not been convicted of a serious felony. Most counties across the nation have voided this agreement. LA is the last participating county in California.

The LA County Board of Supervisors will likely vote Tuesday on a motion co-sponsored by Supes. Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas to end the ICE program.

LA renewed the ICE contract as recently as last October, around the same time that Riverside and Orange County chose to terminate their agreements, and a few short weeks before a new sheriff would step in.

LA Sheriff Jim McDonnell said of the upcoming immigration enforcement program decision, “I welcome the opportunity to work with local, state and federal leaders as we develop policies and procedures that appropriately balance both promoting public safety and fortifying trust within the multiethnic communities that make up Los Angeles County.”

Before McDonnell, former Sheriff Lee Baca had a much different stance on immigration, participating for years in the costly Secure Communities program, which kept undocumented immigrants locked in county jails for 20 days, instead of the federally required 48 hours. And in 2012, Baca said that if CA governor Jerry Brown signed the TRUST Act, the sheriff’s department would not enforce it.

The LA Times’ Kate Linthicum has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

The county entered into the agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement a decade ago. Along with placing immigration agents inside Twin Towers jail, the program trains certain jail employees to act as immigration agents to investigate whether inmates convicted of certain crimes are in the country illegally.

Supporters of the program say it is an essential tool to help identify deportable criminals who pose risks to the community. “It ensures that the dangerous folks who are incarcerated in our jails who are undocumented are promptly identified,” said Andrew Veis, a spokesman for Knabe.

Opponents say it results in racial profiling and has landed scores of immigrants who don’t have serious criminal records in deportation proceedings.

The number of law enforcement jurisdictions participating in 287(g) has fallen from 75 to 35 in recent years, according to ICE data, as municipalities across the country rethink their cooperation with federal immigration officials. Los Angeles and Orange are the only two counties in California that still participate in the program.

Posted in Foster Care, immigration, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD | 2 Comments »

More Pandora’s Box Indictments? …”Electronic Backpacks” for Dual-Status Foster Kids…LA Mayor and LAPD Chief Missed Important Opportunity…Two Mississippi Officers Murdered…and More

May 11th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

RECORDINGS AND DOCUMENTS SUGGEST RESPONSIBILITY FOR OBSTRUCTING PANDORA’S BOX MAY LIE WITH LASD HIGHER-UPS, INDICTMENTS LOOMING

Last year, seven members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department were convicted of obstruction of justice for hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers. (Backstory here, here, and here.)

New court documents and FBI recordings obtained by ABC7′s Lisa Bartley once again suggest that fault may lie higher up in the LASD chain of command.

In the recordings, an indignant then-Sheriff Lee Baca can be heard loudly accusing the FBI of breaking the law by sending a phone into the jail. Upset that he was kept out of the loop while the feds investigated reports of abuse and corruption in Men’s Central Jail, Baca launched his own investigation into the matter.

Sources have told WLA that more indictments could come as soon as this month or next.

Here are some clips from Bartley’s story (but go over to ABC7 and watch the video):

SHERIFF LEROY BACA: The FBI doesn’t have a right to break the law!

At the heart of this case is Baca’s anger: How could the feds infiltrate HIS jail and go after HIS deputies, without telling Baca himself? Baca fervently believed the FBI had broken the law by setting up a sting that led a corrupt deputy to smuggle a cellphone into the jail and to inmate-turned-FBI informant Anthony Brown. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka told FBI agents about the angry phone call he received from Baca.

UNDERSHERIFF PAUL TANAKA: I just remember him being mad, mad, mad! A lot of colorful language – just mad! And – you find out that F-ing phone, you get that phone you hold onto that phone. I don’t want it to leave our custody!

Baca convenes a high-level Saturday meeting. Despite FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez telling him that the phone was part of a legitimate, authorized FBI operation, Baca wants an investigation of his own. How did the phone get into jail? Who is responsible?

It’s NOT a crime, because it’s all part of a sanctioned, undercover operation by the FBI. Still, Baca issues the order: No one can get into see inmate Anthony Brown without permission from Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

In the days and weeks to come, Anthony Brown is hidden from the FBI – his name is changed and computer records are falsified. The sheriff’s department puts Brown’s FBI handler Special Agent Leah Marx under surveillance and later threatens her with arrest.

Two sergeants harassed and threatened to arrest Special Agent Leah Marx, Brown’s federal handler, outside of her home (more about that here).

Baca told federal investigators that he was unaware that “we have an interest in arresting an FBI agent. That…strikes me as extreme.”

Yet, Captain Tom Carey testified that he, Baca, Lieutenant Steve Leavins and Paul Tanaka met prior to the incident, to discuss what to do about Special Agent Marx. According to Carey, Baca said “Just don’t put handcuffs on her.”


KEEPING IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS ON A “CLOUD” SYSTEM FOR KIDS INVOLVED IN BOTH JUVENILE JUSTICE AND FOSTER CARE SYSTEMS

The Sierra Health Foundation, in collaboration with ZeroDivide, are working to create what they are calling “electronic backpacks” for California’s dual-status foster kids (kids who are involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems).

Dual-status (or “crossover”) kids often face trauma, neglect, and instability. And communication between agencies serving dual status kids, including school districts, can be patchy or nonexistent, making it hard for kids to access important services and enroll in school.

The “electronic backpacks” would allow kids to easily access their important documents (like birth certificates, proof of vaccination, and school records) from computers and mobile devices anywhere, by storing them on a “cloud” system.

Health Affairs’ McCrae A. Parker and Matt Cervantes have more on the effort, which is part of the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative. Here’s how it opens:

“And despite all best intentions, when youth leave the foster care system as adults, they are typically only given a sheaf of papers that detail their complicated histories. These records are easily lost and usually incomplete, which often creates burdens these young adults must carry for life.” –Wendy Lazarus, Founder and Co-President of the Children’s Partnership

Over the past year, ZeroDivide has collaborated with Sierra Health Foundation to serve as a thought partner in the integration of technology into the foundation’s Positive Youth Justice Initiative, which aims to create a major shift in California’s juvenile justice practice and policy at the county level. The initiative focuses on crossover youth—that is, young people with histories of neglect, abuse, trauma, and engagement in the child welfare system, who currently are involved with county juvenile justice systems.

As part of our exploration of promising practices in the use of technology in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, we discovered the “electronic backpacks.”

The central idea behind the electronic backpack is that a youth’s important life documents, medical records, and program reports “live” on an easily accessible, secure, “cloud” system. For crossover youth, the design, use, and adoption of the electronic backpack concept can potentially lead to better coordinated services and outcomes. Mobile technology provides a greater level of access to critical intervention and service records for youth, their families, and their friends or supportive adults.

Crossover youth are in particular need because of interaction with two systems (child welfare and juvenile justice), and the delay and withholding of services that they may experience without specific documents. For example, a youth who arrives at a new group home placement may have difficulty registering at his or her new school without vaccination records. With an electronic backpack, this issue can be eliminated.


STEVE LOPEZ: MAYOR AND LAPD CHIEF SHOULD HAVE ATTENDED TOWN HALL MEETING ABOUT BRENDON GLENN’S DEATH AT THE HANDS OF POLICE

In his column, LA Times’ Steve Lopez wrote that, by not attending a Venice town hall meeting to discuss the recent shooting death of an unarmed homeless man by a police officer, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti missed an important opportunity to show that Brendon Glenn’s death mattered. Here’s a clip:

When Ezell Ford was shot and killed by police last August in South Los Angeles, Beck and other top LAPD brass went into full damage control mode, meeting with a crowd of concerned citizens at Paradise Baptist Church.

Does Venice not matter as much as South L.A.?

Does Brendon Glenn not matter as much as Ezell Ford, both of them black, and both of them unarmed?

If City Hall wanted to send a message that these shootings matter, two people in particular should have gone to that meeting together Thursday night.

“Where is the mayor?” Mike Neely, a commissioner with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, asked from outside the standing-room-only Venice meeting. “Where is the chief of police?”

They were missing in action, that’s where they were.

The first matter the city needs to attend to is the police killing of an unarmed man. That in itself is worthy of the police chief’s and mayor’s attention…

But figuring out why Brendon Glenn was killed is only a small beginning. The next step is to address the underlying failures that foster these killings and so many other woes…

Being a cop isn’t easy, particularly when you’re asked to deal with the fallout from the city’s failure to help people off the streets and into services that can transform their lives, make neighborhoods safer and even deliver a savings to taxpayers.

A scuffle broke out near the Venice promenade, police were summoned, they wrestled with the suspect, and Brendon Glenn — said to have been intoxicated — ended up dead.

It happens too often.

Chronic homelessness is rampant in Venice. The first thing to consider, when there’s a call about a disturbance near the boardwalk, is that it might involve someone who is homeless, mentally ill and/or addicted. The situation might call for backup help, or one of the mental health/police units, or use of a disabling, less lethal weapon than a gun.

And yet, here we are once again, with police as the designated default agency when it comes to homelessness.


FATHERS OF TWO MISSISSIPPI POLICE OFFICERS KILLED IN THE LINE OF DUTY TALK ABOUT THEIR SONS

The nation got heartbreaking news on Saturday night when it learned that two Hattiesburg, Mississippi, police officers, Liquori Tate, 25, and Benjamin J. Deen, 34, had been shot and killed during a routine traffic stop.

On Sunday morning, four suspects were arrested.

Benjamin Deen was a K-9 officer whose father, Dan Deen, told NY Daily News reporter Joel Landau, that his son, a former “officer of the year” in the department, chose his profession so he could follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

“He was a very good cop. He loved his family, he loved his job,” he told The News. “He did his job to the best of his ability.”

Benjamin Deen was married and had two children, a 9-year-old boy and 13-year-old girl, his father said. The family is devastated by what happened, he said.

Ronald Tate, father of Liquori Tate, who was not yet a year out of the police academy, talked with CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet about his son’s passion for policing and the way he treated those he was charged with protecting and serving.

“He had this enthusiasm, this fire in his soul, and I knew he meant that,” Ronald Tate said.

That doesn’t mean Liquori Tate didn’t know he was putting his life in danger when he joined the force.

“He really knew the risk,” Ronald Tate said, “but I think my son just thought people…are generally good people, so let’s treat them all with dignity.”


Late last week, the California Senate passed a bill that would ban grand juries from investigating officer-involved shootings and excessive use of force incidents.

Eliminating the grand jury option would give local district attorneys no choice but to handle such cases. And because DAs are elected officials, the bill supporters believe there would be a higher level of public accountability involved.

The bill, SB 227, authored by Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-LA, must next be approved by the state Assembly.

The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff has more on the bill. Here’s a clip:

Protests sprouted up nationwide last fall after grand juries in Missouri and New York declined to indict white police officers who had killed unarmed black men during confrontations. The system, in which a jury of citizens weighs the evidence to decide whether to bring charges, came under fire for its secrecy.

Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, who introduced Senate Bill 227, argued that the lack of transparency and oversight in grand jury deliberations, which do not involve judges, defense attorneys or cross-examination of witnesses, did not serve the public.

“The use of the criminal grand jury has fostered an atmosphere of suspicion that threatens to compromise the nature of our justice system,” she said.

Posted in Eric Garcetti, Foster Care, Homelessness, LAPD, LASD, Los Angeles Mayor, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 17 Comments »

DCFS Likely Never Distributed $571,000 in MTA Passes Needed by LA’s Foster Kids Says Report

May 8th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


THE VANISHING MTA PASSES

In an audit released Friday afternoon, the LA County Auditor-Controller’s office revealed that, in a four month period, at least $160,000 word of MTA passes and/or tokens—and very probably $571,000 worth of those same passes/tokens—were never given out to the foster kids who urgently need them.

Here’s the deal: The Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS)—AKA foster care—provides transit passes or tokens to eligible foster youth who need to use public transportation in order to get to school, counseling sessions, family visitations, and and other required activities.

Transit passes/tokens are, as you might imagine, considered cash equivalents thus, as the auditor controller’s report put it, “should be safeguarded in the same manner as cash to prevent theft or misuse.”

And just give you an idea of the kind of “cash equivalents” we’re talking about, in FY 2012-2013, DCFS gave out approximately $12 million in passes.

With the above in mind, the A-C reviewed DCFS’s pass/token policy and record keeping, starting in FY 2014-2015, to make sure that the chronically troubled agency was safeguarding its inventory of passes and—even more importantly—to determine if the passes and tokens were getting to the kids who depend on them.

The results were not cheering.

We verified that during a four-month period, DCFS regional offices never distributed 1,906 transit passes valued at $160,000. We also reviewed MTA usage records for the same four months and noted that an additional 4,818 transit passes valued at $411,000 may have expired without being used. Based on our findings throughout this review, it is unlikely that all 4,818 of the transit passes were distributed to clients.


“MISAPPROPRIATED” WITHOUT DETECTION??

So what happened to the half-million $$ in passes that appear to never have been used in that four month period?

And are there more discrepancies where those came from?

Despite much looking into the matter, the auditor-controller’s office ultimately wasn’t sure. The report points to finding “critical internal controls and recordkeeping which could result in County funds being misappropriated without detection.”

To try to get to the bottom of the issue of the non-used passes, the A-C referred its concerns to its investigative arm, the Office of County investigations, or OCI—hoping that the sleuths could determine if the passes were stolen, lost, or just stuck in drawers and forgotten about. But because of DCFS’s sloppiness in record keeping, the investigators reportedly found themselves stymied.

Due to the lack of accountability and poor internal controls, OCI was unable to conclude whether County funds were misappropriated.”

Great.


SO WHERE DID THE PASSES AND TOKENS GO?

When the investigators visited 7 local DCFS offices and interviewed samplings of social workers, they found that 90 percent of the MSWs they interviewed kept the passes and tokens (that are, remember, the equivalent of cash) in unlocked desk draws, in overhead cabinets, unsecured in their purses, and like locations. In the case in one office, 38 of the things—all unused, and worth a total of $2,300—were sitting in the employee’s inbox in full view of anybody who strolled by.

Worse, when asked to produce the most recent monthly passes/tokens the workers had been issued, 30 percent of the 20 interviewed, couldn’t locate or account for all the tokens they had received.

In addition to the physical carelessness with the passes and tokens themselves, the A-C reported that, due to the shockingly bad record keeping maintained by regional offices, there was no way to know if small or large numbers of passes and tokens were vanishing regularly.

Regional offices do not maintain perpetual inventory records, and do not accurately complete reconciliation forms – None of the seven regional offices we visited maintain perpetual inventory records of transit passes/tokens. The regional offices also do not conduct monthly physical inventory counts, as required, or accurately complete monthly reconciliations. For example, one office’s reconciliation showed an ending balance of 6,452 tokens, but their beginning balance for the following month was 2,972 tokens. Regional office staff could not explain this discrepancy.


PASSES? WHAT PASSES?

When the passes actually were theoretically given out to foster kids, they were not necessarily given to the right people, or in a timely fashion. In some cases, they were simply not given out at all. And records of who got what were either sloppy or nonexistent.

For instance, in a random sampling of 65 kids who were marked as having to gotten passes/tokens, 20 percent reported to investigators they “did not receive any or all of the transit passes/tokens.”

In one instance, the guardian of a kid indicated that the child in his/her care had not received any of the required transit passes for six months. When confronted by this, the social worker “subsequently admitted that he had given the child’s transit passes to other clients. He could not recall who actually received the passes, but he claimed that he did not ‘keep or sell them.’”

Never mind that, for a kid to be issued the monthly passes/tokens, the distribution must be justified with a court order or case plan.

Out of the sampling, another 20 percent of the kids who had requested monthly passes got the passes, but “an average of 14 days afterthe month began, even though the requests had been submitted at or before the beginning of the month.”

And then there was the case of the social worker who had a form signed by the “client,” indicating that he or she had gotten the monthly passes when, in fact, the passes were still sitting on the MSW’s desk.

(And what sanctions have been levied against these people? Or never mind. Forget we asked.)


THE DOG ATE OUR ABILITY TO DISTRIBUTE MTA PASSES

The report also includes the response from DCFS, which—while no doubt well meaning—feels full of excuses.

For instance, among its plans to solve this lovely mess the department intends to reissue the rules and regulations around the passes, and institute—what else?—new rounds of training.

ln September 2014, the Department began working with the Auditor-Controller’s OCI Division to coordinate training for nearly 250 DCFS management supervisory level staff regarding Fraud Awareness. Training commenced on January 14,2015, and is scheduled to be completed by the end of June 2015…..

And so on. There’s more if you wish to read it. But the above is representative.

From sources close to the board of supervisors we have heard that the Supes are really.., really not happy with all this nonsense.

Good.

Laissez les têtes tomber.

Posted in DCFS, Foster Care, LA County Board of Supervisors | 3 Comments »

SF District Attorney Reviewing 3,000 Cases for Racial Bias

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

UNDER REVIEW: A WHOPPING 3,000 CASES INVOLVING SFPD COPS WHO ALLEDGEDLY ENGAGED IN DISCRIMINATORY TEXT MESSAGING

On Thursday, SF District Attorney George Gascón said that a team of prosecutors was in the process of reviewing 3,000 arrests—1,600 of which resulted in convictions—made by 14 officers who are the subjects of an ongoing investigation.

The 14 cops, some of whom were SFPD veterans, allegedly sent racist and homophobic text messages to each other. (Read the back story—here, and here.)

Gascon said that even only one person had been wrongfully convicted “because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many.”

The NY Times’ Timothy Williams has the story. Here’s a clip:

African-Americans in San Francisco have complained for years about harassment and the use of excessive force by the police. And while African-Americans make up about 5 percent of the city’s population, they account for half of its arrests and jail inmates, and more than 60 percent of the children in juvenile detention, according to city statistics.

In Baltimore on Wednesday, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake acknowledged a “fractured relationship between the police and the community” in her predominantly black city and asked the Justice Department to conduct a civil rights investigation of the Police Department to determine whether officers had engaged in unconstitutional patterns of abuse or discrimination.

At a news conference in San Francisco announcing the expanded inquiry, the district attorney, George Gascón, acknowledged that the racist text messages had particularly undermined public confidence in both his office and the local criminal justice system…

Mr. Gascón, a former San Francisco police chief, said Thursday that a task force of prosecutors had already been scrutinizing some 3,000 cases — including about 1,600 convictions — related to contacts or arrests made by the 14 police officers during the last decade to determine if biases had led to any unlawful arrests or wrongful prosecutions.

The investigation by the panel, which will add three former judges as investigators, will now be broadened to include an examination of whether entrenched biases exist in the 2,000-member department.

“If just one individual was wrongly imprisoned because of bias on the part of these officers, that’s one too many,” Mr. Gascón said. “What is the potential impact in our justice system when a juror in a criminal trial questions the credibility of the arresting officer on the evidence that is being presented because they believe that this process may have been influenced by racial or homophobic bias? Can justice prevail under such conditions? Probably not.”

Posted in District Attorney, law enforcement, racial justice | 1 Comment »

CA Counties “Step Up” for Mental Health Diversion…Jazz Therapy in Jail…and Preschool Savings

May 8th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA, OC, OTHER COUNTIES JOIN UNIQUE MENTAL HEALTH DIVERSION INITIATIVE

A new national initiative to divert people with mental illness from jails will connect counties with resources to create concrete action plans and track results.

On Tuesday, the National Association of Counties (NACo), the Council of State Governments (CSG) Justice Center, and the American Psychiatric Foundation (APF) launched the initiative, which will use money from Department of Justice’s Bureau
of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Sheriff’s departments in California counties and across the nation are signing up to participate in the “Stepping Up” initiative, which is intended to be “a long-term, national movement—not a moment in time,” according to organizers.

Here are a few of the areas sheriff’s departments participating in the initiative will focus on:

- Learning from a group of criminal justice, mental health, and substance abuse experts, as well as people with mental illnesses and their families

- Collecting data and using it to assess needs of (and to better serve) people who are both mentally ill and justice system-involved

- Developing, implementing, and thoroughly tracking the progress of a diversion plan involving research-based approaches

Counties that see progress over the next year will be eligible to attend a national summit in the Spring of 2016, after which certain counties with the best diversion results will be selected to receive grant money to expand their efforts.

The LA Times’ Abby Sewell has more on the initiative, and what the LA and OC sheriffs have to say about it. Here’s a clip:

“You will not find a sheriff in this state or this nation who is not struggling with the growing number of people who are mentally ill in our jails,” Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said at a kickoff event for the initiative in Sacramento….

Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell was not present Thursday at the Sacramento event, but said in a previous interview, “Absolutely, we want to be a participant.”

“Jails were not built as treatment facilities with long-term treatment in mind,” McDonnell said. “When you think about a jail environment, it’s probably the worst possible place to house or attempt to treat the mentally ill.”

LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey has been researching and working on a comprehensive mental health diversion program, and is expected to present the full plan to the Board of Supervisors next month.


A JAZZ SINGER’S MUSIC THERAPY CLASS LIFTS SPIRITS OF WOMEN LOCKED IN SAN FRANCISCO JAIL

After singing three songs to an extremely appreciative crowd of women housed in the San Francisco County Jail last year, cultural anthropologist and jazz singer, Naima Shalhoub, formed a weekly music therapy class to bring a little happiness and hope to the inmates.

The SF Chronicle’s Carolyne Zinko has the story. It’s behind a paywall, but here are some clips:

You don’t need a master’s degree to know that jail inmates are lonely, but during the past year, cultural anthropologist Naima Shalhoub has seen it doesn’t take much, or cost much, to make them feel less isolated and sad.

The difference between happy and unhappy just might be eight minutes. That’s the time it took for Shalhoub, also a jazz artist, to sing three songs on her first visit to a women’s unit at the San Francisco County Jail a year ago, right around Mother’s Day.

“One woman said, ‘I’ve been here two years and this is the happiest I’ve felt,’” she recalled during a visit to the women’s unit on Tuesday. With feedback so powerful, she had to come back, and has taught music therapy classes almost every Friday since.

For this Mother’s Day, Shalhoub went further: She and a four-piece band performed a 45-minute concert in the jail’s E pod on Tuesday, and recorded it before a captive audience of 50 female inmates, a first in the jail’s history.

[SNIP]

“Even though it’s not much to bring music on the inside, it’s a way to learn the day-in, day-out on the inside in the lives of women, and to intervene in their isolation and confinement,” Shalhoub said. “Dreaming about other systems that are restorative is what fuels my passion for this work.”


HOW MUCH COULD CALIFORNIA SAVE BY EXPANDING ACCESS TO PRE-K?

There are 31,500 4-year-olds from low-income households in California that don’t have access to public preschool.

Providing preschool to 31,500 kids—which was included in Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 Budget Act—could save California $820 million per year (at $26,000 per child), according to a new report by ReadyNation.

Heres a clip from ReadyNation:

Long-term savings are substantial. An independent cost-benefit analysis of more than 20 different studies of high-quality state and local preschool programs by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy found that providing high-quality early childhood education can have, on average, a net return of over $26,000 for every child served.

These savings result from fewer placements in special education, less grade repetition, increased lifetime earnings thanks to higher graduation rates, more income taxes collected from those earnings, reduced health care costs, and decreased crime.

In keeping with the promise in the 2014-15 Budget Act, an estimated additional 31,500 preschool slots are needed in order to provide early learning for all low-income 4-year-olds in California. Applying the estimated $26,000 in lifetime net savings per child served by preschool means that serving these children in California would result in savings to our state of close to $820 million for each graduating preschool class.

“When it comes to early education for at-risk youth, the research is clear: investing in our youngest learners now will pay big dividends in the future,” said Moreen Lane, Deputy Director of READYNATION California. “Hopefully, our state legislators and the Governor will agree and fulfill the promise of least year’s Budget Act to make early education available for all low-income 4-year-olds. Smart investments in preschool would be a solid step for our state economy.”

Posted in District Attorney, Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), Education, Innocence, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD, mental health, racial justice | 4 Comments »

The “Masonic Fraternal Police Department”… “Smart on Juvenile Justice” Initiative…Preventing Forensic Failures…LAPD Chief “Concerned” About Venice Shooting…and More

May 7th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CA ATTORNEY GENERAL KAMALA HARRIS’ AIDE AND OTHERS ACCUSED OF OPERATING BOGUS POLICE DEPARTMENT

Three people, including an aide to California Attorney General Kamala Harris, Brandon Kiel, were arrested late last week after allegedly promoting their unsanctioned “Masonic Fraternal Police Department,” and claiming to be police officers.

Kiel and the two others accused, David Henry and Tonette Hayes have been charged with multiple counts of impersonating a police officer, among other charges.

Witnesses said Henry introduced himself around Santa Clarita as a “police chief.” The group also apparently introduced itself to law enforcement agencies across the state, and claimed to be connected to Knights Templar.

The LA Times’ Joseph Serna, Javier Panzar, and Matt Hamilton have the story. Here’s how it opens:

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Roosevelt Johnson thought it was odd when three people — two of them dressed in police uniforms he didn’t recognize — strolled into the Santa Clarita station in February.

One man introduced himself as chief of the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and told Johnson this was a courtesy call to let him know the agency was setting up shop in the area.

They met for 45 minutes, Johnson said, but he was left confused and suspicious — so much so that he immediately ordered deputies to pull station surveillance video so they would have images of the visitors. He also assigned detectives to check them out.

“It was an odd meeting,” the captain recalled. “It just raised my suspicion level.”

This week, the three people were charged with impersonating police officers. They are David Henry, who told Johnson he was the police chief, Tonette Hayes and Brandon Kiel, an aide to state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris.

It turns out Henry, Hayes and Kiel had allegedly introduced themselves to police agencies across the state, though it is unclear why. A website claiming to represent their force cites connections to the Knights Templars that they say go back 3,000 years. The site also said that the department had jurisdiction in 33 states and Mexico.

“When asked what is the difference between the Masonic Fraternal Police Department and other police departments, the answer is simple for us. We were here first!” the website said.

Los Angeles County prosecutors said the whole effort was a ruse, though for what purpose remains unclear. The investigation is continuing.


SOLUTIONS TO CRIME LAB MISDEEDS

The Washington Post’s Radley Balko breaks down some interesting reasons why forensic lab misconduct and mistakes occur, and what to do about these problems. Here’s a clip:

Crime lab analysts are supposed to be neutral parties interested only in getting the science right. But the system is often structured in a way that makes them part of the prosecution’s “team.” In fact in many jurisdictions, crime labs actually get paid per conviction, not per analysis — about as clear a perversion of objectivity as one can imagine. Of course, the pressures and incentives needn’t be that explicit. For example, just knowing extraneous details about a case can produce cognitive bias, even in as accepted a field as DNA analysis.

There are two fundamental things that need to be done to reform the field of forensics. The first is to purge the courts of specialties that have no basis in science. With the fields that are left, we have to turn these incentives around, so that the performance of crime lab technicians is measured only on whether or not they perform accurate analyses.

Unfortunately, there has been very little discussion of the incentive problem among the various federal agencies charged with looking into reform. Possibly moving crime labs out from under offices of state attorney general or state police organizations is about as far as the suggestions go. They need to go further. Over at Reason, Roger Koppl, a professor of finance in Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management and a faculty fellow in the school’s Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute, has some concrete suggestions.

Cross-lab redundancy. A jurisdiction should contain several competing forensic labs. Some evidence should be chosen at random for multiple testing at other labs. This creates checks and balances.

Independence. Put crime labs under the department of health, not the cops….

Read the rest.


PRESIDENT OBAMA’S INITIATIVE TO MOVE STATES AWAY FROM LOCKING KIDS UP, AND TOWARD COMMUNITY-BASED ALTERNATIVES

President Barack Obama is seeking $30 million in the 2016 juvenile justice budget for the “Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative,” which would focus on reducing states’ reliance on juvenile detention, and replacing it with community-based treatment and programs that improve public safety, reduce recidivism, and save money.

President Obama has already funded a successful pilot version in which three states, Georgia, Hawaii, and Kentucky, received $200,000 each to shift away from locking kids up.

Other municipalities and states are making similar efforts.

In California, most incarcerated kids are housed in county detention facilities, but many more need to be receiving care at the community level.

Santa Clara has been particularly successful on this front. (Read about what Santa Clara has been doing to help justice-system involved kids: here, here, and here.)

The Juvenile Justice Information Exchange’s Gary Gately has more on the initiative. Here are some clips:

“The Smart on Juvenile Justice Initiative will drive nationwide system reform, guiding states toward a developmentally informed approach that maximizes cost savings and strategically reinvests those savings into efforts that improve outcomes for youth,” said Robert Listenbee, administrator of the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, in an emailed statement.

Congress has yet to approve the requested funding, though the Obama administration has funded a pilot of the program, rolled out last year in Georgia, Hawaii and Kentucky, working with private foundations and the Washington-based nonprofit Pew Charitable Trust’s Public Safety Performance Project.

The states, each of which received $200,000, worked to divert youths from the juvenile justice system, provide community-based alternatives, decrease correctional spending and improve public safety.

“It was clear the status quo was not working,” says a Pew video that points out the initiative has begun achieving many of its chief goals.

Juvenile justice advocates embraced the Obama administration’s request to take Smart on Juvenile Justice nationwide.

“If you look at the data for what kids are locked up for in the ‘deep end’ of the system, there’s a lot that shows that these kids don’t need to be incarcerated,” said Liz Ryan, president and CEO of the Washington-based nonprofit Youth First! Initiative, which seeks to dramatically reduce incarceration in state facilities while increasing community-based alternatives.

“You see the stats for kids with misdemeanors, you see kids in for probation violations, you see drug violations,” Ryan said. “We’re overusing the most expensive option for kids when we really don’t need to be doing that. It’s a waste. It’s a waste of money; it’s also harming children: The human cost is huge, and when we look at the fact that kids being sent through the juvenile justice system are far more likely to be incarcerated in the adult criminal justice system, we really have to ask why are we putting so many kids in locked facilities?”


LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK CONCERNED BY OFFICER SHOOTING OF UNARMED MAN IN VENICE

On Tuesday evening in Venice, an LAPD officer shot and killed Brendon Glenn, a 29-year-old homeless man who was unarmed.

After reviewing video of the incident, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said he was concerned by the shooting, and that he did not see “extraordinary circumstances” that would be necessary to justify shooting an unarmed man.

KTLA’s Tracy Bloom, Mark Mester, Melissa Pamer, and Courtney Friel have the story. Here’s a clip:

The man, described as a transient, had been involved in an altercation with a bouncer at a nearby bar prior to police being called, LAPD Detective Meghan Aguilar initially said Wednesday morning. Police were called with a report of a man “disturbing the peace” and “harassing passersby,” she said.

Officers spoke with the man, who then walked away toward the boardwalk, Beck said. Soon after, officers saw the man approach an individual and start a fight, the chief said.

“The officers attempted to detain the suspect, and an altercation occurred between the two officers and the suspect. During that physical altercation, an officer-involved shooting occurred,” Beck said.

Officers called for a rescue ambulance and began to perform CPR; city firefighters responded and took the man to a hospital, where he died, according to the chief.

A friend who knew Glenn said he didn’t deserve his fate.

“Whatever reason that they had to shoot him, I don’t think it was justified because he wasn’t a confrontational human being by any means,” local resident Henry Geller said. “He was definitely like a peacemaker.”

Glenn was a regular the Teen Project’s the P.A.D., a Venice support center for homeless youth, according to Timothy Pardue, who runs the center. Glenn, who had recently moved to the area from New York, had come to a support group meeting on Tuesday night, Pardue said.

“He was crying and he was even saying he wanted his mom, and he just said his mom didn’t want him back home,” Pardue said. “He struggled with a lot of things.”

Craig Lally, President of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, objected to the police chief sharing an opinion on “an incident that is in early stages of investigation…without having all of the facts.”


MEANWHILE IN SAN DIEGO…

In 2012, San Diego police officer Jonathan McCarthy shot an unarmed man, Victor Ortega, at the end of a chase on foot, after responding to a 911 call from Ortega’s wife after a dispute.

McCarthy said Ortega reached for the officer’s weapon in an alley, but there were inconsistencies in McCarthy’s storyline. Expressing doubts at the particulars of McCarthy’s story, U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns denied San Diego’s request to throw out a federal lawsuit filed by Ortega’s wife, Shakina.

The city appealed Judge Burns’ ruling, and filed a brief last week insisting that the inconsistencies were irrelevant, and that McCarthy should not be denied qualified immunity, as he had probable cause to fear for his life.

Kelly Davis has the story for Voice of San Diego. Here’s how it opens:

The alleyway where Victor Ortega died, the one that cuts up the middle of Court 84 of the Mesa Village apartments in Mira Mesa, is a little more than 3 feet wide. Enclosed by a high stucco wall on one side and a fence on the other, it’s a cramped space. It’s where, on the morning of June 4, 2012, San Diego police officer Jonathan McCarthy shot and killed the 31-year-old unarmed father of two after Ortega allegedly grabbed for the officer’s gun.

Townhouses surround the alley, but there were no witnesses to Ortega’s death. Two residents told investigators they saw, from their window, McCarthy and Ortega engaged in a struggle, but turned away seconds before shots were fired. Several other people reported hearing Ortega say a stunned “Are you kidding me?” and “I’ll sue you” moments before gunfire.

McCarthy, who had spent just two years on the force before the incident, told police investigators that he feared for his life before he shot Ortega. Based on the officer’s version of events, prosecutors said Ortega’s killing was justified.

But police reports, depositions, interview transcripts and other evidence disclosed in a federal lawsuit filed two years ago by Ortega’s widow reveal inconsistencies in McCarthy’s account of what happened in the alleyway immediately before Ortega’s death. U.S. District Court Judge Larry Burns, who is presiding over the case, recently expressed doubt that it would be possible for McCarthy to have done everything he said he did during his altercation with Ortega.

In denying the city’s request to throw out the lawsuit, the judge ruled that McCarthy’s story has enough holes that a jury needs to sort out what happened.

“Plaintiffs,” Burns wrote, “have submitted evidence that would give a reasonable jury pause.”

Ortega was killed almost three years ago, but his case shares some of the same characteristics as other disputed police shootings that have recently inflamed communities across the country. A police officer pursued an unarmed criminal suspect. A struggle ensued with conflicting evidence about what occurred. And the suspect ended up dead.

In Ortega’s case, everything began with a call to 911.

Posted in Charlie Beck, juvenile justice, Kamala Harris, LAPD | 9 Comments »

Can a Lone Milwaukee Prosecutor Point the Way Out of Mass Incarceration? … Lawmakers Screech to Halt on Changing Prop. 47 …$450K Settlement on 2-Yr-Old’s Beating Death

May 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


ONE UNUSUAL MILWAUKEE PROSECUTOR TAKES ON THE MASS INCARCERATION PROBLEM

As a nation, we incarcerate too many people. In terms of cost/benefit, this over incarceration is not good for us, socially, fiscally, or ultimately in terms of public safety.

Fortunately, calling over incarceration for what it is has ceased to be an idea embraced solely by reformist liberals. In the post-2008 period in which states and counties faced drastic budget shrinkages, the expanding price tags of our bloated jails and prisons got the attention of an increasing number of conservatives, who began joining hands with progressives to try to find some way out of the whole ghastly mess.

Now there are the Right on Crime people out of Texas who wrote Op Eds for California newspapers supporting the initiative that reformed the state’s too rigid Three Strikes law and, a few years later, did the same to get Prop. 47 passed. More recently, the Koch brothers have joined forces on sentencing reform with the likes of the ACLU. Senators Corey Booker and Rand Paul are cosponsoring several bills aimed at criminal justice reform. And so on.

At the same time, the idea that people of color, and black people most of all, have paid a disproportionately high price in the crack down on crime that has occurred over the last three decades, is a topic that has finally—thankfully—begun to reach the main stream.

Matters have been helped by the work of brilliant, impassioned and media savvy academics like University of Ohio law professor Michelle Alexander, whose 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, became that year’s must read in criminal justice circles and beyond.

Four years later, star civil rights lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s book Just Mercy: A story of justice and Redemption, about the terrible injustices regularly wrought the American justice system, landed on a string of 2014 “best books of the year” lists, meaning its emotionally devastating message was absorbed by a wide variety of readers. Plus there was Stevenson’s TED talk, “We need to talk about an injustice,” with its more than 2 million views.

Yet, despite the overdue but welcome shifts in attitude, we still lock up too many people, and we still do so with what appears to be a disturbing racial bias—conscious or not.

That is where where this New Yorker profile of Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm comes in. Written by the magazine’s staff writer and legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, the story titled “The Milwaukee Experiment” which appears in next week’s issue, suggests that it may be local prosecutors—more than even cops, judges and/or law makers—who likely hold one of the primary keys to precipitating the kind of change that our justice system so urgently needs.

Here are some clips from Toobin’s story about Chisholm:

Like many people in the criminal-justice system, John Chisholm, the District Attorney in Milwaukee County, has been concerned for a long time about the racial imbalance in American prisons. The issue is especially salient in Wisconsin, where African-Americans constitute only six per cent of the population but thirty-seven per cent of those in state prison. According to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, as of 2010 thirteen per cent of the state’s African-American men of working age were behind bars—nearly double the national average, of 6.7 per cent. The figures were especially stark for Milwaukee County, where more than half of African-American men in their thirties had served time in state prison. How, Chisholm wondered, did the work of his own office contribute to these numbers? Could a D.A. do anything to change them?

The recent spate of deaths of unarmed African-Americans at the hands of police officers has brought renewed attention to racial inequality in criminal justice, but in the U.S. legal system prosecutors may wield even more power than cops. Prosecutors decide whether to bring a case or drop charges against a defendant; charge a misdemeanor or a felony; demand a prison sentence or accept probation. Most cases are resolved through plea bargains, where prosecutors, not judges, negotiate whether and for how long a defendant goes to prison. And prosecutors make these judgments almost entirely outside public scrutiny.

Chisholm decided to let independent researchers examine how he used his prosecutorial discretion. In 2007, when he took office, the Vera Institute of Justice, a research and policy group based in New York City, had just begun studying the racial implications of the work of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s office. Over several years, Chisholm allowed the researchers to question his staff members and look at their files. The conclusions were disturbing. According to the Vera study, prosecutors in Milwaukee declined to prosecute forty-one per cent of whites arrested for possession of drug paraphernalia, compared with twenty-seven per cent of blacks; in cases involving prostitution, black female defendants were likelier to be charged than white defendants; in cases that involved resisting or obstructing an officer, most of the defendants charged were black (seventy-seven per cent), male (seventy-nine per cent), and already in custody (eighty per cent of blacks versus sixty-six per cent of whites).

Chisholm decided that his office would undertake initiatives to try to send fewer people to prison while maintaining public safety. “For a long time, prosecutors have defined themselves through conviction rates and winning the big cases with the big sentences,” Nicholas Turner, the president of the Vera Institute, told me. “But the evidence is certainly tipping that the attainment of safety and justice requires more than just putting people in prison for a long time. Prosecutors have to redefine their proper role in a new era. Chisholm stuck his neck out there and started saying that prosecutors should also be judged by their success in reducing mass incarceration and achieving racial equality.”

So what, then, did Chisholm do? And how did he do it?

First of all, he stationed prosecutors in neighborhoods around Milwaukee. Then he instructed those prosectors to do more than simply process the cases brought to them by law enforcement.

He and his team started asking themselves in every instance why they were bringing that case. “In those that were seen as minor, it was the least experienced people who were deciding whether to bring them. And these people saw that we had generally brought those cases in the past, so they went ahead with them again. But we started to ask, ‘Why are we charging these people with crimes at all?’ ”

And then he and members of his office devised a remarkably smart assessment tool that everyone used with potential defendants. Here’s the deal.

The most significant innovation in Chisholm’s overhaul of the office involves an “early intervention” program, which begins after a defendant is arrested but before arraignment. Each defendant is given an eight-question assessment, which can be conducted in about fifteen minutes and is compared to the information on the rap sheet and in the police report. The questions include: “Two or more prior adult convictions?” “Arrested under age sixteen?” “Currently unemployed?” “Some criminal friends?” A low score can lead to an offer of “diversion”—a kind of unofficial probation that, if successfully completed, leaves the individual without a criminal record. A high score leads to a second, more detailed, fifty-four-question assessment. The questions include: “Ever walked away/escaped from a halfway house?” “Were you ever suspended or expelled from school?” “Does your financial situation contribute to your stress?” “Tell me the best thing about your supervisor/teacher.” Results of the assessment may also lead to diversion or may lead to a more intensive kind of post-arrest supervision, known as deferred prosecution. People in this group will maintain a criminal record of an arrest but may have their charges reduced or dismissed. To participate in these incarceration alternatives, a defendant must commit to completing drug-treatment or other educational programs that are approved by Chisholm’s office.

In other words, Chisolm and his team viewed those who landed in the second group as having a higher risk of reoffending because, for whatever reason, their needs were more complicated, thus they required greater help and supervision, if they were going to stay out of jail or prison in the future. And the team acted accordingly.

“The whole program is designed to reduce the number of people we are putting in jail or prison, but to do it in a smart, accountable way,” Jeffrey Altenburg, a deputy district attorney, who oversees the early-intervention program, told me. “It’s to get people back on track, based on their risk and their need.” Every week, Altenburg, an eighteen-year veteran of the D.A.’s office, conducts a series of informal meetings with people in the diversion and deferred-prosecution programs who are in danger of being thrown out and returned to the traditional criminal-justice system.

There’s lots more to the story, of course. And, while Chisholm has a growing crowd of fans and admirers, he also has a some angry detractors, some of them in high places. In any case, it’s a story well worth your time, so read on.



AND IN OTHER NEWS…..STATE LAWMAKERS CHANGE COLLECTIVE MINDS ON CHANGING PROP. 47

After the passage of Prop. 47, which was opposed by various law enforcement groups and others who were conservative on the issue of crime and punishment, those same groups pushed legislators hard to introduce bills that would weaken the proposition. But now that we are months into the legislative year, Prop. 47 has had time to go into action; its initial positive effects have been observed, and the sky has not fallen. As a consequence, lawmakers have actively backed away from the so-called “fixes.” Thus, at present, all but 2 of the 9 proposed bills have been watered down to the degree that they are no longer a threat to the new law, or they are permanent stalled, or both.

The two that remain—AB150 and SB452—would both make stealing a gun a felony in all cases. If they pass in their current form, and are signed by Jerry Brown, they would require voter approval in 2016 to go into effect. However, they are not seen as problematic by Prop. 47 supporters, should they indeed become law.

Here’s more on the story by KQED’s Marisa Lagos.

“None of the legislative discussions occurring around Proposition 47 have the potential to undermine the initiative,” said Lenore Anderson, who co-authored the measure, chaired the ballot campaign and directs Californians for Safety and Justice, a progressive policy group.

She said supporters aren’t surprised the Legislature is looking at these issues, and that most of the bills aren’t going to substantively change what Prop. 47 is aiming to achieve: a criminal justice system that focuses on locking up only serious offenders, like those convicted of violent crimes, and not people addicted to drugs who commit petty crimes.

The measure was retroactive, allowing people in prisons or jails to ask for reduced sentences as well as people with past convictions who are no longer incarcerated. So far, more than 115,000 people have filed petitions asking courts to reduce their sentences from felonies to misdemeanors, according to the Judicial Council of California. And more than 3,200 have been released from state prisons.


LA SUPERVISORS APPROVE $450,00 SETTLEMENT TO FATHER OF 2-YEAR-OLD BEATEN TO DEATH DESPITE MULTIPLE CALLS TO DCFS

Truthfully, $450K doesn’t seem like enough. In any case, the LA Times’ Garrett Therolf has the very painful story about the settlement after the little boy was found dead in his bed with more than 50 bruises mottling his small body, his intestines and liver lacerated

Here’s a clip:

According to the suit, Medina’s investigation began in late January 2011, when someone called the child abuse hotline to say that Gabriel and his two siblings were in danger because Vega lived with them and was violent and out of control. He had punched a neighbor in the presence of the children, the anonymous caller said.

The caller also asserted that Vega, who had a violent criminal record, was engaged in domestic violence against the mother, had gang affiliations and that there was drug use in the home, the suit alleged.

The suit also alleged that Medina went to the home on the day of the anonymous call, but over his ensuing visits, he believed Gabriel’s mother when she lied by saying that Vega no longer lived in the home — even though his clothes were still there and the children said they saw him often.

By the time Medina closed the case, other hotline calls had also been received about the family, according to the suit. Medina’s final report falsely stated that Vega was not in the home and that the mother did not have a drug problem, even though he received a positive test for marijuana for her days earlier, the suit said.

When the boy died days later, the coroner determined that some of his serious injuries had occurred weeks before, the suit said.

Therolf also reported that, in fighting the settlement, the county spend $230,00 in legal fees.

Oh, yes, and the social worker who handled the case kept his job.


Posted in Prosecutors, race, race and class, racial justice, Sentencing | No Comments »

40,000 Californians Download ACLU App…..Ferguson’s High Priced “Negotiation” With Justice….Chief Charlie Beck Thanks the Troops

May 5th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

APPROXIMATELY 40,000 CALIFORNIANS DOWNLOAD THE NEW ACLU MOBILE JUSTICE APP IN 5 DAYS

Last month a South Gate, California, woman was filming a police action when a Deputy U.S. Marshall saw her, strode over and smashed her phone to the ground.

As of last Thursday, the ACLU of California has an app for that with their new Mobile Justice CA, a free smartphone app that allows people to record video that, at a finger touch, is sent straight to the ACLU—or more specifically to their cloud storage.

The video also stays on your phone so that you retain a copy as well.

It is the transmission that is key, of course, because—as the above video demonstrates—it prevents anyone from deleting the only copy of a recording.

Since MobileJusticeCA was released less than a week ago, the app has been downloaded “around 40,000 times,” said the ACLU’s Peter Bibring when we talked on Monday. Bibring is director of police practices and senior staff attorney at the ACLU’s Southern California branch, and one of those most involved with the project. “So we’re calling that successful,” he said.

No kidding.

(By the way, the ACLU of California is made up of the state’s three big regional branches: the ACLU of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.)

MobileJusticeCA is not the first such application that the ACLU has distributed. The newly launched California app is an improved variation on an app introduced in New York a couple of years ago, when there was a push among activists to document stop-and-frisk incidents. A few other states, like New Jersey, and Oregon, followed suit.

Then California worked with the software developers to make various improvements over the original, said Bibring,.

For instance, unlike the New York version, which only allowed a short recording, the new version allows you to record as long as you want, or at least as long as your battery holds up.

Other improvements in the California incarnation include access—through your phone— to the ACLU’s full library of know your rights material. Plus, there’s a feature that allows someone who is recording a police action to send out an alert that will be seen by others nearby who may then show up to record too.

When I asked Bibring if he was at all concerned with some of the privacy issues that some critics have mentioned since the app was introduced.

“Actually, I’m proud of our privacy policies on this application,” he said.” For example, unless you submit it to us, we don’t collect any kind of information about you. We don’t have your name, or any kind of device ID, or anything else. We just have the video.”

The video exists on the Amazon cloud server, with whom the ACLU has contracted. “And they’re extremely exacting about not collecting access to any personal data.” said Bibring.

In truth, unless the video is flagged by the sender as evidence of possible civil rights violation, ACLU staffers will, in most cases, never look at it, and it will be purged in a few months.

The ACLU is partnering with the Ella Baker Center to do a six month campaign to engage people about ways to promote police accountability in their neighborhoods, said Bibring.

“People unquestionably have the first amendment right to film law enforcement,” he said. “So one of the things we are trying to do with this app is to make sure that people know their rights.”


FERGUSON HIRES 1,335 PER HOUR LAWYER TO FIGHT…ER…NEGOTIATE WITH THW D.O.J.

There’s no question about the fact that Dan K. Webb, 69, is a brilliant attorney. But the fact that Ferguson, MO, has hired one the nation’s highest paid lawyers, in a contract that grants him his full fee for guiding their negotiations with the U.S. Department of Justice, has drawn criticism. In certain pro bono cases, Webb works for a lowered fee. Not this time. His hourly price tag is nearly twice that of the highest paid lawyers—$700 per hour—working in Missouri in the whole of last year.

According to St. Louis Despatch reporters Christine Byers and Stephen Deere, who broke the story after they managed to wrestle a copy of the engagement letter showing the hiring terms away from the Ferguson City Council, which tried very, very hard to keep the letter secret, then reportedly redacted it energetically after they realized they didn’t have a legal leg to stand on in the face of the Dispatch’s Public Records Act request.

Eventually, persistent reporters Byers and Deere got the whole thing which you can read here.

Yet, the most interesting part of the hiring of Webb is not so much that Ferguson, which has been reported to be skating perilously close to bankruptcy, has chosen to pay such an unusually high fee, it is why they were interested in Webb specifically, a story that the Dispatch reporters say came from Webb himself.

It seems that, after interviewing other suitable attorneys and firms with successful experience with this precise kind of negotiation process between the DOJ and a law enforcement entity in need of reform—like, for example, the firm that represented the city of Albuquerque recently to negotiate its consent decree—-Ferguson was attracted to Webb when they learned he had represented the infamous and very colorful Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona, when Arpaio and company were facing a DOJ lawsuit.

Here’s a clip from Byers and Deere’s story:

it was Webb’s involvement in Maricopa County, Ariz., which is the subject of a Justice Department investigation, that attracted the attention of Ferguson, Webb said. The DOJ alleged that the Sheriff’s Office and Sheriff Joseph Arpaio engaged in discriminatory and otherwise unconstitutional law enforcement actions against Latinos.

In 2012, the DOJ filed a civil lawsuit in federal court against Maricopa County, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and Arpaio. In a press release, the DOJ wrote: “negotiations were unsuccessful, primarily because the county and Arpaio refused to agree to any independent oversight by a monitor.”

“They have been the most belligerent” of the communities in negotiations with DOJ, said Walker, the professor at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.


CHARLIE BECK THANKS THE TROOPS FOR MAY DAY PEACE

Last Friday was May Day, which brought thousands to downtown Los Angeles for marches, demonstrations and celebration. Expecting big crowds, and a teensy weensy bit jittery about what the day might bring, what with the anger and grief still spilling out of Baltimore and elsewhere, the Los Angeles Police Department wisely called a tactical alert.

Happily, however, it was a peaceful day. And LAPD officers were reportedly helpful and firm, when need be, but not at all aggressive.

So, over the weekend, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck posted a thank you to sworn department members on the police union’s internal website.

To the men and women of the LAPD,

I want to personally thank you for showing the professionalism of the Los Angeles Police Department to the world on May Day. Your efforts allowed thousands of protesters and marchers to exercise their rights protected by our Constitution.

While there were some tense moments yesterday, I witnessed firsthand how LAPD officers exercised discipline and extraordinary professionalism while thousands of people took to the streets to express their views about a number of issues. The fact there was not a single incident, arrest or citation throughout the day is remarkable and indicative of your preparation, professionalism and respect for the communities we serve.

Despite the heat and the sensitive times we face in the law enforcement community across the country, each and every one of you shined. From the leadership team to the men and women working and walking with the various community groups, you did a phenomenal job and I am so proud of you. Like you do daily, you made the LAPD badge shine and the nation took notice.

Thank you and be safe out there.

Charlie

Nice.

Posted in ACLU, Free Speech, Freedom of Information, LAPD, Trauma | No Comments »

Manifesting Justice This Week in Los Angeles

May 4th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

CURTAIN RAISED FOR POP-UP ART EXHIBIT AND CIVIL RIGHTS CONVERSATION SPACE, MANIFEST JUSTICE

As events in Baltimore and elsewhere continue to unreel, on Saturday in Los Angeles, a unique combination pop-up art show and public discussion launched at the Baldwin Hills Theater to promote dialogue about civil rights, social and criminal justice, and activism in order to “build a healthier and more just future.”

The 10-day event, called Manifest Justice, put on by Yosi Sergant of TaskForce PR, along with the California Endowment and Amnesty International, features the work of more than 190 artists, discussions with criminal justice leaders and activists, as well as music, poetry, plays, workshops, and a lot more.

Manifest Justice opened Saturday morning with a Prop 47 Record Change Fair, organized by Californians for Safety and Justice. Attendees with felonies that qualified for reclassification under Prop 47 were offered free legal advice from LA County public defenders and volunteer attorneys, along with help in filling out required court forms. (We’ll have more on the Record Change Fair later this week.)

At 10:00a.m., US Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-Calif.) chaired a community dialogue in which an array of panelists told of their personal experiences with the justice system.

There was, for example, Charity Chandler, a woman who now works as an activist at Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC), founded by former film producer Scott Budnick.

Chandler’s first encounter with LA County’s juvenile justice system began in her early teens with a six-month stint in Juvenile Hall for petty theft after she stole a pack of underwear and a t-shirt.

From that point on, Chandler said she went through things “no child should have to experience,” cycling in and out of juvenile detention and foster care.

When she found out she was pregnant at 18 with a little boy, Chandler had to convince herself that she was not worthless. Chandler made a vow to herself, “I refuse to be a statistic, and I refuse to bring a black man into this world…and have him suffer like me and so many countless others.”

That decision sent Chandler down a path of transformation and redemption. Chandler became an advocate, and enrolled in school while she was pregnant. She said she finished graduate school this week.

(For more of Chandler’s story, watch her TEDx talk at Ironwood State Prison.)

Other panelists discussed their efforts toward policy change.

Dr. Paul Song, head of, Courage Campaign, spoke about the importance of funding universal pre-kindergarten as a force against poverty and crime.

Dr. Song pointed to stats indicating that kids in poor communities who didn’t participate in government-funded pre-K were 70% more likely than their peers to get arrested for violent crime by the age of 18, and that career criminals can cost the state as much as $1.3 million.

Song argues that while Governor Jerry Brown is intent on storing surplus budget money in a rainy day fund, “for many communities at risk…it has never stopped raining.”

Another panel member, Winston Peters, an LA County Assistant Public Defender, told his story of transformation. Peters said he focused only on the legal aspects of his cases, until he worked at a now-defunct juvenile center in South Los Angeles where, Peters said, he realized that, while he was a good a lawyer, his young clients faced a list of daunting issues that the law failed to adequately cover, abuse, trauma, and mental illness among them.

Peters also noted that LA’s public defender’s office has made efforts to bridge the gap he witnessed all those years ago, by creating a multidisciplinary approach that includes hiring social workers to team up with the attorneys in the juvenile justice division.

Elsewhere in the Baldwin Theater, a massive cardboard Lady Liberty holds her head in her hands. Across the room, a Ferguson police car has been turned into a garden.

Here are photos of a handful of the art installations on display (but really must be seen in person).

“The Talk,” by Michael D’Antuono:

Jordan Weber:

Yolanda Guerra:

Scheduled for later in the week are workshops, discussions, performing arts, and other not-to-be-missed experiences.

But, if you only choose one day to visit the Manifest Justice exhibit, consider making it Wednesday, May 6. At 6:30p.m., Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mom, and Dr. Robert Ross, head of the California Endowment, will discuss “resilience,” followed by a play from Patrisse Cullors of Dignity and Power Now and #BlackLivesMatter.

There are a ton of other great events and reasons to take in Manifest Justice before it’s over, so check out the website and calendar for yourself.

Note: Watch artist Max Rippon paint overlapping NY Times headlines to create “The True Is a Moment of the False” in the above video.

Posted in American artists, American voices, art and culture, Civil Rights, criminal justice, Foster Care, juvenile justice, prison, Public Defender, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline | 15 Comments »

Support for Aging-out Foster Kids with Their Own Children…Former WA Justice Resigns Over Death Penalty….CA Mental Health Courts….from Drug Dealing to QuickBooks

May 1st, 2015 by Taylor Walker

LA SUPES MOVE FORWARD ON CREATING SUPPORT SYSTEMS FOR YOUNG PARENTS WHO ARE AGING OUT OF THE FOSTER CARE SYSTEM

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors formally approved a two-year pilot program to prevent intergenerational abuse among foster children who become parents. Now the Department of Children and Family Services can move forward on a contract with Imagine LA, the non-profit that will be providing the services to foster kids who have young children and are aging out of the foster care system.

Specifically, Imagine LA will pair the young parents with a group of volunteer mentors to help with every day parenting activities, creating a support system that new parents outside the child welfare system often receive from their own parents and extended families.

The program, which may be renewed for one additional year at the end of the first two years, will be evaluated by the USC School of Social Work.

In LA County where 38% of California’s foster kids reside, 50% of foster kids who age out of the system end up homeless or incarcerated, according to Alliance for Children’s Rights. And, girls in foster care in LA are 2.5 times more likely to be pregnant by age 19 than girls not involved in the child welfare system. Fifty percent of 21-year-old young men aging out say they have gotten someone pregnant, compared to 19% of 21-year-old males not in foster care.

According to Imagine LA, since launching it’s first family mentorship team in 2008, the non-profit has worked with 68 families with whom they have had positive outcomes:

* 100% of families maintained their housing

* 100% of children achieved ASQ (under 5 year developmental standards) or grade level school proficiency with the majority excelling

* 100% of high school-aged youth graduated and pursued higher education

* 100% of participants (adults and children) received annual medical and dental exams

* 75% of families increased their household earned income, on average an increase of 67%

According to Imagine LA’s CEO and President, Jill Bauman, a participating family gets paired with a custom mentor team and a Team Manager who work together to “make sure all the resources, skills and habits the family needs stick. They are in it for the long haul,” Bauman says. “The young people in this program will get help with everything from finding and keeping employment, to learning how to budget, cook, parent, and utilize healthcare, to getting a ‘mom’ break when they need it most. And the children will have other caring resourceful adults also nurturing their development.”

For more information on the specific roles and responsibilities of mentor team members, visit Imagine LA’s website.

Note: the above video shares the stories of Imagine LA’s participating parents who have struggled with homelessness. The new program approved by the LA Supes will be specifically tailored to aging-out foster kids.


THE WASHINGTON STATE JUSTICE WHO LEFT THE BENCH BECAUSE HE COULD NO LONGER UPHOLD CAPITAL PUNISHMENT

On Wednesday, while the US Supreme Court debated lethal injection protocol, specifically, the use of the sedative midazolam. That same day, on the other side of the country, the Washington State Supreme Court held a memorial service for former justice Robert Utter, who died in October.

the fact that the two things happened on the same day had a significance

Utter resigned from the state’s high court in 1995—after 23 years on the bench—in protest of the death penalty. In his resignation letter, Utter wrote, “We continue to demonstrate no human is wise enough to decide who should die.”

The Marshall Project’s Ken Armstrong has Robert Utter’s story, including what convinced him to leave the high court. Here are some clips:

Utter’s resignation was part of a string of judicial condemnations of the death penalty in the mid- and late 1990s. The most famous of these came from the U.S. Supreme Court, when Justice Harry Blackmun wrote in a 1994 dissent: “From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.” But justices on state courts also joined in, with Utter’s resignation followed by Illinois Supreme Court Justice Moses Harrison II warning of the inevitability of an innocent person being executed. “When that day comes, as it must, my colleagues will see what they have allowed to happen, and they will feel ashamed,” Harrison wrote in a 1998 dissent.

[SNIP]

On the state Supreme Court, Utter dissented two dozen times in cases where his colleagues upheld a death sentence. (Often, those sentences were thereafter reversed in the federal courts.) His chief criticism was the unequal application of the law. He would write time and again of how one defendant had received a death sentence while others, whose crimes were worse and whose circumstances were less forgivable, had not. In the 1990s, two events helped convince him to walk away. One was the 1993 execution of Westley Allan Dodd, the state’s first execution since 1963 and the country’s first hanging since 1965. The second was reading “Hitler’s Justice,” a book by Ingo Müller, a German lawyer. In a law review article published in 1997, Utter wrote that Müller “chronicles how the entire legal system, including judges, lawyers, and lawmakers, were co-opted to serve a lawless regime with the corresponding death of the rule of law and its legal institutions. … In fact, he told of only two non-Jewish judges who actively protested the actions of the Nazi government by resigning.”

In a long interview conducted as part of the Washington Secretary of State’s Legacy Project, Utter explained how the book made his choice clear.

“Nobody stood up,” he said. “I had to.”

There’s more, so read the rest.


CALIFORNIA’S CHIEF JUSTICE SEZ ALL CA COUNTIES SHOULD HAVE MENTAL HEALTH COURTS

While sitting in on Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a Republican, pointed out that only 27 of the state’s 58 counties have mental health diversion courts despite their proven ability to reduce recidivism.

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye said that although the state appropriated $15 million in one-time funds for diversion courts, many counties may not be able to afford them when the start-up money runs out.

Capital Public Radio’s Bob Moffitt has the story. Here’s how it opens:

In Sacramento Superior Court’s Mental Health Court, there are plenty of congratulations and plenty of cupcakes for people who used to be known as defendants but who are now known as participants. They stand before Judge Larry Brown. An attorney updates the judge on the status of a participant.

“I am happy to report his drug test was negative.” Brown responds, “Great! That’s terrific. Good job.”

Judge Larry Brown gently reminds one of the participants in the County’s mental health program that progress involves a little work, “None of this punishment. It’s all about having part of a structured program, right?”

On this day, Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye sits in the jury box as an observer. She says only 27 of the 58 counties have a mental health court.

“When you give people treatment and they get on some kind of service-provider program, they tend to re-offend less -hence the reduction in recidivism, hence less of a cost to the community -law enforcement, jails and institutions.”

For 18 months, the MacArthur researchers followed 447 participants from mental health courts in San Francisco County and Santa Clara County as well as Hennepin County, MN, and Marion County, IN, as well as 600 people receiving “treatment as usual.”

According to the MacArthur Foundation Mental Health Court Study, the mental health court graduates had lower recidivism rates than mentally ill offenders who were not enrolled in (or who did not finish) the diversion court program.


THE NOT-SO-FAR-FETCHED JUMP FROM DRUG DEALER TO ACCOUNTANT

RadioDiaries’ Joe Richmond talked with Kamari Ridgle, a young, former drug dealer from Richmond, CA who discovered his passion for accounting, after 22 bullets pierced his body, leaving him paralyzed from the waist-down at 15-years-old. According to Kamari, “Every drug dealer is a businessman.”

“Last fall, in my accounting class,” Kamari continues, “the teacher was like, ‘This is what you really need to know: you’ve got expenses, you’ve got revenues.’ That’s when I was just like, ‘Oh, I did this before. I get this…”

(Joe Richmond is also in the middle of a series for This American Life about the city of Richmond where the Office of Neighborhood Safety pays former offenders to stay out of trouble.)

Posted in California Supreme Court, Courts, DCFS, Death Penalty, Foster Care, Homelessness, juvenile justice, mental health | No Comments »

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